Indie Basement (2/26): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: Cheval Sombre makes wonderful space-folk with help from Sonic Boom and Dean & Britta; King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard offer up another dose of "microtonal" rock; Stereolab finally release the fourth volume of their 'Switched On' series; Lost Horizons (members of Cocteau Twins and Dif Juz) welcome spring on Part 2 of In Quiet Moments; Sibille Attar speaks up on A History of Silence; and Mouse on Mars hand the controls over to their computer overlords on AAI.
Need more new record reviews? Andrew takes on the new Nick Cave/Warren Ellis surprise release, Julien Baker's Little Oblivions and more in Notable Releases. For more Basement-approved stuff from the past week: Paul Weller seems to be channeling Gary Numan on his new single; Geneva Jacuzzi told us about the influences behind her 2010 debut Lamaze (which just got reissued today); Mute Records announced a series of Can live albums; Dinosaur Jr have a new album on the way; Spiritualized are reissuing their first four albums on vinyl; and I'm very excited to hear more from Chicago band Horsegirl.
Also: Daft Punk, we hardly knew ye, they didn't really tour or make records very often and they could've just not said they were breaking up and we'd probably never think about it much, but we'll always have those first two albums.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Cheval Sombre - Time Waits for No One (Sonic Cathedral)
Cheval Sombre reteams with producer Sonic Boom and friends Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips for an album of beautiful, delicate space folk
As Cheval Sombre, Chris Porpora makes ethereal psych-folk that is as serene as the night sky. “I’ve always said that what I really want to do with music is to give people sanctuary,” he says. “Pandemic or not, the world has always felt as though it were spinning out of control to me, and so if folks have slowed down, I do see it all as an opportunity to discover vital realms which have always been there, but we’ve been too rushed and distracted to encounter.”
It's been eight years since we've gotten a new Cheval Sombre album but this year we're getting two, both of which reteam him with producer Sonic Boom who worked on his first two albums. He and Sonic are definitely grooving on the same wavelength -- it's "alchemical," Cheval says -- making music as gentle as the breeze, sounding like particles of light that have traveled for decades to shine upon our faces. Songs are delicately strummed and even more delicately sung, with Sonic providing the lightest of synthesizer accompaniment that puts a sparkle on everything.
The idea of time, and slowing down, is central to this new album, with Cheval stressing that we should be spending less of it looking at the clock and more time living. Nearly every song mentions time in some way, and he even folds a gorgeous cover of Townes Van Zandt's "No Place to Fall" ("Time, she’s a fast old train/She’s here then she’s gone”) into the album's concept. More than the words, though, you feel Time Waits for No One's themes in the music itself, soft, slow, lazy and warm. While it is spare, every sound is clearly considered, whether it's spectral album opener "It's Not Time," the hypnotic title track (featuring Dean Wareham with whom he made a 2018 collab album) or the symphonic knockout "Curtain Grove" featuring Britta Philips and strings via violinist Gillian Rivers and viola player Yuiko Kamakari. Cheval creates his own sea of tranquility where, for 42 minutes at least, time seems to slow down.
Lost Horizons - In Quiet Moments Part 2 (Bella Union) [colored vinyl]
More cinematic collaborations with Cocteau Twins/Dif Juz duo, this time featuring Marissa Nadler, Karen Peris, Penelope Isles and more.
In Quiet Moments, the second album from Lost Horizons (Cocteau Twins' Simon Raymonde and Dif Juz's Richie Thomas), was originally intended as a double album to be released in the fall of 2020. When the pandemic threw a wrench into everything, including record pressing plant schedules, the double album got split in half with the first part out in December and now comes the second half, along with the complete work in physical formats. Perhaps because it was envisioned a double vinyl set, where listeners might choose one disc or the other, In Quiet Moments doesn't feel frontloaded, with the second half just as satisfying as the first, maybe more so.
Another interesting thing is that the timing feels oddly right, as these eight songs come along as the days get longer and spring is within our sights. In Quiet Moments' title track opens Pt 2 on a note of genuine hope. "I wonder what the day is going to bring," Ural Thomas asks in the song, set against a warm breeze of piano and harmony, and feels like the ice finally breaking, melting into rivers. The other seven songs follow suit and are all, at their heart, showcases for some amazing voices. C Duncan's otherworldly harmonies make "Circle" soar, Rosie Blair swoops on a trapeze somewhere between Bjork and Liz Fraser on "Flutter," and Laura Groves' powerful pipes energize "Blue Soul."
Three voices and songs on Pt 2 particularly stand out: Penelope Isles' Lily Wolter, in her solo KookieLou guise, delivers a beguiling performance on the sweetly melodic, shoegazy "Heart Of A Hummingbird"; Marissa Nadler ups the drama on the haunting "Marie"; and Innocence Mission singer Karen Peris casts a fragile, wistful beauty on lump-in-the-throat closing number "This Is The Weather."
Listening to the record as whole -- with moodier material featuring Porridge Radio, Penelope Isles, and Tim Smith in the first half -- brings a balance to things, dark and light, bitter and sweet, making for a satisfying listen that is both atmospheric and engaging. Adult Contemporary is a dirty word, but in some cooler bizarro world (NPR?) In Quiet Moments is just that and the best kind, too -- an exceedingly pleasant and pretty record, but the kind that makes your ears prick up and ask "who's this?"
The deluxe edition of In Quiet Moments comes on ocean blue and green vinyl, with a wide-spined sleeve on uncoated/reverse board and is housed in a cool PVC outer sleeve with printed text. We've got a special edition in our store with a signed art print postcard.
Stereolab - Electrically Possessed (Switched On Vol. 4) (Duophonic UHF Disks)
Long-awaited fourth volume of Stereolab's odds-and-sods compilations gathers up singles, b-sides and more.
For a band who at times were poster children for minimalism, Stereolab have always embraced a more-is-more release ethos, with the kind of mountainous, labyrinthine discography that seems custom built for uber record nerds who love collecting stuff from fanzine flexis to tour-only singles, and compilations only released in countries that no longer exist. The band rewarded it too, putting some of their best tracks on more obscure releases.
For those who don't have that kind of dedication, shelf space or budget, Stereolab have the Switched On series that collects these loose odds and ends. By the eighth year of their existence (1998) they'd released three triple disc volumes of Switched On. The band continued at a similarly prolific pace for another 11 years, retiring in 2009, but due to "delays beyond our control," they never released another Switched On. Till now.
The 25 tracks here mainly range from 1998 through 2008, which is a lot of ground but the compilation is pretty cohesive. Making Electrically Possessed a must-own is the entirety of 2000's First of the Microbe Hunters mini-LP that makes for a much better follow-up to 1997's amazing Dots & Loops than 1999's bloated (but better than its rep) Cobra and Phases Group Plays Voltage in the Milky Night. Also, at 40 minutes long, only Stereolab would consider that "mini." The songs are generally tight and poppy, The High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan is still part of the group and adding great horn and string sections, and when they do go out on a limb it's for a great groove -- like on opener "Outer Bongolia" which is also one of the Top 5 Stereolab Song Titles of All Time.
Other Vol 4 highlights: Motown-y vibraphone excursion "L'exotisme Interieur" (from a 2008 tour 7"), the weird and groovy (and wonderfully titled) "Free Witch and No Bra Queen" and "Speck Voice" (both from a 2001 tour 7"), drony Mars Audiac Quintet outtake "Heavy Denim Loop Pt 2" (never before released), and the awesome "Dimension M2" that was on a 2005 French various artists compilation. That they would give away something as inspired as "Dimension M2" to a comp tells you a lot about Stereolab's mindset and output.
