Indie Basement (7/2): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's Fourth of July Weekend and I'm here, as always, to put the "indie" in Independence Day. (I also have no shame in puns). This week in the Basement: Arborous UK band Snapped Ankles are here to dance in the Forest of Your Problems; Guided by Voices go psych-pop as Cub Scout Bowling Pins; Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie & Savages' Jehnny Beth channel classic duet albums on Utopian Ashes; The Go! Team continue to do what they do (and that's ok!); A Certain Ratio release their second EP of 2021; and Takashi Miyaki burn off the haze on their second album.
There are lots of other albums released today, and Andrew looks at Laura Mvula, At the Gates, and more in this week's Notable Releases. Still need more? Other Basement-friendly news from this week: Ride's Andy Bell is releasing his first album under his synth alias GLOK; Austin's Levitation festival announced its 2021 lineup; and Vanishing Twin, Parquet Courts, and Steve Gunn announced new albums.
As you may know, BrooklynVegan has a store now and now, one level down is the Indie Basement section with all the records we carry that I, in particular, recommend, including records by The Weather Station, Can, Pavement, Dry Cleaning, Bauhaus, The Cure, Porridge Radio, Gang of Four, Jens Lekman, Life Without Buildings, and much more.
Have a swell long weekend if you are so blessed. This week's reviews are below.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Snapped Ankles - Forest Of Your Problems (The Leaf Label)
London woodland dancerock outfit continue to bang logs for beats on their inspired third album.
"It's a great time to be alive," Snapped Ankles frontman Austin declares on "Shifting Basslines of the Cornucopians" from the band's third album. "If you've got the funds." The Londoners, who claim to be forest creatures descended from the trees, have been making an arborous racket for 10 years now, coming off like Loraxes with a fondness for The Fall, Devo and Neu!. Forest of Your Problems continues their narrative set on the battle lines where nature and urban sprawl clash in highly nervous, danceable ways. While their backstory is fiction, they do actually use a lot of homemade percussion and synthesizers that use logs and branches (and play shows outfitted in suits of moss and leaves). The last couple years, from Brexit to COVID, have clearly affected their worldview, and Forest's distinct archetypes -- The Business Imp, The Cornucopian, The Nemophile and The Protester -- all come with their own agendas, beliefs and ability to annoy in their own distinct ways, at odds with each other.
This is a record that the late Mark E Smith would probably like if he could get past the fact that Snapped Ankles shamelessly steal from his band at times. (Austin adds some "uh"s to the end of words, in very MES fashion.) Forest of Your Problems is whip-smart and sardonic, offering intelligent, complex criticism all while making you want to dance your ass off. "The Evidence," "Shifting Basslines of the Cornucopians," and "Rhythm is Our Business" are the kind of hyperactive, motorik bangers that can send audiences into hysterics, while "The Prince is Back" and "Susurrations (In The Forest)" offer deeper, heavier, weirder grooves.
Forest of Your Problem's tales of thoughtless venture capitalists, hedge fund managers, sign wavers and the rest of us lost in our phones, are littered with woodland references like so many fallen autumn leaves. The most remarkable thing about it is how the band have managed to stay on brand (branch?) for three albums without ever devolving into pure schtick. After one of the quietest years, where nature actually made a comeback, the time seems right for a full-on woodwose insurrection. Snapped Ankles are here for it -- all bark and all bite.
Want to know more about Forest of Your Problems? We talked to the band about the inspirations behind it.
Cub Scout Bowling Pins - Clang Clang Ho! (Guided By Voices, Inc)
Guided by Voices' alter-egos explore baroque psych, jangly pop and other whimsical genres on their debut album
Robert Pollard is an unabashed lover of '60s British Invasion groups which usually manifests itself via Who worship on Guided by Voices albums, but with alter-ego Cub Scout Bowling Pins, Bob indulges in the softer side of of the era and all manner of heretofore unexplored sonic whims. Clang Clang Ho is Cub Scout Bowling Pins' debut album and it's immediately apparent we're on another planet in the Pollard Universe with opening cut "Magic Taxi," the kind of wonderful, whimsical, paisley-covered psych pop that isn't afraid to break out the oboes. If that trip doesn't take you far enough, Pollard also invites us to "Ride My Earthmobile," which heads into 13th Floor Elevators territory, while "Human Car" takes Wire's "Strange" riff and veers it into more spectral territory.
The facade extends to the album art and sleeve notes, too. Taking cues from XTC's similarly themed Dukes of Stratosphear side project, the band members all adopt pseudonyms -- Pollard is listed as "Robert Rambly" while Doug Gillard is renamed "Doug Downer" -- but CSBP are actually closer to Martin Newell's cult band Cleaners From Venus (who were always kinda the UK analog to GBV), especially on airy songs like "@1-2-3" and "Roll Up Your Nose."
There's no real grand plan here, though. Clang Clang Ho! doesn't drop you into Haight Ashbury or Carnaby Street 1967 or any other specific scene/time; instead it's more a depository for songs and ideas that don't quite fit under the usual GBV umbrella. There are dips into rockabilly ("Flip Flop World"), dusty rambles ("Casino Hair Wife"), eight-mile-high psych ("Eggs, Mother"), Slade-style glam ("Sister Slam Dance"), acid rock ("It's Marbles!"), and bubblegum ("She Cannot Know"). No surprise, Pollard and crew are good at all of these, even if some of these songs seem to have been barely taken beyond sketch form. But it all zips by -- most of the 20 tracks are well under the two-minute mark -- and you never get bored. Clang Clang Ho! is like listening to AM radio on a cross-country road trip with an impatient friend who never takes their hand off the tuner.
Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth - Utopian Ashes (Third Man)
Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie and Savages' Jehnny Beth make a classic duet record a la Nancy & Lee, George & Tammy, and Gainsbourg & Birkin
Bobby Gillespie has always been a lover of the classics. His worship of the Stones and Velvet Underground has kept Primal Scream going strong for over 30 years, through good records and bad. But they've all been rock n' roll records (even the electronic ones). With Utopian Ashes, Gillespie puts on his best suit, hires a string section, and goes for a different kind of classic: the duets album. With Savages' Jehnny Beth as a muse/foil, they channel Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin, and George Jones and Tammy Wynette Jr for a sweeping tale of a marriage on the rocks.
This story is fiction but Bobby and Jehnny Beth play their parts with conviction, and they certainly nail the vibe. With help from Primal Scream's Andrew Innes and Martin Duffy, Jehnny Beth's regular collaborator Johnny Hostile, and producer Brendan Lynch (Paul Weller, Primal Scream), Utopian Ashes sounds just like you want it to -- windswept and widescreen, like something that could've existed in 1973, full of dramatic strings, grand piano, acoustic guitars, and resigned, heartbroken harmonies, without ever tipping into Jim Steinman grand guignol territory. "Chase it Down" is a whopper of an opener, a thunderstorm of emotions wrapped into funky southern soul as Jehnny Beth wails "Free fall from love --who is gonna come and save us now?" The album then runs the gamut of styles you might expect, Frenchy waltzes, piano ballads, and a lot of variations on swaggering Stones/Rod Stewart balladry.
Primal Scream have never exactly been a band you wish had lyrics sheets with their records, and while there are some obvious rhymes here, Utopian Ashes is by far the most thoughtful, considered album in that regard that Bobby Gillespie has ever been involved with. This is elegant stuff and it really suits him. With his 60th birthday around the corner, maybe he's found his new niche.
