Bill’s Indie Basement (7/31): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
I don't know about where you live, but here in Brooklyn, it's been hot. Very hot. So here's some cool new music this week: Fontaines D.C.'s highly anticipated (and very good) second album; The Psychedelic Furs' first album in 29 years; Astrel K, aka the solo joint from Ulrika Spacek's Rhys Edwards; and three albums of groovy, soft sounds from the 1970s (two curated by members of Saint Etienne, and the other the latest in Light in the Attic's "Pacific Breeze" Japanese City Pop series).
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew has you covered with Notable Releases. I also like, but didn't review, Purling Hiss frontman Mike Polizze's solo debut that he made with Kurt Vile and which goes down very easy. If you need more Basement-approved stuff from this week, there's: a new documentary on the way about Cleaners From Venus' Martin Newell; there's a new Ohsees album on the way; and I'm excited that we're just months away from a new Miranda July movie.
See you in August. Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Fontaines DC - A Hero's Death (Partisan)
Dublin band's anticipated second album finds them capable of both ripping post-punk and introspective atmosphere, all done with panache.
I reviewed Fontaines D.C.'s new album, which I like a lot more than their debut from last year, elsewhere on this site, but you can read an excerpt here:
Not much more than a year since releasing their debut album, Dublin's Fontaines D.C. are back with their very confident second album. A Hero's Death reteams the band with producer Dan Carey but it doesn't feel like More Dogrel. The angst is still abundant but Fontaines D.C. have loosened up, feel more comfortable in their skin and, most importantly, are getting better as songwriters...Anthemiscism can be a narrow one-lane road that straddles "rousing" and "self-righteous pandering," but Fontaines D.C. have a firm grip on the wheel.
The Psychedelic Furs - Made of Rain (Cooking Vinyl)
The first album from '80s alt-rock heros in 29 years picks up right where RIchard & Tim Butler left off, for better or worse.
One of the most iconic alternative bands of the '80s, The Psychedelic Furs roared into the decade with their noisy post-punk debut, became MTV/new wave superstars with "Love My Way" and "The Ghost in You," and then had their great early single "Pretty in Pink" totally misinterpreted by director John Hughes for his 1986 hit Molly Ringwald film of the same name. Unfortunately, from there the band finished the decade having what edge they had left polished out, apart from singer Richard Butler's signature rasp. (1987's Midnight to Midnight has not aged well.) They attempted a course correction with 1989's Book of Days but the group petered out shortly after 1991's Book of Days.
After spending the '90s successfully reinventing themselves as Love Spit Love, Richard and his brother Tim reactivated the P-Furs in 2000 and have been touring pretty much ever since seemingly content to rest on their laurels. At least till now. Why? "I don't even know,” Butler told Yahoo Music. “I mean, I think I spent 25 years saying, ‘Why?’ and then four years saying, ‘Why not?’" And then we just did it. We were a very creative force, and when we started writing songs, it just happened quite naturally."
Made of Rain is pretty good as far as comebacks go. Richard Butler's voice, which sounds just like you remember, instantly lets you know where you are. There's saxophone, but not that terrible '80s saxophone from the recorded "Pretty in Pink" or "Heartbreak Beat." (Need more reeds? There is also some oboe, which works.) And, importantly, Richard Butler feels present, allowing him to deliver ponderous, arty lyrics like "A flight of crows my insect heart" with the melodrama you expect, and his smoky voice is remarkably well preserved. He sounds great. And the album gets off to a terrific start with the blast of gothy, bombastic skronk that is "The Boy Who Invented Rock & Roll."
With all these boxes being checked, one unfortunately is not: the tunes. Made of Rain is not without melody; "Don't Believe," "Wrong Train," "No One" and "Come All Ye Faithful" all have hooks and swagger, but too much of the album skates by on vibe and atmosphere without anything to really grab you. At 52 minutes, they could've (should've) cut two songs and made it a much punchier album. As for the atmosphere and vibe, the production is rich and modern, but is also closer sonically to Love Spit Love than the Furs. Having LSL member Richard Fortus as producer here probably has something to do with it, as does the abscence of guitarist John Ashton (this is the only Furs album not to have him on board). While shamelessly recreating your past would be a bad move, having something on the album that tipped its hat ever so lightly to their early-'80s heyday would've been welcome. Made of Rain's title may make some think of the video for their classic single "Heaven," but nothing on this well-crafted record is going to displace it.
Astral K - "You Could If You Can" bw/ "Gnistrande Snö" (Duophonic Super 45s)
Ulrika Spacek's Rhys Edwards releases his solo debut single on Stereolab's label. If all those words mean something to you, you're gonna like it.
Rhys Edwards, who fronts the excellent UK krautrock-leaning psych band Ulrika Spacek, has been spending time in Stockholm lately and recording music as Astrel K. Two of those recordings make up his debut solo single, released on Duophonic Super 45s, the label run by Stereolab's Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier (and their longtime manager, Martin Pike). If you like the prettier, more melodic side of Ulrika Spacek, as heard on 2017's excellent Suggestive Listening EP, this is an even poppier version of that.
