Indie Basement (4/2): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's another excellent week for new music in Indie Basement with five album I like a lot: Michigan's Major Murphy deliver their own brand of heartland rock on their second album; Chicago's Moontype make instantly winning guitar pop on their debut album; La Femme are back with their third album; UK group Dry Cleaning make the mundane visceral on their John Parish-produced debut album; and Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards, The Art Museums) is back with his wonderfully mopey third album as The Reds, Pinks and Purples.
For more new record reviews, Andrew takes on the new Godspeed! You Black Emperor and more in Notable Releases. Other stuff from this week that I don't write about but are worth checking out include The Natvral (aka Kip from TPOBPAH) Ryley Walker's Course in Fables, and Flock of Dimes (aka Jenn from Wye Oak). What else: I reviewed Shoplifters of the World, the movie about the Morrissey fan who makes a hard rock radio DJ play The Smiths; Beak> have a new song, as do Working Men's Club.; and you should watch Adam Curtis' new documentary Can't Get You Out of My Head for the existential dread but stay for the killer soundtrack.
If you didn't get enough Creation Records content last week, it spilled into this week too: The Loft's Pete Astor told us about his favorite Creation singles; Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth announced a collaborative album; and My Bloody Valentine (who scored very high on our list) signed to Domino and are resissueing their three most recent albums -- and you can pick up the new pressing of 2013's m b v in our store. It also spilled into this week's Indie Basement -- there's a new podcast about the label's early singles called 50 Years of Fun which is worth checking out (read about it below).
Today is also Bandcamp Friday when they give their share of the profits to the artists/labels. Touring's not going to get back to normal for a while, so buy something and support your favorite artist. Every record in this week's Indie Basement are available through bandcamp.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Major Murphy - Access (Winspear)
Warm, welcoming indie rock abounds on the Michigan band's grower of a second album
Midwest band that they are, Grand Rapids, MI's Major Murphy make their own brand of heartland rock -- it's big and open, full of soaring guitars and swelling, swaying melodies. But you'd never confuse their terrific new album Access with Bob Seger, John Cougar Mellencamp or even The War on Drugs. The music is often panoramic in scope but it is also very intimate, with bandleaders/partners Jacob Bullard and Jackie Warren at times sounding like they're singing an inch from your ear. It also feels very American, in an idealistic way, evoking the kind of imagery found in Ansel Adams photos and Terrence Malick films. Summertime, the buzzing of crickets, long lazy days, fireflies in the field, stargazing, hope. Everything on Access exudes a warmth, from the close harmonies to the chugging fuzzy guitars, thick melodic bass, and playful synthesizer lines that dart in the background. Even when the songs deal with serious subjects -- like being new parents in an uncertain future -- there is a positive spirit. "Every single day, there’s a world to be uncovered," Bullard and partner Warren sing on Access' opening and title cut, a cyclically structured song that just builds and builds, opening the door for the rest of the album that lands somewhere between '70s country rock and '90s indie rock and shoegaze. The whole album is a gem, but it's hard to resist the harmonies on the upbeat "In the Meantime," the dreamy slow-motion groove of "Unfazed" and the low key charm of "Tear it Apart." Spring is here, summer is coming -- welcome to Major Murphy's heartland.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg (4AD)
Few bands make the mundane feel so visceral
UK group Dry Cleaning are a wonderful dichotomy. The band look like a doomy grunge band from 1993 -- guitarist Tom Dowse has excellent rawk hair -- but actually sound closer to high-tension post-punk. Then there's vocalist Florence Shaw whose deadpan, spoken-word style details daily mundanities, humiliations and heartbreaks. Shaw not only seems like she's in another band, it's like she's in another plane of existence, especially live where the band are manically thrashing and she's filmed in slow motion, barely moving. Yet these disparate parts work to make something unique. There are other groups who walk a similar line -- Protomartyr, Life Without Buildings, Sleaford Mods, and of course The Fall -- but none quite like this.
