Indie Basement (1/20): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more

This year has been thundering out of the gate with more Basement-worthy releases than usual. This week I review seven: John Cale‘s first album in a decade featuring Weyes Blood, Fat White Family, Animal Collective and more; Guided by Voices‘ first (but not last) album of 2023; Ladytron‘s seventh long-player; the excellent second album from Dublin’s The Murder Capital; Athens, GA’s The Bad Ends (featuring R.E.M.‘s Bill Berry), The C.I.A. (Denée & Ty Segall) and the debut solo from Blur drummer Dave Rowntree.

Over in Notable Releases, Andrew reviews the “lost” Brainiac EP, folk artist Fran, Oddisee and more.

This week was absolutely bananas with news and announcements: New albums are on the way from Sleaford ModsArlo Parks, and Noel Gallagher; Ivy’s catalog is getting vinyl reissues. and I am personally excited by the news that Trevor Horn’s old band The Buggles are reforming to open for Seal. Warmduscher also announced their first-ever North American tour.

A time sensitive alert! The BV shop is currently having sale for 25% off just about everything in stock (not pre-orders), including turntables! The Indie Basement corner of the store includes records by Belle & Sebastian, New Order, Crime and the City Solution, THe Velvet Underground, Depeche Mode, Love & Rockets, A Tribe Called Quest, King Gizzrd, The The, The B-52’s, The Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr, not to mention 2022 faves by Naima Bock, Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Pupul, Yard Act, King Hannah, Midlake and more (discount will appear in cart).

Head below for this week’s reviews.


ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: John Cale – Mercy (Double Six/Domino)
Animal Collective, Weyes Blood, Sylvan Esso, and more contribute to the onetime Velvet Underground member’s first album in a decade, but ‘Mercy’ is 100% Cale’s show

“Many of these songs were written during a period of mourning and loss,” John Cale told The Guardian in regards to his new album which was written and recorded during the very tumultuous last three years. “Everyone I know felt it. Humanity hit a brick wall. There was too much unchecked ugliness about.”

There is nothing ugly about Mercy, though. It’s the Velvet Underground founding member’s first album in a decade and one of his least obtuse. This album is elegant and very modern sounding, and not just because it features contributions from Animal Collective, Weyes Blood, Sylvan Esso, Laurel Halo, Tei Shi, Actress, and Fat White Family. In fact his collaborators mostly are doing subtle under-the-hood work on this album that feels seamless in concept and execution, like a drop of mercury gliding across polished stainless steel. If tracks didn’t say “Featuring” you probably wouldn’t ever wonder if there were guests at all. It’s Cale’s show all the way, with a spotlight on his still soaring, sonorous voice, backed with lush electronics, taking current hip hop and R&B production and bending it to his will.

That feeling of loss he speaks about registers loud and clear, however. There are songs about Nico and Bowie, and his own mortality ripples through the rest (he’s 80 upon the release of this album). Mercy is a 3 AM kind of record, when you are alone with your thoughts and feelings and should probably be asleep. It’s quiet but will keep you awake. Cale remains restless, thankfully for us, and Mercy finds him as vital an artist as ever some 60 years after meeting Lou Reed.


ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: The Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery (Human Seasons)
No more Joy Division comparisons: the Dublin band come into their own on their excellent second album

Dublin band The Murder Capital have lightened up considerably since their release of their 2019 debut, When I Had Fears. That album trafficked in dour indie rock not too far removed from Interpol. early Editors and other groups who got compared to Joy Division a lot. While derivative, it had good songs played with conviction, and frontman James McGovern had a magnetism that could be felt even through the cheapest of earbuds. Four years later the band are back, and while it would be wrong to say they seem more comfortable in their skin, Gigi’s Recovery feels more the product of a band who have figured out who they are. Songs and performances are more nuanced and showcase a whole range of emotions and colors, not just black and grey. The swaying “Good Things” and anthemic “Return My Head” border on joyous, and the latter sounds like a great lost single from the peak blog rock era. In fact, Gigi’s Recovery plays a bit like the greatest mid-’00s indie guitar record you never heard, with memorable song after memorable song, all expertly produced by John Congleton with excellent varied guitarwork by Damien Tuit and Cathal Roper. McGovern has become a better singer, too, reeling it in just a little without losing any of the passion. This is not nostalgia for any era, though; Gigi’s Recovery is the sound five men making vital music with guitars in 2023.

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Ladytron – Time’s Arrow (Cooking Vinyl)
Seventh album from icy Liverpool synth band doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but you wouldn’t want them to anyway

After an eight-year break, Livepool’s Ladytron returned in 2019 with their self-titled sixth album that had them not only picking right back up where they left off, but also sounding better and more focused than they had on their previous couple albums. It’s only been four years since that record — and most of that time was during the pandemic — and its follow-up continues the same path. Not that the group have ever made any wild left turns, stylically. Ladytron have known what they were about from day 1: glacial synths played very loud, propulsive, motorok beats, and Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo’s detached, cool vocals. (I’ve often thought of them as: “What if Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother had stayed in Kraftwerk and never formed Neu!, but incorporated their ideas into the group’s synthpop sound. And were led by women.” The “don’t fix what ain’t broke” mindset works for them here, as Time’s Arrow ticks along terrifically with icy bangers like “Faces” and “City of Angels,” and dreamier numbers like “Misery Remember Me” that approaches Cocteau Twins territory. Ladytron’s style is a constant that works in their favor; not bowing to trends, Ladytron sound timeless.

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Guided by Voices – La La Land (GBV Inc)
Guided by Voices’ current hot streak remains unbroken on their 37th album

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Guided by Voices! How many classic lineups of GBV have we had? I’m not sure but it would be hard to argue that the current iteration of Doug Gillard, Kevin March, Mark She and Bobby Bare Jr — all constants since 2016 — have not been responsible for one of the more consistent, enjoyable runs of the band ever. Their hot-streak continues on La La Land, a tight 11-song, 35-minute collection that mixes in introspective and orchestral songs among the patented GBV riff-o-rama stadium-worthy rock anthems. It also makes room for some of the proggier elements we got on previous album Tremblers by Goggles and Rank. Piano and synth plays a larger role than usual, giving us some distinctly pretty creations, chief among them the wonderful, string-laden ballad “Queen Of Spaces.” Bob Pollard’s stash of earworms doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to run out, and with this great iteration backing him lets hope it never does.

The C.I.A. Surgery Channel

The C.I.A. – Surgery Channel (In the Red)
Ty Segall, Denée Segall and Emmett Kelly play doctor on The C.I.A. kinky, snarling second album

The C.I.A. began as a collaboration between Ty Segall and his wife, Denée, but since their 2018 self-titled debut they added Ty’s Freedom Band-mate Emmett Kelly to the mix making, it more of a group effort. But no less weird. Surgery Channel is pretty out there, jagged, skronky synth-punk with elements of heavy prog and metal. (It feels, sonically, akin to Ty’s 2021 album Harmonizer.) While Ty and Emmett obviously contribute a lot, The C.I.A. is really Denée’s baby — she’s the lyricist, vocalist and public face of the group. If there was any doubt who was in charge, the album cover makes it clear, with Ty face-down on the ground with,Denée’s shoe on his head, and Emmett kneeling in submission next to her. What’s going on here? Surgery Channel feels like a concept album, from that kinky artwork to song titles like “Inhale Exhale.” I  don’t know what it’s about but songs like “Better,” “Bubble,” and “Impersonator” are snarling, minimal electro rock rippers that cut with clinical precision.

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The Bad Ends – The Power & The Glory (New West)
Bill Berry gets behind the drum kit for the first time since leaving R.E.M. with this Athens band led by Five Eight’s Mike Mantione

Much of the hype around Athens group The Bad Ends is that it’s the first band drummer Bill Berry has been in since leaving R.E.M. in 1997. No doubt that is awesome but the heart and soul of the group is Mike Mantione who led the massively underrated band Five Eight for nearly 20 years. (Five Eight never broke up but have been in deep hibernation since the late-’00s.) Fans of both Mantione and Berry’s groups will find lots to love on The Power & The Glory, a quintessential southern jangle rock record, full of guitars that ring and roar, relatable but clearly personal lyrics, and arrangements that are not afraid of mandolins. Mantione is a passionate guy who knows how to deliver a rousing chorus and you can can almost see the sweat dripping down his forehead as he belts these songs out. Berry’s presence is felt too: “Mile Marker 29” has a little “Harborcoat” in it, and his lithe but powerful touch really energizes the percussion-driven “The Ballad of Satan’s Bride.” It’s good to have him back in the saddle, especially playing on this batch of songs that perfectly scratch that happy/sad, nostalgic itch.

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Dave Rowntree – Radio Songs (Cooking Vinyl)
Blur drummer gets cinematic on his chilled-out solo debut

Dave Rowntree might have seemed like the Least Likely Blur Member to Make a Solo Record but here we are with Radio Songs. (Alex James, who is more interested in making cheese than records these days, is the only member without one now.) “The idea of ‘Radio Songs’ is me spinning through the dial,” he says. “It sounds like you’ve got a radio tuned to some static and you spin the dial, and the song pops out of it. And then you spin the dial again, and the song dissolves back into the static.” While his dial does not run across anything you’d call Britpop, Rowntree does delve into another mid-’90s UK genre: trip-hop. Most of the album luxuriates in the chillzone, with blunted beats, dubby bass, minor chord synths, and grand orchestration, all of which suits his low-key vocal style. It’s a cinematic approach, which makes sense has he’s become an in-demand television composer in recent years. It might not displace any of Damon Albarn or Graham Coxon’s records on Blur fans’ shelves but Radio Songs is well worth a spin.

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