Indie Basement (9/3): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Labor Day Weekend! Holidays usually mean it's a light release week but Indie Basement has a pretty full slate: Super Furry Animals give Rings Around the World the deluxe 20th anniversary treatment; SUUNS are back with their most chilled-out record to date; P.E. (Pills + Eaters) find their groove on their new EP; Ty Segall cohorts Meatbodies return with their first album in four years; Toronto's Motorists channel '90s Canadian indie rock on their jangly debut; Julian Cope dips into his archives of Cold War Psychedelia; and Slumberland Records continues to sign great new groups that fit into their long history with Chime School.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew looks at Little Simz, Iron Maiden and more in Notable Releases. And here are a few more items from this week that are of interest to regular Basement readers: The Pop Group made us a playlist of Dub Essentials; Beak> are back with a new single; Elbow and Johnny Marr announced new albums; the trailer for Todd Haynes' Velvet Underground documentary is out; Blunt Bangs are the promising new group from Reggie of Black Kids. Also: ABBA are back!
Special shout-out to Lee "Scratch" Perry, who died last weekend, and without whom many of the groups in Indie Basement would not exist or would sound very different. Rest in dub.
You can pick up the Rings Around the World 20th anniversary vinyl edition in the BrooklynVegan shop, and be sure to check out the Indie Basement section that has tons of hand-picked selections, from Destroyer to Devo, from Kraftwerk to King Gizzard and more. Our Ty Segall vinyl selection also just got bigger.
It's also Bandcamp Friday where the site gives its share of the profits to the artists and labels, and most of the albums I write about today are available through it.
Have a great holiday weekend and head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM (REISSUE) OF THE WEEK: Super Furry Animals - Rings Around The World (20th Anniversary Edition) (BMG)
The Welsh greats' magnum opus gets the presidential suite treatment for its 20th anniversary, with a remastered, overdue vinyl release and a 3-CD set featuring a whopping 33 unreleased tracks.
"We were trying to make a blockbuster album that was going to be like The Eagles," Gruff Rhys told Uncut in 2008, talking about Super Furry Animals' fifth album. "We were trying to make utopian pop music that had pretensions of being progressive and exciting." Released in July of 2001, Rings Around the World was definitely progressive and exciting -- a magnum opus where they rose to their ambitions with some of their best ever songs, and any pretentions were buoyed with creative engines running at full power and their gleefully anarchic wit. It's their best album in a discography full of great albums, and a contender for best album of 2001.
The album had a working title of Text Messaging is Destroying the Pub Quiz as We Know It, and while they ended up ditching that, prescient as it was, the themes of technology and its positive and negative effects on the earth and its inhabitants remained. Not unironically, Rings Around the World was the Furries' most technologically advanced album to date. It was the first album to be released as a 5.1 surround sound DVD (their subsequent tour was also in surround sound), and the songs incorporated all manner of electronic styles (techno, jungle, drum-n-bass), along with surf, metal, punk, easy listening, disco, prog and more that were thrown into the SFA digital blender.
A song like "Sidewalk Serfer Girl" has almost all of those elements on display, all while being a wonderful pop song AND a Beach Boys homage whose chorus can lift you six inches off the ground. "Receptacle for the Respectable," the best non-single track on the album, also tips its hat to the Beach Boys, getting Paul McCartney to crunch celery in time to the beat much like he did on BB track "Vegetables." There's not a bad song on the album, from the Love Boat theme-esque "Juxtapozed with U," the glam-punky "Rings Around the World," and doomsday ballad "It's Not the End of the World?" -- all singles -- to sweeping, string-enveloped tracks like "Shoot Doris Day," "Run Christian Run," and "Presidential Suite" which features The Velvet Underground's John Cale on piano. Despite using so many then-current electronic styles, Rings Around the World does not really sound that dated and holds up remarkably well. Many of its prophecies, from cellphones to the state of Planet Earth's ecology, have come to pass but it still sounds like the future.
The 20th anniversary edition features the album remastered from the original analogue tapes, and marks the first time the album has been officially available on vinyl in the United States. You can order the vinyl edition in the BrooklynVegan shop.
The 3-disc CD edition, meanwhile, includes 50 tracks total, with 33 that were previously unreleased. Among them are four studio outtakes, including the groovy, Primal Scream-y "John Spex," and the heavily electronic "Miami Vice" which would later be reworked as "Slow Life" for 2003's Phantom Power. The other two are "unfinished" but still very cool -- the jaunty "Sanitised," that recalls The Kinks and Small Faces, and the electro-rock instrumental "Chihuahua."
Then there are all the single b-sides, including the great, album-worthy "Tradewinds" and "Roman Road" (and more), plus 26 (!) remixes from everyone from fellow Welsh group Catatonia, Brave Captain (Martin Carr of The Boo Radleys) and The High Llamas (who did the string arrangements on the album) to Kid 606, Atmos and Bench. They're all pretty good and you can tell the band just told people to go crazy with them. Some of them, like the Walt Liquor Mystic Remix of "Juxtaposed with U," that adds a rapper, and the High Llamas' remix of "Presidential Suite," are great.
There are also new liner notes, including an oral history of the band, and more. It's a terrific package befitting a truly great album. Revisit it if you haven't in a while or dig in for the first time. The 3-CD version is also on streaming services.
SUUNS - The Witness (Joyful Noise)
Montreal's vets chill out considerably on their introspective fifth album
SUUNS have taken some sharp turns over the decade-and-change they've been together, but they've always been more about vibe and mood than cranking out the hits. That's just fine -- they are expert mood makers, usually keeping things dark and creepy whether it's via claustrophobic, motorik rock or forays into EDM-inspired beats. Now with The Witness -- their first for Joyful Noise after four albums on Secretly Canadian -- they've mellowed out, stretched out and zoned out for their most considered, minimal album to date. "We wanted to calm down a bit, even during the mixing process," says bassist Joe Yarmush. "Our notes were simply ‘you have to settle down’. I couldn’t technically explain what I meant by that, but the songs needed to settle down. We were basically trying to hold back all the bombastic tendencies and make things sound very subtle.”
Subtle is good descriptor for The Witness which holds your attention while it withholds big releases, quietly layering sounds, ratcheting the tension almost imperceptibly till you feel it about to break. But then it doesn't break, at least not for a while. Ben Shemie's vocals are heavily processed and vocodered/autotuned, floating through the ether and merging with the other sounds on the album. It's an eerie effect that is used sometimes for beauty ("Third Stream," "Clarity") and sometimes for menace ("C-Thru," "The Fix"). The Witness is the band's prettiest album, at times its most hopeful-sounding. The band have cited Talk Talk and Robert Wyatt as influences this time and you can definitely feel that -- even at its most quiet it sounds like it was recorded in an empty canyon, with rolling synthesizer lines on closer "The Trilogy" rolling through like a river. When the drums kick in half way through, it's the release you've been anticipating for the whole album, gliding you out of the water, out of the canyon and into the stratosphere. The wait, in this case, made it worth it and after years exploring the dark, SUUNS may have found the sun.
P.E. (PILL + Eaters) - The Reason For My Love (Wharf Cat)
Nothing to do with Chuck D or Flava Flav, this P.E. is a Brooklyn collision of Pill and Eaters who are back with a lockdown-created EP designed for dancing
Brooklyn's P.E. began as a side project, combining the forces of electronic duo Eaters (Jonathan Schencke and Bob Moses) and Veronica Torres, Jonathan Campolo, and Benjamin Jaffe who were all in skronky band Pill. Their established friendship blossomed into creative alchemy; improvised jams in their rehearsal space were shaped into song-like structures for their 2019 debut which was cool and compelling but also kept the weird and experimental. When the coronavirus pandemic made P.E.'s usual method of operation impossible, the band figured out new ways to improvise and collaborate.
The band began trading song ideas and snippets remotely: Schenke offered up song sketches; Jones made beats in his new Zo City home studio; saxophonist Ben Jaffe biked to Central park and recorded live; Campolo made field recordings and recorded his baby grand piano; and Torres experimented with microphones in different rooms of her house. Files were traded, songs grew and and then trimmed down. Then with concrete musical ideas, they all convened together in early 2021 to record, resulting in this EP. Perhaps due to the slightly more structured nature of process, the three new songs here are the band's most song-like creations yet. And best. While still experimental, there is a pop backbone to all three, not to mention an overt danceability. "The Reason for My Love" flirts with jungle breakbeats, "Shadow Side" gets dubby, and "Beauty Queen Boy" dabbles in sultry synths. "The Reason for My Love" also gets a great remix by Xiu Xiu (taking it into two-step territory) and a cool dub mix by the band. P.E. will probably fully go back to working in person when the pandemic allows, but this method certainly worked in their favor. While created far apart, The Reason for My Love demands play on packed, sweaty dancefloors.
Meatbodies - 333 (In the Red)
Ty Segall cohort Chad Ubovich follows his own psych-rock path on Meatbodies' first album in four years
333 is Meatbodies' first album in four years and it's one that almost didn't happen at all. Main man Chad Ubovich, who also plays in Ty Segall's Fuzz and has collaborated with Mikal Cronin, hit 2019 feeling burnt out. “I’d been touring for eight years straight with all these bands, and just couldn't do it anymore,” Chad says. “There was also a feeling in the air that everything was changing, politically. Things just didn't feel right, and I went down a dark path.” Chad pulled himself out, though, got sober and felt the creative juices flowing again. He and Meatbodies drummer Dylan Fujioka recorded an album in 2019, but was drawn back to demos he'd made in 2018 ("It sounded gross, like a scary Magical Mystery Tour") which ended up being the basis for 333. It's easy to compare Chad and Ty, especially with a track like "Reach for the Sunn" which sports a mountain-sized, phased-out riff and opens the album, but he's really forging his own path here. "Night Time Hidden Faces" is powered by a fuzz bassline perfect for go-go dancing, "Eye Eraser" is MBV-style shoegaze, and "The Hero" is sunny Haight-Ashbury pop. It's good stuff -- now let's hear that other album.
Motorists - Surrounded (We Are Time, Bobo Integral and Debt Offensive)
Toronto band channel the '90s Hallifax pop explosion on their debut album that's chock-full of catchy indie rock
Chiming guitar rock, the kind made by Big Star, Tom Petty and Cheap Trick in the '70s and then mutated by new wave and college rock groups like The Plimsouls, R.E.M. and Hoodoo Gurus in the '80s, is not exactly in fashion these days. But it's never completely out of style, either. Groups like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and Kiwi Jr are still flying the flag for jangly, muscular and melodic music, you can add to that list Toronto trio Motorists whose debut album pulls from the last 50 years of guitar pop, with a focus on the last 30 years or so. There's a little early-'80s powerpop precision, mid-'80s paisley underground psychedelica and the post-REM janglepop explosion, as well as '90s college rock, the Hallifax indie scene, Britpop and beyond. Halifax has an especially strong pull here, and songs like "Natural Targets," "Vainglorious," and "Walled Garden" seem like they could've come out on Sloan's Murderrecords in 1993 alongside Jaill and The Super Friendz. Motorists can clearly play, and songs are loaded with big hooks, ripping leads and three-part harmonies, but the mid-fi keeps things just rough enough while letting the joy of guitars ring through.
Julian Cope & The Teardrop Explodes - Cold War Psychedelia (Head Heritage)
Julian Cope digs into his Archdrude archives and mashes them up into something new
Julian Cope is the kind of psychedelic true believer and genuine weirdo that is worth following through thick and thin, wild mood swings, dalliances with chart pop and the strangest, most uncommercial records. Almost all of it is worth hearing, and you never know when he's going to drop something brilliant. While Cold War Psychedelia doesn't quite fall into the "brilliant" category, it is a cool artifact from the Archdrude's archives -- almost all of it unreleased -- that Cope has mashed up into something new. The music comes from a 1982 recording session by his old band The Teardrop Explodes that was made near the end of their existence when they were infamously fried to a crisp on psychedelics. Side 1 is four tracks from that session, including "Ned Kelly Dawn" that uses a pre-programmed beat from the Casio VL-Tone, the same cheapo keyboard/calculator which was famously used on Trio's "Da Da Da." Side 2 is where it gets trippier, featuring music from the sessions that has been turned into a sound collage with tapes of Cope reading from early drafts of his highly recommended 1989 memoir, Head-On. Cope has a commanding speaking voice -- someone should cast him as a wizard in something -- and he just sounds so cool over these drony, weird compositions. It's only available in physical formats (get it from Cope's Head Heritage website) but you can get a taste with "You Think It's Love '82":
Chime School - "Taking Time to Tell You" (Slumberland)
First single from debut album by Seablite's Andy Pastalaniec is more jangly goodness from Slumberland records
Andy Pastalaniec is a San Francisco indie scene vet, having played in Pink Films, Cruel Summer, and, currently, Seablite. He's now also making music on his own as the perfectly named Chime School, whose eponymous debut album will be out November 5 via Slumberland Records. If you're a fan of ringing, jangly indiepop made by stripey-shirt-wearing musicians wielding 12-string Rickenbackers -- from The Smiths to The Stone Roses to just about every band on Slumberland (Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Aislers Set, etc) -- Chime School will scratch that winsome itch. First single "Taking Time to Tell You" reminds me a little of The Go-Betweens and Hidden Cameras. Can't wait to hear the rest of the album.
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