Indie Basement (2/6): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement (which went live on Saturday morning instead of its usual Friday): The Weather Station's gorgeous new album Ignorance; a compilation from shortlived Athens, GA band Oh-OK (which featured Michael Stipe's sister), UK band TV Priest, horror master John Carpenter composes more Lost Themes, and Crack Cloud's Daniel Roberson brings calm to solo project Peace Chord.
Need more new album reviews? Andrew looks at Black Country New Road, Hayley Williams, Cult of Luna and more in Notable Releases. As for other Basement-approved stuff from this week: The KLF have finally put Chill Out on streaming services (kinda sorta); Microdisney/Fatima Mansions frontman Cathal Coughlan is releasing his first solo album in 10 years, featuring Sean O'Hagan and Luke Haines; Iceage are back and signed to Mexican Summer now; and we interviewed both Ron & Russell Mael and Edgar Wright about their terrific new documentary The Sparks Brothers.
Head below for this week's reviews:
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: The Weather Station - Ignorance (Fat Possum)
Tamara Lindeman's fifth album as The Weather Station is a gorgeous call to action
I reviewed Ignorance, the great new album by The Weather Station, elsewhere on the site but here just a bit of it:
The arrangements, which Lindeman built out before bringing them to her band (also a first), likewise mixed tight structure and room for flights of fancy. The rhythm section, that included two additional percussionists, played it straight, while a second team of improvisers were encouraged to improvise, coloring inside the lines. And sometimes across them. Saxophones and flutes dance in and out of the scene, spinning around Lindeman's breathy, expressive voice which swoops and soars as well. Guitars are used for accents, the piano hits a steady rhythm, and Wurlitzers, Moogs and other organs swirl and swell.
The orchestrated clash of form and folly gives Ignorance a wide-open sonic scope that often recalls '80s sophisti-pop groups like Talk Talk, Prefab Sprout, The Blue Nile, and The Waterboys, or even Mirage-era Fleetwood Mac. (There's also a little Joni Mitchell, with to whom Lindeman been compared for years.) It comes without the trappings of recordings from the era, though: no gated drums or synths subbing for strings. Songs like "Robber," "Atlantic" and "Parking Lot" are lush and organic, mossy like the forest floor and far-reaching like a sunset against an ocean horizon.
You can read the whole review here.
Oh-OK – The Complete Reissue (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
Short-lived Athens, GA band that included Michael Stipe's sister and, at one point, Matthew Sweet didn't release much but all of it was good. This compilation has it all, and more.
Born out of the very fertile Athens, GA post-punk scene, Oh-OK began life as a guitarless trio of singer/lyricist Linda Hopper (who would later form Magnapop), bassist/singer Lynda Stipe whose brother Michael had his own band, and drummer David Pierce. Wow Mini Album, their 1982 debut EP, is a total blast, sounding like a combination of Athens' leading lights (B-52's, Pylon, REM, The Method Actors), with five taut, fun, danceable new-wavy songs that zoom by in nine minutes.
Adding Matthew Sweet on guitar and backing vocals, Oh-OK recorded 1983's Furthermore What with producer Mitch Easter (who co-produced R.E.M.'s first EP and two albums). It puts a little more jangle and harmony in their sound, but it's still a wound-up, nervy party. If you ever wished you could mix Fred Schneider out of the B-52's and add a dash of The Bangles, this was it.
Oh-OK broke up not long after that, but their records hold up great and you can now get them on this handy compilation that also includes a terrific-sounding live show that featured songs they never took to the studio, and two tracks (“Random” and “Courage Courage”) that were going to be released as a single before the band went splitsville. The Complete Reissue originally came out in 2011 in limited edition form and immediately sold out, but following the interest in the Pylon box set and Love Tractor reissues, this one is now back in print. Get it before it's gone.
Now, if someone would reissue those early The Method Actors records.
