Indie Basement (1/8): the week in classic indie, college rock, and more

Happy 2021! While this year has most definitely gotten off to an insane start, here at Indie Basement HQ things are still kind of slow as far as new releases go. That's ok, it'll amp up significantly starting next week but today the only new record I'm reviewing is Viagra Boys' second album, Welfare Jazz. The rest of the column will feature records I either didn't get around to reviewing when they came out in 2020 or I missed, found out about by reading other people's year-end lists and ended up digging. (Despite having 90 records in my Best of 2020 list, I do occasionally miss stuff.) Those include albums by Lewsberg, Pool Hologram, Tapeworms, and Ribbon Stage.

If you need more new album reviews, Andrew reviews seven titles in Notable Releases. Otherwise head below for this week's reviews.

Viagra Boys - Welfare Jazz (YEAR0001)
The Swedish band's second album is a party record captured while cleaning up the mess, right before the intervention.

Sweden's Viagra Boys have built a reputation over the last five years for their wild live shows and general hedonistic behavior, with most of that focused on very tattooed frontman Sebastian Murphy. The debauchery gave their debut album a genuine seediness but it, and those live shows, also made you wonder what kind of toll it had on them. Quite a bit, apparently, as the band's second album lays out. “We wrote these songs at a time when I had been in a long-term relationship, taking drugs every day, and being an asshole,” Murphy recalls. “I didn't really realize what an asshole I was until it was too late, and a lot of the record has to do with coming to terms with the fact that I'd set the wrong goals for myself.”

Welfare Jazz is still a pretty awesome party record, but it's one seen from the "what did I do?" vantage point of the next morning, looking at yourself in the cold light of day, cleaning up all the cigarette butts, crumpled beer cans and the pizza on the turntable. "What kind of person have I become," Murphy sings on "Into the Sun" over a burnt-out beat. "The ghost of an outlaw who was captured and hung / Now that I can see everything the way that it was / I would do anything to take back the things that I’ve done."

Sobering as the record sometimes is, it's still a Viagra Boys album -- wild, wooly and always nearly off the rails. It's also a little closer to their live sound which, veers more towards Devo and less straight-up punk. Working with a few different producers -- Matt Sweeney (Chavez, Run the Jewels), Justin and Jeremiah Raisen (Kim Gordon and Sky Ferreira), and Pelle Gunnerfeldt and Daniel Fagerström (The Hives, The Knife) -- they allow synths to play a much larger role, though the instruments sound like they've been dragged through the gutter a bit. Prime example: "Ain't Nice," which is a perfect album opener, lurching fitfully like trying to start an old clunker till it all kicks into gear, shot forward with bloopy keyboards, fuzzy bass, skronked-out sax and Murphy's blown-out wails detailing what he'd be like to live with. "I’ll borrow your stuff and never put it back / I’m kinda hungry can you give me a snack?"

The shiny, metallic "Creatures" could be an LCD Soundsystem track, musically, though James Murphy would probably never admit to being a bottom-feeder who steals copper. The punky disco songs are all pretty great, especially "Girls & Boys" which barrels down the line between ripper and banger while being a pretty damning portrait of out-of-control male behavior. The dark, romantic sleazoid streak that ran through Street Worms rears its head here too, like on the disquieting "To the Country," where a man thinks moving to greener pastures will solve all his problems, and on the juke joint junkie jam "I Feel Alive." Murphy lays off the faux redneck accent this time around, though he does unleash it on the genuinely sweet, slightly twisted cover of John Prine's "In Spite of Ourselves" with Amyl & The Sniffers' Amy Taylor playing the part originated by Iris Dement.

If Welfare Jazz doesn't have anything as immediate as Street Worms' single "Sports" (which bordered on novelty and wore out its welcome quick), it's an overall much better album that finds Viagra Boys growing up just a little but still leaving a hell of a mess.


Lewsberg - In this House (12XU)
Dutch Velvet Underground worshippers' second album breaks no new ground but is terrific all the same.

