Bill’s Indie Basement (1/31): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy last day of January. This week we're got the great new album from Destroyer, plus a load of reissues from Cocteau Twins and Happy Mondays. Also: Das Koolies who are made up of 4/5th of Super Furry Animals. Who's the missing 5th? Read on.
If you need more new album reviews, head to Andrew's Notable Releases. And for more Basement-approved news there's: it's Brexit Day (sorry, UK) and Jah Wobble re-teamed with his old PiL bandmates Keith Levene and Richard Dudanski (they all played on PiL’s Metal Box), plus The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart, and more on a cool new single; The House of Love added more tour dates; The Monochrome Set are touring; Peel Dream Magazine's new single is terrific; while Soulwax have had to postpone their tour, their Despacio party with James Murphy is returning to NYC; and Kelley Deal has joined Protomartyr as a touring member (how cool is that?).
I reviewed Destroyer's Have We Met elsewhere on the site, here's an excerpt:
With all the ambient layers that are on this album and focus on keyboards and drum machines, Have We Met is like third cousin twice removed to 2011’s brilliant Kaputt (one of our favorite records of the last decade). This is a much different beast, though. Where Kaputt was warm, rainswept, neon-lit and thick with saxophones and flute, Have We Met is gleaming and sleek, like brushed steel in outer space. Colder, louder, more bizarre, but still sexy.
Read the rest here.
It will be interesting to see how these very synthetic songs translate live when Destroyer tour later this year. PS: Merge is selling a pretty cool Bejar enamel pin based on his picture from the album cover.
4AD has been doing a good job the last few years reissuing crucial records from the label's '80s heyday, when some people bought their albums just for the cover art. We got a reissue of Pale Saints' The Comforts of Madness last week and now comes news that Cocteau Twins' 1982 debut, Garlands, and 1986's Victorialand, will get official vinyl represses on March 20. With that, all of Cocteau Twins' albums will have been reissued, except for their collaboration with Harold Budd, The Moon and the Melodies.
These are two very different albums that both travel from the style most people associate with the band. Having only formed in 1981, the band hadn't quite figured out their sound on Garlands, which owes more to dour, early-'80s goth like The Cure, Southern Death Cult, Dif Juz, Rema Rema etc than the ethereal cloudland they would debut just a year later with "Sugar Hiccup." Robin Guthrie's guitar style is harsh, the bass-playing cookie-cutter goth (Simon Raymonde wouldn't join the band till the next year), and Elizabeth Fraser hadn't discovered the true power of her voice. Garlands isn't a bad record, but it's not a distinctive -- or a very Cocteaus-y -- one either.
Victorialand was made just with Guthrie and Fraser -- Raymonde was busy working on This Mortal Coil's Filigree and Shadow -- and primarily features acoustic guitars. Heavily treated acoustic guitars, mind you, but with Fraser's layered vocals it makes for the most featherlight album of their career. It's a truly lovely record, especially for those who just want Guthrie's guitar and Fraser's voice, but it's not the most melody-forward album and feels like it could float away on the slightest breeze. That's ok though. You can put this record on repeat while you work and never get sick of it, and I have personally slept to this album more nights than I can remember.
Both represses were remastered from the original analogue tapes and with artwork faithful to the late Vaughn Oliver's original 23 Envelope designs (Victorialand's is especially beautiful).
Having reissued their early EPs as a box set last year, Madchester/baggy/Factory Records legends Happy Mondays are now reissuing their first four albums on vinyl, all of which are out today. Not unlike The Replacements, Manchester band Happy Mondays' infamously debaucherous behavior has, at times, overshadowed the music but as these reissues show, most of their records hold up quite well.
Happy Mondays' true essential classic is 1990's Pills N' Thrills And Bellyaches which came out at the height of Madchester mania and had finger-on-the-pulse production from Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osbourne that doesn't attempt to turn them an acid house act but does up the bongos and rhythm section. Shaun Ryder, who Factory Records head Tony Wilson often compared to WB Yeats, is at the top of his witty, brilliant, filthy (and even poignant) game on tracks like "Kinky Afro," "Grandbags Funeral," baggy anthem "Loose Fit" and "Bob's Yr Uncle." More than anything, the record is just a total party...and features their best-known song, the cover of the John Kongos' "Step On" (that was even a minor hit in the U.S.).
Not too far behind is 1988's Bummed, which was produced by the legendary Martin Hannett (Joy Division, New Order, ESG) and the band have claimed it may be the first album ever to be made entirely on ecstasy. Hannett's echoey production style suits that vibe and their swampy funk sound well, with the swirling keyboards and guitars seeming a mile away and around you like a blanket at the same time. The album's got one of their best-ever singles, "Wrote for Luck," and tracks like "Lazyitis" and "Moving In With" are pretty great too. This is the one album of the four that should've come with a bonus disc, specifically 1989's Hallelujah EP that includes Oakenfold's "Think About the Future" mix of "Wrote For Luck," Andrew Weatherall's remix of "Hallelujah" and "Rave On."
Happy Mondays' 1987 debut album, which was produced by The Velvet Underground's John Cale, has a ridiculously long title -- Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out) -- and they hadn't quite figured out if they wanted to be A Certain Ratio or The Smiths (it turned out, neither), but the seeds of their signature sound is right there in opening two tracks "Kuf Dam" and "Tart Tart." The album's also got one of their most famous songs and de facto band anthem, "The 24 Hour Party People." This is better than I remember it being but still probably just for fans.
Then there's 1992's Yes Please!, which was a disaster at the time on pretty much every level. Coming off two years of nonstop touring/partying for Pills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches, Shaun Ryder and his brother/guitarist Paul Ryder had become a full-on heroin addicts by this point. Factory Records teamed them with Tom Tom Club's Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz as producers and sent them to record at Eddie Grant's home studio in Barbados, a country chosen as it was supposed to have no heroin. Unfortunately Barbados had plenty of crack, Ryder switched to that and, so the story goes, sold Eddie Grant's furniture to pay for his 25-rock-a-day habit. Yes Please! was a flop -- Melody Maker's review was simply "No thanks." -- and it all but bankrupted Factory Records (New Order made Republic just to help get the label out of debt), but listening now, it's not so bad. Weymouth and Franz's breezy production style is an odd fit, but singles "Stinkin' Thinkin" and "Monkey in the Family" are actually pretty great. Worth a revisit on Spotify, maybe not a purchase.
These new reissues have been cut from Factory Records lacquers and have been pressed on 180 gram vinyl. The album artwork has been meticulously redrawn by the original designers, Central Station Design (the cover art on all four is fantastic). You can save 10% if you order all four as a bundle though most of you will just want Pills 'N' Thrills.
Super Furry Animals have been in hibernation since 2016 but most of the band -- Huw ‘Bunf’ Bunford, Cian Ciarán, Dafydd Ieuan and Guto Pryce (everyone except frontman Gruff Rhys) -- have now reemerged as Das Koolies. Apparently they've been toying with this name for years, imagining Das Koolies as a "parallel band," and are now finally making it a reality, having just dropped their debut single. "It's All About The Dolphins" has sounds SFA have used over the years -- acid house synths, vocoders, dub, sweeping production -- but taken away from Gruff Rhys' very distinct songwriting style, with Bunf and Ciarán singing lead, it truly sounds like a brand new band. Anthemic and catchy, this has me wanting to hear more. The band say, "Don’t let yesterday define today and tomorrow.”
In other SFA-related news, 1999's Guerilla was reissued on vinyl last year. 2000's MWNG was reissued a couple years back, so maybe they'll lay low and go big for the 20th anniversary of 2001's Rings Around the World (their most popular album).