Indie Basement (5/13): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Friday, The 13th! After two straight weeks of reviewing 10 new albums, the Indie Basement release faucet slows to a trickle with two new releases: Kevin Morby's This is a Photograph (one of his best records yet), and Gentle Sinners which is Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat and The Twilight Sad's James Graham. Also this week: Bronze, aka the "real-deal weirdo kings of San Francisco," a new compilation of composer John Barry's late-'60s, early-'70s work and a new single from former Boo Radleys bandleader Martin Carr.
It's not a slow week for Andrew in Notable Releases, though, as he reviews nine album including the debut album from The Smile (Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood + Sons of Kemet's Tom Skinner) which I like a lot too, the new Kendrick Lamar and Florence + The Machine and more.
Also: There's a new documentary about the '80s/'90s heyday of college radio documentary on the way, and This is Spinal Tap is getting a sequel, which I'm a little nervous about to be honest.
And let's also pour one out for the last remaining iPod model which was discontinued this week.
Visit the Indie Basement virtual basement in BV shop, which is full of vinyl, merch and more hand-selected by me, including new and classic albums by Kevin Morby, Spiritualized, Pavement, Stereolab, Cocteau Twins, Wet Leg, Fontaines D.C., Redd Kross, Talking Heads, Goldfrapp, and more.
Ok, enough chit chat. Head below for this week's reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Kevin Morby: This Is a Photograph (Dead Oceans)
Kevin Morby conemplates mortality on one of his best albums to date
Death is a frequent guest on Kevin Morby's songs but he faces it straight on with his seventh album. Shortly after a health scare with his father (he's ok), Morby found an old photo of his dad when he was around the same age as Kevin. "In the front lawn, with no shirt on," as he sings on This is a Photograph's title track, "Ready to take the world on, beneath the West Texas sun." It opened up a rich, creative vein and, inspired, he headed to Memphis during the height of the pandemic and took up residence at Peabody Hotel where songs came pouring out.
Kevin Morby has never lacked empathy, sincerity, or ambition but he has rarely sounded as inspired and dialed-in as with these 10 songs. This is a Photograph is warm and wistful, melancholic but witty too, as he ruminates on mortality, memory and those whose time came early. As to the latter, at the center of the album are two tributes to Jeff Buckley who died in 1997 in Memphis, drowning in the Mississippi River: the mournful "Disappearing" and the dreamlike, harp-laden "A Coat of Butterflies," which weaves in other artists who met an untimely end. He also looks at doomed romance through Jack Nicholson's character in Five Easy Pieces, asking "How do you make a bad time last?" "Five Easy Pieces" is one of the best songs on an album with no bad ones, alongside "It's Over," which features Cassandra Jenkins and wonderful string arrangements, and "Bittersweet, TN," a duet with Erin Rae whose voices sounds so good with Morby's you'd think they were kin.
With Memphis as the backdrop for most of it, This is a Photograph covers a lot of thematic ground, with each song offering a different chapter, a distinct shade of the same color. Kevin brings swagger and heart to all of it. It's also the best kind of "concept" record, where all the songs work on their own but take on more meaning when viewed as a whole, and he manages to say his peace in a tight 45 minutes. Kevin wraps it all up with "Goodbye to the Good Times," that really ties the whole record together, thematically, feeling almost like a reprise of the title track but is entirely its own thing. "No they just dont make em like that no more," Kevin sings, but clearly sometimes they do.
Pick up This is a Photograph on Gold Nugget vinyl.
Gentle Sinners - These Actions Cannot Be Undone (Rock Action)
Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat and The Twilight Sad's James Graham join forces to make an album unlike any either have made before
Aidan Moffat and James Graham have known each other for years, traveling in similar circles of Glasgow's indie rock scene as frontmen for Arab Strap and The Twilight Sad, respectively. In 2021, Graham was moving out of the city he'd called home for most of his life and relocating to Northeast Scotland, and met up with Moffat before leaving town. A long admirer of Moffat's work in and out of Arab Strap, Graham wanted his advice on working on a solo project. Moffatt in turn suggested they work together on something, and said he actually had some music he'd been working on he thought would be perfect.
"I really wanted to try something I'd never done before, which is make music for other people to sing to, and that sort of became a theme of the album," Moffat says. "If we hadn't done it before, we should definitely do it now." Mission accomplished, above and beyond those intentions. Gentle Sinners sound like no other music either have made before. These Actions Cannot Be Undone is grand, striking sophistipop, closer to Wild Beasts or The Associates than the widescreen anthemic indie rock that might come to mind with this pair. Graham almost sounds like a different person, often working in the upper registers of his voice. "Killing This Time" is a sweeping and synthy dancefloor thumper, while "Don't Say Goodnight" weaves layers of Graham's vocals with delicate strings and glitchy electronic flourishes.
