Indie Basement (10/7): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy October! This is a massive week for album releases and this week and give 10 a spin: Sorry, Alvvays, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Broken Bells, Dungen, Daphni, The Orielles, Pete Astor (The Loft), Peel Dream Magazine and Ganser.
In Notable Releases, Andrew also has 10 records on his plate including Open Mike Eagle, Bonny Light Horseman, and Courtney Marie Andrews.
Need more? I caught the Pavement reunion tour which was great, and visited the Pavement Museum; Noughties NYC scene doc Meet Me in the Bathroom is finally coming to theaters (and then Showtime); Fever Ray are back; 2manydjs are reissuing mashup classic As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt 2; Guided by Voices announced their 37th album (and also, kinda, their 38th); and Yo La Tengo announced Hanukkah 2022.
You can also catch up the last month with my round-up of the Best Songs & Albums of September, 2022.
RIP Loretta Lynn, one of the all-time greats.
Be sure to visit the Indie Basement section of the BV shop, that's stocked with vinyl and merch from Beach House, Broadcast, Stereolab, Pavement, Wet Leg, Parquet Courts, Belle & Sebastian, Talking Heads, Spoon, Lilys, Cocteau Twins, Can, Dinosaur Jr and lots, lots more.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Alvvays - Blue Rev (Polyvinyl/Transgressive)
Toronto band's third album, and first in five years, is their best by a mile.
In this world of instant gratification, binge consumption and ever-shorter memory, five years is a long time between records, unless you're Kevin Shields or Axl Rose. But the half decade away since Alvvays' 2017 album Antisocialites seems to have worked in the Toronto band's favor. Blue Rev is like that kid in school who spends a year abroad as a foreign exchange student in Finland or somewhere and returns a much more mature, cooler, stylish person. This is still the jangly indiepop group who gave us "Archie Marry Me" and "Plimsoul Punks," but they are now carrying themselves differently. The guitars have extra sparkle and roar, the choruses soar higher, the hooks dig in deeper. As the center is singer-songwriter Molly Rankin who has become an even more confident singer, belting it out all over the place without losing the winsome charm found on Alvvays' first two albums. When she sings "I shouldn't have ever been calling it love" at the end of "Tile by Tile," she holds the "love," singing the hell out of it as it transforms into a heartbreaking "ahhh-oooooooh." It's one of many thrilling little moments that are all over Blue Rev.
More: the shimmering "After the Earthquake" -- shades of The dB's "Black and White" by way of Johnny Marr -- that is near perfect in construction and execution, packing in myriad hooks, clever touches, and a great middle eighth / breakdown, into just three minutes. It's in that breakdown, when things go pindrop quiet, that Alvvays build the song back up slowly but suddenly stomp on the gas, Rankin singing "say you'll climb your way out" as drummer Sheridan Riley blasts a fill. This is not climbing, it's being shot out of a cannon.
Alvvays get a subtle makeover on Blue Rev, too, incorporating more keyboards and electronic elements to their sound -- see the funny, cutting "Very Online Guy" and "Velveteen" which dabble successfully in synthpop. At 14 songs in 39 minutes, there's not a wasted second, every song hits. Trad indie rock, the roots of which are deeply ingrained in this album, used to look down on ambition but Blue Rev is the sound of Alvvays really going for it, while staying true to themselves and connecting at every wonderful turn.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Sorry - Anywhere But Here (Domino)
UK group hone their warmly bummed-out brand of indie rock for a much-improved second album
"If our first version of London in 925 was innocent and fresh-faced, then this is rougher around the edges. It's a much more haggard place,” says Sorry co-leader Louis O’Bryen. He's talking about the two years since Sorry released their debut album at the end of March, 2020. "I just did what everyone else did, I went a bit mad.” Anywhere But Here may have been created in a more unhinged world, but the record itself presents a more confident, capable group. During those two years, Sorry became an actual band, not just O'Bryen and Asha Lorenz in the studio, taking the best aspects of 925, and honing them into a cohesive record. Namely warmly, bummed-out indie rock that's also informed by electronic music, hip hop and pop. (The group's more cabaret elements are mostly absent here.) Working in Bristol with sympathetic producers Ali Chant (Perfume Genius, Gruff Rhys) and Portishead's Adrian Utley, there are still plenty of rough edges: the clanging percussion on the propulsive, despertate "Leave the Lights On," and the R&Bish "Keys to the CIty" benefits from dark, seedy atmosphere. There is a lot going in the mix, but it never loses sight of Lorenz and Obryen's dynamic, not to mention their voices which suit the jazzy, dejected quality of their songs. Anywhere But Here captures a sense of pure exhaustion -- spiraling relationships, global pandemics, everything -- but leaves the door open for possibilities. "Time will heal or make things worse," Lorenz sings on "Again," the album's affecting closer. "But for whatever time is worth, I’ll take it to be free."
