Indie Basement (6/30): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more

This week's Indie Basement is pretty stacked, especially for a holiday weekend. We've got: the second full-length from Sweeping Promises; UK shoegazers bdrmm who make a big leap forward with their second album; the solo debut from Fontaines D.C. frontman Grian Chatten; the first Cornelius album in six years; the first album in nine years from national passtime obsessed supergroup The Baseball Project (REM! Dream Syndicate!); and UK DIY wunderkind Icebeing.

In Notable Releases, Andrew reviews new albums from Joanna Sternberg, The Alchemist, and more. Need more Basement-related news? The Breeders are reissuing Last Splash for its 30th anniversary and will be playing it on tour; and Ulrika Spacek will tour North America this fall. Also: have you watched The Bear Season 2 yet?

You can preorder The Breeders' Last Splash reissue and pick up lots of other stuff in the Indie Basement Corner of the BV shop.

Have a safe and full (and hopefully long) Independence Day Weekend and see you on the other side. Head below for this week's reviews.

SweepingPromises_good living is coming for you


ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Sweeping Promises - Good Living Is Coming For You (Feel It / Sub Pop)
This duo continue to deliver lo-fi post-punk earworms on their first album since signing to Sub Pop

Sweeping Promises dropped out of nowhere the summer of 2020 with Hunger for a Way Out, one of the best debuts of the year, a record that found Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnu fully formed, compressing decades of post-punk, punk, riot girl, alt-rock, etc into punchy pop diamonds. The songs were purposefully lo-fi, had no room for solos or jams, only hooks, with Mondal belting out memorable chorus after memorable chorus. Hunger played, and still does, like a greatest hits album. Three years later, having relocated from Boston to Lawrence, KS and signed to Sub Pop everywhere except North America (they're currently still on Feel It here), the duo are back with its follow up.

Signing to a Big Indie doesn't seem to have changed Sweeping Promises one bit. Good Living Is Coming For You -- is that title a warning, like "the call is coming from inside the house!" -- sounds like it was recorded on cassette and redubbed a few times, with a hissy compressed sound that is clearly a stylistic choice and doesn't detract from another wonderful batch of razor-sharp earworms. The density of the hooks on these 10 songs, most under three minutes, is staggering, with basslines worthy of early Cure, slash-and-burn riffage, bleating sax, weirdo keyboards, drums that wallop without being showy, and Mondal's voice which just seems to have gotten better over the last three years. Across punky burners ("Eraser," "You Shatter"), nervy skronk ( "Connoisseur of Salt,") and dancy new wave pop ("Throw the Dice," "Walk in Place"), Sweeping Promises deliver the goods with confidence and swagger. "Petit Four" is the whole album in a song: funky, anxious, angry, and fun, with Mondal delivering guttural screams and heavenly harmonies over a tight rhythm section groove and wonderful little guitar parts. Bravo!

Not really a criticism but: while I enjoy the sonic world they've created -- it's like finding an unlabeled tape in a car glove compartment that you're unsure if is from 1981, 1994 or 2008 -- they feel ready to graduate to mid-fi for their next album. A little more shine would allow their sound to really blossom.


bdrmm - i dont know album art


ALBUM OF THE WEEK #2: bdrmm - I Don't Know (Rock Action)
These UK shoegazers not only avoid the sophomore slump, but deliver a second album that is miles better their debut

Shoegaze, as defined by the late-'80s originators (My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Moose), is such a specific sound that it's very tempting and (I'm guessing) fun just to mimic. Unfortunately a good percentage of current acts (and there are lots) who play in these waters never move past pastiche and hero worship. UK band bdrmm were, right out other the gate, better than your average third-gen band with a bank of effects pedals. Their 2020 debut album showed they had a deep understanding of the form and, while they didn't move beyond it, the songs were good. (That's the biggest problem with most new shoegaze groups: they have the sounds but not the tunes.)  Since then, they've experimented on a few EPs (the ultimate medium of the form) and have now emerged a changed, dramatically better band on their second album.

I Don't Know is also bdrmm's first for Mogwai's Rock Action Records and it's clear touring with the Scottish post-rock icons rubbed off on them in all the right ways. The melodies are stronger, the dynamics more thrilling, and they rarely rely on any of the standard shoegaze signifiers. The album opens with two stunners: "Alps," that takes its time climbing to the peak before leaping off on a wave of electronics that suggests they might be good at club music; and "Be Careful," which owes a lot to Bristol trip hop and Radiohead. The bass line on "Be Careful," set against syncopated rim-shots, is pretty irresistible. In general, the addition of electronics is the masterstroke, opening up the sonic possibilities on "Hidden Cinema" and ethereal instrumental "Advertisement One," and other moments on the album. Guitarist Ryan Smith has also emerged from the haze as a confident capable singer, with gorgeous harmonies highlighting "We Fall Apart" and the triumphant "It's Just A Bit Of Blood." There is some old fashioned MBV-style shoegaze, too, on the roaring "Pulling Stitches," but even that goes in surprising directions. Where will they go from here? The possibilities seem endless.

bdrmm's Ryan Smith was nice enough to walk us through every track on the album.


attachment-grian chatten album chaos for the fly


ALBUM OF THE WEEK #3: Grian Chatten - Chaos For the Fly (Partisan)
Excellent, understated solo debut shows off an entirely new side of the Fontaines D.C. singer

Sometimes there's not much difference between an artist's solo project and their work with the band they're known for, apart from less people to say "I don't want to do it that way." Then there's an album like Chaos For the Fly, the solo debut from Fontaines D.C. frontman Grian Chatten, that is distinct from his band while still clearly coming from the same creative mind.

“I was walking along Stoney Beach at night and it came to me on the waves,” Chatten says. “I just stood there and looked at them and I heard the whole fucking thing. Every part of it, from the chord progressions to the string arrangements. I just thought: I want to do this myself. I know where we as a band are going next and that’s not where I want to go with this. I’ve got a couple of exaggerated aspects of my soul that I wanted to express...The rest of the band are all creative and songwriters in their own right, too. I didn’t want to go to them and be like, ‘No, every single thing has to be like this.’ I didn’t want to compromise with these songs in that way."

Chaos for the Fly will probably surprise some Fontaines fans, as it presents a new side of Chatten. There's no barked sprechgesang over loud guitars here; this is mostly quiet, intricately layered folk, often drenched in gorgeous strings and occasionally reaching into theatricality. Not that he doesn't "sing" with Fontaines, but turns out his voice is particularly well suited to this style. He hits some wonderful low harmonies on "The Score," sounds warm on the intimate "All Of The People," and evokes '50s crooners on the suave, orchestral "Casino." What remains the same, though, is his eye for detail and character across these tales of has-beens, drunks, death, and swooning romance. I'm glad Fontaines are still going, but I also hope we get another record like this.


cornelius dream in dream


Cornelius - Dream in a Dream (Warner Music Japan)
The seventh album from Keigo Oyamada showcases a master craftsman comfortable in his world

Keigo Oyamada has been making music as Cornelius for 30 years and while his early records were known for wild creative swings and bonkers live performances, since his exquisite 2001 magnum opus, Point, he's settled into a gentle groove charted by sonic creations that rival Steely Dan in their meticulous detail. Dream in a Dream is the first Cornelius album in six years and feels like a direct continuation of Mellow Waves, with breezy, slick pop that goes down smooth but is built on layer upon layer of sound, as delicate and delicious as a mille crepe cake. You don't realize how deceptively decadent "Sparks," "Night Heron," and "All Things Must Pass" are till after you've swallowed. Oyamada's guitar playing in particular is immaculate, shredding so politely you might not even notice. Dream in Dream may not jump out at you the way Fantasma or Point did, but it's distinctly the work of an artist who sounds like no other.

Keigo Oyamada talked to us about the influence playing with Yellow Magic Orchestra and Yoko Ono has had on his music. Good read.


attachment-Baseball Project - Grand Salami Time OV-517


The Baseball Project - Grand Salami Time (Omnivore Recordings)
It's the fourth -- last? -- album from this baseball-obsessed band featuring Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey and half of REM. Even if you're not a fan of the national pastime, it's fun

I am not what anyone would call a sports fan and certainly not athletic -- I used to joke that I got cut from the tee-ball team -- but I do enjoy art inspired by it, from Friday Night Lights, The Natural and North Dallas Forty to the music of The Zambonis and The Baseball Project. The latter is the alt-rock supergroup led by Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate) and Scott McCaughey (The Minus Five, Young Fresh Fellows) that also features R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Mike Mills, along with drummer Linda Pitmon. Grand Salami Time is The Baseball Project's fourth album, first in nine years, and and given the "round the bases" implications of the title, maybe their last. (I guess they could call a fifth album Extra Innings.) Like their three previous albums, all the songs are about our nationak passtime, at least tangentially, and this time they've got a couple pinch-hitters on deck in Stephen McCarthy (The Long Ryders) and Steve Berlin (Los Lobos).

Like Friday Night Lights or The Natural, you don't have to be a baseball nerd to enjoy these songs about journeymen players, doctored baseballs, and cinderella stories. Music nerds will find stuff to love, too: "Disco Demolition" tells the infamous and regrettable true story of July 12, 1979 at Chicago's Comiskey Park when thousands of disco records were blown up as part of a Major League Baseball promotion that ended in a riot. You'll certainly get a lot more out of Grand Salami Time if you are a baseball nerd, though.


iceberg - striped


Icebeing - Striped (Bella Union Private Pressing)
Fans of Elephant 6 and The Flaming Lips should check out this UK DIY wunderkind

Icebeing is the current sonic pseudonym of Brighton, UK polymath Luke Phillips who has released a mountain of music under dozens of names over the last 10 years. A real do-it-yourself-er, Phillips is a wunderkind who channels everything from The Flaming Lips to Daniel Johnston, Led Zeppelin and the Elephant 6 collective on the psychedelic rainbow that is Striped, which is out via Bella Union's boutique Private Pressing imprint. I will admit to having never heard of him before earlier this week but I was instantly taken by his sheer creativity, musicality and way with a hook. Phillips may be doing it himself, but "DIY artist" doesn't do this justice. “I wanted it to sound like a goodtime,” he says of the album, and he succeeded. If you like any of the artists I referenced here, you should definitely give this a spin, and I look forward to his next release which will probably come sooner than later.

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