Top ten remastered/reissued albums of 2019

Every year, it seems more albums are released and made available for streaming than the previous year. Having so much music at a moment’s notice is thrilling, especially as more and more overseas artists get on board. It is nearly impossible to ignore the lure of shiny new album covers, the promise of a new favorite song, the inane attempt to make a small dent in the pile, and the nagging duty to move the music everyone is talking about to the top of the pile to remain a part of the ongoing, unceasing pop culture narratives that define our lives. This can make re-listening and taking deep dives into albums that actually punch you in the gut seem like a distant dream, a selfish indulgence to be tickled only sparingly as time rushes past.

But every year, a handful of albums get remastered or reissued as if to gently tap you on the shoulder and remind you of albums you’ve loved and lost in the Spotify rabbit-hole, of the gems that lie in the archives waiting to be re-discovered or re-visited, of the fulfilling experience it is to spend quality time with music that was meant to last longer than the one-week release cycle. Here are ten of those, because what’s a better reminder of an artist’s enduring legacy than an album that sounds as good today as it did twenty years ago? From the ubiquitous vinyl reissues being churned out like chocolates in Lucy’s factory, to giant, commemorative anniversary editions, to the reissues that put an exclamation point on an artist’s career, to not one, but two of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time, let’s first take a moment in our celebration of the year in music to step back in time and enjoy some old favorites.

James Horner: The Mask of Zorro [Vinyl] // Florence and the Machine: Lungs (10th Anniversary Box Set)

Ayumi Hamasaki: LOVEppears / appears -20th Anniversary Edition- // Yasunori Mitsuda: Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack Revival Disc

Whitesnake: Slip of the Tongue (30th Anniversary Remaster) // The Beatles: Abbey Road (50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)

Nobuo Uematsu: Final Fantasy VIII Original Soundtrack Revival Disc // Negicco: Melody Palette [Vinyl]

LUNA SEA: SHINE [Vinyl] // New Kids on the Block: Hangin’ Tough (30th Anniversary Edition)

Top 10 albums/20 songs of 2009

10. Lady Gaga: The Fame Monster

“Bad Romance” is topping more year-end lists than Animal Collective, and not without reason: if “ra-ra-ah-ah-ah, roma-roma-ma, ga-ga-oh-la-la” is the only thing we’ll remember about Lady Gaga, we’ll still look back fondly while overlooking some of her more dubious wardrobe choices. But The Fame Monster boasts more than just the notorious song: “Dance in the Dark” and “Monster” are also among the signature Gaga entendres, club-ready and unapologetically catchy.

09. Meisa Kuroki: hellcat

If I had to pick one successor to Namie Amuro, Meisa Kuroki would be it, and since Amuro has shown herself to be forging new territory with PAST < FUTURE, it looks like Kuroki is the likeliest competition. hellcat doesn’t have the intensity or acumen behind albums like Queen of Hip-Hop or PLAY, but it’s one of the most fun debut albums I’ve heard in a while and shows great promise, a promise Kuroki is looking to fulfill if the first single off her upcoming album is any indication.

08. Big Bang: BIGBANG [ read full review ]

Korean pop bands are taking over the world. This is not the first time I’ve said it, and I’m sort of hoping it will be the last, as we can now move forward with this knowledge intact and focus on individual artists. Big Bang finally made a break in Korea with “Lies” but it’s their dominance of the Japanese market that finally put them on the map. As a testament to the members’ individual talent, G-Dragon also released the award-winning Heartbreaker which topped Korean charts and showed the band had the potential to be indestructible. With their 2010 album already in the works, one can only hope they continue to prove themselves as adept and proficient as BIGBANG.

07. Mr Hudson: Straight No Chaser

Mr Hudson’s Straight No Chaser is more than just a rap record: it’s a rap record that doesn’t resort to petty clichés, revels in pop appreciation, and isn’t afraid to show its vulnerability as much as it does its ire. More than a bid for authenticity, Mr Hudson never lets on that he has something to prove, instead teaming up with artists like Kanye West and Kid Cudi to craft clever rhymes and confessions, a sort of mea culpa that at the last moment, decides it wasn’t in the wrong after all. At its core, it’s just another break-up record (the track listing is almost unbearably linear: boy tells lies, boy loses the girl, boy begins to reminisce, boy learns to live without love, boy cries, boy gets angry, boy comes to terms), but it’s rendered in such brilliant music, it becomes more than just another entry in Kanye’s blog.

06. BoA: BoA [ read full review ]

BoA is everything a pop fan could wish for. Far more commercial than anything she had yet released, best-selling Korean artist BoA portrays an incredible bevy of talent: deft grasp of the English language, stunning dance skills, and a knack for mainstream sound. Made all the more brilliant in comparison to Hikaru Utada’s own second English language album released the same week, which fared poorly with both critics and fans, a lot of credit must go to the writers and producers who assembled songs very of the moment, nurtured BoA’s strengths, and kept the electropop tone consistent.

05. Lights: The Listening [ read full review ]

A synth-heavy record, Lights’ The Listening is a very mature record that tackles very adolescent issues, centering around the clichéd angst of growing up. The album might be too unrealistic for some listeners, reveling in fairy tale notions of attraction and nostalgia for childhood (and the early 90s that accompanied it), but it’s still a stunning full-length debut record that explores just how hard it is to define adulthood.

