The purpose of this blog is to expose you to the unique and unrepeatable New Zealand scene known as "Dunedin Sound" that emerged in New Zealand in the early eighties. This space takes over from wonderful blogs that in their time served to make known to the world some of the most significant bands and records of that period. The present collection is dedicated to all those kiwi bands -many of them already forgotten- who, without knowing it, wrote a very important page in the history of music.
Two records from the early 1970s -- private pressings for Waiata Recordings. All the golden voices from days of olde and yore, ever and anon are hither and yon -- Janet Frame, James K Baxter, Denis Glover, CK Stead, Sam Hunt, Bill Manhire, Charles Brasch -- reading their own works. The recording quality on some of these tracks is simply shocking. My copies of the original vinyl are NM, but probably as a consequence of packing too much onto each side combined with the limitations of the original recordings, the sound varies: prepare for level peaks and drops, pops, echoes, and distortion.
This CD was produced by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 1996 for inclusion in its short-lived Midwest magazine. It includes four tracks for 3x bagpipe ensembles, for which Watson was commissioned by the DPAG to celebrate their relocation to a new building in the Octagon. Having worked in the centre of Dunedin for more than a decade I've gritted my teeth through entire weekends of competing pipe bands, but there's definitely dramatic power in what Watson describes as the 'real savagery in the sound of the pipes'. Ten years on from the earnest and retrospectively tentative charms of Reference, Watson's potent multi-tracked solo electric guitar works are more fully developed and realised, all serious and exciting, academic and musical. Tracks 'Delicious' and 'Candy' pit Tony Conrad vs Robert Fripp, while the expansive 'Steak Knife' is all that's great in his earlier works advanced with all that he's learned from his Downtown collaborators like album contributors Ikue Mori and Otomo Yoshihide. Includes scans of his interview with Midwest.
An album of low-key beauty recorded the year before he left for NYC, Reference is what it says on the tin: a catalogue raisoneé laying out Watson's pluralistic thing. 'A Code' starts off with a lo-bit From Scratch-style sampled bamboo rhythm and a squall of squealing riffage multi-tracked with back-masked guitar drones. 'To Read A Cipher' follows, skipping between snippets of Fahey-like and Donald McPherson-esque acoustic noodling, while its counterpart 'To Write...' bellows Bailey-ish and bell-like with clockwork zithers. Side Two's ten minute epic 'The Arithmetic Symbol 0' opens with amp feedback and drastically stereo separated signal/delay, sidesteps into acoustic improv then on to microphone-on-strings, atmospheric slide and distant rhythms with rusty hinges. The urgent 'To Unravel' plays ping pong with bowed drones and volume swells, with hypnopompic bass and insistent muted-string-strumming snowballing into the reverb and squeaks of a background basketball gym. Pensive but never po-faced, there is a playfulness inherent in its experimentalism, much in the manner of Greg Malcolm.
A mid-solo-period C30 EP release by Christchurch-based Paul Sutherland of Into The Void, Don't Make Noise, and Les Baxters. Two sidelong improvisations of radio noise, electronic toys, tapes and layered tape loops and tape hiss and turntables and tape speed tricks, mechanical squeaks and percussive blasts -- all hard-panned, delayed and ping-ponging. At times a one-man-AMM felicitously iterating Reich's 'Piano Phase' and Riley's 'Music for the Gift'. Slow and low-key, connoting robo-throat singing, ambient garage rock with an 808, hydrophone gamelan wind chimes, martial marches with cowboy bass lines and chirruping rewinds; with chance guest vocals from white noise-modulated Mockers and a chopped-up Maxwell H Brock from A Bucket of Blood. Gorgeously singular and highly recommended.
Here's a little goodie from back in the day.... a compilation of Christchurch bands from 1991. A cassette only release, it helped get all these bands some well deserved airplay on student radio. There's a lot of history in here...i'm not gonna rave on about it. Those in the know will know...get it here!
Holy Moly! Ladies and gentlemen, this is THE 'Hi- tone destroyers', live and crazy and at their finest. If you dig psycho garage rock mayhem then look no further..... Recorded mainly on a live to air radio show in Christchurch, New zealand (sometime in the mid 90's) and released as a cassette only. Ripped and posted with permission from Matt Alien. Personnel: Matt Alien (guitar / vox), Leon Zchivago (bass / vocals), Don Gone (keyboards / harmonica), Duanne Zarakov (drums). A gem not to be missed so get to and download this you mofo's!
