Bill’s Indie Basement (12/15): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
In addition to all the music-related stuff found in Bill's Indie Basement, you are all treated to my amazing Photoshop skills. Can you believe I made the above collage in under an hour? (Instructional video still to come.) This week's we've got a premiere from Jorge Elbrecht, the man behind Lansing-Dreiden and Violens, plus the return of Total Control, long-overdue Brainiac vinyl reissues, new Melbourne band RVG, and a look back at Carl Newman's pre-New Pornographers band, Zumpano.
If you want more: the new SAVAK 7" is great, that cover of "Red Right Hand" from Iggy Pop & Jarvis Cocker is worth hearing, as is Creep Show (aka John Grant and Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire).
You may not know the name Jorge Elbrecht but you might know his work as the main creative force behind arty, enigmatic early-'00s collective Lansing-Dreiden, as well as Violens and, most recently, Presentable Corpse. He also has played in Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, and his sonic palette of '80s post-punk, shoegaze and synthpop has made him an in-demand producer and collaborator, working on records by No Joy, Japanese Breakfast, Tamaryn, Kirin J Callinan, Frankie Rose, and more.
What is he up to now? Not much, according to questionably factual press materials that say he's now a spent creative force: "a thin, wrinkled shell of what he used to be...an atrophied chassis containing a confused grey jellyfish which meanders from one foggy idea to the next, unable to focus." As you can see from the press photo provided, he has indeed withered into a sad approximation of Sam Elliott, forced to wear rags given away by Robyn Hitchcock's seamstress.
There is, however, apparently some unreleased material from his salad days that his family is going to release in 2018. One of those is from his previously-unheard REMYNYS project that draws from '90s electro and EBM. We've got the premiere of one of those songs, "Flesh to Ash," which bears Jorge's indelible stamp, soaring vocal style, and penchant for big hooks. Hopefully Jorge snaps out of this malaise, as this track is great. You can watch the video for that, below, and stay tuned for more.
My friend Toby turned me onto Melbourne band RVG who basically don't sound like anything that's going on currently in that city or anywhere else in Australia. (One tie to the current Melbourne scene: Total Control's Mikey Young mastered their record.) They do, however recall much of the country's strident melodic alt-rock of the '80s -- part Before Hollywood-era Go-Betweens, part The Triffids' sweeping scope, with some of Crime & The City Solution's gritty romanticism and Hunters & Collectors' anthemic tendencies.
The force behind RVG is singer/guitarist/songwriter Romy Vager whose confessional lyrics -- with subjects including love, death, computer love, substance abuse, and the isolation of being trans -- go hand in hand with her impassioned delivery. It might also be the make-or-break point for some; her style is very in-your-face and it took me a little while to come around to. Musically, though, I was hooked from the start, with the group's jangly, but rarely straightforward guitar playing, embellished with lots of great flourishes and arrangements. (Shades of non-Aussie bands like The Smiths and Echo & The Bunnymen are evident). Eventually (like a week ago) I came around fully to RVG's debut album, A Quality of Mercy which is strikingly assured; eight songs clocking in at just under half an hour. The title track and "Vincent Van Gogh" are flat-out great, electric rock songs, and the rest of the album isn't far behind.
Speaking of Mikey Young et al, Total Control are back with a new album, Laughing at the System. Expanding beyond the post-apocalyptic punk and dystopian synth jammers that have typified previous records, this might be the most enjoyable album they've made yet. Like all things, that may depend on your definition of "enjoyment," but over the course of 20 minutes you get punk stormers, slinky glam, an Eno-esque ballad and instrumental, and the poppiest song they've ever done ("Luxury Vacuum"). There's not a dud in the bunch, it works as a cohesive statement, and it's all still 100% caustic, witty Total Control. What more could you want?
Last weekend at Brooklyn's Bell House was a tribute to '90s Ohio band Brainiac that featured sets from the surviving members of the group, plus Girls Against Boys, SAVAK, and members of The Wrens, Dismemberment Plan, Les Savvy Fav and more. I am kicking myself for not going. Did you? If you didn't, the show was filmed to be part of an upcoming documentary which they hope to have out in 2018.
Brainiac were one of the most exciting bands of the Clinton Years, whose career was sadly cut short when singer Tim Taylor was killed in a car wreck in 1997. Yet they were very influential -- would Les Savvy Fav's amped-up mayhem have ever existed without them? While very '90s sounding, Brainiac's recorded output still holds up, and crackles with warped creative energy. Their stuff is available on your various streaming services, but vinyl copies of their albums fetch crazy money on Discogs and other sites. So it's good news that their awesome first two albums -- 1993's Smack Bunny Baby and 1994's Bonsai Superstar (both of which were on Grass Records, home of The Wrens) -- are being reissued on wax on January 12. Details beyond that are scant but pre-orders are available now. You can stream Bonsai Superstar here:
Finally for this week: we posted our "52 of the best indie holiday songs" playlist recently, which is an extremely listenable mix even for those who are phobic of Christmas Music. Someone on Twitter replied to us, saying "No love for Zumpano’s Mods of Christmastown?" to which I was was going to reply something along the lines of "Carl Newman is a Zumpano denier and their stuff isn't on streaming services."
But then I decided to check first, and it turns out Zumpano, Carl's mid-'90s, pre-New Pornographers band, is on streaming services, which was kind of a shock to me. When asked in 2008 by The Big Takeover if we'd ever see reissues of their two albums (both released on Sub Pop), Carl said he had turned down offers to do so. "They're all right. I still feel kind of embarrassed by them. I feel like New Pornographers is the music I've always wanted to make."
Carl was (is?) crazy. Both Zumpano records are fantastic: energetic, creative guitar pop drawing from '60s baroque orch-pop like The Zombies, The Left Banke, and songwriter Jimmy Webb (whose "Rosecrans Boulevard" they cover on their debut, Look What the Rookie Did). Newman may have been still learning to write via imitation, but he and the rest of Zumpano had carved out their own take on the sound prety much from the get-go, and songs like "Behind the Beehive" aren't that far from what he did on his first AC Newman album. 1996's Goin' Through Changes might be more accomplished all-around, but I prefer the scrappy charm of their debut. Still both are totally worth checking out, and it's surprising how many New Pornographers fans don't even know Zumpano exist. While the albums remain out of print on physical media (let's Record Store Day these, Sub Pop), both are on your favorite streaming services and digital download retailers. Unfortunately, "Mods Of Christmas" was only released on a CD comp that came with an issue of zine Ptolemaic Terrascope and is not on Spotify. But it is on YouTube and you can listen to that, and Spotify streams of Zumpano's two albums, below.