Bill’s Indie Basement (3/9): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Friday! Have you seen BrooklynVegan's SXSW Day Party lineups? They are littered with bands that have been written about in his very column (Girl Ray, RVG, Corridor) and ones that are 100% Basement approved (Shopping, US Girls, The Wedding Present, Flasher, Men I Trust, A Place to Bury Strangers). So if you're going in Austin next week, head to Cheer Up Charlies on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They're free (RSVP). If you're not going to Austin, you can open a box of Velveeta and a can of Ro-Tel, crack a cheap beer and watch via our livestream while saying things like "this band, they're very Spotify-able." It'll be just like you're there.
This week we've got the second album from Portland post-punks Lithics, a reissue of Cleaners from Venus frontman Martin Newell's great 1993 solo album The Greatest Living Englishman; a band from Paris everyone can love; shouty UK punks Dog Chocolate, and krauty duo Virginia Wing.
If you need more Basement-approved music there's: the first single from Flasher's Domino Records debut; a new track from the No Joy / Sonic Boom EP; BV got to premiere my favorite song from Sloan's new album; Jon Hopkins is finally back with a new record; and, as someone who used to go to Rebel Rebel on Fridays to get the new issue of NME, I was sad to hear its print edition is no more.
There is no shortage of spiky, angular bands pulling style and sounds from 1980 post-punk -- there's probably been one example of that in every Indie Basement I've done -- but Portland's Lithics are Top 5 Percentile, bringing sleek muscle, minimalist style, and buckets of unfakeable attitude. Their 2016 debut Borrowed Floors was an under-appreciated gem, and they've just signed with Kill Rock Stars who will release their sophomore album, Making Surfaces, on May 25.
The first single is the album's opening cut, "Excuse Generator," which is somewhere between Bush Tetras and The Waitresses, with some of The Fall's totally wired energy. Not a second of the song's 2:19 running time is wasted. So good:
After two albums of icy, krauty synth music, UK duo Virginia Wing seem to be defrosting just a bit for their third record, Ecstatic Arrow, which will be out June 8 via Fire. I like their first two albums a lot, especially their 2014 debut, but they were in danger of painting themselves into a clinical, Broadcast-y corner. But "The Second Shift," the record's first single, opens with warm saxophone (via Christopher Duffin of Xam Duo) that instantly changes their vibe. Add a shuffling beat and tropical keyboard riffs, plus singer Alice Merida Richards' still distant vocals, and you're almost in early-'80s ZE Records territory. It's a welcome, appealing direction and they manage to still sound only like Virginia Wing.
Virginia Wing are currently on tour in the UK with Hookworms. Here's Ecstatic Arrow's tracklist:
1. Be Released
2. The Second Shift
3. Glorious Idea
5. For Every Window There's a Curtain
6. The Female Genius
7. Eight Hours Don't Make A Day
8. A Sister
9. Pale Burnt Lake
10. Seasons Reversed
Martin Newell fronted Cleaners from Venus who were sort of the '80s UK indiepop equivalent of Guided by Voices. They cranked out record after record (or tape after tape) of hook-filled guitar pop (echoing The Kinks and XTC) that was often recorded on four-track. Brilliant as they were, Cleaners from Venus remained a cult act but in the early '90s XTC's Andy Partridge took Newell under his wing into to make 1993's The Greatest Living Englishman. With Partridge's inspired production and similar musical outlook, it was a perfect sonic match, really bringing out the best in Newell (who also delivers some of his best-ever songs here). If you dig later XTC, The Beatles, Ray Davies or Robyn Hitchcock, this is a must-listen.
The Greatest Living Englishman had been out of print for ages but Captured Tracks (who reissued much of Cleaners from Venus' catalog) has just released a 25th anniversary vinyl reissue that restores Newell and Partridge's intended running order, plus a 10-page booklet with new liner notes. Captured Tracks sold out of its initial run (though you might still be able to find it at your local record store) but they are pressing more. Till then you can stream it below.
UK four-piece Dog Chocolate are back with a second album of "life-hack art punk" titled Moody Balloon Baby which will be out May 11 via Upset the Rhythm. if you dig shouty, clattering groups like McLusky or the dearly defunct Shrag, Dog Chocolate follow brattily in that tradition. They've offered up a list of topics the album addresses:
- Subconscious inspiration
- English nationalism
- The post-colonial discomfort surrounding museum displays
- The enigma of rocks
- Wanting to be tiny and free of responsibilities in the face of the massive world
- Environmental concern/internet guilt
- Cosmic aligned co-incidences and why to trust them
The first single from the album is "Dog Chocolate 1995" which imagines an alternate timeline for the band: "The first time I saw Dog Chocolate was 1995 / they were dressed in velvet, I was sick on my shoes / it changed my flippin' life" --all to a shambly din of barely-in-tune guitars and crashing drums. It's great:
I write about a fair amount of French music in the column, a lot of which is sung en français -- which might be a turnoff to some of you. (I have never, uh, understood this personally, people didn't know what Liz Fraser was singing in the Cocteau Twins, or Sigur Ros' made-up language, etc.) Anyway, I'm pleased to tell you that Parisian band En Attendant Ana SING IN ENGLISH... so keep reading, Francophobes. Not only that, but they make accessible, scruffy guitar pop that has footholds in '90s college radio and NYC's early-'00s indie rock renaissance. Some of their more driving material reminds me of Norway's Ida Maria, remember her?
En Attendant Ana's debut album, Lost and Found, will be out April 6 via Trouble in Mind; The first single is "The Violence Inside," which is brimming with hooks, has a great chorus and makes good use of trumpet. Not much French music, no matter what language they sing in, seems to break the language barrier, but this band has universal appeal.