Indie Basement (6/17): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: Flasher, Sun's Signature (Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser), TV Priest, former Shack and Pale Fountains frontman Michael Head, Hercules and Love Affair (ft ANOHNI and Budgie), Fresh Pepper (Andre Ethier & Joel Shabason), Sound of Ceres, and Melts.
For more new album reviews, Andrew listens to Bartees Stranger, Perfume Genius, and more in Notable Releases. It was also a big week for news, with new album announcements from Dry Cleaning, Preoccupations, The Soft Moon, Jockstrap, The Beths, Lambchop, Marina Allen, and Whitney. and The Libertines' Up the Bracket is getting a 20th Anniversary box set. Also: IKEA is making a turntable that may or may not need an allen wrench to put together.
Please visit the Indie Basement section of the BV shop where you can find hand-selected (by me) vinyl albums, books and merch, including stuff by Pavement, Broadcast, Stereolab, Horsegirl, Aldous Harding, Wet Leg, My Bloody Valentine, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Dinosaur Jr, Pixies, Sparks, King Hannah, The Cure, Cate Le Bon, Low and more.
Head below for this week's reviews...
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Flasher - Love Is Yours (Domino)
Now a duo, Flasher are reimagined in poppier, more interesting and better form on their second album
Had you forgotten about Flasher? The group led by onetime Priests bassist Taylor Mulitz released their Breeders-esque debut album, Constant Image, in 2018 and four years is a long time to go between records when you make trad indie rock and are playing small clubs. Mind you, two of those years were the pandemic which both makes the gap between albums seem shorter and longer at the same time. But it's actually ok if you forgot about them, because Flasher are basically an entirely new -- not to mention better and more interesting -- band now.
During the pandemic, bassist Daniel Saperstein left the group and Mulitz and drummer Emma Baker reimagined the band as a duo where they each had equal role creatively. "We wanted to write songs that came intuitively," Mulitz said. "We were leaning into that while consciously creating a real space of trust and openness.” Writing and recording together without the constraints of a traditional band dynamic led Mulitz and Baker (who now share lead vocals duties) to mellower, dancier, poppier territory, using the studio as an instrument. There are songs on their debut album that point in this direction, but the creative freedom they gave themselves on Love is Yours clearly paid off.
Guitars and bass are still prominent and songs remain riff-based, but you could never imagine the Flasher of five years ago releasing a song like "Damage" that leans heavily into loop-based recording and drops some funky beats into a My Bloody Valentine dreampop framework. There's also the breezy, fun "Sideways" that, with its jazzy chording and immediately appealing counterpoint vocal harmonies and synth hooks, is a party at sundown, while the infectious title track sounds like it could've been a crossover hit in the late '90s when indie rock and electronica were being actively cross-bred. More than anything, though, it's Mulitz and Baker's melodic instincts and co-lead vocals that make this record so replayable. Long live the new Flasher.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Fresh Pepper - Fresh Pepper (Telephone Explosion)
This wonderfully jazzy concept album about the daily grind of the restaurant industry features a side order of Dan Bejar
Andre Ethier and Joel Shabason are Toronto music scene vets and longtime friends: Ethier led soulful garage rock band The Deadly Snakes in the '90s before going solo, and Shabason is an in-demand saxophonist (among other things) who has played on records by Destroyer (Kaputt would not be Kaputt without him), Austra, Born Ruffians, and more. Shabason played in Ethier's solo band in the late-'00s and more recently played on his 2021 album Further Up Island. (Ethier, meanwhile, painted the artwork for Shabason's 2017 album Aytche.) While working on that album, they traded stories about their individual experiences working in the restaurant and hospitality industry and they hit on the idea of making a record about it.
