Bill’s Indie Basement (12/7): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Happy Friday, and Happy Hanukkah Night 6. Have you gone to a Yo La Tengo show this week? I don't mean to alienate non-New-Yorkers but their annual run is very much on my mind this week. (This lapsed Presbyterian has been to two shows this week and I wish I could go to all of them.) We're hitting year-in-review time here on BV -- I imagine the remainder of 2018's Indie Basements will look back in some way or another -- but this week I'm still trying to keep up, or catch up, with new(ish) releases. We've got the excellent debut album from Liverpool's The Fernweh, a new single from Unloved (who you may have heard in TV series Killing Eve), plus recent records from Les Big Byrd, Mr. Twin Sister and Suede, as well as a little tribute to Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley who died yesterday.
Unlike last week, everything here is in English!
"[The Fernweh are] the best thing to happen in Liverpool since Jurgen Klopp arrived," Saint Etienne's Sarah Cracknell told us back September. I had to Google who Jurgen Klopp was and I'll have to take her word on the reference (though Jurgen Klopp is, let's face it, an amazing name) but she is certainly right that The Fernweh are great.
The band was started by three Liverpool musicians, Jamie Backhouse, Ned Crowther and Austin Murphy, who played in bands including The Zutons and Alessi's Ark, and wanted to make a record that embodied their "shared love of British folk and psychedelia." It took them three years to make it, working in their houses and an "old telephone exchange," and they only released their first single back in January. The album was promised for the summer, but didn't come out till last week (on The Coral's Skeleton Key label). It was worth the wait.
Recalling The Zombies, Fairport Convention, The Clientele, The Soundcarriers, The Chills and their label bosses The Coral, The Fernweh's debut is a gorgeous record full of sweeping melodies, haunting harmonies, and arrangements that smartly make use of a wide array of cool instruments (glockenspiel, flutes, violins, mellotrons, saxophones, you name it). All in the name of a great batch of songs, in particular the zooming "Brightening the West," the mysterious but groovy "Dressing Up Box," sparkling single "Next Time Around," and the heavily psychedelic guitar workout "LIttle Monsters." I'm wondering if they didn't delay the record from summer to November because they knew it was much more of a autumnal or wintry record, and these 14 songs sound especially good on days when it seems like the sun is setting at 3 in the afternoon.
If you've watched the terrific first season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's funny, shocking, thrilling and generally awesome Killing Eve*, you may already know songs by Unloved, even if you didn't realize who they were. David Holmes, who does the music for the series, is one third of the group and may have had a hand in getting a good sync rate but, really, their sound -- jazzy, noir, surfy dreampop -- is perfect for a show about an intelligence officer chasing a femme fatale (seriously fatale in this case) all over Europe.
Holmes, who has worked a lot with director Steven Soderbergh (including on the Oceans movies), operates in an arranger/producer mode while the songs are mainly written by vocalist Jade Vincent and her partner Keefus Ciancia. Unloved's second album, Heartbreak, will be out via Heavenly on February 1 (close enough to Valentine's Day, I guess) and features five songs that were in Killing Eve, including the title track. (Most of their first album, Guilty of Love, was in the show too.) The new single off the record is "Love," a fizzy pop number that is both retro and modern at the same time. Set to a thunderous Bo Diddley beat, this song really moves and the production is kinda bonkers, with horns, sound effects, xylophones and spy guitar leads flying across the stereo field. It's a lot of fun. Jarvis digs them, so should you.
*If you haven't watched Killing Eve yet (a group of people that includes everyone else on staff at BV), I can't recommend it highly enough. Watch it over the holidays -- you can stream it on Hulu.
There was a lot of hype around Twin Sister when they started, deservedly so, but steam they built up seemed to dissipate when they changed their name, slightly, to Mr. Twin Sister. Thing is, they're only gotten better and Salt, their third full-length, is their best yet.
Salt is almost like a Sade album if it was co-produced by Jazzy B and Roni Size. It is sultry. It is sumptuous. It is made for dancing but it is also a great making-dinner album or walking around the city album. (The dinner and walking tests are big for me.) For someone who loves Sade and Soul II Soul and Moloko and Solange and Massive Attack and Steely Dan, the production on Salt is pretty much perfect. There's loads of headroom for the big piano chords and incredible saxophone work to reverberate in. They favor organic instrumentation but aren't afraid of modern electronic production, though it's used sparingly and is always in the service of Andrea Estella's voice that can go from a breathy coo into a soaring wail in the turn of a phrase -- though she tends to stick with the former.
The press notes for Salt say that the album's lyrics touch on "hopelessness, isolation, missed connections, loss of self, insolvency, the surveillance state, American consumerism, body image, gender variance, porn, and secular spirituality" but I'll admit, as I'm not much of a lyrics person, I'm drawn in by the sound of Estella's voice rather than what she's says, especially with music this inviting.
I wrote a bit about Swedish psych act Les Big Byrd when they released their single "A Little More Numb" back in May. That track, which they made with Spacemen 3's Pete Kember (Sonic Boom) and sounds it, is on their new album Iran Iraq IKEA, which I think is a pretty great title for an album by a Swedish psych band in 2018. I like the cover art too, though I'm not sure what it has to do with the title. Between the collab with Sonic Boom and the words "Swedish" and "psych" that I've now used three times in one paragraph, you might think you have LBB figured out, but there's a lot more going on here than jamming on two chords over a motorik beat.
There's an almost '80s John Hughes soundtrack feel to some of the production on this album, like on opener "Geräusche" which sounds like a song off Echo & The Bunnymen's "Grey Album." (Think "Lips Like Sugar" or "The Game.") The soaring "Eon," meanwhile, recalls fellow Swede Håkan Hellström, and "I Fucked Up I was a Child" is an anthemic, widescreen pop/rock song with some nice use of vocoder. There are also ponderous folky numbers with a great sense of dynamics ("Pink Freud" could be a Soundtrack of Our Lives song, right down to dumb title), and a ballad or two. When they do go the two-chord motorik jam route, they keep it interesting, as heard on "I Tried So Hard." I still haven't figured out the album title's parallels between two Middle East countries and maker of all my record shelves, but it's got a welcome place in my KALLAX in between Led Zeppelin and Let's Active.
I wrote about Suede's new album, The Blue Hour, as part of our In Case You Missed It year-end series. In this case it was me who kinda missed it. Despite having listened to singles and the whole record once or twice, I didn't really dig in till recently. Here's a bit of my review...
This year’s The Blue Hour is a full-blown concept album about childhood, parenthood and retreating to the suburbs. It is not about the joys that come with it, rather the fears of them which makes for Suede’s darkest album since Dog Man Star, and maybe ever. Opening track “As One” sets the tone, featuring a gregorian choir, spiraling strings (there’s a full orchestra on most of the record), and the sounds of panicked parents searching for a lost child. There are are spoken word portions, and Anderson’s own son features on the strange, disquieting “Dead Bird.” It is heavy, but there’s also a fairy tale element to it, and it’s clearly meant to be listened to as a whole...
...There is also plenty of the glammy riffage that Suede are known for and you could imagine “Wastelands” or “Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You” on Coming Up. Oakes and Coddling are still hook factories and, as they say, the concept is more for deeper digging. The production this time was via Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, U2) and it sounds massive — it’s a good one to listen to loud.
You can listen to The Blue Hour below.
Suede play Primavera Sound this spring, along with other '90s-related Indie Basement faves Jarvis Cocker, Stereolab, and Primal Scream and about 45 other great bands.
We lost Pete Shelley yesterday and it was a real gut-punch, closing out a year that started with the death of another Manchester punk icon, Mark E. Smith. I love all the original era Buzzcocks albums (some of which are being reissued soon) but the obvious classic is compilation Singles Going Steady. I'd argue it's the best-ever singles album of all time, it's just perfect start to finish and would be one of my desert island discs if I ever made such a list. (It was also the first album released on I.R.S. Records, a very formative label for me). The songs are evergreen, the performances are amazing, and so is Martin Rushnet's production. As much as I love love love "What Do I Get?," "Ever Fallen in Love," "Everybody's Happy Nowadays," "Harmony in My Head," "Oh Shit," etc etc etc, I must admit my favorite is "Why Can't I Touch It?" which is both the least Buzzcocks sounding song ever and the most Buzzcocks song ever.
Originally released as the b-side of "Everybody's Happy Nowadays,' "Why Can't I Touch It?" distills all of the band's lyrical themes of sexual alienation, lust and angst into just a few lyrics that are repeated over the course of six and a half minutes of one of the most badass grooves ever laid to tape. The instrumental passages are amazing with Shelley and Steve Diggle trading spiky riffs -- Mick Jones would pilfer the song's main riff for Big Audio Dynamite's "The Bottom Line" a few years later -- Steve Garvey's unforgettable bassline, and John Maher is just a force here (he is one of punk's greatest drummers, maybe the greatest drummer). Has anyone ever sampled this? If not, why? Those times when I DJ, I almost always play it, and I wish there was a version that was three times as long.
Will I play "Why Can't I Touch It?" during my DJ set at BrooklynVegan's Holiday Party next Friday (12/14) at Brooklyn Brewery? There's only one way to find out. Tickets are still available.