Bill’s Indie Basement (5/29): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basment: Deerhoof are back and still wonderfully weird on their 15th album Future Teenage Cave Artists; Sebastien Tellier revels in domestic bliss on his first album in six years; Jack Ladder associate Donny Benet revels in early '80s soft pop on Mr. Experience; new compilation Super Sonics goes past the Britpop heavy-hitters; and a book about the mid-'80s UK indie scene by the guy who helped compile NME's legendary C-86 cassette.
Need more new album reviews? Head to Andrew's Notable Releases. Need more Basement-approved stuff? Check out Protomartyr's new single; Unrest's Mark Robinson told us about what he's been listening to during pandemic lockdown; pre-Versus band Flower are getting ready to release their first album in 30 years; PJ Harvey's discography is getting reissued on vinyl; Budgie and Lol Tolhurst have formed a new group; and when was the last time you watched Yo La Tengo's "Tom Courtenay" video?
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Deerhoof - Future Teenage Cave Artists (Joyful Noise)
Arty indie band keep things wonderfully weird on Album #15
Deerhoof's last album, 2017's Mountain Moves, had the long-running DIY art-rock band welcoming in a host of collaborators (Laetitia Sadier, Jenn Wasner, Awkwafina and more) and felt big. Future Teenage Cave Artists is just the four of them and feels like a retreat to the safety of small spaces ("caves"?), sounding at times like it was recorded in a cardboard box that might be just a little too small to hold them.
This is not a bad thing. The compressed, low-fi quality of the instruments and voices -- many recorded, apparently, with the built-in mic on their laptop -- also gives Future Teenage Cave Artists a dreamy air to it. Sounds are so squashed they take on otherworldly qualities and severe stereo panning makes this a wild headphone listen. There is a distorted, descending riff in the funky "O Ye Saddle Babes" that I can't figure out if it's a guitar, bass or keyboard; whatever it is it's rad, sounding beamed in from a mid-'90s shoegaze/triphop song that Deerhoof have pasted in for their own weird purposes.
Deerhoof records are usually full of this sort of sonic mayhem, but here it feels extra gleeful and inspired. No song hits four minutes, even though some of them, like the bouncy "New Orphan Asylum for Spirited Deerchildren" and skronky "'Farewell' Symphony," probably have enough ideas for an entire album. Things turn on a dime, occasionally into what sounds like oncoming traffic, and ideas frequently are thrown out the window before Deerhoof seem to be done with them. They make it work.
There are also songs of true beauty on Future Teenage Cave Artists. The title track is particularly magical, with Satomi Matsuzaki providing an especially heavenly vocal melody and guitarists Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich spinning out a riff midway through that pulls up nostalgic memories for me of summer fireworks. There are many moments like that to be found here. Deerhoof records can be a wonder; this one doesn't seem like it was written as much as it just came into being.
Sebastien Tellier - Domesticated (Because)
The French Touch maestro returns with his first record in six years -- made at home for the home.
Sebastien Tellier's "La Ritournelle" is one of my favorite songs of the last 15 years. Lush and powered by the drumming of the late great Tony Allen, it never gets old; I can put it on a loop and just let it play. It's so good that even when his last release didn't totally float my boat, I'm still anxious to hear what he'll do next.
Which brings us to Domesticated, his first album in six years. (For the record I liked his Brazilian-themed 2014 album L'Aventura.) It's a concept record about being a homebody and a housekeeper, doing the dishes and the laundry, and watching over his young children. “Domestication is a universal subject, an experience we all go through,” Sebastien says. “It’s about transforming the everyday into something extraordinary. I wanted to talk about how we are prisoners to domestic chores because, for humans, life doesn’t exist if we don’t endeavour. Life is a permanent struggle, and domestic chores are at the centre of that battle.” Chores are certainly a battle for an aging hipster like Tellier but he says there may be bliss there, too. “Maybe the key to happiness is there, hidden under a dirty laundry basket?”
Maybe. Sebastien tackles his chores in the lush style we've come to expect from him; airy synths, rolling arpeggiations, saxophones that gently blow out a rainbow of pastels, sumptuous strings and vocodered vocals that sound like a warm breeze. Domestic bliss? Not quite. There's nothing here that comes anywhere near his best stuff (let alone "La Ritournelle) and sometimes thing get a little too "As Seen on TV" new age ("Atomic Smile" veers dangerously near Zamfir territory). His good taste never lets things go full fromage, however, and beat-forward tracks like "Venezia" and "Hazy Feelings" fare best. Still, Domesticated is probably best experienced in its own conceptual setting: alongside a luxurious soak with a bath bomb, a glass of rosé and a few scented candles after you put the kids to bed.
If you've never heard "La Ritournelle"...
Donny Benet - Mr Experience (Dot Dash)
Pour yourself a fruity cocktail with an umbrella as Australian musician (and Jack Ladder and Kirin J Callinan cohort) Donny Benet dives head-first into '80s soft rock.
