Bill’s Indie Basement (4/26): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Another big week for new releases in Indie Basement. We've got what is a contender for Best Album of 2019 (thank you Aldous Harding); Kevin Morby's ambitious new concept album; King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard's boogie-forward new album; plus new singles from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and Beak>, and Saint Etienne are reissuing 1994's Tiger Bay for its 25th anniversary.
More Basement-worthy stuff from this week: Ride's new single is better than anything on their first reformation album.
It's been a long time since a record hit me like Aldous Harding's new album, Designer -- maybe since Destroyer's Kaputt -- where you instantly know this album is special and that it will likely be your favorite of the year. Like Kaputt, Designer is an album that, for me, is hard to put into words why I like it so much, but I did my best in a review posted elsewhere on the site. Here's a bit of it:
Aldous' new album is a glorious, transfixing mystery and I'm not sure it's one that needs to be solved. Her songs are rich with evocative lyrical imagery ("purple and fur / all sound is bees" is another line from "Zoo Eyes") and even though, for the most part, I have no idea what her songs are about on a specific level, they are deep with feeling. Her magically expressive voice and phrasing plays no small part in this. At times she sounds like a pixie; elsewhere she is dark and bellowing like Nico, smoky and sultry, or singing in what might be her natural register. Sometimes, like on "Zoo Eyes," they intertwine.
Meanwhile, let's get an official recording of her cover of Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line" ok, 4AD?
All of Kevin Morby's albums have had a spiritual quality to them, from Harlem River to City Music, but with his fifth long-player he turns his attention entirely to the role of religion in people's lives. Oh My God is a different kind of record for Kevin from the top down. Working with producer Sam Cohen (who plays all over it too), they did away with the traditional band format he's worked in on his first four albums, dropping guitars almost entirely with organ and piano, congas and handclaps, flute and horns, not to mention a choir, coloring in the songs. (Harp even makes an appearance in "Piss River.") It's a big, boomy and airy -- it sounds like it could've been recorded in an actual church -- and has an old-timey feel without feeling dated, and works best as a whole rather than being pulled apart in true concept record form. (There is nothing here as immediate as "I Have Been to the Mountain" or "Beautiful Stranger," though.) Oh My God more looks at religion and our different relationships with God (or at least the word "god"), than it is a religious record, almost like an anthology of short stories or films. With that there is also a distance that, for me at least, keeps me from converting entirely, but I like it more with each listen.
I have always like Kevin better live than on record, and I look forward to seeing him and his eight-piece band bring Oh My God to life on tour.
Never ones to shy away from a high concept, be it microtonal instruments, a record of four 10-minute sonic experiments, or releasing five albums in a year, Australia's King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard thrive in boundaries. Fishing for Fishies, which comes a year after the five-LP onslaught of 2017, was initially intended to be an all-boogie record. That's in the T-Rex sense of the term rather than the Earth Wind & Fire / KC & the Sunshine Band way. At least half the songs here have that glammy, bluesy shuffle, and most of those actually have some form of the word "Boogie" in the title. Most of them work, too, especially the sly "Boogieman Sam" and electro-stomper "Cyboogie." But let's face it, a whole album of this would've been too much boogie -- it is still probably too much boogie for a lot of people -- and they've filled the rest of the album with some of King Gizzard's most accessible pop to date. "The Bird Song" is light and jazzy, like late '70s Steely Dan and the title track is wonderfully effervescent in a hippie kind of way (Greatful Dead or , uh, Blind Melon? You be the judge.) "Acarine," meanwhile, starts with some boogie but then goes full Tangerine Dream prog. Schizo as it may sound here, it's all got that Me Decade sheen to it, in a way where you could imagine any of these songs on the original Muppet Show. (For me that's a good thing.) Are King Gizzard the Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem of 2019? On this record, maybe! The next one could be metal. (Seriously.) It's like the old weather adage -- don't like this one? Wait 10 minutes.
Saint Etienne's entire catalogue got repressed on vinyl in 2017, but for fans looking for more, the group have also been on a steady anniversary reissue schedule. The group's third album, 1994's Tiger Bay, will get the 25th anniversary treatment with deluxe box set. The album found the band moving away from the sample-based sound of their first two albums and into more lush territory. Or, as Bob Stanley told Noisey, "the basic idea was to take traditional folk melodies and make an electronic album with them." It gave them UK hits with "Pale Movie" and "Hug My Soul," while pointing in the more organic, traditional, band-oriented direction they'd go on Good Humor. It's also got weird cover art, using James Clarke Hook's 1856 painting "Welcome Bonny Boat" but replacing its three figures with the members of the band. It was maybe the least mid-'90s album cover ever and got scrapped for the U.S. edition which instead used a picture of the band. Tiger Bay is a lot of Saint Etienne fans' favorite album.
The box set includes the original UK album pressed on double vinyl on 45 RPM, and there's an additional vinyl disc of twelve rare recordings from the period, most of which are appearing on wax for the first time. There's also a bonus CD called Tapestry, that's an alternate 13-song version of the album featuring stripped back mixes and unreleased arrangements that were taken from the master tapes by the group's Pete Wiggs. (Why this isn't on vinyl too, I'm not sure but watch it become available as this year's Christmas record.) You can listen to the "Sarah Plus Orchestra" version of "Marble Lions" that takes out the guitars and adds a lot more orchestra. It's baroque and beautiful:
The Tiger Bay box set also includes a 28-page book with rare photos, liner notes and new interviews with Stanley, Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell. There's also a poster, a "Hug My Soul" sticker and more. Preorders start April 30 and if you pre-order the set via Saint Etienne's webstore by May 5, you'll also get a free copy of the four-track Surrey North Ep originally given out at the Saint Etienne 2018 UK Christmas parties.
Meanwhile, Saint Etienne will be playing a very special London show at The Barbican on May 22 with the London Contemporary Orchestra, performing Tiger Bay in full for the first time ever, plus a set of hits and deep cuts "as you've never heard them before." They've just added fall UK Tiger Bay shows where they eight-piece Saint Etienne live band will be accompanied by string sections in each city (Coventry, Liverpool, Gateshead and Edinburgh). All dates are here.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever made my favorite album of 2018, the kind of gloriously catchy, jangly indie rock that isn't really made that much anymore, at least to the level it was in the '80s and '90s. (Real Estate are their only competition.) The band are back with their first new release since then, a 7" single featuring two more very good songs. "In the Capitol" starts off gently like a Go-Betweens song but then works into more of a guitar-heavy froth. "Read My Mind" is even more laid back, a bit darker too and possessing a hook-ier chorus. If this feels more like a double b-side than the lead single from a new album, that's ok -- this band's throwaways are better than a lot of bands' a-sides.
Just a quickie here as we already wrote about it in Wednesday's New Songs post but Beak> have a new single, "Life Goes On" that carries on in the queasy post-punk-meets-Can-meets-BBC-Radiophonic-Workshop style of "Brean Down" from their third album (also one of my 2018 favorites). Queasy is good thing in this case. They say the next album is on the way sooner than later.