Indie Basement (10/8): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: The Innocence Mission's Karen Peris delivers an achingly beautiful album that is technically for kids but may play better with adults; Prince Rama's Taraka Larson heads into the garage for her solo debut; The Clean's first two releases get reissued on vinyl for their 40th anniversary; Brooklyn's Gustaf finally release their debut album; The Charlatans reissue their great 1995 album on vinyl for the first time; and short-lived post-punk group Glaxo Babies get a new vinyl compilation of their best songs.
For more new album reviews, Andrew looks at The Alchemist, The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, and more in Notable Releases. Need more? Here are some Basement-friendly news items from this week: The Chameleons' Mark Burgess has patched it up with guitarist Reg Smithies who will tour under their band's name with The Mission UK and Theatre of Hate next year; excellent Manchester synth duo The KVB are back; Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows are back; and we talked to Wet Leg (who now have three NYC shows in December).
Special note: Rest in peace Pat Fish. The Jazz Butcher were a huge part of my college radio years and a massive influence on me sonically, socially, and politically. Thanks for the gift of music.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Karen Peris - A Song Is Way Above The Lawn (Bella Union)
Technically aimed at kids, this is an achingly beautiful album that's wonderful for anyone
Admission: I don't have children, so I don't really know what passes for kids music these days. Myself, way back when, I loved novelty song compilations, The Muppet Movie soundtrack and '70s Sesame Street albums, Schoolhouse Rock, and Marlo Thomas' classic Free to Be You and Me. A Song Is Way Above the Lawn, the new children's album by The Innocence Mission's Karen Peris, doesn't resemble any of those things, though it does sound like it could've come out in 1972, and I bet she shares Jim Henson and Marlo Thomas' view on entertainment for kids. It is an utterly unique, achingly beautiful record that, though I have no idea if kids will like it, has the power to pull this adult back to childhood, like unlocking a wonderful memory you didn't know you had.
“I like that it’s possible to re-travel some of the wide open expanse of childhood imagination and wonder," Karen says of her approach. "The thing is, I don’t really feel that far away from those places even now, and I’m sure that’s a universal thought. The moments I’m telling about in the songs, and the wonder and the curiosity – I still feel so much of it, just as anyone does. I didn’t want to be an adult saying to a child, This is how you feel. It’s more like saying, just as a person talking with another person, Isn’t this how we all feel, and isn’t that a mystery of life, too, that we are all so connected? So, most of the songs are written in the first person.”
Peris' lyrics are full of wonder and small details, and are often about those details. "This Is a Song in Wintertime" captures such a moment -- waiting in line for a movie when everyone realizes it's started to snow. "Falling at the light of street lamps shining on the corner, lifting our eyes, and we all start to smile," she sings, noting that everyone starts walking in to see the movie, "but this will be the memory." It's such a well-drawn little moment. Her piano sounds like snow without drifting into treacle or Vince Guaraldi territory. It's a truly beautiful song, one of many on the album.
Please don't be put off by the "kids" angle. With contributions from husband and bandmate Don Peris, as well as their son Drew and daughter Anna on strings, A Song Is Way Above the Lawn is not all that different from The Innocence Mission's wonderful 2020 album See You Tomorrow. It might even be better. Songs have a childlike air but are imbued with such poetic grace that there is zero pandering, zero patronizing. Add to that the way Karen writes melodies, the way she plays the piano, and her gorgeous, fragile voice, and all the songs have a complex, satisfying happy-sad air to them. Even the ones about giraffes and elephants.
Taraka - Welcome To Paradise Lost (Rage Peace)
One half of Prince Rama picks up a guitar and heads to the garage on her fun solo debut
Brooklyn duo Prince Rama, led by sisters Taraka & Nimai Larson, called quits in 2019 after a decade of eccentric and very fun art pop. (Their presence on the NYC DIY scene is much missed.) Nimai traded music for life as a plant-based chef and cookbook author but Taraka has just released her first solo album, Welcome to Paradise Lost. According to the press release the album was "conceived while Taraka was living in solitary confinement in a hot Texas gallery with a live serpent in an attempt to return to a pre-internet Eden" which fits right in line with Prince Rama's fantastical, larger than life personas, but might actually be true, if given some poetic license. (She is photographed with a big snake in a bathtub on the album cover.) Apparently she had given on up music after Prince Rama, but while stuck in this gallery during lockdown,Taraka started reconnecting with the punk and psych records of her teenage years. Picking up a guitar at one point, songs started pouring out. Taraka recruited her old Prince Rama bandmate Ryan Sciaino, and friends Greg Fox (Liturgy, Zs, many more) and Tim Koh (Gang Gang Dance, Connan Mockasin) to help flesh the songs out.
Musically, Welcome to Paradise Lost is pretty far from the trippy genre blender approach Prince Rama took, making riffy garage-psych-punk, but Taraka brings that same zeal to it that she did the new age dance music of her former group. She also brings her easy way with hooks. "Sad Blue Eyes," "Psychoscastle," and "Ride or Die" are all buzzsaw earworms, and the near maddening chorus of "0010110" will have you chanting in binary for a week. While musically straight-forward, it is still plenty out-there, with samples from psychedelic Sesame Street counting segments and more, evoking sweaty DIY venues and drinking $2 cans of warm PBR.
