December 15, 2015

best of 2015

Over the weekend we published Other Music's favorite new releases of 2015, and now we follow that up with a list of our picks of the 30 best reissues of the year. In this digital era, with near-unlimited access to music both old and new, it's easy to think that we've heard it all. But at Other Music, we are still regularly surprised by some unheard or under-appreciated gem from the past, reissued and given new context by one of the many great archival labels who are shaping the future of music by looking back. Below we highlight a selective and highly personal list of our favorite reissues of 2015, spanning styles and eras, from innovative artists who struggled to find an audience in their own time, and others who are household names, yet still deserve a deeper look.

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best reissues of 2015

Buddhas of Golden Light
(Arc Light Editions)

Arc Lights Editions continued their winning streak with another absolutely essential reissue by way of this mind-melting solo venture from Pekka Airaksinen. Following the early-'70s break-up of his first group, the Sperm (described on their Discogs page as an "ultra-radical and scandalous performance group/proto-noise band"), Airaksinen turned to Buddhism and it wasn't until 1984 that we'd hear any new music from the Finnish composer. Recorded using an 808 and a DX7 along with some improvised saxophone, Buddhas of Golden Light is a truly unique listening experience, with the closest reference points being Hieroglyphic Being, a more twisted version of the Residents, or Sun Ra. Consider this "maximal synth," with tons of blips and bleeps of electronic sound layered over pulsating drum machines resulting in a chaotic, blissful mess. (Listen)

$24.99 LP ON SALE


An evocative glimpse at the complex and sometimes interwoven histories of post-punk and techno music, this excellent, brain-picking compilation of British anarcho-industrialists Bourbonese Qualk celebrated the early, still-searching period of these notorious South London squatters. The band saw their music as a revolutionary cultural force, and although they were blatantly political and anti-Thatcherite, they were never overtly dogmatic. Instead, they played with notions of ambiguity and opposition to activate independent critical thought through formal experimentation. But, above all, Bourbonese Qualk, in their ever-searching approach towards drum programming and percussion, laid down the rudimentary foundations for some of the rave, breakcore, and extreme electronic scenes of later years. (Listen)

$26.99 2LP ON SALE
$16.99 CD ON SALE

Ocean Club '77

Norton Records brought us this incredible snapshot of just post-Big Star Alex Chilton live at the height of New York City's mid-'70s punk explosion. Though it'd be a stretch to call this music "punk," Chilton undoubtedly found plenty to love in the anarchic spirit of the first few waves of CBGB-centric bands. Accordingly, an infectious and rowdy vibe is present in every note here, as Alex leads a rhythm section (is that Chris Stamey from the dB's on bass?) through a very pleasing mix of Big Star favorites and typically eclectic covers that include a charmingly ramshackle version of the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" (introduced as "a song by Charlie Manson"!), a stinging "Can't Seem to Make You Mine," as well as a sleazed-out reading of "The Letter" from Chilton's Box-Tops days. Various tapes of Chilton at the Ocean Club have circulated among collectors for years, but this was a very worthy unearthing, with a sound quality that easily beat the boots.

$26.99 2LP ON SALE
$14.99 CD ON SALE

Muscle Up
(Dark Entries)

Following last year's impeccable School Daze collection, this was Dark Entries' second volume highlighting Patrick Cowley's peculiar yet highly appealing repertoire of gay porn soundtracks. Cowley was an influential member of the San Francisco-based Hi-NRG disco outfit Sylvester, a decidedly subversive, gender-fluid project, but the music he produced under his own name presents an altogether more abstract affair. Balancing off-throbbing synthscapes with hybrid synth-funk and proto-house, this second collection proved to be as equally exciting as the introductory release. It is in fact at times so powerful that it remains hard to believe that such imaginative, forward-thinking music wouldn't inevitably divert the porn-watching sex enthusiast away from the onscreen action toward aural pleasures. Presenting a rich, underexplored survey of cosmic and exotic ambient bliss mixed with heated, nasty grooves, Muscle Up reached for, and attained, collective ecstasy.

$23.99 2LP ON SALE
$13.99 CD ON SALE

GRM Works
(Recollection GRM)

One of only two LPs issued by Recollection GRM this year, this survey of Beatriz Ferreyra's works for GRM is a real revelation. Though she was a colleague of Pierre Schaeffer in the 1960s, none of her work was issued until the late '70s. This first-time vinyl compilation pairs two '60s pieces with two longer recent works. "Demeures aquatiques" (1967) manipulates the sound of metal sheets and glass rods, combining these with a rising drone. Elsewhere, classical instruments are juxtaposed with machinery, and this diverse sound palette is one of the strengths of the set. A welcome addition to one of most consistently rewarding reissue series around.

$22.99 LP ON SALE

Another Side
(Alleviated M)

Finally, this ultimate 1988 classic of otherworldly house and beautiful gospel flavors got its long overdue, official re-release on the resurrected Alleviated label. One of the first proper albums of the genre, it brings together most of Larry Heard's brilliant Fingers Inc. 12" productions to support a sustained, wide-ranging vision. To some it still stands among house music's greatest achievements, an assessment that is hard to dispute. Its slow, spacious house stratoscapes are anchored by Robert Owens and Ron Wilson's deep, soulful vocals, which bring everything back to an angelic-yet-brooding, darkly sexual atmosphere. If you care in the slightest bit about the history of house music, you simply need this record and will enjoy its unabashed emotional honesty and timeless originality.

$33.99 3x12" ON SALE
$16.99 CD ON SALE

Complete Works

Highlighting the magical oeuvre of Krautrock's very own supergroup in a graphically and stylistically appealing deluxe vinyl box set, Complete Works is testament to the gentle yet fundamental paradigm shift Harmonia brought about in German experimental music. Bringing together the group's (thus far) formerly released studio albums, the winding live document Live 1974, and the Eno collaboration Tracks and Traces, as well as an album of previously unreleased early performances, this essential collection didn't last very long on our shelf. Harmonia produced some of the most beautiful and influential music out there, with a shimmering, motorik trajectory that was like no other.

10 Suicides
(Superior Viaduct)

Coming across as a cross-pollination between the intricate synth-prog of Heldon and the futuristic punk attack of Metal Urbain, Ilitch's (Thierry Muller and friends) 10 Suicides from 1980 is a landmark statement. With a vast range of treated instruments, including saxophone, harmonium, guitar, vocoder and various electronics, Muller carved out a niche in music history that is entirely his own. For a quite different dose, check out the earlier Periodikmindtrouble as well, where Muller floats on a more ambient cloud.

$22.99 LP ON SALE


One of the best-kept secrets in the early 4AD stable, In Camera's short-lived career consisted of one 7" single and two 12" EPs recorded between 1979 and '80 -- collected here on the first disc of this excellent compilation. The bass-and-drum figures that the London group utilized wouldn't sound out of place next to Metal Box, however, In Camera was more of a contemporary of PiL than a descendent. Andrew Gray, later of the Wolfgang Press, utilizes his guitar for creating tension and atmosphere rather than as a lead instrument, and this approach leaves room for David Steiner's expressive vocals to clearly deliver macabre tales that give Bauhaus a run for their money. Together, all the material on disc one plays like a very solid album, and while the additional unreleased tracks on CD2, which include live versions, demos and rehearsal recordings, are on the raw side, listening to never-before-heard In Camera songs proved to be a dream come true for fans.

$22.99 2LP ON SALE
$13.99 CD ON SALE

(Paradise of Bachelors)

Kenny Knight's private press LP, Crossroads, is the kind of album that deep diggers sweat bullets over. Released in 1980, the record belies its date by a good 8-10 years, as a dusty, bedraggled example of prime-cut rural rock. Echoes of the Dead, CSNY, Fraser & Debolt, Bernie Schwarz, and Tom T. Hall rest gently over these sad, prideless examples of a man beaten down by the world, looking with anxiety and a little bit of hope, for a way back in. The musicianship is rough-hewn but impeccable for the material at hand (the pedal steel on "Carry Me Down" is particularly expressive), and Knight's songwriting talents undeniable; "Jean," with its solemn acoustic strumming bolstered by haunting Leslie cabinet electric leads, immediately enters the canon of Ultimate Folk Downers, dragging its feet with whatever resolve it has left. (Listen)

$18.99 LP ON SALE
$12.99 CD ON SALE

The Jail's a Fine School

An exquisitely produced collection of recordings culled from old 78s featuring the enigmatic Greek rebetika performer, A. Kostis, about whom little has been known about until now. The records have been impeccably remastered, undoubtedly sounding better than they did at anytime in the past. Notable for featuring some wildly unique guitar playing (most Greek rebetika is performed on the lute-like bouzouki), the tunes are full of serpentine lines, weird tunings and haunted, dirge-like atmospheres. This compilation comes with a superbly researched 20-page booklet that includes translations of the song lyrics, so you can fully immerse yourself in the seedy underbelly of the Greek crime and drug culture that rebetika music was created to document.

$16.99 LP ON SALE

All in One Peace
(Leaving/Stones Throw)

All hyperbole aside, this beautiful three-cassette reissue of early, essential Laraaji tapes further reinstated Edward Larry Gordon's position as one of our notable treasures with regards to imaginative electronic and pulsating zither innovations. The fact that he is always identified under the guise of new age music somewhat obscures his ever-brilliant musical ingenuity, also on display throughout these recordings. For Laraaji, the electric autoharp sweeps wildly and openly, showing a deep-felt affinity to both avant-garde minimal music and underground jazz. This is tough, muscular music, which grabs your attention wholeheartedly. In carving out a space beyond the limitations of the ambient and new age genres it inevitably is part of, Laraaji's mastery of his craft brings about a particularly idiosyncratic mode of spiritual transcendence. It is healing music to which the soul can dance.


Drum Talk
(Dug Out)

Just making it in under the wire for this year's Best Of list is one of the holy grails of Jamaican music, Mabrak's 1976 magnum opus of percussive dub, Drum Talk. The group was founded by Leroy "Mabrak" Mattis, a drum prodigy who could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Count Ossie and Light of Saba at drumming competitions in Jamaica in the early '70s. Drum Talk was the follow-up album to a super-influential single his group had recorded the previous year, which was notable for being the first Jamaican record to feature the talking drum as the lead instrument. The full-length was recorded at the legendary Harry J's studio with none other than King Tubby at the mixing board, and it would go down as being one of the most original and inspired dub recordings of the 1970s, with Mattis' talking drum providing bouncing leads over the rest of the percussion ensemble's deep and steady rhythms. Faded vocals pop up occasionally, the guitar and bass tones are inspired, and of course Tubby's production is guaranteed to affect you on the cellular level. Like Dug Out's previous reissue of Dadawah's Peace & Love, this is a truly unique and utterly essential release.

$20.99 LP ON SALE

Utakata No Hibi
(Palto Flats)

Earlier this year, New York City-based label Palto Flats reissued a completely sui generis Japanese ambient-pop masterpiece from 1983, that went out of print in a blink of an eye (a repress is expected very soon, however). Demand for this one was super strong; it's been on various taste-making DJs' radars for several years, but original copies have been scarce, and it's easy to see why, as we rarely encounter a record which seemingly conjures an entire musical language from scratch. Though the group had made five albums previous to Utakata No Hibi, none of the earlier records quite signaled the creative leap found here, which has some of the hallmarks of then current abstract fourth-world soundscapes, but refracted through a pop sensibility that ropes in disco, dub, and traditional Japanese folk forms, with even some vocals sung in Armenian for mysterious reasons. It all goes down extremely easy, and is almost shocking how completely contemporary it still sounds.

Pay Attention!
(On-U Sound)

There was no shortage of incredible reissues coming from legendary British producer Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound imprint -- see also great other-world dub albums from Singers & Players and the Missing Brazilians. (Spoiler: scroll down to Various Artists and you'll find another entry from On-U Sound too.) However, the Mothmen's Pay Attention from 1981 deserves a solid spot on our Best Of list for its singular blend of post-punk experimentation and dub wizardry. Featuring a couple of musicians from the Durutti Column (not to mention a few of the members would go on to form Simply Red), you could easily file Pay Attention in between your A Certain Ratio and Gang of Four records, with Wire sitting nearby as well. The stern yet fluid flow of vocals and instrumentals never really settles into a particular genre, however, but the various elements coalesce into something very much of its own. (Listen)

$20.99 LP ON SALE
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Nass El Ghiwane