04. Nadia Ali: Embers

Trance albums rarely make my year-end lists (Oceanlab was the first last year), though this has more to do with the fact that trance is a very single-based genre with mostly big-name artists releasing full-length albums. I guess Nadia Ali is further exceptional considering her music is not traditional trance, but more of a typical dance style with heavy elements of euro. In glowing tribute to a broken relationship that refuses to release its spark, Embers is steeped in accusations (“Point the Finger”), longing (“Ride with Me”), regret (“Be Mine”), and finally, self-preservation (“Fine Print”). It’s dance music you can’t dance to, stoking and re-stoking what’s left in the ashes of loss.

03. Donkeyboy: Caught in a Life

I’ll admit I’m hypocritical when it comes to the 80s synthfluence of the 00s; on one hand, it’s becoming redundant, on the other, it’s still inspiring some pretty amazing music. Donkeyboy may not have the brash sex appeal of a Gwen Stefani or the Pitchfork-endorsed review of a Neon Indian, but they have the gifted ability to work within the confines of Scandinavia’s celebrated track record to produce some of the most fundamental pop music of the decade. The cheerful melodies set against gloomy lyrics are a testament to the quintessential pandering of youth, meandering its way through real world infancy; Caught in a Life is dreamy and escapist without being immune to the harshest glare of life’s headlights.

02. Florence + the Machine: Lungs [ read full review ]

Lungs is not a perfect album – a few tracks still disrupt the musical narrative, tending to stick out like sore-thumb intervals – but in spite of its flaws, it remains a grand, sweeping album that asks more questions than it answers, provides more enigma than understanding, and never lacks for want of a desperate, sometimes frantic search – for passion, for comfort, for spiritual enlightenment. Florence Welch’s voice cuts through tempos and soars somewhere in the highest realms, lingering far above the already massive melodies, wallowing in the heady first days of romance, the agony of losing love, and finally finding it again in the least expected place.

01. Kent: Röd [ read full review ]

Kent is relentless; releasing masterpiece after masterpiece is one way to show you have enough talent to start throwing it away on B-sides, but the other is simply to keep doing what they do: releasing intricate, carefully crafted albums that build upon previous work without showing any sign of strain to which so many bands two decades old succumb. Any weaknesses the band has never appears on the record, a heady cocktail of fear, aggression, anxiety, and coping with a sort of self-inflicted isolation. Kent is nowhere near where it started in 1990, but Röd is an incredible place to land and probably more than even the most enthusiastic fans could have dreamed.

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Mercury Prize winner announced; appears weeps

So Speech Debelle’s Speech Therapy won this year’s Mercury Prize and I’m a little upset because I was totally rooting for Florence + the Machine’s Lungs in a very enthusiastic, unhealthy way. Not in the same way I wanted Neon Neon’s Stainless Style to win last year, and that only because it was so cheerfully unexpected and out there (seriously? an album based on John DeLorean’s life?) in a way a concept album hasn’t been in so very long. I guess it’s an honor to be nominated at all, but isn’t that just something losers say?

But I really did want Florence + the Machine’s Lungs to take the prize, probably because it would selfishly confirm my own taste. Not since Kent’s Tillbaka till samtiden have I been so impressed with a recently released album. It’s easy to get caught up in old records that blow your mind; all summer I’ve been jamming to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, coincidentally, also  two concept albums (one loosely predicated on a rock n’ roll alien and the other on the world’s most exploited break-ups), but to be there when an album is released is a whole other beast entirely. It leaves records unsullied by decades of nostalgia and overrated hype that leads you to them with enormous expectations that can hardly break even with reality. It lets you create your own judgments on the spot without resorting to thinking about what the album means in the context that’s been pre-created by critics, friends, or sentimental baby boomers.

In Ryan Dombal’s review of Lungs on Pitchfork, he says that for vocalist Florence Welsh, “matters of the heart aren’t simple, everyday occurrences– they’re as grand and mysterious as the big bang itself”; I cannot think of a better way to describe this record.

The key to this album lies in the subtle, constant innuendos that Welch brings to life with a bluesy, soft voice that is anything but gentle. In fact, more often than not it’s the strength of all the juxtapositions that really brings to life the soaring harps and bombastic drums that play with all the aplomb of a ticker-tape parade, expressing the rises, falls, heartbeats, wounds, scarring, and occasional backstabbing that make this album so complex. Is the subject matter of “My Boy Builds Coffins” really building coffins, or collecting, then spitting out, hapless victims of love? Is she singing about a crush or spiritual ecstasy in “Drumming Song”? Is it a good or bad thing that love has turned her into a she-wolf in “Howl”? These questions are only half the fun of the record; the other half is the sheer pleasure that comes from exploring the intricate scenarios of these fairy tale songs. And although names like KT Tunstall and Kate Bush are being thrown around to nab the mystical aura of the album, the first one that comes to my mind is Stevie Nicks – the sweeping garments, the perpetual flashlight on love as seen through some of the more bizarre corners of the gothic, and of course, the dripping cynicism that betrays any semblance of a true love song without eluding to its partner: heartbreak (or maybe I’ve just been listening to too much Nicks lately).

It’s sometimes a bit jarring to hear the pure soul of the vocals on top of all those drums and guitars, but it works. Nowhere does the tone or direction of the album get confused or clash. It’s an all-around masterpiece, really, and though I’ve been playing it non-stop for the past few weeks, I still haven’t grown tired or bored with it the way I do with so many of the records that have topped my year end lists; overwhelmed by the first few listens, I slowed down to pick apart tracks and found something new with each spin.

So it lost out to Speech Therapy, which I heard and didn’t like, but then I’ve never really took to or understood rap so I’m probably missing something fundamental and that’s fine, she probably deserved to win. You’re never going to be fond of everything you hear. But when you do have that rare moment of discovery, everybody wins. And that’s all that really matters in the very personal, very relentless pursuit of that glorious, ultimate response to recorded music.