Indie Basement (3/24): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy spring everybody! Things are starting to defrost in NYC and we've got a nice crop of new albums this week: Depeche Mode's Memento Mori, their first since the death of founding member Andy Fletcher; plus striking debuts from DEBBY FRIDAY and Heartworms; The latest Reds, Pinks & Purples album from the prolifically glum Glenn Donaldson; Noble Rot (METZ's Alex Edkins and Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh); and fuzzy guitar pop from Connections and Purling Hiss.
If those seven records are not enough, Andrew reviews a dozen more in Notable Releases, including Lana Del Rey, JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown, Lucinda Chua, Liturgy, Yaya Bey, and more.
Get your tax refund already? The Indie Basement corner of the BV online shop is a good place to blow it with vinyl, books and merch from Love & Rockets, The Raincoats, King Gizzard, Cocteau Twins, Grant Lee Buffalo, The Lemonheads, Sleaford Mods, Belle & Sebastian, New Pornographers, Naima Bock, Stereolab, Protomartyr, Mogwai, The Flaming Lips, Bowie, and lots more.
Head below for this week's reviews...
Depeche Mode - Memento Mori (Columbia)
The veteran synthpop band's 15th album is a moving tribute to the late Andy Fletcher, and is the best Depeche Mode album in a couple decades
Ever since Martin Gore took over as Depeche Mode's chief songwriter in 1982, most of the band's material has been about god, sex and death. (Songs of Faith and Devotion could've been the title of any of their albums.) But even by Depeche Mode standards, their 15th album is obsessed with mortality, so much so they named it Memento Mori -- an object or image that serves as a reminder of the inevitability of death. Gore says most of the songs were written during the pandemic, not long after turning 60 in the summer of 2021 but there's no denying that they took on new meaning in the wake of founding member Andy Fletcher's sudden death last May.
Over the years many people, including Fletch himself, have joked about what exactly it was he did in Depeche Mode, and while he didn't write the songs or stand in the spotlight, his role as tastemaker, quality control officer and mediator between Gore and Gahan left a massive hole that would require the group to work in ways they never had before. Chief among them: the group's two creative forces and remaining members having to actually talk to each other. "It’s brought me and Dave closer," Martin Gore told The Guardian. "We have to make decisions as the two of us, so we talk things out, we talk a lot more on the phone, even FaceTime sometimes. That’s something we just never did before."
Whether it was Fletcher's death, Gore's birthday, or just a bout of lockdown inspiration, Memento Mori is the most inspired Depeche Mode have sounded in a long time. Working again with producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence + The Machine), who was behind the boards for 2017's Spirit, Gore and Gahan have whittled down the group's signature sound to the bare bones, which helps highlight this strong batch of songs and vocal performances.
"Ghosts Again," the album's first single and one of a number of tracks Gore co-wrote with Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs, is a great example of this. The gently ticking drum machine and gurgling synth lines are nicely understated and could've been pulled straight from 1983, while the simple guitar lead is a great hook that gives the song a bit of a New Order "Bizarre Love Triangle" feel. (Yes, someone made a mashup.) What starts with a bedroom demo feel grows more grand by the end, but only Gahan's voice aims for the rafters when he sings "Everybody says goodbye / whisper we’ll be ghosts again." It's a lovely moment, melancholic but hopeful, on the best Depeche Mode single since the '90s.
There are a few other songs that feel like classic Depeche Mode: "My Favourite Stranger" is from the same universe as "World in My Eyes," while "People are Good" and "Caroline's Monkey" both nod to Kraftwerk's influence on the group and feature two of the strongest choruses on the album. "Before We Drown" and "Never Let Me Go" also scratch those faith, devotion and synthesizers itches, while Ford keeps things from looking backward too much.
Memento Mori also has an almost cabaret side to it, with sweeping songs that feel as inspired by Kurt Weill as Kraftwerk and would fit right in at a smoky club draped in red velvet. On that side is "Soul With Me," the album's unexpected torch song centerpiece, featuring a knockout lead vocal from Martin Gore unlike any he's ever delivered. It's a woozy and lushly romantic look at our inevitable end that is sonically unlike anything else on Memento Mori, while fitting right in thematically, staring death in the face. Is that all there is? Then let's keep dancing.
The Reds, Pinks & Purples - The Town That Cursed Your Name (Slumberland)
More wonderful bummer pop from the very prolific Glenn Donaldson
"Is it too late for an early grave?," Glenn Donaldson asks on the opening track on his latest album as The Reds, Pinks & Purples. It's his wistful, glum spin on the "too old to die young" trope that epitomizes RPPs' feelin' gloomy MO: bitter tales of musicians who dream of escaping heir humdrum town and finding fame but never quite make it, set to ridiculously catchy minor chord melodies delivered in a style that's not so much sung as sighed. It's such a perfectly realized world, right down to the artwork (apartment facades for albums, flowers for singles), that every new dose of strummy disappointment is welcome. The Town That Cursed Your Name, which is the seventh or eighth RPPs album since 2018 (!), expands his universe a little, at least sonically. Donaldson is still channelling his sad-eyed heroes, but now with fuzzier guitars, a few more layers and a generally fuller sound. It might be his best batch of Red, Pinks & Purples songs, too. Titles like "Waiting on a Ghost to Haunt You," "What is a Friend?," and "I Still Owe You Everything" almost read like parodies of The Smiths or The Cure, but are in fact perfectly designed pop nuggets filling out Donaldson's ever-growing, wonderfully bummed-out universe.
