Indie Basement (2/19): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week: Tindersticks deliver one of their best, most unusual records to date; Mogwai give us what we expect and what we want on their 10th album; a genuinely great live album from The Fall vaults; Sloan's Patrick Pentland releases his solo debut as Fuzzed Out; and the vibrant '90s Halifax, NS alt-rock scene (Eric's Trip, Hardship Post, Sloan, more) gets a spotlight via a newly reissued compilation.
For more of this week's record reviews, Andrew looks at Black Dresses, Cassandra Jenkins, The Hold Steady and more in Notable Releases. And for more Basement-approved stuff from this week: Field Music just announced their eighth album and the new single "No Pressure" is fantastic; Ride's Andy Bell is teaming with Pye Corner Audio for a series of EPs; Crowded House announced their first album in 12 years; and I spent a lot of time recently listening to Beatles covers.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Tindersticks - Distractions (City Slang)
Lockdown vibes and a few inspired covers makes for a decidedly different Tindersticks album
Like most everyone, Tindersticks had a much different year planned for 2020. They'd just released No Treasure But Hope, a more band-oriented album than usual, with plans for their most extensive touring in a decade, including rare U.S. shows. The pandemic had other plans, though, and Stuart Staples and the rest of the band soon found themselves with extra time on their hands.
A couple of new songs had already been in the works with a more minimal feel, and Staples kept going in that direction, opening himself to new ideas and experimentation. In June of 2020, with precautionary measures taken, the band convened to make a record unlike any in their nearly 30 years together. Just don't use the "L" word. "‘Distractions’ is not ‘a lockdown album,'" Staples emphatically stated. "I think the confinement provided an opportunity for something that was already happening. It is definitely a part of the album, but not a reaction to it."
Right out of the gate, Distractions is a very different Tindersticks record, mostly eschewing their signature lush orchestration for minimal arrangements that noticeably draw from dubby post-punk, while still inhabiting their signature late night world. Nowhere is this felt stronger than on "Man Alone (Can't Stop the Fear)," the album's 11-minute opener that rides along a claustrophobic groove powered by a hypnotic single-note bassline and a lightly ticking drum machine. As the song rolls on, layers are added (droning synths, ominous "whoa-ohs," brass that sounds like rush hour traffic), the bassline mutates and, when a syncopated ride cymbal comes in along with an endless chant of "Can't Stop the Fear," the dread mounts. It becomes some kind of death disco funk number worthy of The Pop Group.
It's a monumental start to the album which shifts directions a few times, but still crackles with that same dark energy. There are three covers at the center of Distractions and all of them are fantastic. Neil Young's piano ballad "A Man Needs a Maid" is transformed into a late night drive and, with backing vocals from Gina Foster, it steers into trip-hop territory. Likewise, Dory Previn's "The Lady With the Braid" gets a more traditional Tindersticks arrangement, but a dubby rhythm section right out of "Bela Lugosi's Dead" gives everything a fresh, playful feel. Perhaps best of all three is their take on Television Personalities' "You'll Have to Scream Louder" which takes the shambolic indie protest song into a sleazy disco -- 20 minutes after last call -- where you and your partner are the only ones on the dancefloor.
The three other songs on Distractions are all Tindersticks originals, including the beautiful, atmospheric spoken word piece "I Imagine You," and delicate piano torch song "Tue-moi" that was inspired by the 2015 terrorist attack at Le Bataclan. The album closes with another epic-length stunner, "The Bough Bends," that sounds like a storm rolling in from the ocean, with waves of post-rock worthy guitar crashing amidst actual recordings of thunder and rain. As the tempest settles, a tinkling electric piano remains, bobbing as if it were a lifeboat on the sea, having survived such a traumatic event and seeing the sun break through the clouds.
Who's to say if Tindersticks would've made this record, written these songs, arranged them the way they did if they had toured the world as planned. It was a shame not to get to see them, and hopefully they'll return when it's safe to do so, but Distractions feels like a more than equal trade.
Mogwai - As the Love Continues (Rock Action)
Scottish post-rock greats remain as expansive as ever, even when making records remotely during lockdown
Scottish post-rock greats Mogwai celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2020, and unfortunately had to spend most of it at home, like everybody else, thanks to the pandemic. Part of their schedule was to head to America and hit the studio with Flaming Lips collaborator David Fridmann, who they worked with on 2017's Every Country's Sun, to record their 10th album. They still made their album with Fridmann, but instead had to work virtually, with Mogwai set up at Vada studios in Worcestershire, UK and Fridmann calling in from Upstate NY.
It all seemed to work out pretty well. As the Love Continues, which arrives just a couple weeks shy of their debut single's 25th anniversary, is as expansive as any record they've made. "Dry Fantasy" is the kind of dazzling, slow-bloom wall-of-sound Mogwai do so well, with its many sonic layers spreading warmly and purposefully. Then there are tracks like "To The Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth," which opens the album and does sound like a massive spacecraft heading to the stratosphere, or at least something that achieves that feeling.
Mogwai also have a few new moves. While the band tend to keep their mouths shut, they do just fine singing on "Richie Sacramento," whose lyrics were based on a story about Silver Jews' David Berman as told to them by Bob Nastanovich. Meanwhile, the remote nature of the recording process allowed for some cool collaborations. Colin Stetson brings his unique sax appeal and extra skronk to "Pat Stains," with his parts fluttering in the mix like flecks of glitter in a spotlight. Best of all, though, is "Midnight Fit" which features Nine Inch Nails' Atticus Ross. The song combines eerie electronics, Mogwai's roar and a massive string section that is genuinely sweeping and cinematic. This is what you listen to Mogwai for -- that heavy-but-weightless thing that you both expect and want from them, even a quarter century into their existence.
