Bill’s Indie Basement (2/15): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's another big week in the Basement, with three records this week that are worth your attention: the debut album from Piroshka, the band led by Miki Berenyi of Lush that includes members of Elastica, Moose and Modern English; the terrific debut from Montreal psych-pop group Anemone; and the latest album by atmospheric synth act Pye Corner Audio. We've also got a reissue of gothic shoegaze band Cranes' 1991 debut and the sudsy video for my favorite single from audiobooks' album.
Also out this week is Ladytron's awesome new album which I reviewed last week, and if you need more Basement-approved stuff might I suggest: and the new single from Montreal synthwave artist Automelodi; DOOMSQUAD are back with a killer new single.
For more new reviews, including Bis' new LP, check out this week's Notable Releases.
Lush's 2016 reunion was never meant to be permanent, as both Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson had put aside music long before for other careers and families and they fully planned to go back to it. When Lush 2.0 ran its course at the end of the year, though, a surprising thing happened: Berenyi, and newer members Justin Welch (of Elastica) and Mick Conroy (of Modern English) found they really enjoyed playing together and decided to keep going. With Welch as the "we can do it" catalyst, Berenyi roped in her life partner, KJ McKillop (who used to play in Lush's shoegaze compatriots Moose), and the four began playing together and writing songs. For Berenyi, at least, it turned out to be an easier process than with Lush. "With this band, it's much more collaborative," Berenyi told KEXP. "I could write, you know, just like a verse and a chorus, and Mick would come back with a bass line that would completely change it, and Moose would put a lot of guitars on it that would take in a different direction. I've never written like that, actually, and it's just really, really enjoyable and different, and also just takes less time, frankly."
When Piroshka announced their existence back in September, their album was already finished and now here it is, with cover art by Chris Bigg (once of 4AD's design team 23 Envelope) and out on Bella Union, the label run by onetime Cocteau Twins member Simon Raymonde -- it's a very all-in-the-family production. In that regard, Brickbat is what you'd expect but in the best possible way. With a guitar-centric sound led by two shoegaze vets, and Miki's distinct vocals, there's no way Piroska was not gonna sound like Lush, but all four members bring their own style, you can tell they're enjoying it and, most importantly, the songs are really good.
My favorites on the album are probably the ones that sound most like a team effort. "Village of the Damned," with its shuffling beat and dreamy guitars, bears a distinct Moose-y stamp, and "Everlastingly Yours" is pulled along by ribbons of keyboard lines that melt into Berenyi's ethereal voice. (Both songs, which lean towards sunshine pop, feature horn arrangements by onetime Higsons/Gallon Drunk member Terry Edwards.) I also really like the aggressive songs on the album, like the spiky "Run for Your Life" which argues for keeping up the good fight: "Don’t give up, just get up / Eyes open and speak up / Keep loving and living / Don’t ever stop thinking." (Lush's punky side, like "Bitter," was always underrated.) Of course there are the overtly shoegaze/dreampop songs like "Blameless" where Berenyi's layered harmonies remind you few do this sort of stuff better than her. It's great to hear her voice again with music this creative, and Brickbat is a worthy addition to the catalogs of all involved.
Piroshka are touring the UK soon. Let's hope they head across the Atlantic at some point.
While on the subject of early-'90s UK dreampop, we have this vinyl reissue of the debut album from Cranes. While lumped in with the shoegaze scene -- and signed to Dedicated which was also home to Spiritualized and Chapterhouse -- this band, formed by siblings Alison and Jim Shaw, didn't sound like anybody else. The pounding drums and often very heavy riffage and noise was juxtaposed with Alison's distinctly childlike vocals (which proved too much for some). They were also extremely gothy, in a Mary Shelley, statues and cathedrals kind of way, with melodramatic bursts of piano and cello alongside those noisy guitars. It had been a long time since I'd listened to Wings of Joy and for as kooky a record as it is, it not only holds up better than I was expecting, I think I may like this more than I did in 1991. I still prefer them with acoustic guitars more than their loud side (tracks like the intense "Starblood" remain too much for me) but delicate singles like "Tomorrow's Tears" and the exquisite "Adoration" still send shivers.
This repress from Music on Vinyl is on blue vinyl and limited to 1,500 copies. The band dropped most of their harsher elements after this -- touring with The Cure on the Wish tour probably had something to do with that -- and they eventually went in an electronic direction. Alison and Jim are still going as Cranes, though there hasn't been an album since 2008's self-titled.
Following last year's terrific Baby Only You & I EP, Montreal singer-songwriter Chloé Soldevila is back with Anemone's debut album. It's a nice mix of styles that manages to pull from different eras and genres -- '60s sunshine pop and yé-yé, krautrock, '90s Madchester -- into a sound that is distinctively theirs and, as Chloé puts it, captures "the feeling of driving endlessly on a sunny day with a lover, the feeling of dancing and forgetting about everything while feeling high on life.” Beat My Distance is an exceedingly charming debut album, filled to the brim with memorable melodies and great arrangements. The album's also a real showcase for the rhythm section, featuring loose, Can-influenced drumming that's recorded in an appealingly flat, Al Green style, and the kind of groovy basslines you might hear on Serge Gainsbourg or Scott Walker records. There's also lots of old farfisa organs and junkshop keyboards, stylophone, sitar and other lightly psychedelic touches, all of which aid and support Soldevila's wonderfully catchy songs. Musically, they're unflaggingly upbeat but never saccharine, though lyrically it's more of a breakup-and-moving-on record, and nearly every song could be a single. (This album also gets better on repeat listens.) I do wish there was a little more of the band's funky side that reared its head on the EP, but we do get the fantastic "Endless Drive" (see her description of Anemone's sound) that starts as a ballad, heads to the tropics and then goes into overdrive thanks to hyperactive vintage drum machine and layer upon layer of warm psychedelic touches. It's the sound of pure bliss.
Anemone just played Brooklyn -- they were terrific -- and their tour continues, heading to the West Coast in March and then towards SXSW. I definitely recommend catching them.
British musician Martin Jenkins knows his way around vintage electronics and really knows what to do with them. For nearly a decade he's been releasing music as Pye Corner Audio, often via UK label Ghost Box that specializes in music that's indebted to Italian horror soundtracks, spaced-out prog and baroque psych. There's a little bit of all those styles in Pye Corner Audio, not to mention John Carpenter scores and early-'90s techno, and he does this kind of stuff better than almost anyone. In 2016 he released the great Stasis, which sonically explored concepts of space, suspended animation and sleep, and now releases Hollow Earth which is a sequel of sorts, this time a "subterranean exploration and submerged psychologies." The tracklist reads like score titles to a non-existent Jules Verne adaptation, tracking the "Descent" down a "Mineshaft," and seeking a "Core Sample," then dropping down into the unconscious world of "Buried Memories," "Deeper Dreaming" and "The Hidden City" before once again "Surfacing." Whether you're paying attention to the narrative or not, Hollow Earth is a gorgeous, engaging and captivating instrumental album. There are ethereal soundscapes ("Prismatic Gateway," "Subterranean Lake"), and driving, dark, midtempo techno/house tracks ("Mineshaft," "The Seventh Labyrinth," "Surfacing") and all of it is pretty badass. It's the kind of album I can let repeat all day and don't tire of, but you could not call it "background" music. If you dig Chromatics, S U R V I V E, the Drive and Mandy soundtracks, that sort of thing, you really need to investigate this (and other Pye Corner Audio records).
My favorite song off audiobooks' brilliantly bonkers debut (my #3 LP of 2018) is "Friends in the Bubble bath" which argues for a little platonic scrub-a-dub over a Human League-esque synthpop track. They just released a video for it, directed by acclaimed fashion photographer Alasdair McLellan who has also helmed many videos for The xx. "I really liked the song, and the word 'bubblebath' in the title” McLellan says. “It reminded me of growing up in suburbia, so I filmed the video around my hometown and surrounding areas of Doncaster, Barnsley and Sheffield. I wanted to make the video like one of those really dramatic kitchen sink drama from the sixties.” It involves a group of friends, secret trysts, stip poker and, yes, bubble baths.