Indie Basement (1/13): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy New Year! We're coming out strong for the first Indie Basement of 2023, with six records that are all worth your attention: Belle & Sebastian's Late Developers (that was only announced this week), the debut album by The Tubs (ex Joanna Gruesome), the second album from Billy Nomates, plus Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes, Duke Spirit frontwoman Liela Moss and effervescent Austrian duo Molly.
If you need more of this week's album offerings, Andrew reviews new records by Margo Price, Obituary, BabyTron and more in Notable Releases.
Need more Basement-approved stuff? Everything But the Girl just announced their first album in over two decades, and The New Pornographers are now on Merge and have a new album on the way. More album announcements: US Girls and La Luz's Shana Cleveland. Also: Ted Leo getting his '90s band, Chisel, back together to tour, and there are reissues on the way of two classic Felt comps.
In the Indie Basement department of the BrooklynVegan Shop, we've got the just-announced reissue of The Cult's classic 1985 album Love that includes goth disco smash "She Sells Sanctuary" and has been pressed on translucent red vinyl. Fog machine not included.
Also in the store: vinyl, merch and more from The New Pornographers, Belle & Sebastian, They Might Be Giants, De La Soul, The Flaming Lips, King Gizzard, New Order, Pavement, Wet Leg, Beach House, Midlake, Broadcast, Stereolab, Love & Rockets, Spoon, Lilys, Cocteau Twins, Can, Dinosaur Jr and more.
Head below for this week's reviews...
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Belle & Sebastian - Late Developers (Matador)
Surprise! Belle & Sebastian release their second album in less than a year. Less surprising: it's great.
Belle & Sebastian recorded 2022’s A Bit of Previous at their Glasgow HQ – the first time they’d made a record entirely in their hometown in ages – writing tons of material and whittling it down to 12 songs. Instead of relegating the unused songs to b-side status (not that that would be a bad thing, as comp Push Barman to Open Old Wounds shows), the band decided to release them as a second album which is out now and was only announced a few days prior. In addition to songs written during the Previous sessions, Late Developers also features songs by Stuart Murdoch that have been kicking around for decades: "Will I Tell You A Secret" dates from Dear Catastrophe Waitress and, with its delicate harpsichord and prominent backing vocals by Sarah Martin, feels like a classic, as does "When The Cynics Stare Back From The Wall" which was written in 1994 before Murdoch started the band and has been refashioned as a duet with Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell. There's also opener "Juliet Naked," which Murdoch wrote for the 2018 film adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel but it ended up not being used, and "I Don't Know What You See In Me," a very modern sounding indiepop song co-written with Scottish pop artist Wuh Oh. More gems await elsewhere: "Do You Follow," which could almost be a Bananarama song, and "So in the Moment," one of Stevie Jackson's best contributions in ages. With all that, Late Developers plays not like a leftover comp but a career retrospective sent from an alternate universe.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Billy Nomates - CACTI (Invada)
Tor Maries remains a one-of-a-kind talent on her second album as Billy Nomates
As Billy Nomates, Tor Maries made one of 2020's most striking debuts, transforming herself from folk-pop artist into a brash original who wasn't afraid to speak her mind and defied easy pigeonholing. It helped that she found mentors in Sleaford Mods and Geoff Barrow (Portishead, Beak>) who encouraged her to find her own voice. It's been tough, though, relaunching a career just as the world shuts down, and all the fears, self-doubt and anger that have come with the last three years play into into her excellent second album. She still sounds like no one else. With her warm voice and way with melody and harmony, these songs sound like they could've been twangy new wave hits for Juice Newton or Kim Carnes in 1980, or pop-country chart-toppers in the '90s -- except Tor's DIY production and arrangements, full of weird synthesizers and post-punk touchstones, pull them in other directions. "Saboteur Forcefield" owes as much to New Order as New Nashville, and CACTI's title track is like Reba McEntire fronting Violator-era Depeche Mode. Maries' voice and personality carry the whole thing, making it all sound as natural as songs engineered to debut at #1.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: The Tubs - Dead Meat (Trouble in Mind)
Terrific debut album from former Joanna Gruesome members Owen Williams and George Nichols with vocal assistance on much of the album from former bandmate Alanna McArdle
NOTE: The Tubs album is out January 27
Welsh band Joanna Gruesome were a breath of fresh air in the early-2010s, mixing fantastic twee indiepop songwriting with angst and genuine muscle. The original lineup fractured just after the release of their second album in 2015 but most of the members stayed friends and after a few years to sort things out personally, they've gotten back to music and continue to collaborate via splinter projects. Bandleaders Owen Williams and Alana McArdle released their debut album as Ex-Vöid last year, and now here's the debut full-length from Owen's other band, The Tubs, which he formed with JG's George Nicholls. Dead Meat also features McArdle singing backup on much of the record, making this as close to a Joanna Gruesome reunion as we're likely to get.
None of that backstory really matters, as you don't need to have any information beyond the record in front of you to enjoy it. Williams and Nicholls have not lost their touch one bit writing thrilling two-minute guitar earworms that mash together a few different sympatico genres: punk, post punk, power-pop and British folk. There's a lot of snarl and angst here -- mental health and its burdens / complications are recurring lyrical themes -- but never without an emphasis on hooks and melody. In "Round the Bend," a song worthy of peak Bob Mould, he tells his lover "soon you're gonna be sick of me" as he dreads "another manic episode" while guitars slash and strum. Williams' voice does a lot of heavy lifting, capable of palpable snarl but also sweetness, especially when harmonizing with McArdle, like on Dead Meat's title track, or the anthemic "Duped" with its rousing chorus of "Why did I bother?" Self-loathing rarely sounds so inviting.
Molly - Picturesque (Sonic Cathedral)
Austrian shoegaze duo return with their wide-eyed second album full of gorgeous ethereal dreampop
Hailing from Innsbruck at the foot of the Alps in Austria, duo MOLLY make effervescent shoegaze as majestic and awe-inspired as the views outside their doors. It was that view that influenced their 2019 debut, but new album Picturesque takes inspiration from the 18th century Romantics. “Every time I go to a museum and I’m about to pass through the era of Romanticism I stop in awe,” says singer-guitarist Lars Andersen. “Whatever it is – stories, paintings, music – it triggers something deep within me, something profoundly human. It really hits a nerve, and it utterly immerses me to a point where I can’t move.” His description is pretty much what this album sounds like in aural form, like being blasted with pure light that washes over you like a giant blissed-out wave. If you like early Slowdive and Sigur Ros -- both clearly a big influence -- or Explosions in the Sky and Ulrich Schnauss, let Picturesque carry you away.
Gaz Coombes - Turn the Car Around (Hot Fruit)
Supergrass' reunion may be over (for now) but Gaz Coombes is still making great music on his fourth solo album
It was great getting to see Supergrass play live again last year but frontman Gaz Coombes is doing just fine on his own. Turn the Car Around, his fourth solo album, continues the natural progression from Supergrass' glammy rock, allowing him to stretch out, get cozy, and create songs that aren't restricted by expectations of a much-loved band. Not that it's that different. Songs like "Long Live the Strange" are clearly from the same person who gave us "Strange Ones" nearly 30 years ago, just with the scope widened considerably. This is elegant stuff, impeccably produced -- think Bowie, Scott Walker -- and Coombes' voice is in impeccable shape. If Supergrass announced a new album I would welcome it with open arms, but if Gaz keeps making records as good as this we should all be happy.
Liela Moss - Internal Working Model (Bella Union)
Third solo album from The Duke Spirit frontwoman features collaborations with Gary Numan, Jehnny Beth and more
The Duke Spirit never really got their due, and having consistently made terrific rock records over the last 20 years. (I'm a fan of 2007's Neptune in particular but all of their albums, including 2017's Sky is Mine, are worth checking out. They're still together, too.) And uch of the band's appeal comes courtesy singer/songwriter Liela Moss who possesses seriously powerful pipes that can coo, belt it out and hit all points in between. She sounds a bit like Roisin Murphy, lots of attitude and control in there too, albeit working in an entirely different genre. Her solo records, which allow Moss to explore music outside of the rock band milieu are also underrated. Internal Working Model is her third, and she says it was created in part as a plea to reconnect after three years of lockdown and an overreliance on technology. "I’m trying to find a way to plug myself into a new community," says Liela of the record. "I am imagining a tribe, navigating away from our very centralised culture, dismantling it and revising the way I think things work." The album, which she made with her Duke Spirit co-founder Toby Butler, connects her with a few notable collaborators: Gary Numan co-wrote and sings on the dark, alluring "Vanishing Shadows," and former Savages leader Jehnny Beth duets on the torchy, beautiful "Ache in the Middle." Of course, Moss has no problem holding her own on the rest of the record that's full of sophisticated pop powered by that amazing voice.
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