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.

Unrest-Imperial f.f.f.r

February 5, 2009

Unrest

Imperial f.f.f.r (Teenbeat 1992)

http://www.divshare.com/download/6473493-1d9

As a teacher in a hardscrabble inner-city neighborhood, I have recently become disgusted with a certain cliche that is robotically spouted from the lips of my more disaffected and unmotivated students. The offensive phrase in question is “It is what it is” and it sort of a reverse rallying cry for the swells of apathy and one-dimensional worldviews that have rotted tender minds before they’ve had a chance to evolve. No fewer than six students out of 78 seniors chose this call to surrender as their personal quote for the year book. I know that I am being a bit histrionic since each generation has chosen their own brand of bite-size nihilism to embrace as a call to arms. Instead, this one feels different since it is a call to surrender. It signals acceptance of a life  that is static and unchanging instead of one that is ecstatic and unpredicatbly full of sublime moments that will never be summed up in a pithy phrase.

The contrast between the examined and unexamined life recently came into focus for me while listening to the eight-minute title track of Unrest’s Imperial f.f.f.r. There are certain songs and sounds that have pushed me to moments of catharsis, bliss, confusion, sadness and countless other shades of emotional states in between. There is something sublime and larger than the mortar and brick that surround us. It is larger than the accumulated minutia and detritus that threaten to avert our eyes from the larger themes and possible directions of our lives. I’d like to compile a laundry list of these musical moments, but it kind of feels like mental masturbation at the moment. However, this review is probably guilty of the same sin. Anyhow, “Imperial” is just so minimal, elegant and evokes a stream of recollections of those times when your next step in life is alternately  exhilirating and frightening as well. It makes me believe in the gravitas of a simple chord progression, angelic harmony and lyrics that resonate in your own life. In fact, the opening notes of “Imperial” are so full of introspection and melancholy and the eventual addition of Mark Robinson’s awkward choirboy vocals is one of those instants where every coalesces and becomes a positively transcendent harmony. It is a song about dreaming about things vast and undefinable like love, life and where our respectives paths will lead next. I wish it was 80 minutes long instead of eight, but the reverberating echoes that bring it to a premature finish do provide a simply gorgeous end to this meditation.

Unrest were always stylistic chameleons, so it is only fitting that the elegance of “Imperial” is quickly abandoned for the rapid-fire strumming of “Suki.” It’s a sunny ode to the early pangs of lust, but it pales in comparison to “Cherry Cream On” its hedonistic doppleganger. Where “Suki” focused on puppy love, “Cherry Cream On” is all about lusting after every single nook and cranny of your love interest. It’s bubblegum pop with a horny, hedonistic side that joyfully explores the raging hormones and awkward desires of your first sexual encounters. I always found their inclusion to be kind of a humorous contrast to the weighty subject material of the album. However, Unrest never stuck to one theme for too long. Considering the album contains an ode to American painter Isabel Bishop, meditations on the death of a father, clumsy hip-hop instrumentals and churning drones, the shifts and juxtapositions make sense when listening to the album as a whole.

Although Imperial f.f.f.r was released sixteen years ago, it still sounds youthful, fresh and optimistic. It makes me just as wide-eyed and excited about life and love as it did throughout my youth. Just because life has slapped us around a few times doesn’t mean that there aren’t infinite possibilities for adventure and personal growth. Yes, it’s just an album. It is what it is, but much of this “it” has provided a well of inspiration and a aural canvas on which to project my own thoughts and dreams.