Indie Basement (9/17): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Fall may not officially start till Tuesday, but autumn feels off to the races judging by this week's release calendar and today's Indie Basement features reviews of seven new albums: Blunt Bangs, the new group from Black Kids' Reggie Youngblood, drop their debut album;José González is back with his first album in six years; Brooklyn's YVETTE finally follow up their 2013 debut; Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor finds beauty in Silence; Mild High Club take their yacht to the tropics on Going Going Gone; Ratatat's Evan Mast releases his first E.VAX album in 20 years; and UK indiepop cult band Spearmint remain in fine form on their ninth album.
If you need more new record reviews, Andrew also takes on seven albums too in Notable Releases, including Moor Mother, Adia Victoria, Injury Reserve, and MONO, in this week's Notable Releases. If you need more Basement-approved news from a very busy week, I'm happy to oblige: Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser recorded a song with Oneohtrix Point Never; Athens, GA's Love Tractor are reissuing their 1988 album Themes from Venus; Tonstartssbandht announced a new album; Canadian drone-metal band New Age Doom have an album with Lee "Scratch" Perry (and members of Sloan?); Metronomy have a new EP; the 2022 Big Ears lineup is pretty great; and watch the trailer for the new Karen Dalton documentary.
And, in what may be the most Indie Basement thing ever, Jarvis Cocker has made an album of '60s French pop covers that's a companion piece to Wes Anderson's new movie AND it features a duet with Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Blunt Bangs - Proper Smoker (Ernest Jenning Record Co)
Reggie Youngblood of Blog-era band Black Kids trades hype for classic powerpop hooks on his new band's assured debut
Florida band Black Kids got a famously raw deal, chewed up and spit out by the music industry and internet hype/backlash. The Florida group, led by Reggie Youngblood, released the Wizard of Ahhhs EP as a free download on their MySpace page which, thanks to instantly likeable songs like "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You" and "Hurricane Jane," quickly made the blog rounds and got Best New Music on Pitchfork. The band had only played live a couple of times when they agreed to come to CMJ where they played a whole bunch of shows (including a BV day party). Live reviews were mixed but, having signed to Columbia Records, they had no time take a break and were soon whisked to the UK to play more hyped shows and record their debut album with producer and former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler. High profile tours of the UK (with Friendly Fires, Kate Nash) and the US (Cut/Copy) followed but by the time their undercooked debut, Partie Traumatic, was released, most of the sites who hyped them up less than a year before had moved on. Pitchfork gave one of their most infamous, dickish non-review reviews: a picture of two pugs with text on it that read "Sorry :-/" alongside a score of 3.3. Black Kids carried on (Partie Traumatic album went to #5 in the UK, actually), and released a second album in 2017, but never really recovered from the grist mill they went through.
This is a long way to say that Reggie, a very talented songwriter and charismatic frontman, finally made the smart move in starting fresh in a new city (Athens, GA) with a new band, Blunt Bangs. The group also also includes Christian "Smokey" DeRoeck (Woods, Deep State), who also writes and sings, and drummer Cash Carter (Tracy Shedd, The Cadets). While Youngblood's ability to form earworm hooks and choruses remains sharp, Blunt Bangs are decidedly a rock band, sashaying between '90s-style indie rock and '70s glammy power pop on their terrific debut album. (If there's any doubt about those influences, they cover Teenage Fanclub's "Everything Flows" as a bonus track.) If you like descending Big Star-style riffs played as punk songs, Proper Smoker is an overflowing cornucopia of hits. Reggie's yelping vocal style is much more of a natural fit here than with Black Kids, and he sounds great on songs like the spirited "Decide" and "She's Gone," and dreamy ballad "Sick Moves." DeRoeck's no slouch either, contributing the Superchunk-y "Speed Reader" and the anthemic, rootsy "Silence is Golden." The album's most sublime moment, though, is the swaying "Odessa," that drops in just a little '60s pop, complete with a "shebop, shebop" chorus, and is the only hint of Reggie's old band. (It's also a little like '70s glam band The Rubettes.) But Blunt Bangs feels more comfortable, like a favorite pair of sneakers, rather than something to get tastemakers salivating. And there's not a thing wrong with that.
