Bill’s Indie Basement (6/26): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week is a whopper, the most records I've ever tacked in one go, partially because it's a pretty big new release week and also because thanks to shifting dates due to COVID-19 I never seem to know when albums are actually out anymore, so I'm playing a little bit of catch-up, too. That said, this week features review of new albums by Pottery, Einstürzende Neubauten, Khruangbin, and Art Feynman (aka Luke Temple), Mikal Cronin's synth remake of last year's Seeker, New Orleans no-wave disco group Special Interest, Radical Dads' first album in five years, and Vacant Lots, plus a reissue of Redd Kross' perfect debut EP, and a new EP from Sweden's Les Big Byrd.
If you need more album reviews, Andrew's got 11 of them in this week's Notable Releases, including Hum, The Rentals, Arca, and more. If you need more Basement approved things, here's: Public Practice's debut album, which has been streaming for a while, is now on vinyl; Burt Bacharach is back with a record with The Silver Seas' Daniel Tashian; and if you're looking for something to watch, I HIGHLY recommend new documentary Desolation Center.
OK, head below for this week's avalanche of new music.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Pottery - Welcome to Bobby's Motel (Partisan)
Gleefully hyperkinetic Montreal band try on a lot of hats on their debut album; most of them look good
Montreal band Pottery have a manic, infectious spirit that's hard to resist, as well as a willingness to try out different genres and see what fits, and move onto the next thing. (Even the stuff that doesn't exactly fit, they're good at.) Like an old wooden roller coaster, the band will whip you through sharp turns, dips and dives, leaving you windswept and maybe with a bit of a sore neck. Fun, though.
To continue with this amusement park analogy, Pottery's debut album, Welcome to Bobby's Motel, doesn't bother with a slow climb, instead starting things with a big drop. The instrumental title track opens the record with crazed drum roll that barrells into a dizzy musical circus, full of demented organ, tempo changes, and heavy psychedelic guitar leads. Just when you're getting your bearings, that slams into "Hot Heater," one of a few sweaty funk numbers on the album that, if they had slap bass, could be confused for early Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Thankfully, there is no slap bass, though, which keeps things more in a postpunk mode, grabbing bits of Talking Heads, Pigbag, The Monochrome Set and XTC. Most of the styles they try on are from that 1978-1983 era, though at times they sound like the mid-'00s bands who were also inspired by that era. (Franz Ferdinand, Futureheads, and, on "What's In Fashion?," even Maximo Park.) Austin Boylan has a flexible voice that works on the manic, angular numbers ("Take Your Time," "Down in the Dump") but can also get surprisingly soulful on atmospheric tracks like "Reflection" and "Hot Like Jungle."
Welcome to Bobby's Motel works best when Pottery are really going for it, like the wild dance party that is "Texas Drums Pt I & II" that starts off like Talking Heads but moves onto other ideas before you can shout "I Zimbra," heading into crazed acid trip territory in its second half. The album could use more moments of brilliance like that, but the band are are clearly having a blast, and don't let you think about much beyond having a good time for its rather breathless 38 minutes.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Art Feynman - Half Price at 3:30 (Western Vinyl)
Luke Temple's low-fi, world-embracing alter ego returns for album #2.
Luke Temple of Here We Go Magic began playing around with an old cassette four-track recorder, drum machines and synths as Art Feynman a few years ago. His experiments eschewed verse-chorus-verse pop formulas and pulled from a wider variety of influences, too, like Arthur Russell disco records, William Onyeabor and other world beating rhythms. The songs had a groovy, off-the-cuff charm and 2017's Blast Through the Wicker was the best record Temple had released in a while.
Following last year's Both-And, a proper Luke Temple solo-album, he's back with a second Art Feynman record that's another low key winner. Featuring slightly higher fidelity, the Feynman magic is still here, still sounding like a tape dug out of the glove compartment of a camper van that has been abandoned in the desert since 1980. His mellow voice works so well on warm, laid-back tracks like "I'm Gonna Miss Your World," "Not My Guy" and "Nancy Are You Hiding In Your Work." "Emancipate Your Love," one of the few songs that sounds like it could've been on a solo album, sounds ethereal and gorgeous, and album closer "I Can Dream" is wonderfully euphoric. "Magic" may be a word associated with one of his past projects, but with Art Feymnan, Temple has really found it here.
Khruangbin - Mordechai (Dead Oceans/Night Time Stories)
Vocals take a spotlight for the first time to their mix of chilled out, globe-trotting, jammy surf-funk.
There have been vocals on Khruangbin records before but they mostly hung in the back, if they were there at all. Following a great collaborative EP with fellow Texan Leon Bridges that showed the potential their music has with a singer, they're back with Mordechai that has vocals on nearly every song. Noone in Khruangbin has Bridges' pipes (or if they do they're being very shy), but it's definitely a welcome change that doesn't really mess with the band's formula of chilled-out funk, surfy guitar, '60s South Asian pop, Congotronics, Sri Lankan psych and other mellow grooves.
Mordechai features a breezy singing style that treats voice like just another instrument and doesn't overly draw attention to itself, which is heavy on "ahhhs" and "la las," and that seems derived from Sergio Mendez and other Tropicália. The closest they come to belting it out is "Time (You and I), the album's terrific first single (and best track), and on "Pelota," a Latin-flavored jam -- inspired by a Japanese film says the press release -- that works up a little steam. Mostly, though, Khruangbin are happy to lay back, float downstream, singing quietly to the beat.
Einstürzende Neubauten - Alles In Allem (Potomak)
With their difficult power tool days behind them, the German industrial icons mellow out but still find their rhythm on their first album in 12 years.
You can only bang on sheets of metal for so long. Industrial icons Einstürzende Neubauten haven't sounded like "collapsing new buildings" for a long time, and have become decidedly more "listenable" these days. “The attitude towards the music has relaxed,” frontman Blixa Bargeld told The Guardian recently. “Twenty years ago, I would have needed to fill spaces, thinking something was too boring or lacking. That’s youth. It’s a different attitude now. I don’t have that urge to fill every space or think there needs to be another scream.”
That said, non-traditional percussion is still at the heart of Neubauten's music. They have also figured out a way to keep chaos in the mix, via a set of cards called "Dave" that work similarly to Eno's Oblique Strategies; they give unexpected direction that the group must then incorporate. And while Bargeld doesn't really let his patented scream loose much on Alles in Allem ("All in All"), the band's first proper studio album in 12 years, it is an album that could only be made by them.
Metal clangs and pings, cracked branches and other field recordings still do the work of a traditional drumkit, but here it's set against luxurious string sections and minor chord harmonies. "Ten Grand Goldie" is about as close to pop as Bargeld, Alexander Hacke, and N.U. Unruh have ever gotten, while "Am Landwehrkanal" could almost be a Pogues song.
Best of all is "Seven Screws," which has Bargeld, in hushed Gainsbourg/Cohen mode, singing "Seven screws hold me together / One day I’ll take them out / I reassemble all the parts / I rearrange the alphabet / And out of the sea of possibilities / I draw myself anew / Non-binary / I: forever new." One of the few English language songs on the record, it is also the most sublime.
There's still some noise, mind you. "Zivilisatorisches Missgeschick" ("Civilization Mishap") cracks the sky open with saws, sirens and banging pipes, forcing their way through a track that tries to otherwise keep the pressure in. With its air of creepy malevolence, the song would've made a good closing theme to the Chernobyl miniseries. Mostly though, this is an album you could play for your aunt -- they probably wouldn't like it, but they wouldn't make you take it off. Not unlike the path their pal Nick Cave took from The Birthday Party to The Bad Seeds, Neubauten remain unique in their approach; even when the results are less noisy, they feel no less dangerous.
Special Interest - The Passion Of (Night School)
New Orleans group forge dissonant disco from metallic noise, shiny glam and burning rage. Chloe Sevigny would've loved them in 1999.
If Einstürzende Neubauten reschedule their North American tour (and hopefully they will), New Orleans' Special Interest would make a good opener. The band -- who list one of their applicable genres as "Gregg Araki's CD collection" (if that means anything to you have already clicked play) -- mix electro, punk, and piercing, dissonant noise into a gritty slurry that puts the "rave" in depraved and sounds like an out of control party that's been raging since Tuesday at that squat across river.
Special Interest just released their second album, The Passion Of, which is an intense experience. "All Tomorrow's Carry," one of the more immediate tracks on the album, sums up the group's worldview: "Would you bat an eye waiting for war machines to pass you by? / But aren’t we going out tonight? Aren’t we going out?" Singer Alli Logout is a powerful vocalist, who is a bit like a Mad Max Beth Ditto. She can be soulful but also is capable of heavy irony and banshee screams.
If you're in the mood, The Passion Of is loaded with bangers, emphasis on "bang": the blazing "Don't Kiss Me In Public," the aforementioned dance floor filler "All Tomorrow's Carry," the bluesy industrial disco of "A Depravity Such As This," the charmingly abrasive "Homogenized Milk" and "Street Pulse Beat" which struts like John Travolta eating three slices of pizza at once. There's been a lot of music this year already that could be described as the soundtrack of 2020, but The Passion Of may be the first to assume things are about to get worse.
Redd Kross - Red Cross EP (Merge)
Like Annette, Redd Kross' crucial debut EP's got the hits. Now back on vinyl with a bunch of demos from the era.
Like Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch, Redd Kross' debut EP is perfect -- six songs in seven minutes that are crammed with hooks, riffs, and the kind of rebellious teenage energy you can't fake. They certainly didn't have to fake it as Jeff and Steve McDonald were 17 and 13, respectively, when the record came out in 1980 (and they were still called Red Cross). All six songs are classics.
