Indie Basement (5/20): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: Porridge Radio return with another powerhouse emotional gut-punch; METZ's Alex Edkins goes (kinda) pop as Weird Nightmare; Cola rise from the ashes of Montreal's Ought; Frightened Rabbit's Simon Liddell and singer Carla Easton embrace their Glaswegian indiepop heritage as Poster Paints; and The Clash officially release two songs from their 1981 sessions with The (English) Beat's Ranking Roger.
Over in Notable Releases, Andrew reviews new albums from Lykke Li, Harry Styles, Cave In, Shabaka, and more. As always, there was other Basement-related news this week, including: Pavement are reissuing crucial comp Westing (By Musket and Sextant) on vinyl; new albums were announced from OSEES, Daniel Avery, Oneida, and Kiwi Jr, ; and tours were announced for Beak>, The Chills/Jane Weaver, and Echo & The Bunnymen; and Yard Act made an amazing video starring actor David Thewlis.
RIP Vangelis. I again apologize for the terrible rendition of "Chariots of Fire" I performed at that piano recital when I was 12.
Visit the Indie Basement virtual basement in BV shop, which is full of vinyl, merch and more hand-selected by me, including new and classic albums by The Clash, Kevin Morby, Spiritualized, Pavement, Stereolab, Cocteau Twins, Wet Leg, Fontaines D.C., Redd Kross, Talking Heads, Devo, Goldfrapp, and more.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Porridge Radio - Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky (Secretly Canadian)
Another emotional powerhouse gut-punch courtesy the Brighton, UK band's terrific third album
“I kept saying that I wanted everything to be 'stadium-epic' - like Coldplay." That's Porridge Radio's Dana Margolin in the press notes for the band's third album and is maybe the kind of statement you don't want to hear the leader of an angsty, defiantly indie band say. For those who might be worried by that statement, Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky does not sound like Coldplay. That's not what Margolin was saying anyway. She wanted the album to achieve that level of sound, not to write songs like "Fix You," which is a pretty funny idea to even consider if you know Porridge Radio at all. This is a band prone to repeated refrains of "I don't want to be loved," "You break everything you touch," and "I'm stuck."
Porridge Radio were already well on their way to widescreen rock on 2020's great Every Bad (my #1 of that year); certainly emotions were already near stadium level. There are songs on Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky where the music and production rises to meet those heightened feelings and raw nerves but the album also features some of Porridge Radio's most gentle songs to date, and heads in uncharted sonic territory. With Margolin and her distinctive voice at the center, though, there's never any doubt what band this is.
If this album doesn't quite pack the whallop of Every Bad, it comes pretty close, taking their cyclical, mantra-esque style in new directions. Opening cut "Back to the Radio" washes you away in waltzing, swaying catharsis, "Trying" tilts ever so slightly toward celtic pop amid worry and self-doubt, and obsessive love song "U Can Be Happy If U Want To" makes great use of swirling organ (they should use this more).
Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky represents the three prominent emotions on the album and Margolin's life: joy (waterslide), fear (diving board) and "endlessness" (ladder). All three are present on the album's towering penultimate track, "The Rip," that has Margolin, secondary vocalist Georgie Stott and bassist Maddie Ryall chanting "And now my heart aches" repeatedly over some of the most overtly joyous, anthemic music Porridge Radio have ever made. This not only exemplifies the theme of the album but also feels like a mission statement for the band, where these intense feelings coexist and blur -- they urge you to take it all in.
Porridge Radio were poised to become big -- maybe not stadium epic big -- with Every Bad before the pandemic kept them from touring it. They deserve for that to happen with this one, full of waterslide and diving board moments and endless possibilities
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Weird Nightmare - Weird Nightmare (Sub Pop)
METZ's Alex Edkins goes solo on his pop-forward but still noisy debut
Over the years, METZ frontman Alex Edkins has written a lot of songs that ended up being not quite right for the aggressive and very noisy band. Having thought about using them for a solo album for years, the pandemic provided a perfect impetus to actually do it and Weird Nightmare was born. (Don't call this a "pandemic record," though.) What's the difference between Alex's solo and METZ songs? "It's about embracing the hook," Alex told Kreative Kontrol's Vish Khanna. Where METZ songs have a pop nugget buried deep within a snowball of feedback and angst, Weird Nightmare is all about hooks and melody. Still delivered with levels in the red, but these are ultracatchy powerpop songs first and foremost, and really good ones at that. This is an album that would've fit right in with the '90s Halifax Pop Explosion that gave us Sloan, The Inbreds and Thrush Hermit. A few highlights: "Wrecked," a sunny janglepop duet with Bully's Alicia Bognanno; "Oh No," a ripper featuring unique instrumental magic from Chad VanGaalen; and, best of all, "Lusitania" that is so overt in its Brit-rock-i-ness that it almost sounds like he's singing "Rule, Britannia." It's a song so anthemic and Who-esque that somewhere in Ohio, Robert Pollard is very jealous.
Cola - Deep in View (Fire Talk)
Formed from the ashes of Montreal's Ought, Cola is refreshingly simple, hooky indie rock
Montreal band Ought announced their breakup last November while frontman/guitarist Tim Darcy and bassist Ben Stidworthy simultaneously announced they'd formed a new band, Cola, with U.S. Girls drummer Evan Cartwright. "What started as stripped-down open D songwriting with a CR-78 soon became a full album and new band," say Cola. "We wanted to see how far we could stretch our compositions with just drums, one guitar, one bass, and one voice."
Where Ought were all nerves and angst -- very Talking Heads -- Cola sound relaxed and natural. There are still some angular guitars, bouncing basslines and crazy rhythms, but Deep in View sounds like the songs just flowed out of them. "Blank Curtain," "Degree," "Gossamer," "At Pace" and the rest of the songs all have a nonchalant charm to them, not to mention abundant hooks. Deep in View is at times in Strokes territory but finds its own space, thanks in part to Cartwright's inventive drumming. Darby is still singing about heady things -- the album is named after philosopher Alan Watts' anthology of the same name -- but Cola goes down smooth and satisfying.
Poster Paints - Blood Orange (Ernest Jenning Record Co)
Fans of '90s dreampop and shoegaze will want to hit play on this collaboration between Frightened Rabbit's Simon Liddell and singer Carla Easton
Formed during the pandemic by Frightened Rabbit guitarist Simon Liddell (he was a touring FR member before joining the band as a full contributing member in 2015) and singer-songwriter (and Belle & Sebastian collaborator) Carla J Easton, Poster Paints explore the duo's love of the Glasgow indie scene they grew up with, as well as shoegaze and dreampop. Those influences are worn like band badges on a denim jacket on their first EP for Ernest Jenning which collects a songs from their 2021 singles and tapes and adds two more. "Number One," which they released as a 7" last year, could've fit on C-86 alongside Primal Scream and Close Lobsters, while "Never Saw it Coming" shimmers like a lost b-side by The Sundays. Keeping things very '90s is a warm, low-fi cover of The Lemonheads' "Into Your Arms." These four songs are a nice appetizer -- dreampop is always best in EP form -- but we shouldn't have to wait too long for Poster Paints' debut album.
The Clash & Ranking Roger - "Rock the Casbah / "Red Angel Dragnet" (Sony Legacy)
What if The English Beat's Ranking Roger had joined The Clash. It might've sounded a little bit like this...
The Clash's fifth and biggest selling album, Combat Rock, just turned 40 and Sony Music released a special deluxe reissue of the album today. As a companion, they've also released a 7" featuring two widely bootlegged but previously never-officially-released songs they recorded with The Beat's Ranking Roger. Invited to a 1981 studio session by Clash guitarist Mick Jones for a record that was to be called Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg and intended much more in the style of the sprawling, anything-goes Sandinista! and influenced by their famed NYC run of shows at Bonds Casino. Roger brings his unique toasting style to "Rock the Casbah" and "Red Angel Dragnet" and it works like gangbusters, especially on the dubbed-out "Red Angel Dragnet." The Rat Patrol sessions were released as a bootleg a few years back and are a real "what could've been" moment. These two songs are out as a 7" single as well as digitally. Listen below.
As for the new edition of Combat Rock, it adds two bonus discs titled The People's Hall, including their great non-LP single "This is a Radio Clash," and other previously unreleased session tracks. You can grab it on vinyl in the BV shop.
This was not the only time Mick Jones and Ranking Roger would work together. Jones was initially a member of Roger's post-Beat group, General Public, and plays on their debut album but left the group just before it was released to form Big Audio Dynamite.
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