Bill’s Indie Basement (6/15): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's always a good week in the basement but this is an especially good one, with two records that will probably make my Best of 2018 list (Melody's Echo Chamber, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever), plus a great new EP from Protomartyr (featuring Kelley Deal from The Breeders), the return of Pram, and new Swedish dreampop artist Therese Lithner.
While Melody Prochet hasn't spoken about 2017's serious accident that caused her to cancel the Melody's Echo Chamber tour and delay her album by a year, one thing is clear: Bon Voyage was worth the wait. This is an endlessly creative, wildly entertaining sonic journey into outer space. Melody produced the record with collaborators Reine Fiske (Dungen) and Fredrik Swahn (The Amazing) and she encouraged them to stretch out in directions they might not normally head. With additional contributions from Dungen's Gustav Esjtes and Johan Holmegaard, and Pond's Nicholas Albrook, Bon Voyage dazzles at every surprising turn.
As you might expect working with Dungen, the musicianship is exemplary and the production is perfection (and a headphone orgasm). There are some pretty wigged out jams on this record, first and foremost being the brilliantly bonkers "Desert Horse" which Melody says "embodies my difficult life journey these last few years through my own personal desert of heartaches, thirst, mirages, moving sands, disillusionment and of becoming an adult woman in a mad world." Incorporating all manner of styles in its five-minute runtime, the song suite is the most ambitious if not the best song she's released to date.
If nothing else is as amazing or crazy at that song, the other six tracks on this 34-minute LP are almost as great. Opener "Cross My Heart" mixes baroque psych with '60s French pop, tropicalia and turntablism; "Breathe In, Breathe Out" hews the closest to the sound of her debut LP but is better than anything there; "Quand Les Larmes D’un Ange Font Danser La Neige" ("When Tears Of An Angel Make Dancing Snow") is the most Dungen-y track with layered acoustics and cosmic synths; and she tips her hat to Gainsbourg's "Ford Mustang" on "Visions of Someone Special." Part of me wishes there was one more song, bumping the record into 40-minute territory, but Melody wisely leaves us wanting more.
I missed Protomartyr's performance (and all the other bands) at our Northside showcase last weekend as I was in Kentucky at a wedding (no regrets, congrats Maggie & Sarah!), but I do wish I could've heard them play "Wheel of Fortune," with its intense, almost metal edge and ferocious chorus of "I decide who lives and who dies!" It's maybe my favorite song on their Consolation E.P. which is out today and has no bad songs.
"Wheel of Fortune" is one of two to feature The Breeders' Kelley Deal, and the whole E.P. was produced by her R. Ring bandmate Mike Montgomery at his studio in Dayton, Kentucky (I am getting no money from the KY tourism board by the way). This is the best sounding Protomartyr record by a mile. As much as I loved Relatives in Descent (it was my #5 of 2017), I never loved the flat way the drums were recorded that, for me, took some of the power out of Alex Leonard's killer playing. This EP sounds produced, but it's also heavy and big and alive. And the drums sound great.
Kelly and Mike brought in some new sounds to Protomartyr, namely orchestration. Both of the songs that feature Deal -- "Wheel of Fortune" and "You Always Win" -- they add strings and even clarinet. And when, in "Wheel of Fortune," the guitars die out to the sounds of eerie, ethereal backing vocals, it really takes you off-guard before hammering you again with guitar, bass and drums. Unexpected as these sounds are, they really work great with the inherent drama and power the band is spewing out here.
The two other songs -- the very heavy "Wait" and more textured "Same Face in a Different Mirror" -- are showcases for Greg Ahee's always inventive guitar-work, Scott Davidson's nimble bass and...Alex Leonard is just a machine (I am always in awe). Joe Casey, meanwhile, is in fine, bilious form, especially on "You Win Again" which, as Kelley notes, has an almost Frank Sinatra quality to it. Joe sounds utterly beaten and you can almost see him with an untied bowtie, nursing a whiskey in the dark corner of the bar.
I hope Protomartyr work with Kelley and Mike on their next album -- it's a winning combination.
Australia's Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (or Rolling Blackouts C.F. if you're too lazy to type it out every time) frequently get compared to classic indie guitar pop from their home country (The Go-Betweens) and New Zealand (The Clean or any '80s Flying Nun band of your choice). There is certainly a similarity to fellow Aussies The Twerps, but I think the most apt comparison might be from America: Real Estate. These guys are sneaky in their easygoing way. The first time I listened to their new album (and Sub Pop debut), Hope Downs, it didn't do a lot for me. But damn if these songs didn't grown on me as the LP cycled back around in my playlist of "new stuff to listen to," and now I basically think this record is all hits.
The band features three singer-guitarists, and between them they have hooks for miles. "Talking Straight" and "Mainland" are the most obvious examples, with choruses that will be lodged in my head for months, but "Bellarine," "Exclusive Grave," and "The Hammer" aren't far behind. The guitar interplay recalls groups like The Feelies -- there is real zip here -- with their more than able rhythm section keeping things moving (no-fuss, in-the-pocket drumming and very melodic basslines). Like the Melody's Echo Chamber record, at 10 songs in 36 minutes, it never overstays its welcome. This record's a real treat and, for me at least, a surprise contender for my favorite LP of the year so far.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever will be on tour starting in late August.
Swedish artist Therese Lithner has been making music for most of this decade, having previously played in bands Vaken and My Sound Of Silence as part of Umeå's rising music scene. Now based out of Stockholm, she's set to release her debut solo EP via Lazy Octopus on July 19.
We're premiering a stream of the full EP, which is four cuts of hazy, moody guitar pop, that are both jangly and fuzzy (but not blown out), cut with throbbing synth-lines and snaky guitar leads and big choruses. Think Lush or the more mellow side of The Raveonettes and you'll be in the right orbit. You can listen to the whole thing right here:
From the same scene that spawned Stereolab and Broadcast, Birmingham's Pram mixed skilled musicianship and complex song construction with an almost childlike naiveté. There was an anything-goes attitude to their music which was powered by homemade electronics and Rosie Cuckston's very distinctive vocals. The band called it quits in 2008, but reformed in 2016 minus Cuckston. Their new album, Across the Meridian, is out July 20 via Domino and is their first in 11 years.
Losing Cuckston might be a dealbreaker for some fans... or a reason for other to check back in. (Her vocals were distinctive and divisive.) Musically, though, they're still mixing early electronic psych and krautrock with jazz, sounds you might hear at a carnival, and anything else that tickles their fancy. You can listen to the album's opening song, "Shimmer and Disappear," which to me sounds like the soundtrack to a river trip down into the hearts of darkness, battling crocodiles, haggling with street vendors and dodging poison darts. The song's low-fi, stop-motion video, however, suggests a voyage into space. You can watch that below.