Bill’s Indie Basement (10/5): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week: Kero Kero Bonito continue to get better on their surprise-released new LP; two very different groups from Glasgow (one featuring Franz Ferdinand’s Paul Thomson); two very different artists from Melbourne, Australian (one punk, one quirky pop); and a reissue of The Soundtrack of Our Lives‘ breakthrough LP.
Need more Basement-approved stuff: those Stereolab “Switched On” vinyl reissues are out now (if you bought, take a whiff of Aluminum Tunes, it smells like pine for some reason); some of Brian Eno’s classic ambient albums (including Music for Airports) are being reissued on vinyl; you can now hear the other side of Flat Worms new 7″ I wrote about a while back; the new Molly Burch album is quite good; and if you haven’t watched Wimps’ video for “O.P.P.” yet, do that now.
Kero Kero Bonito – Time ‘n’ Place
Kero Kero Bonito were initially an adjacent to the hipster PC Music scene (KKB’s Gus Lobban released music as Kane West via PC Music), making shiny happy Jetsons in Japan laptop pop about food, videogames and selfies. They have steadily become more of a group and less of a concept while keeping their wildly creatively sensibilities and melodic smarts. With this year’s excellent TOTEP EP, they started using actual guitars, bass, and drums to compliment their synths, samples and loops.
The wider array of instrumentation just means more weapons in KKB’s arsenal as can be heard on their new album, Time ‘N’ Place, which they surprise-released at the beginning of the week. There are still plenty of 8-bit videogame bleeps and clever production touches, but it comes with more noisy guitars and drums. The best example of this may be the single “Only Acting,” which is like ’90s poppy indie rock with grungy guitars and a big chorus, but one where the power chords glitch like someone spilled soup on your laptop. Elsewhere, like on “Outside” and “Flyway,” Kero Kero Bonito make a very credible shoegaze band, that you could imagine signed to Creation alongside Super Furry Animals and Ride.
The trio’s kitschy side comes through more in the music than the lyrics these days. With cheesy synths and ultracheery choruses, songs like “Visiting Hours” and “Dear Future Self” could be, at least musically, Go-Kart Mozart songs (has Lawrence heard KKB? They seem like his kind of band), while “Sometimes” is an acoustic singalong that approaches the British music hall tradition. There’s also “Dump” (one of the LP’s best songs) which is literally about the sights and sounds and smells of a garbage dump. It’s a funky and midtempo polaroid snapshot slice of life type thing, the kind you could imagine Saint Etienne writing, if they ever wrote about such things.
Lyrcally, Sarah Bonito seems caught between youth and adulthood in much of Time ‘N’ Place‘s lyrics, be it on “Dear Future Self” or the 20-something drift of “Swimming,” which might be my favorite song on the album. “The current battles way down below me,” she sings with the lightest of dreampop backing, “Drifting but holding on; I keep my head up to watch the shore.”
KKB will be on tour in North America later this month.
AMOR – “Glimpses Across Thunder”
Glasgow-based four-piece AMOR formed around two years ago, and includes Franz Ferdinand drummer Paul Thomson and prolific experimental musician Richard Youngs who has credits going back to the mid-’90s. Along with Youngs collaborator Luke Fowler and Norwegian bassist Francis Duch, Amor make disco, but the odd-shaped and very human kind favored by the likes of Arthur Russell and legendary The Loft DJ, David Mancuso. Youngs’ warm, emotive vocals and piano parts, not to mention the general organic nature of the arrangements, really make me think of another Scottish band, however: The Blue Nile. (There’s a little Robert Wyatt in his vocals, too.) This is gorgeous stuff and not the wide-lapeled disco of Saturday Night Fever.
Amor released two terrific 12″ singles in 2017, each with two, stretched out tracks that tipped their hat to the extended DJ mixes of the ’80s. They’re now set to release their debut album, Sinking Into A Miracle, which will be out December 7 via Night School. The group recorded the album on 24 track tape and lead single “Glimpses Across Thunder” is widescreen dance music, disco as a long hug, with plenty of space in the mix in which to lose yourself.
Hairband – “Flying”
Let’s stay in Glasgow a bit. Hairband formed in 2016, their members all being part of the city’s DIY scene and include folks who are also in Spinning Coin, Breakfast Muff, Lush Purr and Kaputt. Like a lot of Scottish DIY — we can take it all the way back to Orange Juice in 1979 — there is an innocent quality to their melodies and vocals (which are lovely) while at the same time there is a complex nature to their music, using odd time signatures and rhythms. (All five members write and sing, too.) Their self-titled debut EP will be out October 19 via Monorail Music and we’ve got the premiere of “Flying.” The song almost has an African pop backbone but slowed down by a quarter, and, with the chorus of voices, there’s a very dreamy effect going on here. It’s really lovely. The video for the song was shot at a winter carnival involving “lots of mulled wine and dancing,” say the group.” It’s just a real glimpse into friends having fun and making memories and I think that is a reflection of what we are doing as a band.”
