The Basewalks – Hello

 The Basewalks – Hello

The Basewalks – Hello – Album Review

Officially snapping a short cold-streak and behind-the-scenes-hell I’ve been living in for the past couple days…I needed a record I knew I could rely on to pull me out of the funk I’ve been forced into.  Because believe me – if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this past 5+ years at SBS or 20+ in the music-journalism realm, it’s that when it comes to the independent scene, where there is one entitled rockstar, there are literally and audibly thousands of bands and artists that are not.  Most of’em are humble, fantastic people that are just trying to be heard and are a complete pleasure to work with & listen to…so no matter how brutal things can be a moment before, I know for a certain fact that there are always multiple amazing experiences to be had just around the corner.

You can use music as a metaphor for life in that sense…it’s always worth hanging on, it’s always worth being around for what comes next.

Because you never know what’ll happen – sometimes it can be THIS GOOD!  Music, and therefore LIFE around it, yes?  How could anyone be in a bad mood of any kind listening to amazing new music?  I’m proving it to you right here…jamming The Basewalks loud’n’proud – because THIS is what happiness sounds like to me; discovering a band that makes music that can combine expression & emotion into songs that reveal genuine passion and incredible sonic textures that head right to the heart & soul.  I ain’t askin’ for much right?  Thankfully, The Basewalks are ready to supply all this & so much more – they’ve got an album stocked full of their own authentic Indie/Alt/Art/Rock/Pop sound…Hello is pretty much the record I’ve been searching for in 2018…this band that makes an impact in all the right ways.

Short history for you:  The Basewalks began in 2015, instantly put out their first EP Balconism not too long after, and then took a couple years to examine what was & what could be as they started to create the songs for this record.  Starting with the innovative original members Marko Levanić & Luka Belani, they expanded the lineup to include Ivana Starčević – which…I mean…I don’t know exactly who or what they traded away in that blockbuster deal, but let’s just say it’s about the best pick-up a team has made since Gretzky went to L.A. – she’s that awesome and she adds an incredible dimension & depth to The Basewalks sound and fully expands the potential for where it can go in the future even further.  Together as a three-piece, they clearly all feel at home…everything about this music they’re making is as complex as it is comfortable…everything about them seems like they’re right where they belong now.

And here we are – Hello!

Right off the drop, if you REALLY dig your textures in sonics…”Antifragile” will immediately hit the mark.  How often can you describe a band to be like Pink Floyd, The Breeders, and Hooverphonic all rolled into one?  But that’s exactly what this is like!  You get that distance in the music and sound of the guitars & piano combo that’ll remind you of the atmosphere in a Pink Floyd tune…you get that meaty bass tone and melody like you’d find in The Breeders…and you get that brilliantly theatrical & expressive style of songwriting & structure like you’d find in Hooverphonic, complete with the dreamy vocals from Ivana.  So for all the genres I’ve listed up top, they already take this experience even further with the progressive tendencies & psych-pop sound they’re exploring so ambitiously on the first tune of Hello.  It’s got jazzy & blues-like elements, it’s got an endearing sound that spreads out over the complex emotions under the surface & in the lyrics of “Antifragile” – it has what can only be considered to be a sound that’s completely rewarding to listen to.  The kind of subtle & smooth beginning that flashes hints of what’s to come while still easing you into the entire experience.  Listen to the production!  They’ve taken this on themselves as well, buried seventeen stories below the earth’s surface in their music-lab and studio they’ve set up in their hometown of Zagreb in Croatia…and from the sound of things, having that full-control of their own creative freedom is already working wonders.  For real – from the way the lead & backing vocals interact to the soaring guitar tones…you can absolutely hear everything, right up to the vibration of the strings as the notes ring out.  Bass is 100% killer – so rich & thick…it melts right into this song and helps carry the melody & direction strongly with the exquisite piano playing alongside it.  The pace of “Antifragile” is freakin’ captivating y’all…it’s a mesmerizing first experience with Hello and with The Basewalks if you haven’t heard them up to this point.  Heading right into the fourth minute, the vocals start really stealing the show for the melody in a perfect duet moment, the female/male combination of sounds truly complementing each other in compelling ways to listen to.

