Indie Basement (9/25): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Autumn, everybody. Let's get into it. This week's reviews: Róisín Murphy teaches us to pronounce her name correctly and delivers her most satisfying set of solo songs to date on her new album; Manchester legends A Certain Ratio keep it funky on their first album in 12 years; Profligate deliver superior synthwave; Mexico City's Mint Field hypnotize with alluring, wistful psych; Richard Dawson's Hen Ogledd make catchy electroprog; and Wax Chattels explode your head.
Today is an INSANE day for new releases (I think a lot of COVID reshuffling landed here). Head to Notable Releases for Andrew's reviews of new records from Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens, and more. Other records from this week that I don't write about but are worth checking out: Tim Heidecker (ft. Weyes Blood), Night Shop, Seth "Hunx" Bogart, Will Butler and more.
Lots of good stuff this week. Head below for reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine (Skint)
Róisín Murphy has made her most crowd-pleasing solo album to date...while remaining an iconoclast.
“I feel my story is still untold,” Róisín Murphy sings on “Murphy’s Law,” a title that seems impossible she hasn’t already used in her 25-year career, then adding, “I'll make my own happy ending.”
This is Murphy in a nutshell, an artist who has done it her way from the start. She was a true original when she fronted duo Moloko and has only become more of iconoclastic in the 16 years since she and Mark Brydon went their separate ways. She’s worked with Matthew Herbert, tried collaborating with Calvin Harris but she cut their track from her 2008 album Overpowered, made an album in Italian, and has spent the last couple years releasing a series of 12” singles, first with house music great Maurice Fulton and then her old friend DJ Parrot (aka Crooked Man aka Richard Barratt of All Seeing I).
The collaboration with Parrot -- they grew up in Sheffield together in the late ‘80s -- kept going and turned into Róisín Machine, Murphy’s most satisfying album since her debut, Ruby Blue (maybe since Moloko's Statues) with some of her catchiest songs since Overpowered. (It's also a nod to the correct pronunciation of her first name: "Róisín" and "Machine" rhyme.) This is ‘90s house by way of ‘70s disco that is both familiar and new territory. “I didn’t want to be as simplistic as a disco queen, because this music has come out of disco, proto-house and Goth, Throbbing Gristle and fucking Cabaret Voltaire and Donna Summer,” Murphy told The New York Times. “It’s not just Black music, it’s not just alternative music, it’s not just dance music — it’s all of them things clashing and beautifully melding and becoming something that’s about individualism and freedom. This is what we need.”
Róisín Machine is bold and brash, slinky and sexy, and a whole lot of fun, swathed in strings, funky Chic guitars, popping bass, cosmic synths and Murphy’s still powerful pipes. It’s got all four of Murphy’s excellent singles with Parrot from the last 12 months -- “Incapable,” “Narcissus,” “Something More,” and “Murphy’s Law” -- plus another six where those came from that are just as good.
“Shellfish Mademoiselle,” with its gurgling synth bassline, is the disco cousin to Ruby Blue’s “Sow Into You,” while “We Got Together” is the real unstoppable four-on-the-floor locomotive, the bangingist banger of an album full of them, though exuberant album closer “Jealousy” moves at a clip not heard since “Sing it Back.” Parrot’s production is on the money, glittery and modern, never losing sight of the beat or Róisín’s voice and energy. It's "I'm Every Woman." It's "Finally." It's "The Time is Now" for now. Roisin Machine feels like the album her fans have been waiting for her to make since Moloko but, as always, she’s made it on her terms.
And here's Róisín performing "Something More" live from Ibiza!
A Certain Ratio - ACR Loco (Mute)
Manchester/Factory Records legends return with their first album in 12 years, featuring members of The Smiths, Factory Floor and the late Denise Johnson
A Certain Ratio have never been held in the same light as their Factory Records labelmates Joy Division, New Order or Happy Mondays; in 24 Hour Party People, they were made a bit of a punchline, also-rans who were always looking for a gimmick. But their mix of post-punk and funk -- like on classic singles “Do the Du,” “Shack Up” and “Knife Slits Water” -- has held up very well over the years. ACR are survivors who are still doing it for the music.
Following New Order over to Mute Records, A Certain Ratio reissued their whole catalog via the label over the last couple years -- including a massive box set -- and have now released their first album in 12 years. References to “friends” and “family” abound on ACR Loco, and core members Jez Kerr, Martin Moscrop and Donald Johnson have surrounded themselves with both here, including former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce, Gabe Gurnsey of Factory Floor, Sink Ya Teeth’s Maria Uzor and Gemma Cullingford, and the irreplaceable pipes of the late Denise Johnson.
ACR Loco is a distillation of the group’s entire career, a blend of funk, electro, indie guitar post-punk, acid house, rave-on Madchester and more, making for a serious party album. “Digging into the past for the boxset must have rubbed off on us and influenced the current album,” says Moscrop. “I think it helped spark up our imagination. It allowed us to work in some of the past as we move forward into the future.”
Among the highlights: “Supafreak” which the band rightly describe as “funky Kraftwerk” that nods to Parliament-Funkadelic and Afrika Bambaataa, and features Gurnsey in Barry White/George Clinton mode. “Bouncy Bouncy” is in much the same style, overflowing with cowbell, a-gogo, popping bass and vocoder. There’s also: “Always in Love” which radiates flower-power Hacienda vibes; the sleek, aloof “Berlin” that gives Chromatics a run for their money; and closer “Taxi Guy” that takes us on a rain-slicked tour of Manchester, riding on gorgeous, atmospheric saxophone and a rat-a-tat drumbeat.
