Bill’s Indie Basement (5/18): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Who doesn't love a good crossover? Usually Bill's Indie Basement and Five Notable Releases both go up on Fridays with nary a strand of connective tissue between them. But this week, like that time Noah Wylie and George Clooney showed up on Friends as their E.R. characters or that time Angela Lansbury ran into Magnum P.I. on vacation in Murder She Wrote, we're talking about two of the same records this week: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks and Frog Eyes. It is Sweeps Month, after all.
Elsewhere in the Basement, we've got the return of folktronica vets Tunng (with Sam Genders back in the band), Peter & The Pirates offshoot Teleman, Canadian punks Lié, and the crazy, amazing new Melody's Echo Chamber song and video.
Few people are as "classic indie" and "college rock" as Stephen Malkmus, whose brainy, detached hipness had me and my friends pouring over Pavement lyrics in the '90s. (I still don't understand a lot of it, but it sounded cool.) Back then it would be hard to imagine him writing anything as straightforward, lyrically, as the songs on Sparkle Hard, his seventh solo record since busting up Pavement in 1999. He's still a witty writer but he's working his bon mots into more relatable subject matter: love, getting older, being a dad, that sort of stuff. He even gets into politics on album standout "Bike Lane" that juxtaposes police brutality (specifically the death of Freddie Gray) with more day-to-day pressing matters that seem important, all set to a wigged-out psych-kraut beat.
Having gotten the overt jammy-ness of his mid-'00s records out of his system a while back, Sparkle Hard continues much like Wig Out at Jagbags, with more of a focus on songs and melody. He's always put one or two classics on a record but this one has more to my ear, with "Middle America," the rocking "Shiggy," "Solid Silk," and the aforementioned "Bike Lane" all being standouts. Then there's the fun, countryish "Rattler" which is a he-said-she-said duet with Kim Gordon that is in the urbane "Jenny and the Ess Dog" style of story-songs with a "Range Life" twang. Even the noodly autotune experiment that is "Rattler" pretty much works.
Some may miss the aloof and obtuse Malkmus, but I appreciate the songwriter who gives us, on "Future Suite," the thoughtful consideration of "run along good vibrations like a bee in the sun / be a song of elation that was meant to be sung / by a band you invented when your night was so young / time was meant to be savored / by the last ones that got stung."
Read Andrew's review of Sparkle Hard in Five Notable Releases.
Vancouver cold-punk trio Lié, who you may remember from their 2016 album Truth or Consequences, are back with their new album, Hounds, which is out July 6 via Mint/Monofonus Press. They traveled to Austin, TX to record this one with Ian Rundell (Spray Paint, The Rebel) and it was mastered by Total Control's Mikey Young. There is a visceral quality to the record which is equal parts raw, tightly wound, and dark. The first single off the record, "Country Boys," is a real ripper that lets bass, played high on the neck and fuzzed way out, lead the way while guitars slash their way through the mix.
Lié will be on tour in June. Dates are here.
Canadian indie rock vets Frog Eyes are calling it quits, giving us one last record before the curtain calls, the lovely Violet Psalms which is out today via Paper Bag. Andrew reviewed it for Notable Releases but over here at Indie Basement we've got the premiere of the video for the album's high drama opener, "A Strand of Blue Stars," which was directed by Marsha Balaeva and is filled with images of venus fly traps, and sinister branches that drip mysterious fluids upwards into the sky. Frontman Casey Mercer tells us about both the song and the video:
"A Strand of Blue Stars" is one of my classic image-cluster songs. If it was a film, I imagine it would take the form of 80's avant-cinema: a series of disassociated scenes, such as bees bursting from a heater, or a woman in a car changing the radio, her fingers lit by the retro blue band of running-light in an interior charged with jealousy and possessiveness. It builds to a kind of verse-bridge where I make a list of erronous states, mis-steps, and it ends with a repetition of a line or idea from another song: sometimes you have to be the door that you walk through, that sets you free. I'm not sure exactly how it works to walk through this door, but the line contains the pomposity and grativas of uttered wisdom--I'm taking the piss and speaking heart-truths at the same time.
I took the image of Marguerite in the grass, in pleasant repose, surrounded by summer wine and plucking songs from her past, from the poet George Trakl.
I think Marsha, a friend, fan and collaborator (don't be afraid of all or even most of your fans), really took up the task of a central subject in the song. It's a ghostly and haunted set of images. It's beautiful. This is the third video she has made for us.
UK folktronica act Tunng will release Songs You Make At Night on August 24 via Full Time Hobby. It's their first album in five years, and the first to feature founding member Sam Genders since 2007's Good Arrows. It's a welcome return for both the band and Genders whose warm, soft voice is pleasing in much the way Robert Wyatt's is. The first single, "ABOP," is more tronica than folk, and I can't detect a guitar on this at all. That's ok by me. The song's shuffling beat, austere synths, pinging analog bass and lyrics about "brackish water" and "treacle" pull me back to the early '00s in all the right ways. The video, made by animators Kijek/Adamski, is pretty cool too.
The first time I heard Melody's Echo Chamber's "Desert Horse" my brain didn't quite process it. There are almost too many ideas going on in this kaleidoscopic sonic wonderland, a five-minute psychedelic song suite with at least five separate movements. Made with Dungen’s Reine Fiske and The Amazing’s Fredrik Swahn, it begins in supremely groovy mode, then gets heavy with eastern touches (tabla and shehnai), strings, shouting, screaming, an autotuned section, and more. It's kinda nuts. After about the fifth listen it all came together for me, as it circles around to repeated musical motifs, even when the tempo and sound changes drastically. It's a crazy, amazing song that is maybe the best thing Melody Prochet has done yet.
Once your synapses have fully processed the song you can move on to the equally phantasmagoric animated video for "Desert Horses," which looks like something the National Film Board of Canada might have produced in 1973. It involves a girl who is transported to a strange land and befriended by a creature that's part horse, part elk and part chicken. It gets real weird with metaphorical imagery that Georgia O'Keefe and Jodorowsky might find unsubtle. But it's very cool.
Melody's Echo Chamber's new album, Bon Voyage, is out June 15.
Pete and The Pirates' debut album, Little Death, turned 10 this year and is a real underrated classic, with songs that sound so effortless it somewhat masks the clever craft that went into making them. The group never quite got the attention they deserved, and broke up in 2012 after two albums but singer and chief songwriter Thomas Sanders, along with his brother Jonny Sanders and Peter Cattermoul kept making music together as the more electronic and less twee-named Teleman. Having released very good albums already, the group have a third, titled Family of Aliens, on the way in early September.
With the album announcement also comes a new single, "Cactus," that finds their melodic talents still in fine, catchy form. Though it's driven by snyth bass and keyboards, "Cactus" is not quite dance music, more akin to what happened in the '80s when electronics were just the latest tool to implement. (It could easily become a banger if the right person remixed it, though.) As usual it's deceptively simple, but there's lots more going on beneath the surface and Sanders has a real way with middle eighths. "Submarine Life," which was released as a single earlier this year, is even better, making nice use of old-school vocoder over a gentle, pastoral backing track, giving things an appropriately underwater feel.