Bill’s Indie Basement (7/3): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Fourth of July Weekend to all of you. It's traditionally slow for new album releases and this is one rare case where 2020 is totally normal. There are still a few things out, however, and this week I review new records from London trio Pozi, The Radio Dept (new 7'!). UK shoegaze band bdrmm, Brooklyn's Peel Dream Magazine, Austin psych group Holy Wave, a new late night/ambient comp, and a couple of reggae cover releases by Prince Fatty (including a dubbed-out version of Kraftwerk's "The Model"), and a compilation of ambient music from a bunch of cool Australian artists who aren't necessarily known for that kind of stuff.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew tackles Lees of Memory (ex Superdrag), Cloud Nothings, Boris and more in Notable Releases.
Today is also the final Bandcamp Friday where they're waiving their share of the profits and giving them to the artists. As usual there are a whole bunch of releases/merch being made available just for this, including the Radio Dept single, Peel Dream Magazine EP and ambient comp I review below, and a new Snapped Ankles t-shirt which cleverly pays homage to Sonic Youth's Goo. We've put together a guide of some of the more notable Bandcamp Friday releases, so check that out. Also every record I review this week is available via bandcamp so do buy something and help out musicians who aren't making any money touring this year.
Head below for this week's reviews and have a fun, safe holiday weekend.
ALBUM (EP) OF THE WEEK: Pozi - 176 EP (Prah Recordings)
London trio better their debut album in every way on this arresting five-song EP
Pozi had their sound figured out right out of the gate: dark, claustrophobic, jittery, precipitated in part by the London trio's makeup of bass, drums and violin. The band's tightly coiled 2019 debut, PZ1, sound like they were trying to burst free from an oil drum. With this new EP, they've done it, allowing more headroom into their stereo field while still keeping what made their debut so unique. It's bigger and more confident, rhythms are more varied (and danceable), melodies are stronger, and vocals are more evenly shared among all three members. Better in every way.
Lyrically, Pozi may have gotten more intense, which is saying something for a band whose debut single was about the horrific Grenfell Tower tragedy. “All five songs have quite grim, dark subject matter," say the band. "Once we’d started exploring that paranoid, angsty kind of path, the floodgates seemed to open and we ran with it.” For example, the best song on the EP, "While You Wait," is written from the perspective of a dog remembering better days while in a vet's waiting room where it will soon be put to sleep. Brexit looms large. "The nightmare is real!" they cry at one point. On 176, Pozi are wide awake and sound very alive.
bdrmm - Bedroom (Sonic Cathedral)
Debut album from promising new UK shoegaze band who have clearly studied the classics
Hailing from Hull/Leeds, shoegazers bdrmm are young but they clearly understand the power and allure of distorted, effects-laden guitars and the loud-quiet-loud dynamic. Following a number of singles and EPs, they've now released their debut album, Bedroom (a title that also serves as a pronunciation guide for their voweless name), which is out via Sonic Cathedral, a label that has all but cornered the market on classic-sounding shoegaze. It's a good fit for all involved.
I don't think bdrmm have quite figured out their own sound just yet, but they are currently expert borrowers and have studied the classics, from Disintegration, Nowhere and Siamese Dream, to slightly more obscure groups like The Chameleons, Straightjacket Fits and Clearlake. They've got a good handle on dynamics, and show it off as they play through a few different sub-styles: mopey and spacious ("Push/Pull"), bright and propulsive ("Happy"), and the towering skyscraper of guitars ("Time to Celebrate," "If...").
Lyrics and vocals seem to be beside the point here, mixed low for the most part, if there at all. Opening track "Momo," one of the album's most sweeping songs, is an instrumental. That's fine, as bdrmm are playing to their many strengths with their guitars saying enough for now.
The Radio Dept - "You're Lookin' at My Guy'" b/w "Could You Be the One"
The Radio Dept continue their great string of 2020 singles that hearken back to the band's early indiepop days.
The Radio Dept have chosen to release a series of singles this year instead of an album, though they say that they'll all be compiled onto one record when they're done. So far they've just been digital singles but today, as part of Bandcamp Friday, they've offered up an actual 7". The a-side is a cover of The Tri-Lites 1964 single doo-wop-y "You're Lookin' at My Guy," which they transform into jangly indie-pop a-la The Go-Betweens, complete with a lovely violin line. The b-side is an original, "Could You Be the One," which is reminiscent of their early hushed, melancholy singles: "Guilty of wishing / You’ve been wishing away / Aching to be led astray / Anything to be the one that got away." Both tracks are pretty great.
Peel Dream Magazine - Moral Panics EP
Brooklyn's finest Stereolab/My Bloody Valentine hybridizers surprise release a new EP
Peel Dream Magazine released the terrific Agitprop Alterna earlier this year and have now released, for Bandcamp Friday, this EP of songs that didn't quite fit the record. I definitely wouldn't call these throwaways, and some are new territory of the band. "Verfremdungseffekt" is low-key folk with a krautrock engine, and "Dialectrics" is one of their warmest pop melodies yet, drenched in chugging guitar, drony organ and a lead line right out of the JAMC recipe book. They're still pulling from Stereolab ("Life at the Movies") and My Bloody Valentine ("New Culture"), but making it their own.
