Bill’s Indie Basement (3/30): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Hope everyone is having a good Friday. (Or even a good Good Friday.) There are some colorful eggs in my basket this week: FACS rise from the ashes of Disappears, Stereolab’s Tim Gane is back with his current group Cavern of Anti-Matter, Haley Bonar drops the “Bonar” from her name and readies a Record Store Day Single, plus the new Dutch Velvet Underground and the return of Max Tundra by way of Daphne & Celeste.
More Basement-approved stuff: in a week you’ll be able to hear Goat Girl’s excellent debut album but for now listen to “Throw Me a Bone“; “Wax Idols’ new single from their upcoming Happy Ending album; The Lemon Twigs enter their Navy Blues period with their new two-song single; Sam Evian isn’t far behind with his new single; I actually kinda like the new Voidz album (something I cannot say of Julian Casablancas’ last one); like everyone else I like the Amen Dunes album; and I am currently experiencing some major Jarvo FOMO.
FACS – Negative Houses
Chicago’s massively underrated Disappears went on hiatus last year after bassist Damon Carruesco wanted to focus on his art and design work. The remaining members of the band — Brian Case, Noah Leger and Jonathan van Herik — decided to carry on as FACS. With frontman Case moving from guitar to bass, the band went further into the abyss Disappears explored on 2016’s Irreal.
That album was dark but FACS’ debut album, Negative Houses, is a black hole. If David Lynch and Mark Frost decide to make another season of Twin Peaks, FACS could be the The Bang Bang Bar’s house band. This record is really powered by the rhythm section: Case’s bass style takes them in a different, throbbing direction, while Leger’s drumming remains an unstoppable force. Van Herik’s guitar here is almost all atmosphere, and that atmosphere is pure dread. The dubby production (they worked with John Congleton this time), which puts on just enough reverb (and then a smidge more), is cavernous but not murky, and sounds best at the loudest volume your neighbors will allow.
FACS have already morphed, as Van Herik left the group after the album was finished, Case moved back to guitar and they brought on Alianna Kalaba (formerly of We Ragazzi) on bass. I have zero doubt they are amazing live, as Disappears were, and you can catch them on tour with Montreal’s SUUNS starting in May. (NYC at Elsewhere on 5/23.) They play a Chicago release party tonight (3/30) at Empty Bottle. Go see them!
Cavern of Anti-Matter – Hormone Lemonade
Stereolab founding member Tim Gane makes records these days with trio Cavern of Anti-Matter, who work in a similar-but-different sonic universe. For one thing, they’re instrumental, and the process is different. Things begin with homemade drum machines created by band member Holger Zapf, then Gane edits and adds instrumentation, with former Stereolab drummer Joe Dilworth then playing live percussion. Gane then adds more synths, and here we are with their second proper album, Hormone Lemonade.
There is nothing on this album that pulls in casual Stereolab fans or the uninitiated the way Bradford Cox and Sonic Boom’s guest vocals did on 2016’s Void Beats/Invocation Trex, but if you are into the vibes and grooves, there is plenty to like here. “Phase Modulation Shuffle” and “Automatic Morning” are jazzy and reminiscent of Stereolab’s mid-to-late-’90s creative peak, and if you dig the sounds of expertly manipulated analog synths paired with a great drummer, tracks like “Feed Me Magnetic Rain” and “Make Out Fade Out” would make great soundtrack music for a dystopian future noir film. (Why does’t Gane score more films?) Whether for your space age bachelor pad, on the go in your car, or that studio apartment, Hormone Lemonade works great as engaging mood music.
Haley – “Bratt”
Minneapolis artist Haley Bonar is now just Haley, having adopted her mother’s maiden name, McCallum, on International Women’s Day 2017, then deciding to go just by her first in her musical endeavors. Her first single as a mononymous artist is a Record Store Day 7″ that’s coming up via Memphis Industries. The two songs were produced by Lazerbeak (aka Doomtree Records founder Aaron Mader) and the single’s artwork is by Haley’s daughter, Clementine. She’s shared the A-side, “Bratt,” which continues in the gloom-pop vein of her record with her band Grandma’s Boy. There’s a haze of reverb that smudges the otherwise polished production and really adds to the song’s atmosphere. A soaring chorus seals the deal.
Lyrically, Haley says, “‘Bratt’ was intended to be sung from a teenage perspective, appropriating that unsentimental attitude while simultaneously looking back at yourself at that age, all of the insecurities that went along with it, letting go of your self-judgement on the past.” Take a listen:
Lewsberg – “Terrible” & “Non-Fiction Writer”
The old line, attributed to Brian Eno, goes something like, The Velvet Underground didn’t sell many copies of their debut album but everyone who bought it started a band. That is not actually true (maybe?) but when you think about the influence, from Jonathan Richman, to Television and The Feelies, to Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo, and all those C-86 bands, the gone-too-soon Ultimate Painting, and three quarters of this year’s Levitation lineup, it feels true. Their influence cannot be overstated and even when bands today use those same building blocks, even when used in the exact same way, there’s something about that sound that is still satisfying.
Take, for example, Rotterdam’s Lewsberg who will release their self-titled debut album on April 14. These are old tires, no wheel reinvention here, yet it doesn’t matter. The two songs released from the record — the laid back, soft-spoken “Non Fiction Writer” and the more-rocking “Terrible” — are warm, bare-bones, know how to let loose a two-note or ragged solo, and just sound right.
Daphne & Celeste – Daphne & Celeste Save the World
Even though Daphne & Celeste were from New Jersey, almost nobody in America knows who they are. They were an admittedly manufactured pop duo who had two Y2K era UK/EU hits, “Ooh Stick You” and “U.G.L.Y” — both of which kinda made Aqua and the Vengaboys seem subtle. After releasing their debut album, 2000’s We Didn’t Say That, and getting urine-filled bottles thrown at them during their Reading Festival performance the same year, Daphne & Celeste were dropped by their label and they disbanded, making way for t.A.T.u. and FannyPack or whoever. All but forgotten.
Then in 2015, entirely improbably, Daphne & Celeste released comeback single “You and I Alone.” The comeback came courtesy fan and Amiga-loving Domino/Warp artist Max Tundra and the single was pleasingly glitchy and comparatively understated. Three years later, we have Daphne & Celeste Save The World which was entirely written and produced by Max Tundra. His fizzy, spiraling, 8-bit-fueled kitchen-sink production style fits in with Daphne & Celeste vibe which is still irreverent but dialed down — way down — from their original era.
It still might be a bit much for a lot of people — it’s a safe bet this is the most overtly POP record that will ever be featured in this column — and it probably works best in small doses. (Much like the album’s terrific artwork, Saves the World is sugar overload.) However, there is so much going on in the arrangements of songs like “BB,” “16 Stars,” and “Alarms” that you have to marvel at Tundra’s ingenuity. Nobody makes music quite like Max Tundra. This deeply weird, sometimes wonderful record is as much his as it is Daphne & Celeste’s though he clearly made it out of love.