The Year’s Most Welcome Musical Comebacks

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In recent years, reunions of well-regarded bands have become commonplace, occupying regular paths on the touring circuit and inspiring music-blog speculations as to which underground act will be the next to regroup. Rarer are the reunions, like Mission of Burma’s, that yield impressive, new creative output. At their best, albums made after a long absence can be essential: a restatement of what made an artist great, or a revelation of something fresh and unexpected.

What follows is a look at ten of the year’s most notable musical comebacks: some from recently reunited bands, others from long-dormant projects that never really went away, and a few from musicians bringing new outlets into the spotlight. They range from minimalist electronic music to classically-inspired post-rock, from autobiographical ruminations to three-chord punk.

Vaselines: Sex With an X (Sub Pop)

In which the duo of Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly return, joined (as in their recent tours) by members of Belle & Sebastian and the 1990s. Sex With an X comes 21 years after their last recordings, and yet sounds entirely of a piece with them: self-assured, voracious, playful, and unbelievably charming. The relentlessly up-tempo punk rock on Sex With an X goes from agitated (opener “Ruined”) to blissed-out (“Turning it On”), and wins some sort of award for the year’s most memorable song title: “Overweight but Over You.”

Versus: On the Ones and Threes (Merge)

For their first album in a decade, New York City’s Versus adopt a heavier sound than what we heard on 2000’s Hurrah; it’s at once ominous and triumphant, with Richard Baluyut and Fontaine Toups trading off lead-vocal duties amidst sinister and airy chords. On the Ones and Threes feels like both a statement of renewed purpose and a sampler of exactly what this band is capable of; that the latter encompasses the classic pop of “Into Blue,” the post-punk barrage of “Invincible Hero,” and the languorous “Erstwhile” is a statement of this group’s renewed range.

Stream On the Ones and Threes in full here.

The Corin Tucker Band: (Kill Rock Stars)

1,000 Years isn’t just a musical return for onetime Sleater-Kinney frontwoman Tucker; heard here on drums here is Sara Lund, a former member of the beloved power trio Unwound. The arrangements here are starker than those of the band for which she’s known; in terms of absent-and-beloved punk groups and their legacy, there’s probably a halfway-decent analogy to be made between this album and Fugazi alum Ian MacKaye’s most recent band, The Evens. Even with comparably restrained arrangements, Tucker balances righteous anger with memorable slice-of-life vignettes.

Download The Corin Tucker Band’s “Doubt” here.

Superchunk: Majesty Shredding (Merge)

Superchunk’s last studio album was 2001’s Here’s To Shutting Up. Here, following the reissues of No Pocky for Kitty and On the Mouth, the band sounds thornier than it has in years. The guitars blister, and Mac McCaughan’s voice has tapped into a bit of the yearning that suffuses his solo work as Portastatic. It’s unabashedly anthemic, and in the chorus of “Crossed Wires,” the album’s title becomes literal.

Stream Majesty Shredding in full here.

Three Mile Pilot: The Inevitable Past is the Future Forgotten (Temporary Residence Ltd.)

Thirteen years after Another Desert, Another Sea, Three Mile Pilot return, here pared down to a trio. It’s both a return to the basics of their sound and an accumulation of all that this group’s members have done in recent years. Armistead Burwell Smith IV has brought some sinewy melodies with him from his work as a member of Pinback, and they come as a welcome addition: these songs are equally offbeat and elevated. And as well-suited as Pall Jenkins’s haunted crooning is to the music of the Black Heart Procession, it’s a fine thing to find him exploring different elements of his vocal range here.

Download: “Days of Wrath”

Oval: O (Thrill Jockey)

O is Markus Popp’s first full-length work under the name Oval in nine years. (It’s accompanied by a pair of EPs: Oh and the free Ringtone.) It’s a 70-track-long double album, and one that makes interesting use of the format. The first half devotes itself to lengthier explorations of drones, glitches, and percussive effects; at the halfway point (with 50 tracks still to go), the feeling becomes more experimental, Popp’s treatment of his elements becoming bolder. A spirit of renewal abounds. At times, listening to O feels like hearing Popp think out loud — half concrete science, half electronic bliss.

Stream O here.

Gil Scott-Heron: (XL)

Gil Scott-Heron’s first studio album in 16 years has the feeling of a history lesson interwoven with memoir. Ruminations on his life blend with original work and covers of (one assumes) songs that influenced that work. Of the last of those, his takes on “Me and the Devil” and “I’ll Take Care of You” are hauntingly delivered; someone’s going to put Scott-Heron’s rendition opposite Mark Lanegan’s on a mixtape and win hearts. These are rich arrangements (and Alec Wilkinson’s recent New Yorker profile, which touches on the album’s recording, is worth reading), ones that surround and compliment Scott-Heron’s weathered voice.

Young Scamels: (File 13)

The name “Young Scamels” may not ring any bells, but fans of the Louisville-based post-rock band Rachel’s should pay attention: this album reunites three members — Jason Noble, Christian Frederickson, and Greg King — of said group, here making music in a slightly more rock-oriented vein. As the title suggest, these songs were originally written for a theatrical production of the Shakespearean drama in question. Musically, Tempest falls somewhere between the chamber pop of Clogs and the soul deconstructions of His Name is Alive, with a sweeping scope that listeners of The Sea and the Bells will appreciate, alongside an impressive vocal turn by Amber Estes.

Download: “Full Fathom Five (Thy Father Lies)”

Sam Prekop: Old Punch Card (Thrill Jockey)

Sam Prekop’s musical history abounds with nuanced pop: there’s a pretty clear line from Shrimp Boat to The Sea and Cake and his first two solo albums. Old Punch Card is his first solo work in five years, and it’s a drastic departure from anything he’s done before. As the title suggests, there’s a strong analog-computer influence here, and the songs lean towards the ambient/drone side of the spectrum. A significant change of pace, but also a surprising sign that Prekop’s considerable skills aren’t confined to up-tempo pop.

Stream Old Punch Card here.

Swans: My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (Young God)

Michael Gira’s return to the Swans name finds him assembling a group of collaborators old and new, including drummer Thor Harris, guitarist Christoph Hahn, and guest vocalist Devendra Banhart. Though they share a fondness for dense vocal harmonies, there’s a sinister quality here that differentiates this album from the Angels of Light section of Gira’s discography. And the paranoid guitar of “My Birth” and distorted stomp of “Eden Prison” impressively channel Gira’s visceral imagery.

Download: “Eden Prison”