Bill’s Indie Basement (4/10): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
If you need help knowing what day it is, Indie Basement comes out on Fridays so now you know...unless you're not reading this the day it was published. I guess it doesn't matter. What does though are this week's releases: SAVAK make their best, most fiery (and hooky) record to date; ADULT.'s alienated electro feels as currant on their latest record; Flat Worms team with Steve Albini on Antarctica; Cindy Lee drops their second album of 2020; Once and Future Band are labelmates with Oh Sees but sound like Steely Dan; and Kevin Hairs survives COVID-19 and is inspired to make a new record.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew takes on the new album by
Billy Idol Psychedelic Furs The Strokes, Laura Marling and more in Notable Releases. Other stuff from this week you might want to check out: The Beths are back and their new single is terrific; and spend a day watching episodes of Night Music, the late Hal Willner's "I can't believe this existed on network TV" late-'80s music series (The Residents WITH Conway Twitty? It happened). The BV staff is also making weekly quarantine mixes and this week mine features such iconic indie rockers as Al Stewart and Louis Armstrong (ok, also Cocteau Twins, New Order and The Wolfgang Press).
Until next whatever day these come out on, read this week's reviews below.
SAVAK - Rotting Teeth In The Horse's Mouth (Ernest Jenning Recording Co.)
Brooklyn's SAVAK mix pointedly political lyrical attacks with an especially hooky batch of tunes on their fourth and best album yet.
This year was already a hotzone, politically, before COVID-19 decided to join the party. Many are arguing that all this strife will result in great protest art but SAVAK have already arrived packing heat in the form of their fourth album, whose title makes reference to George Washington's dentures but also the current state of the White House and Oval Office. Rotting Teeth In The Horse's Mouth seems especially inspired, like it may have burst straight out of their guts -- à la John Hurt in Alien -- melding pointed lyrical attacks with an especially hooky batch of tunes, and bandleaders Sohrab Habibion and Michael Jaworski working in tandem.
The album opens with SAVAK's punchiest, most danceable song to date -- "Vis-a-Vis," which lands somewhere between early XTC and The Jam's Who-isms and advocates for dancing as relief from our psychic malaise. (A theme in 2020 perhaps as mentioned elsewhere in this column.) This one's got a killer bassline that double-dutches perfectly with the spiky riffing and Jaworski's "la la la la" chorus. Also from Jarowski, and similarly hopeful, is the album's other pop song, "Aujourd’hui," a jangly gem with an earworm chorus that he wrote alongside his three-year-old, French-fluent daughter about "hope in the midst of difficulties in maintaining a healthy relationship over the course of time."
The hooks keep coming even on the darker material, like "How Many Duchesses?" that makes great use of atmospheric synths and wonders what it's really going to take to get us off our phones and into real action; and "Listening," a song "about the gaslighting of our nation by elected officials who are supposed to be representing us" that's set against some killer, strident riffing and a guest vocal appearance from Girls Against Boys' Scott McCloud. There are more than a few great punk songs here too, including "Bayonet," that would've sounded at home on SST in 1985, and take-this-job-and-shove-it anthem "It's Mutual."
SAVAK pack a lot of terrific production touches and arrangement into these songs that don't have much time for solos or wankery, flying through 10 songs in 30 minutes. The only moment of stretching out is on closing track "We've Been Disappearing," a mournful song about losing yourself decision by decision that features guitar work and string arrangements by Michael Hampton (The Faith, One Last Wish, Fake Names). Over the course of the record, Habibion and Jarowski ask questions and offer answers with more nuance than you'll find on cable news or Twitter. Nothing is black and white for SAVAK, instead offering a forecast of grey days ahead. Rotting Teeth In The Horse's Mouth find them down but not out, ready for a fight.
ADULT. - Perception is/as/of Deception (DAIS Records)
More alienated electro-goth dance jams from long-running Detroit duo.
"Is it a dream?" asks ADULT.'s Nicola Kuperus on "Have I Started at the End," one of the many claustrophobic bangers on the Detroit duo's eighth album. A bad dream perhaps, but your nightmare might be someone else's best night ever. For ADULT. it might be a little of both, making the most of a bad situation, as if to say "this sucks, we're stuck here so let's make a party of it." On the duo's eighth album, Perception is/as/of Deception, Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller continue to mine EBM, industrial and other dark electronic music while exploring those themes of alienation. "The sentiment here is a sentiment of the forever outsider," say the band of single "Why Always Why," adding it's from the point of view of "the person who feels as if they were dumped into some strange landscape, with no escape." These aren't exactly new ideas or sounds for ADULT. but something about this album feels especially urgent. The synths, drum machines and vocal delivery all feel more intense, with tracks like "Second Nature" and "Total Total Damage" hurtling you through a strobe-lit tunnel with a cinderblock on the gas pedal, the brake line cut, and doors have been welded shut. Might as well dance.
