Indie Basement (5/6): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
The new release onslaught spills into May. This week it's another 10 albums! Those include: Belle & Sebastian, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Kikagaku Moyo, Warpaint, Pink Mountaintops, !!!, The Stroppies, Ghost Power (Stereolab's Tim Gane and Dynamaxion's Jeremy Novak), and Curse of Lono.
That is just the tip of the iceberg, too. Over in Notable Releases, Andrew reviews two of the week's (probably the year's) heaviest hitters -- Arcade Fire and Sharon Van Etten -- along with the first Blackstar and Soft Cell albums in two decades, and more.
If you need more, or are a little behind on your listening, there's the Indie Basement Best of April 2022 roundup with my 10 favorite songs and 5 favorite albums of last month, plus a nearly four-hour playlist with lots more.
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., Redd Kross, Talking Heads, Goldfrapp, and more.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Belle and Sebastian - A Bit of Previous (Matador)
Glasgow indie icons record on their home turf for the first time in two decades for their best record in a long time
When plans to record a new album in California in 2020 went the way of the pandemic, Belle & Sebastian decided to turn their Glasgow HQ into a recording studio, building covid-safe rooms for each member and producing it themselves. "We did it together, us and the city," says bandleader Stuart Murdoch in the album's liner notes. "This record was the first ‘full’ LP recording for B&S in Glasgow since Fold Your Hands Child, 1999. We clocked in every morning, we played our songs, we wrote together, we tried new things, we took the proverbial lump of clay, and we threw it every day.”
The comfortable environs of working from their home turf seems to have done them well as A Bit of Previous is their most enjoyable, relaxed album in over a decade. (Mind you it's also their first proper studio album in seven years.) There's a sleek, poppy vibe to much of the record that's very reminiscent of 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress, mixing new wave with horn-and-harmony-powered blue-eyed soul and breezy soft rock. This is all fertile soil for Stuart Murdoch who long ago shed his bookish wallflower persona for that of a consummate showman. As charming as the big-and-brassy "Come on Home," the rocking (from them) "Unnecessary Drama" and the discofied "Prophets On Hold" are, Murdoch is still at his most affecting on delicate songs like "Do It For Your Country" that evoke Belle & Sebastian's baroque, folky beginnings.
It's not all Murdoch: Stevie Jackson contributes the swaying, twangy "Deathbed of My Dreams," and Sarah Martin has two synthpop numbers: "Reclaim the Night" and "A World Without You." A Bit of Previous is a bit shaggy but doesn't overstay its welcome, and the diversions are rarely dull. In other words, it's a Belle & Sebastian album, and a good one at that.
Grab a copy on vinyl.
Kikagaku Moyo - Kumoyo Island (Guruguru Brain)
Parting never sounded so sweet as on this Japanese psych band's swan song
Japanese band Kikagaku Moyo are celebrating their 10th anniversary by breaking up. "We have come to the conclusion that because we have truly achieved our core mission as a band," they said in a statement, "we would love to end this project on the highest note possible." Kumoyo Island is certainly the band's most inviting record yet, allowing pop hooks, funky rhythms, and jammy noodling to coexist in a sumptuous production that is both trippy and compelling. There are sitar freakouts set to wild bongo-ing, deep grooves that would make Khruangbin jealous, gorgeous soundscapes, transportive psych-folk, towering horn-filled anthems, Spaghetti Western standoffs, and spectral ambient pieces. What might be most impressive is it's all done within 48 minutes. Kumoyo Island sounds sprawling but there's not much fat to trim. If this is indeed their final album, it's a helluva way to go out.
Before they say goodbye, they'll be touring like crazy. Go see 'em!
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Endless Rooms (Sub Pop)
Melbourne band's third album finds them expanding their horizons while delivering some of their most immediate songs yet
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever's 2020 album Sideways to New Italy was made at the end of a year of constant touring and found the group -- which includes three singer-guitarists -- in prime instrumental form but maybe lacking just a bit in the song department. Especially compared to their first album, which was a nonstop hook machine. Endless Rooms, the band's third album, course corrects with Tom Russo, Fran Keaney and Joe White all delivering indie rock earworms wrapped in the exciting guitar and vocal interplay their live shows are known for.
