Indie Basement (4/28): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
April is in the books, May is just a few days away and this week's Indie Basement is overflowing with records. I review the latest from Jessie Ware, Beach House, Y La Bamba, JFDR, John Andrews & The Yawns, Robyn Hitchcock, The Blue Aeroplanes, Country Westerns, and Shangri-Lass.
Need more album reviews? Andrew takes on The National, Indigo De Souza, Skinny Pelembe and more in Notable Releases. Need more music news? The Clientele are back; There's a Syd Barrett documentary on the way; Love and Rockets' Sweet F.A. is getting an expanded vinyl reissue and a companion outtakes comp; Frankie Goes to Hollywood are reuniting for their first show in 36 years; Kevin Morby hasn't run out of photographs; and Fontaines D.C.'s Grian Chatten released his surprising (and very good) first solo single.
Also: Parker Posey's 1995 cult classic Party Girl, and it's great clubby soundtrack, has gotten a new 4K restoration and is back in theaters (and on Criterion Channel).
RIP The Pop Group's Mark Stewart, Harry Belafonte, and Jerry Springer.
Finally, a reminder that Indie Basement has its own corner of the BV Shop that is full of great records, including our exclusive, limited edition color vinyl variant of Alvvays' debut album, our exclusive, limited edition swirled vinyl edition of Thee Oh Sees' Live at Levitation, plus albums by The Lemonheads, Primal Scream, King Gizzard, The Raincoats, Radiohead, Grant Lee Buffalo, Belle & Sebastian, Deerhoof, Protomartyr, Mogwai,Love and Rockets, Kevin Morby, The The, Naima Bock, The Flaming Lips and lots more.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Jessie Ware - That! Feels Good! (PMR / EMI)
Jessie Ware keeps the party going, with her fifth album a saucy, start-to-finnish joy
Jessie Ware's 2020 album What's Your Pleasure? was one of the key releases in the current disco / house revival alongside records by Roisin Murphy and Beyonce. She could've easily called its joyous follow-up Pleasure Too, but managed to come up with an even better, cheekier title. "I’ve put aside years of anxiety, imposter syndrome and all that fretting and feeling like I’m not good enough," Ware says. "It’s not necessarily bigger or better than the last album, it’s more about turning the volume up and embodying that real, deep, sexy, bloody gorgeous groove." Working with Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford and Stuart Price (Les Rythmes Digitales, Pet Shop Boys), That! Feels Good! is a nonstop pleasure cruise -- there's even a song that recalls The Love Boat theme -- and she giddily mixes classic '70s funk, disco and tropicalia with '80s new wave / electro, '90s house, R&B and French Touch, and just about anything else that suits her fancy. Fun is the order of the day and it's served up across 10 effortlessly playful, gorgeously produced dance tracks that are equal parts groove, sweep and melody with nods to everyone from Gloria Gaynor to Madonna (though Ware's British accent is real). If you're not having a good time listening to this wonderful record, check your pulse.
Beach House - Become (Sub Pop)
Originally a Record Store Day release, this EP of 'Once Twice Melody' outtakes has hit streaming services
If you thought Beach House used all the songs they had for last year's fantastic 18-track double album Once Twice Melody, you'd be wrong. Become features five songs from the same sessions. "We didn’t think they fit in the world of OTM, but later realized they all fit in a little world of their own," Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally write. "To us, they are all kind of scuzzy and spacious, and live in the spirit realm.” While these are very much Beach House songs, they don't quite fit with Once Twice Melody, but the dreamy, string-laden "Devil's Pool," the baroque-tinged "Holiday House," and the shimmering, guitar-led "Black Magic" are memorable and worthy in their own right. The most immediate song, and only one that seems like it may have been an album contender is the simmering "American Daughter," which was mixed by Alan Moulder and builds and builds but never quite achieves that ecstatic climax it promises. As Scally and LeGrand themselves say, "It’s not really where we are currently going, but it’s definitely somewhere we have been" but as a EP of outtakes, it's a trip to a little world worth taking.
Y La Bamba - Lucha (Tender Loving Empire)
Wonderful seventh album from Luz Elena Mendoza Ramos is breezy but substantial. Their best yet.
The title of Y La Bamba's seventh album, Lucha, has a double meaning. It is the nickname of primary member Luz Elena Mendoza Ramos, but it also means "to fight." Luz says “'Lucha' is a symbol of how hard it is for me to tackle healing, live life, and be present,” with songs about love, queerness, their Mexican American and Chicanx identity, ancestral trauma, and the social upheaval of 2020. While the album has heavy themes and is deeply personal, Lucha is effortless to listen to, sounding wonderfully sunbaked as if these songs have always existed, beautiful, mysterious and just out of reach. Mendoza Ramos, who made the album after returning to Mexico City after many years in Portland, has upped their game as both a songwriter and producer, allowing tracks like "Collapse," "Damned," "Cenzia" and a spectral cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," to play out naturally, going where they need to. Everything gets a perfect coat of reverb, including Mendoza Ramos' magical, breathy vocals, making for a breezy listen that sticks with you.
John Andrews & The Yawns - Love For The Underdog (Woodsist)
Gorgeous string arrangements elevate the fourth solo album from this member of Woods, Quilt and Cut Worms
Long a go-to ringer multi-instrumentalist who has played in Quilt, Woods, Purple Mountains, Cut Worms and other groups, John Andrews is a wonderful songwriter and arranger in his own right. He's always had a fondness for '70s folk rock and soft rock, but really outdoes himself here and Love for the Underdog is his most accomplished solo album yet. The backbone of the album was recorded live to tape with Cut Worms' Max Clarke, Keven Lareau and Noah Bond and the musicianship is across-the-board impressive, with gentle groovy basslines, warm electric piano and jazzy drumming. What really allows these songs to take off, though, are the swooning strings that melt into Andrews' mellow harmonies and coat nearly every inch of the album. A perfect Sunday Morning record, Love for the Underdog finds a consummate sideman nonchalantly stepping into the spotlight
Country Westerns - Forgive the City (Fat Possum)
Second album from this Nashville/Brooklyn band offers terrific heartland rock with a punk attitude
Country Westerns hail from Nashville by way of Brooklyn, but sound like they could've come from Minneapolis circa 1987, mixing jangly heartland rock and punk sonics with singer-guitarist Joseph Plunkett's world-weary songs and warm-n-gravelly delivery. Forgive the City is their second album and plays like superior home cooking, delivering familiar flavors in a very satisfying way. Plunkett delivers fist-pumping, sing-a-long working class anthems that never feel forced or false, deploying solos and the occasional key change at just the right moment, while producer Matt Sweeney gives everything a boozy, rough-hewn punch. It's good to know there are still bands like Country Westerns, making records as good as this.
The Blue Aeroplanes - Culture Gun (Art Star)
Bristol, UK indie stalwarts
Before Bristol became the trip hop epicenter of the world, the UK city was home to The Blue Aeroplanes, a band armed with three guitarists (sometimes more), a Polish dancer named Wojtek, and a charismatic frontman in Gerard Langley whose colorful prose and sprechgesang delivery helped them stand out from all the other British bands with lots of guitars. Their great 1990 album Swagger featured Michael Stipe, and they were an early influence on another band with many guitarists, Radiohead. Langley has kept the Aeroplanes aloft since 1981, and Culture Gun is the band's 13th album which was made through especially stressful times -- Brexit, the pandemic, and Langley being diagnosed with cancer. It's angry, funny, thoughtful, and full to the brim with jangling, skronky, soaring and roaring guitars. The album also marks the return of guitarist and songwriter Rodney Allen who joined the band in time for Swagger and was that album's secret weapon. Langley, Allen and the dozen or so musicians that are part of Culture Gun's rotating cast all sound energized and inspired on great songs like "Building An Ark For The Anthropocene," "Bulletproof Coffee & A Snake-Oil Shot," "20/20" and "Lapdogs In The Wild." May they continue to fly for many more albums.
JFDR - Museum (Houndstooth)
Made in Brooklyn with Shahzad Ismaily, this Icelandic artist finds her sound on Album #3
JFDR, aka Icelandic artist Jófríður Ákadóttir, continues to evolve on her third album. Both 2017's Brazil and 2020's New Dreams are good but felt tethered to ideas of what Icelandic music should sound like. (You know, like glaciers and waterfalls and geysers.) Museum feels like she's striking out on her own and has finally found her own sound. This is her first record for Houndstooth, the artist-focused sister label of London's Fabric, and she made it in Brooklyn with Shahzad Ismaily who encouraged her to stretch her wings. Ákadóttir calls it "an album about clearing and healing; like breathing fresh strong air through your old self." Songs like "Life Man," "Valentine" "Sideways Moon," and "Spectator" draw you in with pure atmosphere; percussion is at a minimum, nearly nonexistent, as tinkling piano, fretless bass, synth textures and layers of harmony swirl around the stereo field, with plenty of headroom for them to dance. Museum at first sounds featherlight and minimal, but repeat listens reveal a complex, gorgeous deep sea of sound. Dive in.
Shangri Lass - Over and Over (Redundant Span)
Debut EP from Sister Wives' Rose Love makes good use of a variety of '60s and '70s styles
Rose Love, who plays bass in Sheffield, UK band Sister Wives, just released her debut solo single as Shangri-Lass. As her moniker implies, there's more than a little '60s girl group vibe in her sound, but also garage rock, krautrock, baroque psych, French ye-ye, and more. Her debut EP is a real treat, with four stick-in-your-head tracks, from the retro-futurism of opening track "Parallel," to "Father's Daughter"'s glammy shuffle, the ethereal, woozy "Dragonfly," and the rave-up closer "The Scandal." A true appetizer, Over and Over leaves you wanting more. Bring on the main course.
Robyn Hitchcock - Life After Infinity (Tiny Ghost)
Robyn Hitchcock is known for his out-there psychedelic lyrics and gift for extemporaneous stage banter, but he's also a fantastic musician who can weave guitar lines as intricately as five-dollar words. That side gets the spotlight on his first-ever instrumental album, Life After Infinity. "Music without words embedded in it becomes more like a picture," says Robyn. "I close my eyes and I can see the shapes of what I’m listening to - or playing - as it writhes between my ears. I’ve been playing long guitar instrumentals since 1969: Life After Infinity is the first time I’ve recorded them as an album." Robyn lives in Nashville these days but made this album in London and Cardiff, Wales and tracks like "Plesiosaurs in the Desert," "The Sparkling Duck," and "Celestial Transgression" have the pastoral feel of a windswept British coastline in March. Hypnotic and often spaciously drony, Life After Infinity finds the famously verbal musician just as eloquent with his mouth shut.
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