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Rewinding May | The Best Indie Rock & Underground

From Clinic to Soundwalk Collective, here are my favourite releases of the month.

Liverpool oddballs, Colombian spellcasters, paisley-rock dream merchants and more — there was no shortage of essential indie rock to hear in May. Here’s the best of the bunch, listed in alphabetical order. Just click on the cover picture to find the original review page (where you can also listen to the album in full):

Wheeltappers & Shunters

Clinic have always been in a league of their own. But the surgical-masked outliers take it to another level on this disc named for a ’70s British TV variety show set in a fictional working men’s club in the North of England. But you don’t need to trawl YouTube to make the most of this oddity. You just need an appreciation for Clinic’s unique brand of psychedelic garage-rock — a tense, anxious, paranoid and decidedly creepy sound closer to The Residents, The Fall and Suicide than their more famous and/or fab Liverpool predecessors.

Combo Chimbita

This is not your mother’s Latin dance band — unless Ma likes to brew up a batch of Ayahuasca, wash it down with a handful of peyote buttons and spend the night howling at the moon while communing with the spirits of her ancestral goddess. In which case, she’ll be totally in sync in with Combo Chimbita. And she’ll totally get into their powerfully intoxicating sophomore album Ahomale. That means adorer of ancestors in Yoruba. Which is exactly how you’ll feel about this transcendent, transfixing release.

The Dream Syndicate
These Times

Name your favourite band from 1982. Where are they now? Long gone? Reliving the glory days in a casino? Raking in mega-bucks on a stadium tour? Either way, chances are their best years are behind them — unless they happen to be The Dream Syndicate. Singer-guitarist Steve Wynn and his cohorts aren’t just alive and kicking; they continue to be as vital and vibrant as ever. That’s the unimpeachable takeaway from the L.A. legends’ sixth album and second full-length since reuniting in 2012. The Dream Syndicate were definitely made for These Times.

Filthy Friends
Emerald Valley

Supergroups come and go. And for the most part, that’s fine. But every now and then you want one to come back. Like this collaboration between Sleater-Kinney singer Corin Tucker, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, Fastbacks guitarist Kurt Bloch, Minus 5 multi-instrumentalist Scott McCaughey and Miracle 3 drummer Linda Pitmon. It’s a dynamically diverse lineup to be sure. But on the full-length followup to 2017’s Invitation, they find fertile common ground with a minimum of fuss, fat and fanfare.

Imperial Wax
Gastwerk Saboteurs

The surviving members of The Fall pick up where they left off after the 2018 death of misanthropic frontman Mark E. Smith — and pick up their name from their first Fall outing, Imperial Wax Solvent. For your part, you should pick up this incredible and indispensable debut disc, featuring a new foghorn-piped frontman who gamely wades into Smith’s wake while standing on his own two feet.

Act Surprised

Surprise! Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow’s on-again, off-again indie-rock power trio is on again — and dishing up their second disc in 20 long years. And surprise again! It sounds less like the old lo-fi Lou and more like your favourite college-rock band from the ’90s. That is, when it doesn’t sound like R.E.M. from the ’80s. Get in on this act.

Soundwalk Collective With Patti Smith
The Peyote Dance

Legendary punk poet Patti Smith and the experimental NYC/Berlin duo Soundwalk Collective share a multi-disciplinary meeting of the minds in the first chapter in a triptych of collaborative concept albums inspired by the travels of avant-garde French poets Antonin Artaud, Arthur Rimbaud and René Daumal. She dramatically recites Artaud’s druggy, decadent verses — many inspired by a 1936 trip to Mexico, where he insanely tried to kick heroin by using peyote — while the SC (who retraced his trips in every sense of the word) craft primitive atmospheric soundscapes out of tom-toms, violins, and even sticks and stones. It’s every bit as artsy as it sounds. But weirder and better than you expect.

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