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.

The Bats-Compiletely Bats

August 3, 2009

The Bats

Compileletely Bats(Flying Nun 1990)

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

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.

Tall Dwarfs-3 EPs

October 28, 2008

Tall Dwarfs

3 EPs (Flying Nun 1994)

http://www.mediafire.com/?iiwj1ywjn5t

I cannot put my obsession with the New Zealand’s Flying Nun label into words. On the surface, the Clean, Bats, Verlaines, Tall Dwarfs, Chills and Magick Heads adhere to the same formula of many 80s and 90s indie rock veterans, but there is a rainy day at the heart of each band that never gives way to sun. Even at their most uplifting, I always perceive a dark cloud on the horizon of most songs. It doesn’t hurt that the aforementioned bands are some of the most eloquent of that era and make you wish Flying Nun hadn’t fallen into disrepair.

The Tall Dwarfs were always the most silly, adventurous and unhinged act on Flying Nun. The duo of Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate always displayed a fondness for four-track recordings, a DIY aesthetic and pure pop buried in tape hiss, but 3 EPs opened the door to new horizons.  The band invited fans to record backing tracks and fragments of instrumentation on cassette and send them for inclusion on these eps. They used these submissions as building blocks for each song, which is odd since it is their most solid and cohesive album despite the fact that it is a collection of eps.

The opener “For All the Walters in the World” surfs on a wave of la-la-las as Alec Bathgate does his best Donovan/George Harrison impression and embraces every ounce of sunshine that the star ever expelled. Although the song is all about submission to love and its power to transcend every humdrum detail of our ordinary lives. It seems like a call to all the Walters or average joes to give into their emotions and act on love instead of pondering it. It is a wonderful sentiment in my book.

“Starry Eyed and Wooly Brained” is another classic Tall Dwarfs song as it details the misadventures of a man dosed off his nut on some unknown hallucinogen as his mind races headlong into the sun that looms above him. It is a somewhat romantic ode to losing your shit and the childlike belief in the surreal visions that occupy your mind at such moments.

Overall, this is the best starting point for anyone unfamilar with the Tall Dwarfs as it features every facet of their vision. Drugged ballads, tape manipulations, catchy indie-rock and mellow meditations are take their moment on center stage and make you wish that the rest of their catalogue matched such heights.

Bailter Space-Robot World

August 4, 2008

Bailter Space

Robot World (Matador 1993)

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

How in the hell did they pull this one out of their hat? A New Zealand band assembled after the breakup of the Gordons, Bailter Space released a couple albums that built upon their loud, hypnotic psych perfected by their previous band. I love the Gordons and Bailter Space’s Thermos and Tanker Lps and their shaggy dog take on Sonic Youth’s Sister and Evol albums. These albums just grooved as the rhythm section peaked alongside each wave of feedback. I was hooked, but unprepared for what came next.

Bailter Space signed to the Matador label. Since Gerard Cosloy was always a big supporter of the Flyinmg Nun label and New Zealand pop in general, it was not much of a surprise. What was urprising was how the band somewhat abandoned their musical blueprint and borrowed a few pages from My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Wire’s 154 and Chairs Missing and recorded an industrial strength shoegaze album. Now, this album bears little resemblance to the the ethereal muckity-muck of the era, but it does duplicate the amniotic sac of sound of the genre and transforms it into a cold, harsh space.

I always thought that Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation was the perfect soundtrack to the claustrophobia of life in the city. I tend to view things from this perspective since I grew up in the city and always looked for sounds that emulated my surroundings. “Teenage Riot” “Silver Rocket” and especially “Hyperstation” really spoke to my teenage self as I worked as a bicycle messenger in Philly. I’m sure other albums could serve as a substitute, but this encapsulated the dread of life under Reagan and Bush in a way i understood.

I still am dumbfounded that a group from New Zealand almost beat this band at their own game, but they did. Robot World is such a dense, thick slab of music. The bass overtakes most of the vocals and drives each song along to each depressing conclusion. It is almost depressing to a level of Joy Division and sort of reminds me of how modern bands like Jesu have attempted a synthesis of metal and shoegaze. Half of this album fails to live up to these words, but the rest was so far ahead of its time. It still sounds fresh today and would probably garner more respect today than at its release date. I thoroughly love every narcotic, emotionless second of Robot World and hope you will as well.

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.