Indie Basement (3/5): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week: Arab Strap are back, maybe better than ever, on their first album in 15 years; San Francisco's Fake Fruit make indie rock feel new again on their debut album; Jane Weaver injects pure pop into her psych-folk sound on Flock; Billy Nomates is back with a new EP; Maxwell Farrington & Le SuperHomard join forces with serious Scott Walker / Lee Hazlewood vibes; Belgian synthpop group Telex get a new best-of compilation; and Flowered Up's classic baggy epic "Weekender" (and Andrew Weatherall remixes) get vinyl represses.
If you need more new album reviews of bands with "Fruit" in the name, Andrew writes about Fruit Bats and more in Notable Releases. In other Basement-approved news from this week: Life Without Buildings are getting their 2001 debut (and only) album reissued; FACS announced a new album (and the first single is great); Dolly Mixture's Rachel Love is releasing her first-ever solo album; and Third Man are releasing a single by late-'80s UK band Magic Roundabout who never actually released anything when they were together (the story involves Pale Saints).
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Arab Strap - As Days Get Dark (Rock Action)
“It's about hopelessness and darkness,” says Aidan Moffat. “But in a fun way.” Arab Strap are back!
It's been 15 years since Scottish duo Arab Strap released an album -- 2005's The Last Romance -- but Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton have picked up right where they left off for As Days Get Dark. Quite literally. For a band that traffics in sad, lonely people living mundane lives, it's almost like you can see the discolored dent in the sofa made by the same characters from their debut single "The First Big Weekend," who've just been sitting there doing nothing for a decade and a half.
Well, almost nothing. Moffat still paints lurid portraits of sex, drugs and rock n' roll, just ones set in neighborhood pubs, and shitty apartments (sorry, flats) with florescent lighting and drop-ceilings. "It's about hopelessness and darkness, " Moffat says. "But in a fun way.” If you know what he means, As Days Get Dark does not disappoint. The scene is set with opening track "The Turning of Our Bones," a tale of “resurrection and shagging” that is clearly about the band (and also shagging): "I don’t give a fuck about the past, our glory days gone by / all I care about right now is that wee mole inside your thigh." Moffat's voice has dropped an octave in the last 15 years, and his thick accented delivery, somewhere between a growl and a whisper, is in full sex machine mode, set against a sleek, sultry mix of drum machines, synths and dark guitar lines.
Moffat and Middleton, working with regular collaborator Paul Savage, luxuriate in this mode for much of As Days Get Dark, making one of their richest sounding records, and bringing a lush faded glamour to these stories about "what people turn to in times of need, and how they can hide in the night.” Nowhere is this theme more apparent than on "Another Clockwork Day" where a man staves off boredom by masturbating while his partner sleeps -- he's given up on porn, though, and has turned to "folders within folders" of unnamed digital photos from their past. Depressing, yes, as he flips through IMGs, but the song also manages to push complex nostalgia buttons too.
Another vivid highlight is "Kebabylon," with sweeping strings and soaring saxophones, that makes obvious but effective metaphors out of a late-night street-sweeper crew cleaning the gutters of a bar-crowded neighborhood: "And you’re already dreaming as I claw up your condom, as your syringe cracks underneath my boot / you’ve crashed on the couch, passed out on the porch, such a lover, such a liar, such a brute." Also great: "Here Comes Comus!" prowls like peak Sisters of Mercy (big gloomy guitars, bigger drum machines) as Moffat faces "nocturnal excess and my inability to ever refuse him"; and "Fable of the Urban Fox" that shines a light on the racist treatment of immigrants against backing that somehow successfully splits the difference between celtic folk and funky disco.
This is an older, wiser and more weary Arab Strap. There are still rough edges, seedy corners and shocking words, but Moffat and Middleton are more comfortable in their skin and still have something to say. As Days Get Dark is not just a skillful return, it's also one of their best-ever records.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Fake Fruit - Fake Fruit (Rocks in Your Head)
San Francisco group make classic-style indie rock feel brand new on their awesome debut album
Hannah D’Amato has been leading Fake Fruit, in one form or another, since 2016, originally in NYC, then Vancouver and now out of San Francisco where the band really took form with a mostly steady lineup of guitarist Alex Post and drummer Miles MacDiarmid (they've had a few bassists). I'm not certain what effect this lineup had on Hannah's songs -- which she wrote, fueled by a couple breakups, mostly in Vancouver -- but Fake Fruit's debut album (out via Sonny & The Sunsets' Rocks in Your Head label) offers up winningly hooky indie rock that is informed by the classics but is also clearly very now.
There's a little of Courtney Barnett's warm, conversational style in Hannah's vocals, and sometimes it slips into a talky sprechgesang thing a la Life Without Buildings' Sue Tompkins. She can also let out a shuddering wail, and when Alex joins in on "Swing and a Miss" there's more than a little John Doe / Exene going on. The arrangements owe a little to post-punk (Wire, Pylon, Minutemen) but mostly this is scrappy rock with a minimal sensibility that makes the most of what they've got. There's great guitar interplay between D'Amato and Post that is part of this album's magic, like the way wiry leads brighten grungy chords on "Yolk" and "Keep You," the ever-moving double time riff of earworm opener "No Mutuals," and the twin freakouts of "Don't Put it On Me."
Fake Fruit is mid-fi all the right ways, loose and approachable but clearly made by talented musicians who know when to tighten the reins and never let Hannah's vocals get buried in the mix. She pulls you in on the vulnerable "Stroke My Ego" and "Keep You," then punches you in the gut on the defiant "Old Skin." It's also full of great little moments -- Hannah letting out a spirited woop on "Don't Put it On Me," the soaring chorus of "No Murals," the skronky middle of "Milkman" -- that makes you want to see them live. Till we get that chance, you should be more than happy to listen to their debut album.
Jane Weaver - Flock (Fire)
Adding a touch of pop flair to her proggy psych-folk sound, Jane Weaver makes her most appealing record to date.
It would be wrong to refer someone who's been making records since the early '90s a late bloomer, but Jane Weaver has really come into her own as a songwriter and recording artist in the last decade, with a sound that owes equally to deep forest folk, baroque psychedelia, indie rock and prog. Jane found her voice on 2014's great The Silver Globe, and continued exploring a similar trajectory on 2017's Modern Kosmology. Now with Flock she's made her most accessible record yet while remaining an original spirit.
There is a decided dose of straight-up pop on Flock -- maybe not the modern version heard on Spotify playlists, but the kind made by ABBA, Chic and The Human League. Jane says she came to it sideways via "a diet of bygone Lebanese torch songs, 1980s Russian Aerobics records and Australian punk" but it is there, shimmering and bright on the delicious, danceable "The Revolution Of Super Visions" that sounds like a lost disco classic from 1979. The sparkling hooks also shine on glammy stomper "Stages Of Phases," and groovy slow jam "Sunset Dreams." Jane still clearly has a soft spot for motorik groops like Stereolab ("Modern Reputation") and Broadcast ("Flock") but, on a tracks like "Pyramid Schemes" -- that sounds like a jam between Nile Rodgers, William Onyeabor and Donna Summer -- she has transcended into something wonderful and new.
Billy Nomates - Magic Telephone (Invada)
One of 2020's brightest new artists still connects with this terrific new EP.
Having made one of my favorite albums of 2021, Tor Maries is back with a new Billy Nomates EP, Emergency Telephone. With the pandemic drying up work, Tor moved back in with her father and started the EP last fall, working in the shed behind his house on the Isle of Wight. She said that she did a lot of walking while there and started recording payphones. "I don't know what -- putting noises in the tracks pieced the whole thing together."
Billy's signature mix of rock, pop and and just a little twang remains unique, and she refines it further on these four songs about "communication breakdowns; personally, mentally, physically." "It's raining in my heart," she sings on the title track (featuring actual rain from just outside her her dad's shed) that grafts an almost drum n' bass beat to guitars that recall Dire Straits and Steely Dan. She makes it work. All four songs are terrific: single "Heels" is a noirish synth track, complete with sirens, about her refusal to wear heels; "Right Behind You" coulda been Pat Benatar if she was more post-punk; and "Petrol Fumes" burns bright with a Basement Jaxx bassline and noodly guitar. As much as those telephone noises piece the whole thing together, it's really Billy's voice and instantly recognizable harmony style, still looking toward Nashville, that makes Emergency Telephone really connect.
