Indie Basement (3/25): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Spring everybody! We're just five days into the season but things are blooming like crazy, and by that I mean it's an insane week for new releases. I review eight new albums from Destroyer, Aldous Harding, Loop (first album in 30+ years), Jarvis Cocker, Young Prisms, Ex-Vöid (ex Joanna Gruesome), P.E. (Pill + Eaters), and Ibibio Sound Machine (produced by Hot Chip). Plus: a look back at Pale Saints' In Ribbons for its 30th anniversary.
If you think that's a lot, Andrew review nearly 20 album in this week's Notable Releases, including Denzel Curry, Phife Dawg (RIP), Anand Wilder, and more.
Be sure to visit the Indie Basement corner of the BrooklynVegan shop that includes a selection of books, albums and merched hand-picked by yours truly, including the new Destroyer, Adous Harding and Ibibio Sound Machine albums, plus preorders of Fontaines DC (on exclusive translucent red vinyl) and Wet Leg, and not to mention classics from Pavement, LCD Soundsystem, Stereolab, Broadcast, Spoon and more.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Destroyer - LABRYNTHITIS (Merge)
Dan Bejar's 13th Destroyer album is dizzying, dazzling, and disorientating disco as only he could make.
Dan Bejar said that when he and regular collaborator John Collins first started talking about making the album that became LABRYNTHITIS, they originally wanted to make a full-on electronic dance album, with "slamming techno," acid house and maybe dash of late-'90s Cher. And that is apparently where Dan thought Collins would take his skeletal song-sketches he sent to him, but "in the end, that's not what we made, because we make what we know, and we don't really know those things." LABYRINTHITIS is still very much a dance record but one informed by the '80s, from the over-the-top production of Trevor Horn (ABC, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Art of Noise) to peak New Order, John Hughes soundtracks. There's also a little actual '70s-style disco sprinkled throughout.
With more contributions from the rest of the band -- drummer Josh Wells adds immeasurable thump and thwock -- than any album since Poison Season, LABRYTHITIS falls somewhere between the rain-soaked swoon of Kaputt and Have We Met's computer-processed sheen. It's easily Destroyer's most danceable record to date, but Bejar's lyrics, written during the pandemic's first wave, give everything an undercurrent of dread. On "It Takes a Thief," the album's most relentlessly upbeat song -- at 145 BPM it's like The Style Council's "Shout it to the Stop" on speed -- he sings "up in flames, another way of saying goodbye." On "The States," which has house music origin you can feel just a little, he sings "No matter how you frame it, sun ain’t gonna shine."
Trying to discern too much meaning out of Bejar's lyrics, though, is a bad idea. The best approach is to just let his words and always delightful delivery wash over you. In the process, lines will stick, be it "Ruff Ruff goes the beagle to the terrier" ("Eat the Wine, Drink the Bread"), "You lose your umbrella to the sideways rain" ("The States"), "Fancy language dies and everyone’s happy to see it go" (June) or "The ceiling’s on fire and the contract is binding" ("Tintoretto It's For You").
John Collins really outdid himself on the production, from the sweaty insanity of the aforementioned "It Takes a Thief," to the lush opener "It's In Your Heart Now" that channels both New Order and Disintegration-era Cure (lots of bass as lead instrument), to the crashing melancholic grandeur of "All My Pretty Dresses." The wildest combination of prose and production, though, comes in "June," a six-minute extravaganza that starts as a sexytime disco number and then makes a left turn at the halfway point where Dan heads into spoken word jazz odyssey territory, somewhere between Jim Morrison and Barry White, rattling off lines like "Low-born Madonna / With her typewriters in the rain / Clacking their misfortunes, Speech, Speech!" as the cowbell kicks in and spaced-out trumpets swirl around. Only in Bejar-land.
Just when you've got LABRYTHITIS halfway figured out, in comes "The Last Song," which is just Dan and his guitar in sing-a-long mode. It makes the most sense of anything on the record, distilling the rollercoaster ride of the last two years, a glorious hangover on a perfect morning:
You get up.
You stand up.
You pull your head on outta nooses.
You don’t know what the news says
On any given day.
You fake say hello
And you fake say goodbye.
You point your head up at the sky and say, “Oh wow look at the sun.”
Again, with Destroyer it's best just to go with the flow. "There's just a lot of wild moves," Dan says of the album, noting that he and John Collins ended up trying "to make the most disorienting record we could." Mission accomplished in the best possible way.
Read our interview with Dan about the new album and lots more.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Aldous Harding - Warm Chris (4AD)
Aldous Harding's third album with producer John Parish is a much subtler bird than 2019's 'Designer'
"People say to me, 'Why don’t you use your real voice?' But what people don’t understand is that I don’t know what my normal voice is anymore," Aldous Harding told Pitchfork's Madison Bloom recently. "In a lot of ways, I feel like the songs are like secrets that the muse is keeping from me. I have to listen, and then it tells me where the gaps in the universe are, and then I try to fill them with good intentions."
There are new voices heard on Aldous Harding's Warm Chris, her fourth album and third for 4AD. She sounds smaller, somehow; more delicate, almost like a different person than the one who made 2019's wonderful Designer. Warm Chris is an equally beguiling record, just different. It's more pastoral, almost faery folk at times, more subtle. Whoever is the subject of these songs also appears to be head-over-heels in love. "Cut it up, put it in my hand," she sings on the bright, airy opener "Ennui." "You’ve become my joy you understand." On "Fever," she sings "I had stars coming all around me / And you let me in where a mother’d invested."
Despite the new vocal stylings, Aldous made the album with her now regular troupe of collaborators, including producer John Parish, and multi instrumentalist H. Hawkline. Sleaford Mods' Jason Williams turns up on the Nico-esque closing track, "Leathery Whip," not to unleash his usual spiel but to offer tender backing vocals. This is new territory for everyone it seems. While Warm Chris doesn't grab you by the lapels the way Designer did, it's an album whose many charms creep up on you and before you realize, you're totally under her spell once again.
Loop - Sonancy (Cooking Vinyl)
First album in 30+ years from UK masters of motorik psych-drone
Robert Hampson reactivated his '80s/'90s psych rock group Loop in 2013 -- they'd been dormant for 22 years -- to play All Tomorrow's Parties and he's kept it going ever since. He put out the excellent Array EP in 2015 which was supposed to be the first of three Loop EPs, but then Hampson went quiet. Seven years later, Hampson is finally back with Sonancy, the first Loop album since 1989's A Gilded Eternity.
“My motto has always been ‘Forward’ and I always try to do something new with each record," says Hampson. "I always try to push different influences in there. Specifically for this record, I wanted to counter the idea of the ‘Array’ EP, on which all the tracks were longer and drawn out. They still had the motorik element of bands like Neu! and Can, but Loop's always had that. With ‘Sonancy’ I also wanted to take a post-punk sound, spin it on its head and mix it with a psych influence. A total gumbo. Which has always been Loop, this mash-up of spicy rhythms.”
Hampson is working with new sounds on Sonancy but it is unmistakably Loop, who remain one of the most perfectly named bands ever. He starts with a riff and/or a groove and then rides that out to its conclusion adding layers of sound along the way. There are no choruses in Loop's world -- and chord changes are rare -- but Hampson's singular hypnotic vision remains a powerful, visceral trip. Like the stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Sonancy is a straight shot that overwhelms the senses.
JARV IS... - This is Going to Hurt Original Score (Rough Trade)
Just what the doctor ordered: Eight new Jarvis Cocker songs from this BBC limited series
After 10 years of no new albums, Jarvis Cocker has been making up for lost time. In 2020 he released the debut album with his new group, JARV IS..., and then in 2021 he put out an album of French pop covers as a companion to Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch. Now JARV IS... have released their score for new BBC limited series This is Going to Hurt. It features eight new songs with lyrics and vocals by Jarvis, plus four compositions by harpist Serafina Steer, all performed by the band (Jarvis, Serafina, Emma Smith, Andrew McKinney, Adam Betts and Jason Buckle). In addition to the theme song, there's the Bond Theme-y "Adam's Nightmare," the Velvet Underground-ish "Dare to Love" and "Fuck This," the dark and motorik "Job Description," the pretty "Just One of Those Days," the tender "All I Have is Yours," and the eerie, whispering "Shruti (The Golden Thread)." It's a very different vibe than the band's danceable 2020 debut, Beyond the Pale. Jarvis says "It’s our love song to the NHS."
The This is Going to Hurt series is based on Adam Kay's novel of the same name, and stars Ben Whishaw (The Lobster, the voice of Paddington) as a junior obstetrics and gynecology doctor trying to work his way up the ranks in the funding-strapped National Health Service. It's darkly funny but also quite serious, with more than a few heartbreaking moments. The series is set in the mid-00s, and the soundtrack, when not using JARV IS... songs, is full of indie from the era, including The Libertines, Radiohead, The Rapture, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Florence + The Machine, Hot Chip and more. You can listen to a playlist of all the songs in the series here.
Ex-Vöid - Bigger Than Before (Don Giovanni)
Debut album from former leaders of Joanna Gruesome finds their powerpop powers still intact
One of the most promising bands of the early 2010s was Cardiff, Wales' Joanna Gruesome who mixed punk and indie pop into big pop hooks with big feelings. Singer Alanna McArdle left the group in 2015; they carried on for a while without her but they fell apart not long after. So it was great news in 2018 that McArdle and Owen Williams, who wrote most of JG's songs, were forming a new band, Ex-Vöid. Four years and a couple singles later, we've got their terrific debut album. The bright melodies and wonderful harmonies that distinguished Joanna Gruesome are still here, but they've mellowed out just a little, owing more to the 12-string jangle of Gene Clark and the descending chord progressions of Big Star than anything on indiepop touchstone C-86. They keep things short and punchy, with songs acting as pure hook delivery devices that rarely need more than two minutes to lodge in your brain, though they do make a little time for some flashy twin lead soloing. McArdle and Williams' voices sound great together even when singing the same melody, but when the harmonies kick in on tracks like "Chemical Reaction," "Churchyard," and "Boyfriend," Ex-Vöid soar.
