Indie Basement (3/31): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Greetings from Knoxville, TN where I am attending the 2023 Big Ears festival. playing "How Many Times Can You Spot David Byrne?" Thankfully for me it's not an overly busy week in Indie Basement, and I review five new albums from The New Pornographers, Deerhoof, Sondre Lerche, A Certain Ratio, and The Dears' Murray A. Lightburn.
It's a much, much bigger week in Notable Releases, as Andrew reviews 16 (!) new albums from boygenius, Lies, Gel, Larry June & The Alchemist, and more.
In other Basement-related news, Catherine Wheel teased fans (and it was just a tease) ; Pet Shop Boys have announced a new singles comp (and are working on their new album); Four Tet remixed Everything But the Girl; Electrelane's Verity Susman and It Hugs Back's Matthew Simms formed MEMORIALS; and Australia's Cosmic Psychos are touring this fall (with The Chats). Plus: I'm excited for the new Scott Pilgrim anime series and Wes Anderson's Asteroid City.
While we wait for Robert Smith's latest all-caps tweet, I ranked The Cure's Top 10 Music Videos.
Did you know records are fun things to own? It's true and the Indie Basement corner of the BV online shop has lots of them, including albums from Love & Rockets, The Raincoats, De La Soul, King Gizzard, Cocteau Twins, Grant Lee Buffalo, The Lemonheads, Sleaford Mods, Belle & Sebastian, New Pornographers, Naima Bock, Stereolab, Protomartyr, Mogwai, The Flaming Lips, Bowie, and lots more.
That's enough idle chit chat. Head below for this week's reviews.
The New Pornographers - Continue as a Guest (Merge)
The Canadian supergroup's ninth is one of their most subdued and sublime
Carl Newman used to be more of a word salad lyricist, not unlike his sometimes bandmate Dan Bajar, hooking up words and phrases and clauses with more of an interest in feel than clarity. Recently, though, he's stepped a bit more into the light and on The New Pornographers' ninth album he is writing with clear intentions, albeit still poetically. Continue as a Guest, a phrase anyone who's bought anything via the internet in the last few years will recognize, ponders our very online world that has become even more isolated since the pandemic. He's not tut-tutting -- Newman has a very active, witty Twitter presence -- but more offering a "this is where we are" in all its pluses and many minuses, thoughtfully observed and set, as usual, to big pop hooks.
"Most of us don’t have the luxury of giving in," he sings over luxe backing worthy of Prefab Sprout on the album's title track, adding, "If you’re talking giving up, well that’s another thing." Wondering where he fits in this culture, he argues for a simpler life: "It’s a sun, it’s gonna set, this isn’t quantum shit / I don’t even need a room, just want the view, that’s it," dreaming of a "place out on the plains with some space to fall apart, with a long fade out." On "Bottle Episodes," Newman thinks about the state of the world and how we got here, noting that "when you’re dancing with the devil you don’t get to pick the song they play." On the slow-building album standout "Pontius Pilate's Home Movies," one that makes great use of Carl and Neko Case's vocal chemistry, they really dive into the world of social media where eulogies lie next to fart jokes: "fall through the kaleidoscope of your mentions / You’re buried in daydream, you think it’s an entrance."
Musically, Continue as a Guest is one of The New Pornographers most lush albums, thick with synthesizers and horns and harmonies. Guitars are still there but even on a more classic-sounding New Pornos song like "Last and Beautiful," keyboards play a bigger part than ever. Songwriting-wise The New Pornographers is almost entirely the Carl Newman show these days, but Neko is all over the album, as is Kathryn Calder, keeping things in a recognizable universe. Dan Bajar is missed -- he hasn't been on an album since 2014's Brill Bruisers -- but Carl used part of one of Dan's unfinished songs for opener "Really Really Light." The only other collaboration is "Fireworks in the Falling Snow," the album's lovely penultimate track that was co-written with Speedy Ortiz's Sadie Dupuis. New Pornographers may be technically less "super" a group now than when they began in the late '90s, but their unique chemistry is as distinct and appealing as ever.
Deerhoof - Miracle-Level (Joyful Noise)
Even when Deerhoof head in new directions, after nearly 30 years these experimentalists only sound like themselves. That's a good thing.
You would think after 18 albums and nearly three decades of wild experimental indie rock, Deerhoof had done it all, but Miracle-Level offers a couple of firsts. It's their first album that was entirely made in an actual recording studio -- No Fun Studios in Winnipeg, Manitoba with Mike Bridavsky (owner of the late, internet famous cat, Lil Bub) behind the boards -- and also their first full-length sung entirely in bassist Satomi's native Japanese. Working very quickly in a studio, giving themselves a week to record and mix, was a new way to make them uncomfortable, to shake things up, a feeling they thrive on. While they've cited everything from Nirvana to Cajun Music, Rosalia and Mozart as influences for this one and are working in a little higher fidelity than usual, Deerhoof at this point only sound like themselves. Miracle-Level is a joyous 17-car pileup of noise, crashing drums, guitar leads that sound like alley cats fighting, songs about actual cats and F Star Trek and more. Even when they go gentle, like on the piano ballad title track, you know who you're listening to. Always different, always the same, it's Deerhoof.
Sondre Lerche - Avatars of the Night (PLZ / InGrooves)
Sondre Lerche follows up last year's sprawling double album with an even more sprawling collection of remixes, reworks, covers, live cuts and more
Last year, Sondre Lerche released Avatars of Love, a sprawling, ambitious, 80-minute double album that took wild swings and mostly connected, resulting in one of his best ever albums. He's now released an even more sprawling, 100-minute companion piece featuring remixes, reworks, outtakes, piss-takes, covers by other artists and live cuts he's titled Avatars of the Night. It plays a bit like those Late Night Tales mix CDs, with songs bleeding into each other, but in this case it's all his own stuff. The very nature of a release like this is a mixed bag but there's a lot of great stuff here. First and foremost is the remix of Avatars of Love's swoony title track by fellow Norwegian Lindstrøm which leaves the strings but adds shuffling, baggy beats and, in a brilliant touch, vocoder for a dance track somewhere between Andrew Weatherall and Daft Punk. (Unlike most remixes, it also manages to be a minute shorter than the original.) Nothing else quite scales those dizzy heights but William Basinski (whose Disintegration Loops is namechecked in "Avatars of Love") turns in a drum-n-bass rework of "Summer in Reverse" under his Sparkle Division banner, and Bendick HK takes a skipping footwork approach to "Cut." Sondre himself offers up gentler versions of "Magnitude of Love" and "Special Needs" along with two new songs -- the orchestral "The Most Savage Joke" and the swirling, string-filled "Sunset Tower in the Rain" -- and a whole lot more. Dip in and out at your leisure.
A Certain Ratio - 1982 (Mute)
Long-running Manchester vets continue to find inspiration in their hometown
A Certain Ratio were never the most popular, critically acclaimed, or groundbreaking band from Manchester but they may be the most Manchester band ever, exemplifying the city's industrial, can-do spirit. And through tenacity and a love of what they do, the group have proven to one of the city's most enduring. Jez Kerr, Martin Moscrop and Donald Johnson have been the core of ACR since 1982 when founding members Peter Terrell and Simon Topping exited after the release of their third album Sextet and here celebrate their long and varied trajectory with an album that incorporates a little of everything they've ever done -- which is to say over 40 years of every manner of danceable music imaginable. Working with newer members Tony Quigley, Matthew Steele and Ellen Beth Abdi, one thing is clear: they still love making music and that comes through loud and clear on these tight, lithe grooves. 1982 is playful, from fat electro numbers "Holy Smoke" and "Samo" (which references Warhol and Basquiat), to acid jazz ("Tombo in M3"), disco ("Constant Curve"), electro ("1982") and afrobeat ("Afro Dizzy"). The album ends with "Ballad of ACR," which offers a possible secret to their longevity: they've traveled the world, made and lost friends, but they always come home to Manchester. Home is where the heart is, but A Certain Ratio may be the heart of their home, too.
Murray A Lightburn - Once Upon a Time in Montréal (Dangerbird)
The Dears frontman pays tribute to his late father on his third solo album
Murray Lightburn has always been theatrical. Leading long-running Montréal band The Dears, he was dealing in high drama years before The Arcade Fire's similar sound made the city an indie mecca. That cinematic flair has been a constant in his work, across many lineups of The Dears and and solo albums. With his third solo effort, Lightburn has delivered one of his most narrative based records yet, a miniature rock opera about his hometown and inspired by the passing of his father. His parents had been high school sweethearts in Belize and reconnected in New York where his father was a jazz musician. She got a job in Montreal as a nurse and he followed for love. "He was a skilled musician but that was barely going to keep the lights on — nevermind feed a growing family," Lightburn says. "His lack of formal education, and his lack of French, limited his opportunities. Nevertheless, he just wanted to be with her. So he figured out a way, and that’s what his life was mostly about, I think — what I’ve deduced. Maybe there’s way more to it and that’s the romantic version, but it’s a version at least I can understand. Nothing else computes. My parents stayed married for 56 years.” Conceived as a '60s pop record, the kind Dionne Warwick made with Burt Bacharach back when his parents got married, it's a lovely tribute to his father and the orchestrated arrangements are a perfect vehicle for Lightburn's voice. There's always been a bit of the rumpled suit crooner in The Dears but with melancholy strings, horns and jazzy arrangements, Lightburn sounds more at home than ever.
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