Bill’s Indie Basement (2/14): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody. I’ve got a box of chocolates for you — well four chocolates and some of them are bitter and others may be laced with something. Choose carefully! The sweets include: former Women singer/guitarist Patrick Flegel’s captivating, haunting new album as Cindy Lee; Brooding Brooklyn trio Bambara further refine their swaggering, darkly romantic sound on Stray; mystical New Mexico duo Tan Cologne cast wonderful spells on their debut album; and Montreal’s Elephant Stone are at their most Beatlesque on new dystopian concept album Hollow.
These are not the only records coming out this week. Andrew reviews the not-bad-not-great new Tame Impala and more in Notable Releases. And for more Indie Basement-approved stuff from this week: three France Gall albums are getting reissued by Third Man; Mexico’s Lorelle Meets the Obsolete will be touring soon; Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess has a new solo album on the way; The Ocean Blue helpfully noted that Eggstone might be reuniting; and LA festival Cruel World will be just about perfect once Morrissey inevitably cancels his appearance at it.
Cindy Lee – What’s Tonight to Eternity?
Former Women member Patrick Flegel creates a gorgeous, captivating dreamworld that occasionally descends into nightmare on their fifth album as Cindy Lee.
As Cindy Lee, former Women singer/guitarist Patrick Flegel makes music that is eerie, beautiful, nostalgic, and sometimes a little disquieting, like the Lady in the Radiator from Eraserhead covering The Carpenters by way of Sonic Youth and The Radio Dept. The Carpenters, and the tragic story of Karen Carpenter in particular, were a direct influence on Cindy Lee’s fantastic fifth album, What’s Tonight To Eternity?, a record whose otherworldly pop is perfectly matched to its quizzical, somewhat nihilistic title. “I found a deep interest and comfort in Karen’s story, which is a cautionary tale about the monstrosity of show business, stardom at a young age and being a misfit looking for connection,” Patrick says of Cindy Lee’s new album. “What I relate to in her has to do with what is hidden, what is unknown.”
Coming straight from the unknown, What’s Tonight To Eternity? is a genuinely eerie record. Flegel’s spindly guitar style, which gave Women such a distinct sound, is still present here on “Heavy Metal,” “Plastic Raincoat” and “One Second To Toe The Line,” but now applied to gauzy 1950s prom themes. Under buckets of reverb, it’s part nostalgia and part dementia — there are points on the album where The Caretaker seems like a primary influence — with occasional waves of Psychocandy-style feedback as shocking psychosis. The song “I Want to See You Suffer” starts as baroque-psych pop with shades of Phil Spector, complete with bouncing bass, strings, blown-out harpsichord/celeste that sounds like it was fed through a portable AM radio, and Flegel’s vocals floating in the ether. But then a feedback squall totally engulfs the song, destroying the instrumentation, then receding, leaving only spooky organ and turning it into a funeral dirge. Even when Flegel uses more modern instruments — ’80s style synths appear on the Soft Cell-ish “Lucifer Stand” and the title track — they are warped into Cindy Lee’s alien limboland. What’s Tonight To Eternity? is a masterwork of mood that doesn’t skimp on melody and has the power to haunt long after the album finishes.
Bambara – Stray
Brooklyn trio tighten and polish their dark, swaggering and romantic style, and even let a little light in, too.
I have long been a fan of guttural rock vocalizations, be it Big Country frontman Stuart Adamson’s “SHOT!”‘s, the hiccup-y “ooh’s “made by New Order’s Bernard Sumner, or Jarvis Cocker’s ahh’s and proclivity for throwing in “awright”s all over the place. Bambara frontman Reid Bateh is a master of the forceful “HUH!” that comes straight from the diaphragm and sound right at home amongst the twangy guitar bends and train-beat drumming on his band’s more breakneck songs.
Continuing from where they left off on 2018’s excellent A Shadow on Everything, Stray refines and polishes their dark, romantic sound whose #1 asset remains pure swagger. (That sound somewhere around Nick Cave/Rowland S. Howard, Leonard Cohen, and Swans.) This one is a little more of a sultry after-hours record, lit in red neon, made in dark alleys and dimly lit dives where well liquor is the only thing being poured. It’s not a total redesign but there are some nice new features on the 2020 model, most significantly the addition of ethereal backup vocals courtesy Drew Citron (Beverly, Public Practice) and Anina Ivry-Block (Palberta). On album highlights “Sing Me to the Street,” “Stay Cruel” and “Death Croons,” they bring heavenly lift and a touch of optimism to what Reid calls “a death-obsessed album” and those possessed grunts and groans.
Tan Cologne – Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico
Taos duo could not sound more New Mexico on their mystic psych debut
Lauren Green (ex Mirror Travel) and interdisciplinary artist Marissa Macias met in Taos, New Mexico five years ago and soon began collaborating on art and music together. Out of that came Tan Cologne, a duo whose music is immediately evocative of their desert locale. You can hear the painted topography in the spacey, twangy guitars, and their harmonies ring like mystic crystals given to natives by ancient alien visitors. In fact the band’s debut album gets its title from composer Joanne Forman’s 1987 soundscape “Cave Vaults of The Moon” that accompanied a sculpture exhibition in Taos, NM on “imagined alien artifacts.” You kinda get all that without knowing all that stuff, or even what the record’s called, and you could probably guess the general part of the country they’re from just by listening to their far-out debut album. Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico is a total vibe record, and a terrific, beautiful and fully realized one at that, man.
Swing a dreamcatcher at a psych fest and you’re bound to hit a band that kinda sounds like Tan Cologne but this album is better than 97% of what’s out there today, though I’m not sure if I can exactly explain why. It hits me like the tripped out first Verve album, A Storm in Heaven, with expert use of reverb and echo that, when combined with slow groove melodic basslines, atmospheric guitarwork, lithe drumming and Lauren and Marissa’s voices, lifts you an inch or two off the ground. It’s warm and enveloping, and more than happy to stretch out and groove in the warm morning sun. Which also sounds like an ideal way to listen to this record.
Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico is the first album in a good while to come out on Swedish label Labrador (once the home of The Radio Dept) and is one of the few US acts on the roster. Tan Cologne have a few West Coast dates this week.
Elephant Stone – Hollow
Montreal sitar-powered psych group’s sixth full-length is a Beatlesque concept record about Earth’s destruction and repeated histories.
Montreal psych combo Elephant Stone, led by in-demand sitar player (and bassist) Rishi Dir, have created a dystopian sci-fi concept album as their sixth full-length. The story seems extrapolated from goings on in today’s world. Here’s the gist:
The story takes place immediately after mankind’s catastrophic destruction of the Earth; and what happens when the same elite responsible for the first world-destroying climate disaster touch down on New Earth, a recently-discover planet sold with the same life of prosperity as the one they’d just destroyed? As soon as the chosen few step off the Harmonia ship built for the journey, it’s clear that all is not what it seems and humanity appears destined to make the same mistakes: the storyline touches upon the plundering/poisoning of their home, the elite, demagogues, false idols, the truth as seen by children, and, ultimately, the fight for the survival of their species.
Lucky for me and others who don’t pay enough attention to the lyrics, you don’t need to know the concept to like Hollow, which is Elephant Stone’s most overtly Beatlesque record to date (with a little Tame Impala synthy chillzone vibes in there too). “We Cry for Harmonia,” “Hollow World” and the moody/groovy “I See You” are among their catchiest songs to date, while the doomy, riffy “Land of the Dead” and trippy, distorted and rhythm-box driven “Fox on the Run” (not a Sweet cover) expand their universe into new realms. Most of us may not be able to go beyond Earth’s atmosphere, but Hollow provides some escape.
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