Indie Basement (3/4): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Twenty Twenty-Two is coming in hot! We're only two months in and I already feel like I could pick a Top 10 of the Year that I wouldn't regret in December or 10 years from now. Two of those were released this week, which are among seven new album (plus a reissue) I review today: Nilüfer Yanya, Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, Guided by Voices, The Weather Station, Wah Together (members of LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, more), Total Control/Rat Columns' David West, Castle Face-signed duo System Exclusive, and '80s French synthwave act Ruth.
If you need more Basement-friendly stuff from the week, there were new album announcements from Kevin Morby, Belle & Sebastian, Gwenno, Mick Trouble, Weird Nightmare (Alex from METZ), The Stroppies, and more, and. Plus: Stereolab are touring this fall; the new Pixies song doesn't suck, Neneh Cherry tapped Robyn to cover "Buffalo Stance," and the new Cure album has a title.
You should also check out the Indie Basement February Roundup, featuring reviews of my Top 10 Songs, my Top 5 albums, a 48-song playlist of all February's best stuff and the proverbial much much more.
Looking to buy stuff? The Indie Basement corner of the BV shop has tons of hand-picked vinyl, books, merch and more, including preorders of Fontaines DC's Skinty Fia on exclusive, limited edition colored wax, Destroyer's LABRYNTHITIS, Kevin Morby's new album, the Pavement Terror Twilight deluxe edition, plus From Manchester with Love, the new Tony Wilson/Factory Records biography by Paul Morley. We've also got vinyl albums from poon, Devo, Roxy Music, Stereolab, Jarvis Cocker and more.
Ok that's enough intro. Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Nilüfer Yanya - PAINLESS (ATO)
Seriously impressive, easy to love, impossible to pigeonhole second album a true original
If you invested in Nilüfer Yanya's terrific 2019 debut, she pays out big dividends on Album #2, refining the sound of that album, parring everything down in a way that sounds bigger and brighter at the same time. The beats are jazzy, and so are the guitars when they're not melting into shoegaze and post-punk territory. It fits so well with Yanya's sly, smoky vocals that don't try to mask her London accent and are also capable of diaphanous harmonies. Throughout PAINLESS, Nilüfer exudes an effortless, genuine, cool -- the kind that's not saying "I don't care" but "I don't care what you think." You should care, though. She's a true original.
Andrew has a longer review in Notable Releases.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul - Topical Dancer (DEEWEE)
Snarky social commentary sidles against sophisticated dance music on Charlotte & Bolis' debut album that was written and produced with Soulwax.
"Are you polite or political? Are you correct or cynical?" Belgian duo Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul ask a lot of questions you might not expect on their debut album. Especially for an act associated with DEEWEE, the mostly dance music label run by Soulwax's David & Stephen Dewaele (who co-produced and co-wrote the album). But with Topical Dancer, a very apropos title, Charlotte and Bolis are aiming to engage listeners from their head to their feet.
Topics these dancers address include racism, cultural appropriation, social media obsession, wokeness, vanity and misogyny, but as they note, "no matter how painful the subject, we use a certain lightness and humor to address things. It doesn’t minimize the problem, it only makes it easier to process, accept and overcome." They also set the issues against some seriously forward-thinking club music. It's a unique hybrid that feels closer to '80s experimentalists Laurie Anderson, Art of Noise or Will Powers than what's being played at Berghain or Fabric.
Production on Topical Dancer is unsurprisingly flawless but is also clever like the lyrics, with little sonic jokes subtly dropped in throughout, punctuating a line here and there. My favorite example: "HAHA" is chopped-up and autotuned laughter; set against a slinking backing and occasional sampled orchestra hits -- the only actual lyric is "I guess you had to be there." While the album is not wall-to-wall bangers (it's not trying to be), Charlotte and Bolis never lose the beat. Crank up "Blenda," "Ich Mwen" (ft Charlotte's mom, Christiane Adigéry), "Mantra," "Making Sense Stop" (yes inspired by Talking Heads) and "Thank You" for a full body workout.
Guided by Voices - Crystal Nuns Cathedral (GBV Inc)
Robert Pollard does it again; another terrific record from one of indie rock's most enduring, prolific bands
Which is a more impressive feat -- that at 63, Robert Pollard can still do those high kicks, or that he still cranks out indie rock hits at a rate not unlike the candy factory episode of I Love Lucy? Crystal Nuns Cathedral arrives just four months after It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! and finds them still climbing. This is Guided by Voices at their most magisterial, with power-chord riffs working in tandem with Pollard's melodies that spiral up and up. In that regard, the current lineup of GBV are Jenga-masters; these songs scrape the sky but never topple. Where It's Not Them brought in strings, here they orchestrate just with guitars. Big guitars. Also crashing drums. Thunderous bass. Pollard's ever-powerful voice and deep bench of Brit-rock inspired melodies. I love Bee Thousand and those early-'90s 4-track albums, but this is the sound I imagine Pollard had in his mind all along.
