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Rewinding October | The Top Indies

Josh Homme, Kim Gordon, Bob Pollard, Michael Gira & other names to remember.

Superstar jams, garage-band greats, noisy masterpieces, post-punk upstarts, multi-culti marvels — and plenty more where they came from. October was another good month for indie-rock fans. Here’s the best stuff I heard over the course of the month. Click on the cover art to read the original review and hear for yourself.

Various Artists
The Desert Sessions Vols. 11 & 12

WHO ARE THEY? Queens of The Stone Age singer-guitarist and rock ’n’ roll ringleader Josh Homme — who never met a collaboration he didn’t dig — joined by a ragtag gaggle of peers, pals, cronies and casual acquaintances including Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Les Claypool (Primus), Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint), Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters), Mike Kerr (Royal Blood), Carla Azar (Autolux, Jack White), Matt Sweeney (Chavez), David Catching (co-founder of Rancho De La Luna studio), comedian Matt Berry (What We Do in the Shadows), Töôrnst Hülpft and newcomer Libby Grace.

WHAT IS THIS? An eight-song collection of eccentric rock, jammy excursions and general oddball tomfoolery helmed by Homme at his home-away-from-home studio near Joshua Tree. More significantly, volumes 11 and 12 — respectively subtitled Arrivederci Despair and Tightwads & Nitwits & Critics & Heels — are the first new Sessions sets in nearly 16 years.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? What musicians do when they let their hair down and keep the tape rolling. Which is to say: You won’t be hearing any of these songs on the radio anytime soon. But you also won’t hear anything else quite like these songs on any of their regular albums either.

Kim Gordon
No Home Record

WHO IS SHE? The former bassist and sometime vocalist of New York noise-rock pioneers Sonic Youth. The ex-wife of guitar terrorist Thurston Moore. The erstwhile member of Free Kitten, Glitterbust and Body/Head. The original riot grrrl. And one of the most influential, important, original and hands-down coolest women in rock ’n’ roll.

WHAT IS THIS? No Home Record is the creatively restless 66-year-old artist’s first real solo album — and a disc that sounds more like SY than anything else she’s done since leaving the band and her broken marriage in 2011. Unlike her, fans will be right at home.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Everything you want from a Kim Gordon album: Nine tracks of lurching post-punk mayhem, knob-twiddling sonic weirdness, beat-poet lyrics and unsettling whisper-to-a-yell vocals. But even as it reminds you of her glorious past, it moves forward with tracks utilizing subterranean electronic buzzing, skittering beatboxes, growling no wave horns, ethereal folk guitars and more.

Guided by Voices
Sweating the Plague

WHO ARE THEY? Uncle Bob Pollard — aka The Most Prolific Dude in Indie-Rock — and his latest basement band of drinking buddies.

WHAT IS THIS? GBV’s 29th studio album in just 32 years and their third disc of 2019 — which is now officially their most productive year since 2012, when they returned to the studio with a vengeance after splitting for a few years. What’s got a bee in their bonnet this time is anybody’s guess.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Remarkably compact, cogent and song-oriented, the is the sound of Pollard on his game. Unlike the bazillion-track marathons full of home-recorded 90-second lo-fi experiments he sometimes cranks out, this 37-minute set contains just a dozen tracks of crunchy ’60s and ’70s-inspired indie-rock, making it one of the band’s most approachable and commercial albums in years — though Bob’s non-sequitur, stream-of-consciousness lyrics are every bit as inscrutable as ever.

Leaving Meaning

WHO ARE THEY? Singer-guitarist, founder, frontman, chief songwriter, sole permanent member and mostly benevolent dictator Michael Gira — along with the latest super-sized incarnation of his ever-changing experimental ensemble from New York City.

WHAT IS THIS? Swans’ 15th studio offering and fifth release since reuniting in 2010 following a 13-year hiatus, the two-disc Leaving Meaning continues Gira and co.’s sonic and stylistic evolution — while retaining the essential darkness and danger that have always been the hallmarks and trademarks of their subversive sound.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Staring into the bottomless abyss. Or perhaps drowning in quicksand. Anchored by hypnotic circular grooves, fashioned and fuelled by droning soundscapes and topped with Gira’s doom-laced lyrics, stark chants and relentlessly intense delivery, these post-rock monuments reach up from the depths, grab you by the throat and slowly but surely pull you down into their beautifully bleak netherworld. Consider yourself warned.

King Nun

WHO ARE THEY? A quartet of British post-punk upstarts who landed on my radar (and everyone else’s) nearly a year ago with their outstanding EP I Have Love — but have somehow managed to remain too obscure to earn a Wikipedia page (as of this writing, anyway).

