BIll’s Indie Basement (10/4): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy October! This week: Chromatics' stunning Closer to Grey; DIIV get heavy on Deceiver; Sloan revisit their 1998 album Navy Blues with a new box set; and Madchester icons Happy Mondays reissue their earliest EPs.
If you need more new albums, Andrew reviews the latest from Wilco, Nick Cave, that dog, Angel Olsen and more in Notable Releases. If you want more Basement-approved stuff: Russian Baths new single is terrific; as is this new Lake Ruth 7"; and Bambara announced their next album.
Dear Tommy? Dear Tommy schlamme...Chromatics' actually released new album is fantastic. Here's but a brief snippet from my review:
Closer to Grey shows that Jewel's issue with Dear Tommy is not writer's block, and that he is, along with singer Ruth Radelet, still a master of mood. Few nail eerie nostalgia quite like Chromatics and they've done it again here with 12 songs that also find them gently pushing their distinctive sound in new directions.
Read the whole thing here, and you can listen to the album here:
Also, Chromatics just shared the video for "You're No Good," which Jewell directed and keeps those Italian horror vibes seen in the album's cover art (and a few of the songs) going:
These Sloan deluxe album box sets are so well done, it's a real treat to go through their back catalog with them, learning stories behind the songs and getting to hear alternate versions and songs that didn't make the cut or that weren't quite ready for primetime yet. It helps that, where they are in this reissue series, is dead in middle of their mid-'90s creative peak, with all four members writing some of their best-ever songs. I waffle back-and-forth as to what Sloan's best album is -- One Chord to Another? Twice Removed? Between the Bridges? -- but Navy Blues is up there for me.
The album has a reputation as a dive into '70s riff-rock, and the album's two singles -- the AC/DC-ish hit (and continued Canadian jock jam) "Money City Maniacs" and the incredible Thin Lizzy-esque opener "She Says What She Means" -- certainly fall into that category. But 21 years on it feels more like a continuation of what they were doing on on One Chord to Another, but now moving out of the '60s and into the early-'70s. Less Beatles and Kinks, more Badfinger and Big Star. (There's still a little Beatles here, at least a couple songs feel pulled from Side 1 of Abbey Road.) Production and arrangements became more ambitious, with songs flowing into one another, and at least a couple "song suite" type numbers (Chris Murphy's "Suppose They Close the Door" and Andrew Scott's "Sinking Ships").
There are no bad songs on Navy Blues and the highs are dizzying: from the aforementioned riffy rippers "She Says What She Means" (by Murphy) and "Money City Maniacs" (by Patrick Pentland) to Jay Ferguson's jaunty "C'Mon C'Mon" (which has one of my favorite guitar solos of the last 25 years), Andrew Scott's cocky "On the Horizon." There's also Murphy's joyous "Keep on Thinkin'," and Pentland's wistful "Stand by Me, Yeah" (which has a little Thin Lizzy in it too), and...the whole record's fantastic. What was "retro" sounding in 1998 has aged into evergreen. A classic.
There are two LP's worth of bonus material. The first is Navy Blues in demo form with some songs pretty much arriving fully-formed (all of Andrew's song), some almost there minus lyrics ("C'Mon C'Mon" is almost totally "blah de blah de yeah yeah"), and some that would change quite a bit ("Keep on Thinkin'"). The third disc is much more interesting, all studio outtakes, many of which would end up on later albums. Sometimes much later and in radically different form. Patrick's "Just One Shot" finally reared its head 20 years later as "This Day Will Be Mine" on 2018's 12, and I like the slightly lighter touch the original has. Elements of "Open Your Umbrellas" and "I've Enable Myself" would end up in Chris' "Fading Into Obscurity" from 2006's Never Hear the End of It, "and Daddy Be Cool" became "Your Daddy Will Do" on 2013's The Double Cross. "So Beyond Me," would end up on Navy Blues' follow-up, 1999's Between the Bridges with just a bit of "Yours to Steal" thrown in.
I find it so fascinating to see how songs evolve, are torn apart, spliced together and, for the most part, made a lot better. The liner notes, part of the 32-page book that comes with the set, help tell that story too. More casual fans may want to wait for the sure-to-come single LP repress of Navy Blues, but fans should definitely pick this up (you probably already have). And if you've never heard it at all...
Sloan are touring Navy Blues this year and next, hitting all points Canada and U.S. (NYC in February).
Three years since their second album, Is the Is Are, and two years since main man Cole Smith checked into "long haul inpatient treatment" for drug addiction, DIIV are back with a new album and sound. Not totally new: the band are still making what you'd call dreampop but, for the most part, gone is the racing, swirling sound that typified their first two albums, and in its place are much heavier, much sludgier riffs that split the difference between 1993 grunge and shoegaze. The difference really kicks in about three minutes into opening song "Horsehead" when they really stomp on the distortion pedals and lay down a crushing riff. But this is still DIIV, and sunshine breaks through the clouds with their close harmony style and a bit of that chiming guitar style from their past. So it goes on most of Deceiver, dropping tonnage and then floating it in the ether, while Cole sings openly about his addiction, pain and guilt. The best songs on Deceiver are ones like "Taker" and Skin Game," that focus on the sublime elements of their sound but also know when to go heavy. The very best here, though, is "Blankenship" which has the drive of Oshin-era material, but with the dark, distorted undercurrent of the rest of the album. It's a midpoint Deceiver could've used just a little more of.
DIIV's tour starts this month.
Best known for their hedonistic days as troublemaking posterboys for the Manchester rave scene, Happy Mondays got their start in the mid-'80s as a more run-of-the-mill indie band, sounding as much like The Wake or Echo & The Bunnymen on their 1985 debut, the Forty Five EP. It didn't take long, though, for them to ditch that and forge their own path. With their next 12", which came out the same year, they had planted the seed for the group they'd become: "Freaky Dancin'" has the calamitous, wannabe Can-style drumming, Mark Day's funky, jangly guitar style and Shaun Ryder's wild poetry; while the b-side, "The Egg," adds slide guitar and bongos to the equation. This also coincided with Bez, the band's maracas-shaking dancer/mascot, joining the group.
Happy Mondays' first four 12" singles, which all came out on Tony Wilson's iconic label Factory Records, have been remastered from the original 2" tapes and collected onto a new box set simply titled The Early EPs which is out October 25. (Preorder.) The other two EPs, both from 1987, head even further down the dance-rock path. "24 Hour Party People" is arguably the quintessential Happy Mondays song and the moment where the band's swirling, danceable sound really gelled. The fourth 12" is "Tart Tart," the lead single for the band's underrated, John Cale produced debut album, Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out). They would make better records -- the Hallelujah EP and Pills N' Thrills N' Bellyaches in particular -- but this makes for an interesting look into them figuring it all out.
To promote the box set they hired graphic designer Pete Fowler, best known for his continued worth with Super Furry Animals, to make an animated video for "The Egg," which is terrific and the box set comes with a poster of some of the video's art. All the records come on colored vinyl as well. Watch that video here:
Happy Mondays are still together and on tour in the UK this fall. I wish they'd come back to the U.S.