Bill’s Indie Basement (3/22): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy spring! We’ve got a bumper crop in the Basement things week: reviews of reunited Britpop band Sleeper‘s first album in 22 years, the second solo album from Pavement’s Spiral Stairs, Brooklyn orch-pop artist Dark Tea, and Italian industrial post-punks Metro Crowd. Plus: Eternal Summers offshoot The Concerns, a new compilation of mid-’70s glam and proto-punk curated by members of Saint Etienne, and skronky Oakland, CA post-punks The World are back with a new mini-LP.
If you need more new music, Andrew reviews very good new albums by Ex Hex, Nilüfer Yanya, and Lambchop in Notable Releases. More Basement-approved stuff: The Intelligence are back; so is Cate Le Bon; and the new Fat White Family video is an Indie Basement Bingo in one song (FWF, Baxter Dury, Roisin Murphy and Monty Python).
Sleeper – The Modern Age
It’s a good time for fans of mid-’90s UK indie. Members of Lush, Elastica and Moose formed Piroshka whose debut is really good, Jarvis Cocker seems poised to release his first album a decade, and shoegaze greats Slowdive, Ride and Swervedriver are all still in fine form. Sleeper‘s return was a bit unexpected, though. Led by the very charismatic Louise Wener, Sleeper were usually talked about in the same breath as Elastica but were closer to Pulp. (Wener rivaled Cocker for writing witty, detailed accounts of the lost and lonely set to a catchy tune.) The band made two very good albums (1995’s Smart & 1996’s The IT Girl), an uninspired third album in 1997 and broke up a year later. (Wener went on to be a successful writer, and her bibliography includes very good novels Goodnight Steve McQueen and It’s Different for Girls, and memoir Just for One Day: Adventures in Britpop.) I’m not sure how many people were dying for a comeback, but Sleeper reformed for a few 20th anniversary shows in 2017 and then announced next year they’d be making a new album.
The Modern Age picks up right where they left off, or maybe just a little before: made with Stephen Street (who produced their OG albums), it’s brimming with hooky, smart, literate guitar pop with a little punk energy and that shiny Britpop sound. Wener’s voice, breathy and powerful, is amazingly well-preserved; her lyrics remain sharp, as do the melodies (some co-written with guitarist Jon Stewart [the other one]).
If there is a complaint to be raised here it’s that, at times, they’re giving us too much of what we want, sounding more like a lost record from 1997 than something made in, to hold their own title against them, the modern age. This is particularly true of “Blue Like You” which begins and ends with the sound of an old dial-up modem and, even if it fit in thematically — and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here — it instantly dates it. (This would’ve been a bad idea then too.) However, sounding like yourselves is certainly not a crime and “Paradise Waiting,” “The Sun Always Rises,” the wonderfully breezy “Car into the Sea” and “More Than I Do” will be instantly recognizable as to who made them by fans, and stand up to Sleeper’s best songs. For the most part, the songs and Wener’s many charms win out. Welcome back.
Spiral Stairs – We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized
“Date with IKEA,” Spiral Stairs‘ Petty-esque song on Pavement’s 1997 album Brighten the Corners, should’ve been the tip-off that Scott Kannenberg was a classic rocker at heart. Sure, he’s an admitted devotee of The Fall and the Bunnymen but his own music favors anthemic chord progressions and fist-pumping choruses. His post-Pavement band Preston Schools of Industry hinted at what was to come, 2017’s Doris & The Daggers leaned in further, but with this, his second solo album as Spiral Stairs, he fully embraces modern dad rock, with a sound that falls somewhere in that 1979 world of Petty and The Cars but also isn’t afraid to dip into Bob Seger territory. This is not a bad thing at all: We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized is warm, inviting and nostalgic, dappled with old-school rock organ and horns. Scott sounds like he’s having fun, especially on the title track and the joyous, handclap-filled closer “Borderline,” and the feeling is infectious.
Spiral’s on tour now and will hit NYC next week for two shows.
The World – Reddish
Oakland, CA band The World make scratchy, dub-infected sax-attack punk that’s descended from X-Ray Spex and Essential Logic, but they play it like they invented it, with an energy, urgency and attitude that can’t be faked. Their debut, First World Record, was one of my favorite albums of 2017 and now they’re back with this new mini-LP featuring seven songs in 15 minutes that find them still on fire. I only became aware of this record’s existence about 45 minutes ago (it’s UK only), so I haven’t fully digested but “White Radish,” “You’re Going Down” and the provocatively titled “Kill the Landlord” are already early winners.
Saint Etienne Presents: Three Day Week – When The Lights Went Out 1972-1975
Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs stay busy when not making music as 2/3rds of Saint Etienne by putting together interesting compilations of forgotten pop, junkshop singles, side-men, the also-rans and almost-weres. You may remember their compilations from last year that looked at 1968 pop from Paris and America, and now they’re back with this snapshot of England in the years leading up to the punk revolution. It was a time when things weren’t so idyllic, wrapped in earth tones and unemployment and a general sense of unease. With Brexit looming — this album is out March 29, the day the UK is supposed to leave the EU — it seems like entirely intentional timing for this comp’s release.
For those who loved the much-sought-after 2003 Velvet Tinmine compilation that Stanley wrote the liner notes for, Three Day Week trods much the same territory of tough glam and proto-punk, much of it with a strong undercurrent of anger, resentment and dashed dreams. There are tracks by groups you have heard of but maybe not songs you know — The Kinks (“When Work is Over”), The Troggs (“I’m on Fire”), David “Rock On” Essex (“Stardust”), Lemmy-era Hawkwind (“Urban Guerilla” which was banned by the BBC) — as well as ones by The Cockney Rebel, novelty group Lieutenant Pigeon, Mungo Jerry, The Strawbs, and Phil Cordell‘s lovely “Londonderry” (originally released under the name Dan The Banjo Man). There’s lots more that may be entirely unfamiliar (as it was too me and probably many who lived through the era), too, but if you like Bowie, T-Rex, The Sweet, Queen or Sparks, chances are you’ll find a lot to like on the double LP set. As with all these Stanley/Wiggs comps, the packaging and artwork is great with compelling liner notes from Stanley. Order yours and check out samples, the tracklist and artwork here.
These compilations aren’t on streaming services but some nice person on has put together a Spotify playlist with 17 of Three Day Week‘s 28 tracks.
Dark Tea – S/T
Gary Canino plays in a few NYC bands, like the Feelies-esque Rips, but makes very charming, lightly psychedelic folk-pop as Dark Tea. His self-titled debut album, out today via Fire Talk, is a real treat. You’re instantly hooked with the opening song, “Rolling Back the Dial,” which features gorgeous strings, just a bit of melody cribbed from Oasis, and a killer guitar solo from Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy. The melodies here are often pure sunshine pop, with a few side trips to Laurel Canyon, but his understated vocal style casts welcome cloudy shadows. (You could make a very superficial comparison to Elliot Smith on a few of these songs. But I won’t.) There’s a real hangdog charm to much of this record that Gary has clearly put a lot of thought and care into, including leaving some rough edges intact. Dark Tea may be a new Sunday morning favorite.
Dark Tea play a record release show tonight (3/22) at Brooklyn’s Union Pool with Public Practice and Spirit Was (the new band led by LVL UP’s Nick Corbo). Tickets are still available. Dark Tea will then head out on tour — all dates are here.
Extra Indie Basement points: Jarvis Taveniere of Woods mixed the album and it was mastered by…Total Control’s Mikey Young.
Metro Crowd – Planning
Rome is an amazing city, rich with history, art, amazing food, cool public water fountains, you name it. Thriving music scene? Not so much. Bands tend to form and play in college towns like Bologna and Treviso and Rome just isn’t the biggest concert town in general. This is not to say that there is no scene in Rome, you’ve just gotta work harder to find it. You wouldn’t think quartet Metro Crowd would be too hard to find, given the abrasive racket they make. Named after the subway C line that runs through Roma Est and the Pigneto neighborhood, Metro Crowd’s brutalist sound pulls from heavy post-punk and industrial like Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubauten, Foetus and Godflesh. While dissonant, Metro Crowd are not formless, and tracks like “Infrared Sauna,” “Student,” and “A Dreamless Sleep” are jammers, evoking blistering sets in decaying DIY venues with no air conditioning in late July. They’re all on their new album, Planning, which is out today via Maple Death.
The Concerns – “Design”
Daniel Cundiff is the drummer in Eternal Summers and also plays in another Roanoke, VA band, The Young Sinclairs, but doesn’t really take lead (often) in either. With the The Concerns, though, he does just that, making the kind of atmospheric guitar pop you might’ve heard on college radio in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In some ways, The Concerns are just a reshuffled Young Sinclairs, as the group’s two other principles, Sam Lunsford and John Thompson are also part of this. Their debut album, County Blue, is out April 12 via WarHen Records and we’ve got the premiere of “Design” and its music video. Daniel’s smooth, hushed vocal style is a perfect match for this kind of gentle, strummy, jangly pop and there are some nice touches in the arrangements, like the always welcome ebow’d guitar near the end. Watch that, and check out another song from the album, “Calm Down”:
The Concerns play a release show on April 12 at The Spot in Roanoke.