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.

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.