Indie Basement (5/7): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: Iceage swing for the fences and mostly connect on their fifth album Seek Shelter; The Coral imagine an island paradise on their terrific 10th album; Maxwell Farrington teams with Le Superhomard for an album that will appeal to Scott Walker fans; New Zealands' Guardian Singles get their hard-to-find 2020 debut reissued in North America; A Certain Ratio pay tribute to the late Denise Johnson on their first of three EPs due this year; and Montreal's TEKE::TEKE have composed the soundtrack to the best punk rock spy film Tarantino hasn't made yet.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew takes on Iron & Wine, Squid, and more in Notable Releases. If you need more Basement-friendly stuff from this week, this week was filthy with it: former One Dove singer Dot Allison announced her first solo album in 12 years; Liars are back with a new album soon; there's a new Sonny & The Sunsets album on the way; Cub Scout Bowling Pins (aka Guided by Voices) announced their debut album; two former members of Joanna Gruesome formed new band The Tubs (they're better than their name); and I'm really digging Parisian trio Pays P. whose debut album is coming out via SAVAK's new Peculiar Works label. We also talked to Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Matt Sweeney about the influences behind their terrific new Superwolves album.
Today is what may be the final Bandcamp Friday where the online music retailer is giving its cut of sales directly to the artists/labels. Almost everything in this week's Basement (and most every Basement) is available via BC so buy something and support your favorite band that hasn't been able to tour for over a year.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Iceage - Seek Shelter (Mexican Summer)
Reliably dark Danish group lighten up just a little, with help from producer Sonic Boom, for their catchiest batch of songs yet
Having swiped a few pages from Nick Cave's playbook from the get-go, Danish group Iceage have cultivated a bleak romanticism over the last decade with their dark-n-druggy brand of post-punk-inspired rock. Shards of light entered on 2018's Beyondless, but it's an almost comical surprise to hear a song like "Drink Rain," a jazzy number that's not far off from Burt Bacharach or The Carpenters, drop in the middle of their fifth album, Seek Shelter. The song evokes images of Singin' in the Rain (or the bicycle montage in Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid), but Gene Kelly likely never sang lines like "I'm not too keen on pleasantries / and water is too pure for me" like Elias Bender Rønnenfelt does here. It's not the only surprise on Seek Shelter, a very different Iceage album.
With new guitarist Casper Morilla in tow, Iceage made the album pre-pandemic over an intense 12-day session with Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom (Pete Kember) at his Studios Namouche in Lisbon. It's unclear how much Morilla or Kember, their first-ever outside producer, affected the album (Rønnenfelt called his presence "a healthy dose of insanity"), but Seek Shelter is their most immediately catchy batch of songs they've released yet. You could even call the album friendly. The new vibes are apparent right out of the gate with "Shelter Song," an arm-swaying anthem that you could imagine being on a Verve, Oasis or Blur album in 1996, complete with gospel choir backing. Britpop and Manchester dance-rock seems to be a real influence here: the sneering, groovy "Vendetta" could've been a Happy Mondays song, as could "High & Hurt" which liberally incorporates traditional spiritual "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
Iceage really swing for the fences and mostly connect. "Gold City" is fist-pumping, heartland rock, "Dear Saint Cecilia" is a swaggering rocker with a mile-wide chorus, and "Love Kills Slowly" is another lighters-aloft anthem, soaked in strings and backing vocals. While they're putting more pop hooks into the songs, Seek Shelter is no doubt an Iceage album, with Rønnenfelt's us-against-the-world, beautiful loser worldview still front-and-center. A little hope is creeping in -- Shelter's themes of community are throughout -- but his outlook is still grim. This time, though, Iceage want you to sing along as it all burns down.
For more on Seek Shelter, read our interview with Elias.
The Coral - Coral Island (Modern Sky UK)
UK band's 10th album delivers terrific song after terrific song -- all set in a fictional seaside town.
The Coral have been with us for 25 years (they didn't release an album till 2002, mind you) and their psychedelic brand of Merseyside pop (think Gerry & The Pacemakers, The La's) has held up remarkably well. Where it was once spiked heavily with sea shanties, the band have mellowed in the last 10 years into a reliably tuneful band that pulls as much from late-'60s California as it does the Irish Sea. Returning to their roots just a bit, their 10th album is a double, featuring 24 songs themed around a fictional seaside resort, Coral Island, that was inspired by records like The Kinks' The Village Green Preservation Society and Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. The band brought in British artist Edwin Burdis (who's worked with Arctic Monkeys) to do a diorama that might inspire songs: the first disc (Welcome to Coral Island) details the salad days of the resort while the second (Ghosts of Coral Island) imagines the town in decline.
For those allergic to rock operas and concept albums, the band do not use the "C" word and insist it all just served as loose inspiration. Apart from occasional narration by bandleaders James and Ian Skelly's grandfather, there's nothing on Coral Island that would lead you to think that these songs interconnected thematically unless you're the type to write notes on the lyrics sheet. Most of these songs are around three minutes, packed with memorable melodies, and go down very easy. "Lover Undiscovered," "Change Your Mind," "The Game She Plays," "Autumn Has Come," and "Take Me Back To The Summertime" are all wonderful, breezy pop songs. For fans of Magic and Medicine, The Coral's darker, Doors-ier, shantier side shows up, too, on disc 2 tracks like "Golden Age," "Faceless Angel" and "Land of the Lost." Despite the distinct halves, Coral Island runs a mere 54 minutes (and if you were to take out the narration, only about 45 minutes), making for one of the tighter, more enjoyable double albums in recent memory. Worth a visit.
Maxwell Farrington & Le SuperHomard - Once (Elefant)
Like Lee Hazlewood and early Scott Walker? So do these two.
The grandiose world of artists like Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood and Ennio Morricone has always existed on pop's periphery, even in the late-'60s when what they did was kinda in fashion. These days that sound feels like it exists on another planet, light years away from where music is today, but there are some who still live in it. Meet French artist Le SuperHomard (Christophe Vaillant) and Australian singer-songwriter Maxwell Farrington. By chance, Vaillant heard Farrington sing an acapella version of a Burt Bacharach song at a soundcheck and they struck up a conversation which led to a few collaborative singles, and now this album.
Farrington's got the kind of rich baritone that's just asking to sing lines like "You know I've come to die, a normal life's just not for me," backed by an orchestra and a groovy rhythm section, and Le Superhomard -- who made the wonderful Meadow Lane Park in 2019 -- is just the kind of composer and musician to deliver the goods. It doesn't get much more luxurious (and kitschy) than this: sweeping string arrangements, French horns, a thicket of acoustic guitars, funky vintage synthesizers, the occasional oboe and melancholic harmonica, with Farrington leading the charge, probably in a ruffled shirt and crushed velvet suit. Once is tasteful, playful bombast that knows just how over-the-top it is, inviting us all into its rich, technicolor world.
TEKE::TEKE - Shirushi (Kill Rock Stars)
Wonderfully weird cinematic psych from Montreal by way of Japan
Montreal-based group TEKE::TEKE got their start as a one-off tribute to Japanese guitarist Takeshi Terauchi but soon became a proper band, incorporating, lounge, soundtrack music, shoegaze, punk, trip hop and more.Having released a 7" last year as part of Sub Pop's singles club, TEKE::TEKE signed with Kill Rock Stars and have now released their debut album, evocative of all manera of '60s and '70s cinema. Spies mosh with surfers, ninjas and supervillains while guitars twang alongside traditional Japanese instruments like the shinobue and taisho koto. King Crimson jam with Ennio Morricone. Strings swoon and add suspense, and singer Maya Kuroki can belt it out like Shirley Bassey. Shirushi ("signs of great changes to come") is packed with intrigue, surprises and fun. Nothing else in 2021 sounds quite like it. Someone get this in front of Quentin Tarantino, he's says only got one film left and should definitely use TEKE::TEKE for it, whatever it may be.
A Certain Ratio - ACR:EPA (Mute)
Manchester greats' first of three EPs due this year features improvised jams with the late Denise Johnson
Manchester vets A Certain Ratio are following up 2020's great ACR Loco with a trio of EPs, each of which is centered around a theme. The first of those, ACR:EPA, is out today and is a tribute to the late Denise Johnson. It grew out of an informal weekend of studio time the group had booked to celebrate finishing mixing ACR Loco, with Martin Moscrop, Jez Kerr, Donald Johnson, Anthony Quigley, Matt Steele and Johnson jamming, having fun and recording. “We’re so happy with the results and the outcome and hopefully this release gives an insight into how much fun and energy Denise would always bring to a session when we recorded together,” say the band. You can feel it with these four tracks that bristle with funky live energy. The whole thing's a lot of fun but the standouts are "Keep It Together," a horn-filled disco jam about trying not to seem like you're out of your mind on recreational substances, and comedown closer "Feel No Fear" that, like this whole EP, is a real showcase for Johnson's vocal abilities. She's missed.
As for A Certain Ratio's other two 2021 EPs: ACR:EPC will be a tribute to the late Andrew Weatherall, while ACR:EPR will be "anything goes." Stay tuned for details on those.
Guardian Singles - S/T (Trouble in Mind)
New Zealand band, featuring former Vivian Girls drummer Fiona Campbell, mixes punk energy with atmospherics on their 2020 debut that's just been given a North American release
New Zealand band Guardian Singles formed in 2015 by Thom Burton on guitar (SoccerPractise, Moppy) and onetime Brooklyn resident and Vivian Girls/Coasting drummer Fiona Campbell, and by 2018 had solidified a lineup that included bassist Yolanda Fagan on bass and lead guitarist Durham Fenwick. Their sound is an immediately enticing mix of punk drive and energy with melody and dreamy dynamics. Burton's vocal style is raw-throated but not blown-out, and his guitar interplay with Fenwick is both visceral and psychedelic; Campbell and Fagan, meanwhile, make a great rhythm section. Their self-titled debut -- recorded in 2018, and released last year on a micro-pressing of 150 vinyl copies -- is full of great songs and performances but also so much promise. That they cover The Sound's "Heartland" should give a clue as to where they're coming from, and it wouldn't be wrong to compare them to groups like Wipers and Savage Republic, either. Trouble in Mind signed the band after watching their Gonerfest 2020 livestream performance and have just reissued their debut stateside in a much easier to cop vinyl repress. Hopefully their second album will not be too far behind.
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