Bill’s Indie Basement (9/27): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week: Kelley Stoltz is back with another great album; Moon Duo go rave (kind of): LA trio Automatic have post-punk running through their blood; and Jarvis Cocker delivers the best of his Sunday Service BBC series. Plus: two trips to Switzerland with Klaus Johann Grobe and Neutral Zone.
Other new records I like this week but didn't review: New Pornographers' In the Morse Code of Brake Lights (Andrew reviews in Notable Releases), and The Monochrome Set's Fabula Mendax. In the world of reissues, that new mix of The Replacements' Don't Tell A Soul is out today, as are those Prefab Sprout vinyl reissues. Also: Dinosaur Jr's four '90s albums (Green Mind, Where You Been, Without a Sound, and Hand It Over) have been reissued on vinyl.
Kelley Stoltz is an unsung pop genius, having quietly made great record after great record for such labels as Sub Pop, Third Man, and Castle Face, all created mostly on his own at his home Electric Duck Studios. My Regime is Kelley's 10th studio album and, like on last year's Natural Causes, he's bringing all of his disparate influences together. You can hear his love of The Kinks, Bowie, Nick Drake and The Velvet Underground alongside teenage post-punk obsessions like the Bunnymen (who he would end up joining as a member this decade), XTC and other mutant pop. There are even some yacht rock proclivities this time around. Stoltz doesn't compartmentalize it though; these sounds commingle with different sonic elements popping to the surface where needed.
"Sister" opens the record with a Stonesy riff played in an un-Stonesy way, clear and liquid and drenched in reverb, with synths providing subtle lift while Stoltz quietly coos "I need a sister...someone to watch over...someone to watch over me." It's a little like early House of Love, and the last minute of the song is pure instrumental bliss with E-bow'd guitars snaking amongst sultry sax and acoustic guitars. It's one of Stoltz's most sublime creations, but there are many more gems on My Regime. "Zonked" cribs it's riff from Bunnymen song "Silver" but uses it in the context of garage-rock-disco, while "Baby Be Good To Me" is equal parts Leonard Cohen and Steppenwolf. "Good To See You" mixes Merseybeat, a funky clavinet breakdown and a little harp, and "Fire on Fire" could be Nick Lowe or The dB's in 1979. I could go on. Nearly every song is a master class in production and arrangement, making the most of Stoltz's eight-track recording setup and filling his songs with amazing little sonic touches. His records may get ignored by Spotify algorithms and larger music sites, but it's never too late to play catch-up.
Kelley Stoltz will be on tour with Ezra Furman this fall for West Coast dates.
Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada have been making music as Moon Duo for 10 years and haven't changed the formula too much since their 2011 debut: blissed-out drone-pop that rarely uses more than three chords (more often, two), guitar, keyboards and minimal drumming. And yet, Moon Duo have such a clear vision and a great ear for how this music is supposed to sound and feel, their records sound fresh every time. Stars Are the Light, however, is different, eschewing the sinister undertones of much of their past work, in favor of bright, warm danceable psychedelia pulling from disco and rave. "We were also very inspired by the space and community of a disco," says Yamada, "a space of free self-expression through dance, fashion, and mode of being; where everyone was welcome, diversity was celebrated, and identity could be fluid; where the life force that animates each of us differently could flower.”
It is still very much a Mood Duo record, though, with Johnson's rippling leads pouring out of his instrument, dancing through the moonlit water, circling around Yamada's undulating synth parts, with glitchy, funky percussion propelling their music like never before. The album was mixed by Sonic Boom who certainly knows his way around this stuff -- Spacemen 3's final album, Recurring, feels like an influence here -- and you can feel his touch all over. Songs like "Fall (for Your Love)" and the title track embrace an ecstatic sound would've gone over like gangbusters at The Hacienda in 1990, and dubby tunes like "Eternal Shore" or album closer "Fever Night" could be paired with Primal Scream, The Orb or Ultramarine. Even a more trad-sounding MD track, "Eye 2 Eye," has a little hypercolor glow to it. I doubt they'll be adding a Bez to the band anytime soon, but this trip to the light fantastic is well worth taking and I look forward to where they take us next.
Moon Duo are touring in October and November.
Not counting the occasional collaborations and Pulp reunions, Jarvis Cocker took a break from making new music after his second solo album, 2009's Further Complications, but he did not leave the public eye. He got his own weekly radio show, "Sunday Service," which aired on BBC 6. “It is my intention to fill these hours with as much dodgy opinion, crackpot theories, hare-brained schemes and beautiful, beautiful music as is humanly possible,” he said at the time and, over the course of the next eight years, did just that. There was the occasional guest, but mainly it was Jarvis talking to his listeners in that half whisper used on so many of his records, and lots of great music -- some well-known, but much of it obscure and fascinating. The good folks at ACE Records (who put out those compilations curated by Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley/Pete Wiggs) have just released some of the best, weirdest and most memorable music from the programme on Music From Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service.
