Indie Basement (12/4): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Twenty-Twenty is finally (suddenly?) wrapping up and new releases are slowing to a trickle. That said, we've still got six this week: Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) and Richie Thomas (Dif Juz) work with John Grant, Porridge Radio, Penelope Isles and more on their second album as Lost Horizons; Liverpool band King Hannah delivering a smoldering late-night debut; the debut album from Jetstream (featuring members of The Wedding Present and Trembling Blue Stars); Jad Fair is back with his 19th Half Japanese album; Stereolab's Tim Gane has a new side project, Ghost Power; and the debut single from Brooklyn's Gustaf.
If you need more new releases, Andrew reviews five more from this week in Notable Releases. Other Basement-approved stuff from this week: Wand's Cory Hanson announced a new solo record; Goat Girl shared a new song from their upcoming second album; and if you haven't watched Lovers Rock on Amazon yet, add it to your queue.
Also: this is the last Bandcamp Friday (when they waive their cut of the profits and give to the artists/labels) and all of this week's releases are purchasable through them.
Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: King Hannah - Tell Me Your Mind and I'll Tell You Mine (City Slang)
Liverpool duo make mostly quiet music meant to be played loud on their assured debut.
I generally have a lot of time for music that soothes the nerves but doesn't put you to sleep, and this year I've especially needed it, including recent albums from Loma, Cindy, Woods, Pure X, and Tan Cologne. (Older stuff, too, like Galaxie 500, Beach House, Acetone, etc.) Here's another: the debut from Liverpool duo King Hannah, Tell Me Your Mind and I'll Tell You Mine. Hannah Merrick and Craig Whittle craft layered, mature, memorable indie rock that is heavy on atmosphere. Guitars flow like far-at-sea waves, deep and forceful but never cresting, as the sunset glitters across them, with some Crazy Horse turbulence as songs like "Crème Brûlée" and "Reprise (Moving Day)" stretch out. Song titles -- "And Then Out Of Nowhere, It Rained," "The Sea Has Stretch Marks" -- feel more evocative than literal, just adding to the record's late-night vibe. LIkewise, Hannah's got the perfect voice for music like this, all smoldering cool and, on tracks like "Meal Deal," commanding and powerful. A soundtrack for your next midnight drive down a desolate highway, Tell Me Your Mind and I'll Tell You Mine is quiet music meant to be played loud. Let it wash over you.
Lost Horizons - In Quiet Moments Pt. 1 (Bella Union)
The duo of Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) and Richie Thomas (Dif Juz) create wonderfully cinematic music with help from some great guest vocalists on their second album, which has been split in two.
Simon Raymonde and Richie Thomas have known each other for nearly 40 years, since their days, respectively, playing in 4AD bands Cocteau Twins and Dif Juz. Neither had made music for two decades, though, before connecting as Lost Horizons and releasing their debut album Ojalá back in 2017. They've got a cinematic sound steeped in their respective histories, and making good use of friends and fellow musicians to voice their compositions. Three years later, Lost Horizons are back with another guest-filled album, In Quiet Moments, that's perhaps more ambitious than the debut. It's certainly bigger, having been split into two halves: In Part 1 is out digitally today and Part 2 will be out February 26 along with vinyl and CDs of all 16 songs.
Given the players' lineage, the studio nature of the product, and all the special guests involved, it's tempting to compare Lost Horizons to This Mortal Coil -- the recording project of 4AD owner Ivo Watts-Russell whose records Raymonde played on -- but this is a totally different vibe than the late-night goth comedown music of TMC. Tracks on In Quiet Moments seem to bend to the voice: "I Woke Up With An Open Heart," featuring Nubiya Brandon of The Hempolics, is jazzy and dubby; "One For Regret," featuring Porridge Radio, is pent-up and anxious; and "Grey Tower," featuring onetime Midlake frontman Tim Smith, is deeply verdant.
That said, the eight songs on In Quiet Moments Pt. 1 are all within the wheelhouse of Raymonde and Thomas, grand music, lushly orchestrated and beautifully arranged. (This is a terrific sounding album.) "Every Beat That Passed," set to an ornate waltz structure, is cut from the same cloth that gave us Cocteau Twins' "Ivo," and while singer Kavi Kwai doesn't sound like Liz Fraser (no one does), she's got the kind of acrobatic pipes this song needs. ("You can’t make music for as long as I have and drop all your influences and habits overnight," says Raymonde, admitting the similarities to his old band.) Staying in the 4AD universe, "Linger," featuring Gemma Dunleavy, is exotic and leans into Dead Can Dance territory.
Elsewhere, John Grant's voice is played like an instrument on "Cordelia" with an orchestra of harmonies that swim in slow motion with ethereal pedal steel (it's a stunner). My favorite, though, is the Penelope Isles collaboration, "Halcyon," which is gloriously blissed-out with Jack Wolter's falsetto harmonies soaring towards the sun. (It sounds a little like Montreal's Besnard Lakes.) In Quiet Moments is above all else a wonderful spotlight on amazing voices.