Hairband have a few Scottish dates lined up for later this month, including a couple opening for Sleaford Mods.
The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Behind the Music
Sweden’s The Soundtrack of our Lives didn’t really have an original bone in them. They borrowed liberally from The Who, Love, The Stooges and MC5, the Stones and The Beatles, and at least one of the Nuggets compilations with psuedo-deep psychobabble pun song titles like “Firmament Vacation,” “Confrontation Camp,” and “Mensa’s Mauraders.” But originality isn’t everything. They were master thieves, and the same went for their live shows where they used every rock move ever done like they invented them. (You could just watch one member of the band for a whole show and be entertained.) To me they were like Oasis, if Oasis were entertaining to watch and more interesting in general. Who wants a damp rag of a singer with his hands behind his back when you’ve got a zen trappist monk Grizzly Adams (real name: Ebbot Lundberg) in a robe commanding the stage? TSOOL had Oasis beat in excess too: they made six albums and five of them were doubles. Four of those are flat-out great. (They kept their songs at a reasonable length though, something Oasis stopped doing after What’s The Story.) They were one of my favorite bands of the ’00s…especially live.
TSOOL called it quits at the end of 2012 and, sadly, a lot of TSOOL’s catalog is out of print and not on digital services, including their killer first three albums. There is a best-of on Spotify etc, but they had so many good deep cuts that are worth exploring. Some good news: the band’s third album and breakthrough, 2001’s Behind the Music, is getting reissued by Music on Vinyl on October 12. This is really the place to start with TSOOL, featuring so many great songs: Stonesy rockers “Sister Surround,” “20th Century Rip-Off,” and “Independent Luxury,” the pile-driving “Infra-Riot,” the magisterial “Nevermore” and “The Flood,” folky pop like “Still Aging” and “Ten Years Ahead,” groovy psych number “Keep the Line Movin'” and the truly pretty “Tonight.” (Plus five more that are also good.) This reissue is on gold-colored vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, like all psychedelic records should be. Each one is hand-numbered and there are only 1500 being made worldwide. Pre-orders are available.
Here’s hoping they’ll do the same for 1996’s Welcome to the Infant Freebase and 1998’s ridiculously titled Extended Revelation for the Psychic Weaklings of Western Civilization, both of which are equally as good (maybe better!).
Gregor – Silver Drop
Melbourne artist Gregor has been self-releasing records on tape and via bandcamp for a few years now and today releases his official debut album, Silver Drop, via great Australian indie label Chapter Music (home to The Goon Sax, Dick Diver, and more). Gregor gets called an eccentric a lot — I have already used the word “quirky” — but while his music is pleasingly rough-around-the-edges in a DIY sort of way, this is pop music through and through. With tinges of reggae and new wave (there are great basslines all over Silver Drop), you could imagine Gregor on a bill in 1982 alongside The The and Scritti Politti. (He would also currently make a good opener for Connan Mockasin.) Likewise, his voice might not advance him on The Voice, but its unpolished warbles fit in perfectly here. “‘Silver Drop’ is the result of a yearning to free myself from lyrical inhibitions that, in the past, saw me disguise my thoughts behind timid metaphors and hide my voice behind poor mixing, obnoxious effects and low volumes,” says Gregor. “I didn’t think of myself as a singer, but I wanted to.”
There’s a little Jonathan Richman in Gregor’s lyrical worldview, finding the romantic in the mundane, like on “I Look Devastated” which imagines an early morning love triangle between him, his lover and a pot of coffee. The video for that song, inspired by the work of the Duplass brothers, premieres in this post and you can check that out and listen to Silver Drop in full as well.
CIVIC – “Pleasure”
Like Gregor, CIVIC are also from Melbourne, Australia but, sonically, are miles away, making ripping, glammy, punky rock n’ roll. The five-piece released their barn-burning debut 12″, New Vietnam, back in April and the band are already back with a new EP, Those Who No, which will be out November 9 via Famous Class in the U.S. and Anti Fade in Australia/EU. This one backs off the snarl just a scootch with a little more focus on melody, making for four tracks of hard-hitting power-pop with a little of The Damned’s sneer, plus a cover of Brian Eno’s “Needle in the Camel’s Eye.” They keep the attitude levels at high, thankfully, and you can check out the awesome “Pleasure” right here: