Bill’s Indie Basement (12/13): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Well it turns out there's one more week of new stuff before Indie Basement starts looking back. We've got reviews of the new Eddy Current Suppression Ring (surprise!), the fantastic Lodge 49 Soundtrack, a four-CD compilation of post-punk from Sheffield, England, charming '60s-ish mod-psych from John Myrtle and clattering UK trio Handle.
Need more new album reviews? Andrew this week looks at the new Duster and more in Notable Releases. If you need more Basement-approved music/news: LIz Fraser lends her ethereal voice to a new song by Sam Lee; and I have to say I'm excited to hopefully see Soulwax and Madness play this spring.
It's been almost ten years since we last heard from Melbourne, Australia garage punk greats Eddy Current Suppression Ring. In 2010 they released the fantastic Rush to Relax, toured it (including some pretty crazy NYC shows) and then went dark. The dolewave diaspora that spread from the members’ other projects included Total Control, Boomgates, Ooga Boogas and many, many more. What groups guitarist Mikey Young wasn't in, he mastered their albums.
ECSR did play a few shows in 2016, and when asked about the status of the band last year, black-gloved frontman Brendan "Suppression" Huntley told ABC (that's the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) they hadn't broken up, but just do things at their own pace. "We have been jamming," Huntley revealed. "I don't know what will ever come of this. But I love making music with those guys, so we still jam. And it's sounding pretty good." Still, it was a big surprise when a new Eddy Current Suppression Ring song showed up on Castle Face's YouTube channel, with a note saying it was from a new album, appropriately titled All in Good Time, that would be out in three weeks.
And here we are with a new ECSR album, sounding no worse for wear, as if a decade hadn't passed. At least musically. "Oh how the times have changed, the world's been rearranged," Brendan sings on "Medieval Wall" that may look to places beyond Melbourne. "Paranoia and the fear is growing each and every year." It's a spare motorik groove till the chorus, when Mikey Young's guitar explodes in a fury as Brendan shouts "They yank the leash, our freedom out of reach!"
The rest of the record follows suit; minimal, tense protest punk that sounds like it was recorded live, probably in a basement, with spirit and passion taking precedence over fidelity. All in Good Time doesn't quite have the snap of Rush to Relax, but it still hits you in the right place, especially on the album's most urgent tracks, "Vicariously Living," first single "Our Quiet Whisper" and manic, paranoid post-punk closer "Modern Man." The album’s best song, though, is "Like a Comet" with its nagging descending main guitar riff that then rips open like Love's version of "7 and 7 Is" when it's too late to brace for impact. Like that space snowball crashing into our atmosphere, Eddy Current Suppression Ring are back, right when we need them most.
There's been no word on anything else related to the record -- I heard ECSR didn't want any promotion of the record at all -- but if you guys decide to tour, nobody's gonna be mad.
Manchester trio Handle make a clattering, woozy racket that sounds like trying to tightrope walk drunk while being pelted with ping-pong balls and rubber bands. The group are made up of Giulio Erasmus and Nirvana Heire (former members of D.U.D.S.) and Leo Hermitt, a genderqueer multidisciplinary artist who is, according to the press release, renowned for their challenging, thought-provoking work on the city’s arts and literary scenes. Having released the Demonstrations tape last year, the group have signed with Upset the Rhythm who, with Maternal Voice, will release their debut album, In Threes, on March 6.
You can get a good idea of what Handle do on the album's first single "Punctured Time" which premieres right here. Bass and flying percussion bounce off each other, keyboards mash, while Leo shouts "Punctured time, bicycle wheel, what if I told you that your lips were like venus, lips were like what? Lips were like venus and that my tongue was a trampoline?"
As you probably know, we are in Peak TV, with more high caliber shows being released at a faster pace than ever before. That goes for their soundtracks, too. Gone are the days when The OC or Gilmore Girls were anomalys by featuring hip indie artists, and now most shows -- even the not-so-cool ones -- have impressive music supervision. It's still rare, though, that a show surprises you with its musical choices, but AMC's wonderful Lodge 49 does so pretty much each episode.
The series is about a bunch of beautiful losers centered around The Order of the Lynx, an Elks-like fraternal organization whose founder may have discovered the secret to alchemy. Plot, though, is secondary to getting to hang out with these great characters, most of whom can't catch a break. The breezy but surreal vibe of the series was enhanced by the music cues and score which favors '60s psych too obscure for Nuggets, and more modern purveyors of baroque psych. This show used songs by Broadcast and Felt! Felt!
The official Lodge 49 soundtrack, out today digitally, brings together some of the show's best needle drops, including a couple songs that music supervisor Thomas Patterson went to extraordinary lengths to get the rights to. The Squires' "Going All the Way" is a ringing psych-surf lost classic, and Roundhouse's "Alchemy Is Good for You," is a proggy, flute-filled jazz funk odyssey that Patterson described to me as "a bit like a German Blood, Sweat & Tears." Neither would probably have ever been available on streaming services if it hadn't been for Lodge 49, and are alone worth spinning the disc.
There is more magic, though. Series creator (and author of note) Jim Gavin loves Lilys and not only do a few of their '90s songs make it into the show, he got Kurt Heasley to make new music for it too. The lush, swirling and soaring "Unheard of Curiosities" is, according to Discogs, only the second track Lilys have released since 2006 and it’s great. Similarly, Lodge 49 coerced UK band The Soundcarriers back into existence, and they contributed a number of new pieces to the series. (A direct result of this: The Soundcarriers are now finishing up work on a new album.) For the soundtrack, they contribute a fantastic cover of Scott Walker's "The Seventh Seal" that retains much of the drama of Walker’s sweeping original (the opening track on Scott 4) but they play it like a ’60s beat group might, with dirty organ, fuzzy bass and singer Leonore Wheatley really belting it out.
Elsewhere: "Chasing the Tide" by late-'00s sample-friendly crate diggers The Superimposers; "Beam Me Up" by phantasmagoric French psych band Gloria; and the wonderful and jazzy "The World Will Keep Spinning Round" by current London singer-songwriter John Myrtle. (More on him later in this column). There are also a few short pieces from composer Andrew Carroll's witty score, and then there's "Desert Stars" which is sung by castmember Eric Allan Kramer in the sixth episode of Lodge 49's second season. Unlike a lot of soundtracks, the Lodge 49 Official Soundtrack all holds together, playing like an exceptionally curated mixtape from someone you desperately want to make you another.
Sadly, there may not be another. Despite wide acclaim for the show's second season (which features Paul Giamatti, who is a producer on the series, in a major supporting role) , Lodge 49 was not a ratings hit and AMC declined to pick it up for a third season. Giamatti and Gavin have been very actively shopping it to other networks/streaming services and folks like Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe, Ken Jeong, Patton Oswalt and Amy Schumer have been active supporters of the #SaveLodge49 campaign. Let's hope it works.
OK I'll admit when I first heard "The World Will Keep Spinning Round" on the Lodge 49 soundtrack I actually thought it was some '60s obscurity, sounding like Donovan covering Burt Bacharach. But then Googling it, expecting to turn up a YouTube video with a picture of a worn 45 label, John Myrtle turned out to be a young London-based singer-songwriter and the song was from his debut EP, released this July.
I'm happy to report that the other four songs on the EP are just as charming, all within the well-dressed jaunty psych pop world as Harry Nilsson, The Kinks, The Zombies and Billy Nicholls, with a couple forays into "Octopus" era Syd Barrett spectral folk. (Slightly more modern comparisons: The La's and...who here remembers Jim Noir?) John's got the perfect warm, slightly reedy voice for this kind of pop that's wonderfully lost in time.
Sheffield, England was an industrial city known for it's cutlery craftsmen in particular. In 1978, with the city in economic decline, it also started to become known for its industrial music, birthing an electronic post-punk scene like no other in the UK. A new four-CD set, Dreams To Fill The Vacuum: The Sound Of Sheffield 1978-1988, looks at that scene and beyond, from the most well-known groups (The Human League, Clock DVA, Heaven 17, ABC, Thompson Twins and Pulp) to the many groups at the fringes who never released more than a single or two. It's from Cherry Red, who do a lot of these punk/postpunk/indie collections (and often contain a lot of the same artists), and while they don't have access to everyone -- Cabaret Voltaire is noticeably absent from this, and sometimes it's not the songs you'd expect from the groups that are included -- they get very knowledgeable people to curate and do the always interesting liner notes. This is a nice set.
However, this also means for those who are generally fans of this kind of bleak and bloopy style of music, there's lots to discover, and there are more than just synthesizers, too. The set is arranged in chronological order: Disc 1 covers the experimental 1977-1981 period with tracks from pre-pop Human League and Thompson Twins, the witty They Must Be Russians, influential group 2.3, The Prams and more.
Disc 2 covers the creative 1981-1982 Sheffield heyday when "Don't You Want Me?" put the city on the music map. While that song is not on here, splinter group Heaven 17's ever-crucial "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang" is. British Electric Foundation, a spinoff/alter-ego of Heaven 17, are here with "A Baby Called Billy," plus there's Clock DVA's goth classic "4 Hours," pre-Lexicon of Love ABC b-side "Alphabet Soup," and the weird, unsettling "The Clown" by Sheffield cult band Artery. “Artery had an intensity that was up there with Joy Division,” Jarvis told The Guardian. “But they didn’t have a Factory Records or a Tony Wilson. They got stuck in Sheffield, got frustrated, got off their heads, and lost it.”
Disc 3 hits 1982-1984, opening with Pulp -- still 11 years from fame -- and their 1983 single "Everybody's Problem," which was clearly influenced by then-brand-new band The Smiths. There's also rhythm-heavy electro-chant tracks from Hula and In the Nursery, peak-goth bangers from The Danse Society and Dachau Choir, and out-there singles by U.V. Pøp, Out Of Reach, and Vendino Pact.
I'll admit that Disc 4 had only one song I'd heard before (One Thousand Violins' "You Ungrateful Bastard") and really only a couple names I recognized (A.C. Temple, Kilgore Trout) but there are some cool discoveries. Such as: Scala Timpani's Big '80s pop single "Winds of Change," The Flight Commander's goth-industrial "Message From a Dead Man" and the C-86-style janglepop of Treebound Story's "Like a Fool."
Another thing I noticed with this set: if you think that "there are no good band names left" is a recent problem, I give to you The Wacky Gardeners, Defective Turtles, Acrobats Of Desire, Flying Alphonso Brothers, and a shocking number of piscine groups (Fishwives, Fish and Breadcake, Nick Fish & The Seahorses).
Dreams To Fill The Vacuum: The Sound Of Sheffield 1978-1988 is not on streaming services, and some of these tracks barely show up on Google searches, but the four-CD set is only about 30 bucks. In lieu of an incomplete Spotify playlist, why don't you watch enjoyable 2001 documentary Made in Sheffield which features rare footage and interviews with Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League, ABC, Pulp and more.