Indie Basement (3/26): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's a pretty killer edition in Indie Basement with three albums tying for Album of the Week, plus three more things worth checking out: Jenny Hval and Håvard Volden bewitch with a beat as Lost Girls; Quilt's Anna Fox Rochinski enchants on her solo debut; TUNS, which features members of '90s Halifax bands Sloan, The Inbreds, and The Super Friendz, are back with Duly Noted; Former Microdisney frontman Cathal Coughlan releases his first album in 10 years; Real Estate find inspiration in isolation on their new EP; and Swiss post-punks Grauzone celebrate their 40th anniversary with a new box set.
If you need more new record reviews, Andrew gives Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra a spin, along with Genghis Tron, Citizen, and more in Notable Releases. Also out this week is that Joe Strummer solo compilation, and the reissues of The Fall's mid-'90s albums The Infotainment Scan and Middle Class Revolt.
Elsewhere, to go along with our Creation Records' 21 Best Records list, we got actual Creation artists to give us lists, too: check out picks from Slowdive, Ride's Andy Bell, Swervedriver's Adam Franklin, Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys, and Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake. Which one included 18 Wheeler? Click them all to find out!
Need more Basement-approved stuff? Snapped Ankles just announced their third album; Cate Le Bon produced John Grant's new album; and speaking of Creation, Slowdive's Rachel Goswell and Christian Savill are part of new group Beachy Head.
Head below for this week's reviews
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Lost Girls - Menneskekollektivet (Smalltown Supersound)
Jenny Hval and Håvard Volden bewitch with beats on their collaborative full-length debut
Jenny Hval and Håvard Volden are longtime collaborators, going all the way back to Hval's debut album, Viscera. Lost Girls, though, is an equal partnership with both bringing ideas to the table or, as they describe it, coming to an empty table and then figuring it out. "We both record before we know what we’re actually doing,” Jenny said.
Menneskekollektivet, which means "the human collective" in Norwegian, is Lost Girls debut album (they released an EP in 2018) and very much feels like they're making it up as they go along, but in the best possible way. None of the six lengthy tracks end up where they started, all taking surprising turns, some more sharp than others. It's not supergluing two disparate pieces together, though. The pathways all make sense as you listen, keeping you engaged and wondering where Lost Girls might lead you next.
The album's 12-minute title track might be the best example of this, with Hval almost laying out their ethos in spoken word over warm, padded synths. "In the beginning, there is sound / In the beginning, we create with our mouths / Do we know who makes what sound? / Do we know who, from who, no." Rhythm and melody eventually bubble up to the surface as Hval's piece continues, evolving from spoken to sung, repeating phrases over and over. "Will I ever get close, closer, close enough to sound you," she wonders as a keyboard hook appears, as does her repeated refrain of "Together." It's moving in both an internal and external way.
After that: "Losing Something" sounds like a moody Martin Hannett production with dark guitar lines circling around cathedral organ and a soaring chorus that melts into the next track, "Carried by Invisible Bodies," which is like Side 2 of New Order's Brotherhood put through a Deep Dream filter, full of electro handclaps and layers of call-and-response gossamer voices. The abstract closer "Real Life" has Jenny reading from The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed, a 1984 collection of poems and short prose created by a computer program named Racter.
The best track, though, is "Love, lovers" -- a hypnotic 15-minute trance workout that, like "Menneskekollektivet," starts as more of a spoken word piece but builds and builds, as Jennys whispers "with each repetition, making me in opposition." The bass drum kicks in (literally), synth lines trickle in, the hi-hat races and when her siren-song "oohs" meet the metallic sounds of a guitar being strummed below the bridge, the song escapes the earth's atmosphere, transformed into a bewitching, melancholy dancefloor anthem. Like much of this album, you're not sure how or when you got to this place, but at this point you'll follow Lost Girls anywhere.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Anna Fox Rochinski - Cherry (Don Giovanni)
Enchanting solo debut from Quilt singer/guitarist takes her into uncharted territory
Quilt were one of my favorite bands of the 2010s, making a unique mix of folk, psych and pop with prog and Krautrock elements and a unique chemistry between the four members -- but especially singer/guitarists Anna Fox Rochinski and Shane Butler. One worries that splintering off into solo projects might upset their special magic they had together but so far the splinters have all been worthy. Butler has released two great albums with his partner Caity Shaffer as Olden Yolk, and Rochinski has just delivered her wonderful solo debut, Cherry.
After writing and recording on her own, Anna worked with Ava Luna's Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader as co-producers who helped her shape things into fully realized songs. “I lost interest in chord-based guitar music," Anna says, adding that she "constructed this record mostly from melodies and beats and bass lines, with guitar as an accessory rather than necessary ingredient.” Madonna, Can, Midnite Vultures-era Beck, Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo, and Robyn's 1995 debut are all cited as influences and her label, Don Giovanni, calls the record "a total departure from her previous recorded output." This is not some wild makeover, though. While there are new R&B and pop elements to her sound, Quilt fans will instantly recognize this album as one made by the same person who gave us "Roller" and "Arctic Shark."
There's a certain slinky, sly style to Anna's melodies and vocals that carries through all her work. Her voice has always reminded me of a flute -- a little breathy and capable of dancing all over the scale -- and it really sounds great on the more pop material like "Everybody's Down," Cherry's sultry title track, and especially the excellent "High Board" that coulda been a hit in some other era. When her voice slides into falsetto harmonies on that one, it's pure magic. Same goes for "Epilogue/Overture," which you could imagine having been a Quilt song, but here is set to bubbling synthesizer lines, a very Can-like bassline, electronic handclaps and vibraphone.
Cherry is also very much a breakup album. "Not just with a guy," Anna says, "but with an entire place and an entire life." "Where did that thing go?" she asks on opening track "Party Line," one of the Quilt-iest songs on the album, and nearly every song carries a little anger, bitterness, doubt and release in it, through to the soaring final song, "No One Love," where she sings "No one love is ever destined for anything / And I don’t want no one’s love if they don’t give a shit about me." The song's chorus fades but the conga-heavy rhythm carries on, with skronky, sky-high sax charting an improvised path as bursts of guitar noise dart through the mix. It is the sound of being set free and Cherry makes that feel exhilarating.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: TUNS - Duly Noted (murderrecords)
The Canadian '90s indie rock supergroup of Sloan's Chris Murphy of Sloan, The Super Friendz's Matt Murphy, and The Inbreds' Mike O'Neill are back with Album #2. It's great.
Chris Murphy, Matt Murphy (no relation) and Mike O'Neill have known each other for three decades, having come up in the '90s Halifax indie rock scene with their groups Sloan, The Super Friendz and The Inbreds. (The latter two were signed to Sloan's murderrecords and, more connections, Chris spent a little time playing drums in The Super Friendz.) All now living in Toronto, the three turned Old Friend Hangout Time into something more productive, playing music together. Being three very talented guys, songs started pouring out. TUNS were born. The trio released their terrific debut album back in 2016 and are finally back with a second record. O'Neill told Kreative Kontrol podcast host Vish Khanna that TUNS were so productive and prolific that there would've been a second album (or a third) much sooner if life stuff hadn't gotten in the way.
Despite the five-year gap between albums, the spark is still clearly there. What makes Duly Noted such a joy to listen to, in addition to the songwriting and musical skill, is the camaraderie. While Sloan remain a terrific group, these days the four members tend to work on their own and bring songs to the group nearly finished, only working out how to play them as a band when they prep for a tour. TUNS is much more of a collaboration, with the members writing the music together, and whoever takes lead vocals usually (but not always) writes the lyrics. Matt, Chris and Mike all come from similar backgrounds -- a love of '60s and '70s guitar pop, and their own indie rock history -- and Duly Noted is absolutely loaded with sunny, harmony-filled earworms that land somewhere between The Beatles and Built to Spill. There is so much harmony singing here, it's a little hard to detect who is singing lead sometimes -- that's not a criticism, especially for a record where one of the standouts is titled "We Stand United." Bring on Album #3.
Cathal Coughlan - Song Of Co-Aklan (Dimple Discs)
First album in over a decade from former Microdisney and Fatima Mansions frontman features guest appearances from Luke Haines, Sean O'Hagan, and more.
