Indie Basement (7/23): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's a very good week for new music in the Basement: Piroshka, featuring members of Lush, Elastica, Moose and Modern English, mellow out and find themselves on Album #2; former New Young Pony Club keyboardist Lou Hayter invites you to a polite dance party on her solo debut; Mega Bog bewitches again with Life, and Another; Anika burns off just a little of the frost on her long-time-coming second solo album; and Omni's Philip Frobos has a novel and companion soundtrack.
Also out this week is Darkside's long-awaited second album which Andrew reviews in Notable Releases. More Basement-adjacent stuff from this week: Folk Implosion are back; Super Furry Animals are reissuing Rings Around the World for its 20th anniversary; Anna Meredith has a new album inspired by bumper cars; La Luz and Deerhoof announced new albums; and The KVB are back.
Speaking of our shop, it does have a virtual Indie Basement basement shop full of stuff I've written about or just like, including records from Destroyer, Devo, Suede, Pavement, LCD Soundsystem, King Gizzard, Kraftwerk, and lots more.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Mega Bog - Life, and Another (Paradise of Bachelors)
No one else makes music quite like Erin Birgy; her new album, featuring Hand Habits and Big Thief's James Krivchenia, is wonderful
Do you ever find yourself in a social situation (when one could be social), talking to someone who is just on a different plane of existence than you? They're friendly and engaging and fascinating but the conversation never touches on the normal talking points you might normally get into. You end up discussing the subatomic particles of the universe and not, say, the finale of Loki (though the multiverse might come up). That is how I feel about Mega Bog's Erin Birgy. Like Aldous Harding, Cate Le Bon, and Dan Bejar, Birgy exists in a universe both familiar but foreign. I do not always understand what her songs are about but I am drawn to them all the same and find myself quoting lines.
It's best not to approach Birgy and her songs from a logical, Earthbound point of view. "Any fool who sleeps or dreams can find me," she sings on "Flower," the opening track of Mega Bog's wonderful, wonderfully weird new album, Life, and Another. On "Beagle in the Cloud," she claims "I haven’t aged since I was four years old," which is also telling of her unique spirit. According to press materials, she wrote much of the record in "a small cabin near the Rio Grande off of NM State Route 68" and spent time "befriending ants and spiders." Which sounds about right. It's a record unconcerned with normal life, or at least viewing it in a normal way. This is a record you absorb through osmosis as it swirls in Southwest crystalline energy and the deep forest moss of the Pacific Northwest.
Musically, Life, and Another is the most inviting Mega Bog album yet, with jazzy chording, dreamlike synths, and impressive playing all around -- the album features Big Thief's James Krivchenia, who co-produced and engineered, as well as iji's Zach Burba and Hand Habits' Meg Duffy (who used to be a member of the Mega Bog live band). It's loaded with instantly likeable songs: the bossa nova-ish "Flower," the wistful, melancholic and new agey "Station to Station," and the horn-filled, danceable "Crumb Back," that is her most immediate song to date. The songs are populated with rich lyrical imagery that isn't quite as obtuse as it first seems, either, especially once you get acclimated to Mega Bog's worldview. "Take me for the music," she sings elsewhere on "Flower." "Take me for a human, the flower of a song." Let it wash over you.
Piroshka - Love Drips and Gathers (Bella Union)
Album #2 from this supergroup featuring members of Lush, Elastica, Moose and Modern English finds them mellowing out and more comfortable in their skin
Piroshka's debut album was one of 2019's great surprises. The band -- featuring Miki Berenyi (Lush), Justin Welch (Elastica, also Lush's live drummer on the 2016 reunion), KJ "Moose" McKillop (Moose) and Mick Conroy (Modern English) -- announced their existence with that album, Brickbat, already in the can and it was a record that mostly lived up to its shoegaze/Britpop/4AD DNA. It's the kind of highly enjoyable lark that could've easily been a one-and-done document, but Piroshka was an itch they all wanted to keep scratching.
Love Drips and Gathers is a decidedly mellower, more introspective album than its predecessor. “If Brickbat was our Britpop album, then Love Drips And Gathers is shoegaze!” says Berenyi. “It wasn’t intentional; we just wanted a different focus. I’ve always seen debut albums as capturing a band’s first moments, when you really have momentum, and then the second album is the chance for a more thoughtful approach.”
They also seem to have gotten their sea legs back. Brickbat has real energy, but it is also a little awkward at times, as you could feel Miki, Moose, Mick and Justin trying to switch back on their band brains. Love Drips and Gathers sounds more comfortable in its skin, and more relaxed. Much more relaxed. Production and arrangements are fluid and atmospheric, layered with even more guitars, just not as much in a rock direction. It's moodier, weirder, more personal. Moose's presence, in particular, is more obviously felt this time around with his gorgeous guitarwork elevates tracks like "The Knife Thrower's Daughter," "Familiar," and "Loveable," working in symbiosis with Berenyi's melodies and signature harmonies.
I'm not sure I agree with Miki's thesis that if Brickbat was "Britpop" then this one is "shoegaze," though. By the mid-'90s, both Lush and Moose had considerably evolved their bands' sounds into new territory and now they continue to do so, together, with this group. Jazzy, Morricone-esque tracks like "Echo Loco" and the Vaughan Oliver tribute "V.O." might be "dreampop" but they're miles away from what most people think of as "shoegaze." Unquestionably, Piroshka are looking at the stars.
Lou Hayter - Private Sunshine (Skint)
The former New Young Pony Club keyboardist crafts shimmering, '80s-influenced dancepop -- and covers Steely Dan -- on her solo debut
New Young Pony Club feel lost to the mid-'00s indie dancerock/blogrock era, a blip that most do not remember. I have a lot of affection for them, however; their debut album, Fantastic Playroom, was shiny in all the right ways, and they were a genuinely exciting live band. (Also: "Ice Cream" and "Get Lucky" still hold up.) Singer Tahita Bulmer and Andy Spence are officially still going, actually, under the condensed name NYPC, though they've been dormant for some time. More interesting, perhaps at this point, are the solo careers of a couple of the members. Drummer Sarah Jones has become a touring drummer of choice, playing with Hot Chip, Bloc Party, Bat for Lashes, Puscifer, NZCA Lines, and her main gig these days is as a member of Harry Styles' band. She also makes music on her own as Pillow Person.
Then there's who we're talking about this week, keyboardist Lou Hayter, who has been releasing solo music for more than a decade but is only just now releasing her debut album. She released a couple of great singles in the late '00s as The New Sins, and made records with Air's Jean-Benoît Dunckel, including their ongoing collaborative duo Tomorrow's World. Now here we are with Private Sunshine, which is a culmination of everything Lou's done over the last 15 years, and shows off her skills as a savvy pop songwriter and a producer with a love of all things '80s. To that end, she even tapped David Bascombe, who worked on Peter Gabriel's So and Tears for Fears' Songs from the Big Chair (and many other famous records) to mix the album.
Private Sunshine is shiny and neon-lit, laid back, lush and glamorous, with fat synth basslines, rolling electro toms, cracking handclaps, shiny keyboards and cooing, cool vocals. The production on tracks like "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "Cherry on Top," "Still Dreaming," and "What's a Girl to Do?" is Reagan/Thatcher era perfect, with nods to Prince, Sade, The Human League, The The, Janet Jackson and more. My favorite tracks are the jazzier ones, like "Telephone," which slinks along like a lost 1980 production where soft rock artists met the new decade armed with synthesizers and drum machines but still using decked-out studios. To that end, the album features a fantastic cover of Steely Dan's Gaucho single "Time Out of Mind," that keeps the elan of the original, and takes it into Mute Records territory (by way of the Doogie Howser, MD theme) but still makes room for a ripping guitar solo. Private Sunshine is fun and sophisticated -- her rager days are behind her, but she still parties politely.
A couple other notes: album art has really gone downhill in the last two decades, but I love all the design surrounding this album, which was created by collage artist Alice Kunisue. It's bright, it's pop, and it's playful -- shades of Hipgnosis -- and doesn't look like it was thrown together on Photoshop the night before the label needed it. It makes me want to buy it on vinyl just for a bigger copy.
Also: Skint Records, which was originally known for the late-'90s Big Beat scene that included Fatboy Slim, Bentley Rhythm Ace and Lo Fidelity Allstars, has made quite a comeback, carving out a welcome niche of smart, sophisticated dancepop artists. In addition to Lou, Skint's roster includes Roisin Murphy, Museum of Love and The Emperor Machine.