While we're on the subject of The Panthers, try this sucker on for size. This is their only album. Recorded in 1999 by Rob Mayes at The National Grid studio back in Christchurch, NZ. 200 copies on black vinyl exist. Some cd's floating around. Thankfully on the day of the recording everything came together and everyone played really well and behaved themselves.
This is a live recording of the second Gordons line up of the Gordons' final show ever. Be amazed, Don't kill yourself just because you didn't see them live. Ok? Just reiterating, this is a live recording and not a download of the second LP.
Now here's something you should really start screaming over. The first Sferic Experiment release on Expressway. A cassette only release which has not less than twenty tracks under its belt. Seven or eight tracks are from the CD entitled 'Eight Miles' (which was put out by Drunken Fish Records) but possibly even some of those are different versions as the lengths seem vastly different on some.
This joint is Chris Knox joined by his partner Barbara, David and Hamish Kilgour, Doug Hood and others around the flat. The a-sider is a fantasy about Doug's cat Bob becoming ten stories high and destroying Christchurch, and the b-side is a bunch of xmas-themed nonsense. Extremely rare, this goes for heaps on eBay and TradeMe.
More licks from the unplumbed pockets of Mysterex maven Andrew Schmidt: the scritchy, shouty sounds of Detroit devotees The Osterbergs! "The Osterbergs out of east Auckland were regulars at the Queen City's inner-city music dives in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, on the diverse bills of the time. "Their wah-driven Stoogoid punk sound -- the guitar courtesy Mark Jones, anchored by drummer Shirley Charles and bass player/vocalist Paul E. Snake -- had an endearing, nagging charm, well captured on their only release for Auckland's Onslaught Records. "The original trio of Shirley Charles (drums), Paul Edwards (bass/vocals) and Mark Jones (guitar) had been joined by Lance Strickland on second guitar, who broadened the songs and gave it an unscripted edge. "Changing their name to Freak Power, the quartet would go on to support many like-minded touring groups, and release a ten-inch EP on Wildside Records." Rec’d by Matthew Heine at BFM in Auckland, 1990.
Nice tight little Dunedin pop outfit, with Andrew Brough of Straitjacket Fits and Jonathan Moore of Bored Games. Loads of reverb and that chimey jangle you love to love. Much less playful than most of the better known Dunedin Sound bands, though in that regard probably more akin to the Sneaky Feelings than the Verlaines.
Recorded at the Gladstone, in Motueka and Takaka, and in rehearsal. Heaps more guitar on this (if there was any on the single, it was totally inaudible) -- smoky, speed-thrilling, raw cuts from the Gladstone: 'Adoption', 'My Life To Live', and the Very Metal 'Gnome'. Two songs from this -- 'Sin' and 'Swamp Dream' -- were re-recorded with The Portage on the Thirteen; Thirteen twelve-inch. 'Sin' and seven-inch A-side 'TV Producer' get roisterous in Takaka with Alan Wright on sax skronkings. The 'Swamp Dream' live rehearsal is murky-as motorik, like Sister Ray gets stripped-down and sweaty. Acoustic duet 'Good Things' could be a Kiwi Animal outtake. A couple tracks are just simple snippets of the best parts: 'Keeps on Coming' --which feels snotty and primitive like The Stones [NZ] -- starts suddenly, cuts abruptly. Their originals are the best bits, but the tape finishes with a couple of covers of Lou Reed and The [Rolling] Stones. [Note: There is a noisy tape glitch toward the end of the heavy, heavy, psych-groove 'Iron Pineapple'. I've done my best to splice the sound together. Not sure if the original tape was recorded that way (à la The Puddle's live records) or due to deterioration from earthquake liquefaction residue.] Rough as guts, fucked up and sweet, familiar and a bit of strange. Highly recommended.
