Indie Basement (5/27): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Are you ready for the summer? I am not and thankfully it's still three weeks away, but of course Memorial Day Weekend is the psychic start of the season with cookouts, "tentpole" movies, outdoor concerts and white jeans. (Maybe that last one is just me.) Holiday weekends aren't usually very exciting for new music but the pandemic has mixed everything up and there are a lot of records out today and I take a look at six of them, including albums by Just Mustard, Liam Gallagher, Stars, Dehd and PDX supergroup Slang (that includes Janet Weiss) and a new remix EP from The KVB.
But of course those are not the only things out today and Andrew listens to the new Wilco, Maria BC, and more in Notable Releases. This week also saw new album announcements from Ganser and My Favorite, and Pavement played their first show in 12 years on Monday and the setlist has me very excited for their reunion tour.
Memorial Day Weekend also means the start of beach season and if you need something to read, the BV shop has over 250 books and some I recommend include Anthony Keidis' page-turner of a memoir Scar Tissue (good even if you don't like RHCP), Michael Azeraad's Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, punk, reggae and film legend Don Letts' memoir There and Black Again, Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth's Talking Heads memoir Remain in Love, and Slits guitarist Viv Albertine's incredible Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. Plus vinyl, merch, toys and more.
RIP Depeche Mode's Andy Fletcher. Ray Liotta, too. Both too soon.
Head below for this week's reviews and have a great, hopefully long, weekend.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Just Mustard - Heart Under (Partisan)
Irish band's second album shows a mastery of unsettling mood, mixing shoegaze, post-rock, trip hop, goth and maybe just a little alt-metal? The feel bad hit of the summer.
Heart Under, the second album from Irish band Just Mustard, isn't an album about big hooks and melodies (though it's got some), its focus is creeping dread and ratcheting tension slowly, steadily over the course of 45 minutes. They are very good at it. Even more than on their 2018 debut, Heart Under is the sound of a band that knows exactly what they want. As blunt a force as it can be, it's also a delicately layered record, forming an undulating, menacing beast where guitars, loops, synths and voices melt together.
Just Mustard's songs feel forged from the rhythm section up, with a simple but nagging bassline from Rob Clarke propelled by Shane Maguire's forceful drumming. Overtop, guitarists David Noonan and Mete Kalyon coax alien noise from their instruments. Noonan in particular uses his like a percussion instrument, preferring flinty sounds hammered from the bridge or bassy ones bashed from the neck, as sheets of white-hot sparks rain down in their sonic steel mill. Sometimes they make their guitars sound like two bullet-trains passing in the night, whooshes of pure doppler effect. It is an unsettling but beguiling mix of shoegaze, post-rock, goth and trip-hop with just a little late-'90s alt-metal as a spanner in the works. Robert Smith is a fan, and you could imagine just about any of these 10 songs being used in the Silence of the Lambs' many disturbing scenes (which were actually soundtracked by The Fall, Colin Newman and others).
At the center is Katie Ball's haunting vocals, singing lines like "The morning, is ringing / It’s screaming / The rain is everywhere / The windows can’t bear," though you might need a lyric sheet to understand a word. As much of a vibe as it is, Heart Under is not without memorable songs. "Mirrors," "Early," "In Shade," and "Seed" all have dance music bones and an amazing mix (courtesy audiobooks' David Wrench) that would sound amazing blasted in serious clubs like Berghain or Fabric. But like all the elements at play here, their sum is greater than the parts within this masterful record.
Liam Gallagher - C’mon You Know (Warner Music)
You know what? This third solo album from the nicer Gallagher is pretty good.
C'mon You Know is an album that gets better as it goes. Which is good because it kicks off with a boys choir, a hoary rock cliche very few have been able to successfully pull off since the Rolling Stones used it in 1969. "More Power," the song in question, is no "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Credit where credit's due, though. Liam Gallagher could've given fans exactly they wanted with a whole album of midtempo anthems that recall his old band's '90s heyday. There are a few of those on C'mon You Know, the former Oasis frontman's third solo album, and Liam sounds very comfortable in them but "Too Good for Giving Up," "World's in Need" and "Don't Go Halfway" are the dullest points on the album. Thankfully, they are outweighed by moments where he is stretching his wings and flying high.
"Our Kid," as his older brother Noel called him in the Oasis days, turns 50 this year and you get a sense he really wanted to go for it with this one. In addition to regular collaborators/producers/hitmakers Andrew Wyatt, Michael Tighe and Greg Kurstin, he brings in some fresh blood. "I'm Free," deftly bounces between bluesy stadium banger and deep sea dub, with PC Music's Danny L Harle co-producing and serving as "Rave Consultant" (the best credit on the album); Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig co-wrote the moody "Moscow Rules" that manages to be orchestral but not overly Beatlesque; and "Diamond in the Dark" takes him into elegant dancerock territory. The best track, though, is "Better Days" which is the best of Gallagher's possible worlds, keeping him in familiar melodic territory while buzzing with real energy, zippy modern production, Nick Zinner on guitar, a drumbeat nicked from Chemical Brothers' "Let Forever Be" (which featured his brother), and an instantaneous, mile-wide chorus. Noel may have once been regarded as the talented Gallagher brother but, not even counting what the pandemic has shown, Liam is now catching up quick.
Stars - From Capelton Hill (Last Gang/MNRK)
Working with The Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek, Montreal's Stars sound appropriately cinematic on their very good ninth album.
Stars have always crafted widescreen, romantic pop, songs full of intimate details and grand ambition even when they were working as a duo with a few cheap keyboards and a drum machine. Over the last two decades, their lineup has expanded, contracted and expanded again, and records have been made with bigger budgets and sometimes famous producers. But their core ideals have remained resilient: heartfelt music that sounds good in an indie disco or at home by yourself. You know, the whole spectrum of "How Soon is Now?" but finding the joy in little moments as well as those when you go and stand on your own and you leave on your own and cry and want to die.*
Their ninth album, From Capelton Hill finds Torquil Campbell, Amy Millan, Chris Seligman and the rest of the band working with a very sympathetic collaborator, The Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek who really helps them achieve the appropriate level of grandeur and sweep that their songs deserve. It's a wonder these Montreal residents haven't worked together before. Jace also sings backup on the album, as does The Dears' Murray Lightburn, making this a very Montreal affair. Stars remain at their best with one foot on the dancefloor, mixing electronics and a beating heart, and "Palmistry" and "Build a Fire" are wonderfully sultry additions to their cannon, as are swoony indiepop numbers "Pretenders" and "Hoping." Few bands that were with us at the dawn of the millennium continue to sound this vital. "If I could count up every mile we passed, how did we even make this last," Campbell and Millan ask on "Patterns." "Our memory splits in two cause we don't do goodbye."
For more, check out the list of album influences the band made for us.
*Torquil may decry what Morrissey has become, but he still stands by those '90s solo albums (I like them too, mostly).
Dehd - Blue Skies (Fat Possum)
Chicago trio don't mess with their winning formula but tighten their game on their first LP for Fat Possum
There's something elemental about a trio -- take one member away and the whole thing falls over. Chicago's Dehd are as elemental as it gets, with Jason Balla, Emily Kempf and Eric McGrady laying down guitar, bass and drums at their most minimal. They have a unique chemistry, though, with Balla and Kempf both singing lead on Dehd's brand of scrappy, occasionally twangy indie rock earworms. You couldn't lose any of them. They are a band that makes me miss NYC's Lower East Side club Cake Shop, as their style and spirit would've fit right in alongside Crystal Stilts, Box Elders, Hunx & His Punx and other groups who frequented the subterranean venue in the late '00s. Following their 2020 breakthrough Flower of Devotion, Dehd signed with big indie Fat Possum and Blue Skies is their first for the label. The gentle electric piano on "Control" that opens the album make make you might wonder if moving on up has changed their sound, but then they barrel into the feisty, full-throated "Bad Love" and it's clear this is the same Dehd, just spiffed up a little. They worked at the same studio as their previous records, with Balla still behind the boards, but they were afforded more time to make this one, as well as to have engineer Craig Silvey (Jarvis Cocker, The Horrors) mix the album. The songs are tighter, the drums hit with more oomph, keyboards color in the edges just a little, and Balla and Kempf's voices sound just a little sweeter. Dehd haven't gotten slicker, just more vivid.
Slang - Cockroach in a Ghost Town (Kill Rock Stars)
This may not be the PDX supergroup you want it to be from Janet Weiss and members of The Thermals, Pastor Wives and Viva Voce, but it should be accepted on its own very good terms.
Slang, the Portland band that includes Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi), Drew Grow (Modern Kin, Pastors’ Wives), Kathy Foster (The Thermals), and Anita Lee Elliot (Viva Voce), started in the mid-2010s, but between Janet getting in a car accident and the pandemic, they've were a little slow out of the gate. With Janet more of a free agent these days, and the last two years giving everyone a little more free time, Slang are finally here with their debut album. For those imagining some sort of true PDX supergroup, combining elements of the many notable bands involved, you might be disappointed but on its own terms Cockroach in a Ghost Town is a very solid record. Drew Grow is the primary creative force here: he sings lead and wrote all the songs (or co-wrote with Weiss) and he's got an emotive, anthemic style that's closer to Arcade Fire than Sleater-Kinney or The Thermals. He knows his way around big choruses, not to mention memorable verses and middle-eighths, and has the fiery vocal chords with which to deliver them. Having such a killer band -- including one of the best drummers on the planet -- all just makes it kick a little more ass.
The KVB - Unity Remixes (Invada)
Trentemøller, Drab Majesty and more remix tracks from The KVB's 2021 album and some of these might just be better than the originals
Remixes don't quite have the appeal they did in the '90s and '00s, when indie rock and club culture were intertwining a little more. It still happens, and we've seen a lot of remix albums through the pandemic but those often seem like a way to remind fans that they're finally going to tour for that record they made two years ago. Still, some groups seem to understand the appeal of remixes and what makes a good one. UK motorik darkwave duo The KVB have turned over last's Unity to a select group of sympathetic friends and fellow artists and the result is this excellent EP that offers up across-the-board great alternate versions of songs that, in a couple cases, might better the original.
One of those that feels like a step up is Trentemøller's remix of "Lumens" that strips out a lot of the original's synths and refashions it into textured dreampop not unlike what's on his new album Memoria. Also bettering the original is The KVB's own "After Hours" version of "Structural Index" that adds a little laid-back swing and house feel. Elsewhere: Drab Majesty give "Blind" a whole new (killer) bassline, Moa Moa take "Unbound" into more overt rock territory, Principleasure reimagines "Unité" as pure techno, and "Ideal Living" is shot into the stratosphere by maXIon. None are radical reworks, but all add welcome detail, making for a worthy companion to a very good album.
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