The music business remains a mysterious entity even after 20+ years working near it and writing about it. Some weeks you’re scrounging to come up with four new albums to write about, and then there are weeks like this one where you’re up to your ears in them. This is an Indie Basement record, with 16 reviews this week, including albums from Helena Deland, Land of Talk, The Drums, The Feelies‘ Velvet Underground tribute, Goat, Wimps, MUNYA and more. Also among the 16 are new reissues from Tricky and Babybird. It’s a week where flutes come up three separate times and I struggle to not overuse the many forms of the word “groove.”
Meanwhile, it’s not much less voluminous for Andrew in Notable Releases who takes on 15 albums, including L’Rain, Jamila Woods, Spencer Krug, boygenius, Jenn Champion, and MIKE. That’s 31 between the two of us and there were plenty of releases that we didn’t review. A nuts week.
With so many albums this week, I’ll keep the idle chit chat to a minimum. Head below for this week’s reviews.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Helena Deland – Goodnight Summerland (Chivi Chivi)
Knockout second album from this Montreal singer-songwriter confronts grief head-on with gorgeous songs and arrangements
Up until now Montreal singer-songwriter Helena Deland has carved out a unique style, part organic and part electronic, with elements of folk, trip hop and classical commingling in harmony. For her second album, though, she mostly keeps her laptop and synthesizers stored away. Made with Sam “Evian” Owens at his Upstate NY studio, Goodnight Summerland is a lush, gorgeous and fully realized work that is a step up and over from her great 2020 debut.
Goodbye Summerland is titled after the town in British Columbia where Deland was born, and the album is an examination of her life and family, prompted by the death of her mother in 2021 which colors everything here (even though some of the songs were written before). “It has been a pure encounter with mystery,” Deland says. “I have felt alone with questions unanswered, and I have come to believe that these questions mean more than their answers could.” Even if you’re not paying close attention to the lyrics, Deland’s melodies and dexterous voice — which have never been more expressive — could bring you to tears. Her falsetto harmonies on “Drawbridge,” alongside flute and acoustic guitar backing, may elevate you off the ground, or at least make you feel like it.
Together, the words and music make for a powerful, moving work. “I love this idea that music starts where language leaves off,” Helena says. “Writing and recording Goodnight Summerland felt like an act of letting go, of living in that space with the lights turned off. It was a ‘Goodnight’ more than a ‘Goodbye.’ Music said it better than words could.”
Wimps – City Lights (Youth Riot)
Seattle trio find pathos and punk rock in the mundane on their excellent sixth album
Like in country music, punk rock songs can be about anything as long as you approach it with the right attitude. Take Seattle trio Wimps who have been tearing it up, and singing about everyday life for a decade now. City Lights is their sixth album and the only thing young and snotty here are singer-guitarist Rachel Ratner’s kids who pop up on “Mom” which details the ups, downs and humiliations of motherhood. “I haven’t washed my hair in a week,” Rachel snarls, “Everytime I run I start to pee / gonna win the prize for least sleep.” On, “Doin’ It,” a song about making it through the day, she wonders “How am I a parent when I’m really just a kid? / When did I forget to do everything I did?” before admitting, “Don’t know what I’m doin’, but I’m doing it.”
Elsewhere on the record, Ratner looks for the Big Dipper though on another song realizes you can’t really see it in the city due to light pollution. She’s also battling lethargy and existential woes, like on “Gravity” when she sings “We are made of matter, but it feels like we don’t,” adding in the chorus, “gravity’s been getting very heavy lately.” Despite lyrical subjects about barely being able to get out of bed, City Lights is ripper after ripper in a ’90s indie rock / garage punk style, with melodic twists to rival Ratner’s turns of phrase, resulting in a very good time that’s all about being bummed out. That’s pretty punk rock.
Goat – Medicine (Rocket Recordings)
Enigmatic Swedish psych-rock group unleash sitars and woodwinds on their fifth and most nuanced album yet
Let there be flutes! Enigmatic Swedish psych-rock collective Goat, who if you believe their bio existed in one form or another in the small village of Korpilombolo for decades before releasing their 2012 debut album, are back with their fifth long-player. It’s also maybe their best. If Medicine lacks the frenzied voodoo ritual energy of World Music, they have settled into a groove still worthy of a cult. The relaxed vibe this time pulls particularly from Scandinavian folk, krautrock, prog, and doomy metal alongside their signature blend of globe-pilfering influences. Goat feel especially dialed-in this time, with terrific performances, and production that, as usual, sounds like this record was found in a junkshop in Morocco where it’s been sitting for 50 years. Sitars flitter and tabla makes their beats all the more funky, while overdriven guitars rip wild solos and the anonymous singers conjure spirits from beyond. Those flutes, which adorn nearly every song, are the gravy that ties the whole thing together.
MUNYA – Jardin (Luminelle)
Second album from Montreal musician Jessie Boivin is a garden of sonic delights
Jessie Boivin is back with her second full-length LP and is another charmer. Though the Montreal musician currently calls Brooklyn home, she hasn’t lost that French touch, mixing Fracophone elements with ’80s synthpop and soft rock for a distinctive, breezy sound. Light as it is, Jessie’s got style and grooves for miles and the smooth, effervescent arrangements are a perfect match for her breathy voice, from Ennio Morricone homage “Un Deux Trois” to her cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” (that owes a little to Frente’s hit remake, too), and the irresistible “Once Again” which features Kainalu who coproduced the album. Jardin is a garden of many delights
The Drums – Jonny (ANTI-)
Don’t count The Drums out — their sixth album might be their best yet
Jonny, the sixth long-player from The Drums and first in four years, wasn’t initially meant to be an album. These 16 songs were recorded at Jonny Pierce’s cabin in Upstate NY during the pandemic and after he started therapy. This was as much an exercise in release as much as anything. When his label asked to hear what he’d been working on, he sent them saying he hadn’t actually begun working on an album yet; they countered that he’d just delivered a great one.
I agree. As much as I think upon the announce of a new Drums album that there are already enough Drums albums in the world, I end up loving the new one. Pierce hasn’t changed things up musically too much — The Wake’s 1987 single “Pale Spectre” feels like the blueprint for almost everything he’s ever done — but he never fails to deliver new hooky earworms full of snappy basslines, guitar lines that shimmer and snake, and big memorable choruses. “Obvious,” “Plastic Envelope,” and “Isolette” are among the most immediate songs Pierce has ever recorded, and he branches out a little on songs like swoony “Protect Him Always” and the connected, gentle “Harms” and “Little Jonny” which are the centerpiece of the album.
Lyrically, these are the most personal songs he’s ever written, which is saying a lot given most Drums songs sound like diary entries. Pierce bares all — we’re not just talking about the album art, a nude self-portrait taken in the office of his pentecostal preacher father at his childhood home — saying most of them are like letters to younger versions of himself, including “Isolette” which goes all the way back to his birth. They’re full of drama and trauma and occasionally joy but all with a level of empathy we haven’t had before on a Drums album. “In making this album, I finally felt strong enough to shed some armor,” Pierce says, “and in doing that began the process of writing from the deepest parts of my heart.”
Tricky – Maxinquaye (Reincarnated) (Universal / Island)
Tricky’s endlessly influential debut sounds better, remastered at Abbey road and joined by new versions of the songs as bonus material
This Saturday (10/14) is Album Day in the UK, which is kind of like Record Store Day, but just celebrates vinyl in general. (I think?) This year, it’s celebrating the ’90s which was a decade where CD was king and a lot of albums were either never released on vinyl or only got a very limited (and often sonically lacking) pressing that now fetches for big bucks on the secondary market. So this year’s crop is especially welcome and there are a lot of Basement favorites on the list. Unfortunately, most of them are not available outside the UK but one that is is this reissue of Tricky’s entirely essential 1995 debut album, Maxinquaye. Even if you were familiar with him on Massive Attack’s Blue Lines and Protection (before he split off from the Bristol, UK group), most people were caught off guard by his mastery of creepy atmosphere, the mix of styles into a unique sound (“trip hop” was still six months away from being coined as a genre), and the abundant slippery, whispery magnatism heard on every second of the album. Maxinquaye also introduced the world to Martina Topley-Bird, who was Tricky’s muse for his first two albums and who provides a perfect vocal counterpoint to his gravelly vocal style. (Alison Goldfrapp and the late Pop Group frontman Mark Stewart also appear on the record.) While a lot of the trip hop this inspired feels cemented in ’90s amber, Maxinquaye still sounds groundbreaking, from opener “Ponderosa,” through his incredible reimagining of Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” “Aftermath,” “Pumpkin,” “Hell is Just Around the Corner,” “Abbaon Fat Tracks,” “Brand New You’re Retro,” to closer “Feed.” It’s a perfect album.
