The Bats-Compiletely Bats

August 3, 2009

The Bats

Compileletely Bats(Flying Nun 1990)

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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)

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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.