Cathal Coughlan, who fronted Irish cult band Microdisney in the '80s and Fatima Mansions in the '90s, has the kind of belt-it-out pipes that seem more suited for Kurt Weill than a jangly indie band. As great and unique as Microdisney were, the kind of music Cathal is making these days, elegant orchestral pop, is so much more attuned to his voice. I say "these days" but Songs of Co-Aklan is actually his first album in over a decade. He came back to music in part because of the 2018 Microdisney reunion shows, which in turn led to him appearing on bandmate and High Llamas leader Sean O'Hagan's 2019 album Radum Calls, Radum Calls. Inspired, Coughlan got back into a groove just when COVID hit.
By forcing him to work virtually, the pandemic may have actually expanded Cathal's stable of collaborators, which here includes O'Hagan and Fatima Mansions' Aindrías Ó Gruama, along with Luke Haines (Auteurs/Black Box Recorder), Rhodri Marsden (Scritti Politti), and more. That's in addition to his regular collaborators the Grand Necropolitan Quartet who include drummer Nick Allum (The Fatima Mansions, The Apartments), guitarist James Woodrow (Gavin Bryars Ensemble) and cellist Audrey Riley (who's worked with The Sundays, The Smiths, Nick Cave, The Cure, The Go-Betweens to name a few). The music is lush and elegant, full of high drama, swaying between crimson lit cabaret and anthemic rock a la Manic Street Preachers. Both fit him like a bespoke crushed velvet suit. His voice has mellowed and deepened with age, too, making Song of Co-Aklan a perfect entry point into Coughlan's world.
Real Estate - Half A Human (Domino)
LIke a lot of artists, no touring thanks to lockdown gave Real Estate time to revisit unfinished material.
Real Estate were one of the first bands to feel the sting of pandemic lockdown in real time, as last year's terrific The Main Thing came out February 28, just as North America was realizing this virus thing was real. On release day, they played outside of locations of NYC record stores that no longer existed (including Other Music, Rocks in Your Head) before heading to Brooklyn to play a special show at Rough Trade, which just closed last weekend. (It's reopening in a new location this summer.) Now comes this new EP featuring songs that were started during The Main Thing sessions but were finished remotely during isolation. “When I was writing a lot of these songs, I was feeling a little weird about being in a band. Like, ‘How is this still a thing?’" singer Martin Courtney said. "I was feeling silly about it and then coming around to it at the same time. This is what we’re good at and it’s what we love to do and want to keep doing. I don’t want to do anything else.”
Half a Human definitely gives no reason for Real Estate to stop, featuring five very good new songs that continue in the jazzy, breezy and very smooth style of their last album. That includes the title track which has been a Real Estate live staple for years and sounds like it too, with featherlight instrumental passages and an extended outro that fades slowly like a vacation sunset. The rest of the EP's songs are a little more tightly constructed, including the wistful "Soon," "In the Garden" and Alex Bleeker's twangy "D+" (that D may stand for Dead). Best of all is "Ribbon" which is powered by a fluid, rubbery bassline, sailing the band off into new waters, heading to better days.
Grauzone - Limited 40 Years Anniversary Box Set (We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want Records)
Swiss post-punk band celebrate their 40th anniversary with this compilation featuring everything they ever released, and more.
Switzerland is not a very large country and likewise has never been the biggest hotbed of rock and pop, but there was a cool post-punk scene going on at the start of the '80s, much of which was represented on great 1980 comp Swiss Wave The Album that included Liliput, Lady Shave and the band being discussed here, Grauzone. Hailing from Berne, Grauzone had a tough sound, mixing guitars and primitive electronics with a palpable attitude you could feel even if you didn't understand the lyrics of killer tracks like the strutting "Eisbär," which opens Swiss Wave and is the band's best-known song.
Grauzone didn't last very long but did put out a self-titled 1981 album and a few singles, all of which are pretty good, especially if you're a fan of minimal wave and dark wave stuff. The album turns 40 this year and to celebrate they're putting it out as a limited edition box set featuring not just Grauzone but also everything else they ever released, all remastered from the original tapes. It also includes a live album, an 80-page fanzine featuring contributions from Christian Marclay, the late Genesis P-Orridge, and more, as well as a replica poster of a 1980 show flyer. If you didn't spend all your money on the Gang of Four box set, this looks like a very nice set from a short-lived but great part of Swiss music history. Shipping is not actually too bad, either, which is something I rarely say about things coming from across the Atlantic these days. You can also listen to it here:
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