Indie Basement (4/30): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's a big week for new releases, probably the biggest of 2022 and Indie Basement has three major ones: Matt Sweeney & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's long-awaited second album, Superwolves, Teenage Fanclub's first album in five years, Endless Arcade (which is also their first since Gerard Love left the band), and Guided by Voices' best record in ages, Earth Man Blues. Plus, former Auteurs frontman Luke Haines delivers his best album in 15 years, Róisín Murphy's terrific Crooked Machine, and Pottery drummer Paul Jacobs does just fine on his own on his latest solo album.
Meanwhile, for those whose lust for new albums is not satiated by those five, Andrew reviews a whopping nine in today's Notable Releases, including Leon Vynehall, The Alchemist, Manchester Orchestra, Dawn Richard and more. Still need more? Some albums that are worth checking out but not reviewed here include the self-titled debut album by Beachy Head (members of Slowdive and The Casket Girls), and the posthumous Tony Allen album (featuring Damon Albarn, Skepta, Sampa The Great and more), and Liverpool's The Coral have a new double album that I haven't heard yet and may review next week.
There's more Basement-approved stuff from this week: Belgian synthpop greats Telex (who have a new best-of out today) made us a list of their favorite covers; artist Steve Keene, who's done album covers for Pavement, Silver Jews and more, is releasing his first-ever art book.; and there are new albums on the way from Piroshka (Lush, Moose, Elastica), Anika, and Kings of Convenience (finally!).
I would be remiss not to note that there are lots of Indie Basement faves in the BV shop currently, including Superwolves, as well as albums by Pavement, Portishead, The Shins, Jose Gonzalez (on BV-exclusive red vinyl), and Lost Horizons (ex Cocteau Twins/Dif Juz).
Head below for this week's reviews.
Matt Sweeney & Bonnie - Superwolves (Drag City)
Sixteen years since 'Superwolf,' Matt Sweeney & Will Oldham still bring out the best in each other.
I reviewed Matt Sweeney & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's Superwolves elsewhere on the site. It's a fantastic record you should dedicate some time to, but that's not to say it's homework in anyway, but it benefits from close attention. Here's a bit of my review:
Superwolves is a record to sink into and let wash over you. Mostly gentle and sparse, Matt's deceptively complex melodies and delicate finger-picking pairs perfectly with Oldham's ruminations on fatherhood, aging, love and death. Sometimes all of those themes are evident at once, like on the wonderful "Resist the Urge," where Bonnie tells his daughters that he will be there for them, even in the beyond. "I may not be here bodily," he sings, "But in the wind, I’m here," all set to a sprightly, spring-like melody and Matt's arpeggiated fretwork that reinforces the words of reassurance. That song's twisted flipside is "Good to My Girls," a sweet-sounding fictional character piece that at first seems to also be about a more stoic approach to fatherhood but is actually about a brothel madam and the ladies who work for her.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: Guided By Voices - Earth Man Blues (Rock-a-Thon)
Guided by Voices release so many records it's easy to tune out, but you should give this one a spin.
Robert Pollard is like a shark, always moving forward, even during a global pandemic. Guided by Voices released three album in 2020, and so far this year Pollard has released an EP with new offshoot Cub Scout Bowling Pins and now is back with another new GBV album. Even for fans, it's a lot at this point (he's released well over 100 albums). You'd be forgiven for becoming numb to Pollard's nonstop output but don't ignore this one -- Earth Man Blues is Guided by Voices' best in 10 albums if not years.
It's a bit surprising, too, as the album collects songs from the last decade that didn't make the cut for other Guided by Voices records. Pollard then puzzle-pieced them together into a very loose concept album/rock opera set in his childhood elementary school, tracing "the growth of young Harold Admore Harold through a coming of age and a reckoning with darkness." Pollard's lyrics are cryptic on a clear day and I'm just gonna have to trust him on the concept, but Earth Man Blues works purely on songs alone. He told Rolling Stone, “I was blown away that I had discarded them,” and I too am blown away that songs this immediate, this hooky, this rocking were put in the "later" bin.
The hits come fast and often: "Trust Them Now," "The Batman Sees The Ball," "Free Agents," "Test Pilot," and "Margaret Middle School" are all fist-pumping earworm anthems, often flecked with glammy touches (twin leads, stomping drums) when not revelling in the Who-isms Pollard loves. There's also swaying, orchestral numbers ("The Disconnected Citizen"), jangly power-pop worthy of Big Star ("Sunshine Girl Hello"), and if-the-'90s-were-'60s psychedelic indie rock ("Wave Starter," "I Bet Hippy"). There are a couple tracks that have the scope of rock opera material -- "Light's Out in Memphis" is a multi-part suite a la "A Quick One (While He's Away)" and "Dirty Kids School" goes just a little Broadway in the middle -- but even those are crammed with super-catchy riffing and choruses. The stars really aligned for Earth Man Blues -- so what other gems does Pollard have yet to uncover?
Teenage Fanclub - Endless Arcade (Merge)
The Fannies' 11th album is well made as always, but it's hard to ignore Gerard Love's absence
What makes a band? In the case of The Fall it was Mark E Smith who famously said "if it's me and your granny on bongos, it's The Fall" and whose dispeptic vision guided the group through a zillion incarnations (some better than others). In other cases, it's a magical alchemy of players, personalities and voices that can come tumbling down like a house of cards if you try to remove a piece. Teenage Fanclub are not quite a house of cards but for nearly 30 years Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley shared songwriting and lead vocal duties, with complimentary but distinct styles and voices that came together for something special. Gerry left in 2018 ("as amicable as it could possibly be"); Norman, Raymond and drummer Frances McDonald continued on, with longtime live keyboard player Dave McGowan switching to bass and the band added onetime Gorky's Zygotic Mynci frontman Euros Childs on keyboards and vocals. Endless Arcade is Teenage Fanclub's first album with the new lineup and while it still basically sounds like the same band, there is a subtle but undeniable Gerard Love-sized hole in the middle.
Endless Arcade is not a bad album by any stretch. (I like it more than 2005's Man-Made.) There are a number of great songs here -- Raymond's "In Our Dreams" and "Everything's Falling Apart," and Norman's "Home" and "Living With You" -- the keyboard parts Childs brings are welcome, and the musicianship is pretty stellar across the board. McGinley's extended solo on "Home," which opens the album, is bliss-out noodling of the highest order. But not only do you miss having Gerard's songs here (he wrote some of TFC's best), you miss his voice in the harmonies of Norman and Raymond's songs. They also have to pick up the slack and songs that might've been earmarked as b-sides are now on the album. It is unfair to judge an album on what could have been, but it doesn't take a Teenage Fanclub superfan to tell that there's something missing here.
Róisín Murphy - Crooked Machine (Skint)
Roisin Murphy hands last year's amazing Róisín Machine over to her co-producer, DJ Parrott, for an all new version of the album. More than a remix!
Róisín Murphy's Róisín Machine, one of 2020's best, had the former Moloko singer teaming with old pal DJ Parrot (aka Crooked Man aka Richard Barratt of All Seeing I) for a joyous album of modern house and disco. Their sessions produced many different versions of the album's tracks, and while Róisín ultimately imposed Murphy's Law on the original Machine, she is now letting Parrot have his way with it on this entirely reworked version of the album. It's fantastic. I actually reviewed this in last week's Indie Basement -- read that review here -- but you can now stream it, and vinyl will be out for Record Store Day in June.
Luke Haines - Setting the Dogs on the Post Punk Postman (Cherry Red)
Luke Haines is at his most Auteurs-y (and tuneful) in years on his latest poisonous musical missive featuring appearances by Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Julian Barratt.
While not working at the speed of Robert Pollard, former Auteurs frontman Luke Haines (also of Black Box Recorder and The Servants), rarely lets a year go by without releasing something, lately indulging in concept albums about post-apocalyptic life in nuclear bunkers, and English towns inhabited by inch-high glue-sniffing sex-crazed maniacs. (His label Cherry Red seems to give him carte-blanche and he frequently uses it.) He collaborated with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey on last year's Beat Poetry for Survivalists, one of his most enjoyable albums in some time. Its follow-up, Setting the Dogs on the Post Punk Postman, is even better.
For fans of The Auteurs, this is as close as he's come to that band's peak mid-'90s heyday since probably 2005's Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop. Lyrically, it's as far-out as he's ever been -- subjects include the Eastern Bloc, Ivor Cutler, filmmaker Shuji Terayama, U-Boats, "having no audience in Liverpool," swimming with Andrea Dworkin, and suicidal pumpkins -- but musically it's just the kind of glammy guitar pop that Haines is great at. The production really snaps, the riffs and hooks are enormous, and you'll quickly find yourself singing along with choruses like "I just wanna be buried between your breasts and between your legs." In the case of that song, one of Haines' more straightforward on the album, he's speaking to both love and death, saying "I'd rather be shot out of a cannon than eaten by worms," but there's one place in particular he'd prefer to spend his days not being alive.
Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey show up again (or are perhaps left over from Beat Poetry) on album opener "Ex Stasi Spy," and The Mighty Boosh's Julian Barratt provides narration on "Yes, Mr Pumpkin." The album art is nearly as good as its title, and Haines' knack for a grabber headline extends to song titles like "Two Japanese Freaks Talking About Mao And Nixon." What more could you ask for?
Paul Jacobs - Pink Dogs on The Green Grass (Blow the Fuse)
Pottery drummer Paul Jacobs does just fine on his latest solo album
Montreal's Pottery are a fairly new band -- they only released their debut album in 2020 -- but drummer Paul Jacobs has been self-releasing records for nearly a decade, dropping new albums at a healthy clip. He's also a talented painter and animator, making his albums truly a one-man operation. Pink Dogs on Green Grass is his latest, a highly entertaining album of lightly psychedelic DIY pop that wears its warm, low-fi production like a bathrobe you never end up taking off after getting out of the bath. Fans of Cass McCombs, Kurt Vile and Kelley Stoltz will find a lot to like here in these mostly mellow grooves. Bongos and mellotrons are all over this album that at times recalls early Tame Impala's fuzzy wall-of-sound, and is loaded with appealingly blissful tracks like "Christopher Robbins," "Cherry," "Underneath the Roses," and "Kathy's Bible." You can hear his influence on Pottery's sound, but he's got his own distinct, worthwhile thing going on.
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