I know it's been a frustrating past few weeks here and I wanted to give you all an update. A few days ago while installing the new Mac OS Snow Leopard by computer's HD totally bit the dust. Unfortunately I will need to get a completely new HD before I'll be up and running again so expect this blog to have no activity for at least the next week / week and a half. The good news is that all of my music is backed up. See you soon!
This live document from an Auckland, New Zealand gig in 1982 gained notoriety more from its rare status than its quality as a live recording featuring the group in all their menacing pre-Brix era glory. The band is mostly tight, though the drumming gets a bit ropey in places, but perfection was never the Fall's reason for being. "Room to Live," "Fantastic Life," "No Xmas for John Quays," and "The Classical" are all delivered with a fury by Smith, who uses live gigs to extend and improvise on the themes outlined in the studio versions. A few rarities -- "Backdrop" and "Solicitor in Studio" -- made this worth picking up for the more than casual fan. The album was shoddily released on CD in 1997 by Cog Sinister, mastered apparently from a dusty copy of the original vinyl, skips included.
Jefferies' full solo debut features his return to vocals. It also presents one of the most amazing collections of New Zealand musicians around to assist him; the guest list practically reads like a combination of the Flying Nun and Xpressway rosters, with Bruce Russell, Alastair Galbraith, Kathy Bull, Robbie Yeats, and Michael Morley being just some of the participants. This is still Jefferies' album all the way, though. The fantastic job he does with it is a wonder, working his unique blend of indirect fierceness and restrained passion, lyrically and musically, to newer heights. His piano playing and drumming understandably take pride of place here, as does his unusual speak-singing baritone (though sometimes this crops up in different contexts than before). "Domesticia," for instance, features him singing an a cappella rumination as various kitchen and household noises rattle and clash around him. Perhaps his most moving composition ever (and one of the few on the album he does entirely by himself), "On an Unknown Beach," features just him and his piano, revisiting the darker impulses of his This Kind of Punishment days, but here with a strong, new emotionalism and a finely honed sense of moody beauty. His penchant for tape manipulation and inventive production remains strong throughout; "The House of Weariness" is particularly striking on this point, as heavily flanged vocals from Jefferies play over a calm piano line while other odd noises and vocals appear and disappear almost randomly. The Ajax reissue adds the contemporaneous "Fate of the Human Carbine" single that Jefferies recorded with Robbie Muir as a bonus; its gentle, brooding tension and the almost-rollicking guitar crunch "Catapult" on the flipside further add to the appeal of this excellent album.
I think it's fair for anyone to accuse me of slacking off a bit for "Kiwi Week". Unfortunately some real life stuff got in the way and prevented me from having as much free time as I originally anticipated. Kiwi Week will continue through this week and then we will return to our regularly scheduled programming.
If you have any submissions for Kiwi week, please contact me at decrepittapes (AT) gmail (dot) com
A major work from this New Zealand indie group, A Cuppa Tea and a Lie Down comes highly recommended to those in love with the sophisticated and delicate arrangements of the New Zealand rock scene's Flying Nun label sound. While some of their peers in the productive period of '80s and '90s down under produced edgy, loud guitar music inside the framework of pop, Able Tasmans temper their largely acoustic sound with keyboards and acoustic arrangements in place of corrosive guitars. The songs are built on the delicate threshold of complexity/simplicity, filled out with lush arrangements and dreamy atmospheres that call to mind Fairport Convention. A great album filled with sweet and crafty pop songs that will hold much appeal to fans of intelligent guitar pop; Yo la Tengo, Belle & Sebastian, the Bats, and Television Personalities spring to mind.
Bringing together the talents of Peter Jefferies on drums and vocals and Kathy Bull on bass, vocals and guitar, along with guitarist/singer Bruce Blucher and singer/keyboardist Andre Richardson, Cyclops produced this one fine album mostly taken from a series of sessions in 1991 and 1992. Unsurprisingly each performer brings something from their own particular backgrounds in New Zealand underground rock, together resulting in a casual but not lazy series of songs that sounds like it was good fun to perform. This said, much of the dank, crumbling sound of Kiwi experimentalism runs unsurprisingly rampant. Recording, often overseen by noted producer/engineer Steven Kilroy on four or eight track machines, is lo-fi well before that became a hip phrase, thick and rough, but with a passion that comes through on every note. "Lunar Fall," a wonderful number written and sung by Bull, is a great example; its soaring guitar would seem to demand U2-style production levels, but recorded in the lovely haze as it is, it sounds much more affecting as a result, her vocals just right as well. Blucher is the chief songwriter and singer for the line-up, but everything much more like a collaboration than simply an interpretation of other's work, such is the feeling of the songs. When the various members experiment with other instruments, such as Bull's mandolin on "Gurgie Throat" or Blucher's ragged trumpet on, unsurprisingly, "Fallen Golden Trumpets," the results are even more effective, adding more variety to the low-key flow of the album. Other highlights include the Richardson/Blucher duet on "Steel White Bed," with another beautiful guitar line and crush in the background of the mix, and the no-percussion-needed "Spolcyc," with all members but Bull present and using keyboards and guitar to create the soundtrack to a gruesome spoken word tale.
