Indie Basement (2/18): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's a pretty big week at Indie Basement, with one of my favorite albums of the year, and five other new releases that are very worth checking out. Among them: Beach House's sprawling Once Twice Melody, Metronomy's '70s-ish sounding Small World, Midnight's Oil's new (final?) album, Resist, and the return of Sally Shapiro. Plus: Sea Power (fka British Sea Power) and a new EP from Montreal's Elephant Stone.
Over in Notable Releases, Andrew reviews Hurray for the Riff Raff, Alice Glass, Leon Bridges & Khruangbin, Swami John Reis, and more.
If you need more to chew on, here are some Basement-friendly stories from the week: Record Store Day announced their 2022 exclusives; DFA Records is throwing a big 20th Anniversary Party in March; Portland indie rock supergroup Slang (ft Janet Weiss, members of The Thermals and more) announced their debut album; Jon Spencer announced a new album; so did Kurt Vile; Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe are touring together; and Fontaines DC shared a second terrific single from their anticipated third album, Skinty Fia.
Speaking of Fontaines DC, you can preorder Skinty FIa on limited edition translucent red vinyl that's exclusive to our shop.
If you're in the NYC area, BrooklynVegan is presenting a couple shows by UK Indie Basement faves making their live debut in the tri-state area: Snapped Ankles at Baby's All Right on March 9 and King Hannah @ Union Pool on March 10. Hope to see you there!
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Beach House - Once Twice Melody (Sub Pop)
Beach House's sprawling, wonderful eighth album is a journey through the looking glass, out the window and into the stars
Baltimore duo Beach House are back with their most sprawling, psychedelic, ambitious album yet. It's also their best since Bloom and is a my early contender for Album of the Year. It's a double, clocking in at nearly 90 minutes, but Once Twice Melody is a trip worth taking to the end. Here's a bit of my feature review:
The layering of sounds is intoxicating, with a few sonic motifs recurring throughout the record. There are oceans of arpeggiated synthesizers, be it the pulsating ABBA kind that can drive a song, or the swirling, dream sequence variety that mimic a harp (and is quite possibly an Omnichord). There are also choral samples all over the album -- think the low "Ahhhhs" in New Order's "Blue Monday" -- that provide a through-line to Beach House's early cathedral sound, but here send it in to the cosmos. The strings add gorgeous ballast.
Read my whole review here.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Metronomy - Small World (Because Music)
Metronomy trade dance beats for mellow, sunny '70s grooves and the new wardrobe fits them snuggly
Metronomy began life as a pseudonym for the music Joe Mount was making on his laptop. His early records, Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe) and Nights Out, had a distinctive sound -- squidgy, nervous, underwater -- you could spot from across a crowded club. You could also hear it on the remixes he did for other artists at the time, be it Lykke Li, Gorillaz or k.d. lang. Over the last 20 years, Metronomy turned into a fantastic live band -- though on album it's still mainly Mount -- and they've explored other avenues of pop, like on 2014's Love Letters which traded '80s post punk for '60s pastoral pop. Small World, the band's seventh album, is Metronomy's biggest pivot yet. This time, Mount seems to be drawing inspiration from cheeky mid-'70s UK pop and it's a much more successful record than Love Letters. Acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies are the driving forces here, and the only drum machines to be found sound like the kind that came built in to old Kimball organs. There are diversions into light tropicalia ("It's Good to Be Back") and prog ("I Lost My Mind") but most of the album is cheery sunshine pop. Tracks like single "Things Will Be Fine," and the genuinely wonderful "Love Factory," "Right on Time," and "Hold Me Tonight" which is a duet with Porridge Radio's Dana Margolin, are light and airy and fun. As Metronomy approaches its 20th anniversary, Mount may have found his true calling -- as successor to 10cc.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3 Sea Power - Everything Was Forever (Golden Chariot Records)
UK indie vets dropped the "British" from their name and picked up a new sense of purpose. Their best record in ages.
After 20 years together with primarily the same lineup, anthemic indie rock vets British Sea Power decided that, post Brexit, it was time to drop the "British" from their name. "When we came up with the original band name, Britain no longer ruled the seas. The band name was intended with a kind of wry humour," they wrote in a statement. "In recent times there’s been a rise in a certain kind of nationalism in this world – an isolationist, antagonistic nationalism that we don’t want to run any risk of being confused with." Now known as Sea Power, losing the "British" seems to have also lifted a creative weight off their shoulders. Their first album in five years, Everything Was Forever is also their best record since their mid-'00s time on Rough Trade. Yan and Hamilton Wilkinson have a way with magisterial indie rock and they are still very sharp here on standouts like the swaggering "Two Fingers," and the melancholic "Fire Escape In The Sea." If you haven't checked in with this band in a while, now's the time to reconnect. British Sea Power is dead, long live Sea Power!
Midnight Oil - Resist (Sony)
Aussie rock greats return with their first proper Oils album in 20 years. It also may be their last.
Midnight Oil were one of the biggest Australian exports of the '80s and '90s, and managed to be worldwide stars while never diluting their message. They scored hits with songs about how indigenous people were being removed from their own land, and the evils of giant corporations. Their message has never been subtle, but you can't argue with their convictions, and they know how to craft protest lyrics into muscular, melodic rock. Frontman Peter Garrett even put his money where his mouth was and was a member of Australian Parliament from 2004 - 2013. After Garrett left his government position, Midnight Oil reformed in 2016, toured the world and then, in 2020, released The Makarrata Project, a collaborative album with indigenous Australian artists that was their first album in nearly two decades.
Resist is more of a proper return, a straight-up Midnight Oil album in the best way. It also might be a swan song: the band announced that the upcoming tour for the album will be their last, and while "they remain open to recording music together in the future" it seems unlikely. If it is their last, Midnight Oil are going out strong: Resist is packed with the kind of stirring anthems they're known for, with themes and hooks as big as Ayers Rock. One of Midnight Oil's biggest strengths has always been having three great songwriters in the band -- Garrett, guitarist Jim Moginie and powerhouse drummer Rob Hirst -- and these 12 songs find them all in fine form. Producer Warne Livesey, who worked on 1988's Diesel and Dust and 1990's Blue Sky Mining, really helps give songs like that "At the Time of Writing," "To the Ends of the Earth," and "Rising Seas" that classic Oils sound. The world sadly hasn't changed -- on a fundamental, humanistic or ecological level -- since the band's peak, but thankfully neither have Midnight Oil.
Sally Shapiro - Sad Cities (Italians Do It Better)
The enigmatic Swedish duo, best known for 2006 bloghouse hit "I'll Be by Your Side," return with their first album in nearly a decade
Back in 2006, during the height of bloghouse, Sally Shapiro set the internet alight with single "I'll Be by Your Side," a nostalgic, wistful Italodisco smash that felt a little unmoored by time and space. (it still sounds great.) The enigmatic nature of the project added a lot of allure in the days when MP3 blogs were finding a Next Big Thing every day. Was this the work of a solo artist or group, and from where? It turns out Sally Shapiro was a Swedish duo, Sally and Johan Agebjörn, but the air of mystery remained and their debut album, Disco Romance, was lauded from Gorilla Vs Bear to Pitchfork and all points in between. Sally Shapiro would make four albums over the course of seven years, but in 2016 announced that they were retiring the project. Then in 2021 the duo reemerged, now on the friendly shores of Italians Do It Better, with a new single, perhaps ironically titled "Fading Away." That song was not only more forceful than what the band were known for, but also more of an overt banger than you usually get from the cool and demure Italians Do it Better, a label best known for Chromatics. They said more was on the way.
Sad Cities is the first Sally Shapiro album since 2013 but it doesn't sound like any time has passed. While few of these songs have more oomph than Disco Romance, by and large this is the Sally Shapiro you remember. Rolling arpeggiated synths, house and disco beats, gentle melodies and Sally's breathy vocals. The record sounds great -- it was mixed by Agebjörn and former Chromatics svengali Johnny Jewel -- but is too long by 15 minutes. There are a bunch of keepers, though: album opener "Believe in Me" is just the kind of spacy, dreamy club cut they do so well, as is the jazzy, laid back "Down This Road" that features Very '80s sax and guitar solos (the latter by Highway Superstar). "Love in Slow Motion" is a tender slow-jam collab with Electric Youth, and Sad City's title track, with a skipping beat and lightly housey keyboards, ranks among their best-ever singles. Bloghouse may be gone (but not forgotten), but Sally Shapiro are still fanning the embers with a whisper.
Elephant Stone - Le voyage de M. Lonely dans la lune (Elephants on Parade Records)
Montreal psych rock vets return with a concept EP loosely inspired by the pandemic
Rishi Dir has been leading Elephant Stone for nearly 15 years and they're one of the most reliable psych rock bands around, with no two records that sound quite the same. This new EP is a thematic sequel to 2020's Hollow, a Beatlesque concept album about the end of the world and how mankind never seemed to learn from its mistakes. This EP was also clearly inspired by the pandemic, telling the story of M. Lonely, "a hermit who is very content in his solitary world, until a world event happens that causes everyone else to stay home as well." I'll have to take Rishi's word on that, as this EP is in French and I don't remember much from my language classes in high school, but these five tracks burst through the language barrier and into outer space. Fans of the Fab Four, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Bowie, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre will find much to dig in these blissful grooves.
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