Indie Basement (2/4): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Welcome to February! It's a good week in Indie Basement with a lot of terrific albums: Cate Le Bon's Pompeii, The Jazz Butcher's posthumous farewell, A Place to Bury Strangers' fierce See Through You, complimentary indiepop records by The Reds, Pinks & Purples and Love, Burns, and the debut album from UK instrumental party band Los Bitchos.
It's a good week in Notable Releases as well, with Andrew reviewing Animal Collective, Mitski, Rolo Tomassi, Erin Rae, and more. Other Basement-adjacent news from this week: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever announced a new album and tour; Kae Tempest announced a tour; and the Criterion Channel is featuring reggae movies all month (including the great The Harder They Come, Rockers and Babylon).
I've also started a monthly Indie Basement Roundup, and you can check out January's best albums and tracks according to me, here. There's a January playlist, too, available in Neil Young approved Tidal form.
The Indie Basement section of the BV shop has been stocked with a bunch of new stuff, including classic albums from The Wipers, Pixies, Deerhunter and more, not to mention preorders for anticipated new albums from Wet Leg, our exclusive translucent red vinyl edition of Fontaines DC's Skinty Fia, Destroyer and more.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Cate Le Bon - Pompeii (Mexican Summer)
Made almost entirely on her own, Cate Le Bon's sixth album is another weird wonder
Nobody sighs like Cate Le Bon. Going back at least to Mug Museum's "Are You With Me Now?" (but probably further), she has a way with "ahhs" that are beautiful, ethereal, and achingly sad. But it's a deep, earthy kind of melancholy that feels both ancient and warm, existing before us but traveling through Le Bon to our ears. Like Cate, it seems to emanate from a mysterious, unknowable land: Wales.
Those sighs, which are all over her sixth album, Pompeii, also provide an emotional anchor to Cate's songs that are often alien and lyrically obtuse, even to the songwriter herself. "Absurdity doesn’t mean that something doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t mean that something doesn’t have emotion,” she told The Guardian's Laura Barton. “Absurdity isn’t nonsense to me. Often writing these things, I knew I didn’t fully understand them, but they felt right, and I knew that they were almost like letters to my future self that would become apparent. So I just trusted. You’ve got to trust your gut.”
Having been stuck in Iceland during the initial Covid lockdown of 2020 while working on John Grant's Boy from Michigan, Cate finally escaped to Cardiff, Wales and was given the keys to the home owned by Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys, where she had stayed 15 years ago while making her debut album. (Gruff was elsewhere at the time.) Her partner, Tim Presley of White Fence, flew out from Joshua Tree (they have a home together there) to meet her, as did her longtime engineer/coproducer, Samur Khouja and the three of them podded together while the world fell apart. In the interview with The Guardian, Cate calls Pompeii "a product of three people losing their minds in a terrace house."
Despite all this, Pompeii is a decidedly less sad, less lonely record than her last, 2019's Reward. Songs were written primarily on bass and Cate plays nearly every instrument on the record, apart from drums (Warpaint's Stella Mozgawa, recorded remotely) and saxophones (longtime collaborators Euan Hinshelwood and Stephen Black). While Cate and Samur worked on the album, Presley painted in the other room and an abstract portrait he did of her became a sort of muse for the record, with all sounds and ideas bounced off the amber palette of its alien-like figure.
There are more synthesizers here than on any previous Le Bon record, and the guitars, bass, and saxophones are all given a thermoplastic coating that is both transparent but distorting. It's also both arresting and compelling and yet another entirely unique entry in Le Bon's discography where no two records sound alike but all are clearly birthed from the same creative spirit. Highlights include the hazy, shoegazy "French Boys," and the title track which flies in low and at odd angles. Pompeii also includes three wonderful pop songs: "Moderation," "Harbour" and the skronky "Remembering Me," all of which highlight Black and Hinshelwood's terrific saxophones which, at times like whale songs, seem to melt into Cate's "ahhhs." The album closes with sad ballad "Wheel," where Cate offers up a portrait of a romance that was not to be: "I could resign to the opulence of abstract optimistic love / Raise a glass in a season of ash and pour it over me." She's not always so abstract.
Get Pompeii on limited edition yellow vinyl in the BV shop.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: The Jazz Butcher - The Highest in the Land (Tapete)
Finished just before he died in 2021, this first Jazz Butcher album in 10 years is also a lovely farewell
Pat Fish, who recorded as The Jazz Butcher since 1982, died suddenly in October, 2021. Some might say unexpectedly, but he clearly knew the sands in the hourglass were running out. "My hair’s all wrong, my time ain’t long," he sings on "Time," a song from an album he had completed not long before he died. "Fishy go to heaven, get along, get along."
Time, and the lack of it, and mortality is all over The Highest in the Land, the first record from The Jazz Butcher in 10 years. And also the last. For it, he gathered a band of players from throughout the group's history, including ace sideman and guitarist Max Eider, who played on most of the great early albums like A Scandal in Bohemia, and Weather Prophets drummer Dave Morgan who played on Pat's Creation Records debut, Fishcotheque. Likewise, Pat's songs seem to be pulled from the different eras of the group: the early records that were actually quite jazzy, to the jangly indie pop years and the more Velvet Underground influence of the Creation years. Some of the lyrics on the album reference older songs, as well, and it's like a This Is Your Life clip show of his own design.
Pat clearly had a lot left to say and had been saving up a bunch of fantastic songs. Always vocal in his very liberal politics -- the JBC released the scathing "The Jazz Butcher Vs The Prime Minister" at the height of Thatcher's reign -- he found himself still fighting the same enemy 30 years later. The bitter aftertaste of Brexit is as much a presence here as his own mortality. "Pining for some ill-defined imaginary nation, antecedents they would struggle to name," he sings on "Sebastian's Medication," then asking, "How the hell are you supposed to leave a continent?" And on the aforementioned "Time," he rails against "Forced labour, privatised jails...Tik tok. Never mind. You’re gonna live forever."
While a scythe may cast a shadow over the proceedings, along with the growing threat of nationalism and the constant presence of capitalism, Pat has not lost his signature sense of humor or ability to craft a witty turn of phrase and The Highest in the Land is a charming record start to finish, shot through with a wistful melancholia that suits it. The jazzier songs, that feature Eider's fluid playing, fare a little better than the strummier numbers, but there's nothing I would take away here. It's a gift to get another Jazz Butcher album after so long, especially after losing him without knowing this was coming. And when he solemnly says "Goodnight" at the end of "Goodnight Sweetheart" it feels all the more a proper, teary, farewell.
If you're new to The Jazz Butcher, last year's Dr Cholmondley Presents compilation is a great place to start.
A Place to Bury Strangers - See Through You (Dedstrange)
Oliver Ackermann reinvents his noise-psych band as a lean, mean and still strange machine on the band's excellent sixth album
Oliver Ackermann has been making noise with A Place to Bury Strangers for almost two decades (2003 will be their 20th anniversary). While he's been the only constant member of the group, he fully rebooted the band in the years after Death by Audio -- the DIY venue and original HQ of his effects pedal company of the same name -- closed in 2014. APTBS' new trio lineup -- Ollie, his old Skywave bandmate, bassist John Fedowitz, and drummer Sandra Fedowitz (both were in Ceremony East Coast) -- made their debut with last year's Hologram EP, a record that had him stripping their sound down as well, while still making a freaky racket.
See Through You takes the sonic directions of Hologram further. There's more of a minimal wave approach here, with an emphasis on the new rhythm section who are pumping out serious grooves, like on driving opener "Nice Of You To Be There For Me." The production is more compressed, claustrophobic, boxed in, so when the guitar maelstrom is unleashed, like on "So Low" or "Dragged in a Hole," it feels all the more visceral and disorienting. And scary: "Anyone But You" sounds like a mass psychosis 50-car pileup on the 405.
