Indie Basement (12/3): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's December, somehow, and that means things are slowing down as far as new releases go. This week only has two for me: Modern Nature's wonderful new album Island of Noise, and Can's Live in Brighton 1975. I also play a little catch-up with Bush Tetras's welcome box set, Rhythm and Paranoia, and Mike Paradinas' first µ-Ziq album in eight years.
If you need more new music, it's a bigger week in Notable Releases with Andrew taking on records by Arca, Failure, Marissa Paternoster, Your Old Droog, Tierra Whack and more. Here are some more Indie Basement-related items from the week: Wet Leg finally announced their debut album; Buffalo Tom are working on their first album in five years; nihilistic Australian post-punk group EXEK are now on Castle Face and have a new album on the way; and Saint Etienne have a new holiday single.
As mentioned last week, our online record store not only has an Indie Basement section, but there's also a special Indie Basement Vinyl Bundle featuring four great records at a discounted price. You get: My Bloody Valentine's repress of 2013's mbv, Spiritualized's new reissue of Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space, Jarvis Cocker's Chansons d'Ennui Tip Top (his French covers album companion to Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch), and our exclusive amber vinyl variant of A Certain Ratio's ACR:EPR (only 250 made worldwide). It's $124 worth of records for $109, grab yours today!
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Modern Nature - Island of Noise (Bella Union)
Inspired by 'The Tempest,' Modern Nature ponders man's role in our world through some truly lovely music
A skronky sax, sounding like a seedling breaking through the topsoil on the first day of spring, ripples out of the speakers. It quickly starts to take more form and is joined by gentle guitar and bass. That's how Island of Noise, the wonderful new album from Modern Nature, opens, with Jack Cooper soon singing in hushed tones, "Some brave new morning, The curtain rises again. An overture plays out."
The concept for Island of Noise was inspired by Cooper, formerly of Ultimate Painting, re-reading Shakespeare's The Tempest and being taken by this line in particular: "Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises.” Cooper says it “summed up what I was thinking about at the time, from the nature of music, noise and silence, to the chaos and confusion that seemed impossible to navigate.” Written in 2020 and early 2021, the themes also lent themselves to a world that was trying to reemerge from a global pandemic.
Modern Nature are still on the path 2020's Annual took, drawing from experimental folk and jazz, but expand their scope here. There's a clear narrative and musical arc, motifs recur throughout, but Cooper left room for improvisation, too. “I imagined the island’s landscape and how it would change and shift through the record," Cooper says. "My guitar, Jim Wallis’ drums and John Edwards’ bass would represent a slowly evolving landscape that would provide the bedrock for the other instruments to colour. The forests, the valleys and the life would be represented by an orchestra of improvisers and classical musicians, working around certain modes and composed melodies.”
Island of Noise has some truly lovely moments: the komische rhythms and playful arrangements of "Performance"; "Masque," the most memorable song, with its chorus of "How sweet the sound, it makes us sleep" and horns that seem to lift you ever so slightly off the ground; and powerful closer "Build" that ponders man's small role in our world and grows taller with every repeated refrain of "Do you see it?" "You're only the blink of an eye" might be a depressing thought to some but in Modern Nature's hands, its beautiful.
The album is being released in a unique way, especially these days, currently only available as a vinyl box set that includes the original album, a companion instrumental version titled Island of Silence, and a 36-page book featuring essays and artwork for every song on the album by Sophy Hollington, Evan Parker, Merlin Sheldrake, Robin Robertson, and more. There's also an accompanying film that has been screening around the UK. It won't be out digitally until January 28 but you can watch the trailer for the album/film, and an unboxing video, below.
UPDATE: The album's on streaming services now. Listen:
Can - Live in Brighton 1975 (Mute)
The second in Can's live album series is another astonishing document of the Krautrock icons' telekinetic musicianship
What's fun about listening to these new Can live albums is the wild places guitarist Michael Karoli, Keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit take you. Can didn't really do setlists, instead playing improvisational sets that twisted and turned, occasionally incorporating elements of the songs from studio recordings. On Live in Brighton 1975, the second installment in the series, they are truly four musicians playing as one with an almost psychic intuition between them. It's like riding in the passenger seat of a car driven by someone you only sort of know. Much of the time you are driving through foreign but fascinating landscapes, but you occasionally pass through familiar territory, like when the riff of "I Want More" appears early in the set, only to turn into something completely different but just as groovy. In the 20-minute closing piece, the band dip in and out of "Vitamin C" with Liebezeit's truly astonishing drumming leading the way. Like Live in Stuttgart 1975, this was recorded on tape as a bootleg but has been restored and cleaned up. The sound is still a little rough around the edges but the telekinetic musicianship cuts though any sonic deficiencies.
