Bill’s Indie Basement (5/1): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy May Day everyone, or alternately happy Bandcamp Day Pt 2. The digital music service is once again waiving their cut of the profits today , meaning more for the artists who made them and can't tour currently, and in this week's Indie Basement, every record is available via Bandcamp. Just a coincidence, though I would say 87% of all records I write about you can get via BC, it's just the way I roll. This week features three new albums by artists who haven't released a record in a long time (BOAT, Pure X and Devon Williams), a new album from London's Happyness, plus new EPs from April Events (former Oranger drummer Jim Lindsay) and Wildhoney offshoot Dummy. Plus a new retrospective from underrated Long Island indie rock band Hypnolovewheel.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew listens to the new Car Seat Headrest and Damien Jurado over in Notable Releases. If you need more things to buy on Bandcamp, we picked 10 great records you can buy there (I picked Radio Dept, Protomartyr, Ty Segall and Hollie Cook), and back in March ago we picked 20 terrific 2020 album that were on on BC, too. There are all sorts of special releases on Bandcamp just for today, like Mogwai's score for ZeroZeroZero, and a whole bunch of Arab Strap. Also new on Bandcamp: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury & The Insects' score to Alex Garland's Devs.
Today is also a little sad, because it was originally the release day for the JARV IS... album. Which now isn't out till September. I can wait. Head below for this week's reviews...there are a lot this week!
BOAT - Tread Lightly (Magic Marker)
Older and wiser, Seattle indie rock greats BOAT return with their first album in seven years.
BOAT, how I've missed thee! In their seven year absence, I'd forgotten just how much I liked their easy way with big hooks, anthemic choruses, catchy riffs AND licks (yes, both), and their self-effacing, entirely relatable worldview. Not to mention their respect for the indie rock elders and their ability to pay homage to them while creating their own style. All those things are still evident on Tread Lightly, a record that finds the members of BOAT approaching (or passing) 40, a little more settled but still confused about a lot of stuff. “There’s a lot on your mind all of the time," Dave Crane sings in the opening song, "Metabolism," which sets up the record nicely. Tread Lightly deals a lot with getting older and all the fears that come with it. Topics include health, happiness, hair (all the big H's), other people's pizza, feeling useless, the importance of friends, Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes, and finding peace with what you've got. All set to the kind earworm melodies we've come to expect from BOAT. Tread Lightly seems especially crammed with great, memorable moments, from the horns in "Be As Good as You Want to Be" to the tapped-out riff in the chorus of "So Many Reasons Your Hair Turns Grey," and the new-wave influences that pop up on "Loneliness Kills" and "Mind Bending." Like most of us, BOAT are taking life one uneasy step at a time, and it's good to have people there with you, conveying similar doubts in very tuneful fashion.
Pure X - S/T (Fire Talk)
Float away on the laconic desert beauty of this Austin band's fourth album (and first in a while).
Here's another welcome return: Austin's Pure X with their first album since 2014's Angel. Where that record was sleek and pristine, and 2013's Crawling Up the Stairs was tense and angsty, Pure X feels at peace with itself, both lyrically -- themes of redemption and letting go run throughout -- and musically. Recorded live over a six-day session, the band sound relaxed and comfortable in their skin, making an album that's psychedelic, melodic and just a little twangy, with the warm fuzzies throughout. It's a wonderful, chilled out record. I'm partial to the sludgier songs, like "Middle America," where the guitars seem to pour out of the speakers in slow motion and on to the floor, like fog from dry ice, while Nate Grace and Jesse Jenkins' airy vocals float nearer the ceiling. Brighter songs, "Free My Heart" and the ethereal album closer "I Can Dream," are pretty great too, though. Even though no song hits the four minute mark, Pure X is a jammy record where you may forget whether the song you're on had vocals at all (they all do), as you fall under the spell of its laconic desert beauty.
Happyness - Floatr (Infinit Suds)
Much has changed for London band Happyness, but musically they are still successfully mining '90s indie rock for their own affable gains on LP#3
It's only been three years since London band Happyness released Write-In, but a lot has happened. They went from being a trio to a duo of Jonny EE Allan and Ash Kenazi; Ash also came out and became a drag performer, and now co-fronts Happyness with drag incorporated into their live performances. “Happyness had always been a lens for us to focus our thoughts and our emotions through,” Kenazi told The Line of Best Fit. “It’s a part of me. I felt that now that I had accepted my identity, it would actually be more real for me. I could enjoy it more, feel it more.” Their new album, Floatr, changed a lot too over the course of writing it. "A lot of the songs were originally love songs which I changed to break-up songs," Allan told LoBF. "It also goes into the place where Ash got to before he came out, which was awesome when it happened but was a long time coming.”
