Bill’s Indie Basement (9/7): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Hello Indie Basement readers. It's Friday, the temperature in New York City is thankfully only in the '70s and here's this week's slate of stuff: another week, another Fall reissue, Luna's Dean Wareham teams with Cheval Sombre for an album of "western dreampop," JEFF the Brotherhood entirely reinvent themselves on their new LP, plus new singles from Swiss duo Klaus Johann Grobe and L.A. punks Flat Worms.
Need more Basement-approved blog content? This week we we had: cool "what we're listening to" features with two of my all-time favorite "S" bands (Sloan and Saint Etienne); Camera Obscura are back; and The Monochrome Set are touring North America in 2019.
Dean Wareham, has never strayed far, stylistically, from the strummy, Velvet Underground-inspired guitar pop he began making with Galaxie 500, and then Luna and Dean & Britta. At this point you know what you're gonna get and, really, you get what you want. Such is the case with his forthcoming album he made with Cheval Sombre (aka Chris Porpora) which is out October 26. In this case, though, there are some differences, as they've made an album of old school cowboy songs, albeit in their own style, resulting in what they call "western dreampop." Dean talks a little about how the record came about:
A few years ago, when Chris was recuperating from an illness, laid up in bed and under the influence of painkillers, I sent him a Youtube video of Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson singing "My Rifle, My Pony & Me" (in the film Rio Bravo). I think that was the seed of this idea - to make an album of western songs together. I've played on the Cheval Sombre records and I've recorded a couple of his songs myself. He has a strange and beautiful voice; like a stoner from another dimension, and when he interprets other people's songs, he often turns them into something unrecognizable.
Dean and Chris made the album with Jason Quever (Papercuts, Beach House), backed by a band including Britta Phillips, Anthony LaMarca (the War on Drugs) and Will Halsey (Sugarcandy Mountain). Dean's selections were mostly traditional cowboy songs, while Chris' picks were a little more modern, including songs by Bob Dylan and Magnetic Fields. The first single is one of the ones Dean sings, a traditional cowboy song "Wayfaring Stranger" which evokes a gorgeously surreal version of the West.
Another week, another reissue from The Fall. Perhaps it should just be a regular item -- Fall Reissue of the Week -- or just turn Indie Basement into Fall Reissues Central. It'll slow down eventually, but until then, count on me writing about them. Especially with an album as notable as 1988's I am Kurious Oranj. This was their second album of '88 (the first was The Frenz Experiment) and was fairly unusual, growing out of a collaboration with avant-garde choreographer Michael Clarke.... it was an actual ballet that got performed live. From Mark E Smith's memoir, Renegade:
We adapted the title from a Swedish porno film--I am Curious, Yellow. I was trying to make the point that we all share some kind of common knowledge that’s within ourselves; that comes out in all sorts of things. Some people call it a gene pool. It’s as if you already know subconsciously about historical incidents. You don’t have to have been taught it. It’s in-built. At the time I wanted to put this across, basically as a loose explanation of what was happening in Belfast: it’s in the head and bones and there’s nothing you can do about it.
I was on a roll at the time. I’m rarely short of ideas, and I’m not into preserving them much, either. If it’s in your head and you’ve got the right people around you then there’s no better time to tell the story. You can’t be afraid of reactions when it’s like that. I think too many writers hold too much back for another time and then lose the initial spark.
The idea was that Clark would do the ballet side to it and we’d come on and play every now and again. The band was very tight at the time and I reckon we could have played anywhere and delivered. We took it to the Edinburgh Festival and it was a real punch in the face for the artistes and critics. The confidence behind the production threw people; there were no half-measures. It was all very bright and brash, and those that got it really got it. You see it a lot more in films and on TV, historical fiction depicted in a brazen way. It was never intended to be high art or low art. I don’t know what those terms mean, to be honest. It was fuck-all like anything else. That’s good enough in itself, if you ask me. I’m not saying it was perfect or brilliant, but I know for a fact that those who did hook into it experiences something special.
