Bill’s Indie Basement (8/24): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
In this week's Indie Basement: Australia's Tropical Fuck Storm rise from The Drones ashes; a new four-disc set from UK grebo icons Pop Will Eat Itself; Eternal Summers singer/guitarists Nicole Yun goes solo; TUNS (members of Sloan, The Inbreds and Super Friendz) release a new single; and BC Camplight turns getting deported into a great new LP.
Elsewhere: I've been listening to a lot of ELO this week after seeing their awesome show at MSG, and am sad that Gerard Love is parting ways with Teenage Fanclub. But this new Public Practice single is great.
Australian garage rock greats The Drones went on self-imposed hiatus in 2016. In 2017, the group's Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin joined forces with drummer Lauren Hammel (High Tension) on drums and guitarist/keyboardist Erica Dunn (Mod Con, Harmony) to form Tropical Fuck Storm. The band found their sound on the road, playing their first-ever live shows with King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and Band of Horses on tour in North America just weeks after forming.
Tropical Fuck Storm is both a natural progression from The Drones' last album, Feelin' Kinda Free, but also going in dozens of new directions their old band never did. The press release makes the comparison of John Lydon going from Sex Pistols to Public Image Ltd and while I don't think the changeover is that drastic -- The Drones had moved pretty far from their garage rock roots by that last album -- TFS definitely have an anything-goes PiL-type attitude, with seemingly no rules as to what they should sound like. "We were thinking about what we were not going to do" Gareth told Noisey, and when they revealed the phantasmagoric cover art to their debut LP, Laughing Death in Meatspace, Gareth wrote on Facebook, "It sounds like it looks."
Indeed, Laughing Death in Meatspace is big, bold and brash, with drums that sound like shipping containers and electronics shouldering up against the guitars (which here are more for atmospherics than riffs). Fiona, Lauren and Erica all sing, and their combined voices is what really give TFS its own energy, making songs poppier than The Drones while remaining totally bizarre. Their strident lyrics, railing against a world consumed and distracted by TV and the web, are very now, whether they're chanting "your politics ain't nothing but a fond 'fuck you'!" on "Antimatter Animals" or turning chessmaster Garry Kasparov's famous match against computer Deep Blue into post-apocalyptic harbinger for the social media algorithms to come (the awesome "The Future of History"). You can just imagine Liddard stalking the stage, all menacing bellows. Going on a gigantic tour in front of American crowds who had no idea who they were and writing songs along the way before recording was a trial by fire that really paid off on this intense LP.
When Brian Christinzio sings "I'm in a weird place now," he may be understating things just a bit. His first BC Camplight record in three years follows a tumultuous period in his life: escaping some unhealthy lifestyle choices, the onetime War on Drugs member left Philadelphia to move to Manchester, England only to find himself deported two days after releasing his 2015 album How To Die in the North, and back living in his parents' basement. He then managed to get Italian citizenship through relatives and moved back to Manchester to make this new album.
Needless to say all that stuff majorly informs the wonderful and strange Deportation Blues, which might be the best BC Camplight record yet. Still working in lush '70s singer-songwriter styles, Christinzio lets his songs go in weird new directions thanks in part to a growing interest in synthesizers. "I was feeling cold so every time something sounded pretty, I replaced it with something that sounded like an ice pick," says Christinzio. "The apocalyptic nuclear feel really appealed." With those new sounds, Deportation Blues heads into New Wave territory on "Fire In England" which is somewhere between Split Enz and The Psychedelic Furs, while "I'm Desperate" could be John Maus (or a Suicide) song. Throughout is Caristinzio's expert sense of melody and bleak humor. “As dramatic as it may sound, this album was made by a dude who wasn’t sure he’d be alive the next day," he says. "Nothing is there for any other reason than it’s the truth."
Led by Clint Mansell and Graham Crabbe, Pop Will Eat Itself began as part of the UK indie "grebo" scene which was basically a bunch of bands that looked like hippies (think Neil from The Young Ones) but played Buzzcocks inspired melodic punk. However, they soon discovered hip hop and sampling, which completely changed their sound. In some ways they were the UK equivalent of The Beastie Boys and trying to describe them requires words a lot of people probably think should not be used together, such as white, British, rap, hippy, metal, and geek, to name five. But the band approached it their way and, when they began working with producer Flood, way back in 1988 (before Nine Inch Nails or U2), Pop Will Eat Itself started living up to their name.
