Indie Basement (5/26): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Memorial Day Weekend and welcome to summer! Holiday weeks used to be quiet as far as new releases went, but not this year and I review new albums from Sparks, Arlo Parks, Kevin Morby, Water From Your Eyes, Gia Margaret and The Orielles.
And that's not all, either. Andrew listens to Clark, Kassa Overall, Kari Faux, Fishbone, and more in Notable Releases.
In other Basement-friendly news, this week we got new album announcements from Teenage Fanclub, Guided by Voices, The Coral, Lindstrøm, Juliana Hatfield (an ELO tribute), The B-52s' Cindy Wilson, and Bonnie Prince Billy.
RIP Tina Turner and Kenneth Anger.
Over in the Indie Basement corner of the BV Shop we've got our exclusive, limited edition color vinyl variant of Alvvays' debut album, our exclusive, limited edition swirled vinyl edition of Thee Oh Sees' Live at Levitation, an autographed Don Letts single, plus albums by The Lemonheads, Primal Scream, King Gizzard, The Raincoats, Radiohead, Grant Lee Buffalo, Belle & Sebastian, Deerhoof, Protomartyr, Mogwai,Love and Rockets, Kevin Morby, The The, Naima Bock, The Flaming Lips and more.
Have a great holiday weekend and see you in June. Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Sparks - The Girl is Crying in Her Latte (Island)
Fifty years and 26 albums into their career, Ron & Russell Mael remain as wonderfully weird and amazing as ever
Has any group maintained an image, sound and level of quality across 50 years as well as Sparks? Ron and Russell Mael were weirdo geniuses right out of the gate and have seen popular culture ebb and flow around their distinct brand of tongue-in-cheek operatic rock, while never trying to make music based on what was in at the time. The band have been back in the public eye in the last few years, the most spotlight they've seen since the mid-'70s, thanks to two films -- Edgar Wright's wonderful documentary The Sparks Brothers and Annette, their rock opera collaboration with director Leos Carax -- and have found themselves back on Island Records, the label that released their two 1974 classics, Kimono My House and Propaganda, among others. Their 26th album, The Girl is Crying in Her Latte finds Ron and Russell, who are 77 and 74 respectively, sounding sharp as ever, mixing synthpop, glam and classical elements for tales of modern ennui, filtered through their twisted sense of humor and love of cinema. Apart from a few current lyrical references, witty, idiosyncratic pop songs like "It Doesn't Have to Be That Way," "The Mona Lisa's Packing, Leaving Late Tonight," and "Not That Well-Defined" could've come out at any point in their career. Most of these are also songs that could've only come from the Maels, like the war-torn "We Go Dancing," which imagines Kim Jong Un as the ultimate club DJ: "Skrillex, maybe Diplo, they've got nothing on our dude." They've still got their finger on the pulse too, from the relatable disappointment of "Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is," or the title track that captures our post-2020 world in less than three droney, awesomely oddball minutes. (It's even better with Cate Blanchett.) How do they do it? Actually, please don't tell me. Sparks are an enigma that should never be solved.
Kevin Morby - More Photographs (A Continuum) (Dead Oceans)
A companion piece to last year's 'This is a Photograph' reimagines some songs, and adds some new ones to them
It used to be that artists waited for a significant anniversary to put out a deluxe edition of an album, but now any record that gets decent reviews or racks up decent streaming numbers will receive "special edition" treatment -- or a companion album, or the dreaded "remix" record -- by the end of its release year. It's enough to make you shrug before you even look at the tracklist or give it a listen. Occasionally, though, special editions are actually special. Here's one. More Photographs features alternate versions of three songs from This is a Photograph, while adding six new songs. The reworks are all terrific: "This is a Photograph" adds sweeping '70s strings to great effect; "Bittersweet, TN," his duet with Erin Rae, is nicely scaled back; and "Five Easy Pieces Revisited" takes an already lush, soulful track into even grander territory while rewriting the perspectives of its characters. The new songs are terrific, too, and fit in perfectly, especially "Prom," which is basically a sister to "Photograph" and sways to wistful nostalgia. Also excellent: yearning "Triumph," the swaggering "Lion Tamer," and sweet, romantic ode "Katie." Buyer beware, but some companions are welcome, necessary even.
MORE(BY): We talked to Kevin about the influences behind More Photographs.
Arlo Parks - My Soft Machine (Transgressive)
The follow-up to Arlo Parks' Mercury Prize-winning debut widens her scope and gets some help from Phoebe Bridgers
Arlo Parks charmed pretty much everyone with her excellent debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, with its warm, jazzy vibe and her poetic but conversational lyrics. It won the 2021 Mercury Music Prize, and following up a universally praised album can be a daunting task, but if Arlo was sweating the expectations, you don't feel it on My Soft Machine, another easy, breezy, inviting record that also widens her scope. Working with producer Paul Epworth, who has been behind the boards for everyone from The Futureheads to Adele, Parks incorporates some of the '90s indie/alt music that she loved as a kid -- Weezer, My Bloody Valentine, Deftones -- into her sound. This is most obvious on "Devotion," which transforms from pretty and gentle into a roaring, crunchy rock track midway through; her breathy voice works surprisingly well through the radical shift in dynamics. There's also the jangly "Dog Rose," which could be a Mac DeMarco song, and "Room" that gives off Beach House vibes while Arlo sings "I just wanna eat cake in a room with a view." There's also the delicate and intimate "Pegasus," which is lifted by guest Phoebe Bridgers and their voices sound great together. While My Soft Machine goes down smooth, it also suffers a little from not having as focused a point of view, musically, as Collapsed in Sunbeams. The rock tracks work but sidle up somewhat awkwardly next to groovier tracks like opener "Bruiseless." Parks also feels a little too relaxed this time, with production that threatens to blow away in the breeze. Parks can do rock, but she should stomp on the distortion pedal a little more.
Gia Margaret - Romantic Piano (Jagjaguwar)
Stressed? Let Gia Margaret soothe you with this album of (mostly) instrumentals
"Writing instrumental music, in general, is a much more joyful process than I find in lyrical songwriting," says Gia Margaret of her mostly voiceless new album. “I wanted to make music that was useful.” Romantic Piano sounds like the title of an album they might've sold on TV in the 1980s and Gia clearly has tongue in cheek giving it that name, but the piano music she makes here is no joke. Tracks like "Hinoki Wood," "Cicadas," and "Sitting at the Piano" are spare, beautiful and calming, perfect for putting on while doing other things, but they're also not aural wallpaper and don't ever fall into treacle. My mind goes to Ryuichi Sakamoto, His Name is Alive, Felt's "Magellan." It's not all piano, either, like on "La langue de l’amitié" (featuring David Bazan) and the transportive and aptly named "Guitar Piece." Gia also sings, sweetly I may add, on the gorgeous "City Song." "Romantic Piano" is about right.
Water from Your Eyes - Everyone's Crushed (Matador)
First album for Matador from this NYC duo puts up an imposing facade, but gives way to many nice moments
Following a few terrific albums of electronic-leaning experimental pop on Wharf Cat, like 2021's Structure, New York duo Water From Your Eyes signed to Matador for their fifth album. Everyone's Crushed is probably not the album the major indie was hoping for, as on first listen it feels weirder and more obtuse than anything they've ever done before. Maybe they have a little signer's remorse -- I saw them open for Spoon last year and their set seemed like a dare not to head to the bar -- but what initially seems like willfully obscure naval-gazing takes on more shape and blooms through repeat listens. Rachel Brown's understated vocal style charms throughout, whether on the glitchier numbers ("True Life," "Barley"), or more contemplative, pastoral songs like "Remember Not My Name." They bury the catchiest song at the very end of the album, "Buy My Product," that also feels uncomfortable with its hooks as Brown sings "Show me what you’ve got / Clap those hands / Buy my product" over a funky post-punk beat. Everyone's Crushed is a cool record if you give it the time, but one wonders what these two might come up with if they learn to stop worrying and love a catchy tune.
The Orielles - The Goyt Method EP (Heavenly)
The Orielles rework music from last year's Tableau into decidedly more experimental directions
If you are a fan of UK trio The Orielles, like me, you may already know what The Goyt Method is. Named for Goyt Studio where they made last year's excellent Tableau, it's a term they came up with to describe a deconstructive method of making music. “To Goyt it,” drummer Sidonie B Hand-Halford said, “that’s getting all these pieces and rearranging them. We had vocal melodies and ideas that we’d then run through and sample, and play them on sample pads. We were being editors, really.” They take that to the nth degree on this new EP which explores their "interest in cybernetics, improvisation and experimental electronic music." The EP takes those Tableau pieces and entirely rearranges them, using an online roulette wheel to choose the loops and stems randomly. The Goyt Method is almost entirely devoid of anything resembling pop structure, but these five songs are nonetheless compelling, and hang together with intent and purpose.
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