Indie Basement: the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Welcome to September and happy Labor Day Weekend! This week in Indie Basement: Tricky's back with his 14th album Fall to Pieces; UK group Young Knives return with their most bonkers album ever; Throwing Muses are back with their 10th album; UK duo Insides announce their first album in 20 years; Kathleen Hanna-approved Australian band Thibault; and charmingly dour synthpop from Catholic Block.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew looks at Bill Callahan's Gold Record and more in Notable Releases. As for more Basement-approved stuff from this week: you should check out Richard Dawson's synthpop band, Hen Ogledd; and who will buy me this $200 Sade vinyl box set?
Today is also Bandcamp Friday where Bandcamp gives its share of the profits directly to the artists. Most of this week's featured records are on Bandcamp so buy (or preorder) from them.
Have a swell holiday weekend and head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Tricky - Fall To Pieces (False Idols)
The trip-hop vet sounds inspired on his 14th album which brings fresh elements to his signature sound.
“I feel like I’m back,” Tricky says of his new album Fall To Pieces. “I feel like I'm one of the best musicians England's ever had, and it’s time for me to focus on music again, 100%, like how I used to do at the beginning. That competitive thing I used to have when I was younger, like, my music is on a different level that’s how I feel again now."
Tricky has been back for a while, as far as I'm concerned. After losing me for most of the '00s, I've liked pretty much everything he's done this decade, especially since finding vocalist Marta, his best collaborator since Martina Topley-Bird in the '90s. She seems to bring out the best in him, and Fall to Pieces, his 14th album, features some inspired production that brings fresh sonic elements to his distinct sound. "Fall Please," which Tricky says is the closest he's ever come to pop, is especially great, with a shuffle beat, subtle guitar, layers of keyboards and a mesmerizing vocal from Marta. Even without his whispered voice, it's clearly a Tricky song but feels very new. Almost as good, but with a different vibe is "Chills Me to the Bone," a dark number that alternates between manic industrial synths and clanks, and dark, sultry R&B driven by subtle strings.
Fall to Pieces is an especially heavy record, as it's the first he's made since losing Mazy Mina, his daughter with Martina Topley-Bird, who died last year at age 24. Tricky has said in interviews he made this album as a way to deal with the grief, and some songs, like "Thinking Of" and "Hate This Pain" are clearly about his daughter's death. The latter is particularly gripping, the only song on the album where Tricky takes lead vocal, as he lets it all out over a chopped up bit of blues piano: "Was crying, endless coast / Baby girl, she knew me most." Even some of the lighter sounding songs, like the bouncing "I'm in the Doorway," one of two songs on the album to feature vocals by Oh Land, feel weighed down by loss.
If the album suffers from anything, it's brevity. The lion's share of the songs are under three minutes and many are under two. Both "Fall Please" and "Chills Me to the Bone" peace out just when you're getting into the groove. Maybe the circumstances made for a world that Tricky didn't want to linger in, but for the listener, we could fall just a little longer.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Young Knives - Barbarians (Gadzook)
The UK band, led by brothers Henry and Thomas Dartnall, have never made a record anything like this before. Has anyone?
Ashby-de-la-Zouch, UK's Young Knives are intertwined with me and BrooklynVegan -- I was first asked to contribute back in 2008 because I "repeatedly go to see The Young Knives and are excited about Versus reuniting." Back then, the band, led by Henry Dartnall and his brother Thomas (aka House of Lords), were vaguely part of the UK post-punk revival that gave us Futureheads, Bloc Party and The Rakes, but The Young Knives always kind of felt like weirdo outsiders in that scene. "She's Attracted To" (#35 on Vice's kinda mean 50 Greatest Landfill Indie Songs list) from their great debut, Voices of Animals and Men, was miles away from dross like The Paddingtons, Two Door Cinema Club and Cajun Dance Party.
Young Knives are now light years away from pretty much every band on Planet Earth with their way way out there Barbarians, the Dartnalls' first album in seven years. There was always a Wicker Man vibe -- the Christopher Lee original -- to Young Knives, but Barbarians veers a little closer to Nic Cage "HOW'D IT GET BURNED?!?" mania. Not in a bad way but this record is likely to throw everyone for a loop on first listen. Barbarians was inspired by philosopher John Gray’s 2002 book Straw Dogs. "Its key point is that no matter what scientific progress we have made, what advances we have made in our understanding of how the universe works, we have not become better humans, we are no less barbaric," says Henry. "I just thought that it was such an undeniable point; we are obsessed with self and social improvement, but we don’t get any better as human beings. What if cruelty to others is just part of who we are? How do we live with that?”
The record really runs with that idea, both lyrically and musically, taking punk, metal, tribal rhythms, krautrock, Beefheart style blues rock, free jazz, experimental folk, industrial and more into a battle with our Lord of the Flies world. It is not without structure, hooks or choruses (for instance, "Jenny Haniver" is excellent, dark space rock), but Barbarians is intense, off the deep end, and almost entirely lacking in subtlety. But so is 2020. You won't likely forget it.
While you wait for the whole album, you can stream Barbarians' first three tracks:
Throwing Muses - Sun Racket (Fire Records)
Nearly 40 years into their existence, Kristin Hersh's long-running band are still going strong on their 10th album.
Kristin Hersh has been leading Throwing Muses since 1983 and they've maintained the same lineup with original drummer David Narcizo and "new" bassist Bernard Georges since 1992. They've also maintained a consistent sound thanks to Narcizo's unique, (mostly) cymbals-free style, and Hersh's particular melodic sensibilities and voice, which has always had a sinister edge to it. Her vocals have gotten just a little more sinister with age, in a pleasing way, that keeps things eerie and left-of-center even when songs feature "la la la" choruses.
Sun Racket is Throwing Muses'10th album and first in seven years and, following 2013's sprawling, ambitious and willfully scattered Purgatory/Paradise, this is them at their most concise: 10 tracks and 35 minutes of off-kilter indie rock that can still disarm whether it's raging rock ("Dark Blue") or delicate numbers ("Milk at McDonalds"). "There's goldfish in the toilet," Hersh sings on the dark, waltzing "Bywater." "Don't flush it -- it's Freddie Mercury," she continues. "Shiny orange, a mustached amputee heading out to sea." Cue that "la la la" chorus.
Insides - "Ghost Music" (Further Distractions)
First single from ethereal, 4AD-related UK duo's first album in 20 years!
Brighton duo Insides, aka couple Kirsty Yates and Julian Tardo (who had both been in Earwig before that), had a sound that fell somewhere between ethereal synthpop and post-rock. Their 1993 debut album, Euphoria, was released on short-lived 4AD imprint Guernica and mostly ignored at the time, but has rightly become a cult classic. There's an unmoored from time quality that definitely doesn't scream 1993, and you could imagine it coming out now. It's a really lovely album. Copies of Euphoria were trading for more than $100 on sites like Discogs when it got reissued for Record Store 2019 (you can pick up sealed copies of that for cheap). Insides released a 38-minute instrumental "Clear Skin" in 1994, and a second album, Sweet Tip, in 2000 and then were never to be heard from again.
Till now. Yates and Tardo are back with Soft Bonds, their first album in 20 years, which will be out November 6. "We found some things that were recorded along time ago," they write. "We added some things that have been haunting us for years, and recorded some other ideas that we just thought of. Recording started at home in 2012 and continued every now and then in our studio, on trains, on the Greek island of Naxos and while wandering around Cissbury Ring, Chanctonbury Ring and Devi's Dyke in the South Downs. We finally walked away from the recordings in May 2019 and decided to release a small run of CDs and LPs on our own Further Distractions label."
As to what to expect, Insides say "Soft Bonds is about the past haunting the present and gripping onto your crumbling sense of self. It’s informed by the spirit of This Heat / This is Not This Heat, Patty Waters, Annette Peacock, Eartheater, Mhysa, Arthur Russell, Hailu Mergia." Color me interested, Insides. They've shared the first single, "Ghost Music," as a Bandcamp Friday exclusive. Listen to that, and Euphoria, below.
Thibault - Or Not Thibault (Chapter Music)
“Thibault is like if two of my favourite bands, Stereolab and Electrelane, merged together" - Kathleen Hanna. What she said.
Thibault is the new band from Nicole Thibault, who led Australian motorik pop band Minimum Chips in the '90s/00s who were the Down Under openers of choice for bands like Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Pavement, Stereolab and more back in the day. This is her first new music since taking more than a decade off to raise a family, and the new group also includes Parsnip's Rebecca Liston, The Ocean Party's Lachlan Denton and Nicole's former Minimum Chips bandmate, Julian Patterson. They've just released their debut album via Chapter Music (the label run by former Minimum Chips member Guy Blackman).
“Thibault is like if two of my favourite bands, Stereolab and Electrelane, merged together and were made brand new by Nicole’s originality," says Kathleen Hanna, and that's a pretty dead-on description of the music on Or Not Thibault, though the album is also heavy on baroque psych elements, with harpsichord and oboe showing up at various points. It's a warm, inviting and playful album, with no shortage of memorable songs, and Nicole's wistful voice goes perfectly with all of it.
Standouts include the dreamy "Centrelink," the driving, '60s-ish and melodica-fueled "Drama," the wonderfully melancholy (and wonderfully titled) "Late Expectations" and its sequel, "Later Expectations." Nicole doesn't seem to have missed a beat in the last 14 years and it's very nice to have her unique style back in the world.
Catholic Block - "The New Girl" (Maple Death)
Pleasingly mopey synthpop from one half of London's Qlowski
Mickey Tellarini, who fronts London-based Italian duo Qlowski, is gearing up to release his first solo album under the name Catholic Block. Where Qlowski make mutant punk ala early Stranglers, Catholic Block is more on the mopey synthpop tip. According to his label, Mickey made the record, We Fail, "mostly by using a cheap Casio keyboard, a £35 guitar and drum machines," but first single "The New Girl" sounds pretty great. It's the kind of song meant for dancing with tears in your eyes, which could possibly be because a) you're sad, and b) the goth club you're at has the fog machines set to 11.
Mickey cuts a good rug in broad daylight in the song's video which is premiering in this post:
Catholic Block's We Fail is out on cassette and digital on September 18 via Maple Death. Pre-order yours.
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