Bill’s Indie Basement (11/16): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Greeting from Montreal where it might get up to the freezing point today, which is better than Wednesday and Thursday both of which hovered around or below 20. But with that comes the snow that Brooklyn got on Thursday. No complaints, though, and I am looking forward to seeing bands singing in a language I don’t understand, including some French-Canadian hip hop. You can follow along with my exploits here.
Meanwhile, Indie Basement includes one Canadian band (Absolutely Free), plus a few reissues (Super Furry Animals, The Telescopes), the lovely new J. Fernandez album, and a documentary about legendary indie superfans Dennis and Lois. Read about those below and until next week i bid you adieu.
Absolutely Free – “Still Life”
It was almost exactly a year ago that I saw Toronto’s Absolutely Free at M for Montreal, where I am writing this from now. Theirs was one of the best sets I caught at the fest and I talked to frontman Matt King at the time who said their new album was basically done and would be out in 2018. Fast-forward to now and Absolutely Free have not released an album yet but they’ve now officially announced that the record — their first since their 2014 debut — will be out next year and have shared first single “Still Life.” The album was produced by Indie Basement regular Jorge Elbrecht (Japanese Breakfast, No Joy) and you can hear a bit of his stamp — ’80s synths and shoegaze — here which melds with Absolutely Free’s rhythmic, krautrock-ish M.O.
“‘Still Life’ starts in a familiar universe and bubbles up into another,” say the band. “The shift illustrates an appetite for personal, political & stylistic change, boiling over. It is about breaking free from patterns of still life defined by cyclical, repeated forms of inaction, and predictable modes of conformity.” They’re still in the same sandbox as Andora-era Caribou on “Still Life,” but it hints at new directions, too. (The new material they played at M for Montreal last year was all killer.) The “Still Life” video, meanwhile, was directed by Cristina Battle who sets the song against a succession of animated gifs that also advocate change. Watch that here:
Absolutely Free say they’ll also be releasing EPs and some collaborative records in the new year as well. Before that they’ve got shows with Scattered Clouds in Quebec City on December 1 and Montreal on December 2.
Super Furry Animals – SFA at the BBC box set & Rings Around the World vinyl reissue
Gruff Rhys’ great new solo album, Babelsberg, is not the only thing going on in the world of Super Furry Animals this year. There are two archival releases to get excited about. The first is a box set titled SFA at the BBC, which collects eight sessions the band did for BBC Radio One, including one that was never broadcast as well as an unreleased song. There are 37 tracks in total, and includes songs from “their heroic return to Cardiff in 1999 to play the cavernous Cardiff Indoor Arena.” Unfortunately the very limited edition vinyl box editions (there were only 500 made) are sold out, but it’s also available on CD and digital. There are also new liner notes, and illustrations by the great Peter Fowler. You can learn more about it here and this is out next week (11/23).
The second is a new vinyl repress of 2001’s Rings Around the World which is arguably SFA’s best-ever record. It is most certainly their most ambitious, featuring vocodered soft rock disco single “Juxtapozed With U,” one of their best non-singles, “Receptacle for the Respectable” (which features Paul McCartney on celery and carrot, as a tip of the hat to The Beach Boys), the beachy “Sidewalk Serfer Girl” and the album’s title track, the apocalyptic “It’s Not the End of the World,” and many more classics. (After typing that out, I think I convinced myself this is their best, though I’ve said that of Radiator, too, but really everything up to this point in their catalog is fantastic.) While this one isn’t official in the way that the Fuzzy Logic, Radiator, and Mwng reissues were, the folks at Music On Vinyl have recreated the original and rather unique packaging of the gatefold double LP, that comes with a bonus 7″ single that’s just a looped, locked groove, and the third side of the record plays from the inside-out. It’s out December 14 on purple marbled vinyl in an edition of 1500. Pre-order yours, and listen to Rings Around the World:
J. Fernandez – Occasional Din
What a lovely record this is, and perfect for fall weather — like the sound of vivid yellow, red and orange fallen leaves blowing across a city street.* I’ve seen TV critics write things like “Sharp Objects isn’t a show, it’s a mood.” Well, J. Fernandez‘s Occasional Din is a record, but it’s also definitely a mood. I called it pleasantly glum already and that seems about right. Sometimes you’re ok with being just a little down, especially when you have a record like this to walk around with while wearing your melancholy like your favorite sweater. “Overall the mood is pretty bleak,” J. admits, “but I think the musical content balances it out. I was aiming to write a feel-good soundtrack but with somewhat grim lyrics.” He wraps those grim lyrics in absolutely gorgeous arrangements, thick with vibraphone, mellotron, clavinet, harpsichord, 12-string guitars, “Bah bah bah” choruses, and other antiquated touches for a sound that recalls American Analog Set, Dots & Loops era Stereolab, Broadcast, High Llamas, and even The Cardigans. (If you wanna go back further, The Free Design, The United States of America and Ennio Morricone.) But it doesn’t sound like any of them, really, as his songwriting is distinct, sharp and darkly witty. Nobody asks “what’s your song of the Autumn?” but if someone did, one of these 10 songs (“Volcanic Winter?”) would make the cut.
J Fernandez just wrapped up a tour with Japanese psych band Kikagaku Moyo.
* I wrote this before the slushy turn Northeast Weather took this week.
Telescopes – The Early Recordings
UK band The Telescopes have been around since 1987, taking most of the ’90s off, but otherwise making a consistent racket over the years, most recently on 2017’s As Light Return. They get lumped in with shoegaze often, and there’s certainly some of that (more in their later years), but they started off as noisy wildlings who seemed more likely to kick shit over than just stare at their feet. Their early EPs were equal parts Suicide and JAMC, and singles like “Kick the Wall” and “7th# Disaster” are rave ups dripping with attitude. It’s this vital, abrasive era that’s been collected for The Early Recordings, pulling together their first four EPs. The title cuts from all of those (“Kick The Wall,” “The Perfect Needle” and “7th# Disaster” and “To Kill a Slow Girl Walking”) are great, but this may be worth the dough just for the pure badassery of “This Is The Last Of What’s Coming Now” and “Sadness Pale.” If you dig heavy garage psych, Isn’t Anything-era MBV and Raise-era Swerverdiver, The Telescopes’ The Early Recordings is the earsplitting triangulation of those coordinates.
Right after this period, The Telescopes signed with Creation Records, and everything they did for the label can be found on one comp, Splashdown The Creation Days 1990-1991, which came out for Record Store Day this year. This is just as killer, and you can pick it up on Discogs for basically cost. Or stream it here.
Dennis & Lois (documentary)
I already wrote a review for documentary Dennis & Lois, which just made its world premiere at the DOC NYC festival this week, but I thought I would re-plug here. This is quintessential Indie Basement viewing. I bought Happy Mondays’ Pills n’ Thrills n’ Bellyaches when it came out in 1990 and loved the song “Dennis & Lois” (and still do!), but never thought too much about the title. (Shawn Ryder’s Manc accent and delivery are not the easiest to understand.) Then I moved to NYC in 1995 and would see this older couple at shows all the time, especially for UK bands, and wondered who they were…but it wasn’t until maybe 10 years ago I put two and two together, realizing that Dennis and Lois were real people and they were them. They have pretty much lived the dream, from touring with and selling merch for some of their favorite bands (The Ramones, Badly Drawn Boy, Mekons, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), letting many more crash on their floor, and the love between them and the artists is mutual in this case.
As for their floors, I would happily watch a documentary just on their Long Island house which crammed full of trinkets, toys and memorabilia. There’s a segment of the film where Lois talks about the tattered pair of jeans Joey Ramone gave her, which he had worn for every Ramones show for the first few years of their existence. She’s also got a leather jacket from Dee Dee, countless postcards the band sent them from all over the world and more. (Dennis and Lois are also in the video for Ramones’ “It’s Not My Place (In the 9-to-5 World.”) Rooms of their home are dedicated to Spider-Man and the Simpsons, their basement is full of records, and I’m pretty sure their kitchen hasn’t been used to cook anything in a very long time.
As Lois says, “this is about doing what you love,” and it is certainly keeping them young at heart even if, as the documentary shows, time is catching up.
The one thing that I thought the documentary might cover but doesn’t is that Dennis and Lois helped with The Fall’s infamous 1998 tour that ended with an on-stage bust-up between Mark E Smith and drummer Karl Burns at Brownies in the East Village, as well as MES in NYC Central Booking, and bassist Steve Hanley quitting the band for good after 18 years. But maybe I’ll ask them about it the next time I see them at a show.
There is a new trailer for Dennis & Lois and you can watch that here: