Indie Basement (10/9): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Are you as tired as I am? I thought so. This week: the wonderfully melancholy new album from Cut Worms; Ride's Andy Bell releases his first solo album; METZ are here to whip you into shape using their "unnerving exercise" regime; Garcia Peoples put a healthy smear of jam on their indie rock; and Julie Et Joe charm with Francophone synthpop.
If you need more new album reviews, head over to Andrew's Notable Releases for his takes on Mary Lattimore's new one and more. If you need more Basement-approved content, I put together a list of the Top 20 Shoegaze EPs of the Early-'90s which should keep you busy for a while.
Meanwhile, please vote.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Cut Worms - Nobody Lives Here Anymore (Jagjaguwar)
Max Clarke wanders lonely through the American Dream unfulfilled on his wonderfully melancholic second album.
There is a genuine, lonesome ache in Max Clarke's voice that can really hit you right there, like when he sings "You don’t know what this life can do to a fool like me" on "Veteran's Day" from his second album as Cut Worms. But where The Everly Brothers -- to whom he's often compared -- pined for love, Clarke offers up more of an existential longing. Nobody Lives Here Anymore, Max says, is about “throwaway consumer culture and how the postwar commercial wet dreams never came true, how nothing is made to last.” It's a fairy tale ideal, as he sees it, yet we don't seem to be living for the now, either, as we're too busy looking at our phones. “It’s about homesickness for childhood, for a place that never really existed."
Clarke wanders through faded polaroids on Nobody Lives Here Anymore's 17 tracks looking for something to cling to, but mostly finds boarded up buildings and No Vacancy signs. "Paradise is full," he sings on "Baby Come On," a jaunty track set to a classic girl group style. "Ah but don't it look just how you dreamed it would?" Dreams, unattainable or squandered, permeate the record, be it a "Castle in the Clouds" where if you "Close your eyes you’ll fall right through the floor," or a tale of having sold his soul (and dreams and ideals) so long ago he forgot he did it, till "i saw it late one night on the Antique RoadShow...like looking into my own grave."
Yet Nobody Lives Here Anymore is not a depressing record, or one where he's yelling at clouds. It's wistful, warm and nostalgic...albeit for something that may have never really existed. A lot of this comes from the production. Clarke made the record with regular Margo Price producer Matt Ross-Spang at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis, backed by a small group of ringer sidemen. It sounds like something out of 1963 -- part Everly Brothers, part Marty Robbins or Jim Reeves, with a little Byrds in there too -- and Max's wonderful voice and melodies fit in perfectly with this sound. (I'd call it "classic" over "retro.") You could argue that the album is too long (80 minutes), as are the songs. If you're gonna work in a classic '60s pop style you should aim for '60s pop song length, and only five of the album's 17 songs are under four minutes. But the more you sit with the record, the more it all works. That might be a tough ask for a world whose collective screen time goes up every week, but Nobody Lives Here Anymore makes a very good argument for unplugging.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Andy Bell - The View From Halfway Down (Sonic Cathedral)
The Ride singer/guitarist explores new sonic territory -- and some familiar sounds -- on his debut solo album.
Andy Bell has always been a team player. In Ride, he shares frontperson duties with Mark Gardner; with his '90s post-Ride band Hurricane No. 1 he wrote the songs but let Alex Lowe sing them, and after that he took a gig playing bass with Oasis, which turned into Beady Eye after Noel left the band. (Thankfully Ride are back on, he's too good a singer not to lead a group.) Thirty-two years into his musical career, Bell has finally made a solo album. It was David Bowie's death that pushed him to do it. He told us he was listening to Bowie's final album, Lazarus, in his car just a few days after his death, and that planted a seed of urgency towards making an album on his own. The View From Halfway Down, which takes its title from a Bojack Horseman episode, finds Bell in both familiar and new territory.
In true solo album form, Bell plays everything on the album himself, including drums, with just a little help from his former Oasis/Beady Eye bandmate Gem Archer on the engineering side. The songs are more relaxed -- often very relaxed -- and decidedly more psychedelic than anything he has ever done before. "Indica," which is probably a reference to something, is majorly blissed-out, borrowing from both Recurring-era Spacemen 3 and The Stone Roses with droney synth arpeggiations and a backward vocal melody. "I Was Alone" is even more trippy, a swirling, zone-out, headphone special, featuring layer upon layer of gorgeous harmonies. There are proper pop songs, too: "Love Comes in Waves" and "Skywalker" are both flower-power earworms in the same tradition as Ride's "Making Judy Smile." My favorite track on the album might be the groovy and playful "Cherry Cola" which simmers together most of the sounds on the album into one sparkling song. The View From Halfway Down is the kind of solo record you want from someone who is happy with his day job -- a loose, fun, experimental and memorable companion piece to his band.
You might want to listen to the album while reading our interview with Bell about the influences behind it.
METZ - Atlas Vending (Sub Pop)
Toronto trio hurl another scorcher our way.
A Sub Pop press release calls METZ's new album, Atlas Vending, a "completely unnerving exercise in reductionist tension." Publicity staff, when you're right, you're right. The Toronto trio are continually cranking the ratchet, dropping a cinderblock on the gas pedal. I am a METZ fan but, a month out from the 2020 election, I'm not sure I need another "unnerving exercise" in my life right now. (I put on Steely Dan's The Royal Scam a lot lately.) That said, these guys are masters of this kind of stuff and Atlas Vending, their fourth album and first in three years, does have a few tracks where the hooks are as big as the shringy, AmRep-style guitars. Dig the subtle (yes METZ do subtle sometimes) harmonies on "Blind Youth Industrial Park." and "No Ceiling" is downright catchy shoegazy punk. As for the rest, I promise to revisit sometime once things chill out a little.
Garcia Peoples - Nightcap at Wits' End (Beyond Beyond is Beyond)
New Jersey jammers serve up tasteful noods on new album that has a toe in '90s indie rock, too.
With a name like Garcia Peoples, there's no doubt you're entering into jammy territory, but these New Jerseyans also have a soft spot for indie rock, like neighbors Yo La Tengo and The Feelies, as well as Stephen Malkmus at his loosest. They also don't forget to write songs amongst all the instrumental dexterity. Where GP's last album, One Step Behind, was almost entirely one impressively epic 30-minute song, Nightcap at Wits' End follows more of a traditional album structure -- 12 songs, 50 minutes -- though Side 2 is made of two sets of interconnected song cycles. I would also like to point out that Nightcap at Wits' End is one of the best "2020" titles of 2020 so far. This nightcap goes down easy, but for the album in a nutshell head to "Painting a Vision That Carries," a seven-minute track that closes Side 1, featuring delicately plucked acoustics, thick woven harmonies, groovy basslines, a big chorus and, yes, plenty of noodles.
Julie Et Joe - Marelle (Elefant)
Electro ye-ye Francophone synthpop
Julie Et Joe is the duo of Julie Big, who sang on Le Superhomard's wonderful Meadow Lane Park album (and Paul Weller's new album), and Joe Moore who Elefant Records describes as "Elefant’s Brill Building...but the whole building in just one person." Marelle is their debut. It's a refreshing mini-LP that dances on the palate like a chilled Muscadet, eight sips of zingy synthpop that play like a lost record from 1979, if Mute Records had had a French imprint. These songs bounce playfully with chipper keyboards, and melodies that with different arrangements could've been yé-yé songs for France Gall, but here are shiny and bright with Julie's very appealing voice. If you like Vince Clarke era Depeche Mode or Silicon Teens or music from old NES games but wished it was all in French, have I got a record for you.
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