Indie Basement (10/22): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Dear lord, there are a lot of albums out this week! Between the normal busy fall release schedule and albums getting moved around due pandemic production problems, this is easily the biggest logjam of the year. Below I review 13 albums that are all out today. THIRTEEN. They are by: Parquet Courts, Guided by Voices, Jarvis Cocker, La Luz,, Hand Habits, Helado Negro, Deerhoof, Tricky's collaborative Lonely Guest project, Black Marble, Clinic, Dinner, Tonstartssbandht, and Omni frontman Philip Frobos.
Andrew has 10 in Notable Releases, including The War on Drugs, Lana Del Rey, Circuit Des Yeux, and Grouper. Even outside of these albums coming out, it was a busy week: I talked to Parquet Courts' Sean Yeaton about the band's new album and lots more; Gang of Four are touring with David Pajo on guitar; Kelley Stoltz is getting his 2001 album Antique Glow reissued on vinyl by Third Man; and Urge Overkill are back with their first album in a decade.
Fans of Spiritualized: I look back on their classic 1997 album Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space that has been reissued on vinyl along with Lazer Guided Melodies, Pure Phase and Let it Come Down. You can get all of them on vinyl in the BV shop.
Without further ado, this week's deluge of reviews are below.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Parquet Courts - Sympathy for Life (Rough Trade)
I review Parquet Courts' grooviest album to date elsewhere on the site, but here's an excerpt:
Parquet Courts have dabbled with dance rhythms on their last couple albums, but Sympathy for Life is the band's most groove-oriented album to date. Parquet Courts made most of it with Rodaidh McDonald, a very hands-on producer whose credits include The xx and Hot Chip. Many of the songs on the album were created from marathon jams that were chopped up and reconfigured into tight tracks that mostly ride under four minutes. Parquet Courts are far from the only rock band to incorporate dance music into their sound, but they do it in a way that feels like a natural progression that acknowledges the influences while still sounding like themselves.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Dinner - Dream Work (Captured Tracks)
Anders Rhedin stays in and chills out on the most relaxed, enjoyable Dinner album to date, featuring duets with Molly Burch, Lina Tullgren, and Charli Hilton
Danish artist Anders Rhedin, who is a former member of Choir of Young Believers and spent time in L.A. as a professional songwriter (with credits on Kid Cudi and Josh Groban albums), has been making music as Dinner for the last decade or so, splashing around in various pools of 1980s new wave and alt-rock. You may remember his 2014 song "Going Out" which was a blog hit and was also recently covered wonderfully by Loma. While his music has always been fun and very hooky ("Going Out" may never leave your brain), Anders often affected an over-the-top, gothy croon that sounded like Ian Curtis with a severe head cold and could be a dealbreaker. His new album, Dream Work, however, shows off the softer side of Dinner. It's his best yet.
Made in Copenhagen during the pandemic, Anders was inspired by walking around the empty city at night, and Dream Work really reflects that. Guitar is the primary instrument this time, the jangly, decidedly low key kind that recalls things like Echo & The Bunnymen's grey album, Jesus & Mary Chain's Stoned & Dethroned, or early Radio Dept. (Also: Stereolab, which is clearly the inspiration for the drony "Anima.") Working in hushed tones, his baritone sounds great against shimmering, chiming guitars. To make another Stoned & Dethroned analogy, the album has a number of "Sometimes Always" moments, duetting with former Blouse leader Charlie Hilton on "Midnight in My Head" and "Like You Said," Lina Tullgren on "Big Empty Sky," and Molly Burch on the Velvet Underground-esque "Connection." All four are great, especially "Like You Said" and "Connection," which are just wonderful Sunday Morning pop songs. A whole album of these duets would be very welcome. Can I suggest the title "Dinner For Two"?
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: Jarvis Cocker - Chansons D'Ennui Tip-Tip (ABKO)
A full album of Jarvis Cocker in sexy whisper mode, covering yé-yé pop classics as a companion piece to Wes Anderson's 'The French Dispatch'? Oui s'il vous plaît!
Set in the Parisian bureau of a New Yorker style magazine, Wes Anderson's new film The French Dispatch visualizes three stories from the final issue of the publication and stars most of Anderson's usual cast of players (I'm not going to list them). One of the recurring motifs is Tip-Top, a fictional French pop star who is heard on the transistor radios all around the highly stylized version of Paris in the film. Giving voice to Tip-Top is Jarvis Cocker who has lived in Paris for more than a decade and worked with Anderson previously on The Fantastic Mr Fox.