See Through You also has some of A Place to Bury Strangers' poppiest moments ever, and the album finishes with two of them: the anthemic "I Don't Know How You Do It" and the New Order-y "Love Reaches Out." Twenty years into the band, Ackermann is still finding new sonic and melodic avenues for A Place to Bury Strangers, and new ways to make their instruments sound totally insane,
Los Bitchos - Let the Festivities Begin! (City Slang)
London-based band flirt with a variety of instrumental styles on their enjoyable Alex Kapranos-produced debut album
Los Bitchos are a London-based four-piece with members hailing from the UK, Australia, Sweden, and South America, who make danceable, instrumental party music that pulls from all over the musical spectrum. “I wanted to sound like Van Halen and Cocteau Twins – but from Turkey,” says guitarist Serra Petale. “Coming from all these different places, it means we’re not stuck in one genre and we can rip up the rulebook a bit when it comes to our influences.”
Having established themselves first with their exuberant live show, Los Bitchos tapped Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos to help them capture that electricity on record. They've done a pretty good job of it: Let the Festivities Begin! is a jubilant listen; a party where, style-wise, everyone is invited. You can hear Tuareg guitar styles and Highlife rhythms, cumbia, surf-rock, Greek disco, Spaghetti western scores, and more in these songs. They're at their best when there's just a little disco in the mix, like on "Las Panteras," "Change of Heart," and "The Link is About to Die," but the whole record is a blast.
The Reds, Pinks & Purples - Summer at Land's End (Slumberland)
Glenn Donaldson's solo project channels UK indiepop on the RPPs' best record yet
Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards, Art Museums) has been on a real tear recently with his indiepop solo project The Reds, Pinks & Purples, having released four albums and a handful of singles and EPs in under three years. Summer at Lands End is the best yet, the sound of heartbreak via reverb-drenched jangly guitars, vintage drum machines and rueful vocals. Wherever Land's End is (he is probably not singing about working at the outdoorsy clothing retailer between semesters), it is always raining, or at least overcast and chillier than it should be, which is perfect conditions to think about that relationship that didn't work out, the one that got away, or other social dilemmas. "Wanted to die but I burned instead" is a typically wonderful, sullen lyric. The RPPs are like a Merge band that never existed in 1994 who are equally influenced by Magnetic Fields and East River Pipe, while also owning a lot of Felt and Field Mice Records. The melodies are great, Donaldson's voice has just enough fake British melodrama to it, and the album makes great use of melting Ebow'd guitar leads. I don't know whether this prolific creative output is a result of pandemic lockdown boredom or what, but let's not question it and hope records like this keep coming.
Love, Burns - It Should Have Been Tomorrow (Jigsaw / ATHRecords / Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten)
Comet Gain co-founder and Pale Lights leader Phil Sutton makes wonderfully bookish, jangly pop on his solo debut
Phil Sutton's indie CV is impressive. He was a founding member of UK cult heroes Comet Gain and, having moved to NYC some time ago, has the most twee day job ever (librarian) while filling his spare time making music with groups like Pale Lights. Love, Burns is his new solo project which, in further twee-ness, is named after a lyric in The Left Banke's "Pretty Ballerina." If you're familiar with Pale Lights (who are still active), Phil doesn't stray too far from that sound: jangly guitars that aren't afraid to get a little twangy, vintage organ, bookish lyrics. Phil sounds a little like Lloyd Cole as does this album, by way of Felt's years on Creation Records when Martin Duffy's wonderful Hammond and Farfisa were a huge part of their sound. The Martin Duffy of Love, Burns is the multitalented Kyle Forester (Crystal Stilts, Purple Mountains) who not only plays not keyboards but lots of guitar, too. That actually makes him Martin Duffy AND Maurice Deebank at the same time. But I digress. (Confused? Please consult Felt's Wikipedia entry). I am also a little reductive. There's a lot of '60s influence, too: the Byrds and Gene Clark, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, ye-ye, Walker Brothers and more. It Should Have Been Tomorrow is Phil's best post-Comet Gain record to date, with great songs and the production and arrangements that elevate things further.
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