Endless Rooms also finds RBCF expanding their musical horizons, incorporating elements of disco, new wave, Morricone-esque filigrees and more into their jangly, driving sound. Their best songs mix pop smarts and indie guitar heroics, delivering two-minute pop nuggets that, once its melodic hooks are in you, are happy to bliss out with with an extended tail of intertwining guitars. There are a bunch that fit that bill: "The Way it Shatters" (which gives its lead riff to a keyboard), the wistful "Open Up Your Window," the snarling "Blue Eyed Lake," and wonderful closer "Bounce Off The Bottom" to name four, proving that in the right hands guitar-based indie rock possibilities are still endless
Warpaint - Radiate Like This (Virgin)
Warpaint's telepathic musicianship is as alluring as ever on their first album in six years
"We should’ve called this album Exquisite Corpse, but it was already taken,” says Emily Kokal of Warpaint's first album in six years. Exquisite Corpse was the title of Warpaint's debut EP but it would be fitting for this new one, as the album was made remotely with the four members spread out around the country and tracks being traded and added to a la the famous art technique. Despite this, the hydra-like symbiosis between Kokal, Jenny Lee Lindberg, Stella Mozgawa and Theresa Wayman remains very strong over long distances. Radiate Like This, which is their first album for major label Virgin after three with Rough Trade, doesn't rock the boat, delivering Warpaint's signature mix of dark atmosphere and sultry grooves that pull equally from post-punk and soul. "Champion," "Hips," "Like Sweetness" and "Send Nudes" find their spooky allure still bright.
Pink Mountaintops - Peacock Pools (ATO)
Black Mountain's Stephen McBean enlists members of Redd Kross and Melvins for his latest anything-goes solo album
Black Mountain are known for dark, bluesy, and heavy psych, but frontman Stephen McBean contains musical multitudes and explores those regularly with his Pink Mountaintops solo project since the mid-'00s. Peacock Pools is the first Pink Mountaintops album in eight years and you might not be surprised to learn that the impetus for this had something to do with being stuck at home for two years from you-know-what. (If you don't know what, I'm glad to hear you've woken from your coma.) “I’d moved into this cool little ’50s rancher house outside L.A. and was just mucking about in my bedroom studio, and pretty soon I started reaching out to some friends who were also shacked up and craving broadband sonic collaboration.” Those friends included Redd Kross' Jeff McDonald, Melvins' Dale Crover, and Destroyer's Joshua Wells. This record is all over the map: crunchy new wave ("Nervous Breakdown"), electro-psych ("Blazing Eye"), interstellar orch-pop ("You Still Around"), soaring riff rock ("Lights of The City"), Britpop ("Miss Sundown"), and more. There are also two tributes to the late Nikki Sudden of Swell Maps: the affecting "Nikki Go Sudden," which has McBean trying on an Aussie accent, and the swirling and strange "Swollen Maps." Most of it is good, and some of it's terrific, and more than anything you can tell they had a good time making this one and that exuberance transfers to the listener.
!!! (chk chk chk) - Let It Be Blue (Warp)
More than two decades in, !!! are still finding new and fun routes to exclamatory dance music
Is it really possible that !!! (chk chk chk) have been carrying the punk-funk indie disco rabble-rousing torch for 26 years? It is and they're still going strong, still reinventing themselves on their ninth album. Let It Be Blue is miles away from warehouse party jams "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard" and "Pardon My Freedom," but their focus on the dancefloor, not to mention their anarchic playfulness, remains sharp and infectious. Inventive even: "Storm Around The World" is a real banger that feels totally modern, thanks in part to a feature from UK rapper Maria Uzor, while still exuding that quintessential chk-chk-chi-i-ness. Same goes for the saucy electro-house number "Un Puente" featuring Angelica Garcia. The hipster heyday of Williamsburg is but a distant memory, but !!! can still make you sweat like an illegal loft party in July.