Anika - Change (Sacred Bones / Invada)
Anika burns off just a little of the frost on her first solo since her 2010 debut.
Annika Henderson's self-titled 2010 debut as Anika, made with Beak> as her band and collaborators, was a perfect record. Borrowing from all the best late-'70s dystopian post-punk groups, mixing originals with choice covers (Yoko Ono, The Kinks), and featuring her icy voice (very Nico) and politically-minded lyrics, the album presented a fully realized sound that was all her own. It was such a specific vibe, she's had a little difficulty following it up. She moved to Mexico City and formed the Exploded View, who made two very good albums that hung out more in the shadows and the fringes and less on the dancefloor. She's found the beat again, though, with her second solo album that is the best thing she's done since the first.
Change is also her strongest statement to date as a songwriter. Previous records took more of a komische approach, riding a single, undulating groove. That's still here -- check out "Finger Pies" and "Freedom" -- but everything here feels more considered, more deliberate. Angry, too. Change is clearly fueled by the last couple years and fed up with the white, male and old status quo of the West. "It’s a vomit of emotions, anxieties, empowerment, " says Anika, "and of thoughts like, 'How can this go on? How can we go on?'”
"I always give my man the last word," Anika sings on the album's best song, "Critical," finishing the couplet with, "I always give him what he deserves." And what does he deserve? "Don’t forget that little twist / of cyanide in his little gift." As the beat and bassline grow and explode, she sings, "He who sees his ego, may not see through, may not see you, but I see through him." There's a clarity, both lyrically and musically, and this and other songs like "Naysayer" and "Rights" hit the bullseye pretty hard with beat and message.
Working with Exploded View's Martin Thulin as the album's main collaborator, Anika incorporates more traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, pop melodies and less murky production on Change, with a little of her usual frost burned off the surface. No one is ever likely to call Anika "warm" but the album's title track gets closer to the sun than she's ever been before, with optimistic lyrics about the state of the world and melody that's in the same orbit as "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." The album ends with the folky, gently empowering "Wait For Something" where she lets the powers that be know "no matter what you say, no matter what you try to tell me, i'm not gonna be your fool, i'm not gonna fall for you, no not this time." It's like much of Change, defiant, mad as hell, but not without hope.
Philip Frobos - "No Packages Today" (Upset the Rhythm)
First single from the Omni frontman's upcoming album, which is a soundtrack to his debut novel.
Omni frontman Philip Frobos has always written songs that play out more like little vignettes rather than traditional song fodder. (I often think of "Earrings," from Omni's debut Deluxe, a tale of accidentally dropping a friend's jewelry down the sink, as an example of his unique short story songwriting perspective.) So it's no surprise to learn, then, that Frobos has written a novel, Vague Enough to Satisfy, which will be out in October via Hex Enduction Books (yes, that's a Fall reference). The book is the tale of "a young man who revels in the day to day details (both romantic and mundane) of his experiences in Leipzig and Atlanta." Write what you know, they say.
Frobos has also recorded a companion soundtrack album featuring 11 songs that correspond to the book's chapters. It's mostly originals but he does cover Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic deep cut "Through With Buzz." (Two Dan covers in one Indie Basement, that's pure cool coincidence). The first single is "No Packages Today," which doesn't stray too far from the nervy pop he makes in Omni, but this is a little more one-man-band, with Young Marble Giants-style drum machine backing. Lyrically, most of us can relate to this one. "While remaining playful, I was commenting on how weird most people's (myself included) relationship with packages and mail got during the pandemic," Philip says. "In a lot of cases it was some people's only contact with others. If a week went by without a package it was a little sad. However, we as individual consumers need to check our addiction to convenience in mail from certain large companies."
You can watch the video for "No Packages Today" which Philip directed. "I had the idea for the video in a dream, where packages just kept arriving. I always loved that scene in the '89 Batman where Prince's 'Partyman' comes on and Jack Nicholson and his goons vandalize a museum while dancing to the song on a boombox, and Kim Basinger watches in horror. I wanted to have that playful energy, kicking and tossing aways all the packages in a groovy way."
The Vague Enough to Satisfy album is out October 1 via Upset the Rhythm, which is when the book is out as well. You can get both as a bundle.
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