Bill’s Indie Basement (1/24): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: Wire remain a creative force on their 17th album, Mind-Hive; Air's Nicolas Godin makes sexy solo bachelor pad music with help from Alexis Taylor, Kadhja Bonet, Kirin J Callinan and more; Parisian indiepop quintet En Attendant Ana are back with their charming second album; the late Rowland S Howard (The Birthday Party, These Immortal Souls) gets his out-of-print 1999 solo debut reissued; and obscure Australian post-punk disco group Use No Hooks get long-lost recordings unearthed for a new compilations.
What else? Andrew reviews the new Wolf Parade and more in Notable Releases. And this was a crazy week for news: Stephen Malkmus is releasing a "folkie" new album (and touring as a trio with Matt Sweeney and Chris Funk); Stereolab will keep the reunion going into this year; so will Can's Damo Suzuki; the Blake Babies reunited briefly in Nashville; and there's new records on the way from BC Camplight, Activity (ex-Grooms), and Nap Eyes, and probably more. This week was a blur. Bring on the weekend!
Few bands have as good a track record as Wire, who've been together (more or less) for 44 years and have continued to release challenging, relevant music with barely a dud in their catalog. (I even like their 1991 very electronic album The First Letter from when they called themselves Wir.) Their late-period creative streak has been going since 2003's Send and continues with their just-released 17th studio album, Mind Hive. While they may not be as aggressively pushing boundaries with every new album like they did in their first 20 years, they have also never gone through the motions, and have honed a sound that pulls from all periods of the band.
Mind Hive opens with "Be Like Them," which sounds like heavy metal for Daleks. Colin Newman never shouts "Exterminate!" but if he had, it wouldn't have sounded out of place. The song actually features recently rediscovered, unused Wire lyrics from 1977 and its themes of assimilation and towing the line ring true today. There are a few other tracks here with that crunchy attack: "Primed and Ready" and "Hung" are from the same taught universe as 154's "A Single K.O." and Graham Lewis delivers a typically malevolent vocal on his sole lead track, "Oklahoma," which contains my favorite lyric on the LP ("I admired your sexy hearse.") Meanwhile, "Cactused" is Wire's poppiest song since "Kidney Bingos," and "Off the Beach" is not far behind. There are also a number of ambient/dreampop numbers, including the absolutely gorgeous closer, "Humming." Even when they mellow, Wire never lose their edge.
Wire will be on tour in March, including two Brooklyn shows.
Elvis Costello famously said* in a 1983 interview with Musician that "writing about music is like 'dancing about architecture' — it’s a really stupid thing to want to do." Writing this column every week, I sometimes feel that. Nicolas Godin, one half of suave French duo Air, has now complicated things, as I'm reviewing his new solo album which is about architecture and you can certainly dance to it. Every song on Concrete and Glass is inspired by an architect and the structures they designed, like the blissed out first single "The Border," which is about Mies van der Rohe who designed the Barcelona Pavilion or "The Foundation" which draws inspiration from Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #21.
My knowledge of architects is limited to my college trip to Fallingwater and watching The Brady Bunch, but I'm not even sure that Frank Gehry would know what these songs are actually about just from listening to them, but that doesn't really take away from the album. Nicolas Godin is still tinkering with the bachelor pad model he started with Air, and doesn't stray too far from that lush environment here. Which is ok! Chances are if you are reading this or listening to the record, you enjoy big analogue synths, vocoder, groovy rhythms/basslines, "sexytime music," lite disco and smooth sounds in general. Few do it better than Godin.
On Concrete and Glass, he's invited some cool guests over for a chic soirée. Alexis Taylor (who's also on the new Holy Fuck LP) turns up on airy R&B number "Catch Yourself Falling," Kadhja Bonet provides layers of harmonies on the ethereal "We Forgot Love," and Kirin J Callinan delivers an unusually restrained vocal (and a ripping '80s-style guitar solo) on excellent slow jam "Time on My Hands." The best song on the album, though, is "Back to Your Heart," which features sultry vocals from Russian singer Kate NV and is the kind of smoky, string-laden, too-slow-to-disco number that Feist dabbled in on Let it Die.
The tracks without guest vocals fall more into typical Air territory, heavy on the robot voices, Moogs and light bongo-ing. Like the buildings he's paying homage to, the album is meticulously designed and sometimes a little too austere, but it's hard not to admire the craft, even if it is difficult to describe.
*Apparently, that quote originally came out of the mouth of the great Martin Mull, but Elvis Costello made it famous. There was actually a movie in the late '90s that was going to be called Dancing About Architecture but they changed the name to the much less interesting Playing by Heart. The 1998 film stars Angelina Jolie, Jon Stewart, Gillian Anderson, Sean Connery, Ryan Phillippe, Ellen Burstyn and Anthony Edwards, and is nearly as generic as its title, and was the last film to get Two Thumbs Down on Siskel & Ebert before Siskel died in February 1999.
Parisian band En Attendant Ana play a distinct brand of jangly indiepop, the kind perfected in the '80s and '90s, mixing winsome lyrics, winsome trumpet, fuzzy organ and strummy guitars. There's a lot of mediocre music in the name of indiepop but, like the cardigan sweaters associated with a lot of it, En Attendant Ana wear it better than most. They just released their second album for Trouble in Mind which is easily their best yet, and is an obvious example of why they succeed where so many slouch.
First: En Attendant Ana write exceedingly catchy songs and then give them interesting, often psychedelic arrangements full of hooks that compliment the melodies. Second: frontwoman Margaux Bouchaudon has a great voice and doesn't shy away from the microphone, can really belt it out but knows when and when not to do so. And third: this band are not as demure as pictures may lead you to believe. They may not own a distortion pedal, but the guitars are louder and less polite than they first seem, and drummer Adrien Pollin is not shy with his instrument. Juillet is is an all-around better record than 2018's Lost and Found which, as that record was terrific, is good news and high praise. Need I mention they sing in English?
Nick Cave gets most of the credit for The Birthday Party, but the late Rowland S. Howard's wild guitar-playing and songwriting prowess is just as intrinsic to their sound. His dark, twangy, swarthy style -- which he would go on to use in Crime & The City Solution and These Immortal Souls -- has influenced countless artists around the world over the last 40 years, including (lately) The Horrors, Courtney Barnett, Fat White Family, RVG and Brooklyn's Bambara (who have cribbed generously and successfully from Howard's style).
A great example of what Howard did so well is his 1999 solo debut, Teenage Snuff Film. which he made with help from his old Birthday Party bandmate Mick Harvey. It's all dark romance, swirling and scratchy strings, blasts of anthemic noise that break out like wildfire, and a general sense of foreboding doom. Plus: an excellent cover Billy Idol's "White Wedding." Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace says Teenage Snuff Film is her favorite album of all time, and it's been out of print pretty much since it was released. Original copies of the double vinyl album fetch upwards of $500!
Thankfully, it'll soon be back on wax (and on CD and digital), including it's first-ever North American release, on March 6 via Fat Possum. The reissue is on double vinyl, with the 10 songs spread across three sides and an etching of a Rowlands illustration on the fourth. Preorder yours and don't sleep.
Melbourne, Australia's Use No Hooks were part of the city's renowned Little Band scene, forming in 1979 but morphed into nine piece disco-funk band by 1983 that recalled Talking Heads, Captain Sensible's solo material, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, The Human League...and take your pick of Brooklyn 2004. The group included frontman Stuart Grant (who also led Melbourne synthpunks Primitive Calculators) who traded vocals with Denise Hilton, Marisa Stirpe and Wendy Morrissey, as well as drummer Arne Hanna who would go on to be in INXS frontman Michael Hutchence's late-'80s group Max Q. Despite being around for five years, Use No Hooks released almost no recordings, only showing up on a 1981 cassette compilation.
That is not to say they didn't go in the studio. Chapter Music put the infectious, unreleased "Do The Job," from their disco period, onto the Can't Stop It! #2 Australian post-punk compilation in 2007, and then Psychemagik put the song on their Diabolical Synthetic Fantasia in 2013. Now, Chapter Music is releasing the first-ever Use No Hooks compilation, The Job: Lost Recordings 1979-1983, which will be out March 6. The core of the album is a five-song recording session from 1983 -- that included "Do the Job" -- that sat on a shelf for 35 years, which has now been mixed and mastered by Mikey Young (Total Control/Eddy Current Suppression Ring), and supplemented with live show and rehearsals recordings. It's pretty infectious stuff and you can check out "Do the Job" and "The Hook" below: