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.

Polvo

Today’s Active Lifestyles (Merge 1993)

http://www.mediafire.com/?mjzfnnnain2

Throughout my college years, I despised the Grateful Dead. However, I was enthralled by the words used by my hippie friends when describing their music. I wanted to love a band whose music inspired others to enthuse about each rambling lick as if it were a sentient entity. They argued over which version of Dark Star flowed the best and I felt as if my collection of indie-rock and punk records just laid there like a dead fish in comparison to their heroes.

Thankfully, my hippie friends were a bit hipper than their drug rug wearing brethren and we shared a love of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Zappa, John Coltrane and Can. Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation was the one communal love that provided a forum where opposing sides could sing “kumbaya” and find an indie-rock parallel to the Dead that appeased us in the same manner. By no means am I lunkheaded enough to suggest one remotely sounds like the other, but Daydream Nation’s long, meandering riffs reminded us both of the controlled sprawl that made both bands so wonderful when they navigated their own respective mazes.

Years have passed and now I behave like a fucking Ratdog fan and listen to XM Radio’s Grateful Dead Channel for non-stop bootlegs and Pigpen anecdotes. What in the hell happened to me? As I aged, the Dead made sense once my life slowed down to a country trot and Jerry Garcia’s Run for the Roses album suddenly sounded like a stellar soundtrack to a lazy afternoon. Man, I guess this is all a long-winded way to telling y’all that I just really like music that is structured, but always on the verge of slowly falling apart.

The last phrase is why I somehow found that same strand in Polvo’s Today’s Active Lifestyles. It’s an album that tiptoes through the tulips. It has an urgency, but sometimes gets totally lost when expressing it. I regularly listen to instrumental passages over and over because they reveal additional nuances every time they unfurl. More importantly, Daydream Nation and Today’s Active Lifestyles remain special because they perfectly capture that magical vibe those hippies spoke of so reverently. I feel like I am getting all cosmic on your asses here, but that’s the kind of mood I am in at the moment.

It’s a shame that Polvo never quite recaptured the lackadaisical magic of Today’s Active Lifestyles. They were at their best here because they perfectly achieved a balance of loose and taut here. One guitar played a tightly wound punky riff while the other would play a loosey-goosey one that veered all over the road. This dynamic lends even their catchiest moments a ramshackle charm. For example, “Tilebreaker” is an anthemic pop song at its core, but they play it as if they were four wobbling hubcaps ready to fall off at any moment. However, “Time Isn’t on My Side” may be the best song they ever recorded even if it isn’t totally indicative of their other tunes. It is one of the few songs that captures the woozy ambience of Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbet except Chilton was actually trying to sound like red hot mess. This tune eclipses that since Polvo kind of couldn’t help but sound like a series of beautiful mistakes. Today’s Active Lifestyles is perfect because it sounds raw, unplanned and ecstatic. It’s the musical equivalent of the taking the scenic route home while speeding down every sudden turn and dusty road.


Destroyer

Streethawk: A Seduction (Misra 2001)

http://www.mediafire.com/?0tbqat1m0d9

Before I begin, I am very sorry for disappearing for such a long vacation. Shit has hit the proverbial fan and blogs seem inconsequential. However, it stinks less than last week, so here I am.

Before he lost himself in a lyrical labyrinth of his own creation, Dan Bejar, otherwise knows as Destroyer, was one of the most witty, dense lyricists of the 90s. The cryptic lyrics and Bowie nods were plentiful, but they worked despite themselves, Streethawk: A Seduction is the first album where he really shed his indie-rock cocoon and became some wordy bastard child of Hunky Dory. Later albums became more verbose and complex, but Streethawk is the one where his knack for penning a catchy, but bizarro tune melded perfectly with a love of Bowie. Yes, subsequent efforts like This Night and Rubies pinched from different Bowie albums and were equally dense, but this one has an almost Dylan-esque ramble to it. By no means are any of Destroyer’s albums on par with the highlights of both of these legends, but Streethawk hints that Bejar could be a bizarro version if he cut the fat from his sometimes pretentious songs.  However,  even his most bloated songs break my fragile ticker when he aims for the bullseye and hits it perfectly.

I have always had a romantic fascination with Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, so Destroyer’s “Virgin with a Memory” always floors me with its opening line of ” Was it the movie or the making of Fitzcarraldo where someone learned to love again.”  Al;though it is only an intro, it is a perfect image to conjure for a song about someone coming to grips with the weight of an actual passion. It may be overwrought to compare Herzog’s torture of sailing a riverboat up the Amazon, but somehow it is a fitting analogy for an emotionally stunted soul struggling to feel emotions that are dangerous, but electric. It is a song that celebrates youth and its infinte possibilies where all is new and raw.

Sometimes his lyrics sound better in song  than when read, but they are always interesting even when it winds up as a pile of well-crafted nonsense.  His discography is spotted with flaws, but somehow I keep listening to his albums because his flaws are infinitely more interesting than most musician’s successes.

Matt Suggs

Golden Days Before They End (Merge 2000)

http://www.mediafire.com/?zy8b1bbiqvb

Matt Suggs comprised one half of Butterglory, a 90s indie-rock band that aimed for a comfy niche occupied by Pavement, twee and the Kinks. I always liked the band and their live shows were always appealing, but so were many other bands of their ilk. I know it sounds like a cliche, but their early singles were infectious in a way that their full-lengths were not. They were a good, but not great band that never rose beyond their influences.

I cannot really think of many 90s indie-rock artists that successfully managed to emerge from their fey, ironic cocoon, but Matt Suggs is the first that comes to mind. I ignored this album upon its release since I expected more of the same. However, Matt Suggs somehow channelled the spirit of the Davies brothers and recorded a thoroughly original take on the Kinks’ Something Else album. It lacks the bite and satire of this classic, but Suggs somehow found his voice and made one of the most unsung albums of the decade. Maybe I overrate it because it was so unexpected, but Golden Days Before They End kind of symbolizes a mid-life crisis for indie-rock to me. The old influences no longer held as much weight and Suggs responded with a gem that puts his love of country, Kinks, and melancholy tear jerkers on display. It’s an honest to goodness singer-singwriter album that tells a diverse array of sappy, sad tales while mixing in enough toe-tappers to keep things out of bi-polar territory. There is nothing about the album that leaps in your lap, but it is one of those albums that mimics an old friend and warm memory. It reassures me and I listen to it more than most album on my shelves. It’s a reminder of the moment when you realize that there is more than the music than the genre you embraced as a teen or young adult and discover that classic rock wasn’t quite the boogeyman you expected.

I’m guessing this was a fundraising item during WFMU’s pledge drive in 2004. Compiled by John Allen, it collects a veritable who’s who of indie rock circa 1989. However, most of this compilation veers towards the punk end of the spectrum. It is great to hear some old favorites and get the chance to listen to some great songs that never made it onto their respective albums. It does an excellent job of summing of the the cream of the crop. It is even more impressive due to the fact that it focuses on a single year and catches many of these bands in their prime. I haven’t heard some of these songs in over a decade it brings back memories of bands that lost me with later efforts, but this comp is forcing me to reevaluate some of my opinions. Extra points for emulating the design and approach of Chuck Warner’s Messthetics comps that have lovingly collected forgotten punk and new wave gems.

Various Artists

Killed by Murder Volume One

http://www.divshare.com/download/5271141-fff

tracklist

16 Tons-Lauren(No Blow)

Action Swingers-Kicked in the head(Noiseville)

Bricks-Girl with the Carrot Skin(merge)

Dead Moon-Black september (Tombstone)

Death of Samantha-Rosenberg Summer (Homestead)

Die Kreuzen-Gone Away (Touch and Go)

Drunks With Guns-Drug Problem (Noiseville)

Dwarves-Drug Store (Sub Pop)

Gibson Brothers-Emusified (Siltbreeze)

Go Team-Ribeye (K)

Halo of Flies-There Aint No Hell (Amrep)

HP Zinker-The Know it All(Matador)

Ickey Joey-Ill Love You There (C/Z)

Jesus Lizard-Chrome (Touch and Go)

Lee Harvey Oswald Band-Ligtning Strikes (Touch and Go)

Lonely Moans-Rockinerd (amrep)

Love Child-Know its Alright (Sympathy)

Melvins-Anal Satan (Sympathy)

Monster Magnet-Lizard Johnny (Circuit)

Mudhoney-Hate the police (Subpop)

Seaweed-Inside (Leopard gecko)

Surgery-Not Going Down(Amrep)

Tar-Same (Amrep)

Treepeople-Important Things(Silence)

Unsane-This Town (Treehouse)

Vomit launch-Every Pretty Girl (teenbeat)

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.