Bill’s Indie Basement (8/13): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week: "punk professor," reggae expert and all-around cool person Vivien Goldman releases her first-ever solo album; A Certain Ratio wrap up their three EP series; Chorusing delivers hushed-and-haunted synth folk; Stephen Duffy unearths an album's worth of song by his short-lived, forgotten band The Hawks; and Scritti Politti's 1999 album Anomie & Bonhomie gets its first-ever vinyl pressing alongside a new reissue of hit album Cupid & Psyche 85.
If you need more album reviews, Andrew takes on Quicksand, The Killers and more in Notable Releases. Elsewhere in the Indie Basement Multiverse: Soft Cell released their first single in 20 years; The Darkness are back; The Replacements are giving their raucous debut the box set treatment; Girls Against Boys are reissuing House of GvsB; The Charlatans are also releasing a box set; British Sea Power dropped the "British" and released a great new song; and three cheers for De La Soul who got control of the masters back and will be putting their classic albums on streaming services. In sadder news: The Chromatics broke up.
A Certain Ratio's new ACR:EPR (reviewed below) is available on limited edition translucent amber vinyl in the BrooklynVegan shop. Indie Basement has its own mini-store full of stuff I recommend, so take a look around.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Vivien Goldman - Next is Now (Youth Sounds / Cadiz Entertainment)
40 years after her debut single, Vivien Goldman releases her dubby debut album, produced by Youth of Killing Joke.
‘Punk Professor,’ journalist, reggae authority, Flying Lizards members, author, filmmaker and all-around hip person Vivien Goldman released her debut solo single -- the John Lydon-produced, Robert Wyatt-featuring "Laundrette" -- in 1981. Forty years later, she's finally gotten around to following it up, having just released her debut album which she made with old friend Youth of Killing Joke who has in recent times produced records by U-Roy, Hollie Cook, Toots & The Maytals, and Culture Club. (Mind you, she's done tons of other cool stuff in the interim.) "Quite a turn-up to be making my first album now, specially with my dear bred'ren Youth at the controls," says Vivien. "I found I had lots to sing about and my voice has improved!"
I always liked Vivien's warble, personally. It was a big part of the charm of "Laundrette" (and her early-'80s group Chantage), and while she is a "better" singer now and Next is Now is not as ramshackle as her other records, the charm has thankfully not been polished out of the music. It's loose, breezy and most of the tracks have an off-the-cuff, first-take feel to them. That's a good thing and it gives tracks like "Saturday Afternoon" (here featuring an edit by dub icon Dennis Bovell), "My Bestie & My BFF," and "Home" a real sense of immediacy. The production is terrific, too. Youth, who co-wrote the album, understands classic reggae, dub, post-punk and new wave like few others and also knows how to update it without sounding like he's trying to do so. Likewise, Vivien is not trying to be anything but herself, which is why the album works so well.
While there are moments of political and social commentary (like "I Have a Voice" which closes the album), the mood throughout is joyous and hopeful, and not stuck in the past. This is a fun album and it's pretty clear that Vivien is very happy to be where she is right now, even if the world is far from perfect. Look no further than Next is Now's title track: "It's so sad letting go, but be glad next is now."
If you want to learn more about Vivien, pick up her book Revenge of the She-Punks. And for even more, Vivien will be the guest on the next episode of The BrooklynVegan show on Vans Channel 66 on August 26 at 11 AM Eastern which is sure to be great. That airs live, and only live, so tune in.
EP OF THE WEEK: A Certain Ratio - ACR:EPR (Mute)
Manchester greats A Certain Ratio wrap up their 2021 three-EP series on a graceful, mostly chilled-out note.
Manchester legends A Certain Ratio have stayed very busy through the pandemic despite not being able to play any shows, having released the terrific ACR Loco last year which they quickly followed with a series of three EPs this year, the last of which is out today. Each EP has had a theme: ACR:EPA was dedicated to vocalist Denise Johnson, who died from COVID in 2020, while ACR:EPC was dedicated to DJ/producer Andrew Weatherall who we also lost last year of a pulmonary embolism. ACR:EPR's theme is a little more loose -- "Anything goes" -- but the band's Donald Johnson told us this one "was about letting go and having no defined boundaries experimenting and seeing where these songs would take us."
Opening track "$ouls in the City (Part 2)" is a stormer, driven by Tony Quigley's fiery lead saxophone and melding skronky no wave with frenetic techno and shadowy jazz. If someone ever makes a noir thriller set in the world of rave culture, consider this for the theme. Driving in reverse, that leads into "$ouls in the City (Part 1)," which keeps the noir vibe but chills things out -- an atmosphere that continues on the shuffling "Night People" that glides on a cloud of eerie muted trumpet. Side 2 stays mellow with the twangy, dubby "Big Boy Pants" and the featherlight fadeout of "Downtown Vibes." ACR:EPR works on its own but also in context with the series, a mostly downtempo late nite record to follow the clubbing of the first two EPs.
Scritti Politti - Cupid & Psyche 85 and Anomie & Bonhomie vinyl reissues (Rough Trade)
Two very different Scritti Politti albums get new reissues, including the first-ever vinyl pressing of 1999's 'Anomie & Bonhomie'
A number of the artists from the DIY-centric UK post-punk movement took an unexpected turn in the mid '80s. They decided the most punk thing they could do was to become pop stars themselves and subvert the machine from the inside. It didn't really work out that way, but for a brief time around '83-85. ABC, The Human League, The Associates, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood fell under this pop overthrow movement, but few took as hard of a turn as Scritti Politti's Green Gartside.
A DIY indie true believer inspired by bands like Buzzcocks and The Desperate Bicycles, Gartside famously lived in a squat, and named Scritti Politti after Italian Marxist writer and political theorist Antonio Gramsci. Their early singles, like John Peel favorite "Skank Bloc Bologna," were filled with references to situationist art, socialist theory and more. They made their own record sleeves and even released a pamphlet on how other bands could self-release records. Gartside grew tired of the independent scene, however, and became more interested in disco and American R&B, soul and the nascent hip hop scene. Scritti Politti's music got more commercial and, when they signed to Virgin, went totally pop, with Gartside adopting a honeyed falsetto vocal style and cutting edge pop-R&B sound.
Cupid & Psyche 85 was made in NYC with producer/drummer Fred Maher and was about as far from "Skank Bloc Bologna" as you could imagine. Gartside's lyrics were still subversive; they may have sounded like Top 40 romance wallpaper but were actually highbrow deconstructions. But the casual listener would never know it, as singles like "Perfect Way" (a #11 US hit) and "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" could be mistaken for El DeBarge songs with their very '80s digitally perfect sound. The album is so pop, so laser-focused on the charts that the theory gets lost, and it's so sugary, things go down best in single song doses (I am partial to cod reggae classic "Word Girl.") 1988's Provision took things even further, to the point where Gartside had mostly forgotten about his plan of hacking the system.
Gartside wouldn't make another Scritti Politti album for 11 years and when he did he had transformed the group once again. Anomie & Bonhomie is just as tied to 1999 as Cupid is to 1985, just in different ways. It's a much more organic sounding record, somewhere between grunge, pop and R&B, but also with flourishes of electronica, as well as features by rappers on almost every song, including Yasiin Bey (when he was still Mos Def) and Me'Shell Ndegeocello. It could've gone totally off the rails -- and I wonder what Bey thinks of this album now -- but Anomie & Bonhomie is a pretty great even if it does feel entirely like an artifact of its time.
Both Cupid & Psyche 85 and Anomie & Bonhomie have both just been reissued on vinyl by Rough Trade, the label that released some of the early Scritti Politti singles and to whom Scritti Politti re-signed for 2006's highly-underrated White Bread, Black Beer. (Rough Trade should reissue that one too.) While used vinyl copies of Cupid & Psyche 85 are pretty easy to come by, this marks the first-ever vinyl pressing of Anomie & Bonhomie. You can listen to that one, and watch the video for "Tinseltown to the Boogie Down," here:
Chorusing - Half Mirror (Western Vinyl)
Eerie synth-infused folk that recalls Beth Orton, Cat Power and Slint
North Carolina-based artist Matthew O'Connell calls the music he makes as Chorusing "confessional folk," but instead of acoustic instruments he uses synthesizers. Specifically, synthesizers he builds -- his day job is working for Moog -- including one he named "Balsam." He uses guitars and other "organic" instruments too, but it's all filtered through analogue electronic equipment, including a vintage tape delay unit. It all gives Chorusing's debut, Half Mirror, an otherworldly feel where at times you're not 100% sure of what you're hearing. Is it a guitar? Is it a synth? Is it a guitar fed through a modular synth? (The answer is yes to all.) At times, O'Connell's style -- both the music and his breathy delivery -- reminds me of Beth Orton or Cat Power. The quarry-sized spaciousness of the mix and arrangements, meanwhile, feels influenced by groups like Slint. (He spent time in Louisville, KY.) Like its title, Half Mirror purposefully obscures our view, an effect that on spectral tracks like "Blue Ridge," "Midday Sun" and "Mirror" draw you in even further.
The Hawks - "Bullfighter" (Seventeen Records)
Stephen Duffy (TinTin, The Lilac Time) and Dave Kusworth (Jacobites)'s lost late-'70s/early-'80s band The Hawks get excavated for their first-ever album
Stephen Duffy has led a few different pop lives over the last 40 years. He was Duran Duran's original lead singer, but left the band before they made a record, and then aimed for slick synthpop stardom as Tin Tin and Dr Calculus before picking up an acoustic to lead underrated Smiths-inspired group The Lilac Time. Duffy then went solo in the '90s, scoring a Britpop hit with "London Girls," went on to be a successful songwriter (Robbie Williams' "Radio" for one), and recently reactivated The Lilac Time. If you're unfamiliar, his many projects are all worth a little YouTube digging.
During the pandemic, Duffy did a little digging himself. When The Jacobites' David Kusworth died last year, he dug out tapes of The Hawks, the post-Duran-Duran power-pop band Duffy formed with Dave. The Hawks only released one single -- 1980's "Words of Hope" -- but the tapes had lots of other songs on them, which he cleaned up, and had lovingly remastered. Those make up The Hawks' first-ever album, released some 41 years after breaking up, which is titled Obviously Five Believers and dedicated to Kusworth.
“We didn’t make demo’s, blueprints for future single or albums, we played live and I sang over the top, just to see what we sounded like,” Duffy says. “These are like field recordings from a much simpler time. Simple in that we had no lust for fame and fortune, we had no manifestos beyond our fringes. We wanted to sign to a small label and play some shows but somehow we couldn’t fulfil even those modest ambitions.”
I think Duffy undersells their ambition and songwriting just a little. "Bullfighter," the first shared song from the album, is genuinely terrific, the kind of guitar pop that would fit perfectly on a mixtape alongside The Soft Boys and The Only Ones, and the video which features rare live footage of the band, shows even more promise.
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