Indie Basement (9/30): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
We close out Indie Basement's September with another strong week, including reviews of new albums from Lambchop, Pixies, The Intelligence, Melody's Echo Chamber, Fujiya & Miyagi, 2nd Grade, and Mamalarky.
Meanwhile, it's a massive week in Notable Releases with Andrew reviewing two of the fall's majorest anticipated albums (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bjork) and a dozen more. Need more? LCD Soundsystem just released their first new song in five years (and 20 more Brooklyn Steel shows); The Flaming Lips announced a massive Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 20th anniversary box set; Supergrass' Gaz Coombes has a promising new solo album on the way; I went to see Pet Shop Boys and New Order at Barclays Center; and the Don Letts documentary Rebel Dread is screening in NYC and L.A. (and Don will be there).
Also: Pavement's reunion tour hits NYC this weekend for four shows and they're celebrating with a Pavement Museum in the Lower East Side that looks worth visiting. On that note: it's another insane Friday of shows in NYC. What are you going to see?
Be sure to visit the Indie Basement section of the BV shop, that's stocked with vinyl and merch from Beach House, Broadcast, Stereolab, Pavement, Wet Leg, Parquet Courts, Belle & Sebastian, Talking Heads, Spoon, Cocteau Twins, Can, Dinosaur Jr and lots, lots more.
See ya in October -- head below for this week's reviews.
Lambchop - The Bible (Merge)
Another new chapter for Kurt Wagner who explores gorgeous new sonic territory on Lambchop's 16th album
Kurt Wagner is, for all intents and purposes, Lambchop. Though the "group" become known quick for being Nashville's weirdest country band, there have never been any rules and over the last 10 years or so Wagner has been pushing Lambchop in all sorts of new directions, including vocoder, synthesizers and whatever else strikes his fancy. The Bible is the 16th Lambchop album and was created, like a lot of records lately, under unusual and trying circumstances. (The pandemic, family health scares, etc.) Amazed watching Bon Iver associate Andrew Broder (who worked on 2021's Showtunes) perform on Instagram Live during the pandemic, Wagner rung him up and offered to book studio time for him to play whatever he wanted and send it to him. Broder accepted and recorded a dozen 20-minute improvisations. Inspired by what he heard, Kurt headed to Minneapolis in the summer of 2021 to record in an abandoned paint factory with Broder, along with regular collaborators Ryan Olsen and Matthew McCaughan, plus about 20 other musicians. The Bible is unlike any other Lambchop album and yet it's like every Lambchop album all at once, the kind of fucked-up country / gospel / disco / jazz / torch song record that could only be made in Minneapolis by a Nashvillian with access to vocoders and a throat singer. It's dark and often sad, but also joyous, moving, contemplative and inspiring. (It would make a good double feature with Beth Orton's new album, too.) It's not quite the radical sonic reinvention Low underwent beginning with Ones and Sixes, but it feels like a new door has opened for Wagner. Once he goes through, will he ever look back?
Pixies - Doggerel (BMG)
Post Kim Deal albums have been hit or miss, but Doggerel has some of that magic Pixies dust on it
Pixies have now made as many albums (four) in their post-reformation era as they did during their original run. After a very shaky start with 2014's Indie Cindy, which was their first after parting ways with Kim Deal, the band started to find their old groove with the addition of Paz Lenchantin, and each record has been better than the last. That is true of Doggerel that if nothing else instantly sounds like a Pixies album, from the surfy -- sometimes roaring -- guitars playing minor chords, to the flinty, driving bass and Frank Black's sci-fi themed lyrics. Doggerel looks like a Pixies album too, with Chris Bigg taking over for his former boss Vaughan Oliver (who died in 2019) in designing the sleeve. (All respect to Vaughan, but this is the best cover art of their new albums.) Doggerel still has many midtempo numbers that sound like Frank Black solo material, but a few of these songs -- "Dregs of the Wine," "Get Simulated," and "Nomatterday" which opens the album on a ripping note -- have the magic Pixies dust sprinkled all over. Even ff you checked out on the Pixies a while ago, this is worth visiting.
The Intelligence - Lil Peril (Mt.St.Mtn)
Always different always the same The Intelligence are great as usual on Album #10
If you wish that the new Pixies album had more of the weirdo electricity of Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, are you familiar with The Intelligence? Lars Finberg has been leading the group -- sometimes being the entire group -- for nearly 20 years, infecting their fake surf with a unique lyrical worldview that is equal parts knowing, sardonic and bleak. The Intelligence has survived Finberg moving from Seattle to Los Angeles by way of Bakersfield, solo albums and sobriety, not to mention countless other sociocultural inconveniences. He's still there, hanging at the edge of the frame, breaking the third wall with a look that says, "Can you believe this shit?" Like one of their big influences (The Fall), The Intelligence are always different, always the same. Lil Peril is the 10th Intelligence long-player and Lars made it almost entirely on his own, describing it as both "No-Wave SANTANA" and "SCREAMERS recorded by JON BRION," the Brion likely to be more a reference to his new L.A. home than a sudden fondness for early Paul Thomas Anderson scores. That said, we've never had an Intelligence record that sounds quite like this before, full of synths and sax (via Mikal Cronin), but nobody else would make a song like the brilliant "My Work Here is Dumb" that is part My Bloody Valentine, part Chic and part The Doors while only sounding like The Intelligence.
2nd Grade - Easy Listening (Double Double Whammy)
It's jangly earworm after jangly earworm on this Philly power pop band's enjoyable second album
If you like classic power pop -- the kind born in the mid-'70s with The Raspberries, Big Star and Cheap Trick, featuring a mix of jangly and fuzzy guitars, sugar-sweet melodies and harmonies, and endless crushes -- Philadelphia's 2nd Grade are one of the best new bands in the field. Traditionalists who have studied the masters, the band pack in maximum hooks and feeling into their two-and-a-half minute earworms on their second album. As any great power pop album should be, this is the stuff of teenage dreams as is evident from the opening chords of "Cover of Rolling Stone" where they gleefully drop 50 years worth of references into a 75-second song: "Let’s steal your dad’s car and drive around / Let’s turn the dial to a different sound / We’re MVPs of MTV / Don’t have to live like a refugee." With 16 songs in just 35 minutes, there is an extremely high Enjoyment Quota on Easy Listening, an album that lives up to its title (but not in an elevator music way), going down smooth but sticking to your ribs. You'll come for the soaring choruses, perfect middle-eighths that glide into tight solos, and raging hormones, and then stay for the nods to Bergman and Seinfeld.
Melody’s Echo Chamber - Unfold (Fat Possum)
"Lost" follow-up to Melody's Echo Chamber's debut album features songs recorded with Tame Impala's Kevin Parker, in various states of completion
There were six years between Melody's Echo Chamber's 2012 self-titled debut album and her follow-up, Bon Voyage. In between was another record that was started in 2013 with her then partner, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala who produced her first album, but the sessions were ultimately scrapped. “The album was fifty percent completed, and then the relationship just didn't make it through the process,” says Melody. “And then I tried to work on it on my own for a couple years, until I realized that I was just really hurting myself doing that.” Those tracks, in their various states of completion, are now seeing the light of day as Unfold, which plays like a sonic Polaroid, capturing a moment in time, fuzzy and faded and imperfect. It also plays like a direct sequel to her debut, indebted to Parker's Lonerisms with just a few hints of the leaps on Bon Voyage. Unfold is never less than listenable, with a few real keepers ("Ocean Road," "Pecheuse dé Lune," and especially the title track), but Melody made the right decision to move on.
Fujiya & Miyagi - Slight Variations (Impossible Objects of Desire)
UK group keep doing what they do best on their ninth album and there's nothing wrong with that.
Slight Variations is not just the title of UK group Fujiya & Miyagi's ninth album, it is also their mission statement. Their sound solidified on 2006's Transparent Things as a mix of komische (Neu!, Harmonia and Can), slinky funk, disco and David Best's appealing whispered vocals, and they've stuck to it ever since. Each new record offers new little twists while never deviating too far from their path. It's proved to be a highly resilient, satisfying formula that may not change much but never goes out of style and never fails to get your head bobbing. That's true for Slight Variations which sounds especially good, with real snap in the drums, and synthesizers that swirl around you in the ether. The grooves are tight and Best, as usual, twists catch-phrases and buzzwords into situationist slogan choruses, all delivered in that signature hushed delivery. "I'm not afraid of change," he claims on "FAQ," "I'm scared of staying the same." I say don't fix what ain't broke.
Mamalarky - Pocket Fantasy (Fire Talk)
L.A. band's sophomore album is a delightful blast of melodic sunshine
Los Angeles band Mamalarky mix a few different. very current indie styles -- dreamy melted psych (think Mild High Club), dense tightly wound post-punk (think Deeper), jazzy "low-fi" pop (think Men I Trust) -- but create something new with them on their charming, tuneful second album. It's also the rare pandemic record that sounds genuinely optimistic. Instead of working remotely, Mamalarky decided to pod, with most of the group relocating from L.A. to bassist Noor Khan’s hometown, Atlanta. “We would work on it all day, and I would fall asleep with the songs in my head," says singer-guitarist Livvy Bennett. "It was really: eat, sleep, breathe, record music.” All that forced togetherness and close proximity to nature tightened their bond and musicianship, and gave them lots of time to hone the material. Pocket Fantasy is a joyous blast of sunshine that manages to stay clear of saccharine sweetness. Let the warmth of "Frog 2," "Mythical Bonds," and "July" wash over you as layers bloom on repeat listens. There are a lot of records that sound kinda like this, but few are doing as much with it. A surprising treat.
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