The result is Fresh Pepper which is both the name of their group and the title of their debut. If you ever wanted Steely Dan to make a concept album about the daily grind of kitchen staff and waiters, it might go a little something like this. Across eight jazzy, groovy songs, Ethier and Shabason lay out a day in the life, from prep cooks who find themselves in the weeds and faced with new ways to chop onions, to post work partying, late, late night meals in Chinatown, and the infuriating sound of the alarm that always comes too soon. Robin Dann and Felicity Williams, who have sung on records by The Weather Station and Beverly Glenn-Copeland, provide heavenly backup vocals and Dan Bejar shows up on "Seahorse Tranquilizer" as a spaced-out, Bejar-esque diner who spouts surreal nonsequiteurs like "guitars floating down the river, they just want to be free." Sultry sax and flute and twinkling piano guild the lily like truffles and first-cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. It's delicious bite after delicious bite -- never say no to an offer of Fresh Pepper.
Sun's Signature - Sun's Signature EP (Partisan)
The Voice of God returns
While Elizabeth Fraser has lent her one-of-a-kind voice to a number of projects since Cocteau Twins went kaputt, she has released almost no music where she is the primary artist. So it's a real treat to get this EP where her voice is front and center across the whole thing. Sun's Signature are formally a duo, a collaboration between Liz and her partner and Massive Attack drummer Damon Reece but this, perhaps more than any other record she has ever been on, is by design a delivery device for her Voice of God.
It's also not new. Opening track "Underwater" first appeared on a very limited edition Fraser solo single in 2000 (yes, 22 years ago) when Massive Attack's "Teardrop" was a very recent memory, and the other four songs are at least a decade old if not more. It sounds it, too, with very dawn of millenium production touchstones, mixing trip hop and baroque psychedelia in a way -- dubby rhythms, Bond theme beats, flutes, harps, and harpsichords -- that suggests everyone involved got slipped an advance copy of Goldfrapp's Felt Mountain. But who cares. Five previously unreleased (or barely released) Elizabeth Fraser songs where the music is doing everything to support That Voice, that still amazing voice, justifies its existence. It's better than that justification, too, with so many transcendent moments, almost all of which come from Fraser's mouth.
Sun's Signature also sounds expensive enough -- the luxurious "Golden Air" and "Bluedusk" are the aural equivalent of walking through a Ridley Scott fantasy film -- it makes you wonder why this sat around on the shelf for so long, and why it's just finally getting released, at least initially, just as a Record Store Day exclusive. (It will get a digital release in July.) Liz may be too demure and humble to demand your respect, but one listen to this and it apparent it deserves to be presented as more than curio. Kneel!
Hercules & Love Affair - In Amber (Skint)
ANOHNI collaborates with Hercules & Love Affair for the first time since the "Blind" era, but this ain't no disco. Banshees drummer Budgie adds to the gothy vibe.
Hercules & Love Affair's self-titled 2007 debut album is a mid-'00s Brooklyn/DFA disco classic powered by bandleader Andy Butler's deep love of the genre and, in no small part, ANOHNI's powerhouse vocals on such still-great bangers like "Blind," "You Belong," and "Raise Me Up." For the first time since then, ANHONI has returned to the H&LA fold for In Amber. This one's a little different, though. OK, very different. Andy Butler moves beyond the disco and house sounds associated with group, citing things like Throbbing Gristle, Dead Can Dance and Diamanda Galas as influences this time. "In dance music, the focus tends to be more on celebration, joy, desire, heartbreak,” Butler says. “But rage? Existential contemplation? Not so much…certain emotions seemed to be off limits. In some ways, In Amber is a record I didn’t know I had in me.”
The Dead Can Dance reference point is dead-on and ANOHNI, who co-wrote and co-produced much of In Amber, is a perfect collaborator. Her sonorous, sorrowful voice is just as at home with the early-'80s 4AD vibe on searing, seething tracks "Christian Prayer," "Contempt for You," and "Who Will Save Us?" as is it is on the group's warehouse party four-on-the-floor jams. Adding to the vibe are Icelandic singer Elin Ey and former Siouxsie & The Banshees drummer Budgie whose distinctive, tom-heavy thump is immediately recognizable on the darkest numbers, including the very DCD-sounding "You've Won This War." For those want the dance minus the dead, the ANOHNI-sung "One" would fit right in at any goth night worth its black eyeliner.
Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band - Dear Scott (Modern Sky)
The former Shack and Pale Fountains frontman returns with a wonderful new album produced by Coral co-founder Bill Ryder-Jones
Michael Head is a Liverpool cult legend, having led sophistipop group The Pale Fountains in the early-'80s, and then with jangly neo-merseybeat group Shack helped lay the groundwork for Britpop. With both bands (that also featured his brother, John), Head was tipped for fame which never quite happened, due to bad timing, bad habits and some spectacularly bad luck. He's a survivor though and for the last 10 years has made music with new ensemble Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band, following in the mersey-psych mold of Shack. Dear Scott is their second album and was produced with great affection and reverence by another Liverpool native, Bill Ryder-Jones, whose former band The Coral owed almost everything they had to Head that wasn't already claimed by The La's or The Beatles. Head has one of those voices that just gets better with age, and his writing is lived-in, too; these songs are full of nostalgia, hard-earned wisdom and wit, not to mention wistful melodies full of "bah bah bahs" and heart-tugging strings and horns. Named for F. Scott Fitzgerald, who famous said "There's no second acts in American lives," Dear Scott proves this Liverpudlian has more lives than an alley cat.
TV Priest - My Other People (Sub Pop)
London post-punk group move beyond IDLES and The Fall comparisons on their nuanced second album.
When London's TV Priest arrived on the scene a few years ago, the band would duck IDLES comparisons only to be hit with an uppercut reference to The Fall. Lazy as those side-by-sides may have been, they weren't entirely unfounded given the band's noisy brand of post-punk and frontman Charlie Drinkwater's baritone sprechgesang howl. (McLusky was probably the most accurate analogue though.) It's tough to make any of those analogies with My Other People, which finds them dialing back the anger just a tad and adding melody and atmosphere in its place. "We wanted to discuss love, loss and joy too," says Drinkwater who is singing more than shouting this time. "It’s a record about personal disintegration and destruction, but also rebuilding again after this.” Nic Beuth's dark, flinty basslines still drive things but there's a new world of sound around them that offers rays of sunshine among the clouds of Brexit, Trump and the last two years of gloom that still hang over the skyline.
Sound of Ceres - Emerald Sea (Joyful Noise)
Marina Abramović narrates Sound Of Ceres' widescreen concept album about "how the universe comes to know itself"
Emerald Sea opens with conceptual artist and MoMA staring contest champion Marina Abramović intoning "I am the universe" which is immediately followed by the kind of orchestral crash that sounds like the universe actually being created. NYC dreampop group Sound of Ceres have never lacked theatricality -- live shows a few years ago made great dramatic use of lasers and mirrors -- but they really lean into it on this concept album that "tells the story of how the universe comes to know itself." Abramović narrates the whole thing, but isn't too much of an omnipresent voice, with most of the record blasting us with trippy, catchy, sweeping, widescreen psych pop. (Like Sun's Signature, found elsewhere in this column, Goldfrapp's Felt Mountain seems like an influence.) Having listened to this album a dozen or so times, I can't say I follow the plot but Emerald Sea is nonetheless bewitching. I'm betting it will all make more sense live and I look forward to seeing how Sound of Ceres pull it off.
Melts - Maelstrom (Mother Sky)
This Dublin band's debut album is both cavernous and claustrophobic, danceable and drony
Dublin's Melts make gothy, driving post-punk that, on their debut album, sticks to very specific sonic guidelines. The drumming is relentless and motorik, the basslines are laid down via a blobby analogue synthesizer that pounds out eighth notes, and everything else seems to come from old combo organs and synths, while frontman Eoin Kenny bellows melodramatically overtop. It's a distinctive brand of krautrock psych that's part early Primary Colours-era Horrors and part Clinic by way of early Echo & The Bunnymen / Teardrop Explodes. Daniel Fox of Gilla Band (formerly Girl Band) produced, giving everything a sound that is both cavernous and claustrophobic. If ATP Fest still existed, Melts would be the new belles of the ball.
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.
And check out what's new in our shop.