Indie Basement (11/12): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: Damon Albarn explores Iceland; Pip Blom does '90s-style indie rock right; Jon Hopkins takes a trip; Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie releases his first album in nine years; and Eccentronic Research Council celebrate the wayward freaks. Plus, two bands whose names sound like my definition of a great party: Constant Smiles and Endless Boogie.
Of course lots more records than these seven got released this week and Andrew listens to Courtney Barnett, Irreversible Entanglements and more in Notable Releases. There's lots of other Basement-related news from this week: Beach House seem to be taking a Broadcast turn on their just-announced new album (the first four songs are great); Jarvis Cocker is releasing a memoir; and we got Pale Saints' Ian Masters to come out of hiding to make us a psych playlist with His Name is Alive's Warren Defever (together they are ESP Summer).
Speaking that new Beach House, you can preorder it on Gold and Silver edition vinyl and cassette , as well as other Beach House titles too, in the BV shop. It's one of many records hand-picked by me in the Indie Basement corner of the store.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Pip Blom - Welcome Break (Heavenly)
Dutch indie rock quartet bring back fond memories of classic '90s indie rock on their excellent second album.
"Indie rock" is a term that is thrown around too wantonly these days (I'm as guilty as the next) but when I do, I'm usually thinking of the mid-'90s prime college radio era definition, the kind exemplified by Liz Phair, Pavement, Yo La Tengo and other fuzzy-but-poppy-groups that were often signed to Matador Records. Amsterdam's Pip Blom only formed a few years ago and are signed to UK label Heavenly Records, but they remind me of that golden Matador era in the best possible way. Their songs have an undeniable melodic core but they wrap their earworms in equal parts jangle and distortion. (In that respect they are not totally unlike another Dutch band who did put out records on Matador in the '90s: Bettie Serveert.) Pip is also the name of the band's singer/guitarist and she is an expert practitioner of being gentle in the verses and snarling in the choruses, drawing you in tenderly then kicking those big hooks into your brain. Perfect example: "It Should Have Been Fun," the third song on the band's excellent second album, Welcome Break, is all sweet and strummy until the monster chorus where pedals get stomped and their sound grows threefold. "Keep it Together," which follows immediately after, uses the same formula but is even more of a rush. Pip, brother Tender Blom, and the rest of the band manage to tweak the recipe from song to song; there's no fatigue, no cloying loud-quiet-loud overload, just memorable song after memorable song.
Damon Albarn - The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows (Transgressive)
The Blur and Gorillaz frontman gets inspired by Iceland on his beautiful, ethereal second solo album
Iceland is an undeniably inspiring place what with all their waterfalls, geysers, volcanos, hot springs, rivers, mountains, etc, etc. Even a quick, hour drive outside Reykjavik will take you through a myriad of scenery, from alien landscapes, to snowy tundra, rocky sea cliffs, and those aforementioned waterfalls. And the Aurora Borealis, of course. You visit there (I did in 2019), and immediately Sigur Ros makes a lot more sense and you may wonder "how do I move here?"
Damon Albarn, of Blur and Gorillaz fame, did move there, or at least lives there part of the year in his house outside of Reykjavik. (It's affected his hair, too.) So taken by the views from his home, and given a grant from the Lyon Festival, he set out to make an orchestral album inspired by the landscape, flora and fauna. The pandemic had other plans -- how many times have I written this this year? -- and the only pre-lockdown recordings he made were of rehearsals using a single microphone. So the album turned into more of a solo project played almost entirely by Albarn -- with help from old friends and collaborators Simon Tong and Mike Smith -- examining "fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth" as well as "particles, now and the future."
Iceland inspires thoughts of particles, and how the rain can turn to snow in the blink of an eye, and missing loved ones at the edge of the world. There are two songs about birds ("The Cormorant," "Daft Wader"), and tracks featuring field recordings from under a waterfall and the wind on the beach. Much of it is ethereal, centered on Damon's voice and piano, with swirls of synths and the remnants of those orchestral rehearsals floating above like the Northern Lights. There are a few pop songs, too, like the soaring "Royal Morning Blue" and the playful "The Tower of Montevideo," but even those feel lit by the sun off the North Atlantic. Whether you've been to the country or only seen it in episodes of Game of Thrones and Succession, The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows evokes the country's many wonders, both foreign and familiar, and manages to not be quite like anything he's done before. For Damon Albarn, that's saying something.
Robin Guthrie - Pearldiving (Soleil Après Minuit)
First solo album in nine years from the ethereal Cocteau Twins guitarist
When Cocteau Twins co-founder Robin Guthrie released the Mockingbird Love EP in October, he said that it was the first of a few releases that were on the way soon. He wasn't exaggerating. Less than a month later, he's back with Pearldiving, his first solo instrumental album in nine years. Having worn out many of my Cocteau Twins albums during the last two years, it is nice to have new music from him. Guthrie's style is so influential and often imitated -- shoegaze and post-rock especially owe a huge debt -- the style may not seem quite as mysterious as it once did, but no once coaxes waves of beauty out of a guitar quite like him. Paired with gentle piano and ticking electronic percussion, these 10 majestic, euphoric instrumentals sound like mist evaporating on a lake a dawn, (pearly) dewdrops glistening on leaves, or a view of Earth from space.
