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The Best Box Sets of 2018

From gorgeous vinyl remasterings to deluxe deep dives into classic albums and more.

best boxsets

2018 was a uniquely good year for huge archival sets. There were 50th anniversary deluxe reissues of classics like Electric Ladyland, Music From Big Pink and The White Album as well as expanded versions of watersheds from Metallica, Liz Phair and Guns N’ Roses that helped us hear landmark LPs in new ways; we got killer R.E.M. and Charles Mingus live sets, a celebration of the first lady of alt-country and deep looks into the careers of recently departed icons Chris Cornell and Tom Petty.

yes, steven wilson remixes

Yes, ‘The Steven Wilson Remixes’

The main draw of The Steven Wilson Remixes isn’t fancy packaging or a slew of bonus tracks. It’s the chance to hear Yes’ greatest multi-album run — the five studio full-lengths from 1971’s The Yes Album through 1974’s Relayer — in shockingly crisp, vivid fidelity, thanks to the sonic wizardry of prog whisperer (and accomplished singer/songwriter) Steven Wilson, who has also worked his magic on the catalogs of King Crimson and Jethro Tull. His new mixes, on vinyl here for the first time, leave the grit in place while revealing new dimensions of depth and clarity, especially in the gnarly bite of Chris Squire’s bass and, as heard on the era-defining Fragile and Close to the Edge, the distinctive thwack of Bill Bruford’s snare. An original cover design and subtly reworked visuals courtesy of iconic Yes artist Roger Dean perfectly complement the audio revamp. —Hank Shteamer

aretha franklin, atlantic records

Aretha Franklin, ‘The Atlantic Records Sixties Collection’

Aretha Franklin’s era of greatness began when she landed an Atlantic Records, where she made landmark LPs with producer Jerry Wexler. This box collects her first five albums on the label — her classic 1967 debut I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love YouAretha ArrivesLady Soul, Aretha NowSoul ’69 — and restores them in 140 gram vinyl remasterings with the original cover art. Also included is an LP of eleven demos and rarities, including a spine-tingling version of “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” and a steamy run through of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” This material has been available before but it’s never sounded this good.

 

Ornette Coleman, ‘The Atlantic Years’

Much like Miles on Columbia or Coltrane on Impulse!, Ornette Coleman on Atlantic is one of the great artist/label alliances in jazz. This 10-LP box assembles the six studio albums the saxophonist made with producer Nesuhi Ertegun between 1959 and 1961 — including landmarks such as The Shape of Jazz to Come and Free Jazz that revolutionized the genre’s improvisational language and introduced Coleman as a master melodist with deep blues roots — as well as four outtakes collections that were released after the fact. Ben Ratliff’s typically incisive liner notes argue the key point that Coleman’s reputation as an avant-gardist can obscure just how approachable this classic body of work really is. Of Free Jazz, he writes: “The record has an austere reputation, but it is straight booty music.” —Hank Shteamer

Metallica, ‘And Justice For All (Remastered)’

Metallica became a force to be reckoned with on … And Justice for All, their fourth album and first after the death of bassist Cliff Burton. Dense, complex and mad at the world — Justice contained nine statements of aggression that resonated with fans of heavy music en masse. A lavish, new deluxe box set reissue offers a 360-degree look at why the record was so huge. The newly remastered original album sounds crisp and forceful — the power of the album has always been the way the drums and rhythm guitar punches you in the face — and the band has gone to great lengths to document both its making and the tours that followed it with remastered versions of the B sides, live recordings, demos, interviews and a hardcover book. They even included video of their incredible performance of “One” at the 1989 Grammys — the year they lost the Best Hard Rock award to Jethro Tull. The massive “super deluxe” edition includes both the CD and vinyl versions of the album along with a 10-inch vinyl picture disc single for “One,” a remixed, triple-live LP of the 1989 Seattle concert featured in the band’s Live Shit box set, four DVDs and 10 more CDs of unreleased demos, rough mixes, interviews and live tracks, much of which was culled from the band members’ personal archives. —Kory Grow

Liz Phair, ‘Girlysound to Guyville’

The road to Exile in Guyville — Liz Phair’s 1993 double-album-length treatise on the hazards of pleasure and commitment in a male-angst underground – was paved by a torrent of home-recorded demos, issued in 1991 as a series of cassettes. This release is the full map, opening with Phair’s complete Girly-Sound tapes and documenting songs like “Fuck and Run” and “Johnny Sunshine” as they grow out of haunted, interior frustration to rattling, public disclosure. Twenty-five years later, Phair’s blues and fury still bristle with perfect timing.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Electric Ladyland: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition’

It’s hard to imagine now, but it wasn’t until Electric Ladyland that Jimi Hendrix was officially in charge of how his music would sound. A new, 50th anniversary box set brilliantly explores Hendrix’s headspace leading up to the record’s release with private demos, a jaw-dropping live performance by the Experience at the Hollywood Bowl, a documentary about the LP and a 5.1 surround sound mix of the record, which is also remastered in its original form, by engineer Eddie Kramer. With the way it tries to cover everything, the collection is nearly as ambitious as Hendrix was when he made it (though that would be impossible). The original album still sparkles, thanks to the remastering job, and the documentary is insightful (most of it came out previously as an episode of Classic Albums). But it’s the non-album material that makes the box set definitive. —Kory Grow

Public Image Ltd., ‘The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs From the Heart)’

When John Lydon formed Public Image Ltd. four decades ago, it was a crucible for all his acerbic, post-Sex Pistols angst – but it quickly became so much more. This collection, which shares its title with a new documentary about the band, offers a robust survey of how Lydon transitioned from arty rager into pop-chart-ready hitmaker while adhering to the mantra of PiL’s “Rise”: “anger is an energy.” Two DVDs come with the physical release, while the audio selections include the band’s singles and B-sides, some brilliant Peel sessions (check out the cutting version of “Poptones”), dance mixes (including an explosive, nine-minute version of “Death Disco,” aka “Swan Lake”), a bizarre instrumental rework of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” some assorted live tracks and a pretty great New York concert from 1989. The best moments come when Lydon baits his New York audience, snarling “Look at the boring bastards in the balcony” and “Come on now, don’t be shy, it’s only Johnny” between some of PiL’s most joyful songs — and the crowd just swoons. —Kory Grow

rush super deluxe

Rush, ‘Hemispheres 40th Anniversary’

Rush’s high-prog period reached both its finale and its apex with 1978’s Hemispheres. This 40th-anniversary reissue celebrates the album’s gloriously geeky excess with an immersive package, featuring everything from an iron-on logo patch and replica of a vintage tour U.K. program to wild new artwork by longtime Rush collaborator Hugh Syme that riffs on the LP’s intellect vs. emotion theme and original cover showing a nude man standing atop a giant brain. Along with the remastered record on LP and CD, the set also includes a new surround-sound mix and a few period video clips on Blu-ray, plus a fiery 1979 live set from the Netherlands’ Pinkpop festival, during which the band contrasts Hemispheres workouts like “La Villa Strangiato” with old-school rockers such as “In the Mood.” Rob Bowman’s liners chronicle the making of the album in exhaustive detail, and help explain why the creation of Hemispheres ended up being one of the major challenges of Rush’s early career. —Hank Shteamer

The Beatles, ‘The Beatles (White Album) Super Deluxe’

In late May, 1968, the Beatles convened at guitarist George Harrison’s English country home with an extraordinary body of raw materials for their next album. The so-called “Esher demos” — 27 songs taped on Harrison’s four-track machine — were at once stark and full, solo acoustic blueprints already outfitted with signature flourishes: double-tracked vocals; John Lennon’s raindrop-arpeggio guitar in “Dear Prudence”; the future guitar solo in “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” hummed by Paul McCartney. Those recordings, issued in full for the first time, are the dominant revelation in the 50th-anniversary expansion of The Beatles. In addition to the demos and a new remix of the album overseen by Giles Martin, son of the late producer George Martin, there are 50 tracks of the work in progress – outtakes and sketches; roads not taken and songs left behind — across the summer and fall of 1968.

The Kinks, ‘The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (Super Deluxe Edition)’

The Kinks’ quaint, baroque commercial bomb gets its due in a comprehensive box set that features every single track the band could dig up from the period: the album in stereo and mono (go with the mono), non-LP singles, outtakes, demos, BBC recordings, vintage interviews. The album was Ray Davies’ spry, personal love letter to postwar Britain at a time when old shops were being bulldozed in favor of ugly new buildings and people were switching from wooden kegs to metal ones for their draught beer. Songs like the existentially angsty “Animal Farm,” the wistful “Do You Remember Walter?” and the quirky “People Take Pictures of Each Other” are among the best Davies ever wrote. Although a lot of this material has come out over the years in various forms, the remastering sounds crisp and it’s great to have the album’s songs next to singles like “Days” and “Wonderboy,” as well as the upbeat radio recordings the band made. The physical box set adds all sorts of goodies, including a book with a tribute from the Who’s Pete Townshend in it. It’s an act of preservation worthy of the Kinks. —Kory Grow

The Glands, ‘I Can See My House From Here’

When Athens, Georgia singer-guitarist Ross Shapiro passed away in 2016 at 53, indie-rock fans and peers mourned a uniquely talented artist who didn’t record much but really made it count when his did. As frontman for the Glands, Shapiro helmed two LPs, 1997’s promising Double Thriller and its fantastic 2000 follow-up The Glands. Now, those two albums, plus a collection of unreleased songs, have been reissued as a beautiful vinyl set called I Can See My House From Here. The accompanying book of liner notes and photos has tributes from the likes of Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, comedian David Cross and Drive-By-Truckers’ Patterson Hood, It’s a fitting introduction to an artist whose career more than warrants the boxset treatment.

velvet underground vinyl

The Velvet Underground, ‘The Velvet Underground’

Lou Reed famously described his recorded output over many decades as “my great American novel.” The four massively influential albums he made with the Velvet Underground (The Velvet Underground & Nico, White Light/white Heat, The Velvet Underground and Loaded) is the incredible first chapter. To honor VU’s fiftieth anniversary, their original label Verve has collected those albums in loving 180-gram remasterings for this vinyl box. Also included is Chelsea Girl, the debut album by Nico, singer of Velvets classics like “Femme Fatale” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” as well as a reconstruction of their “lost” album 1969, previously available as two hodge-podge poorly mastered CDs released in the Eighties, now presented as a double-LP for the first time on vinyl. The release is packaged in a sleek black box with a 48-page booklet that has an essay by Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker.

Tom Petty

Tom Petty, ‘An American Treasure’

Tom Petty’s family and former collaborators compiled a four-CD box set of previously unreleased material by Petty and the Heartbreakers, for release on September 28th, SiriusXM announced. The release marks the first posthumous album of Petty material since his death in October. An American Treasure contains previously unreleased studio recordings, live recordings, deep cuts and alternate versions of popular Petty songs. Shelved knockouts like “Keep a Little Soul” and later, more personal reflections such as “Gainesville” and “Bus to Tampa Bay” show how he always valued depth and story over a surefire hit. Issued just a year after his death, this set is a life lived in full, more than you knew.

 

The Band, ‘Music From Big Pink: 50th Anniversary Edition’

Recorded on the quick by Bob Dylan former backing musicians in New York and L.A., but spiritually located in an unglamorous Catskills basement, The Band’s 1968 debut one of the most welcoming albums in the history of rock — a shaggy-dog story about love, death and American sin that reels you in from the opening line. This 50th anniversary reissue packages included a Super Deluxe CD/Blu-ray/2LP/7-inch vinyl box set with a hardbound book; 1CD, digital, 180-gram 2LP black vinyl, and limited edition 180-gram 2LP pink vinyl packages. All the Anniversary Edition configurations feature a new stereo mix for the album, produced by Bob Clearmountain from the original four-track analog masters. You can really hear the lust in “Chest Fever,” the sorrow in “Long Black Veil” and the half-past-dead blues in “The Weight.” There’s also an insightful essay by Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke, and a new a cappella edit of “I Shall Be Released” that shines a lovely spotlight on Richard Manuel’s falling-angel falsetto. —Simon Vozick-Levinson

Art Ensemble of Chicago, 'The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles'

The Art Ensemble of Chicago, ‘The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles’

Next year marks 50 years since the founding of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the perennially avant-garde group that defines its mission with the motto “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future.” Storied jazz and classical label ECM also hits the half-century mark in 2019, and to mark both occasions, they’ve put together this mammoth 21-CD box set, which reissues not only the five AEOC albums ECM has released since 1979 but also a slew of other titles featuring the group’s members, as well as a 300-page booklet with liner notes, photos, ephemera and appreciations by collaborators and associates. Stretching from the Art Ensemble’s own ritualistic, African-inspired soundscapes and colorful, era-spanning jazz to affable pop covers masterminded by the group’s late trumpeter Lester Bowie, and the immersive, beyond-genre compositions of its multi-instrumentalist (and still-active co-founder) Roscoe Mitchell, the set makes a case for the AEOC as not just a band, but a movement unto itself. —Hank Shteamer

Kate Bush, ‘Remastered In Vinyl 4’

This deluxe remastering of Bush’s entire catalog, plus a book of collected lyrics (How To Be Invisible), couldn’t be more timely, as her influence was splashed across 2018 pop (see Florence Welch’s high-English drama, Robyn’s electronic shapeshifting, etc.) The first six LPs (available in separate boxes) are seminal, but this collection of b-sides, rarities and remixes is the gift – 34 tracks, including many of her best: the defining “Under The Ivy,” the bonkers Prince conjuring “You Want Alchemy,” plus curveball covers that include a Celtic-soul “Sexual Healing” and an especially empathic take on her hero Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind.” —Will Hermes

Eric B and Rakim, 'The Complete Collection'

Eric B and Rakim, ‘The Complete Collection’

The four studio albums in Eric B. & Rakim’s 10-disc The Complete Collection need no introduction as bedrock material for the last 30 years of stern, lyrically technical rap. But the box set’s two CDs of bonus material provide a wealth of forgotten material that paints a larger picture of the duo’s impact and reach. Leading with Coldcut’s masterwork, the “Seven Minutes of Madness” remix of “Paid in Full,” the discs include all the notable club mixes that emerged from in the sample-mad, collage-art United Kingdom of the late Eighties, with reworks by Richie Rich, Derek B, pre-Massive Attack crew Wild Bunch, Double Trouble (a team up between young Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook and Danny “D Mob” Poku) and others. “Friends,” the pair’s Top 10 collaboration with Jody Watley, painted a way forward for decades of rappers guesting on pop singles. The Nineties remixes are mainly curios that show Rakim’s rhymes matched with acid jazz, new jack swing and various dance-friendly beats. —Christopher R. Weingarten

Guns N’ Roses, ‘Appetite For Destruction: Super Deluxe Edition’

This multi-disc box set, which comes either as a $179 super deluxe edition or a for-fans-only, $999 “Locked N’ Loaded” mega box, provides a new, nearly comprehensive look at the group Rolling Stone declared “the world’s most exciting hard-rock band” right out of the gate in 1988. In addition to the original album – which is remastered here and remains a document of rock & roll perfection — the collection contains EP tracks, B Sides, rarities and a heap of previously unreleased demo recordings that chronicle Appetite for Destruction’s evolution. Highlights include the ripping “It’s So Easy” B Side “Shadow of Your Love” (a tune that really should have made it onto Appetite), elections from the band’s 1986 demo session at Sound City Studios with former Nazareth guitarist Manny Charlton producing, an instrumental take of the rocker “Ain’t Goin’ Down” and “New Work Tune,” a joyous, instrumental acoustic jam that ends with one of the guys saying, “Yeah, we should work on that.” —Kory Grow

coltrane

John Coltrane, ‘1963: New Directions’

John Coltrane’s Sixties were every bit as eventful and gamechanging as Bob Dylan’s or the Beatles’. This new set, featuring every recording the saxophonist made for Impulse! In 1963, shows just how much brilliance the saxophonist could pack into a single calendar year. Issued on three CDs or five LPs, the set begins with Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, the recently unearthed studio date with Coltrane’s Classic Quartet that was rightly touted as the jazz find of the year. From there, it moves on to a consummately elegant collaboration with vocalist Johnny Hartman, hard-swinging live and studio sessions featuring drumming great Roy Haynes subbing in for Coltrane’s regular kit man Elvin Jones, and finally the Classic Quartet’s exemplary Live at Birdland LP. New liner notes by David Wild provide helpful context, explaining why Coltrane was so well-documented during this period — and how it was that an entire top-shelf LP could end up being misplaced for decades. —Hank Shteamer

jerry garcia, before the dead

Jerry Garcia, ‘Before the Dead’

In the early Sixties, Garcia spent several years immersed in bluegrass and folk, playing in a succession of Palo Alto-area bands with oddball names like the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers. To date, only a small portion of the recordings he made with those combos has been released, making the multi-disc Before the Dead the deepest — and most educational — dive yet into Garcia’s pre-Dead musical life. Right up to his death, Garcia would periodically revisit his bluegrass roots, from the wonderful but short-lived Old and in the Way to albums he made with mandolinist David Grisman. But Before the Dead reveals, in more detail than ever before, when and how that appetite began and why numbers like “Deep Elem Blues” and “Rosa Lee McFall,” both heard here, made their way into the Dead’s repertoire.

Fleet Foxes, ‘First Collection 2006-2009’

Fleet Foxes’ 2008 debut arrived fully-formed, like a lightning bolt of folk-rock gold from the Pacific Northwest. Other bands in the 2000s had drawn from a similar pool of inspirations, but none had synthesized British melancholy and West Coast sunshine quite so smoothly — and, as the subsequent decade of dour imitators has showed, few could keep up even after Fleet Foxes set the blueprint. This beautifully produced box set supplements the debut with two early EPs, a new disc of B-sides and rarities, and a booklet with photos and other art. The basement demos of “Ragged Wood” and “He Doesn’t Know Why” are revealing, but the real gem of the set is still that first instant-classic LP, sounding as excellently out-of-time as ever. —Simon Vozick-Levinson