Bill’s Indie Basement (6/14): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in the Basement: Jeanines' indiepop instant-classic debut; the 40th anniversary of Joy Division's iconic debut album Unknown Pleasures; San Francisco shoegazers Seablite; Brooklyn dreampop artist A Beacon School's underrated 2018 debut gets an expanded rerelease; and a terrific surfing documentary soundtrack featuring Dungen, Allah-Las, Connan Mockasin and more.
If you need more new record reviews, Andrew reviews the excellent new Bill Callahan and more in Notable Releases. And for more Basement-approved stuff from this week: the reissues of Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady and A Different Kind of Tension are out today; Cornelius' great 2002 album Point is getting reissued; David Berman's Purple Mountains album is shaping up to be very good; and while I'm not as excited about the new Kate Tempest album (out today) as I was her first two (it's more spoken word than a beat-driven record) I would never miss a chance to see her live.
Brooklyn duo Jeanines have made the best indiepop record of the classic sound variety (think C-86, K Recs, early Flying Nun) since probably Veronica Falls' debut album. (Both are on lauded indiepop label Slumberland.) Alicia Jeanine writes mega-catchy minor-key tales of romance which are then fleshed out by Jed Smith of Brooklyn indiepop stalwarts My Teenage Stride who adds killer, melodic bass lines and drum parks worthy of Phil Spector or Joe Meek. No solos, just the best bits, in-and-out, with a focus on Alicia Jeanine's amazing, layered harmonies. It's also lo-fi but not in a way that is trying to cover up anything, and it's twee without every feeling cloying. Only three of the sixteen songs on their debut album hit the two minute mark, and the whole album clocks in at just 25 minutes. Jeanines is almost entirely hooks. Some of them, like an ethereal cloud of harmonic ahhhhs on "Wake Up" that lifts you up with it, are genuinely transcendent.
Jeanines are on a short album release tour this week, playing Richmond on 6/18, DC on 6/19, Baltimore on 6/20 and then back home to Brooklyn for a show at Alphaville on June 22 with Holy Tunics, Australian ex-pats Free Time and Kevin Hairs. They also play Coney Island Baby on August 16 with an all-Indie-Basement-approved lineup of The Catenary Wires (aka Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey of Talulah Gosh and Heavenly whose album is also out today) and Pale Lights.
If you need more classic-style indiepop than just listening to the Jeanines album on repeat, here's San Francisco band Seablite who have been around since 2016 and pull from winsome groups like Tiger Trap and Talulah Gosh and early-'90s shoegaze like Pale Saints and Lush. Following a cassette EP in 2017, Seablite have just released their full-length debut Grass Stains and Novocaine which is out via Emotional Response, the label run by Stewart Anderson and Jen Turrell of indieopop cult heroes Boyracer. The record was made in part at John Vanderslice's Tiny Telephone studios and Brian Jonestown Massacre's Joel Gion contributes tambourine on a few tracks. That's cool! The album ticks most of the boxes you want ticked for this kind of stuff: the bouncy, jangly songs are bright and loaded with "bah bah bah" choruses (songs like "Heart Mountain" and "Haggard" recall The Primitives and The Popinjays); the darker, shoegazer songs get the mood right, with killer lead lines from onetime Wax Idols member Jen Mundy. Lauren Matsui (guitar) and Galine Tumasyan (bass) make great harmonies, too. I do think this record could do with a little more fidelity -- it sounds better on my laptop speakers than my nicer headphones -- but it doesn't keep me from singing along.
Seablite have a few Pacific Northwest shows this weekend, playing Portland tonight (6/14), Seattle on Sunday (6/15) and Tacoma on Sunday (6/16). All dates are here.
Brooklyn musician and recording engineer Patrick J Smith, who plays in Maxband with Max Savage of Parquet Courts, makes airy, beautiful, often danceable, dreampop as A Beacon School. Last year he released Cola, full of fizzy memorable guitar pop with really excellent production that recalls the glitchy early-00's output of the Morr Music label (The Notwist, Lali Puna, American Analog Set) and late-'00s balearic pop like Studio, Boat or even Erlend Oye. Beyond the great songs, it's the production that really gets me, informed by shoegaze and classic guitar pop but Cola is a very Now sounding record, very digital, and really making the most of what modern recording software has to offer. It remains a very human-sounding album, though, that is sunny and warm and hopeful. Parts of the album almost sound like Real Estate, if that band played around with their sound a little more.
Cola came out about a year ago on cassette and digitally, and got overlooked by a lot of people...including this very reviewer. Luckily it is getting reissued today via House Arrest/Fat Possum and has been beefed up with three new tracks that are as good as anything on the original album. With summer only a week away, this is prime top-down cruising music. If I only owned a car.
I have no idea what A Beacon School are like live, but if you live in NYC you can find out tonight (6/14) at Baby's All Right with Been Stellar (tickets).
Allah Las, Connan Mockasin, Peaking Lights and more have contributed new music to Self Discovery for Social Survival, a new film produced by Mexican Summer Records and outdoor brand Pilgrim Surf + Supply. “The idea was to send surfers and musicians off on these trips together,” explains director and Pilgrim proprietor Chris Gentile who shot the film in Mexico, the Maldives, and Iceland. “Get them out there amongst it — in the surf, in the afterglow of the surf, talking story at dinner, just all the great stuff that happens on a surf trip. Then, right after their trips, the musicians jump into the studio and compose based on their experiences. With their hair still wet, so to speak." I have not seen the film but if it is as good as the soundtrack, we've got a winner.
The record kicks off with Dungen's "Var Har Du Varit" and Gustav Ejstes and crew are unsurprisingly great at making surf music, incorporating Dick Dale style guitar leads into their jazzy, psych sound. I just wish they contributed more than one song to the soundtrack, it's so good. Allah Las do the heavy lifting here, and are up to the task with a series of five "Jam"s (Raspberry, Mulberry, Blueberry, etc) all of which are pretty great. "Raspberry Jam" is the highlight, managing to be both groovy and twangy (Khruangbin should be jealous of this one). Dare I say I like Allah Las better as an instrumental band? Peaking Lights deliver two of their dubby synthpop jams (the moody "Hold On" is especially good), and ambient composer Jefre Cantu-Ledesma turns in two ethereal beauties. Connan Mockasin contributes three short instrumentals -- "Surf or Not," with it's funky keyboard line is the best and fades out too soon -- and collaborates with MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden for the soundtrack's longest, most bizzare (and skippable) song, "Bad Boys." Self Discovery for Survival works as an album but also genuinely makes me interested to see them film. You can watch the trailer and listen to the album:
Self Discovery for Social Survival, the documentary, premieres in LA at The Palace Theatre on Saturday (June 15) with a live score by Connan Mockasin, Andrew VanWyngarden and Allah Las, with New York, London and Mexico City screenings in the works.
UPDATE: The NYC screening happens July 11 at Anthology Film Archives.
Last but certainly not least is this 40th anniversary edition of Joy Division's perfect debut album which was released June 15, 1979 and whose influence on music and popular culture cannot be overestimated. From the urgent, nervous energy of "Disorder" and "She's Lost Control" to claustrophobic punk burner "Interzone," goth touchstones "Day of the Lords," "New Dawn Fades" and "Shadowplay" and bleak, dubby closer "I Remember Nothing," the album hasn't aged a bit -- Martin Hannett's walls-closing-in production is no small part of it -- and remains a gripping document of alienation and despair. If somehow you've only ever heard "Love With Tear Us Apart" (controversial opinion: that song is massively overrated) you really should explore the rest of Joy Division's catalog (which is not that large) and there's no better place to start than here. This new pressing doesn't add any new tracks or remixes, but it does use the original, unused version of designer Peter Saville's artwork, reversing the colors back to black-on-white, and it comes on ruby red vinyl. The original art is, of course, better (either you or someone you know owns the t-shirt version) but this is cool too. It might even make a good Father's Day gift.
Much more interesting, as a 40th anniversary thing goes, is the Unknown Pleasures: Reimagined project which gives each song on the album to a different filmmaker to direct a new video for it. You can watch Helgi & Hörður's video for "I Remember Nothing," which makes the most of their Icelandic home country's alien, beyond-the-wall landscape, below, and YouTube is hosting a special event in London on June 21 with a selection of the videos and a panel discussion that includes Joy Division/New Order drummer Stephen Morris and others.