Bill’s Indie Basement (10/11): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week: UK indie cult heroes Comet Gain are back and mad as hell; anthemic Manchester vets Elbow return with their eighth album; Chicago's The Hecks dress up a wonderful pop album in art-punk clothes; Lindstrøm finds beauty without a laptop; Allah-Las deliver their most far-reaching, modern-sounding album to date; The Wedding Present reissue a couple of their early classics on vinyl; and Charlatans' Tim Burgess and Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley dream up a Lynchian-inspired jukebox for a nonexistent diner.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew looks at Big Thief, Kim Gordon, Lightning Bolt and more in Notable Releases. If you need more Basement-approved music: The Go-Betweens are finally releasing Vol 2 of their G Stands for Go-Betweens archival box set series (my birthday is coming up); the Young Knives are back; and so is Caribou.
It's been five years since UK cult heroes Comet Gain last made a record, and the world was a much different place in 2014 when they released the gentle, folky Paperback Ghosts. Now with Brexit, Donald Trump all the other stupidity in the world going on, David Feck and the rest of the band return, all riled up and raging against it all. Feck takes aim at everything from the "vampires" and princes with "dark things in their past," to organized religion to folks clinging to the past. He also points the spotlight at himself more than once ("I make an art of fucking up my life" Feck sings on "Your Life on Your Knees") It's not all piss and vinegar, though, as Feck is still the romantic who has a way with a "bah bah bah" chorus, still the outcast who fought "the gloom with 500 Beach Boys bootlegs." And he still knows a good hook when he hears one. The fieriest blaze on Fireraisers Forever is "Bad Night at the Moustache," a five-minute fever dream that works in just about every crazy thing happening now, focusing on the "confederacy of knobheads" that want to "make a memory of the future." Halfway through the song, Feck fights back and ultimately finds hope in the punkest of ways. "If we all spit together we can drown the bastards."
Elbow are a band that don't get enough credit, at least in the U.S., either getting lumped in with Coldplay by snobby types or considered too weird for fans of anthemic stadium fillers. (Not a problem in the UK where their last two albums went to #1.) As they prove again and again, like on their new, eighth album, they are masters of widescreen, proggy rock with a malleable, identifiable sound. Unlike Coldplay (I will not mention them again) or Radiohead, Elbow have always felt approachable, warm and relatable. A big part of that is frontman Guy Garvey whose voice is soulful in a warm hug kind of way and the band's close harmony style, which mixed with their soaring melodies, is extremely welcoming even if it's not the kind of thing you listen to on a regular basis. Giants of All Sizes is a particularly gorgeous production, and while they occasionally pitch right down the middle ("My Trouble" is a pretty but by-the-numbers stadium swayer), more often than not songs go in unexpected directions, like whistling and clarinets on "The Delayed 3:15." Garvey, and the band's genuine everyman spirit, keeps things on course, welcoming you back even when Elbow go off map.
It's been a long, unexpected road to My Star, the second album from Chicago's The Hecks. Originally a duo of Andy Mosiman and Zach Heber, they soon drafted in guitarist Dave Vettraino who was the recording engineer on their dark, dissonant 2016 debut album. Soon after recording an initial version of My Star in 2017, The Hecks added keyboard player Jeff Graupner, who so changed the sound of the group that they scrapped those recordings and started anew with their fourth member. While you can still hear strains of their debut album on My Star -- the jerky rhythms, the guitar figures that sound like an overwound clock exploding -- this is a radically different, wildly creative album. It's also an amazing pop record, even though it feels like they're going out of their way to hide that fact with the production and mix. My Star is willfully tinny at times, and sometimes songs like "Zipper" or "The King is Close" open up wide, but leave you hanging. (Part of me would like to see this whole album disassembled for parts and turned into the Big Pop Record that's lurking inside). On repeated listens, though, all of these songs blossom. What was once bleak is now darkly romantic and tracks like "Heat Wave," "So 4 Real," and the absolutely stunning title track feel like lost descendants of late-'80s enigma Q Lazzarus. The weirdness is an essential part of My Star, but here's hoping their world expands ever further with the next album, which hopefully won't take another three years.
The Hecks will be in NYC later this month for two shows: October 29 at Mercury Lounge with Erica Eso and New Love Crowd, then October 30 at The Sultan Room with close sonic cousins Omni and Patio (that's an all-Basement-approved lineup). Tickets for both are on sale.
