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 January’s best music, highlighting my favorite songs and albums, plus links to relevant features and news, a monthly playlist, and more.
January is usually a slow month for new releases but this one felt pretty happening, and I could’ve made a Top 10 with just three Fridays worth of albums. I kept it to five, though, but some that nearly made the cut were Billy Nomates’ CACTI, Gaz Coombes’ Turn the Car Around, Ladytron’s Time’s Arrow, and Guided by Voices’La La Land. It was an ever stronger month for songs, and I write about my 10 favorites from January below. I also made a 50-song playlist with even more from the month
There’s still 11 months of releases to come — check out the Indie Basement Most Anticipated Albums of 2023 list.
In the Indie Basement department of the BrooklynVegan Shop, we’ve got vinyl, merch and more from The New Pornographers, Belle & Sebastian, They Might Be Giants, De La Soul, The Flaming Lips, King Gizzard, New Order, Pavement, Wet Leg, Beach House, Midlake, Broadcast, Stereolab, Love & Rockets, Spoon, Lilys, Cocteau Twins, Can, Dinosaur Jr and more.
Head below for Indie Basement’s Best of January 2023…
INDIE BASEMENT – BEST SONGS OF JANUARY 2023
Ulrika Spacek – “The Sheer Drop”
It’s been six years since London band Ulrika Spacek’s last album and in the interim they nearly broke up. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so they say, and that’s true if “The Sheer Drop,” the first taste of their third full-length, is any indication. There’s real swagger here as they swing from sultry cool to wild noise and back, all with big hooks and a stick-in-your-head chorus. Plus a very Lynchian video:
deary – “Fairground”
New UK band deary are off to a very promising start with their debut single that’s out via dreampop/shoegaze label Sonic Cathedral. “Fairground” hits you right in the early-’90s, laying down Cocteau Twins-style gauze over a funky drummer beat, baroque touches and singer/guitarist Dottie’s featherlight vocals. A wonderful introduction.
Everything but the Girl – “Nothing Left to Lose”
Oh how we’ve missed you. Sorry for the bad pun but it’s true. While Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt have remained a couple since the early ’80s, they haven’t made an Everything But the Girl record since 1999’s Temperamental. WIth a modern beat and Thorn’s smokey vocals sounding great as ever, “Nothing Left to Lose” finds them not missing a step. New album Fuse is out April 21 (preorder on vinyl) and is one of the year’s most welcome surprises.
Gina Birch – “I Play My Bass Loud”
The Raincoats cofounder Gina Birch sounds joyfully defiant on the title track / centerpiece of her upcoming debut solo album. “Sometimes I wake up and I wonder ‘What is my job?’,” she asks — and answers with this song that, of course, features a great bassline as well as the talents of five female bass players, including The Mo-Dettes’ Jane Crockford. The video is fun as well:
Gruff Rhys – “Layer Upon Layer”
Nearly 20 years into his career, Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys has a distinct melodic style, whether making folky space rock or dabbling in disco. But he’s never released anything quite like “Layer Upon Layer,” which was written for his soundtrack to new film The Almond and The Seahorse. Crunchy guitars meet plastic keyboards and “pew pew” synth-toms with an earworm chorus. Gruff notes that the song was the result of having to write to a specific tempo: “It’s something I’d have never written in any other context – and a great excuse to record a shiny 3 minute power-pop song.”
José González – “Visions (Dungen Remix)”
Though a nylon string acoustic guitar is José González’s instrument of choice, he’s never been a stranger to electronic music, whether it’s his group Junip, covering The Knife, or letting others remix his songs. This remix by Dungen is a surprise though. You might expect the fellow Swedes to take “Visions” into their signature jazzy psych world, but Gustav Estes instead turns in a wild, ping-ponging jungle/drum-and-bass banger. It’s rad.
Mandy, Indiana – “Injury Detail”
I’m really digging the British techno resurgence of late, be it the return of masters like Orbital or newer artists like Jon Hopkins, Daniel Avery and Manchester’s Mandy Indiana who have delivered this storming new single. With its pounding bassline, relentless beat and old-school electronic handclaps, there’s a real “Born Slippy” drive to “Injury Detail” but these folks feel more in control, thanks in part to Valentine Caulfield’s French language vocals that keep the temperature just above freezing.
Model/Actriz – “Crossing Guard”
There’s also a little techno in this single from Model/Actriz — though more of the Berlin type — but it’s also crossed with early-’00s Wild West Williamsburg party music. This band sound like they could’ve played Tribeca Grand with Liars, LCD Soundsystem, Out Hud or Planningtorock. Indie Sleaze nostalgia is upon us but there’s a legit grimy weirdness going on here, and the video falls just on the right side of arty/pretentious.
Pynch – “2009”
Speaking of ’00s nostalgia, this song is steeped in it but London’s Pynch are a little too young to have partied with The Klaxons and The Rakes, so instead there’s a warm adolescent innocence in lines like “I’m gonna dye my hair and listen to heavy metal / and skate down to the edge of the world.” Musically, “2009” is not referencing the year it’s named fo, either — it’s bittersweet and very catchy jangly guitar pop that sounds good in any era.
Sleaford Mods – “UK Grim”
While to the casual listener Sleaford Mods frontman Jason Williamson might seem perpetually pissed off (he probably is), he’s got a fire in his belly on “UK Grim,” the title track for their forthcoming album that has him taking aim at the mess that is the current British government, from Boris Johnson to Liz Truss to potshots at Putin and others. “In England nobody can hear you scream,” he yells to anyone who’ll listen. “You’re just fucked, lads.” If you haven’t been keeping up with the goings-on at Number 10 Downing St, Andrew Fearn has set Williamson’s spiel to another minimal banger of a beat. The video by collage artist Cold War Steve makes it all even better.
INDIE BASEMENT: BEST ALBUMS OF JANUARY 2023
Meg Baird – Furling (Drag City)
Meg Baird’s featherlight voice and equally delicate guitar style is more than enough to carry albums, and has done so in the past, but on Furling she really lets her abilities as a multi-instrumentalist shine. Working with her longtime collaborator and partner (and Heron Oblivion bandmate) Charlie Saufley, Meg plays a wide range of instruments — drums, vibraphone, loads of keyboards of all shapes and sizes — making for one of the most immediate, inviting albums of her rich and varied career. Furling doesn’t change the core of what Meg has always done, it just makes it all shine just a little more. [Full review]
The Tubs – Dead Meat (Trouble in Mind)
Terrific debut album from former Joanna Gruesome members Owen Williams and George Nichols with vocal assistance on much of the album from former bandmate Alanna McArdle. Williams and Nicholls have not lost their touch one bit writing thrilling two-minute guitar earworms that mash together a few different sympatico genres: punk, post punk, power-pop and British folk. There’s a lot of snarl and angst here — mental health and its burdens / complications are recurring lyrical themes — but never without an emphasis on hooks and melody. [Full review]
John Cale – Mercy (Double Six/Domino)
Mercy is Velvet Underground founding member John Cale’s first album in a decade and one of his least obtuse. This album is elegant and very modern sounding, and not just because it features contributions from Animal Collective, Weyes Blood, Sylvan Esso, Laurel Halo, Tei Shi, Actress, and Fat White Family. In fact his collaborators mostly are doing subtle under-the-hood work on this album that feels seamless in concept and execution, like a drop of mercury gliding across polished stainless steel. If tracks didn’t say “Featuring” you probably wouldn’t ever wonder if there were guests at all. It’s Cale’s show all the way, with a spotlight on his still soaring, sonorous voice, backed with lush electronics, taking current hip hop and R&B production and bending it to his will. [Full review]
The Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery (Human Seasons)
Dublin band The Murder Capital have lightened up considerably since their release of their 2019 debut, When I Had Fears. That album trafficked in dour indie rock not too far removed from Interpol. early Editors and other groups who got compared to Joy Division a lot. While derivative, it had good songs played with conviction, and frontman James McGovern had a magnetism that could be felt even through the cheapest of earbuds. Four years later the band are back, and while it would be wrong to say they seem more comfortable in their skin, Gigi’s Recovery feels more the product of a band who have figured out who they are. Songs and performances are more nuanced and showcase a whole range of emotions and colors, not just black and grey. [Full review]
Belle & Sebastian – Late Developers (Matador)
Belle & Sebastian recorded 2022’s A Bit of Previous at their Glasgow HQ – the first time they’d made a record entirely in their hometown in ages – writing tons of material and whittling it down to 12 songs. Instead of relegating the unused songs to b-side status (not that that would be a bad thing, as comp Push Barman to Open Old Wounds shows), the band decided to release them as a second album which is out now and was only announced a few days prior. In addition to songs written during the Previous sessions, Late Developers also features songs by Stuart Murdoch that have been kicking around for decades. Yet Late Developers plays not like a leftovers comp but a career retrospective sent from an alternate universe. [Full review]
Here’s the Best of January 2023 Playlist in both Spotify and TIDAL form:
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