Indie Basement (9/9): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Labor Day is past and the tap is open on new releases. This is a very big week and I look at nine albums (well eight and a mixtape), including ones from alt rock royalty Built to Spill and The Afghan Whigs, UK duo Jockstrap, Canadian post-punk combo Preoccupations, as well as Air Waves, Greentea Peng, Badge Epoque Ensemble, Tan Cologne, and the first Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs album in 10 years.
Speaking of Enormous, it's a huge week in Notable Releases too as Andrew reviews albums by Sudan Archives, Santigold, Sampa The Great, and more. Need more Basement-friendly news and content from the week? May I direct your browser to: I went to Stereolab's first show of their North American tour (hello from Nashville!); Pavement began their reunion tour, too, as did Roxy Music; Ride bassist Steve Queralt is releasing a solo record.; and if this fall's release schedule wasn't already full enough, King Gizzard just announced THREE new albums that are all coming out in October.
Be sure to check out the Indie Basement corner of the BrooklynVegan shop for a great selection of vinyl, books, and merch all hand-picked by this guy, including stuff by Stereolab, Broadcast, Roxy Music, Wet Leg, Beach House, OSEES, Cocteau Twins, The Beths, Aldous Harding, Nada Surf, The Cure, Can, Neu!, Mazzy Star, Talking Heads, Pixies, Sparks, Redd Kross, and more.
Head below for this week's overflowing cornucopia of reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Jockstrap - I Love You Jennifer B (Rough Trade)
UK duo's wonderful debut album offers surprises at every turn
The debut album from UK duo Jockstrap is the sound of total freedom. The album opens with a gentle strum of a guitar and singer Georgia Ellery's breathy vocals. If you've never heard them before, you might be expecting a folk album along the lines of Laura Marling but 40 seconds into the song, as Ellery's voice rises and gains strength, a switch flips and things go into glitchy electronic territory with deep sub synths, "wub wub" dubstep bass, and fizzled circuits. Then the song flips again with distorted drums, a towering fuzzed-out riff and the whole thing sounding like someone dropped the tape into a deep fryer. All while the melody continues, over and done with in less than four minutes. Each turn unexpected and perfect.
From there, you have no idea where Ellery and Taylor Skye will take you next, but you can't wait to find out. No genre is uncool or verboten, whether it's country, house, smooth R&B, Disney soundtrack balladry, hip hop production new and old, '80s new wave and electro; you name it, it's here, smushed up against something else you wouldn't think could possibly go together, but they make it seem like the most natural thing. "The past means just as much to us as the future does," Taylor (who does most of the production) told Norman Records. "We look back on things often and reflect on older music. I like to digest the past as much as possible and then when creating something, completely ignore any thoughts about time, whether it be the past or the present, and feel things as much as I can."
That freedom allows for so many magical moments: the wonderous "Concrete Over Water," that swoons and sways with an orchestra of dripping strings, arpeggiated synthesizers, and sampled dog barks that go from the bedroom to outer space and back again; the lush and horny "Greatest Hits" that toys with '70s soul along with fantasizing about Madonna; and "Debra," which works in samples from all over the world; and the wistful, wonderful "Glasgow."
Ellery's voice is as elastic as Taylor's inventive production and really ties the whole album together, from the gentle, harp-plucked lullaby "Angst" to chopped-up numbers like the title track. I Love You Jennifer B is a trip without roads or rules but with Jockstrap's boundless creativity you never feel lost.
Built to Spill - When the Wind Forgets Your Name (Sub Pop)
Indie rock icons get that '90s feeling back on their first album for Sub Pop
It's a fact: When the Wind Forgets Your Name is Built to Spill's first album for Sub Pop but in a way it feels impossible. How was this quintessential American indie rock band never on the quintessential indie rock label? (The band actually spent most of their career on major label Warner Bros with an autonomy many of their peers never experienced.) In any case, it's two great tastes that taste great together and this, their eighth studio album of originals, is a quintessential Built to Spill record, sounding and feeling like it could've dropped in the mid-'90s between There's Nothing Wrong With Love and Perfect From Now On.
To arrive at this sound, bandleader Doug Martsch parted ways with his 2010s lineup of the band and enlisted Le Almeida and João Casaes of Brazilian psychedelic jazz rock band, Oruã. “We rehearsed at their studio in downtown Rio de Janeiro and I loved everything about it," Martsch says. "They had old crappy gear. The walls were covered with xeroxed fliers. They smoked tons of weed." During their 2019 tour they worked on Marstch's new songs during soundcheck and then recorded basic tracks in his Boise studio. With Almeida and Casaes unable to return from Brazil during the pandemic, Doug finished the album by himself and has since gathered a new lineup of the band.
