Indie Basement (10/1): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy October! Last week we had 10 new releases; this week it's just four, but all of them are exciting, and one of them is a contender for my Album of the Year. They include: duo audiobooks who are back with another brilliantly bonkers album; The Specials cover protest songs on their second album since Terry Hall rejoined the band; Ducks Ltd make jangly indiepop with oomph; and San Francisco's Cindy are back with their third album of spare, rainy day music.
Four is not enough? Andrew reviews Dying Wish, Wiki, Illuminati Hotties and more in Notable Releases, and for more Basement-friendly stuff from this week: Wet Leg, who made my favorite single of 2021 so far, finally released a second single (and it's great, too); The Raincoats' Gina Birch released her first-ever solo single; UK shoegazers bdrmm and Montreal band Corridor are back with new singles; Bush Tetras have a new career-spanning box set; Frankie Rose has a new band; and Ian Masters (Pale Saints) and Warren Defever released a new ESP Summer EP.
On the movie news front: I'm excited for Paul Thomas Anderson's new movie, Licorice Pizza (which stars a Haim).
On a sad note, rest in peace Greg Gilbert of Delays. He had such a unique voice which made their 2004 debut, Faded Seaside Glamour, somewhere between The La's and Cocteau Twins. Spend some time with that one this weekend, it's great. You can listen at the very bottom of this post.
Speaking of Wet Leg, Domino finally realized "Chaise Longue" should be out as a 7" single and you can buy it in the BV shop, along with the new deluxe blue vinyl edition of The Weather Station's wonderful new album, and many other records with the Indie Basement Seal of Approval.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: audiobooks - Astro Tough (Heavenly)
David Wrench and Evangeline Ling manage to top their wonderfully weird debut, keeping the energy high but now in a slightly more pop format. Slightly.
Now! (in a Minute), the 2018 debut from David Wrench and Evangeline Ling, aka audiobooks, was such an unlikely, weird, wonderful and totally out-there collaboration that it almost seemed unfollow-uppable. Here we are, though, with the second audiobooks album and it's even better than the first.
Audiobooks don’t try to recreate the spontaneous magic of their debut, which used first takes from Ling that bordered on spoken word performance art and gave the album its unpredictable edge. Now! was equally split between things that resembled songs and others that were more like short stories set to music, but on Astro Tough, they merge those elements together and shape them into more of something you can confidently call pop. That’s “pop” for audiobooks, mind you, which still makes it one of the more bananas records you’re likely to hear this year.
Ling's all-in vocal performance remains the star of the show. It can go from a whisper to a blood-curdling scream, hitting all points in-between, including accents, jokes, and "proper singing." Reigned in, somewhat, to more classic verse and chorus form, there are points where she almost resembles the late Mark E. Smith in tone, delivery, and wit, especially on "The English Manipulator" and "Blue Tits."
"The English Manipulator" is one of the best songs on Astro Tough and a good example of audiobooks' totally unique charms. Set to a killer electro-dub backing, Ling is mostly repulsed by this man who is "so rude and well mannered" and "into creative things." You can feel her squirm as he, completely out of his league, tries to impress her: "Now tell me, do you like paintings? Do you like Bonar, Bonnard, Manet, Monet? Monet or Manet, he didn’t even know the difference." It's as if she's recounting the story to you the next morning, but in the rhythm of a song.
Further squirming occurs on "Blue Tits," a tale of the gross and sex obsessed: "I saw you grabbing her mighty bum / Near your thumb / And you want to finger her." It's at that point that Ling lets out a disgusted "Uh! Yuck" that is one of the best moments on the record, but her delivery throughout this song is something else, including a spectacular, shrieking line reading of "They want your BIG ASS IN THEIR FACE!" You really need to hear it in context of the song which runs a wide gamut of emotions from bemusement to revulsion, all against a low key, Doors-y jam that also includes the line "Give it to me like you are on dinner duty, baby!"
Wrench, who is an in-demand mixing engineer (Arlo Parks, fka Twigs, Caribou, etc), elevates and tightens his game too, providing some really inspired music and production, including two killer techno bangers ("The Doll" and "Black Lipstick"). There's also a little more rock on Astro Tough, including the fantastic "He Called Me Bambi" which was inspired by Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" and includes the line "Lobster licking your leg in outer space," as well as "Trouble in Business Class," a swaying spacerock tale of privilege in the members lounge of London's City Airport.
There are perfect pop moments too: the unbridled autotune joy of "LaLaLa It’s The Good Life" featuring lyrics stolen from an overheard bus conversation like "if those people are still killing the vibes / We’ll have to order an Uber XL!"; and '80s-style synthpop number "First Move" that shows Ling has a great singing voice when she chooses to use it.
There is nothing on here as unhinged as the first album's "Dealing With Hoarders," but "Driven by Beef" comes pretty close as Ling sounds totally demented crying out "See my enemies! Uh yeah! Uh wow yim!" repeatedly over a plodding krautrock beat. It's the kind of track that will pull you out of passive listening to ask yourself "what the hell is this?"
