Indie Basement (8/12): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
After the slowest release week of the year so far, we are back with a solid week of new music, including: Kiwi Jr's third album (produced by Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner); OSEES' go scuzz-punk on their first album in two years; Panda Bear & Sonic Boom team up for a very enjoyable, sample-heavy record; and Max Tundra gets remixed by some of the artists he's inspired (Kero Kero Bonito, Julia Holter, more). Plus: Tony Molina and Been Stellar.
Over in Notable Releases, Andrew also gives the Panda Bear / Sonic Boom record a spin, along with Danger Mouse & Black Thought, Boris and more.
Need more Basement-related content? How about a playlist of every video 120 Minutes ever aired. Plus: The Lemonheads are touring It's A Shame About Ray for it's 30th anniversary, and Dinosaur Jr and Guided by Voices will be playing shows together in December.
Down in the Indie Basement basement of the BrooklynVegan shop, we've got that cool John Hughes soundtrack box set, not to mention vinyl albums from The Cure, Can, Neu!, Stereolab, Broadcast, Mazzy Star, Beach House, Wet Leg, Kevin Morby, Cocteau Twins, The Beths, Aldous Harding, Tall Dwarfs, Yard Act, Mazzy Star, Talking Heads, Just Mustard, Midlake, Pixies, Sparks, Liars, The Kinks, The Zombies, and lots more.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Kiwi Jr. - Chopper (Sub Pop)
Working with Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner, Toronto's Kiwi Jr bring a darker edge to their poppy, indie rock style on their terrific third album
"I don't think it was really a question of 'let's change things up for the third record, which is a trap a lot of bands fall into," Kiwi Jr frontman Jeremy Gaudet told Kreative Kontrol's Vish Khanna, "...but we decided to change things up for the third record." Changing it up meant using an outside producer for the first time -- Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner, who had almost produced the Toronto quartet's first album but their schedules didn't align. Album #3 is probably a better place anyway, as Kiwi Jr had established a sound, steeped in '90s indie rock, that they were ready to tweak. They also had gained confidence as a band that put them on more equal footing with someone like Boeckner who's been in the game successfully for two decades.
Whether it was Boeckner's hand or the band's own desires, Chopper manages the always difficult feat of "the same, but different." Most notably, synthesizers play a much larger role this time, taking more influence from new wave and post punk. The guitars slash angularly on "Night Vision" that sounds like The Cars covering Wire's "Outdoor Miner." Likewise, "Parasite II" steals a beat from Joy Division but then puts it to its own, poppier uses. Another new welcome element to Chopper is Dorothea Paas (US Girls, Badge Epoque Ensemble) whose backing vocals brighten up much of the album.
While Chopper offers up new sonic territory, Gaudet is still writing whip-smart pop songs, crammed with wry, thoughtful lyrics. "They’re building this powerful magnet to disrupt the rhythm of my heart," he sings on the strummy, anxious "Clerical Sleep," continuing "I run and I hide but it's like trying to get out of someone else's car in the dark." Gaudet has a lot lines like that, often nonsequieters but ones that stick with you. These are Kiwi Jr songs with an updated wardrobe, and they wear it well. Mixing things up sometimes works.
OSEES - A Foul Form (Castle Face)
John Dwyer and co's first album in two years puts forth some of the band's "most savage & primal instincts" in the form of in-your-face scuzz-punk
John Dwyer is a restless soul who never lets his band plant the same crop too many times. He has changed the spelling of their name many times (currently OSEES) and has altered their sound even more often. It's been two years -- an eon for this very prolific band who dropped three albums in 2020 -- since we've had a record, and now after a few very proggy records that toyed around with doomy metal and vintage synths, they're jumping in the pit and ready to get filthy. Dwyer calls this one "brain stem cracking scum-punk" and he's in raw-throated shout mode throughout. You can almost hear the snot running down his face on tracks like "Fucking Kill Me," "Funeral Solution," and "Too Late for Suicide." The band are still using lots of synths, but are now running them through fuzz pedals, and the drums sound pleasingly like they were recorded in a garbage can, if not using actual garbage cans as drums. Dwyer and the rest of OSEES are always dialed in, never sleepwalkers, but A Foul Form presents them at their most primal, in-your-face. You could lose a shoe just listening to it.