The only release of a very short lived band that featured Graeme Jefferies on guitar. The real winner on the album is "Good Evening Listeners" which is the track that the band is most recognized for. Pretty standard jangly kiwi-rock that's not at all unlike The Chills' early material.
Toy Love was a New Zealand alternative/punk rock band fronted by Chris Knox. Other members were guitarist Alec Bathgate, bass player Paul Kean, drummer Mike Dooley, and keyboard player Jane Walker. The band developed out of the earlier punk band The Enemy in Dunedin, New Zealand, and are often regarded as the progenitors of the Dunedin Sound movement.
While Dadamah is often seen as another step along the way in the artistic path of Roy Montgomery, he'd be the first to agree that does a disservice to his equally talented bandmates. Singer/bassist Kim Pieters writes the fascinating if sometimes hard to read liner notes for this complete career overview, while there's also keyboardist/backing vocalist Janine Stass as well. Together the trio continued the by-then well-established Kiwi underground music tradition of shadowy, haunting music and production, helped by noted figure in said scene Peter Stapleton, who also took care of drumming as needed. Unless the consistently aggro noise fests of, say, the Dead C or Gate, Dadamah also draw on a generally more spare but no less compelling approach, often building up arrangements and then settling back again, or else maintaining a continuing steady, gently addictive pace. There's the roots of Montgomery's work in the Pin Group, naturally, with its own echoes of Joy Division and early Cure, but there's also a very strange, folky vibe as well that at points suggests the work done half a world away by Dave Pearce in Flying Saucer Attack. Both Pieters and Montgomery's singing draws on the more idiosyncratic post-punk approach to vocals, eschewing technical skill in favor of just getting it out. Whether it's Pieters' higher, sometimes wailing approach or Montgomery's stern, strained and reflective singing, though, words and music almost always go very well together throughout. Stass' keyboard work, meanwhile, adds even more of a strange, odd edge to proceedings. Sometimes the tone is almost a bit jaunty, as the swinging skip and burbling keyboard notes of the lengthy "Too Hot to Dry," sung by Pieters, shows, even with the usual murky production style. With highlights like the Montgomery-sung "High Tension House," where the title phrase comes from, and the truly tripped, Pieters-sung "Radio Brain," This is Not a Dream is well worth investigating.
This CD collects all six of Roy Montgomery's solo singles -- until 1999 anyway -- a rare single from his band the Swallows in 1985, and four previously unreleased tracks. The Swallows' single had the word "legendary" written all over it when people here in the U.S. finally got hip to Montgomery as a solo artist. It was rated with his original Pin Group material and as being better than either Dadamah or Dissolve, his other group projects. They're pleasant tunes dealing with arty subjects and rather '60s-ish backing vocals. They do feature Montgomery's guitar style as already developed, and on "Trial by Separation," they present Montgomery's only known surf guitar solo. The rare tracks, including a demo single (production run: one copy) made from an art gallery wander called "Submerged and Colorful," is catchy even without drums, and a song from a poem written by his cousin ("Cousin Song") is compelling for its hypnotic acoustic guitar effect. Of the official "singles," "Film as a Subversive Art," "Just Melancholy," "Times Three," and "Strange Attractor" b/w "On the Road, No. 1" are the most compelling.
Temple IV stands as a watermark for New Zealand guitarist Roy Montgomery. His fully developed guitar style is stolidly in evidence, as is his lyrical improvisational ability. Temple IV refers to an actual place in Tikal in the Northern Guatemalan rain forest. According to the notes, Montgomery bribed his way onto the site and stayed there an entire night. Most importantly, this album is Montgomery's attempt at grieving a life partner who passed away. He recorded the album during his nine-month stay in New York on East 13th Street. Much of his deeply creative work was recorded during this stay, including "Scenes From a South Island," and a number of his singles. But Temple IV is his crowning achievement of the period. From its long, opening movement of the 12-minute "She Waits on Temple IV," where two subtly psychedelic guitar lines entwine and syncopate each other as both melody and rhythm, while a third plays a chorded accompaniment deep in the background as a support for the other parts; it asserts itself only as a musical accent in the spaces in between lines. The work addresses an encounter -- a meeting -- between Montgomery and something much larger, though undefined: the feeling of approach is everywhere. In "Departing the Body," both the spirit of death and transcendence are underlined. The slow, droning punctuation of chords offer a tunnel-like vision through this clearly haunted piece. There are sounds at the seams of it that are unidentifiable and the motion of wind through the strings at first comes whistling, then howling, as uncontrolled feedback through the mix. It never unsettles the chord progression, but it never relents either. As "The Soul Quietens" begins, a shift takes place; where one form meets another as Montgomery's guitars are muted almost to the point of whispering. The reason soon becomes apparent as he moves the sonic metaphor from death into life again, where the former physical body means less than nothing to its future one. "The Passage of Forms" is the dais on which the album turns: from shape into shapeless; from form into formless; and back into form again. Montgomery pulls out every dynamic effect he has at his disposal, from microtonal triad explorations to overtone lead sequences and semi-quavers masquerading as melody; all of it wrapped in an effects box and wired for an improvisation that counts as much on timing as it does on inspiration. This is truly ghost music, made by a medium through which the world of voiceless sound speaks its name. When the next shape emerges on "Jaguar Meets Snake," all hell breaks loose and feedback fights feedback for domination in the mix. But what takes place after this is the result of the process of musical, spiritual, and bodily transformation -- all held in memory of the creator 5,000 miles from its actual articulation. The disc ends with "Jaguar Unseen": a shimmering piece where the acoustic and electric guitars glisten together in a light body of sound. Tiny little melody lines ring out of the echoes, not completely present, but enough to be made aware of. The lines cascade simply over the chords and slip gradually away into silence and disappearance with only the reverbed effect left to hint at any evidence of a presence at all. Temple IV is literally a work of musical alchemy. It takes personal experience through the awesome -- and awful -- power of memory, and transforms it into a sonic presence that becomes an invisible aural storyteller to the listener's own psychic domain. It haunts; cajoles; taunts; seduces; and even comforts with its use of nuance, timing, and dynamic and opaque shape-shifting elegance. Montgomery, as the interlocutor of the devices by which the muse speaks, is blessed and cursed with the gift of offering it to us. His own personal vision of it all was given him by his muse in the depth of his grief; one dark night of Temple IV.
On their sole Flying Nun album, this avant- punk trio created a paranoid and edgy brand of rock similar to labelmates the Gordons and Bill Direen. This recording from '84 is a precursor to their later incarnation in the '90s as Trash, where they continued to sound like a combination of the Velvet Underground and Motorhead as they had defined it a decade earlier. "Legless" is antipodean slang for drunkenness, and the wall of Joy Division-like guitar noise cascade and skittering propulsive rhythm is certainly intoxicating. A post-punk obscurity that holds up over time as one of the more muscular releases on the Flying Nun label, a stable where delicacy and sophistication flourishes in the indie guitar world, it is curious that throughout the years would throw out wild card like this. Having the angular energy of Gang of Four style art punk, this is anomaly in the catalog along with the Dead C's "D.R.503."
The title track to Alec Bathgate's first solo album ponders the peculiar trappings of fame: "50,000,000 Elvis fans can't be wrong/I guess they knew it all along. If you want to be a star, go today/buy a suit of gold lame." Well, it's unlikely that this particular Gold Lame outfit will turn Bathgate into a household name of Presley's stature. That said, this album is still pretty damned neat. This collection of three-minute, '60s-inspired toe-tappers has a number of high points, including the backward-guitar-bedecked "Win Your Love," a cover of Leonard Dillon's reggae standard "Train to Skaville," and the garage-y sounding "Pet Hates" (which was actually recorded in Bathgate's garage; how's that for authenticity?). With 16 tracks, Gold Lame may overstay its welcome. Still, this Tall Dwarf's album is no small achievement.
Not a bad collection of Heazlewood. I'd lent some assistance to his self-released cassette Raefink and it seemed like a good idea to do this one. Shortly after I had a falling out with him, as most people do at some point, and that encouraged roe mightily to kick the label in the head. This must be one of the least common ones, I think we made about 150 copies.