And you know…if I’m being completely honest…I’m not sure that things don’t get progressively better from here!  As much as I love “Antifragile” – every second of Hello continued to reveal amazing tune after amazing tune.  Because like…I mean as far as singles go…ain’t “Cave” just about as good as it gets?  The way I see it, what you’ll get out of this tune far surpasses going to get a hit at the oxygen bar or hooking yourself up to an IV drip – this tune is pretty much the definition of the energy you NEED.  Like, the bass-riff that starts this song is so freakin’ golden I’m damn near lost for words…and the way they’ve included killer aspects like feedback building up, the crackle & threatening of volume & distortion…and then controlled this chaos so perfectly into such a remarkably tight melody and final result…seriously, this cut is KILLER.  It’s like if you crossed “Good Morning Mr. Magpie” by Radiohead with the catalog of wildness from Beck…”Cave” is up-tempo, upbeat, movin’ & groovin’ the entire time & never lets go.  The drums are perfectly timed to drive the energy forward, lots of impressive fills and cymbals crashing, the synths add even more intensity to the vibe, and the vocals are such a magnificent fit for this tune that you really can’t help but notice absolutely EVERYTHING is going right here for The Basewalks.  “Cave” is gripping, unique in its own creativity, spectacular in high-quality sound, and really an all-out celebration of energy & really feeling the music…you can hear this moment take over the entire band & every player involved.  “Cave” is exactly what inspiration sounds like.  In terms of accessibility – it’s a song like this that could take a band from Croatia and catapult them easily around the globe – this cut is THAT KILLER and possesses an entire vibe that is sure to appeal to a whole ton of ears out there on faces everywhere.  And yes, let’s be clear – a hit song is a hit song…I’m not immune to liking them either.  You’re pretty much powerless when it comes to a track like “Cave” – you’d have to be stronger than steel to resist it.

“Cave” also serves to loosen-up the vibe and open-up the record to its most colorful sounds, ambitions, & ideas, as illustrated by “A64” following it.  Another jam you can really FEEL, “A64” and the wildly innovative & fun instrumentation it has packs a powerful punch; the depth of skill and creativity of this band shows absolutely no weak points.  The musicianship and vocals are perfectly on-point, the songwriting is killer, the production is as good as it gets and an immaculate fit for the sound they’re seeking…it’s tracks like this that highlight just how ready The Basewalks are for the big time.  “A64” is built on deep-funk grooves, indie-rock spirit, and like…at first I thought I was crazy, but there’s a distinct grunge-era influence in their music that you’ll find as well.  You can hear it on this tune for sure…it’s underneath the glitzy gloss & flashy sounds that “A64” has and more within the vocal approach I’d say, mostly in the chorus…but you’ll hear it…and you’ll definitely notice it even more in “Cynical Sandy” to follow.  Bottom line is, there’s so much going on in “A64” alone that the elements within it could fill another artist’s or band’s entire record…The Basewalks jam a noteworthy amount of ideas and killer sound into “A64” and start bringing a lil’ more attitude straight to the surface for all to hear.  I dig it.

“Cynical Sandy” is just about everything I always wished Hole became, but never did.  Ivana is nearly a dead-ringer for Courtney Love at her melodic best through the way she approaches the verses – but unlike Love, she’s got multiple gears and ways to morph her sound into something more.  So…kinda by the math there, you get something that sounds stripped right out of the grunge-era, but that offers you a more evolved take on the ideas by adding in the modern indie-pop hooks to it.  It ends up being quite an effective combination…grunge itself knew full well to lean on pop whenever it could…and this is definitely an example of that here as well.  The sway and lethargic pace are an extension of the ideas in the lyrics and attitude they display, making “Cynical Sandy” likely one of the more complete ideas all-around when it comes to the songwriting on Hello in many ways.  It’s not going to attack you for your attention, but it is a memorable cut that’s more than enjoyable.  Maybe I identify with “Cynical Sandy” a bit more…maybe Sandy and I are one and the same…maybe that’s why it seems like this song had such an oddly comforting vibe to it, despite the implied cynicism.  Through the different parts they’ll add into the mix, they take this song from what might remind you of Hole at the beginning into something more akin to The Cardigans or even more like The Submarines, mixing emotions brilliantly as they transition.