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom - Reset (Domino)
Using samples of old rock n' roll records, Panda Bear and Sonic Boom craft their own teenage symphonies to god
Animal Collective's Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Spacemen 3 cofounder Sonic Boom (Pete Kember) are old friends and collaborators, with Sonic co-producing Panda Bear's Tomboy and Meets The Grim Reaper, and Panda Bear singing on Sonic Boom's 2020 album All Things Being Equal. (They also both live in Portugal these days.) Reset, however, is their first full-on collaborative album. The idea was Kember's: having moved to Portugal and gotten his record collection back in order, he became obsessed with the intros of songs from the '50s and '60s, the parts before the tune really kicked in, and proposed that he and Panda Bear write new songs based around those intros. The result is a musical dive into quantum mechanics, a pop multiverse experiment where the beginning takes you in entirely new directions. Or at least different, if familiar ones. The songs are instantly recognizable as the product of Lennox and Kember, be it Panda Bear frequently flexing his Beach Boys tendencies, like on "Edge of the Edge" (sampling Randy & The Rainbows' 1961 doo-wop song "Denise"), or Sonic Boom's "Every Day" which is sample free and sounds like a rewrite of "Things Like This (A Little Bit Deeper)" from All Things Being Equal. They bring out the best in each other, though, and in an age where samples are being removed from records new (Beyonce) and "old" (Jens Lekman), Reset reminds you that stealing can really be an art.
Pick up the Panda Bear & Sonic Boom album on yellow vinyl.
Max Tundra - Remixtape (Domino)
Hyperpop progenitor Max Tundra enlists some of the artists he's influenced to rework his tracks for this companion to his new reissues series
Critics like myself have been known to write things like "it's like BAND and BAND and GENRE...in a blender!" but Ben Jacobs' three '00s albums as Max Tundra -- 2000's Some Best Friend You Turned Out to Be, 2002’s Mastered by Guy at the Exchange, and 2008's Parallax Error Beheads You -- truly sound like someone put pop songs in a Vitamix (if that were possible), and hit "Puree." Working primarily on the cultishly loved Commodore Amiga computer, his manic, slice-and-diced, autotuned, tweaked-beyond-recognition style of electronic pop still sounds like it's from another planet and planted the seeds for what is now known as hyperpop.
Those three albums have just been reissued on vinyl by Domino and, to go along with them, he's released Remixtape which features remixes, reworks and a couple of covers of his songs by artists he's influenced. If you're down with Max's music, you are going to like this and the artists involved are not phoning it in. Kero Kero Bonito's "remix" of "MBGATE" (from Mastered by Guy at the Exchange) is basically a new song, sampling the French Touch-y riff, but adding all new (and typically snarky) lyrics. It's fantastic. PC Music's A.G. Cook, a true sonic descendant of Max's, takes "Lights" even further into hyperpop territory, and Katie Dey's somewhat reverent cover of "Will Get Fooled Again" is appropriately joyous. Not everything is so amped up: Julia Holter takes "Lysine" into ambient territory and Max himself delivers a pretty, solo piano rendition of "The Entertainment." Remixtape holds together nicely as its own record, while satiating fans who have been waiting years for Max to make a proper new record.
Tony Molina - In The Fade (Run for Cover)
The latest from short-form power-pop artist never overstays its welcome
Tony Molina is a power pop aficionado who has a love of the classics, from The Beatles and Big Star to Teenage Fanclub and Guided by Voices. Like GBV's Robert Pollard, he understand that brevity is an asset, getting in and getting out quick, planting earworms in under two minutes (often less than one), while still making room for twin lead solos. His latest, In the Fade, packs in 14 songs in 18 minutes, all while maintaining a breezy pace. You've heard it all before, but he's good at what he does and never comes close to overstaying his welcome.
Been Stellar - Been Stellar EP (So Young Records)
Like the early-'00s? So do this young NYC band
Pop culture tends to work in 20 year cycles -- the '70s saw a resurgence of 1950s rock n' roll (Happy Days, Grease), while '90s grunge owed more than a little to 1970s hard rock -- which means get ready for the early 2000s. NYC's Been Stellar (a terrible pun) are already there, drawing inspiration from groups like Interpol, Ambulance LTD and Calla. The band's new self-titled EP still mostly sounds like its influences -- something that was said of Interpol's debut EP too -- but they know their way around a hook. There's promise in these five songs and we'll see where they go from here.
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