The Fall - Live at St. Helens Technical College, ’81 (Castle Face)
One of the band's best lineups are at the top of their scabulous form on this rarity -- a great Fall live album
Fall fans' record collections and Discogs databases are filthy with live albums. There are definitely some good ones and a lot of mediocre ones. In the '80s and '90s there seemed to be two new live albums for every studio record (and there were a lot of studio albums). Most of the great Fall live albums, though, tend to come from the '80-'82 period of the band, when the lineup included Paul Hanley on drums, his brother Stephen Hanley on bass, and Craig Scanlon and Marc Riley on guitar, the same era that gave us the near-perfect Slates mini-LP. Here's another great live album from that era, recorded at St. Helens Technical College in February 1981, and their set included all six Slates songs, including absolutely storming versions of "Leave the Capitol," "Fit and Working Again" and "Slates, Slags Etc." There's also valium trip "Rowche Rumble," "City Hobgoblins," and more.
The recording of this has been kicking around for years and when OSEES' John Dwyer stumbled across it he a) couldn't believe how great it was and b) that nobody had ever released it officially, so he decided to do it himself via his Castle Face label. As a musician and all around good egg, Dwyer went out of his way to do this right. "We have reached out to every surviving member of the band, the sound person, the bootlegger who recorded it and the photographer and received their blessings & help piecing it all together." They're also donating 50% of the profits to the Centrepoint organization that "helps the homeless in the Manchester area get back on their feet, so the local and deserving Fall fans get a little, and give a little back, too." A true win-win situation.
Various Artists - murderecords singles 1993-1998 (murderecords)
A time capsule of the vibrant '90s Halifax, NS alt-rock scene courtesy this collection of singles released via Sloan's in-house label.
Sloan started murderecords to release their debut EP, Peppermint, in 1992. They were soon snatched up by major label DGC (home to Nirvana, Weezer, Sonic Youth, and, uh, Nelson) but they kept murderecords going, releasing local bands as the Halifax, NS scene blew up. (Having their own label also came in handy when DGC dropped them after two records.) Mostly run by Jay Ferguson and Chris Murphy, murderecords put out a string of great singles and EPs in the mid-'90s, including ones by Eric's Trip, Jale and Hardship Post, all of whom ended up getting signed to Sub Pop after these local releases. They also released records by Zumpano (AC Newman's pre New Pornographers band), Murphy's other band, The Superfriendz, two of Halifax's best indie rock bands, Thrush Hermit and The Inbreds, and more.
These days, murderecords mainly releases Sloan-related stuff but a few years back as part of a string of reissues, they put out a neat 7"-sized book about the label's singles and it came with one actual piece of vinyl -- The Certain Someones, a supergroup of Chris Murphy, Matt Murphy of The Super Friendz, and Jale's Jennifer Pierce -- plus downloads of the songs from the dozen or so 7" singles the label released from 1993 - 1998. With Sloan celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, they've finally taken their label to Bandcamp and the first offering is this compilation which is the first time these have been available to buy digitally (and only on Bandcamp).
There's a lot of great stuff amongst this comp's 28 songs and among the highlights: Local Rabbits' slackerish "You're Such a Stupid Idiot" (very Butterglory/Pavement); Thrush Hermit's laid back, effortlessly cool "Eye for the Ugly Details"; Sloan and Eric's Trip covering each other; Zumpano doing a great indie rock version of The Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road" (which I forgot about when putting this list together); The Inbreds' Everly-esque "Moustache"; and Hardship Post's grungy "Under the Influence of Meat Puppets II." There's also a few songs by rap act Stinkin' Rich, aka Buck 65 before he was Buck 65.
It would be nice if there was a PDF of the original booklet, but the music itself is pretty great as you can hear:
If you wanna learn more about the music on this comp, Jay & Chris' murderecords podcast talks about it specifically:
Fuzzed Out - "My Own Worst Enemy" / "Sitting With My Back to the Wall (murderecords)
Patrick Pentland from Sloan drops a couple lockdown solo singles that don't fall too far from the tree
Speaking of Sloan... they're a fairly unique band in that all four members write and sing lead. They're all good at it, too, and the equal time policy (or thereabouts) means no one member is bearing the weight of coming up with an album's worth of songs when it's time for a new record. (They're working on one now, by the way.) It also means that some of the more prolific members of the band have a stockpile. Chris Murphy has had a couple other creative outlets over the years, playing in Superfriendz and now as part of TUNS, and Patrick Pentland has just launched solo project Fuzzed Out.
Patrick's songs in Sloan tend to be the big riff rockers -- his AC/DCish "Money City Maniacs" (from Sloan's 1998 album Navy Blues) is a hockey arena staple in Canada -- and he doesn't stray from that style on Fuzzed Out's debut single that's out today on Sloan's murderecords. Both "My Own Worst Enemy" and "Sitting with My Back to the Wall" are super-catchy fist-pumpers. While I miss the extra Sloan flair, like the harmonies Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson might've brought to this, it's cool to get a couple new songs, and know that more are on the way -- both as Fuzzed Out and the new band album that hopefully we'll get this year too.
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