Indie Basement: Best Songs & Albums of August 2023

Indie Basement is a weekly column on BrooklynVegan focusing on classic indie and alternative artists, “college rock,” and new and current acts who follow a similar path. There are reviews of new albums, reissues, box sets, books and sometimes movies and television shows. I’ve rounded up August’s best music, highlighting my favorite songs and albums, plus links to relevant features and news, a monthly playlist, and more.

August is a typically slow month in the entertainment / media industry when everyone goes on vacation, magazines put out “special double issues,” and album releases slow in anticipation for the big fall onslaught after Labor Day. Pandemic supply issues played with that a little this year but this was still a sleepy August, at least for Indie Basement, but it wasn’t a drought and at least a couple of my favorite records of the year so far came out this month.

There are always lots of great songs coming out and I picked my 10 favorites to spotlight. As for albums, August runner ups include Sonny & The Sunsets’ Self Awareness Through Macrame, Diners’ Domino, Holly Cook’s Happy Hour in Dub, Annie Heart’s The Weight of a Wave, and The Hives’ very enjoyable return, The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons. Check all of my songs/albums picks, plus a three-hour playlist with even more of August’s best stuff, below.

Ty Segall – “Void”

We seem to be entering a new era of Ty Segall with this nearly seven-minute single that puts rhythm and groove to the forefront more than he ever has before. Bass and drums are locked in leading the charge, while guitars play a mostly atmospheric role — at least till things really get cooking and enter more traditional Ty territory. Bitchin Bajas’ analog synth expert Cooper Crain produced this and he and Ty let things get good and proggy. Ty seems to be entering a new personal era as well if the “Void” video, directed by Ty and his wife Denee, is any indication…they seem to be expecting!

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A. Savage – “Elvis in the Army”

Solo albums from members of still-active-but-long-running popular bands, like Parquet Courts, tend to either be stylistic flights of fancy, or testing their wings to maybe leave the nest. I’m not sure what his second solo album, Several Songs About Fire (a very Talking Heads title!), will be but it doesn’t seem like he’s holding back his A-material if “Elvis in the Army” is any indication. And if he IS holding back the good stuff for Parquet Courts, the new record is going to be something else.

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Blur – “Sticks and Stones”

How many songs did Blur record when making this year’s excellent surprise LP The Ballad of Darren?!? Just a week after it dropped, they shared two more (excellent) outtakes and here’s another from the Japanese edition of the album. Graham Coxon fans, “Sticks and Stones” is for you as the guitarist takes lead vocals on this herky-jerky mid-tempo groover that features more than a little of his signature skronky fretwork.

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Connie Lovatt – “Gull”

Connie Lovatt, who was one half of ’90s duo Containe and also played in Smog and The Pacific Ocean, all but retired from music in the mid-’00s so emergence of a new album is a wonderful surprise, as is its reason for existence. She wanted to make a record for her daughter, not a kids album, but one that shared stories from her life that also featured her many friends and collaborators. (Those include Bill Callahan, drummer Jim White, Rebecca Cole and more). “Gull” is a lovely, bittersweet ode to her father and a welcome return.

Das Koolies – “Out of This World”

Will we ever get another Super Furry Animals album? Gruff Rhys seems content making (very good) solo records, but I miss what the rest of the band brought to the equation. Thankfully, the rest of them are all making music together as Das Koolies and seem to be doing it cause it’s fun, which is the best reason. There’s also some of that gleeful, chaotic SFA mischief baked into “Out of This World,” not to mention the love of techno and acid house that infected records like Rings Around the World and Phantom Power.

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English Teacher – “The World’s Biggest Paving Slab”

The combination of this London band’s name and the title of this single almost sounds like a parody of the mid-’00s post-punk revival dreamed up by Chris Morris or Charlie Brooker for a highly sarcastic TV show — or a band that could band on tour with Yard Act or IDLES right now. While “The World’s Biggest Paving Slab” is on the angular side, it is not shouty; singer Lily Fontaine’s voice is smooth and luxurious, contrasting nicely from the band’s guitar racket. But don’t let her sonorous pipes fool you, she means business: “I am the world’s biggest paving slab / So watch your fucking feet.”

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Helena Deland – “Bright Green Vibrant Gray”

For her second album, Montreal singer-songwriter Helena Deland teamed up with Sam Evian who has helped her head into less synthy and more organic directions. “Bright Green Vibrant Gray” is an apt title for this song that sounds like a rainy day in April; delicately plucked acoustic guitar hits like raindrops in a puddle, while the flutes and harmonies blossom, at the first signs of spring growth.

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The Intelligence – “Now, Squirm!”

It’s only been a year since the last album by The Intelligence but somehow it feels like forever, so I was glad to see this squirm into field of vision. Like his friend and onetime bandmate / producer Ty Segall, this is new, mostly guitarless territory for Lars Finberg; with electric piano and keyboards in their place, he’s remodeled the garage into a cocktail lounge, but that familiar Intelligence discomfort is still there: “Just shy of psychosis synchronicity stacks / ‘Round the politics of space I vote we float off the map.” No one does it like Lars.

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Joseph Shabason – “Jamie Thomas”

This is perverse: saxophonist, composer and occasional Destroyer hornblower Joseph Shabason has rescored the classic 1996 Toy Machine skate VHS Welcome To Hell, replacing the songs by Lard, Sabbath, Sonic Youth, Maiden and, uh, The Sundays, with groovy, smooth jazz. But you know what, it works.

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Mantra of the Cosmos – “X (Wot You Sayin?)”

“It’s never too late to come back from the dead,” sings Shaun Ryder on this second single from Mantra of the Cosmos, his far-out new group with Ride’s Andy Bell, drummer Zak Starkey and his Happy Mondays/Black Grape conspirator, Bez. And if anyone should know, it’s Ryder who must’ve been a cat in his last life. His way with words is still in fine twisted (melon) form on “X (What You Sayin?)” which is all about never learning from your mistakes.

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Wet Man – “Swimming with Sharks”

I know almost nothing about Wet Man who recently released this, his first single. It was produced by Dean Horner and Adrian Flanagan of Moonlandingz and International Teachers of Pop and they give this a scuzzy electro vibe, like a Giorgio Moroder hangover in the gutter. But Wet Man (real name Jack Clayton) has a loquacious swagger that puts this in Jarvis Cocker territory — they’re both from Sheffield — and if you liked (or remember) Relaxed Muscle, you’re gonna dig this.

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girl ray prestige

ALBUM OF THE MONTH: Girl Ray – Prestige (Moshi Moshi)

It’s been a treat to follow the trajectory of London trio Girl Ray over the last seven years. Started as teenagers, Poppy Hankin, Iris McConnell and Sophie Moss originally made folky, earthy, jangly indiepop, but with their 2019 sophomore album Girl pivoted to synthy nu-style R&B pop which was a surprise but also turned out to be a good fit with Hankin’s songwriting and voice. Their Hot Chip-produced 2021 single “Give Me Your Love” pointed the way to their next pivot, which is somewhere in between the sounds of their first two albums, staying on the dance floor but steering more towards classic UK indie. Prestige is an album of nearly all hits, owing to both the current disco revival as well as early-’80s new wavers who co-opted disco for their own means. It’s more Haircut 100 than current Billboard Hot 100, an album packed with breezy, fun, danceable earworms that plays like a Greatest Hits album, or at least one of those records where most of songs ended up being released as singles. Girl Ray have arrived. [Read the full review]


Activity – Spirit in the Room (Western Vinyl)

Activity released their debut album two weeks into covid lockdown in March 2020, a record with a weirdly prescient title, Unmask Whoever. The music also fit the time: mysterious, alien, sinewy, cautious paranoia. Aka a good time! Despite the less than ideal time that the first album dropped in, Activity survived, mutated (new bassist Bri DiGioa), and actually got better. Spirit in the Room, made during peak pandemic isolation — “to keep from losing our minds,” frontman Travis Johnson says — takes all the best parts of their debut and condenses it like a white dwarf star, and then expands upon it. The result is somewhere between peak 4AD and the early days of Bristol trip hop — Tricky produced by This Mortal Coil? — but minus any of the obvious signifiers that might take this into Remember The ’90s territory. Spirit in the Room is not nightmare fuel nor a bummer, but a perfectly realized mood piece, creepy in a good way, thick with atmosphere and melody. [Read the full review]

Panda Bear & Sonic Boom - Reset in Dub

Panda Bear, Sonic Boom & Adrian Sherwood – Reset in Dub (Domino)

Panda Bear & Sonic Boom’s great 2022 collaborative album, Reset, was already pretty trippy, but now it’s even more so as Reset In Dub. For it, they enlisted legendary producer Adrian Sherwood, who has worked with everyone from The Slits and The Pop Group to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Mikey Dread and recently worked on the dub version of Spoon’s Lucifer on the Sofa. Sherwood kept the vocals and harmonies — the melodic core of the album — but then built the songs from the ground up, enlisting his stable of regular ON-U Sound collaborators. The Reset originals were all built around samples of intros to ’50s and ’60s rock n’ roll singles, and now Sherwood removes almost all of that, making for another string theory parallel universe record, stemming from similar blocks before taking things in wildly different directions. [Read the full review]

Film School - Field

Film School – Field (Felte)

Greg Bertens has led L.A./S.F. indie rock stalwarts Film School since 2001, never wavering on fully realized dreampop sound — somewhere between doomy ’80s Brit alt-rock and ’90s shoegaze — that has fallen in and out of fashion over the last two decades. Field is Film School’s seventh album and is another terrific entry in their remarkably consistent catalog. Like on 2021’s We Weren’t Here, what distinguishes this one is Noël Brydebell of Wild Signals whose featherlight vocals are a perfect match for Bertens’ moodier singing style. (Fans of Pale Saints’ In Ribbons, or Slowdive, it’s a similar vibe.) Though they clearly know all the sonic moves, and own all the right pedals, it’s always at the service of great songs. [Read the full review]

osees intercepted message

OSEES – Intercepted Message (In the Red)

After 26 years, 26 albums, and numerous name variations, John Dwyer has “at long last” delivered an OSEES album with verse-chorus-verse song construction — “a pop record for tired times.” Like so many have over the last 50 years, Dwyer has done it via synthesizers. Electronics have always been a part of his band’s arsenal — from actual keyboards to the many effects pedals used to warp other instruments and voices — but never have they been such a prominent part of the equation as they are on Intercepted Message, the OSEES’ 27th album that is also one of the most immediate, enjoyable and satisfying in their long and snaking discography. [Read the full review]

Here’s the Indie Basement: Best of August playlist in both Spotify and TIDAL form:

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