Young Prisms - Drifter (Fire Talk)
Bay Area shoegazers return in gorgeous form on their first album in 10 years
After two terrific albums in the early 2010s, San Francisco shoegazers Young Prisms drifted off into the ether. The music industry is tough and you can't pay Bay Area rent with critical acclaim, and with interband romantic entanglements, parenthood and other Real Life stuff, the band was put on the backburner. But they never broke up. At the end of the decade, Stefanie Hodapp, Gio Betteo, Matt Allen and Jordan Silbert reconnected and found they still had something to say, and were in a better place to do so. Drifter is Young Prisms first album in a decade and maybe their best. They made it with Shaun Durkan of Weekend (another shoegaze band that hasn't made a record in a while) who helped them find a balance of melody, atmosphere, beauty and noise. Too many of these groups put "dream" ahead of "pop" but Drifter is full of memorable songs -- "Outside Air," "Yourside," "Violet" -- and blissful arrangements and productions. "Honeydew," with its mile-wide sunshine smile of a chorus, would've been worth reuniting for alone. Welcome back.
P.E. - The Leather Lemon (Wharf Cat)
This power coupling of Brooklyn bands Pill and Eaters just get better
Brooklyn's groups Pill and Eaters teamed up for a one-off live performance to open for Bodega's Endless Scroll release party back in 2018. They liked working together so much, both of their respective bands basically ceased to exist and they became a more highly evolved combined organism know as P.E. Pill's Jonny Campolo, Benjamin Jaffe, and Veronica Torres bring skronk and attitude, while Eaters' Jonathan Schenke and Bob Jones bring beats and inventive production. Their excellent debut album came out just days before lockdown in March 2020 but they've thrived creatively through the pandemic, releasing the killer The Reason for My Love EP last year and are now back with their best record yet, the awesomely titled The Leather Lemon. (If that is not the name of an S&M club somewhere in the world, it should be.) The production is wilder, the hooks are bigger, and everything feels more confident. Also: Torres has also all but dropped the sprechgesang delivery to reveal a terrific singing voice. The Leather Lemon has dancefloor fillers ("The Reason for My Love," "Contradiction Of Wants"), baroque dreamstate jazz ("Magic Hands") and even a loungey duet with Parquet Courts' A. Savage ("Tears in the Rain"), all of which make sense together in P.E.'s unique universe.
Ibibio Sound Machine - Electricity (Merge)
Hot Chip produced this London-based afrofuturist electro funk band's excellent fourth album
Led by the magnetic Eno Williams, Ibibio Sound Machine have been making afrofuturist electro-funk for 10 years now and in a stroke of genius, they enlisted Hot Chip's Joe Goddard & Al Doyle to produce their fourth album. "Prior to the sessions, we had run into Ibibio Sound Machine at festivals and loved watching them perform. There are very talented musicians throughout the band, and Eno is a massively charismatic, skilled singer," say Hot Chip. "The sessions were hugely rewarding as Ibibio brought in friends and collaborators to add a wide array of different instruments — some of which were unfamiliar to us. The songs on this record are uniformly great, and we were really happy to be a part of making it." Ibibio Sound Machine and Hot Chip are a real peanut butter cup situation -- two great tastes that taste great together -- with Joe and Al bringing their vast knowledge of vintage synths and dance music, and Eno and the rest of the band bringing the energy and songs. Electricity is right.
Pick up Electricity on black and yellow splatter Peak Vinyl in the BV shop.
Pale Saints - In Ribbons (4AD)
The second album from one of the best bands of the original 4AD era turned 30 this week
One of my favorite bands of the original 4AD era is Pale Saints who were in many ways the ultimate 4AD band capable of ethereal beauty like Cocteau Twins, the roar of Pixies and the genuine oddity of Throwing Muses. Their terrific second album, In Ribbons, turned 30 this week and I looked back:
For their second album, Pale Saints stayed with Flesh Balloon producer Hugh Jones who had worked with Modern English, The Sound, and the Bunnymen, and whose atmospheric style was a good match for the band's sound. Jones was also a calming presence, smoothing out tensions between Masters -- whose taste leaned more to the esoteric -- and the rest of the band who enjoyed working on the somewhat more mainstream side of indie and were interested in, you know, selling some records.
That push and pull between Masters' outsider tendencies and Naysmith, Cooper and Barham's commercial interests is what makes In Ribbons so good. If some of the wild, ragged edges of Comforts of Madness have been smoothed off, the album makes up for it with scope and beauty. And there's still no shortage of weird.
Read the whole retrospective feature here. This one need a reissue pronto!
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