Indie Basement (1/22): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Doesn't everything seem a little more hopeful suddenly? I think so. Today at least. For this first Indie Basement of a new era: Toronto Pavement devotees Kiwi Jr's second album Cooler Returns; Brooklyn DIY punks Palberta go pop (kinda sorta) on their fifth album; UK duo Still Corners refine their desert noir sound on Last Exit; EXEK reissue their debut album via John Dwyer's Castle Face label; and a new box set chronicles the original post-punk disco movement.
For more new of this week's new music, Andrew reviews Lande Hekt, Here Lies Man and more in Notable Releases. Here's more Basement-approved stuff from this week: I talked to Goat Girl about the influences behind their upcoming new album (which I'll review next week); Soulwax did an inspired remix of Fontaines DC's "A Hero's Death"; Tindersticks announced their new album; and CHAI announced their new album and shared a great new single.
Also, I just ranked the 20 Best Britpop Albums of 1995, so have fun with that. Fight me!
And as a big TV fan, I'm very excited that all five seasons of The Muppet Show are coming Disney+ and that Freaks & Geeks is coming to Hulu with its soundtrack intact.
Head below for this week's reviews.
Kiwi Jr - Cooler Returns (Sub Pop)
There no denying this Toronto band a) love Stephen Malkmus and b) write smart, catchy songs. Their first album for Sub Pop is a real treat.
It's difficult to listen to Toronto band Kiwi Jr and not think of '90s indie rock icons Pavement. (As long as you're familiar with '90s rock icons Pavement.) Frontman Jeremy Gaudet has a similar inflection and cadence to Stephen Malkmus -- not to mention a way with clever, nonchalant and pop-culture-laden lyrical digressions -- and the band make incredibly hooky, ramshackle guitar pop with an occasional twinge of country. But take away Gaudet's voice, which is uncannily Malkmussian at times, and the band (who share member Brian Murphy with Alvvays) reveal themselves to be part of a wordy guitar pop tradition that includes The Go-Betweens, Sloan, The Verlaines, and The Kinks, packing their songs with undeniable hooks and pithy one-liners.
Cooler Returns, their second album and first since signing to Sub Pop, comes hot on the heels of Football Money which was released in Canada in early 2019 but most people heard when it got a worldwide release this time last year. No sophomore slump -- Cooler Returns is all hits, a baker's dozen of ridiculously catchy three-minute pop nuggets that deliver massive sing-along-choruses in sheepish, understated fashion. "I was falling apart in the green room while you drank half the headliner’s rider," Gaudet sings in album opener "Tyler," a tale of apartment rentals and life as a musician set to a juke joint honky tonk piano melody.
Gaudet's lyrical style feels both stream-of-conscious and carefully thought out (and rhymed), like diary entries made up entirely of interlocked bullet points. Even if you don't understand them in a literal sense you get the vibe, and there are many memorable one-liners. A few that have stuck in my head: "bells ring out the pouring rain / and Amy Adams rides the train" ("Highlights at 100"); "2021 tattooed on my ass / man, what are you asking for and why do you have to ask?" ("Guilty Party"); "Live from Duane Reade!" (""Undecided Voters"); and "I am not American / but I feel the beat sometimes" ("Cooler Returns"). Even if the words blur past, the melodies and riffs will not leave your skull, including "Undecided Voters," "Domino," "Waiting in Line," and especially "Omaha" and "Dodger" which both owe a little to The Clash. These tracks slay and comparisons melt away the more you listen to this terrific album.
Palberta - Palberta5000 (Wharf Cat)
Brooklyn DIY trio find inspiration in pop but continue to sound like themselves on their terrific fifth album
Palberta have have been regulars in Brooklyn's DIY scene for most of the last decade, cranking out jagged indie rock over four albums and a bunch of singles, a constant presence at tiny clubs like Alphaville and Silent Barn, but occasionally at bigger shows too, like getting to open for heroes Bikini Kill at Brooklyn Steel. The band have never been lacking in catchy melodies, as anyone who's seen them live can attest, but previous records often masked that under murky, low-fi production. Not so with Palberta5000 where the trio looked to commercial pop music for inspiration. “While punk music was our first love, pop music has become our fixation," the band said when announcing the new album. "Throughout the making of Palberta5000, we were focused on making music that people could not only sing along to but get stuck in their heads... that and attempting to make songs longer than 50 seconds."
The songs on Palberta5000 would not ever be confused for Avril Lavigne or Sheryl Crow (two of the inspirations here), but this is easily their most accessible, melody forward album to date. It's the right kind of progression, too, with mid-fi production that cleans them up just enough to make all the things that were already good shine without changing what they do. The interplay between Ani Ivry-Block, Lily Konigsberg, and Nina Ryser really pops now, both the instrumentation and, especially, their harmonies. Their voices rarely go for traditional harmony arrangements, instead coming to an off-kilter harmony style that's almost as angular as the guitars. As for song length, most fall between two and three minutes, sticking around just as long as they need to. This is Palberta refined, a welcome renovation via the original designers.
Still Corners - Last Exit (Wrecking Light)
UK duo further perfect their "desert noir" sound on their fifth album
UK group Still Corners released their debut album, Creatures of an Hour, 10 years ago and it was an album full of Broadcast-indebted dreampop. Since then, Greg Hughes and Tessa Murray moved to America and developed Still Corners' sound into an alluring brand of synthpop with a generous wash of late night twang that perfectly suits Murray's smoky vocals. Adding more guitars back into their sound on 2016's Dead Blue and 2018's Slow Air, the duo have ended up somewhere between Chris Isaak and The Chromatics. They may be the most David Lynch-y sounding group to never have music in a David Lynch project (there's still hope, though.) Last Exit, which is the band's fifth, doesn't mess with the formula and finds them coasting on the pure mood. With song titles like "Bad Town," and "Mystery Road," and "Shifting Dunes," they veer dangerously close to pastiche, but when the motorik drums kick in on "White Sands" it's evident that Still Corners are very good at what they do. Hughes' production is perfect, with arrangements that make restrained use of theremin and whistling to great effect, and Murray's voice hangs in the air like the Marfa lights. Still Corners have traveled this lonely road many times before, but Last Exit is a still a nice trip.
EXEK - Biased Advice vinyl reissue (Castle Face)
Melbourne dark post-punk group get their debut album reissued via John Dwyer's Castle Face
While we wait for Melbourne's EXEK to follow up 2019's excellent Ahead of Two Thoughts, they're reissuing their out-of-print 2016 debut, Biased Advice, on March 5 via Castle Face. The nom-de-deathrock of former Slug Guts member Albert Wolski had EXEK's sound figured out from the start -- paranoid, scratchy creations that recall The Pop Group, PiL, The Birthday Party, Wire and other bleak post-punk. While making the most of creepy atmosphere, Wolski knows his way around song construction, keeping your attention while freaking you out. "Even the instrumentation is worth mentioning," Osees frontman and Castle Face founder John Dwyer says in the liner notes. "Saxophone, Drums (and cut up drums), Guitar, Synthesizer, Vocals (poetry) and general fuckery all combine to make this a very interesting and worthwhile escape from the average." Agreed!
You can pre-order the Castle Face reissue of Biased Advice -- which comes with the brand new artwork you can see above. You can listen to the album below:
Various Artists: Shake The Foundations: Militant Funk & The Post-Punk Dancefloor 1978-1984 (Cherry Red)
If you know Gang of Four, PiL and The Slits inside and out, this three-disc box sets heads mostly to the fringes of the original post-punk disco scene
Making for a nice follow-up to the EXEK reissue is this new three-disc compilation of scratchy disco from the original post-punk era. The mix of funk, disco, punk, dub and bleak industrial noise is formative to this writer and its a sound that will forever be appealing to me, whether it's the original article (Gang of Four, ESG, PiL, The Slits, The Pop Group), the '00s second-wavers (Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Radio 4, Franz Ferdinand), and more recent acts like EXEK or Working Men's Club.
For those who think they've heard it all, as well as folks who only casually know the heavy hitters, new three-disc compilation Shake The Foundations: Militant Funk & The Post-Punk Dancefloor 1978-1984 opens a few new doors and brushes the dust off some forgotten acts from the era. While it doesn't have Gang of Four, The Slits or Au Pairs -- probably for budgetary reasons -- it does have great tracks from lesser-known acts like Medium Medium, The Higsons, PiL bassist Jah Wobble, punk poet John Cooper Clarke, Glaxo Babies, Blue Rondo A La Turk, Specials-offshoot Fun Boy Three, pre-Breakfast Club Simple Minds, very early Haircut 100, Ian Dury, Bauhaus offshoot Tones On Tail, Visage, Furniture, Family Fodder, and more. There are also plenty of bands who are new to me, including The Chicken Granny, Viscous Pink, and C Cat Trance.
Bill Brewster, who wrote the great history of DJing, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life and compiled this box set, says he took the same approach to this collection as he would a DJ set. "The important thing was not to impress James Brown, emulate the Fatback Band or wear Kraftwerk’s game-face. The point was to have a go. ‘Shake The Foundations’ is not a comprehensive look at post-punk, so much as a shakily hand-drawn map of a particular area. It’s what happened when the post-punk fallout collided with the dancefloor, and forty years later we’re still feeling its effects."
Shake The Foundations: Militant Funk & The Post-Punk Dancefloor 1978-1984 is out March 26 via Cherry Red. You can check out the full tracklist and preorder the album here and meanwhile this is the compilation's title inspiration, Glaxo Babies' "Shake the Foundations":
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.