Bill’s Indie Basement (11/1): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy November! This week in the Basement: nervy Atlanta trio Omni release their first album for Sub Pop; Post-punk icons The Pop Group reissue their debut album for its 40th anniversary; Bradford Cox and Cate Le Bon get weird in Texas; UK group Warmduscher invite Kool Keith and Iggy Pop to their debauchery; and tropical psych from Brazil’s Pedro Kastelijns.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew looks at the very good Michael Kiwanuka LP and more in Notable Releases. Also worth checking out: Guided by Voices’ Sweating the Plague, and the new mix of R.E.M.’s Monster. It is not the biggest week for new releases or news in Basement-land.
Omni – Networker
Someone at Sub Pop really likes nervy guitar pop. Just a couple weeks ago they released the new album from Montreal’s Corridor and now here’s another new signing, Omni, with their first album for the label. While one group sings exclusively in French and the other in English, they have more in common than not, favoring snake-like riffs over strumming their guitars. Both groups also use effects pedals for a similar palette of sounds — I call the guitar sound “melted” — and are what you might call tightly wound, though in different ways. (Corridor actually reminded me of Omni the first time I saw them.) As a trio, Omni are distinctly minimalistic with a lot of space in their sound, like more nervous wallflower nephews of A Series of Sneaks-era Spoon. You can distinctly hear all the instruments on any given song as they ping off each other in a polite, pop version of battle tops.
Omni honed this sound over two excellent albums for Trouble in Mind, and don’t seem to have altered their M.O. much for Networker. The fidelity is a scootch higher, the bass just a little more round, the guitars a smidge less scratchy, and Philip Frobos’ vocals a little warmer, but this is pretty much the same band we got to know on Deluxe (2016) and Multi-Task (2017). This is a stronger album than their last, though it takes a few listens for its hooks to really sink in. Some of those moments, courtesy inventive guitarist Frankie Broyles, are killer: the main riff in “Skeleton Key” threatens to veer into “Reelin’ in the Years” before darting in another direction; “Courtesy Call” is sleek with keyboards that playfully recall the theme from “Shaft”; and “Moat” fires off its Wire-like riff like a pistol.
Frobos’ self-effacing lyrics are as playful as the music and the album plays out like little character-driven short stories of awkward encounters, day jobs, dejection and dysfunction (“I’m an impostor / I blend like wallpaper,” “Am I fired? Or did we break up too?”). It’s very modern romance, set in a world of 280 characters or less, set to tunes that usually clock in at 180 seconds or less. Here, “networking” involves all aspects of life, while signals remain charmingly crossed.
Omni’s tour just rolled through NYC this week (they were great!) and you can still catch them in other parts of North America through the weekend.
The Pop Group – Y: The Definitive Edition
Like Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane or Antonioni’s Blow-Up, some pop culture artifacts are have proven so influential, so incorporated into our lexicon, that they may seem less special to those now experiencing them for the first time. The Pop Group’s 1979 debut album Y is one of those things. When we think of “post-punk” as a genre, as an identifiable sound, most of those traits can be found here. Jagged guitars that merge punk, funk, and disco? Check. Experiments with reggae, dub production and tape loops? Present. Skronky sax? It’s in there. Pre-digital sampling? Yep. A dark, pervasive paranoid vibe with a singer who sounds like he’s screaming from within the void? In spades.
There were other groups at the time doing similar things, of course, but Y beat most of 1979’s other touchstone LPS — Metal Box, Entertainment!, Unknown Pleasures, Cut — by a few months. Y is also a much more difficult album than any of those (to say their name was ironic is an understatement). Their best-known song, debut single “She is Beyond Good and Evil,” was left off the album. (It was added to later vinyl pressings and CDs.) The record The Pop Group and producer Dennis Bovell made is, however, a deeply immersive beast with tentacles reaching everywhere. Listen to Y now and you can hear 40 years of influence, and it’s hard to imagine trip hop or Nine Inch Nails or The Oh Sees or Oneohtrix Point Never existing in quite the same way without it.
This 40th anniversary Definitive Edition of Y restores the original tracklist/running order but does come with “She is Beyond Good and Evil” as a 12″ single with the record. Both have been half-speed mastered at Abbey Road from the original tapes and might be the best this record has ever sounded. There’s a deluxe box / digital version that comes with two more albums: Alien Blood, which has rare tracks and some really good remixes (I think the Bass Addict remix of “Thief of Fire” might be superior to the album version); and a good live album featuring recordings from the time of the record captured in New York City and Manchester.
The digital reissue is out now but the vinyl drops November 22.
