Indie Basement (6/4): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy June, everybody. This week: Greentea Peng channels all sorts of things I love on her debut album; Crowded House, which now includes three members of the Finn family, are back with their first album in 11 years; IDLES, Gary Numan, Flea, Massive Attack's 3-D and more cover Gang of Four on a new Andy Gill tribute album; Sheffield's International Teachers of Pop are back with a new EP; and there are anniversary vinyl reissues of The Specials' "Ghost Town" single and Pernice Brothers' The World Won't End.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew looks at Liz Phair and Japanese Breakfast (both records I like) and more in Notable Releases. If you need more Basement-approved stuff from this short but very busy news week, there's a new Clinic single; Anika is finally following up her debut album; and I put together a list of "20 Great Instrumentals by Non-Instrumental Bands."
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Greentea Peng - Man Made (AMF Records)
London artist invites us to her lush, jazzy, groovy hallucinogenic world on her beguiling debut album.
In just a few years, London artist Greentea Peng (real name Aria Wells) has crafted a style -- both sonic and visual -- that pulls from a variety of influences but is also uniquely her own. Likewise, she employs a whole host of collaborators -- including Swindle, SAMO & KIKO, dubstep producers Mala, her live band The Seng Seng Family and producer Earbuds -- on her debut album, Man Made, but it all feels birthed from one verdant garden, even when she unexpectedly rocks in the middle of "Sinner." In a manifesto that came with the album's announcement, she calls Man Made an "ULTRA SONIC TRIP," adding it's an "exploration of self and sound. A product of shifting paradigms both inner and outer...an offering of healing, a provocation of Hu Man spirit soul."
In other words, Man Made luxuriates in a hazy hallucinatory groove that draws from Neo Soul, Acid Jazz, reggae, dub, raga, and trip hop, and you could compare directly, at times, to Solange, Tricky's albums with Martina Topley-Bird, Neneh Cherry, Ms Dynamite (remember Ms Dynamite?), King Krule, Sade, and Lauryn Hill (the album was mixed by Commissioner Gordon who also did The Miseducation Of). But this Greentea has its own unique flavor. This is a real hang of a record, full of flutes, saxophones, skittering drums that wouldn't be out of place on a Can album, jazzy guitar, bone-loosening bass, vibraphones, and tinkling, distant piano. She also recorded the album with instruments tuned to 432 Hz (almost all modern music is tuned to 440 Hz) which supposedly stimulates the heart chakra. Whether that makes a difference or not, Man Made sounds fantastic.
At the center of this is Greentea Peng who is clearly orchestrating all of it, commanding with a laid back, blunted and alluring vocal style that draws you in all the more as she seeks unity and positivity in a world of chaos. "I'm rеady to make a new sound," she sings on "Kali V2." "Can't contribute to the lies in this fickle paradise." While this is very clearly an album experience, Man Made has many highlights, including "Satta," with its irresistibly jazzy sax hook, the aforementioned "Kali V2," and "Party Hard" where she offers some advice -- "do yourself a favor, eat some shrooms." References to other substances abound here, you can almost see the waist-high smoke level in the room, but no enhancements are necessary to appreciate this fantastic record.
Crowded House - Dreamers are Waiting (EMI)
Neil Finn, with help from sons Liam and Elroy, reignites Crowded House for their first album in 11 years. It's terrific.
Having spent much of the 2010s making solo records and playing as part of Fleetwood Mac, Neil Finn returned home to his family and his hugely successful band Crowded House. (They've had a few hits in the U.S. but they are stadium level superstars in Australia and New Zealand.) Following a collaborative album with son Liam Finn, he renovated the House with Liam and his brother Elroy Finn, rounding out the lineup with longtime bassist Nick Seymour and producer Mitchell Froom who has worked with the band since their first album. Dreamers are Waiting, the first Crowded House album in 11 years, finds Finn and the rest of the band in fine form. They've never made a bad record and this doesn't break that streak. There's a musical symbiosis that can only come with family, and Dreamers are Waiting is a real showcase for the Finn Family's talent and songwriting abilities, not to mention good taste in production and arrangements. These are big, sweeping songs that sound rich, organic and modern without an ounce of artificiality. Finn's well of hooks and choruses has not run dry -- "Playing with Fire," "To the Island" and "Sweet Tooth" are the kind of thorny, witty, instantly catchy songs Crowded House do so well. Liam contributed a couple winners too -- the dreamy "Goodnight Everyone" and the waltz-time "Too Good For This World" -- and Elroy co-wrote the harmony-laden "Start of Something" and the soaring "Love Isn’t Hard At All." To spin an old religious adage into secular pop terms, the family that plays together, stays together. Or maybe it's the other way around. In any case, Crowded House show that greatness can be relative. (What a Finn-ish, sorry.)
Various Artists - The Problem of Leisure: A Celebration of Andy Gill and Gang of Four (Gill Music LTD)
IDLES, Flea, Gary Numan, La Roux, Massive Attack's 3-D and more cover Gang of Four on this tribute to Andy Gill
The Problem of Leisure began as a celebration of Gang of Four's 40th anniversary, with founding guitarist Andy Gill inviting a whole host of artists -- contemporaries, musicians that were influenced by Go4 -- to collaborate on new versions of the band's classic songs. When Gill tragically died in 2020, the album turned into a tribute, incorporating even more artists as part of it.
Tribute albums by nature are hit and miss and, at 20 songs and 75 minutes, this one is unsurprisingly a mixed bag. The artists that take the most leeway, who bend these songs to their own will, tend to be the most successful here, or at least the most interesting to this writer. (I have never seen the point of a rote, reverent cover.) Massive Attack's 3D, with Gill and Nova Twins, delivers a hallucinogenic version of "When the Nightingale Sings" (originally on 2015's What Next?) that marries Massive Attack's dark, low-key cool with Gang of Four's signature angular style. Gary Numan turns "Love Like Anthrax" into an icy, expansive synthscape; Gail Ann Dorsey delivers an awesome vocal on "We Live as We Dream Alone"; and Warpaint smooth out "Paralysed" into something much more slinky (aka a Warpaint song).
There are also a number of doubles -- separate artists covering the same song -- which turns the album into a few head-to-head matches. Tom Morello & Serj Tankian and UK group Everything Everything each cover "Natural's Not In It," and while both fall into "too reverent" for me, Serj's vocals are so grating to these ears I have to give points to EE. For "Damaged Goods," IDLES turn it into an IDLES song, while La Roux turns it into a Bananarama song (point: La Roux). "I Love a Man in a Uniform" gets two covers: Herbert Grönemeyer, who has released two of the best selling albums in Germany's history according to Wikipedia, delivers a demented vocal take for his synthed-up version that will drive a lot of people up the wall (I think it's fun), white The Sounds head somewhere between ABBA and mid-'00s skinny jeans rock (advantage: Herbert).
Then there are three versions of "Not Great Men": LoneLady's is far too by-the-numbers; but Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea and John Frusciante each fuck with their respective bass and guitar parts enough to make them their own and, in a stroke of genius, hand the vocals over to a chorus of children (it works); and Sekar Melati offers a very cool live version performed on percussion instruments. Winner: Flea & John (and the kids), but Sekar's is hands-down the most orignal interpretation on the album.
Like most tribute albums, The Problem of Leisure: A Celebration of Andy Gill and Gang of Four is probably not going to stay in anyone's regular rotation. The problem, in this case, may be that the band's sound is too distinctive and doesn't as easily allow itself to interpretation as, say, Bob Dylan. A better tribute may just be a mix of songs by bands who've been influenced by Gang of Four (and there are a lot), than having those bands cover Go4 songs. Still you might drop one of these tracks on a playlist. But if you really want to celebrate Andy Gill and Gang of Four just listen to their original era albums.
Pernice Brothers - The World Won't End vinyl reissue (Ashmont)
The Pernice Brothers' 2001 masterpiece is back on vinyl for its 20th anniversary
Joe Pernice got his start in the '90s alt-country world with Scud Mountain Boys but it was immediately clear that his melodic style was more informed by Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry than Waylon and Willie. Scud Mountain Boys called it quits and Joe and sibling Bob started The Pernice Brothers with a clear ear toward lush '60s and '70s AM radio pop, filtered through an an adolescence spent listening to gloomy '80s Brit haircut music. Their debut album, Overcome by Happiness (released on Sub Pop), is good but only hints at the harmony laden, misanthropic grandeur of its follow-up. The World Won't End (a title that should not be seen as a positive thing), released on their own Ashmont Records, is a perfect mix of those '70s soft rock and '80s post-punk influences, full of beautiful losers, like the girl who is "contemplating suicide or a graduate degree" on opening track "Working Girls." Joe's honeyed, weary vocals, and the swooning string arrangements, the icing on the cake. All the Pernice Brothers albums are good, but The World Won't End is the classic.
Originally only released on CD, The World Won't End finally got released on vinyl in 2012, a pressing that sold out quick. For the album's 20th anniversary they ran a crowdfunding campaign to put it on vinyl again, and they made extras for those who weren't so quick on the trigger (or part of their mailing list). You can order it now.
The Specials - Ghost Town 12" & 7" reissue (2 Tone)
The 2 Tone icons' swan song gets remastered and repressed on vinyl for its 40th anniversary
"We started 1980 as Kings of the World," said Horace Panter in a British TV special about turn-of-the-decade British pop. "And we ended it in a heap." Burned out from nonstop touring, churning out a second record before they were ready to make it, and the often true music biz trope "musical differences," The Specials imploded by mid-1981. But they went out on the highest of highs, releasing the iconic "Ghost Town" as a swan song in June of that year while Britain was engulfed in race riots, record unemployment, urban decay and other Thatcher-related disasters. Set to an eerie, dubby backing, "Ghost Town" was social commentary and an instant and massive hit that topped the charts while the fires were still burning.
For the single's 40th anniversary, "Ghost Town" is getting a new vinyl reissue on both 7" and as a 12" and both have been given half-speed remastering at Abbey Road Studios. (They did the same for More Specials last year.) The 12" version features the extended mix of the song with Rico Rodriguez's full, incredible trombone solo, while the 7" has the classic single mix. Both the 7" and the 12" have its two great b-sides: "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" that paints partying as something as mundane and monotonous as the dreariest day job, and "Why?," guitarist Lynval Golding's plea for racial unity.
These reissues are only available in the UK but you can get them in the U.S. via Rough Trade (who just opened their new digs in 30 Rock). In any case, you can watch the great, recently remastered video for "Ghost Town," which was directed by the amazing designer and graphic illustrator Barney Bubbles:
International Teachers of Pop - Drive All Night EP (Desolate)
Sheffield dancepop mavens are back with a cheeky double-a-side EP
International Teachers of Pop, the cheeky Sheffield dancepop group that includes Moonlandingz' Adrian Flanagan, The Soundcarriers' Leonore Wheatley and All Seeing I's Dean Horner, are back with a new EP featuring two terrific new songs. "Drive All Night (We Love E.U.)" is a banger about the necessity of roadway service stations and convenience stores, and the weaknesses of bladders after a night out at the clubs. The other new track is "Miss Lollipop," a Ace of Base style cod reggae jam that might be about a lollipop supplier at raves. There's also a Dean Horner remix of "Drive All Night" that's just a little bit sleeker and more "night" than the original, as well as an early version of ITOP's great single "Age of the Train."
The Drive All Night EP is a Bandcamp exclusive and buying helps fund the ITOP UK Tour Fund (their dates have been rescheduled four times), so help them out if you can. And go see them if you're in UK (dates are here). You can also check out the video for the EP's title track which Adrian notes is a nod to another synthpop group from Sheffield:
“With the new promo photos & video for the single we were giving a nod to heaven 17’s penthouse & pavement album - and all them bloody awful modern day Yuppies.. but it’s all come true though hasn’t it? Everywhere you look now on the trains - in bars and restaurants it’s people with these portable offices strapped to their noses and ears - 20 something males checking their crypto currency graphs or talking to 8 mini squares on zoom to people who look like the bleedin’ Manson Family all of whom have these IKEA bookcases behind them to convince you that they aren’t all serial killers but are in fact highly qualified academics!!’
Watch that below.
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