Bill’s Indie Basement (7/5): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
Hope everyone had a good Fourth of July and perhaps also enjoying a long holiday weekend. This is one of the slowest weeks for new releases of the entire year so this edition of Indie Basement is just a little shorter than usual. There's good stuff as usual, with reviews of new albums from Miracle Legion/Polaris frontman Mark Mulcahy, The Soft Cavalry (featuring Rachel Goswell of Slowdive) and Trash Kit (which includes Rachel Aggs of Shopping and Sacred Paws). Plus: some welcome Prefab Sprout vinyl reissues.
If you need more new reviews, check out Andrew's Notable Releases of the week. Have a great rest of your holiday weekend!
The Soft Cavalry is a collaboration between Slowdive singer Rachel Goswell and her husband Steven Clarke. The pair met when Steven began tour managing Slowdive in 2014 and they married in 2018. Though he'd been in bands before, Steven had never really been much of a songwriter till he met Rachel. “I’d always had ideas but never felt that anything I had to say was worthy of anyone’s attention, let alone my own,” Clarke says. “I wish that I could have done this fifteen years ago but, in reality, I simply couldn’t have. But I’m not one to overly wallow. I’d rather plough the various levels of confusion into songs.” Rachel brings name recognition and inspiration -- and her heavenly voice -- to the project but The Soft Cavalry is primarily his baby and he was clearly hiding a lot of talent. The Soft Cavalry's sound is widescreen, with a toe in shoegaze, a couple more in Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev technicolor psychedelia, and a few fingers in folk and post rock. It's a gorgeous record and he's quite a good singer, too, though as Slowdive and Mojave 3 have shown, Goswell's voice pairs well with just about everything. The album is at its best when it's going for an almost shoegaze take on '70s soft rock, like with album opener "Dive," "Bulletproof" and the flute-i-fied "Only in Dreams." Don't wait another 15 years to make another record, Steve.
Earlier this year we got the first-ever vinyl pressing of Paddy McAloon's I Trawl the Megahertz which, with the reissue, got upgraded from solo album to being called an actual Prefab Sprout album. Now comes word that Prefab Sprout's back catalog is getting new official vinyl editions, with 1984's Swoon, 1988's From Langley Park to Memphis, 1990's Jordan the Comeback and singles comp A Life of Surprises all coming out September 27 via Sony. The remasters were overseen by Paddy and Martin McAloon and pre-orders are available now.
The most vital of these, from a reissue standpoint, is Jordan the Comeback, which in its original edition somehow crammed all 19 songs and 63 minutes onto one vinyl album. The new edition is double vinyl which should give the lush arrangements a little more room to breathe, sonically. It's also arguably their best album, where Thomas Dolby's production (which was a little over-the-top and synth-heavy on previous PS albums) truly felt like an extension of McAloon's vision. It's also got "Wild Horses," an R&Bish ballad that sounds a good 15 years ahead of its time (and very influential this decade, just ask Hot Chip). My favorite song remains "Looking for Atlantis," though.
Thomas Dolby's production is at its most dated and Totally '80s-sounding on From Langley Park to Memphis which nonetheless contains the band's biggest hit, the very annoying "King of Rock and Roll" with its chorus of "Hot dog, jumping frog...Albuquerque!" (Just because it's making fun of rock tropes doesn't make it better.) The song did inspire one of my favorite-ever scenes from Spaced, though. There are great songs on here -- like "Cars and Girls," "The Venus of the Soup Kitchen" and "Hey Manhattan!" -- but the gimmicky production really sinks it. Swoon, on the other hand, was made before Prefab Sprout began working with Dolby and features McAloon's songs at their most organic-sounding. With the jazzy arrangements there's a really Steely Dan vibe with this, in a new wave kind of way, and while he was still coming into his own as a songwriter, "Green Isaac," "I Never Play Basketball Now" and "Cruel" are all fantastic.
Missing from the list of reissues is the album most consider to be McAloon swooniest masterpiece: 1985's Steve McQueen (retitled Two Wheels Good in America due to issues with Steve McQueen's estate). This has his most loved, deeply romantic, heartbreaking songs, including "Appetite," "Bonny" "Desire As," and "When Love Breaks Down" and not even Dolby's heavy-handed production can diminish. Maybe they're saving that for a 35th anniversary deluxe edition next year? Let's hope.
Mark Mulcahy, who led Miracle Legion and Polaris in the '80s and '90s, has one of those voices -- warm and inviting and lived-in -- that is its own star attraction. There's not much gussying up necessary, he can do a lot with a lightly strummed guitar and not much else, though his new album The Gus makes nice use of strings, glockenspiel and a few guests (J. Mascis, Rain Phoenix). It's all in service to his voice...and his great songs and lyrics. Mulcahy has always had an unforced folksy charm and The Gus is a little more narrative oriented than previous albums and tales, allowing him spin engaging short stories. He gets into politics a bit here, like on "Mr. Bell" (about a Trump supporter), but he remains at his best when dealing with matters of the heart, like on "Daisy Marie" where he sings, "You think I'm just a catfish in the water, all googly-eyed around your shiny little hook." On songs like that, we are the googly-eyed fish who can't help but take a bite.
Rachel Aggs stays busy. In addition to Shopping (who had an album last year) and Sacred Paws (who just released the wonderful Run Around the Sun), she’s been a member of Trash Kit for 10 years and the group, which also includes Rachel Horwood (drums, vocals) and Gill Partington (bass), just released their third album. The music of Zimbabwe and, specifically the cyclical Mbira rhythms, inspired Aggs’ guitar work here. It's not that different than what she's doing in Sacred Paws, but Horizon is much more about groove than melody and the three of them weave a hypnotic, danceable spell with nice use of horns throughout. Like the Sacred Paws album, Horizon is joyous but with a social conscious lyrical view that is "trying to imagine and re-imagine our world, thinking about what possibility and change sound like.” I would be okay with change sounding like this.