Arguably Morocco's greatest and most important band of the second half of the 20th century, Nass El Ghiwane created a fairly large and compelling discography that has unfortunately been hard to come by here in the United States, until the arrival of this timely reissue of their third, and probably best record. Though they've long been very famous in their home country, they first came to a lot of people's attention here in the last couple years when Martin Scorsese helped produce a reissue of their classic concert film Trances, for the Criterion Collection. That same soaring group interplay that led Scorsese to call them "the Rolling Stones of Morocco" is more than on display here, with rollicking songs featuring driving percussion, call-and-response singing, and the intertwined sounds of the traditional Moroccan string instrument the guembri combined with a Western-style banjo. Totally thrilling music, let's hope this is the first of many more reissues from their wonderful catalog.

$18.99 LP ON SALE

(Soul Jazz)

A delightful unearthing of mostly lost Popol Vuh recordings from Soul Jazz, the first disc of this lovingly put together double album posthumously realizes Florian Fricke's long-held dream of producing a record with solo-piano music exclusively. Classically trained, Fricke explores a conceptually rich post-Bach sensibility, rejecting contrapuntal composition in favor of evaporating yet always compelling tone clusters. The result is a deceptively calm yet attention-grabbing endeavor, at times coming close to a sense of looming catastrophe. The second disc, which presents the soundtrack to the also included Kailash film, sees Fricke exploring slightly more commonplace yet nonetheless convincing territory. Making magic with dark synth sounds, as well as with his signature battalion of fourth world, "authentic" sound effects, this is classic Popol Vuh romanticism, well-known from the musician's long-standing collaboration with film director Werner Herzog. The music here is by all means a vivid reminder of Fricke's singular compositional achievements.

$43.99 2LP+DVD ON SALE
$30.99 2CD+DVD ON SALE

(Blackest Ever Black)

A great collection released this fall by Blackest Ever Black, Manbait features rare works and remixes from Regis, an artist whose palette arguably stands as one of the key influences in shaping the sound of the imprint. Through his own label, Downwards, and the output of the collective/label Sandwell District, Karl O'Connor (Regis) has proven to be a crucial contributor to charting the course of turn-of-the-century techno. Manbait dutifully illustrates the many distinct shades of gloomy grey that have become Regis' trademark, featuring his treatments of tracks by artists such as Tropic of Cancer, Raime, Vatican Shadow and Ike Yard -- a who's who of the Blackest Ever Black stable. To sweeten the deal, there are also versions of his own productions scattered throughout. It's hard to succinctly summarize the importance of a figure like Regis on certain orbits of electronic music, but this is an accessible introduction as well as a helpful collection for those who missed the limited-run pressings of these tracks the first time around. (Listen)

$33.99 2LP ON SALE
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Artificial Dance
(RVNG Intl.)

Following last year's quintessential overview of lost K. Leimer gems, RVNG launched another killer Leimer compilation. Consisting of material that was released under the Savant banner in the early 1980s, Artificial Dance takes the oftentimes wonderfully combined Kraut, ambient, and dub-sensibilities of the former A Period of Review anthology towards new, ever-searching post-punk territory. Savant was Kenny Leimer's artificial band of revolving, largely unknown Seattle-based musicians that only existed on record. And it's this advanced sense of adventurous DIY studio wizardry that makes this release a head-scratching delight. Think Talking Heads, Cabaret Voltaire, or Gang of Four, influences that Leimer creatively pushes towards greater heights, oftentimes adding off-kilter ghostly effects that prelude current experimentation in the realm of hazy electronics.

$21.99 2LP ON SALE
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Torch of the Mystics

This was one of the year's most eagerly awaited reissues here at the shop and for many others as well -- and it's sadly already out of print once again. 1990's Torch of the Mystics is a perfect entry point into Sun City Girls' sprawling catalog; sounding deceptively straightforward at first (for them), it somehow touches on many of their far-flung approaches while achieving one of the most cohesive statements of their career. Sun City Girls' talent lies in assimilating dozens of styles into their repertoire, all serving to create a unique world that's unlike anyone else. From track to track they can sound convincingly Middle Eastern ("The Flower"), Hawaiian ("Radar 1941"), like something off a spaghetti western soundtrack ("The Shining Path"), or simply take the form of a ripping power trio ("Esoterica of Abyssynia").

