Indie Basement (3/19): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: US Girls collaborator Jane Inc shines on her debut album; '80s/'90s wiseasses Too Much Joy admit Mistakes Were Made on their first album in over two decades; Australian band Adele & The Chandeliers make irresistible indiepop with a Go-Betweens pedigree; Minneapolis' Real Numbers channel Felt and Field Mice on their new EP; and Jon Savage compiles a two-disc set of music from the anything-goes mid-'70s.
If you need more new album reviews. Andrew looks at Lana Del Rey's Chemtrails in the Sunset and some other stuff in Notable Releases.
And if you need more Basement-approved content from this week, there's new music from Lightning Bug and Charlotte Adigery, The Catenary Wires covered The Human League, and Gruff Rhys announced a new album.
I also interviewed John Lee and Vernon Chatman about their awesomely subversive '00s series Wonder Showzen which has a new Complete Series DVD set and is streaming on Paramount+.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Jane Inc - Number One (Telephone Explosion)
Having played in many notable Toronto groups, Carlyn Bezic steps into the spotlight for an impressive, danceable solo debut
You might know Toronto musician Carlyn Bezic as one half of avant pop duo Ice Cream, a touring member of U.S. Girls, and offshoot/remix Darlene Shrugg, but she also makes proggy dance music on her own as Jane Inc.
The thing that really hits you first on Number One, her debut album, is the bass playing. Up front and muscular, fat, funky and just a little dirty, the basslines are doing a lot of the work here, as the rest of the instrumentation exists in more of an atmospheric way. The keyboards are massive, deep space stuff, complete with those "pew pew" noises favored in the late-'70s disco heyday, but this music is much closer to The Alan Parsons Project than ABBA. Drums are mostly four-on-the-floor, and serve as a bass delivery device, with Carlyn's powerful pipes doing most of the melodic work. The grooves on "Gem" and "Dirt and the Earth" are so good you might catch yourself bass facing while listening.
Number One isn't all dancefloor jams, as Carlyn shows off her many sides: "Steel" is soulful synthrock with some serious shredding; "Bloom Becomes Me" drones and skronks; and "Obliterated" is slinky sci-fi lounge, part Sade and part Stereolab. Despite the disparate styles on display here, Jane Inc presents a unified sound by using the same sonic palette throughout. The record plays like a musical version of its cover, art featuring pictures of Carlyn from different eras and facets of her life, all making up a complete picture of the artist.
Too Much Joy - Mistakes Were Made (People Suck Music)
First album in nearly 25 for this wiseass power-pop band.
“Every great band should be shot,” Too Much Joy once sang, “before they make their Combat Rock." That song from 1988, "Hugo," was an ode to Gang of Four drummer and "ok guy" Hugo Burnham, selling out and living past the sell-by date. The lyric probably should've been "Cut the Crap" but that wouldn't rhyme and few people even remember that The Clash made an album after Combat Rock. I am digressing right out of the gate, but the lyric is also apropos as the ever-snarky band, who have gotten arrested for covering 2 Live Crew in Florida and sued by Bozo the Clown, have just released their first album in nearly 25 years and it's a line that was just waiting to be thrown in their faces. They know it too -- as a preemptive strike they quote it in their press release.
I'm happy to report that Mistakes Were Made is not their Combat Rock, Cut the Crap or even their Hard. It's a new Too Much Joy album and they don't sound worse for wear, and the group still have a way with big, catchy choruses, anthemic power-pop melodies and smart, smartass lyrics. Tim Quirk, Sandy Smallens and Jay Blumenfeld (and the rest of the group) are older and wiser but are still frequently baffled at the world. They're also nervous and angry and depressed as they try and make sense of our current sitch. "We weren't really planning on making another record," the band write in the liner notes. "This album only exists because 2020 sucked so goddamn much."
"Blinding Light of Love" sets the tone for the album, delivering one of their signature beers-aloft, shout-along choruses, but singing about reading bad news on top of bad news: "Push lost long ago to shove / Give us that blinding light of love." Dealing with that bad news drives them to booze ("Something to Drink About") and medication ("Tranq it Up"), and also sends them on a few nostalgia trips ("Camper of the Year," "Pong," and "New Memories"). Too Much Joy are surprisingly sweet on this album ("Not Being You" is charmingly gooey), but they're at their best when a little cynicism and self-deprecation seep in. "Just Around the Bend," which closes the album, is about fooling yourself just a little to make it through another day, and wraps its melancholy in the kind of big hooks The Hold Steady dream of.
For an album that if 2020 had gone another way wouldn't have existed, one that was recorded in various states of lockdown, houses, and studios, Mistakes Were Made holds together well. If the album has a fault, it's bloat. While short of an hour, it still feels a little thick around the middle (don't we all)...which may make this Too Much Joy's Sandinista.
