Indie Basement (8/20): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in the Basement we've got three excellent new albums: Happy Mondays/Black Grape frontman Shaun Ryder is back with his first new solo album in 18 years; Tropical Fuck Storm are as apocalyptic as ever on their third record; and Jim Bob of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine asks "Who Do We Hate Today?" Plus: UK indie stalwarts Cud return with their first new music in six years, HUSHPUPPY's excellent 2016 album Single Club gets its first-ever vinyl release, and Suburban Lawns' cult classic 1981 debut album gets a 40th anniversary reissue.
If you need more album reviews, Andrew has seven of them in Notable Releases, including Deafheaven and Primal Scream imitator, Lorde. If you are looking for more Basement-friendly news, I've got that too: The Specials are back with an album of protest song covers; Parquet Courts announced their Primal Scream-inspired new album; Dean Wareham has his first album in seven years out this fall; Penelope Isles announced their second album; Taraka of Prince Rama is prepping her solo debut; The dB's are releasing a double album of early demos; and Don Letts, who is on my Top 5 Coolest People on Earth list, has curated a new dub covers comp for Late Night Tales (and has a terrific new memoir, too).
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Shaun Ryder - Visits From Future Technology (SWRX)
The Happy Mondays and Black Grape frontman dusts off a record made 10 years ago...and it's great, yeah
Visits From Future Technology, the new solo album from Happy Mondays and Black Grape frontman Shaun Ryder, was actually recorded 10 years ago but is only being released now. What happened in the last decade? That is probably a question Ryder, an infamous imbiber (Happy Mondays' 1992 album was called "Yes, Please") who's been clean for the better part of the last 20 years, has probably asked himself a lot. He claims he forgot he made it, though he did release "Close the Dam" (which is here) as a single back in 2015. Reminded of its existence, manager (and Creation Records founder) Alan McGee convinced Ryder to finally finish it and release it.
Usually with something like this, there is a reason an album has never been released beyond "I forgot I made it" but in this case maybe Shaun is being straight with us, as Visits From Future Technology is pretty terrific. Written and recorded with Sunny Levine, who is the son of record producer Stewart Levine (Dr John, Simply Red) and grandson of Quincy Jones, it is easily the most diverse album Ryder has ever made, encompassing guitar pop and tender ballads in addition to the sort of indie dance that is his bread and butter. (The songs are all credited to Ryder/Levine but Noel Gallagher, Tricky, Lee Scratch Perry, and others are rumored to have contributed.) "In my delusional ADHD brain it’s my Sgt. Pepper full of different flavoured songs," says Shaun.
Ryder's profane, Mancunian wit and wordplay -- which led Factory Records boss Tony Wilson to compare him to poet W.B. Yeats -- are still as sharp as ever here, as he weaves a dizzying psychedelic lyrical quilt. "It’s the return of the bouncing baby big heads, all of them stressing on respect / what’s next, one in your neck? / chick dogging bike bangladesh," he sings on terrific opener "Mumbo Jumbo" (It's a banger) and while I don't know what that means -- and given the title maybe I'm not supposed to -- it sounds great. At times Ryder is quite introspective and personal too, as on "I Can Stop Anytime," a song about his substance abuse problems set to a shuffle beat built out of samples of flicking lighters.
"Close the Dam" remains the best song here, with an irresistible beat/hook and chorus of "They've cut the drugs with something nasty at this fake fool's pool party," but the record is full of hits, including "Pop Stars Daughters" (about his relationship with Donovan's daughter, as well as his own fatherhood), the very Happy Mondays-esque "Straighten Me Up" and the blunted "Clubbing Rabbits." Ryder has spent more time in the last 10 years appearing on British celebrity reality shows than playing music, but let's hope the rediscovery of Visits puts the spark back in him, as he's clearly still got lots to say.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Tropical Fuck Storm - Deep States (Joyful Noise)
Apocalyptic Aussies bring their unique perspective to the events of the last year. Brilliant and bombastic
From the get-go, Australian band Tropical Fuck Storm have sounded ready for the apocalypse, dancing at the edge of the abyss, shaking their heads and their asses while raising a pint. It's all basically right there, in their name. Their third album, Deep States, however, is as close as they've come to making a record during the apocalypse.* Like many of us, bandleader Gareth Liddiard spent the first half of 2020 stunned at the insanity going on around the globe and on his phone, and didn't even try to write new music. “Why would I? Everything seemed pointless,” he said.
But then the creative juices starting flowing, leading to an outpouring of new material, including the album's first single that addressed those feelings of helplessness and put a name to them "G.A.F.F." which stands for "Give a Fuck Fatigue." It's a fiery, phlegmatic (and danceable) polemic where Liddard spews in its opening lines "one death’s a tragedy, we want the stats / sadistic statistics keep the shit abstract / pestilence, treachery, cloaks and daggers / when I’m talking arms length I’m talking knuckle draggers." It's a ripper and a banger that sets the tone for what may be the most Tropical Fuck Storm album Tropical Fuck Storm have delivered yet.
Things escalate from there. The main riff in "Bumma Sanga" plays like a nightmare air raid siren mutation of the hook in Britney Spears' "Toxic," splaying out a tale of pandemic cabin fever where a summer of fun turns into a shit sandwich; Jesus returns on "The Greatest Story Ever Told" to warn mankind about the direction they're heading, only to be met with zealotry and ambivalence ("I’ve come, I’m done, have fun / I’ve gotta bid you farewell / The Truth Is Out There / I’ll see you in Hell"); and “Blue Beam Baby” looks at the Capitol riot from the perspective of Ashli Babbitt, the MAGA supporter who was shot and killed during the siege.
As always, Tropical Fuck Storm shoot their stories through their unique, warped, phantasmagoric lens. Has Jodorowsky heard them? Liddiard would be nowhere without the rest of his band -- Fiona Kitschin, Lauren Hammel and Erica Dunn -- who act as Greek Chorus and fellow conspirators in TFS' Grand Guignol rock vision. The wailing is louder, the guitars are more unhinged, the drums are a 10-car pileup in an avalanche. But make no mistake, they've got big hooks. These are pop songs, in some universe, just made in a dynamite shack. As big and wild as Deep States can be, Tropical Fuck Storm offer a nuanced world view, finding humanity even in those they loathe. There is no black and white for Tropical Fuck Storm, just shades of grey and the bright orange glow of the rising flames.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: Jim Bob - Who Do We Hate Today? (Cherry Red)
More of-the-moment musical musings from the sometimes Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine frontman
Jim Bob, one half of unlikely UK hitmakers Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, released his first solo album in seven years in 2020 and that record, Pop Up Jim Bob, seemed especially perfectly timed for what the world was going through, with thoughtful, witty songs that touched on protests, riots, authorities abusing power, mass shootings, and fighting the urge not to just live in a drug-and-booze-fueled stupor through all of it. It also had a 26-second punk song called "2020 WTF!"
That album's followup, Who Do We Hate Today, comes almost exactly a year later and feels equally of the moment. "So much horror and disease / can we turn it off and on again please," he wonders on "Where's the Backdoor, Steve?" that has him wishing there was a hard reboot for the blue screen of death that has been our recent times. He addresses the pandemic, specifically, on "The Summer of No Touching," when "we danced like everybody was watching," "the streets were completely deserted," and "I pretended I was Cillian Murphy." And on "The Earth Bleeds Out," he comments on our collective lack of doing something about the world's problems in what feels like a sequel to "2020 WTF."
The album is also full of the wry character studies Jim Bob has been doing since since the early days of Carter, including "Shona is Dating a Drunk, Woman Hating Neanderthal Man," "#prayfortony," and "Evan Knows the Sirens." Usually there's some topical social commentary in those songs, too, like on "Karen is Thinking of Changing Her Name." Jim Bob's songs are relatable, and though he can get heavy (see "A Random Act") he knows when to punctuate things with a little humor and fondness for puns.
Jim Bob also knows how to write a singalong chorus, and Who Do We Hate Today is full of them. It's also not without hope, and as heard on sweet album highlight "Song for the Unsung (You're So Modest You'll Never Think This Song is About You") where he dedicates "every word, every bar, every woh woh woh, every sha la la la" to those people who do good and don't photograph themselves doing it. He would not put himself in that category, but I'm thankful for records like this. Here's to you, Jim Bob.
Suburban Lawns - Suburban Lawns vinyl reissue (Superior Viaduct)
Sole album from L.A. jittery post-punks led by the unforgettable Su Tissue gets its first-ever standalone vinyl reissue in the U.S.
