Indie Basement (9/10): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week is a late-summer bumper crop of goodness: Saint Etienne's hypnotic 10th album is unlike anything they've ever done before; Low drop another stunner; Amyl and The Sniffers' Comfort to Me charms while hurling you against a wall; The Bevis Frond celebrate their 35th anniversary with their 28th album; French trio Pays P drop a monster of an album; Matson joins forces with Swiss combo L’Eclair for a very groovy Souvenir; and The Jazz Butcher's many great non-LP tracks are collected on a new four-disc set.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew takes long look at Low and Kacey Musgraves, and more in Notable Releases. In other Basement-forward news, there's: a Matt Berry box set on the way; Spiritualized will have a new album in 2022; we talked to Nils Frahm and F.S. Blum about dub; Tim Hecker's amazing The North Water score is out; Tricky's Nearly God-esque project Lonely Guest will have an album out soon; and Pavement are back, baby! Or they will be next year.
What else? Sneaker Pimps' first album in 20 years, Squaring the Circle, is out today, digitally, and you can preorder our exclusive coke-bottle-clear vinyl edition in the BV shop; Spiritualized's new Ladies and Gentlemen vinyl reissue is out today and you can pick it up in the BV shop (Lazer Guided Melodies, too). Check out the Indie Basement basement in our shop for lots of hand-selected albums from yours truly. We're adding new records to the store every day.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Saint Etienne I've Been Trying to Tell You (Heavenly)
One of the best British (and most British) groups of the last 30 years deliver a record unlike any they've made before for their 10th album
There are not many bands that have been around for 30 years whose new album is A) unlike anything they've ever done before but B) still sounds like themselves, and C) is also one of the best of their career. But Saint Etienne have done just that with their mesmerizing, dreamlike 10th album. I wrote a review of the album elsewhere on the site but here's a bit of it:
I've Been Trying to Tell You is quite an achievement, a gorgeous, hypnotic record that feels like a half-remembered dream, a memory of a time and a place that has faded to flashes of color and pure feelings. It's an album that feels like last days of summer when you were young and life was good and carefree, or at least seemed that way.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Low - HEY WHAT (Sub Pop)
Working once again with BJ Burton, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker push the beautiful noise of 'Double Negative‘ even further, with stunning results
Much like Saint Etienne, Low have been able to reinvent themselves many times over the nearly three decades they've been together, while still retaining their inherent Low-ness. That said, 2018's Double Negative was was a right hook from left field, taking their hushed, harmonic style and smashing it with a (digital) ball pein hammer. HEY WHAT is a continuation of the glitchy, distorted, noisy and beautiful sound they tapped into, taking it further into chaos but still with Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's gorgeous voices at the center of the maelstrom. I love records that make you think your stereo is broken, and about 40 seconds into opening track "White Horses," you might think your hard drive is failing or you need to reset your wifi/bluetooth connection. But the stuttering, choppy sound forms a rhythm and you settle in for whatever comes next. It's amazing.
You can read Andrew's in-depth review here and I must say, mentioning Saint Etienne, that HEY WHAT and I've Been Trying to Tell You would make for great back-to-back listening.
Amyl and the Sniffers - Comfort To Me (ATO / Rough Trade)
It's charming ripper after ripper on the Melbourne band's revved-up second album
"I want you to love me" are tender words that, in the hands (and lungs) of Amyl & The Sniffers' Amy Taylor is more of an order. "I WANT YOU TO LOVE ME!" The song, "Hertz," is an absolute ripper but also kind of sweet as Taylor barks out "TAKE ME TO THE BEACH! TAKE ME TO THE COUNTRY! CLIMB IN THE BACK SEAT IF YOU LOVE ME!" She is a woman of action who doesn't have room for games, but is also a tender, sensitive soul under that pub-punk outer shell. On "Maggot," another of the album's love songs (with its best, fist pumping chorus), Taylor offers up a vivid romantic metaphor: "Maggot, carcass, maggot be free / Come on maggot / Put your maggots in me!" Comfort to Me is a record that charms while hurling you against a wall.
Unlike a lot of groups during the pandemic who were dispersed by geography, Amyl and the Sniffers -- Taylor, guitarist Dec Martens, bassist Gus Romer, and drummer Bryce Wilson -- quarantined together in the same Melbourne house. They had lots of time to write songs and practice, but they had no shows to play. You can feel the pent-up energy in Comfort to Me's 13 tracks, most of which are played at a speed that would make Motorhead sweat. Levels are hot, the riffs are raging, and the hooks are as big as Morro Rock. Taylor is cranked to 10 the whole time, whether she's defending herself against bullies, comparing herself to a snake (a good thing), or just wanting to be loved. "I've got plenty of energy," she declares on opening track "Guided by Angels," and goes on to prove it the rest of the album. It's hard not to be won over by the enthusiasm on display, not that Taylor would take no for an answer.
We're also giving away a test pressing with a hand-painted cover by Amy Taylor.
The Bevis Frond - Little Eden (Fire)
Nick Soloman's The Bevis Frond remain in fine ragged pop form on their 28th album... which also falls on the cult band's 35th anniversary
Not unlike Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard, London's Nick Saloman is an indie lifer, having fronted countless incarnations of The Bevis Frond since 1986, releasing albums not because the world demands them but from an inner, unstoppable will to create. The Bevis Frond are considerably more of a cult band than GBV, and slightly less prolific, but they work in a very similar milieu of low-fi guitar earworms. Saloman's British accent is real, though.
