Bill’s Indie Basement (2/22): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
You can tell spring is on the way. They days are getting longer, BrooklynVegan has more posts with SXSW mentions and new release Fridays are getting more crowded. This is a big week though there's only one new release this week I'm hyping: Sleaford Mods' terrific new album Eton Alive. We've also got reissues from The Wannadies (the other Swedish band on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack) and Mary Timony and Christina Billotte's first band Autoclave, plus new singles from two all-caps bands that start with the same two letters: POW! and POZI.
Need more Basement-approved stuff: Stereolab's North American tour is on sale now and they'll be draining my bank account all year long with their reissue campaign; and this new Aldous Harding album is very Cate Le Bon-adjacent.
Following a brief dalliance with Rough Trade (which on paper at least sounded like a good match-up), UK duo Sleaford Mods are back putting out records on their own, now via a new label they just formed called Extreme Eating. As good as English Tapas and the Rough Trade EPs were, Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn flourish with independence, maybe realizing that when it's all own their own, they'd better really deliver the goods. That's what they've done on Eton Alive, which is their best album since Divide & Exit. It might be their best album yet.
The record certainly has a high banger quotient, especially first single "Kebab Spiders," with it's wubwubwub dubstep bass and "Who knew?" chorus. The track itself takes aim at a regular target for Williamson: phonies, fakes and the comfortably well-off, specifically celebrities singing about social causes. "You've had a record deal for nearly 30 years / What do you know about agencies, looking for jobs, shit wages?" Other themes Here: casual consumerism, apathy, the alienating effects of our increasingly online lives and, of course, the looming shadow of Brexit. (Which all boils together into a global numbness vibe.) Even if you struggle with his thick accent, or turns of phrases like "It’s sotty and it’s sweep" that sound like a deep entry in the Cockney Rhyming Slang Dictionary, there's no mistaking the contempt and vitriol in his delivery.
That said, in some ways Eton Alive is a subtler album than they've ever made before. Williamson is slightly less profane this time around (but not less angry), and on a couple songs -- like "Firewall" and the downright tender "When You Come Up to Me" -- he actually sings. There are a handful of signature punky bile-a-minute tracks like "Discourse," "OBCT" and "Subtraction," but the songs that dabble in hip hop beats are the ones that stick with you: "Kebab Spiders," "Negative Script," "Big Burt" and the frantically funky "Discourse." Fearn and Williamson are both on fire this time and Eton feels especially alive. But, honestly, it has me even more excited for the next album which is something I never thought I'd say about Sleaford Mods.
The Cardigans just reissued all of their albums on vinyl and here comes some reissue news from another great '90s-era Swedish band that are sadly not as well-known in the States: The Wannadies. Formed in 1988, the band didn't really find their sound -- shiny, sweet and crunchy powerpop with a fondness for melodica solos and heart-on-sleeve lyrics -- until 1994's Be a Girl. "We spend our money on guitars / Write songs about our broken hearts," goes the opening couplet to single "Might be Stars," which sums up the band in two lines, and is their sound in a nutshell. But it's the album's opening track, "You & Me Song," that most people know...which didn't even get released in America till Baz Luhrmann put it on the soundtrack of his 1996 pop adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliette (you know, the one with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes). With its absolutely joyous "Bah bah bah" chorus, it's one of the great pop singles of the '90s. The soundtrack, which also featured The Cardigans' "Lovefool" (and Garbage and Radiohead and Everclear and, uh, Butthole Surfers and more), went triple platinum in the U.S. alone...but it didn't get Be a Girl a North American release, which is too bad because nearly every song on the album is as catchy as "You & Me Song," from the riff-rocking "Sweet Nymphet," "New World Records," and "Do it All the Time" to more swooning material like "Dreamy Wednesdays," and "How Does it Feel?"
Actually, by the time of Romeo + Juliet, The Wannadies had already released their next album, the even better Bagsy Me. After "You & Me Song"'s success, the band signed to RCA who combined about half of Be a Girl and Bagsy Me into 1997's The Wannadies which was their first North American release. RCA then brought the band to New York City to record with Cars frontman (and Weezer producer) Ric Ocasek who tried to turn them into more of a rock band for 1999's not-very-good Yeah. When that album tanked, The Wannadies got dropped by RCA, but released one last very good album, 2002's Before and After, and eventually disbanded in 2009.
But I digress. While it's not on Spotify or other streaming services, Be a Girl is getting a 25th anniversary reissue on March 15 via Music on Vinyl. It's limited to 1000 copies worldwide on yellow vinyl. My fingers are crossed for a Bagsy Me reissue at some point, too, but for now I'm very happy for this. Revisit "You & Me Song":
San Francisco / L.A. band POW! will soon be back with Shift, their fourth album of dystopian synth-punk which will be out May 10 via Castle Face. This trio is jacked-in and jacked up as usual, and sound even more hyper and ready to start the revolution this time around. The first single, "Disobey," is a real rallying cry towards that purpose with its title chanted in the chorus and declarations of "i feel like fucking with it all" while guitars roar and synths swirl around you. It's a rad first taste and the song premieres in this post:
DC band Autoclave existed for less than a year but are notable for being an early band for some who would go on to much more notable things. Christina Billotte and Melissa Berkoff began playing together in 1989 in a band called Hazmat but the next year they met up with Nikki Chapman and Mary Timony, and Autoclave was born. They released a 7" single on DisKord, aka a Dischord/K co-release, which also says a lot about the group's sound which had one foot in punk and the other in more weird/twee indiepop. It was shambolic, and attacked at odd angles, but was brimming with creativity. Autoclave only played a handful of shows and broke up in the spring of 1991, the same year the 7" was released. They released a posthumous 10" EP in 1992 which showed a lot more confidence, and the same year also appeared on the "Lever" EP in the Simple Machines 7" series, contributing "Summer," which is think is my favorite Autoclave song.
Mary Timony would go on to bigger and better things in Helium, Wild Flag and Ex Hex, as would Billotte with Slant 6, Quix*o*tic, and The Casual Dots, but Autoclave is more than just a footnote in DC punk and indie rock history. Autoclave's entire output was collected onto one CD in 1997 which Dischord is now releasing for the first time ever on vinyl. For your audio nerds out there, it's been remastered from the original tapes by TJ Lipple and cut for vinyl by great recording engineer (and Shellac/Volcano Suns member) Bob Weston. Preorders are available now and you can stream it in full below.
Mary Timony's current band, Ex Hex, have a new album on the way and are touring, too.
You may remember "KCTMO," the searing debut single from UK trio POZI that's about London's Grenfell Tower fire tragedy and the ongoing scandal around it. The band have now announced their debut album, PZ1, which will be out April 5 via Prah Recordings. The band have a rather unique drums, bass and violin lineup which takes what can be common postunk-influenced sounds into new territory. It may take you a few listens to realize there's no guitar in their music at all, and Rosa Brook's violin style -- droning, sometimes heavily treated -- in particular gives POZI an unsettling quality.
They definitely want you on edge even before they start singing. There are two other songs off the record, in addition to "KTCMO," that you can check out now. "Watching You Suffer" opens the album with a jolt of adrenaline and looks at the sorry state of mental health care, while "Noel" is a hazy, queasy, disquieting dream. I can't wait to hear the rest of the record.