There is a sound to twisted music-it's a sound that is bent, wild, and wrecked and it's usually the work of a deranged and comically brilliant amalgam of musicians. Flipper had it early on, but the band who epitomized that "sensibility" was New Zealand's Axemen. Ironically, bands who practice such unrestrained mania fused with such a sparkling sense of humor are often seemingly fit with an aggressive desire to be taken deadly seriously. I've seen exchanges in the NZ monthly Rip It Up whose The Axemen fought tooth and nail with those who challenged their "seriousness," all the while releasing gloriously biting and deranged bits of mind shatter. I have to assume that was all part of the fun.
Heazlewood seems almost too angry and selfconsciously hip at times to carry this muse, but early solo projects like Hellmouth 666 are very much in Axernen's territory. Robert Cardy (one of the mighty Axemnen) even wrote the one cover song here. Unlike The Axemen, though, Heazlewood's style is much denser, with guitars drenched in a thick and fuzzy overdrive. Heazlewood's songs don't always have the shambolic humor of the Axemen, but songs like "Who's Dead-essentially a dialogue of "you're dead" "No you're dead"-is a scream. I'd call Hellmouth 666 winning, I'd call it. what's the word I'm looking for? Oh yeah.. . supergood!
Peter Jefferies and Peter Gutteridge were neighbours for awhile in 1988 and got to know one another quite well. From time to time we'd hear demos he was recording with Snapper and on his own, and after the first Snapper EP came out we persuaded him to let us put out some demos. Several tracks on this were basically the first version of that band when they were still really worth the hype. There were some other demos done around the same time which have never seen official release but were better than anything they ever put out. I'd have liked to have had them on this tape, but you can't always get what you want.
Although Peter Gutteridge was a founding member of The Clean with David and Hamish Kilgour in the late-70s, documentation of his collaborations with the Kilgours is limited to one Clean classic (the Gutteridge-penned "Point That Thing Somewhere Else") and one-half of The Great Unwashed's post-Clean Singles EP. Gutteridge was apparently not suited to The Clean's mission. Where the Kilgours seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly, Gutteridge expressed darker and much less upbeat sentiments. Gutteridge seemed to leave The Clean and The Great Unwashed as quickly as he joined, and his early- to mid-80s outfits, The Cartilidge Family (with Shayne Carter and an ever changing line-up of local Dunedin luminaries) and The Phromes, went from start to finish with no released documentation. It was not until Snapper's first EP for Flying Nun in 1988 that Gutteridge returned to recorded mediums and began to fulfill his promise; shortly thereafter this collection of 1986-87 demos, collaborations, and oddities surfaced and explained some of those lost years. With their analog synthesizer, trance-like rhythms, and krautrock sensibilities, Peter Gutteridge and his bandSnapper prefigured Britain's Stereolab by about 3 years.
But while Snapper never cultivated that sound with the precision of Stereolab or produced consistent releases bust one EP, two LPs, and a handful of 7"s in 9 years Gutteridge and Snapper have created some beautifully hypnotic records. On Pure, Gutteridge's version of Snapper's sound. Archaic rhythm boxes and sustaining prog-rock guitar add a kind of low rent variation, with much of the equipment sounding dated (some sounds are reminiscent of late-70s video games like Frogger). Two tracks here would later be recreated for Snapper's first EP-"Cause of You" (appearing here as an instrumental) and "Hang On"-while "Thumbiline" prefigures the sound of "Snapper and the Ocean" and "Dead Pictures" from Snapper's first [Pre-Shotgun Blossom. All of the original Snapper line-up perform here in some capacity along with The Puddle's George Henderson and sometime-Dead C. compatriate Richard Steele. "Planet Phrom" particularly, with Christine Voice and former-Verlaines drummer Alan Haig, offers an early taste of Snapper.
QMP were a female quartet hailing out of Auckland, NZ. Formerly known as Angelhead (then based in Dunedin) they released a cassette on Bruce Russell's legendary Xpressway label around 1991 or so. A move north & a name change, they released their debut 7" on Flying Nun sometime in early '92. Then it was on to Siltbreeze for the follow-up (early '93). 'The Darkling' is 5 tracks of dark, tempered, post-post punk. I guess you could say there's a Raincoats vibe going on here, but they had to go through (pre Daydream Nation) Sonic Youth to get it.
The original versions of "Crossover" and "Wined Up," done first as a collaboration with Stephen Kilroy before being re-recorded for Electricity, surface here; the former's electric aggression contrasts well with the acoustic album take, though "Wined Up" isn't too far removed from the more familiar version, with slightly more echoed vocals.
The four songs from Peter Jefferies' double single with Robbie Muir are clear winners: "Image of a Single Thought" matches his lovely piano/synth string arrangement with a low-key, nervous guitar pluck from Muir, while "Don't Call Me, I'll Call You" builds into a gentle surge, Jefferies' drumming being as notable here as his keyboards. "Swerve," meanwhile, has a flat-out lovely piano/vocal break after a similarly subtle but sharp guitar-accompanied start, and "A Chorus of Interludes" continues the beautiful flow with acoustic and electric guitar, more wonderful piano, and just a little bit of musical drama for effect.
Nigel has rooms full of old machines. Many of them found their way onto this album. He’s also a visual artist (mostly pencil and watercolor), a cinematographer and a photographer, developing his own films and photos in his flat in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Anyone that’s heard his music no doubt first became familiar with him via the seminal New Zealand compilation Killing Capitalism with Kindness (1992). His contribution “Goodbye God Baby Goodbye” (included in this collection) set the world on end for just over two minutes. It’s a disorienting and exhilarating listen, with primitive computer gurgles and plinked guitar set alongside Nigel’s disturbingly droll vocals. Besides a couple more compilation appearances and a rare lathe cut 7” EP, nothing else was released by Mr. Bunn.
Alastair Galbraith (Emperor Jones’ resident Pacific Rim A&R dude) coaxed/tricked Nigel into assembling a double album of his work, and the result is this impressive body of work Nigel calls Index. It’s largely instrumental and a good bit of it is loop-based, with pulsating guitar songs. But ultimately all of his music is simply beautiful and his vision alone.
One of my all-time favorite singles to come out of New Zealand. The Terminals are a criminally under rated band who come from the same school of approach as bands like Bauhaus, Wire & The Velvet Underground. The A-Side title track is their signature tune that wraps itself around a dirge-y beat with reverb drenched surf guitars and warped spacy keyboards. Stephen Cogle's unique vocals take the track to the next level as the tension slowly builds. The B-Side is an absolutely ace run through of Roxy Music's "Both Ends Burning" that is cut from the same musical cloth as the flip side. The darker tone really adds to the song and definitely puts it above the original.
The pioneering New Zealand noise group hints at mysticism on this outing, and such sentiments channeled through guitars, bass, and drums makes for a compelling listen through two side-long suites of corrosive feedback and swaying slow-motion rhythm. The Operation of the Sonne is like a hybrid of Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising -- for all its paranoia -- fused with the metric propulsion of Faust's "Krautrock." The Dead C begin this scorching set with a collage of overdriven synth improvisation and pulsating sine waves accompanying a deadpan vocal courtesy of guitarist Bruce Russell. By the closing suite on side two, the twin guitars of Russell and Michael Morley are interlocked into wavering feedback tendrils that float over an almost funky rhythmic network provided by drummer Robbie Yeates. The trio levitates into one of the most hypnotic jams of its '90s recordings, and this passage is elating for the fact that it appears to grow out of nowhere. How infrequently such inspired improvisation is caught on record. From a group that specializes in such freeform strategies, this is a highly recommended chapter in the Dead C's vast discography.
The New Zealand noise group known as Gate is the guise of one man, Michael Morley, guitarist with the post-punk/noise rock group Dead C. Throughout the '90s he produced a string of trance-inducing drone rock albums on the Table of the Elements label that present simplistic songs inside clouds of feedback and static noise drone. If the opening track shocks with its blatant sampled use of the Rolling Stones you will soon have forgotten the jab of humor and be engulfed in a drone guitar texture that sustains through the entire album, culminating in a cover version of Faust's "Jennifer" that is almost unrecognizable. Similarities to his full-time group Dead C are apparent thanks to his voice and guitar sound, although the album resembles a somewhat less brutal incarnation of the group and works with massive walls of guitar noise that are close to Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine.
It's utterly unclear who is helping Michael Morley on this particular release -- there's nothing listed about the album in a technical sense beyond title, songs, and some design and contact information -- but whether it's just him or with others, he comes up with another fine album here. In many ways, The Dew Line is one of the most Dead C-like of Gate releases; certainly the familiar aesthetic of non-crisp recording techniques and dank, clanging guitar fuzz is in full effect here, and in some places all that's needed is Robbie Yeats' drumming to complete the picture. There is in fact some sort of percussion here and there, though it's not at all clear what's producing it. The combination of muffled, almost stumbling beats and ominous, dark drones (possibly from organ?) on "Needed All Words" makes it a highlight of the album, one of the finest songs in that threatening vein Morley has worked on. "Venerable Clouds" is another highlight, a bit of a multi-part song with an initial huge guitar charge followed by a brief period of random static before even better free noise crunch and moan kick in. "Autolevel," meanwhile, is actually fairly audible when it comes to the singing, or at least clearer than most similar Morley experiments, though there's still a ragged edge to the vocals which suits the fried, rambling jam of the music. Add appropriately grey-silver cover art to all this and the whole thing is a cross between ambient music of the most unlikely kind and extremism that works on many different levels, and why not?
The final TKP release stripped the band down to its core members the Jefferies brothers, though they brought in a number of guests to help out, including such notables as Alastair Galbraith, Michael Morley and Shayne Carter. The resulting effort covers much stylistic ground while still clearly being the focused effort of the siblings and their at-times aurally dank but always compelling musical and lyrical vision. Peter again handles most of the vocals in his semi-chanting way, though Graeme has his tracks here and there (his vocal-and-guitar "The Men by the Pool" is a definite highlight, at once gentle and unusual); even Morley takes the lead on one number, the measured stomp "Holding," which he also wrote solo. "Overground in China" is one of the lightest things TKP tried, with gentle guitar strums and uplifting piano counterpoint providing most of the music, yet Peter's quietly gripping vocals mark this as no other band but TKP. "On Various Days" is actually a bit of a ringer, having been recorded during the Beard sessions, but fits in here well as the album's center track, with Graeme turning in some excellent guitar work to carry the song. Interestingly, Peter avoids piano on many tracks, preferring instead to play his other main instrument, drums, while Graeme plays guitars, creating an even more stripped-down and "close" sound than before -- slightly ironic given that the record was made in an actual studio and not on a portable four-track! Straightforward guitar thrash turns up more than once, as on "Immigration Song" and the quiet-into-loud "Don't Go," yet Peter's vocals remain the cryptic calm point in the storm throughout. In retrospect, Same remains a fine, striking conclusion to TKP's underneath-the-radar career.
Whilst Chris Matthews was struggling within the pop-confines of the Prime Movers, Johnny Pierce (bass), Grant Fell (guitar) and Bevan Sweeney (drums) were forming their own sound as Children's Hour. More intense and experimental than what the Headless Chickens eventually became (Children's Hour were essentially the chooks in their original incarnation), they fused electronic and analog instrumentation, and wrote thoroughly brooding rock music that actually went rather unnoticed. Matthews (vocals / guitar) eventually joined the trio in 1983, and it was this line-up that released two eps on Flying Nun - and went on to tour New Zealand. Fell left for Australia, but after a short-absence, the group eventually reformed as the International Headless Chickens, and with Fell back in line (and the 'international' dropped), the Headless Chickens went on to become one of New Zealands' most successful bands.
The band were the brainchild of Brothers Dan and Nino Birch who as teenagers found themselves resident in the creatively inspiring environment of Wellington New Zealand in the late 70's and early eighties. There was a strong post punk arts scene there called the terrace scene so named because it revolved around a few houses on the street 'the terrace' up behind the main business district of wellington.
Like many of their stable-mates, the band hailed from the southern city of Dunedin. They formed from the ashes of The DoubleHappys, a band comprising Shayne Carter, Wayne Elsey and John Collie. The tragic accidental death of Elsey saw Carter and Collie join forces with David Wood in 1986 to form Straitjacket Fits. Andrew Brough (from The Orange) signed on the following year, adding a foil in the form of pop sensibility to Carter's more raucous songwriting. From their inception, the sound of the band was marked by the seemingly incongruous but highly effective pairing of Carter's rough abrasive voice and strident guitar and Andrew Brough's saccharine-sweet vocals and pop hooks.
The band left Dunedin, briefly moving to Christchurch, before making the shift to the country's main marketplace, Auckland in 1988. Their first album Hail was produced by Terry Moore (a former member of The Chills) and was released later that year.
And indeed, there it is on the cover. There's not much in the way of commentary or anything about that, though, so either call it a wry Kiwi joke at the Yanks' expense or just something that looked nice enough to use. Consisting of six tracks of unsurprisingly varying length -- fairly short or totally long -- in ways The White House is Dead C as per usual and in others a bit of a diversion from the usual form. Notably, there's evidence of relatively more production -- while it's hardly hard-disk billion-track digital sound or the like, there's effect pedals galore and senses of very careful arrangement as opposed to simply upping the shadowy, crumbling sound factor. Further keyboards and other strange noises from who knows where also slip into things. The off-kilter tones and noises on "The New Snow" sound a bit like Perry and Kingsley going nuts, at least here and there, while the usual noise, fuzz and detuned strangeness skips around the mix. Then there's the minute long "Aime to Prochain Comme toi meme," which could be anything from minimal guitars to kalimba. At the same time, there's songs like the majestic "Bitcher," with a just-epic enough swoop to it, sticking to a big and bold sound along with some heavy-duty flanging throughout on the lead guitar. Morley's vocals, when they appear, are much more cryptic and hard to understand than ever, almost providing a hook here and there. Absolutely no credits are provided beyond song listings, so if anyone helped, that's a mystery -- otherwise it's clearly the three doing once again what needs doing in Dead C land. Ending with one of the band's best ever songs -- the steady, addictive pace and surge of "Outside" -- The White House is another fine effort from New Zealand's best kept secret.
Spare yet astonishingly powerful at the same time, TKP's second full release remains an unjustly ignored highlight of post-punk rock, building tension in ways not far removed from the likes of Joy Division and the Comsat Angels, but too, building with their own distinct, restrained qualities, heightened by the instrumental variety throughout, from mandolin to electric viola. The recording's claustrophobic feel resulting from its four-track origins could earn the album a 'lo-fi' classification if it weren't for the fact that TKP relentlessly avoid the sloppy clichés that such a category might call to mind. Beard avoids conventional drum rhythms at many points, relying instead on odd percussion boxes and Peter Jefferies' careful, imposing piano to support the low end along with the bass. Beginning with the ominous instrumental "Prelude," with Peter handling keyboards and brother Graeme on plucked violin, the album wends a haunting way through fractured lyrical portraits of existential dilemmas, eschewing "grand statements" in favor of intimate portraits, like the ex-party goer in "The Horrible Hour," well-sung by adjunct member Chris Matthews. Though the Jefferies brothers perform just about everything on most tracks, with Peter taking the lion's share of the vocals, various others add contributions from time to time, including "smashing of beer crates" on "East Meets West," which starts calmly enough but has a frightening, though low-key midsection with sudden screams and other buried noises. Quite wisely, not everything is completely awash in gloom. "An Open Denial" for instance, while not a knee-slapper by any means, captures the ear with its flat-out beauty, Peter's deep yet wistful vocals matching well with his piano as Graeme adds shading from violin, guitar, and bass. It could almost be something from Bark Psychosis or even late Talk Talk years before its time -- one of many ways Beard stands clearly apart from the era of its creation.
The New Zealand post-industrial group formed in 1979 and throughout the '80s recorded for the Flying Nun label. The outsiders of the stable, the group was miles apart from the sophisticated pop the label championed and was an extraordinary entity whose music transcended any genre title thrown at it. Expanding on the rock form, their final album reflected elements of post-punk groups such as P.I.L., the lumbering sonic weight of the Swans, and Einstürzende Neubauten, although Amalgam is a music of absolute self-invention. This extraordinary album carries a bleak intellectual and emotional weight accredited to vocalist David D'Arth, who tragically died of Leukemia shortly after the album's completion in 1990. The complexity of their arrangements is dramatic and seemingly effortless -- beyond the capabilities one would expect from a rock band. The sampler played a prominent role with the arrangement of songs, and sinuous dub-inflected rhythm compliments the singing and spoken text, set amidst a constantly evolving texture of samples. Drummer Brent McGlachlan and guitarist John Halvorsen shared a parallel membership in Bailterspace, and those familiar with soaring dramatic guitarscapes of that group will find similarities in Skeptics, although their turgid sound comes from a darker place.
Siltbreeze's Retrospective is a re-issued collection of recordings by New Zealand's seminal Pin Group (fronted by Roy Montgomery) -- the disc includes the "Ambivalence"/"Columbia" 7" (actually the first single issued on the Flying Nun label), the "Coat"/"Jim" 7", the Pin Group Goes to Town EP, a live cover of War's "Low Rider" and two low-fi studio tracks recorded during the group's 1993 "reunion." The band's sound -- a huge influence on the incredible New Zealand pop scene of the '80s -- was a decidedly post-punk approach that started off sounding very much like Joy Division or an extremely stripped-down version of Echo and the Bunnymen's early work -- over the band's brief career, however, the shimmery, jangly aspects of antipodean pop slowly emerged. Retrospective is a perfect collection of this material, since most of the band's original releases are incredibly scarce -- it's a vital addition to the record collection of anyone with an interest in the New Zealand/Flying Nun pop scene, and an excellent example of post-punk and its influence in New Zealand.