No better example is their 1989 manifesto single "Can U Dig It?" which mixes burgeoning rave culture with buzzsaw riffs while rapping a litany of references to movies, TV, comics and more stuff they "dig." The song mentions Alan Moore's V for Vendetta and Ciccone Youth's "Into the Groovy" in one line, while the song samples The Warriors, The Twilight Zone and a disco cover of Los Bravos' "Black is Black" by Spanish group Belle Epoque. The album that followed the same year, This is the Day, This is the Hour, This is This, was equally bursting with inventive production. To further the Beasties comparison, this is their Paul's Boutique. I still think it's brilliant, but maybe you had to be there.
PWEI worked again with Flood on 1990's Cure for Sanity which traded most of the group's heavier elements in favor of Madchester and Native Tongues influences. The guitars came back, and they hired a drummer, for 1992's The Looks or the Lifestyle, and then went further down the industrial alt-rock hole on 1994's Dos Dedos Mis Amigos which came out on Trent Reznor's Nothing imprint (they toured with NiN too). Crabbe left the band in 1995, Mansell and the rest of the band made another record that never got released and the Poppies broke up in 1996. Mansell went on to become a successful composer for film, writing memorable scores for Pi, Requiem for a Dream and more. PWEI reformed for a UK tour in 2005, and then Crabbe revived PWEI with an all-new lineup (that didn't include Mansell) that has put out two new albums, the most recent being 2015's Anti-Nasty League.
If you've never listened to Pop Will Eat Itself, there's a new four-disc box, compiled by Crabbe, titled PWEI: Def Comms 86-18 that will be out September 21 via Cherry Red. As the title suggests, it hits on every record in the group's career from early indie punky gems like "There's a Psychopath in My Soup" to their cover of Shriekback's "Everything That Rises," to early sampling experiments "There's No Love Between Us Anymore" and their cover of lewd garage rock obscurity "Beaver Patrol," to peak period singles, rarities (their cover of Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers"), remixes, and four tracks from that 1996 lost album. Some of it has aged better than others, but they're still worth checking out. Watch a couple of their peak-era videos:
For nearly 10 years, Nicole Yun has lead Roanoke, VA's Eternal Summers who have gone from low-fi indie rock, blasting shoegaze, to almost Cardigans territory on this year's Every Day It Feels Like I'm Dying. While the band is still going strong, Nicole is taking some time to explore other areas of influence on a forthcoming solo album. She made it in Philadelphia with Rob from Bleeding Rainbow, and in Brooklyn with Julian and Carlos from Ava Luna, and the record features guest appearance from Doug Gillard (Guided by Voices, Nada Surf), Duncan Lloyd and Paul Rafferty of Maximo Park, Jacob Sloan from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and Joe Boyer (ex Cloud Nothings, currently Joey Sprinkles). She cites Blur, Supergrass and other Britpop as an influence, and says some of it reminds her of a "me fronted Lemonheads."
While other details of the record, like a title and release date are still TBA, Nicole has released the first single "Tommie." There is a definitely late '80s / early-'90s vibe to this, when UK indie bands discovered dance music. In particular, I'm reminded of The Darling Buds who transitioned into the Madchester world better than most. Like almost everything Nicole does, it's hooky with an earworm chorus.
Nicole has a solo show lined up at Brooklyn's Wonders of Nature on October 20 with Mike Pace.
TUNS, the Canadian indie supergroup of '90s vets Chris Murphy (Sloan) and old friends Matt Murphy (Super Friendz) and Mike O'Neil (The Inbreds), released their self-titled debut back in 2016, a really great record of understated power-pop that flew mostly under the radar. If you haven't listened and like any of their respective bands, you should definitely check it out. They're back with a new 7" featuring two unreleased songs from the album sessions: Mike takes lead on the slightly twangy "When You're Ready," while Chris delivers "Kiss Yourself Goodbye" that delivers another of his patented super-hooky choruses. Part of the appeal of TUNS is they sound like they teleported straight from 1994 when all of their respective bands were going strong (and all on Sloan's label, Murderrecords). It's got that mid-fi, live-to-tape feel and their unique harmonies, part Sloan part Inbreds, push a real nostalgia button for me. Plus, they just write great songs.
TUNS have a couple Canadian shows on the horizon: August 31 at Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, and September 2 at Rasberry Farm at Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, ON. If you're never checked out The Inbreds or Super Friendz, they're both worth investigating (their names link to their Spotify pages).