Bill’s Indie Basement (1/5): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy new year, everybody. Despite posting my favorite albums of 2017 last week, I'm still playing catch-up so there are a couple things from last year in this week's column, including a couple of interesting pairings featuring members of '80s/'90s UK indie bands. Plus: German shoegaze, a box set chronicling the Liverpool postpunk scene, and more. Check it all out below.
Berry have been making music for 15 years, having released a flurry of records during their first eight years of existence. Their sound is spare and distinctly American, not too far off from Archer Prewitt, Low or American Analog Set. Following 2010's Blue Sky, Raging Sun the band went on hiatus, spreading out members around the country, though they would get together every so often over the years to play and record.
Berry are finally getting around to a new album, set to release their first new album in eight years, titled Everything, Compromised, via Joyful Noise on January 12. Picking up where they last, left off, it's a lovely batch of songs, dusty and a little lonesome, with some nice orch-pop and baroque flourishes as well. A stream of the whole record premieres right here. Listen below.
There are only 100 vinyl copies of Everything, Compromised pressed -- order yours.
I spent some of the holidays reading Julian Cope's two memoirs: Head-On, which deals with his early years in the Liverpool post-punk scene and his LSD-fueled days fronting The Teardrop Explodes; and Repossessed, which follows his solo career through the rest of the '80s. (There's a two-for-one version, which is what I have.) While his wild reputation is deserved (he did so much acid), Julian comes off rational, passionate, and often very funny as he recounts the anything-goes world of the '80s UK music scene. He is a one-of-a-kind who once had a one-of-a-kind mic stand.
That Liverpool scene was pretty fertile, musically. Before he started The Teardrop Explodes, Cope was briefly in The Crucial Three with Ian McCulloch (Echo & the Bunnymen) and Pete Wylie (Wah). The Teardrops also counted as members David Balfe, who would start Food Records (home to Blur), and Troy Tate (who produced early, rejected Smiths recordings), and they were managed by Bill Drummond who would later form The KLF. Also part of this scene, which centered around famed club Eric's, was Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford who'd form Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Pete Burns who'd have hits with Dead or Alive in the '80s. .
All this brings me to me to forthcoming box set Revolutionary Spirit: The Sound of Liverpool 1976 - 1988. Covering 16 years -- going from just before punk to the height of '80s ridiculousness -- the five discs cover a lot of ground. It goes from mid'70s art-pop band Deaf School (led by Clive Langer who would produce The Teardop Explodes' debut, and loads of Madness albums), into classic era groups like the Bunnymen, Big In Japan, The Teardrops and OMD, though the early-'80s grandeur of The Pale Fountains, China Crisis, and The Icicle Works, to the over-the-top pop of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Dead or Alive, to the pre-Britpop groups like The La's. With 100 songs, there's also a whole bunch of stuff you've never ever heard of, but it's all pretty worthy and at least interesting. Only thing it's really missing is some solo Cope material. There are, however, song-by-song liner notes by some of the folks who were there and its a nice package all-around, as are most of these sets from Cherry Red.
Revolutionary Spirit: The Sound of Liverpool 1976 - 1988 is out February 9 and you can pre-order it here. Listen to a few of the songs from the box set below:
Terry Bickers and Pete Fij both spent time on Creation Records: the former as lead guitarist in the great House of Love; the latter in the often arrogant but sometimes brilliant Adorable. They teamed up in the early part of the decade to make lovely, gentle guitar music that makes a great addition to both of their catalogs.
Their debut album, Broken Heart Surgery, came out in 2014 and they returned in 2107 for We Are Millionaires. There's a real late-'60s sweeping pop vibe -- think Burt Bacharach, Lee Hazlewood or Scott Walker -- and Pete's voice works great with this kind of material and he brings a sharp, dark wit to the lyrics. Terry Bickers, meanwhile, classes things up exponentially, spinning the kind of beautiful guitar filigree few others can match. We Are Millionaires is a really lovely record. Some artists hitting middle age try to act like they're still in their 20s, or resort to albums covering standards. These two are writing standards of their own.
Here's another pairing of UK musicians who have spent time in other well-known groups (some of which were also on Creation). Alien Stadium are Steve Mason of Beta Band, and Martin Duffy who played keyboards in cult band Felt (whose albums are finally back in print), and has been a member of Primal Scream for nearly 30 years. They just released their debut, a mini-LP titled Livin' in Elizabethan Times, which is apparently a concept record about an invasion by "pisshead" aliens. Whatever plot there is on these four tracks, I'm not really following it, but they sound like they're having a lot of fun. Unsurprisingly it's all very late-'90s bluesy dance rock, but "This One for the Humans" and "Titanic Days" both play to Mason and Duffy's shuffling strengths.
Finally this week is Berlin trio Jaguwar who make widescreen dreampop that you could compare to Mew or Slowdive. Following a couple EPs, their debut album, Ringthing, is due out January 12 via Tapete. If you don't mind a little bombast, they do what they do really well -- this is big stuff -- and sounds great really loud. You can check out the video for the album's first single, "Crystal," plus snippets of three other songs below.
You can catch them live at SXSW this year.