The compilation includes: the first song Jarvis ever played on Sunday Service (Tim Rose's partially spoken word piece, "Snowed In"); a speech by author/Marxist/atheist Christopher Hitchens Jarvis played over a song by Phoenix Foundation; and Miranda July's "Rock Intro" which was recorded for the Whitney Biennial, used in You and Me and Everyone We Know and has never been released before. There's also Nina Simone's title track from her 1978 reggae album Baltimore, an amazing steel drum version of Gary Numan's "Cars" by The Katzenjammers, Antony & The Johnsons' cover of Beyonce's "Crazy in Love," moog-centric chamber ensemble The Camarata Contemporary Chamber Group interpreting Erik Satie, and Headless Heroes' cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End." Also: Serafina Steer, Cabaret Voltaire, The Legendary Tigerman, Art Garfunkel, Alternative TV, and more. Jarvis wrote the liner notes, giving stories behind all the songs and how they ended up on his show. For those wishing for a little of Jarvis' dulcet voice, there's "The Interrogative Mood" which is a live improvised "jamma" between Jarvis and David Cunningham (The Flying Lizards). "I read an extract from Padgett Powell's book, The Interrogative Mood whilst he played a kalimba (thumb piano) through a variety of effects," Jarvis writes in the liner notes. "This was the result. You can tell it was live because I totally mispronounce the word 'interrogative' at the end of the piece. No chance to do a second take." Now if someone could just put out compilation of the actual episodes (this blog may be some help though). These ACE compilations rarely show up on streaming services but, as is often the case, someone has made a Spotify playlist approximation:
Sunday Service went off the air at the end of 2017, but Jarvis is making music again.
The icy, brittle, synthy brand of post-punk was perfected in 1980 but that hasn't stopped generations of bands exploring it since, from Joy Division, Tubeway Army and Delta 5, through to Interpol, Ladytron, Bloc Party, Savages, Total Control, and beyond. The allure remains, for both musicians and listeners. LA trio Automatic don't reinvent the wheel -- icy synths, danceable motorik rhythms, cooly delivered vocals -- but they get it right, and know you need catchy songs in addition to the sound and the image. Signal does all that. There's a palpable sense of dread on cuts "I Love You, Fine" and "Suicide in Texas," while "Damage" and the title track are really groovy, in a Berlin warehouse disco sort of way. Another part of Signal's appeal is the less-is-more production, clearly pulling from Martin Hannett's style which in particular really adds snap to the drumming (courtesy Lola Dompé whose dad is Bauhaus/Love & Rockets drummer Kevin Haskins). Automatic have also got one thing that's near impossible to manufacture: attitude. All these things are present in album-opener "Too Much Money," a two-minute blast that struts on a two-note bassline, driving beat and infectious call-and-response vocals, with a woozy synth drone running throughout. It's absolutely killer and even if they don't top it, it justifies their and Signal's existence.
Swiss greats Klaus Johann Grobe are back in the U.S., touring around Desert Daze fest.and to promote the trek, they've got a couple new things for us. First is new single "Downtown" which splits the difference between their minimal Krautrock beginnings and more disco-oriented 2018 album, Du bist so symmetrisch. This song has it all: flute solos, sax solos, cowbell, those disco "pew pew" noises and a slinky hypnotic groove. And because it's Klaus Johann Grobe, it goes without saying the bassline is amazing. I think I like this more than just about anything on Du bist so symmetrisch (and I like that album a lot), mainly due to the flutes and cowbell.
Secondly, Trouble in Mind has repressed KJG's 2014 full-length debut, Im Sinne der Zeit, which has basically been out of print on vinyl since its initial release. This album came in at #2 on my Best of 2014 list and I described it at the time as, "what if Can had jammed with Os Mutantes… and Stereolab owned the only bootleg." I still listen to this album all the time -- it's one of my favorite albums of the decade for sure -- and though I bought it on vinyl when it came out, I'm glad it's back out there for the masses. Everybody should own this. You can find it a the band's merch table now (go see them they're great live) and it's out for everybody else on October 11.
Speaking of Swiss krautrock-inspired dance music, you may remember the very first edition of Indie Basement featured Neutral Zone which is the pseudonym of David Langhard who has recorded/mixed all the Klaus Johann Grobe albums. His own music is heavily electronic and uses samples from old educational films, movies, TV shows and news broadcasts instead of vocals. "Frame of Reference," the opening cut on this new EP, is a good example of what Neutral Zone does so cleverly. It takes samples from a 1960 educational film made at the University of Toronto but puts its hosts, physic professors Patterson Hume & Donald Ivey, into a frame of reference they would have never imagined. Dialogue like "You look peculiar / you're upside down" gets chopped up and timed to play like lyrics, as a seriously funky bassline and twitching drum machines bubble underneath. "Just Because" lays down a bombed-out groove worthy of Dub Syndicate, while "George Johnson" goes Big "80s while sampling a 1949 short about how to be an engaging conversationalist (answer: use gestures). The final song on the EP, "50-1-50-2-50-3," is a 15-minute mostly-sample-free instrumental jam that falls somewhere between Kraftwerk's "Tour de France" and Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love," with ebbs and flows, and peaks and valleys along its path. If you need more reasons to check out this record, the teddybears in lab coats on the cover are pretty cute.