Indie Basement (10/15): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
There is an insane amount of music out today and this week I take a look at six releases: Luna and Galaxie 500's Dean Wareham is back with his first proper studio album in seven years; London's Vanishing Twin continue to enchant on their third album; electronic duo Gone to Color herald a possible chillout renaissance with the guest-filled debut album; Ride's Andy Bell goes electronic as alter ego GLOK; Cocteau Twins' guitarist Robin Guthrie is back with a gorgeous new EP; and Mark Lanegan and The Icarus Line's Joe Cardamone dabble in gothy electro as Dark Mark Vs Skeleton Joe.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew gives records by Bedouine, Xenia Rubinos, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and more a spin in Notable Releases. A few other releases this week I didn't review but are worth checking out are Field Music's Another Shot EP, Johnny Marr's glossy (and electronic) Fever Dreams Pt 1 EP, and The Charlatans' new, career-spanning comp, A Head Full of Ideas.
This was also an insane week for news and here are a few Basement-related items: Young Prisms are back after a 10-year hiatus; and new albums are on the way from Cate Le Bon, Land of Talk, Modern Nature, Bambara, Molly Nilsson, Mr Twin Sister. Plus: Todd Haynes' Velvet Underground documentary is out today on AppleTV+.
You can pick up that new Charlatans comp, along with lots of other hand-picked-by-me vinyl albums, in the Indie Basement section of the BV shop.
If you think this week is busy, next Friday (10/22) is filthy with new albums. I feel overwhelmed already! Until then, head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Dean Wareham - I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A. (Double Feature Records)
The Luna and Galaxie 500 frontman keeps on strummin' on his first proper solo album in seven years. Wouldn't want it any other way
Dean Wareham has been sounding like this since Galaxie 500 first plugged in 1987, but it's a timeless style that dates back to Lou Reed meeting John Cale. Wry musings sit atop gently strummed guitars, punctuated by mostly elegant -- but sometimes ragged -- guitar solos and the occasional hilarious one-liner. Through Luna, Dean & Britta and a solo career, Wareham has never really changed his tune and you wouldn't want it any other way. Like the oxford shirts he favors, it never goes out of style.
I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A., which is a great title, is Dean's first album of original songs in seven years. For it he's surrounded himself with able collaborators: Jason Quever of Papercuts produces and adds welcome splashes of organ, cello and guitar, Dean's partner Britta Phillips lays down bass, keyboards and backing vocals, and drummer Roger Brogan keeps a steady beat. This team really bring out the best in the songs which, as usual, are terrific. This is Twilight Time music, with Dean in especially reflective mode. "Tonight I am playing my three-thirty-five while gazing at your photograph," he sings on "The Past is Our Plaything" (the album gets its title from the song's opening line), adding "We’re living inside a beautiful dream / a winter where memory sleeps." There's lovely, swelling pedal steel that really compliments the song's chorus and is as perfect a match for Dean's reedy voice as Britta's harmonies. Likewise, the swirling keyboards on "Cashing In" give a feel of hazy memories. There's a definite mood here.
Wareham is a master of the simple solo, perfectly imperfect, and the guitar-work across the board is just terrific, from the snaking leads that run through "Robin & Richard" to the wonderful arpeggiated filigrees on "Cashing In," to the very Galaxie 500-esque squall on his cover of Lazy Smoke's 1969 obscurity "Under Skys" that sounds meant for Wareham to play. The other cover, also from 1969 -- Scott Walker's "Duchess" -- is equally as sublime, dialling things down from Walker's original just a smidge.
The album ends with "What Are We Doing in Vietnam?" a song that dips a toe in political commentary, by way of stoned existential musings, and self-deprecating urban ennui. It's also got a rhyme only Dean would make, a joke that only makes sense when you read the lyrics (and know guitar chords): "why are we in Tripoli? / Why are we in Baghdad? / Why am I stuck in Echo Park / Writing songs in DADGAD." Stretching out across five languid minutes, it's the kind of song you can imaging going twice as long live, hearkening back to Galaxie 500's cover of Jonathan Richman's "Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste." It's an album that wonders about youth and where it's gone, but Dean doesn't seem to miss it, all while still circling around those same basic chords he began with.
Misheard lyric of the week: I really thought Dean was singing "I fell in love with a communist cat" on "The Last Word" -- but then looking at the lyric sheet, I was disappointed to learn he sings "cad."
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Vanishing Twin - Ookii Gekkou (Fire)
London based groove experimentalists return lighter and funkier, with a more convivial and danceable atmosphere, on their third album
I described Vanishing Twin's excellent 2019 album Age of Immunology (there was a prophetic title) as "like being washed ashore on an inviting but mysterious tropical island where the rules of time and space do not apply." The band are still on that isle, but new album Ookii Gekkou emerges from the heart of the rainforest and into the wondrous Big Moonlight (the album title is Japanese translation of that). There are still plenty of fantastical creatures (like the cover art's giant Eye Monster) and sights to be seen and heard, but if Age of Immunology was an invitation, this is the party.
Ookii Gekkou opens with "Big Moonlight Ookii Gekkou," which lands somewhere between Brubeck's Take Five and Stereolab's Dots and Loops and is a perfect addition to your May 4 playlist. From there the joint really starts jumping, with bassist Susumu Mukai laying down serious grooves all over the places. The featherlight "Phase One Million" dabbles in Afrobeat by way of Esquivel, and "Light Vessel" treks along a gorgeous coastline with a vocoder in tow. Elsewhere, they put Chaucer's words to ethereal backing on "Wider Than Itself," which features Sterelolab's Laetitia Sadier on guitar, and they indulge their komische side on the delightful 10-minute freakout "Zuum / The Organism" that makes great use of vibraphone.
The album ends with its most effervescent track, appropriately titled "The Lift." Sporting a majorly funky rhythm section and futuristic synths providing an alien hook, Vanishing Twin dance free on the breeze they sing "High and low pressure / Hustling together / I am a dizzy wind," inviting all of us to float along with them.
Gone To Color - Gone To Color (Gone to Color, LLC)
You may never have heard of chillout/electronic duo Gone to Color, but you may recognize the vocalists which include Lambchop, Martina Topley-Bird and Angus Andrew
Gone to Color, the duo of Tyler Bradley Walker and Matt Heim, are American but make a decidedly European brand of chilled-out but engaging electronic music that uses vintage analogue synths, drum machines and organs alongside real drums, guitar and bass. Their downtempo sound -- think Kid A, Boards of Canada, Dntel -- would've fit right in on Warp, !K7 or Morr Music 20 years ago. Their self-titled debut is lush, sophisticated, and probably being played in a chic Euro hotel lobby somewhere as you read this.
That's not a critique. As someone who listened to a lot of that stuff, and still does, Gone to Color are very very good at what they do. They're real lab rats who know how to layer sounds but also know when to say when. There are moments where you aren't sure if what you are hearing is a synthesizer, an organ or a guitar. They call their style "collage," citing Swiss designer and typographer Wolfgang Weingart as big an influence as any musician. And while they seem to have come out of nowhere, Walker and Heim are clearly at least a little connected as the roster of guests is impressive. In the vocal department, they lassoed in Tricky's original muse, Martina Topley-Bird, Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, Liars' Angus Andrew, Merchandise's Carson Cox, Clinic's Ade Blackburn, and Luyas leader Jessi Lauren Stein. The album also features guitar work from Wilco’s Pat Sansone and Guster’s Luke Reynolds, plus synth help from Warp artist and Aphex Twin remixer Richard Devine.
The notable voices seem as purposefully placed as the snares and bass. Kurt Wagner becomes a louche lounge singer on "Just Smile," Carson Cox gives sultry charm to the soaring "Voyeur Nation" and Ade Blackburn brings a paranoid, sinister edge to the pulsing, gleaming "Illusions." Jessie Lauren Stein's warm, casual delivery gives lift to "The 606" and "Blur" which bookend the album, while Angus Andrew has commanding presence as usual on the glitchy "Suicide." The star though, no surprise, is Topley-Bird who is a natural for music like this. "Dissolved" floats to the heavens on her smoky, emotive voice against an atmospheric backdrop of marimbas and drum-n-bass percussion. Kruder & Dorfmeister and Zero 7 both released their first records in ages last year, perhaps the 20-year cycle has come back around to erudite chillout grooves. If so, Gone to Color seem like the perfect group to herald the new wave.
