The Bascinets’ Make Jangly, Noisy Indie Pop on Excellent ‘Social Music’ | Album Review
It’s a sign of a great band when each member’s part feel necessary to the whole, when it feels that each element has contributed something that deepens the impact of the music. That’s true on The Bascinets Social Music, an album that revels in the simplicity and immediacy of great indie rock and pop. The Chicago quartet capture the listless feeling of early adulthood in intertwined and jangling guitars, an eternal rhythmic propulsion, and noise that seems to build behind each song into fuzzy and dazed crescendos.
“Diorama” kicks off the 10 song set melding the “pure, perfect pop” of indie pop icons Sarah Records to more modern, angular indie rock (think Beach Fossils, Dehd, Omni). “World is a diorama, now I get to sit inside it” guitarist and vocalist Nick Wellman sings with an immediately recognizable yet rare character to his voice. His baritone might fall closest to The Pastels’ Stephen McRobbie, but his blasé delivery and lyricism fits closer to Stephen Malkmus. Wellman often invokes a sense of purposeless wandering and half-hearted irony similar to Malkmus’ expressions in Pavement, like on highlight track “Monk Training”: “suddenly I’m filled with motivation, sadly, suddenly is far too late to intuit success.”
He delivers his best lyrical performance on “Torture,” another of the album’s finest. Images of “coke-head landscaper[s]” and “pill-popping waiter[s]” punctuate the feeling of going nowhere. He seems to reach his peak as he draws out each word in the line “pick up the kids from your ex-wife’s tough guy boyfriend’s” so it fills half a verse, a charming little yelp somehow fitting perfectly onto the end. But as much as The Bascinets effortlessly dance through the ideals of indie pop songwriting, Social Music often wrings those ideas for all their worth. On “Torture,” a simple addition of some sharp percussion, as if a drummer rehearsing in the garage across the street, allows the song to stretch out past Wellman’s peak for another verse.
Much of the album, though, sees Wellman and guitarist Tristan Huygen taking their chiming guitar intersections and piling on layers that grow increasingly expressive, frantic, and chaotic as the songs near their ends. “Diorama” introduces this idea at the album’s beginning, but it reaches a skronky, no-wave intensity on “Learned.” “Asparagus” dissolves into delayed guitar before returning with one of the album’s most pumping and climactic sections. The funky “Swimming Pool” moves from bouncy to jagged and precarious as the band lurches together.
That latter track is one of the few moments where bassist Nick Shew and drummer Trever Joellenback let loose. For most of the album the two provide a tight and unabating rhythm section. Their vaguely post-punk tendencies give Social Music a sharper edge that only strengthens the potential of the songs. When the two allow themselves out of the background—as Shew does with his clattering ‘80s new wave bassline on “Swimming Pool” or when Joellenback punctuates the tumbling tom beat of “Script” with brief cymbal crashes that hit like the first blast of water stepping into the shower—it never intrudes.
For the most part, we’re left with Wellman most clearly leading the way, a steady rhythm behind him and sparkling, lively guitars accenting the emotions. And while he and The Bascinets may be performing at their peak, their still wading through lost days and empty nights. Social Music, which hardly slows until the closing two tracks, leaves the ending to Wellman and strummed guitar. On “Drag,” in a slow drawl, he finishes his thoughts: “I want to help you, but I don’t think that I can help you, cause I’m weak too.”