October 12 is "National Album Day" in the UK and for the occasion, seminal UK indie band The Wedding Present have reissued their 1987 debut album, George Best, and early singles comp, Tommy, on vinyl. Having contributed the final song on NME's influential C-86 tape, the band exemplify the sound people associate with it: jangly, heartfelt, literate guitar pop where technical proficiency and fidelity is gravy. David Gedge and the rest of the band could really play, though, and play with a punk energy (and speed) where they strummed breathlessly as if their life depended on it. Gedge was also a master of romantic angst and lengthy song titles, and George Best is littered with classics, including "Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft," "My Favourite Dress," "Give My Love to Kevin," and "It's What You Want That Matters." Tommy, meanwhile, is a mix of singles and Peel Sessions, including such essentials as "You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends" and "This Boy Can Wait" (their C-86 inclusion). Production is tin can-esque with a whole lot of unfortunate '80s reverb, but the songs and performances hold up. George Best is pressed on dark green vinyl while Tommy is on white vinyl.
Allah-Las one of the better current groups mining the '60s psych-pop scene, with equal emphasis on songwriting and getting the details right. For a while, though, they all but seemed like they were actually teleported from Sunset Blvd in 1967, from the vintage guitars that they played to the leather fringe jackets they wore. But on LAHS, the group are making an effort to step out of the past, or at least such a specific one. Disco, soul and krautrock influences rear their heads, and there are songs in Portuguese and Japanese. “We’ve been traveling a lot the past couple years and I think that played a role in influencing the broader variety of songs on this record” says drummer Matt Correia. “LAHS to me feels like a soundtrack to the past 5 years or so. A sort of audio postcard to anyone who wants to listen." Some of those postcards -- the melancholic "On Our Way," the lightly baroque "In the Air," and the groovy "Star" -- are especially picturesque.
Last year, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm composed a commissioned piece for Norway’s premiere art centre, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter. Ideas from those three performances became the foundation for On A Clear Day I Can See You Forever, which is different from all other Lindstrøm records to date in a few different ways. The four lengthy, ambient tracks were all made from even longer one-take recordings. It's also the first record he's ever made entirely with drum machines, keyboards and other instruments, and no laptops or computer plug-ins. “I felt totally unrestrained making this album,” says Lindstrøm. “I’ve listened to Robert Wyatt’s solo albums and his Matching Mole’s debut album a lot lately. It so effortless, fearless and free. And not insisting. I was very inspired by this.” You can definitely hear the Wyatt inspiration on the title track which sounds like slow motion alien world terraforming. But the improvisational nature is evident on all four tracks: "Really Deep Snow," which is as close as he comes to dance here, has freeform soloing all over it; "Swing Low, Sweet LFO" is the sound of a man lost in his machine; and "As If No One is Here" is unpredictably eerie. Beautiful as it all is, the real interest is the promise it holds. It will be interesting to see how (or if) Lindstrøm applies this new freedom to his more dancefloor-oriented material in the future.
It started as a Twitter joke. Not long after signing up for an account in the early days of the social media platform, Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess simply asked "Coffee?" and found himself flooded with replies. As a David Lynch fan, he suggested the name "Tim Peaks" for a hypothetical diner. Soon fans had created a logo for Tim Peaks Diner. Then, it became an actual thing, sort of, with Burgess presenting Tim Peaks Diners at summer festivals, selling coffee (with profits going to the David Lynch Foundation charity) and hosting special, intimate performers with his favorite artists. Now, he's created a soundtrack for the fictional version of the diner in his head, songs that might play on the jukebox just after dusk.
For TIM PEAKS - Songs For A Late-Night Diner, Burgess teamed with Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley, an expert at making mixes like this, and they've created a chilled out vibe that is both Lynchian but that also represents their post-punk / indie upbringing. All of that is represented in opener, Young Marble Giants' "Choco Loni," which has that lonesome highway twang...by way of Welsh art students. There's also Stuart Moxham's post-YMG band, The Gist, the wistful, rain-soaked sound of The Clientele, plus Galaxie 500, The Durutti Column, brittle baroque from Gwenno and Jane Weaver, as well as El Perro Del Mar's melancholic folk, Echo & the Bunnymen Porcupine deep cut "Fuel" and more. Who wouldn't want to walk into a small town coffee shop and find these on jukebox? The answer: most people, but Tim and Bob do a damn fine job of mood building.
Like all of the compilations on ACE Records (like the Jarvis Sunday Service one I wrote about last week), TIM PEAKS is not on streaming services, but someone made a Spotify playlist with all but one song: