Indie Basement (1/28): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's a bit of a slow end to January here in Indie Basement but I've still rounded up a bunch of worthy things to check out this week: Urge Overkill return with their first album in 11 years; David J (Bauhaus, Love & Rockets) and Victor DeLorenzo (Violent Femmes) get loose and have fun as Night Crickets; Steve Gunn lets Mdou Moctar, Circuit des Yeux and more remix his tracks on a new EP; Modern Nature's truly lovely Island of Noise finally hits streaming services; a review of the Meet Me In the Bathroom documentary; and a look back on Built To Spill's Perfect from Now On.
Over at Notable Releases, Andrew gives new albums from Anaïs Mitchell, Cloakroom, Imarhan (ft Gruff Rhys) and more a spin. If you need more Basement-related content, here you go: The Weather Station, Julie Doiron, Ex-Void (ex Joanna Gruesome), and P.E. (Pill + Eaters), announced new albums, and Broadcast are reissuing three rare records on vinyl.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Urge Overkill - Oui (Omnivore Recordings)
'90s riff maestros return for their first album in 11 years
Urge Overkill are Chicago indie rock royalty with an incredible CV. They made records with Steve Albini and Butch Vig, both before Nirvana did, and then toured Europe with Nirvana in 1991 just before Nevermind was released. They were on Touch and Go before graduating to Geffen, and coined the term "Guyville" for their town's scene which then got lifted by Liz Phair for her debut album. They were also style kings in an era when most of their peers looked like they just stumbled out of a dorm room; likewise their '70s rock touchstones flew in the face of just about everything. They hit the afterburners with 1993's Saturation, an album of delectable stadium-sized '70s riff rock that has aged very well, even if nobody talks about it anymore. (Go listen!) A year later found their 1992 cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. They were flying high.
Perhaps too high. Following 1995's Exit the Dragon, the band crashed and burned. Bandleaders Nash Kato and King Roesser got back together in the mid-'00s and released the terrific if underheard Rock N' Roll Submarine in 2011 -- their first album in 16 years -- which found their patented brand of cocky rock sounding as good as ever. But then they submerged again for the rest of the decade.
I'm not sure where they went, but Kato and Roesser have resurfaced 11 years later with Oui, which I'm happy to report keeps the UO rock flame burning bright. They still have attitude and riffs to spare but this is an older, wiser, more humble Urge Overkill. "I am gonna be among the living," Roesser proclaims on "Forgiven," one of the album's best, over a boogie rock strut. He and Nash have seen some shit and made it to the other side, a theme that recurs throughout the album (see also Nash's "How Sweet the Light"). There's a weariness to their voices which they wear well, like a leather jacket they've had all their life. Sparks still fly in their playing ,and they even manage to turn Wham!'s jaunty "Freedom" into an Urge Overkill burner. Few bands understand the need for just a little cheese in rock and roll like they do and Oui features the good stuff.
Night Crickets - A Free Society (Omnivore Recordings)
David J (Bauhaus) and Victor DeLorenzo (Violent Femmes) are two thirds of this jazzy, groozy noir trio. Their pandemic-inspired debut is fun.
As catastrophic as the Covid pandemic has been, which is very, it has also allowed for some art that might have never existed otherwise. Today's example is Night Crickets, a trio whose members you might know: David J of Bauhaus and Love & Rockets, and Victor DeLorenzo of Violent Femmes. The third is multi-instrumentalist Darwin Meiners, who is also David J's manager, and whose 2012 album, Souvenir, features both David and Victor. So in some ways, the seeds were sown 10 years ago but it took pandemic boredom and cabin fever to birth these insects.
In the band's own words: "Audio files shared from Los Angeles to Milwaukee, from London to the San Francisco Bay, and the ghosts of Candlestick Park shimmer through the fog, the Devil comes a-knocking on Peter Laughner’s door and Amanda Gorman conjures forth words of inspiration for the dawn of the new millennium....Hark! Night Crickets are chirping as the world is set on fire and the sun is going down."
A Free Society's jazzy title track is about just that, as David J sings of a world where "the wild horses can run free without fear of variants" before the chant of the title and blasting sax in the chorus. The three seem to bring out the playful side in each other, and in some ways recalls the mid-'80s heyday of Love & Rockets (or their alien alter-egos The Bubblemen) but in a groovy '60s kind of way, with detours into glam, post-punk and Beatlemania. It's weird, mischievous, catchy and, above all else, a lot of fun. May they continue to chirp once all this (hopefully) ends
Steve Gunn - Nakama EP (Matador)
Five songs from Gunn's 'Other You' get reworked by Mdou Moctar, Circuit des Yeux, Natural Information Society, more. Lovely.
Remix records have existed since the late '80s and have had a resurgence, at least on the artist/label side, during the pandemic, offering an easy way to get your name back in the spotlight (or at least a blog post) just in time to announce tour dates that have been rescheduled for the third time, or to remind people of the record that came out during the height of Covid. There's a dashed-off feel to many of them, honestly, but some artists are still maintaining a high quality of control. (King Gizzard's is worth checking out.) Steve Gunn, a chill dude and understated guitar hero, is not the kind of musician you might expect to release a remix EP but Nakama is not your average example of the genre.
Just to make things clear, there are no dubstep or house mixes to be found among these five tracks, all of which originated on his terrific 2021 album, Other You. He reworks songs in collaboration with Mikey Coltun and Ahmoudou Madassane of Mdou Moctar, as well as Natural Information Society, and hands over others to be remixed by Circuit des Yeux and Bing & Ruth. The songs were already on the mellow side, but all five of these get stripped back even more before being fitted with new layers of atmosphere. Coulton and Madassane incorporate field recording from Niger and vintage drum machines into their rework of "Protection," Natural Information Society and Gunn make "Good Wind" and "On the Way" feel like a forest floor in springtime, Circuit des Yeux turn "Every Feel That Way" into a twilight lullaby, and Bing & Ruth aimed for "somewhere between sunshine rock and a psychedelic opium den." Gunn puts the same care and thought into a release like this as he does one of his albums. Maybe I would like to hear a house mix of one of his songs.
Built to Spill - Perfect from Now On (Warner Bros)
The Boise Indie rock icons' major label debut is still perfect 25 years later
Today marks the 25th anniversary of Boise greats Built to Spill's sprawling third album that feels even more indie rock than its predecessor (There's Nothing Wrong with Love) despite it being their major label debut. It's an album that still thrills and I just wrote about it elsewhere on this site. Here's an excerpt:
No song ends where it starts, and Martsch leads the band on the bendiest, most surprising paths possible, full zigs, zags, time changes, key changes, purposeful noodling, masterful transitions, serious shredding, and heavenly arrangements. Perfect From Now On is full of blissful transcendence: the cellos in “I Would Hurt a Fly” (courtesy John McMahon, the album’s secret weapon); guitar filigree midway through “Kicked it in Sun” that sounds like seagulls flying over crystal blue water at sunset; the rapid, slidey guitar parts in “Untrustable”; the ragged glory of “Velvet Waltz”’s last three minutes. But the single most transportive moment on the album comes 3:18 minutes into “Made Up Dreams,” when Marstch goes from "make it up as you go" to "I’m already gone now" -- the key changes, the strings come in and suddenly everything’s weightless.
It may be recency bias of listening to this 20 times for this feature but I think Perfect may be my favorite Built to Spill album, topping it's successor, Keep it Like a Secret, which I have often said is their best (and you can pick up in the BV shop). Read the whole retrospective here. After 20 years on Warner Brothers, the band are back on an indie -- a big one, Sub Pop -- and are working on their ninth album. Where will they take us this time?
Meet Me In the Bathroom (the movie)
The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, and LCD Soundsystem populate this time capsule documentary of an exciting time in NYC's recent history.
Meet Me in the Bathroom, the documentary adaptation of Lizzy Goodman's 2017 oral history of NYC's early-'00s rock renaissance, just premiered at Sundance. I caught a virtual screening and thought directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace did a very good job of whittling down the essence of the book into a 108 minute film. Here's an excerpt of my review:
While following the same bands, their film runs parallel to the book and feels less like an adaptation and more of a companion piece. There are no talking head interviews like you find in most rock docs; instead they tell the story with video footage from the era, both onstage and off, which is set against audio of new and archival interviews. It's more of a "you are there" than a "remember when" experience that should strike a chord both with folks who lived and those who are curious as to what it was like.
Not to sound like James Murphy in "Losing My Edge," but as someone who lived in Williamsburg ("I was there!") during that whole time period, did I wish that there was more time spent with TV on the Radio, Liars, and Oneida and at Misshapes and Luxx? Yes, but that movie would either be 14 hours long or not appealing to most audiences. Or both. Hopefully they will announce a theatrical run or streaming release date soon. Or both. Till then you can read the book, if you haven't, which is very entertaining. You can also watch this video for Liars' "Mr. Your On FIre Mr" that uses footage from the 2002 Siren Fest (which had an amazing lineup):
Modern Nature - Island of Noise (Bella Union)
Inspired by 'The Tempest,' Modern Nature ponders man's role in our world through some truly lovely music and is finally out on streaming services.
Modern Nature released their album Island of Noise in an unusual way, at least in our current age. It came out in December as a limited edition vinyl box set and in no other format. You couldn't stream it. Instead of touring, they made an accompanying film, directed by the band's Jack Cooper and Conan Roberts, that toured around the UK. It's a lovely record and was the Indie Basement Album of the week on December 3. Anyway, it's now hit streaming services so everyone can listen. Here's a bit of my original review:
Modern Nature are still on the path 2020's Annual took, drawing from experimental folk and jazz, but expand their scope here. There's a clear narrative and musical arc, motifs recur throughout, but Cooper left room for improvisation, too. “I imagined the island’s landscape and how it would change and shift through the record," Cooper says. "My guitar, Jim Wallis’ drums and John Edwards’ bass would represent a slowly evolving landscape that would provide the bedrock for the other instruments to colour. The forests, the valleys and the life would be represented by an orchestra of improvisers and classical musicians, working around certain modes and composed melodies.”
Island of Noise has some truly lovely moments: the komische rhythms and playful arrangements of "Performance"; "Masque," the most memorable song, with its chorus of "How sweet the sound, it makes us sleep" and horns that seem to lift you ever so slightly off the ground; and powerful closer "Build" that ponders man's small role in our world and grows taller with every repeated refrain of "Do you see it?" "You're only the blink of an eye" might be a depressing thought to some but in Modern Nature's hands, its beautiful.
Listen to Island of Noise below. The film is streaming now, too, having just premiered over at Aquarium Drunkard and you can watch that below as well.
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