Out of print since the '80s, with the various Posh Boy editions going for megabucks on Discogs, here's a long-overdue reissue from their current label, Merge, which puts the whole EP on one side of a 12" with five demos from the era -- including non-EP tracks "Rich Brat" and "Fun with Connie" -- on the flip
The demos all sound pretty great, actually, and apart from some warbly tape issues, all could've been released as-is. (They're also different enough, sonically, to make for a nice A/B listening experience.) This is an essential reissue but I do think it's a bit of a missed opportunity to release it in the format it somehow never was -- the 7" single.
The Vacant Lots - Interzone (Fuzz Club)
Brooklyn psych duo drive a familiar road (JAMC/BJM/BRMC) but do so with style and one of Alan Vega's synthesizers.
As Vacant Lots, Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen ascribe to the belief "minimal means maximum effect." They keep their breed of darkwave psych simple and while it's a road that's been traveled by everyone from The Normal, Jesus & Mary Chain, Suicide, Spacemen 3, Front 242 and others, the duo are true-believers and bring a lot of style and attitude to the party. That's 87% of the battle with these sort of records right there.
Having worked with the Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe on last year's Exit EP, The Vacant Lots are back with their third album, Interzone, that was mixed by Boy Harsher's Maurizio Baggio and brings that minimal ethos to all aspects of the production. "We don’t want to waste people's time and we want people to play it over and over," they say. "Our mantra is ‘is it bulletproof?' 8 songs. 30 minutes. It's about intention and vision.”
What helps give Interzone a kevlar vest is the record's use of a vintage Arp synthesizer owned by Suicide's Alan Vega that provides the addictive thick basslines and sweeping leads on great tracks like "Endless Rain" and "Pay Off." (The louder you listen to this one, the more you get it.) Add in some dark, surfy leads and dubby atmosphere and you've got a record that that you could imagine setting clubs afire from Antwerp to Berlin in 1986, with closer "Party's Over" making for a perfect rain-soaked comedown.
Mikal Cronin - Switched-On Seeker (Merge)
Mikal Cronin records an all-synth version of last year's Seeker using vintage analogue gear. More than a gimmick.
Last year Mikal Cronin released Seeker, his first album in four years, which had him matching turbulent emotions with seriously dynamic arrangements, not to mention dalliances with Tom Petty-style rock. This was not the only version of Seeker he made, though. A growing fascination with vintage analogue synthesizers and drum machines had him create an all-electronic Seeker, taking inspiration from the "Switched On" albums Wendy Carlos made in the '60s/'70s that were synthesizer takes on Bach and other composers.
While this may sound like a novelty -- and this was originally set to just be a 2020 Record Store Day exclusive (but is now getting a proper release) -- Cronin's skills as a musician, producer and arranger (not to mention a songwriter) make Switched On Seeker its own entirely worthy entity. The very Petty-esque "Guardian Well" here becomes something much more cosmic, while "Sold" and "On the Shelf" turn fragile, closer to Flaming Lips territory. A few of these better the originals, too, like opener "Shelter" which replaces the bombast with a rolling, arpeggiated bliss that Sonic Boom would probably dig. I don't want Mikal to give up the guitar, but this is a direction I hope he incorporates onto his next record.
Radical Dads - Paved Mountain (Uninhabitable Mansions)
Having left Brooklyn for far-flung locales around the US, classic indie rock flag-fliers Radical Dads are back with their first album in five years.
Though they no longer live in Brooklyn, let alone all in the same city or country anymore, Radical Dads are still with us and making great "classic" indie rock, the kind that college radio DJs ate up like so much sugary cereal in the early '90s. It's been five years since Universal Coolers and they sound no worse for wear, or maybe even better for it, on this new album that was recorded in three different states. Lindsay Baker and Chris Diken's guitars still rip and Robbie Guertin bashes away with the best of them. There are songs about the sea, Moby Dick (different songs), LA's "Levitated Mass" sculpture, and more, all set to super-catchy, super-crunchy hooks and riffage. In another year I might be sad that I wouldn't get a chance to see them live any time soon (due to them not being an active touring band), but with them spread out all over the place, Paved Mountain arrives like an unexpected postcard from an old friend.
Les Big Byrd - Roofied Angels (PNKSLM)
Swedish purveyors of motorik psych are back with their first new music in two years.
Stockholm’s Les Big Byrd are back with their first new music since 2018's Iran Iraq IKEA (one of my favorites of that year), and while they have never been subtle with their titles -- and there is nothing subtle about this title -- "Roofied Angels" is a real ripper in their particular melodic, motorik psych style that makes great use of its full seven minutes to get totally out there, man. The two instrumental tracks that round out this EP serve as a pleasant ying to the title track's noisy yang: "Reflex" bathes you in arpeggiated keyboards and flute, and "10 Bells" is Swedish meatball take on the spaghetti western. Let's hear more soon.
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