The Go! Team - Get Up Sequences Part One (Memphis Industries)
Twenty years on, this UK sample-heavy group aren't breaking new ground, but their patchwork nostalgia creations are still fun
"I was asking the question ‘what would happen if Kevin Shields made an R & B record?’" says Go! Team svengali Ian Parton of the band's sixth album, though he admits "it didn’t turn out exactly like that.” The Go Team are one of those bands that talks of new intents and purposes in interviews for a new album that pretty much sounds like all their other records. There's not anything wrong with that, per se, either. Nobody else sounds like their low-fi mix of old soul and pop samples, Double Dutch raps, and British indie. Get Up Sequences Part One doesn't break new ground but "Cookie Scene," "Pow," and "A Bee Without a Sting" all sound like a summer day on a busy, technicolor block of New York City where kids are dancing in rainbows from open fire hydrants. For those wondering what Parton's original MBV/R&B idea might've sounded like, it's here too on "I Loved You Better" and "Freedom Now," with glide guitar melting into all the other sounds like ice cream on the pavement on a 95 degree day.
We also talked to The Go! Team about the influences behind their album.
A Certain Ratio - ACR:EPC (Mute)
Manchester greats pay tribute to the late Andrew Weatherall on their second of three 2021 EPs
A Certain Ratio continue their series of three themed 2021 EPs with #2, titled EPC. Where EPA was a tribute to their late vocalist Denise Johnson, this one is dedicated to another Manchester fixture we lost in 2020, Andrew Weatherall, and focuses on the art of collaboration. It's also, pound-for-pound, as enjoyable as last year's ACR Loco album and weirdly makes for a great introduction to the band to boot, giving you a taste of all sides of the band. The EP opens with "Emperor Machine," a collaboration with producer Andrew John Meecham (aka Emperor Machine) that is very much in ACR's style of funky early-'80s singles like "Shack Up" and "Do the Du"; "YOYOGRIP," which features Jacknife Lee and Maria Uzor, cleverly mashes together ACR Loco tracks "Yo Yo Gi" and "Get a Grip" into one better banger; and the band take Chris Massey's "Music Control" and rework it into one of their own tumbling, polyrhythmic dancefloor jams. As for the Andrew Weatherall tribute, that comes in the form of "The Guv'nor." "His spirit and inspiration are all over this track" say A Certain Ratio and you can indeed hear it on this funky slab of Morricone-esque space disco.
The final of A Certain Ratio's 2021 EPs is EPR which will be out August 13 via Mute. Its theme is "Anything Goes!" and you can preorder it on exclusive transparent amber vinyl -- limited to 250 copies worldwide -- in the BrooklynVegan shop.
Tashaki Miyaki - Castaway (Metropolis Records)
L.A. dreampop band are less hazy, less mazzy than before on their new album, and all the better for it
Led by Paige Stark, L.A. band Tashaki Miyaki have been with us for a decade, heretofore known for a hazy sound that has gotten a lot of comparisons to another SoCal band with a dreamy, twangy vibe. But for the band's second album, Castaway, they decided to switch things up. “We decided no wah pedal for most of the record,” says Stark. “We tried to incorporate new soundscapes. Like, what if there isn’t as much reverb on everything? What would be the less obvious sonic choice here? What if everything isn’t as fuzzy and smeary?”
Castaway is definitely less fuzzy and smeary and not worse for it. With help from L.A. patron saint Jon Brion (who played on the record and mixed it), Tashaki Miyaki have emerged from the haze with their dreaminess intact -- they just get there a different way. A lot of that is via splendid, swelling string arrangements ("U" is a genuine knockout), harmonies (Stark's voice definitely does not need reverb to elicit chills), and other effects pedals (guitarist Luke Paquin makes good use of shimmery chorus on "Forget Me"). There are different styles, too, with "Wasting Time," evoking Big Star and Tom Petty -- Benmont Tench plays on the album, and whether or not he's on this song, you can feel the presence.
There are still a few songs this time that might remind you of the work of the late, great David Roback (see "Comedown"), but they are less obvious this time, and not the only paintbrush in Castaway's box. Tashaki Miyaki have burned off the smog and offer, to paraphrase David Lynch's daily weather reports, beautiful blue skies and golden sunshine all along the way.
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