Bill’s Indie Basement (7/26): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Dog Days of Summer! This is not the busiest week for new stuff in the Basement, so I've only got four items for you: the excellent, surprisingly synthy new album from alt-rock great Lloyd Cole; the new album from Brooklyn post-punk punks B Boys; and some vinyl reissues from Fad Gadget and Roisin Murphy's former band, Moloko. Really, if you need more than that, you're just being greedy!
Maybe you do need more. Andrew's got other new record reviews in Notable Releases, and for other Basement-approved stuff there's: the new Black Marble, which fits in well with Fad Gadget; 808 State are back; finally there's a song from the new Metronomy LP I genuinely like; I like this new DIIV song way more than I was expecting; and the Matt Wallace mix of "Talent Show" give me high hopes for The Replacements' Don't Tell a Soul Redux.
Lloyd Cole's first album in six years features some familiar faces and some new sounds. Made mostly in his attic studio in Massachusetts, the Guesswork has him working with a number of past collaborators including two former members of his ’80s band The Commotions: guitarist Neil Clark and keyboard player Blair Cowan, which is the first time they’ve all worked together since the final Commotions album, 1987's Mainstream. Guesswork also features Fred Maher, who has worked on many of Cole’s solo albums (and played on records by Lou Reed, Scritti Politti, Luna and many more). If you’re expecting a return to his sparkling, jangly roots of “Perfect Skin,” well, not quite. While there is guitar on the album, the primary instruments here are keyboards and though there are a couple of bubbly, danceable numbers, it would also be wrong to call it synthpop. Guesswork is sleek and sophisticated, more akin to The Blue Nile or Prefab Sprout than Pet Shop Boys or Erasure.
Guesswork is, however, unmistakably, a Lloyd Cole album. “You realize over time that however much you second-guess yourself or try and pull yourself in whatever direction, it’s still you," says Lloyd. "If you have a voice, you can’t un-voice yourself.” His gift for melody, ear for dialogue, turns of phrase, and novelist's sense of character are still with him, and it's clear he's enjoying playing in a new sonic sandbox, all while still examining the intricacies of interpersonal relationships. Lloyd's not the cocky, heart-on-sleeve 20-something who wrote "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?" anymore, and there's a fragility in both his lyrics and voice on songs like "Night Sweats," the gorgeously atmospheric "Remains" and the moody "The Afterlife." He's at his swooniest on the Kraftwerk-esque "Violins" and at his most clever on "The Loudness Wars" which is not about the state of audio mastering but a crumbling relationship. Across all eight songs, what really stands out is how clearly engaged Cole is with this music. Where many of his contemporaries have traded the new for nostalgia, he's pushing forward. “When I was 27, the concept of the washed up older guy seemed very entertaining," Cole says. "Now I’m starting to think that old age could be a lot more fun. Because really what have we got to lose?”
Lloyd's got some live dates coming up, and I'm hoping he adds one in NYC.
So much of what has now become known as minimal wave can be traced back to the first year of Mute Records' existence.* Fad Gadget, aka British artist Frank Tovey, was the the first act signed to Mute and his single "Back to Nature" was the second thing released on the label (the first was by The Normal, aka Mute founder Daniel Miller). With a throbbing synth bassline, roaring distorted keyboards, ominous swirling sirens and Tovey's menacing vocals bellowing "it's gonna rain all night," it still sounds amazing. So does Fad Gadget's follow-up, the manic, sinister "Ricky's Hand." Both remain goth disco staples and gold standards against which all comers are measured.
Tovey continued with Fad Gadget for the first half of the '80s, releasing more great singles -- like "Make Room" (and it's even better b-side "Lady Shave") and “For Whom The Bells Toll” (featuring Alison Moyet of Yaz) -- and four albums before he retired the moniker and began releasing records under his own name. Throughout, Tovey expanded his palette of sounds, incorporating organic instrumentation and baroque flourishes but kept the gothy, sometimes glammy, demeanor. In 2001 Mute released The Best of Fad Gadget, which collected all his singles, b-sides and choice album cuts onto one 18-track CD. Tovey, sadly, died of a heart attack only a few months later in April, 2002. It's maybe the definitive Fad Gadget release, and holds up as its own entity, too. As part of Mute's 40th anniversary, The Best of Fad Gadget is getting it's first-ever vinyl release on September 6 on double silver vinyl in a gatefold sleeve. You can pre-order direct from Mute or other retailers now. You can stream it here:
Mute also say they are working with Frank Tovey's family on a box set for release in 2020, so stay tuned for more info on that.
*Not all, obviously! Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Suicide and others were part of it, too. But Mute's shadow is long.
Róisin Murphy has been on a creative upswing recently, with her series of 2018 singles with Maurice Fulton, and her great new single "Incapable" she made with Richard Barratt (aka DJ Parrot/Crooked Man). Not that she's ever made a bad record; Róisin's always been a true original, going back to her old group Moloko. That band's catalog has been out of print, physically, for a while and vinyl goes for crazy money on Discogs, so it's good to hear that Moloko's albums are getting represses via Music on Vinyl, starting with their 1995 debut, Do You Like My Tight Sweater?, on August 30.
The album's title comes, as the story goes, from a come-on Murphy tried on future bandmate Mark Bryndon at a party where they met ("Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body"). It worked and soon the two were making beautiful music together figuratively and literally. The title's sassiness extends to the album itself, where Murphy's vocal prowess manifests itself in a number of different (but mostly sultry) characters who sit atop Bryndon's jazzy electro-funk. It is above all else a party record that sounds very 1995 -- but that is not necessarily a bad thing -- and singles "Fun for Me," "Party Weirdo," "Where Is The What If The What Is In Why?," "Day for Night" and "Dominoid" all still sound great. Moloko would get more sophisticated, ambitious, and arguably better, across their next three records but they were never more fun than here.
Let's hope Music on Vinyl also reissues singles comp Catalogue which is probably the "best" Moloko album.
My first exposure to B Boys was live at Death by Audio, where they sounded so much like Chairs Missing-era Wire that I thought at least one of the songs might be a cover. (I never verified, maybe one of them was.) It hadn't been since the Britpop days of Elastica and Menswe@r that I'd heard a group so clearly crib from the art punk icons, and what B Boys lacked in originality they made up for with energy and snarl. The songs got better on their second album, Dada, even while they leaned into the Wire comparisons further, with cover art that was clearly paying homage to Wire's third album 154. With their third album, B Boys have figured out how to sound like themselves. You can still hear Colin Newman, Robert Gotobed, Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert in what they do but it's more like lessons learned: keep it short, keep it catchy, not too many words, and lots of attitude. Dudu has the all that in spades, especially attitude, like on the absolutely killer penultimate cut "Taste for Trash," a pedal-to-the-metal, bongo-fueled burner that all but justifies the existence of this album alone.*
B Boys celebrate Dudu's release with a free show at Union Pool on August 11 as part of the venue's Sunday afternoon Summer Thunder series. They're on tour with Bodega, too.
*It's a good thing, too, as a title like "Dudu" basically asks for Spinal Tap album reviews.