There are a couple moments where Gentle Sinners go where you think -- or maybe hope -- they might. "Shores of Anhedonia" features Moffat's distinctive, breathy and sinister spoken word delivery -- "You know what it's like when you stop to ask the Big Questions, but it's a messy business and who needs the drama?" -- paired with Graham's plaintive wails of "I want to fade away." This is drama we need and lyrically These Actions Cannot Be Undone is what you'd expect, with lots of weighty soul searching. But it's a better that "Shores of Anhedonia" is the anomaly here, as this album offers surprises at every turn.
Martin Carr - "Strange Journey" (Sonic Cathedral)
Former Boo Radleys bandleader delivers technicolor psych pop on this new single. There's an album on the way, too.
The Boo Radleys released a new album this year that wasn't bad at all but was missing something -- namely guitarist Martin Carr who had written every song the band released during their original '90s run. For fans of Carr, he's now signed with Sonic Cathedral -- arguably the best current label for new (but classic-sounding) shoegaze and dreampop -- and is working on his first new solo album in five years.
Carr left shoegaze behind nearly 30 years ago to sharpen his pop skills, and he's closer XTC than My Bloody Valentine these days. The songs from album shared so far have been quite good, offering a very modern take on everything he's done over the last 30 years. "Strange Journey" is the second song we've gotten from this as-yet-unnamed album and blends '60s pop with dub and lo-fi synthpop. “I can’t really say what it’s about,” says Carr. “It’s a feeling, a moment in time and space. It’s about combustion. It’s about women, telepathy and control. It’s about science, love and commerce. It’s about travel, friendship and fear and panic attacks on distant stars. It’s future tense. It’s about dread.” It's also very Martin Carr.
John Barry - The More Things Change - Film, TV & Studio Work 1968-1973 (Ace Records)
Composer John Barry did more than Bond Themes and this new collection, curated by Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley, features the best of it from his peak era.
John Barry is best known for his work on the James Bond series, scoring 12 of the films and co-writing such classic theme songs as "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice." When people say something sounds like a Bond theme, they mean it sounds like John Barry: lush, string-filled pop with dramatic crescendos and powerhouse vocals. He did so much more, though, including the scores for Midnight Cowboy, Nicolas Roeg's cult classic Walkabout, Dances With Wolves, Out of Africa and tons more. He's was a huge influence on '90s hip hop, trip hop and groups like Air, and has been sampled by Kanye West, Wu-Tang Clan, Robbie Williams, Gang Starr, Jennifer Lopez, Talib Kweli, and The Beta Band, just to name a few.
While he died in 2011, Barry's work with the Bond franchise came back into the spotlight recently thanks to last year's No Time to Die. Composer Hans Zimmer incorporated "We Have All the Time in the World," Barry's amazing closing theme to 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service (my vote for best Bond theme), into his score and also used the original song, sung by Louis Armstrong, as the No Time to Die closing credits music as a bittersweet send-off to Daniel Craig's portrayal of the iconic spy.
So it's pretty good timing for this new compilation of peak era John Barry that's been released by Ace Records and was compiled by Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley. Bob does a lot of comps for Ace but this might be the first he's worked on that's just one artist. Expanding on 1970's Ready When You Are, J.B. compilation, this includes the wistful Midnight Cowboy theme (not "Everybody's Talking"), the themes to Born Free, Petulia, Walkabout and The Lion and Winter, as well as an instrumental version of "We Have All the Time in the World," the awesome On Her Majesty's Secret Service main theme and lots more. Most of it may be 50 years old but The More Things Change is timeless.
These Ace Records compilations are never on streaming services but there's usually someone out there who puts together a Spotify playlist:
Bronze - Absolute Compliance (Castle Face)
First album in seven years from these "real deal weirdo kings of San Francisco," that out via Castle Face
Brian D. Hock, Rob Spector and Miles Friction have been making claustrophobic bad-trip synth-psych as Bronze since the early-'00s, having released records on RVNG Intl and Not Not Fun over the years. Birthed from San Francisco's weirdo art scene, they're still keeping it strange in the Bay Area, hold-outs in the once counterculture capital that now finds itself more and more taken over by tech bros. Released via John Dwyer's Castle Face label, Absolute Compliance is Bronze's first album in seven years and finds them still more than capable of giving you the creeps. We're talking throbbing, bottom-heavy art-goth that ranges from propulsive, pounding post-punk to shiver-inducing freak-out nightmare fuel. Absolute Compliance sounds best with the volume cranked and the lights out, as Bronze really know how to go bump in the night.
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