The Stroppies - Levity (Tough Love)
More appealing strummy pop from this Melbourne band on Album #2
Does Melbourne, Australia have a signature indie rock sound? Not quite, but the city seems to produce a lot of the world's supply of strummy guitar pop, from The Twerps to The Stevens to Dick Diver to Terry. (Note: many of these groups may contain overlapping members.) By my estimation, The Stoppies are the current leading light of Melbourne's shambolic guitar pop scene and are back with their follow-up to 2020's Whoosh! and last year's Look Alive! EP. Forgoing an exclamation point in the title is not the only difference this time around. While the core of the band remains chiming guitars and the songwriting and vocal talents of Angus Lord and Claudia Serfaty, Levity adds keyboards and clever studio production to the mix, like on first single "The Perfect Crime" which plays around with sampling -- just a little. The Stroppies work hard to make it sound like they're not trying, but Levity revels in nonchalant ambition.
Ghost Power - Ghost Power (Duophonic Super 45s)
Stereolab's Tim Gane and Dymaxion's Jeremy Novak make groovy sound collages worthy of any bachelor pad, space age or otherwise
Stereolab cofounder Tim Gane never strays too far from the space age bachelor pad, whether it's the more intense drive of Cavern of Anti-Matter, or this, his Ghost Power collaboration with Dymaxion's Jeremy Novak. Their self-titled album has a playful sense of whimsy that recalls the mid-'60s when synthesizers were first introduced and spawned wildly creative novelty records like Switched On Bach and Perrey and Kingsley's The In Sound from Way Out! Ghost Power mixes Novak's sonic collage skills with Gane's deep knowledge of analogue electronics for a very groovy time. What was sampled and what was played by an actual human? It's impossible to say as the album is a seamless sonic quilt cast in vivid technicolor. To be honest, a little goes a long way but tracks like "Asteroid Witch," "Panic In The Isles Of Splendour," and "Grimalkin" could be fit right in on a a variety of playlists, from '90s hip hop, to '00s indie club music, to Italian horror soundtrack obscurities.
Curse of Lono - People in Cars (Submarine Cat Records)
Warm and sad, 'People in Cars' is the perfect soundtrack for a midnight drive in the desert
Led by Felix Bechtolsheimer, London band Curse of Lono formed in 2015 from the ashes of Hey Negrita -- a band I was admittedly unfamiliar with, and for that matter I was unfamiliar with Curse of Lono as well until recently being taken with their third album, People in Cars. (Released last November in the UK, it just got a belated North American release.) Bechtolsheimer has a warm baritone that is in the same range as The National's Matt Berninger or the late Leonard Cohen, and Curse of Lono's songs are taylor-made for it. Just a little twangy but not afraid of synthesizers, this is lonely desert highway music, the kind that would sound great in the noonday sun but is better suited for the dead of night. Lynchian this is not, though; "Ursula Andress," "Let Your Love Rain Down on Me," "Steppin Out" and "In Your Arms" are elegiac pop songs, colored in by swelling backing vocals and dreamy pedal steel. You could imagine Lloyd Cole making this record if he'd spent time in Joshua Tree. People in Cars is the sound of being bummed out but happy to have company. Do yourself a favor and give this one a spin.
Service - Drag Me (Let's Pretend)
Former Jon Spencer Blues Explosion drummer Russell Simins and We Are Hex's Jilly Weiss are the core of this angsty alt-rock combo
Jon Spencer was undoubtedly the pelvis -- and namesake focus -- of the Blues Explosion, but Russell Simins was its beating, bashing heart. So it's nice to hear him pummelling the shit out of his kit with new band Service on their debut album. Led by wailer Jilly Weiss (We Are Hex), Service cite The Stooges and The Fall as influences but their angsty brand of riffy alt-rock, equal parts blood and fire, is distinctly mid-'90s and would fit right in on the Yelllowjackets soundtrack.
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.
And check out what's new in our shop.