Bill’s Indie Basement (1/25): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It’s a banner week in the Basement, I think, with six items I really like a lot, starting with the new Swervedriver album, Future Ruins, but also: new singles from Robert Forster (The Go-Betweens), The Proper Ornaments (ex-Ultimate Painting/Veronica Falls), and FACS, plus a reissue of Mark Stewart & The Maffia‘s 1983 debut album, and an amazing new video from Beak>.
Also out today: those Buzzcocks reissues and the Jah Division reissue. And if you need more Basement-approved stuff, there’s: new records on the way from Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and Spiral Stairs; and I interviewed Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman of Comedy Central series Corporate (this week’s very funny episode was very indie-rock centric).
Swervedriver – Future Ruins
Fun fact: Swervedriver featured in the very first thing I ever wrote for this website (remember “This Week in Indie”?) which was right around the time when the UK shoegazers were getting back together after a 10-year absence. A decade and change later and here we are with Future Ruins which is Swervedriver’s second post-reunion album that finds them in great form. Their first album for Mogwai’s Rock Action label (Dangerbird in North America), it’s a better album than 2014’s I Wasn’t Born to Lose You, mellower and yet still loud. All the Swervedriver boxes are ticked: thick, overdriven guitars that still manage to chime, soaring choruses, and Franklin’s mellow vocal style that’s actually gotten better as he’s aged. Their signature close harmony style also works great with the general chilled out vibe here.
This is not to say Swervedriver don’t let it rip anymore. The two opening songs — “Mary Winter” and “The Lonely Crowd Fades In The Air” — feature plenty of guitar heroics, and “Theeascending” has sparks flying all over the place across its final moments. The best songs are the laid-back ones, though: “Drone Lover,” which could almost be a Teenage Fanclub song, “Everybody’s Going Somewhere & No-One’s Going Anywhere” which makes nice use of vibes, and Future Ruins‘ slow-melting title track whose centerpiece lyric (“we’re ruled by fools”) is pretty much the theme of the album. If they’re not breaking any new ground, then, like their idols Dinosaur Jr, Adam Franklin and the rest of the group are comfortable in what they do, know what sounds good, and are still blowin’ cool.
Robert Forster – “Inferno (Brisbane in Summer)”
The Go-Betweens co-founder Robert Forster is set to release Inferno, his first solo album in four years, on March 1 and this week he released the first single which is also the album’s title track. Led by pounding piano that’s more than a little like Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way to Memphis,” this is a witty, crackerjack single that finds Forster suffering at the heart of the inferno: his hometown of Brisbane, Australia in the summer. “The jungle is coming…right up to the door,” he sings, noting his lawn is out of control and it’s too hot to lift a finger. “Dreaming of ice!” he cries. Making the song even better is the song’s great, playful video, directed by Denny Ryan, which has Robert mowing his lawn, as I’ve always imagined he would, in a suit, mugging to the camera as he suffers through the heat. (Note it’s peak summer in Brisbane right now.) Most videos these days aren’t worth watching but this one is fantastic. Highly recommended.
In other related news, Domino should be announcing that second volume of the G Stands for Go-Betweens box set series soon.
Mark Stewart & The Maffia – Learning To Cope With Cowardice / The Lost Tapes
Influential post-punk band The Pop Group broke up in 1981* after two albums and a handful of singles, but frontman Mark Stewart kept pushing the envelope and his sonic agenda with his solo work, much of which was a collaboration with pioneering producer and On-U Sound head Adrian Sherwood (Dub Syndicate, Tackhead). Using Sherwood and a crack band — including his old Pop Group bandmate John “Waddy” Washington, as well as members of reggae groups African Head Charge, Merger and Alpha Boys — as “The Maffia,” Stewart’s 1983 solo debut Learning To Cope With Cowardice set the template for what he and Sherwood would continue to create through the ’80s: fiery politics matched with cut-and-paste found-sound loops pulled from film and news broadcasts, and dub production that incorporated the then-new world of hip hop, and whatever else fit.
Made at Crass’ HQ studios, Sherwood’s deep dub, matched with Stewart’s post-apocalyptic confrontational style made Learning to Cope with Cowardice sound like the tapes had been through a war…and then dropped down the Mariana Trench. This is all pre Pro-Tools, pre-sampling: all the crazy, innovative stuff — which still sounds futuristic and alien today — was done with splicing physical tape, manning faders and a combination of genius and dumb luck. The techniques employed here went on to be a big influence on ’90s trip hop and industrial, and you can even hear echoes of it today on Low’s fantastic 2018 album Double Negative, and groups like Chicago’s FACS (see below). In 1983, though, unsuspecting listeners might have thought their tape deck was eating the cassette.
While some of Learning To Cope With Cowardice is challenging, there are a few flat-out amazing tracks: “Jerusalem,” Mark’s debut single that reworks the famous hymn based on William Blake’s poem as text (Emerson Lake & Palmer this is not); and “The Paranoia of Power” that is the perfect melding of post-punk and dub, and his cries of “Let’s storm the citadels!” feels just as urgent today.
As part of Mute Records’ 40th anniversary, they’re reissuing the album with a bonus disc (both on vinyl and CD) called “The Lost Tapes” that unearths 10 previously unheard tracks. Sherwood calls them, “the early childhood of the songs before Mark and me conducted frenzied, scorched earth, slash-and-burn, twenty-hour mental, manic editing sessions at Crass’ studios that led to birthing the finished album.” It’s a little less scorched-earth sounding, and interesting to hear the bones of these songs in more direct form.
Along with the reissue comes a new video for “Liberty City” which features some extremely unusual choreography. Check that out and listen to the whole reissue below.
The Proper Ornaments – “Song for John Lennon”
It was just about a year ago that Ultimate Painting (Jack Cooper and James Hoare) announced they were splitting up, and that their upcoming fourth album (which would’ve been their first for Bella Union), would not be coming out at all. (That album, Up!, leaked late last year and is “out there” if you know what i’m saying.) We haven’t gotten anything new from Jack Cooper, but one of James Hoare’s other bands, the not dissimilar The Proper Ornaments, recently announced their new album, 6 Lenins, which is out April 6 via Tapete. In the two years since their last album, the band has weathered quite a lot. “We started writing new songs in the summer. I was in bed recovering from hepatitis and very broken and tired so couldn’t do anything else apart from playing guitar,” says co-leader Max Claps (also of TOY). “And the songs slowly started to appear. In August we realised we had five new songs each and free time, so we decided to record them. The actual recording only took two weeks and it was considerably easier than our previous recordings.”
The first single from the album is about a different Lenin (or homonym of): John Lennon. “John Lennon has always been a fixture in my life, ever since I can remember,” James (who used to also be in Veronica Falls) told Clash. “His influence is omnipresent.” Pulled along by a vintage drum machine, “Song for John Lennon” is a lovely, psychedelic bit of remembrance and nostalgia from a songwriter who has always worn his Beatles influence on his jacket like a badge.
FACS – “In Time”
FACS started as three-fourths of Disappears, who decided to retire the project after bassist Damon Carruesco decided he wanted to focus on his artwork. Frontman Brian Case switched from guitar to bass, which made for an even starker, bleaker sound than the direction Disappears were heading in when the group ceased. But after recording their debut album, Negative Houses, guitarist Jonathan van Herik left the group, too, so Brian switched back to guitar and brought in Alianna Kalaba on bass, even though she’d never played the instrument before (she was drummer in We Ragazzi). “When we knew Jonathan wasn’t in the band anymore, Noah [Leger, drummer] and I focused not on who was the best person for this band musically but personally,” Case told The Chicago Tribune‘s Greg Kot. “We loved Alianna’s drumming style because she has this internal sense of rhythm. She didn’t have the experience of others (who might have joined the band as a bassist), but she had this personality and talent that’s not necessarily based on the instrument that we were asking her to play.”
After a year of touring as a trio, FACS are back with new album Lifelike, which will be out March 29 via Trouble in Mind. In a change of pace, and a very different direction than Negative Houses, the new record’s first single lets in a little light and melody. “I haven’t played a chord on guitar since the first Disappears record,” he he told Kot. “I wanted to bring some melodic ideas back that weren’t so straightforward. The weirdest thing for us was to mix in melodies and chords and make them our thing, part of structure.” Nobody is gonna mistake FACS for a pop band, and “In Time” still sounds like it was made in a machine shop, but compared to Negative Houses (which I called “a black hole of an album” which was a compliment), there are things to grasp on to.
The video for the song, directed by Josh Ford, ups that gothy, smoky atmosphere:
FACS just played Brooklyn and I am super bummed I missed it. Anybody go?
Beak> – “Brean Down” video
This week’s Indie Basement features not one but two amazing music videos. In addition to Robert Forster’s “Inferno” above, here’s a real mind-blower from Beak> for their single “Brean Down” (from last year’s awesome >>> LP) that you may need to watch a couple times to really appreciate what’s going on. Directed by Joe Volk and captured in a single shot, it’s a bravura dance performance by Moscow-based dancer Vladislav Platonov (aka Bullet From Space). A breakdancer, Platonov’s style here is akin to kung-fu drunken boxing, where every stagger, every trip, every tumble is choreographed to the song, with some of spins wildly, perfectly synched with Geoff Barrow’s drum fills. Some of it almost looks like it’s being shown backwards, but it’s not, and it’s also amazing that ends up exactly where it began. I don’t know how many takes this took…incredible. Cast it to your flatscreen for maximum effect.
UPDATE: Beak> replied to us on Twitter saying, “It was 3 takes no edits This was number 2.”
Meanwhile, Beak>’s most recent album was just pressed as a picture disc.