Bill’s Indie Basement (6/5): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Twenty-twenty is really one for the books. It's weird to be trying to talk about pop culture with the country teetering on the edge, all the genuinely inspiring protests in the face of systemic racism, lunatics in charge, etc. But records are still coming out. This week: Australia's Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, who made my #1 album of 2018, are back with their anticipated second album; Spacemen 3's Pete Kember releases his first record as Sonic Boom in 30 years; Richard Hawley's underrated '90s Britpop band Longpigs get their excellent debut album reissued on vinyl; UK group Modern Nature take a trip through the seasons on Annual; and onetime Late of the Pier frontman Sam Eastgate is back with his second LA Priest album.
For more new album reviews head to Andrew's Notable Releases which includes the excellent new Run the Jewels album. Other records I like but didn't review that are out this week: Westerman's Your Hero is Not Dead, OHMME's Fantasize Your Ghost, and the debut album from indie supergroup Muzz (Interpol, Bonny Light Horseman, Walkmen).
Today is also one of the Bandcamp artist appreciation days where they waive their cut of the profits and give them to the artists. Given what's being going on the last two weeks, a lot of labels and artists are also donating profits to anti-police-brutality and Black Lives Matter causes. And as usual, many artists are putting up rarities just for the occasion. There's new stuff from Protomartyr, Ty Segall, Girls Names, The Orielles, and more. You can buy everything I write about in Indie Basement this week, apart from Longpigs, via Bandcamp. Buy some stuff especially if it supports a good cause.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Sideways to New Italy (Sub Pop)
Melbourne band's second album is another showcase for songcraft and guitarwork, but it might take a few listens to really sink in.
As the old adage goes, you have your whole life to write your first album, and only a year or two to write your second. Expectations don't make things easier, either. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever's debut, Hope Downs, was my #1 album of 2018 and I still listen to it pretty regularly; it's a real showcase for the Melbourne band's effortless skill with the dying art that is jangly guitar pop where every song is a potential hit.
They've still got that knack for a catchy tune on their second album, Sideways to New Italy, for which I had high expectations. Unlike New Zealand band The Beths, who hit you upside the head with hooks, RBCF tend to write growers. Make no mistake, their hooks are in plain view but they plant themselves deeper and deeper with repeat spins, as the three-guitar interplay really takes hold. Sideways to New Italy works a similar patient, rewarding pace under your skin.
Those three guitars -- and the songs and the singing -- come courtesy of Fran Keaney, Tom Russo, and Joe White, who are like a very nice three-headed beast, trading off vocal duties, sometimes in the middle of a verse, and finding space for each of their instruments within the recordings. Made after more than a year of near-constant, worldwide touring, the yearning themes of Hope Downs are amplified here through a sense of wonder at what comes next as well as the welcoming anchor of home.
You can feel that push and pull on the album's two most immediate songs: "She's There" and "Falling Thunder" both of which deal with the "relentless march of time." There's also "Cameo," which takes its time building to it's big chorus, and the blazing fast "Cars in Space" which has some of the record's best instrumental guitar interplay that recalls the heyday of The Feelies. These are deceptively complex, very well constructed three-minute pop songs that still make space for the band to stretch out and bliss out. Just give them a little time.
Sonic Boom - All Things Being Equal (Carpark)
Spacemen 3's Pete Kember releases his first album as Sonic Boom in 30 years which finds him riding a familiar groove with new synthesizers
The press releases around All Things Being Equal make a big deal about this being the first Sonic Boom album in 30 years but former Spacemen 3 cofounder Pete Kember has released records pretty regularly over the last three decades, whether it's under the guise of Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research, collaborations with No Joy and Cavern of Anti-Matter, his recently in-demand producing/mixing skills on records by MGMT, Beach House, Moon Duo, Panda Bear and more. He credits those many collaborations with shaping the sound of his new record. “I learn from everyone I work with, and I wanted to bring what I learnt into this record,” he said. “Everybody thinks about and listens to music in different ways.”
I have some guesses on how Sonic Boom listens to music, one of those being loud. All Things Being Equal sounds great cranked, where you can feel it in your chest, with layers of thick synthesizers both rumbling the lower frequencies and pulsing high above, with Kember's typical drony melodies -- usually two chords max -- oozing like molasses. “Certain instruments have something about their sound that touches me deeply,” says Kember, who lists an arsenal of analogue electronics (and guest appearances from Panda Bear and Britta Phillips) in the album credits. "I’m always trying to focus as much vibe as I can into the songs.” The vibe is minimal in composition but big on feeling and depth of sound, with simple lyrics and heavily repeated phrases. (He's never really worked in verse-chorus-verse pop structures, though "The Way That You Live" is pretty damn catchy.) Which is pretty much what he's always done, though this time it's with lots more synthesizers. You don't want him to do anything else, all things being equal.
Modern Nature - Annual (Bella Union)
Mellow UK band take us on a trip through the seasons on this lovely new mini-LP.
Modern Nature, the UK band led by Jack Cooper (Ultimate Painting), continue to morph with this, their third release in just over a year. Where last year's great How to Live thrummed with a gentle motorik engine, Annual feels more informed by experimental folk and free jazz, with an almost improvisational feel. There's also a concept behind it: the seasons. "Towards the end of 2018, I began filling a new diary with words, observations from walks, descriptions of events, thoughts...free associative streams of just... stuff. Reading back, as the year progressed from winter to spring, the tone of the diary seemed to change as well... optimism crept in, brightness and then things began to dip as autumn approached... warmth, isolation again and into winter.”
Jack split his diary into four seasons and used them as the template for the mini-LP's four main songs which are connected by shorter songs that work as transitions between the seasons. The whole thing flows like one continuous, living work, and the difference in vibe can at least be partially chalked up to the players Cooper surrounded himself with on this album: Arnulf Lindner's lithe double-bass, Jim Wallis's instinctual, light drumming, and Sunwatchers' Jeff Tobias' warm, textural saxophone (which takes on a much bigger role this time). The atmosphere, not unlike the lush vegetation of Talk Talk's final two albums (by way of Slint), is inviting, as is Cooper's whispered delivery. You can almost sense the fireflies on the summer song, "Halo"; things get a little loud on the autumnal "Harvest" (featuring lead vocals from Itasca) but mellow out for the album's most affecting song, "Wynter." It's a perfectly realized trip around the sun that only takes 21 minutes to complete.
Longpigs - The Sun is Often Out vinyl reissue (Daemon)
Underrated Britpop-era group which featured Richard Hawley get their terrific 1996 debut album reissued on vinyl.
A lot of groups sprung up in the 1994 wake of Definitely Maybe, Parklife and The Bends, most of which would not make it to the end of the decade. I own import CD singles of a lot of them, mostly bought at NYC's dearly departed West Village record store Rebel Rebel. One of my favorites was Sheffield group Longpigs whose sound was a combination of everything going on in the UK at the of time, somewhere between Radiohead's anthemicism and the Merseybeat pop of The La's / Oasis, with a little hammond organ borrowed from The Charlatans. They had a terrific frontman in Crispin Hunt who brought charisma and a dexterous voice, and a very talented guitarist, Richard Hawley, who'd go on to play in Pulp before releasing a bunch of great solo albums. Longpigs toured the US multiple times, including dates with Echo & The Bunnymen, The Dandy Warhols and U2 who signed them to their Mother imprint.
Longpigs released two albums before splitting up, and their excellent, underrated debut, 1996's The Sun is Often Out, which is being reissued on vinyl on June 19. The record contains most of Longpigs' best and best-known songs: the swaying "On and On," which is one of the best-ever Britpop ballads; spiraling, loud-quiet-loud anthems "Lost Myself" and "Jesus Christ"; brash rocker "She Said"; and the excellent, Beatlesque "Far" which is a great showcase for both Hawley's sparkling riffs and Hunt's pipes that could slide from a ragged howl to an appealing (if still gruff) falsetto.
Six of the songs on The Sun is Often Out were singles, some of which predated the album by a year, and b-sides showed up on the album too, which suggests that, like Elastica, maybe they didn't have that many songs in them. That may have made the record a bit disappointing on arrival, knowing most of the songs before you even crack the plastic, but 24 years later it stands out as one the best footnotes from the peak Britpop era.
LA Priest - GENE (Domino)
Former Late of the Pier frontman Sam Eastgate is back with LA Priest album #2, this one named for the bespoke drum machine that powers its grooves.
Inspiration comes from a lot of places. In the case of the second album from LA Priest (aka onetime Late of the Pier frontman Sam Eastgate), it came from a drum machine. More specifically, a modular drum machine named GENE that Sam dreamt up and, according to press materials, worked on in isolation for more than two years, soldering 150 electrical circuits that he made up himself. The unique rhythm patterns that GENE, the drum machine, created -- minimal and mellow -- formed the basis for GENE, the album.
GENE is not demonstratively different from LA Priest's debut, 2015's Inj -- slinky funk where every sound on the record, from the beats to the synths and guitars, all seem to have been processed through the same delay-heavy effects box. (He and his Soft Hair bandmate Connan Mockasin have similar aesthetics.) It's a dark and slippery world, and songs like the wonderful, trippy "Open My Eyes" sound like bioluminescent sea creatures found at the bottom of the ocean. Beyond the drum machine itself, Prince is probably the biggest inspiration here, from the DIY nature of the recording to the falsetto funk of "Peace Lily" and "Beginning." There is also a surface similarity to a lot of forgettable "chill" playlist fodder, but Eastgate has created his own unique world that runs deeper than it may first seem.
PS, LA Priest made an online emulator of drum machine GENE you can play around with.
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