As a companion piece to The French Dispatch, Jarvis made a full album as Tip-Top using his ace JARV IS band and covering 12 classic French pop songs from the '60s and '70s. Already a master of sexy whispering in English, he is a natural for songs by Serge Gainsbourg ("Requiem Pour Un Con"), Jacques Dutronc (“Les Gens Sont Fous, Les Temps Sont Flous”), Claude Channes ("Mao-Mao"), and Max Berlin ("Elle Et Moi"). There are also takes on yé-yé hits by chanteuses including Brigitte Bardot ("Contact") and Francoise Hardy (“Mon Ami La Rose”), and he duets with Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier on Dalida & Alain Delon's "Paroles Paroles." Jarvis stays pretty close to the original versions of the songs; I cannot speak to his French elocution but sonically these songs are ringers for the era. Chansons D'Ennui Tip-Top is by nature a novelty, but that doesn't mean it's not entirely listenable and a lot of fun. And any record entirely made up of sexy whispering from Jarvis immediately justifies its existence in any language.
Guided by Voices - It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them! (GBV Inc)
Robert Pollard's 2021 hot streak continues on Guided by Voices' highly orchestrated 34th album
Robert Pollard releases so many records -- lately he's been averaging about three a year between Guided by Voices and other projects -- that it's easy to take his songwriting abilities for granted. At 63, Bob remains an earworm factory that operates 24/7 and 2021 has been a banner year for GBV Inc. Earth Man Blues is one of the band's best albums in years, and alter egos Cub Scout Bowling Pins' debut album was a terrific excursion into '60s baroque pop and bubblegum. The band's 34th album It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them! not only has an amazing title but keeps up the hot streak with at least 10 of its 15 songs being killers, many of which sport lovely orchestral string and horn arrangements by the multitalented Doug Gillard. "High in the Rain," "Dance of Gurus," "I Share a Rhythm," "Cherub And The Great Child Actor," and album-closer "My (Limited) Engagement" are the kind of soaring, anthemic hook delivery devices that put most other bands to shame and that Pollard regularly loses in the couch cushions.
Lonely Guest - Lonely Guest (False Idols)
Tricky collaborates with the IDLES' Joe Talbot, the late Lee "Scratch" Perry, and more on this short but compelling album
Unable to tour for last year's great Fall to Pieces, Tricky decided to fill his time by working with artists outside of his usual stable of collaborators, not unlike what he did in 1996 as Nearly God. While Tricky stresses that these songs are true collaborations, they all bare his distinctive, menacing stamp. IDLES frontman Joe Talbot gives his raw-throated growl to "Pre War Tension," delivered in a spoken word style that Tricky liked so much, he reworked his backing track entirely after hearing it. Featuring muted guitar riffs and gleaming bass-y synths against spare percussion, the song keeps Tricky mostly behind the scenes while expanding his orbit, which is the case for most of the album. He drops in for a vocal here and there across Lonely Guest but mainly stays in the shadows. A few of the artists push his sound into the sunlight, though. "Pay My Taxes," featuring Murakge Dave, edges toward Pop Ballad territory (albeit one featuring lines like "You can't talk to me like I'm a dickhead"), while Kway brings a light, lithe touch to the minimal "On a Move."
The best tracks on Lonely Guest all feature Tricky's current muse, Marta (his best foil since Martina Topley-Bird; they sound a lot like), including the sultry, rocking "Move Me," "Pre War Tension," and Lee "Scratch" Perry collab "Atmosphere," but Breanna Barbara gives a knockout vocal on closer "Big Bang Blues." Like Fall to Pieces, this album's biggest downside is its brevity; the songs all end while they're still drawing you in. Guests who don't overstay their welcome are always appreciated but in this case, it would've been better if they'd stuck around just a little longer.
La Luz - La Luz (Hardly Art)
Dreamy surf combo team with producer Adrian Younge for their lush, spectral fourth album.
A lot has happened in the world of La Luz since their last album, 2018's Floating Features. Drummer Marian Li Pino left the band, and the rest of the members -- lead singer and guitarist Shana Cleveland, keyboardist-singer Alice Sandahl and bassist-singer Lena Simon -- each moved to different cities. Cleveland also released Night of the Worm Moon, a wonderful psych-folk solo album, in 2019. Still together, if now apart, La Luz are back with their fourth album which was produced by Adrian Younge who is more known for working with hip hop artists like Kendrick Lamar and Ghostface Killah than West Coast surf bands. At first, La Luz doesn't feel demonstratively different than their three previous albums but the more you listen, the album's many layers, and Younge's presence, blossom. There are more keyboards, spacey effects and richer instrumentation (sitar is all over this record), while the band's once signature surf twang has receded with the tide. In many ways this feels more like a direct successor to Night of the Worm Moon than Floating Features. Their lush harmonies and Cleveland's wonderful songs remain at the center, though, and La Luz emerge as what they clearly always were -- terrifically talented makers of spectral psych pop.
