Indie Basement (1/27): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's another great week of music in Indie Basement, featuring: Meg Baird's most inviting record to date; the debut album from Joanna Gruesome offshoot The Tubs; Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery's second album as R. Ring; King Tuff finds his true self on Smalltown Stardust; Mozart Estate, the latest project from cult artist Lawrence (Felt, Denim); and the Definitive Edition of New Order's 1985 album Low-Life.
Over in Notable Releases, Andrew reviews new albums from Fucked Up, XL Life, H.C. McEntire, and more. Need more Basement-related content? It 'was a busy news week: Ulrika Spacek are back; so are The Boo Radleys (still minus Martin Carr); Le Tigre are touring this summer; Richard Dawson announced his first-ever North American tour; and Sparks are back on Island Records! Also it's a good week for '80s goths, with Siouxsie Sioux, Love and Rockets, and Sisters of Mercy.
We've got fresh stock in the Indie Basement corner of the BV shop, with upcoming releases/reissues from Ivy, Sleaford Mods, Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach, and New Pornographers, plus New Order, Love and Rockets, Crime & The City Solution, Protomartyr, Naima Bock and more.
Head below for this week's reviews, and see ya in February.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Meg Baird - Furling (Drag City)
This is arguably the most inviting record of the always enchanting Meg Baird's career
Meg Baird's featherlight voice and equally delicate guitar style is more than enough to carry albums, and has done so in the past, but on Furling she really lets her abilities as a multi-instrumentalist shine. Working with her longtime collaborator and partner (and Heron Oblivion bandmate) Charlie Saufley, Meg plays a wide range of instruments -- drums, vibraphone, loads of keyboards of all shapes and sizes -- making for one of her most immediate, inviting albums of her rich and varied career. On many of the songs, like the wonderful "Cross Bay" and "Ship Captains," the arrangements feel like a subtle upgrade, adding a little piano or melotron to her established solo style. You may not even notice at first but it gives them extra lift. It's when percussion comes into play, though, that the scope of this album really unfurls. Just the gentlest of drumming and use of vibraphone sends Meg's harmony vocals toward the sun on "Twelve Saints," while congas and gossamer slide guitar help "The Saddest Verses" float around you like a friendly ghost. There is an undeniable melancholy to the album, but she wears it like a favorite sweater. The album's best song comes near the end: "Will You Follow Me Home" grooves effortlessly on a loping beat and soulful bassline that sounds like a lost 1972 collaboration between Vashti Bunyan and Curtis Mayfield, as her soaring, ethereal vocals intertwine with mellotron flutes that at one magic point, melt together with woozy wow and flutter. The late Andrew Weatherall, producer of Screamadelica, could've had a field day remixing this one. Furling doesn't change the core of what Meg has always done, it just makes it all shine just a little more.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: The Tubs - Dead Meat (Trouble in Mind)
Terrific debut album from The Tubs is about as close to a Joanna Gruesome reunion as we're likely to get
I jumped the gun a little reviewing the debut album by The Tubs, a UK group formed by former Joanna Gruesome songwriters Owen Williams and George Nichols and features JG singer Alanna McArdle one much of the album. This fantastic album is actually out now and here's part of that review:
Williams and Nicholls have not lost their touch one bit writing thrilling two-minute guitar earworms that mash together a few different sympatico genres: punk, post punk, power-pop and British folk. There's a lot of snarl and angst here -- mental health and its burdens / complications are recurring lyrical themes -- but never without an emphasis on hooks and melody. In "Round the Bend," a song worthy of peak Bob Mould, he tells his lover "soon you're gonna be sick of me" as he dreads "another manic episode" while guitars slash and strum. Williams' voice does a lot of heavy lifting, capable of palpable snarl but also sweetness, especially when harmonizing with McArdle, like on Dead Meat's title track, or the anthemic "Duped" with its rousing chorus of "Why did I bother?" Self-loathing rarely sounds so inviting.
Read the whole thing here.
We also talked to Williams about the influences behind Dead Meat and you can read that here.
King Tuff - Smalltown Stardust (Sub Pop)
Kyle Thomas reboots King Tuff as lush '70s soft rock and it works like gangbusters
Kyle Thomas rose up in the low-fi scuzz rock resurgence of the late-'00s, riding the garage-surf wave as King Tuff alongside the likes of Ty Segall (Thomas was a member of Ty's band The Muggers), WAVVES, etc. By the end of the 2010s, he had shifted gears, working more as a producer -- the LA living space he shares with Sasami Ashworth and Meg Duffy is also a recording studio and they all worked on each others' albums, which helped his sound mutate exponentially. Most probably still think of King Tuff as the nasally garage rocker rocker of his 2012 Sub Pop debut, but even if you know his most recent album, 2018's glammy, shiny The Other, his new album will be a surprise. Co-produced and co-written with Ashworth, Smalltown Stardust is an ode to Thomas' upbringing in Brattleboro, VT where the woods and rivers were never far away. His embrace of Mother Nature is apparent even if you didn't notice song titles like "Love Letters To Plants" and "Pebbles In A Stream." These songs are purposefully warm and nostalgic, sounding like a '70s he never knew apart from on records he listened to growing up, richly produced with lush harmonies and strings. It's soft rock in the best possible way, sweet but south of cloying, with many memorable songs. Pun intended: it's the most natural Thomas has ever sounded.
R. Ring - War Poems, We Rested (Don Giovanni)
Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery expand R. Ring's classic indie rock sound on their second album
Kelley Deal stays pretty busy these days between The Breeders and becoming a full-on member of Protomartyr, but you can tell R. Ring, her collaboration with Ampline's Mike Montgomery, is special. She knows how indie rock should sound and Mike, who runs Dayton's Candyland Recording Studio, knows how to get those sounds on tape. Together, they write songs that give you the warm-and-fuzzies in a mid-'90s kind of way, but that also just sound timeless. Really, this is the sound of Kelley Deal. War Poems, We Rested expands R. Ring's palette thanks to Bat Fangs' Laura King who provides bass, drums, backing vocals and more across the record, along with Lori Goldston (cello) and Joe Suer (vibraphone). Opener "Still LIfe" beams in from outer space on a starship borrowed from Bowie, before touching down on pavement for the the sweet and boozy "Hug," Things get funky, in an ESG/Luscious Jackson sort of way, on "Def Sup," and "Cartoon Heart/Build Me A Question" is a wonderful little ripper. R. Ring are at their best on the quiet numbers, like "Exit Music," where Kelley and Mike sound like they're singing just to you. At 11 songs and 28 minutes, this is a modest little record that consistently punches above its weight while never trying to call attention to itself. War Poems, We Rested knows how good it is and doesn't need to flaunt it.
Mozart Estate - Pop-Up! Ker-Ching! And The Possibilities Of Modern Shopping (Cherry Red)
Cult artist Lawrence makes one of the cultiest albums of his career, brilliant as usual but will be maddening to many
One of the quirkiest indie cult artists of the last 40 years, Lawrence Hayward has held dreams of becoming a pop star since his adolescence watching Top of The Pops in the 1970s. He's genius but a genuine oddball and as brilliant as his records have been, from Felt to Denim, Lawrence is just too left of center to actually make it happen. His latest incarnation, a spin-off of his previous Go-Kart Mozart moniker, is not likely to finally give him that time in the spotlight. Much like the last GKM record, this one blends his main obsessions -- the '70s, stardom and money (or lack thereof) -- into one shiny, earth-toned package. Pop-Up! Ker-Ching! And The Possibilities Of Modern Shopping is as meticulously crafted as any record in his discography and loaded with catchy songs, but almost maddeningly so. Half the tracks on the album sound like commercial jingles ("Pink and the Purple" basically is a jingle) and the others sound like TV theme songs from 1974. British TV themes, specifically. There's a BBC Radiophonic Workshop vibe going here, and if you're not sure what that means, the very specific, very British lyrical content is not going to make the album any more relatable to the masses. (Most Americans have never heard of Felt or Denim, for that matter.) Like the best pop, these songs are probably best experienced as single-servings -- do put a song like "I Wanna Murder You" or "I'm Gonna Wiggle" on a playlist -- with only the most devoted Lawrence-heads (and there are a few of those) who'll want to listen to the whole thing. As a concept and package, it's nonetheless often brilliant and very funny (also: bleak), from the dead-on sonics to the incredible artwork to the liner notes that ask listeners to "always wash hands before handling this product." (He's a famous neat freak.) A work this eccentric does ask the question, "Who is this album for?" The answer: Lawrence. Pop-Up! Ker-Ching! is his world and we can only window shop.
New Order - Low-Life Definitive Edition (Rhino)
New Order's best album gets a loving and very pricey new edition featuring outtakes, DVDs of 1985 live shows and more
What is New Order's best album? General consensus is 1983's Power, Corruption and Lies (hard to argue against it) and a case can be made for 1989's ecstasy-fueled Technique but my vote goes to 1985's Low-Life. From brilliant opener "Love Vigilantes" through singles "The Perfect Kiss" and "Subculture" to the defiant, joyous kiss-off closer "Face-Up" (which also should've been a single), New Order proved over and over they had no peers when it came to inventively mixing synthesizers and drum machines with traditional rock instrumentation. While the albums that follow would more often than not have songs that were either "rock" or "synth," Low-Life let things intermingle in wonderful and surprising ways. This one also has the best deep cuts -- "Sunrise," "This Time of Night" and "Sooner Than You Think" are all amazing -- and "Elegia" shows their command of instrumentals. Low-Life also has my favorite artwork of any New Order record. Inside and out, it's perfect. New Order drummer Stephen Morris agrees with me, for what it's worth, though he's a bit biased as his face is on the cover.
This new Definitive Edition is notable for a few things. The packaging, overseen by original designer Peter Saville, is beautiful, recreating the album's original tracing-paper / obi-strip sleeve that allowed you to put any of the four band members on the cover. For fans there's also a bonus CD of demos and studio outtakes, the most crucial of which is the original 17-minute version of "Elegia" where its Ennio Morricone scope can really be felt. There's also a six-minute instrumental version of "Love Vigilantes" they pitched to advertising agencies to use as a jingle (glad that never happened), and multiple "writing session" jams where you can hear the songs in various stages of completion.
There are also two DVDs featuring five live performances from 1985 including a Tokyo show that was released on VHS as "Pumped Full of Drugs," as well as The Manhattan Club, Belgium, rarely seen footage from Rotterdam Arena (Netherlands), International Centre (Toronto, Canada), and a BBC-filmed Old Grey Whistle Test shot at their own Manchester club, The Hacienda. The DVDs also have the live-in-studio music video for "The Perfect Kiss" (directed by Jonathan Demme) and a few other curios. The set also comes with a 48-page book filled with new liner notes and rare photos.
Unfortunately the price tag keeps this from getting a full recommendation. The packaging, with the tracing paper sleeves, was surely costly but for a set that only contains one piece of vinyl, $114.99 feels a bit like highway robbery. (The Power, Corruption and Lies Definitive Edition was only $99.) It seems like missed a opportunity to include another LP, featuring the full version of "Elegia" on one side, which would've made this so much more enticing.
More enticing are the reproductions of three 12" singles from the era, including "Sub-Culture" (which is completely different than the album version), "The Perfect Kiss," and their contribution to the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, "Shell Shock." All come in exact reproductions of Peter Saville's original sleeves and you can grab those in the BV shop.
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