Holy Wave - Interloper (Reverberation Appreciation Society)
Not your average Austin psych band, Holy Wave make sunny, synthy tripped out pop.
Holy Wave have never been your average Austin psych band. With a keyboard-forward sound that favors groovy krautrock rhythms and sunshine harmonies, they've always been closer to Stereolab or The Free Design than The 13th Floor Elevators or The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Their music is more interesting and varied than their rather generic name might suggest.
If you're unfamiliar with Holy Wave, Interloper is a pretty good place to start. The layers of keyboards and harmonies are warm and comforting, and more than a little trippy. Much of Interloper has a half-awake feel to it, like an afternoon nap on a sunny day, and the synthesizer lines on "Escapism" and the title track float like specks of dust suspended in a beam of light pouring through the blinds. There are also a few motorik jams ("Hell Bastards," "Buddhist Pete"), and couple milquetoast stabs at festival fodder ("R&B" sounds like Tame Impala covering Mac DeMarco), but Interloper mostly makes for a great chilled-out, lazy summer day listen. In particular, the "Schmettering" and "No Love," with their funky, baroque arrangements, sound like a picnic under a tree. "Anyone could sing 'la la la' and you'd be alright," a line from "Interloper" goes, which encapsulates the breezy vibe nicely.
Various Artists - Midnight Meditations (Chapter Music)
A whole bunch of Australian indie artists
As much genuinely great, rightfully pissed off protest music has come out of this year (or just the last month), sometimes you just wanna decompress, be it with Brian Eno, Laraaji, Max Richter, one of the many Late Night Tales comps, that old Pure Moods CD your parents have, what have you. With that in mind, Australian indie label Chapter Music have put together this compilation "designed to help listeners through long dark nights of the soul." Released for today's Bandcamp Friday, Midnight Meditations features songs recorded exclusively for this compilation by The Green Child (Mikey Young and Grass Widow's Raven Mahon), The Twerps' Alex McFarlane, Dick Diver's Rupert Edwards, Chapter Music founder Guy Blackman, Scott & Charlene's Wedding's Ela Stiles, and more.
Most of the record falls into spacey ambient/new age territory, and some of it is truly beautiful like Fia Fiell's piano piece "Amend," Gallery B's cosmic "Nano Bookar," Thomas Hardisty gentle instrumental lullaby "Calm Night On Larne," and Punko's vocal-oriented but still megachill "Plus Minus." There are a few more song-like contributions, too, like The Green Child's wonderful "Rats on the Roof" (the best track here by far), Native Cats' frontwoman Chloe Alison Escott's stark torch song "Stranger Than Death," and Sarah Mary Chadwick's mournful "Sit Down And Pour." Those two songs might keep Midnight Meditations off my Sleep Playlist, but make it a much more engrossing listen.
Prince Fatty - "The Model" / Disco Deception (Evergreen Recordings)
You didn't realize you needed a reggae version of Kraftwerk's "The Model" in your life, but you do.
UB40 may have given reggae covers a bad name* and inspired others to do the same, but if the production and arrangements are right, I have a weak spot for them. Prince Fatty does it right. He worked on Battle for Seattle, Little Roy's great 2011 reggae Nirvana tribute album, and produced Hollie Cook's fantastic first two albums, as well as her excellent cover of The Whispers' "And the Beat Goes On." He records on vintage analogue gear and gets great musicians to play on his productions -- like drummer Horseman, who is an adept toaster as well -- which somehow sound both classic and modern.
Here are a couple of new cover-oriented new releases from Prince Fatty, both of which feature vocals from Shniece McMenamin. The first is the best, a cover of Kraftwerk's "The Model." The original's synth hook already sounded like it could've been lifted from a Jamaican 7" and Prince Fatty just runs with that, with great performances from Shniece and Horseman, as well as spot-on, deep-dub production that knows when to head into space and when to snap you back to earth. Is it novelty? Yes. Is it still awesome? Yes.
"The Model" was actually released as part of a compilation called Puffer's Choice but this is the first time it's been released as a 7". If Prince Fatty, Shniece and Horseman wanted to make an entire album of Kraftwerk covers, count me in.
The pair also just released Prince Fatty presents Shniece in a Disco Deception, which features covers of songs by Tina Turner, Gwen McCrae, Little Willie John, Lyn Collins and Lavern Baker. Their version of Lyn Collins' 1973 single "Take Me As I Am," which features some killer toasting from Horseman, is fantastic, as is their update of Baker's 1954 blues ballad "Love me Right." "Fever," a standard which has been memorably performed by everyone from Peggy Lee to Rita Moreno and Animal, is the most obvious song here, but like the rest of the EP, it's still a class excursion on the version.
*UB40's 1983 covers album Labor of Love is actually pretty good, including "Red Red Wine" which has since been stomped into the ground like grapes at a vineyard to the point that nobody wanted to hear that song again. When that song became an unexpected US hit in 1988, and the band then made Labor of Love II immediately after, that's when UB40 gave up.
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