Hand Habits - Fun House (Saddle Creek)
A big leap forward for Meg Duffy, Hand Habits third album is confident, memorable pop that retains the yearning spirit of the first two albums
Meg Duffy has come a long way as Hand Habits in just three albums and four years to the point where they almost sound like a different artist now. Where 2017's Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) was dreamy and lonesome, Fun House is big and layered and self-assured. And decidedly poppy. A large part of this comes from new experiences and surroundings. Meg made the album with their current L.A. roomates SASAMI, who produced the album and encouraged them to rethink their perceived limitations on what Hand Habits could or couldn't be. Meg's other roommate, Kyle Thomas aka King Tuff, engineered the album.
While that lonesome, yearning spirit is still present in Duffy's voice, they've burned off the reverby haze of the previous two albums in favor of confident, hooky guitar pop. Meg told us that Fleetwood Mac's Tusk was an influence on Fun House, and you can hear that on the layered guitars, crisp percussion and lush harmonies on tracks like on "More Than Love" and "False Start." Those harmonies are the real star of the album, which spectacularly weave among gorgeous string arrangements and spacey electronics for some spine tingling moments, like on "No Difference," "Clean Air," "Control" and "Just to Hear You" (a duet with Perfume Genius). Elsewhere, "Aquamarine" shows that electro-pop also fits within Hand Habits' universe. What's most impressive is that Meg's really only just getting started.
Helado Negro - Far In (4AD)
Roberto Carlos Lange swings for the fences and mostly connects on Helado Negro's 4AD debut
Roberto Carlos Lange has been making boundary-bursting music as Helado Negro for more than a decade, moving from arty beginnings with memorably theatrical shows to increasingly ambitious albums. He's always pulled from a wide range of styles, but Far In, his first album for 4AD, feels like an entire universe swirling around him in gorgeous constellations of tones and rhythms. It's a galaxy of collaborators, too, including Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak), John Herndon (Tortoise), Kelly Moran, Jan St Werner (Mouse on Mars), William Tyler, Shahzad Ismaily, Kacy Hill, Shara Nova (My Brightest Diamond), Jason Trammell (Yeasayer), and more. Far In is a record to turn up and get lost in, and makes for an especially good soundtrack to walking around a bustling city, from upbeat, danceable songs like "Gemini & Leo" (with Wasner providing seriously funky bass), "Outside the Outside," and "There Must Be a Song Like You" to the swooning, groovy "La Naranja," "Telescope," and "Purple Tones," to ethereal, hallucinatory pieces like "Aguas Frías" and "Aureole" which wouldn't have been out of place on Stereolab's Dots & Loops. Lange's soulful voice and spirit of togetherness is the sun at the center of solar system that is worth exploring to its farthest reaches.
Black Marble - Fast Idol (Sacred Bones)
Chris Stewart doesn't stray far from his dreamy '80s synthpop sound on Black Marble's fourth album, but this might be his best batch of songs yet.
As Black Marble, Chris Stewart makes '80s-style synthpop -- charmingly glum, bopping with octave--hopping basslines, wobbling lead riffs, echo-y syn-toms/electro-handclaps and reverbed vocals beamed in from a rain cloud. He doesn't veer outside this lane much, but he tends to make the most of it while there. Fast Idol, the fourth Black Marble album, feels particularly inspired. Songs like "Somewhere," "Royal Walls," "Ceiling," and "Preoccupation" flower in Stewart's mid-fi production and sound warm like the California sun he now records in, but with a melancholy air that lets you know he's still dancing with tears in his eyes.
