Indie Basement (11/5): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy November. The fall cornucopia remains full as we've got seven records to check out this week: Penelope Isles make a big leap on their impressive Which Way to Happy; MUNYA looks to the stars on her charming debut album; Chime School channel The La's and The Stone Roses on their debut album; Nation of Language make synthpop worthy of John Hughes; Hard Feelings (Amy Douglass and Hot Chip's Joe Goddard) craft an opera of sad bangers on their debut album; and A Certain Ratio get remixed by Dan Carey, Lou Hayter, The Orielles and more. Plus: L.A. band Massage (ex Pains of Being Pure at Heart) share the very New Order-y first single from their upcoming EP.
There's still more of course. Andrew reviews new albums from Snail Mail, Emma Ruth Rundle, Radiohead's KID A MNESIA reissue and more in Notable Releases. More Basement-adjacent news from this week: Pavement announced North American dates; Kraftwerk did too; Spiritualized announced their new album; Jarvis Cocker announced a remix album; Lilys' are reissuing Better Won't Make Your Life Better on vinyl; and Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Pupul announced their debut album.
While I didn't review it today, I would be remiss to not mention that Sloppy Jane's new album, Madison, today on Phoebe Bridgers' label. The recorded it in Lost World Caverns, a cave in my hometown of Lewisburg, WV which feels very cool and very random. I've enjoyed Lost World's stalactites, stalagmites and gift shop many times over the years and is wild to think they made an album there.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Penelope Isles - Which Way to Happy (Bella Union)
UK band led by siblings Lily and Jack Wolter make a big leap forward on their ambitious, beautiful second album.
The best quote in that 2020 Bee Gees documentary came from Noel Gallagher, who talks about the magic when family members sing together. "You can buy a Fender Stratocaster and put it through a Vox amp and sound like Buddy Holly. You can’t sing like the Bee Gees, because when you’ve got family members singing together. It’s unique.”
I think that filial connection is at the heart of what makes Brighton's Penelope Isles so special. Jack and Lily Wolter share a bond that goes beyond growing up together. They share DNA, seem to have similar musical instincts, and when their voices come together -- their preferred singing method -- a shiver runs down your spine. Their songs have an innate grandeur to them, soaring and swelling and sometimes zigging and zagging, but Jack and Lily seem like co-pilots working in tandem. Every direction, no matter how unexpected, makes sense.
Which Way to Happy is Penelope Isles' second album, which was started at the end of a very fruitful 2019, having toured the heck out of that year's Until the Tide Creeps In and becoming a stellar live unit. But then they were dealt a series of blows, first losing their rhythm section and then having Covid strike just as the new lineup of the band convened in a small cottage in Cornwall, England to start work. Cabin fever merged with pandemic fever. "We all went a bit bonkers, and we drank far too much, and it spiraled a bit out of control," Jack said.
They truly came out the other side, though, as Which Way to Happy is a real step forward from Until the Tide Creeps In, feeling both bigger and more intimate. The anxiety they went through making the album is clearly present in the lyrics -- the album opens with songs titled "Terrified" and "Rocking at the Bottom" -- but they counter the mania with absolutely gorgeous melodies, and arrangements. "Play it Cool" takes jazzy R&B and applies it to a shoegazey haze; "Iced Gems" is appropriately crystalline but never shatters; and "Have You Heard" is driving guitar pop perfection. Penelope Isles excel at epic ballads and they deliver two stunners in the massive "Miss Moon," that is heavy enough in parts to affect the tides, and the orchestral, melancholy "Sailing Still."
Wonderful little musical moments abound, from the great basslines to little guitar flourishes that pop in for just a second that other groups would base an entire song around. There's a lot going on and some of the credit for keeping it all together should probably go to Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT) for the album's widescreen mix. For the miasma of sound that swirls around the album, at the center are Jack and Lily's voices, sometimes multi-tracked to the heavens, sometimes in chorus, sometimes in choir, the sound of siblings in sync, even when the world seems to be collapsing around them.
MUNYA - Voyage to Mars (Luminelle)
Space is the place for this Montreal singer's debut album that's full of Frenchy synthpop and dreams of falling in love on other planets.
Jessie Boivin is as serious about outer space as she is making irresistible pop music. “I love space. I love aliens. I love thinking that we’re not alone in this big strange universe,” Boivin says. “Those things give me hope." Without a doubt, her full-length debut as MUNYA is the best Franco-Anglais ye-ye synthpop album about the space program and colonizing Mars to be released in 2021." Voyage to Mars isn't a concept record per se, but she uses the idea of exploring other worlds and nostalgia for the golden age of the space race as a backdrop for charming, instantly hooky tracks that are also very much in the heart-on-sleeve pop tradition. "Cocoa Beach," "Voyage" and "Perfect Day" seem to exist in the 1960s, 1980s and now all at once, while zooming from Paris to New York faster than a Concorde ever could. It's a transporting mix that has the faith in humanity of Gene Roddenberry, and earworms Khan could've taken over the galaxy with.
Chime School - Chime School (Slumberland)
Sparkling debut album from San Francisco's Andy Pastalaniec recalls The Stone Roses, The La's, and Felt
When an indie band name themselves Chime School, it's almost like putting a "RIYL" sticker on your album cover. You know what you're going to get and this San Francisco group don't disappoint in that respect with their full-length debut. Andy Pastalaniec knows exactly what he wants -- which is to sound like a British indie band from the late-'80s or early-'90s -- and he knows how to get it. We're talking 12-string Rickenbackers with just enough chorus effect on them to make them sparkle like a prism filter on a camera. Those guitars are then layered with more guitars, for a ringing sound that will take you back to 1990 when The La's and The Stone Roses unleashed a massive wave of jangly bands in stripey shirts who made it to the cover of the NME (while Felt's Lawrence stood by and muttered "I did it first"). Thankfully, Pastalaniec isn't just a student of the sound, but also a terrific songwriter and producer in his own right. Chime School is packed with memorable melodies, rainbow harmonies, and unlodgeable hooks. "Taking Time to Tell You," "Dead Saturday" and "Gone Too Fast" are great pop songs that also remind you how amazing guitars like this can sound.
Massage - "In Grey & Blue" (Mt.St.Mtn)
This sparkling homage to New Order's Ibiza period is the first single off Massage's new 'Lane Lines' EP
Keeping the jangly West Coast thing going, here's a new single from L.A.'s Massage who are led by singer-guitarist Andrew Romano and former Pains of Being Pure at Heart bassist Alex Naidus. (The group are rounded out by keyboardist Gabrielle Ferrer, drummer Natalie de Almeida, and bassist David Rager.) If the first Pains album is your favorite, Massage are very much in that vein, but with a little more emphasis on '80s British indie, from Mary Chain noise to Field Mice preciousness. The band released their terrific second album, Still Life, back in June and they've already announced their next, an EP titled Lane Lines that's out December 1 on Mt.St.Mtn. The lead track, "In Grey & Blue," is a warm, melodic winner that draws from a very specific influence -- the guitary half of New Order's 1989 Ibiza-made album Technique.
“The original inspiration was actually the Go-Betweens — specifically their propulsive live version of ‘Bye Bye Pride’ — and I can still hear some Grant McLennan in the melody,” Romano says. “But then one night during the pandemic we were all doing a distanced hang in Gabi’s yard and New Order’s 'Run' came on some playlist and I suddenly realized that that was the sound I wanted: the crack of Stephen Morris’s drums, the fizz of Bernard Sumner’s guitar, the bounce of Peter Hook’s bass — just the whole vibe of leaving the plague behind and falling in love on some Spanish island.”
