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Illicit Hugs and Playground Thugs

The Basement

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Album Review

The Basement hail from Ireland but their real home lies in the same boozy country-rock territory as the Thrills, Marah, and the Kooks, to name a few recent contenders. It's a place where beer is spilled as lads cut loose and lick their wounds, where tattered romance flows like cheap wine and bands like the Byrds, the Replacements, and the Band prop up the bar in the Hall of Fame. Their debut, Illicit Hugs and Playground Thugs, is a loose-limbed romp that makes no great claim on originality but has enough heart and soul, and big fat hooks to make it damn near essential for anyone who likes tears in their beer and a stirring song on the jukebox. Singer John Mullin has a magically terrible voice that fits the music and the ramshackle, melancholy mood perfectly; he's wracked with emotion on the heart-tugging ballads, woozy and lopsided on the staggering rockers. His lyrics won't win prizes, but they aren't embarrassing, sometimes even quite good. The band backing him is quite good as well, able to get quite rowdy ("Do You Think You're Moving On?," "Medicine Face") or tender ("When the Night's Gone Blue," "The Cheapest Mistake") with the some degree of acumen. Unlike bands who are content to just set up in the studio and blast through their set (which admittedly does work sometimes), the quartet and producer Mike Crossey layer in all kinds of well-placed extras in the form of keyboards, strings, and percussion that bring the album fully to life. Especially valuable in this regard is the work of guitarist Mark McCausland, who doesn't play any clichéd licks and adds excellent banjo on "A Roadtrip," flowing acoustic picking on "It's a Kinda Love," and an overall freshness to the guitar work throughout. That's really the main thing the Basement have going for them; they bring energy and enthusiasm to a sound that might sound tired or hokey if not delivered so forcefully. Illicit Hugs and Playground Thugs is one of 2007's hidden gems.

Biography

Formed: 2002 in Omagh, Northern Ireland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

The group the Basement took their name from a line in Bob Dylan's song "Subterranean Homesick Blues," which should give listeners a clue to their influences — the band puts their greatest emphasis on their songwriting, and mix up folk, pop, and country sounds with a tuneful, organic approach. The Basement were formed in early 2002 by three longtime friends, John Mullin (lead vocals and guitar), Mark McCausland (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), and Declan McManus (drums, and not to be...
Full bio
Illicit Hugs and Playground Thugs, The Basement
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