GLOK - Pattern Recognition (Bytes)
Ride's Andy Bell unleashes his electronic alter-ego on this blissed-out double album debut
When Andy Bell isn't being a shoegaze legend in Ride, making cool solo albums, and avoiding the Hurricane #1 comeback, he's making blissed-out electronic dance music as GLOK. Clearly inspired by folks like the late great Andrew Weatherall and collaborator Pye Corner Audio, Bell says "“GLOK is all about the push and pull between electronic and psych in my music.” Following a few singles and EPs, not to mention remixes of tracks by Ride, Ganser, bdrmm and his own solo work, Bell has just put out the first full-length album as GLOK. Pattern Recognition is a loose concept record which imagines "a week of life, from weekend to weekend" with each side of the double album "capturing different mindstates across that transition."
Pattern Recognition isn't purely electronic. There is plenty of guitar and bass on the album, but it seems more influenced by Bell's years in Oasis and Hurricane #1, laying bluesy psych leads to fly over the album's trancey beats. Bell drops us in the deep end right out of the gate with "Dirty Hugs," a 20-minute one-chord blast of strobed sunshine, with ripping leads atop rolling synth bass and a four-on-the-floor beat that peaks, drops, and peaks again like primetime at a rave. There are a few guests on the rest of the album:"Maintaining the Machine" features poet Sinead O'Brien on whispery vocals and Primal Scream's Simone Marie Butler on bass, while Shiarra provides vocals for the dark, alluring "That Time of Night." There are also tracks that veer into post-rock territory ("Kintsugi," "Day Three"), and GLOK achieves balearic euphoria on "Closer," the album's most purely enjoyable six minutes.
The album ends with another epic, "Invocation," that feels like a little bit of everything Bell's done, all in one impressive 15-minute finale. By the end, you've probably forgotten about the album's concept, and that's ok: Bell mainly wants you to get lost in the groove.
Robin Guthrie - Mockingbird Love (Soleil Après Minuit)
The former Cocteau Twins guitarist's shimmering powers are still in full effect in the first of what he says are few new records due in the coming months
The term "shoegaze" may have been coined in reference to '90s band Moose, but there's a good argument that Robin Guthrie helped actually invent the genre. His shimmering, delay-and-chorus-soaked guitar style is as key to Cocteau Twins' sound as Elizabeth Fraser's angelic vocals, and we wouldn't have groups like Slowdive, Lush, Moose and Ride without it. As with My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields, countless guitarists over the last 40 years have tried to mimic Guthrie, but he remains a peerless original 24 years after the Cocteaus broke up. Look no further than the gorgeous work on this new EP, one of a few he has planned for the coming months via his own Soleil Après Minuit label. While you may long for vocals on these four tracks, there is no denying the sheer beauty he's still more than capable of.
Dark Mark Vs Skeleton Joe - S/T (Rare Bird/Kitten Robot)
Mark Lanegan's well-worn baritone is one of the great voices of the last 30 odd years, and it sounds great in a variety of rock and pop settings, including grunge (Screaming Trees), alt-rock (The Gutter Twins and Twilight Singers, both with Greg Dulli), trip-hop (UNKLE, Soulsavers), and Nancy & Lee-style orch-pop (his records with Isobel Campbell). Add to that list dark synthpop. He's flirted with the genre before but, under his gothy Dark Mark persona he goes in head-first on this collaborative album with Skeleton Joe, aka The Icarus Line's Joe Cardamone. It's not quite like anything either have done before, while still falling within their sonic orbits.
“When you have done as much stuff as Joe and I," Mark says, "you have to constantly search for the different and challenging to keep yourself engaged.” Joe adds, “I just wanted to make some instrumentals that I thought Mark’s voice would shine on, something hard with space for Mark to let go,” explains Cardamone. The duo cite Tones on Tail, Bauhaus, and IAMX as touchstones for this album that balances strutting electro-goth bangers ("No Justice," "Turning in Reverse") with dreamy torch songs and lullabies ("Lost Animals," "Sunday Night 230 AM"). Lanegan does indeed let go, and his vocal performances feel raw and off the cuff, with more emphasis on emotions than a perfect take. These songs would benefit from a little more finesse, though. The ideas and songs are good, but working with someone to realize their potential -- and perhaps cut this hour-plus album down to under 45 minutes -- might've made for a real classic.
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