Bill’s Indie Basement (5/8): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: Mark Lanegan gets dark and introspective on his third album in 12 months; I Break Horses return with their first album in six years; The The's Matt Johnson reissues the tape of weird post-punk he made as a 16-year-old; Pamplona band Melenas make wonderful, melodic, motorik indie rock on thier first album for Trouble in Mind; and the latest single from new-ish UK shoegaze band bdrmm.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew tackles Refused/Minor Threat/etc supergroup Fake Names and more in Notable Releases. If you need more Basement-approved stuff, the new Sleaford Mods video is amazing (the song's great too); I'm looking forward to the new reissue of The Charlatans' Between 10th and 11th; Edith Frost is back with her first new music in 15 years; and my quarantine playlist this week has songs by The Pastels, Yo La Tengo, Wire, The Chameleons and more. If you still need more, have you fallen down the '80s MTV hole yet?
RIP Florian Schneider. Indie Basement would not exist without you. This week's reviews are below.
Mark Lanegan - Straight Songs Of Sorrow (Heavenly)
The prolific former Screaming Trees frontman delivers this dark, introspective and guest-filled companion piece to his new memoir.
Mark Lanegan has one of those deep, smoky voices that has just the right amount of crag. He's sounded like an old soul since his mid-20s fronting Screaming Trees and his pipes have seen a lot of hard living over the last 35 years. That living is laid bare in Lanegan's gritty new memoir, Sing Backwards and Weep, which was released last week and details the many up and downs of his life -- including early '90s major label success with Screaming Trees, to heroin addiction, petty crime and homelessness to his eventual climb out of the mire.
His new album, Straight Songs of Sorrow (his third in 12 months!), is a companion piece to the memoir. “Writing the book, I didn’t get catharsis,” Mark says. “All I got was a Pandora’s box full of pain and misery. I went way in, and remembered shit I’d put away 20 years ago. But I started writing these songs the minute I was done, and I realised there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from this book. It was a relief to suddenly go back to music. Then I realized that was the gift of the book: these songs.”
Though the album is loaded with guests, including Greg Dulli, Warren Ellis, John Paul Jones, Ed Harcourt and more, it really feels like a solo album, with most songs featuring the barest of backing -- simple keyboards, banjo, or violin -- and Lanegan's songwriting and powerful, sorrow-drenched voice doing the heavy lifting. And it is heavy, whether he's singing about addiction ("No one could ever tell me enough's enough" he sings on the powerful "Stockholm Syndrome") or self loathing ("I spent my life trying every way to die, as if my fate was to be the last one standing" on the trip-hoppy "Skeleton Key"). Ultimately, though, it's redemptive. Mark is here, still with us, telling his own story, and I'm looking forward to the next chapter.
I Break Horses - Warnings (Bella Union)
If melting glaciers were music, it might sound like Maria Lindén's first I Break Horses album in six years.
It's been six years since Chiaroscuro, Swedish artist Maria Lindén's last album as I Break Horses. Following a few false starts and crashed hard drives, Lindén began writing on what she thought would be another project, instrumental music inspired by having her favorite films on mute while she worked. “It wasn’t until I felt an urge to add vocals and lyrics,” says Lindén, “that I realized I was making a new I Break Horses album." Warnings is very clearly an I Break Horses album, a nordic synthpop blast with song titles like "I'll Be the Death of You" that may feel a little more prophetic now. “It’s not a political album,” Lindén wrote back in February before the coronavirus took over the Western world, “though it relates to the alarmist times we live in. Each song is a subtle warning of something not being quite right."
You can feel that unease in the music. Lindén has always favored warbly synth sounds and on Warnings they're like melting glaciers; a thick, aquamarine slush given cathedral reverb that feels inspired by the intro to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy." Analogue bass rolls low, with spare percussion that sounds more like metal shop equipment than drums. It's all very '80s, but also very now sounding, and Lindén's heavenly vocals make it all soar. Warnings is a record that gets better as you settle into the sound (it's also better loud), and second half tracks "The Prophet," "Neon Lights, and album standout "Baby You Have Travelled For Miles Without Love In Your Eyes" are especially transportive. The record ends with a comedown trifecta of ambient numbers, concluding with a gorgeous bit of vocoder-ing titled "Depression Tourist" that plays like a lullaby -- or farewell -- to the earth as we know it.