For pure dancefloor actions, though, head straight to “Family,” a badass, full-on funk track. The bass, at times, feels like a long distance call from “Knife Slits Water” but here they’re going for pure, unadulterated groove. If A Certain Ratio seemed unsure of themselves as to direction or intent in the past, ACR Loco knows exactly where it's going.
Profligate - Too Numb to Know (Wharf Cat)
Ditching some of his noisier tendencies, Profligate focus on superior synthwave pop this time.
Noah Anthony has been making electronic music as Profligate for the better part of a decade, mixing darkwave, harsh electronics, and atmospheric soundscapes. Now based out of Los Angeles, Anthony’s dissonant side seems to be a thing of the past, focusing melody and songcraft on new album Too Numb to Know’s 10 pitch-black pop gems. There are a lot of groups who do this sort of thing -- Black Marble, Boy Harsher, Molly Nilsson -- but the songs and production on Too Numb to Know are particularly nuanced and well-crafted, be it propulsive numbers like “Hang Up” and “No Clear Way,” or dreamier tracks “Just a Few Things Wrong” and “A Little Rain.” Anthony’s got a great voice for this sort of synthpop, too, that never stoops to melodramatic territory, though he’s not opposed to a little lower register whispering. He’s also not afraid of creepy lyrical imagery -- “Drink a Spider” is a phrase that will stay with you long after Too Numb to Know finishes.
For those who miss the harsher side of Profligate, there's a limited edition version of Too Numb to Know that comes with the 7" Body in Distress EP that explores hardcore techno.
Mint Field - Sentimiento Mundial (Felte Records)
Alluring krautrock-influenced wistful psych from Mexico City.
Formed in Tijuana but now based out of Mexico City, Mint Field are a psychedelic trio whose dreamy style is dark, wistful, and alluring. Estrella del Sol Sánchez has one of those voices, like Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino, that is fragile, ethereal and immediately compelling. Paired with the band's moody, noisy/beautiful sound, you are sucked in further. On new album Sentimiento Mundial, Mint Field work it all to their advantage, whether it's via spooky folk ("Aterrizar"), Sonic Youth-y droners ("09 Nadie te esta persiguiendo"), or Can-influenced motorik jams ("Contingencia"). (Does it at times remind me of Broadcast? Mmmmmaaaayyybe.) The rhythm section adds a lot to these songs' appeal, with Sebastian Neyra carrying a lot of melody in his bass, and Callum Brown bringing a lithe, jazzy touch to his drumming. There's romantic, windswept chill here, making for a great soundtrack to the soon to be autumn falling leaves.
Hen Ogledd - Free Humans (Weird World)
Sprawling, proggy synthpop from UK group featuring Richard Dawson
You might know Richard Dawson for his solo work where he incorporates prog, psych and free jazz into his brand of melodic, often experimental, folk. But for another side of what he does, there's Hen Ogledd, a poppier (if no less heady) collective that also includes Rhodri Davies, Sally Pilkington and Dawn Bothwell and cites ABBA, 12th century mystic-composer-naturalist-visionary Hildegard von Bingen, and Werner Herzog as influences. Listening to new album, Free Humans, you can definitely hear that ABBA influence but their prog tendencies shine nearly as bright. Some of it also veers toward Bis-style hyper twee-dancepunk, if they listened to as much Fairport Convention and Soft Machine as Gang of Four. On that note, Dawson sounds just a touch like former Soft Machine singer/drummer Robert Wyatt, and his warm, well-worn voice sounds great on "Crimson Star" and "Flickering Star." Dawson, Davies and Pilkington all take turns singing lead, and the album heads in myriad directions, all with a general DIY, try-anything spirit. You can tell they were having fun making this record, which also makes it fun to listen to...to a point. Clocking in at 80 minutes, Free Humans is a lot of fun to take in, and might have been better served split in two. Then again, Dawson and Pilkington's other project, Bulbils, have released 49 albums since March (not a typo) so this may actually be their way of showing restraint.
Wax Chattels - Clot (Captured Tracks / Flying Nun)
New Zealand's intense post-punks are back with another album to make your brain explode.
A lot of music gets referred to as Lynchian -- dreamy, dark, twangy music you could imagine being used in Blue Velvet -- but when I listen to the new album from New Zealand's Wax Chattels my mind goes to David Cronenberg's phantasmagoric body horror films of the '80s and '90s. Maybe it's the cover art, featuring a stark photo of a bony, bare back. It's definitely the album title, Clot, that brings to mind to congealed copper-smelling blood. Musically, the album is like the gory bits from Scanners, chopped up on an endless loop and machine-gunned into your ears. The bass is flinty, overdriven and in your face. The drums sound like they're being pummeled through the floor with heavy machinery. Vocals are generally shouted, or at least delivered dripping with contempt. Ben Greenberg of Uniform mixed the record and his band would make for a great double bill. (Wax Chattels are seriously intense live, go see them if we ever get to do that again.) In other words, Clot is the aural equivalent of having your head exploded from the inside. In a good way.
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