Indie Basement (11/6): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
In a year of "what a week!" weeks, this has been the most "WHAT A WEEK!" weeks yet? If you're able to listen to music during all this election insanity, I've got a full bingo card of new music for you, and more than a few of these might actually soothe your nerves: UK band Tunng thoughtfully explore death and grief on their new album; Huggy Bear's Chris Rawley is back with Adulkt Life, his first new band in 26 years (featuring members of Male Bonding, too); Pylon's great first two albums have been reissued and they've got a box set, too; Lodge 49 composer Andrew Carroll releases an EP of wonderfully orchestrated psych-pop; Grass Widow's Raven Mahon and Total Control's Mikey Young give birth to their second album as The Green Child; The Spits return with their first album in nearly a decade; and Oakland indiepop vets Lunchbox release their first album for Slumberland.
It's also the November edition of Bandcamp Friday, where the digital music service waives their cut of the fees, giving more to the artists. Ever record this week is available from Bandcamp and don't forget you can buy physical copies through it, too. Support your favorite artists who can't tour right now due to the pandemic.
If you need more new album reviews, head to Andrew's Notable Releases.
This week's reviews are below.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Tunng Presents...DEAD CLUB (Full Time Hobby)
UK folktronica vets explore death and grief on this new album that was so well-researched they also made a companion podcast.
UK "folktronic" group Tunng have tackled a very heavy subject for their new album: death and grief. Inspired by Max Porter's novel Grief is The Thing with Feathers, Sam Genders and the rest of Tunng researched the subject for two years, interviewing everyone from philosophers and physicians to poets and forensic anthropologists. That research informed the lyrics, and they also got Porter to write two prose pieces for the record. The project also grew too big to just be an album, it also became an eight-part podcast where Genders and bandmate Becky Jacobs share those interviews.
In other artists' hands Dead Club could be overly heavy, not to mention heavy-handed, but as usual, Tunng bring their light touch, thoughtful nature and just a little dark humor to the table. "Death is the new sex, everybody’s talking about it," they sing on "Death is the New Sex," finishing the couplet with "Death is the new sex, coming soon to fuck us all." It's set to an autumnal, minor chord melody, mixing glitchy synths with acoustic guitars and Genders and Jacobs' harmonies. Having played in this style for nearly 20 years, Tunng have refined it so that the electronics sound natural, modern and evergreen.
Elsewhere, death takes a role in love song "A Million Colors," with Genders singing "I can feel how the air would survive me not there...But you, I can't quite imagine you gone. You a million bright colours all strewn about / Your old stories such ramshackle bliss / Your pale radiant skin and unending kiss." Other songs mix in clips of those interviews they conducted. "The Last Day," which is about savoring what you have while you're here, includes British forensic expert Sue Black who says "it's not about waiting for something to come, what a waste of a life if what you're worrying about is what's going to come at the other end and where you're going to go," adding "I firmly believe the lightswitch is off" at which point the clattering percussion kicks in. The interviews and Porter's spoken word pieces might seem a little clunky on paper; it is a bit of a forced conceit, but the band make it work. Death can be depressing but Tunng are embracing life.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: The Green Child - Shimmering Bassett (Upset the Rhythm)
Second album from synth-folk duo of Raven Mahon (Grass Widow) and Mikey Young (Total Control)
The Green Child began as a long distance duo with former Grass Widow guitarist Raven Mahon in California and Total Control's Mikey Young in Australia, but now they live together in the seaside town of Rye, just outside of Melbourne, where it's much easier to make beautiful music together. Shimmering Bassett, their second album, sounds like it was born from the ocean, too, with gentle waves of synthesizers washing against a beach of guitars and Raven's siren song voice floating atop. Everything feels just a little off center, giving the album a surreal vibe that is equal parts dreamstate and wistful melancholia. There are some wonderful folky electropop songs here, like "Low Desk, High Shelf" and "Wintess," and "Tony Bandana" is rock enough to have been a Grass Widow track, but most of the album drifts pleasantly just above the horizon, fading ambiently into the sunset.
Pylon - Gyrate / Chomp / Box (New West)
At long last, Athens, GA's post-punk cult heroes' first two albums get reissued, both on their own and part of a terrific box set.
Pylon were not together for all that long -- they broke up in 1983 right before their hometown of Athens, GA really blew up as a hip music hub -- but have proven to be one of the city's more influential acts, and you can feel their shadow on groups like R.E.M. (who covered Pylon's "Crazy"), Deerhunter, Sleater-Kinney, Beat Happening and more, not to mention the whole early-'00s Brooklyn scene. (DFA actually reissued Pylon's debut album on CD in 2007.) Their jittery, danceable sound was decidedly post-punk and akin to Gang of Four (with whom they toured) but they did it in their own decidedly southern-fried way, be it the twang the late Randall Bewley slipped into his riffs, or Vanessa Briscoe-Hay's distinctive growl.
Influential as they are, it's been hard to hear Pylon's music over the last decade. The band's first two albums -- 1980's Gyrate and 1983's Chomp -- have been out of print on vinyl since their original pressings and their albums were unavailable for years on streaming services. That has changed though, as New West has just given Gyrate and Chomp new reissues that were remastered from the original tapes and they sound (and look) great. I love both records, but if you had to pick just one, I'd give the edge to Chomp, which was produced by the dB's Chris Stamey & Gene Holder, and adds just a little more melody to their signature sound. It's also got a cool dinosaur on the cover.
Both Gyrate and Chomp are also part of a terrific box set, also out today, that includes two discs of rare and unreleased tracks. The first is titled Extra and includes their essential debut single "Cool/Dub," the single version of "Crazy," as well also alternate versions and mixes of a few other songs, and some live tracks too. The second bonus disc is the Razz Tape, which is a recording session with Chris "Razz" Rasmussen that predates their debut single and includes early recordings of tracks like "Cool," "Feast of My Heart," and "The Human Body," plus a few songs that never made it on a studio album, like "Modern Fashion Woman" which shows up here in two different versions. It's raw but there's a real electricity to it and if you're a fan you'll definitely want to hear these recordings.
The vinyl edition of Box is sold out via the label and Bandcamp, but you can still pick it up via indie record stores like Rough Trade.
Addendum: As much as I love those two albums, I do wish they'd do a double-LP vinyl version of 1989 best-of Hits, as it's got pretty much everything you want -- the best of Gyrate and Chomp, plus singles "Cool," "Dub," and more -- all in one place. Also Pylon's 1990 reunion album Chain is very good too and while it's not on streaming services, used copies (including vinyl) can be gotten for cheap.
Adulkt Life - Book Of Curses (What's Your Rupture?)
Former Huggy Bear member Chris Rowley teams up with members of Male Bonding for his first record since his band broke up in the '90s.
Chris Rowley was a member of Huggy Bear, the great UK "boy/girl revolutionaries" who were doing much the same thing as the riot grrrl scene in the US at the same time. Huggy Bear called it quits in 1994 and Rowley dropped out of the music scene and has lived fairly off the grid since. (According to the press release, he still doesn't own a cellphone.) He remained a voracious music fan though, spending a lot of time at London's Rough Trade record stores, where in the early '00s he struck up a conversation with one of their clerks, John Arthur Webb, who played in Male Bonding. They became friends, and talk turned to making music together. Webb drafted in his former bandmate Kevin Henrick, and then they brought in another Rough Trade staffer, Sonny Barrett (who was born a couple years after Huggy Bear Broke up), on drums. Rowley found himself excited by playing music again -- "Any instincts I might have had to say, "Why would I want to do that at this point?' stopped because it was so much fun" -- and Adulkt Life was born.
Rowley doesn't sound any less hyper or angry than he did 26 years ago, spitting out shards of lyrical invectives, be it an ode to Nation of Ulysses ("Steve K"), a screed against capitalism ("Room Context") or a searing indictment of child abusers ("JNR Showtime"). Webb and Henrick bring the similar discordant punk riffage they did to Male Bonding, though the rawer edge here at times recalls Sonic Youth. Though Rowley is in his mid-50s (Webb's in his 40s), Book Of Curses feels born out of excitement and having something to say. "We’re not chasing after being young," Rowley says. "As you get older, there’s always going to be an obstacle. There’s always going to be an enemy. There’s always going to be that grasp at something transcendent. It doesn’t change when you’re 60 and 70 --it’s the same." It's good to have him back.
Andrew Carroll - You Are Here EP (self-released)
Wonderful, lush, baroque psych pop from the guy who did the score for 'Lodge 49'
AMC's Lodge 49 was a weird, wonderful television series that somehow lasted two seasons despite not being especially plot-driven or fast-paced, instead owing more to David Lynch's more whimsical moments of Twin Peaks, or CBS' eccentric early-'90s series Northern Exposure. Part of Lodge 49's charm was the soundtrack, that was loaded with tracks by Broadcast, Lilys, The Soundcarriers and obscure '60s groups. Similarly, Andrew Carroll's Lodge 49 score was like a lost exotica record from the '60s, all swooning strings and groovy basslines. If you liked his score, you'll definitely dig Carroll's excellent new EP that takes him further into that lush sound, while exploring pop and new sonic territory.
The EP features saxophonist Sam Gendel who has played on records by Perfume Genius, Lonnie Hollie and others (and who released two of his own albums via Nonesuch this year), and Carroll says had "such a unique sound" that it "really helped shape the vibe of the record." Gendel's on all three tracks, but you can really feel it on closer "Hackers in Love" which begins with a five-part sax arrangement that lifts you off the ground, and then sends out into outer space as the song progresses and features two dueling, very psychedelic solos.
The two songs that precede it are decidedly more pop. "Here and Now" starts off dreamy but builds and builds to cinemascope levels of orchestration, while "Vitamin C," floats on the kind of beat you could imagine A Tribe Called Quest using in 1991, with vibes, strings and sax glowing around Carroll's harmony vocals. Somebody hire him to write a Bond theme.
The Spits - VI (Thriftstore Records)
Michigan greats' first album in nearly a decade is a lean, mean, mutant punk sneer machine.
Some bands you don't want to ever change, especially when records are few and far between. Michigan punk greats The Spits are just such a band, and they just released their first album in nearly a decade, which was made in various basements in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. "We’ve only been into an actual studio like three times," says the band's Sean Wood. "I don’t think we’ve had one record that was recorded all in one place, this may be the closest thing." Sean also said they took their time with this one, but it sounds like it was recorded in an afternoon. That is not a slight -- VI is a 10-song, 17-minute burner. No solos, just hooks and attitude. Spits songs are like The Ramones and The Damned dipped in battery acid, with the instruments all kind of melted together and the singing as adenoidal as it gets. Actually there is one solo -- on the album's catchiest song, the new wavey "Out of Time," -- and it lasts four and a half seconds. That blink-and-you'll-miss-it style carries through the whole record which blasts by so quick you might accidentally let it play through twice before realizing it. And then you'll listen again 'cause you wanna.
Lunchbox - After School Special (Slumberland)
Winsome, jangly indiepop like they used to make it, complete with the Slumberland seal of approval.
Oakland, CA's Tim Brown and Donna McKean have been making chipper indiepop as Lunchbox since the mid-'90s, drawing inspiration from '60s bubblegum pop, mod and psych, the jangly C-86 scene, punk, and more. After School Special is their first album in six years as well as their first for Slumberland and the group and the label are a perfect fit. This is bright, winsome pop that is overflowing with hooks, horns and "bah bah bah" choruses. If you're a fan of Swedish bands The Cardigans and Eggstone, or have ever attended a "popfest" you may already own this album.
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