Bill’s Indie Basement (7/19): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
As much of North America is suffering though a heatwave, here are six cool records to check out while you're staying home in the air conditioning. This week in the basement: Jed Smith from My Teenage Stride crafts some amazing fake British indiepop under his Mick Trouble alter ego; onetime Hefner frontman Darren Hayman writes an album about 12 Astronauts just in time for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing; Arab Strap reissue their debut LP; Sonny Smith of Sonny & The Sunsets curates a great new compilation of San Francisco's current pop underground; NYC's skuzzy provocateurs Big Stick are back with their first new album in forever; and The Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin-esque new album King's Mouth finally gets its official release.
If you need more new record review's, Andrew's got you covered with this week's Notable Releases, and here's more Basement-approved stuff: The Replacements look to be releasing a box set of Don't Tell a Soul alternate mixes that might not make them sound like safe radio-friendly rock; The Clean's David Kilgour has a new solo album; Vivian Girls are back and sounding great; and if you need some beach reading, No Encore! is loaded with tales of rock n' roll debauchery.
My Teenage Stride frontman Jed Smith is having a good year, musically. Jeanines, the band he plays in with singer/songwriter Alicia Jeanine, made one of the best indiepop albums in ages with their self-titled debut, and now he's back with his alter-ego Mick Trouble. If you're unfamiliar, Jed was tasked by now-defunct music site Wondering Sound to create a series of singles, complete with cover art and bios, for 10 nonexistent bands. (Wondering Sound is gone but you can still read the feature and listen to the singles.) Mick Trouble was one that was perhaps closest to Jed's personal tastes, mixing UK post-punk indiepop like Television Personalities and Swell Maps with '60s Carnaby Street flower-power pop, R&B late-'70s Nick Lowe / Wreckless Eric, and more. Here's the fake bio:
Trouble started out his modest career as Tiny Mickey Head (born Michael Tooney-Head up t’ Muswell in August 1960 — a Leo, if you’ll want to get yer star charts out). Tiny Mickey was a sort of wannabe punk troubadour styled loosely after a stinking melange of Billy Bragg and Tiny Tim — Mickey himself no minuscule lad at two yard and a palm, or 6’3″ as we say in the Now Parlance. Anywho Mickey sought to make himself stick out from the crowd by singing covers of popular punk tunes (this being 1977, there weren’t that many to go around) in Middle English, accompanying himself on “Electric Lute.” Times being what they were (tasteful), Mickey’s act failed to warm the bosom of the English populous and his debut album, The Canterbury Wails, went all but unnoticed. By 1980 he had dropped the diminutive and swapped in the clever-as-all surname “Trouble,” transforming himself into sort of a Cockney street poet a la Treacy, but far broader humor-wise and obsessed with every cliche of the lingo. Improbably, it worked, and Mick Trouble’s debut, Not ‘Alf Bad, That — released by Stiff Records on a dare by one Declan MacManus to Nick Lowe — charted well, and even provided Trouble with a bit of a pub and uni hit in “Shut Your Bleeding Gob You Git,” a “scathing” takedown of nobody in particular.
Something about Mick stuck with Jed who wrote enough songs in this style to fill a 2017 EP, and an album that just came out via Emotional Response. Much like the Jeanines album, Here's The Mick Trouble LP is all hits, filled to the brim with earworm melodies, killer basslines, magic harmonies and lyrics jam-packed with obscure British references sung in a chippy-chappy British accent. (The opening cut, "Bloody Blighty," sets the tone for the whole album.) There are nods to everything from The Monochrome Set to The Zombies to The Shadows and beyond. Seriously every track here is a corker, but my favorite is probably "Similar Kicks" which is right in Jed's wheelhouse, mixing Motown and The Beatles and delivering a killer "And Your Bird Can Sing"-aping 12-string solo. Spotting the reference points is part of the fun here, but make no mistake this is killer songwriting. Few steal with as much style and this album is a heist of Royal Crown Affair caliber.
Back when he was leading '90s/'00s cult indie band Hefner, Darren Hayman wrote a really lovely song called "Alan Bean" for their 2001 album Dead Media that was about the NASA astronaut and fourth person to walk on the moon. Hayman has been obsessed with space ever since seeing Star Wars as a kid and in 2011 he contributed songs and pictures to Vostok 5, a London exhibition (and compilation album) about people and animals in space. With "Alan Bean" as inspiration, Hayman has been working on a full album about astronauts since 2008 but the looming 50th anniversary of the first moon landing was the kick in the pants for him to finish the album. With one day to spare, 12 Astronauts has landed.
Like "Alan Bean" (which is here in newly recorded form), the songs aren't musical biographies, but works of historical fiction inspired by real men. To quote the press release for the album, "Buzz Aldrin battles with his demons and fights for his marriage. Pete Conrad sympathises with his partner’s fear of an accident in flight. David Scott wonders what happened to his bodyguard on his press tour. Gene Cernan lists every object he can think of that was left on the moon." The song about John Young (the ninth man to walk on the moon), "100% Oxygen," is particularly lovely and really achieves liftoff. Hayman is, above all, a wonderful lyricist and there are wonderful flights of fancy here: funny, sad, and, like the men they're about, inspiring.
Glasgow duo Arab Strap trafficked in a sleazy, profane and supremely dark/dank world where love was a much different drug than Roxy Music sang about. They sounded like an Irvine Welsh novel come to life as a slowcore band. (If you don't know what their name means, look it up.) Arab Strap had their sound all figured out already for their debut album, The Week Never Starts Round Here, which came out via Chemikal Underground in 1996 and then got a stateside release in 1998 via Matador. It's been out of print for years, and isn't on streaming services, but is getting a reissue on September 13 via 1972 Records in the U.S. and Chemikal Underground in the UK.
The album has been remastered from the original tapes by producer Paul Savage with the band, and this marks the first-ever vinyl pressing in the U.S. You can stream three tracks from the remastered reissue here:
The U.S. label, 1972, has been around for a few years now, and have previously reissued records by Echo & The Bunnymen, Stereolab, Built to Spill, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Aphex Twin and more. The Arab Strap reissue, however, marks the relaunch of the label -- at the behest of Lawrence from Felt, apparently -- with several more releases announcing soon.
I love well-curated scene compilations which were a staple in the pre-digital '80s and '90s -- things like No New York, C-86 or One Last Kiss -- but have kinda gone by the wayside lately. But here's a new one that is great. Sonny Smith, of Sonny & The Sunsets, recently launched Rocks in Your Head Records and has curated Hot Sick Vile And Fun: New Sounds from San Francisco, which he describes as "a modest selection of the great and often weird new art happening in San Francisco now, in this era, that I saw during a small personal odyssey through a San Francisco musical underground that has been flourishing despite a total corporate coup of the city."
I'd never heard of a single artist on this compilation, apart from Rays (who contribute the Swell Maps-ish "California"), but I like most of it, which all sort of flows together well despite being sonically diverse. There's strummy indiepop from Galore, Cindy and April Magazine, gorgeous instrumental guitar-work from David Novick, minimal post-punk from Preschool and Blue Ocean, and saxophonist Bruce Ackley breaks things up with a few short bleaty blasts.
My two favorite songs on the compilation are Toyota's "Why," which is shringy, nervy mutant punk a la Devo or Minneapolis Uranium Club; and Bozmo's "Hobby Job," a gorgeous bit of Pernice Bros-style orch pop that paints a bitter portrait of the rich, overprivileged and aimless: "should she heal the world with yoga? / should she try to make it sober? / she needs a hobby job / something dad can get behind / something that’s less than part time."
Hot Sick Vile And Fun is 17 tracks in 34 minutes and is definitely worth checking out. It's also "Vol. 1" so I'm excited to hear what Sonny has found next time. The only thing I don't like is it's digital only. But stream away:
Meanwhile, a lot of the bands on this compilation are playing the inaugural Rocks in Your Head Festival which takes place July 26 at the Cal Shakes Amphitheater Orinda. Sonny & The Sunsets and Shannon Shaw headline, with performances from Kelley Stoltz, Rays, The Gonks, Galore, April Magazine, Dynasty Handbag, The She's, Jay Stone and more. The (((folkYEAH!))) Presents folks, who put on Woodsist Fest, are behind it and I kinda wish I was going. Tickets are on sale.
John Gill and Yanna Trance formed Big Stick in NYC back in 1985, part of the city's underground art-punk scene, falling somewhere between the noise rock of Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore and the sleazo industrial world of Foetus and White Zombie. There was nothing subtle about what they did and their button-pushing songs -- mixing hip hop, punk, industrial, you name it -- were designed to shock, be it the white trash glorifying "Drag Racing," controversial underground club hit "Crack Attack" (a song that definitely wouldn't fly now) and "Shoot the President." Nobody else sounded quite like them at the time, though groups like Ministry and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult soon would.
Having never officially broken up, John and Yanna revived Big Stick recently, releasing a new best-of compilation and have now put out their first new album in 15 years. (Their last album, 2004's Hot From The Strip, reworked some older songs so really this is more like their first since 1995's Pro Drag.) Simply titled LP, it finds Big Stick still pretty much doing what they've always done, shouting crazy stuff -- more drag racing, plus hot sauce, and other trashy subjects -- over drum machines and squalling guitars. The album also features a bunch of old pals, including Johnny Kelly of Type O Negative and Danzig, Groovie Man of MLWTTKK, Fred Schneider, Jerry A of Poison Idea and more. They may not be writing songs called "Girls on the Toilet" anymore, but it's still pretty sleazy, just a little less shocking and the music is still fun even if they're spinning their wheels a bit.
The Flaming Lips new album, Kings Mouth, came out back in April as a Record Store Day vinyl exclusive but it's out today officially. I reviewed it right after RSD but with it finally available to stream I thought I'd do a little reminder to check it out. Here's some of that review:
There may not be anything on here as immediate or as amazing as “Race for the Prize,” “Waitin’ for a Superman,” “Buggin'” or “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” but this album is a real grower and has stayed in my thoughts. The only song digitally released so far, “All for the Life of the City,” which falls right in the middle of the story — “The King saves the day…but the King dies today” — is the album’s most immediate, but it’s the song it segues into, “Feedaloodum Beedle Dot,” that comes closest to The Soft Bulletin‘s big drum orch-rock sound. It’s more of a coda than it’s own complete song, though, and King’s Mouth is all like that — this really is a concept album where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.