The Clean - "Tally Ho" 7" and Boodle Boodle Boodle EP vinyl reissues (Merge)
New Zealand indie icons The Clean's first two releases get reissued on vinyl for their 40th anniversary
Certain types of folks, like myself, will drop Flying Nun as an indie rock style reference in the same way you might say something sounds like Lauryl Canyon or C-86; it's a shortcut to sound. Flying Nun is a New Zealand indie label that's been going since 1981 and has had all manner of artists on its roster over the last four decades. But what people like myself mean when they say something sounds like Flying Nun, they mean the label's earliest days, and what they probably mean is it sounds like The Clean. (All respect to The Chills, The Bats, The Verlaines, etc.) Informed by punk, The Velvet Underground and '60s pop and folk, David Kilgour, Robert Scott and Hamish Kilgour fashioned a strummy, scrappy sound that was as immediate as it was rudimentary. (It was also happening in tandem with likeminded UK groups like Television Personalities and Swell Maps.) The Clean, and their early releases in particular, have had a huge influence on indie rock -- everyone from Superchunk and the whole '90s Winston-Salem scene to Yo La Tengo, Jay Reatard, and all facets of twee indiepop to this day.
To celebrate Flying Nun's 40th anniversary, The Clean are reissuing their first two releases on vinyl, both of which came out in 1981: the "Tally Ho!" 7" and the Boodle Boodle Boodle EP. Both are out globally via Merge on November 12 and are available on vinyl for the first time since their initial release, remastered by Tex Houston with assistance from the Alexander Turnbull Library New Zealand, and The Clean’s David Kilgour, and Robert Scott oversaw the re-creation of the original packaging. "Tally Ho!," which was Flying Nun's second release, remains The Clean's best-known song, though Boodle Boodle Boodle's "Anything Can Happen" and "Point That Thing Somewhere Else" aren't far behind. Boodle Boodle Boodle also comes with a reproduction of the original 16-page zine that was tucked inside the original. Essential indie artifacts.
Both the 7" and the EP have Peak Vinyl versions on colored wax, and there are bundles with both that come with retro t-shirts and bumper stickers.
The Charlatans - The Charlatans vinyl reissue (Beggars Arkive)
One of The Charlatans' best albums gets its first vinyl release since its initial 1995 release
The Charlatans are putting out a career-spanning retrospective box set next week, but in the meantime Beggars Arkive has reissued the band's great, self-titled fourth album on vinyl, its first pressing since its release in 1995. From our "Best Britpop Albums of 1995" list:
The Charlatans are survivors, having started as part of the Manchester music scene in the wake of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. But they have managed to change with the changing times, surviving a few major setbacks and tragedies, while maintaining their own identity and Hammond organ-led sound. As Madchester's high faded, guitars began figuring in a little more prominently into their sound. While 1994's Up to Our Hips stumbled, The Charlatans sorted themselves out by the time of their self-titled fourth album, which found them sounding more confident than ever, adopting a Stones-y Exile on Main Street vibe that put them right in heart of Britpop. The Charlatans was a #1 album for them, with terrific hit singles "Crashin' In," "Just When You're Thinkin Things Over" and "Just Lookin'." Another impressive pivot for one of the UK's most resilient bands of the last 30 years.
In 1995 pretty much everyone had traded in their turntables for CD players and vinyl production was more of a courtesy to bands than a focus of the label. This new edition, remastered by Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road, sounds fantastic and is out as a double-LP set on marbled yellow vinyl.
Gustaf - Audio Drag for Ego Slobs (Royal Mountain)
One of Brooklyn's most fun live bands finally releases their debut album
Pre-pandemic, Gustaf were one of the hardest working, most fun live bands in Brooklyn's recent indie/DIY scene. If you went to see music at small clubs here, you had to actively try and miss them. They're also hard to forget. Lydia Gammill is a magnetic frontperson who isn't afraid to get in audiences faces for a little up-close interaction (again, pre-pandemic). Her interaction with the rest of the band -- there's a lot of call-and-response singing -- and their danceable, post-punk influenced style makes for an entertaining set. Most bands stampede to putting music online, often before ever booking a show, but Gustaf seemed to take the opposite approach, not releasing anything for a long time while still duking it out in small rooms and opening on increasingly bigger shows. Smash cut past the first 18 months of the pandemic and Gustaf are back on stage (touring with IDLES as we speak) and they've finally released their debut album. Audio Drag for Ego Slobs does a good job of presenting their live show in a studio setting; the music has great snap, and Gammill manages to bring that wide-eyed on-stage electricity to her vocal performance. The call-and-response vocals don't work quite as well on record, though, but tracks like "Book," "Dog," and "Mine" are a blast.
Glaxo Babies - Dreams Interrupted: The Bewilderbeat years 1978-1980 (Lantern Rec)
First vinyl release of this 2006 compilation that includes most everything you'd want from this short-lived Bristol post-punk group
The nascent UK post-punk scene is littered with groups who barely made it past their first Peel Session, let alone make it to their debut album. Yet the period was so fertile, a time when there was so much new still to be explored, it's surprising how much good music these short-lived groups managed to produce before exploding, imploding, splintering or getting jobs. Case in point: Bristol's Glaxo Babies, who progressed from taut, paranoid punk to mutant disco to avant garde noise in the two years they were together. Dreams Interrupted: The Bewilderbeat years 1978-1980 is the definitive Glaxo statement, featuring almost all their singles and EPs, including their spiky, skronky debut "Christine Keeler" and the killer This is Your Life EP (The Last Shadow Puppets covered the title track in 2016), and the funked out "Shake (The Foundations)." There's also about half of their weird, improvisational debut album, Nine Months To The Disco, which was made after vocalist/songwriter Rob Chapman left the group, and was recorded in a single day but not released till after they'd broken up. The first song on that album was "Maximum Sexual Joy," which clearly struck a chord; most of Glaxo Babies would go on to further explore funk, dub and disco as another short-lived group, Maximum Joy.
Dreams Interrupted also includes Glaxo Babies' Peel Session, a couple demos and live tracks. The comp was released on CD by Cherry Red back in 2006 but this is the first time it's been pressed to vinyl and the double-LP set will be out November 5 with only 500 copies in existence.
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