The versatile sounds on this record are ridiculously impressive.  What’s perhaps even more impressive is the fact that, as widespread as they are, each of these songs sound like they belong on Hello.  The Basewalks are carving out a true identity in their music and you can hear the cohesiveness in their material, even with the ideas, combinations, styles, and songs being so different from each other.  Take “Dark Blue” for example – they’ll pull you back into the more theatrical side of their sound with ease through a fantastically sensual & sleek performance from Ivana on the mic – she’s got real swagger on this tune that draws you in to listen.  Marko & Luka pour their hearts into the music surrounding her voice…really creating an audio-experience that takes you out of your own world and puts you firmly into theirs.  I love how they save moments like the backing-vocals for the latter-half of the song and the strength that adds to what we hear; Ivana’s been exceptional on her own – but make no mistake, whenever they combine their talents vocally, you get harmonies that are as spot-on as it gets & really magical moments that lift the energy up even further.  Great mix on those drum hits at the beginning of this tune – and once again, the pace & cleverness of the songwriting & execution is seriously enticing.  There’s an added innocence, sweetness, & humbleness to this particular tune that I really felt brought a lot of sincerity to the album; I love that you can still hear bizarre oddities in the atmosphere along the way from the music to the lyrics…but that as gentle as it appears, there’s actually quite a bit goin’ on in “Dark Blue.”  Taking a moment to highlight the instrumentation – LISTEN to the innovative way they approach the finale of this song…it’s 100% tight, but 100% loose at the same time…great vibe to it.

Where I think the most risk lies on Hello is in that back-to-back-to-back combination of mellow grooves & sounds of “Cynical Sandy,” “Dark Blue,” and “TBA.”  They each have their own highly redeeming qualities, but I can imagine that those outside of the art-rock/indie crowd might be looking for a bit more of the energy they found on “Cave” early on, which is more the exception than the rule.  So there’s that to factor-in & consider I suppose…but you’ll hardly find me complaining about what I’m personally finding here on this record from The Basewalks.  Ain’t nothin’ I’d change…hell, part of me feels like they made this album for ME!  I’ve been checking out Hello all week long or maybe even longer by now and each time I’ve listened, I just felt like I got more into the vibes & atmospheres they create.  Songs like “TBA” became more welcome…mixing that Hooverphonic/Mazzy Star/Belly-esque sound into more ambitious & colorful creations…like…what even IS that on “TBA” – is that a saxophone solo around the 3:15 mark?  I mean…it sure sounds like it could be…but whatever filter they’ve run it through or however they’ve altered it makes it even more exquisite to listen to.  Bass-lines and piano-lines are great, the accenting guitars make a massive contribution…the synth harmonica-sounds at the end of this tune are a killer final touch as well.  Almost has an early Coldplay sound to it as well at times in the verse…probably the piano-lines/vocals that create that effect…but just as they have with all of their tunes on Hello so far, The Basewalks find smooth ways to transition “TBA” into something grander.

As far as my ears are concerned, they’ve managed to do that with this entire record.  I think it opens strong, surges into its most energetic moments, and dials-back smoothly to its finale with “Petula Sky,” which in many ways, in my opinion, might just be the most stunning song on the entire album.  I get that it’s a fourth mellow tune in a row for The Basewalks…but it feels like it’s stripped back purposefully in a progression that becomes the most spare moment on the album, “Petula Sky.”  While it might have less ingredients in the mix here…there’s not a single doubt about how each element involved adds up to a spectacularly subtle highlight on Hello right at the end.  The hazy, dreamy, piano-led indie tune they’ve written here is exceptional in its lyrical imagery and the emotion in the vocals…nothing is forced here; everything about “Petula Sky” trips out slowly and carefully…fantastic distance between the vocals in the music both in how we hear it sonically and the successful intentions of the theme at work.  You float through this song with them…the longest one on their new album…but again, in my opinion, I would have easily taken an additional thirty-minutes of this song without hesitation.  That being said – it’s easy to cheat when it comes to that…just hit the repeat button and drift as far into this vibe as you can.  If you’ve ever witnessed Ewan McGregor sink right into the carpet during Trainspotting…well…”Petula Sky” is basically that whole feeling…this entire vibe surrounds you immaculately.  And then it happens.  That’s RIGHT – there’s MORE.  The final minute-plus of “Petula Sky” makes one last twist in direction and melody, revealing what very well could be the most powerful hook you’ll find on all of Hello – how is THAT for an ending folks?  The Alt/Indie sound they’ve discovered at the end of this song is truly far beyond brilliant and a perfect ending for not just the song, but for the album itself…that’s the kind of memorable impact you want to bring the people back again & again to listen.  I know I will be.

More than impressed with The Basewalks…I think they’ve really created an amazing record here that satisfies from beginning to end through an entire range of ideas and energies, melodies and methods.  I also think it’s fair to expect that this band is going to get better & better as time goes on – they’ve displayed remarkable professionalism from moment one and demonstrated that their sound has no limitations when it comes to what they’re capable of.  They’ve got the ideas, they’ve got the skills to execute them, they’ve got the passion to make it all happen…and they’ve got me believing in them.  I think The Basewalks are just getting started into what’s going to be a long & fruitful career in music and I already can’t wait to hear whatever comes next from this crew.

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