This new 3-LP “Reincarnated” edition features the US tracklist of the album, remastered at Abbey Road, and spread out across three sides of vinyl for the first time for maximum fidelity on this three-LP set. The other three sides include six new “reincarnated” versions of Maxinquaye songs that Tricky recorded in 2022 that are more in line with the minimal direction of his last few albums, plus BBC sessions and rough mixes. If you just want the album, there’s a remastered single-LP edition, too. If you’ve never listened, now’s a great time to remedy that.
Babybird – Ugly Beautiful vinyl reissue (BMG)
Britpop-adjacent 1996 cult classic gets a surprising, if welcome, vinyl repress
Another of this year’s Album Week reissues is Babybird’s 1996 full-length studio debut, Ugly Beautiful. Stephen Jones was a DIY artist who recorded hundreds and hundreds of songs on his four-track portastudio in the early-to-mid-’90s. Between July 1995 and May 1996 he released five compilations of those songs — many decidedly weird, but compelling and often loaded with pop hooks — as Baby Bird (two words) which became instant cult hits. (I’m particularly fond of Fatherhood and The Happiest Man Alive. They’re all on streaming services.) Jones also asked people who bought the albums to let him know their favorite songs, and those became the basis for Ugly Beautiful by the full-band Babybird (one word).
Babybird got lumped in with Britpop but he had more in common with fellow weirdo Julian Cope who was also signed in the mid-’90s to UK label Echo Records (also home to Moloko, Subcircus, Denim, and more). He scored a Top 10 UK hit with “You’re Gorgeous,” an effortlessly catchy song about a creepy photographer mistreating his model that most people entirely misinterpreted as a love song. Jones considers it an albatross around his neck to this day.
Ugly Beautiful is a breezy, if decidedly quirky listen, including equally excellent singles “Cornershop,” “Goodnight,” and “Candy Girl,” plus great deep cuts like “45 & Fat,” “Jesus is My Girlfriend,” “I Didn’t Want to Wake You Up” and the decidedly demented 10-minute “King Bing” which finds Jones in admittedly Jim Morrison territory and was taken off the belated US release of the album. Jones turned his back, mostly, on those poppy sounds on subsequent albums — though his excellent 2000 single “The F Word” did end up as the theme song to the early-’00s Gordon Ramsay food series of the same name — but he has remained Robert Pollard prolific, as his Bandcamp page, which feels like it gets updated hourly, can attest. But Ugly Beautiful remains Babybird’s finest moment.
While this is only available in the UK, paying international shipping is still cheaper than buying OG vinyl copies. If nothing else give this lost “Britpop” classic a spin.
Cupid & Psyche – Romantic Music (felte)
Former members of Abe Vigoda reteam to make shoegaze sophistipop that works like gangbusters
NOTE: I reviewed this album a few weeks ago but it’s wasn’t actually released till this week. (Keeping up with fluctuating pandemic supply chain release schedules is hard!) I gave it Album of the Week then which kinda worked out given how overstuffed this week is but here’s the review again now that the album is actually out:
Michael Vidal and Juan Velasquez spent the late-’00s and early-’10s in California band Abe Vigoda and now, a decade later, they’ve re-teamed for new project Cupid & Psyche which has through-lines to what they did before but is also very different. “Michael makes these very long chord progressions that are so strange to me,” Velasquez says of their collaboration. “Then I have to cut my way through it and weave in my own thing…it’s almost like I don’t know what parts are his or mine.” Taking their name from Scritti Politti’s hit 1985 album, Cupid & Psyche are a decidedly friendlier group, with echoes of ’80s sophistipop and ’90s shoegaze. Their debut album is terrific, with influences worn boldly on their sleeves but with great original songs, and clever, spot-on production. Romantic Music grabs you right from the start with the dreamy title track, then pulls you closer with the soaring “Angels on the Phone,” and never lets go. Vidal and Velasquez are savvy at mixing synths and drum machines with organic instruments — this thing sounds sublime — and the whole album plays in high style, with lots of heart, hooks, and just the right amount of melodrama for an album titled Romantic Music.
Uni Boys – Buy This Now! (Curation Records)
Superior vintage style power-pop, produced by The Lemon Twigs
The current power-pop resurgence rolls on, and for fans of the classics (Alex Chilton, The Nerves, The dB’s) who may not totally connect with lauded eccentrics like Mo Troper, the Uni Boys are here with hooks, harmonies and jangly guitars in under-three-minute nuggets. Originally from Aliso Viejo, CA the four-piece moved to Los Angeles and signed to Curation Records, the label run by Brent Rademaker of Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde for their third album. Unlike their first two LPs, which were made DIY style on four-track and GarageBand, they headed to Brooklyn to make Buy This Now! with The Lemon Twigs’ Brian and Michael D’Addario who certainly know their way around late-’70s sonics. Songs like “Let’s Watch a Movie,” “Don’t Wanna Be Like You,” “I’m Alright,” and “Be My Baby Tonight” all deliver the goods, loading these earworms with soaring choruses, “bah bah bahs,” “whoa oh ohs,” and tight twin-lead solos. The D’Addario’s production cleans up Uni Boys’ sound just enough while still giving everything that satisfying, compressed AM radio sound.
A Beacon School – yoyo (Grind Select)
Terrific second album from Brooklynite Patrick J Smith is another delightful blend of the dreamy and danceable
Patrick J Smith has been making music as A Beacon School for nearly 15 years but didn’t release his debut album, Cola, until 2018. He’s cut down on the time between albums considerably for its follow-up which only took five years. Like his debut, Smith’s music falls somewhere between dreampop and dancepop, but I was not expecting a track like “Jon,” a full-on techno-house banger leavened by ethereal guitarwork. Daniel Avery, watch out! There’s nothing else like it on yoyo, but there are many other delights to be found, from the bright, airy “Honeyed (Stay Forever)” to the euphoric rush of closer “Mantra” that hypnotizes with the repeated couplet “Everything I want to change is staying the same / Everyone I want to stay is leaving” over swirling guitars and a driving motorik beat. Let’s hope the third album comes sooner than later, but when the songs are as good as this, he can take as long as he needs.
ONYON – Last Days on Earth (Trouble in Mind)
German post-punks ponder end times with fun mutant rippers on their energized debut
Not all genres work in in all languages. French rock? Notsomuch. French hip-hop? Yes please. Germany created its own genre, komische (krautrock), but they’re also very good at postpunk. Leipzig’s ONYON put the emphasis on “punk,” but with splodgy ’80s keyboards, shring-y, overdriven guitars, and gothy overtones, it is of a distinctly mutant variety. The four-piece self-released their first cassette last year which then got rereleased by Chicago tastemakers Trouble in Mind; now they’re back with their proper debut album. Frontperson Maria Untheim is very good at hollering, both in her native tongue and English (often within the same song), and her wail gives Last Days on Earth a lot of its flare, whether it’s songs like “Mower” that are descendents of Kleenex/Liliput’s catchy and minimal charm, or “O.U.T.” which with its pounding toms and chorus-drenched guitar/keyboard leads leans closer to the black eyeshadow of Xmal Deutschland. Across all of it, punchy and melodic basslines are at the center, frequently whipping songs into a frenzy. There is a lot of angst but it’s also a lot of fun. If these are the Last Days of Earth — and it’s hard not to at least wonder anymore — ONYON are taking things out with a bang.
Land of Talk – Performances (Saddle Creek)
Turns out Elizabeth Powell is just as good with keyboards as guitars, as Land of Talk’s fifth album shows
Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell is known for their guitar prowess, but axes stay mostly in their cases on their fifth album. Mostly. A ragged solo rips through the middle of opening number “Your Beautiful Self,” but otherwise the song is almost entirely keyboards and drums and the rest of the album follows suit. “It’s the weirdest, mightiest little record I’ve made since I used to write music on my four-track when I was 14,” says Powell. “I needed to make a love letter to my teenage self by being more vulnerable and doing all the production myself.” The keyboard of choice is usually soft electric piano which gives songs a distinct ’80s feel. In fact, “Sitcom” is named for the TV theme songs, like Family Ties, that influenced its sound. Powell embraces these new sounds, and makes them a natural inhabitant of the Land of Talk.
Blue Ocean – Fertile State (Slumberland)
Heavy, droney and occasionally poppy shoegaze from Oakland, CA
Slumberland Records continues to do a great job spotlighting its hometown Oakland, CA indiepop scene which continues to be fertile. While there’s a lot of striped-tee and cardigan wearing artists as part of it, Blue Ocean live on the darker side of town, with a moody, hazy vibe that is not dissimilar to early Echo & the Bunnymen, Flying Saucer Attack and Slowdive. Slumberland PR namechecks Bark Psychosis and I can hear that too. You might also get them confused, at first, with alt-rock vets The Ocean Blue (who also owe a lot to The Bunnymen) but that will only be till you hit play. Fertile State sets a murky mise-en-scène with lots of fog, layer upon layer of guitars dipped in delay and reverb, and mopey harmony vocals. It’s more about the vibe, which they nail, than the songs but there are a few single-worthy gems here like the very catchy “Take Care.” Mostly, though, this is an album for those who like zoning out in the dark to a wall of oceanic guitar grandeur. I mean, that was enough for Slowdive fans in the ’90s, so why not them?
Mike Donovan – Meets the Mighty Flashlight (Drag City)
The Sic Alps / Peacers frontman teams with Mike Fellows (Royal Trux / Silver Jews) for his least reverby album ever
Through his many groups over the last 25 years — Sic Alps, Peacers, The Hospitals, etc — Mike Donovan has cultivated his own brand of the blues that’s often drowning in reverb, but deployed with such purpose it never felt like he was hiding anything. This is Donovan’s first record in four years, and is decidedly different than anything he’s done before. Not radically different — Mike has a distinct melodic and vocal style — but teaming with old pal The Mighty Flashlight, aka Mike Fellows (Royal Trux, Silver Jews), his sonic world has opened, with much of the usual haze burned off, and new instrumention implemented. There are still a few old-style Sic Alps slow-burners like “Wild Strip ／ Beeline Subway” where acoustic guitars are warped into deep space, but we also get the Tom Waits-y “A Capitol Pitch,” weird synth workout “Amalgam Wagon,” and cello-assisted “Whistledown.” Are two Mikes better than one? In this case, yes.
Futuropaco – Fortezza di Vetro vol. 1 (El Paraiso)
Amazing drumming highlights this cinematic album from one-man-band Justin Pinkerton
Justin Pinkerton has played in a number of Bay Area groups over the years, including The Roots of Orchis, Golden Void, and The Finches, but on his own as Futuropaco he paints cinematic, phantasmagoric tableaus worthy of Jodorowsky or Argento. He plays everything on Fortezza di Vetro vol. 1 and the first thing you notice is the awesome, fill-heavy drumming that recalls Can’s Jaki Liebezeit. But the rest of it is rad too, from the basslines to the vintage synths, flutes, Turkish stringed instrument saz, and Morricone-esque surf/spy/spaghetti guitar lines. (Yes, this would make a good double-feature with Goat’s new LP Medicine [see above] or the Khruangbin record of your choice.) It’s a concept album, too, about the fragile facades the power-that-be construct around them, but he tells his tale entirely through the music. The drums are certainly mighty enough to topple a few oligarchs and despots.
The Feelies – Some Kinda Love: Performing The Music Of The Velvet Underground (Bar-None)
Back in October 2018, The Feelies played a special show at Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall where their main set was all Velvet Underground covers. That performance is now a live album. I actually went to that show:
It’s not unusual for The Feelies to put a one or two Velvet Underground songs in their sets. In fact it would be more unusual for the band — whose sound owes a lot to Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Mo Tucker (and Doug Yule) — not to play a VU song. Saturday night, however, The Feelies played a whole set of Velvet Underground songs at Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall, a very special show to celebrate opening week of The Velvet Underground Experience exhibit in Manhattan. The 18-song set opened with “Sunday Morning” and included spirited takes of “Who Loves the Sun,” “There She Goes Again,” “What Goes On,” “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Rock n’ Roll” and “Run Run Run,” all of which they’d played live before. Bassist Brenda Sauter took lead on “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “After Hours,” and they brought out a couple members of fellow Hoboken band The Bongos at the end: James Mastro for “I Can’t Stand it” and Richard Barone for “Oh Sweet Nuthin.” (The band’s percussion maestro Dave Weckerman played keyboards on a few songs.) This was clearly fun for them and the audience, and a real all-around treat.
The Feelies doing a full VU set is kinda like putting a hat on a hat, but Some Kind of Love is a delight and a document of their continued love and acknowledgement of their biggest inspiration.
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