Following two great EPs, Dry Cleaning have arrived with their debut album, made during lockdown at Wales' famed Rockfield Studios with producer John Parish. It's a much fuller sound than we've heard from the band before, with more fluid arrangements. The band and Shaw are also much more in tandem this time around, sounding less like two things that weren't meant to be played at the same time. Parish's production helps a lot here too, giving everything the space it needs -- dub is clearly an influence -- and double tracking Shaw's vocals for emphasis, like on "Leafy" when she implores "Never talk about your ex, never, never, never, never, never slag them off because then they know, then they know."
Shaw drops a lot of wonderful lines and observations throughout New Long Leg, whether it's an examination of loneliness on "Every Day Carry" ("It’s bad luck if you’re the tree left at the edge of the motorway when they clear the forest for a motorway, you lose your friends and you’re exposed"), or the sad decline of Antiques Roadshow ("John Wick" which doesn't seem to be about Keanu Reeves). Dowse, Buxton, and Maynard duck, dodge and parry, keeping up with every dry line. New Long Leg is Dry Cleaning at their most expansive yet intimate. Which is to say their most Dry Cleaning yet.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: Moontype - Bodies of Water (Born Yesterday Records)
Chicago trio make immediately likable, deceptively complex indie rock on the terrific debut album
This year has had a bumper crop of indie rock bands breathing new life into the genre while still tipping a hat to the sound's '90s roots. Just a few weeks ago we had the great debut album from San Francisco's Fake Fruit and now here's the equally excellent first album from Chicago trio Moontype. Ben Cruz, Emerson Hunton, and Margaret McCarthy were all conservatory students together at Oberlin College’s music program, but didn't really hang out till they all ended up in the Windy City, first meeting as friends and then playing music together on a friend's back porch which then led to more serious collaboration. (In addition to Moontype, all three also play power-pop/indie rock in The Deals who also put out an album this year.) McCarthy had released an EP of bass-centric songs and Cruz offered to back her on guitar at shows, which then led to them recruiting Hunton. Needless to say, given their background, the musicianship on Bodies of Water is exceptional; delicate and precise when it needs to be (the sweet, gorgeous "3 Weeks") but also capable of maelstrom levels, like the roaring, shoegazy, sunshine smile of "When You Say Yes." McCarthy is a nuanced songwriter and an expressive singer, possessing a high, fragile voice that can be heartbreaking on its own ("Me and My Body") but soaring when joined on harmonies by her bandmates. Songs are complexly constructed -- you can hear touches of jazz and math rock -- but hooks are front and center. "Anti-Divinity," "About You," "Ferry" and "Stuck on You" pull you in immediately and keep you there for the many repeat listens the album will generate. Be prepared to get smitten.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #4: La Femme - Paradigmes (Disque Pointu / Born Bad)
First album in five years from these Parisians takes them in more electronic directions while maintaining the group's tres chic style.
La discothèque est ouverte. Parisians La Femme are back with their first album in five years and while their toybox is still full of the usual sounds -- surf, yé-yé, komische, minimal wave -- Paradigmes has more of a sleek, electronic sheen than their previous albums. That means more overt dance music elements, from disco to house to early-'90s hip hop beats, all assimilated into La Femme's signature style. Where 2016's Mystere was good but overstuffed and suffered a bit from the sophomore slump, Paradigmes is relatively lean -- 54 minutes, still a double, but their shortest album yet -- with all 15 songs finding a unique space within their groovy universe. Bandleaders Sacha Got and Marlon Magnée have such a clear vision of what La Femme is and what they can assimilate into it, from Benny Goodman jazz (the title track) to swaying Britpop ("Le Jardin") and hyperactive, giddy synth punk ("Foutre le bordel" which translates to "Fuck it Up"), making great use of a whole host of vocalists along the way, all of whom exude that French curl-of-smoke cool.
Keyboards maybe dominate Paradigmes, but it still only sounds like La Femme, and there are more than a few of the Francophone bangers you expect, like vampire love song "Le sang de mon prochain" and the charming, understated "Nouvelle Orleans." But the album really bursts into technicolor life when Got and Magnée go maximalist. "Disconnexion" is a full-blown Giorgio Moroder dancefloor workout that incorporates the kind of operatic vocals heard in the original Star Trek theme. "Lacher de chevaux" is a big plate of spaghetti ala Morricone with a side of ABBA's "Gimme Gimme Gimme." There is a real sense of fun in this album, from the inventive production and arrangements that aren't afraid of bongos OR banjos, whistling or three-minute clarinet solos, to the singles' very cinematic and expensive-looking videos that are apparently part of a feature film. La Femme exist in their heightened state of reality and its always fun to visit.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples - Uncommon Weather (Slumberland)
Glenn Donaldson of The Art Museums and The Skygreen Leopards makes gloriously mopey janglepop on the RPPs' third album
San Francisco's Glenn Donaldson has been in a whole bunch of bands over the last 25 years, including The Skygreen Leopards and, my favorite, The Art Museums who were clearly an homage to DIY groups like The Television Personalities and Swell Maps. The Art Museums only lasted a couple years, and his bandmate Josh Alper was killed in 2013 while biking, and the previously prolific Donaldson slowed pace to a crawl, release-wise. But he was still writing songs, just holding onto them, and began releasing them around 2018 as The Reds, Pinks and Purples. Tipping his hat perhaps to former TVPs member Ed Ball's band The Times, whose debut single is titled "Red with Purple Flashes," the RPPs are very much in the TVP mode of low-fi, melodic, and very British sounding indiepop. Their very catchy songs are wistful and mopey, played on jangly, reverb-soaked guitars, and augmented with cheap drum machines and synthesizers. Uncommon Weather is his third album and will appeal to those who covet 7" singles by The Field Mice and Felt and see a rainy day as a relief from dealing with the outside world.
50 Years of Fun podcast
Matt Roberts of The Mantles and Scott Miller of The Bananas' podcast about Creation Records' first 50 singles
If you've gotten this far into this week's column, you're probably aware we published a list of Creation Records' 21 Best Records, and then did a week's worth of lists from many of the artists who were on the label, like Slowdive, Teenage Fanclub, Ride, and more. It ended up going more than a week (thank you, Pete Astor) and there still may be more. With news of My Bloody Valentine signing to Domino and Bobby Gillespie making an album with Jehnny Beth, it may never end. Some people commented that Creation's early years got a short shrift in my main list, ignoring records by The Jasmine Minks, Slaughter Joe, The Times, and more. My counter to that is that Creation started as a great singles label and became a great albums label five years later, which is why I included the Creation Soup series which was a compilation of the label's first 50 singles.
For those who are fans of those mid-'80s years, you'll immediately want to subscribe to new podcast 50 Years of Fun which is all about the early years of Creation Records and each episode is dedicated to one of the label's first 50 singles. (It's named for the second single by Biff Bang Pow which was Creation founder Alan McGee's band.) The podcast was created and is hosted by Matt Roberts of The Mantles and Scott Miller of The Bananas and Bagpipe Operation (and other groups) and they are both indiepop obsessives who know a lot more about Creation than I do and even own copies of Alan McGee's pre-Creation fanzine, Communication Blur.
Each episode also features a special guest. So far it's been: Episode 1 with Tony Fletcher, who founded influential fanzine Jamming! that was an influence on Communication Blur; and Episode 2 with Bjorn Copeland of Black Dice who, despite the music his group plays, is a huge janglepop fan. Upcoming episodes will apparently feature either the artist themselves -- Everett True, who as The Legend! released Creation's first official single and went on to be a big deal music journalist, is on the next episode and other upcoming guests include Ken Popple (Biff Bang Pow!, Revolving Paint Dream), Dave Musker (Television Personalities, RPD, BBP, Jasmine Minks), Jim Shepherd (Jasmine Minks), and Stephen Pastel. Roberts and Miller are both knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and very nerdy about the subject matter -- which is just what you want in a podcast.
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