If you are looking for "full fromage," may I point you to Mr Experience, the latest record from the very talented Donny Benet. You may know him from playing bass with Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders and travelling in similar circles as fellow Australians Kirin J Callinan and Alex Cameron. If you're already a fan of any of those musicians, you may already know Donny's solo work which is heavily influenced by Jan Hammer's Miami Vice score and similar music of the Reagan era. He's even been known to rock a pastel blazer with the sleeves pushed up. Mr. Experience is his fifth solo album which finds him continuing to dive head-first into early-'80s soft pop and yacht rock.
There is no discernible modern spin or irony on any of this. Donny just loves this stuff and is recreating that world in his studio. Do you dig "Easy Lover" by Philip Bailey & Phil Collins? "Club Tropicana" by Wham? The many works of Air Supply? This may be for you. Donny gets all the sounds exactly right, the basslines are across-the-board great, and there's a welcome tongue-in-cheek sense of humor on much of the record. (The closing instrumental is titled "Waterfall [Love Scene].") If nothing here screams "this woulda been a hit in 1982," songs like "Negroni Summer" (great title, btw) and "One Night in Paradise" would fit seamlessly in a playlist of hits from the original era.
Martin Green Presents: Super Sonics – 40 Junkshop Britpop Greats (RPM Records)
There was a lot more to Britpop and '90s UK alternative that Damon Albarn, the Gallaghers and Jarvis Cocker.
For those who want to explore '90s Britpop past Blur, Oasis and Pulp...and past Elastica, Suede, Supergrass, Sleeper, The Verve, The Boo Radleys, Bluetones, Shed Seven, Echobelly, Ocean Colour Scene, Stereophonics, Cast, and so on...this new compilation takes you to the outer fringes of Cool Britannia. Super Sonics – 40 Junkshop Britpop Greats looks at the also also rans, the groups who got runner up to Single of the Week once in 1996 and never made another record, the weirdos, the too-indie for the charts, the too-American-sounding-for-Britpop, the shoulda-been-huge, etc. Compiled by Martin Green, who ran the London club Smashing during the Britpop heyday, Super Sonics highlights a few hidden gems and unearths more than a few that NME subscribers may not remember at all. (I will admit to never having heard of about half of these bands.)
Among the gems: Huggy Bear's classic "Her Jazz"; the shouty "Keroleen" by the great Bis; "Plastic Ashtray" by Scottish noisemakers Urusei Yatsura; "London Girls" by onetime Lilac Time (and Duran Duran!) member Stephen Duffy; the blatantly Wire-pinching "Daydreamer" by Menswe@r (here in "Student Union Mix" form); "Trophy Girlfriend" by twee cult heroes Heavenly; "Goldmine" by the underrated (and also kinda twee) Spearmint; early Delgados single "Monica Webster"; "Come Out 2Nite" by Keneckie; and "We Don't Care" from riotous rabble-rousers Shampoo.
There are also songs by groups who nobody would ever call Britpop but were also touted by NME/Melody Maker/Select at the time, like Add N To (X), Pram, the Stereolab-ish Velocette, Scala, electronic artist Earl Brutus, total eccentric Sexton Ming, and more. In some ways, Super Sonics is a little too all-over-the-place for its own good, especially for folks who loved Rhino's Brit Box and were hoping for a sequel. On the other hand there's nothing more dull than a double-disc set of 40 bands trying to sound just like Oasis.
Super Sonics – 40 Junkshop Britpop Greats is out July 17 via RPM/Cherry Red. Preorder and check out the full tracklist. Meanwhile, someone on Spotify helpfully made a playlist with many of the songs on the comp:
Neil Taylor - C86 & All That: The Creation of Indie in Difficult Times (Ink Monkey)
The guy who helped compile NME's famed C-86 cassette has also written the book on it.
It could be argued very, very easily that "indie" doesn't really mean anything anymore, musically. But there was a time when it definitely did, and some of us (ahem) still hold onto such us-vs-them ideals. The term was even more specific in the UK, where indie was a way of life not a sound and labels like Rough Trade, 4AD, Mute, Creation and others were carving out their own corner of the music would (usually with somewhat in-tune guitars) and even occasionally made their way into the national charts. (That happened easier in the UK, too, as the singles chart was based entirely on sales...unlike the US which factored in radio airplay. I digress.) Writer Neil Taylor's wonderful book does a great job of documenting the scene which grew out of post-punk and pinnacled with the famed NME cassette C-86...which he helped compile.
The book, of course, works in the biggest, most important and influential indie bands -- from The Television Personalities to The Smiths, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Wedding Present, The Fall, Felt, and on -- but also makes room for groups like The Pastels, The Shop Assistants, The Servants, Bogshed, The Mighty Lemon Drops, plus indie landmarks like Cherry Red's Pillows & Prayers compilation, the club scenes, the Red Wedge movement, and more. There's tons of interviews with all the relevant parites, rare pictures, show flyers and lots more. Originally released in 2017, C86 & All That just got a lovely new edition and you can order it direct from the (indie) publisher. It is, though, also available on Kindle.
While on the subject, you can listen to the original C-86:
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.