Jon Hopkins - Music For Psychedelic Therapy (Domino)
The producer's new album was Inspired by, and designed for, trips of all kinds; BYODMT
Speaking of euphoria, Jon Hopkins has made an album whose title is pretty self-explanatory: Music for Psychedelic Therapy. Following trancey, beat-driven albums Immunity and Singularity, he felt "like time for a reset, to wait for music to appear from a different place.”
That place was Tayos Caves in Ecuador where Jon took a life-changing trip in 2018. His experience was specifically about the actual descent into the cave and hearing sounds that echoed from underground streams and the rainforest far above, but Tayos is also a popular destination for ayahuasca retreats. Hopkins says his experiences with DMT, the naturally occurring psychoactive chemical in ayahuasca, informed the album equally. While Jon stopped taking DMT in 2019, he did time this album to the length of a Ketamine trip. "I would have a ketamine session and just lie there and return with notes on what was good and what was not good," Hopkins told The Independent. "It was my mind exploring tool. I almost called the album ‘Music for Ketamine Therapy’, which would be getting ridiculously niche, but for me that’s what it’s best suited for.”
I have only listened to the album sober, but putting it on in the dark, as loud as possible without the neighbors complaining, is worth trying. It's a 63-minute uninterrupted soundbath meant to be ingested whole, and the three-part centerpiece, "Tayos Caves, Ecuador," is pretty awe inspiring, mixing celestial synths with field recording from the cave floor. I'll take Hopkins at his word on its intended usage but Music for Psychedelic Therapy is a transportive experience on its own.
Constant Smiles - Paragons (Sacred Bones)
After more than a decade of self-released albums, Ben Jones brings Constant Smiles' dark, dreamy folk-rock to an actual label
Ben Jones has been the creative force behind collective Constant Smiles for more than a decade, having self released a dozen or so albums via Bandcamp ranging from scuzzy low-fi noise, to much more polished records like 2019's synthy John Waters and 2020's dark, folky Control. Having signed to Sacred Bones, Ben has released his first Constant Smiles album on an actual label, and it makes for good autumn listening -- warm downer guitar pop for the willingly bummed out. Most songs lead with a minor chord, usually played with an acoustic guitar or vibrato-drenched electric, giving songs a cold wind feel that can knock the leaves off trees, with lonesome harmonies and droney organ stoking fading embers just a little. Fans of Mazzy Star, The Clean/David Kilgour, Yo La Tengo, Angel Olsen or Luna will find much to like in Ben's weathered melodies.
Various Artists - The Eccentronic Research Council presents: Wayward Freaks From A Synthetic Street Volume 1 (ERC)
Sheffield's Eccentronic Research Council answers their own question -- "Where Have All the Pop Art Eccentrics Gone?" -- with this new comp of outsider dance music
"The cassette tape you hold in your hands is made up of conscientious objectors to your daft pop modernist pool party." That's actress Maxine Peake, reading from the manifesto that opens this new compilation that was curated and presented by Sheffield's Eccentronic Research Council. The aural treatise, which features music by the ERC, is titled "Where Have All the Pop Art Eccentrics Gone?" That is the question that this compilation, Wayward Freaks From A Synthetic Street Volume 1, hopes to answer. The ERC's Dean Honer (all seeing I/I monster) and Adrian Flanagan (The Moonlandingz/International Teachers of Pop) have gathered up 12 tracks from likeminded weirdos from around the world who dwell on the fringes of synthpop and dance music. None of it is that weird, though. If you like The Knife or Fad Gadget or Jarvis Cocker's early-'00s group Relaxed Muscle, these tilted bangers could easily slide in next to them in a DJ set at an abandoned warehouse disco in Sheffield or Berlin (or Williamsburg circa 2001). A few highlights: Wet Man's crazed, sarcastic "I Believe in Lizard Men," NYC "electronic rapscalion" God Hole's claustrophobic "All Things Falling Apart," and two excellent, sultry tracks from Dimitri (this is a new Dimitri, not related to more famous ones from Paris or elsewhere).Embrace the weird!
Endless Boogie - Admonitions (No Quarter)
Brooklyn band literally keep on chooglin with help from Matt Sweeney and Kurt Vile
Endless Boogie is a perfect descriptor for the music the Brooklyn band has been making since the late-'90s. It's like ZZ Top, minus the pop choruses (or any choruses, really), stripped down to a pure one-chord choogle, and then carried into psychedelic trancelike states through sheer length and repetition, repetition, repetition. (Also: lots of guitar noodling.) The band name, taken from a John Lee Hooker album, is so perfect, one wonders if they didn't think of it first and then build Endless Boogie around it. Over the last two decades the group, fronted by noted record collector Paul Major and featuring Jesper Elkow, have doggedly explored a single groove. Admonitions doesn't change a thing, but it does feature Matt Sweeney, who's been in Endless Boogie's orbit from the start, and Kurt Vile who fits right in, and provides vocals, on "Counterfeiter." At 82 minutes, including two side-long 22-minute jams, the record may test even the biggest boogie enthusiast's love of the form, but you have to admire their commitment to the bit. May they never stop chooglin'.
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