As part of our ongoing quest to find the most engaging and exciting cultural provocateurs, Culture Canon highlights a particular artist, label, or collective of note and selects the five most essential entries
Over the past 15 years, we have seen the reissue industry—labels dedicated to discovering and release ding out-of-print or obscure records—turn from a cottage industry into a major force in the industry and beyond. Labels like the horror score-focused Death Waltz and the esoteric soul and funk imprint Numero Group have found mainstream success focusing on underserved niches of collectors while also appealing to nostalgia-minded millennials through being stocked at stores like Urban Outfitters and Beacon's Closet.
First catching the eyes of record collectors in early 2012 with the release of little-known post-punk group Black God's Love God, Love One Another , originally issued in 1980 and featuring a still-controversial cover depicting Ronald Reagan standing against an American flag with swastikas in place of stars, San Francisco-based reissue label Superior Viaduct has earned the rare distinction of being a relatively new label that is shaping the way records are reissued and packaged. Founder Steve Viaduct's early fixation of shedding light on the Bay Area's impressive but overlooked underground punk scene in the 1980s soon expanded in scope; moving from definitive compilation of post-punk icons Devo to impossible-to-find soundtracks to seminal electronic albums and classic dub reggae. What tied the eclectic release schedule together was an impeccable curatorial sensibility; buying any record from the SV discography is an exercise in material gratification of once out-of-reach masterpieces sitting proudly on one's shelf, be it a casual music fan or diehard nerd.
Since navigating Superior Viaduct's immense and specially diverse roster can prove daunting for even experienced record buyers, Proto- is going to select our 5 favorite SV releases that are sure to appeal to fans of countless contemporary bands.
Let's just get it out of the way: Suicide was punk as fuck. And yet, with the release of their self-titled debut album released at the tail end of 1977 they signaled a paradigm shift in the way people just didn't think about punk, but forever changed they thought about music itself. Featuring the duo of the irascible Alan Vega and Martin Rev, an electronics wizard, Suicide to this day is renowned for altering minds and changing perceptions. Almost alien at first listen, Rev's pneumatic drum machines cast a fog over his distorted organ, conjuring up spectral punk on "Ghost Rider" and unadulterated bliss on "Cheree." Although Vega passed away earlier this year, Suicide's influence will continue on.
RIYL: Crystal Castles, Death Grips, Getting Your Face Melted
Who knew outer space was so funky? Alain Goraguer's classic soundtrack is one of those rare scores that are better known than the movie for which it is written. Not that Fantastic Planet isn't worth seeing; beautifully animated, Gorageur's melodically grooving arrangements provide the background for an epic journey of a future human race away from the blue-headed alien species called the Draag. Having been sampled in everything from Quasimoto's psychedelic raps to the sprawling electronica of Caribou, this is one of those records that no one will know but everyone will have likely heard.
RIYL: J Dilla, David Axelrod, Air, Flying Lotus, Madlib
Spiritual jazz has seen a bit of a resurgence in popularity over the past couple of years, including Kamasi Washington's pivotal The Epic and the renewed activity of the Sun Ra Arkestra. But no metaphysical music collection would be complete without some Alice, and Universal Consciousness is easily one of her best. Marking a shift in her sound, Universal Consciousness saw her add strings and organ alongside her heavenly harp and placing her way ahead of most of her male peers in terms of the sheer ambition of her sound. Of course, the record was criminally overlooked upon its release, but today it's an absolute essential for jazz and spiritually-minded music fans alike.
RIYL: Kamasi Washington, Ravi Shankar, Joanna Newsome, Sun Ra, Pharoe Sanders
Over the course of four decades, French singer, actress, and poet Brigitte Fontaine has reinvented herself and her sound numerous times over, always in the name of the avant-garde. Having collaborated with the likes of Sonic Youth and Stereolab, this early album saw her straddling the lines between her pop and experimental tastes. The album moves primarily between sweeping jazz-pop numbers and vocal-led meditations, creating for a truly otherworldly and transportive record.
RIYL: Arthur Russell, Stereolab, Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin
Glenn Branca is a madman. Based in New York during the heyday of no wave during the 70s and 80s, Branca first made a name for himself as one-third of Theoretical Girls, an experimental rock outfit. By the start of the 80s, he began to bring his "guitar symphonies" to life, starting with the release of "Lesson No. 1." A piece of music like no other, it's a 13-minute journey through the power of repetition and volume and was supposedly influenced by the work of minimalist composer Steve Reich and Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." "Lesson No. 1" effortlessly marries the repeating rhythmic patterns of Reich with the unabashed emotionalism of Joy Division, resulting in a truly monumental record.
RIYL: Sonic Youth, Rhys Chatham, DNA, Philip Glass, Neu!