Bill’s Indie Basement (2/8): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week is heavy on synthesizers, hope that's ok. We've got Ladytron's first album in over seven years (it's terrific); a 10th anniversary deluxe reissue of Metronomy's Nights Out; the fantastic debut album from International Teachers of Pop (featuring members of Moonlandingz and The Soundcarriers going all ABBA/Human League/Pet Shop Boys); the genre-crossing and delightful second EP from Charlotte Adigéry (produced by Soulwax); and finally some guitars from Swedish band Mankind.
Other records out this week that I like but am not writing about here: Be Forest's new album, Knockturne, which is recommended for fans of ethereal shoegaze like Slowdive and Pale Saints; Jessica Pratt's gorgeous, delicate Quiet Signs; Cass McCombs' new album that at times reminds me of late-'90s Sloan; Flat Worms new EP; the debut album from Dutch band Lewsberg (that includes a few of tracks I've already written about); and indiepop vets Tullycraft's first album in six years; and Mercury Rev's very cool tribute to Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete featuring an incredible group of vocalists (that is better in theory than execution but is still pretty sweet).
It's been over seven years since Ladytron released Gravity the Seducer which found the icy UK synthpop quartet sounding a little burnt out. Having taken time off for life stuff, the band -- whose four members are far-flung around the globe these days -- are back with a new record that finds them falling easily back into the groove, albeit rejuvenated. This is not a group who has ever deviated much from the sound of early singles like "Playgirl" or "Seventeen" but that sound -- Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer dropped in liquid nitrogen -- sounds exciting again here. I wonder if fans needed a break as much as the band did, with a sound as specific as theirs, absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. Still, no treading water here: for the most part, Ladytron jets forward, energized and relentless, devouring all in its path as elegantly as possible. "Until the Fire," "The Animals," "Far from Home," "Figurines" and "You've Changed" are all classic Ladytron bangers. They do let the foot off the gas pedal just a little: "The Island" and "Tower of Glass" let in some sunlight and major chords, while "Deadzone," despite the ominous title, is one of the more lithe, kinetic songs on the album. Then there's "Horrorscope," which is manic and alive in a way that you might not expect from a band entering their 20th year together. Is the LP a little long? Yes, but this is easily Ladytron's best album since 2005's Witching Hour and makes for perfect winter listening.
The band have a few North American tour dates coming up, playing Mexico City, Los Angeles and San Diego. Hopefully they’ll announce more soon.
Need more arpeggiated synth-disco with a dark heart? International Teachers of Pop are a new group featuring a lot of Indie Basement faves: Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer of Moonlandingz and Eccentronic Research Council, and Leonore Wheatley of Lodge 49 soundtrackers The Soundcarriers. (Dean was also in All Seeing I who had hits in the UK in the late '90s.) The three met at a "circuit benders" workshop in South Yorkshire and decided to try writing a song together, just to see what would happen. Before they officially released anything, they instantly caught the attention of BBC DJ (and onetime Fall member) Marc Riley who asked them to do a live session for which they then had to write more songs which, in turn got ITOP gigs opening for Jarvis Cocker and Roisin Murphy. (People who know me and are reading this realize this is already a Bill Bingo without hearing a note.) In September 2018, they released their debut single, "Age of the Train," which laments the state of the British Rail system atop an infectious Moroder/Human League/ABBA backing.
"Age of the Train" set the template for International Teachers of Pop, whose self-titled debut album is out today. Adrian Flanagan has cheekily called it "the third most important outsider pop album to come out of Sheffield since Dare and Different Class," and he may not be wrong. If you've heard the ERC or Moonlandingz, you are aware he and Honer really know their way around vintage gear, and get great sounds out of their instruments, but the real surprise is Wheatley. In The Soundcarriers, she sings in a more restrained style that befits that band's baroque krautrock style (think Broadcast). But with ITOP, she embraces pop divadom, really belting it out on great songs like "The Ballad of Remedy Nilsson" (which nods to Serge Gainsbourg and Harry Nilsson), the Donna Summer-meets-Blondie stylings of "After Dark," and moody trip to Funkytown that is "Praxis Makes Prefect."
As with that last song title, there is an arty, agitprop undercurrent to the album, but mostly ITOP are about having fun. "In these politically and socially depressing times, when people are being bombarded by misery and uncertainty and war and death by the media and everyone’s skint and being laid off their jobs – I truly believe we [and groups like Confidence Man] are the antidote to the more tops-off, middle-class, sloganeering angry punks that seem to be everywhere right now," Adrian told The Quietus. "The last thing I want to do with my last twenty quid is go and see a bunch of sweaty-bollocked kids shouting from the safety of an O2 Academy stage about Brexit." No whining here, but if you want to dance your cares away while still, subliminally, giving the finger to the corrupt man in charge of your choice, this record does the trick.
Check out the album and the "After Dark" video which stars Maxine Peake, who has worked on Eccentronic Research Council records and who you may know from the original UK Shameless or the "Metalhead" episode of Black Mirror., as well as the very witty sock-puppet-starring "The Ballad of Remedy Nilsson,":
When the band were asked to open for Jarvis (in a cave!) last spring, they didn't have enough songs of their own to fill out a set, so they worked up a cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in Wall," which they sang in German, smashed in a little Kraftwerk and refashioned as...what? An anti-Brexit anthem. It's not on the album but comes as a digital bonus track. While it may not quite scale the heights of Scissor Sisters' Gibb-i-fied take on "Comfortably Numb," it's close:
Metronomy's Nights Out was my #1 album of 2008 and I stand by that and, though Metronomy have arguably bettered it (2010's The English Riviera), it remains the most distinctive, singular album in their catalogue. Following the largely instrumental Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe), main man Joseph Mount figured out what Metronomy actually sounded like: squelchy, claustrophobic and skeletal, but poppy and hooky at the same time. (It was sort of early Devo but informed by the current dance music of the time.) You could hear it not just on Nights Out's many great singles -- "Heartbreaker," "Radio Ladio," "A Thing For Me" -- but also on the many Metronomy remixes Mount did for artists like Goldfrapp, Gorillaz, Sebastien Tellier, kd lang (yes, really) and, in a great bit of further synergy for this week's column, Ladytron. Nobody else sounded like them.
Mount was living in London at the time and was fully immersed in its mid-'00s party scene that he didn't always enjoy so much, and made Nights Out as a "half-assed concept album about about going out and having a crap time." It's the sound of too much everything collapsing in on your psyche -- in an amazingly entertaining way, at least to listen to -- that still sounds deeply weird and awesome 10 years on. They've just released a deluxe 10th Anniversary edition of the record that is now a double vinyl album with the original record on the first disc, and 13 extra tracks on the second, including demos, b-sides, a French version of "Heartbreaker" and Breakbot's fantastic remix of "A Thing for Me" that turns the song into Steely Dan number. If you buy the reissue from Rough Trade, you get the CD's worth of the awesome remixes he did for others (including kd lang) that they gave away with the record when it first came out.
I wrote a little about Charlotte Adigéry last year when the first track from this terrific EP was released, but you can now listen to the whole thing. Working once again with Soulwax's Dewaele brothers, it's decidedly better than her first EP (which is great), more tuneful and playful and danceable. The song they released last year, "Paténipat," is the least immediate of the five on Zandoli. I like that song a lot, but it is odd and tribal, and the EP gets a lot more fun from there. "High Lights," which is Charlotte's ode to weaves and all other forms of follicle manipulation, is far and away the best song here (and her best to date). It's bouncy, hooky and off-kilter and delightfully playful in a sort of Tom Tom Club kind of way. She's a very talented, poetic lyricist, too, who can be funny without turning a song into a joke (see "High Lights"), and is a great scene setter, like on "B B C," a sultry tale of middle-aged seduction. "Okashi," which closes the album, is about a mythical drug that can restore childlike wonder and contains the EP's best earworm chorus. Drawing from French-Caribbean roots and decades of dance music -- "Cursed and Cussed" could be a Soul II Soul track from 1990 -- Charlotte, along with her partner Bolis Pupul and the Dewaeles, has packed Zandoli with more musical surprises than most albums, and it's a real treat.
You can catch Charlotte on tour with Neneh Cherry in the UK/EU.
And finally, some guitars. Stockholm quartet Mankind have been around for a couple years, having dabbled in everything from noise rock to dark psych to Britpop-style anthemicism. After working with producers like Gordon Raphael (The Strokes) and Per Stålberg (Division of Laura Lee), Mankind produced themselves with this new single. "My Luck Will Change," out today via Lazy Octopus, has a bit of that mid-'00s denim-and-leather vibe -- be it The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Mando Diao or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club -- with a nice live feel. We've got the premiere of the single's striking black and white video (with just a splash of color) featuring frontman Art Onion wandering around his city at night: