Bill’s Indie Basement (8/21): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's a pretty killer week here in Indie Basement. We've got: The bonkers new album from No Joy, Motherhood; Dent May is his usual charming self on Late Checkout; Guided by Voices' drop their 30th album; and Barry Dobbin of underappreciated '00s band Clor returns as Barringtone. Plus worthy new reissues from Jonathan Richman and The Fall. That's a good week!
If you need more reviews of new albums, this week is kind of a bonanza and Andrew looks at Bright Eyes, Bully, The Killers and more in Notable Releases. Neither Andrew or I review them this week but there are also new albums from Secret Machines, Erasure,The Lemon Twigs, Bent Arcana (members Oh Sees, TVOTR, Gang Gang Dance), and more. It's a big week.
Speaking of The Fall, I wrote a primer on the group and also ranked their best covers (of which there are a lot). In other Basement-related news, Cabaret Voltaire just announced their first album in 26 years, and Huggy Bear's Chris Rowley has a new band.
Ok, that's enough for now. Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #!: No Joy - Motherhood (Joyful Noise)
The Montreal group's most hybridized record yet, mixing the mid-'90s (shoegaze, nu-metal and dance music) into one daylgo bucket.
Jasamine White-Gluz tells us her main inspiration for No Joy's new album, Motherhood, was 1998. "I was in high school, and music seemed so to have no boundaries," she says. "When you look up which albums came out between 1997-1999 it's quite insane. Labels still had money to put towards albums, and artists were taking risks both on their albums and their visuals. Music TV stations still played videos, and a lot of these albums had incredible visual stories to accompany them. There was a hybrid of electronica and rock. Everything kind of fell into an experimental melting pot, right before the millennium, filled with anxiety but also calmness. Nostalgia has its limits but I wanted to try and remember what it was like to hear something like Air on mainstream radio/tv and feeling my teenage brain explode."
Melting pot is a good word to describe Motherhood, which liquifies shoegaze, nu-metal, trip hop, "electronica," you-name-it, into one tripped-out, dayglo brain explosion. Also: lots and lots of slap bass. For example, "Four" opens with a gathering, patient army of overdriven guitars which build and build and build. The tension mounts and you're expecting thundering drums to come crashing in but then it smash-cuts to a soulful vocal sample and the song transforms into a jazzy, chillout groove that could've been on a Kruder & Dorfmeister record, with Jasamine's honeyed vocals singing "Just keep callin' me baby" over acid-house style squelchy arpeggiations. Then, when you're all blissed out, the piledriver guitar onslaught returns in full force.
Even more in-your-face is "Dream Ratz," which features Jasamine's sister, Alissa White-Gluz of melodic death metal band Arch Enemy, and is maybe the heaviest thing No Joy have ever done, while still weaving ethereal harmonies and textures amongst the crushing riffs, kickdrums and harsh vocals. The whole of Motherhood plays out in such free-flowing ways, making for a record unlike any No Joy have made before. Maybe one that nobody has made before, a record that manages to avoid nostalgia through sheer whiplash energy. Your brain may not totally process what's going on the first time you hear it but, no doubt, it's a blast. Which, to No Joy, probably means mission accomplished.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Dent May - Late Checkout (Carpark)
Down but not out, Dent May crafts a wonderfully bummed out album of happy/sad soft rock.
Dent May is 35 but he's seemed 41 for most of his career, making grand, melancholy '70s-style pop that's equal parts Harry Nilsson and Boz Scaggs. Having left Mississippi for Los Angeles in 2015, he found his natural habitat on 2017's Across the Multiverse which featured wonderful bummed-out songs like "Face Down in the Gutter of Your Love." Three years later, Dent doesn't seem any happier, but he seems ok with that and has crafted another excellent album of charmingly glum magic hour pop.
Speaking of seeming older than he is, Dent's already eyeing domestic retirement: "I can’t wait to grow old here," he sings on "Bungalow Heaven," a world where "I don’t try to be different / I just do as I please." If that sounds a little depressing, that's Dent's M.O. "I didn’t get the invite to the party / But I don’t mind being alone tonight," he sings on "Didn't Get the Invite" against a jaunty mid-tempo shuffle that is typical of the album. He's a self-depricator by nature who prefers to contrast his mood with genial, upbeat music and your enjoyment of Late Checkout probably depends on how much you like '70s soft rock combined with woe-is-me lyrics that aim for tongue-in-cheek but may have you thinking, "Confidence, Dent! Confidence!" As much as you may want to shake him out of his funk, it's hard to deny the talent on display in terrifically catchy songs like "Bless Your Heart," "Sea Salt and Caramel" and "Easier Said Than Done." The tunes, set to bongos, flutes and string sections, are fantastic, but I do hope Dent finds joy among the palm trees soon.
Guided By Voices - Mirrored Aztec (Guided By Voices Inc)
Guided by Voices' 30th album. Doesn't it feel like there should be more? This one's good, though.
You gotta give it up for Robert Pollard, he just does not stop. Over 100 releases between Guided by Voices, solo records and various other side projects, and most of them are good. How does he do it? (Beer.) I think of these questions while listening to Mirrored Aztec, Guided by Voices' 30th record and marvel at its quality. There are 18 songs here -- all within GVB's current late-'70s bruising power-pop rock style (Nick Lowe comes to mind), with some nice mellotron strings orchestration -- and I reckon about half of them are genuine keepers. At least a couple of them -- "To Keep An Area" and "Thank You Jane" -- have pantheon potential. Somehow, Pollard hadn't written a song titled "The Party Rages On" yet, so that's here too. Would GBV make a better album if they saved all the "hits" for just one album a year? No! That's just now how Pollard works and I look forward to the next album announcement which may have happened while I was typing this.
Meanwhile, the 25th anniversary vinyl reissue of GBV's Alien Lanes is also out today.
Barringtone - Bonanza Plan (Onomatopoeia)
Barry Dobbin of underrated and short-lived '00s band Clor is still making angular pop, if very slowly. This is his first full length since Clor's debut 15 years ago.
Not many people remember Clor who were part of that wave of mid-'00s UK post-punk revivalists that included Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads and The Rakes. But I loved them, and named "Love + Pain" the best single of 2005, a declaration I still stand by. That song is weird, nervy and irresistable, zigging and zagging in ways no other band from the time did. (The album doesn't quite live up to that single but it does contain "Dangerzone" which is also worth the price of admission.) Clor called it quits less than a year after releasing their debut, and frontman Barry Dobbin mostly disappeared, releasing a solo single as Barringtone in 2008 and then a very long silence.
It would be another six years till Barringtone released a second single, "Feverhead," and another three years till they released their third single, "Dream Boys." Now three years after that, we're finally getting Barringtone's debut album. Manic and mathy, Barringtone are like a machine gun that shoots Super Balls inside a handball court, with guitars, bass, drums and synthesizers ricocheting around as you try and keep up. It's like early XTC by way of Deerhoof with an especially short attention span but a wicked sense of humor.
The catchiest songs are "Feverhead" and "Dreamboyz," both of which were released as singles, but "Emily Smallhands" rivals them, while "Technollipop" is a mental, three minutes of whipsmart proggy helium art-punk (rearrange those adjectives if you like). Also bonkers: "Pet Gazelles," which is mostly instrumental, but when Barringtone do sing, they make it count. It's rather amazing that 15 years on from Clor, Dobbin is still making music this frantic, inventive and original. Let's hope the next one happens sooner.
Jonathan Richman - I, Jonathan (Craft Recordings)
One of JoJo's best albums finally gets a vinyl release.
Jonathan Richman is a great songwriter and performer who I don't always like on record. But 1992's I, Jonathan is one of his best, with just great song after great song and simple production and arrangements that never get in the way. It was also the start of a second act for him, thanks in no small part to his appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien performing "I Was Dancing in The Lesbian Bar" which was followed by The Farrelly Brothers casting him in Kingpin and There's Something About Mary.
"I Was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar" is just one of the many classics on I, Jonathan, an album that really shows off his witty, humanistic, inclusive style. There's also a rerecording of one of his best songs, "That Summer Feeling" (originally on Jonathan Sings! and I think this version is superior), odes to skydiving and The Velvet Underground, plus "Parties in the U.S.A." which predated Miley Cyrus by 17 years. It being released in 1992, I, Jonathan never got a vinyl release back then but that has now been corrected. We could all use a little more of that summer feeling these days.
The Fall - Infotainment Scan, Middle Class Revolt & Frenz Experiment reissues
Some crucial-uh vinyl-uh reissues-uh from The Fall.
I've spent a lot of time this month thinking and writing about The Fall. I put together a 15-song Fall primer with an eye on today's post-punk scene, and then looked at the many amazing covers the Fall released over the 40 years the late Mark E Smith led the group. Just when I thought I was done comes news about welcome mid-'90s reissues making this August an early Fall for me.
Following their three albums for Fontana/Polygram in the early '90s, The Fall signed with Permanent Records in the UK and Matador in the US for two albums. Released in 1993, The Infotainment Scan was The Fall's highest charting album of their career, debuting at #9 (!) in the UK. It was also the danciest, synthiest album they ever made, thanks to keyboardist Dave Bush who made a huge impact on their sound during his tenure. The album includes their great covers of Sister Sledge's "Lost in Music" and Steve Bent's novelty song "I'm Going to Spain," as well as a bunch of excellent originals, including "Glam Racket" (a withering takedown of Britpop, and Suede in particular), "League of Bald-Headed Men" (which got a lot of 120 Minutes play), and the ecstasy fueled "A Past Gone Mad."
After The Infotainment Scan, Dave Bush left the group or got fired (who can say?), and joined Elastica, and The Fall headed back to garage/prog/punk territory for 1994's Middle Class Revolt, which is not their best album but does contain the excellent "Hey Student!," the poppy singles "15 Ways" and "Behind the Counter," the funny "$500 Bottle of Wine," and more covers than usual (The Monks, The Groundhogs, Slapp Happy/Henry Cow). The album also marked the return of drummer Karl Burns who hadn't played with them since 1985's This Nation's Saving Grace and, alongside drummer Simon Wolstencroft, made for a powerful twin-rhythm attack which you can really hear on Middle Class Revolt's pounding title track.
Both albums have been out of print since their original release; there isn't anything in the way of bonus material, but having them back on vinyl is probably enough for fans. You're going to have to wait a bit though -- they're both out January 8, 2021. Demon Music, who are putting these out, are also reissuing 1995 live album The 27 Points, and Mark E. Smith's 1998 "solo" album The Post Nearly Man which is truly for completists only.
In more essential Fall reissue news, Beggars Arkive is putting out a double-disc expanded edition of The Fall's 1988 album The Frenz Experiment. That's got their hit cover of The Kinks' "Victoria," and the bonus disc adds non-LP singles from the era like their cover of R. Dean Taylor's "There's a Ghost in My House" and the band's successful first stab at dance music, "Hit the North," plus all the b-sides, and more. That'll be out October 23 and you can read more about that here.
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