More amazing voices come with Part 2, including Marissa Nadler, The Innocence Mission's Karen Peris, and Ural Thomas.
Jetstream Pony - Jetstream Pony (Shelflife)
Featuring former members of The Wedding Present, Popguns and Trembling Blue Stars make sparkling, fuzzy indiepop as only C-86 vets could.
Fans of classic '80s UK indiepop will find a lot to like on the debut album from Jetstream Pony, a supergroup led by Beth Arzy (Trembling Blue Stars) and Shaun Charman (The Wedding Present/The Popguns), along with Kerry Boettcher (Turbocat), and Hannes Mueller (The BV's, a group with a cool name). If the band's pedigree means anything to you, you won't be surprised to learn the group make winsome, jangly and very catchy guitar pop that in 1988 could've been released on labels like Creation or Sarah back in the day. The mix of sparkling guitars and fuzzed-out distortion is a classic combination that always sounds good, and tracks like "It's Fine" and "The Very Eyes of Night" make great use of it. The best tracks are where Arzy and Charman's voices intertwine, making "Gone to the Ground" and "Mitte" timeless.
Since this album came out earlier this year, Jetstream Pony have released a couple other singles. "If Not Now, When?" is a fuzzed-out indiepop ripper a la The Primitives or Darling Buds, and the b-side is a terrific version of 20/20's powerpop classic "Yellow Pills." The band also just released a holiday single, including original "Grief of a (Frozen) Sailor" and a cover of The Aislers Set's "Hit the Snow."
Ghost Power - "Asteroid Witch" / "Inchwork" (Duophonic Super 45s)
Debut single by new collaboration from Stereolab's Tim Gane and Jeremy Novak (Dymaxion) is groovy stuff
Even though he stays busy with Cavern of Anti-Matter, the reunited Stereolab, and running label Duophonic, Tim Gane always has time for a side project. Ghost Power is the latest of those, a collaboration with Jeremy Novak of Dymaxion and they just released their debut 7" via Duophonic. Both tracks are ultra-groovy instrumentals that sound somewhere between krautrock (surprise), the more experimental side of late-'60s ye-ye, and early-'80s post punk. "Astroid Witch," in particular, with the bloops and bleeps and killer rhythm section reminds me of "Psyche Rock" by ye-ye group Les Yper Sound. (The song was remade as the theme to Futurama, and Stereolab used its title as a song title on Emperor Tomato Ketchup.) "Inchwork" has more of a noir vibe, and both would sound great in a TV show or movie. Attention music supervisors!
Gustaf - "Mine" (Royal Mountain)
One of Brooklyn's hardest working bands of the last couple years finally put out a record.
For the last few years, Gustaf have been one of the hardest working bands in Brooklyn, and one of the most fun to see, too. Singer Lydia Gammill has an undeniably magnetic, unpredictable, livewire stage presence that might scare you a little the first time you see them. (She is totally in your face, man.) It's just what you want with danceable, angular post-punk/new wave like this that owes a sonic debt to The B-52's, Pylon, and The Contortions. Her presence is such a part of their appeal that you might wonder how or if it could translate to a record. Perhaps Gustaf has been wondering the same thing, as they've taking their time on that front. After four years and dozens of shows, the band are just now releasing their first single, out today via Canada's Royal Mountain Records (U.S. Girls, Pottery, Orville Peck, Wolf Parade).
Turns out, their energy transfers to tape quite well. These two tracks, produced by Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Beach House), sound fantastic. The drums, bass and wiry guitars really crack, and Gamill's charisma comes through loud and clear, as she plays off backing vocals from guitarist Vram Kherlopian and percussionist Tarra Thiessen. The chemistry between those three is another key aspect to Gustaf's anxious, taut style. Let's hope an album is on the way soon, not to mention a chance to see them live again.
Half Japanese - Crazy Hearts (Fire Records)
The indefatigable Jad Fair returns with his 19th Half Japanese album sounding as amazed by the world as ever.
Jad Fair is an unstoppable force, maybe not working at the pace of Robert Pollard, but has been consistently cranking out records for over 40 years under various guises, but most prominently as Half Japanese. Crazy Hearts is the 19th Half Japanese album and finds Fair even in wonderous art-punk mode, with his lyrical musings over a backing of organ-fueled rock that's sometimes heavy and psychedelic ("Phantom Menace," "My Celebrity") and sometimes swirling and pretty ("Undisputed Champions," the title track). Jad feels as amazed by our world as he ever has, and it's a comfort knowing he's still with us. Thank you, Jad.
Cover art on Crazy Hearts is by the great Gary Panter, who designed the sets for Pee-wee's Playhouse.
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