Cindy Lee - Cat O'Nine Tails (CCQSK Records)
Patrick Flegel releases his second Cindy Lee album of 2020
Cindy Lee (aka ex Women member Patrick Flegel) already released one of my favorite albums of the year so far, and now they're already back with a second album. This is a different beast, though. Where What's Tomorrow to Today? was equal parts harrowing and engrossing, Cat O'Nine Tails is "lighter" in comparison -- no massive shards of feedback thrown into the middle of songs -- and mostly instrumental, including a number of tracks that Flegel rightly calls “hardcore neo-classical material," albeit made with synths. The "proper" songs are all in that gauzy early-'60s highschool slow dance style Flegel does very well, especially on "Love Remains" which plays like a duet between different aspects of Flegel's self. As always, Flegel creates a totally immersive world where the line between dreams, nightmares and reality are obscured by a slowly spinning mirrorball.
The record is currently only available as a digital purchase but you can watch the video for “I Don’t Want to Fall in Love Again” here:
Flat Worms - Antarctica (GOD?/Drag City)
LA trio team with Steve Albini and Ty Segall for their toughest, punkest record yet.
Despite generally keeping the same bruised garage-punk sound intact since they started, LA trio Flat Worms have yet to make the same record twice. Their self-titled debut had an almost '80s UK indie feel to it, while working with Ty Segall for last year's Into the Iris put any politeness they may have had into the dumpster and replaced it with squalls of noise. For the new Antarctica, the band recorded with Steve Albini at his famed Chicago studio Electrical Audio, with Ty on hand as well, banging out the record mostly live in just six days. The layers of noise and reverb have been stripped away, revealing Flat Worms to be a lean, mean punk trio who sound all the more tough for the production's directness. This is also the clearest you've ever been able hear singer/guitarist Will Ivy's vocals, recorded in Albini's bone dry style, which reveals very prescient lyrics. “Isolation is one of the main themes on this record, with the hope that by expressing this feeling of loneliness, we collectively feel less isolated,” says guitarist/vocalist Will Ivy. “As we all are required to stay in our homes and quarantine all over the world, we hope this record serves as a message of solidarity.” Antarctica's themes of disillusionment and global homogenization -- the chorus of "There's nothing to lose!" in "Ripper One" sounds more like defeat than hope -- snarl alongside flinty bass, thick power chords and hard-hitting drumming. It's all cut with some welcome humor, like on Antarctica's title track: “My dog is smiling as I drive her to the park / we sit together in the kitchen after dark / I ask her questions / She just barks.” No one may be answering but Flat Worms are not just barking into the void.
Once and Future Band - Deleted Scenes (Castle Face)
San Francisco band's second album sounds like a meeting of Harry Nilsson and Steely Dan. Somehow it's on John Dwyer's Castle Face Records.
Castle Face, the label co-founded by Oh Sees' John Dwyer, doesn't usually stray too far from garage psych when it comes to their roster, be it Fuzz, The Fresh & Onlys, Total Control or Flat Worms. Which makes Once and Future Band such an anomaly. Featuring Joel Robinow, Eli Eckert and Raj Ojha (who have played together in various Bay Area bands over the last 20 years) OAFB make lush, jazzy, proggy pop straight out of 1976, having more in common with Alan Parsons Project, Steely Dan, Klaatu and ELO than Ty Segall or Oh Sees. Deleted Scenes is their second album and if you have any appreciation for the mid-'70s at all, this album is a groovy trip. There are wonderful nods to Brian Wilson ("Andromeda"), Harry Nilsson ("Freaks") and Fagen & Becker (the title track), with some great instrumentals that stay just south of Jazz Odyssey territory. The production, filthy with horns, harmonies and spacey synths, is spot-on and this is the kind of record you could put on for someone and ask them to guess what year it was from and they'd never get it right. And they'd certainly never guess what label they were on.
Kevin Hairs - More Magic, More Magic
Kevin wrote and recorded this EP post-coronavirus. He lost his sense of smell and taste for a while, but his hearing clearly worked fine.
Kevin Hairs -- aka Kevin Alvir of such NYC indiepop groups as The Hairs, Knight School and The Lil’ Hospital -- is back with a new EP that was written "during the seismic planetary reality paradigm shift of 2020." By that he means after he contracted and while he recovered from what he's pretty sure was coronavirus. He lost his sense of smell and taste for weeks, but clearly his hearing was just fine. "I thought maybe I was done making music," Kevin tells us. "But now that I’ve been hunkered down and also having 'the thing' and also recovering from it - I just really wanted to do it again. I got back in touch with what I liked about music. I missed music that was fun, maybe emotionally resonant and funny too. I’ve not written and recorded by myself in ages. So I was happy to see that I didn’t forget how to do it. Hope it’s something relatable." Kevin has definitely not forgotten how to do it, as these five fuzzy low-fi indie rock jams, all in the Yo La Tengo/Teenage Fanclub/Television Personalities mold, show. What they lack in finesse, is made up for in enthusiasm, tunefulness and good humor. Standout cut: the jangly, self-effacing "The Day I Became a Dick," where he rhymes the title with "I got sick." It's not actually about that, but glad you're better now, Kevin.
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