Indie Basement (11/19): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: Mr Twin Sister deliver a globe-trotting, head-spinning party album; Elbow release their most graceful record to date; Kelley Stoltz's great 2001 album Antique Glow gets a deluxe vinyl reissue via Third Man; Brion Starr channels Eno, gets Low and works with Tony Visconti on A Night to Remember; Frankie Rose's new band Fine Place release their debut; plus EPs from Mandy, Indiana and Papercuts.
Need more? How about a dozen more? Andrew reviews Adele, Converge/Chelsea Wolfe, Makaya McCraven, Weakened Friends and eight more in Notable Releases. There's more Basement-adjacent stuff from this week, too: psych/shoegaze greats Loop are releasing their first album in 32 years; Elelctrelane are officially making new music, too; David J (Love & Rockets) and Victor DeLorenzo (Violent Femmes) formed a band, Night Crickets; Sweeping Promises signed to Sub Pop; the Brian Jonestown Massacre are touring with Mercury Rev; Horsegirl have a new single; so do King Hannah; and Pee-wee Herman is getting his very own radio show. Also Party Down is ready to have fun again.
That's it for this week. Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Mr Twin Sister - Al Mundo Azul (Twin Group)
Brooklyn band dive into the digital age on this head-spinning, globetrotting dance party
Mr Twin Sister have always made lush, danceable pop on the smooth side of the disco, but until now they have approached their music from an organic standpoint, using traditional bass, drum, guitar and other instruments like a band might have in 1977. While Al Mundo Azul is very clearly a Mr Twin Sister album, this is shiny, synthetic new territory for them. “We wanted to flip stylistic switches to their opposite positions," says the band's Gabel D’Amico. "Immediacy over complexity, alien sounds over natural ones, loose playing over perfect takes. A bright record to come after all the nighttime music we’ve made.”
This is what a band of seriously talented musicians can do when let loose on loop-based recording software. Chopped up and chock-full of samples and synthesizers and drum machines, it's a real party. Mr Twin Sister are a quirky band and these songs shine a spotlight on their eccentricities, but it's welcomingly weird. This Blue World is just as sumptuous as their other albums, but close inspection reveals the flora is made of plastic. That's not a dig, Listen to "Carmen," which manages to incorporate in tropicalia, disco, electro, house, drum-n-bass, Art of Noise-style cut-n-paste, acid house, G-funk, and Timbaland-style beats, while making it sound entirely contemporary. It's a great headphone album, it's a great club album, it's a great doing-the-dishes album. Not to argue with Gabel's quote above, but these songs are definitely complex, yet they sound effortless. Al Mundo Azul is the musical equivalent of "I woke up like this."
Elbow - Flying Dream 1 (Polydor)
Elbow's graceful ninth album is quietly dazzling.
From the start, Elbow' have been on the mellow end of the grand, proggy rock spectrum, but Flying Dream 1, their ninth album, presents their gentlest side yet. Its creation was also unusual for the Manchester band, due to the pandemic, but not in the way you might expect. They wrote the album remotely but when it came time to record, they opted against using their own studio and instead made it basically live at the Brighton Theatre Royal. "We don’t phone each other for a chat," said frontman Guy Garvey. "We don’t talk about life outside the music until we’re together. These hushed, night-time missives told us how each other were doing. When we finally got together, all that was to do was record the songs, honour them with amazing additional singers and players in a gorgeous space and catch up. It was beautiful."
And it is beautiful. You can feel the connectivity on Flying Dream 1 in the brushed drums, the grand piano, and the gorgeous harmonies that give these songs flight. This is their jazziest record, too, with upright bass and saxophone sailing through many of the songs. They've always had a fondness for Talk Talk but this is the first time where those influences really bubble up. The placid arrangements are also an especially perfect platform for Garvey's wonderful, world-weary vocals and barstool poet lyrical style. Songs like "Six Words," "After the Eclipse" and the title track are elegiac, making for a quietly dazzling album.
Kelley Stoltz - Antique Glow 20th Anniversary Reissue (Third Man)
Kelley Stoltz's great, long-out-of-print 2001 album gets a deluxe vinyl reissue with an second disc's worth of unreleased songs.
Kelley Stoltz's second album, 2001's Antique Glow, established the San Francisco singer-songwriter as a major talent. Made in a home studio with a TASCAM 388 eight-track and Stoltz playing all instruments, it was also a showcase for his DIY production skills. It sounds like a lost treasure from 1972, with everything from Nuggets-y garage rock and Chicago blues to baroque psychedelic pop and Nick Drake-style folk. Kelley has always worn his influences on his sleeve, but he brings such enthusiasm, good humor and fun to his recordings -- which pull from so many influences -- you listen in wonder instead of trying to pick things apart.
Anique Glow was originally self-released on vinyl by Stoltz with only 300 copies pressed, each with a hand-painted cover, but it was later reissued on CD by Jackpine Social Club, which in turn led to Kelley signing with Sub Pop for three albums in the late-'00s. Needless to say, original vinyl copies go for outrageous amounts on the secondary market so this vinyl reissue from Third Man, who put out his 2013 album Double Exposure, is very welcome. In addition to the original album back on vinyl, it comes with a second disc featuring four songs from an Australian tour-only CD and 10 tracks from the era that have never been released at all. The bonus disc songs are on the whimsical side ("Harmonica Makes the Doggy Go Wild") or exercises in style ("Too Beck," "Discount City VU") -- but are all pretty great, and better than many artists' actual albums. Stoltz reportedly has an archive of unheard songs that, volume-wise, rivals Prince. Let's hope more excavation happens soon.
