Pumice-Pebbles

January 7, 2012

Pumice

Pebbles (Soft Abuse 2007)

http://www.mediafire.com/?eiz3xsd4wj0

New Zealand is such an unlikely place to spawn such an eclectic assemblage of post-punk pioneers, guitar abusers and folks with an innate knack for melancholy, chiming indie-pop masterpieces. However, I guess that the age of the internet has taught us dullards that the musical universe never revolved around the United States and England and that every nation harbored a cabal of unheralded geniuses, eccentric weirdos and impeccable tunesmiths. Most of us were just ignorant to its existence due to a lack of distribution or a fixation upon the effortlessly familiar. New Zealand was an exception to this rule since many of its flagship acts like the Clean, Chills, the Bats, Cakekitchen and Tall Dwarfs signed distribution deals with North American labels during the 80s. Therefore, folks took notice and dug deeper into its furrows to find that there was more than rainy-day reveries up its collective sleeve.

Although I adore the aforementioned bands in a particularly unhealthy way, there was something about the more damaged sounds of 80s and 90s New Zealand that resonated with me in a way that still moves me in a kind of transcendent way. Folks like Peter Jefferies and  Alastair Galbraith and and bands like This Kind of Punishment, Dadamah, Dead C, Gate, Plagal Grind and the Terminals mined a dark, brooding space peppered with fragile ballads that literally seemed to walk on eggshells as they teetered between nihilism and a skewed sense of melody. Most of these bands found a safe haven on the Xpressway label and forged a totally idiosyncratic sound unlike anything else I’ve heard since its collapse. I had given up the ghost long ago and surrendered to the fact that no one would resuscitate its vibe until I heard Pumice, a one man operation led by Stefan Neville.

To be honest, I think this album is probably better than anything ever released on Xpressway and that folks will revisit it years from now and finally give it its due. By no means is it an easy listen. Its seams and flaws are  fully on display and it only grips the listener after many late night strolls with it as your sole companion.  Pebbles is a schizophrenic listen that teases you with ecstatic riffs and a joyous spirit in the first two minutes only to drag you down into “Bold/Old”, a fragile meditation on the woes of life set to a woozy background of hazy, psychedelic guitar meanderings, distant piano plunkings, and the buzz of gentle hiss. You can’t understand a lick of what he mumbles, but it somehow reminds you of moments when life felt like a perpetual string of potholes until he lets loose a triumphant warbling that reminds you that smoother sailing awaits even the most troubled souls. There is such beauty amidst the gentle feedback, drones and deceptively ramshackle arrangements. “Spike/Spear” goes on for eleven minutes, but its droning, moaning and surging peaks coalesce into a true centerpiece for the album. It’s like a palate cleanser that wipes the slate clean with a long pause where you can empty your mind and get lost in the swirl of sound before embarking on a second half that is much harsher than the first. We get a short respite before he tears into “The Only Doosh Worth Giving”which conjures the spectre of the Clean’s “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” with a more punky, nihilistic streak. It shreds in a way alien to this planet. The rest is either haunting, sparse and mood destroying or swells and peaks of noise that are best suited for headphones and a grand tolerance for volume. Pebbles ain’t for everyone, but it sure feels like it speaks to me each and every time it flops onto my turntable.

Iran-The Moon Boys

August 25, 2009

Iran

The Moon Boys(Tumult 2003)

http://www.mediafire.com/?xfzgntxay4m

I was sorely disappointed by Iran’s latest album, Dissolver, because it stripped away all of the scuzz and feedback that mated so perfectly with their wayward way with a simple melody. Yeah, its “progression” probably had a lot to do with the addition of TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone to the band, but their newfound clarity always aims for the bullseye where Aaron Aite used to revel in mistakes and missteps. By no means is Dissolver a bad album, but count me in the minority who find Aites’ embrace of chaos more appealing than his attempts at an orderly pop song. Then again, six years have passed since The Moon Boys was released and god knows that time has a funny way of adjusting the way you view the world. Therefore, let us take a few moments to pay tribute to an album that may be one of the best albums Siltbreeze, Xpressway, Shrimper or Catsup Plate never released. Yes, these are obscure benchmarks, but it was rare that any of these labels released a perfect marriage of noise to pop even though I wanted so hard to believe that it was so. Yes, the Dead C, V-3, Yips, Amps for Christ and other disparate souls have come damn close to this holy union, but I always reach for this album over anything in their discographies.

The synthesis of noise and pop is hardly an underground concept. God knows that the Jesus & Mary Chain made some moolah with their own jigsaw of Phil Spector and white noise and the whole shoegaze scene was based upon sensual coos and a lusher brand of feedback and squall, but The Moon Boys stands out because there is a sprawl to their compositions that seems epic comparison to the aforementioned bands’ succinct slices of sweet and sour. Sonic Youth’s “Hyperstation” from their Daydream Nation seems like the most accurate touchstone for Iran’s music circa The Moon Boys. I remember listening to “Hyperstation” at 3am as a teenager and imagining if there was another band that could conjure the same loose, late-night vibe where a psych-pop song sounds as if it was heard via a faraway AM station many states away from your destination. This album does that for me throughout its entirety. Then again, I am a former insomniac who used to listen to the scratchiest transmissions instead of counting sleep or drinking warm milk, so my bias is evident.

The imperfections are what make The Moon Boys so gripping. Don’t be fooled that melodies worthy of Brian Wilson lurk beneath the muck because these tunes tend to stretch out in sometimes difficult directions. What does stick out is Aaron Aites’ guitar work as he somehow straddles the line between outright sabotage and grubby melody. No song really even stands out here as the overall effect of it as an album is what gets me every single time. I approach it as a long rambling epic where slow, atonal riffs last for days only to be replaced by some of the most simple and sweet notes that shake all of the pieces back into proper balance. Iran always stride close to the edge only to reconfigure themselves as something so sentimental and tender that you almost forget you were listening to a staccato riff seconds before. The Moon Boys is admittedly a bit of a mess, but I hear something new each time I try to reassemble the pieces.

3Ds – Hellzapoppin’

June 26, 2008

3Ds

Hellzapoppin’ (Flying Nun/First Warning 1991)

http://www.mediafire.com/?jmxgj0z2umx

One of the benefits of being a youngster in the early to mid 90s was the major label rush to sign anything remotely related to Nirvana and Sonic Youth to a lesser extent. It provided such anomalies as major label deals for Foetus and the Boredoms and provided leeway to indie bands like Sebadoh and Pavement to fly obscurities like Dog Faced Hermans and the 3ds over to be their opening acts on tour. Yes, it also resulted in countless pretenders and imitators out for a buck, but when hasn’t that been the case with a genre’s short-lived popularity.

I haven’t really delved into my undying love for New Zealand’s Flying Nun label and how bands like the Verlaines, Bats, Chills, Magick Heads, Dead C, Snapper and others warped my young mind and altered my view of a pop song. I got to see the 3ds on tour with Pavement around the time of their Venus Trail album that was released on Merge. Hel, I may have hallucinated this, but i remember seeing a video for their “Outer Space” video on MTV’s 120 minutes. Go figure. I picked up the 3Ds’ Hellzapoppin’ album a few years earlier and fell in love with how they took inspiration from Sonic Youth’s noisier attempts at a pop tune and made it their own. Although it was a larger venue, they filled up the theatre with a kaleidoscope of feedback and were much heavier than their records hinted. Consisting of members of Snapper and Look Blue Go Purple, their albums are filled with unpretentious pop songs slathered with lots of noise and sweet sentiments. It’s a really catchy album that gets forgotten when put in context of New Zealand’s “kiwi pop” scene. Although their music was accessible, the band had enough rough edges and personality that their music still sounds fresh today. I guess I can cut to the chase and say that fans of pop songs buried in feedback with a few quiet moments in between will find much to love here.