Indie Basement (1/29): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This is an exceptionally good week for new releases here in Indie Basement with three terrific albums: The Besnard Lakes don't talk about the weather, they are the weather on LP #6; The Notwist return with their best album in nearly two decades; and Goat Girl up their game on their second album. Plus: Lilys reissue one of their most sought-after releases, and a new record from The Reds, Pinks & Purples (Glenn Donaldson of Skygreen Leopards).
Need more of this week's reviews? Andrew reviews Arlo Parks, Portrayal of Guilt, Madlib/Four Tet, and more in Notable Releases. For more Basement-approved stuff from the week there's: promising new Manchester band Gary, Indiana; members of The Pooh Sticks and Heavenly formed tongue-in-cheek group Swansea Sound; Quilt's Anna Fox Rochinski has a solo album on the way; The Chills just announced their seventh album; and Billy Nomates is already back with a new EP.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: The Besnard Lakes - Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings (FatCat)
Few bands do "epic" as well as this Montreal six-piece, and they are in especially fine form here
It's been five years, almost to the day, since The Besnard Lakes' last album, A Coliseum Complex Museum. That's a long time but that's also okay. The Montreal band have such a distinctive sound that if albums came along more regularly, they might not seem as special as they are. Jace Lasek and Olga Goleas, and the rest of the six-member lineup, create magisterial rock made of layer upon layer of guitar, vintage synthesizers, crashing drums, rumbling bass, and gorgeous harmonies led by Lasek's otherworldly falsetto. Space Rock is the perfect descriptor for what The Besnard Lakes do, as their music is like footage of a rocket launch -- it seems like it's in slow-motion, but it's not and you can feel the power behind the thrusters and afterburners. Even the quiet moments sound like they were recorded in a planetarium and their album titles tower, written as full sentences with the band as the subject.
The Besnard Lakes Are the Last Great Thunderstorm Warnings is the band's sixth album and grandest statement yet, a 72-minute opus on "the darkness of death and the light on the other side." The four sides of the vinyl -- titled "Near Death," "Death," "After Death," and "Life" -- bear that out and Jase has said the record was largely influenced by the death of his father in 2019, but also Prince and Talk Talk's Mark Hollis. You can definitely feel Hollis' influence in The Besnard Lakes and Thunderstorm Warnings has the most headroom of any of their albums, with a few tracks descending into warm, ambient drone (see the 17-minute title track which closes things). Specifically, album highlight "Raindrops" tips its hat to Hollis, with Jase wondering "Is my backyard Garden of Eden spirited?" Prince's tribute is "The Father of Time Wakes Up," complete with an extended, soaring guitar solo.
You can also see the album's concept as a band allegory with their many ups and downs. After years on Jagjaguwar, Besnard Lakes and the label parted ways; now on FatCat the group say it was their love of each other and playing together that was what really made the record happen. That may be a press release line, but anyone who's seen the band play live knows there is truth in there, and they haven't sounded this inspired since The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night. Songs interlock, joined by those spacey drones and orchestration that, like the band themselves, push just to the edge of over-the-top and then ride the crest. Spiraling rock tracks have been their signature since the start and "Our Heads, Our Hearts on Fire Again" is one of their best, but the title track climbs the highest, and when you think they've reached the peak they keep going, finally escaping the atmosphere, sailing through the vacuum of space for another 10 minutes. "When me and moon will talk, no one else around will breathe," Jase sings, "And I’m lost on the broadway of my mind."
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: The Notwist - Vertigo Days
Special collaborations enliven the long-running German band's most satisfying album since 'Neon Golden'
Vertigo Days is The Notwist's first proper album in seven years, and finds core members Markus and Micha Acher and Cico Beck collaborating with a variety of musicians, including Juana Molina, Ben LaMar Gay, Angel Bat Dawid, Saya of Tenniscoats, and Japanese brass ensemble Zayaendo. "We wanted to question the concept of a band by adding other voices and ideas, other languages, and also question or blur the idea of national identity,” Markus said when the album was announced. COVID lockdown inspired this partially, with the group sending out tracks and song fragments, telling their collaborators to do with them as they pleased. Some came back inspiring more work, while others were deemed good to go.
Even though there are a lot of creative voices present, Vertigo Days is a cohesive album -- "one long poem" Markus calls it -- with tracks seamlessly flowing into one another, often spectacularly like when the dreamy "Where You Find Me" segues perfectly into dubby komische jam "Ship" which features Tenniscoats' Saya and is one of the album's many standouts. Saya and Markus' voices sound so good together, you almost wish there could be a whole album of this, But that would mean we wouldn't get songs like "Al Sur," the percussion-powered tropical storm of drony electronics featuring Juana Molina, or the woozy "Oh Sweet Fire" where collaborator Ben LaMar Gay offers "a love lyric for these times, imagining two lovers in an uprising hand in hand" with the "sound of drums reflecting off buildings, as high as the fist that has risen."