I should also say Third Man did a great job with the packaging of this reissue. In a nod to the bespoke nature of the original vinyl artwork, the sleeve is a die-cut window that allows you to customize the covers. Pretty cool. There are 16 different covers, though only four come with any one copy of the album.
Brion Starr - A Night to Remember (Taxi Gauche)
A student of '70s glam and mutant pop, Brion Starr enlists Bowie/Sparks producer Tony Visconti for his new album
When Brion Starr is searching for a sound he goes straight to the source. He recorded his 2019 album, Global Identity, at KONK, the London recording studio started by The Kinks. For his new album, A Night to Remember, he went to Château d’Hérouville, the legendary French studio whose credits include Bowie's Low, T-Rex's The Slider, Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos. And he got Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti to produce it.
While you might expect, given the people and places involved, not to mention Brion's very Thin White Duke press pics, for this album to be a total Bowie homage. It's not. There's definitely some of that glammy, dark vibe but there's a lot more going on here. Starr is clearly a fan of the sounds of the late '70s and early '80s and, more than anything else, Brian Eno feels like the biggest influence here, be it records like Here Come the Warm Jets and Before and After Science, or his collaborations with Talking Heads, Bowie and Devo. He never lets his heroes get in the way of his own vision, however, and A Night to Remember works all on its own.
The album is a loose concept album about "one evening in an internationalist future city" and the inhabitants who tend to only come out at night. Songs glow like neon in the rain, shot on Kodachrome, with stately piano, rubbery basslines and everything else run through a variety of synthesizers and effects, from the guitars to the vocals and the drums. (Visconti's knowledge of the Eventide 949 harmonizer, famously used on Low, has obviously been put to use here.) It is elegant but alien, classic but futuristic. Unmoored from time. The songs are great, too, even when tipping an obvious hat to "Fame" ("Blackout") or "Crosseyed and Painless" ("Private Eye"). More often than not, though, Starr is absorbing it all and radiating it back out on his own wavelength. See: the graceful "21st Century Ltd (for Alice)," the sweeping, groovy "Nocturne," and the slow strut of "Same Flame (Stay With Me)." Where will he go next?
Fine Place - This New Heaven (Night School)
Haunted synthpop for an abandoned city via Frankie Rose and Running's Matthew Hord
Sometime soon we are going to run out of albums that were created during, and out of, pandemic lockdown, but we're not there yet. Fine Place, the duo of Frankie Rose and Matthew Hord (Running, Pop. 1280), would probably not exist without it. "The sound we were going for was an attempt to capture the dystopian feel of New York during a period of desertion by the wealthy," they say of their debut album. "It was produced in a time-frame saturated in both uncertainty and serenity, and the soundscapes we created felt fitting and almost organic as a response to our surroundings." This New Heaven bears Frankie's distinctive, gothy, melodic stamp -- recalling her 2010 debut more than anything else -- but Hord takes the songs into haunted synthpop territory. It's a perfect soundtrack for biking deserted Manhattan streets, wondering if things will ever be the same.
Mandy, Indiana - ...EP (Fire Talk)
Manchester trio's debut EP is a unique mix of industrial, techno and ye-ye
Manchester-based trio Mandy, Indiana -- who until recently went by the name Gary, Indiana -- have a brutalist sound that is modern but hearkens back to the original post-punk era. (I don't' know why they changed their name but it's better, and doesn't make me think of The Music Man.) Their songs are danceable but also a real kick in the eye and, in a real commitment to aesthetics, they record in abandoned warehouses and other actual industrial spaces. Another Manchester band, Factory Floor, come to mind, but MI are less overtly electronic, with more of an emphasis on vocals. Those come via Valentine Caulfield who delivers her lyrics in her native French with a dry, icy tone that intensifies the group's stark sound, while also making things more approachable. There's no better example of what they do than on "Bottle Episode," the opening track on their debut EP. Caulfield chants over cavernous, rat-a-tat drumming before the song shifts gears and heads out onto frozen synthy tundra, only to slam back into those snares and toms. That smashes straight into "Nike of Samothrace" (they have good song titles!) which is like being dropped into rave in a metal shop where Bridgette Bardot is the DJ. "Alien 3," though, is the EP's biggest banger, a sleek techno number that's been dragged through a junkyard in January. If you need a little less jagged edge in the monitors, there are rad remixed by Daniel Avery and Club Eat that take "Alien 3" and "Nike of Samothrace," respectively, more directly to the dancefloor, but Mandy, Indiana sound best with the welding mask on.
Papercuts - Baxter's Bliss EP (Psychic Friends)
Jason Quever is back with this digital only EP featuring originals and covers of Galaxie 500 and Leonard Cohen
It's been three years since Papercuts' excellent 2018 album Parallel Universe Blues and Jason Quever is now back with this lovely stopgap, digital-only EP. The three originals are all warmly glum -- Quever's production and arrangements always sound lost in the fog of his San Francisco home -- with drony organ laying down an extra layer of cloud cover. The EP also features two covers: a terrific take on Galaxie 500's "When Will You Come Home" that is noticeably different than the original but still sounding like it could've been produced by G500 collaborator Kramer (Quever in fact produced Dean Wareham's new LP); and a stately version of protest standard "The Partisan" done in the style of Leonard Cohen's version on 1969's Songs from a Room. Baxter's Bliss is a true appetizer, and hopefully we won't have to wait too long for the next proper Papercuts album.
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