Welcome to September. Things are about to get crazy, post-Labor Day, but for now relish in the gentle spirit and relative calm that comes with a big holiday weekend. This week’s reviews include the fifth volume of Stereolab‘s Switched-On non-LP tracks compilations; the third album from noir-pop trio (and Killing Eve soundtrackers) Unloved; Scottish indie pop cult heroes The Orchids; Chicago synth droners Bitchin Bajas; Portland DIY pop artist Mo Troper; and Winipeg dreampop group Living Hour.
It’s a quiet week in Notable Releases, too, as Andrew reviews George FitzGerald, The Callous Daoboys, Kenny Beats, and more. If you need more Basement-forward content from this week, Naima Bock (who made one of my favorite albums of the year so far) announced US tour dates; UK band The Orielles announced their third album; Special Interest announced their first album for Rough Trade; and masked Swedish psych groovers Goat are back.
I also looked back on Sugar’s perfect debut album, Copper Blue, which turns 30 on September 4.
If you still need more, I rounded up August’s best albums and songs.
Be sure to check out the Indie Basement basement of the BrooklynVegan shop for a great selection of vinyl, books, and merch all hand-picked by this guy, including stuff by Stereolab, Broadcast, Pavement, Wet Leg, Beach House, OSEES, Cocteau Twins, The Beths, Aldous Harding, The Cure, Can, Neu!, Mazzy Star, Talking Heads, Pixies, Sparks, and more.
Stereolab – Pulse of the Early Brain [Switched On, Vol. 5] (Warp/Duophonic UHF Disks)
Fifth volume of Stereolab’s non-LP compilation is still mining gold as it scrapes the bottom of the barrel
Over the course of their original 1990 – 2009 run, Stereolab may have released more songs outside of their 10 studio albums than were on them. (I haven’t counted but odds point to yes.) While they used those singles, b-sides, EPs, flexis, splits, collabs, and compilation contributions for experimentations, these songs were often some of their best, too. For those non-completists out there who haven’t devoted a room of their house to all these records, Stereolab have helpfully been collecting them on their Switched On series. The first three comps in the series came out during the ’90s and then, due to “circumstances beyond our control,” there wasn’t a fourth volume until 2021. The floodgates have clearly opened as just a year and a half later we’ve got Volume 5, Pulse of the Early Brain.
Unlike previous editions of the Switched On series which seemed to go chronologically, Vol. 5 pulls tracks from throughout their career, including b-sides, radio sessions, live tracks, and more. Highlights here include the two tracks from their 1997 Simple Headphone Mind collaborative LP with Nurse With Wound; 1992’s Low Fi EP (the first record to feature drummer Andy Ramsay and backing vocalist Mary Hansen), stray songs from various editions of 2008’s Chemical Chords, and a terrific live version of “Cybele’s Reverie” recorded at Hollywood Bowl in 2004 when they were opening for Air.
Even more of an odds-n-sods mixed bag than any of the others, this may be the least essential of the Switched On series, but there is still plenty of meat on these bones, like Autechre’s remix of Dots & Loops cut “Refractions in the Plastic Pulse,” the intense chug of Lo Fi’s “[Varoom!],” and “Robot Riot” which was originally written in 2000 for a sculpture made by artist Charles Long, who they collaborated with on 1995’s Music For The Amorphous Body Study Center project. Pulse of the Early Brain also works as an alternate history — from the early drones to later jazzy tropicalia and all points in between — for a band that always wore Esoteric and Obscure like a badge of honor.
If Stereolab are scraping the bottom of the barrel, maybe it’s time for this band who are out touring again, to make some new music.
Unloved – The Pink Album (Heavenly)
Third album from cinematic trio of David Holmes, Keefus Ciancia and Jade Vincent brings Jarvis Cocker and Jon Spencer to the noirish dance party
Formed by composer Keefus Ciancia and vocalist Jade Vincent (who had made music together as Vincent & Mr. Green) and DJ / electronic musician David Holmes (Stephen Soderbergh’s Oceans trilogy), Unloved came together to write and record songs for BBC America series Killing Eve for which Holmes was hired to score and music supervise. Their music — a mix of ’60s film scores (Ennio Morricone and John Barry), ’60s pop, psych and ye-ye, and the groups who were inspired by all that (yes, we’re talking trip hop) — was perfect for the playful spy-noir tableau of Killing Eve.
While Killing Eve wrapped up this spring, Unloved have carried on. The Pink Album is their third album, and their best yet — a 22-song double LP opus that feels like a tour of all the places you shouldn’t be at 3 AM but which might be fun. You know: smoky back rooms, speakeasies, underground poker games, seedy motels, late night diners, dimly lit parking garages and underpasses. Ciancia, Vincent and Holmes are vibe masters with great taste and manage to make music that is fun, kitschy, modern and also timeless. (It’s also got great artwork from Julian House, the graphic designer and Focus Group member who runs the very cool Ghost Box label.) The 90-minute run-time also allows for some special guest stars: Jarvis Cocker brings his sexy British whisper to weepy ballad “Accountable,” Jon Spencer is explosive as usual on “Call Me When You Have A Clue” and, best of all, Raven Violet packs the wicked “Turn of the Screw” with lots of attitude. Unloved may have been born of a series, but their music makes great movies in your mind.
The Orchids – Dreaming Kind (Skep Wax)
Jangly Scottish cult band of Sarah Records fame continue to make swooning guitar pop on their eighth album
Glasgow’s The Orchids have been making heartfelt, jangly indiepop for more than three decades, releasing records most famously on the legendary indie label Sarah Records. It’s been a while since they’ve released an album — eight years, specifically — but they are back with their seventh long-player. Dreaming Kind is due out September 2 via Skep Wax (the label run by their former Sarah labelmates Amelia Fletcher and David Pursey of Heavenly/The Catenary Wires). The band, which still includes frontman James Hackett, guitarist John Scally, drummer Chris Quinn, and keyboardist Ian Carmichael, have managed to stay remarkably, satisfyingly consistent over the years, only making records when inspiration strikes them. Dreaming Kind definitely feels inspired, with windswept and winsome songs set to arrangements that swing between jangly and delicate, and lush and jazzy. Some songs, like “I Never Thought I Was Clever,” are both. If you wished that bands still made swooning, heart-on-the-sleeve guitar pop a la Aztec Camera and The Blue Nile, The Orchids are waving to you saying, “we’re right here.”
Bitchin Bajas – Bajascillators (Drag City)
Chicago instrumental synth-heads bliss out out their first album in five years
Though they’ve been exploring tones and zones for more than a decade, I always find myself a little surprised that a group that calls themselves Bitchin Bajas aren’t making fuzzed out surf music for, say, Russ Meyers films. But their brand of blissful, looping synth music does ride its own hypnotic wave(form). Bajascillators is Cooper Crain, Daniel Quinlivan and Rob Frye’s first new album in five years and it finds them still in command of their equipment, not to mention groan-worthy “Baja” puns. Across four lengthy tracks, they weave a rich instrumental atmosphere that may remind you of the usual suspects, including Steve Reich, Eno and Tangerine Dream. (Also: former tourmates Stereolab and Drag City labelmates High Llamas.) Crain and co are experts in their field, though, and Bajacillators is warmly trance-inducing — recorded live to half-inch analogue tape, this is rich enveloping stuff — as they transport you from the sea to the city to outer space.
Living Hour – Someday Is Today (Kanine)
Winnipeg dreampop group make warm winter weather music for any season
Winnipeg, Manitoba’s Living Hour have been making hazy, hypnotic indie pop for the better part of a decade, with Sam Sarty’s emotive, smoky vocals anchoring variations in their sound. Someday is Today is the band’s third album, which was created in a hurry-up-and-wait mode; the band laid down basic recordings in a seven-day session during the dark of Manitoba’s winter and then sent the tracks to three different producers — Melina Duterte (aka Jay Som), Jonathan Schenke (Parquet Courts, Snail Mail), and Samur Khouja (Cate le Bon, Deerhunter, Regina Spektor) — to work their magic. Despite the disparate styles of their collaborators, this is a cohesive record of lush, hushed pop that incorporates elements of slowcore and psychedelia. With close harmonies and droning guitars, “Curve” sounds like snow gently falling on evergreen trees in the wilderness before crashing drums let loose an avalanche of sound; on “Hold Me in Your Mind” and “Miss Miss Miss,” synthesizers and gently ticking rhythm boxes are the mountain cabin equivalent of Beach House; and the warm acoustic strums and snaking electric leads of “Exploding Rain” and “Memory Express” are as big as an open plain. Someday is Today is as inviting as a hot glass of tea and a quilt in January, even during the dog days of summer.
Mo Troper – MTV (Lame-O)
This Portland musician’s fizzy, DIY pop style has cult status written all over it
Portland artist Mo Troper is a songwriter and DIY home taper in the tradition of R. Stevie Moore, Gary Wilson, Half Japanese and The Frogs, not to mention the whole Elephant 6 scene (Olivia Tremor Control in particular). He cranks out records at an alarming rate, full of very short songs that are crammed with catchy choruses that feel tossed-off, perhaps unfinished, but are often more sophisticated than they first seem. If you’re new to the weird and often wonderful world of Mo Troper, MTV is as good a place to start as any, presenting 15 eccentric pop nuggets in 30 minutes, with only one song crossing the three-minute mark. A student of the classics (he covered The Beatles’ Revolver in full last year), Mo is an all-consumer who is not afraid to steal and presents well-traveled melodic styles in his own unique, often clever way. Some songs pass clever and proceed straight to novelty (“The Only Living Goy in New York” is a title Weird Al probably thought of and rejected) but it’s hard to deny the popcraft and hooks on songs like “Waste Away,” “Play Dumb” and “No More Happy Songs.”
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