The record leads with "New Big Prinz," one of The Fall's most well-known songs (and a quasi-rewrite of their classic "Hip Priest") and also contains the banging "Wrong Place Right Time" and their take on William Blake's "Jerusalem" (also a single). The whole record is pretty great, from the the chiming 12-strings of "Overture from I am Curious Orange" to the rather pretty "Guide Me Soft" and the hyper "Cab it Up."
Out of print on vinyl and, like a lot of The Fall's LPs, not cheap on Discogs, so this new pressing is welcome. It's on orange wax and comes with a replica of original the ballet program from the performances at Sadler Wells Theatre. (Pretty cool!) Preorder yours and check out the "Big New Prinz" video and stream the album, below.
JEFF the Brotherhood, who have been making records since Jake and Jamin Orrall were teenagers in the early '00s (when Jamin was still in Be Your Own Pet), started taking off around the time of 2009's Happy Days, and perfected their stoner rock sound on 2011's We Are the Champions. Then things got weird. They signed to Warners Brothers who tried to turn them into a commercial alt-rock band -- a concept which didn't quite exist in 2015 the way it did in 2005 or 1995 -- and that didn't work out so well. They made a record with Dan Auerbach that felt pretty uninspired, and then one with Joe Chiccarelli that was worse, Warner Bros dropped them, and they were back where they were before when 2016's Zone came out.
Jake and Jamin decided JEFF needed a reboot. "There’s so much preconception now about our band, and people have already made up their minds about what kind of band we are, which isn’t really what we’re about at this point in our lives," says Jake of new album Magick Songs. "This record is another opportunity, with no restraints outside of taking our sound in the directions we want to take it." They added two members -- Kunal Prakash (Viva L’American Death Ray Music/Quintron’s Weather Warlock Band) and Jack Lawrence (Raconteurs/The Dead Weather) -- and recorded the album over five months in Jake's living room, recording improvised jams, and then editing them down and adding to them to make more normal song structures. "We built this record from scratch with all of us in a room together which was a really different approach than anything we'd done before, and spent five months working day in and day out. Our average time for recording a record before this was three days, so there wasn’t really any room or time for this kind of experimentation."
No more riff rock: the group cite '70s and '80s Japanese psych and pop, like Yellow Magic Orchestra, Haruomi Hosono and Satoshi Asakawa as influences here. You can also hear Krautrock influences like Can and Neu!, with a pretty, pastoral vibe running throughout the 12 longish, connected tracks. OK, there is some riff rock -- the album's final quarter gets pretty heavy, but in a more proggy way (with violins and sitars). "Magick Man" is as close to the old JEFF we get here. This is an album that really flows, takes you on a journey, and works as a whole. I might even say it's the best ever JEFF The Brotherhood album, but it almost feels like a new band entirely. If you grew tired of what JEFF were doing before (so did they) or never got into them, welcome to the Brotherhood 2.0.
The biggest question, with the sonic left turn they made, what will their shows be like? They'll be on tour soon.
My favorite Swiss motorik disco duo Klaus Johann Grobe's forthcoming Du bist so Symmetrisch finds them exploring the dancefloor more than we've heard them do on previous records. That said, new single "Siehst Du Mich Noch?" ("Can You Still See Me") is one of the quirkier, non-dancey songs on the record, and yet it's got all the KJG groove-forward earmarks: a totally killer bassline, fat synth sounds (that go a little g-funk), and a vocal melody that transcends the language barrier.
Du bist so Symmetrisch is out October 26 via Trouble in Mind. Hopefully they will share one of the album's real super-jams on this record soon.
When last we heard from L.A. band Flat Worms,-- which includes members of Oh Sees, Kevin Morby's band and Wet Illustrated, they were making a buzzsaw pop racket, informed by UK bands like The Wedding Present and Jesus
and Mary Chain. (Their debut album, which came out on John Dwyer's Castle Face label, was one of my favorites of 2017.) Now they're back with a new single on Brooklyn's Famous Class label which finds them on a whole different trip. The 7", which is out October 12, was produced by Ty Segall at his home studio, and b-side "Melt the Arms" is paranoid, nervy, amped up and totally wired (can't you see?). It's a total ripper, but otherwise is unlike what's come before. I'm curious if the A-side will be similar to this or more like their LP. Either way I can't wait to hear it.