Indie Basement (3/12): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: San Francisco's Cool Ghouls evoke their hometown's Summer of Love heritage on their fourth album; Gang of Four's original lineup output is compiled into one fantastic box set; Metronomy celebrate the 10th anniversary of The English Riviera with a special edition; and Montreal's Freelove Fenner return with their first album in eight years.
For more new album reviews, Andrew looks at Valerie June and more in Notable Releases. For more Basement-approved stuff from this week: I interviewed Gang of Four's Hugo Burnham about the new box set; Stephen Malkmus & Von Spar's live album cover of Can's Ege Bamyasi is finally on streaming services; Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie is releasing a memoir that will have to work hard not to be totally entertaining; a bunch of current 4AD bands are covering older 4AD bands; and Matt Berry has a new album on the way.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Cool Ghouls - At George's Garage (Empty Cellar / Melodic)
San Francisco band channel the rich rock heritage of their hometown on their ambitious, excellent fourth album.
San Francisco's Cool Ghouls have never quite fit into the San Francisco garage rock scene they've been lumped in with. Yes they do generally have a bash-it-out style, not to mention this new album does have "garage" in the title, but a better indicator is the company they keep. Their debut album was produced by the Fresh & Onlys' Tim Cohen, their second was produced by Sonny Smith, and their third was produced by Kelley Stoltz -- that's an A-team right there. There's not much of a garage rock scene left in S.F. anyway --Oh Sees or Ty Segall both left for L.A. years ago -- and Cool Ghouls really have more in common with West Coast bands from the Summer of Love.
At George's Garage, their fourth album and first in four years, is their most accomplished yet, indebted to their city's rich musical heritage while showcasing their formidable skills as songwriters, arrangers and musicians. This is a lush production, rich with harmonies, strings, horns, and keyboards, which compliment the songs and lead vocals of guitarist Pat McDonald and bassist Pat Thomas. (Pretty impressive given it was recorded in an actual garage and self-produced.) The album at times plays like 1967 in a nutshell -- one killer, stacked show featuring The Byrds, The Mamas & The Papas, The 13th Floor Elevators, Love, Jefferson Airplane, The Lovin' Spoonful, and The Turtles. While playing in some disparate, albeit parallel, styles, the Pats and the rest of the band make it all come together. Quite literally on the album's closing five-song suite, that seamlessly glides from surfy pop to groovy psychedelica to a closing homage to The Grateful Dead. San Francisco is a much different city than when they started 10 years ago (or even last year this time) but its spirit lives on.
Gang of Four - 77-81 (Matador)
The original gang's (almost) complete works, plus a live album and demos, all in a fantastic package. Essential.
For a lot of people Gang of Four are the sound of post-punk. A driving anger-fueled energy, mixed with a little funk, a little disco, a little dub and those guitars that only seemed to be described as "angular." There were a lot of bands from the late-'70s and early-'80s who fit that bill but Gang of Four were among the first and definitely one of the best, especially when we're talking about the fearsome original lineup of guitarist Andy Gill (RIP), singer Jon King, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham. Almost all of the classic lineup's recorded works are in this new box set, including the indispensable Entertainment! and Solid Gold, the singles that ended up on the Yellow and Another Day Another Dollar EPs, plus a fantastic live album, a cassette packed with demos, a gorgeous 100-page book, and a couple of buttons/badges to boot.
I review the whole thing here, and I interviewed drummer Hugo Burnham about it (and lots more) here. You can order the 77-81 vinyl box set in the BV shop. Matador is also releasing single-disc remastered editions of Entertainment! and Solid Gold on April 23 and you can preorder those in our shop as well.
Metronomy - The English Riviera: 10th Anniversary Edition (Because Music)
Indie Basement's #12 Best Album of the 2010s -- and home of "The Look" -- is celebrating a decade in existence with this special edition featuring six unreleased tracks.
Is Metronomy's third album, the fantastic The English Riviera, really 10 years old? A quick search through our site reveals it is indeed. 2011, I miss ya! It's the band's best album and it came in at #12 on the Indie Basement Best Albums of the 2010s list:
Purveyors of twitchy, decidedly British disco, Metronomy widened their reach on their third album, embracing sweeter melodies and mellowing things out in the best, most charming ways. There was still the twitchy, nervous nu rave of Nights Out (see "The Bay," "She Wants," "Corrine") but main man Joseph Mount also dabbles in guitar pop on "Trouble" and "Everything Goes My Way" (a duet with Veronica Falls' Roxanne Clifford), '70s soft rock ("Some Written") and more. Best of all is the shuffling "The Look," which is Metronomy's best ever single and one of my favorite songs of the decade. Mount comes from such a deeply weird, unique creative space that no matter what style he's playing with, it ultimately just sounds like Metronomy.
While it is sad, personally, that a decade has slipped away, there is a snazzy new 10th anniversary edition of The English Riviera available that will be out April 30 via Because Music. (Pre-order it.). It's a double disc vinyl set, featuring the original album -- including recent classics"The Bay," "Everything Goes My Way" and everyone's favorite Metronomy song, "The Look" -- on the first disc, and then the second disc has six previously unreleased outtakes on the first side and a cool etching of the cover art palm trees on the flip. One of those outtakes is called "Jazz Odyssey" and who wouldn't want to listen to that? You'll have to wait till April for that one, but you can listen to another of the outtakes, a warbly, tinkly and rather charming number titled "Picking Up for You," plus the original album:
PS: Metronomy's full catalog is now on Bandcamp.
Freelove Fenner - The Punishment Zone (Moone Records)
First album in eight years from this smooth, quirky Montreal group.
I caught Freelove Fenner at the 2015 Pop Montreal Festival and while I can't say I've thought about them a lot since, I do distinctly remember their set -- they had a minimal, almost clinical sound that reminded me of Lilliput, Young Marble Giants and Broadcast. ("What doesn't remind of you Broadcast, Bill?" - All my coworkers.) 2015 seems like forever ago, and it's been even longer (2013) since they've made an album. But they're back, out of nowhere (still Montreal, actually), and just released their third album, The Punishment Zone, the title of which sounds like it should be an industrial album from 1988.
Freelove Fenner have not turned into Front 242, but they are also not the brittle band I remember from 2015. The Punishment Zone sways between loungey, jazzy pop and arch new wave. There's still a scientific process going on here -- track titles include "LED Museum" and I think "Baxter's Column" mentions "microbes" -- but this is warm, charmingly off kilter music. Caitlin Loney's slightly detached but inviting vocals are perfect for light and low key music like this that at times sounds like a future version of The Carpenters. I think my favorite song is "New Wave Pool," which sounds just like I'd hope it would with a title like that, with Caitlin sounding quizzical singing lines like "How will you fix your gaze down in the modern age?" over an ethereal wash that is a bit like Passions' "I'm in Love with a German Film Star."
The Punishment Zone is a whimsical album that also sounds like the cover art (see above) which features slice-and-diced statues and fruit; they've taken a convention of art and reworked for their slightly slanted world. I feel a little bad that I haven't wondered "what happened to that cool band I saw in Montreal back when Obama was still President?" but I'm glad they're back and back in my life.
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