Bill’s Indie Basement (8/10): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
We are in the dog days of summer but hopefully this offering of cool music will help. This week: Manchester/Factory Records vets A Certain Ratio return with their first single in 10 years; sparkling, crunchy power-pop from New Zealand's The Beths; more new music from Australian band Terry's forthcoming third album; and great new albums from Seattle bands The Purrs and Wimps.
Named after a line in Brian Eno's "The True Wheel," Mancunians band A Certain Ratio were Factory Records regulars, making scratchy post-punk funk. While usually in the shadow of Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays (and the butt of some jokes in 24 Hour Party People), ACR nonetheless were an integral part of the Manchester and Factory scenes and a number of their singles -- "Do the Du," "Knife Slits Water," "Shack Up" -- are bona-fide classics that influenced the early-'00s post-punk revival and still sound great today.
A Certain Ratio are still a going concern, featuring longtime members Jim Kerr, Martin Moscop and Donald Johnson, with their most recent album being 2008's Mind Made Up. The band just reissued their whole catalog via Mute, and will release a new singles compilation, acr:set, on October 12. The record also features two brand-new songs, including "Dirty Boy," which is their first single in 10 years and features Barry Adamson (Magazine, Bad Seeds). "Dirty Boy" is both modern and instantly recognizable as an ACR song, with funk bass / rhythm guitar, and a little acid house 303 bubbling throughout. The song also features vintage studio chatter from late Factory Record domo Tony Wilson which nicely brings things full circle.
Some of my favorite traditional indie rock this year -- at least the poppy kind, not the angsty kind -- has come from the other side of the world where the water swirls down the drain counterclockwise. Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s debut full length is one of my favorite albums of 2018 to date, and here comes New Zealand’s spunky The Beths, whose debut album, out this week, rivals it for sheer number of hooks and winning melodies.
The Beths make super tight, super crunchy power pop, thick with harmonies and fuzzed-out guitars. It’s very early-’90s in a Juliana Hatfield or Fastbacks kind of way, but with a My So Called Life sense of angst and uncertainty in Elizabeth Stokes’ often dark, self-deprecatingly witty lyrics. Most of the songs are at rocket pace, with an emotional rush in the melodies and harmonies that conveys the feelings even if you’re not paying attention to the lyrics. Those melodies, which sound alive and fresh, are what really make this record fly, and nearly every song on Future Me Hates Me could be a single. The best of them all is "Happy, Unhappy," which would make a great alternate title for this bittersweet gem of a record.
Melbourne band Terry, which features members of Total Control and other tangential groups, will release their third album, I'm Terry, at the end of the month and here are a couple more tracks to check out. First is "Oh Helen," which premieres in this post, and is one of the quirkier songs on a very quirky album, set to an almost martial beat, featuring violin, keyboards and an unexpected third act appearance by sitar. I'm not sure what it's about, lyrically, but Helen seems to be in a pitiable position. The other is the video for "Bureau," a mid-tempo post-punk rocker about traffic congestion with the visual accompaniment following suit.
I’m Terry is out August 31 via Upset the Rhythm.
Seattle's The Purrs have been around since 2000 or so, and make the kind of psych that recalls the '80s Paisley Underground scene (Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade) but also the magisterial rock of The House of Love or The Church. Despite five quality albums to their name and being consistently championed by influential local station KEXP, The Purrs have flown mostly under the radar, which is a real shame. The band's sixth album, Destroy the Sun, may not change that but it's another quality record from this underappreciated band.
After clobbering you over the head with its ballsy riff-rock title track, Destroy The Sun settles down into the more typically gleaming, hazy style The Purrs do so well. There's an assured musicality to what they do -- they are good at it -- that balances guitar heroics and strong songwriting, great harmonies and lots of swagger. Some of the influences may be from other parts of the world, but The Purrs are distinctly American, thanks in part to singer/bassist Jima's attitude-heavy vocal style. There's a little cynicism that goes along with that, as heard on one of the album's many standouts, "American as Apple Pie," which could almost be a Let's Active song from 1985.
There's a ton of great songs on here, from the heavily percussive "In An Unknown Field," to the smoldering "Late Night Disturbance," and the knowing "Lifetime of Wrongturns." While their style is not in fashion, it's also never really out of fashion either, but you just don't hear bands making music like this in 2018 -- which make The Purrs a valuable commodity.
We’ll stay in Seattle for Garbage People, the third album from the awesome Wimps, who crank out no-nonsense melodic punk that explores life’s many exasperating moments, be it gender pay inequality, having to do the laundry or go to work or leave the house in general, wondering what the vanishing bee population means to the planet, and coveting O.P.P. (“Other People’s Pizza..but only if it’s cheese.”) Wimps are fun and funny, and their songs are just insanely catchy. There is zero wheel reinvention here -- we’re talking guitar, bass, drums (maybe a little sax), four chords max, played fast with just enough skill to keep it together. But they have a distinct point of view (sarcastic, over it, quickly approaching middle age) and they mean it, man.