Adele & The Chandeliers - First Date (Pretty Olivia Records)
Not that Adele, this one played in The Go-Betweens has made a wonderfully buoyant solo debut.
Australian musician Adele Pickvance played in The Go-Betweens during their '00s revival and also played in solo bands of Robert Forster and the late Grant McLennan. Turns out she's no slouch at writing and making charming, jangly guitar pop herself, and after years as an in-demand session and live player, Adele is leading her own group, The Chandeliers, and released her debut album at the tail end of 2020.
If you're a fan of Forster and McLennan, seperate or together, just go ahead and hit play, as First Date has that striped sunlight sound running through it, though Adele brings a unique spirit to the record that is entirely her own. There is a bouncy, downright chipper quality to songs like "Treasure," "Breaking All the Rules" and "Something Good is Happening" that is rather infectious. Even if you bristle at words like "winsome" and "affable," these songs are hard to resist, played simply but with style. Adele's bass is flinty and melodic, working in tandem with Scott Mercer's jangly but purposeful guitar and Ash Shanahan's propulsive drumming. She's also fond of peppering things with well-placed "whoo oohs" and other shouts -- this is a fun record.
There's a little early-'80s new wave spirit going on here, too. The witty opener, "German on My MInd" (featuring another Forster collaborator Karin Bäumler), combines Toni Basil, Devo and LIliput into one; "Gourami Fish" has an earworm synth hook; and "Treasure," the album's best song, has a little whiff of The Pretenders. The trio also do a pretty killer cover of Buzzcocks' "Love You More," which works well in The Chandeliers' buoyant style. Effervescent pop like this works best in short doses and, at 32 minutes, Adele never lets the fizz go flat. As a First Date, this is pretty stellar and here's to many more.
Real Numbers - Brighter Then (Slumberland)
Minneapolis group dive deeper into crystalline '80s UK indiepop on this new EP
Led by Eli Hansen, Minneapolis' Real Numbers have been pretty quiet since releasing their excellent debut album five years ago. A lover of '80s indiepop like Television Personalities, Swell Maps and C-86-type groups, Hansen is a very talented songwriter in his own right, while tipping his hat to his heroes. Where 2016's Wordless Wonder worked its magic with shambolic TVP charm, Brighter Then heads further into the '80s indiepop era, making crystalline guitar pop that recalls the early days of Creation and Sarah -- specifically, Maurice Deebank-era Felt, The Field Mice, and The Wake. The title track washes in on the gentlest of waves, "Darling" is a rush of acoustic strumming, brushed drums and "bah dah dah" choruses, and "Old Cross" spins dark fretwork spiderwebs over pounding tom-work drumming. With Hansen's fey voice affecting a hint of a British accent, Brighter Then could pass for a genuine Creation artifact.
Various Artists - Jon Savage's 1972-1976 (Ace Records)
'England's Dreaming' writer Jon Savage looks at the weird, wonderful world of mid-'70s music on this new two-disc comp
One of our best music and culture writers, Jon Savage has penned such indispensable tomes as England's Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock, Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, and 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded. For the latter, Jon teamed up with reissue label Ace Records to create a soundtrack for the book. It was successful and Jon enjoyed doing it, so he and Ace have continued the idea with more compilations like Jon Savage's 1967 - The Year Pop Divided, and Jon Savage's 1969-1971 - Rock Dreams On 45.
The sixth compilation in the series is simply titled Jon Savage's 1972-1976, which covers that weird era that, especially in England, felt like anything goes. That spirit informs this double-disc set that has Jon going from '60s survivors to power pop, to glam rock, pub rock, krautrock, prog, and punk rock, with a few weird detours. Running chronologically, the album connects the dots across 44 tracks, from Little Feat's "Easy to Slip" through The Count Bishops' "Train Train."
It's a wild, winding road, those four years, and the tracklist is seriously impressive, especially for a small label like Ace, including songs by The Move, Alice Cooper, Faust, Flamin' Groovies, Big Star, Free, The Sweet, Lou Reed, John Cale, Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon, The Stooges, Roxy Music, glammy proto-punks The Hammersmith Gorillas, Hawkwind, Dr Feelgood, Brian Eno Neu, Kraftwerk, Jonathan Richman, Pere Ubu, Ramones, The Runaways, Blondie, Joe Strummer's pre-Clash band The 101'ers, Blue Oyster Cult, Nick Lowe, and more. There are also rare photos and extensive liner notes, too, making this like a mixtape history lesson all in one.
Various Artists - Jon Savage's 1972-1976 is out March 26 via Ace and while the label's compilation are never available digitally there's always someone who has put together a Spotify playlist and this one has all but two tracks:
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