Indie Basement: Best Songs and Albums of March 2023
Indie Basement is a weekly column on BrooklynVegan focusing on classic indie and alternative artists, "college rock," and new and current acts who follow a similar path. There are reviews of new albums, reissues, box sets, books and sometimes movies and television shows. I've rounded up March's best music, highlighting my favorite songs and albums, plus links to relevant features and news, a monthly playlist, and more.
March had so many good albums it was tough to narrow it down to five, and a few that almost made the cut were Sleaford Mods' UK GRIM, Shana Cleveland's Manzanita, DEBBY FRIDAY's GOOD LUCK, The New Pornographers' Continue as a Guest, H. Hawkline's Milk for Flowers, and Death & Vanilla's Flicker.
It was also hard to just pick 10 songs from March, a list that includes a lot of Indie Basement heavy-hitters, but as usual I made a playlist with all my favorite stuff -- four hours worth -- and you can listen to that below.
The Indie Basement corner of the BV online shop is a good place to blow your tax refund with vinyl, books and merch from Love & Rockets, The Raincoats, King Gizzard, Cocteau Twins, Grant Lee Buffalo, The Lemonheads, Sleaford Mods, Belle & Sebastian, New Pornographers, Naima Bock, Stereolab, Protomartyr, Mogwai, The Flaming Lips, Bowie, and lots more.
INDIE BASEMENT - BEST SONGS OF MARCH 2023
Róisín Murphy / DJ Koze - "CooCool"
"The old magic's back," Róisín Murphy coos, and indeed it is. Reuniting with DJ Koze for the first time in five years, they deliver this sublime new single powered by a sample of Mike James Kirkland's 1971 single "Together." Murphy's voice is at its sultry best paired with smooth backing like we have here. "CooCool" is very chill and maybe too subtle for those who want her to just do "Sing it Back" bangers, but this one really blossoms with repeat listens. There's a whole Murphy/Koze album on the way and I can't wait.
Alison Goldfrapp - "So Hard So Hot"
Alison Goldfrapp made a name for herself guesting on other artists' club tracks -- Orbital, Tricky, Plaid among them -- before forming her namesake duo with Will Gregory. She's continued to do so and in that spirit is releasing her first solo album featuring collaborations with a bevy of cool cats. "So Hard So Hot," produced by James Greenwood (Daniel Avery, Kelly Lee Owens), gurgles with acid 303s and frothy house synth stabs before making way for the euphoric, pure sunshine chorus. This is almost entirely outside of Goldfrapp the band's glammy orbit, but Alison sounds like she was born here.
Baxter Dury - "Aylesbury Boy"
Baxter Dury's thick, distinctive London accent is one of his key charms but that marble-mouthed delivery is as precise and deliberate as any elocution Henry Higgins inflicted on Eliza Doolittle. "Who's thinner than who? Who's speaking lowbrow?" he asks, the syllables rolling around his tongue before making it past his lips. Dury can also turn a single syllable word like "Yeah" into a sentence, as well as a big hook, lifted by Madeline Heart's sweet backing vocals. While very much his father Ian Dury's son -- "Aylesbury Boy" (and his whole new album) is about his childhood -- Baxter sounds totally unique as always.
Das Koolies - "Dim Byd Mawr"
Made up of all of Super Furry Animals except Gruff Rhys, Das Koolies share a sense of playfulness with their better known other band. That can really be heard on this seven-minute Welsh language track from their debut album, a wild ride that goes from Giorgio Moroder electro-disco, into space rock and then back to the club for a bit of squelched out acid house before a Beatlesque finish.
Dry Cleaning - "Hot Penny Day" (Charlotte & Bolis Remix)
London's Dry Cleaning might not be the kind of group you'd think would take well to remixing, but their Swampy EP proves otherwise. Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul in particular have really cracked it, taking the jagged "Hot Penny Day" and turning it into chilled-out, dubby triphop, autotuning and rearranging Shaw's vocals into something closer to pop. This remix also sells Shaw's line "Is it still okay if I call you my Disco Pickle" better than in the original, and is so successful it could potentially chart a new direction for the band.
Everything But the Girl - "Nothing Left to Lose" (Four Tet Remix)
Another remix that is arguably better than the original. Everything But the Girl's "Nothing Left to Lose," is a sublime creation, light skittering beats that put the focus on Tracey Thorn's soulful voice; Four Tet give it just a little more forward momentum with a shuffling four-on-the-floor disco beat, chattering percussion floating around the stereo field and upping the wub-wub bass. It's not a massive reinvention the way Todd Terry's remix of "Missing" was, but just as effective.
LA Priest - "It's You"
I have a lot of time for the mid-'00s post-punk/nu-rave scene, especially the fringe-dwellers who didn't get a lot of press in the US but I glommed onto anyway. Remember CLOR? No? What about Late of the Pier? The latter broke up in 2010, like all of those bands probably should've (looking at you, Franz Ferdinand), but frontman Sam Eastgate still makes music on his own as LA Priest when not building bespoke drum machines. You can feel the influence of his Soft Hair bandmate Connan Mockasin in the breezy, beachy "It's You"'s guitar tones which somehow sound both crispy and soggy at the same time. Perhaps he ate a lot of chilaquiles, the salsa-soaked tortilla chip dish, while making his new album in Mexico and Costa Rica and aspired to come up with the sonic equivalent. If so, you did it, Sam!
P.S. the amazing music video, directed by Eoin Glaister, is equal parts sweet and disturbing.
Protomartyr - "Make Way"
"You can grieve if you wanna / But please don’t ruin the day." Joe Casey sounds particularly morose on Protomartyr's first new song in three years, but not without his dry, sardonic wit. Like the 1937 Leo McCarey film Make Way for Tomorrow the song is (I think) named for, "Make Way" looks at the unforgiving, unstoppable force that is time. While the verses are mournful and gentle, with some of Greg Ahee's most subtly spectacular guitarwork to date, the chorus come in like a bulldozer, clearing a path whether you're ready or not.
Shangri-Lass - "Parallel"
Rose Love, who plays bass in Sheffield, UK band Sister Wives, just released her debut solo single as Shangri-Lass. As her moniker implies, there's more than a little '60s girl group vibe in her sound, but also garage rock, krautrock, baroque psych, French ye-ye, and more. This kind of stuff always pushes my buttons, but "Parallel" is an especially awesome, very groovy earworm.
Sparks - "The Girl is Crying in Her Latte"
"Is it due to the rain? Or is she in some pain?" Ron and Russell Mael don't have an answer to why the girl -- and so many other people -- are crying in their latte but it make for a typically off-kilter, Sparksian single. The song's throbbing, monotone, over-caffeinated industrial techno beat underscores the repeated refrain of "Every day was the same / everyone ordered the same." The video, starring Lydia Tár herself, Cate Blanchett, makes it all the more surreal.
INDIE BASEMENT - BEST ALBUMS OF MARCH 2023
Ulrika Spacek - Compact Trauma (Tough Love)
In London band Ulrika Spacek's hands, guitars swoop and soar, sneak and creep, caress and roar. Frontman Rhys Edwards and bandmates Adam Beach and Joseph Stone are cut from the same cloth as Doug Martsch, Bradford Cox, Thurston Moore/Lee Ranaldo, and the Radiohead of your choice, working within rock and pop boundaries but still finding new things to do with their instrument and excited by the possibilities. Compact Trauma, the band's first album in six years, plays off the promise of their 2018 Suggested Listening EP and is a glorious guitar record where even the two-minute songs feel epic, loaded with inventive riffs and clever filigrees. [Read the full review]
Fever Ray - Radical Romantics (Mute)
"We don’t come with a manual," Karin Dreijer sings on "Looking for a Ghost" from their third album as Fever Ray, in a voice mutated by effects overtop ticking percussion, like a wind-up mechanical doll. Love is strange and it takes a lot of work to keep it aflame, a theme that runs through the entirety of Radical Romantics. If 2017's Plunge was Dreijer, newly out and embracing the wonders of the heart, then this is the tough job of keeping it going after passions have cooled and the realities of life seep back in. Reality is a loaded word in Fever Ray's world, full of distorted voices and unsettling characters (even moreso in their videos), but for all the creepy noises, Radical Romantics presents a lot of recognizably human emotions at its core. Love, anger and everything in between, all filtered through Dreijer's distinctive style. [Read the full review]
The Reds, Pinks & Purples - The Town That Cursed Your Name (Slumberland)
"Is it too late for an early grave?," Glenn Donaldson asks on the opening track on his latest album as The Reds, Pinks & Purples. It's his wistful, glum spin on the "too old to die young" trope that epitomizes RPPs' feelin' gloomy MO: bitter tales of musicians who dream of escaping heir humdrum town and finding fame but never quite make it, set to ridiculously catchy minor chord melodies delivered in a style that's not so much sung as sighed. It's such a perfectly realized world, right down to the artwork (apartment facades for albums, flowers for singles), that every new dose of strummy disappointment is welcome. [Read the full review]
Steve Mason - Brothers & Sisters (Double Six / Domino)
The Beta Band broke up nearly 20 years ago but bandleader Steve Mason has kept going, plowing much of the same baggy groove as a solo artist, whether under aliases like Black Affair and King Biscuit Time or his own name. And while Mason's music has always been pretty chill, he has not mellowed with age. Brothers & Sisters is a protest record, but done in an "all are welcome" good-vibes way, with warm, anthemic choruses, and swaying beats. It's one of his best ever albums, solo or otherwise. [Read the full review]
Constant Smiles - Kenneth Anger (Sacred Bones)
As Constant Smiles, Ben Jones makes swirling, hooky minor chord pop that is pleasingly mopey, but tends to switch up the methodology from album to album. Paragons from 2021 was led with acoustic guitar, but for his second album on Sacred Bones, keyboards are at the forefront, giving things a much different feel. Arpeggiated synths dance around his melancholic melodies, while the driving basslines feel right out of the '80s goth heyday. These arrangements are a more natural fit for Jones' songs and whispery vocals, and Kenneth Anger -- named after the experimental filmmaker -- comes off a bit like The War on Drugs by way of M83, The Church and Disintegration. [Read the full review]
And here's the Indie Basement Best of March 2023 playlist in both Spotify and TIDAL form:
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