Bill’s Indie Basement (8/16): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
This week in Indie Basement: shoegaze greats Ride are back with their second post-reformation album; Oh Sees explore the astral plane on their new jazz odyssey double album; The Radio Dept reissue two of their best CD-only mid-'00s EPs as a one vinyl album; Versus are back with their first album in nine years; The High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan goes solo (with help from his old Microdisney bandmate Cathal Coughlan); and new UK group Dry Cleaning take post-punk to the laundry for a fresh update.
Need more album reviews? Andrew reviews Blanck Mass and more in Notable Releases. Need more Basement-approved stuff? There's: a new Pernice Brothers album on the way; Bodega have a new EP; Omni shared a song from their Sub Pop debut; and Redd Kross covered Sparks!
Shameless plug: If you are in NYC this weekend, I'm DJing this Sunday's edition of Summer Thunder at Union Pool which features performances from Sam Evian and Hannah Cohen. It's free, and I start DJing at 2 PM with bands starting around 3. Hope to see you there.
When UK shoegaze greats Ride reformed in 2014, most people probably thought they'd play the big festivals, tour, and go back to doing whatever they were doing before. Few expected they'd go on to make a new album, let alone two. But it was clear when I saw them at Music Hall of Williamsburg in 2015 that they were having a great time and seemed to have realized what made them special and why people liked them. (The answer is not to be found on 1994's Carnival of Light or 1996's Tarantula.) Their comeback album, 2017's Weather Diaries, sounded right, but the spark wasn't quite ignited. Plus, it was hard not to compare it to Slowdive's album, also their first in over 20 years, which was not just good for a comeback but one of 2017's best albums.
Maybe they just needed more time getting back into the Ride songwriting groove, or more time together in general. Whatever the case, the spark is back with This is Not a Safe Place, a much more confident, adventurous record that sounds like Ride but also sounds like 2019. Working again with producer/fan Erol Alkan, maybe their collaboration needed more time too. The difference is evident from the opening seconds, as Ride kick things off with instrumental "R.I.D.E." that would almost sound at home on the new Blanck Mass album, full of glitchy noise, glide guitar, and massive drums. Loz Colbert remains indispensable behind the kit.
Then there's single "Repetition," which merges wonky, danceable krautrock with new wave and the band's roaring wall of sound. "It was one of the very first songs written for the album," notes singer/guitarist Andy Bell, "and has always felt to me like one of the best songs I’ve written." The first time I heard it, I burst out laughing when the old school Juno synth bassline kicks in -- it's just so unexpected from Ride -- but it never fails to make me dance in my chair or wherever I happen to be and has really risen in the ranks of my favorite Ride songs.
Another instant classic is Mark Gardner's "Future Love," which is one of those effortless, sparkling guitar pop numbers, like "Twisterella," "Taste" and "Chelsea Girl," that just soars with chiming 12-strings and those signature harmonies. Ride are always at their best where harmonies are laid on thick and you're not 100% sure who's singing lead, and This is Not a Safe Place has quite few of those, including the dreamy "Clouds of Saint Marie," the delicate and folky "Dial Up" and widescreen epic "Shadows Behind the Sun."
Also showing Ride's expanded range this time out are a couple of lovely, moody and atmospheric songs near at the end of the album, "End Game" and "In This Room," which drift into post-rock territory, a landscape they take to easily. An area they've never been on the surest footing is words, and there are a couple clunkers this time around -- "Kill Switch" and "15 Minutes" -- where the music doesn't quite distract enough from what they're singing. But This is Not a Safe Place has way more hits than misses and is easily Ride's best album since Going Blank Again. I sincerely hope we get another.
Oh Sees are one of those groups, like The Fall, who are constantly morphing but always remain true to themselves. Face Stabber sounds nothing at all like 2008's The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In, but you can tell the same person is behind both. (That would be sole constant member John Dwyer.) What are we in for this time? The group's 22nd studio album opens with the manic sounds of a squeak toy, the kind that drives everyone except the person playing with it crazy. Its incessant rhythm is soon matched by drums and bass, nonsensical chanting and droney keyboards. That song, "The Daily Heavy," is like Raymond Scott on major psychedelics and definitely sets the tone for the 73 minutes of wigged-out jazz/prog odyssey to come.
Face Stabber is really the first album to really make great use of Oh Sees two-drummer lineup, giving things a more proggy feel with Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone each seemingly doing their own thing (previously they tended to mirror each other). You can hear it on "Snickersnee," which has a bit of a Can vibe, and on the album's two Homer-length epics "Scutum & Scorpius" and "Henchlock," where things get really trippy. There were definitely points listening to Face Stabber where I'd get very zoned-out and, in a moment of clarity, would wonder what the hell I was listening to -- it was usually "Henchlock," around the point where Dwyer gets into Jim Morrison territory, emphatically demanding to know "where is that cup of TEA?!?"
Not all of Face Stabber is that out-there, but most of it is. There are brief, blinding forays into metal ("Gholü") and punk ("Heart Worm") and one cool-down moment of ambient beauty ("Captain Loosley"), but the lion's share of this double album rockets you along with crazed, precision, pedal-to-the-metal jazz. When it's not stabbing you in the face, its melting it off. Which is to say, it's the Oh Sees. But this one swings.
To hold us over till they get around to making the follow-up to 2016's fantastic Running Out of Love, The Radio Dept procrastinate with this reissue that puts two of their best, early, CD-only EPs onto vinyl for the first time. I Don’t Need Love, I’ve Got My Band takes its title from a song on 2003's Pulling Out Weight EP which, along with "The Worst Taste in Music," is the kind of sweetly bitter anorak-wearing indie boy anthem that The Radio Dept were so good at in the mid-'00s. (They save their venom for political targets these days.) Pulling Out Weight also includes classics like the jazzy, acoustic "Someone Else," the synthy and hypnotic "The City Limit," and the fantastic title track.
The flip-side is 2005's even better This Past Week EP which, in addition to the wistful title track, contains some of their best, most quintessentially Radio Dept songs, like the swooning, gorgeous "I Don't Like it Like This" (which, along with "Pulling Our Weight," were on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack) the dark synthpop of "Deliverance" and the deeply melancholic "Let Me Have This."
Putting these onto one album pretty much makes this a must-own and it's out next Friday, August 23 via the band's own Just So! label, including a limited clear vinyl pressing. Order yours.
While they're reissuing stuff, Radio Dept singles comp Passive Aggressive regularly goes for $100 on Discogs-- let's get that one back in print. But mostly, let's get a new album!
Apart from the occasional live show, NYC indie rock greats Versus all but disappeared following the release of 2010's On the Ones and Threes. But like cicadas, they were merely dormant, hiding beneath the earth, waiting for the right time to come back in force. This year already saw a new Versus EP, Ex Nihilo, and now here's album Ex Voto, and both are worth hearing. Ex Voto may be the band's prettiest album, with jangly, ringing guitars dominating over noise and angst. Versus are still writing the same kind of hooky, indie rock melodies, but they're just going about it a little more gently. What angular dissonance there is is used more as shading -- like the shringy bursts of tremolo-battered wailing on "Mummified" -- than as the star of the show. There's also drum machines and lovely strings, but Ex Voto is really a showcase for the magic that is the combined voices of Richard Baluyut and Fontaine Toups who have never sounded better together.
Sean O'Hagan has spent the last 25 years or so blending Brian Wilson, Ennio Morricone and Steely Dan together as The High Llamas. It's a sound -- particularly his brass, string and harmony arrangements -- that you can spot 20 miles away, even when he's applying it to a record by Stereolab or Gruff Rhys. I think High Llamas still exist, but here we are with a Sean O'Hagan solo album, Radum Calls, Radum Calls, which will be out October 25 via Drag City.
This is only Sean's second solo album -- his first was 1990's High Lamas which was basically a test-run for what his band would become. Like that one, Radum Calls, Radum Calls doesn't find him changing things up, sonically, too much. First single "On A Lonely Day (Ding, Dong)" could've been a High Llamas song; it's got the giddy strings, that gentle pastoral vibe and those "bah bah bah" vocals (actually that's where the "ding dong"s come in). It's great and you can listen below.
There is one notable difference between this solo album and The High Lamas, as it finds O'Hagan reuniting with his old Microdisney bandmate Cathal Coughlan who apparently sings on much of the album. It's the first time they've made a record together since Microdisney broke up in 1988. If Cathal is singing on "On a Lonely Day," I don't hear it -- Cathal and Sean's voices are both very distinct -- but I'm very excited to hear what the rest of this sounds like.
The four members of UK band Dry Cleaning have been friends for years but only decided to form a band after a 2017 karaoke party. Lewis Maynard, Tom Dowse, and Nick Buxton worked up music first, drawing on a variety of post-punk influences, then brought in Florence Shaw who was a university lecturer and had never been in a band before. Florence went with what she knew, opted not to "sing" and instead just use her speaking voice instead. It was a very smart decision, Shaw's vocals -- dry, authoritative and dripping with attitude -- are what give Dry Cleaning a distinctive edge, whether she's opining on her cat, phone scams or Meghan Markle. The music is all pretty great, too: angular, shringy, danceable post-punk. Dry Cleaning are far from the first to go this route, but the Sweet Princess EP feels vital and fresh.