Things got a little too jammy for their own good in the '00s and '10s, but When the Wind Forgets Your Name hits that sweet spot between songcraft and noodling that all great Built to Spill records have, with wistful melodies that sound like first chilly breeze in September before the leaves have turned. Marstch's way of bending strings on a strummy chord or lead has always been just as emotive as his lyrics or warmly mopey voice, and that's still true here on standouts like the "Fools Gold," "Understood" and the back-to-back pairing of "Never Alright" and "Alright." There are of course lots of signature guitar heroics, from the opening blast of "Gonna Lose" through the spindly, weaving leads of eight-minute closer "Comes a Day." And for those looking for a smidge of the new, "Rocksteady" dips a toe into warm reggae waters.
Adding to the '90s vibe is cello and mellotron, which enlivened Perfect From Now On and makes a welcome return here. If there's an album Wind most resembles, it's that one. While some might argue that Martsch is falling back on styles and sounds he'd moved past 20 years ago, when a record feels as effortless as this, "classic" is a more apt descriptor.
Pick up When the Wind Forgets Your Name on vinyl and cassette.
Preoccupations - Arrangements (Flemish Eye)
Calgary post-punk band relax just a little for their most effortless, appealing record yet.
Calgary band Preoccupations understand that as bleak as post-punk styles can be, they are also inherently sexy. While they don't exactly look the part -- aside from drummer Mike Wallace, these are normal looking, normal dressing dudes who would never be confused with Interpol -- they imbue their songs with a dark romance that's hard not to get swept up in. They loosen their collars even further on Arrangements, their fourth and arguably best album. While the tension between the four members remains one of their best qualities, they've relaxed just a little, giving the songs room to breathe and slowing tempos enough to take things from rigid to sultry.
Those subtle changes allow for more range in bassist and frontman Matt Flegel's vocals, and he's never sounded more natural in the lead role. His gravelly pipes can go from warm and inviting to harrowing and menacing in an instant. It all comes together on tracks like "Riccochet," one of Preoccupations' best-ever songs that shines with thrilling guitarwork, Wallace's monster drumming, and Flegel seething out lines like "Everything tastes like the bitter end." While that is the high point for the album, Arrangements features the band's best batch of songs to date, with big hooks and burrowing melodies to go along with the always impressive musicianship. They may not have lightened up -- Flegel says the album's about “the world blowing up and no one giving a shit” -- but they are taking it all in style.
The Afghan Whigs - How Do You Burn? (Royal Cream/BMG)
First album in five years from Greg Dulli and co still has that signature swagger, along with appearances from the late Mark Lanegan
Greg Dulli has taken The Afghan Whigs in all sorts of directions over the last 35 years, from Replacments-y heartland punk to roughed-up soul to widescreen rock, with his oversized personality, brooding presence, smoky voice and undeniable swagger as connective tissue. How Do You Burn?, the band's ninth album, is their first in five years and, by nature, is a little different than any record they've made before. A band that likes to feed off each others' energy in the studio, they were forced to make this one remotely, recording their parts separately, connecting via Zoom. Meanwhile, the deaths of two longtime friends and collaborators also hung over the album: guitarist Dave Rosser, who died a month after the release of 2017's In Spades, and Mark Lanegan who contributed vocals to two songs here and gave the album its title.
As to the distance between band members, you can't really tell. Even when gathering in parts from all over the country and assembling them digitally, Dulli still manages to get dirt under the fingernails, even on tracks like the pristine, contemplative "Concealer" and the soaring, slick "Domino and Jimmy" which is a sequel to Gentlemen's "My Curse" with Marcy Mays reprising her duet role. As to the loss of friends, it's hard not to read into Dulli's lyrics, or be moved by Lanegan's gravelly voice on "Jyia" and, especially, "Take Me There" which, with soulful gospel elements, feels like an elegiac send-off to Mark and the album. The best tracks, as usual, are the grittiest, like the ripping, massive "I'll Make You See God" and opening track "Catch a Colt" that has both cinematic scope and an intimacy that could make you blush. How Do You Burn? Simmering as ever.
Pick up How Do You Burn? on vinyl.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs - When The Lights Go Out (Nice Age)
Ten years since his debut, Orlando HIgginbottom finally makes a second TEED album that was mostly worth the wait
Orlando Higginbottom hasn't released a Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs album since his 2012 debut, Trouble, but he's made up for lost time with this 17-track double album, his long awaited follow-up. He made the bulk of it during the years he lived in Los Angeles (2014 - 2017) when he spent most of his time DJing, remixing big-name artists (Lady Gaga, Disclosure) and partying too much. Sobering up, he revisited seven years of half-finished tracks and completed the album in Lisbon and after moving back to the UK. Where Trouble played like a one-man Hot Chip, heavy on the charming quirkiness (yes he used to wear this headgear on stage), When the Lights Go Out finds him taking a gentler but still danceable approach to electronic music. A little long at 64 minutes, the album is nonetheless full of luxe bangers ("Blood in the Snow," "Never Seen You Dance" to name two) that draw a lot from '80s synthpop and soft rock. (It's not unlike Lou Hayter's album from last year.) He's got a voice, velvety smooth, that's perfect for this kind of stuff: warmy romantic, politely groovy, highly melodic songs that have you enthusiastically bobbing your head while driving or doing the dishes more than they might have you wanting to hit the club, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Badge Époque Ensemble - Clouds of Joy (Telephone Explosion)
Album #3 from Max Turnbull's jazzy collective sinks pleasingly into the shag
Led by Maximilian ‘Twig’ Turnbull, Toronto collective Badge Époque Ensemble feel like they've been freed from a piece of 1970 amber, making jazzy, soulful and very lush creations that are, as Lou Rawls might've said, very groovy. There are flutes. There are congas. There are all manner of horns, choral vocals (Robin Dann, Dorothea Paas, Alex Samaras, and Zodiac's Alanna Stewart + James Baley) asking "Have you seen joy?", funky clavinet and Fender Rhodes, amazing bass lines and the cleanest guitar leads this side of Walter Becker. The musicianship is impeccable -- the players here are regular collaborators with The Weather Station, Andy Shauf, U.S. Girls -- and fans of everything from Stevie Wonder's Innervisions to Roy Ayers, Spyro Gyra, David Axelrod, Pharoah Sanders, The Free Design and Gerry Rafferty (not to mention more modern purveyors like Air), will want to sink into Clouds of Joy like an egg chair on a shag rug.
Tan Cologne - Earth Visions Of Water Spaces (Labrador)
Taos duo continue their path of gentle topaz psych on their second album
Tan Cologne's debut album, Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico, could not have come along at a better time. Released in February 2020, its very gentle, fluid brand of guitar psych was a perfect early pandemic record where, at least in Brooklyn, car radios and construction noise gave way to the sounds of birds we didn't know lived in the city. Lauren Green and Marissa Macias' spacey jams recalled everything from Low to eary The Verve records, and they kept things to a whisper. The world has kinda gotten back to normal since then, but Tan Cologne are keeping things chill and mystic on their second album. The amps are set on 3 while the reverb is at 11, giving everything an underwater vibe (the album is about water's once more prominent presence on our planet) while their hushed vocals sing in unison. As the rest of the world gets louder, Earth Visions Of Water Spaces is still a compelling, soothing balm that we might need more than ever.
Air Waves - The Dance (Fire Records)
Cass McCombs, Luke Temple, Frankie Cosmos and more guest on Nicole Schneit's first Air Waves album for Fire Records
The Brooklyn scene over the last 15 years has changed dramatically and often, moving further East to the point where it might now be in Queens, and some of the biggest names of the '00s now call Silverlake home. Yet Nicole Schneit, a lifelong New Yorker, is still here, still writing simple, honest, direct guitar pop as Air Waves. If that makes it sound boring, it is not. Nicole has a way of getting to the heart of things with the fewest words and chords possible that sinks in quick, and they've gained a reputation as a musician's musician. Having signed with Fire Records, home of The Chills, The Bevis Frond and Throwing Muses, Air Waves have released their first album for the label and Nicole gets a little help from Cass McCombs, Luke Temple, Frankie Cosmos and more. But those artists are mostly here for support -- apart from Cass McCombs who duets with Nicole on "Alien," you might not even realize there are any guests on the record at all. Nicole's songs continue to feature the sparest of arrangements -- gently strummed guitar, light keyboards and backing vocals, minimalistic drumming -- that keep the focus on her way with melody and low-key but emotive delivery. New York will always move at a lightning pace but The Dance, named for a shortlived Manhattan club, is worth slowing down for.
Greentea Peng - Greenzone 108 (Universal)
More blunted beats and chilled-out grooves from this London MC and bandleader
Just barely a year since releasing her excellent debut album Man Made, Greentea Peng is back with a second record. Technically, Greenzone 108 is a mixtape, with Peng calling it a free flowing, open field of expression. A collection of works accumulated over a transitional period of my life," adding that this is" is freer, less formed and more of an open dialogue / space exploring all different types of topics from spirituality, and originality to mental health and politricks.” Musically, she's still in that '90s world of trip hop, hip hop and acid jazz. I compared Man Made to Ms Dynamite, and for Greenzone 108 she actually works with Ms Dynamite's producer, Nat Powers, along with Inflo collaborator St Francis Hotel. Album, mixtape, whatever you call it -- this is terrific stuff, with sumptuous grooves that compliment Peng's extremely laid-back delivery. Perfect for a day with no plans, or at least the desire to cancel them.
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