Indie Basement (6/24): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Are you ready for the summer? it's here, officially, and we've got a big week of releases, including new albums from Hollie Cook, Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Seattle indie rock stalwarts BOAT, LA minimal wave trio Automatic, Tim Heidecker (ft Kurt Vile, Eric D Johnson, more), Air's JB Dunckel, Young Guv (former Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook), Art D'Ecco, Stealing Sheep, and a collection of late-'70s Wire demos. Eleven albums in all, the biggest week in the basement so far this year.
It's just as big a week in Notable Releases with Andrew reviewing new albums from Soccer Mommy, Zola Jesus, Joan Shelley and more. If you need more Basement-related stuff: Stereolab announced a fifth (and possible final) volume of their Switched On series and Thor Harris has made a dub reggae album.
You should also check out out the Indie Basement corner of the BV shop, which is stocked to the gills with hand-picked vinyl, books and merch featuring such artists as Pavement, Wet Leg, Beach House, Stereolab, The Clash, Fontaines DC, Horsegirl, My Bloody Valentine, Aldous Harding, Nada Surf, Parquet Courts, The Cribs, Lilys, Cocteau Twins, Broadcast and lots more.
Head below for all of this week's many, many album reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Hollie Cook - Happy Hour (Merge)
Hollie Cook comes into her own on her easy, breezy beautiful fourth album
Hollie Cook's 2018 album Vessel of Love was her first for Merge and also her first not produced by Prince Fatty. While still within her particular blend of lovers rock, the album was a stylistic turn for Cook, who left behind the lush strings of her first two albums in favor of a more horn-centric sound. Any record with Hollie's angelic vocals and harmonies (and songs) at the center is going to be good, but the arrangements brought things a little closer to earth. Not so with Happy Hour, which reintroduces the string section but also keeps the horns around, making for a very happy medium.
Happy Hour is the first album Hollie's made with her live band, and there's a warm sense of comfort throughout these nine breezy tracks, not to mention confidence. “I used to definitely lean on my producers (Prince Fatty and Youth), but my vision was always to write and produce with my band,” Hollie says. “We are a circle of trust.” There's a little more bounce, too, like on "Move My Way" which adds Soca rhythms to the mix, and the steel drum-inflected "Kush Kween" that features vocals from Jah9. Meanwhile, "Gold Girl" has the orchestral sweep of a great Bond theme, and "Full Moon Baby" and "Unkind Love" are terrific showcases for her pop songwriting skills. This is a perfect summer album and Hollie's honeyed harmonies remain the star, but Happy Hour is the sound of Cook truly finding her own voice, and cheers to that.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Martin Courtney - Magic Sign (Domino)
Magic hour guitar pop served with wistful nostalgia on the Real Estate frontman's second solo album
Nostalgia runs deep through Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney's second solo album, Magic Sign, and it's there even if you don't understand a word he sings. It's there in the warm melodies flecked with minor chords, the washes of synth over the strumming acoustic guitars and, especially, the pedal steel. Is there a more inherently nostalgic instrument? Like filming at magic hour, pedal steel adds instant "feels" production value. It's not a cheap move, and is deployed sparingly on Magic Sign, tugging at your own memories while Courtney shares his, from being hopelessly lost just miles from home in New Jersey ("Corncob"), to bike rides in 1999 ("Merlin"), and loves lost (the Stonesy "Living Rooms"). The album, which he made with The Walkmen's Matt Barrick, isn't totally stuck in the "basement of my mind," but the wistful vibe is present even in the songs about the present and the hope of the future. Like his teenage years driving around New Jersey, he doesn't stray too far from home -- these could've been Real Estate songs -- but there are some new roads he goes down, like on "Sailboat" which is the closest Courtney has ever come to "rocking" (in a Gin Blossoms-y way). But we don't need innovation with songs as satisfying as these.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Fire Doesn't Grow On Trees (A Recordings)
One of the BJM's most focused album in a while, not to mention best decorated
Fire Doesn't Grow on Trees is the 19th album from The Brian Jonestown Massacre and the first from them in three years. If you think the pandemic slowed svengali Anton Newcombe down, though, he's been as prolific as ever, maybe more. In 2020 he released upwards of 60 new songs recorded in his Berlin recording studio via his YouTube page, and has kept going since. What we're getting here is the pick of the litter, 10 doses of concentrated BJM that show that, 32 years into the group, Newcombe has few peers when it comes to this style of fuzzed-out psychedelia. This is an especially groovy album, with maracas-heavy drumming, very frug-able basslines and that combination of acoustic rhythm guitar and fuzzed out leads that never doesn't sound great. Anton has always known what he wants, sonically, and he really nails it here. Beyond the sound, Fire Doesn't Grow on Trees has some of his most memorable songs in a while, including "It's About Being Free Really," the gently swaying "What's In A Name?," the wonderfully defiant "Silenced," and the awesomely named "Ineffable Mindfuck." Add to that one of the best-ever BJM album covers and you've got a real keeper. Don't get too comfortable, either: there's another album due out this year.
Automatic - Excess (Stones Throw)
Less is more with this L.A. trio's second album that takes a look at the Big '80s era
The kind of minimal synth post-punk that L.A. trio Automatic make is a real high-wire act, requiring a delicate balance of hooks, knowledge of the sounds within this hyper-specific style, and a Coco Channel-like ability to get everything perfect and then take one thing away. Luckily these three are expert tightrope walkers who also bring attitude and heaps of style to the equation. Excess is not something they suffer from in their music, but it is the title of their second album which betters their debut in every corner. Singer/guitarist Izzy Glaudini says it's "about what happens to our psyches when we’re conditioned to certain values, the consequences of those values, and a desire to resist them." They also say the album takes inspiration from the early '80s -- "That fleeting moment when what was once cool quickly turned and became mainstream, all for the sake of consumerism" and there are obvious parallels to 2022. There are some obvious sonic cues here - opening cut "New Beginning" sounds like an homage to Cabaret Voltaire's "Nag Nag Nag" -- but Automatic twist them to their own means and the album is overflowing with disaffected bangers. Excess? More, please.
Art d'Ecco - After the Head Rush (Paper Bag)
Glammy Canadian artist Art D'Ecco crafts a towering ode to the '80s
If Automatic hadn't already laid claim to it, "Excess" would've been a perfect title for the fourth album from Victoria, BC"s Art D'Ecco. While his interest in glam is still all over things, After the Head Rush is an album in love with the Big '80s. "I wanted to produce a big, bright, sparkly album," Art says. "Along the lines of something you hear in a Tears For Fears or Peter Gabriel record, or something Bob Clearmountain would have mixed in the '80s." Maximalist mission accomplished, from the ringing, chorus-drenched guitars of "Palm Slave," to the popping bass and wailing sax of the very Duran Duran-esque "Only Ones," to the photo of Art on the cover that could've been a Japan or Associates press shot circa 1982. His ability to recreate those Reagan/Thatcher-era sounds is as impressive as is his ability to write his own great songs around them.
BOAT - No Plans to Stick the Landing (Magic Marker Records)
The latest album from these Seattle indie rock daredevils features appearances from The Feelies, Karl Blau and more
Evel Knievel, the '70s icon and motorcycle daredevil, was better known for his failures than his successes. If you remember him at all, it's probably for his 1974 attempt at jumping Snake River Canyon on a rocket bike where his parachute accidentally deployed on launch and he landed at the bottom of the canyon just a few feet forward in front of the ramp. But his need to get back on the bike, no matter how many bones he'd just broken, fits right in with Seattle band BOAT's equally indefatigable spirit, not to mention their love of Gen-X touchstones (like the Evel Knievel stunt bike, one of the '70s' best toys). His likeness graces the cover of their new album, No Plans to Stick the Landing, which is a great title that fits in nicely alongside a discography that includes Let's Drag Our Feet, Pretend to Be Brave and "Life Is A Shipwreck, We Must Remember To Sing In The Life Boats." Singer and guitarist D Crane has a seemingly unending supply of super-hooky indie rock anthems about beautiful losers who try and fail but keep getting back up. This is a little bit different for BOAT, though, in a few different ways. They move beyond the '90s a bit, working in some '70s influences and the album, made remotely during lockdown, also features a few notable guests, including Glenn Mercer (The Feelies), LAKE, Kevin Hairs and more. Their presence is minimal apart from Karl Blau who sings lead on "Dog Days" -- he also came up with the album title -- and No Plans to Stick the Landing is first and foremost a BOAT album, and another very good one at that. Self deprecation may be their thing, but they should give themselves a little more credit!
Stealing Sheep - WOW Machine (Both Sides Records)
Liverpool art pop trio's latest is a companion piece to their 2018 collaborative art installation
Back in 2018, Liverpool artpop trio Stealing Sheep created music for an art installation called WOW Machine that was shown at the Great Exhibition of the North. A real audio-video experience, it featured "hocket style vocals, synchronized robotic dancers and a light up mechanical stage." Now the music from the installation has been released as an album. More of a curio than a proper studio release, it falls somewhere between their 2021 collaboration with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and 2019's Big Wows. Designed as "a listening experience that is intended to transport an audience and take them on a journey," it doesn't quite work without all the experiential elements, but there are some cool tracks here, like the bubbly "Synthetic Love Machine," "Pressure," and "Replicate" that mainly make you wish you'd seen the WOW Machine in action.
Wire - Not About to Die (Studio Demos 1977-1978 (Pinkflag)
Long bootlegged, this compilations of 'Chairs Missing' and '154' demos gets an official release
Not About To Die features Wire demos for their second and third albums -- 1978's Chairs Missing and 1979's 154 -- that were recorded for EMI. Cassettes that circulated within the label at the time made their way to the bootleg market in the '80s and became a sought-after release even if the sound quality, made from dubs of dubs, was murky. Wire have now given Not About to Die an official release, remastering the tracks from the original sources and recreating the bootleg's sleeve but making it sharper & clearer as well. (These may be demos but they were recorded in an actual studio.) Wire were evolving at such a fast rate in their initial late-'70s period, and the differences between these demos and the album recordings can be dramatic. We get nascent versions of classics like "French Film Blurred," "Being Sucked in Again," "I Should Have Known Better," "On Returning," "Two People in a Room," and more. The songs that would end up on 154, an album where electronics would play a major role, are the most revelatory: for example, this version "The Other Window" is much more in line with the minimal punk of Chairs Missing or Pink Flag than the droney, bleak and very synthy song it would become. For fans, this is a crucial document of a band that has rarely looked backwards. So many of these tracks are titled "fifth demo" or "sixth demo" -- who knows what still may be in Wire's vaults.
Pick up Not About to Die on vinyl.
Young Guv: GUV IV (Run for Cover)
More jangly guitar pop goodness from former Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook
Former Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook continues to be wildly prolific with his powerpop solo project Young Guv. Like GUV III, which was released earlier this year, GUV IV was written and mostly recorded while Cook found himself unexpectedly living in Taos, NM during the first wave of Covid. Free from his routine -- or any routine -- in the land of hippie crystals gave him time to explore his mellower side and GUV IV is loaded with jangly soft rock / power pop that falls somewhere between The Raspberries and Bread (by way of Big Star and The dB's). The gorgeous "Change You Mind" is just waiting to be set to a sailboat montage. Ben is also having fun with this one, incorporating baggy Manchester rhythms ("Overcome"), garage sale keyboards ("Cry 2 Sleep"), synthpop ("Nervous Around U") and Byrdsy twang ("Maybe I Should Luv Somebody Else") into his repertoire, all of which sound right at home.
JB Dunckel - Carbon (Prototyp Recording)
The Air co-founder once again watches the stars
Outer space has been a longtime fascination of Jean-Benoît Dunckel. His band Air named their debut album Moon Safari, had singles titled "Kelly Watch the Stars" and "Surfing on a Rocket," and composed a new soundtrack to Georges Méliès' groundbreaking 1902 film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon). He takes another trip to outer space with Carbon, Dunckel's new solo album that explores ideas of humankind's place and insignificance in the grander scheme of the cosmos, as well as the titular element that is a building block of all life on earth. There are the kind of lush, groovy mood pieces, laden in synths, strings, harpsichords and vocoder, you'd expect ("Zombie Park," "Sex UFO," "Space") but there's a strong krautrock influence, too, from Neu! ("Corporate Sunset") to Kraftwerk ("Dare"). Carbon also has more lyrical content than you might expect from the co-creator of single-line hits like "Sexy Boy." "Time runs slower wherever the gravity is strongest," he ponders while watching the stars...and maybe toking on a joint. "The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion."
Tim Heidecker - High School (Spacebomb)
Tim travels back to high school on this sweet, sincere trip down memory lane.
Having released six albums, many of which have featured some of the biggest names in indie rock, it should be clear by now that comedian Tim Heidecker's musical career is no joke. His new album High School is a sweet, sincere piece of pure nostalgia. There are tales of mowing lawns, getting high while listening to Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine, wondering what the future will bring, the girl that got away, and the fuckup friend who never made it out alive. (Yes it might make good back to back listening with Martin Courtney which is higher up today's column.) Musically, Tim favors the sounds of the year of his birth (1976), taking a little Petty, a little Dylan, and maybe a little Eagles. He gets help this time from Fruit Bats/Bonny Light Horseman's Eric D Johnson, Lana Del Rey collaborator Drew Erickson and Mac DeMarco -- who all get co-producer credit with Tim -- and Kurt Vile shows up for "Sirens of Titan" that's got a smoldering Don Henley "Boys of Summer" synth-rock vibe to it. These stories are so vivid, High School would also make a good stage musical, though in that case it might need a few actual jokes. That shouldn't be a problem for Tim.
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.
And check out what's new in our shop.