Pick it up on triple gold vinyl.
The Bush Tetras - Rhythm and Paranoia (Wharf Cat)
The NYC no wave / post-punk greats collect four decades of music into a much-needed retrospective -- pretty much everything you want is here
Like so many great original era post-punk bands, Bush Tetras burned bright and hot and flamed out with only a few singles to their name. But what singles! "Too Many Creeps," "Things That Go Boom in the Night," and "Can't Be Funky," are all classics, as are the b-sides from the era like "Snakes Crawl," "You Taste Like the Tropics," and "Cowboys in Africa."
The band split in 1983 but singer Cynthia Sley, guitarist Pat Place and drummer Dee Pop reformed Bush Tetras in 1995, and finally made a debut album, Beauty Lies, in 1997 nearly 20 years after they originally formed. They made a second album, Happy, the next year with producer Don Fleming but broke up again, and it got shelved until a belated release in 2012. Bush Tetras had reformed again by that point, getting back together in 2005 as the post-punk revival sparked by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and Franz Ferdinand was hitting its peak. They've stayed together since, releasing a new EP in 2018, and though sadly drummer Dee Pop died earlier this year they continue on.
With a discography scattershot across four decades, the new Rhythm & Paranoia box set, which was released in November just a month after Dee Pop's death, is a welcome and helpful artifact. Across three vinyl albums it collects almost all of their crucial '80s tracks, plus the best of their later recordings and three previously unreleased recordings, all of which have been remastered and sound terrific. While the differences in eras and recordings are pretty obvious -- Beauty Lies and Happy both sound very '90s -- the whole thing holds together really well. It's also the first time any of the Beauty Lies tracks have been on vinyl.
The box set also comes with a 46-page book featuring never-before-seen photos, essays by Thurston Moore, Nona Hendryx, The Clash's Topper Headon, Gang of Four's Hugo Burnham, Bongwater's Ann Magnuson, music journalist Marc Masters, and more. After years of being relegated to cult/footnote status, Rhythm & Paranoia casts Bush Tetras in a new light and gives them the collection they deserve.
µ-Ziq - Scurlage (Analogical Force)
Mike Paradinas returns with his first µ-Ziq album in eight years
When not running the influential and still very active electronic label Planet Mu that launched in 1998, Mike Paradinas makes music himself under a variety of different guises -- Tusken Raiders, Kid Spatula, Frost Jockey -- but the best known, most prominent is µ-Ziq (pronounced mu-zeek if you're unsure). During the '90s heyday of IDM, µ-Ziq dropped three classics via Planet Mu/Astralwerks: 1993's Tango N' Vectif, 1995's In Pine Effect, and 1997's Lunatic Harness. While Paradinas was quick to stress he didn't make music specifically designed for the dancefloor, those records all mixed forward thinking production and wide-ranging influences with in-your-face beats. Lunatic Harness was a key record in the drill-and-bass scene and generally regarded as Paradinas' finest hour, but In Pine Effect holds a special place in my heart (and nose) as my copy came with one of those pine tree car air fresheners and though I lost that tchotchke long ago, my CD (and probably the CD shelf I threw out five years ago) still reeks of it. The sounds and scents are forever intertwined.
But I digress. Earlier this year, Paradinas released Scurlage, his first µ-Ziq album in eight years. LIke a lot of out-of-nowhere releases this year, it is a product of during pandemic lockdown, and made while on family holiday in Wales' Gower peninsula. (It's named for a village near where they stayed in Swansea.) It's been a while since I've checked in with µ-Ziq, but Scurlage brought me right back. Paradinas hasn't mellowed in his early 50s, still slinging chopped-up beats that ping off the walls at breakneck speed, with thick, rounded basslines and ethereal melodies drifting overtop. "Blakers Loop" starts things off on an ominous foot, with massive synth stabs and choral voices right out an Italian horror film. That's followed by "Preston Melodics," that opens the curtains and glides on sunny lead lines and effervescent percussion. He flips between the dark and light moods throughout the record, part Goblin freak out, part ethereal bliss-out, all with those µ-Ziq beats that are like a portal to another era. You can almost smell it.
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