Bill’s Indie Basement (8/7): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
August is always a slow month for album releases, even when a pandemic plays havoc with release schedules...at least for Indie Basement stuff. But there's always something. This week: the debut album from talented UK newcomer Billy Nomates (who has ties to Sleaford Mods and Beak>); a "definitive" box set reissue of New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies; Chicago's Ganser are back with their second album (produced by a member of Electrelane); a "lost" EP from '90s-era DC band Edsel; a very groovy new Ennio Morricone compilation; and Mass Observation, a collaboration between members of Lorelei and Lake Ruth.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew looks at The Microphones, Jason Molina and more in Notable Releases. For more Basement-approved stuff from this week, there's: new Midnight Oil; a new record by a couple members of The Whitest Boy Alive; and The Notwist are back.
Head below for this week's reviews...
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Billy Nomates - Billy Nomates (Invada)
Travelling in similar circles to Sleaford Mods, Billy Nomates brings hooks and attitude to her terrific debut album.
Tor Maries learned violin in her early teens and spent her 20s in Bristol, England playing in a series of bands that went nowhere. She got depressed, thought about chucking in the music life, but last year went to a Sleaford Mods show which ended up sparking a creative rebirth. Dubbing herself Billy Nomates, she began making songs on her laptop with straight-shooter lyrics and a style that mixed spoken word, '80s pop and more than a little country influence. The Mods ended up being early supporters, and fellow Bristol resident Geoff Barrow (Portishead/Beak>) signed her to his label, Invada, and signed on to produce her. "No," her debut single, introduced a fully-realized Billy Nomates: brash, catchy and imbued with a fiery take-no-shit attitude.
With a working class attitude and songs that are often based around minimal loops of bass/synth and drums -- not to mention her connection to the group -- Billy Nomates unsurprisingly gets compared to Mods a lot. It's not exactly unfair but she's really doing her own thing, as even a casual listen of her self-titled debut album will reveal. For example: "Hippy Elite," a song about wishing she had more time for activism, features a very catchy, very twangy chorus of "hug a tree for me." You could almost imagine it working, lyrics and all, as a feisty country hit for someone like Shania Twain or Reba McEntire in the '90s.
The album is full of big pop moments like that, but done in a low-fi, grounded way. This album is all bangers with simple, direct choruses and very relatable subjects: listening to "back in my day" stories from elders ("Happy Misery"), feminism ("NO"), icky dudes ("Fat White Man"), the disappearing middle class ("Forgotten Normal People"), and hating your job ("Call in Sick" and "Supermarket Sweep" which features a verse from the Mods' Jason Williamson). Barrow's production keeps things gritty, adding a little welcome acid to the sweetness of the choruses, but there's no denying it's a pop record at heart. Billy Nomates presents an artist who has already figured out where she wants to go as she's just getting started.
Ganser - Just Look at That Sky (Felte)
Chicago group's second album ticks most of the post-punk boxes in all the right ways; produced by Electrelane's Mia Clarke
Chicago's Ganser have been around since 2015 or so, and quickly gained a reputation as a formidable live band. Even if you've never seen them, you can just tell they're good live by listening to their terrific new album, Just Look at That Sky. Electrelane's Mia Clarke produced the album and it sounds gangbusters: bristling with angsty electricity and great performances.
Just Look at That Sky covers a large swath of post punk territory. There are Sonic Youth-style noisy rippers ("Lucky"), gloomy death-rattle wailing ("Self Service"), shringy Gang of Four angling ("Bad Form"), melodic indie rock ("Emergency Equipment and Exits"), dreamy numbers ("Shadowcasting," "[No Yes]"), and widescreen epic-ness ("Bags for Life"). The band they resemble most is early Throwing Muses, with Nadia Garofalo (bass/vocals) and Alicia Gaines (keyboards/vocals) bringing gravitas, Brian Cundiff's tom-heavy drumming style, and firey riffage courtesy Charlie Landsman. What makes it all work is conviction and muscle, which Ganser have plenty of. "Post-punk" is a well too many bands go to, but Ganser play it like they mean it.
New Order - Power Corruption and Lies Definitive Box Set (Rhino)
A perfect album gets remastered for the first time from the original analogue tapes, plus a whole bunch of extras.
Back in 2008, New Order reissued all of their albums on vinyl and as double-disc expanded CD sets. Unfortunately, they were kinda half-assed. Masters were made from not original sources, and the bonus material often felt like it was randomly sprinkled across the different albums instead of staying within the era of particular albums. So it's good to see that New Order are finally beginning to do it right. Last year we got a "definitive" box set of their debut album, Movement, and this week they announced a similar set for what is many people's favorite New Order album, 1983's Power Corruption and Lies.
Power Corruption and Lies is where New Order stepped out from the shadow of Joy Division. Bernard Sumner officially became the band's singer, and their melodies became brighter and poppier, with synthesizers and drum machines taking a major role in their sound. There's not a bum track on the album, from the joyous opener "Age of Consent" though the sorrowful Ian Curtis tribute "Leave Me Alone" that closes the album. It's all the more impressive, just how good the songs are, when you realize almost all of them consist of only two chords. Peter Saville's iconic artwork, meanwhile, cemented New Order's status as post-punk pop enigmas (even if the reality was a fairly cheery band who really liked to party). It's an absolute classic...and not even my favorite New Order album.
So this new, not cheap ($140) box set features a new vinyl/CD master from the original analogue tapes, which is exciting, but it's the bonus stuff that has me wondering if I can somehow afford this. (I can't.) There's a bonus disc worth of extras, including rough mixes, demos and alternate takes of the album's tracks, as well as alternates of New Order's non-LP singles from around the same time, including all-time classic "Blue Monday" (PC&L's "5-8-6" was clearly an early stab at something similar), the majestic "Thieves Like Us" (maybe my favorite New Order song ever), and pounding, gothy instrumental "Murder." There are also a couple of rarities that never made it to an official release, like "Too Late" and "Turn the Heater On."
There are also two DVDs worth of stuff, including three full live shows from 1982 and 1983, loads of TV appearances, and 1984 Channel 4 documentary Play at Home that features interviews with the band, producer Martin Hannett, Factory Records head Tony Wilson, manager Rob Gretton, Peter Saville, other Factory bands, and more.
Additionally, New Order are reissuing the "Blue Monday," "Thieves Like Us," and "Murder" singles on 12" vinyl, also with remastered audio. "Blue Monday" remains the biggest selling 12" single of all time, and its floppy disc die-cut sleeve is nearly as iconic as the song itself. (The sleeve cost so much to produce that New Order never made any money off it.) The other two are worth picking up, too, especially "Thieves Like Us" as the flip-side, "Lonesome Tonight," is a great deep cut. You can get all three singles and the box set as part of one even more expensive bundle, or buy them separately. What they don't seem to be selling is Power Corruption and Lies on its own, without all the extras, though surely they will.
Fingers crossed they'll also do this for Low-Life, my favorite New Order album.
Edsel - A Lost Language EP
DC post-punks share their final recordings, 19 years in the making.
DC band Edsel existed from 1988 to 1997, making wiry post-punk/post-hardcore indie rock, having released records on Dischord, DeSoto, Jade Tree, Grass, Relativity and other labels. The band, fronted by Sohrab Habibion (Obits, SAVAK), remained friends after going their separate ways and, it turns out, got back together in 2001 to write and record a few songs while helping bassist Geoff Sanoff test out the new NYC recording studio he was going to be working at: Stratosphere Sound which was owned by Smashing Pumpkins' James Iha and Ivy's Andy Chase and Adam Schlesinger (RIP).
"As a younger engineer, I was still in the process of figuring out how to capture the sounds I heard in my head and on other people’s records," Geoff writes. "It wasn't too surprising that the recording needed some additional work, especially as the bones of it had been recorded in a studio with a live room which was LIVE and untreated, with a band who hadn’t written together in four years, and with gear that had been plugged in for the first time! With that said, when I turned off the computer at the end of that weekend of recording, I never could have imagined the path it would take to get those songs finished and out into the world."
The tracks were dusted off and Sanoff and Habibion enlisted friends Michael Hampton (Faith, Embrace), SAVAK drummer Matt Schulz, and the late Mark Hutchins (who died in 2016) to help complete them. Nineteen years from the initial recording, and just in time for August's Bandcamp Friday artist fundraiser, the songs are out as the A Lost Language EP. It's pretty different from where Edsel began -- or even left off -- flying into spacerock/prog territory that you might not associate with the group ("Nothing Left to Discover," in particular, is pretty far out), but is nonetheless very cool. That said, these songs kind of fit with the era they were created in, and you could imagine them being played alongside bands of the time like Flaming Lips, Grandaddy and Super Furry Animals. In any case, it's nice to have these finally out there.
SAVAK released Rotting Teeth in the Horse's Mouth earlier this year which is well worth checking out.
mass observation - S/T EP
Here's another Bandcamp Friday special, a new project from Hewson Chen of Lake Ruth and The New Lines, and Davis White who led DC shoegaze/postrock band Lorelei (and also was in The New Lines). Hewson and Davis describe mass observation as a "remote collaboration" and describe it loosely as post-punk, but "with a slightly different character" than their other bands. There's a dreampop element, with roots in the Velvet Underground and nods to baroque psych and other '60s touchstones, yet these songs are painted with a distinct widescreen canvas. And a lot of talent. This may have been born out of quarantine, but I hope we get more.
Ennio Morricone - Themes: Lounge (Music on Vinyl)
Morricone was much more than spaghetti westerns. This new compilation explores the same groovy side as those '90s Mondo albums.
We lost the great Ennio Morricone, one of film's greatest composers, a few weeks back. While he was best known for his iconic spaghetti western scores -- full of whistling, twangy guitar leads and cracking whips -- Morricone could do it all. And did it all, having written over 400 film and TV scores over the course of 70 some years, for every genre of film imaginable and in every style.
Trying to figure out where to dip your toe into Morricone's world can be a little daunting but, Music on Vinyl has been releasing a series of compilations this year, each with a different theme. To date the series includes Western, Passion, Psycho, Giallo and the next one up is a particular favorite Morricone subset for me: Lounge.
In the mid-'90s there was an exotica revival, which gave us new groups like Combustible Edison, Air and Pizzicato Five, but also saw a rediscovery of late-'60s and early-'70s soundtrack music. There were a series of compilations titled Mondo Morricone that explored Ennio's groovy side, full of cocktail jazz, flutes, muted trumpet, harpsichords, syrupy strings, marimbas, dreamy "bah-dah-dab-ee-dah" vocals, etc. (This side of Morricone was also a clear influence on groups like The High Llamas and Stereolab around the same time.) This Lounge compilation isn't as subtly named as Mondo was, but we're in the same bachelor pad. Some of it is admittedly kitsch overload, but I say cheese gets better with age and the music on this compilation holds up remarkably well. Keep it in mind for you next fondue party.
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