The song really is like a meeting of The Go Betweens' "Bye By Pride" and another of New Order's Technique deep cuts, "Love Less," but also works on its own. The video for "In Grey & Blue," directed by the band's Gabrielle Ferrer, makes its premiere in this post. Check it out, along with a stream of Still LIfe, below.
Nation of Language - A Way Forward (Play it Again Sam)
NYC group make Molly Ringwald worthy new wave on their second album.
Nation of Language frontman and songwriter Ian Devaney says that his band's second album, A Way Forward, is "an exploration of the band’s relationship to the music of the 70s, through the lenses of krautrock and early electronic music," that that they "aimed to more deeply trace the roots of our sound, hoping to learn something from the early influences of our early influences," while name-dropping Kraftwerk, Neu!, Laurie Spiegel and Cluster. I'm sure that's all true, but in doing so they've arrived at the same point that so many others did in 1978, making delicious pop out of then-new equipment. A Way Forward features 10 songs that all could have appeared on John Hughes soundtracks, loaded with cascading arpeggiated synths, bouncing rhythms, and Devaney's soaring vocals that glisten with just the right touch of melodrama. You can detect '70s German experimentalists in these songs, but there's also clear nods to New Order, Talk Talk, A Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, OMD, Tears for Fears, and Blancmange. If time machines were possible, Nation of Language could slip right into 1982 and probably storm the charts with potential smash hits like "The Grey Commute," "Across That Fine Line," and "Whatever You Want."
Hard Feelings - Hard Feelings (Domino)
Amy Douglass and Hot Chip's Joe Goddard use their deep knowledge of dance music to craft an "opera of sad bangers"
Singer-songwriter Amy Douglass is an aficionado of the "sad banger," the kind of empowering through heartbreak, dancing with tears in my eyes kind of disco prefered by ABBA, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Robyn, Pulp, and others, and she's got the kind of pipes made to belt it out over glammy electro backing. She's been on the scene since the late '00s and has worked with Juan Maclean (as Peach Melba), Horse Meat Disco, and Roisin Murphy (she co-wrote "Something More" on Roisin Machine), but found a real kindred spirit and partner in crime in Hot Chip's Joe Goddard. As Hard Feelings, Joe and Amy are a force to be reckoned with, and their debut album -- "an operal of sad bangers" -- is absolutely filthy with club anthems. Both know how to construct pop songs and dance tracks, and bring a deep knowledge of club music (disco, electro, synthpop, house, etc) with them. Tracks like "You Always Know," "Dangerous," and "Holding on Too Long" are built for lighted dance floors but also come with the kind of high drama, easily relatable themes (having your heart stomped on but, you know, surviving), and big choruses that will also have you singing, and maybe crying, along.
A Certain Ratio - Loco Remezclada (Mute)
These Manchester legends hand recent songs over to the likes of Dan Carey, Lou Hayter, The Orielles, and more
A Certain Ratio have had a busy couple years. Following 2020's ACR Loco, their first album in over a decade, they released three EPs of all new material this year, and are now they're back with a double remix album. As OG club kids -- they were all but raised at The Hacienda in Manchester -- the remix is in their blood and they've gathered a formidable group of artists and producers to rework their recent material including both old friends and new faces. Every song on ACR Loco gets remixed -- along with a few choice choice EP cuts -- and the album's track order remains mostly intact. Some of these are pretty inspired, including Dan Carey's pumped up, gritty remix of "Down and Dirty" (from their first EP of this year), Lou Hayter's sublime, blissful remix of "Friends Around Us," The Orielles' footwork-y take on "Yo Yo Gi," and Cosmodelica's Moroder-esque remix of "Berlin." Loco Remezclada is a nice capper to an extremely productive pandemic for one of Manchester's longest-running and tuned-in groups.
You can get the last of A Certain Ratio's 2021 EPs, ACR:EPR, on exclusive limited edition transparent amber vinyl in the BrooklynVegan shop. There are only 250 pressed worldwide.
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