TV Priest – Uppers (Sub Pop)
Debut album from Fall-influenced UK band
As far as Fall-esque frontmen go, TV Priest's Charlie Drinkwater is a pretty good howler, looking a little like Bluto with a knit cap pulled over his shaved head and a mustache dripping down the sides of his mouth. Charlie sounds like he looks, too, with a tough, resonant voice you'd notice in a bar full of loudmouths. His snarling style -- barking out lines like "Down on Leicester Square In the rain / Where the rubbish comes in piles / And the art comes in spades" -- jostles perfectly with TV Priest's fuzzed-and-flinty bass-forward style which, at its most brash, recalls McLusky, and at its most swaggering is in line with Iceage and Merchandise. (Protomartyr still tread this line better than anyone.) "All I can do is talk," Drinkwater snarls on "Slidewater," but what Uppers really shows is he's best when he sings. That booming voice of his can carry a tune and is capable of holding a little bravado, too, without sliding too far into melodrama, which comes in handy on dark, brooding tracks like "Saintless," "This Island," and "Slidewater."
John Carpenter – Lost Themes III: Alive After Death (Sacred Bones)
The Horror Master still knows his way around sinister synth music on this third helping of soundtrack music for the "movies in your mind"
John Carpenter is a master genre filmmaker, having written and directed such classics as Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York, They Live, Assault from Precinct 13, and many more. These days, though, he may be just as influential in music. The synthy scores to his films, which he composed himself, have inspired everything from the scores for Drive and Stranger Things to artists like Cold Cave, Chromatics and The Weeknd, to many metal & metal-adjacent artists too. While Carpenter hasn't directed a film since 2010's The Ward, he has been very active musically. Working with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies, John composed the score for David Gordon Green's Halloween sequel, played live shows around the world, rerecorded some of his classic themes, and has released new records of "lost themes" he says are for the "movies in your mind."
Alive After Death is Carpenter's third volume of Lost Themes. John, Cody and Daniel know what we want, sticking to the '80s-ish sounds of his classic scores. “We begin with a theme, a bass line, a pad, something that sounds good and will lead us to the next layer,” says John of the trio's process. “We then just keep adding on from there. We understand each other's strengths and weaknesses, how to communicate without words, and the process is easier now than it was in the beginning. We’ve matured.”
With the advances in recording and synth technology, it's a lot easier to make music like this than it was in 1978, and it's easier to make it sound "better" too, but Carpenter wisely mostly keeps it old school, and knows that a cheesy guitar solo is sometimes just what a track needs. The atmospheric pieces in general fare better than the more "rock" oriented themes, but sometimes everything comes together perfectly, like on the eerie jam "Skeleton," which makes you wish Carpenter did have a new movie for this score.
We've got Lost Themes III in our store on transparent blood-red vinyl in our shop. You can also pre-order the new neon yellow vinyl pressing of the first Lost Themes (our 3/5) and a neon orange vinyl pressing of Lost Themes II (4/15).
Peace Chord - Peace Chord (Unheard of Hope)
Crack Cloud's Daniel Roberson brings a haunting stillness to his solo debut
When not working as part Vancouver post-punk collective Crack Cloud, Daniel Roberson makes eerily chill music as Peace Chord, using almost exclusively piano, ambient synths and layers of harmony. He made Peace Chord's debut album during the same time Crack Cloud were making last year's awesome Pain Olympics, recording in a shed behind the communal house where the whole band live. "In that ramshackle space I found stillness for the first time after three years of oscillation; between harm-reduction work in overdose prevention sites and low-barrier shelters, and tour with Crack Cloud," Roberson says. "In the stillness of that space, I was afforded time to reflect on the thoughts and experiences that had gone unseen: Loss of love. The dying of my grandfather. The dying of friends to overdose. Seeing new countries. Bearing witness to celebration and trauma."
Peace Chord is an apt name for the project and the record, exuding a welcoming tranquility that at times is a little haunted too. "Spectral Processor," which features a Buchla synth Roberson built himself, loops ghostly layers of voices that slowly decay, recalling William Basinski or The Caretaker. "Juno" is a simple piano figure, named for his family's dog and soaked in reverb, that is nonetheless quietly disarming. There are more song-like tracks on the album as well, such as the choral "Empty in this House," and the gorgeous "Memo" which was inspired by a visit to Berlin's Weißensee Cemetery. The record is clearly a personal one but its still beauty may bring peace to you too.
Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.