Indie Basement (4/29): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This is the biggest Indie Basement of 2022 so far, at least by sheer number of albums reviews, including Melody's Echo Chamber, The Aluminum Group's first album in 14 years, Astrel K (Ulrika Spacek's Rhys Edwards), Honeyglaze, Kelly Lee Owens, Julie Doiron, Röyksopp, SCALPING, and Shilpa Ray, plus the first-ever vinyl pressing of Halifax indie rock band The Flashing LIghts' 1999 debut album.
This is an absolutely huge week for releases and Andrew reviews another 11 of them in Notable Releases, including Action Bronson, Let's Eat Grandma, Dana Gavinski, and Caroline Spence, plus he mentions about 60 other records that are out today too. (Too much!) There was also a lot of news this week: Wilco, Real Estate's Martin Courtney, Ty Segall, and The Sadies, and more announced new albums, and Crowded House announced their first North American tour in 12 years.
Be sure to check out the Indie Basement virtual basement in BV shop, which is full of vinyl, merch and more hand-selected by me, including records by Spiritualized, Pavement, Stereolab, Cocteau Twins, Wet Leg, Fontaines D.C. and more.
Head below for this week's many, many reviews
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: The Aluminum Group - The Aluminum Group (self-released)
It's the first album in 14 years from brothers Frank and John Navin who haven't lost their touch with suave sophistipop
Brothers Frank and John Navin, who were in Chicago art-punk band Women in Love in the '80s, started The Aluminum Group in the mid-'90s, making suave, literate sophistipop that fell somewhere between Burt Bacharach, Everything But the Girl, and Pet Shop Boys and was characterized by the Navins' droll, melancholic wit, their smoky baritones, and their eye for detail and design. (They are named for a line of Eames furniture.) After a lengthy hiatus, Frank and John are back with their first Aluminum Group album in 14 years which also reteams them with producer Dave Trumfio (The Pulsars) who worked on 1998's fantastic Plano.
The Navins haven't lost a step, and have delivered another exquisite, lush album that finds magic in the mundane details of life and love. The album opens with "Drag Yourself," "Color My Lips Hot Pink," and "Rock," three songs as good as any in their catalogue, full of pop hooks, vivid orchestral arrangements and insightful observations. "Drag queens, as a rule, are worse than children," they sing on "Color My Lips Hot Pink" against a sweeping disco backing. "Getting dressed for school...matinees? Times by two. All a mess, then fabulous." As on Plano, Dave Trumfio tempers the Navins' esoteric flights of fancy with an emphasis on pop hooks and rhythms, making for a best of both worlds environment and a most welcome return.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Melody’s Echo Chamber - Emotional Eternal (Domino)
Melody Prochet once again works with Dungen's Reine Fiske for her third album that's full of rich, textured psych-pop
A lot has happened since Melody Prochet made her second album, Bon Voyage. She recovered from a serious 2017 accident where she suffered a brain aneurysm and broken vertebrae, became a mother, and "made some big and impactful decisions and changes" to her life, including leaving the bustle of the city for a secluded town in the foothills of the Swiss Alps. She also signed to Domino and just released her third album, Emotional Eternal. Some things have stayed the same, though. Like Bon Voyage, she made this one with Dungen's Reine Fiske and The Amazing's Fredrik Swahn, who both bring serious musical chops and a simpatico psychedelic mindset that meshes perfectly with Melody's style. Emotional Eternal isn't quite the phantasmagoric odyssey that Bon Voyage was, opting for somewhat simpler/tighter pop song structures, but there's still room for killer grooves (the rhythm section here is particularly sick), harpsichords, flutes, a few tips-of-the-hat to Serge Gainsbourg, and Melody's ethereal harmonies.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: Astrel K - Flickering i (Duophonic)
Ulrika Spacek frontman Rhys Edwards makes wonderfully eccentric pop on his solo debut that's out on Stereolab's Duophonic label.
Flickering i is the debut album from Astrel K, aka Rhys Edwards of Ulrika Spacek that he made after moving from London to Stockholm, Sweden. It's not miles away from the hookier, more melodic tendencies that made their way into Ulrika Spacek's great 2018 EP, Suggested Listening but he's even further exploring the art of pop songwriting here. A playful spirit informs the whole thing and suggests he may have spent some time listening to The Avalanches' Since I Left You, as he colors in the album with what sounds like swinging '60s library music samples and other sonic emphera. Edwards has an appealing voice for this type of groovy baroque psychedelia that suggests a meeting of Lou Reed and The Free Design in 1968. That style also makes Astrel K right at home on Duophonic, the label run by Stereolab that hasn't released a non-Lab-related record in two decades. Songs like "Maybe It All Comes At Once," "You Could If You Can," and "Is It It Or Is It I" smartly straddle the line between eccentric and earworm and make Flickering i very replayable.
Honeyglaze - Honeyglaze (Speedy Wunderground)
The debut album from the London trio was produced by Dan Carey and released via his Speedy Wunderground label
"Honeyglaze" sounds like the name of a '90s shoegaze band, or at least a song by a '90s shoegaze band. It is in fact the name of a newish UK trio who don't seem to own many effects pedals at all, playing a minimal, melodic style of indie rock that's closer to Low or Galaxie 500, albeit one with more synthesizers. Most of those keyboards came via producer Dan Carey (Kae Tempest, Hot Chip, black midi) who signed Honeyglaze to his Speedy Wunderground label after watching a 30-minute set on YouTube, and then produced their winning self-titled debut album. At the heart of the band is vocalist and guitarist Anouska Sokolow, who writes gentle guitar pop that has been colored in by Carey's studio full of electronic gear, including the eerie Swarmatron synth (a favorite of Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross' film scores for David Fincher). The keyboards elevate Sokolow's already appealing songs, taking "Creative Jealously" and "Young Looking" to new levels. Carey also knows that some songs -- "Female Lead," "Shadows," "Souvenir" -- are better left alone.
Kelly Lee Owens - LP.8 (Smalltown Supersound)
Taking a break from the dancefloor, KLO explores ambient, drone and noise
Kelly Lee Owens says her new album was equally inspired by Throbbing Gristle and Enya. LP.8, which she titled imagining this more as her eighth album than what it actually is (her third), doesn't really sound like either group but you do get what she means. Made in Oslo with Lasse Marhaug, who has worked with with Merzbow, Sunn O))) and Jenny Hval, the album explores ambient music by way of drone, improvisation and the occasional blast of white noise. Vocals come mainly in the form of "ahhhhs" that mix with layers of electronics for a warm, mostly inviting soundbath. Melodies are not the point here -- "One" is about as close to a "song" as this album gets -- but one can imagine some of the ideas explored here turning up on one of her future club bangers.
Julie Doiron & Dany Placard: Julie & Dany (Simone)
Julie Doiron and Dany Placard's new album was made for the love of making music, and each other
Eric's Trip cofounder Julie Doiron released I Thought Of You, her (excellent) first solo album in nine years, back in November and a mere six months later she's already back with another. This isn't actually a solo album but a collaboration between her and her partner, Dany Placard, who played on I Thought of You, and they share vocal and instrumental duties here, in addition to the songwriting. Julie and Dany made it together during lockdown in their Memramcook, New Brunswick home, a rare work that was made for the love of making music and the love of each other, with no thought to sales or touring. Julie's happiness was evident on the lovestruck I Thought of You but Julie & Dany is positively beaming, and that joy is infectious, even for the French-language adverse (Placard's songs). The DIY nature of the album is warts-n-all / anything goes but Julie & Dany are in perfect harmony throughout.
Julie & Dany told us about the inspirations behind the album which you can read here.
Röyksopp - Profound Mysteries (Dog Triumph)
The Norwegian electronic duo's sixth album features appearances from Goldfrapp, Susanne Sundfør and more
Norwegian musicians and producers Svein Berge & Torbjørn Brundtland have been making inventive electronic pop as Röyksopp since the late '90s and are still going strong some two decades after their 2001 debut, Melody A.M. Their latest, Profound Mysteries, is technically a multidisciplinary project -- for each of the 10 songs, they've collaborated with a visual artist for an "artefact" and music video. I just call it an "album" and it's a pretty good one too. Berge and Brundtland may not be pushing boundaries as much as they once did, but they still have impeccable taste and have an innate sense of how music like this is supposed to sound. As usual there are a number of vocal collaborators including Alison Goldfrapp who brings her otherworldly falsetto to the rippling, joyous "Impossible," Beki Mari (the infectiously bouncy "This Time, This Place"), and Susanne Sundfør (the tearful ballad "If You Want Me.") But as someone whose favorite Röyksopp song is still "Eple," I'm drawn to the instrumentals, like "The Ladder" which mixes layers and layers of gorgeous synths with acoustic guitar and handclaps for one of the album's most sumptuous treats. Röyksopp have always managed to exude a Norwegian-ness, too. I have never been but this is what I imagine the whole country sounds like. Profound Mysteries is another superior collection of sophisticated dance music, perfect for a snowcapped forest disco.
P.S. speaking of Goldfrapp, their now classic 2000 debut album Felt Mountain was just reissued on gold vinyl.
SCALPING - Void (Houndstooth)
This Bristol UK group's debut album is an intense mix of millenium era electronica and alt-metal
The late-'90s seem to be having a moment of influence lately. You've got bands like Just Mustard and King Hannah channelling trip hop, shoegaze, slowcore and other genres, and now here's the debut from four-piece SCALPING who hail from Bristol, England (home of Massive Attack and Portishead) and sound like they could've fit in on one of the Blade soundtracks, with a mix of millenium-era harder-edged techno/electronica, alt-metal and industrial. It's a very specific aesthetic and the album cover, with an ice-blue block containing some kind of cell structure that could also be a detail from an HR Giger painting, is a perfect visual accompaniment to the cold, alien and often very loud music that they make. Ever wish Deftones made an album with Squarepusher and then gave some of the tracks to Inner CIty, Bomb the Bass and Tricky to remix? Void is kinda like that. There's actually a new Blade reboot in the works with Oscar winner Mahershala Ali taking over the title role -- can someone slip Marvel prez Kevin Feige this album?
Shilpa Ray - Portrait Of A Lady (Northern Spy)
Shilpa Ray's new album is a real kick in the teeth in the best possible way
From the title, to the cover art, to the music within, there is nothing subtle about Shilpa Ray's new album. That's why it works so well. Made during the pandemic, through the Trump administration, #metoo and Black Live Matter protests, Portrait of a Lady details her own experiences with abuse and is full of big emotions (rage and disgust, chief among them), big themes and gallows humor that Shilpa presents in knowing broad strokes as vivid technicolor cinema. This is an album with songs titled "Manic Pixie Dream Cunt," "Heteronormative Horseshit Blues," and "Bootlickers Of the Patriarchy" and she delivers them all with kick-in-the-teeth vigor in a variety of styles, from mirrorball cabaret, to gothy murder ballads, ripping punk and synth-fueled new wave. Shilpa sells it all with overflowing charisma and knockout vocal performances. This is not to say that Portrait of a Lady does not have nuanced moments, but in this case subtlety is overrated.
The Flashing Lights - Where The Change Is (murderecords)
First ever vinyl pressing of post-Super Friendz band The Flashing Lights' 1999 debut
Toronto four-piece The Flashing Lights existed for a short few years in the late-'90s and early-'00s, led by Matt Murphy who had previously led Halifax's The Super Friendz earlier in the '90s and currently is one-third of TUNS with Sloan's Chris Murphy and The Inbreds' Mike O'Neill. The band self-released two albums full of power pop/indie rock, with lots of wit and attitude. Both are out of print but that's about to change, at least for their 1999 debut Where the Change Is. Sloan's murderecords, who put out The Super Friendz's first two albums, have now reissued Where the Change Is, giving it its first-ever vinyl pressing and getting it on streaming services for the first time. This record's a real treat with hooks and big, windmill-able riffs flying fast and loose. If you like Sloan's One Chord to Another and Navy Blues. the "Halifax Pop Explosion" scene in general, or the many works of Robert Pollard, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
There's a new video for "Highschool" made by Sloan's Chris Murphy that you can watch, along with a stream of the album, below.
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