The Weather Station - How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars (Fat Possum)
On this whisper quiet companion piece to last year's maximalist Ignorance, Tamara Lindeman still speaks volumes
The Weather Station's 2021 album Ignorance was Tamara Lindeman at her most maximallist, an album about climate change written as breakup songs and recorded like a big '80s Trevor Horn production. But there was more where that came from. “When I wrote Ignorance, it was a time of intense creativity, and I wrote more songs than I ever had in my life," says Tamara. "The songs destined to be on the album were clear from the beginning, but as I continued down my writing path, songs kept appearing that had no place on the album I envisioned. Songs that were simple, pure; almost naïve. Songs that spoke to many of the same questions and realities as Ignorance, but in a more internal, thoughtful way." Those songs have now appeared as How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars, which she describes as "quiet, strange album of ballads." With just piano and her voice -- and well-placed woodwinds on a few songs -- Lindeman is just as affecting, perhaps moreso.
RUTH - Polaroïd/Roman/Photo reissue (Born Bad)
Vinyl reissue of cult classic '80s synthwave album
I love compilations, especially ones of scenes that seem cool but I know nothing about. Back in 2006, Born Bad Records put out a fantastic comp titled BIPPP: French Synth-Wave 1979/85 that I bought at Williamsburg record store Sound Fix (RIP). The whole thing is great (and still in print!) and led me down all sorts of rabbit holes, even though most of the acts on it only ever released a single or two, maybe an album. The instant standout was "Polaroïd/Roman/Photo," a 1985 single by Ruth. The song's bones are icy minimal-wave, but the song is elevated by a horn section that gives it a spooky noir vibe. Bandleader Thierry Müller, who was a photographer and graphic artist before starting a band, also cleverly samples a Polaroid photo being spit out by a camera and uses it as a rhythmic device. It's a great song that I still put on mixes, playlists and use in DJ sets.
Ruth's sole album, also released in 1985 and titled Polaroïd/Roman/Photo, has been reissued a few times over the years and has just gotten a new vinyl/CD edition from Born Bad. There's nothing else quite like the title track here; in fact no two songs sound alike. There's wild mutant punk, tropical pop, manic synthpop, and gothy dirges, all sung in chilled-out Franglais and peppered with their unique horn charts. But the whole record maintains a cohesive, cool, disaffected vibe. This new reissue comes with a 12-page booklet with rare photos, new essays and liner notes (in French and English), and there are a few digital bonus tracks, including some remixes. Ruth were gone in a flash, but the image remains unfaded.
Wah Together - Let's Wah Together (Dedstrange)
Members of LCD Soundsytem, The Rapture, Longwave and Electroputas join forces for a noisy, fun party of an album
Wah Together are a newish group made up of people who've been part of the NYC scene for a long time: Vito Roccoforte (The Rapture), Steve Schiltz (Longwave), Phil Mossman (ex LCD Soundsystem), and singer Jaiko Suzuki (Electroputas). The band formed not long before the pandemic hit, and sound like what you might expect, given the parts: kinda funky, kinda shoegazy, a little skronky and in general pretty fun. One also senses that everyone in this band owns a Can album. Let's Wah Together was recorded primarily live and you can feel that energy in these nine songs that range from komische groove riders ("Tobu," "You Got the Blues") to psychedelic freakouts ("Closer We Get," "Who We Are," "Out! Out! Out!") to more spectral works ("Teen Vito"). This is an album that sounds good at home but also makes you want to see them live. While many of the early-'00s key players bailed on NYC for L.A., it's nice that some are still here, making a racket.
David West - Jolly In The Bush (Tough Love)
Total Control satellite member and Rat Columns leader is back with his first solo album in five years
Like most musicians even remotely associated with the Melbourne "dolewave" scene, David West has been in a lot of bands, including a couple with Mikey Young (Total Control and Lace Curtain). The music he makes where he's the focus, be it under the Rat Columns moniker or his own name, tends to be the kind of brittle pop -- jangly, sparkling guitars, cheap synths, drum machines -- that match his appealing, fey vocal style. It's music that politely asks if you want to listen and demurs if you don't. You should, though, especially if you have a fondness of '80s British indie like House of Love and The Shop Assistants. Jolly In The Bush is West's first solo album in five years (Rat Columns did have an album last year) and it features guest appearances from Mikey Young, Eaters' Bob Jones and others. He's at his best, though, on the songs with the least instrumentation, like "Not That Lonely," where he spins delicate spiderwebs with his guitars that refract the dew in the first light of morning.
System Exclusive - S/T (Castle Face)
When not running Castle Face Records with OSEES' main man John Dwyer, Matt Jones makes music too. He led gothpunks Male Gaze and is now one half of duo System Exclusive alongside Ari Blaisdell (Lower Self, The Beat Offs). The band are very different from their previous groups, not to mention anything Castle Face has ever released. Their self-titled debut is the kind of dancepunk that would've been right at home at a DIY space in San Francisco or Brooklyn back in 2003. Bouncing disco synth-bass and live drumming power these song and let Blaisdell's powerful, soulful vocals take the spotlight. (Just a little post-punk guitar and keyboards color in the outlines.) I wouldn't call it retro or nostalgic, though; the live drumming adds a ton of energy, the songs are good, and the clear production keeps things out of the garage.
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.
And check out what's new in our shop.