Indie Basement (10/30): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
We've got a scary five days in store between Halloween (on a full moon!) and the election on Tuesday and if you need some new music to soundtrack the terror, or to alleviate things, Indie Basement is here for you. This week: Aussie greats Midnight Oil return with their first record in nearly two decades; while newer Aussie band Mini Skirt would probably make a good, very different opener for them; "Punk Professor" Vivien Goldman returns with her first new music in decades; and there are new retrospectives out for Suede and The Style Council.
If you need more new album reviews, this week Andrew looks at Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, War on Women and more in Notable Releases. More Basement-approved stuff from this week: Sleaford Mods just announced their new album and the first single features Billy Nomates; Bill Callahan, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan covered Billie Eilish (and it's awesome); Crowded House are back; and there's a Gang of Four box set on the way.
Also: I may have dressed prep in the '80s but I danced to Sisters of Mercy. I put together a list of Classic Goth's 13 Greatest Albums (according to me) and also 13 Great '80s Goth Songs by artists who didn't appear on the LPs list.
Otherwise, have as great a weekend as possible, please vote (if you haven't already), and I'll be back next week in either a much better or much worse mood. As will we all, probably.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Mini Skirt - CASINO (self-released)
Your new favorite rough-and-tumble Australian mullet punk band, with deep lyrics to boot
Not all killer Aussie garage punk comes out of Melbourne. Here are Mini Skirt who hail from the southeastern surf town of Byron Bay, NSW. First things first, Mini Skirt is not a very good name, certainly not for a bunch of rough-and-tumble blokes who make urgent, bash-it-out pub punk while gripping cans of beer. But try and get past it, 'cause they're great and after five years and a few singles, Mini Skirt finally got around to making an album, the most excellent CASINO.
Musically, Mini Skirt are primal, drawing from 50 years of astringent rock, from MC5/Stooges to Sham 69 and The Fall to Sonic Youth, The Saints, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, etc. It's the sound of guitars played very loud with the levels burning hot, no fuzzboxes necessary, and you can feel the energy in the recording which was mixed and mastered by -- no surprise -- Mikey Young of Total Control/ECSR. You can tell this is exactly what Mini Skirt sound like at one of their shows, which probably happen in the corner of a bar without a stage or much of a PA system.
The real surprise though is frontman Jacob Boylan. He's a raw-throated howler with an unmistakable Aussie accent, but underneath that craggy bark is a thoughtful lyricist and a keen observer who is not afraid to hold a mirror up to his part of the world, including himself. Songs are socially conscious but not preachy or condescending, and are told from a decidedly working class POV. He tries to live a considerate, positive life in "Brigantine St" but finds obstacles at every corner: "I want to believe in the revolution / I want to believe in my contribution / But the bastards keep winning!" On "Face of the Future," he finds idiots everywhere he turns, the right and left, and wonders "Does it get you hard, spitting in the face of the future?" over a pummelling descending riff. The record also touches on colonialism, macho bullshit, PC culture and more, all with a nuanced touch. If you're just here for the rippers, CASINO seriously delivers but it's an even more satisfying record for those who really listen.
Midnight Oil - The Makarrata Project (Sony Legacy)
Eighteen years since their last album, Midnight Oil are as fiery as ever on a record that has them collaborating with indigenous Australian artists (and championing their causes)
In 1986, Midnight Oil embarked on the "Blackfella/Whitefella" tour of the Australian outback, taking indigenous groups Warumpi Band and Gondwanaland with them to play Aboriginal communities. The experience fundamentally changed the already very politically charged band, resulting in 1988's Diesel & Dust that broke the band worldwide and included songs like "The Dead Heart," about the "Stolen Generations" of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were forcibly taken from their families by the Australian government in a misguided attempt at assimilation.
Those issues -- colonialism, stolen lands -- still face Australia and are at the heart of The Makarrata Project, Midnight Oil's first record in 18 years. It's named after, and all proceeds benefit, the Makarrata Commision which hopes to "supervise a process of agreement-making" between the current Australian government and First Nations people. The record was produced by their Diesel & Dust collaborator Warne Livesay but unlike that record, Midnight Oil have invited many indigenous artists to collaborate and play on The Makarrata Project, including Alice Skye, Kev Carmody, Leah Flanagan, Sammy Butcher, Dan Sultan, and more. The record also features the late artist Gurrumul, who died in 2017 but whose family gave the band unheard vocal recordings to use.
There are the kind of strident, anthemic rock songs you've come to expect from Midnight Oil here, like first single "Gadigal Land" and closing track "Come on Down," but every song features indigenous musicians prominently. "Wind in My Head," which has a "Dead Heart" feel to it, features spoken word parts from Kev Carmody & Sammy Butcher, while Alice Skye sings lead on "Terror Australia." Opening track "First Nation" dropsa rap from Tasman Keith into the middle of it. This might not exactly sound like a typical Midnight Oil record, but in other ways it's exactly what would bring them back in the studio. They are as inspired, and angry as ever and, as a statement, The Makarrata Project's power and passion is undeniable.
Suede - The Beautiful Ones (Demon)
Glammy Britpop hitmakers get a new best-of comp in a variety of formats and sizes, from "just the hits, thanks" to a six-LP set.
When it comes to Britpop, people's minds tend to head to Oasis, Blur and maybe Pulp, but let's not forget Suede, the glammy group who were named the "Best New Band in Britain" by UK music weekly Melody Maker before they had even released their first single. Singer Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler were regularly referred to as the new Morrissey and Marr, and the band's suave, sophisticated guitar pop more often than not lived up to the hype. (One comparison to The Smiths that was dead-on: Suede released some of their best songs as b-sides.) Suede had a headstart on Britpop, releasing their debut single "The Drowners" in 1992, and they scored 20 hit UK singles and five hit albums (three of which debuted at # 1 on the UK charts) before calling it quits in 2003. During that time they also survived the departure of Bernard Butler right before the release of their second album, Dog Man Star, and actually became more popular with their next album, Coming Up. After a seven year break, the band got back together in 2010 for some festival shows and decided to keep going, and have made three very good albums since (2018's The Blue Hour being the most recent).
A decade since reforming seems like a good time to release a new retrospective and here we have The Beautiful Ones, a nice new compilation that's available in a few different permutations, for everyone from the casual fan to the die-hards. The most basic version is the 21-track two-disc vinyl set which collects most of, but not all of, their original run singles, including cheeky early classics like "The Drowners," "Metal Mickey," and "Animal Nitrate," fantastic stand-alone single "Stay Together," Dog Man Star faves "We Are the Pigs" and "The Wild Ones," to shiny post-Butler smashes like "Trash," "The Beautiful Ones," and "Electricity." There are also tracks off the three recent albums like "Barriers," "It Starts and Ends with You" and "Wastelands." Missing: "Attitude," which was the "new song" on 2003 Singles comp and "Positivity," the first single from 2002's A New Morning.
The two-disc CD set, meanwhile, has all the songs from the vinyl edition, plus an additional 13 songs, including some of their best b-sides, including "To the Birds," "My Insatiable One," "Killing of a Flashboy." (It's a bit of a mashup between Singles and b-sides collection Sci-Fi Lullabies.) Then there are the deluxe 6-vinyl-disc and 4-CD sets, which both have the same 56 tracks, selected by the band, including the same 21 "hits" plus a wider selection of b-sides and album deep cuts, with eight of Dog Man Star's 12 songs represented (clearly the band's favorite album). The deluxe CD set also comes with a 36 page booklet featuring lyrics and memorabilia submitted by fans -- the vinyl set has all the same stuff on the six albums' inner sleeves. Even if you only know the big songs, I'd still recommend the deluxe sets, as Suede dropped so many great songs where you'd least expect. Their catalog is worth exploring, and their albums have all held up remarkably well -- even the songs from Head Music, which I wasn't crazy about at the time, sound pretty good now.
Unfortunately for American fans, only the double disc CD and vinyl sets are available in the States (and they also say "The London Suede" which they were forced to call themselves here, though no fan ever did). You can however get the deluxe version via Amazon.co.uk (and shipping is not actually too bad). The Beautiful Ones is not on streaming services per se, but someone did put together a Spotify playlist, and added a few extra tracks to boot (like "Attitude" and "Positivity"):
The Style Council – Long Hot Summers: The Story of The Style Council (Polydor)
Paul Weller's jazzy, R&B-flavored, politically motivated post-Jam band with Mick Talbot gets a new retrospective.
The Jam were superstars in England in the late-'70s and early-'80s and, at 23-years old when his band were at the height of popularity, frontman Paul Weller decided to end it and try something new. Inspired in part by Blue Note jazz, Weller envisioned a group that had a rotating arsenal of members who could do anything, play anything, not constrained by genre or what the public wanted. He pitched the idea to Mick Talbot, keyboard player in Dexy's Midnight Runners, who said yes, as they bonded not just over this idea but film and fashion (French New Wave for both), and politics. The Style Council were born.
Picking up somewhat from where The Jam were heading on singles like "Absolute Beginners" and "A Town Called Malice," Weller & Talbot took The Style Council into musically lighter territory: cocktail jazz, Motown-style R&B, soul, and even rap, while rocking a look right out of Breathless. “Nothing was off limits, it was very fluid,” Paul said. “I was enthusiastic, I found inspiration everywhere.” Lyrically, though, Weller railed against Margaret Thatcher, racism, and for socialist ideals. On "Shout it to the Top," one of The Style Council's best singles (#7 in the UK), Weller sings "Make no mistake / this is all class war / fight back / shout to the top" over sultry, string-filled disco backing. They transformed their horn-filled zippy "Have You Ever Had it Blue" single into fiery polemic "With Everything to Lose" on their second and best album, Our Favorite Shop. Weller was waging war with suave, subversive style.
The Style Council only lasted six years, give or take, and Weller's ambition and arrogance sometimes meant some ill-considered experiments (rap), but the group's high's were very high, including the wonderfully breezy "My Ever Changing Moods" and "Have You Ever Had it Blue," slow-jams "The Long Hot Summer" and "You're the Best Thing," joyous revolution anthem "The Walls Come Tumbling Down," and the soulful "Speak Like a Child" and "The Lodgers." Standalone 1987 single "Promised Land," a cover of Joe Smooth's house hit, signalled a new dance direction for the group, but when they turned in their sixth album in 1989 to Polygram, the label refused to release it. (It finally saw the light of day in 1998.) When that happened, and with Thatcher having won a third term as Prime Minister, Weller felt the wind leave his sails, and brought an end to The Style Council.
If you've never dipped into their jazzy world, now is a good time to do so with the release of Long Hot Summers: The Story of The Style Council, which Weller and Talbot oversaw and picked the 37 songs for, and got superfan Martin Freeman (Tim on the original British version of The Office) to write an essay for. These songs hold up really well, and his linen-wardrobed vision of revolution is still pretty appealing.
Vivien Goldman - "I Have a Voice"
The first new single in decades from the great post-punk artist, journalist and Punk Professor takes aim at the U.S. election.
Vivien Goldman is a legend in a couple different, related, disciplines. She's an authority on reggae, having worked with Bob Marley at Island Records in the '70s (she was his first publicist), before becoming a music writer for Sounds, NME and other publications, and then later ended up working for the UK's Channel Four. At the same time she was a musician, having been a member of arch, arty synthpop/post-punk group The Flying Lizards as well as new wave duo Chantage, and her own solo work includes the classic 1981 single "Laundrette" that features Robert Wyatt and was co-produced by PiL's John Lydon and Keith Levene. She's an adjunct professor of Punk and Reggae at NYU. Last year she released the fantastic book, Revenge of the She-Punks: A Feminist Music History from Poly Styrene to Pussy Riot.
It's been a while since Vivien has made music herself, but she's been getting back into it. She opened for Cate Le Bon at Brooklyn club Elsewhere in 2019, and now she's just released "I Have a Voice," her first new single in decades, inspired by the impending US election. “I wrote this song in 2019, in London,” Goldman says. “Then as now, people were arguing about Brexit and Trump and the existential sense of uncertainty was much more intense than when punks sang No Future in the 1970s. Many obstacles are being put in the way of people voting in America now, but we must keep our energy and persistence up to make the change we need. We have a voice.”
The original, produced by Youth (Killing Joke, The Orb) and Toby Andersen, is a delicate, searing, string-laden piano ballad but there are a few remixes including the killer "Toby & Youth Bristol Bass Dub" and the "Lore Meltdown Bass Dub" that puts a drum-n-bass spin on the track. Check those out and the music video, co-directed by Vivien and Alexesie Pinnock and features images from this year's many protests, below.
"I Have a Voice" also serves as a preview for a new album, titled Next is Now which will be out in 2021. Can't wait.
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