One of the great "lost" bands of the post-punk era, L.A.'s Suburban Lawns only released one album and a few singles but left a lasting impression on anyone who happened across them. In the same taut, angular, arty, skronky, danceable orbit as Pylon, The dB's, The B-52's, The Waitresses and Delta 5, Suburban Lawns were weirder than all of them, thanks in no small part to singer Su Tissue who was both very twee and totally frightening. The band found an early fan in filmmaker Jonathan Demme who directed the video for their debut single, "Gidget Goes to Hell," that got shown on Saturday Night Live in 1980, and then he later cast Su in a small but memorable role in 1986's Something Wild. The group signed to I.R.S. who released their excellent self titled album in 1981, but they would break up a year later and release one last posthumous EP. Sue Tissue went to Berkeley to study piano and released a solo album of piano music and, apart from Something Wild, went completely off the grid.
The "Where is Su?" mystery definitely adds some weirdo Eddie & The Cruisers type allure, but Suburban Lawns' music is captivating enough on its own. A mix of various new wave and post punk styles (and maybe a little ska) as well as a strong, ironic Cold War sense of humor, they were entirely their own thing -- only fellow L.A. band Wall of Voodoo seemed to be on a similar nervous wavelength. It's hard to imagine current bands like Dry Cleaning, Uranium Club and Public Practice existing without the strange, manic cool of Suburban Lawns. While their sole album doesn't have "Gidget Goes to Hell," it does have "Janitor" with its unforgettable refrain of "Oh I'm a Janitor! / Oh my genitals!," plus other classics like "Flying Saucer Safari," "Protection," "Anything" and "Gossip."
For its 40th anniversary, Suburban Lawns is getting its first-ever standalone vinyl reissue via Superior Viaduct on September 24. (The album was reissued with the 1983 Baby EP as one vinyl LP back in 2015 (which now goes for over $100 on Discogs.) Preorder yours.
Cud - "Switched On"
First single in ages from these UK indie stalwarts finds them back in a DIY disco groove
Cud are a band who barely anyone outside of England know, and even there they are mostly a cult act. Hailing from Leeds and led by the hammy Carl Putnam, who sounds like he learned to sing by doing a lot of Tom Jones at karaoke, Cud fought in the indie trenches through the late '80s until the acid house scene brought groove to their sound and suddenly Carl's vocal style made sense. Their great 1990 album Leggy Mambo led to them getting signed to A&M who never quite knew what to do with them, though both albums made for the label -- 1992's Asquarius and 1994's Showbiz -- are both pretty good. The band called it quits in 1995 before ever having to endure a Britpop makeover. Of their own volition, Cud got back together 11 years later and have been at it again ever since.
More of a side project these days than a career, Cud have released a few new singles since reforming and have just released their first new music in six years. "Switched On" is in their sweet spot, indie disco, with Carl waxing poetic about tuning in to late night digital radio. Thirty years ago it would've been about tuning in to John Peel but that's where we are now. This is their best post-reformation single to date and, like their classic single "Magic," could do with a remix by Terry Farley. Let's hope there's more where this came from.
"Switched On" is available as a 7" single with another new track, "(I Like You) Better When You’re Not Around," on the flip.
HUSHPUPPY - SIngles Club vinyl reissue (Famous Class)
First vinyl pressing of this short and sweet 2016 DIY indie rock charmer
Zoë Brecher is an in-demand drummer, having played with Sad13, Bachelor, King Tuff, SASAMI, Oberhoffer and others, but makes wonderfully fuzzy indie rock on her own as HUSHPUPPY. Songs are short, mostly well under two minutes and are, she notes, "mostly about love, which for me is lesbian love. But I wanted them to be relatable to anyone." Songs like "Best Friends," "Come Along" and "Swirly" -- all on Singles Club which came out back in 2016 -- convey universal emotions and while they may barely crack the minute mark, they are packed with memorable melodies and hooky arrangements. Her voice, sweet, fragile and full of emotion, is just right, too. Fans of everything from '80s Flying Nun, '90s K and Kill Rock Stars or even Best Coast or Sharon Van Etten will find a lot to love on Singles Club. “With my music, I want to make people feel good,” Zoë says, “and I want them to know they are not alone when they don’t.”
Originally just a Bandcamp digital release, Singles Club has been remastered and is getting its first-ever vinyl pressing on October 1 via Famous Class, as well as new tape edition Babe City Records. It's available in a couple different vinyl variants you can preorder it now.
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