Bill’s Indie Basment (6/20): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Welcome to a special Saturday edition of Indie Basement. This week: Wire rework older material into something new; Joe Pernice finds the lonely in solo; Oh Sees' John Dwyer pays tribute to cult artist Michael Yonkers; New Order, Moby, Anna Calvi, Hayden Thorpe, Jon Hopkins and more contribute tracks to a new compilation benefiting Alzheimer's research; and Kevin Hairs is back with a new single.
It's not the biggest week in Indie Basement but over at Notable Releases, Andrew is overflowing with reviews, including Phoebe Bridgers, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Roy Ayers. If you need more Basement-approved stuff: Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine's Jim Bob has a new record on the way; Doves just released their first single in a decade (it's very good); so did Fiery Furnaces (it's also good); CREEM magazine is getting a documentary; the new SAULT is fantastic; Mekons' surprise new album sounds pretty good on first listen; and Brian Eno & John Cale's great 1990 album Wrong Way Up is getting reissued.
Wire - 10:20 (Pink Flag)
The ever-evolving Wire offer up radically transformed versions of older material; despite dating from two distinct periods of the band, it holds together as its own entity.
Wire have never been ones for looking back. When they reformed in the '80s they got a Wire cover band, Ex Lion Tamers, to open for them on tour so they wouldn't have to play songs from their first three albums. When they do revist older material, they are prone to transforming it, like on 1989's IBTABA. Forty-plus years into their existence they're still doing it. Having already released a new studio album this year, they're back with 10:20 that is based on this premise:
When Wire plays live there are, in the main, three classes of piece: new songs, old songs and 'new old' songs. The latter often involves taking something that existed on a previous release and re-working it, very often evolving a stage highlight from it. There also pieces that have never seen a major release but for some reason never fitted on an album.
The reworked songs on 10:20 represent Wire from two different eras -- one relating to Red Barked Tree and recorded in 2010, and another relating to Mind Hive and released in 2020. The album works both as terrific new record and one that will be especially of interest to fans. This was originally intended as a Record Store Day 2020 exclusive but when COVID-19 messed everything up, they smartly decided to give it a proper release.
The first four songs, from 2010, are from when Margaret Fielder (of Laika) was a member of the group. "Boiling Boy," originally on 1988's A Bell is a Cup Until it is Struck, becomes lean and sinewy, slithering like a moray eel along to Graham Lewis' bassline and Robert Grey's precision drumming. "German Shepherds," a b-side from the same era that was already reworked for IBTABA, now becomes a second cousin twice removed to 154's "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W." "He Knows," a song that was a late-'00s live staple that never made it to an album, is Wire in creepy mode; and "Underwater Experiences" is full-on punk, that actually dates from their '70s era, powered by an ambulance siren guitar riff.
The 2020 side features the Wire lineup that's been constant for the last 10 years (Newman, Lewis, Grey and former It Hugs Back frontman Matthew Simms). "Over Theirs," originally on 1986's great The Ideal Copy, becomes a piledriver; "The Art of Persistence," which could be the title of Wire's biography, is another great "lost" song; and "Small Black Reptile" saves a great song from 1990's uninspired Manscape, giving it a much more immediate arrangement (two two versions might as well be totally different songs).
Despite the two sides being made a decade apart, 10:20 holds together remarkably well and is another fine entry in one of the most consistent discographies of the last 43 years.
Joe Pernice - Richard (Ashmont)
Joe Pernice strips things down to the bare minimum on this mostly acoustic collection of regret-tinged songs.
While The Pernice Brothers have made many excellent lush, highly orchestrated albums over the years, you can tell that most of Joe Pernice's songs start with an acoustic guitar. He's got the kind of honeyed voice -- and literate songcraft -- that doesn't need much embellishing to get the point across. That's clear on his new solo album, Richard, which is pretty much just Joe and his guitar.
Maybe it's the directness of the presentation, but Richard is an especially sad record, with little of Pernice's dark humor to cut the pain this time. Nearly every song is tinged in regret, whether it's "wasting away my life with you" on twisted love song "Long Black Shadow," or album opener "Starry Clown" where "every sorrow's easy and spurious love survives." Even the "la-las" on "Sullivan Street," set against delicate horns, sound like a lament.
Two back-to-back songs are especially crushing. "Spend This Mountain" finds him trying to put on a brave face against a terrible loss. "When they woke me with the news, man I wish I'd never come to," he sings, and I have to wonder if this one's about his close friend David Berman. The other gut-punch is Richard's title track where Pernice wishes he'd done more to befriend a bullied LGBTQIA kid that, with its refrain of "always alone, always to be alone" and Joe's slight British-y accent, sounds like it could've been an early Smiths b-side.
Joe is, as always, in baroque pop mode, melody-wise, which is tailor suited to his voice, with a few cowboy ballad touches -- nylon string guitar, harmonica -- that also fit the songs perfectly. "Solo" has rarely sounded so lonesome and beautiful.
