Bill’s Indie Basement (10/19): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
We are fully in sweater weather and here are five records to wrap around you while you sip tea and read the paper (or this very post): UK cult heroes The Bevis Frond are back with their 23rd album; a reissue of Silicon Teens' classic ’Music for Parties'; Saul from Fat White Family sings 'Karaoke for One,' plus Dutch band Lewsberg, and Kevin Hairs wants a dog.
Nick Saloman has been making ’60s influenced psych-pop since the mid-’80s as The Bevis Frond. More influential than popular (a recurring theme in Indie Basement), Saloman's songs have been covered by Lemonheads, Mary Lou Lord, and Teenage Fanclub, to name three, and he consistently has ignored fads, trends and current production techniques -- which may not have gotten him in the charts, but has made most of The Bevis Frond's many, many albums sound timeless.
Like Robert Pollard, Saloman has a seemingly unending supply of catchy hooks and choruses and is, thankfully, still at it -- The Bevis Frond's 23rd album, We're Your Friends, Man, is out December 7 via Fire. He also seems acutely aware of his reputation as a cult artist. "This is a product of my fevered mind / this is the sound of being left behind," he sings on the album's opening cut, "Enjoy." The two songs that have been shared so far are genuine stunners: the rocking, Big Star-ish title track and the knockout, gorgeous "Little Orchestras." If you've never dipped a toe into The Bevis pond, these make an excellent place to start.
Daniel Miller started Mute Records in 1978 to release his single "T.V.O.D."/"Warm Leatherette" under the guise of The Normal. It was the b-side, inspired by JG Ballard's kinky, dystopian novel Crash, that really took off, and has inspired countless other nihilistic post-punk/industrial/minimal wave acts since, and launched the label that would be a synthesizer music juggernaut in the '80s. "Warm Leatherette" has been covered by Grace Jones (whose version was a club hit), Duran Duran, Chicks on Speed, Trent Reznor and Peter Murphy, and more.
Mute's next single would be Fad Gadget's equally bleak "Back to Nature," but the label's third was a cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis Tennessee" by enigmatic youngsters Silicon Teens. Their version stayed kinda true to the original, except it was played with synthesizers, a cheap rhythm box, and the nasally vocals could only have been sung by a nerd. (A nerd named Darryl.) Silicon Teens followed similarly with their second single, a cover of John Fred & His Playboys' "Judy in Disguise" and then came their debut album Music for Parties which was the first album on Mute and featured more synthpop covers of rock n' roll oldies ("You Really Got Me," "Oh Boy!," Sweet Little Sixteen," and "Red River Valley" which was later used prominently in Planes, Trains and Automobiles), plus a few originals that were very of the moment (1980). But who were they? It turns out that the four listed members of Silicon Teens, who did press interviews at the time, were not actually members of the group which was, in fact, like The Normal, Daniel Miller in disguise. Music for Parties is as novelty as Switched on Bach was a decade before but the record is now a cult classic and still fun to listen to.
Music for Parties has just been reissued by Mute as part of the label's 40th anniversary, along with records by Fad Gadget, A Certain Ratio, Barry Adamson and more. You can also find original copies of the LP used for not too much, but this new version adds two b-sides not on the original vinyl pressing. Or you can just listen to it here:
Covers albums are a crapshoot. Rarely more than a fun diversion, more often they're something that was more fun for the artist than the listener, not to mention a way around writer's block or fulfilling that contractual obligation. I like them best when treated more off-the-cuff, like Insecure Men's Karaoke for One, Vol 1, which is a limited edition release and follows hot on the heels of their excellent debut album which was released earlier this year. While not quite karaoke, main man Saul Adamczewski, who used to be in Fat White Family, here performs songs by Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, The Pogues, George Jones and more in lounge singer mode, accompanying himself on a chintzy "Magic Chord"-style organ.
There may be a level of cheese to the accompaniment, but this is no piss-take. Saul sings his heart out on most of these and removing the stylistic arrangements you associate with some of these songs -- like George Jones' "She Thinks I Still Care" and Peter Andre's mid-'90s cod-reggae hit "Mysterious Girl" -- cast them anew. Some, like the dubbed-out version of Van Morrison's "Madame George" and the appropriately sullen take on Abner Jay's "I'm So Depressed," just totally work, no qualifiers. The only song that doesn't get the keyboard treatment is Blaze Foley's "Picture Cards Can't Picture You" which Saul performs with just spare, picked guitar. It's gorgeous and heartbreaking and easily the best thing on the record. It doesn't make the rest of the LP seem like a trifle, exactly, but it is the song that lingers the most in my memory.
Dutch group Lewsberg released their debut album back in April which is full of strummy indie rock that's in the Velvet Underground / Feelies / Woolen Men variety. They're already back with a new single, "The Smile," which is just a little different, finding them a little skronkier, noisier and more precise. It's a little like Steve Gunn jamming with Sonic Youth in Rotterdam, or for those who remember mid-'00s Danish band Kirsten Ketsjer, Lewberg are a little like that, too. The b-side, "During the Service," is a nice bit of spoken word storytelling overtop of a minor-chord progression.
Musician, illustrator, and all-around swell guy Kevin Alvir has been making DIY indiepop for well over 10 years with such bands as Lil Hospital, Knight School and The Hairs (which was a solo project for all intents and purposes). He's now making music as Kevin Hairs and will release a new cassette, Freak on the Streets, via Bushwick tape collective GP Stripes. As he says, Kevin focuses on "heartbreak, universal truths, and love, channeled through a jangly kaleidoscope of humor, passion, and garage pop perfection." He also sings about really wanting a dog on the tape's first single, "Kevin Wants a Dog," which premieres in this post. "I don't write songs, all I do is long for a dog," Kevin opines in the video while classic dog vids play behind him. Check it out: