Indie Basement (10/2): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy October everybody! After the new release overload that was last week, this week is a little dry, at least for things I haven't already covered. But there's always something to write about. This week: Death Valley Girls' "space-gospel record"; the "confusing in a good way" debut from Working Men's Club; two Slowdive EPs from 1991 are getting vinyl reissues; three classic early-'80s New Order 12"s are back on wax; XTC's Drums and Wires gets a welcome vinyl reissue; and be sure to listen to Róisín Murphy's fantastic new album.
Need more new album reviews? Andrew looks at Jónsi's first solo album in nearly a decade, and more in Notable Releases. Need more Basement-approved stuff? Sloan have a new single; Goat Girl have announced their second album; and Deerhoof released an amazing covers medley of an album.
It's also Bandcamp Friday. Buy some stuff and support artists who can't tour.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Death Valley Girls - Under the Spell of Joy (Suicide Squeeze)
Light and dark collide on Death Valley Girls' new album that adds a 12-voice choir to their garage punk sound.
For five years, Death Valley Girls frontwoman Bonnie Bloomgarden wore the same t-shirt nearly every day, a shirt for the band Joy that had "Under the Spell of Joy" written on it. It's a phase she'd taken to heart and is now the title and unifying theme of her band's new album. “I read it as being about manifesting your biggest dreams and responding thoughtfully and mindfully to everything that comes in your path with joy and compassion first,” Bloomgarden says. “There is a lot to be really angry about in the world but joy is just as powerful if used correctly!”
Bloomgarden calls Under the Spell of Joy a "space-gospel record," and you get what she means pretty quickly. While musically Death Valley Girls are still working in the psych/garage/punk milieu, the arrangements are decidedly different than on their three previous albums. Organ and saxophone play a bigger role than ever before and, it's hard to miss the mass chorus -- a dozen voices -- that punctuate nearly every chorus. There's even a children's choir on a few songs. "We are learning that words with intention and energy hold so much power, especially when said or sung with a group," Bloomgarden says.
A children's choir is not something that makes me immediately press play (though who doesn't love Gerard McMann's "Cry Little Sister" from The Lost Boys soundtrack), but Death Valley Girls' conviction and good taste make this an appealing mix. The title track's looping refrain of "under the spell of joy / under the spell of love" works like a mantra set against a whirlwind of a glammy beat, bleating sax and a big Detroit punk style finish. As the song's frazzled electronics sputter out, that mantra continues on in your head. Or at least it does in mine.
More than anything, all those voices make these 11 songs sound gigantic, bolstered by a wave of positivity that's cut with the often skronky, loose arrangements. "Hold My Hand" and "It All Washes are VU-style stompers, "10 Day Miracle Challenge" snarls ferociously, "I'd Rather Be Dreaming" is an impassioned garage rock ballad (with a powerhouse vocal from Bonnie), and "Hypnagogia" and "The Universe" are out-there psych odysseys. It's all sewn together with those voices for a wall of sound worthy of The Crystals.
It's a surprising direction for a band whose name evokes cheapo exploitation thrillers, but Bloomgarden clearly means it. “The world is crazy right now and it feels like we should be doing more than just trying to perpetuate joy,” Bloomgarden says. “ I want people to sing to this record, make it their own, and focus on manifesting their dreams as much as they can!”
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Working Men's Club - Working Men's Club (Heavenly)
Miss LCD Soundsystem, The Fall, The Normal, Soft Cell and Tubeway Army? Working Men's Club kinda fill that void in their debut album.
"We just want to confuse the fuck out of people, in a good way," says Working Men's Club frontman Sydney Minsky-Sargeant. The group, who hail from Yorkshire, England, make dark, dance music -- inspired by a large swath of 1979-1983 post-punk that you might not think would work together. Like shiny leather dry ice synthpop? "A.A.A.A." (sung as "AHHAHHAHHAHH!!!") is like The Normal on steroids. "John Cooper Clarke" sadly does not feature the Mancunian punk poet icon, but does approximate the kind of funky krautrock jams you might associate with LCD Soundsystem. "White Rooms And People" is gleaming, sterile and very very catchy. "Valleys" is brilliant dancepop bristling with techno 303s. A lot of it vaguely sounds like The Fall, with a variety of second or third elements thrown in. (Example: "Be My Guest" is The Fall + Visage.) Minsky-Sargeant has a bone-dry, understated delivery that nonetheless oozes with attitude. The band get great sounds. Big, chunky drum machines. Wild, effects-heavy guitars. Flinty bass. Processed vocals. Working Men's Club is a bit of a blender, maybe a little confusing, but definitely good.
Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine (Skint)
Róisín Murphy has made her most crowd-pleasing solo album to date...while remaining an iconoclast.
Róisín Murphy's fantastic Róisín Machine was Album of the Week last week because I didn't realize they switched the release date, but it's out today and I didn't want you to forget. Here's bit of my review:
Róisín Machine is bold and brash, slinky and sexy, and a whole lot of fun, swathed in strings, funky Chic guitars, popping bass, cosmic synths and Murphy’s still powerful pipes. It’s got all four of Murphy’s excellent singles with Parrot from the last 12 months -- “Incapable,” “Narcissus,” “Something More,” and “Murphy’s Law” -- plus another six where those came from that are just as good.
Róisín Machine really is great and she deserves to be much, much better known in North America than she is. Give it a spin:
XTC - Drums and Wires vinyl reissue (APE)
XTC's first great album -- maybe their best-ever album -- gets a new vinyl reissue and a bonus 7"
Some people prefer XTC when they turned Beatlesque in the late '80s, giving us albums like Skylarking, Oranges & Lemons, and Nonesuch. While I like those records a lot (well, Skylarking at least), I'm a fan of their late-'70s / early-'80s run when Dave Gregory joined as second guitarist (replacing keyboardist Barry Andrews) that lasted though Andy Partridge's 1982 onstage nervous breakdown which brought an end to touring for the group. That's 1979's Drums and Wires, 1980's Black Sea and 1982's English Settlement. They were making nervy power-pop, but the manic, helium kids energy of their first two albums gave way to more nuanced songcraft.
Of the three, Drums and Wires is my favorite. It's where bassist Colin Moulding really came into his own as a songwriter, delivering the classic "Making Plans for Nigel," which opens the album, plus "Day in Day Out," "Ten Feet Tall," and "That is the Way." (Some U.S. copies of the album also added Moulding's "Life Begins at the Hop" which is in my Top 5 XTC Songs list.) Andy Partridge's contributions include the angsty closer "Complicated Game," "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty" and pogo-able "Helicopter." The dazzling guitar interplay between Partridge and Gregory here has inspired countless bands, Moulding's basslines are amazing, drummer Terry Chambers packs a wallop, and producer Steve Lillywhite make them all sound great. If I had to pick just one XTC album, it would be Drums and Wires.
Andy Partridge has been overseeing an XTC vinyl reissue campaign for some time, and they just announced a new 200g edition of Drums and Wires that will be out November 6 via Patridge’s APE label. Partridge approved the master. Like the original Virgin Records release 41 years ago, this new vinyl edition comes with a bonus 7" featuring two other great songs: Partridge's "Chain of Command" and Moulding's "Limelight." Preorder yours.
Slowdive - Holding Our Breath & Morningrise EP vinyl reissues (Music on Vinyl)
The shoegaze greats' two 1991 EPs for Creation Records both get their first vinyl pressings in almost 30 years. Holding Our Breath is one of their best.
Someone at Music on Vinyl clearly really loves Slowdive, as they've been reissuing everything -- not just the albums but their EPs too. Which is great, as the Extended Play format was a favorite of shoegaze bands, whose songs tended to be long, and this allowed for that as well as experimentation and maybe a cool cover.
Holding Our Breath, their second of two EPs from 1991, has all that and is one of the great shoegaze EPs of the original early-'90s era. “Catch the Breeze,” which would also show up on their 1991 debut album, Just for a Day, is an all-time classic with Neil Halstead's oceanic guitar style in full force. Rachel Goswell’s ethereal harmonies on “Shine” will never not send shivers down your spine, and their cover of Syd Barrett's "Golden Hair" takes things into interstellar overdrive. If you're a fan, Holding Our Breath is a must-own, and original Creation Records copies are not cheap to come by. This Music on Vinyl reissue comes on 180g orange vinyl and the sleeve has been finished to resemble brushed metal. That reissue is out November 6 and you can pre-order it here.
Additionally, MoV are also reissuing Slowdive's first EP of 1991, Morningrise. While Halstead knew what he wanted to do with his guitar, the band had not quite figured out their sound yet, still owing a lot to their ‘80s goth youth (they are named after a Siouxsie and the Banshees song). The title track is great though. That's out October 9 and you can pre-order it here.
Meanwhile, back in 2020, Slowdive are working on a new album.
New Order - "Thieves Like Us" / "Murder" / Confusion 12" reissues (Rhino)
The "definitive" edition of New Order's flawless 1983 album Power, Corruption and Lies is out today -- which I wrote about when it was announced -- and is a very cool package, with rarities and a couple Blu-rays worth of live performances and TV appearances. Along with that are vinyl reissues of three great New Order 12" singles from around the same time as the album: "Thieves Like Us," "Murder," and "Confusion."
I wrote about most of the songs on these 12"s for the New Order Deep Cuts feature we published this summer. The most crucial of the three is "Thieves Like Us," which is one of New Order's most deeply emotive songs that needs all six minutes and 36 seconds to work its magic. Bernard Sumner's vocals don't even come in till two-and-a-half minutes into the song, long after we've been seduced by the song's NYC hip-hop inspired rhythm section and majestic washes of synths. Peter Hook says it's his favorite and it might be mine, too. The single also features what is one of their best-ever b-sides, "Lonesome Tonight," which was inspired by Elvis but, when the synthesizers crest halfway through, evokes Joy Division's "Atmosphere."
The "Murder" 12" was only released in Belgium and is a pounding, gothy instrumental powered by Stephen Morris' propulsive drumming, a sinister bass line from Hook and Sumner's three-note, cyclical guitar hook. The b-side is the instrumental version of "Thieves Like Us" that was used in the "making the dress" montage in Pretty in Pink.
The "Confusion" 12" is the original 1983 release of the song, and not the rerecorded version that most people know from Substance. The song was New Order's first time working with NYC dance music guru Arthur Baker -- he would produce a few of their singles, including "Thieves Like Us" -- and you can hear the influence of club hits like Shannon's "Let the Music Play" and Freez's "I.O.U." in the song's skipping beat. The video, shot in NYC, makes the song even better:
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.