Indie Basement (5/19): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in the Basement we've got reviews of new albums by Mandy, Indiana and new Matador signees bar italia, plus the latest from Mega Bog, Foyer Red, Pozi, La Femme, and Andy Bell of Ride's album of ambient astral jazz with duo Masal, along with a much needed reissue of Pernice Brothers' debut album.
These are not the only albums out today and over in Notable Releases, Andrew gives another seven a spin, including Kaytraminé, Paul Simon, Wiki and more.
Also out today: Thee Oh Sees' Live at LEVITATION which you can pick up on exclusive swirled vinyl which is limited to just 300 copies. There's lots of other great albums in the Indie Basement corner of the BV shop.
Speaking of, OSEES just announced their new album where Devo seems to be a big influence. Other Basement-y stuff from this week: Blur are back, with a new album in July; Velocity Girl are reuniting for DC club Black Cat's 30th anniversary; Roisin Murphy's album with DJ Koze is officially announced; Liz Phair will play Exile in Guyville on tour this fall; and The Hives still got it.
RIP Andy Rourke.
This week's reviews are below.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: bar italia - Tracey Denim (Matador)
Matador debut for this mysterious London three-piece recalls the early-'80s days of jangly post-punk
In a world where oversharing is the norm, London post-punk trio bar italia are a nice throwback to the days when you often didn't know anything about a band except the music. They don't do interviews, their press photos are comically underexposed (another descriptor: terrible), and there's almost no official information out there. (Bar Italia is also the name of a Pulp song, which I bet they've heard, but it's also an actual London bar. These three are a million miles from Britpop.) Unless you're deep into the London underground scene you may not have been aware that they are a supergroup of sorts, featuring members of NINA & Double Virgo who formed during the pandemic and released two albums and an EP in rapid succession on Dean Blunt's World label before signing to Matador Records for their third long-player. No matter, Tracey Denim makes for a wonderful introduction into bar italia's mysterious but inviting world.
Much like their visual cues, bar italia's music doesn't follow normal conventions. Nina Cristante, Jezmi Tarik Fehmi and Sam Fenton are all equal players, trading off vocals with almost no interest in things like verses or choruses. Songs feel constructed using the Exquisite Corpse: one member starts with a riff and melody and then hands it off to another who does with it as they please, and so on. Sometimes it snakes back around with weaving vocal interplay, while other times, like on "Punkt!," it's three distinct vignettes using the same setting in one song. None of these obscurist tendencies keep bar italia from making great, easily enjoyable music though. There is no shortage of hooks, and Cristante, Jezmi and Sam are distinct vocalists who sound great together. Most of their music lurks in the shadows with spidery guitarwork and jazzy rhythms which puts us in the same general world as King Krule or Sorry, but these three are much more indebted to the nerdy world of OG post-punk, from Young Marble Giants to Television Personalities. bar italia would've fit in on Rough Trade in 1980, but still sound very much a part of 2023. As for who they are, the music speaks plenty loud.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Mandy Indiana - I've seen a way (Fire Talk)
Powerful debut album from from one of the most exciting UK bands in a while mixes atmosphere and electronics
What is Mandy, Indiana? Specifically they are a group from Manchester, England who were originally named Gary, Indiana but then changed it -- perhaps to get away from people bringing up The Music Man, but also to give them more of an abstract feeling. The name evokes a half-forgotten memory, one that wells up unexpectedly that you can never quite pin down. Mandy, Indiana's music feels like a place, too: eerie, alien, magnetic, dangerous, thrilling, elusive. They're a guitar band who don't play chords, an electronic band who only occasionally want you to dance, but they present a vivid, tableau with their music which is often unsettling and confrontational. I've seen a way, their debut album, soundtracks a post-apocalyptic hellscape dotted with abandoned factories and crumbling government housing. Some songs sound like they're being played at the opposite end of of an endless warehouse where industrial noise echos into ambience. Elsewhere, it's all release, with sheets of blistering white noise and singer Valentine Caufield -- who has an opera background -- shrieking, wailing and whispering, all in her native French, but her delivery needs no translation. All of it is compelling, but but it's the songs with a beat -- the neon-lit strut of "The Driving Rain (18)," the bam-thwok of "Pinking Shears," simmering techno number "Injury Detail" -- that stay with you the longest.
We talked to Mandy, Indiana guitarist Scott Fair about the inspirations behind the album.
Pernice Brothers - Overcome by Happiness (New West)
Pernice Brothers wonderful 1998 chamber pop debut gets a much needed reissue -- and first-ever vinyl pressing -- for its 25th anniversary.
Joe Pernice spent a good chunk of the '90s trying to fit into the No Depression alt-country scene with his band Scud Mountain Boys, but while he had the tear-in-my-beer part down, his honeyed vocals and baroque melodic tendencies were closer to Jimmy Webb (who wrote many songs for Glenn Campbell, like "Wichita Lineman," but also "Up Up and Away" for The 5th Dimension) than George Jones or Merle Haggard. He found his calling when he disbanded Scud Mountain Boys and formed Pernice Brothers with his sibling, Bob, making gorgeous, orchestrated chamber pop that hit that perfect point between happy and sad. Following a couple of singles, Pernice Brothers released their excellent debut album, Overcome by Happiness, on Sub Pop in 1998 which, with its gorgeous strings and melancholy melodies, recalled The Zombies, The Left Banke, and Nick Drake.