To Those of Earth… And Other Worlds

You may recall the incredible, Strut-released In the Orbit of Ra (compiled by longtime sidemen and current Arkestra director Marshall Allen) being featured in 2014's Best Of list. This year came another equally thrilling Sun Ra compilation, assembled by DJ, record collector and tastemaker Gilles Peterson, who not only selected special versions of Ra classics, but also created his own edits and included pieces that had never been before released. Structured like an expert mix tape, Peterson's choices lean heavily on the exotica and vocal side, with the magical moments of live recordings sequenced into a blooming, passionate flow. It makes for one of the best Sun Ra compilations released to date, serving as not only a great introduction into the vast universe of this legendary jazz composer/cosmic philosopher, but also a must-have for longtime fans. (Two other Sun Ra releases of note: the limited, 40th Anniversary edition of Sun Ra's Space Is the Place, featuring a 125-page hardcover book, a DVD of the film with new producer commentary, and a CD of the soundtrack. Also, the just-arrived, expanded second edition of Hartmut Geerken and Chris Trent's comprehensive Ominverse Sun Ra, a full-color, 304 page hardback book, originally published in 1994.) (Listen)

$27.99 2LP ON SALE
$16.99 CD ON SALE

Estrelando Embaixador
(Goma Gringa)

A favorite of ours from the "share blog" era (RIP) finally received the reissue treatment that it deserved. It was about time, as it seemed like there'd been a bit of a let up in truly exceptional psychedelic Brazilian reissues these last couple years, but this one was more than worth the wait. Still, not a lot is known about the ensemble, but the music more than speaks for itself, with two sprawling sidelong tracks full of chugging electric bass, cavernous percussion, and group chanting seemingly influenced by Candomble, which is kind of a pan-African religious movement native to Brazil. Extremely compelling and uplifting, the proceedings are frequently overlaid with wild, psychedelic production flourishes, tons of reverb, and what sound like jet engines blasting the percussion ensemble into the stratosphere. It's about as life affirming as any record we heard this year!

Cherrystones Presents: Critical Mass / Splinters from the Worldwide New-Wave, Post-Punk and Industrial Underground 1978-1984
(Touch Sensitive)

A testament to post-punk's ever forward-looking urges, this exhilarating compilation of lesser-known gems by London-based DJ Cherrystones hits the right spot from the onset. Opening frenetically with Rheingold's "FanFanFanatisch," which combines punk's energy with Kling Klang's electronic experimentation, it is followed with just under an hour of the most obscure, deconstructionist bliss. Ranging from Belgium's Aksak Maboul's "A Modern Lesson," Beefheart-meets-dada-on-a-wasteland-somewhere-in-the-Middle-East-in-Western-Europe, to bridging instrumentals such as Crazy House's deviantly titled "People Fall from Tall Buildings," as well as Dojijo's "Quincunx," a slap of dissonant, synthetically pleasing new wave funk, this collection is a delicious, utterly digressing mess. Critical Mass ultimately reads like a call to "rip it up and start again," rather than one that merely celebrates some far-gone wicked musical imagination from an out-of-reach past.

$46.99 2LP ON SALE

Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll

The songs on this companion piece to the excellent film documentary of the same name are as spell-bounding as they are haunting, knowing the horror that would soon befall many of the musicians represented here, killed along with two million others during the brutal four-year reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. This 20-track compilation transports the listener back to an incredibly rich era of music and art coming out of Cambodia in the mid-20th century, when the country was known as "the Pearl of Southeast Asia." From the lounge-pop stylings of Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea, to the psychedelic rock of Yol Aularong, to Pou Vannary's chilling cover of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," this East-meets-West fusion of sounds is nothing but magical, and several of these tracks had never been available outside of Cambodia until this year. (Listen)

$12.99 CD ON SALE

Ork Records: New York, New York
(Numero Group)

It doesn't get any more essential than this! Numero's much-needed collection compiles the complete output of pioneering NYC "punk" label Ork Records (plus plenty of bonuses). The word punk is in quotations there because (as anyone who listens to these two CDs or four LPs will know) Ork Records was a wildly eclectic project, with sounds ranging from the skeletal strangeness of Television's "Little Johnny Jewel" to the skewed power-pop of Chris Stamey and Prix. The divergent sounds are always pleasing, though, as legends like the Feelies, Alex Chilton and Richard Hell rub shoulders with lesser-known CBGB groups like Marbles and the Erasers. And in true Numero fashion, the accompanying 190-page book is worth the price of admission alone, as it untangles the weird saga of William Terry Ork, the tastemaker who dreamed the whole scene up.


The Sigh of Silver Strings from Suvannabhumi: The Western Stringed Instruments of Burma
(Little Axe)

We're big fans of Little Axe Records, the in-house label of the Portland, OR-based record store of the same name. They somehow manage to publish very affordable records in nice editions (often with screen-printed artwork and handmade booklets) of idiosyncratic and under-heard music that doesn't call too much attention to itself, and which generally sits outside of the realm of "fashionable" reissue concerns. They released a couple of great records this year, but our favorite was The Sigh of Silver Strings from Suvannabhumi, which features recordings made in the mid 1990s by Rick Heizman of Burmese music played on Western instruments like the slide guitar, banjo, mandolin, and violin (amongst others). The musicians on this record effortlessly adapt those instruments to the parameters of traditional Burmese folk and classical music, creating a beautifully shimmering tapestry of sound that feels perfectly lived in and contemplative, familiar in some sense to Western ears but nevertheless constantly affording new surprises.

$14.99 LP ON SALE

Time Wept: Vocal Recordings from the Levant, 1906-1925
(Honest Jon's)

Honest Jon's continued their deep, deep excavation in the aural past with this year's compilation, Time Wept, a two-LP collection of recordings made in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine between the years 1906 and 1925. Despite it being a staff favorite, this release seemed to really fly under the radar, and barely received any critical notice, which is a shame as it features some hauntingly beautiful music from a part of the world that is (sadly) much in the news these days. The whole set is suffused with a melancholy vibe of a lost era, a deeply affecting portrait of musicians who have long been lost to time, and who were lucky to have ever been recorded in the first place given that time and place's general prohibition on public music performance.

$24.99 LP ON SALE

Trevor Jackson Presents: Science Fiction Dancehall Classics
(On-U Sound)

DJ/producer/designer Trevor Jackson dug deep into the vaults of Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound imprint to assemble this excellent compilation that includes many rare and previously unreleased treasures. Across the two CDs, the whole of the label is represented -- from the dub side of African Head Charge, New Age Steppers and Dub Syndicate, to the industrial-leaning Mark Stewart, Keith LeBlanc and Little Annie, to lesser known acts like Fats Comet, Voice of Authority and Playgroup (not to be confused with Trevor Jackson's project of the same name). As a special treat, Jackson included rare, unreleased early work from the Circuit, which featured vocals from Neneh Cherry and Shara Nelson (pre-Massive Attack). Truly head-spinning sounds all around! (Listen)

$27.99 3LP ON SALE
17.99 2CD ON SALE

The Complete Matrix Tapes

The ultimate live document of the most important rock 'n' roll band of the '60s and '70s, The Complete Matrix Tapes sounds crystal clear (recorded straight from the soundboard by Robert Quine in 1969) but still packs the punch of an intimate live performance. A true revelation for even the most hardened VU completist, and an excellent way to experience the incredible tour de force that was the Velvet Underground in their prime.

Greasepaint Smile
(Numero Group)

A previously unreleased '60s psych-folk record that actually deserves to be called a "lost classic." Produced by David Briggs and featuring scorching cameos from Neil Young and Nils Lofgren, Greasepaint Smile was the planned follow-up to the Elyse record, released in 1968, but for one reason or another was shelved until this year. As great as her debut was, Weinberg delivers even stronger material here, from the gentle opener "What You Call It" to the absolute burner "City of the Angels," which is bolstered by some serious fuzz-guitar action from Young. Neil and Old Black also appear on the gorgeous "Houses," which showed up as a bonus track on the Elyse reissue and was subsequently covered by J Mascis and Vetiver. It's a shame that a songwriter as talented as Weinberg retreated from the music scene for decades, but at least we've finally been able to enjoy her best work all these years later.

$20.99 LP ON SALE
$12.99 CD ON SALE

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