Bill’s Indie Basement (6/7): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week is a real late spring harvest, with a horn-o-plenty overflowing with terrific new albums to check out. Today's Basement bounty includes Younghusband, highly danceable post-punks French Vanilla, and Vanishing Twin (who sound somewhere between Stereolab and Broadcast), plus the esteemable Richard Hawley, Eternal Summers' Nicole Yun, Doug Tuttle's psych-pop perfection, and Melbourne's Possible Humans.
If you need more Basement approved stuff: first-gen post-punks The Membranes are back with a sprawling new album; Lloyd Cole's transition to synthpop is unsurprisingly suave; The Futureheads are back; so are Whitney; Drawing Boards' new album is very good; and Roisin Murphy continues her hit streak with "Incapable."
Both Stereolab and Broadcast ceased operations, for the most part, at the start of the decade (Stereolab disbanded in 2009 [but are now back]; Broadcast's Trish Keenan tragically died in 2011) which left a groovy, krauty, psychedelic hole in the music universe. A surprising number of new bands moved in to fill the void, from The Soundcarriers to Lake Ruth to Peel Dream Magazine to name three. Few groups meld both groups' style and bring their own touch to the table, though, as London's Vanishing Twin, who release their exquisite second album today. The London five-piece, whose members include a crucial flautist, made the record in unusual settings, some of it mostly recorded live, like the gorgeous opener "Krk (At Home In Strange Places)" which they say was captured on an iPhone during a live set on an island in Croatia. I'm not sure that I buy that, entirely, but the song does sound like an island paradise. Speaking of, "You Are Not an Island," is equally transportive, with nylon-string guitar, marimba, violins and bloopy electronics. There are groovy pop songs, too ("Magician's Success," "Planète Sauvage") that really showcase bassist Susumu Mukai who does some out-of-this-world work here. "Backstroke" is like Can fronted by Jane Birkin. The more you listen the more the comparisons to other groups...vanish. Age of Immunology stands on its own.
I'll take L.A. band French Vanilla over 92% of the bands making "post-punk" these days, and by that I mean that slashing, wiry, danceable sound that spread out the second the Sex Pistols called it quits in San Francisco. Self-described art-punks, the band aren't that different from the Priests and Savages and IDLES of our era. Saxophones skronk, guitars scratch, the rhythm section is manic disco and singer Sally Spitz wails wild out front. But they approach it all from a decidedly new wave angle, that is closer to Romeo Void and The Waitresses than Gang of Four or PiL. (They would've fit right in on KROQ in 1982.) You can Molly Ringwald dance to a lot of the songs on French Vanilla's terrific new album, How Am I Not Myself? Songs like "Lost Power," "All the Time" and "Friendly Fire," have a sheen to them -- subtle synths, double-tracked vocals, well-placed handclaps -- that doesn't soften their edges as much as make you pull the blade to you. Sally Spritz has serious things to say but does so wittily, and her vocal style is packed with charisma and attitude...but the beat always leads the way.
French Vanilla are on tour with Stef Chura (whose new album is also out today).
UK band Younghusband release Swimmers, their first album in four years, this week. Where their last album, the excellent Dissolver, was produced by Loop’s Robert Hampson at Geoff Barrow’s Invada Studios (and featured The Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis), main man Euan Hinshelwood took a different approach to making this one, recording in a self-built studio and only letting his bandmates hear the songs on the day they would record them. The result is a more spontaneous, lighter feel. The haze of Dissolver has been evaporated while the band’s bucolic, lightly psychedelic sound remains, as does their understated sense of melody. Songs like "Translation," "Modern Lie," and "Sister" are gentle charmers and take a couple listens to really work their magic but they do really blossom. This is magic hour music in the great Sunday Morning tradition of The Velvet Underground and early Brian Eno, but Younghusband take their own path.
Richard Hawley is Sheffield royalty, having spent the '90s as a guitarist-for-hire, playing in Longpigs and Pulp (he was also almost a Morrissey sideman, and probably dodged a bullet there), and has spent the last 15 years or so making stately solo records that pull from early-'60s orchestral pop and make a great showcase for his swoon-able, croon-able voice. So it's a bit of a shock when his new album opens with a full-on rocker, "Off My Mind." He pulls it off (Hawley is pure class whatever he does), but thankfully most of the record is in more familiar territory, closer to Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers. He's such an underrated talent, and the string-laden "My Little Treasure," and harmony-filled "Not Lonely," "The Midnight Train" and the album's beautiful title track are great showcases for his skills as a songwriter, guitarist and singer.
Richard hasn't toured North America in forever...come back!
While Eternal Summers are still going strong -- they were just on tour with Japanese Breakfast -- singer/guitarist Nicole Yun is stretching her wings on her solo debut, with eight songs that don't quite fit into her band's sound. Most of these eight songs are at least a little jazzy, whether it's the Madchester vibes of "Tommie," the dreampop of "And After All" or the Cardigans-esque "Maximum." "Two Eyes" takes cues from Cocteau Twins while "Destroy Me" is a torchy piano ballad. As with pretty much everything she does, Nicole's ear for melody and pop smarts are at the forefront. Guests abound, including Guided by Voices' Doug Gillard, Pains of Being Pure at Heart's Jacob Sloan and Maximo Park's Duncan Lloyd, while The Hairs' Kevin Alvir designed the cover. The crunchy riffs of Eternal Summers may be her bread and butter but this Paper Suit fits her fine.
Nicole has a Brooklyn record release show at Alphaville on June 13 which is with Peel Dream Magazine and The Wrens’ Charles Bissell. Nicole’s band for the show will include Doug Gillard, Joe Boyer, Julian Fader (who produced part of the album), and Jacob Sloan (more info). That same weekend she'll also play New Brunswick and Philly. All dates are here.
Doug Tuttle, who used to front MMOSS, just released his fourth solo album that, like the previous three, he made in his New England apartment on mostly self-built (or majorly customized) equipment. If you're unfamiliar, his style draws from sunshine pop that can lean both twangy (the pedal-steel-led opener "I'll Throw it All Away") and baroque ("Long Day to Your Home"), with some forays into '70s mellow gold ("Did You Need Someone"), all of it done is in a pristine manor that does not sound like a DIY record in any way. He's as good with close harmonies as he is with a tasty twin-lead lick. If you have any love of classic guitar-based pop, especially anything with at least a toe in the '60s, you will like this album.
Melbourne's Possible Humans have been around since 2012, making very catchy, breezy indie rock that has drawn comparisons to neighbors Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and New Zealand greats The Clean. There is a DIY vibe to what they do, but they have more going on, musically, than your average band that's two degrees from Total Control.* Favoring live shows to studios, and growing from four to five, this year Possible Humans finally got around to making their debut album, Everybody Split, which was produced by Alex Macfarlane of The Stevens and Twerps. Released in April in a run of only 200 vinyl copies, Everybody Split sold out immediately and quickly became an overpriced Discogs item. Thankfully, the good folks at Trouble in Mind are repressing the album in much less limited quantities and it'll be released August 2. You can get a taste right now though with the moody and melodic "Aspiring to be a Bloke," that smolders with some searing guitarwork as it really gets cooking.
*It will come as not much of a surprise to regular readers of the column that Total Control's Mikey Young mastered Everybody Split.