Bill’s Indie Basement (10/18): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week: Mark Lanegan explores gothy '80s post-punk; influential Scottish group The Blue Nile finally get their first three albums reissued on vinyl; Montreal's Corridor release their first album for Sub Pop; visual artist Jacolby Satterwhite and Teengirl Fantasy's Nick Weiss team as PAT; and OG post-punks Maximum Joy get their only album reissued.
If you need more fresh album reviews, Andrew's got you covered with Notable Releases. I also highly recommend listening to Pavement percussionist Bob Nastanovich's tribute to his good friend and onetime Silver Jews bandmate David Berman on the latest edition of the Three Songs podcast. That is all! That is enough!
Mark Lanegan has had one of the more resilient careers of any of the acts associated with the '90s grunge movement. That association was mostly geographical: his old band Screaming Trees were from Seattle, but started well before the flannel movement and their sound was more on the garage-psych side of the spectrum. He survived the '90s and drug addiction, and has dabbled in a wide variety of genres including blues rock, atmospheric folk rock, electronica, a few Nancy-and-Lee duet albums with Isobel Campbell, and more. Tying his catalog together is a mile-wide dark streak and Lanegan's weathered vocal style which sounds great over a surprisingly large variety of genres.
Those traits work to his advantage on Somebody's Knocking that has him diving headfirst into synthy post-punk. “I’ve always been into electronic music since I was a kid,” Mark said in a press release. “I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my music is that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older. The bulk of what I listen to now is electronic. I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time - a blatantly catchy, old-school dance-type song.” Specifically, he's talking about "Penthouse High," which you could easily imagine being remixed into a full-on Hi-NRG club track. Working with Pye Corner Audio's Martin Jenkins, there is grit in the mix to match Lanegan's voice which renders it like a grubbier, Technique-era New Order track. Early New Order and Joy Division's influence can be heard on "Playing Nero" (echoes of "Atmosphere") and "She Loved You" (which gurgles like "Your Silent Face").
When guitars come into play, too, things settle into late-'80s goth territory, and "Night Flight to Kabul" and "Gazing Up from Shore" would fit great into a darkwave set between "She Sells Sanctuary" and "Lucretia My Reflection." You can tell Lanegan is enjoying himself and even the moments were he's hamming it up a little are pretty great. He can still do the straight up Mark Lanegan Rock Song well too -- see "Stitch it Up" and "Disbelief Suspension" -- but Somebody's Knocking works best when the black eyeliner is applied with abandon.
I would call these vinyl reissues of The Blue Nile's first three albums long overdue but that's a redundant descriptor when it comes to music from these influential Scottish greats. (Average wait time between albums: six-and-a-half years.) None of these three albums sound alike, but there is an aching, rainswept romance to everything The Blue Nile do, with an immaculate production/arrangement style that favors as much headroom as possible for frontman Paul Buchanan's amazing, emotive voice.
1984's A Walk Across the Rooftops is all yearning romance that, on incredible singles "Tinseltown in the Rain" (one of my all-time favorite songs) and "Stay", had them outdistancing most of their peers (Prefab Sprout, China Crisis, even Talk Talk). 1989's Hats, which turned 30 on Wednesday, is the album the group are best-known for, an exquisitely realized mood piece that didn't sound like anything else at the time, with gentle, ticking drum machines, spare piano, strings and horns, as well as a melancholy spirit you can feel in your bones. You can hear its echos in everything from Peter Gabriel to modern R&B to Destroyer's Kaputt, and beyond. 1996's Peace at Last, is my least favorite of their four, possibly because it sounds the most traditional with its emphasis on acoustic instrumentation. It has aged well, however, and like Season 5 of The Wire, the weakest in the bunch is still better than what almost everyone else is doing.
Each of these are being pressed in editions of 1000 and I'd imagine Hats will go pretty quick. Pre-order yours.
Montreal band Corridor's third album, Junior, is their first for Sub Pop. It's a bit of a surprise, the band and the label, as they sing exclusively in French, and yet it also makes sense as they are the Foreign Exchange student equivalent of Atlanta's Omni who are going to release their first album for Sub Pop in two weeks. Both groups use spiky, fractal guitar patterns that crystallize around driving bass and guitar. Apart from the language barrier, Corridor might be the more easily digestible of the two bands, and Junior is a great example of what they do so well. Songs are spun out of those looping patterns, swirling around the rhythm section's powerful, danceable engine. Providing full liftoff are some well-placed synth washes and their lush vocal harmonies that are as much a signature as the guitars. I don't even think there is a language barrier: my first exposure to them -- live, two years ago in their hometown -- I didn't realize they were singing in French till after the show. Corridor's songs are absolutely catchy pop, but it's still more of a vibe thing than a band who lives or dies on their choruses.
Junior was actually a bit of a rush job. Upon signing to Sub Pop earlier this year, the label told them if they wanted an album out in 2019, they'd have to deliver the masters by early May. This was in March, and they managed to deliver Junior by mid-April. "Part of the beauty of the thing is that we didn't have time to think about it," says Dominique Berthiaume, one of Corridor's two singer-guitarists (Jonathan Robert, who also does the artwork, is the other). Half the album was written in one weekend. You couldn't tell it from listening, though. Junior is a nice progression from Supermercado, building steam as it goes, climaxing with the literal one-two punch of "Pow" (maybe their best pop song yet) and the "Bang" (spiraling, magisterial). It's an infectious, unique sound that needs no translation.
Corridor are even better live, nonstop spinning tops who can nail those harmonies. They're on tour now, and their October 24 Brooklyn show at Union Pool is an entirely Basement-approved lineup of Operator Music Band and Activity (tickets). Go see them if they play near you.
PAT is the collaborative project of acclaimed visual artist Jacolby Satterwhite, who most recently worked on Solange’s visual album that accompanied her new record When I Get Home, and Teengirl Fantasy’s Nick Weiss. The project takes its name from Satterwhite’s mother Patricia, who suffered from schizophrenia, died in 2016 and left behind hundreds of acapella recordings on cassette tapes, as well as drawings. Satterwhite and Weiss took those recordings, sampled them, manipulated them, added beats and orchestration (with help from Kindness, Lafawndah, cellist Patrick Belaga and more), and turned them into something new.
Even without knowing the backstory, Love Will Find a Way Home is a real achievement that is moving, gorgeous, danceable and wildly creative. At times it feels like a collaboration between Massive Attack, Inner City and The Caretaker, with Patricia guiding things but also getting lost in clouded memories. "We Are in Hell When We Hurt Each Other" is probably the most impressive track on the album -- dark strings bring heavy atmosphere and when mixed with early-'90s synth stabs makes for a seriously badass banger.
Patricia's recordings give them a lot to work with -- she was clearly a very musical person and you can tell on tracks like "Spirits Roaming On The Earth" and "Second Time Around" that she had a clear beat going in her head when singing these into the tape recorder. Satterwhite and Weiss used 150+ different samples of Patricia on Love Will Find a Way, including a few where she was reinterpreting other people's music, too. About halfway through the album's title track, you realize Patricia has put words to Chuck Mangione's 1977 soft jazz megahit "Feels So Good." The production pulls it into different, weirder, but still danceable and beautiful territory. (There is also a point on "Blessed Ave" where she might be scatting on the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme.) It is, like the rest of the album, a mysteriously beautiful labor of love.
Love Will Find a Way is also part of Jacolby Satterwhite's big Pioneer Works installation "You're at home" which is open now through November 24.
Early-'80s post-punk group Maximum Joy only lasted a couple years but have cast a long (if sometimes anonymous) shadow. The group splintered off from another post-punk group, Glaxo Babies, with The Pop Group's John Waddington on guitar and Janine Rainforth on vocals, and other instruments. Like other bands on the Y label at the time (The Slits, Shriekback, Pop Group), dub, funk, disco and afrobeat figured heavily into their sound, but Rainforth proved to be the wildcard, adding violin and clarinet to the mix, not to mention an exuberant spirit. Maximum Joy also drafted, on vocals and percussion, Nellee Hooper who would be one of the hottest producers of the '90s, working with Soul II Soul, Bjork, Sinead O'Connor, No Doubt, U2, Madonna and more.
Station MXJY is Maximum Joy's sole album, which they made with Adrian Sherwood who brought his claustrophobic dub style to the production. Unlike Sherwood-associated acts like The Pop Group and Mark Stewart, Maximum Joy had pop DNA, and the dichotomy between the bombed out, nervous sonics and the breezy hooks and upbeat vocals really make tracks like "Do it Today," "Searching for a Feeling" and "Where's Deke?" special. This album still sounds ahead-of-the-curve.
This new reissue marks the first time Station MXJY has been on vinyl since 1983. It's out Valentine's Day, 2020 via 1972 Records -- preorder it for that special someone now, and listen here: