Indie Basement (6/3): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy June! Perhaps as it's a short week due to Memorial Day, there weren't that many big records out today, but there's always something worth listening to. We've got: the debut album by Chicago trio Horsegirl; Erika Dawn Lyle & Vice Cooler's Land Trust benefit which features vocals from Kim Gordon, Kathleen Hanna, The Raincoats and more; Former Minimal Compact frontwoman Malka Spigel; a new single by The Umbrellas; and the final print issue of long-running indie zine chickfactor.
Over in Notable Releases, Andrew listens to the new Angel Olsen, Queen of Jeans and more. For more Basement-friendly content from this past week: Beth Orton, House of Love, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and BOAT all announced new albums.
A gentle reminder that there's an Indie Basement section of the BV shop that includes vinyl from Horsegirl, Stereolab, Broadcast, Pavement, Wet Leg, Kevin Morby, King Hannah, Aldous Harding, Sparks, Cate Le Bon, Low, and more, not to mention books, merch and more.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Horsegirl - Versions of Modern Performance (Matador)
Young Chicago trio have absorbed decades of indie and postpunk and made it their own of their excellent debut album
Chicago trio Horsegirl are just barely out of high school but even when they all were still in it -- aka last year -- they were collectively cooler than I'll ever be. Nora Cheng, who sings and plays guitar/bass, told chickfactor that "There's this one photo of me on Facebook from seventh grade with the caption 'In her plaid shirt, explaining that she likes alternative music, no pop, especially songs that no one else knows.'" As an aging indie nerd/snob I find this endearing, even if Cheng then admits, "I don't know what I was on about because I'm sure the most obscure thing I liked at that time was Cage the Elephant."
On their debut album, Versions of Modern Performance, Horsegirl seem to have absorbed the whole of '80s and '90s indie, post punk and "songs that no one else knows" and created their own version of it. You can feel Pavement and Pixies, lots of Sonic Youth and the rosters of well-curated labels like Flying Nun, Rough Trade and Matador (to which they're signed), but their songs are expertly constructed, often complex and always full of hooks and melodies that draw you in. Adding to the classic indie rock cred: they made the album with producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr, The Breeders, etc) at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studio.
If on paper this might sound studied or pretentious (the title is a little pretentious), it doesn't come off that way at all listening to the album. The most impressive thing may be how natural Horsegirl make it all sound. Cheng and Penelope Lowenstein duel with counterpoint vocal melodies on "Billy" that are both dissonant and complementary. It's a move right out of the Sonic Youth playbook (Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley actually play on this one) but it's all done with a sense of discovery that makes it seem like no one's ever done it before. All of Versions of Modern Performance feels like that: the washes of shoegazy guitars, the close harmonies, the scratchy guitars and crashing drums are all familiar but seen through new eyes. These are not likely to be songs that no one else knows.
Grab Versions of Modern Performance on vinyl
Erica Dawn Lyle & Vice Cooler - Land Trust: Benefit For NEFOC
Kim Gordon, Kathleen Hanna, The Raincoats, Kelley Deal, Alice Bag, Rachel Aggs & more contribute vocals to this benefit album
Bikini Kill guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle and Vice Cooler (who's played drums with Chicks On Speed and The Raincoats among other things) are the creative forces behind this album that benefits the Northeast Farmers Of Color Landtrust (NEFOC) which is "an Indigenous and POC-led grassroots organization that seeks to connect POC farmers to land to grow healthy foods and medicines for our communities" by "acquiring and returning land to Indigenous nations and respectfully connecting Black, Asian, and Latinx and other POC farmers and land stewards to land while centering and respecting Indigenous sovereignty."
Each of the album's 16 tracks features a different guest vocalist, and they've exhausted their phone's Contacts list for it with Kim Gordon, Kathleen Hanna, The Raincoats, Kelley Deal, Alice Bag, Rachel Aggs, The Linda Lindas and more appearing here. Records like this can be hit or miss but Land Trust is pretty solid, with Lyle and Cooler creating dynamic, energetic, and hooky tracks that seem to have their collaborators in mind. Kim Gordon's "Debt Collector" has a hazy, electronic-infected backing that fits perfectly with her half-spoken style; "Agave," featuring The Raincoats, is jazzy and off-kilter; and the songs with Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hannah, Alice Bag, Slant Six's Christina Billotte and Shopping's Rachel Aggs are all punky, dancey party-starters. It holds up as an album, too, getting in and out in 45 minutes which is just about perfect. The only downside is that none of those songs will likely ever be played live. It would make a great benefit show, though. Someone make that happen.
long odds - fine thread
Former Times New Viking drummer Adam Elliot is still making low-fi indie rock with his latest group
Adam Elliot spent most of the '00s drumming and singing in Columbus, OH band Times New Viking, who were one of the most prominent groups in the "shitgaze" scene alongside Sic Alps and Psychedelic Horseshit. (A scene sadly too small to get its own genre section at Other Music.) After records on Siltbreeze, Matador and Merge, TNV broke up in 2012 and Elliot played in Connections with his brother, Kevin, and has now formed new band long odds. Their debut album, fine thread, isn't a million miles from Times New Viking, though these eight songs are noticeably more gentle and folky. Also: less covered in shit. There's a low-fi beauty to tracks like "not enough stars," "old tv," and "both sides now" but nothing sounds like it's been run over repeatedly by a garbage truck. These are campfire songs that have burned down to smoky embers, but are still warm and comforting.
Malka Spigel - Gliding & Hiding (Swim Records)
The onetime Minimal Compact frontwoman combines two previously released EPs, with a little refurbishing, into one new album
Malka Spigel led Tel-Aviv / Brussels post-punk band Minimal Compact through most of the '80s -- and a few reunions over the years -- but more recently has been known for her work as a photographer and collaborations with partner Colin Newman of Wire (including their current project, Immersion). She's made some cool solo records over the last 30 years as well, and two of her EPs from different decades have been combined and spiffed-up into this new record. Gliding & Hiding combines 2014's Gliding with refurbished tracks from 1994's Hide.
Gliding is a good name for these first four songs which were made with Newman, Wire's Matthew Sims and To Rococco Rot's Ronald Lippok and they feel like they ride upon electromagnetic power that makes everything smooth and pulsing. Lovely, transfixing stuff. The other four tracks, from Hide, have been reworked a little but still bear the stamp of 1994, a time when everyone seemed to be dabbling in jungle and drum and bass. While decidedly more rhythm forward, "Hide" and "I Just Want" still fall into hypnotic dreampop territory. While the two sides are very different in style, Malka's distinctive presence comes through on both for what makes for a satisfying short double feature.
The Umbrellas - "Write it in the Sky" (Slumberland)
The San Francisco indiepop tradition stays strong with this terrifically fuzzy new single
The Umbrellas follow up last years' great debut album with what might be their most immediate janglepop earworm yet. Drenched in layers of fuzz, "Write it in the Sky" is like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart covering The Pastels, or maybe the other way around. This one sports a giant chorus, and the verses are no less catchy. This is the A-side to a new 7" that's out June 24 on Slumberland and the video is a classic bit of 8mm sunshine.
It's the final print issue of the "indie nerd bible" that is also celebrating its 30th anniversary
chickfactor, the "legendary indie nerd bible" started by Gail O'Hara and Pam Berry in 1992, just released issue 19. It's the first in four years and also apparently their last print edition, though Gail says the website will continue with new articles. Thirty years seems like a good benchmark for putting it to rest and they're going out with a lower-case bang as chickfactor 19 is jam-packed with interviews, reviews, comics and more, and comes in two editions with different covers -- Horsegirl on one and Rachel Aggs (Shopping, Sacred Paws) on the other. There are also interviews with Destroyer, Laura Veirs, Melenas, The Umbrellas and more. That's makes three different acts who are also featured elsewhere in today's Indie Basement. Coincidence? Yes.
There are also the zine's signature "cf polls," where a bunch of different artists and contributors are asked the same question, and this time it's mostly centered around chickfactor and its 30th anniversary: "Were you alive in 1992? If so, what were you doing?," "How did you first discover chickfactor?" and "Who invented indiepop?" They also scored an interview with enigmatic/obscure '80s band Magic Roundabout! (My mind was a little blown by this.) I'm sad to see it go but glad we got 30 years and 19 issues of chickfactor. I also hear there are going to be a few special shows to celebrate and hopefully some of those will be in NYC. Stay tuned. Thanks for the words, chickfactor!
Order your copy of chickfactor 19 here. Here's Belle & Sebastian's Stevie Jackson singing the tribute to the zine that ended up on The Boy with the Arab Strap:
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