Bill’s Indie Basement (5/3): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Another oversized week in the Indie Basement. We've got crucial reissues from Stereolab, Buzzcocks and Protomartyr, plus new music from superior Montreal coldwave synthpop act Automelodi, former Veronica Falls singer Roxanne Clifford's solo debut as Patience, glammy NYC artist Brion Starr and a new single from Sweden's Les Big Byrd.
If you need more, Andrew reviews Vampire Weekend, Big Thief and more in Notable Releases. Also: if you're in NYC this weekend, go see The Feelies at Rough Trade. They are the best, and they never tour, so NYC is lucky in they get chances to see them every year. People fly in from around the world to go to these shows, for real. Friday and Saturday are officially sold out but I wouldn't be surprised if there were tickets available at the door.
Earlier this year Domino reissued Buzzcocks' Another Music from a Different Kitchen and Love Bites, and they've recently announced that they'll reissue A Different Kind of Tension, the final album of the band's original era, and their entirely essential Singles Going Steady compilation on June 14. Firstly, Singles Going Steady is one of the best records ever, one of the few instances where a compilation outdoes an artist's studio albums, and is something everyone should own or at least listen to repeatedly. "Orgasm Addict." "What Do I Get?" "Autonomy." "Ever Fallen in Love." "Noise Annoys." "Everybody's Happy Nowadays." I could go on. (It's also got my all-time favorite Buzzcocks song.) You need this in your collection and life.
A Different Kind of Tension is my favorite of their studio albums, and dare I say this one is essential too? It finds the band breaking away, if ever so slightly, into new territory, with a creeping claustrophobic paranoia seeping into some of Pete Shelley's songs ("Hollow Inside," "I Don't Know What To Do with My Life"), while Steve Diggle ups his presence with three songs, including the great "You Know You Can't Help It." The album's got two of Buzzcocks' best-ever songs, too: the Beatlesque "You Say You Don't Love Me" (the first Buzzcocks song I ever heard) and "I Believe," with its nearly three-minute coda of Shelly wailing "There is no love in this world anymore." It's also got another great album sleeve by Malcolm Garrett.
Both are available for preorder and you can check out remastered versions of "Love You More" and "You Say You Don't Love Me":
The only thing left for Domino to reissue are the band's last three singles, which IRS Records put out in the U.S. as Parts 1, 2, 3. and will hopefully see the light of reissued day at some point. Also, RIP Pete Shelley.
The latest in Stereolab's reissue campaign looks to the band's first two albums for Elektra, and we're now starting to get into the really good stuff. Originally released in 1993, Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements is the peak of the band's earlier period that was dominated by drony, fuzzed out two-chord motorik workouts and gurgling analog synthesizers, and the LP also found them starting to dabble in jazzy chords and easy listening. On some of the album's songs, like "Pack Yr Romantic Mind," those two sides are melded together to great effect. It's also got the classic 18-minute jam "Jenny Ondioline"... which also shows up in a few different other forms on the album's bonus disc -- like a drum-backward-bass-organ instrumental version, a demo and the condensed 7" mix. There's also a whole bunch of other demos, including one for non-LP single "French Disko" (the studio version is now on Refried Ectoplasm).
Mars Audiac Quintet, released the next year (1994), found Stereolab moving into higher fidelity and more pop sounds, and even had them hitting #16 on the UK album chart. As a 70-minute double album, it's a bit overstuffed but the good here is very good, including the bouncy, jazzy "Ping Pong" and "L’Enfer Des Formes," dark droners "Wow and Flutter" and "Nihilist Assault Group," the loping "Transona Five," and The Free Design-inspired "International Colouring Contest." It also got "Fiery Yellow," one of their first flirtations with tropicalia that also bears the stamp of its mariba player (and frequent collaborator), Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas. (His string and brass arrange will soon become essential to the band's sound.) That song and "International Coloring Contest" would point in the direction the band would head on their next two (and best) albums, Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Dots and Loops. Both those will be reissued in August.
Stereolab are back together -- Laetitia Sadier, Tim Gane, Andy Ramsay, Simon Johns, and Joe Watson -- and will be touring this fall, including two sold-out shows at Brooklyn Steel.
Lot of reissues this week! Originally released in 2012 on Urinal Cake Records, Protomartyr's debut album has basically been a collector's item since it came out, as the original pressing was ridiculously small and sold out basically instantly, or at least by the time of 2014's Under Color of Official Right, and has never been on streaming services until today. (Vinyl copies on Discogs were selling last year for well over $100. I'm still kicking myself for not buying it at the merch table the first time I saw them at Death By Audio back in 2012.) Finally, it's been reissued by Domino and everyone can hear what the fuss is all about. Ever since Under Color, the band have taken more of a post-punk path but No Passion All Technique is the band at its grittiest, punkiest and most immediate. All the elements were there from the start, though: Greg Ahee's inventive guitar-playing, the rock-solid, no-nonsense rhythm section of Scott Davidson and Alex Leonard, and the bilous but poetic, and very human, lyrical style of frontman Joe Casey. Some of my favorite Protomartyr songs, ones that have stayed in their live repertoire since, are here: the intense one-chord portrait of barflys ("Jumbos"), a burner about a psychological case study of three men who thought they were Jesus Christ ("Ypsilanti"), a badass condemnation of organized pious types ("Too Many Jewels"), and the fierce "Feral Cats" which points in the direction they'd soon turn, with Ahee's guitarwork especially awesome.
If you like Protomartyr, you need to have this, and the reissue comes in a really nice tip-on sleeve with a 20-page zine, as well as a handful of digital bonus tracks from the same session as the album: “King Boots”, “Bubba Helms”, and “Cartier E.G.s” from the Dreads 85 84 7”, and “Whatever Happened To The Saturn Boys?”, which has never before been released. They're all good and I wish they'd put these on a 7" or something, but really I'm just glad to have this record in my hands.
Protomartyr have a few tour dates with Trail of Dead this month.
Best known as co-leader of Veronica Falls, Roxanne Clifford has also been a member of such other much-loved if short-lived groups as The Royal We and Sexy Kids, and also dueted with Metronomy's Joseph Mount on "Everything Goes My Way." For the last few years she's made music on her own as Patience, still writing wistful melodies you could imagine being strummed on a rickenbacker but presenting them as mid-'80s synthpop. Both her melodic style -- big hooks and choruses -- and her clear, vulnerable vocals are a perfect match for this kind of blippy production, which goes Full '80s with old boomy drum machines, tons of reverb, and arrangements that sound like it was all played, not programmed. Dizzy Spells, Patience's debut, collects the a-sides from her three 7" singles, including the OMD-ish "The Pressure" and the decidedly New Order-y "White of an Eye," and adds another seven very good songs. The album opens with "The Girls Are Chewing Gum," which was produced by house/garage vet Todd Edwards, and is the most overtly pop song on the album. This one really goes for it, production-wise, and it's fun to hear Clifford in this very confident, sassy context. Most of Dizzy Spells, though, sticks with minor key melodies and the kind of dark cloud atmosphere Veronica Falls did so well. The more minimal tracks with arpeggiated chords rippling across the surface of the mix -- "Living Things Don't Last," "Moral Damage" -- are where all aspects of what Clifford does come into sharp, beautiful focus.
Coldwave synthpop is a style that is easy to make but very difficult at which to excel. Hundreds of vintage synth keyboard and drum machine sounds are available at a click these days and, despite the mopey nature of the genre, it's fun style to play around with or just listen to. It sounds cool. Unfortunately most of it sucks. I realize this is true of just about any genre, but coldwave/minimal wave is such a specific aesthetic that can all sound the same. Xavier Paradis, who for all intents and purposes is Automelodi, is so much better at this than just about anyone else working in this dark milieu today and does it better than some of the old guard too. He really understands what this should sounds like, what makes it sexy, what makes it interesting, and he knows that even though it's very much about mood, you have to have good songs at the core. It also helps that he sings in French. This stuff just sounds better in French. Mirages au futur verre-brisé is his first album in six years and first for Holodeck (they label run by members of S U R V I V E, another group who really understand the way synth music should sound). Sonically, this is a wonder of an album, sleek and sultry, very danceable, inviting but mysterious, and still manages to offer something new. My favorite song on the album is "Feux rouges, Châteaux brillants" which makes great use of heavily treated stabs of guitar in the chorus and really showcases Paradis' skill with dynamics. It may make you want to pick up a keyboard or a cigarette, though in both cases you probably shouldn't.*
*Eddie Argos would yell at me for discouraging anyone from forming a band, and I'm certainly not doing that...just noting if you're gonna form a coldwave synth group, Automelodi are tough to beat. It's good to aim high, though.
Brion Starr has been kicking around NYC for a while, having spent time in Tamaryn's band and other projects over the years while making his own music, which leans towards glammy '70s weirdos and the mutant pop of the post-punk/new wave era. (He put out a record as Brian Hill and The Noh Starrs a couple years ago.) For his new album, Global Identity, he actually went to record at KONK, the London recording studio founded by The Kinks, which seems like a great birthplace for this weird, fun, inventive and tuneful album. Brian Eno seems like a big influence, as do early XTC and the dB's, but Brion has made it all his own, fashioning his own style out of it for a sound that is more not-of-a-time than timeless. There are glammy stompers ("Faculty of the Senses," "Time Is"), glittery ballads ("Come Eschaton") and fizzy, hyperactive pop ("Wonderful") and curveball sound experiments ("90 Dresden"), all of which flow together, making for a concept LP experience that also plays like a singles collection.
Global Identity is out now via Modern Sky Entertainment in North America and Taxi Gauche in the UK/Europe. Brion will celebrate its release tonight (5/3) in NYC at the 13th St Repertory Theater which will include a dance performance by Ruth Fish and a screening of the "90 Dresden" short film (tickets).
Sweden's Les Big Byrd, whose album Iran Iraq IKEA was one of my favorites of 2018, are back with a new 7" via PNK SLM. The a-side is a new version of their 2017 single "Two Man Gang." It's probably their most popular song, with over a million plays on Spotify, but is also in Swedish, so here's an English language version of this us-against-the-world anthem with its chorus of "Me and you are a gang of two / everyone else can go fuck themselves." It's big, it's super catchy and has all the band's drony, krautrock-y elements too. The flipside is "Mannen utanför" which is Iran Iraq IKEA's closing track.