There are fewer "what the hell is this?" moments on Astro Tough than Now! (in a minute), which is neither better nor worse; Wrench and Ling have managed to bottle their unique energy into a more palatable vessel, but don't be surprised if you feel a little funny 20 minutes after ingesting. Just go with it.
The Specials - Protest Songs (Island)
The 2-Tone ska icons' lockdown album of socially conscious covers is surprising in more ways that one
Covers have always been intrinsic to The Specials’ style. In fact, many of their best-known songs -- “A Message to You, Rudy,” “Gangsters,” “Too Hot” -- were written by others, but they’ve always known how to put their own stamp on them. They’ve also always been a fiercely political group, which makes their new album where they cover protest songs written throughout the last century, such a natural step. Waylaid by the pandemic and writers block -- they had started 2020 with intentions of making a reggae album before they all got Covid -- and then inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests, Terry Hall suggested a different type of record. “The urge to rail against what is wrong with the world and suggest how it could be better is as old as song, and The Specials have a history of protesting and fighting for justice and equality.”
And yet Protest Songs 1924 - 2012 is a surprising Specials record. The band had lost interest in being a purely ska band after their classic debut album, and 2019’s comeback, Encore, was their most varied record yet. This one, though, has nary a whiff of 2-Tone. Instead, Hall, Lynval Golding, Horace Panter and the newer members of the lineup offer up folky, jazzy renditions that feel in line with the original songs. They perform two by “Little Boxes” writer Malvina Reynolds' ("I Don't Mind Failing In This World" and "I Live in a City”), and also tackle Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” and the traditional “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around.” It’s the more unexpected songs that really work, though, like Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Inventions’ “Trouble Every Day,” and an inspired take on Talking Heads’ “Listening Wind” featuring lead vocals by Hannah Hu.
The most inspiring songs, however, are the most strident lyrically and the most gentle musically. Terry Hall channels his bitterest spirit for “Fuck All the Perfect People” (by Chip Taylor, who wrote “Wild Thing”) and a gorgeous version of Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up” sung by Golding with the most minimal of acoustic backing. On the latter, and most of these for that matter, they could’ve easily turned them into classic-sounding ska tracks, but they let the songs lead the way. It may not sound like a Specials album but it feels like one, and the band note they “are still pissed off!”
Ducks Ltd. - Modern Fiction (Carpark)
Toronto janglepop duo crib from all the right sources on their propulsive, hook-filled debut
Ducks Ltd know how to open an album. "How Lonely Are You" starts with a rush of furiously strummed guitars, and then the rhythm section kicks in, sounding huge, knocking open the floodgates. They may be singing about a shyness that is criminally vulgar, but there's nothing wimpy about the music. This is indiepop, in a very distinct '80s UK fashion, but played with force and confidence.
Based out of Toronto, Tom McGreevy and Evan Lewis (who play everything on the album) are not shy about their influences. That "How Lonely Are You" intro will remind some instantly of early Wedding Present, and their debut album, Modern Fiction, also tips its hat to The Feelies, The Chills, Verlaines, The Servants, The Go-Betweens, Echo & The Bunnymen and other jangly '80s guitar bands. Basslines carry melody, guitars chime and dance around each other, and the string section pucks at your heartstrings.
It's more evocative than outright theft, though, and Modern Fiction is overflowing with great songs. The best of them -- "18 Cigarettes," "Under the Rolling Moon," and "Fit To Burst" -- come right in a row in the middle of the album, but there are no lulls. At only 29 minutes the album flies by. While some modern groups like this make you want to pull out your old records, Ducks Ltd make you want to listen to their album again.
Cindy - 1:2 (Mtn.St.Mtn / Tough Love)
Third album from gentle San Francisco group wraps you in a big, sad hug.
Sometimes you hope it will rain so you don't have to go outside. San Francisco band Cindy make music just for those days, bummed out but in a way you want to drape around your shoulders like a blanket. Guitars are lighty strummed, keyboards lightly color in the edges, bass and drums stay out of the way, and singer/songwriter Karina Gill drops devastating lines barely above a whisper. 1:2 is the third Cindy album and the best yet, timed perfectly for the start of autumn. The spare sound recalls Galaxie 500, Low and Tindersticks but you can't imagine any other style with Gill's songs. If you're a fan of witty, self-deprecating, depressed lyrics, the album overflows with them. "No I'm not tired, this is the look I was born to wear," she sings on "The Common Era" which opens the album, adding, "A little surprised, a little beyond repair." On "Sincere Sound, " Karina asks "What is it like to hold me near?" and answers with "I'll be the headlight, you're the deer / I swerve away / You get hit all the same." It could all be a little much, but Gill and her bandmates nail the tone, from the words to the music, so perfectly. Sometimes you just want to wallow and Cindy are here for you.
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