Indie Basement (8/5): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Welcome to August, aka the slowest month of the year in the entertainment industry. This week in particular is seriously slim pickins, as far as new releases go, but there are still things worthy of your time: a new box set compiles most of the songs from John Hughes' '80s films; Healing Potpourri tap The High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan to produce their new album (which really sounds like The High Llamas); Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs curate a great compilation of early-'90s downtempo club classics; TOPS' keyboardist Marci shines on her solo debut; and Mick Trouble gathers up some "Oddities and Sodsities."
It's a light week in Notable Releases too, as Andrew checks out albums by The Interrupters, Kokoroko and more. If you need more Basement-y stuff here's some news from this week: Peel Dream Magazine announced a new album; The Auteurs' Luke Haines and REM's Peter Buck have made a second album; and John Cale has teased a new album with a great new song about David Bowie.
Have you checked out the Indie Basement corner of the BrooklynVegan shop lately? Its virtual shelves are packed with great vinyl albums from The Cure (including my fave, Head on the Door), Can, Neu!, Stereolab, Broadcast, Beach House, Wet Leg, Kevin Morby, Cocteau Twins, The Beths, Aldous Harding, Tall Dwarfs, Yard Act, Mazzy Star, Talking Heads, Just Mustard, Midlake, Pixies, Sparks, Liars, The Kinks, The Zombies, and lots more.
Head below for this week's reviews.
Various Artists - Life Moves Pretty Fast - The John Hughes Mixtapes (Demon)
Sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and dickheads, rejoice! This John Hughes box set has almost every song you'd want from his many '80s movies.
I was a teenager in the 1980s and, growing up in West Virginia, I didn't have a lot of access to music beyond the radio. My very small town didn't have a record store, and my cable company didn't have MTV, so I relied on my SPIN subscription, TBS' Night Track, and occasional trips to the closest city (Roanoke, VA) to hit record stores, to discover new stuff. I did OK given all that, and listened to REM and The Smiths and other more widely known "college rock" groups of the time, with my finger as close to the pulse as I could get it.
I also had John Hughes movies. He seemed to have his ear to the street, both with the way teenagers talked and what they listened to, at least the teenagers who lived in big cities (or cool suburbs, like Shermer, IL) that had access to cool record stores. I remember watching the credits to Sixteen Candles on VHS -- the tiniest font made worse on our small TV -- and wrote down "The Revillos," "Oingo Boingo" and "The Specials" and then waiting two weeks to go to a record store to see if they had anything. Soon after that, thanks to The Breakfast Club giving Simple Minds their first US hit, John Hughes movies became a thing to look forward to for the music, both the actual soundtrack albums but also all the other songs that were in them. Even the posters on the wall: I bought records by Cabaret Voltaire and Easterhouse because Matthew Broderick and Eric Soltz had them on their walls, respectively, in John Hughes movies. And when the Ferris Bueller's Day Off soundtrack was never released (despite their being a mention of it in the end credits), I went on a 10-year hunt to track down all the songs used in it, which was not easy -- what songs weren't recorded specifically for the film (and never released) were often obscure b-sides.
My relationship with John Hughes' films has changed in the last 30 years -- Sixteen Candles and Weird Science are kinda hard to watch now for a variety of reasons -- but the music is still a big part of me. I would definitely not be writing for this website without John Hughes movies. So I am genuinely excited for this box set, Life Moves Pretty Fast - The John Hughes Mixtapes, that has almost every song from John Hughes' films of the '80s, including films he directed (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Planes Trains & Automobiles, She's Having A Baby, Uncle Buck) and ones he wrote (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, National Lampoon's Vacation, The Great Outdoors, more), including lots of the songs that never made the actual soundtrack albums. For fans like me, this is a real white whale / unicorn release.
That said, Life Moves Pretty Fast does not have everything. There are tracks omitted probably for budget reasons -- The Beatles "Twist & Shout" from Ferris Beuller, The Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" from Pretty in Pink, not to mention Psychedelic Furs' title track) but none of those are particularly hard to find. What it does have are most of those lost treasures, especially from Ferris Bueller: The Flowerpot Men's "Beat City" (which was only released as a John Hughes Fan Club 7" and has been repressed for the super deluxe edition of this box), The Dream Academy's majestic instrumental cover of "Please Please Please," and The English Beat's "March of the Swivelheads" that soundtracks Ferris' mad dash home across neighborhood backyards.
There's also Propaganda's incredible "Abuse [Here]" which is the most memorable piece of music in Some Kind of Wonderful (sorry, Flesh for Lulu); The Revillos' B-52's-esque "Rev Up" and The Specials' "Little Bitch" from Sixteen Candles; and The Rave-Ups' "Positively Lost Me" which they perform live in Pretty in Pink but were not allowed to be on the soundtrack because A&M wanted songs written just for the film. They even included Pop Will Eat Itself's grebo-hip-hop cover of '60s garage rock obscurity "Beaver Patrol" from The Great Outdoors.
For those who just want the hits (and "Beat City"), there's a double-LP edition but I imagine most will want the box set version, that also comes with with a booklet featuring commentary from Hughes' son James Hughes, music supervisor Tarquin Gotch, and Matthew Broderick.
Life Moves Pretty Fast - The John Hughes Mixtapes is out November 11 via Demon Music and you can preorder the deluxe CD/cassette/7" edition, the six-red-vinyl-LP edition and the double-LP edition in the BV shop.
I made a list of the box set's best inclusions and most glaring omissions , and someone put together a playlist of all the songs available on Spotify (plus songs that aren't on the box set) that you can listen to here:
Healing Potpourri - Paradise (Run for Cover)
The High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan produces and brings his unique sound to this Oakland band's pastoral new album
With his group The High Llamas, Sean O'Hagan carved out a unique sound -- part Brian Wilson, part Steely Dan, part Ennio Morricone -- on such brilliant, ornate orch pop classics as Gideon Gaye and Hawaii.* His instantly identifiable string and horn arrangements can also be heard on much of Stereolab's '90s output (Dots & Loops in particular), and more. O'Hagan's own output has slowed in the last decade (one High Llamas album, one solo album) but he's remained an in-demand arranger, and he's getting busier as a producer.
O'Hagan co-produced Paradise, the new album from Oakland artist Healing Potpourri (Simi Sohota for all intensive purposes), and his presence is so felt here that it falls more into full-on collaboration territory. You don't bring on Sean O'Hagan if you aren't looking for that sound, and Sohota fully embraces it, letting Sean work his magic all over it, from melting, swooning strings, to gurgling synthesizers, loungey vibraphone and multilayered harmonies. Sohota already had carved out a pastoral orch-pop sound somewhere between 10CC and Harry Nilsson on 2020's Blanket of Calm, but his songs are more chilled out, float-downstream creations this time. Jason Kick, who worked on Blanket and albums by Mild High Club, is the other co-producer here, and the three of them make a great team. Paradise is a terrific record that also works as a nice placeholder till the next High Llamas record.
*Someone please reissue Gideon Gaye and Hawaii.
Various Artists - Fell from the Sun: Downtempo and After-Hours 1990-91 (Ace)
Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs compile the best 98 BPM classics of the very early-'90s peak UK rave era
Nineties house music is having a moment, thanks in no small part of Beyonce, but also US Girls, Drake and more. (Also Orbital reminding us they're still here, still awesome.) Not quite the same thing, but here's an excellent new compilation of downtempo classics from the peak early-'90s era of UK rave. Fell from the Sun was put together by Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs who were in the thick of this scene as it happened. From Stanley's pen:
1989 had been a long hot summer, but 1990 felt longer and hotter. Since the house music explosion of 1987, Britain had had a whistle in its mouth, and it needed a lie down. February 1990 brought two records that were made to accompany the sunrise and would shape the immediate future: The KLF’s “Chill Out” was a continuous journey, a woozy, reverb-laden mix; and Andrew Weatherall’s drastic remix of a Primal Scream album track – ‘Loaded’ – slowed down the pace on the dancefloor itself, right down to 98 beats per minute.