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: The Orielles - Tableau (Heavenly)
UK indie trio reinvent themselves on their ambitious, transitional third album
UK group The Orielles spent much of the pandemic not just working on music but also a film, reimagining the songs on their excellent 2020 album Disco Volador as a soundtrack to La Vita Olistica which they directed themselves and screened around the UK in 2021. Diving into the world of soundtracks while furthering their explorations with dance music when recording at Goyt studio in greater Manchester, they came up with a new way of working. “To Goyt it,” says drummer Sidonie B Hand-Halford, “that’s getting all these pieces and rearranging them. We had vocal melodies and ideas that we’d then run through and sample, and play them on sample pads. We were being editors, really.”
Tableau offers a reinvention of The Orielles that's as dramatic as the one Dan Snaith took Caribou from Andorra to Swim. Influenced by everything from komische icons Can to experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, the band's collage technique still has roots in indie, but has been given an exploded view. Tableau is an ambitious double album that makes room for deep psychedelia, ambient pieces, dalliances with techno, trip hop, Britpop and more. Not everything 100% works, but most of it does and you have to admire their hutzpah. The album features some truly transcendent moments too, like indie-dance hybrid "The Room" (shades of '90s Saint Etienne) and the widescreen, genre defying "Beam/s" which you would never imagine The Orielles of two years ago creating. Tableau is a transitional record, a terrific one too, and it's exciting to wonder where they'll go next.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava (KGLW)
If you thought Bjork's Fossorra was shroomy, get a load of King Gizzard's 21st album, the first of three they're releasing this month. It's right there in the title -- Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava -- and fungi (and the other title words) come up often across these seven long, jammy songs. If you need it driven home further just check out the iridescent, morphing animated video for 10-minute trip "Iron Lung."
As is often the case, the Australian band have enacted some rules to spice things up creatively: the songs are built around the seven Greek modes of music, and each of the six members are represented by the title's Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava. (How, exactly? You got me.) Interesting factoids for the heads who might be the audience for this one. There are no easily digestible pop experiments like those found on Butterfly 3000 and Omnium Gatherum. What big hooks are here -- and there are plenty -- are dropped into longer psychedelic odysseys, decorated with flutes and saxophones and freakouts. (Also a little rapping.) Nerdy and noodly as it gets, though, IDPLML is still an enjoyable 60 minutes and the band are clearly having a blast, with frontman Stu McKenzie letting loose energetic "WOOS" all over the place against funky drumming and heavy riffage. ("Iron Lung" and "Ice V" are the friendliest despite both being 10 minutes long.) And if you don't like this one, just know two more will be out before the end of October.
Dungen - En Är För Mycket och Tusen Aldrig Nog (Mexican Summer)
Dungen's first album in seven years has the Swedish psych greats dabbling just a little in dance music. Just a little.
If King Gizzard isn't totally filling your need for proggy psych with lots of flutes, here's the new album from Swedish greats Dungen. This is their first in seven years -- not counting their collab with Woods -- and finds Gustav Ejstes, Reine Fiske, Mattias Gustavsson, and Johan Holmegaard stretching their new wings and, with regular producer Mattias Glavå by their side, exploring a few new sounds. "We’d be in [Glavå's] studio, where he has all this amazing gear, and he’d be encouraging me to go with every weird idea and not to feel any pressure,” Ejstes says. “He would say, ‘Let’s use this rhythm box or this sample or this loop,’ and I’d be like, ‘can we do that on a Dungen record?’”
They can and do, and this new album, whose title translates "One is Too Much and a Thousand is Never Enough," finds them bringing elements of dance music into the fold. Dungen have not gone EDM, but some very '90s beats make their way into things. "Nattens Sista Strimma Ljus" is set to a wild freakbeat reminiscent of Chemical Brothers' "Let Forever Be," and the rather amazing "Var Har Du Varit?" is powered by a frenetic jungle/drum n bass "amen break" and housey bass line. These rhythms are in service of Dungen's signature dreamy, jazzy psych sound. The rest of the album is in more familiar, no less impressive, Dungen territory which -- with its rich harmonies, warm melodies and stellar musicianship -- is very easy to enjoy even if you don't know a single word of Swedish.
Daphni - Cherry (Jiaolong)
Caribou leader Dan Snaith brings back his more explicitly club-oriented project for Daphni's first album in five years
Over the years, Dan Snaith's Caribou has gone from being a psychedelic rhythm-forward rock band to being almost entirely electronic. Meanwhile he also releases electronic music as Daphni. So what's the difference these days? Only Dan can say, but Caribou tends to have more organic elements (also singing), where Daphni is more of a pure, club-oriented sound. Tracks on Cherry were made over years with no thoughts of an "album," though Dan says it all came together in the sequencing. "It's weird that when the tracks were put in what felt like the right order it took on a new coherence," he says, "where it pings quickly from one idea to the next and, at least for me, hangs together in a way that feels unified. Maybe because it's hard to avoid the musical fingerprints I leave on the music I make, whether I want to or not." Cherry flows beautifully as a near-seamless mix, from bangers like the album's terrific, propulsive title track and the giddy "Mania," to more spectral, atmospheric cuts. Dan wants to make you sweat, but he also gives you time to towel off.
Broken Bells - Into the Blue (AWAL)
Third album from the duo of Danger Mouse and James Mercer heads further into space
Into the Blue is the first Broken Bells album in seven years, and on it Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) and James Mercer (The Shins) have drifted further into space than their than they ever did on their first two records (both of which were Top 10 hits). Press materials for the album mention that this is the first Broken Bells album to incorporate sampling but Burton is not working with obvious grabs from famous songs -- been there, done that -- instead employing his craft seamlessly as part of the duo's swaying sound. ("Forgotten Boy" does make good use of the Blues Magoos' "Sometimes I Think About You," though.) It's maybe a little too subtle, as some tracks -- like '70s soft rock pastiche "Love on the Run" -- are so "lite" they could be carried off by the slightest breeze. But there is good stuff here, too. Burton and Mercer also cite the Elephant 6 collective as an influence this time and you can hear echoes of Circulatory System and Olivia Tremor Control on "Forgotten Boy" and the sunny, psychedelic standout "Saturdays." Mercer and Burton are too skilled and tasteful to make something less than listenable, but Into the Blue could use a few more songs like "Saturdays" where things get wonderfully weird.
Ganser - Nothing You Do Matters (felte)
Liars frontman Angus Andrew produced the Chicago group's new EP that demands a sequel
Chicago's Ganser have great taste in collaborators. After working with Electrelane's Mia Clarke on 2020's great Just Look at That Sky, the band tapped Liars' Angus Andrew to produce this new EP. Bassist Alicia Gaines told Rolling Stone, “Having Angus in a room, like, conducting as we were doing vocals and just really pushing us to go above and beyond where we’ve been before was a joy.” The EP is short but sharp: powered by a snarling guitar riff and a propulsive rhythm section, the killer "People Watching" simmers with white hot intensity, and Angus Andrew's remix takes things into underground Berlin techno club territory. In between is the smoky, bluesy "What Me Worry?" Nothing You Do Matters feel more like a tease than anything. An album-length sequel, please.
Pete Astor - Time on Earth (Tapete)
The former Loft and Weather Prophets frontman reflects on his life on one of the best albums of his 40-year career
Not unlike Dean Wareham, Pete Astor found his lane early and has mostly stayed in it ever since. Tom Verlaine and Lou Reed were on his opposite shoulders when The Loft formed in the early-'80s and that carried through with The Weather Prophets, both groups early Creation Records shining stars, and that style has carried on through his solo career. Never falling prey to trends Pete has had a remarkably consistent 40-year career and he looks back on it on his excellent new album. "Perhaps more than before, there’s been plenty of time over the last few years to think and reflect," says Pete. "Like every set of work, Time on Earth is an attempt to make sense of life by making work about it." Featuring drummer Ian Button (Wreckless Eric, Death in Vegas), bassist Andy Lewis (Spearmint, Paul Weller), and longtime guitarist Neil Scott (Everything But the Girl, Denim), this is contemplative folk accented by gorgeous, low-key horn arrangements, organ and vibraphone. Astor's voice has aged wonderfully, and his warmly weathered tone is perfect for these musical memories full of old friends (including a tribute to the late Jazz Butcher), former lovers, good times and missed opportunities. Autumnal even without a song titled "English Weather," Time on Earth is one Astor's best-ever albums.
Peel Dream Magazine - Pad (Slumberland)
Third album Peel Dream Magazine trades Brooklyn for L.A. and Stereolab/MBV for The High Llamas
After two albums cribbing the best bits of Stereolab and My Bloody Valentine, Peel Dream Magazine's Joe Stevens decided to switch things up. He moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and on his third album has adopted a sunny sound perfect for the West Coast, with lush harmonies, flutes, bangos, mellotrons, and tropical rhythms and melodies. Stevens surely owns a Beach Boys and Jobim album or three, but the main influence here is The High Llamas, the UK group led by Stereolab collaborator Sean O'Hagan. At times, Pad feels like an exercise in pure style, a record he made to see if he could recreate the very unique style O'Hagan crafted on such '90s High Llamas records like Cold & Bouncy and Hawaii. Stevens does impressively and, "Pad" and "Pictionary" are almost uncanny from the hushed harmonies to the gurgling synths and use of strings and mellotron. No doubt the record sounds great, but these songs hew so close to the original source that, bouncy as it is, leaves you a little cold. People used to accuse O'Hagan of just ripping off the Beach Boys but he developed a unique, instantly recognizable style over time. Stevens is not there yet.
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