A-side "You Could if You Can," knicks a bit of melody from Carly Simon's Bond theme "Nobody Does it Better," in a seductive indie rock kind of way, with some bleeps and bloops filling things out (and perhaps meeting Duophonic's analogue synth quota). "Gnistrande Snö," nods to Rhys' current home and feels like a sparkling, crisp winter's day in Scandinavia. While I hope Ulrika Spacek aren't finito, I also look forward to more from Astrel K.
This 7" is limited to 492 copies, order yours while you can.
Various Artists - Saint Etienne Present Songs For The Fountain Coffee Room (Ace Records)
Ever since 2004's Songs for Mario's Cafe, Saint Etienne have been regularly releasing expertly curated "mood" compilations of generally chill but engaging pop, mostly from the '60s and '70s. The latest in the "Saint Etienne Presents" series is Songs For The Fountain Coffee Room which they imagined for "a bar in mid-70s Los Angeles, the kind of place where Warren Beatty and Julie Christie might meet in the afternoon for a secret rendezvous between shooting scenes for Shampoo."
It definitely sounds like mid-'70s L.A., with tracks by Delegation (the great "Oh Honey"), Marvin Gaye ("Where Are We Going"), Seals & Crofts, Ned Doheny, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons (from their underrated Motown years), early Hall & Oates ballad "Lily (Are You Happy?)," Bobbie Gentry, Todd Rundgren's Utopia, and more.
The band add, "Amid the potted palms, the pace is strictly mid-tempo. The windows are wide open, the sky is a clear blue, and this is the perfect summer soundtrack. Warren’s drinking a Tom Collins, Julie’s having a Sloe Gin Fizz (she’s too English to ask for a Slow Screw). Amid the potted palms, the pace is strictly mid-tempo; it’s too warm for anything faster. It’s the right place and the right time to take your time."
Saint Etienne Present Songs For The Fountain Coffee Room is out today via Ace Records and while it's not on streaming services, here's a playlist with everything that's on Spotify:
Various Artists - Bob Stanley Presents '76 In The Shade' (Ace)
Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley is back with another ace compilation, this time focusing on the smoothest of '70s sounds.
If Songs for the Fountain Coffee Room left you wanting more, tastemaker, crate-digger, historian and Saint Etienne member Bob Stanley has curated another of his themed compilations for Ace Records, this time focusing on the smooth sounds of the 1970s. Specifically he looks at the long hot summer of 1976: "The months without rain and airless days and nights might not have been something out of the ordinary in the Algarve or the South of France, but it was without precedent in Britain," Bob writes. "There was a Minister for Drought. There were stand pipes. Reservoirs in Wales resembled parched African plains. The country melted into a collective puddle. This compilation probably wasn’t anyone’s soundtrack of the year – that could have included Bowie’s ‘Station To Station’, Peter Tosh’s ‘Legalize It’ and Abba, who dominated the singles and album charts. Instead, this is an attempt to sonically evoke the summer of 1976 itself, its sweet heat and almost narcotic lethargy."
As usual, Stanley mixes out junkshop curiosities (Azymuth? Blue Mink?) with deep cuts from hitmakers of the era like 10cc, Steve Miller Band, Cliff Richard, Smokey Robinson and Jefferson Starship. There are also a couple groups named after roadways or trains (Liverpool Express, Hollywood Freeway). Most of the songs have wonderfully drippy strings, low BPMs, and lyrics about gettin' it on. There are also a few numbers, like Azymuth's "Montreal City" and John Cameron's "Liquid Sunshine", that sound like the blueprint for Air's whole discography. 76 Degrees in the Shade is the sonic equivalent of a soft focus photo of a deep pile shag rug. Which is to say it's very groovy, enjoyable listen.
Ace Records doesn't put their compilations on streaming services, so you'll wanna order this one in physical form, but someone has tracked down all the songs that are available on Spotify and put them all in a playlist:
Various Artists - Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1972-1986 (Light in the Attic)
...and if 76 Degrees in the Shade and Songs From the Fountain Coffee Room still left you wanting more lite rock, disco and breezy sounds, Light in the Attic are back with a second volume of their Pacific Breeze series which compiles smooth Japanese pop of the '70s and '80s. Specifically, we're talking "City Pop," a subgenre that the label describes as “amalgam of AOR, R&B, jazz fusion, funk, boogie and disco, all a touch dizzy with tropical euphoria.” City Pop is one of those things that is nebulous and hard to succinctly define, but you know it when you hear it. Think of it this way: what if a whole bunch of Japanese artists heard Boz Scaggs' "Lowdown" and immediately thought "this is the future of music."
And maybe it was! If you like kitchy hipsters like TOPS, Jerry Paper or the entire French Touch scene, you may already own these Pacific Breeze comps, but if not they're loaded with disco strings, timbales, starlit synths, funky clavinet, the cleanest of guitar tones, jazz odysseys, Stevie Wonder style harmonica, and grooves that Dr Dre might've sampled in 1992. Are they cheesy? 100%. Are they fun with some serious musicianship? Also 100%. Vol 2 just came out but both are recommended and have bitchin' album art.
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.