Within weeks of ‘Loaded’ and “Chill Out” emerging, a whole wave of similarly chilled, floaty, mid-tempo records appeared. The charts were full of chugging Soul II Soul knock-offs, but further out were amazingly atmospheric records such as the Grid’s ‘Floatation’, which married the new-age relaxation method du jour with Jane Birkin-like breathy sighs; BBG’s ‘Snappiness’, which was all sad synth pads and Eric Satie piano; and the Aloof’s ‘Never Get Out Of The Boat’, which re-imagined Apocalypse Now as if it had been shot in Uxbridge.
Stanley and Wiggs are musicologists and crate-diggers who used their deep knowledge (and record collections) to come up with unique samples on those early Saint Etienne albums, and together have curated a lot of cool compilations for Ace Records -- from early '70s folk to obscure synthpop -- but they feel especially at home here, and bring their good taste to a genre that could veer towards cheese. The late, great Andrew Weatherall was really at the heart of this just-below-100-BPM scene, and he's represented here with Primal Scream's "Higher Than the Sun" (in its "Higher than the Orb" extended mix), and One Dove (his collaborative project with Dot Allison) and their single "Fallen." There's also Dave Ball and Richard Norris duo The Grid with "Floatation" (whose singer, Sacha Souter, graces the cover of this comp); Moodswings' "Spiritual High,"BBG's "Snappiness," Saint Etienne's own "Speedwell" and more.
This collection is not entirely cheese free. There's no shortage of shuffle beats and "madchester piano," and in its overt chillness Fell From the Sun may cause '90s flashbacks of time spent in hair salons and lobbies of Euro-style hotels. Then there's tracks like Transglobal Underground's "Temple Head" that screams 1991 like an 8-Ball jacket. The good far outweighs the dated-ness. Someone buy this for Bey.
These Ace comps are never on streaming services, but as usual someone has made a Spotify playlist for it:
Mick Trouble - Oddities and Sodsities (Self Released)
More fake British accents and wonderful DIY pop from
Brooklyn's London's Mick Trouble
The alter ego of Brooklyn wunderkind Jed Smith (Jeanines, Teenage Stride), Mick Trouble has released an EP and two albums worth of wonderfully ramshackle pop that pays homage to Television Personalities and other DIY punk of the late '70s, full of fake British accents, British references and big hooks. The Oddities & Sodsities EP, which tips its hat to The Who (the title) and The Beatles (the cover art), collects "b-sides and flexidisc singles" but he keeps quality levels high.
"Theme to We Are the Buzzcocks" is probably the best of the bunch, a very witty songs about the group and their legacy as do-it-yourself pioneers with knowing nods to The Fall, Factory Records and The Damned (to name three): "We are the buzzcocks / say a prayer for ol' Mark E / you could get Hannet for a fee / or cap'n sensible for free." There's also a quiet version of "Not 'alf Bad" from Mick's debut LP (shades of "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives" in this version), and an Ace cover of The Magnetic Fields' "The Saddest Story Ever Told." Like many artists of the era he's aping, even his throwaways are great.
Marci - Marci (Arbutus)
TOPS keyboardist Marta Cikojevic steps into the spotlight on her assured debut album
Marta Cikojevic has been keyboardist in Montreal soft pop group TOPS since 2017 but says she never wrote songs until very recently. Beginners luck perhaps but her solo debut shows that like the band she's in, Marci's got an uncanny knack for smooth, R&B-flecked earworms. Written with TOPS guitarist David Carriere, the album recalls Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson, the more suave pop moments of Feist, and a little Fleetwood Mac a la Tango in the Night. The production is pretty perfect, blending layers of harmonies, synths and guitars, making for a honey sweet confection that stops just short of tooth decay. Members of Montreal's indie community (Braids, Anemone, Better Person, TOPS' Jane Penny) appear on various songs, but Marci is the real star of the show, with a breathy, emotive voice that really sells songs like "Call the Wild," "Entertainment" and "BB I Would Die."
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