My two favorite songs here, though, are of the more rare variety. "Calimero," with its spy theme vibe, is a collaboration with Brigitte Fontaine from a 1999 split 7" with Monade. The other is one of their best pop songs, "Variation One," which they recorded for the soundtrack to documentary Moog. Stereolab didn't do throwaways and all 25 tracks here are at least interesting. A casual fan might not need Electrically Possessed, but for many of us, this is essential ephemera.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - L.W. (Flightless)
The Australian psych band's 17th album in nine years flies between the funky and the ferocious
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are a psychedelic machine gun, having now released 17 albums in just nine years, maintaining a level of production only rivaled by Oh Sees and Robert Pollard. The latest was only officially announced a couple weeks ago and is the third record in their "microtonal" series where they explore the "notes between the notes." It's also clearly the second part of the record that started with last year's K.G. Not that it needs to be spelled out, in this case literally, but the titles together are the band's initials, the cover art for both are variations on a theme, and both feature microtonal instruments that give everything a sitar kind of vibe.
The microtonal element colors everything, but King Gizzard apply it to a wide variety of styles on L.W. which makes it both high concept but also all over the map. That sound obviously suits itself to standard definition "pysch" and the band are clearly masters of that as heard here on the bongo-fueled "O.N.E." and big ripper "Pleura." But the album is more interesting when it applies microtonal instruments to things like the nearly nine-minute prog-metal opus "K.G.L.W." which closes the album with some serious fireworks and sounds like a certain set-closer once shows can happen again (which is soon in their native Australia). More interesting, though, are songs that take them into new territory. "If Not Now, Then When?" builds like it's going to be a rager, but then turns into a groovy '70s style number with funky electric piano and falsetto vocals. Hopefully that's an area they'll continue to explore on future albums...which are probably being mastered as we speak.
Mouse On Mars - AAI (Thrill Jockey)
Is it time to let machines take over? These German experimental electronic vets think it's an idea worth exploring
Grimes is getting all the headlines but she is far from the first musician to embrace artificial intelligence technology to aid the creative process. YACHT used it on 2019's Chain Tripping, Brian Eno's made a few algorithm-based albums (and one app) with it, and now veteran German envelope-pushers Mouse on Mars have made it central to their new album, AAI (Anarchic Artificial Intelligence). Given their cerebral nature, it's a little surprising that it's taken them this long to make an album like this, but they seem fully invested. "AI is capable of developing qualities that we attach to humans, like empathy, imperfection and distraction, which are a big part of creativity," says the group's Jan St Werner. "We need to get past the old paranoia that fears machines as the other, as competitors who will do things faster or better, because that just keeps us stuck in our selfishness, fear and xenophobia. Machines can open up new concepts of life, and expand our definitions of being human."
Like a lot of Mouse on Mars albums, AAI feels like a record made to think about more than enjoy, with a general clinical vibe that's clearly intelligent but heavy on the artificial. (Anarchic? Not so much.) Some of these algorithms pay out, though, especially when they find and lock onto a beat. "Artificial Authentic" is a banger that has just a little pop in its code, while "Doublekeyrock" sounds like a synthetic recreation of a third-gen copy of a reggaeton song sampled from a car stereo as it raced by on the freeway. Mouse on Mars may be imagining a not-to-distant future where robots develop language, conscience and empathy, but these machines are not quite ready to headline a festival just yet.
Sibille Attar - A History of Silence (PNKSLM)
Like Bjork and The Knife? Make some room for this Swedish singer
Sibille Attar has one of those voices that cuts through everything. It's a little quirky -- think Karin of The Knife or Bjork -- but in all the right ways. It's powerful without being showy, though there are some moments of flash. She's been active in the Swedish indie scene since the early '00s (she was in Speedmarket Avenue) but has taken her time with her solo career, releasing her debut in 2013 and then going silent for five years till returning with 2018's excellent Paloma's Hand EP. Three years after that, Sibille is back with A History of Silence, which apart from a string section, was written, recorded and mixed entirely by Attar herself. The album grabs you right out of the gate. "Hurt Me" hits the ground running with a funky drummer breakbeat and Sibille's arresting voice (shades of Sinead O'Connor's "I Am Stretched on Your Grave"), but adds layer after layer, dramatic strings, harmonies, and flute as the song flies higher and higher. The rest of the album keeps to a similar elevation, favoring minor chords and melancholy (lots of distorted church organ) while staying above the clouds and making lots of room for that voice.
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