There are plenty of classic Notwist style songs, too. Sampled voices gently power "Where You Find Me," one of their signature blendings of quiet romance and glitch, while "Exit Strategy to Myself" blasts the kind of thick organ and hypnotic guitar strum-und-drang that Stereolab would be jealous of. Then there are tracks, like the vibraphone-and-clarinet-driven "Ghost," that are uncharted territory found within The Notwist's world. This new collaborative spirit clearly lit a spark in the band, and Vertigo Days is their most satisfying since Neon Golden, sounding both familiar and brand new. Few bands entering their fourth decade together can say the same.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: Goat Girl - On All Fours (Rough Trade)
London band get more playful, musically, and better all around on their second album
Both Fontaines D.C. and Shame managed to avoid the sophomore slump recently with their new albums, and add to that list London's Goat Girl who do so with the most panache of all of them. On All Fours is a marked improvement over the very good 2018 debut, with the band heading in distinct new directions while still retaining their unique sound. Not easy to do. The band once again worked with producer Dan Carey who encouraged them to explore electronics, lending them his MPC unit as well as his studio to use as a rehearsal space so they could experiment with playing along to loops and drum machines, and to find new rhythms. "Dan shoved some boxes of percussion in the middle of the room and asked us just to grab something and play along to a track spontaneously together," new bassist Holy Hole told us. "It was a quickfire process, which allowed us to think outside the box without second guessing."
The process didn't dramatically change Goat Girl's sound, but it's instantly notable. While their songs still have swagger, they are punchier and poppier, with a decidedly jazzier groove and a lot more going on in the arrangements. Synthesizers percolate just below the surface of most songs, like the rolling arpeggiations on opener "Pest," the kitschy faux horns of "PTS Tea," the almost house-y chords of "Sad Cowboy," and the distinctive swells of Carey's Swarmatron on the appealing and at times very weird single "Badibaba." It all works with the band's already well-defined melodic style, close harmonies and, in particular, Clottie Cream's smoky vocals.
The sound is a little smoother this time out, but there is still plenty of attitude. "I have no shame when I say step the fuck away," Lottie sings on "Pest," while "They Bite You" equates capitalism with parasitic insects. More songs, though, look inward, like the pretty, understated "Anxiety Feels." The most impressive song on On All Fours, though, is "The Crack," which marries the woozy, guitar-y vibe of their debut and their new dancier direction to a tale of Mother Earth course-correcting against all that has been done to it, ready to swallow us whole and start again. It's pointed and thoughtful and, as the old American Bandstand cliche goes, it's got a good beat you can dance to. It also gives hope, as does the whole of this record, for what Goat Girl will do on their third album, if Mother Earth lets us get that far.
Lilys - A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns vinyl reissue (Frontier)
Lilys' reissue campaign continues with one of the group's most sought-after records, now in expanded form.
It's a good time to be a Lilys fan, especially if you're one who's always wanted their records on vinyl but have been dismayed at the insane prices of used originals on sites like Discogs, or the fact that some of them were only released on CD. The band's excellent 1999 album, The 3-Way, is getting its first-ever vinyl pressing, and now they've just announced a reissue of 1994 EP A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns which made our list of Best Shoegaze EPs of the Early '90s:
Kurt Heasley has reinvented Lilys a few times over the last 30 years, but the group began as noisy indie rockers who pulled equally from late-'80s Creation Records and Dinosaur Jr's freak scene. This wonderfully titled EP has some of Lilys' catchiest songs, including "Ginger" (which inexplicably ended up getting used in a 2007 Cadillac commercial), "Any Place I've Lived" and "Jenny, Andrew and Me." It's one of their best releases and, sadly, also one of the rarest...out of print, not on streaming services, and used copies are hard to come by.
Not only is Brief History getting a much-needed reissue, it's also coming to us in expanded form. It was originally released on 10" vinyl and CD which shared the same main five songs -- including "Ginger" and "Any Place I've Lived" -- and then each had a sixth track exclusive to the two formats. This new reissue puts the original five on one side, and then on the second adds four songs that were recorded in 1994 but not released till 2000 as one side of a split EP with Aspera Ad Astra, plus a previously unreleased song, "G. Cobalt Franklin." "Glossender," the original last song on the vinyl, is here as a digital bonus track, but CD track "Evel Knievel" has been lost to the ages (or at least YouTube). You can pre-order it here.
For more on these reissues and more (a lot more), read our interview with Lilys main man Kurt Heasley. Vinyl copies of A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns will likely move quick and probably sell out, but at least you'll soon be able to officially stream it. For now, checkout "G. Cobalt Franklin":
The Reds, Pinks & Purples - "Don't Ever Pray In The Church on My Street"
Glenn Donaldson of Skygreen Leopards and Art Museums is gearing to release his third album of charming DIY guitar pop under this colorful guise
Glenn Donaldson, who founded San Francisco's Skygreen Leopards (as well as the shortlived but excellent Art Museums) has been busy lately with a few projects. He and Woods' Jeremy Earl have a record coming out as Painted Shrines in March, and then in April he'll release Uncommon Weather, the third album with his kitchen sink solo project The Reds, Pinks & Purples.
His love of DIY punk and indiepop that manifested itself so brilliantly in the Art Museums shows itself again here, though more in a swoony pop way. The first single is the album's opening cut, "Don't Ever Pray in the Church on My Street," which falls somewhere between The Clean and The Cleaners from Venus and should make any Indie Basement reader want to click "buy" or at least "play" immediately. It's terrific:
Uncommon Weather is out April 9 via Slumberland.
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