Bill’s Indie Basement (5/11): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in the Basement: Simian Mobile Disco make their best album to date with help from Deep Throat Choir; the music of '80s cult dreampop artist Happy Rhodes gets an overdue retrospective; former Auteurs frontman Luke Haines gets small...real small; the return of Bay Area shoegazers Film School; pop ironists TV Girl are back with a new LP; and we premiere the surreal new video from slinky Montreal synthpop band Paupière.
Need more Basement-approved music? I am all for the Serge Gainsbourg turn Arctic Monkeys take on their new album Tranquility Base Casino + Hotel (read Andrew's review); Gruff Rhys' "Limited Edition Heart" is a nice preview of his lovely, orchestral new album; and who doesn't want to watch Stephen Malkmus work on his tennis game?
Dance music producers don't always have the longest shelf life. When was the last time you listened to The Chemical Brothers or Justice? Simian Mobile Disco have managed to stay interesting in the over the last 11 years by constantly morphing and, lately, ignoring the charts entirely. Following 2014's improvisational Whorl and 2016's listen-as-a-whole Welcome to Sideways, James Ford and James Shaw (who is battling AL amyloidosis) have returned to poppier sounds, but in their own way. Collaborating with vocal collective Deep Throat Choir (which includes members of Landshapes, Stealing Sheep, Peggy Sue and more), Murmurations is hypnotic, lysergic dance music that is arguably SMD's most enjoyable work since Attack Decay Sustain Release. (It might be their best album to date.) While some songs, like "Hey Sister," "Defender," and "Caught in a Wave," have proper verse/chorus structure, the heavenly voices play almost like a bank of modular synths. That is almost literally what happens on the ethereal, swirling "A Perfect Swarm" where Deep Throat Choir crest and fall with "ahhs" and "oohs." It's a stunning piece of techno, the album's peak and sounds especially good on headphones. Murmurations pulls off the tough trick of working as an album, with songs segueing into one another, while still having a few hooky bangers to drop in a DJ set.
Speaking of heavenly voices, reissue label and sonic archeologists Numero Group will soon release the first-ever official compilation of '80s-era outsider dreampop artist Happy Rhodes. Possessed with a four-octave range that you sometimes you'd swear is at least two completely different voices, Happy's music is earthy, baroque, ethereal, magical and so unclassifiable that a genre was coined for it: Ecto.
Growing up in the mid '70s in Upstate New York, Rhodes was shy and became transfixed by music at an early age, picking up the guitar at 11. She was inspired by Wendy Carlos' early Moog touchstone Switched on Bach, and then Queen and Pink Floyd. But when she saw Kate Bush on Saturday Night Live, it changed her life. In 1984, at age 19, she went to a nearby recording studio hoping to apprentice and learn about recording, but the owner and engineer was so taken with her voice and songs he allowed her to record for free any time she wanted. He also gave her a Roland Juno 106 programmable synthesizer which expanded her musical horizons.
Having amassed a stockpile of recordings, her songs were eventually released on self-dubbed cassettes adorned with Rhodes' artwork of mythical, beautifully grotesque monsters. She was also an early recipient of internet adulation, interest growing out of a Kate Bush usenet group until it got too big and split off into its own group (and website), gaining fans from Bush, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Heidi Berry and other similar "ecto" artists.
The backstory could dwarf the music but, unlike some cult artists (Donnie & Joe Emerson, for one), Happy Rhodes' music really holds up. The songs on the Ectotrophia compilation all date from her mid-'80s cassette heyday when Rhodes was working in that creative bubble. If you like any of the artists mentioned above and are unfamiliar with Happy Rhodes, you're in for a treat. While indebted to Bush and her other influences, she really created her own style, with a truly unreal voice and songwriting and musical ability match it. You can listen to "When the Rain Came Down" from the compilation and its falsetto chorus gives me chills (the good kind) every time.
Ectotrophia is out June 29 via Numero Group.
