Indie Basement (2/12): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
After a slow start, 2021 is starting to heat up and it's a pretty good week for new releases here in Indie Basement: Django Django are back with their best album since their first; Virginia Wing continue to surprise and enchant on their fourth album; Australian and occasional Total Control member David West is back with a new album of superior mopey janglepop as Rat Columns; Australian dreampop duo Heligoland team with Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie for their first album in over a decade; UK group Mush deliver a second album of skronky indie rock. Plus, a new single from Cheval Sombre's upcoming Sonic Boom-produced album, newish Virginia indiepop group So Badly, and Lost Horizons (Simon Raymonde and Richie Thomas).
If you need more reviews, Andrew looks at slowthai and more in Notable Releases. As for other Basement-approved stuff from this week: Massive Attack's 3D remixed Gang of Four; New Age Steppers (Ari Up & Adrian Sherwood) are getting their whole catalog reissued; so is Peter Murphy (well his first five solo albums); and Dry Cleaning announced their debut album;
Head below for this week's new stuff:
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Django Django - Glowing In The Dark (Because Music)
The Scottish dance-surf-psych band's fourth album is their most fun since the first
Scottish band Django Django got their start back in 2009, when MySpace was still a thing, and in the "influences" section of their profile they put up thumbnails of over 100 albums including The Beach Boys' Smiley Smile, the first Fun Boy 3 LP, the Blade Runner soundtrack and the Beta Band's Hot Shots II. The latter was a bit of nepotism -- drummer/bandleader Dave McLean's brother, John, was in Beta Band -- but they both have a crate-digger's a love of music. Even though they only had one single out at the time -- "Storm" / "Love's Dart" -- those four records still embody what Django Django are all about, a mix of surf pop, post-punk, new wave, reggae and dub, prog, soundtrack music, Madchester, techno, rave, and groove-oriented psychedelia. Also: fun.
Glowing in the Dark is their most fun record since their great self-titled debut. Their 2015 sophomore album, Born Under Saturn, was good and 2018's Marble Skies was better, but this one really has that Django Django-iness that smooshes the line between dance music and guitar pop, all while sounding like they're doing it beachside for a tiki party. This album has a bunch of bangers, starting with the title track which uses a beat right out of Stetsasonic's "Talkin' All That Jazz," a few synthesizers, a stuttering vocal hook and not much else to achieve liftoff. There's also "Spirals," that borrows from gothy post-punk (early New Order specifically) but makes a joyous track out of it; "Kick the Devil Out," that dabbles in '80s afrobeat; and "The World Will Turn," a sunset folk-pop number thick with harmony.
There's a real playful spirit at work here. "Got Me Worried" is dune buggy music with a Bo Diddley beat and furiously strummed acoustic guitar that ends in canned applause, leading straight into "Waking Up," a psych-pop number -- featuring lead vocals from Charlotte Gainsbourg! -- that could've been on any number of '80s paisley underground albums. Likewise, the curl-shooting "Headrush" melts seamlessly into the rave comedown of "The Ark." Even the less successful songs, like festival-ready head bobber "Free from Gravity," are presented in such a breezy manner they go down pretty easy. At 44 minutes, it's about the perfect length for a record like this, making a big impression at the party and leaving before it wears out its welcome, and never tries to be anything it's not. Sometimes fun is what you want and what you need.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Virginia Wing - private LIFE (Fire)
Fourth album from UK trio finds them pivoting again, this time into Big '80s R&Bish synthpop
Is this the sound of going stir crazy? UK trio Virginia Wing made 2018's fantastic Ecstatic Arrow under idyllic conditions -- in Switzerland at the family home of a good friend, surrounded by the country's alpine beauty. This one was made stuck at home in Manchester, England in their "jogging bottoms." There's no doubt this is the same group, but private LIFE feels forcibly contained while anxious to break free.
All the sounds on private LIFE are big -- the drum sounds, the thick synthy basslines, the blasts of keyboards -- not unlike those early Art of Noise records, hitting like punches in a Shaw Brothers martial arts fantasy or a buzzsaw to the hood of a car. But then they fill the stereo field with wondrous, beautiful organic sounds, from delicate strings, to lilting saxophones and flutes, tinkly windchimes, jazzy piano loops, "nature," and warm harmonies. It all sort of floats, at times almost anchorless, through the mix. These sounds have also been run through severe digital processing, chopped up, degraded, and warped, giving songs a slightly unmoored feel that, like Merida Richards' icy vocals, is distinctly Virginia Wing.
Virginia Wing continue to toy with pop and dance music, but largely keep things at arms length. "I'm Holding Out for Something" flirts with a decidedly R&B beat and synth strings that suggest Prince, while pitched up vocal samples may make some think of Kate Bush. But Richards' declaring "There will come a time when you have to satisfy the ache face to face" yanks the song in an entirely different direction. (Laurie Anderson may be a more apt '80s comparison.) Likewise, part of "Moon Turns Tides" wants to be an electro funk jam that will tear the roof off, but before that can happen Richards dryly notes, "Whilst you’re here, it’s important that you don’t touch anything / it’s all very, very expensive." There's a distinct look-but-don't-touch sense of detachment -- the kind where you end up having more conversations with yourself than other people -- that's a relatable feeling these days when our lives may be too private. If that's you, welcome to the party.
Rat Columns - Pacific Kiss (Tough Love)
Contributions from Mikey Young and Raven Mahon highlight the fourth album of superior mope-n-jangle from Australia's David West
Australian musician David West has spent time in Total Control and played in other dystopian post-punk leaning groups like Lace Curtain and Rank/Xerox. But as Rat Columns, he makes fey power pop that owes a little bit to '70s groups like Milk N' Cookies and The Nerves, but also to Smiths-era sensitive indie guitar groups like Felt and Orange Juice. Melodies are sweet, chords are jazzy, vocals are mopey, but he's also not afraid to stomp on the fuzz pedal.
Pacific Kiss is West's fourth Rat Columns album on as many labels, none of which, surprisingly, have been Captured Tracks. This is just the kind of record C/T would've killed to release around the time of Wild Nothing, Minks and Craft Spells. West made the album in Brooklyn, with intercontinental contributions from Mikey Young (noisy guitar) and Grass Widow's Raven Mahon who provides vocals to two of the album's best earworms, "I Can't Live on Love" and "No Stranger Than Life." (Together, Young and Mahon are The Green Child.) All the songs here are catchy, with especially good bass lines, and most have some wild riffing that keeps things out of wispy territory. If you don't find "gentle rippers" to be a contradiction in terms, Pacific Kiss is full of 'em.
Heligoland - This Quiet Fire (Editions Furioso)
Long-running Australian dreampop group team with Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie for their first album in more than a decade
Hailing originally from Melbourne, Australia, Heligoland have been making oceanic dreampop for over 20 years, forming in 1999 and having released their debut album in 2003. The band's inspirations are pretty clear, right down from their name (which means "Holy Land" in Dutch), drawing from the gentler side of '80s/'90s shoegaze and slowcore. Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie produced their third album, 2010's All Your Ships are White, which tells you a lot but their sound is more in the Slowdive (Mojave 3 )/ Low / Cowboy Junkies style, evoking sun-baked cracked earth and sand as much as the sea.
Heligoland went dormant after All Your Ships, though they popped up from time to time with new EPs, all produced by Guthrie. They also left Australia for the suburbs of Paris. Now just the core duo of Karen Vogt (vocals, guitar) and Steve Wheeler (bass, guitar), Heligoland are back with their first album in 11 years. Guthrie is back for this one as well, and in addition to producing the record, he also plays on it -- everything but guitar, contributing drums, bass and keyboards. No real surprise, but This Quiet Fire is gorgeous stuff. Vogt is an emotive singer, a quality you don't usually associate with dreampop like this, sounding closer to Tracy Thorn than Elizabeth Fraser. Her voice elevates stunners like "Hope," "Running" and "Palomino," distinguishing This Quiet Fire in a genre that in too many less-skilled hand can play like ethereal wallpaper.
Speaking of Cocteau Twins, former CT bassist Simon Raymonde and Richie Thomas of Dif Juz are gearing up to release their second Lost Horizons album, In Quiet Moments, on February 26 via Bella Union. It's a double and packed with notable guest vocalists to help them achieve their cinematic vision. The terrific first half, which came out digitally back in November, features guest vocals from John Grant, Porridge Radio, Penelope Isles, former Midlake frontman Tim Smith and more, while Pt 2 features Marissa Nadler, Ural Thomas, The Innocence Mission's Karen Peris, and more.
As you'd expect from two men who released records during the '80s arty heyday of 4AD, the artwork is as important as the music itself. The packaging for the Deluxe Edition vinyl of In Quiet Moments is especially lovely and comes on ocean blue and green vinyl, with a wide-spined sleeve on uncoated/reverse board and is housed in a cool PVC outer sleeve with printed text. (There's also a sticker, for those looking to cover logos on your laptop or decorating your fridge.) We've got a special edition in our store with a signed art print postcard. Pre-order it now.
While we wait for the whole thing to drop, you can listen to In Quiet Moments Part 1 now along with the Marissa Nadler song, "Marie," from Part 2:
Mush - Lines Redacted (Memphis Industries)
Wirey, proggy indie rock from Leeds England. This is album #2
Leeds group Mush make twisty indie rock that runs the gamut of the arch and angular. Guitarists Daniel Hyndman and Steve Tyson play off each other like a manic game of ping-pong, with skronky leads clanging up and down the necks of their instruments nonstop, like an imagined Beefheart / Pavement / Sonic Youth jam session by way of nervy new wave. (Tyson sadly died last year after the album was completed; the band are carrying on.) Their ants-in-the-pants style, which drops in a super-catchy riff when you least expect it, fits right in with singer/guitarist Daniel Hyndman's distinctively adenoidal singing style that falls somewhere between Bob Dylan and Mark E Smith. If you're still reading this, do know it all works together for the positive on Mush's enjoyable Lines Redacted that's nerdy in all the right ways. It's definitely a record that makes more sense the second time through, when you settle into their proggy skronk and the hooks rise to the top. And when they're on they're really on -- like the great "Blunt Instruments" and "Hazmat Suits" -- making the kind of overcaffeinated mutant pop that's one shake away from blowing.
Cheval Sombre - "Curtain Grove"
Spectral new single, featuring backing vocals from Britta Phillips, from Cheval's upcoming Sonic Boom-produced album
Cheval Sombre, who released a collaborative album with Dean Wareham a couple years back, has two albums on the way this year, the first of those is Time Waits for No One which was produced and mixed by Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom and will be out February 26 via Sonic Cathedral. It's his first solo album in eight years. Cheval's music was already on the Velvet Underground end of the dreampop spectrum but Sonic Boom takes it into the stratosphere with layers of glistening synths and strings. New single "Curtain Grove" is truly lovely, made even more heavenly by Britta Phillips' backing vocals.
“‘Curtain Grove’ grew out of a strangely productive, fragile month,” says Cheval (aka Chris Porpora). “I was down with pneumonia but there was a piano in the house – on which all kinds of melodies came to me – during those silent afternoons, when everything was still. I then had to translate all to guitar, which took some patience and learning. But after this, it was astonishing – Gillian Rivers brought sweeping, orchestral strings, [Sonic Boom] got hold and laced it with elegant melody, Britta whispered these elusive, lovely backing vocals." You can check out the video for "Curtain Grove":
So Badly - "Harley Davidson"
Terrific first single from jazzy, winsome VA indiepop band's upcoming debut album
Fredericksburg, VA's So Badly have been around for five years or so and have, up until now, made scruffy, poppy indie rock, over the course of a few singles and EPs. The group are set to release their debut album, Lemon Blue, on March 12 and judging by the first single they've shifted direction just a little. "Harley Davidson" is winsome, jazzy dreampop, with swooping chords that warble from the tremolo bar, conveying a sense of melancholy that echo the song's lyrics about trying to get over a breakup. "I wondered if you'd wondered if you'd every run into me." Does it rain in this song? Yes! Fans of the much missed Hospitality will dig this one.
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