Bill’s Indie Basement (4/19): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Welcome to another edition of Indie Basement. This is another big week for new Basement-friendly stuff, with Fat White Family's Serfs Up!, Wand's Laughing Matter, and Stealing Sheep's Big Wows, all of which were in our list of Anticipated Spring Releases. Then there was a wildcard -- The Flaming Lips' King's Mouth, a concept album which got released as a Record Store Day exclusive and that I was not expecting to like as much as I did (I like it a lot). It's getting a wide release in July but I probably listened to this more this week than anything else (most of that on my turntable, even) so I wrote about it. There's also a new single from Eternal Summers' Nicole Yun, and that is more than plenty for one week.
And if you need more of this week's new releases, Andrew's got you covered.
I was totally obsessed with The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin in 1999 and am pleased to report their new album King's Mouth has some of that vibe. It's only out as a Record Store Day exclusive but I went ahead and reviewed it, and here's an excerpt:
There may not be anything on here as immediate or as amazing as "Race for the Prize," "Waitin' for a Superman," "Buggin'" or "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," but this album is a real grower and has stayed in my thoughts. The only song digitally released so far, "All for the Life of the City," which falls right in the middle of the story -- "The King saves the day...but the King dies today" -- is the album's most immediate, but it's the song it segues into, "Feedaloodum Beedle Dot," that comes closest to The Soft Bulletin's big drum orch-rock sound. It's more of a coda than it's own complete song, though, and King's Mouth is all like that -- this really is a concept album where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
If you're in NYC between now and the end of May, I highly recommend you head to Brooklyn's Rough Trade to visit the King's Mouth installation. You crawl through the mouth into head and stare up at the ceiling for a highly psychedelic experience that is kind of like the vortex scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Don't forget to ask for the prism glasses. It's up through the end of May.
Rough Trade still had a few copies of King's Mouth album when I was there this week...so you might be able to still find it there or via Discogs, etc, for those who don't want to wait till July.
I feel a little bad for Wand. For the last few years people wouldn't stop calling what they do garage rock, thanks to associations with Ty Segall, even though that's really never what they did. Now people won't stop comparing them to mid-'90s Radiohead (including me more than once). It's hard to deny, though, on "Scarecrow," which opens their great new album Laughing Matter and has a spidery, harmonics-dappled guitar intro that definitely recalls OK Computer's "Subterranean Homesick Alien," and at times frontman Cory Hanson sounds eerily like Thom Yorke. But listen past that and you'll realize there's a lot more going on.
A whole lot, actually. Laughing Matter is a sprawling, 67-minute double album filled with memorable hooks, guitar wig-outs, knockout performances, and deep trenches of heavy psychedelia. It's a real tour-de-force with Hanson and the rest of the band really showing their stuff. (Anyone who's seen them live knows Wand are an insanely tight, crazy talented, amazing live band.) If you like soaring rock that is both muscular and melodic with plenty of zigs and zags, Laughing Matter is loaded with it, from "Scarecrow" to "Walkie Talkie" to "Evening Star" to "Wonder." There are moments of real beauty too, like the skittering "Thin Air" (which gets heavy, too) and my favorite song on the album, "Rio Grande," that stays mellow but is drenched in beatific guitarwork. Radiohead comparisons may get people to listen but they'll stay for all that Wand bring.
Fat White Family rode in on a a sleazy wave of infamy, known as much for their wild, debaucherous live shows as their songs. That'll only get you so far -- ask Anton Newcombe -- and the band seemed destined to implode in a haze of drugs, booze and, as Mark E Smith once put it, living too late. 2016's Songs for Our Mothers was not very compelling and main creative members Lias Saoudi and Saul Adamczewski were making better music on their own with Moonlandingz and Insecure Men, respectively. And yet, improbably, here we are three years later and not only are Fat White Family not broken up or dead, but signed to Domino and have just released their best album by a mile. Go figure.
The band wisely decided to escape from London and its easy access to everything and decamped to Sheffield where there's nowhere near as much to do. (Pulp made a career of its mundanity.) Serfs Up! is not only their best, but also their most commercial sounding record to date. Mind you, you can't wash off what Fat White Family have got, but their brand of filth has been made presentable and palatable enough that most won't realize what they're really getting before it's too late. The record pulls you in immediately with "Feet," the closest they've ever come to pop, with its sleek electro-glam engine, and keeps you humming with Saul's "I Believe in Something Better," the deteriorated funk of "Kim's Sunsets" (about Kim Jong-Un) and "Fringe Runner" which is Fat White Family's take on early-'80s NYC electro (complete with a Liquid Liquid bassline and sampled orchestra stabs). "Oh Sebastian" even has a string section and Baxter Dury shows up on "Tastes Good with the Money." Lyrically, however, not much has changed -- it's still hyperliterate shock and awe, with tales of toxic masculinity, dating prostitutes, the apocalypse, vagina dentata, and the kind of sickos usually only seen in David Lynch movies (see "When I Leave"). Wallowing in the gutter can be fun, for a day or two, but Serfs Up proves strychnine is better served dipped in chocolate.
Liverpool trio Stealing Sheep made a huge leap from their 2012 debut, Into the Diamond Sun, to its follow-up, 2015's Not Real, going from charmingly quirky folk to kitchen sink dancepop. The transition felt organic -- you could easily tell the group made both records -- and Not Real was my favorite album of 2015. Four years later, Stealing Sheep are back with their third album that doesn't take any drastic sonic shifts from Not Real but finds them honing their unique approach. One of the most appealing aspects of Stealing Sheep is the way Becky Hawley, Emily Lansley and Lucy Mercer all share the spotlight, taking turns singing lead but also joining forces for heavenly three-part harmonies. The production and arrangements on Big Wows are bright and shiny, much like their glittering outfits on the album art, with inventive percussion pinging around the mix that is as melodic as it is beat-driven. There's also a lot of synth steel drum and arpeggiated keyboard lines that swirl around like dust-devil. The songs are great too, with "Back in Time," "Show Love" and "Why Haven't I" evoking everything from ABBA to Bananarama to Wendy & Bonnie. The most apt comparisons, though, are inventive groups like Hot Chip and Metronomy, both of whom Stealing Sheep are currently eclipsing with this record.
Nicole Yun, who has led Eternal Summers for 10 years or so, released solo single "Tommie" last year and has now revealed that it opens her debut solo album, Paper Suit, which will be out June 7 via Kanine. As mentioned when I wrote about it then, her record allows her to explore sounds that are adjacent to Eternal Summers but wouldn't quite fit, like UK pop from the '80s and '90s, some with a groovy Madchester Feel. We premiered new single "Supernatural Babe" earlier today and with its big two-chord riff and Flying Nun-style organ there's a distinct early-'90s indie rock vibe going on, at least till the soaring middle-eighth comes in which then leads to some surprising and welcome '80s-style sax. ("Welcome '80s-style sax" is a phrase I would've never said 15 years ago, ever, but it doesn't go total "Careless Whispers" and gets kinda psychedelic too). You can check out both "Tommie" and "Supernatural Babe" right here:
I'm also really digging the artwork for the album which was done by Kevin of The Hairs. Pre-order the album, and go see Nicole at her Brooklyn record release party on June 13 at Alphaville which is with Peel Dream Magazine and The Wrens' Charles Bissell.