Bill’s Indie Basement (1/10): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy 2020! Despite 8032 things getting announced Tuesday and Wednesday, it's not that big a week for new releases. Which is fine, it will get hairy soon. For now we've got the first big Indie Basement release of the year -- Field Music's Making a New World -- plus a little catch-up (welcome back, Jim Noir), a little on the reissue front (The Durutti Column, the Tea & Symphony compilation), and a new single from Cold Beat's upcoming DFA debut.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew's got you covered with Notable Releases and if you need more Basement-approved stuff, there's: Ty Segall and Lightning Bolt's Brian Chippendale have formed a band; Destroyer shared a third track from Have We Met; and Archers of Loaf are making a new album.
FX is now owned by Disney who also own Hulu, so the April 19 Season 4
Approaching the new album from UK group Field Music can be a little daunting. It's a 19-track concept album about the repercussions of the first World War, but don't be a scared. Peter and David Brewis, working with a full band for the first time in 14 years, have crafted another wonderful prog-pop album that here looks at history through a 2020 lens. (It's also, despite being 19 songs, only 43 minutes long.) The concept stemmed from an image in a 1919 publication on munitions by the US War Department made using “sound ranging,” a “technique that utilised an array of transducers to capture the vibrations of gunfire at the front" and then graphed them, offering a unique image of the chaos of battle. “We imagined the lines from that image continuing across the next hundred years,” says David Brewis, “and we looked for stories which tied back to specific events from the war or the immediate aftermath. In writing these songs, we felt we were pulling the war towards us — out of remembrance and into the everyday — into the now.”
Making a New World has songs about: how surgical dressings led to feminine hygiene pads ("Only in a Man's World"); facial reconstruction surgeon Harold Gillies, who later developed the first gender reassignment surgeries ("Change of Heir"); French cellist, Maurice Martenot, whose work as a radio operator led to an early synthesizer ("Common Language Pt. 1); how the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 led to the United Nations ("Between Nations"), how neutral Switzerland became a haven for forward-thinkers and artists that led to the Dadaist movement ("A Shot in the Arm"); and more.
I'm not that much of a lyrics person, to be honest, and wouldn't have known all this without some very helpful and fascinating notes that come with the album. I was already hooked by the music which, like Field Music's last few albums, seems to circle around 1975-1980, pulling from prog, folk, post-punk and new wave. Field Music have always had a little XTC in them but here, with the full band, there's a distinct English Settlement vibe, by way of Trevor Horn (who was in Yes at the same time he was producing ABC and Frankie Goes to Hollywood). The drums are big, the bass is rubbery, funky guitar riffs ping off the walls, and the harmonies are lush and lovely. The songs flow into one another, too, so you get the sense it's all of a piece even without knowing anything about it. You don't need to be a history major to appreciate the songcraft and performances, either, which are top notch. But reading the liner notes will make it a lot more captivating.
Field Music haven't toured North America in a while...please come back!
It was just last month when I noted that the debut EP from John Myrtle reminded me of bowler-hat-wearing Manchester artist Jim Noir, and now here's a new Jim Noir album! You may or may not remember Jim (real name Alan Roberts) whose 2005 debut, Tower of Love, got released in the U.S. by Barsuk and featured a whole bunch of catchy songs that hearkened back to '60s psych-pop. One of those, "Eenie Meany," was used in an Adidas ad that was played nonstop during the 2006 World Cup. You might know it and not realize who did it.
Jim has always done things his way, recording mostly by himself in his home studio, and released three albums after Tower of Love (two self-released) that went more or less unnoticed. His new one, A.M. Jazz slipped out on December 20 which is a late-year release date that only the Beyonces of the world can make work for them. Anyway, it's out, with vinyl out this week and...it's really good! There's not a lot of the Kinksy pop that typified early singles like "Eanie Meany" and "My Patch"; instead it's groovy, synth-heavy bachelor pad prog pop. If they made an Austin Powers film set in the early '70s (purely hypothetical, please don't make that Mike Myers), you could imagine A.M. Jazz as the soundtrack.
The album, which is his first in six years, opens with the closest thing to the Tower of Love sound -- the strummy, bucolic "Good Mood" that will have you swaying with its melodic bassline, harmonies and mellotron flutes. From there, though, Jim heads into outer space: "Upside Down" has a thick, interstellar synth bass that reminds me of Boards of Canada's "Roy G Biv"; "Hexagons" and "Tol Circle" are regal easy-listening numbers worthy of Air (the former with a killer, ripping guitar solo); "Feel OK" is blissfully druggy; and "Eggshell" could've been a great lost Beta Band single. The album concludes with two great extended jams: the shoegazy and somnambulistic "Lander" and the extremely chilled-out, ambient title track that, if someone made an endless loop version, I'd sleep to it every night. A.M. Jazz might not be the record to reignite Jim's career, but still finds him at the top of his charming, eccentric game. I'm very glad to have stumbled across this and caught up with his whereabouts.
Inspired by the bootleg Fading Yellow compilations of obscure psych singles, Saint Etienne crate-digger Bob Stanley curated a 2007 CD compilation titled Tea & Symphony that documented the UK's baroque psych scene of the late '60s and early '70s. It was absolutely fantastic, of interest to anyone who liked The Left Banke and The Zombies with many "why have I never heard this amazing song before?" gems. Unfortunately, the label that released it -- Sanctuary, at the time the biggest independent label in the world -- went belly-up right when it came out. Tea & Symphony was an instantly impossible to find collector's item that most people only got their hands on via file-sharing.
I've got good news and bad news and good news. First the good: Stanley, as part of a running association with reissue label ACE Records, has put together a new version of Tea & Symphony that will be out January 31 on vinyl and CD. The bad news: because of rights issues, only four of the original compilation's 24 track have made it onto the new one. My favorite songs from the original -- including two from a pre-10cc Graham Gouldman; the incredible, overwrought harpsichord-and-cor-anglais grandeur that is "Time to Wander" by John Kerruish; and the very groovy "Summer Love" by Almond Marzipan -- are nowhere to be found.
But here's the second good news: Bob Stanley has dug up another 19 tracks that are all pretty great. New here: Zombies singer Colin Blunstone's "Say You Don't Mind," Matthew Bones' "Two Sugars" (which sounds a lot like The Zombies), the Beatlesqe "I Can't Let Maggie" go by The Honeybus, and "Please Believe Me" by the other Nirvana (did you know there was another one?). It's also got Mike Batt's "Fading Yellow" that was the inspiration for the bootlegs that were the inspiration for the first Tea & Symphony. Just consider this Tea & Symphony a companion piece rather than a reissue. While ACE Records doesn't license their compilations for streaming, many of these songs are on Spotify and someone has put together a Team & Symphony playlist that will give you a good idea of what you're gonna get. Stream that below. You can also sample all 23 tracks on the order page and if you want to hear the original, some celeste-loving hero uploaded it to YouTube.
Guitarist and Manchester legend Vini Reilly has been making instrumental music as The Durutti Column for over 40 years, and his records have incorporated ambient and new age, post-punk, rock, dance, you name it but all with his nimble, inventive playing at the core. The Durutti Column were one of Factory Records' early signings and Reilly also brought his skills to Morrissey's mostly terrific 1988 solo debut, Viva Hate. One of the more underrated records in the large Durutti Column catalog, 1996's Fidelity, is getting its first-ever vinyl pressing this week via its original label, Les Disques du Crépuscule.
The mid-'90s were a time where just about everyone in England who weren't Oasis were dabbling in some kind of dance/electronic music, and on Fidelity, Reilly dove in deep, incorporating sampling, breakbeats, and elements from rave culture and trip hop into his sound. While it may have dated about a year after it was released, Fidelity has circled back around to age very well. The combination of guitar noodling and dance beats makes it easy to draw apt comparisons to Moon Duo's awesome Stars Are The Light (one of my 2019 faves). Most of it is bliss-out music, with arpeggiated synths sharing the spotlight with Reilly's fretwork. There are two songs featuring vocals from Eley Rudge which sound a lot like Saint Etienne's dubbier experiments, and when he really lets the sparks fly -- like on "Guitar for Mother" -- it nears Pink Floyd Territory. There are a few ambient numbers, too, like "Storm for Steve" that are just lovely.
This 2019 vinyl re-master features two bonus tracks: "My Only Love" was originally released in 1995 as part of a CD comp that came with a guitar magazine, and "The New Fidelity" was previously released on a Portuguese compilation album from 1992 called Hare, Hunter, Field. It also features brand new cover artwork by Crepuscule design director Benoit Hennebert, based on a portrait by Vini Reilly of filmmaker Carol Morley. You can listen to the original album below.
Cold Beat, the terrific synthpop band led by onetime Grass Widow singer/bassist Hannah Lew, are now on DFA which seems like a good fit for all involved. Their first album for the label is titled Mother and will be out February 28 and they've just released the second single from the record, the cyclical, deceptively complex "Prism." A descending riff repeats, with little flourishes (guitars, keyboards) layered on as it motors along, chorus-less. It's a hypnotic effect and rather powerful too, blossoming wondrously by the end of its 4:22 run. “It represents each band member’s individuality as a side of the prism,” says Cold Beat’s Luciano Talpini Aita.
“The music becomes the source of light, resulting in a spectrum of colors which embodies our relationship as creative partners and overall as friends. Our differences play an important role in the writing process of these songs, allowing us to conjure a certain range that defines our sound and strengthens our bond.” The video, which Lew directed, juxtaposes the chilly sounds with, of all things, country line dancing. Watch below: