Bill’s Indie Basement (12/8): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Welcome back to the basement! This week we've got a lost album from DIY cult heroes Television Personalities, plus a record that you could be tricked into thinking actually was a lost TVP recording, two veterans of NYC Popfest (The Spook School and Pete Astor), and a solo album from Jackson MacIntosh, the frontman of Montreal's Sheer Agony.
If you need more, check out Olden Yolk (aka Shane from Quilt), the new Buffalo Tom single (their first in seven years), and the latest of Ty Segall's new singles (which have me excited for his new album).
UK DIY icons Television Personalities have influenced countless bands and artists over the last 40 years, both with their charmingly shambolic music and self-run labels. (Would Nirvana have been the same without them? Would Creation Records have even existed?) Though main man Dan Treacy has had his ups and downs in the mid-'80s, both personally and creatively, the TVPs hit a new creative stride with 1989's great Privilege and, to a lesser extent, 1992's Closer To God. In between lies Beauty and Despair, a collection of never-released 1990 demos which is now coming out via Fire on January 26. Recorded with regular TVP coconspirator Jowe Head (also of Swell Maps), many of these songs would later end up on Closer to God, but the spare arrangements here, often using a drum machine or just a tambourine as percussion, really puts a focus on Treacy's great set of songs. (He is, in a lot of ways, in a league with Jonathan Richman, both in quality of material and inability for getting recordings worthy of them.) There are also a few songs that never made it past the demo stage, like "Love is a Four Letter Word," and "If You Fly Too High," which you can listen to here:
Not coincidentally, next up is Mick Trouble whose resemblance to early Television Personalities is 110% intentional. Mick is actually Jed Smith of long-running NYC cult indie outfit My Teenage Stride. A few years back, Smith 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.)
Perhaps the closest to Smith's own personal tastes, Mick has pushed forward out Jed's psyche on this new EP that includes Wondering Sound single "Shut Your Bleeding Gob You Git," plus three more winners, including my favorite "Miss Margaret." He gets all the details right from the perfectly tinny drums, to the punchy bass and Treacy's London accent. It works as an homage but, more importantly, the songs are just great on their own. If you dig the EP, Jed says there's a Mick Trouble LP on the way, too, and, in a move that blurs fact and fiction, he'll be touring as well, with TVP's Jowe Head on bass! Stay tuned for more on that.
Scottish four-piece The Spook School owe a little to The Television Personalities, too, making a chipper brand of indiepop that keeps a positive attitude even when singing about more serious subjects. Their third album, titled Could It Be Different?, will be out January 26 via Slumberland/Alcopop and has some of their best songs yet. They are twee, yes, but not cloyingly so. They can play, too, and temper things with a self-effacing sense of humor. (Drummer Niall McCamley is possessed with an always-on wit that's worthy of his own TV show, or at least a podcast.) The production has some bite as well. They've released two songs of the album so far, both of which bring their bouncing-off-the-walls live energy to the studio. You can listen to both below and you can catch them on tour with Diet Cig in 2018 (Brooklyn in March).
Jackson MacIntosh is a well-known name in Montreal underground pop circles. A supremely talented dude, he fronts one of the city's best not-famous-but-should-be bands, Sheer Agony. He's a DIY-recording wiz and in-demand producer, and also currently plays in TOPS. He'll release his first solo record, My Dark Side, on February 23 via Sinderlyn. Not dissimilar to the '60s-baroque-meets-'80s-mutant-pop vibe of Sheer Agony, but he's definitely a little more in '70s Solo Artist mode, reclining in an easy (listening) chair, perfect for just a little navel-gazing. Does Jackson refer to himself in third person occasionally in song? Yes, but it's more in an Albert Brooks (or Jarvis Cocker) kind of way. The press release says Jackson made the record "over three years and two break-ups" and his tendency for self-analysis is present on first single "Lulu," which ends with the refrain of "Everybody's got a weakness and I think that I've found mine," set against harpsichords, mellotrons and some groovy George Harrison-style guitar soloing.
Bringing things around almost full circle this week is Pete Astor, who fronted '80s-era Creation Records bands The Loft and The Weather Prophets, and will release a new solo album, One for the Ghost, on February 16 via Tapete. Astor's strummy style never really falls out of fashion and suits his warm voice. Like on last year's Spilt Milk, he worked with kindred spirit James Hoare of Ultimate Painting who really understands how these records should sound. (That sound, if you're wondering, is midway between The Velvet Underground and Television.) Adding ably this time is the rhythm section from The Wave Pictures plus Pam Berry (Black Tambourine) on backing vocals. If any of these names mean anything to you at all, you already know you're going to like it, and first single "Water Tower" does not disappoint. "Meet me by the water tower," Astor sings. "It's my favorite concrete flower."