Nux Vomica were an early project of Lawrence Kennett and Lisa Preston, later of The Portage. Kennett's first band, The Droogs, released one single around 1981 on cassette, 'Fuck Your Brain', which was re-pressed on vinyl in 2005 (under the name The Pitts). Kennett stepped back from music for a bit but has recently begun playing again with other Garden City refugees now resident in Dunedin: Bob Cardy and Mick Elborado. Preston continues to perform, with bands such as Snort and Loliners. Bassist Phillip Hubbard disappeared from the scene in the early 90s, and drummer Chris Small in 2016. This 7-inch is quite crackly but so what -- it's p*nk as f*ck. 'My Life To Live' sounds like one take, live in the studio, with some telephone-mic vocal overdubs -- slurred'n'shouty, organ'n'bass, grotty staccato garage. 'TV Producer' might be brutally tape-spliced from several takes, with different EQs and mic placements, giving the whole thing a nicotine-stained short-of-breath live-reptile-show caveman-minimalism drive. Recorded and co-produced by The Axemen's Steve McCabe.
The punkest of the three releases presented here -- 'OHMS' is shouty and strident, repetitive like Kiwi Animal's 'Woman And Man Have Balance', intercut with lyrical nihilist declaimings. Then there's the grotty-vibed 'My Festured Toe' [sic], and the chastising 'Comparisons'. Detuned, clatter-stringed guitar.
The ideal initiation into the Smelly Feet scheme, from the the seasick and slinky 'North Of Anywhere' to the sweet ennui of 'A Song For The World', then on to the miniature municipal metaphor 'Vegetable Market' before merrily surrendering to the apocalypse with 'E.O.T.W.I.T.'. A scan of the complete fold-out 7-inch sleeve is included. A wee bit of distortion on this rip.
Robert Scott never stops surprising - as a solo artist he's found a new gear. On his first album, 'The Creeping Unknown, he experimented, for the next 'Ends Run Together he produced a terrifically assured work of pop-rock. 'The Green House' is another excellent set of songs: the mood is quieter, and it draws you in with intimate tales of the heart set in the weather and wide skies of the south - a record of darkness and light, beautifully played out and accentuated with the aid of the voice of Tiny Ruins. Indeed Tiny Ruins (Hollie Fullbrook) adds the perfect accompaniment, appearing on half of the albums 12 tracks. And shes not the only guest appearance either with extra guitar lines thanks to Tristan Dingemans (HDU), with drums provided by Rob Falconer. All expertly engineered and mastered by Dale Cotton (The Bats, David Kilgour) in Roberts home of Port Chalmers, Dunedin. Scott's album The Green House captures him at yet another career peak in melodic songs which only rarely allude to the acoustic or rock chug of his other bands but mostly turns attention towards deftly tuneful song Graham Reid.
The third solo album from Robert Scott (The Clean, The Bats) is an outstanding album of 13 engaging songs, as likely to appeal to any fan of great alternative pop as much as to those already familiar with his past projects. To Roberts guitar and voice (which has never sounded better) are added the talents of fellow Clean-er David Kilgour, and miraculously, even Lesley Paris (Look Blue, Go Purple) has been coaxed back onto a drumkit for some of the songs. Jam-packed full of pop hooks, Ends Run Together features everything from squalling guitar rock (On the Lake, Too Early), dreamy pastoral folk (Days Run Together), through to the driving krautrock-ish pop of Daylight.
Robert Scott's charm has evolved into a very subtle, subdued update of the signature New Zealand sound he helped create. Infamous for his work with New Zealand's influential early-'80s chart toppers the Clean, and later the Bats, Scott delivers some of the expected--ingratiating jangle pop--on The Creeping Unknown. However, melodies are built more gradually, and songs are introduced with drawn-out, loping, circular movements (at times recalling fellow New Zealander and guitar atmosphericist Roy Montgomery). Over 19 tracks and about 60 minutes, The Creeping Unknown draws the listener in with lazy summer guitar mirages, sparse piano, odd loops, and some tape manipulation. While the longish length idles rather than builds heavy momentum, the more experimental passages are inoffensive and pleasantly droning. It's the keyboard-laden, Yo La Tengo-like gems such as "Fog and Wind" and "When Shade Was Made" that will satisfy die-hard fans of Scott and New Zealand pop. But vocals are few and faint (sometimes mimicking transmissions from another universe), giving The Creeping Unknown the feel of a haunted desert ghost town on the cinematic instrumentals, and on the more traditional pop songs as well. The foreboding title of this disc is a bit deceptive. While Scott's minimalist pieces can often be moody, they aren't the horror movie soundtrack you might expect. Instead, you get some truly inventive instrumental pieces that sound like aural snapshots of a quirky otherworld. The work here has all the best qualities of work by Brian Eno, Peter Noone, and Michael Brook, with a grittier atmosphere that sets it apart.
Sole album from Christchurch's Vague Secrets, and the first album to feature filmmaker John Chrisstoffels of The Terminals, The Renderers, et al. The same line-up backed Bill Direen as The Builders on 'Lovers' from C0NCH3. Taut and rangy, with a tight rhythm section and a number of hip influences, they're sharp and smart but just faintly unfledged. Album opener 'Don't Come To Me' is post-punk-via-the-pub-circuit, but from the second track onward it's mostly earnest, slightly astringent, fairly elaborate pop along the lines of Blam Blam Blam, Thin Red Line, The World and The Orange. Perhaps it's piqued by the 'Vague' from the name, but amidst otherwise self-assurance there's a seeming hesitancy, a non-commital to form: wavering between Talking Heads-ish Caribbesque rhythms of 'Africa', straight-up drawling folk-pop with 'An Ending', and various other McGlashanisms before closing with a charming instrumental acoustic psych-pop miniature, chiming and peppy, the appropriately appointed 'Dunedin'. All up, it's like a rich, evocative -- but somewhat frustrating -- early chapter from an unfinished story.
Second (final?) cassette from DMN, featuring Malcolm's future Breathing Cage bandmate Michael Kime on double bass on the A-sides. Fragile and considered gauzy bits alternate with trashy rockist shuffles, Sandoz Lab-esque & Art Ensemblish 'little instruments', samples, wailing amps and hissy-crackling Moondog minimalism. Thirty minute B-side live at the Robert McDougall is astonishingly accomplished, complex and riveting -- the type of improvisation which gets audiences asking if it's a composed piece. Aside from their short lifespan and limited small-run releases, I can only guess at why Don't Make Noise never made it into the NZ Free Noise canon. Kennedy and Malcolm both have avant-pop backgrounds or foregrounds (Thin Red Line and Breathing Cage, respectively), and there are moments which are aesthetically perhaps too Downtown jazz-ish for the Le Jazz Non compilation (let alone a few years too early). Regardless of their obscurity, the strength of material on these two tapes -- off-centre, exciting, droll and elegant, and both more serious and farther out than contemporaneous recordings by The Dead C -- merits their re-listening and reappraisal.
The trio's debut s/t cassette, with Greg Malcolm on guitar and cello, Paul Sutherland on electronics, radio, tapes, shenai etc., and John Kennedy on drums and percussion. Side A opens with an Eastern European impression -- Malcolm on cello and Sutherland on shenai -- before moving into timeless non-jazz/non-jamband Western free improv: feedback, drones, toy piano, radio and electronics, alternating with playful, artful, instrumental flourishes. By the B side, there's no dismissing their seriousness -- reductionist, lockstepped, insistent, clamorous clangour -- before revisiting Radical-Yiddish strings and rusty-hinges, shimmering cymbals and wheezing seabirds on the last piece.
Snippets, quite a few complete songs, and euphonious streams-of-consciousness -- 22 total tracks recorded at home and gigs, on four-track and portable tape recorders. The good stuff here is like first-take Kiwi Animal, Hayward's (admittedly idiosyncratic) songcraft and playing both edging toward that Brent and Julie apogee. Not at all a 'for the real fans only!!!!' Dead Letter Office, rather a rare find -- like a faded denim jacket in your size at the op shop which is both impeccably zirconia-bedazzled and prog-metal patched. The first three pieces on the a-side are furiously lofi -- like, no-fi -- and I worried that the tape was degraded, but by ‘Kenny’ they are much clearer, so hang in there. It's promptly obvious from the varying track quality that the indiscriminate fidelity is intentional. I've stereo compensated as it was heavily left-leaning, and boosted the volume of the ultra-lofi bits.
With their fan base ever growing and a firm grip on their art and identity, Kiwi Animal moved an 8-track recorder into Knox Church in Parnell on January 27, 1985. Over the following fortnight, they captured eight songs for their second album, Mercy, with sound engineer Jon Cooper. Highpoint ‘Man and Woman Have Balance’ was taped at Last Laugh Studios and ‘Fag Piece’ with words by US beat poet William S. Burroughs, a correspondent of Hayward’s, was recorded in the wide open concrete sandwich of J.S Sarten Parking Building. This time they had Patrick Waller (who would later rename himself Dubhead) installed as a permanent member, providing cello, metal percussion, trumpet, vocals and guitar. The music was all recorded live except for a trumpet overdub on ‘Mudsinging’ and ‘Woman and Man Have Balance’. Taped sound and dialogue was used on ‘Conversation Piece’ and ‘Fag Piece’. Among those thanked in the credits were fellow sonic adventurer Graham Sinclair for his Casio PT50, future Sombretone, Able Tasmans and Chills member Craig Mason and Brion Gysin. Gregor Kessler in Popwatch pointed to a “darker undercurrent” in Mercy. “The experimental nature of this LP at times reminds me of soundtrack work rather than out-and-out folk music. I hear the sorts of sounds in “Conversation Piece” and its companion “Fag Piece” that could have scored bleak, wintry tales like those in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-part Decalogue.
Here's an interesting curiosity from New Zealand: The Kiwi Animal was the creation of Brent Hayward and Julie Cooper; together they released two full-length LPs in the mid-eighties, 1984's 'Music Media' and the following year's 'Mercy.' 'Music Media' is an ethereally beautiful folk affair, at once sinister and lovely, and possessing of a clear experimental bent. Hayward was previously involved in the fantastic art-punk quartet Shoes This High.
Continuing our Christchurch cassette excavations: home-taped, killer music from the bountiful Bob Cardy (Axemen, Shaft, etc.). Traditional EnZed bedroom studio stuff in the orthodoxy of Chris Knox or Kraus, Alastair Galbraith or Darcy Clay or Stefan Neville -- like The Residents recording The Basement Tapes or Jonathan Richman's Thinking Fellers tribute act solo-recorded on the dole, all dolloped in Strapping Fieldhands' sloshed slapdashery. 81 songs on six tapes over two short years! Cheesy preset synths and sound effects, home organ, drum machine and double-tracked vocals, guitar and bass and banjo. Riffs for Africa, Velvet earworms, effortless songcraft out the metaphorical wazoo, plus jokes 'n' puns & drones 'n' gems a-poppin'.
Debut album from late-80s Auckland minimalist avant-garde art schoolers Drone. Not what I expected when I discovered them around the turn of the century, my post-Free Noise sensibilities presuming heavy electric drunge. This is not that: instead it's sombre and sober, astringent acoustic strings with vocal harmonies and scant samples, detuned chimings and chants braided into unison rhythms. Rich and thick (like good American ketchup or bad American presidents), sensitive and affecting, very smart yet from the gut. The marching piano on second track 'Carcass' bounces like an obscurely perky This Kind of Punishment, while 'Music for Guitar + Piano' could be a Terry Riley-led Abel Tasmans painting a McCahon. Other tracks call to mind a synth-less Marie and the Atom, stripped down or vigorous as in knotty ‘pop’ tracks like ‘Lofty’ by Out of the Compost, or ‘Black Thoughts’ or ‘Ethiopian Dream’ by Thin Red Line.
While Shoes This High’s existence was a mere glint in the eye of Father Time (a year or more, tops), they made every second count, stalking the New Zealand post-punk landscape—both North and South islands—with ravenous abandon. For most fans, their legend and reputation rest solely on the strength of one highly formidable (and collectable) self-released 7-inch EP from 1981. And as anyone with ears who’s had the good fortune to come in contact with its jagged, scabrous genius can attest, the cry invariably rings out afterward: “Mein Gott, is this all there is?” In the 30-plus years since its initial release, the answer has been a most unflinching “yes.” That is, until Siltbreeze tapped into the massive tape library of famed New Zealand underground music archivist Bob Sutton, who had in his possession a white-hot live scorcher of the group, culled from a set that went down at the infamous Billy the Club way back when. Straight to Hell showcases a band at the peak of their menacing powers. Guitarist Kevin Hawkins slashes and rips strings from his ax like a mad butcher; the rhythm section of Jessica Walker and Christopher Plummer is par excellence, while the sneering, contemptuous vocals of singer S. Brent Hayward spit like poison darts above the swagger. Expertly sequenced by Jared Phillips (Times New Viking), Straight to Hell is a most welcome and astonishingly great artifact that delivers in buckets a shivering, toxic rain you always knew had fallen. Vinyl comes with a digital download of the complete album plus the four studio tracks from the original 1981 EP.
These are all adjectives that Gary Steel used to describe the "punk funk" of New Zealand's Shoes This High in his liner notes for their 7" self-titled EP. It was the only recording to be released during their brief existence, but its jaggedly raw post-punk stylings combined with Brent Hayward's snarling vocals make for an exhilarating and enlightening listening experience. This is the other side of New Zealand's musical golden age; like their fellow countrymen the Gordons, Shoes This High created aggressive, angular, and classic art-punk for the ages.
'The Short and Sick of It' combines the Tall Dwarfs' first full-length, 1985's 'That's the Short and Long of It,' and the 1986 'Throw a Sickie' EP for your listening pleasure. So, whoever requested the debut, this is your lucky day! That is, if you actually remember requesting it in the first place; it has been a few weeks. Why was it called 'That's the Short and Long of It,' you ask? Well, one side of the 12" LP featured 10 songs that played at 33rpm, and the other side featured 2 songs (one a surprisingly successful 6-minute, "Wall of Dwarfs" reworking of "Nothing's Going to Happen") that played at 45rpm. Short and long. Get it? Anyway, if you've ever heard a Tall Dwarfs release, you know what to expect. And check out Alec Bathgate's wonderful solo album, Gold Lamé, while you're here; it deserves more listeners.
This is a request I've been sitting on for a while. Ballon d'Essai recorded two EPs for Flying Nun in the early eighties; 1981's 'This is the Level Crossing' and 1983's 'Grow Up' are not always successful in their art-damaged punk stylings, but there are enough worthwhile ideas and sheer exuberence on hand to make up for it over the course of a record. They're very of their time, for good and ill. Comics were included with each release, scanned here for your viewing pleasure.
Preceded by collections showcasing the live power of the Dead C and This Kind of Punishment, 'A Child's Guide to Wreck Small Speakers on Expensive Stereos' was the third assortment of material released on Bruce Russell's Xpressway imprint. A duo comprised of the Dead C's Michael Morley and Richard Ram, Wreck Small Speakers on Expensive Stereos released an EP on Flying Nun in 1986 entitled 'River Falling Love,' but the pair were independently prodigious, recording a number of self-released cassettes from 1983 to 1986. 'A Child's Guide to...' is an archival release, gathering material from these obscurities in addition to live recordings. The band pursued their various musical diversions to varied success, from the techno-pop meanderings of "Together We Sense" to the delicately beautiful "Rain," which features an ethereal vocal contribution from Denise Roughan (Look Blue Go Purple/3Ds.).
This album was Brian and Mayrose Crook's second full-length release as the Renderers, appearing four years after their debut, 'Trail of Tears.' The Crooks would produce their most lasting material with the Southern-fried, psychedelic twang of the Renderers, born out of the anarchic joy of the Max Block; 'The Dog's Head in the Gutter...' is undoubtedly their masterpiece. While 1991's 'Million Lights' 7" announced Mayrose Crook as the perfect vocal counterpoint to her husband, it is with this album that she truly comes into her own as a vocalist. The slow-burn of "So Blind," coupled with the quietly defiant resignation of Mayrose's vocal, punctuated by the piercing guitar tones of Brian Crook, achieves an escalating emotional intensity that sets the tone for the remainder of the album. Positioned after the ominous, dusk-tinged "Unforgiven," the two songs exemplify the weeping humanism at the heart of the Renderer's music, bittersweet yet tinged with the allure of misanthropy.
Let's get to some of these requests, shall we? First up is this fantastic 1995 album from the Terminals, one of my favorite New Zealand acts; and still releasing fabulous records too! Check out 2007's 'Last Days of the Sun' if you don't believe me. Chronologically, 'Little Things' was the follow-up to 1992's 'Touch,' and both records share a kindred atmosphere: a swirling, claustrophobic maelstrom of sound led by Stephen Cogle's distinctive, warbling baritone. There's a sonic density at work in the best of the Terminals' songs; an ever-expanding wall of noise that threatens to collapse and engulf the listener in its murky cacophony. The Terminals' sound is one to get lost in, an enticing and irresistible mystery. 'Little Things' is a different beast from the 'Disconnect' EP and 'Uncoffined,' but you shouldn't let that deter you from exploring this incredible record.
