Bill’s Indie Basement (1/11): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Now that all those pesky holidays are behind us, we are fully back in action here at BV and Indie Basement. This week we've got reissues from Prefab Sprout and New Order, plus brand new music from Business of Dreams (aka Corey of Terry Malts); Cleveland indie rock stalwarts Herzog; and a talented UK singer-songwriter who goes by Whoa Melodic.
This was a huge week for announcements, so there was lots of Basement-approved stuff this week: Sleaford Mods released a real banger (and their best single in good while); Guided by Voices' "The Rally Boys" shows Robert Pollard's still got it, some 100+ albums into his career; Fat White Family have reinvented themselves as a dark synthpop group, complete with gregorian chants (and it works), Twerps frontman Martin Frawley is going solo, Field Music offshoot You Tell Me released their debut album; Priests are back with a video that was shot at a resort very near my hometown in West Virginia; Paisley Underground greats Long Ryders are back with their first album in over 30 years; Mary Timony's Ex Hex are back with their first album in almost five; and Steve Gunn released my favorite song off his upcoming LP (it sounds like Johnny Marr to me).
Prefab Sprout were the band who were just too idiosyncratic to make it big, a Big '80s Steely Dan but with a sincere, witty romantic at the head in Paddy McAloon. While many of Prefab Sprout's records suffer from overly '80s production, McAloon's songs remain marvelous, and have influenced countless musicians over the last 30+ years, from Belle & Sebastian to Sondre Lerche and beyond. (Natalie Prass just covered "Wild Horses" from 1990's Jordan The Comeback.)
This record wasn't originally a Prefab Sprout, but a Paddy McAloon solo album. After releasing 1997's Andromeda Heights, McAloon nearly lost his vision, suffering detached retinas in both eyes. His long recovery left him with nothing to read, watch or see and he spent time listening to radio broadcasts. He began recording them and using them as the basis for songs, mostly instrumental and of a distinctly composer-y nature (hats are tipped to his two favorite composers, Debussy and Ravel). It's an odd, and oddly moving album, even for McAloon whose career is loaded with them.
I Trawl the Megahertz came out in 2003 and, after 15 years, McAloon sees it as part of the same canon as Steve McQueen and Jordan: The Comeback. "I thought we could do anything”, Paddy says of Prefab Sprout. “And Megahertz is true to that spirit. The music here is of a piece with everything I’ve ever written. It’s from the heart.” The album's been remastered, given new artwork, and new liner notes from McAloon, out March 22 via Sony Music, including its first-ever vinyl pressing. It's pressed across two discs -- one of the sides etched -- in a gatefold sleeve. You can pre-order now (Rough Trade has an exclusive white vinyl edition) and listen to the original album below.
It should be said that if you're not familiar with Prefab Sprout, this is not the place to start. (Best-of comp A Lifetime of Surprises is as good a place as any, though.) The most recent Prefab Sprout record was 2013's Crimson/Red, which was quite good. McAloon says he's got a closetful of unreleased albums that's he's shelved, in various states of completion. Apparently one of those, or maybe it's a new one, is due out this August. We'll see. It would also be nice to have vinyl reissues of the Prefab Sprout catalog, all of which is out of print.
Lastly, Prefab Sprout always makes me think of this clip from Spaced where Daisy uses song "King of Rock n' Roll" as party warm-up music and gets the lyric wrong (it's "Albuquerque," not "almond cookies," though that makes as much sense):
I was a big fan of Cleveland band Herzog's 2014 album Boys, so I'm psyched to be premiering "Little Bugs" from their upcoming album Me vs You, which is their first album since then. These guys make very traditional indie rock, big on hooks and quotable lyrics, and make the sounds of 1993 seem like just yesterday, not 25 years ago. (It depresses me to write that.) "Little Big Star," the album's first single, is not named so by accident. "'Little Big Star'" is the first song I wrote for my kids," says the group's Tony Vorrel. "I tried not to be too mushy, but I think everyone needs to hear someone say 'it's gonna be alright.' Every week in practice it sounded more like a Big Star song, so eventually we just leaned into it."
The video for the song, set at a strange costume party, really nails those difficult early teenage years. "Lauren Voss Clune did the video for us, really hitting how awkward you can be at a party, even when people are trying to be nice to you," says Nick, who adds that the main "bug," Malachi Monroe, is the teenage son of Kevin Monroe of '80s/'90s Touch & Go band Laughing Hyenas. Fun fact! The video premieres in this post and you can watch below.
Herzog's Me vs You is out February 22 via ExitStencil Music. The band recorded so many songs for this album, they split them between two records -- expect another LP later this year.
It's an often told story: Joy Division singer Ian Curtis hung himself on May 18, 1980, which was the eve of what was supposed to be their first U.S. tour. The rest of the band -- Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Steven Morris -- went anyway, discovered the joys of New York City (and NJ), played shows, had all their gear (which they brought with them from the UK) stolen, and recorded an unreleased Joy Division song, “Ceremony," while there. New Order was born.
Less than a year after Curtis’ death, now with Morris’ girlfriend Gillian Gilbert in the band, New Order made their debut album, Movement. They were still reeling from the shock and unsure how to proceed, cranking it out in 10 days, working with their Joy Division producer Martin Hannett at his Strawberry Studios in Manchester. The spectre of Curtis hangs all over the album, with both Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook affecting dour lead vocal deliveries, not to mention the general gloomy vibe. If it's more like Joy Division than what New Order would soon become, the seeds are there: Hook’s bright bassline intertwining with Sumner's guitars on opener "Dreams Never End” is the basic blueprint for the group's non-synthy side (it’s also the blueprint for The Cure’s “In Between Days”), “Truth” is New Order’s first recorded use of drum machines as well as melodica (which would pop up again on “Your Silent Face,” “Love Vigilantes” and other songs), and “Chosen Time” is an early flirtation with disco. (Instrumentally, Movement is awesome.) A truly transitional record, Movement is the sound of New Order finding their identity, enjoyable and fascinating in its own right.
Movement is getting a box set reissue on April 5 via Rhino that they’re calling the “definitive edition.” It includes the original album with a reproduction of Peter Saville’s iconic sleeve, plus a CD of the album, a bonus CD of previously unreleased tracks, a DVD of live shows (including those early NYC-area gigs) and TV appearances, and a hard backed book. It’s all in a lift-top box and you can check out the full tracklist and preorder it here.
Additionally, the first four New Order 12” singles -- “Ceremony (version 1),” “Ceremony (version 2),” “Everything’s Gone Green,” and “Temptation” -- are also getting vinyl reissues in their original sleeves on March 8 via Rhino. Those are all worth owning, too. I prefer the second version of “Ceremony,” personally, and I definitely like this original version of “Temptation” more than the rerecorded Substance version (which is the one most people know).
If you’ve never listened to Movement, have at it:
Corey Cunningham has been in a number of groups over the years, probably best known for Bay Area buzzsaw pop practitioners Terry Malts (who splintered out of Magic Bullets), and he's now a member of Mike Krol's band. On his own, however, he makes music as Business of Dreams, a solo project he started when he left San Francisco to return to his Tennessee home after his father died. Business of Dreams is steeped in the indiepop traditions that run through The Smiths and New Order, Sarah Records bands like The Field Mice, Flying Nun groups like The Bats, Australia's The Go-Betweens, and beyond. There are drum machines and synths and jangly guitars and hazy mid-fi production, all in service of great pop songs. "I think music is the most personal of mediums," says Corey. "You can work and listen, you can run and listen, you can drive and listen. And I think I’m a misfit. If I can make the most personal music for misfits, then I’m satisfied." He knows his audience. He is his audience.
Corey released his first Business of Dreams album two years ago via his own Parked in Hell label, and now he's back with Ripe for Anarchy which is out February 1 via Slumberland. The first single is "Keep the Blues Away" which is all about work and money. Like all good indiepop, the bummed out subject matter is counterbalanced with chiming guitars and "ooh ooh" backing vocals. He may be aiming for the misfit demo, but lyrics like "Sleep is a distant friend, I close my eyes and the day begins" is a sentiment most of us can relate to.
If you like Business of Dreams, you're gonna wanna stick around for this one. London multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Michael Wood who, when not playing in a group with Darren Hayman of Hefner and Emma Kupa of Standard Fare, makes music under the name Whoa Melodic. That moniker also happens to be an anagram of his name -- he's a clever guy like that, and clearly appreciates witty wordplay and classic pop melodies. Fans of anyone from The Kinks, ELO, Squeeze or Teenage Fanclub will find a lot to like on Whoa Magic's self-titled debut album which is out February 1 via WIAIWYA. The first single off the album is "Disappointed Pessimist," which is also pretty clever, conceit-wise, with a melody that's reminiscent of It's A Shame About Ray-era Lemonheads. He never becomes too enamored with his own cleverness -- like the organ here, it's used sparingly -- and this is a real delight.