Like Pollard, Saloman has maintained an impressively consistent hit quotient across The Bevis Frond's vast catalogue, and that includes their 28th album, Little Eden. It's a double, 20 songs clocking in at 89 minutes, and there really isn't a dud in the bunch. Saloman works in ragged glory style, part Neil Young, part Big Star, with a seemingly endless supply of catchy riffs and soaring choruses. He sings like a '70s folkie (with harmonies to boot) but lets it rip like Crazy Horse -- it's a satisfying combination that many other groups have used (Teenage Fanclub, for one) but few do as well.
Saloman and The Bevis Frond have also aged wonderfully, with lyrics about his place in the world that perfectly match his wearied vocals. "Much to my amazement I'm still grimly hanging on," he sings on standout "The Will Return," "Still out there missing sitters & writing heartfelt songs / and may this indian autumn mean my decline has reversed / and all my hang-ups have vanished & all my pains have dispersed." May he never stop writing heartfelt songs.
Pays P. - Ça v aller (Peculiar Works)
Raging, superior indie rock from France, recorded in Brooklyn by SAVAK
French trio Pays P. have been together for a few years now, making dark, heavy, romantic rock, big on dynamics and drama. There's also a NYC connection or two. The band played a 2018 show in Paris with Brooklyn's SAVAK who were so floored by them, they invited Pays P to come to their Gowanus studio to make an album. To their surprise, Pays P took them up on the offer, and showed up a year later to record with SAVAK's Sohrab Habibion and Michael Jarowski producing. The resulting album is also the first new release on SAVAK's Peculiar Works label. Ça v aller ("It's OK") is sweeping stuff, clearly influenced by early-'80s NYC (Sonic Youth, Swans) but travelling their own path, with brothers Lucas and Pablo Valero creating otherworldly din on guitar and drums, respectively, and singer Laura Boullic bellowing out lines like "Mouth, cavernous kiss? How d’you say: it’ll be ok?" on the album's title track. That's the translation, she sings exclusively in French, but it's really all in her delivery which is never less than impassioned, gut-stabbed and enthralling, holding up against the towering, wonderful noise.
The Jazz Butcher - Dr Cholmondley Repents: A-Sides, B-Sides and Seasides (Fire)
This very welcome new compilation gathers The Jazz Butcher's non-LP singles, b-sides and other stray tracks, which represents some of his best material.
Pat Fish has put out records under variations of The Jazz Butcher name since the mid-’80s, making droll, often heartfelt VU-inspired guitar pop with a rotating cast of friends, including Bauhaus/Love & Rockets bassist David J, members of The Woodentops, and Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom. For a long time nearly everything he ever released was out of print, but Fire Records has been reissuing his catalog, having released box sets of his albums on Glass Records and Creation Records a couple years ago.
Those compilations were great (and the albums got reissued separately on vinyl, too), but some of The Jazz Butcher's best songs were the ones that fell between the albums. Those are also some of his best-known, especially in the US and Canada. His introduction to North America came via a 1986 compilation titled Bloody Nonsense which featured almost entirely material that didn't appear on his albums, including "The Devil is My Friend," "The Jazz Butcher Vs The Prime Minister," the melancholic "Partytime," "Groovin' in the Bus Lane," "D.R.I.N.K.," and the original single version of "Southern Mark Smith" (yes, about the singer of The Fall) which is entirely different than the version on album A Scandal in Bohemia.
All those tracks and lots more are on the third Jazz Butcher compilation for Fire which is titled Dr Cholmondley Repents: A-Sides, B-Sides and Seasides and will be out November 12. It's the first comp of its kind to include tracks from the Creation years, and includes his cover of The Classics IV's "Spooky," as well as his ravey, 1990 cover of The Rolling Stones' "We Love You" which was released under the name J.B.C. and was a minor UK hit during the height of Manchester mania. There are also some Glass-era singles that have been hard to find, like "Conspiracy," "Peter Lorre," "Affection," "Hard," and more. There's also an entire KCRW radio session from 1989. Dr Cholmondley Repents doesn't quite have everything (why only one mix of "We Love You"?) but it's pretty close and this is a true treasure trove for JBC fans.
It's only out on CD but Fire tend to release vinyl editions of lots of stuff on Record Store Day, so fingers crossed.
Maston with L'éclair - Souvenir (Calico Discos)
Spruce up your bachelor pad with this groovy new album that pairs wunderkind Maston with Swiss combo L’Eclair
Psych-pop auteur Frank Maston is a master of the baroque who knows how get the most out of a harpsichord and is probably familiar with all the gear Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg used on their respective late-'60s classic records. His albums sound like a lost time capsule full of groovy sounds culled from Italian soundtracks, motorik komische and flower-power pop. (He spent a few years playing in Jacco Gardner's band and they are peas in a sonic pod.) Working with Geneva-based band L’Eclair, new album Souvenir evokes Swinging London and Savile Row suits, but more in an easy listening kind of way. If they'd covered Jimmy Webb's "Up Up and Away" it would not have sounded out of place, and instrumentals like "Les Monstres" could've soundtracked early episodes of Columbo. Full of electric piano and jazz odyssey flute-phonics, Souvenir is not for everyone -- though fans of Mild High Club should give it spin -- but Souvenir would make a great addition to any bachelor pad record library.
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