Melenas - Dias Raros (Trouble in Mind)
Spanish band make driving, bright and melodic indie rock with a strong motorik groove on their first album for Trouble in Mind.
Melenas hail from beautiful Pamplona, Spain which is probably best known, unfortunately, for being home to the running of the bulls but Melenas are here to give the city a positive indie rock association. The band's sound is driving and bright, full of strummy guitars, vintage organ, motorik rhythms and ethereal harmonies. That description ticks a lot of boxes for me and if you are a fan of The Feelies and Galaxie 500, New Zealand bands like The Clean and The Bats, or Electrelane and The Organ, chances are you'll find Melenas appealing, too.
Dias Raros ("Rare Days") is Melenas first album for Trouble in Mind, one of the few labels these days I consider a trademark of quality, and it's a fantastic grower of a record. The songs are a nice balance of pop melodies, spare arrangements where everything counts, and great sense of (indie rock) groove. It's the kind of record that you may need to let wash over you a few times before tracks like "No Puedo Pensar," "Los Alemanes," and "3 Segundos" really dig into your psyche, but once they're there, they stick.
Melanas are equally good at slash and burn minor chord workouts and slower sunbeam psych numbers such as "29 Grados" with its swells of "ahhhhHHHHHHaaahs," and the stripped back "El Tiempo Ha Pasado" that works magic with church-y organ and gentle guitar lines. Dias Raros is a real charmer where you might not even notice they're not singing in English (worldless choruses of "Bah bahs" and the like help) and it's rarer still that you get an indie rock record of this quality in this day and age in any language.
The The - See Without Being Seen (Cineola)
Before he was The The, a teenaged Matt Johnson made tapes of dark, weird, experimental post-punk. He's now put it on CD.
Before he started calling himself The The, Matt Johnson was a 16-year-old obsessed with the then-nascent post-punk scene of Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Wire, This Heat, pre-pop Scritti Politti and the like. His music then sounded very much within this world, too, made with a borrowed guitar, a Crumar electric piano, a rhythm box and effects pedals, all recorded direct to reel-to-reel in the basement below the pub his parents owned. Matt would hand out duped cassettes of his songs whenever he attended shows.
That seven-song tape was called See Without Being Seen and Matt thought it was lost to the ages, but then he found one amongst a box of unmarked tapes. Severely damaged due to natural deterioration, the original tape had to undergo a time-consuming restoration process but was then reissued for Cassette Store Day 2019 with three extra songs from the era. That tape sold out immediately but now been reissued on CD for the first time ever with an additional three songs, bringing things up to a baker's dozen.
If you're hoping for "This is the Day" and "Uncertain Smile" pop, this is not that. There's not a lot of melody to grab onto on songs like "Spaceship In My Barn" and "Insect Children" but there are hooks, in a demented claustrophobic sort of way; it falls closer to Fad Gadget or The Residents. It's a fascinating artifact through, especially given Matt's young age and knowing the musician he'd become. Pretty cool.
The CD comes with a 36-page booklet, extensive liner notes, lyrics and images of the original cassette sleeve and artwork (designed by Matt's brother, Andy, who would do all The The art). It's not on streaming services -- I couldn't even find it on YouTube -- but you can order the CD from The The directly.
bdrmm - "A Reason To Celebrate" (Sonic Cathedral)
Soaring shoegaze from new UK band whose debut album is out in July
bdrmm are a promising new UK group from Hull/Leeds who have released a steady string of hazy, melodic and increasingly promising singles over last couple years and are finally set to release their debut album, Bedroom, on July 3 via Sonic Cathedral, a label that has continued to celebrate the scene that celebrates itself and has a high hit rate for all things shoegaze. To carry on with that theme, bdrmm's new single is "A Reason to Celebrate," which is pretty great. This is widescreen stuff, sonically somewhere between Ride's Nowhere and Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, and it makes great use of dynamics. When the song rips open halfway though, you just want to lean your head back and take it all in.
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