This week in Indie Basement: guitars, and lots of them. Also: synths and electronica. So business as usual, I guess. Anyway, reviewed this week are new albums from Woods (guitars), Nation of Language (synth), Madder Rose (guitars), Lewsberg (guitars), Sextile (electronica + guitars) and Flat Worms (also guitars). Lotta good stuff I must say.
Over in Notable Releases, Andrew reviews Mitski, Explosions in the Sky, Baroness, Margo Cilker, Vagabon and more.
Speaking of guitars, “classic indie” and “college rock,” if you’re in the NY area this weekend, Dromedary Records is having a three-day 30th anniversary celebration in Hudson featuring performances by Madder Rose (first show since the ’90s), Das Damen (ditto), Lotion (they don’t play often), two Feelies offshoots, and more. Sounds like fun!
Head below for this week’s reviews…
Woods – Perennial (Woodsist)
Woods’ 12th album is their best in nearly a decade
Woods have been together for nearly 20 years (how is that possible?) and have changed a lot from the days when their lineup included Kevin Morby on bass and G. Lucas Crane who would manipulate his vocals — sung through an old pair of headphones — with hissy tape effects while hunched over in a corner of the stage. Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere, who also run Woodsist Records, are the band’s only constants, and with them driving the ship, Woods have become a polished unit who split the difference between the psych-DIY world they started in with sunny, jammier elements that get them compared to the Dead. Perennial started with loops Earl had made at his home studio in upstate NY and was finished in Los Angeles, where Taveniere lives now, with drummer Jon Andrews, keyboardist Kyle Forrester and bassist Chuck Van Dyck jamming over those loops until they blossomed into Woods songs. That’s the loose idea of the album, too, with Earl positing that “perennial plants and flowers are nature’s loops.” This album feels just a little different — a good chunk of it is instrumental — but it’s also their strongest since 2016’s City Sun Eater in the River of Light. Earl’s falsetto sounds best on the more placid, verdant material like “Sip of Happiness” “Day Moving On,” and “Little Black Flowers,” but Woods still know how to spark it up, like on the “Another Side” that rides an irresistible motorik groove while letting the noodles fly. Even though the band are scattered around the country these days, Woods’ roots are still strong and hopefully will continue to sprout up, if not every year, for many more to come.
Lewsberg – Out and About (12XU)
Dutch band expand their VU-inspired sound just a little on their excellent fourth LP
Rotterdam group Lewsberg had a signature style figured out when they released their debut single in 2017, mixing jangly strumming, violin, rock-solid drumming and a fondness for deadpan sprechgesang vocals for a sound that distilled the essence of The Velvet Underground into its purest, sparest essence. They haven’t strayed too far from this path since and while their music seems simple on the surface, closer listens reveal a lot of care, craft and precision. Out and About is their fourth album and is the first to feature drummer Marrit Meinema who also provides lead vocals on a few songs.
“Our first two records were pretty much our take on the music and literature that Arie [van Vliet] and I had been talking about for years,” says guitarist Michiel Klein. “Our third album, In Your Hands, was about keeping things small, quiet and intimate, partly in reaction to some of the unease we occasionally felt when Lewsberg was being lumped in with these muscular testosterone filled rock bands. For this album I was inspired by how I saw the personalities in the band when we became a quartet again, with the addition of Marrit.” “Testosterone-fueled” is a term I’ve never associated with Lewsberg but Meinema has definitely put new spark into a band who were threatening to wear out their groove. Despite its title, Out and About is a textbook example of a stay-at-home Sunday morning record and a wonderful one at that.
Madder Rose – No One Gets Hurt Ever (Trome)
This is the Madder Rose you (may) remember: wonderfully smeary indie rock loaded with swaying feels
Having broken up at the end of the ’90s, undersung NYC indie rock band and college radio faves Madder Rose surprised those who remembered them by putting out To Be Beautiful, their first record in 20 years. It was the mellowest record they’d ever made, with elements of jazz and a few traces of that trip-hop-influenced third album (really), but Mary Lorson and Billy Coté’s bond and the band’s hazy sound was still there. Unfortunately, they didn’t support the album with any live shows, so To Be Beautiful felt more like an unexpected gift than a return. Four years later, Madder Rose are back and sound like they mean it this time. No One Gets Hurt Ever, which also marks the return of Matt Verta-Ray (on one song), is the Madder Rose you remember: smeary indie rock with strong songwriting and atmospheric playing courtesy Coté, and Lorson’s still heavenly voice at the center.
No One Gets Hurt Ever is another of those lockdown records that might have not happened otherwise. “I didn’t feel much music during the pandemic,” says Lorson. “I learned some simple tunes to play at the nursing home where my mother spent her last months, and that was about all the music I could muster, other than going over to Billy’s to sing these songs on Sunday mornings. That’s how Billy spent the pandemic: he wrote and produced these beautiful songs.” While Madder Rose aren’t making upbeat guitar pop like “Beautiful John” anymore, they have always been exceptional at swaying, hazy ballads that rivaled Cowboy Junkies or Mazzy Star. There are a whole bunch of those here, the best of which is “Lou Mystery” that alone justifies this record’s existence. They’re even playing a show, their first since 1999 — a last-minute fill-in at Dromedary Records’ 30th anniversary — and let’s hope this gives them the push to keep going. These songs need to be heard live.
Sextile – Push (Sacred Bones)
LA darkwavers go full-on ’90s electronica on their first album in six years. It’s a party.
Synthesizers and drum machines have always played a big part in LA darkwave-postpunk trio Sextile’s music, but for their first album in six years, they decided to make that the focus. “We talked about how one of the criteria for these songs is ‘Would I be able to actually dance to it?’ I don’t think we’ve ever set that criteria before,” says the band’s Melissa Scaduto. “We wanted to have a record that is just full of dance songs.” Mission accomplished, as Push is bursting with bangers, steeped in techno, acid house, jungle and rave. There is still a grimy, snarling, dark undercurrent to what they do — there’s a permanent, vicious sneer in Scaduto’s vocals — but they are shot through with bursts of dayglo neon. It’s also fun, especially if you have any fondness for ’90s dance music, as songs that a decade ago might have veered closer to The Jesus and Mary Chain, are now powered by amen breaks, “oonzt oonzt” kickdrums, gurgling 303s, ecstasy-fueled synth pad washes, nods to Underworld, Goldie and The Prodigy, and relentless heart-attack bpms. Also: the scuzzy guitars that used to be more up front in the mix on previous Sextile records, are still here, just relegated to side players as they keep the party going on all night.
Flat Worms – Witness Marks (GOD?)
LA trio work with Ty Segall again on their best album yet
Justin Sullivan, Will Ivy and Tim Hellmann have over the years played with most of the key players in the ’00s DIY scene, including OSEES, The Babies, Sic Alps, Wet Illustrated, and Girls. But together, these hired guns shine bright like a spot welder as caustic trio Flat Worms, making a mutant strain of garage punk that crashes and burns through everything in its path. Witness Marks is their third album, and like on 2020’s Antarctica, they’ve got Ty Segall as producer and as label boss (it’s out via Segall’s Drag City imprint, GOD?). It’s their nastiest blast yet. Hookiest, too, with grabby riffs and choruses coated in steel, smashing against cast iron and flint to give these compact rippers a thick, driving punch. The rhythm section is unstoppable, while Ivy’s playing has barely-contained energy that sprays out like Adrian Belew’s work with Bowie and Talking Heads, but put in a barrelling punk context. Amid the washes of battery acid are a few pop moments, like the “la la La” chorus of “Days” and the sunny guitar lines on “See You at the Show.” The scene isn’t quite what it used to be, but Witness Marks makes a good case for a revival.
Nation of Language – Strange Disciple (PIAS)
NYC synthpop band open up their sound on their enjoyable third album
Nation of Language frontman Ian Devaney says Strange Disciple is the band’s final chapter in an album triptych centered around motion: their 2020 debut is a car, 2021’s propulsive A Way Forward is a train, while this one has the band on foot. Statements like that can seem like creating an arc that doesn’t really exist, but there’s no denying the decidedly relaxed feel this time around. Holy Ghost!’s Nick Millhiser produced, helping the band dial everything back just a little. The synthesizer arpeggiations, rolling basslines and use of rock instrumentation are still there, but it’s all spread out, giving extra room for Nation of Language’s strongest asset, Devaney soaring melodies and voice, which add a strong, warm human element that protects these classic-sounding synthpop earworms from freezer-burn.
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