The Roys carved a niche out for themselves with this brief release. Full of moody but melodic distorted guitar lines, crashing drums and plain but likeable vocals, on the face of it the Roys' LP sounds like something almost any of their South Island brethren could have made. But the edgy, elliptical lyrics and the incredibly dynamic music churning behind them are unique. NZ music lovers seeking something beyond the Chills/Bats/Clean/Verlaines axis but unwilling to commit themselves to the extremes of the Xpressway camp will find a lot to enjoy on this remarkable album, one that ranks with the best that the South Island had to offer. The album saw CD issue (with the two best tracks from a preceding EP as a bonus) in Germany on Flying Nun Europe and is not too hard to get find in that format.
While Split Enz came first and hit bigger worldwide, one could argue that there would be no New Zealand rock scene as it is known today if it weren't for the Clean; the sainted Flying Nun label was formed to put out their debut single, their willingness to go the D.I.Y. route in recording their early material set the standard for any number of bands (Kiwi and otherwise), and their playful yet aggressive mixture of pop hooks, jagged guitar lines, neo-Velvets minimalism, and edgy wit paved the way for the Bats, the Chills, the Verlaines, the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, and a handful of other bands who helped New Zealand develop its own musical identity for the first time. Despite their importance and longevity, the Clean have never been especially well-served on record in the United States; their important early singles and EPs received little circulation in America, and their post-reunion albums have been only sporadically available, thanks to the collapse of several indie labels. Anthology isn't the perfect remedy to this situation, but it comes close; it's a superb overview of the Clean's career, with the classic Boodle Boodle Boodle and Great Sounds EPs included in their entirety on disc one (along with several crucial singles and outtakes), while disc two skims off the cream of the later albums Vehicle, Modern Rock, and Unknown Country (four outtakes from the Modern Rock sessions are thrown in for good measure). A thoroughly enjoyable introduction to an important and influential band, Anthology will also fill in plenty of gaps in the collections of American fans; anyone with more than a passing interest in the Clean will find plenty to revel in here.
First emerging in 1989 and then re-released some three years later, Eusa Kills is a perfect balance between relative accessibility and thoroughly, truly gone experimental guitar work. As an encapsulation of what could be called the two chief trends of New Zealand rock-punk-inspired chime via Flying Nun and the vaunted "crumbling guitar" of the Xpressway underground -- it works very well, saying what has to be said in a mere 35 minutes. Opening cut "Scarey Nest" starts things out on just the right note -- if the Chills had done it, say, nobody would have blinked an eye at the overall song structure, but the performance is just low-key, lo-fi, and mysterious enough. Then there's the distinctly more fractured sense of songs like "Now I Fall" and especially the lengthy "Maggot," where the hooks are more buried and the feel far more shadowy. Fragmentary cuts here and there, such as "Call Back Your Dogs" and the slowed-vocals and general fuzz and noise of "I Was Here" vary the mix of things, as does the thorough combination of production styles. "Phantom Power," which has upfront lead vocals and strong percussion, also works with muffled, semi-shouted backing and, even below the main guitar fuzz, further odd noises and sounds deeper in the mix. The intermingling of styles gets more pronounced as it goes without disrupting the almost Krautrock-like flow of the music, ending on a low spoken lyric. The occasional dabs into Asian-inspired melodies and performance are striking, while Yeats' drumming is in many ways the standout of the band, whether the martial beats on "Alien to Be" or more varied, almost swinging performances elsewhere. One of the most inspired songs on here is "Children" -- actually the T. Rex glam classic "Children of the Revolution," with the half-sneered half-yawned vocals capturing the steady groove of the original while the music becomes a freaked-out trudge.
Bored Games are the Shayne Carter's (Straitjacket Fits, DoubleHappy's) very first band, originating all the way back to his High School years when he was only 17 years old. This 1982 EP is driven by a youthful enthusiasm and it features one of kiwi rock's all time great punk anthems "Joe 90" which is not at all unlike UK Punk Groups like The Only Ones and The Buzz Cocks.