Overcome by Happiness was not exactly a zeitgeisty album, though, and Sub Pop, which was struggling in the time between grunge and the Postal Service album, didn't know what to do with it. (Joe started his own label, Ashmont, for the subsequent PB album.) This amazing record has only gotten better with age, and for its 25th anniversary, New West Records has given it a deluxe reissue -- and its first vinyl pressing -- remastered and sounding more wonderful than ever. It also comes with a bonus disc featuring those early singles, some of Joe's demos and a great cover of The Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way" that was a bonus track on the UK CD. There's also a wonderful booklet full of new recollections by Pernice, essays, rare photos and more.
Says Joe in those liner notes: "When it comes to all of my own music, the only joy is in the making of it. I'll listen to someone else's record when I want to be delighted as a civilian. Try tickling yourself. You can't do it. All that said, love it or hate it, Overcome by Happiness has three undeniable qualities that I need as a listener of music: The songwriting is pretty good. The performances top-to-bottom are evocative. And the recording captured a vibe. Being able to say that makes me feel pretty good. I like to think Overcome by Happiness is an album some other Joe Pernice out there might enjoy hearing." You would probably enjoy hearing it too.
Let's hope this one sells well, as Pernice Brothers' even-better follow-up, 2001's The World Won't End, deserves the same treatment.
Mega Bog - End of Everything (Mexican Summer)
Erin Birgy embraces pop and synthesizers but is still wonderuflly eccentric on her first album for Mexican Summer
Erin Birgy has always existed on her own weird wonderful planet, but her first album for Mexican Summer is also the first that kinda resembles Earth. Like on 2021's Life, and Another, Birgy made it with Big Thief's James Krivchenia, and the album features contributions from Westerman, Meg Duffy (Hand Habits), Aaron Otheim, Zach Burba, Will Segerstrom, and Jackson Macintosh (Drugdealer, TOPS). But unlike that one, or any of her previous albums, End of Everything was primarily written on keyboard, not guitar, and Birgy says it's an intentional step into more straightforward directions. "I no longer wanted to hide behind difficult music," Birgy says. "I was curious to give others the same with the music I create; to make music someone could use to explore drama, playfulness, and dancing, to shake the trauma loose.” End of Everything is not exactly synthpop, but it's not exactly not, either. "The Clown" "Don't Doom Me Now," and "Love Is" are all danceable with big choruses and relatable themes, but they're all also eccentric and proggy and full of unexpected moments, be it creepy cat sounds or the guttural shriek at the climax of "All and Everything" that would shake any passive listeners out of their haze. Birgy may be trying not to be difficult here, but thankfully her definition of "easy" is still not like many others.
Pozi - Smiling Pools (Prah Recordings)
Tightly coiled British trio take steps toward pop but remain totally unique on their second album
London's trio Pozi have previously made arresting music - using only drums, bass, violin and voice -- purposefully abrasive music that matched their understandably angy worldview. On their follow-up to their 2019 debut, they are flirting with a friendlier approach that you could call danceable in an early-'80s postpunk kind of way. (Think The Slits or even Tom Tom Club.) “It’s not our goal to totally embrace and restrict ourselves within a genre.” says bassist Tom Jones. “I feel that the tracks on Smiling Pools demonstrate that we’re taking our music to a different place and we want to bring the listener along on that journey.” One thing that hasn't changed is their decidedly political lyrics, taking aim at the garbage fire that is post-Brexit Britain, but they're delivering their polemics with bouncy rhythms, brighter melodies and violin that isn't expressly going for "fingernails on the blackboard," all while still sounding totally unique.
Foyer Red - Yarn The Hours Away (Carpark)
Brooklyn band sound like a mosh pit in a ball pit full of skittles on their distinctive debut album
Brooklyn's Foyer Red are one of those impossible-to-pigeonhole bands who pull from a wide variety of influences and sound like everything at once and nothing you've ever heard before, all while working within the general confines of indie rock. Deerhoof or Dirty Projectors are good reference points, and while they don't really sound like either of those groups, there is a similarly dazzling display of creativity, complex musicianship and an abundance of ideas. Yarn the Hours Away is full of sunny melodies and jazzy playing, but everything has been warped and twisted just a little. Songs like "Pocket" and "A Barnyard Bop" are technicolor blasts of manic pop, catchy whirwinds that shift gears frequently, with skronky guitar banging into clattering percussion and joyous harmonies, sweeping you off your feet, spinning you round and depositing you somewhere else entirely, dazed and giddy.
La Femme - Paris-Hawaï (Disque Pointu)
These Parisians already knew how to surf, but learn to hula for their Polynesian-inspired new album
It's been only about six months since La Femme released their Spanish language album Teatro Lucido, and the Parisian band are already back with another new LP that finds them making a trip to the South Pacific. Paris-Hawaï is a logical expansion of their sound which was neatly summed up with the title of their debut album, Psycho Tropical Berlin. They already knew how to surf, but now they can hula as well, and who can resist Hawaiian pedal steel?
Andy Bell & Masal - Tidal Love Numbers (Sonic Cathedral)
The Ride co-founder teams with UK duo Masal for an album of ambient, astral jazz
A couple years ago when Andy Bell was promoting his great debut album, one of his shows was opened by duo Masal (Al Johnson, who also records as Alien, and harpist Oz Simsek) and they bonded over a shared love of Promises, the 2021 album by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and The London Symphony Orchestra. “After hearing it, I felt there was something in that area for me, if I found the right collaborators,” says Andy. “So, I was kind of on the lookout from that point. I’ve always loved the sound of harp music – Alice Coltrane and Joanna Newsom are both firm favourites – and so, when I met Oz and Al, it seemed like it could be a good combination.” It was indeed. Tidal Love Numbers is transportive, ambient astral jazz, with Bell's textural guitar, Simsek's harp and Johnson's loops and samples drifting free and beautiful like cosmic dust that carries you into the vast unknown.
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