WHAT IS THIS? Their eagerly anticipated debut full-length Mass — which quite happily turns out to be a consistently impressive and royally entertaining coming-of-age work that delivers the goods without overshooting the mark.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A great start. Despite being barely out of their teens, these four Londoners hit the ground running on 11 tightly wound tracks that combine driving beats, choppy guitar riffs and urgent vocals into anthemic mosh-pit nuggets.

Mark Lanegan Band
Somebody’s Knocking

WHO IS HE? The Seattle singer-songwriter whose entire musical and personal vibe screams anti-social loner, but whose lengthy and prolific resume is festooned with collaborations and stints with Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, Twilight Singers, Gutter Twins, Mad Season, Isobel Campbell and many others.

WHAT IS THIS? His 11th solo studio album — and his umpteenth collection of dark-hearted rock and grim balladry voiced in his raspy Iggy-esque baritone.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A lot more varied and intriguing than you might expect, actually. And a lot more British. Some of these 14 songs conjure the old-school Manchester vibe of Joy Division with their grinding, low-slung basslines. Other tunes lean more toward the creepy, gothy tones of Sisters of Mercy or Bauhuas. Still others recall The Cure or Berlin-era David Bowie. And a few just kick up their heels with synth-heavy rock. Lanegan has always marched to his own drummer, but this time, there seem to be more of them. Including a few mechanical ones.

Dead Soft
Big Blue

WHO ARE THEY? An indie-rock power trio led by musical and romantic partners Nathaniel Epp and Keeley Rochon, who spend their offstage time in the peace and quiet of B.C.’s fun-sized Gabriola Island, toiling at landscaping and retail jobs.

WHAT IS THIS? Their debut full-length after a series of singles and EPs that caught the attention of critics and hipsters on both sides of the 49th parallel.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Legendary Twin Cities post-punks Hüsker Dü, but slightly mellower — they are from the West Coast, after all — with dashes of Eric’s Trip and Dinosaur Jr., overtones of first-wave grunge, tons of melody and plenty of pretty harmonies courtesy of Rochon’s vocals, which are the dulcet yin to Epp’s razor-swallowing yang.

Let It Burn

WHO ARE THEY? A prestigious Los Angeles country-rock quartet fronted by former Beachwood Sparks singer-guitarist Brent Rademaker and featuring current and former members of Chris Robinson Brotherhood, The Cardinals, The Tyde and Hard Working Americans.

WHAT IS THIS? Their third studio album, which also marked the return of lead guitarist Neal Casal, who took his own life at the age of 50 just weeks before the album’s release.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? The latest touchstone in a long line of cosmic American music and Byrdsian jangle-rock that extends from Gram Parsons and Flying Burrito Brothers to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Captain Cheesebeard

WHO ARE THEY? A 10-piece crew from Brussels who got their start as a Frank Zappa tribute act — and maintain that conceptual continuity with their own cozmik concoction of lumpy gravy, peaches en regalia and camarillo brillo.

WHAT IS THIS? A four-track EP that follows up their recently reissued 2015 album Symphony For Auto-Horns, and introduces new vocalist Alain Louie.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A half-hour of stellar musicianship, intricate arrangements, prime-number time signatures, smouldering boogie-rock, baritone crooning and lyrical sardonicism that recalls Zappa at the height of his mid-’70s satirical brilliance.

Los Pirañas
Historia Natural

WHO ARE THEY? An oddball instrumental indie-rock trio from Colombia, Los Pirañas are also something of a supergroup — assuming bands like Meridian Brothers, Chúpame el Dedo, Frente Cumbiero, Ondatropica and Romperayo are in your personal musical pantheon.

WHAT IS THIS? Their third collection of idiosyncratic inventiveness, exotic eccentricity and surreal silliness.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Members of The Mothers of Invention, Los Straitjackets and The Residents jamming with the locals while on holiday in Bogota. These 10 twisted tracks are a freaky fusion of traditional and unconventional, combining South American genres and grooves with garage-rock bashing, twangy surf-rock guitars and acid-rock textures. Ay caramba.

Skarbø Skulekorps
Skarbø Skulekorps

WHO ARE THEY? A Norwegian contemporary jazz-rock septet that was formed by drummer and composer Øyvind Skarbø (which explains the first half of their name) and dresses in marching-band gear (which explains the second half).

WHAT IS THIS? Their mostly instrumental debut album — and a disc that puts them in a class by themselves.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Not your daddy’s jazz band. Although the three horn players figure prominently in most of these tracks, the Skulekorps also like to colour outside the lines by incorporating pedal-steel guitar and banjo, R&B and rock rhythms, skewed arrangements and eccentric percussion.

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