Bill’s Indie Basement (5/15): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This is a massive week for new release and I'm writing about six albums this week: cult duo Sparks' 24th album is another excellent entry in a 50-year career; The Magnetic Fields keep it short on Quickies; Public Practice deliver a post-punk dance party of a debut album; Sleaford Mods collect seven years of superior swearing on new compilation All That Glue; and Peaking Lights pour piña coladas on E S C A P E. Plus: the first-ever reissue of '00s-era psych-folk band The Eighteenth Day of May's sole album.
If you need more new album reviews, Andrew gives new albums by Jason Isbell, Perfume Genius and more a spin in Notable Releases. Need more Basement-approved music to listen to? Lose yourself in nearly a thousand Peel Sessions.
This week's reviews are below...
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Public Practice - Gentle Grip (Wharf Cat)
Fantastic full-length debut from Brooklyn band who know all the post-punk moves but don't forget to write great songs or have fun.
"Post-punk" can bring to mind black eyeliner, a self-serious intent / demeanor, and music to match. Much of that stuff is great but what a pleasure it is that we occasionally still get a great band like Public Practice that also want to dance and have fun. Their debut album, Gentle Grip, is a total blast and absolutely filthy with hooks. With any good party, Public Practice have also brought some records along -- you can hear bits of The Slits, Wire, Roxy Music, Devo, Gang of Four and Pylon here -- but they crib with confidence, attitude and style and the songs are across-the-board great.
The hits on Gentle Grip are plentiful. "Compromised" is like something out of 1980 Athens, GA: taut, ripping, and just greasy enough to keep the dance floor sliding, with some inventive playing from guitarist Vince McClelland and a punchy chorus of "You don't wanna live a lie!" (Public Practice may be here to party, but that doesn't mean they don't have anything to say.) "Cities" owes a little bit to Wings' "Comin' Up" before going for a big riff chorus and a "bah bah" hook. "How I Like It" is playful but sneery; things get slinky on "Underneath"; heavy bass grooves dominate "See You When I Want To" and "Leave Me Alone"; and on "My Head," they dive delightfully into tropical disco complete with breezy strings. That Public Practice keep mixing it up within the well-defined sandbox they've built is one of the album's strengths.
The other strength is chemistry: singer Sam York and McClelland were both in Wall and bring a clear vision of what Public Practice should be; bassist/keyboardist Drew Citron and drummer Scott Rosenthal, both of Beverly, come with a lot of pop savvy. It's a push-pull dynamic that keeps things in balance, giving us both "good taste" and "tastes good."
The Magnetic Fields - Quickies (Nonesuch)
Stephin Merritt is in fine playful form on these 28 very short songs.
Back when I made mixtapes and owned a cassette deck, I kept a mental list of short songs that could use up the leftover time at the end of a side. I tried to fill them to the second and sometime that would mean sticking on The Beatles' "Her Majesty" (26 seconds), or The Minutemen's "Ack Ack Ack" (33 seconds), any number of They Might Be Giants songs, or that weird "commercial" at the end of Built To Spill's There's Nothing Wrong with Love. The Magnetic Fields' new album, Quickies, would've come in handy as it's 28 short songs, all between 13 seconds and 2:35.
Stephin Merritt has always been a very funny person -- I miss his witty record reviews in Time Out and chickfactor -- but these songs are, across the board, more zinger-forward and musically whimsical than usual. Songs, sung mostly by both Merritt and Shirley Simms, are by turns sweet ("Bathroom Quickie"), sad ("She Says Hello"), bittersweet ("My Stupid Boyfriend"), silly ("[I Want to Join A] Biker Gang"), absurdist ("The Biggest Tits in History," "I Wish I Were a Prostitute Again"), religious ("I've Got a Date With Jesus," "17 You've Got a Friend in Beelzebub"), boozy ( "Favorite Bar, " "18 Let's Get Drunk Again [And Get Divorced]"), and nostalgic ("When the Brat Upstairs Got a Drum Kit"). He also delivers a few classics like the "we're bad for each other" tale of "Kraftwerk in a Blackout."
All 28 song are clever, catchy, well constructed and just as long as they need to be. Going across a broad swath of musical styles, these songs also make you wonder why Merritt hasn't pursued more movie/TV work more than he has -- he could be the new Randy Newman or Paul Williams. (Some of these songs reminded me of Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas.) All that said, this may be an album best enjoyed in single servings. There are few mixes (playlists) that wouldn't be made better by having one of these songs dropped unexpectedly into it. You might not want to listen to it as a whole, though. There's a reason the vinyl release is as box set of 7" singles. A little dab'll do ya.
Sparks - A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (BMG)
Ron and Russell Mael remain true originals on Sparks' 24th album
Pop eccentrics Sparks -- brothers Ron and Russell Mael -- have been together for half a century, which is an impressive run for any group but all the more so when you consider how consistent their output has been over the last five decades. While they've had flirtations with the charts (mainly in the UK and Europe), the Maels have existed outside the mainstream since they started, morphing from hyperactive operatic glam rock into new wave, and then into their current "Sparks" sound that is playful, pointed and as informed by classical music and Cole Porter as it is Queen or Devo. It's as distinctive as Ron Mael's mustache.
A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip is Sparks' 24th album and doesn't sound like the product of men in their '70s. The Maels are as witty and urbane as ever. Some songs are instantly, quintessentially Sparks, like the clever and string-filled "Stravinsky's Only Hit" and "Onomata Pia" which both feature Russell Mael's still powerful falsetto and Ron's composer-y bent. Others seem a little more traditional but still subvert expectations. "Left Out in the Cold" is an ABBA-eqse number that at first plays like a breakup anthem but is actually about an outerwear tester for Uniqlo; and electro-rocker "iPhone," with its chorus of "Put your fucking iPhone down and listen to me" would be cranky except it's set at key moments in world history. They can do straightforward, too. "Self Effacing," a forceful rocker about being demure, seems most likely to become a setlist standard, and "Please Don't Fuck Up My World," which closes the album, is a moving plea to the Powers That Be to not flush our natural resources. Nobody else sounds or writes songs like Sparks, but they always sound like themselves. Thank goodness for that.
Sleaford Mods - All That Glue (Rough Trade)
Double album retrospective collects singles, deep cuts, b-sides and rarities from Sleaford Mods' last seven profanity filled years
UK duo Sleaford Mods have been very prolific since forming in 2007, having released 10 studio albums in those 13 years (including last year's fantastic Eton Alive which might be their best). With an even number of LPs under their belt, Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn are taking a breather with this double album retrospective packed with singles, album tracks, rarities, and lots and lots of heavily accented swearing and shouted insults atop minimal, punky beats. Because their sound has been so well defined since 2013's Austerity Dogs (the record where the Williamson/Fearn duo cemented and the earliest this comp digs back to), All That Glue works both as an introduction to the uninitiated and as its own standalone album. It's missing a few key bangers -- "Kebab Spider" and "Tiswas" -- but it's got "Jobseeker," "Routine Dream," "Tied Up in Nottz," "B.H.S.," "Tweet Tweet Tweet" and 17 more killer cuts making this an essential bucket of bile.
The Dears - Lovers Rock (Dangerbird)
Montreal indie band deliver their best album in a long time
Montreal's The Dears have always sounded like a soundtrack to the apocalypse, full of "us vs the world" anthems that tightrope between grandeur and bombast. That could have something to do with why Lovers Rock feels very vital -- this is not just some romantic vision but a look out the window or onto our phones. It's also full of sweeping songs with titles like "Instant Nightmare!," "The Worst in Us," "No Place on Earth," and "We'll Go Into Hiding." Whatever it is, Murray Lightburn and Natalie Yanchek have written their strongest record since 2008's Missiles, or maybe even No Cities Left. Songs soar and swoon, with big arrangements that rise to meet Lightburn's impassioned vocals that are tinged with a welcome splash of melodrama. As usual, The Dears tip their hat to glam and '90s Britpop (Blur, Gene, Moz) but on Lovers Rock there's a little '70s soul and pop, too (see "Play Dead" and "Too Many Wrongs"). Having never felt more comforting, The Dears are back, and have got our back, too.
Peaking Lights - E S C A P E (Dekmantel)
LA husband and wife duo are back with more dubby, clubby, tripped-out jams
As Peaking Lights, husband and wife duo Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis mix a lot of '80s and '90s styles into their danceable, dayglo sound: techno, acid house, dub, baggy, electro, minimal wave, Spacemen 3 style drone-out, trip hop...pretty much anything you might associate with needing to be in the right headspace to fully appreciate. You really don't need extra help to enjoy their music, though, as new album E S C A P E shows. They put just enough pop in their dubby, clubby (and yes, druggy) sound to pull the squares in, and the lush, synthy production may take you to that higher plane on its own. E S C A P E is well-titled as the songs here are especially transportive, thanks in part to some exotic instrumentation, like the shakuhachi flute on "The Damned" (that will forever remind me of "Sadness" by Enigma.) There's a neon lit palm tree glow and piña colada aroma to the whole record -- someone call Peaking Lights when Michael Mann decides to reboot Miami Vice again.
The Eighteenth Day of May - S/T Vinyl Reissue & "Seven Dials" Video
'00s era London-based band gets the first-ever vinyl pressing of their sole album as a double-disc set with bonus tracks.
Mid-'00s London band The Eighteenth Day of May made shimmering, folky indie pop and featured singer Allison Brice who now leads Brooklyn baroque-psych pop band Lake Ruth. They only made one album and a few EPs but they're well worth revisiting with a sound that was often described as "Fairport Convention meets Spacemen 3." You can revisit them right now, with a new reissue of their 2005 self-titled album that originally came out on Hannibal / Rykodisc that marks it's first-ever vinyl pressing, and comes with an additional eight songs including rarities and five songs from their never-completed second album they were making with Felt / Primal Scream / My Bloody Valentine producer Brian O'Shaughnessy.
That vinyl reissue is out, of course, on May 18 but you can stream the whole thing below. We've also got the premiere of a video for, "Seven Dials," one of the songs for that never-released second album. The band tell us "the footage is by Andrew Hawthorne shot at the 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street after a show with the Olivia Tremor Control at the Garage the day before." Watch that and listen to the album below.
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