Rotterdam's Lewsberg have been chooglin' along on a Velvet Underground / Feelies tip for about five years now. That's a very familiar territory and Lewsberg are making no real attempt at wheel reinvention, but they have carved out their own distinct path. It takes skill to make two chords repeatedly interesting and Lewsberg, who only occasionally feel a need to go to a third or fourth chord in a song, are very good at it, whether discordantly jamming out ("Left Turn," "Through the Garden"), riding a mid-tempo motorik groove ("Cold Light Of Day") or keeping things quiet and gentle ("At Lunch"). Arie van Vliet handles vocals on most tracks, speaking more than singing, but bassist Shalita Dietrich steps to the mic for In This House's prettiest song, "Jacob's Ladder." It's a very specific atmosphere, tilted at an angle ever so slightly. Press materials for the album came with a list from the band of things to note while listening and #5 embodies the band's spirit to me: "Sometimes you only find out how fragile a thing is, when you touch it for the first time."


Tapeworms - Funtastic (Howlin' Banana)
'90s-style electronic-tinged shoegazey guitar pop from France.

There was a point in the mid-'90s where shoegaze was dying out but groups like Stereolab were picking up steam, a new strain of dreampop emerged -- shiny and sugar-coated, dabbling in jungle/drum-n-bass and krautrock rhythms, but still with noisy guitars. There was catchy umbrella category for it but disparate groups like Ivy, Stars, Cornelius, Komeda and The Notwist all seemed to be pulling from the same well of influence (and using them differently). Hailing from Lille in Northern France, Tapeworms have a similar feel. A bit more indie than fellow French band (and Indie Basement faves) Le Superhomard, this trio mix dissonance and drone with big pop melodies, gleaming synthesizers, dance beats and harmony laden vocals. Funtastic, their debut album, radiates those shiny '90s vibes right down to the album title. It still sounds like the future.

H/T to Toby for this one.


Pool Holograph - Love Touched Time and Time Began to Sweat (Sunroom)
Pining for late-'00s Deerhunter? This Chicago band's second album continues that weird era.

This band and record came to my attention via Corridor's Dominic Berthiaume who told us, "This album reminds me a lot of what I consider the golden era (2008-2013) of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound." There is no denying the Deerhunter influence on Chicago band Pool Holograph who began nearly a decade ago as a bedroom project for Wyatt Grant and turned into a full band back in 2015. Grant has a little of that raspy, breathy Bradford Cox vocal style, and you can hear Deerhunter even more in the music, though you can tell Pool Holograph are from the same Chicago scene as Deeper (and a wider sonic galaxy that includes Corridor and Omni). Love Touched Time and Time Began to Sweat is a smoked-out, mostly chilled-out listen with songs and arrangements that are more complex than they first seem. The album gets more rewarding each time you listen. Pool Holograph get better the mellower they go, with songs like "Asleep in Spain" and "Mirror World" seeping imperceptibly into your pores and psyche.


Ribbon Stage - My Favorite Shrine (K)
Debut EP from these Brooklyn jangly bashers comes armed with big hooks and indie cred via their label, K Recs.

I don't listen to as much DIY indiepop as I did in my prime cardigan-wearing days (late-'90s / early-'00s) but I've always got room in my life for new groups who do it right. Enter Brooklyn band Ribbon Stage which includes Dave Serrano (Ratas Del Vaticano, Exotica), as well as Jolie M-A (Juicy II, Boys Online) and Anni Hilator. Their five-song debut 7" clocks in at just under eight minutes and is a ramshackle hook delivery device in the Pastels / Shop Assistants / Black Tambourine tradition. These songs are bashed out with more vigor and style than finesse, which is just fine. They're catchy as hell and over right when you say "hey this is good," so you may end up listening to it five times in a row. If you need more convincing, this is out on K Records (Beat Happening, Tiger Trap) who are a seal of quality for this kind of stuff. Ribbon Stage really make me wish NYC club Cake Shop still existed -- songs like "Cry in the Driveway" would've sounded great under the stage's haphazardly strung Christmas lights.


Looking for more? Browse the Indie Basement archives.