Bill’s Indie Basement (8/30): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more
We made it through another summer and I am ready to gently ease into fall. Before we do, it's another big week in the Basement: Whitney are finally back with their second album; Catherine Wheel's massively underrated fourth album, Adam & Eve, is getting a vinyl reissue; '90s Britpop band Salad are back with their first album in 22 years; Australia's Parsnip push whimsy to the max; and The Vacant Lots deliver superior psych. Plus: I made you a mix.
It's a big week for Big New Albums which you can read about in Andrew's Notable Releases column, and if you need more Basement-approved stuff there's: Comet Gain's first single from their upcoming Fireraisers Forever!; and Corridor are back and signed to Sub Pop.
Few records in recent memory feel as well-timed, release-wise, as Whitney's Forever Turned Around. The band's gorgeously orchestrated, southern-tinged pop exudes a happy/sad air that is evocative of the end of summer, when shadows get longer, and Autumn's chill sneaks in occasionally around a spectacular sunset. So releasing the album on the Friday of Labor Day Weekend is exactly right.
It's been three years since Whitney's debut album, The Light on the Lake, and Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek wisely took their time releasing its follow-up. (They apparently tried to write it in 2017 but the songs weren't coming.) A lot has happened since June 2016, both to them personally and to the world in general, and you can feel it in the songs. Whitney don't sing about politics, but you feel the weight. "In its darkest sense, it’s giving into the idea of being forever turned around — being restless and confused, and being okay with that," Kakacek told Fader. "That’s not being okay with what’s happening in America right now, but how over four years of repetition of terrible things happening, you get kind of numb to it."
A real sense of loss hangs over Forever Turned Around, with variations on "lonely," "alone," "gone," and "drifting away/apart" scattered throughout the songs, with relationships falling apart or broken. There are no "Golden Days" or "No Matter Where We Go" on Forever Turned Around, and nothing as musically upbeat, either. (The closest things to spirited on the LP is instrumental "Rhododendron.") It's a constant mood of dreamy melancholy this time around... in a half-remembered, not currently stabbing you in the heart, kind of way while, perhaps, you drink tea on a Sunday morning with a warm blanket around you. Like on Light Upon the Lake, the arrangements are exquisite, with strings, horns and organ intertwined with Ehrlich's falsetto and Kakacek's twangy, flowing leads. The whole album swoons, but on songs like album-opener "Giving Up," the beauty is almost overwhelming.
Catherine Wheel began their career as one of the few original-era UK shoegaze bands to really get a foothold in America, thanks to a sound that put equal emphasis on songwriting and hooks as dreamy guitar haze, and they weren't afraid of big rock riffs, either. Plus, frontman Rob Dickinson (cousin to Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson) was probably the best singer of the bunch, capable of throaty growls and breathy falsetto. Their first two albums, 1992's Ferment and 1993's Chrome, were made with Talk Talk's Tim Friese-Greene and garnered alt-rock/college radio hits like "Black Metallic," "I Want to Touch You," "Crank" and "Show Me Mary." Not counting Bush (why would you ever, also why am I even mentioning them), Catherine Wheel were one of the few UK groups given any room in U.S. grunge-mania landscape.
But then they went and made Happy Days, an album that all but did away with their atmospherics and doubled down on rock riffs, veering into metal territory. While played with conviction, the album just didn't work (apart from single "Judy Staring at the Sun" which was a duet with Tanya Donelly) and Catherine Wheel lost some of their fanbase in the process.
Down but not out, Catherine Wheel returned in 1997 with Adam & Eve, which was a creative rebirth for the band and one of the most surprising and welcome left turns since Radiohead's The Bends. Big time rock knob-twiddler Bob Ezrin made them sound huger than ever before while Friese-Greene returned to play keyboards, and his arsenal of '60s/'70s organs give the album real soul. You can hear late-period Talk Talk, not to mention Pink Floyd, all over widescreen cuts like "Phantom of the American Mother," "Ma Solituda" and "Thunderbird." It's brand new territory but you can also tell its the same band who did "Black Metallic." Adam & Eve also has some of Catherine Wheel's best, most immediate songs they ever wrote, like "Broken Nose," "Delicious" and the absolutely soaring "Satellite." I would argue its the band's finest moment and makes for a great aural double feature with 1997's most lauded UK alt album, OK Computer.
This should've broke them big but, unfortunately, almost nobody heard Adam & Eve. Their label, Mercury Records, had lost interest in the band, as had radio. Of the band's five albums, Adam & Eve, is the hardest to find now and the only one not on streaming services in the North America. Good news, for me at least, that Adam & Eve is being reissued by Music on Vinyl on September 13. It's being pressed on double vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, and while I prefer the U.S. cover art to this, I'm just happy it's back in print. If you've never heard Adam, & Eve, you can listen to a YouTube rip:
The less said about Catherine Wheel's final album, 2000's Wishville, where they also added a "The" to their name and kind of turned into Bush, the better. Also, Catherine Wheel are maybe the only '90 British shoegaze band of their stature to have not tried a comeback and I for one would like to see them back.
Speaking of '90s bands making comebacks, here's one that I would've never expected and one that most people might respond by saying "who?" (and not in that sarcastic way). Led by Dutch singer/keyboardist Marijne van der Vlugt, London's Salad released Drink Me, their debut album, in 1995 at the height of Britpop and, thanks to alluring and energetic singles like "Motorbike to Heaven," "Drink the Elixir," and "Granite Statue," hit #16 on the UK album charts. Salad were a little grittier than groups like Sleeper or Echobelly and, though it never got a U.S. release, Drink Me is better than a lot of the Britpop albums that did. Salad's follow-up, 1997's Ice Cream, didn't quite make the same impact and the band broke up the next year.
Flash forward to 2017: Salad reformed for the Indie Daze festival and then got back together for real in 2018, with a lineup that includes Julian Cope sideman Donald Ross Skinner (who produced Ice Cream) on drums. And now here we are with The Salad Way, the band's first studio album in 22 years. They don't sound any worse for wear and, if anything, are more Britpoppy now than they were in 1997, especially on jaunty album opener "You've Got the Job," first single "Under the Wrapping Paper" and the chipper "Welcome to My World." Perhaps most importantly, Van der Vlugt's vocals remain in top form and still slightly smoky -- which works great on The Salad Way's dreamier songs ("Your Face,""Vadim's Slipper"). It's the reunion I didn't know I wanted.
What is your tolerance for whimsy? The debut album from Melbourne, Australia's Parsnip may test it. Pretty much from the get-go, When The Tree Bears Fruit is a psychedelic twee carnival that may be too much for some to handle. Opening song "For a Ride" is good litmus test which -- with it's superball wah wah guitar riff and vintage organs -- sounds like a chorus of kids backed by clowns on acid, making music for poodles on a tightrope. Would you expect anything less from a band called Parsnip?
That is also not necessarily a bad thing. If that first paragraph didn't scare you off, When The Tree Bears Fruit is pretty delightful and wonderfully realized. Not all of it is so overtly quirky, either. Parsnip are at their most winning when approaching pop normalcy, like on the Paisley Underground-ish "Rip it Off" and "Soft Spot" which recalls the shambolic charms of The Pastels. Even then, When The Tree Bears Fruit is not an album so much as a world -- like a Miranda July or Guy Maddin movie, or a Sid & Marty Krofft show -- where you just accept the surroundings. In the Parsnip Universe, this is punk.
Brooklyn psych duo The Vacant Lots made their new EP in Berlin with the Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe producing and playing bass. It happened by accident. “About a week or so before we left for tour I just invited Anton & his wife out to dinner, since we were gonna have a few days off in Berlin," says singer-guitarist Jared Artaud. "He said "fuck that... let's make a record... come ready with your ideas." This is their second record for Anton's A Recordings and Artaud details the process, saying "Anton pushes you further to get the best results and that really drives the process of making records. With Anton you don't get more than one or two takes to record something. You're executing your ideas with speed and intensity then moving on to the next idea. There is no time to overthink when you’re constantly creating.”
Anton really does get the best out of them. While not that different than the many many bands who came before them (JAMC, BRMC, BJM, Dandy Warhols, etc), this is superior grade psych rock. In particular, opening cut "Bells" is absolutely killer, doing a whole lot sonically with a familiar, descending three chord pattern, and slashing along with real electricity. The rest of the EP is good too: "Silence" could almost be a BJM song, "Disordered Vision" is a bad trip in good way, and "Funeral Party" is paranoid synth-rock a la Suicide. EP's are the best format for a group like this, not overstaying its welcome with too much rock-out wankery. But I do hope they ask Anton to dinner again soon.
I started doing Summer Fridays mixes way back in 2008 on my personal blog Sound Bites and, for years, managed to crank a new one -- mixing current tunes and classics -- out every week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. As I got busier and also began exhausting my well of favorite older stuff, mixes became more infrequent. I only managed to do one last summer, and I almost didn't do any at all this year, but figured I'd drop this one in under the wire. Inspired by Girl Ray's great new song "Show Me More," there's a distinct breezy '80s vibe whether it's actually songs from then (General Public, Haircut 100, XTC, Orange Juice) or new music that evokes that era, like Black Marble, Charlotte Adigery, Daisies or French Vanilla. Give it a spin and enjoy the long holiday weekend and I'll see you in September:
1 - Show Me More - Girl Ray
2 - Anxious - General Public
3 - Inferno (Brisbane in Summer) - Robert Forster
4 - Who Do You Think You Are? - Saint Etienne
5 - Anyone's Style - Daisies
6 - Ping Pong (single version) - Stereolab
7 - Paper Girl - Le Superhomard
8 - High Lights - Charlotte Adigery
9 - Too Much Money - Automatic
10 - All the TIme - French Vanilla
11 - The Conversation - Sacred Paws
12 - Burning With Optimism's Flames - XTC
13 - One Eye Open - Black Marble
14 - Rip It Up - Orange Juice
15 - Walking in the Dark - Metronomy
16 - Love's Got Me In Triangles - Haircut 100
17 - Song for America - Destroyer
18 - Plenty - The Woodentops