The Bats-Compiletely Bats

August 3, 2009

The Bats

Compileletely Bats(Flying Nun 1990)

It may be sweltering here in Philadelphia, but I’m an organized soul who likes to get a head start on the next season, especially when it’s autumn, my favorite time of the year. Throughout the years, there are only a handful of bands who somehow capture my admittedly biased view of that time where life slows down and the leaves take their sweet old time on their way from the treetops to the concrete below them. Yes, summer is a time for exploration and adventure down country back roads and travels to farflung locales, but autumn is when you take your sweet time and patiently watch another year come to close and reassess your priorities for next year while taking inventory of the present one. It’s a time for meditation and speculation about what went right and what went terribly wrong before another year gets brutally latched upon your sum total. For some reason, the Bats, along with fellow Kiwis, the  Chills, Verlaines, Magick Heads and Peter Jefferies capture this sense of ennui so perfectly that I start listening to them in earnest a couple months before they are best suited to my mood. Then again, I am an impatient soul, so it is only fitting that I pay tribute to autumn in August.

On the surface, Compiletely Bats, a collection of their first three eps, is an odd choice to associate with autumn, but they are forever intertwined with it because their songs are so optimistic on the surface, but scratch a little deeper and you see swaths of melancholy, self-doubt and introspection. In short, these are the the qualities that I associate with a time where the party slowly comes to a close and you are left questioning and applauding the past while generating a plan for the murky future.

The best example of this can be found in the opener “Made Up in Blue” which may be the apex of New Zealand pop, but the lyrics paint such a contradictory image to the chipper strums and jangles. It’s an ode to indecision and worry as its protagonist questions his social circle, direction and the advice of others as he bemoans the dead weight that surrounds him. It sums up that moment when you doubt a big decision, ponder the consequences and benefits and take a leap into the new.

In between are tales of faded glory, grasping at straws and tragic nostalgia, all of which highlight their focus on the grey and beige in our lives, but its closing number provided a perfect bookend to it superficially sunny opener. “Offside” closes out the compilation on a pitch perfect note as it eloquently depicts the onset of winter and its resultant stagnation. It details a fight against depression when your friends are hibernating, trees are bare and optimism is a rare commodity as vocalist Robert Scott embraces the bottom of the barrel only to discover that there is nothing there but darkness. Instead of wallowing in woe, Scott decides that the best path is introspection and meditation and he ultimately he decides the best path is a long walk where he embraces the scenery and decides that innocence and new beginnings are just around the corner. Just like most Bats songs, it sums up the moment before you hit rock bottom when you realize things aren’t quite so bad as your neurotic mind makes them out to be.

That’s why the Bats embody autumn. Their songs are about scenes of darkness and despair where the storm clouds break and meager rays of sunlight break through the murk and provide hope in barren times.

Mia Doi Todd

Come Out of Your Mine

It is such a shame that this is the last album of hers that I can recommend because her first two albums are some of the most literate, melancholy folk/indie-pop albums of the past decade. She still possesses that otherworldly voice, but attempts at commerciality have eroded her vision and voice. However, her followup to The ewe and Eye continues the grand steps of the debut. It is a shame this was released in the late 90s because woodland youngsters of all shapes and sizes would swoon for the sounds found herein. If you have love in your heart for the Meg Bairds, Joanna Newsomes, and Fern Knights of the world, then you should nuzzle up this warm, homespun recording.

Songs of murdered lovers, battleships parked in the Charles River, unrequited affections and broken bones litter her lyrics. At times, her fantastical lyrics remind me of the Handsome Family and to a lesser extent, the Harry Smith Folk Anthology. Anyway you slice this loaf, it is an inviting album that creates a soothing cocoon for all who listen.

Mia Doi Todd

The Ewe and the I

Many men and women have picked up their collective guitars and strummed into the ether. However, few possess the elegance, charm and way with words that Mia Doi Todd possessed on her debut. Yes, she slowly devolved into something less than where she began, but The Ewe and the Eye gripped me and hasn’t let go since. Eleven years have passed since this cd passed through my grubby hands and I still put in on during those autumn hours where life seems unsteady and I long for a tender listen to put me back on track. It is a soothing album that touches upon the inertia we all feel on those depressing days where nothing quite seems to fit in the proverbial round hole.

If this album had been released today, she would be hailed as a part of the ridiculous “New Weird America”, but she remains a mere echo that deserves your response. It’s a heartbreaker. It makes you love life just a tad more. If you aren’t as sentimental as I, then it is a purty listen at the bare minimum. Lend a hand and enjoy.