Bill’s Indie Basement (4/5): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week's edition of Indie Basement is brought to you, in part, by the letter P as four of the records I write about have that at the start of their name: Priests, Patio, POZI and The Proper Ornaments.
On a normal week, that would be most of the column, but this week it's not quite half. We've also got five more. I also write about: the surprising resilience of The Drums; New Zealand eccentric pop great Lawrence Arabia; former Pipette Rose Elinor Dougall finds her groove; Montreal darkwave post-punk group Bleu Nuit; and the gorgeous new solo album from La Luz's Shana Cleveland.
If you still need more, Andrew reviews Weyes Blood's great new album in Notable Releases, and other stuff from the past week I dig includes Hot Chip's new video (starring Bill Haverchuck), and A Certain Ratio's unearthed and newly polished cover of Talking Heads' "Houses in Motion."
As great as I thought The Drums were at their first-ever show, Popfest 2009, I'm not sure I thought they'd still be making records 10 years later, or that I'd be listening to them. And yet with every new album I find myself being surprised, saying "hey, this is good!" (ok Encyclopedia not that much). That includes Brutalism, which is The Drums' fifth and maybe their best. It's not like the records change that much -- bouncy, dancey indiepop with lyrics that read like diary entries from the world's biggest Morrissey fan -- but Pierce really has a way with hooks and knows how to imbue the arrangements and vocals with tons of personality. Take for example, first single "Body Chemistry," which swipes it's riff from Horatio Sanz' "I Wish it Was Christmas Today" and is centerpiece of the album, according to sole constant member Johnny Pierce, with its focus on depression and self care ("I need some good luck / and a good fuck / a nice glass of wine and some quality time") set to some seriously joyous music. That's the formula (confessional but self-aware lyrics, effervescent music) for most of Brutalism which keeps your attention from the electropop opener "Pretty Cloud" through the Smiths-esque "326 Bedford Ave," the terrific title track and the swirling harmonies of closer "Blip of Joy." After this and 2017's also-excellent Abysmal Thoughts, I can say I will be looking forward to the next Drums record...not that I'm done enjoying this one.
BONUS: Like we did, Nardwuar spent some time at SXSW last month with quickly rising rapper Rico Nasty (who we booked on a show with Priests, who are also in this column). As always, the result is an entertaining video interview, which in this case includes a possibly-surprising shoutout to The Drums. (and a bit about at least one other artist I mentioned in the Drums review). Watch:
Priests' new album, The Seduction of Kansas, is undoubtedly their most ambitious album to date. It was also made in a period of transition, with this being the first they made since bassist Taylor Mulitz left to focus on Flasher full time. (Alexandra Tyson, who is their new bassist plays on the album, as does Janel Leppin who played bass with them after Mulitz left and also contributes a wide variety of instruments and co-wrote songs here.) They worked with in-demand producer John Congleton who helped them widen their scope -- they cite Massive Attack, Portishead and Nine Inch Nails as influences this time -- with the album containing some of their poppiest songs to date. Yet they are still fiercely independent and singing about the things that piss them off -- and there's a lot to be pissed off about these days. You can feel the conviction in every song and the musicianship is great across the board, though there's sometimes a little too much going on within a single song. (There's no song here that has the instant immediacy and sing-a-long-ableness of "Doctor" from Bodies and Control and Money and Power.) But when things click -- like on the fantastic, new wavey "Good Time Charlie" "Jesus' Son," the moody "I'm Clean" and the title track -- few bands do what Priests do so well.
One place where Priests always shine is live, and their tour gets underway next week.
UK trio POZI are not a band like The Drums: their music and lyrical view match up 100%: paranoid, skeptical, nervous, tense, angry, confused. Their haunting debut single, "KCTMO," about London's horrific Grenfell Towers fire tragedy, set the template for their unique, minimal sound which is simply bass, drums and Rosa Brook's droning violin which really gives their sound a queasy sense of dread. Drummer Toby Burroughs' reedy vocals are just what music like this needs. PZ1 is maybe not "fun" but it's powerful, and songs like "Engaged" (about phone obsession) and the squelchy "Doggers" (which sounds like it was made by Daleks) really stick with you.
If you like your post punk just a little less ulcer-inducing, might I suggest Montreal's Blue Nuit who you may remember from this column early last year and are now set to release their debut album, Le jardin des mémoires, via Michel Records (CA), Requiem Pour un Twister (FR) and Born Yesterday (US). The band's sound, somewhere between synthy darkwave and the jagged hooks of current groups like Preoccupations, is sinister and sexy, heavy on hushed vocals (always the best delivery device for French lyrics), spiky guitars and ominous analogue electronics. While there's an air of seriousness, Le jardin des mémoires is a fun record. They should write more songs like the sweeping, romantic and danceable "Concentration," though. The album's out next week but a stream of the whole thing premieres in this post.
Bleu Nuit have a Canadian tour coming up later this month.
Brooklyn trio Patio started as a joke -- Loren DiBlasi came up with the name five years ago at a party as perfect for a band “of people trying to figure out their way in the world" -- but when guitarist Lindsey-Paige McCloy taught her to play bass and they then brought in Alice Suh on drums (all three went to Princeton together), things got serious. (Mitski gave an early co-sign.) After tons of local gigging and a 2016 EP, Patio are here with their debut album, Essentials, on Fire Talk, a label that's got a pretty good hit rate lately. They mention both classic post-punk and Cate Le Bon as inspiration, but to these old ears there's also a very early '90s indie rock way about them, both in sound and in attitude, be it Tsunami, That Dog or Scrawl. DiBlasi's bass style is very melodic while McCloy alternates between spidery leads and jangly chords which is very '80s Athens, GA (R.E.M., Pylon, Love Tractor). They both sing, often trading off vocal line which is another welcome part of their sound. Patio's songs are scrappy, packed with attitude, tightly wound and casually complex -- a whole lot is going on, for example, in the killer melodic rush that is "New Reality," but they make it sound like it just poured out of them. This record's definitely no joke.
New Zealand artist James Milne, who's been making baroque pop as Lawrence Arabia since the mid-'00s, released a digital single a month in 2018, funded by a Kickstarter, where he tried out various styles, often ambitious and many with collaborators, including Beach Boys associate Van Dyke Parks, Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins), Heather Mansfield (Brunettes), Ryan McPhun (Ruby Suns) and Liam Finn. The results have now been collected onto one album, Lawrence Arabia's Singles Club. He aimed high and hit his mark more often than not, and these 12 charming, playful songs work as an album, too. Fans of Lawrence Arabia will surely love this (if they haven't already heard it), and it's the kind of project that could bring in new listeners too. If you dig The Zombies, The Left Banke, Seals & Croft, Stereolab, Serge Gainsbourg (great basslines), Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens, Steely Dan, The Beach Boys, Al Stewart (again!), the lovely new Weyes Blood album, or the lusher side of the '70s and harpsichords in general, you will find a song to like here. The Van Dyke Parks collaboration, "Just Sleep (Your Shame Will Keep)," brings the kind of grandiose and gorgeous string arrangements you'd expect, and I especially like the yacht-friendly "Everybody Wants Something," the krautrock fuzz of "A Little Hate" and the Tiny Ruins collaboration, "Everything's Minimal." Records like this from eccentric, smaller artists don't get made that often anymore; I'm glad this got funded and the money is right there in the mix.
Ultimate Painting are no more but James Hoare's other band, The Proper Ornaments, make a very similar brand of '60s inspired psych. Like UP, The Proper Ornaments pairs James with another singer/songwriter/guitarist, TOY's Max Claps (not his only appearance in this week's column), and they have an even more sympatico style in songs and voice than James and Jack Cooper did. Which is to say that there is less jamming and more pastoral melodies. 6 Lenins is the group's third album and, despite some pretty heavy shit (divorce, health problems and drug addiction) leading up to its creation, this is a sonically light listen, with sunny melodies and warm production. (They made it in Hoare's all-analogue home studio.) As good as jangly numbers like "Where Are You Now" and "Crepuscular Child" are, I like the oddball songs here, like "Song for John Lennon" which is powered by vintage synthesizers and a rudimentary rhythm box. "In the Garden," which closes the album, does pull things into VU territory which is a welcome bit of rocking out, but also makes me long for more Ultimate Painting.
If this were still the pre-MP3 era of cassettes, I could imagine putting former Pipette Rose Elinor Dougall's third solo album on a C-90 Maxell XL-II tape to keep in the car. It's her most relaxed album yet, and she really sounds comfortable with its sound that's equal parts early-'70s windswept folk and proggy pop. (Did Al Stewart pop into my mind a couple times while listening to this album? Yes, and that's not a bad thing at all.) “I just wanted to sit at the piano and play, I wanted to return to something essential,” Rose says. “There’s something comforting and solid about that instinctive relationship with music, with playing and singing.” She co-produced the album with Matt Twaites and it features a talented group of players that include her brother Tom and Max Claps (see Proper Ornaments right above in this post), who are both in TOY, and Younghusband's Euan Hinshelwood and Joe Chilton. A New Illusion is a big sounding record with lots of headroom and an autumnal, seaside quality. More than anything, I think this is the first album that is a natural fit to her pure, clear vocal style. "I feel I’ve grown more fluent, more confident, more in charge that I have come closer to my natural sonic habitat" she says and I can't agree more.
I like La Luz a lot: they've carved our their own unique, dreamy brand of surf rock that brings something fresh to a genre that many consider to be, pardon the pun, washed up. My favorite La Luz songs are the most ethereal ones, which may be why I find myself even more drawn to singer/guitarist Shana Cleveland's solo work. Her breathy voice is made for the kind of delicately plucked psych folk where you can hear fingers sliding across the strings. Night of the Worm Moon is an absolutely gorgeous record, with an emphasis on psych. Recorded around and during the 2017 solar eclipse, the album is a loose concept album involving aliens, insect sarcophaguses and other out-there stuff you'd normally associate with Borges or The X-Files. You don't have to know any of that to appreciate the strange magic of this album, as it weaves a hypnotic spell on tracks like "Don't Let Me Sleep," "Face of the Sun," and the spooky, beautiful title track. I'll always want to see La Luz live, but this is what I want to listen to at home.
Shana will be on tour with The Mountain Goats soon so if you're going, get there early.