Philip Frobos - Vague Enough to Satisfy (Upset the Rhythm)
Omni frontman Philip Frobos has made a soundtrack to his own debut novel, including Steely Dan and Rolling Stones covers
Omni bassist and frontman Philip Frobos has always had a great eye for detail and an ear for dialogue. The band's songs play out like short stories, vignettes and scenes that rich with character. So it is no surprise that he has written a novel, Vague Enough to Satisfy. What may surprise you is he's also recorded an accompanying soundtrack. The album's 11 songs all correspond to a chapter in the book, which are helpfully noted on the back of the album, so you can either just listen to the album as is, or play it track-by-track when it comes up in the text. Example: when a character mentions they've become obsessed with Steely Dan song "Through with Buzz," that's your cue to fire up Philip's eerie, lowkey cover of it. There's also a cover of The Rolling Stones' "It's The Singer Not the Song," but the other nine songs are originals, all in a wiry style that should be familiar to Omni fans. The arrangements are much more skeletal and, with tinny drum machines, keyboards and Philip's melodic bass lines, there's a distinct Stuart Moxham/Young Marble Giants vibe. I admit to not having read the book yet but the soundtrack works on its own.
Deerhoof - Actually, You Can (Joyful Noise)
Deerhoof call their new album "DIY baroque" but as usual nobody else sounds like them
The ever-creative Deerhoof tend to work in high concepts these days, even if they're the only ones who truly understand it. Following last year's excellent, sonically strange Future Teenage Cave Artists (recorded in part with built-in laptop mics) and Love-Lore (a 43-song covers medley), their new album boasts a style they call "DIY baroque," which drummer Greg Saunier describes as "our own working person’s version of highbrow, with all the operatic flourishes and twinkles and sparkles." I'm not sure "baroque" really extends beyond the font used on the album's artwork, as this is a typically bonkers Deerhoof album that often sounds like Saunier, guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodríguez and bassist/singer Satomi Matsuzaki are all soloing at the same time. There is severe shredding, mathy extrapolations of "La Bamba," hazy dreampop, funky jams, and more, all whizzed up in the Deerhoof blender which stays set on "puree" most of the time. They bring a similar mindset to the album's themes. “Think of all the beauty, positivity and love that gets deemed ugly, negative and hateful by the self-proclaimed guardians of 'common sense,'" say Deerhoof. "We'd hardly be destroying society by dismantling their colonial economics and prisons and gender roles and aesthetics. We'd be creating it!” All this destruction/creation can be a bit overwhelming, but spend enough time with their rainbow-colored glasses on and it starts to make sense. That said, confusion is baked into Deerhoof's ethos. Says Saunier, “If we have chemistry, part of it is that we don’t quite understand each other’s music.”
Clinic - Fantasy Island (Domino)
This long-running Liverpool band's idea of a vacation getaway is probably different than yours
Of all the descriptors that come to mind with long-running Liverpool band Clinic, "tropical" is not one of them. And yet here's Fantasy Island, Clinic's idea of a South Pacific getaway record, though nobody is going to confuse this with Martin Denny. It's not purely a joke, they do try a little. That's probably a ukulele on opening track "The Lamplighter," and they seem to have found the "samba" preset on a '70s Bontempi organ to use on a few other tracks. Plus, a casual look at the cover art and song titles -- "Dreams Can Come True," "Hocus Pocus," a cover of Anne Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain" -- suggest a breezy good time. But it's all in service of a typically sinister, demented set of songs and certainly their idea of a good time. The band call this one "a tin fruit cocktail," and shelf stable pineapple and maraschino cherries is about as close as this lot get to grass huts on white sandy beaches. Clinic: Ruining vacations since 1997.
Tonstartssbandht - Petunia (Mexican Summer)
Florida / New York duo mix melody and jammyness on their most "normal" album to date
Tonstartssbandht's early records were acid fried tape experiments that seemed as influenced by Aqua Teen Hunger Force as Amon Düül’, but live shows were undeniably captivating, belying a musicality that their recordings only hinted at. Brothers Andy and Edwin White have risen steadily out of the murk over the last decade, making records that conform more to conventional song structures and fidelity norms while still being pretty odd compared to 93% of the other music being made in the world. Petunia is their 18th album and their most unusual yet. At least for them. Unlike most Tonstartssbandht records, which are pieced together over months or years as songs mutate on tour, the tracks on Petunia were all relatively new and recorded in 2020 in their home of Orlando, using mainly a 12-string guitar and drums. There's a lot of Grateful Dead in these seven tracks -- six of which are long and jammy -- but they also pull from The Zombies, The Free Design and The Carpenters, with sunny melodies, warm harmonies and clean, clear tones. They also manage to approximate trancey electronica using guitars and brushed drums on the album's most hypnotic track, "What Has Happened." Tonstartssbandht may never make a record like this again, but it's good to know they can.
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.
And check out what's new in our shop.