Also out this week from The Reds, Pinks & Purples is their cover of Depeche Mode's "Ghosts Again." Glenn clearly knew who his gloomy competition was this week and banged out this actually awesome version of the song in his signature RPPs style:
DEBBY FRIDAY - GOOD LUCK (Sub Pop)
This unpidgeonholable Canadian electronic artist keeps you on your toes on her striking full-length debut
After a decade as part of Canada's underground music scene, having spent time in Montreal, Vancouver and now Toronto, the Nigerian-born artist DEBBY FRIDAY comes into her own on her full-length debut. As on her EPs Bitchpunk and Death Drive, DEBBY defies easy categorization, mixing rap, electro, post-punk, industrial, techno and more into a glitchy, bruising and bitcrushed blend that is fiery, magnetic and all her own. Working with Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh (found below in this same column with Noble Rot), GOOD LUCK is loaded with high drama, light and heat, noise and beauty, and a handful of killer jams. Among them: "So Hard to Tell," a swaying ballad that recalls fellow Canadians Purity Ring; techno burner "I Got It" featuring Unas; and another four-on-the-floor ripper, "Hot Love," that truly comes alive when the title is shrieked. Those come early, and in a row, but GOOD LUCK doesn't let up, though it does get more abstract, taking us through junkyard R&B and climaxing with the intense "Pluto Baby" that melts into the ethereal, crashing "Wake Up" -- though good luck sleeping through this engaging, original work.
Heartworms - A Comforting Notion (Speedy Wunderground)
Debut EP from London group led by "gothic military fairy" is quite the opening statement
Led by musician and poet Jojo Orme, London's Heartworms formed in 2020 but quickly made a name for themselves with their sleek brand of decidedly dark post-punk and intense live shows. Orme, who cites Siouxsie & The Banshees, PJ Harvey and Interpol as key influences and describes her style as "gothic military fairy," seems to have Heartworms' whole deal all figured out on their impressive debut EP which was produced by Dan Carey and released via his Speedy Wunderground label. There are strong post-punk revival / nu-rave vibes here, particularly Bloc Party, which can be felt on the EP's best song, "Retributions Of An Awful Life," a jagged disco burner that works up a sweat while Orme remains cool, poshly delivering lines like "When you're young, decisions are not fun." Carey's production is inspired, helping take Heartworms from claustrophobic to widescreen, as needed, with Orme going from a dry, spoken whisper to wailing at the skies. It's all done with such confidence and panache, and good tunes, that it's almost as if the '00s never happened.
Noble Rot - Heavenly Bodies, Repetition, Control (Joyful Noise)
This duo of METZ's Alex Edkins and Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh channels a variety of post-punk and krautrock influences; Wire's Colin Newman adds cred, though they're got plenty already
Alex Edkins (METZ) and Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck) first worked together when the latter was tapped to mix METZ's debut album and they have been friends since. Having long discussed making music together, they finally decided to do it during the pandemic and over the course of 12 months created the eight clattering, rhythm-forward tracks on their debut album that pull from a variety of komische and post-punk influences. Among those is Wire -- the ratcheting bassline on "Medecine" sounds straight out of Chairs Missing -- and that is underlined by Wire's Colin Newman contributing to "Casting No Light" along with his partner and Immersion collaborator Malka Spigel. As you might expect from these two, mood and atmosphere are richly detailed and loudly delivered and you can dance to some of it. If you dig the more experimental parts of the '70s, along with more current music like Beak>, beat a motorik path to Noble Rot.
Connections - Cool Change (Trouble in Mind)
Columbus guitar pop vets stay on the right side of sloppy on their charming, tuneful third album for Trouble in Mind
Together for 10 years, Columbus, OH's Connections are the kind of band you don't really get much anymore, with a jangly, but worn around the edges sound that is clearly descended from '80s college radio heroes like The Replacements, R.E.M. and Husker Du. (The band's Andy Hampel and Kevin Elliott have been at it even longer, having played in '90s Dayton band 84 Nash who were signed to GBV's Rockathon Records.) Cool Change is Connections' third album for Trouble in Mind and another fine example of what they do so well: rough-and-tumble earworms about weekends with nothing to do, go-nowhere relationships, good friends and the pleasures of loud guitars.
Purling Hiss - Drag On Girard (Drag City)
If you prefer your ragged guitar pop louder and jammier, you might want to check out the latest tinnitus-inducing musical missive from Philly's Purling Hiss. From the opening chords and title spelling of "Yer in All My Dreams," you know where you are, halfway between Kurt Vile and Dinosaur Jr with a little Southwest cowpunk sun baked in there too. String-bending classic rock leads are spun throughout while bandleader Mike Polizze delivers power pop choruses in a decidedly laid back drawl. Wheels are not reinvented here, but Polizze and crew lay down with gusto.
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.
And check out what's new in our shop.