Damaged Bug - Bug Out Yonkers (Castle Face)
Oh Sees' frontman John Dwyer pays tribute to cult psych artist Michael Yonkers; it'll make you want to seek out the original artifact
Minneapolis' Michael Yonkers is a cult legend who pushed psych-rock further into the red than many had before on his 1968 album Microminiature Love, which was reissued, some 30 years later, first by Dej Stijl and then Sub Pop. On that and other albums, you can hear the seeds of the early '00s garage rock revival, and Yonkers was a clear influence on groups like Black Lips, Oh Sees and current Minneapolis band The Blind Shake with whom he's made records.
Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer is an especially big fan and has just released an album of Yonkers covers under his Damaged Bug solo alias, though in this case he's backed by current Oh See Tom Dolas, and former bandmates Nick Murray and Brigid Dawson. "This record was recorded as a way to reboot and reconnect with some songs that have heavily inspired me over the years," says Dwyer. "It was hard to pick from his vast catalog, so I just sort of jumped in, and these are the tunes that stuck to the wall."
I don't claim to know much about Yonkers, but this record is good. Unlike some of the other Damaged Bug records (which can be on the esoteric side), Bug Out Yonkers is very approachable and could easily pass for an Oh Sees record. You can tell Dwyer is having a blast with this and the production / arrangements are great, with out-there synths and the occasional flute solo alongside wigged out guitar work. Originally a Record Store Day 2020 exclusive, Bug Out Yonkers has been bumped up to a proper release, which is good. If you're like me, it will send you immediately to the internet to learn more about Yonkers' wild world.
Various Artists - The Longest Day - A Benefit for the Alzheimer's Association (Mon Amie)
New Order, Anna Calvi, Hayden Thorpe & Jon Hopkins, TR/ST, and more contribute exclusive tracks to this benefit album for a worthy cause.
A whole lot of great artists have contributed exclusive tracks to this new compilation that benefits Alzheimer's research. Comps like this are by nature hit and miss, but this one has lots of hits. Among them: New Order resuscitate the '80s "extended mix" for a nine-minute version of "Nothing But a Fool," the best song on Music Complete; new Mute signing HAAi's spooky, throbbing, sultry "Drumting"; Astronauts, Etc.'s deep shag bachelor pad track "The Border" (shades of Air); and smoldering garage number "Friday the 13th" from Wolfmanhattan Project (aka Gories' Mick Collins, Kid Congo Powers and Sonic Youth's Bob Bert).
There's also Hayden Thorpe & Jon Hopkins' haunting cover of "Goodbye Horses" by enigmatic cult artist Q-Lazzarus, a song that Jonathan Demme used first in Married to the Mob and then again, to much more memorable effect, in Silence of the Lambs. This cover was originally released in 2013 on the b-side of a repress of Q-Lazzarus' original, but hasn't been available for five years. With used copies going for big bucks on Discogs, it's reason enough to pick this up. There's also tracks from Moby (an Eno-esque instrumental, very nice), Beach Slang (a nice if wrote cover of The Church's "Under the Milky Way"), TR/ST, Anna Calvi, Daniel Avery, and more.
The Longest Day is a very personal project. Mona Dehghan, who runs Mon Amie Records, lost her grandmother to Alzheimer's in 1998 and her father was diagnosed with dementia last year. The artwork and photography is by BrookynVegan contributor Ebru Yildiz who documented her mother's journey with Alzheimer's. Those who preorder by July 7 will have the option to include a tribute name in the liner notes to honor a loved one affected by dementia. In any case, it's not on streaming services, so pick this one up and support Alzheimer's research.
Kevin Hairs - "House of 1000 Roommates / Clean Punk" ++ "Subdued in the VCU" Video
Brooklyn indiepop vet is back with a new two-track single and clever new video for a song from his last EP
Having battled COVID-19 and lived to make an EP about it, Brooklyn indiepop stalwart Kevin Hairs is back with a terrific new single that finds him dealing with the horrors of shared living spaces. "yeah - who's gonna mow the lawn? / hey - who was rocking till dawn? / no - now the bathroom's clogged / i'm just trying to be the uplifting one." He wonders if maybe he should just move to the moon to get a little privacy, knowing "that moon will gentrify anyways." The other song (don't call it a b-side) is "Clean Punk," another super-catchy, jangly low-fi number about someone who sounds they like could actually be an ideal roomie. "I never wanna condescend / I just wanna highlight / how i never expected you / to be so polite."
Meanwhile, Indie Basement is happy to premiere the video for "Subdued at the SVU" which was the final track on the More Magic, More Magic EP. Directed by Adam Keleman, the video pokes a little fun at the many quarantine livestream performances that have popped up since coronavirus put us all in its grip. It also features animation by Kevin (he's a terrific illustrator), too. Watch below:
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