Luke Haines is a UK indie legend, having played in The Servants in the '80s, he led the bilious Auteurs in the '90s, not to mention icy synthpop group Black Box Recorder and high-concept one-off Baader Mienhof, and he has been cranking out solo albums since the early '90s, many of which have also been concept-based.
Such is the case with Haines' new album, I Sometimes Dream of Glue, which is about a fictional English town where its residents are all only two and a half inches tall and are addicted to glue-sniffing and sex. I am not making this up, Haines is:
It started sometime after World War II – in the late 1940’s. A convoy of British Special Services trucks had been dispatched to RAF Middlewych, their cargo – 10 tonnes of experimental solvent liquid. Sticky and deadly. The mission – to drop the toxic liquid over Germany and finish the job of carving up Europe for good. The trucks never made it to their airfield destination, coming off the road – most probably helped by saboteurs – some five miles out of London…
Just off the Westway, in the motorway sidings, you can see a small sign. Actually you probably can’t see the sign as it is the size of a child’s fingernail clipping. The sign says ‘Glue Town.’ The name of a village. There is little or no documentation of Glue Town. You will not find any information about it on the 21st Century internet. Gluetown is a rural settlement born out of mutation. Of the estimated 500 or so dwellers, no one is thought to be over 2 1⁄2 inches tall. The citizens of Glue Town exist on a diet of solvent abuse and perpetual horniness. The residents only leave to carry out daring night-time ‘glue raids’ on Shepherds Bush newsagent shops. On a tiny screen in the town centre, an old Betamax cassette of ‘Michael Bentine’s Pottytime’ plays on a loop all day and all night. The reduced size villagers go about their daily business pondering whether the lessons of Pottytime can show them a way out of their drudge lives of sexual abandonment and human sacrifice...
Haines played almost everything on the album and musically, there's an English folk vibe to it, in a Fairport Convention kind of way, with recorders and harmoniums and the like. (Haines calls the style here "surreal brutalism.") Its bones are still in in those glammy chord progressions Haines favors, and the kooky concept makes way for serious, dark, present-day allegory. In other words, a very Luke Haines album.
Like Luke Haines, TV Girl's Brad Petering wraps his poison pen in bubblegum and perfume, offering up tales of the lonely, petty and bitter, set to pretty dancepop that borrows (and samples) from easy listening, girl groups, and soft rock. It's like Valley of the Dolls: The Album with to Daisy Age De La Soul (or early Saint Etienne) style sonic pilfering. He's just released new TV Girl album, Death of a Party Girl, which doesn't mess with the formula too much, and that's ok. TV Girl have always been plentiful with hooks, and the bitter-and-sweet mixture makes for great casual listening while doing the dishes, or the perfect soundtrack to your schadenfreude.
San Francisco shoegazers Film School, who released a couple of great records on Beggars Banquet in the mid-'00s, came out of extended hibernation in 2016 with the June EP, their first release in six years. They're now set to release Bright to Death, their first full-length LP since 2010, which will be out September 14 via Hauskat Records. The band, which features 4/5ths of their original lineup, made the record on the outskirts of Joshua Tree, which seems fitting for the group's sun-bleached, dusty sound.
First single is "Chrushin," a lovely, laconic piece of dreampop that ebbs along nicely. You can watch the video for it right here:
Film school will be touring around the release of the LP. No dates have been announced yet, stay tuned.
Montreal synthpop trio Paupière -- aka We Are Wolves drummer Pierre-Luc Bégin, visual artist Julia Daigle, and actor and composer Éliane Préfontaine -- release their debut album, À Jamais Privé de Réponses ("Never Private Answers") on September 7 via Lisbon Lux. The new single from the record is the slinky "Défunte Lune de Miel" which translates to "Defunct Honeymoon." We've got the premiere of the video, directed by Christine Grosjean, which plays out like a surreal noir. It's part David Lynch, part Almodovar, with real a thing for doppelgängers. Check it out:
Paupière just played Canadian Music Week in Toronto and their next show is at Montreal's Osheaga festival.