Bill’s Indie Basement (7/12): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
"Classic Indie" looms large this week in the Basement. We've got: Purple Mountains, the new band from David Berman of Silver Jews (this album will be in my Top 5 this year for sure); two new singles comps from UK indie cult legends Television Personalities; and a new live album from New Order that is more interesting than it first seems. Plus: Lunch Lady, the new band from Juan Velasquez of Abe Vigoda and Roses; and the wonderful debut album from Brighton, England's Penelope Isles.
Need more album reviews? Andrew's got you covered in Notable Releases. Need more Basement-approved stuff? Stereolab have announced details of the reissues of their two best albums (Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Dots & Loops); Gruff Rhys has a new album on the way; The Frogs' It's Only Right and Natural is getting reissued; new UK post-punk group Dry Cleaning seem pretty cool; and I also dig new albums from Imperial Teen and Gauche (both, coincidentally, on Merge).
Juan Velasquez, who was in Abe Vigoda and Roses, and friend Rachel Birke of Heller Keller, decided they wanted to start a new musical project together, hitting on the idea that it should be "a kind of love letter to Kitsch." Rachel adds, "I like the way Susan Sontag explains Kitsch as being something that lacks the context or materials to reach the effect it sets out to achieve. Also that tragic aspect of Kitsch, we loved the futility of how literal it is, we wanted to evoke that with our band name and definitely my lyrics.” Lunch Lady was born, with Victor Herrera (bass) and Robert Wolfe (drums), rounding out the lineup.
Musically, Lunch Lady are not kitschy, and not too far off from the melted post-punk of Velasquez's previous groups. Having released an EP of demos in 2017, the band are now set to release their debut album, Angel, on August 23 via Upset the Rhythm. The first single from the album is "Window," a zippy number where Velasquez's fidgety guitar lines dance with Herrera's bass, while Birke plays it cool overtop. "Window is a song about a stalker I had when I was 14. There was a period where almost every night he would drive by the house intentionally skidding, or peeling out, whatever it is people do in cars that makes that screeching sound," Rachel tells us. "I assume his intentions was to scare the shit out of me and it worked. One night I heard him crash, and when I looked out my window I saw his car smashed into a pole and him walking away." The video for the song, directed by Bez Martinen, does not reenact that incident but instead gives us a time travel story of a man from the '40s who suddenly finds himself in 1978. It's a little like Peggy Sue Got Married, minus the romance angle, and the video premieres in this post.
You can preorder Angels now.
David Berman of Silver Jews returns after 10 years and, with the help of Woods, delivers one of his best-ever records as Purple Mountains. Here's a bit of my review:
Taking the name from "God Bless America," Purple Mountains could've been a Silver Jews record, though Purple Mountains fits the sound of the album, his most overtly twangy record to date. And like the best of country, Berman is laying bare the ups and (mostly) downs of his life for us to enjoy, a tear in his beer or, in the case of the album's best song, margaritas at the mall. There's not a lot of metaphor here, but his lyrics, as usual, are witty, eloquent, rich with detail, and there's barely an unconsidered word.
Much of the focus is on the dissolution of his marriage with Cassie. "I completely retreated into our house and buried myself in books," Berman told The Washington Post. "I saw no one and did nothing. Cassie continued to make friends, to play music, to go on vacations and be with family and I Bartlebied my way out of all of it." This plays out in song form on "She's Making Friends, I'm Turning Stranger" ("I wanna be a warm and friendly person, but I don't know how to do it'), "Darkness and Cold" ("The light of my life is going out tonight without a flicker of regret") and, in a song worthy of George Jones, "Maybe I'm the Only One for Me."
Listen to the album here:
Berman will be backed by most of Woods on Purple Mountains' upcoming tour.
Does the world need or want a live album from the current lineup of New Order? The answer is probably no, but this is not your average live album. Backstory: New Order played a very special show at the 2017 Manchester International Festival where they “deconstructed, rethought and rebuilt” songs from their catalogue, playing alongside a “12-strong synthesizer ensemble from the Royal Northern College of Music, with Mancunian composer Joe Duddell, conducting and providing the orchestrations.” The set featured a lot of songs that New Order hadn't played in years, or even decades. With an extremely esoteric title -- ∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif) New Order + Liam Gillick: So it goes.. -- in the grand tradition of their old label, Factory, this is a recording of that.
No doubt, it's a pretty killer setlist, and opens with Republic's "Times Change" which is drastically improved from the original by making it instrumental (frontman Bernard Sumner raps in the original). From there, they continue to dive deep. The set includes my two favorite songs off 1989's Technique: ebullient dance number "Vanishing Point" and the brilliant "Dream Attack," neither of which have been in regular rotation since the early '90s. There's also do Joy Division's "Disorder," the opening song on Unknown Pleasures which had never been played by New Order before this show. (Estranged bassist Peter Hook is probably saying "Aye, mate. I've been playing it with The Light for years!) These all sound pretty great, as do spirited takes on Power Corruption and Lies' "Ultraviolence" and "Your Silent Face" as well as Brotherhood deep cut "All Day Long."
As for the "deconstructed and rethought" part, you really hear that on the hits in the set, like widescreen versions of "Sub-Culture," "Bizarre Love Triangle," and "Shellshock." You don't really get a sense of the 12-piece synth orchestra, however, except on instrumental "Elegia" where it truly sounds grand and huge. The main effect of listening to this live album, though, is to instill pangs of fomo in people like myself. I may not listen to this much but it does make me wish I'd been there.
Maybe New Order will pull out some of these deep cuts at their Miami residency in January.
Led by siblings Jack and Lily Wolter, Brighton, UK band Penelope Isles make grand guitar pop that's big and swelling, full of ebbs and flows and lush harmonies. Jack and Lily seem to perform in tandem, finishing each other's lines, and blending together so you're not sure where one ends and the other begins. (The other two members of the band are no slouches either -- these four are seriously talented musicians.) The songs on their debut album, Until the Tide Creeps In, are complex but effortless earworms that are as light and breezy as the seaside city they live in. That is not to say they aren't capable of muscle, too: album opener "Chlorine" is all jazz chords and melotron but then lays in a ripping guitar solo and fuzz-pedal power chords. The whole record is like that, balancing the bright and dark, the exquisite and noisy, with those swooning harmonies lifting everything an extra six inches off the ground.
British independent music and labels wouldn't be the same without Dan Treacy and his band Television Personalities. Kind of like the tale of the first Velvet Underground album; anyone who bought TVP's 1978 Where's Bill Grundy Now? EP may have started a band. It's safe to say Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels, and many other groups may not have existed without them. Dan and the various members of TVP would have their ups and downs over the next 15 years but they were almost always at their best on singles and EPs. Fire Records has done the world a service by compiling all of these records, many of which were very hard to track down, onto two double-LP compilations: Some Kind of Happening, which covers 1978 - 1989; and Some Kind of Trip which covers 1990 - 1994. Originally released for Record Store Day 2019 in the UK, both are now available in wider release and digitally.
The first volume is clearly the more essential, and would be worth buying if just for the band's debut single, "14th Floor," which was championed by John Peel, and the essential Where's Bill Grundy Now? EP which contains the classic "Part Time Punks." Both have inspired legions of bands with more shambolic spirit than musical talent, many wearing cardigans. Some Kind of Happening also includes such indie classics as "The Prettiest Girl in the World," "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives," and "A Girl Called Charity," as well as the great singles from the Privilege album ("Salvador Dali's Garden Party" is where the title of this comp is from). There are also some super rare cuts songs they recorded as The Gifted Children, and a live version of "A Picture of Dorian Grey" (you may know The Futureheads version) that was released as a Flexi on Creation Records. If you're looking for a place to start with TVP, this is it.
The second volume collects the Strangely Beautiful, Goodnight Mr. Spaceman and You, Me And Lou Reed EPs, the very trippy “We Will Be Your Gurus” single, plus some forays into Madchester dancerock, and more. It covers less ground, is a less crucial era of the band, and is one that I haven't revisited in a while, but listening to this new compilation reminded me of how many songs from this era I know and love. It still has a lot of killer stuff. If you liked Vol. 1, by all means move on to this, but it’s not as likely to get you to pick up a guitar yourself.