Indie Basement (4/23): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
After a couple somewhat fallow Fridays, this week's Indie Basement is overflowing with things I like a whole lot: Field Music are back with their most enjoyable record in a while; Dinosaur Jr keep doing what they do on Album #12 and bless 'em for it; a preview of Róisín Murphy entirely reworked version of last year's great Róisín Machine; Kero Kero Bonito examine Civilizations' past, present and future on their new EP; Bertrand Burgalat has a new album on the way, along with a reissue of his debut album; and Tangled Shoelaces are the best early-'80s Australian indie band you've never heard of.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew has you covered in this week's Notable Releases. A few other albums from this week that I'm not writing about but do recommend: Sonic Boom's remix album, and the late Alan Vega's "lost" album Mutator. and the vinyl reissue of Life Without Buildings' Any Other City.
Today's reviews are not the only Basement-approved stuff from the week. There's also: The Scientists are making their first record in over 30 years; A Place To Bury Strangers have a new EP on the way; and Sparks and Leos Carax's long-in-the-works movie musical Annette is opening this year's Cannes Film Festival and looks amazing (and we won't have to wait long to see it).
Read on for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Field Music - Flat White Moon (Memphis Industries)
Another terrific album from one of the most consistently great, underrated groups of the last 15 years
Musical polymaths Peter and David Brewis have been making amazing music as Field Music since 2005. They're better players at their worst instrument than the average dedicated member of another band, and absorb a wide variety of styles and genres into their distinct, proggy, decidedly British sound, from funk, to folk, new wave, and straight-up pop. That said, the Brexit/Trump years produced two of Field Music's more difficult records -- 2017's technically impressive but clinical Open Here and 2019's historically based concept album Making a New World -- that were easier to appreciate than they were to enjoy.
No so with Flat White Moon, the band's best album since 2016's Commontime. I'm not sure if this tops that one -- my personal #1 album of that year -- but it's up there, and is one of the most relaxed, natural records in their discography. Originally, they planned to make the album with the whole live band, "rocking the hell out, playing together, back to basics, that kind of thing," Peter told us. Of course, the pandemic ended up both delaying recording and giving them a lot more time to fiddle with things. Despite becoming more of a studio record than they'd originally intended you can still feel the initial idea.
It's fun, too. The band cite Prince, Parliament and sample-heavy sonic collage records like De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising and Beck Odelay as specific inspirations and you can hear that on tracks like album closer "You Get Better," though their brand of funk is probably more Edwyn Collins than Bootsy Collins, with a wonderful little guitar hook right out of Orange Juice's playbook. There's also "In This City," with a nasty, descending, new-wavey riff that plays nice with a slippery synth bassline. "No Pressure," an homage to David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure," is a wildly entertaining sonic experiment as well as a viscous takedown of sociopathic capitalism. .
Flat White Moon also has a couple of Field Music's most straightforward pop songs ever, both of which are courtesy David. "Do Me a Favour" struts like vintage Nick Lowe with a soaring, harmony filled middle eighth. Then there's "I'm The One Who Wants To Be With You," a lean, sparse rocker that is a little more complicated lyrically, cynical of love songs, but it wastes no time getting to the point and getting out. Peter, meanwhile, delivers a couple gorgeous stunners. "Not When You're In Love," which also takes a complicated look at the heart, is a gorgeously arranged song that really sinks in after a couple of listens. "Orion from the Street," that opens the album, may be its high point, a soaring, romantic, hallucinatory pop song where sweeping piano and flute sound like the constellations gazed upon in the song.
Field Music are never going to be a group like Slade or Grand Funk Railroad (not that you'd want them to), the "head" is always going to be there, but Flat White Moon rocks, grooves and sways with real feeling.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Dinosaur Jr - Sweep It Into Space (Jagjaguwar)
J, Lou and Murph are so consistent in their output it's easy to take them for granted but their 12th album -- co-produced by Kurt Vile -- is terrific.
After 36 years and 11 albums, we pretty much know what to expect from a new Dinosaur Jr album: Fuzzed-out guitars, perfectly ragged leads, some big hooks and catchy choruses, and a song or two from Lou. That's the way it should be, too. Like Guided by Voices or Bob Mould, the band all but invented a particular strain of indie rock that's still being aped today, and you can trace almost everything J Mascis has done to the template set with 1987's You're Living All Over Me. You don't really want them to do anything else, and J, Lou and Murph are remarkably consistent, not just in style but also in quality. What seemed like one of the most unlikely reunions -- J and Lou making up and playing nice after years of bad blood -- back in 2005 has given us a second act that continues to pay off. Dinosaur Jr are so dependable, in fact, it's easy to take them for granted. But then J slides into his falsetto, like on "I Expect it Always" from their new album Sweep it Into Space, before launching into a particularly ripping solo, and you remember why you love them.
Did you know that we've got a whole bunch of Dinosaur Jr records in the BV shop? We do!
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: Róisín Murphy - Crooked Machine (Skint)
Róisín Murphy hands the controls to DJ Parrot who remixes her 2020 album to his own awesome whims
Róisín Murphy's Róisín Machine, one of 2020's best, had the former Moloko singer teaming with old pal DJ Parrot (aka Crooked Man aka Richard Barratt of All Seeing I) for a joyous album of modern house and disco. Their sessions produced many different versions of the album's tracks, and while Róisín ultimately imposed Murphy's Law on the original Machine, she is now letting Parrot have his way with it on this entirely reworked version of the album.
“Parrot doesn’t try to be ‘cool’, I reckon that’s the last thing on his mind," says Róisín. "He makes music with a real sense of responsibility to the craft. He just cannot make rubbish music, he’d be too ashamed. So everything he is and everything he has learned, is put into everything he does. I think Crooked Machine is one of his greatest achievements so far. I left him and Fat Dave to their own devices on this and they have outdone themselves! I absolutely love it!! I think I prefer it to the original album, slightly less me and all the more ‘cool’ for it!”
Where Róisín Machine was eccentric disco in the best possible way, Parrot turns the tracks into much more of a pure electronic house record, stripping things down and tripping them out for more of a sensory overload experience. He also renames the tracks ("Simulation" becomes "Assimilation," for example), reorders things, and makes it all one seamless hour of dancefloor bliss. In Crooked Machine's cleverest, moment, he fuses "We Got Together" and "Murphy's Law" into new track "We Are the Law" that is also a hat tip to fellow Sheffielders The Human League's Judge Dread tribute from Dare. The record ends with its best track, "Hardcore Jealousy," that fuel-injects "Jealousy" with breakbeats to leave things as sweaty as possible. Much more than your average remix record circa 2021, Crooked Machine is a fantastic, fully realized companion piece that dances on its own.
Crooked Machine is out digitally on April 30 and is getting a vinyl release for Record Store Day on June 12.
Kero Kero Bonito - Civilization II (Polyvinyl)
KKB have shown remarkable staying power and are still getting better
After a couple records where they (very capably) flirted with guitar pop, shoegaze and other trad indie rock styles, Kero Kero Bonito headed back to Laptopland for 2019's Civilization I EP. They seem content there, or quarantined at least, for this Civilization sequel featuring three terrific new songs that absolutely gleam with plastic promise. It's a concept EP of sorts, three visions of humanity's past, present and future. "The Princess and the Clock" is a classic folk tale given a maximalist, glitchy, synthy remake with an infectious chorus; "21/04/20" is a day in the life of lockdown, complete with "a late leftover pasta breakfast, enthusiastic joggers and friendship conducted over video call," all set to a funky citypop groove; and "Well Rested," a serious dancefloor workout that doubles as a "humanist manifesto for the Anthropocene." Seven years ago, KKB seemed like a group who could release one mixtape and disappear, but they've shown remarkable staying power. "We have survived one hundred apocalypses," proclaims Sarah Bonito in "Well Rested," noting "Doomsday hasn't come yet."
Tangled Shoelaces - Turn My Dial and "Bordumb" video (Chapter Music)
A welcome spotlight is shone on this obscure early-'80s Australian group, with a baker's dozen of unheard and very good songs.
Australian label Chapter Music is one of the great champions of its country's rich post-punk and indiepop heritage with regular excavations of lesser-known, mostly forgotten bands who deserve more attention. The latest is a new compilation of short-lived Brisbane group Tangled Shoelaces, who were formed in 1980 by siblings Stephen, Lucy and Martin Mackerras when they were all between 10-14. With neighbor Leigh Nelson on drums, the very young band made music sophisticated beyond their years. The band only released a seven-song cassette and a four-song self-released 7" EP before calling it quits when their oldest member was just 18.
Turn My Dial has the entire 7" and five of the cassette's tracks, and then adds another 13 unreleased ones. Some of those unreleased songs -- "Oceans Away," "Political Jokes," "Bordumb," "World" -- are fantastic. While some tracks are clearly the roughest of demos, a lot of this sounds as good as your favorite The Clean record, with more ambitious arrangements (is that an oboe?), coming off like a mix of The Go-Betweens, The Chills and Young Marble Giants. Just when you think you've heard it all, you get something like this.
You can listen to Turn My Dial below, along with a never-before-seen video for "Bordumb" (written by Martin when he was 14) that uses Super-8 footage from 1984, which premieres right here.
Bertrand Burgalat - "L’homme idéal" ++ The Sssound of Mmmusic vinyl reissue (Tricatel)
First single from Robert Wyatt-approved French mood master's new album ++ his classic 2000 debut is getting a vinyl reissue
One of my favorite Frenchman, Bertrand Burgalat, is back with his first new album in four years. It's titled Rêve Capital and will be out June 11 via his label Tricatel. If you're unfamiliar, Bertrand makes suave, lush lounge/disco that gets all the sounds just so. You can hear Serge Gainsbourg and Ennio Morricone in his records, not to mention The Bee Gees, Air and Stereolab. Drums are crisp like a boxed shirt, basslines are groovy, synthesizers are all vintage analogue, and sweeping strings make everything tres chic. Bertrand doesn't have the strongest voice but he's developed a half-sung style that fits in elegantly, and he has plenty of backup singers to sweeten things up nicely. I don't know a whole lot about the new album but I trust Robert Wyatt who made a great single with Bertrand in 2007 and has delivered an inside-jacket type quote: "Bertrand Burgalat’s new record is wonderful: BRILLIANT.” Would you dare distrust Robert Wyatt?
The first single, "L’homme idéal," is a cheeky critique on male posturing that comes in two versions: the album version is laid back, like a drive through Provence in May; while the Yuksek "Radio Edit" is much more than an edit, upping the tempo just a little, pushing up the faders on the kick, snare and handclaps, adding bongos, Nile Rodgers-style funky guitar for a disco at sea extravaganza. I love it. For the music video, director Carol Teillard D'Eyry has combed through YouTube for all sorts of examples of the "ideal man" as Bertrand playfully boasts, "L’homme idéal -- c'est moi."
Meanwhile, Bertrand is also reissuing his great debut album, The Sssound of Mmmusic, on vinyl for the first time since its initial release 21 years ago. It made the Indie Basement Best Albums of 2000 list:
By the end of the '90s, people may have been burnt out on on the whole '60s lounge thing and figured one retro-future French band was enough, but thankfully that never stopped the brilliant Bertrand Burgalat who straddled the line between lush bachelor pad nostalgia and the French Touch disco scene that was pushing things forward at the turn of the century. His debut album, The Sssound Of Mmmusic, is a fully realized sonic world; groovy and glitchy, playful and inviting, endlessly delightful.
In addition to the original album back on wax, there's a second vinyl disc featuring b-sides, unreleased songs and other rarities that have never been on vinyl before, like his cover of Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love."
Unfortunately from what I can tell it's only available in the UK and Europe which means current shipping costs that may be prohibitive for some. Maybe Biden will work out better rates once he gets this pandemic licked. In the meantime, luxuriate in the original:
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