Warmduscher – Tainted Lunch
The bar is open again. Led by Clams Baker and featuring a lineup that has included members of Fat White Family and Insecure Men, London’s Warmduscher are back with a new collection of debaucherous tales, garage rock and tongue-in-cheek whiteboy funk. Like last year’s Whale City, Warmduscher are clearly just having fun, not taking themselves seriously at all, but are bringing unbridled enthusiasm and a throw-it-at-the-wall approach where there are no bad ideas. One of their good ideas was getting the in-demand Dan Carey (Black Midi, Hot Chip, Kate Tempest, etc) to produce the album which ups the fidelity just a hair while keeping things loose and gritty. The filth has not been washed away, just more visible (pungent?).
Warmduscher’s other big idea: try and get some high profile guests on the album. Iggy Pop features on the album’s opening track, “Rules of the Game,” which is like most of the punk icon’s recent guest appearances, a bit of spoken word. It’s a literal album intro, making it very clear, if there was any doubt, that Tainted Lunch‘s title is a Soft Cell/Burt Bacharach hat tip. (I was beginning to wonder but, no, Iggy is not on Cameo.) Much more successful is “Burner” featuring Kool Keith who you could almost imagine accidentally wandering into Warmduscher’s studio, saying “what the fuck is this?,” sticking around to party and cutting a song. Set to a g-funk beat, “Burner” is a lowrider anthem with the album’s biggest hook — aided by Keith’s “Call ’em!” — and you could actually imagine the song being a hit somewhere.
The rest of the album is a lot of fun too, including peaks into worlds of greasy auto-erotica (“Midnight Dipper”), Russian fetish dance clubs (“Disco Peanuts”) and other sordid underbellies (“Blood Load,” “Fill It, Don’t Spill It”). It’s all a little Big Stick — not subtle, but those who enjoy a sleazy good time every once in a while will find a lot of bad dirty fun to muck around in.
Some of you may recognize the picture on the album’s cover as being from NYC’s Grand Central Oyster Bar…not cool, Warmduscher! (They’ve probably never been.) Going to Iceland Airwaves next week? Warmduscher will be there.
Bradford Cox & Cate Le Bon – Myths 004
Bradford Cox and Cate Le Bon were the Recording Artists in Residence at Mexican Summer’s 2018 Marfa Myths festival, where over the course of a week they created and recorded new music from scratch. (Previous artists included Woods & Dungen, Ariel Pink & Jorge Elbrecht, and Dev Hynes & Connan Mockasin.) They got along so well that Cate ended up producing this year’s very good Deerhunter album, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? Now we’re getting the fruits of that Marfa Myths collaboration. “Writing and recording in a week is a tall order – especially when such chemistry exists between all the musicians involved, and the possibilities are boundless,” Le Bon says. “We committed ourselves to embracing the chaos, surrendering to all moments and moods that travelled through. It’s a crude holiday scrapbook shared by all involved, an amalgamation of the changes in mood and light that shaped the days.”
As Cate alludes, the resultant seven-song, 26-minute EP is pretty weird, closer to Bradford’s more esoteric Atlas Sound records or the ones Cate makes with Tim Presley as DRINKS. Loping rhythms, detuned piano, skronky jazz guitar and other obtuse sounds abound. I don’t mean to paint this as music concrete; it’s not, there are things to hold onto with every track, but it’s definitely more experimental than either the Deerhunter or Cate Le Bon albums released this year. If you’re fans of both parties involved, chances are you’ll find something worth the listen, whether it’s Bradford’s compelling lead vocals on opening cut “Canto!” or the delicate and pretty “Secretary” which has Cate’s signature harmonies (and could’ve fit on Reward). The song off this I’d put on a mixtape, though, is the funny “What is She Wearing?” that begins with Cate doing a bit of spoken word over noisy improvisation, explaining her situation of having to take off her sweater due to an abrupt change in the weather, revealing a “terrible t-shirt.” Things then go punk with a chorus of “Oh, no! What is she wearing!” It’s eccentric in all the right ways. I hope Bradford and Cate continue to work together…but structure is a good thing.
Meanwhile, Deerhunter just dropped an awesome, new 13-minute track.
Pedro Kastelijns – “Luzi 3″
While still very young, Brazilian musician Pedro Kastelijns has been making music for most of this decade, firmly part of the music scene of Goiânia that has given us Boogarins (whose 2013 album, As Plantas Que Curamdecade, he plays on). With help from Boogarins, who lent him instruments and equipment, he’s spent the last five years working on Som das Luzis. “Som das Luzis was a calling to the universe and myself to open the doors that would lead me to the creative life and music career I wanted for myself,” he says. The title translates to “to blaze, grow, and bloom,” which is how he sees the long process to the finished album. If you’re a fan of Boogarins’ tropical brand of groovy head trips then chances are you’re going to like this record. We’ve got the premiere of “Luzi 3″ — three minutes of blissed out psychedelia, a kaleidoscope of greens and yellows, that shifts its hues as it rolls. You can watch the video here: