Bill’s Indie Basement (11/15): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
We're getting near the end of the year, which means new releases slow to a trickle. This week has a few records I missed when they came out, including a few by artists I saw last weekend while at Iceland Airwaves. There are also some actual new releases, too. We've got Tindersticks' 11th album; TOY, who have put their kraut-psych spin on the covers album concept; UK cult disco band Gramme's second album in 25 years; Kelley Stoltz role-plays as one half of a fictional duo; woodland UK krautrock/disco/psych band Snapped Ankles; Parisian band En Attendant Ana (back with a new LP on Trouble in Mind); and Iceland synth-funk charmer Daði Freyr.
For more new album reviews, Andrew's Notable Releases this week digs into Bonnie Prince Billy's new album and more. Other things I'm excited about: Charlotte Adigery will be over for shows in the new year, and Moon Duo's tour is a must-see.
Snapped Ankles put on the best set I saw at last weekend's Iceland Airwaves: a performance that mixed high-concept elements (synthesizers built out of logs, mossy ghillie suits and masks), with high-energy krautrock/postpunk/psych dance music that sent pretty much everyone in the room over the edge. The UK band are known first and foremost for their live shows, and it's often hard to put lightning in a bottle, but Snapped Ankles have done a pretty good job of it on Stunning Luxury which came out back in March.
Where their (also very good) debut album, Come Play the Trees, played off the idea that Snapped Ankles were actually people of the forest, Stunning Luxury is a tale of urban dystopia, looking at gentrification's pros (less crime, better restaurants) and cons (skyrocketing rents, displacement of the poor, commerce over culture, etc). Cars, technology, and endless development loom in the songs lyrics, but this is an album that's first and foremost about the groove.
There is a mania to Snapped Ankles music, from the relentless percussion (again, often done on logs, or logs turned into synth triggers) to the to the weird keyboards riffs and the effects frontman Austin uses on his voice. But it's an addictive mania, especially when played really loud, and some of the songs are very catchy: "Letter from Hampi Mountain" has a lot of those weird synths (that sound like an electronic Ottu); the shouty, fist-pumping jammer "Drink and Glide"; the very danceable "Three Steps to a Development," which borrow's the bass riff from Liquid Liquid's "Cavern" (aka the "White Lines" riff); or, my favorite, the Devo/LCD/Liars-ish "Rechargeable" which is where Stunning Luxury gets its title. Actually the whole album is great -- I could list off every song -- but you may need to be in be in the mood for their slightly weird, on-edge, manic beat. As long as you're in that mood, be it in a tree or abandoned building, Snapped Ankles are here to party.
You really do need to see Snapped Ankles live, though. They've got a few European dates and maybe they'll come to North America in 2020.
Tindersticks' had their sound -- a boozy, woozy, lived-in, elegant last-call grandeur -- from day one. Like Scott Walker, Nick Cave or Lee Hazlewood, it's a timeless sound and they've aged gracefully, even unnoticeably so. (If you'd told me they were 53 when they made that first album, I'd believe it.) Their 11th album, No Treasure but Hope doesn't mess with the formula too much, with lush orchestration selling the drama nearly as much as Stuart Staples' on-the-point-of-breaking vocal style. As always, it's sweeping, cinematic stuff -- Powell & Pressburger's deep hued technicolor, with Godard's attitude and Lynch's unease -- and if it's not as essential as, say, 1997's Curtains, it's remains a fully realized glimpse into Tindersticks' sad, beautiful world.
Kelley Stoltz already released one album this year -- the excellent My Regime -- and here's another, which is a collaboration with fellow Bay Area home recording guru Garth Steel Klippert. Under the guise of fictional duo Falcon/Falkland, they dart across a whole bunch of genres and, like everything Stoltz is involved with, is pretty genius, though it veers into novelty territory a few times.
OK, more than a few. The whole package is goofy, with fake liner notes and a manufactured bio for this nonexistent duo who are painted as constant bandwagon-jumpersf who dabbled in bleary-eyed country ("Bottom Row Bottles"), gospel ("My Greatest Love," "It's All God"), British folk ("I'm Sorry [But I Don't Like Cats"]), punk ("I Live in My Sweatpants Now"), mutant post-punk ("I've Got a Problem with Christians"), '70s AM gold ("Tickled [To Tackle]"), and more. There are also a few flat-out great Stoltz songs here, too, namely groovy garage R&B opening cut "Bubble in the Wind" which is has risen quickly as one of my favorite songs of his ever. As a fake TV ad for album for the album declares, "There's something here for every ear" before listing off a disparate list of "recommended to fans of," including Helmet, Paul Williams and The Brothers Johson, that ends with "or any other person or group that has recorded sound or performed ANY musical instrument at any time or place since civilization began." What else needs to be said?
When I think of TOY, I think of the band that tested the power of my earplugs at Glasslands in 2014. They've grown, morphed, zagged and zigged with nearly every record, though a love of krautrock, shoegaze and psych have been present in all their records. Songs of Consumption, though, feels like a breather. It's generally gentle, synthy covers of eight of their favorite songs, often little more than bass, a primitive rhythm box and just a little synth or guitar to color in outlines and provide support for Tom Dougall's vocals. It's still very trippy, in a Sonic Boom kind of way, and the band have good taste. The eight songs are well chosen -- they are crate-digging record nerds -- and the record's at it's best the furthest away from the source material as they can get. The Stooges' "Down on the Street" here is almost Suicide-esque, with chilled out bass keeping the song's riff, with some drony organ as the only other instrumentation. Dougall's vocals are similarly restrained but the menace remains. Whatever the mood of the original, TOY generally dial it back at least 40% even when that doesn't seem possible, like on their cover of The Troggs' "Cousin Jane" or Soft Cell's already bare-bones "Fun City." (The inclusion of Charlotte & Serge Gainsbourg's controversial "Lemon Incest," as well done as it is, seems at least a little just for shock value.) "Always on My Mind," originally by B.J. Thomas but famously covered by Pet Shop Boys, hews a little too close to the original, complete with synth orchestra hits. It's inconsequential but still fun, kinda like the whole album.
UK group Gramme have been around since the late-'90s, and their debut EP, 1999's Pre-Release, came out via Trevor Jackson's Output Label. They took elements of post-punk, and grafted it onto disco, funk and then-modern club beats. (Think Gang of Four's "I Love a Man in a Uniform" but updated.) At the time there weren't a lot of people doing that, but the world would catch up to them by 2003 or so when dance-punk became the defacto soundtrack of the Lower East Side and Williamsburg. Around then, EP's fuzzed-out "Like U" was championed by the likes of James Murphy and Hot Chip and still sounds great now.
Gramme all but disappeared not long after, but resurfaced in 2013 with their first-ever full-length, Fascination, The album leaned a little heavier on Paradise Garage-style disco and less on shouty post-punk, but the kick-ass rhythm section that was behind Pre-Release was still very much driving things. They then disappeared again but earlier this year, Gramme returned with their second album, Disco Lovers, that splits the difference between their grimier early period and Fascination.
As with all their records, it's that rhythm section that's pulling you in and making you dance, but Gramme really understand all aspects of the sound they're going for: snappy snares, crisp hi-hats, slithering bass, and all of its got just a little grit on it, like the levels were allowed to be in the red a little more than you're supposed to. Synthesizers swirl, funky clavinet shows up here and there, and vocals are usually just choruses or chanted hooks belted out with maximum attitude. The best songs on Disco Lover are where they really push it, like the roughed-up "Yeah Ha" and the bass-popping funk of "Lazy Girl." My favorite song, though, is "Swimming," which dives headfirst into house/techno. More of that, please, and don't make us wait so long!
My other favorite from Iceland Airwaves was Icelandic artist Daði Freyr who I saw twice and was so entertaining and charming both times. He makes sleek, funky dancepop that owes a lot to the '80s, from new wave to R&B to soft rock stuff like Air Supply. It's 100% kitschy, but also very fun and ridiculously catchy. His voice, a sonorous baritone, is probably the most surprising thing about his music -- though it's less so if you've see him in person (he's way over six feet tall, so what other voice could come from this norseman?). It's just not the normal type of singing you'd expect from synthpop like this, but it quickly becomes one of Daði Freyr's many quirky selling points. (He sounds a little like German techno artist Justus Köhncke by way of, uh, Heino.) Also he sings, and sometimes scats, entirely in Icelandic, as do the occasional features from guest rappers. This may be a perfect storm of "no thank you" for some of you, but if you aren't afraid of a little camp, Nordic style, come to Daði.
Parisian band En Attendant Ana released the terrific Lost and Found last year and will follow that up with Juillet, their second record for Trouble in Mind, on January 24. The band's sound, accessible jangly indiepop,is just a little winsome (trumpet!), just a little motorik (Stereolab!), and super catchy. It's also a little Frenchy in vibe but they sing in English and vocalist Margaux Bouchaudon has a soaring voice, as you can hear on the album's first single, "Words."
I liked En Attendant Ana even more when I caught their tour last year, so hopefully they'll be back.