Bill’s Indie Basement (7/17): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Welcome to what may be the biggest Indie Basement, release-wise, of the year featuring two great albums that weren't originally supposed to come out today (thanks, COVID): JARV IS...Beyond the Pale and Protomartyr's Ultimate Success Today. We've also got a third great album (Pain Olympics by Vancouver collective Crack Cloud), and two very good ones from PAINT (aka Allah Las' Pedrum Siadatian) and Soulwax's David and Stephen Dewaele (and a rare synth).
Need more record reviews? Andrew reviews albums by Nicolas Jaar, Entry and more in Notable Releases. If you need more Basement-related stuff, there's: a deluxe reissue of The Replacements' Please to Meet Me; Whitney is putting out a covers album; and John Vanderslice has a new EP on the way. Also: I interviewed Jarvis Cocker (way back in February and it's finally out).
That's enough for now, check out this week's reviews below:
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: JARV IS...Beyond the Pale (Rough Trade)
The former Pulp frontman's first solo album in 11 years was worth the wait.
You may not even recall that Cocker's last album, 2008's Further Complications, was a credible if underwhelming foray into loud rock produced by Steve Albini. Beyond the Pale, however, mostly presents the lanky, bespeckled Brit we remember, with tales of lust, love, death, supermarkets -- and the occasional badger -- set to swaggering, widescreen pop. It is an older, more introspective, but no less randy Jarvis Cocker, who has been cataloging his slow decay since at least Pulp's This is Hardcore. Part of him still wants to be the raver of "Sorted for Es and Whizz," but is now "lost in the land of the living room," listening to "House Music All Night Long," home alone while his girlfriend is out of town and his mates are out partying. "Goddamn this claustrophobia! / I should be disrobing ya" is an inspired couplet that only Jarvis could deliver.
Meanwhile, did I mention I interviewed Jarvis?
Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today (Domino)
Detroit's Protomartyr once again have their finger on the dark pulse of the nation with their heaviest, weirdest album yet. It's great.
And you thought Protomartyr's last album was bleak. While they bristle at being known as a "misery band," the Detroit post-punk group excel at mirroring the mood of the world, or, in the case of Ultimate Success Today, predicting it. The record was made nearly a year ago but songs about "a foreign disease washed upon the beach" and abusive law enforcement couldn't be more now. Parallels between pop culture and our current climate have been frequent in 2020, but this album feels uncanny.
Ultimate Success Today wraps up a decade for Protomartyr, and Joe Casey has called it the fifth and final chapter in this particular book. "I wasn’t planning for it to sound like such a final statement, but now that we can’t tour the album, and that the future of music is such a big question mark, it adds an extra layer of irony to it," Casey told NME. "The world may decide that, actually, this is our last album." Let's hope not, as Protomartyr are consistently and powerfully able to articulate feelings and fears many of us have, even if we have to look up some of the words sometimes ("tatterdemalion" anyone?). We need them around, as this album shows.
Read the whole thing here.
Did you know we took Protomartyr to eat fancy Detroit-style pizza in Brooklyn back in 2016?
Crack Cloud - Pain Olympics (Meat Machine Records)
This Vancouver collective look like Mad Max extras and make phantasmagoric, post-apocalyptic dancerock to match.
For a comparatively lighter dystopian post punk experience than Protomartyr, may I offer up Pain Olympics, the pretty brilliant debut album by Vancouver's Crack Cloud. The word "collective" gets thrown around a lot when referring to a group that has a lot of members (especially if they're Canadian) but Crack Cloud use it to describe themselves, and it fits. Singer Zach Choy met most of the other members of the band in rehab, and they see Crack Cloud as their recovery program. With an undeniable anarchistic bent, Crack Cloud look like extras from Mad Max: Fury Road or Escape From New York -- and the music definitely matches their image.
The album opens with "Post Truth (Birth Of A Nation), a song that frankensteins breakbeat rhythms, otherworldly vocals a la the '60s Star Trek theme, mellotron flutes, chanted vocals, and demented synths into a funky end-times party. That's how you start a record! The rest of Pain Olympics, which packs a lot into its 30-minute running time, follows suit, incorporating other genres and styles into their arsenal for a confident, surprisingly cohesive, grand guignol listen.
There are eerie post-punk synth excursions ("Bastard Basket"), dips into jerky new wave ("Ouster Stew"), tension-filled rippers ("Tunnel Vision"), and moments of distorted, ethereal beauty ("Angel Dust [Eternal Peace]"). The best song, though, is "The Next Fix (A Safe Space)" which rides a slinky groove, pulls heavily from rap, works in robotic vocoder, jazz fusion trumpet and a chorus of chanted vocals while Choy sings, "I'm not free / Never was / A good boy / A good man." Crack Cloud do not hide their demons, but nor do they dwell on them, and Pain Olympics feels like a positive release.
PAINT - Spiritual Vegas (Mexican Summer)
Allah Lahs guitarist Pedrum Siadatian is back with his second solo album of fun, inventive DIY psychedelia
When Pedrum Siadatian isn't busy making retro psych pop with LA group Allah Las, he's making even trippier tunes on his own as PAINT. I prefer the side project to the day job: PAINT are weirder, groovier, and more on a Syd Barrett/Kinks trip, while keeping the hit quotient high. His second album, Spiritual Vegas, is a lot of fun and wildly inventive at times (in a '60s psych kind of way), doing fun things with old-school tape effects. He's got a great crew of Indie Basement all-stars helping him out, too, including Frank Maston and Sheer Agony's Jackson McIntosh. Most songs stay under two minutes, plant their hooks quick and leave you wanting more.
EMS Synthi 100 with Soulwax - DEEWEE Sessions, Vol. 01 (DeeWee)
Soulwax brothers David and Stephen Dewaele geek out with their personal holy grail vintage synth. The results are pretty magic.
You might not be surprised to learn that Soulwax masterminds David and Stephen Dewaele are gear/synth nerds. In their quest to own at least one of every legendary vintage synth ever made, one piece of equipment has eluded them: the EMS Synthi 100, a massive digital/analogue hybrid from the early '70s of which only 31 were made. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop has one, so does Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto, and Billy Corgan (reportedly).
The Dewaeles do not, but around the same time they opened their DEEWEE Studios in Ghent, Belgium, they learned that IPEM (the "research institute for systematic musicology" based in the city’s university) not only had a Synthi 100, but were looking for a temporary home for it while they moved buildings. Stephen and David jumped at the chance to help out...and play around with one.
The Sinthi 100 spent about a year at DEEWEE and the Dewaeles spent a lot of time learning its secrets. They made this album in the process. “It was our belief that there were tons of melodies and rhythms hidden within the machine,” say the brothers. “We just had to make it sing. Every sound you hear on this record, however hard to believe, originates from the mighty EMS Synthi 100. Some were easy to make, some took days to get right. A few of the compositions were written beforehand, with the Synthi 100 in mind, then translated onto it. A couple were created by just messing around for hours, and some of it is the machine randomly playing by itself, inspiring us to build onto its unique chaos.”
Listening to the album's six lengthy "movements," it is indeed surprising all these sounds came out of this nearly 50-year-old synthesizer, as some of it sounds modern (in a retro sort of way). It's bleepy and bloopy, but badass ("Movement 5" is a jam Chromatics or Cliff Martinez would kill for). Let's hope they get to spend time with it again.
Befitting such a nerdy record, it's now available in a limited edition package on 180g heavyweight vinyl, in a special 100-hole perforated sleeve, and it comes with a 48-page book on the story of the machine. Like the synthesizer itself, it's not cheap but pretty cool.
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.