First, a confession: I had never heard of Jay Clarkson prior to receiving this request. After doing a bit of research, this unfamiliarity is unusual to me because--like everyone else in New Zealand music--Miss Clarkson has been involved in a very large number of projects, ranging from her work in the Playthings and the Expendables to multiple credits on Tall Dwarfs albums! This 1992 compilation features all but one of the songs on Jay Clarkson's self-titled EP from 1986, in addition to a couple tracks culled from her aforementioned bands. The songs collected on 'Packet' are uniformly strong, but the highlight is undoubtedly the haunting "The Boy With the Sad Hands," which has found its way on more than a few Flying Nun compilations in the past. Clarkson has continued to release albums, including 1999's acclaimed 'Kindle,' which will probably make an appearance on this blog at some point. So until then, help yourself to this fine collection of subtle, unassuming beauty.
I thought that it would be nice to put this one up before the DoubleHappys compilation that I mentioned in the Stones post; I just can't help myself. Bored Games was the high school creation of Shayne Carter and Wayne Elsey, though the latter left the band to form the Stones before they recorded any material together. Interestingly, 1982's 'Who Killed Colonel Mustard' EP was very much a posthumous release, Bored Games having broken up a year prior to its recording. Luckily for us, four of the band's greatest songs were committed to musical posterity: fourteen glorious minutes of youthful, punky exuberance and raucous noisemaking from future members of the DoubleHappys, Straitjacket Fits, and the Chills. This EP features the Bored Games standard "Joe 90," a retro-trash, anthemic slice of kiwi pop heaven, but the particular thorn in my side has always been "Happy Endings," a song that is catchier than it has any right to be given its content. Just try to get that chorus out of your head.
Fortunately, Andrew Brough's departure from Straitjacket Fits wasn't his retirement party. Interestingly, Bike's debut LP inhabits the sonic terrain his previous band's Melt was awash in -- that dark, ringing shimmer full of reverb (and some delay) and speaker-filling density. When Take in the Sun thrives, such as on "Anybody Know" and especially the snarling "Old and Blue," the vet twists his guitar signatures into a more twisting, biting, Shayne Carter-esque territory, leaving enough space for the aural unsaid as much as the said. And he remains capable of more sunny stuff like "Sunrise." It's all fondly remembered and made fresh. Yet the album stops short of outright greatness. There are times when it settles into a too-comfortable sameness, unwilling to stretch the moods and flavors very far, or really go out much on any more passionate limbs. It seems Brough's approach still could use a dose of that ol' hot-pepper, unruly, unrestrained spark Carter provided by association. Frankly, Brough could stand to be a tad more reckless. For instance, the double-tracked vocals are so timidly buried in the barrage of guitar, you wonder if he has enough confidence in his capable, winsome voice. This robs the LP of some immediacy these tracks deserve. But better to err in these uncompromising directions then to tart up a batch of too-glossy pop, and on the more up-tempo crackers such as "Keeping You in Mine" and the title track, Brough and his former rhythm section actually click plenty. In the end, there are plenty of small joys on Take in the Sun to be glad for his return.
Never has a name been so apt. A cauldron of prairie fire and brimstone, the sweltering beauty of Peter Stapleton's Scorched Earth Policy lies in their ability to conjure visions of austere desolation, sun-drenched despair, and loves lost and buried with a raucous, tumbling fury not found in the subdued murmurings of the Victor Dimisich Band. While those were delivered in the hushed tones of quiet desperation, these are the tortured cries of a soul slowly succumbing to the hypnotizing lull of insanity. It is the creeping, lingering shadow of the mid-afternoon sun as it tantalizes and mocks, an intangible harbinger of the darkness to come. Rising from the ashes of Victor Dimisich, Scorched Earth Policy was active from 1982 to 1986; during that time they released two EPs on Flying Nun, 1984's 'Dust to Dust' and 1985's 'Going thru' a Hole in the Back of Your Head.' Two live cassettes followed, one a posthumous Xpressway release. 'Keep Away from the Wires,' a collection released on Stapleton's Medication label in 2000, compiles the two EPs in their entirety along with outtakes and live selections. The main separating factor between Victor Dimisich and Scorched Earth--aside from Stephen Cogle's imitable baritone--was undoubtedly the contributions of guitarist Brian Crook to the latter. A spine-tingling blend of poetic menace and bite defines Crook's playing; it is impossible to imagine either Scorched Earth Policy or the Renderers without it.