Indie Basement (10/23): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week: the genuinely wonderful second album from Loma (members of Shearwater and Cross Record); the terrific debut album from techno pop artist Ela Minus; the third album from Ty Segall's proto-metal-influenced trio Fuzz; the new album from jangle S.F. power-poppers Latitude; and Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys has a new memoir on the way.
There are LOTS more albums out this week than those four, and Andrew reviews some of them (including two from Big Thief's Adrianne Lenker) in this week's Notable Releases. More Basement-approved stuff from this week: the double-album reissue of The Fall's The Frenz Experiment is out today; The Besnard Lakes will release their first album in five years in January; there's a Buzzcocks 7" singles box on the way; and, against all odds, Captain Sensible and Rat Scabies have made up and The Damned's original lineup are going to tour in 2021 (you know, if there is touring).
We're less than two weeks out from the election, please vote.
Head below for this week's reviews and news.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Loma - Don't Shy Away (Sub Pop)
Stunning second album from Emily Cross, Jonathan Meiburg, and Dan Duszynski that haunts, hypnotizes. Brian Eno liked them so much he plays on the album.
Loma, the trio of Cross Record's Emily Cross & Dan Duszynski and Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg, didn't really intend to make a follow-up to 2018's self-titled debut. Cross and Duszynski, who had been married, broke up during the making of it, and the group had capped their lone tour with a performance at Sub Pop's 30th anniversary where Cross leapt into the crowd and then into the nearby ocean. “It was the biggest audience we’d ever had,” Cross said. “We thought, why not stop here?”
But there was something that continued to pull them together. “Each of us is a very strong flavor,” Duszynski says, “but in Loma, nobody wears the crown, so we have to trust each other—and we end up in places none of us would have gone on our own. I think we all wanted to experience that again." There was also the fact that Brian Eno had discovered Loma's album and had talked about them enthusiastically on BBC radio. Encouraging words from an idol, and a strong musical bond, pulled them back together and the three convened at Duszynski's Texas studio for a second record.
Good thing too, as Don't Shy Away is an absolutely beautiful record -- hypnotic, haunting, mysterious and comforting. It sneaks up on you, too, unassuming, but then suddenly there it is, gleaming in front of you, this wondrous thing. Brass, woodwinds, harp and violins melt into synthesizers and other instruments, along with Cross' incredible voice, forging an alloy that's stronger than its elements and entirely its own sound. There are elements of folk, krautrock, '70s pop, ambient, slowcore, jazz, soundtrack music, prog, and more to their sound, but you can't really pull it apart. It is Loma.
Don't Shy Away is best experienced as a whole but there are definitely highlights: "Ocotillo" feels like a wide desert plain, with heatwave blasts of low brass while Cross sings "Sun is like an open eye / Big wind is blowing over / Lead me to another life"; "Half Silences" pulses like Fleetwood Mac through a half-remembered dream; "Given a Sign" is widescreen, synthy prog with a skittering beat that races along the surface like birds on a lake; and "Breaking Waves Like a Stone" is powered by a piano line that both recalls Tangerine Dream's Risky Business score and The Who's "Eminence Front" but goes in its own direction.
The album closes with "Homing," which is a collaboration with that Loma superfan Brian Eno. The band sent him stems for the track and told him he could do whatever he wanted with them. They never heard back from him, but some time later the band received an email from him with a link to a song, lush with hushed harmonies and drony, ambient synths. Despite not knowing what they were going to get, "Homing" makes for a perfect capper to this transfixing album.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Ela Minus - acts of rebellion (Domino)
Colombian-born, Brooklyn based artist makes alluring, entrancing techno pop on her debut album.
Gabriela Jimeno grew up in Colombia, playing music at an early age, rejecting piano lessons in favor of the drums. She formed a punk band at age 12, and just a few years later would be studying jazz drum set performance at Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music. But while there she discovered techno, began going to clubs, and ended up majoring in music synthesis, learning how to build hardware and design software. It was Kraftwerk, though, that made her want to make music herself, noting -- when Florian Schneider died -- that "nothing has influenced my approach to music more." After moving to Brooklyn to make synths for Critter and Guitari, she began performing out in 2015 as Ela Minus.
“I always have this melancholic feeling that sadness is the real truth about things,” says Jimeno. “I’m very connected to this kind of melancholic celebration. Colombia is rough, but there is much more joy there than any other place I know.” You get what she means on acts of rebellion, her entrancing debut album. Ela's brand of techno pop runs on dark current, sleek and powerful, and you can almost feel the kick drum surge through the cables, like something out of Tron. A gothic tinge coats much of the album -- she favors minor chords and her singing style rarely goes above a whisper (which in turn suits her lower case song titles) -- but with that comes a wide romantic streak. Emotions run through these circuits, and tracks like "they told us it was hard, but they were wrong" and "el cielo no es de nadie" draw you in and keep you there.
The album's banger quotient is high, with that relentless four-on-the-floor kick hitting hard, and some tracks recall the mid-'00s heyday of hipster disco a la DFA and Soulwax. There are a few comedown moments, however, like the dreamy instrumentals "pocket piano" and "do whatever you want, all the time" and the warm, wonderful "close" -- a duet with Helado Negro's Roberto Carlos Lange -- that closes the album. acts of rebellion is also a lean beast, clocking in at a mere 34 minutes, and manages something few electronic albums do these days: it leaves you wanting more.
FUZZ - III (In the Red)
Ty Segall, Charles Moothart and Chad Ubovich channel the spirit of power trios past on their Albini-recorded third album.
There is something about a power trio that is evergreen, rock n' roll at its most elemental. Guitar, bass, drums. Cream. Grand Funk. ZZ Top. Crunchy power chords, bluesy riffs, pounding beats prone to wild fills. Fuzz is a great name for a power trio, and Ty Segall (drums, vocals), Charles Moothart (guitar, vocals) and Chad Ubovich (bass, vocals) mostly make good on its promise, delivering awesomely heavy psychedelic rock with dexterity and melody on their third album. For it, they worked with Steve Albini who does what he always does: keeps things basic, puts the microphones in the right places, and lets the band rip. As on their first two albums, Fuzz lean towards heavy, proto-metal rock a la Sabbath, Blue Cheer and King Crimson, perfect for lighting up and turning up. Musicianship is excellent, they deliver in the riff department -- twin leads too -- but III is at its best when those things are in the service of an excellent song, like the harmony-laden "Split," the sassy "Nothing," and the pummelling "Mirror."
Latitude - Mystic Hotline (Emotional Response)
San Francisco band's second album jangles somewhere between late-'70s power pop and early-'80s paisley underground.
San Francisco five-piece Latitude make sparkling guitar pop that owes a lot to the early '80s, somewhere in the venn diagram of nervy new wave, the L.A. paisley underground scene and the world of post-R.E.M. college radio janglepop. It's a little bit Blondie and a little bit early Bangles. Leading the group is singer/guitarist Amy Fowler who's a terrific songwriter with a confident clear voice that matches her strong melodic instincts. Fowler is ace at breezy pop like "I Love the Radio" and "Thursday is the New Sunday," but she's equally convincing on serious songs like "Rising" which is about the Ghost Ship fire.
Synthesizers are the nice surprise here. Keyboards can sound cheap and cheesy with music like this if not handled correctly -- something '80s greats Game Theory and The Three O'Clock both fell prey to sometimes -- but Justin Frahm uses sunny, blissed-out tones that compliment while rarely calling attention to themselves. The record wouldn't be the same without them, much like all the other elements here, be it the chiming guitars or the layered harmonies. Mystic Hotline sounds effortless, which is a rare commodity -- they don't really make 'em like this too much anymore.
Gruff Rhys - Resist Phony Encores! (Hat & Beard Press)
The Super Furry Animals frontman turns his live show cue cards into a memoir.
If you've seen a solo show from Super Furry Animals' frontman Gruff Rhys over the last 15 years, you know that cue cards have been a regular part of his show. What began with simple audience requests like "APPLAUSE!" and "LOUDER" made way for wry protests signs like "APE SHIT," "GENERIC FESTIVAL REACTION," "TAX THE RICH," "BURGER FRANCHISE OPPORTUNITY" AND "RESIST PHONY ENCORES!"
The latter, which he's used at the end of solo shows for a few years now, is also the name of Gruff's new book which will be out February 9 via Hat & Beard Press. It's a "selective memoir" that's heavy on graphics, imagery and mass communication from his career as a musician, from his pre-Furries band Ffa Coffi Pawb though his recent solo works. He also enlists help from people like Stephen Reicher, psychologist and outspoken critic of the UK's COVID-19 response, to "think his way through crowd psychology and our communal need for music, searching gently and comically for the meaning of life itself."
The stark design of Resist Phony Encores!, with lots of white space, looks more than a little like The KLF's infamous 1988 book, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) and that group's Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty and Rhys all have a similar absurdist take on the media and music industry. To wit: the book contains a "10 page manifesto" and a membership card for those who agree with Gruff's worldview. Sign me up.
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