Indie Basement: Best Reissues, Box Sets & Compilations of 2021
As writer of a column that specializes in "classic indie" and "college rock," there's a little nostalgia baked in, and I write about a lot of reissues. It's a huge market, too, and it seems like any album that was popular or critically acclaimed (sometimes both) gets a new version for a significant anniversary. Some of these are warranted and others you'd be just as well picking up a used copy of for $10 at your local used record store. Thing is, a lot of the stuff written about in Indie Basement, especially albums from the '90s and '00s, originals are not so easy to find. Amid a lot of unnecessary vinyl represses, 2021 did see a lot of worthy reissues, box set and compilations.
Here are a baker's dozen (18 technically but 13 different artists), all within the the general "indie" genre, that were either much needed or added significantly to the artist's legacy. The best of them -- most on this list -- did both.
INDIE BASEMENT - BEST REISSUES, BOX SETS & COMPILATIONS OF 2021
Bush Tetras – Rhythm & Paranoia: The Best of the Bush Tetras (Wharf Cat)
Bush Tetras were one of the most iconic bands of the nascent New York no wave / post punk era, with classic tracks like "Too Many Creeps," "Things That Go Boom in the Night," and "Can't Be Funky." The original era of the band only produced a few singles, but singer Cynthia Sley, guitarist Pat Place and drummer Dee Pop (RIP) reformed the band in the '90s and released two more albums, including one that went unreleased for 15 years, and an EP in 2018 and continue now. Rhythm & Paranoia is the first-ever career-spanning Bush Tetras compilation, and across three LPs it collects just about everything you'd want, including all the early singles and b-sides (worth it to have all these in one place alone), plus the best of their later recordings and three previously unreleased recordings, all of which have been remastered and sound terrific. Despite being culled from four decades and wildly varying recording styles, the whole thing holds together well. There's also a 46-page book featuring never-before-seen photos, essays by Thurston Moore, Nona Hendryx, The Clash's Topper Headon, Gang of Four's Hugo Burnham, Bongwater's Ann Magnuson, music journalist Marc Masters, and more. If you just know "Too Many Creeps," you've got a lot more great stuff to hear.
Gang of Four - 77-81 (Matador)
The original lineup of Gang of Four -- guitarist Andy Gill (RIP), singer Jon King, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham -- were one of the most vital, influential post-punk groups ever and, for many, their mix of punk, funk, dub and disco is the sound of post-punk. Those essential early singles and first two albums (1979's Entertainment and 1980's Solid Gold), which had been out of print and off streaming services for quite a while, finally got their moment to truly shine with this incredible box set. In addition to those two albums and crucial non-LP singles/b-sides like "To Hell With Poverty!" and "It's Her Factory," all of which were remastered at Abbey Road Stuidos, 77-81 comes with a great 1980 live album, a cassette full of demos, and fantastic 100-page booklet with rare photos, gig posters, tributes from members of REM, New Order, Mekons, Pylon, 10,000 Maniacs, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more, plus all the lyrics (which had never been officially released before). The gorgeous, Grammy-nominated packaging was designed by Jon King and looks as good as it sounds.
The Hawks - Obviously 5 Believers (Seventeen Records)
The Hawks, the shortlived late-'70s UK band led by Stephen Duffy (Duran Duran, Tin Tin, The Lilac Time) and Dave Kusworth (Jacobites), only released one single during their brief existence but gigged and rehearsed constantly, recording most of their progress along the way. Following Kunsworth's death in 2020, Duffy dug out the boxes of rehearsal tapes, poured through them, picked out the best songs, had them cleaned up and remastered and here we have Obviously 5 Believers, the debut album from The Hawks, released 40 years after they broke up. For an album made up of rehearsal recording cassettes that were in a box under a bed for decades, the album holds up surprisingly well, finding a band that seemed to have it all figured out, riding the line between tough, punchy rock and more sensitive, jangly indie. Obviously 5 Believers leaves you wondering what might have been, and if there's another album's worth of stuff in that box of tapes.
The Jazz Butcher - Dr Cholmondley Repents: A-Sides, B-Sides and Seasides (Fire)
Pat Fish, aka The Jazz Butcher, died this year but left behind a wonderful catalog of idiosyncratic pop. (Also a new album out next year.) Almost all of it was out of print for decades, but Fire Records began a reissue campaign a few years ago, collecting The Jazz Butcher's albums for Glass, Creation and Big Time. Just a few weeks before Pat's death, they released what might be the most crucial of their box sets, collecting his wealth of non-LP singles, EPs and b-sides that include some of his best-known songs -- especially in America -- including '80s college radio classics like "Southern Mark Smith," "The Devil is My Friend," "D.R.I.N.K.," and "The Jazz Butcher Meet The Prime Minister," plus their dancey cover of The Rolling Stones' "We Love You" (a UK hit) and lots more. If you're looking for a gateway into the charming, boozy world of the JBC, this is it.
Lilys - A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns (Frontier) / Better Can't Make Your Life Better & The 3-Way (Sundazed)
2021 was a good year for fans of cult indie rock / shoegaze heroes Lilys, as three of their most sought-after out-of-print albums all saw new band-approved vinyl reissues. First was 1994 mini-album A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns, featuring one of their best known songs ("Ginger"), that got expanded into more of a proper album with four rare tracks from the era. The other two, 1996's Better Can't Make Your Life Better and 1999's The 3-Way, were from the era when Lilys were signed to Warner Brothers and frontman Kurt Heasley reimagined the band as a mod '60s group inspired by The Kinks, The Monkees and The Zombies. (Better's "A Nanny in Manhattan" was an unlikely hit in the UK.) All three albums are fantastic and it's great to have them back on wax after years of window shopping astronomically priced originals on the secondary market. Bonus side effect: Lilys are touring again and may even head back in the studio. Fingers crossed.
Pick up Better Can't Make Your Life Better on vinyl HERE.
The Long Blondes - Someone to Drive You Home 15th Anniversary Edition (Rough Trade)
The mid-'00s were an exciting time for UK indie with a new exciting act springing up seemingly every week to release a killer debut single. Some of them went on to be big, some of them were big for a while, and others never quite realized their potential. The Long Blondes fell somewhere between the latter two categories, making literate, danceable pop with a flair for fashion, the cinema and a love of their hometown (Pulp, The Human League). Having made waves with their 2004 single "Giddy Stratospheres," the band didn't release their debut album -- produced by Pulp's Steve Mackey -- for two more years. While Someone to Drive You Home is a terrific record, things had cooled for the band by the time it came out, and the band broke up two years later not long after releasing their second album, Couples. Not only does this 15th anniversary reissue of Someone offer a nice chance to revisit those giddy days, but it also comes with a bonus disc full of b-sides that show off a more adventurous, disco-inspired side of the band. It's a great companion piece that that might just be better than the actual album.
Spiritualized - Lazer Guided Melodies / Pure Phase / Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space / Let it Come Down (Fat Possum)
Spiritualized spent 2021 on the year-long "Spaceman Reissue Program" which has seen remastered editions of the group's first four albums: 2001's Let it Come Down, 1992's Lazer Guided Melodies, 1995's Pure Phase and the band's masterpiece, 1997's Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space. For longtime fans and vinyl lovers these have been especially welcome and not just because they've been out of print since for years and original copies sold for crazy money on the secondary market. When all four of these albums were initially released, CD was king and vinyl was mostly an afterthought for labels, more of a courtesy than anything else. Needless to say say, vinyl pressings in the mid-'90s and early-'00s were not the greatest. That's not the case with these, which all feature half speed lacquer cut masters from original sources by Alchemy Mastering, and are pressed on double 180g vinyl, all overseen by the group's Jason Pierce. They sound rich and full and as big as Pierce's ambition and scope, which often included orchestras and choirs. The best place to start is, obviously, Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space which takes full advantage of the double album format, from the opening title track (with its Elvis quoting original version restored), through classics like "Come Together," "Think I'm in Love," and "Stay With Me," through the 17-minute opus "Cop Shoot Cop" that takes up all of Side 4, but all four are worth picking up.
Kelley Stoltz - Antique Glow (Third Man)
San Francisco legend Kelley Stoltz has been cranking out amazing self-recorded albums for over 20 years for such labels as Sub Pop, Third Man, and Castle Face. His 2001 debut, Antique Glow, was not only a great album of '60s-style baroque folk pop, it was also a showcase for his DIY production skills, home-taping ingenuity and ability to play just about any instrument. Kelley originally released Antique Glow on vinyl in a very limited edition of 300, each with its own unique, hand-painted cover art. Needless to say, used copies were astronomically priced and Antique Glow was a Holy Grail for fans. Thank goodness for Third Man who reissued it this year for its 20th anniversary. Unsurprisingly they did an amazing job, remastering the original album and releasing it with cut-out window pane artwork that comes with four interchangeable covers reproduced from the originals. (There are 16 covers total, with four randomly included with each album -- collect them all!) Even more exciting for Stoltz fanatics: there's a second LP featuring songs from an Australian tour-only CD and 10 tracks from the era that have never seen the light of day before.
Radiohead - Kid A Mnesia (XL Recordings)
It's rare that bands blow people's' minds twice in a career, let alone with two consecutive albums, but Radiohead did just that, first with 1997's OK Computer that actually changed the course of rock music; and then again with the complete left turn that was 2000's Kid A, that took this band with three guitarists deep into electronic territory. With those two records they freed themselves to be a band where the only thing to expect was the unexpected. Kid A and 2001's Amnesiac were recorded at the same time and were at one point envisioned as one double album that instead got split into two. Twenty years later, Radiohead sewed the baby back together with this reissue that adds a third album of unreleased songs from the sessions as well as "alternate versions and elements" of Kid A and Amnesiac songs and B-sides. Those include the terrific "If You Say the Word" and the first official release of "lost" fan favorite "Follow You Around." Also of interest is a just-strings version of "How to Disappear Completely" that feels like seeds Jonny Greenwood would sow on his eerie scores for There Will Be Blood and The Power of the Dog.
Stereolab - Electrically Possessed (Switched On Vol 4) (Duophonic UHF Disks)
Keeping up with Stereolab's discography is a full time job. In addition to their many albums, they released tons of non-LP singles, EPs, flexis, splits with other bands, songs for compilations and more. As band of record collectors, they made it fun for fellow obsessives and weren't afraid to put some of their best material on these more obscure releases. Thankfully the band collected most of those stray tracks on their Switched On series, releasing three volumes in their first decade together alone. Stereolab continued until 2009 but never released another Switched On after 1998 due to "delays beyond our control." Finally regaining that control in 2018, Stereolab began reissuing their entire catalog on vinyl, and they finished off the series this year with this long-in-the-works fourth volume of Switched On. The 25-song, 3-LP Electrically Possessed includes 2000's crucial First of the Microbe Hunters mini-LP, along with a few great tour singles and lots more. It's an essential final piece of the Stereolab puzzle, released just as the band reunited to tour again...could new records be out of the question?
Super Furry Animals - Rings Around the World 20th Anniversary Edition (BMG)
Welsh indie rock band Super Furry Animals have always done it their way, whether it's putting drug smuggler Howard Marks on the cover of their debut album, buying a WWII tank and retrofitting it with a reggae sound system to take to festivals, or releasing albums in their native tongue. After years on famed UK indie label Creation, SFA signed to Sony, took advantage of the kind of major label budgets that don't exist anymore and made their biggest swing yet with 2001's Rings Around the World. "We were trying to make a blockbuster album that was going to be like The Eagles," Gruff Rhys told Uncut in 2008. "We were trying to make utopian pop music that had pretensions of being progressive and exciting." SFA met their ambitions with some of their best-ever songs and creative engines that ran at full power. The album was their biggest selling album ever and is arguably their best too. For its 20th anniversary Rings Around the World gets its first official vinyl reissue, as well as a triple-CD edition loaded with the band's many great b-sides from the album's singles, plus tons of remixes including a few previously unreleased ones.
Tangled Shoelaces - Turn My Dial (Chapter Music)
Australian label Chapter Music is one of the great champions of its country's rich post-punk and indiepop heritage with regular excavations of lesser-known bands who deserve more attention. This year they turned a light towards short-lived Brisbane group Tangled Shoelaces who were formed in 1980 by siblings Stephen, Lucy and Martin Mackerras when they were all between 10-14. With neighbor Leigh Nelson on drums, the very young band made music sophisticated beyond their years. The band only released a seven-song cassette and a four-song self-released 7" EP before calling it quits when their oldest member was just 18. Turn My Dial has the entire 7" and five of the cassette's tracks, and then adds another 13 unreleased ones, including a few songs that are easily the best thing they ever did. There are some hissy, very DIY tracks that were clearly recorded on cassette, and much of this sounds as good as anything Flying Nun released in the '80s. If you're a fan of that label's roster (The Chills, The Clean, The Verlaines), Tangled Shoelaces will be your new favorite band that broke up 40 years ago.
The Wedding Present - Seamonsters 20th Anniversary Edition (BMG)
With all respect to Nevermind, Spiderland and Trompe Le Monde, The Wedding Present's Seamonsters is the best loud-quiet-loud indie rock album of 1991, maybe ever. (Frontman David Gedge argues its the first.) With help from Steve Albini (just ahead of working with PJ Harvey and Nirvana), the UK band reshaped their sound from their manic brand of janglepop that got them dubbed "Smiths Fans' Second Favorite Band" into something much more dynamic, visceral and emotional, where every fit of jealous rage exploded as a guitar onslaught. Seamonsters received mixed reviews when it was released in 1991 but has grown steadily in reputation since and is regarded as a 90s classic today. This 30th anniversary reissue, supervised by the band, not only puts the album back on a vinyl LP for the first time since it's initial release, it also comes with a bonus disc featuring the three Albini-recorded EPs from the same era which also feature some of The Wedding Present's best songs. One of 1991's best albums made even better.