José González - Local Valley (Mute)
José doesn't stir things up much on his first album in six years, and we wouldn't want it any other way
José González is one of those artist who never really changes what he does and you don't want him to either. His sound is so distinctive, so warm, so appealing, and the gaps between albums growing longer, that he never overstays his welcome. Local Valley is his first solo album in six years and gives you everything you want: ethereal folk influenced by Brazil and Africa, expertly played in his distinctive, delicate, finger-picked classical guitar style, with his airy vocals floating over top like a perfect fluffy cloud on a perfect blue sky. The production is minimal, but immaculately considered, with most songs featuring the lightest of percussion and plenty of headroom. He sounds like he was recorded in the middle of a valley, but somehow right next to your ear at the same time. The album may not have everything -- for those who love his unique cover versions of other artists' songs, Local Valley is all González originals. The album does, however, include his first ever Spanish language songs, and the beauty of "El Invento" make you wonder what took him so long to do so, but José is always working at his own pace.
We just found a few more copies of our previously sold-out, exclusive, limited-to-500 red vinyl edition of Local Valley and you can pick that up in our store.
Alexis Taylor - Silence (Domino)
The Hot Chip frontman's meditative fifth solo album explores the quiet regions, and sometimes achieves transcendence
While you may (rightly) associate Alexis Taylor with his band Hot Chip's bangers like "Ready for the Floor," "Over and Over," and "One Life Stand," his fragile vocal style is probably better suited to more fragile, contemplative material where humanity and empathy pour out of him. One of my all-time favorite Hot Chip songs is "Look After Me," from 2006's The Warning, where Alexis' voice movingly intertwines with a gently strummed guitar and a gorgeous string section. (It is a song that, according to Setlist.fm, they've never played live. That needs to be remedied.) Taylor's solo work has usually tilted this way, with 2016's Piano being just him and his 88. Despite its title, Silence is more robust, arrangement-wise, but feels more akin to Piano than his very electronic, beat-forward 2018 album, Beautiful Thing. The idea behind the album came from Alexis wanting to convey the ambient sounds of an empty room, an experience he can no longer quite have as he began developing tinnitus after a Hot Chip show in 2019. “I started to think about what it meant to me to lose quietness, solitude, meditative head space - as that was no longer available to me.” Featuring Sam Becker (double bass), Kenichi Iwasa (horn, trumpet) and Rachel Horton-Kitchlew (harp), Silence is jazzy in a way Taylor's never explored before, at least to this extent. Taylor's meditations achieve transcendence on "House of the Truth," which turns a house-y piano riff into something more spiritual and contemplative -- somewhere between Sébastien Tellier's "La Ritournelle" and Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden -- that he should explore further. On moments like that, Silence is truly golden.
E.VAX - E.VAX (Because Music)
You can take the man out of Ratatat but you can't take the Ratatat out of the man on Evan Mast's first E.Vax record in 20 years
Ratatat are intrinsically tied, to most people, with the early-2000s Brooklyn wave that included Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Liars, etc. But even amongst all the bands sporting trucker hats holding down unwashed hair, Evan Mast and Mike Stroud sounded like nobody else with their glammy instrumental dance rock that sounded like Queen's Flash Gordon soundtrack minus all the harmonies but with more twin lead guitars and hip hop beats. The duo were so distinctive that one or two records were probably enough for most people, through they made five in a decade. (A singles comp would probably suit them best.) Ratatat haven't made an album since 2015's Magnifique, but Evan Mast has reactivated his E.VAX solo project for its first record in 20 years. (The irony/relevance of its name in 2021 is certainly not lost on him, either.) Whether working with the band or solo, certain sounds, rhythmic and melodic elements flow through Mast's bloodstream and it's instantly evident that this album is made by one of the guys who gave us "Seventeen Years" and "Lex." Mast is having fun in the studio, though, and pushing things in interesting ways that Ratatat probably wouldn't have gone in. E.VAX is pleasingly chill and just a little funky, like a blender drink on the beach, with those twin leads as the paper umbrella on the top.
Mild High Club - Going Going Gone (Stones Throw)
Mild High Club take a trip to Brazil on their lush, playful third album.
Speaking of fruity frozen drinks in fancy glassware, your enjoyment of Mild High Club probably has a lot to do with your appreciation/tolerance of mellow, lushly produced rock from the late '70s and early '80s that may have featured backing vocals by Michael McDonald. Alex Brettin, who is MHC, has absorbed the smooth, jazzy catalogs of Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Ned Doheny and beyond, and reassembled them in his own style, incorporating a whole bunch of other influences along the way. Mild High Club's third album, Going Going Gone, is immediately impressive, from his mastery of sultry arrangements to the vocal harmonies, top-notch performances and production that is indebted to the past but sounds vibrant and modern. It's a decidedly Brazilian blend, too, with folks like Marcos Valle and Jorge Ben looming like a palm tree over the production, accented by Brazilian artist Samira Winter's Portuguese language vocals on the wonderful "A New High." Like a dream vacation, Going Going Gone is over too soon (a mere 29 minutes) but also makes for a welcome return trip.
YVETTE - How The Garden Grows (Western Vinyl)
One of Brooklyn's noisiest bands soften up just a little on their long-in-the-works second album
A lot has changed in the eight years since YVETTE released their intense debut album. The vibrant North Brooklyn DIY scene that they were a part of all but dried up and scattered, as warehouses turned into massive condos and venues Death by Audio, 285 Kent and Glasslands all closed in 2014 to make way for Vice's new headquarters (which they're now about to close). YVETTE changed too. Drummer Dale Eisinger left the group not long after they finished their second album, making singer/guitarist Noah Kardos-Fein the sole member of the group.
How the Garden Grows is a pretty different-sounding YVETTE too, expanding their intense, industrial style into new, technologically advanced territory. The sense of dread, however, remains, as the record was made over the last four years. “At the same time that I was developing techniques to harness the tactile and expressive qualities of my guitar to control a processed synthesizer," Noah says, "I was voraciously consuming the news every day and wrestling with the incomprehensibility of greater existential threats outside any one person’s control – then channeling these themes into lyrics, vocal patterns, and vocal processing.”
YVETTE are a fierce live band, but with How the Garden Grows they've created a compelling studio album, with moments of beauty and melody crashing up against their sheer walls of white noise and bleak themes. It's still industrial, but this time made of brushed steel, reflecting the sun in muted tones. "For a Moment" and "Close Quarters" exemplify the album, with Kardos-Fein's vocals run though effects units to the point where they are transformed into gentle, pulsing synth pads, while massive drums pound against ticking, clockwork loops. There are still punishing tracks like "Smoke in Your Eyes" and "Translucent" that feel designed to strip the paint off the walls, but YVETTE have mutated into something that doesn't just work on a cinderblock stage with stark lighting bought at a paint store. It does, however, still sound best played at a volume louder than your neighbors are likely to tolerate.
Spearmint - Holland Park (wiaiwya)
Long-running London cult band's ninth album is another fine entry in a remarkably consistent catalog
Led by the charismatic Shirley Lee, London's Spearmint got their start during the height of Britpop and have been honing their highly romantic style of indiepop ever since. While kindred spirits to Pulp and Saint Etienne, Spearmint have stayed firmly in cult status, though if their 2000 single "We're Going Out" had come out five years earlier, they could've been contenders. But Spearmint seem to relish their "Britain’s best kept secret" reputation, not to mention their independence -- all of their albums have been released on their own hitBACK label, and cheers to them for being able to do it their way for so long. Holland Park is their ninth album, and is another solid entry in a remarkably consistent discography. Produced by Scritti Politti's Rhodri Marsden it's a slick mix of indie styles, from swoony new romanticism through Madchester, Britpop and the '00s post-punk revival. It's also a concept record about the way showbiz chews you up and spits you out, and how some artists carry on despite commercial indifference. “What would the other members of the Spiders From Mars say now about their lives if we tracked them down? I don’t mean Bowie’s band, I mean Ziggy’s band,” says Lee of the album's concept that was based on his father's forgotten prog rock band. Spearmint are just the band for the job, bringing wry, knowing wit and catchy tunes to this tale of the shouda coulda wouldas.
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