While a lot has clearly changed, a lot has not. Happyness still party like it's 1999, which is to say they still sound like an amalgamation of Wilco, Pavement and Eliot Smith, making dusty guitar pop that keeps it very mellow, feels generally bummed out but also rather angelic. These 10 songs are all gently sweeping, with stirring strings (or at least mellotron strings), and hammond organ playing through a warbling Leslie cabinet. Allan's vocals kinda sound like they've been fed through that Leslie as well.) They're good songwriters too, with a uniquely warped lyrical perspective: "Vegetable," one of the most immediate songs on the record, references both Chumbawamba and Scientology e-meters; while my favorite song on the album, "What Isn't Nurture," with it's supremely sublime chorus, is apparently a response to Cass McCombs' "What Isn't Nature." For me at least, Happyness' combination of familiar styles and sounds pushes a button that spreads warm endorphins throughout my body. Floatr feels welcome and familiar, even when the world we see is not.
Devon Williams - A Tear in the Fabric (Slumberland)
First album in six years from modern LA practitioner of '80s-style sparkling janglepop.
Devon Williams has had a long and varied career in music, having gotten his start in the late-'90s/early-'00s as part of pop-punk band Osker, then playing with folk-pop band Finger Cut Megamachine and then a late-'00s stint as part of Lavender Diamond. For the last 10 years or so, Williams has made the kind of chiming guitar pop that you heard a lot on college and alt-rock radio in the late '80s, be it The Church, XTC, Tommy Keene, Wire Train, The Lucy Show, or any other group that wore bolo ties with paisley shirts. A Tear in the Fabric is his third album for Slumberland and first in six years. It picks right up where he left off. His delicate melodies are layered in brittle, delay-soaked guitars, glistening synths, and fey, slightly affected vocals. It's good stuff, but the only thing that's missing is...wait, is that a saxophone I hear? Never mind.
Hypnolovewheel - Parallel Universe (Cara Records)
Late-'80s/early-'90s Long Island cult indie rock combo get a welcome retrospective compilation
Musically, Long Island is known for producing a lot of punk, metal and hip hop. Indie rock? Not as much, but there were some locals listening to WLIR in the '80s who then decided to form a band. One of those was Hypnolovewheel who existed for five years or so -- from 1988 to 1993 -- and absorbed a lot of disparate influences into their sound, releasing five albums before calling it quits. Across those records, you can hear elements of the Paisley Underground neo-psychedelic scene, REM-style college rock and Twin-Tone/SST indie, the UK's C-86 scene that gave us The Wedding Present, and more. Unfortunately, it's all out of print, and only their final record, 1993's Altered States, is on streaming services.
Enter Brooklyn label Cara Records who have, with the band, put together this terrific 15-track compilation of that hits most of Hypnolovewheel's album highlights as well as some 7" tracks and more (and seven demos as digital bonus tracks). It showcases the many sides of the band -- the punky, the jangly, the poppy, the psychedelic -- as well as their pop-culture infused sense of humor. Among them: their psych-punk-pop single "Wow," the Meat Puppets-y "Cosmic Cube," the '60s-inspired "Everywhere Nowhere Girl" and the fuzzed-out "Here Comes a Headache." It's a great primer for the uninitiated -- and may send you to Discogs for more -- but also holds together really well as its own album.
April Events - The Wish EP
Former Oranger drummer Jim Lindsay is still making terrific '60s inspired pop
A couple weeks ago I did a list of my favorite records from 2000 which included Oranger's The Quiet Vibrationland. One of the charms of that album (and the band) was Jim Lindsay's drumming which was prone to apeshit, Keith Moon-style fills. Jim is still making music and plays in Spiral Stairs' band as well as makes his own music as April Events. He just put out a new April Events EP that shows him straddling the line between '60s psych pop and '90s indie rock. There's a little new wave in here too, mainly via some early Cars-style synth leads on "The Wish" and "Angel's Call." The latter is my favorite of the EP's three songs, and probably the most Oranger-esque with a crunchy, riffy chorus. There is a distinct lack of apeshit drum fills, though, but maybe he saves that for the live shows.
Dummy - Dummy EP (Pop Wig Records)
Debut release from LA motoroik baroque psych band featuring three members of Wildhoney
Baltimore's great Wildhoney are in a state of deep hibernation these days, but three of them are now in Los Angeles still playing together as part of new group Dummy who have released their debut EP today. Like Wildhoney, there is a strong shoegazy element to what they do, but Dummy lean more towards drony psych powered by motoroik drumming and analogue synths, with just a touch of baroque pop in there as well. That puts them very much in the same company as Brooklyn's Peel Dream Magazine with some influences that will be obvious upon listening to regular Indie Basement readers. Dummy can be very noisy ("Avant-Garde Gas Station") but as the matter-of-factly-named "Folk Song" shows, they know how to get quiet and beautiful too. My favorite track on the EP, "Slacker Mask," does both at the same time. Look forward to hearing more from them.
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