Maxwell Farrington & Le SuperHomard — "We, Us the Pharaohs" (Talitres)
First single from this French/Australian collab duo hits serious Scott Walker/Lee Hazlewood vibes
If you love early '70s Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood and other grandly orchestrated baritones, you're going to dig Once, the upcoming collaborative album from French artist Le SuperHomard (Christophe Vaillant) and Australian singer-songwriter Maxwell Farrington. By chance, Vaillant heard Farrington sing an acapella version of a Burt Bacharach song at a soundcheck and they struck up a conversation which led to a few collaborative singles, and now this album. "We, Us the Pharaohs" is the album's lead track and really has that Scott Walker sweep, thanks to Vaillant's rich production, and Farington has the voice to pull it off. It's terrific and the video premieres right here:
Telex - This is Telex (Mute)
New best-of compilation from Belgium's tongue-in-cheek, pioneering synthpop trio
Formed in 1978 by jazzy musician and radio DJ Marc Moulin, electronics wiz Dan Lacksman and singer Michel Moers, Belgian trio Telex made wonderfully whimsical synthpop, taking cues from Kraftwerk but adding a bubbly playfulness and snarky sense of humor that aimed to be as far away from rock as possible. Their 1978 debut single was a giddy cover of Les Chats Sauvages' 1961 Francophone rock n' roll number "Twist à Saint Tropez" that predated records by Silicon Teens, Tubeway Army, M's "Pop Muzik," and The Flying Lizards, and planted seeds for Depeche Mode, OMD and more. They were also infamously Belgium's official Eurovision entry in 1980 with "Euro-Vision," a song that mocked the competition and was made with hopes of coming in last place. (Unfortunately, Portugal gave them high marks and they placed second to last). They also worked with the likeminded group Sparks for the 1981 album Sex, and later covered their classic "The Number One Song in Heaven."
Telex continued, off-and-on, with the same laissez-faire, doing-it-for-themselves attitude, till Moulin passed away in 2008. There have been a few singles and best-of compilations over the years, but This is Telex was curated by surviving members Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, who oversaw the whole thing, remastering -- and in some cases remixing -- from the original master tapes. As to the remix part, in true contrarian Telex form, they made tracks even more minimal than they were before. “We simplify,” explains Lacksman. “We take away, to create something more efficient, more Telex.”
Across an economical 14 tracks (they were always more of a singles band), This is Telex includes their most famous songs ("Twist à Saint Tropez," "Moskow Diskow," "Euro-Vision"), Sparks collabs “Drama Drama” and “Exercise Is Good For You,” and a couple of previously unreleased covers: The Beatles' "Dear Prudence" and Sonny & Cher's "The Beat Goes On."
This is Telex is out April 30 and you can listen to "Moskow Disko" and "Dear Prudence" from it below. For those who wished there was more, this is just the first release of an extensive reissue campaign through Mute Records.
Flowered Up - "Weekender" and "Weatherall's Weekender" vinyl reissues (Heavenly)
Flowered up's baggy epic, and two Andrew Weatherall remixes, get repressed on vinyl for Heavenly Records' 30th anniversary
The whole late-'80s/early-'90s baggy/Madchester rave scene never really took hold in the US -- we got grunge instead -- but in the UK, the success of Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses and Primal Scream launched an avalanche of imitators and Johnny Come Latelys. (The Fall sang about it in "Idiot Joy Showland.") But there were some great other bands from the era, and lots of great singles. One of those was 1992's "Weekender" by London Group Flowered Up. Produced by Clive Langer (Elvis Costello, Madness), the song is an awesomely spaced-out 13-minute ode to TGIF office drones as well as celebration of the band's "love of drugs and Pink Floyd." It's a classic.
The band's label, London Records, refused to release it and, with their debut album underperforming the year before, saw it as an excuse to drop Flowered Up. Indie label Heavenly Recordings, who released their first single "It's On," was more than happy to have them back and released it. The song hit #20 in the UK charts despite its epic length. It also inspired a couple great remixes by the late Andrew Weatherall, and was turned into an even longer short film, written and directed by Andrew “W.I.Z.” Whiston (who went on to make videos for Oasis, Massive Attack, Kasabian, Dizzee Rascal, and more) who took ideas (and samples of dialogue) from The Who's Quadrophenia and set them to E culture. It's been cited as a direct influence on Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting as well as Danny Boyle's film adaptation.
As part of Heavenly Recordings' 30th anniversary, they're repressing the "Weekender" 12" and the Weatherall’s Weekender 12" -- both limited to 800 pressings. The "Weekender" single has the full movie soundtrack on the b-side. They're not out till April 23 but for Bandcamp Friday today, they've put the preorders up. This will likely go fast. UPDATE: These sold out instantly, dammit, but you can watch the "Weekender" film and listen to Weatherall's remixes below:
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.
And check out what's new in our shop.