Bill’s Indie Basement (5/17): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in the Basement: I am very very happy Jarvis Cocker is back in action; I'm also happy that The Divine Comedy is back in action; plus the great new Olden Yolk album, and reviews of records by krautrock-disco vets Fujiya & Miyagi, and tiki torch soft rock lovers Black Peaches (the group featuring Hot Chip auxiliary member Rob Smoughton).
More Basement-approved stuff: Silver Jews' David Berman is back with Purple Mountains (and a song that kinda sounds like "I'll Melt With You"); this new New Order live record actually sounds pretty interesting; Rachel Aggs of Shopping's other other band, Trash Kit, are back; members of Ultimate Painting and Beak> have teamed up as Modern Nature; and pre-Versus band Flower are back with their first record in nearly 30 years.
Shameless plug: The Brooklyn Flea Record Fair is Saturday (5/18) at Smoragsburg in Williamsburg and I'll be DJing from 1PM - 1:30 PM. Maybe see you there.
Not counting the quiet piano record he made with Chilly Gonzales, guesting on other people's singles and Pulp's "After You," it's been 10 years since Jarvis Cocker released a record (2009's Further Complications), so any new music from him is cause for celebration, but "MUST I EVOLVE?" is great. I've listened to it at least 30 times since it came out on Wednesday. Technically this is credited to JARV IS... which is his current band, that includes Serafina Steer, Emma Smith, Andrew McKinney, Jason Buckle, and Adam Betts, who have been touring for a year and a half, playing small clubs and caves. (Yes, caves.) One of those caves, Peak Cavern in Derbyshire, UK, is where this was recorded, according to the press release, and if that's true you wouldn't know it, per se, though it does sound like a band performance and not a studio creation.
Caves and stalactites and stalagmites figure into "MUST I EVOLVE?," too. It's is an absolute corker; a driving, nearly seven-minute psych jam -- hints of "Paint it Black" and "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)" -- that ranks among the most electric songs Jarvis has ever done. It's also got pretty much everything you want in a JC song: sexy whispering, impassioned wailing, a giant chorus, self-deprecation, double entendres and "the occasional badger." In it he charts the world and his life from the big bang ("more of a pop") though the present as he asks the big questions -- "Must I grow old?" "Must I mature?" "Must I join in?" -- while a chorus replies "YES YES YES YES." It may not be his most quotable song, and lacks that personal storytelling touch that many of his classics do, but this is a genuine banger. You can watch the lyric video below... EVEN THOUGH doing so goes against Jarvis' longstanding rule of "Please do not read the lyrics whilst listening to the recordings."
JARVIS IS... have been playing an album's worth of new material at shows so let's hope they recorded a whole album in that cave. The band say JARV IS..."primarily a live experience" so hopefully they'll come to North America sooner than later (and not just the West Coast like last time). They've got a show in a cave in Ibiza coming up on June 4. that also has Stereolab on the bill. Despite years of urging by Vengaboys, I've never wanted to go to Ibiza...till now.
Olden Yolk started as a side project for Quilt’s Shane Butler, turned into a collaborative duo with Caity Shaffer, and then became a full band by the time of their 2018 self-titled debut. The band's sound was also fully formed by then and not dissimilar to the songs Shane sang with Quilt: part British folk, part baroque psych pop, with a groovy rhythm section clearly pulling from Can, Serge Gainsbourg and Scott Walker. A little more than a year has passed, and Olden Yolk are back with their second album which they made in Los Angeles with Woods' Jarvis Taveniere co-producing and playing bass, and it improves on their debut across-the-board. The songs are better, the playing more confident, and there's more of a playful spirit, especially in the percussion department. (At times there's an almost Feelies-like bag of tricks used here, from wood blocks to shakers....and is that a vibraslap I hear?) As great as the songs and harmonies are it's the rhythm section that really gets me -- a juxtaposition, but one that sounds natural and takes things to to a higher elevation. You can really hear it on the skittering "Every Ark" which sounds propelled by a wind-up toy. Then there's "Grand Palais," which is set to a syncopated beat that could -- in the hands of Erol Alkan, Andrew Weatherall or even The Chemical Brothers -- be turned into a blissed out Madchester anthem. (Can someone make this happen?) Living Theatre also benefits from a stronger presence from Shaffer, who sings on more songs this time like the Cate Le Bon-esque "Blue Paradigm" and the great "Castor and Pollux" (which is probably a reference to Greek mythology and not where my brain went first: Nicolas Cage/John Travolta film Face/Off. I am a philistine.). There are also lovely, quieter moments, like Shaffer's mellotron-led "Distant Episode" and delicate instrumental "Angelino High" that closes the album on a reflective note. Living Theater is a wonderful album, and a genuinely great-sounding one, the kind where nuances unveil themselves with every listen.
Olden Yolk just began their tour and were fantastic last night -- they've got the great Frank Maston (of Maston) on keyboards and their drummer is sick -- at Brooklyn's Baby's All Right. Go see them if they play near you.
It's a bit surprising to think that Fujiya & Miyagi have been together for nearly 20 years -- it does not seem that long -- and have pretty much stayed in the funky motorik krautrock disco style they perfected on 2006's Transparent Things. And yet that sound remains evergreen on their subsequent records, including their just-released sixth album, Flashback. Like Jarvis (and Barry White) they know the appeal of a sexy whisper in dance music, and frontman David Best works almost entirely in hushed tones, with minimal, sleek tracks that seem custom-built for it. Part of their success not bowing to fads and trends -- they don't dabble in trap or dubstep, but manage to bring new of their own to each record. They do sometimes seem a little too of the moment, lyrically, though. "Fear of Missing Out" is not a song title that I'd ever recommend anyone use, especially on a record that also has songs called "For Promotional Use Only" and "Personal Space." To me, it stamps it at 2019 the same way "Baby on Board" would've in 1985... and yet they make it work here, chanting the line over and over against the album's best backing track. A fan of tongue-twisters, alliteration, clever puns, less clever puns, and rolling Rs -- words are often just another rhythmic device. For Fujiya & Miyagi, everything is in service of the groove.
Jarvis Cocker isn't the only droll Britpop survivor in this week's Indie Basement. Neil Hannon has been making records as The Divine Comedy for nearly 30 years, most of the grand orchestral works inspired by Scott Walker and Jacques Brel, with a flair for harpsichord and the melodramatic. (While Hannon is Irish, his albums are quite British. Quite.) The three mid-'90s Divine Comedy albums -- 1993's Liberation, 1994's Promenade and 1997's Casanova -- are three of my favorite album of that decade and if he hasn't quite scaled those dizzy heights since, all his records are worth checking out. You may also know him from his film and TV work, having paired twice with the great Graham Lineham: "Songs of Love," from Casanova, was the theme to Father Ted, he also wrote the bleepy bloopy theme to The IT Crowd. He also sang "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Soundtrack (Joby Talbot, his frequent collaborator, did the score).
But I digress. Office Politics, out June 7 via PIAS, is The Divine Comedy's 12th full-length, and it's his first double album, with 16 songs clocking in at just over an hour. It's also a concept album -- or maybe a rock opera of sorts, or a musical workplace dramedy -- about a bunch of coworkers and the machines they use, from computers to copiers to coffee machines. "It has synthesizers. And songs about synthesizers," Neil says. "But don't panic. It also has guitars, orchestras, accordions, and songs about love and greed." The new single, "Norman and Norma," is one of the more traditional DivCom-sounding songs, with a dash of ELO and Christopher Cross in there as well, about two "East Anglian lovers and historical re-enactors" who have perhaps grown too comfortable around each other. Whimsical and knowingly nostalgic -- and not too foppy (which some of his music can be) -- I'm looking forward to hearing more.
The Divine Comedy has, as far as I know, never toured the U.S. but he did play a number of NYC shows in the mid-'90s including an especially memorable one at CBGB Gallery around the time of Casanova. I wish he'd come back.
Rob Smoughton is the unofficial sixth member of Hot Chip, having played with the band live for years, helping out wherever he's needed (drums, guitars, keyboards, etc), and he's also played with Scritti Politti. Rob also has a deep appreciation of '70s soft rock, having picked fruit from Steely Dan, Loggins & Messina, Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald and more with his '00s-era musical pseudonym Grosvenor, and then added a tropical vibe with his band Black Peaches. He's just released Black Peaches' second album, Fire in the Hole. Tiki torches are lit, fruity drinks have been served, saxophones are in the house but he thankfully stops short of Margaritaville (but may come close to pina coladas and getting caught in the rain). There's a little boogie here too as the title track almost goes into ZZ Top territory but, more often, he's avoiding Florida and Texas in favor of Cuba, Brazil, Fiji and other points outside the U.S. borders. (While still cribbing from Donald Fagen.) Fire in the Hole is clever, fun, and often funny, and the band are super-tight and can really pull this kind of stuff off. It's also very danceable and, at times, not dissimilar to what Todd Terje does. Fire in the Hole is probably too much for some, but Black Peaches embrace the cheese -- and you should too.