Bill’s Indie Basement (6/28): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
It's a scorcher today, in NYC at least, but Indie Basement is full of cool new stuff: David Berman's new project Purple Mountains share the best song off their excellent forthcoming debut; Olympia, WA's Daisies make dancepop that draws from a variety of late-'90s sources; Julian Cope's Autogeddon gets a 25th anniversary deluxe reissue; Honey Radar should be on your low-fi radar; and Roman band WOW deliver mysterious and alluring pop noire.
Not enough album reviews for ya? Andrew examines the new Thom Yorke and more in Notable Releases. For more Basement-approved stuff, there's: the new Moon Duo album that was mixed by Sonic Boom; Oh Sees are back with Face Stabber; and Operator Music Band are the closest thing Brooklyn has to Stereolab (and they're doing it in their own way and very well).
"I've drawn up all my findings and I warn you they are candid," David Berman intones in the opening lines of "Margaritas at the Mall," arguably the standout cut on Purple Mountains' upcoming debut album. Berman never shied away from drawing on his personal life in Silver Jews but with Purple Mountains he's bearing his soul and facing death on nearly every song. Here he looks at faith, religion, the state of our nation -- "50 gates of understanding, 49 are closed" -- and the whole existential "why are we here" thing, all wrapped up in a twangy, boozy frozen cocktail. "How long can this world go on with such a subtle god?" he asks, adding "See the plod of the flawed individual looking for a nod from God / trodding on the sod of the visible." His conclusion, in the chorus, complete with Spanish horns: "We're just drinking margaritas at the mall / that's all this stuff adds up to after all." Berman's baritone drawl has never sounded better or more vulnerable while coming to terms with there being no answers and backed by strummed acoustics and swooning pedal steel. Everything about this song works. Woods founders Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere's production really sets the scene, and Berman throws in just enough of his signature sardonic humor -- "This happy hour's got us by the balls" -- to keep things from totally wallowing. What's the point of it all? The answer may not be at the bottom of a salt-rimmed glass, but as long as Berman is serving, I'm buying the next round.
David Berman will be taking Purple Mountains on the road in September and October, with Jeremy and Jarvis in the band, including two nights at Brooklyn's Murmrr Theatre. Speaking of Jarvises, a dream tour for me would be Purple Mountains and Jarvis Cocker.
Somewhat enigmatic group Daisies don't sound like your average band from Olympia Washington. The group, which includes Chris McDonnell and David Jaques of CCFX (who put out an album on DFA last year) and Valerie Warren, don't make punk or indie rock. Instead, Daisies make lush synthpop that sounds more like something from the UK in the late-'90s or early-'00s when trip hop lightened up, Everything But the Girl hit the dancefloor and groups like Boards of Canada and Bent emerged. The group just released their debut album, What Are You Waiting For?, via K Records. Warren has a lovely, soaring voice and the tracks she sings lead on tend to be lighter or more ethereal. "Just Yesterday" sounds like something from Heaven or Las Vegas remixed by Massive Attack (but not like "Teardrop"), while the light, effervescent and very infectious "Anyone's Style" recalls the sample-delic sounds of Saint Etienne, Mint Royale and The Shortwave Set. There are a few songs sung by McDonnell -- "I'm Not Waiting Anymore," "Everything Now" -- and those go in a more psychedelic direction influenced by Spacemen 3 or Love & Rockets*. There's also tranquil instrumental "ok, ok!" and a full-on house banger, "True Absolute Fiction." The group's sampling style, that drops strings on most tracks, ties it all together and puts a distinctive spin on Daisies' brand of flower power.
* I'm here to stump for Love & Rockets mid-to-late-'90s electronic period -- 1994's Hot Trip to Heaven and 1999's Lift are both much better than reviews at the time gave them credit for. Check 'em out.
By the early '90s Julian Cope had, for the most part, put his pop star aspirations behind and settled into being a thoughtful, wildly eccentric artist, a proponent of psychedelics and a general advocate for the hippie lifestyle. He began the decade with a trio of albums that looked at our earth and the many ways human beings are ruining it. 1991's Peggy Suicide dabbled in Madchester beats and was a deserved critical and commercial hit (it's his best album), but he lost momentum with 1992's weird, shaggy Jehovahkill that pitted organized religion against paganism (guess which side he's on?) with less hooks and more krautrock grooves. He then parted ways with Island, a label he'd been on since the mid-'80s, and in 1994 released Autogeddon, the final third of the triptych, which looked at our complicated relationship with cars.
Autogeddon actually made it to #16 on the UK album charts, yet was considered a failure at the time, but the record has aged very well, and the subject matter remains as relevant as ever. Julian is also a funny guy and injects his songs with a welcome sense of humor. He's also well aware he's a bit of a hypocrite -- he sang of his love of motorcycles on Peggy Suicide's "East Easy Rider" -- and on the epic "Paranormal in the West Country" he sings, from the point of a critic, "Boy, you've got a nerve comin' here / You sing of Auto'GEDDON but you drive a car / Like a cheap new age cavalier / You should be more like Merlin + walk everywhere." He actually proposes just that on the punky indie rock number "I Gotta Walk." My favorite song on the album is "Ain't But the One Way," a heavy blues-rocker about taking action: "Step into view... and about time / Make yourself some enemies + step out of line."
Working with longtime collaborators Donald Ross Skinner, Thighpaulsandra and Mooneye, the record is loose and live -- it's all first takes, which has become Julian's signature -- but still very together and crackling with energy. Originally out in the U.S. via Rick Rubin's American Recordings label, Autogeddon has just gotten a 25th anniversary reissue on vinyl and CD. The vinyl edition puts the original album on one disc and a 12" version of the Paranormal in the West Country EP (originally only released on CD) on another, and it comes with a bonus 7" of rare singles "Conspiracist Blues" and "Highway Blues." It's all housed in a cloth cover box with foil lettering, plus postcards, a 24-page book titled The Road to Autogeddon: The Rehabilitation of Julian Cope. Or you can just listen to the album via the streaming service of your choice, but it's well worth checking out in any case.
Do you like your American indie rock delivered with a decidedly Anglophile bent, pulling from The Kinks, The Who and The Zombies, while being filtered through a scuzzy drain that has never been cleaned? Do you like your songs to be under two minutes if at all possible and to sound like they were recorded by accident? If so, there's no new Robert Pollard album out this week (that I know of), so may I turn your attention to Philly band Honey Radar who have just released Ruby Puff of Dust, a 12-song, 22-minute blast of the lowest-fi pop hooks. Other reference points besides GBV: late-'90s Lilys, Sic Alps at their catchiest, Pavement's Drag City era, the many many albums by White Fence, or Elephant 6 bands with less harmonies. Jason Henn's breathy vocal style works perfect with these paisley powered melodies, and there's lots of craft here despite Honey Radar working really hard to make you think there isn't.
Ruby Puff of Dust is out now via What's Your Rupture.
China Wow and Leo Non have been making music in Rome as WOW for years, with a smokey, bluesy brand of pop noir indebted to '60s Italian pop, surf, garage and post-punk. It's the kind of music that sounds like 3 AM at a smoky, red-lit bar, or born from a scene in a David Lynch film. (They say Antonioni is more of an influence, though.) WOW are set to release their fifth album, Come La Notte, on August 30 on Maple Death Records and My Own Private Records. We've got the premiere of "Occhi Di Serpente" ("Snake Eyes"), a mysterious cocktail that sounds dangerous and alluring all at once, set to a slinky, bongo-fueled groove. The harmonies are divine. Dive in but watch your back.