Bill’s Indie Basement (6/8): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Friday! This week in the Indie Basement, we've got the wonderful, string-laden solo album by Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys, shouty UK punk bands Dog Chocolate and Slumb Party, a new ripper from aggressively loud Aussies Deaf Wish, and a small scoop of papaya sorbet in the form of a new Brazilian soft rock disco compilation.
I would be remiss to say that if you're in NYC this weekend I hope you're heading to BrooklynVegan's Northside Festival showcase on Saturday (6/9) at Elsewhere which has an entirely Basement-approved lineup including Protomartyr, Deerhoof, Corridor, Eaters, Tess Roby, The Frigs, and more.
Babelsberg is the first new record from Gruff Rhys, either solo or with Super Furry Animals (or Neon Neon), since his 2014 record American Interior. He recorded the basic tracks two years ago but didn't finish them -- with big help from the 72-piece BBC National Orchestra of Wales -- until recently. It's another fantastic record from one of the most consistently creative forces in music of the last 25 years. He's always surprising us, while remaining instantly recognizable.
While the lyrical themes of alienation in a world of social media and ever-encroaching technology are very now (even if they were written two years ago), he presents them with the kind of sweeping string arrangements -- courtesy the 72-piece BBC National Orchestra of Wales -- that you might have heard on Glenn Campbell, Lee Hazlewood or Fifth Dimension records in 1967. The juxtaposition gives songs with titles like "Selfies in the Sunset" and "Limited Edition Heart" more of a timeless quality than might have been allowed otherwise. Even without that gorgeous accompaniment, Gruff's deft lyrical touch and unique wry humor evens things out. He immediately grabs your attention with bumper sticker slogans, then shows off the nuances in his songwriting once he has you. Only he could make a song called "Drones in the Sunset" so heartfelt and swoony.
IDLES are not the only shouty UK punk band, thankyouverymuch. Far from it, and far from the best (though I like them, it's not a competition.) For example: Dog Chocolate hail from London and recently released their second album, Moody Baloon Baby that frames "young," "loud" and "snotty" in classic but modern terms. You can stream the whole record below. One of the standouts on the album is "Volcano Baby Man" and the video for the song premieres right here. In the same sort of classic-but-modern way, the video looks like it could've been made in 1985, with the band on tour, but employs green screen tech that could only be used today. Andy from the band fills in the details in the third person:
The song was instigated by Andrew around the time of a much needed break from complex and anxiety ridden responsibilities and worries. The journey to peace and simplicity however can be a treacherous one and as Andrew felt himself become tiny, multiple monolithic mother-figures loomed... dut dut duuurr!!!
When we filmed, about a month ago, our only idea was a scrap of green-screen. We chucked in the van and picked a song. We were done with careful plans falling through. Sometimes your only choice is to surrender, sit in the back seat, let things happen, be baby. It was really only later that we saw any sort of link.
The baby and it's chaos is to be celebrated! In the song, Andrew's haphazard vocal line, birthed alongside the words, defined the guitar parts. In the video, the editing obeys the dictation of that green bit of paper we had.
The song itself is about a trip to Sicily. Check out the video and an album stream below.
Moody Balloon Baby is out now on Upset the Rhythm.
Let's keep things loud and agitated, shall we? Slumb Party hail from Nottingham, UK -- home of Sleaford Mods but also Fudge Tunnel and Amusement Parks on Fire -- and make "funked up post-punk" that sounds like it could've shared a stage with XTC, The Higsons and The Three Johns in 1980. Their debut album, Happy Now, is out next week (6/15) via Drunken Sailor and is a 12-song, 24-minute blast of angsty, sax-powered nervous energy.
Listening to the record you can just tell they're great live -- which the guys in SAVAK can confirm -- with guitars and popping bass pinging off keyboards and horns. A perfect example of what they do is the album's title track which closes the LP and is like a bottle rocket set off in tight quarters, bouncing off all the corners, burning bright and hot while sputtering out strangely at the end...you're too afraid to touch it as it might go off again. The song premieres in this post as well, turn it up:
Slumb Party have UK dates in July, all are listed here.
Australia's Deaf Wish are well-named, making snarling, in-the-red garage punk that when they play live really puts earplugs to the test. (Think Hot Snakes by way of Sonic Youth.) The band will release their fifth album, Lithium Zion, on July 27 via Sub Pop. Like 2015's Pain, this album features songs/lead vocals by all members of the group, and it was mixed and mastered by Total Control's Mikey Young.
Sarah Hardiman takes lead on the album's first single, "FFS," a two-minute ripper about infatuation, humiliation and other dark feelings. The song's striking, in-your-face video, directed by Jensen Tjhung & Daniel Twomey, puts Sarah front and center. Watch that below.
If you pre-order Lithium Zion you'll have access to an album stream four weeks ahead of its physical release.
After all that noise, let's finish with a palate cleanser. Last week I wrote about Numero Group's excellent three-disc exotica set, and this is sort of the late-'70s/early-'80s companion to that. The Too Slow To Disco series explores the mellow region where soft rock and disco meet...mostly off the dance floor and mostly away from the big names, though the series brought people like Ned Doheny back into the spotlight, if just a bit.
The fourth in the series diverts attention from the U.S. to Brazil...or Brasil as the Portugese spell it. For this one they approached Ed Molto to compile. Ed's the nephew of Brazilian legend Tim Maia and is an acclaimed artist in his own right, having worked with Gilles Peterson, Roy Ayers, 4Hero, Seu Jorge, Bo Diddley, and Ryuichi Sakamoto to name a few. He's put together a fantastic two-disc set that fits the "Too Slow to Disco" template while bringing a distinct Brazilian flair to the proceedings. This is probably not for everyone -- I put it last in this column on purpose -- but if you love Marcos Valle's "Estrellar," Michael McDonald, and Prefab Sprout, and if the Love Boat theme and "Copacabana" don't make you want to jam an icepick through your temple, the wide-lapeled magic hour tropicalia here is very appealing.