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Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Clean -- Anthology

The Clean's Anthology defines the Dunedin sound I've been talking about for the past month. They're the group that really broke out, and they're the best. This collection pulls together 46 songs over two discs, and there's hardly a dud among them.

I prefer the earlier, more lo-fi and more direct tracks. Some of the songs that border on dreampop don't carry the energy of the punkish numbers, but some of them are quite excellent. The only failures here are the nothing oddities on the second half of disc two: "Psychedelic Ranger," "Ludwig," "Wipe Me, I'm Lucky."

The Clean sound fine with just the guitar-driven, Velvets-inspired sound, but it's that organ that really kicks things up. Everyone who talks about this group wants to put them in the post-punk category, but I'm not seeing it. Yes, it's music influence by punk after the '70s, but that doesn't mean it's in the "post-punk" genre. The Clean's beats are way too pop for that categorization. The challenge is that the Clean don't neatly fit into any category: they're too dirty for power-pop, too punk for pop-punk, and not new-wave/dance-y enough for post-punk. Ergo, the quintessential Kiwi Rock/Flying Nun/Dunedin Sound band?


Highlights: Disc One

Highlights' Highlights: "Tally Ho," "Billy Two," "Point That Thing Somewhere Else," "At the Bottom" (studio and live versions)

Disc Two Highlights: "Diamond Shine," "Big Cat"

So that wraps up my NZ run-down, but not my interest. I've got a Straightjacket Fits album on the way and the Roger Sings the Hits comp at home, so don't be surprised if there's more to come (including, possibly, one of those list things).

Ten Wheel Drive

Last night I finally got a good chunk of Ten Wheel Drive tracks to listen to (thanks for the tip, B). I had heard some Genya Ravan off her website, but the TWD stuff is much better; in fact, it's very good. The people who describe it as a rock-blues-jazz fusion are right on, although the jazz element is more formal than in actual sound or instrumentation. What I like about it is that they employ the best of prog without ever being prog-y (complex runs, interesting harmonics, no self-indulgence). Although the two groups sound utterly different, it's what I like about the Fire Theft, too.

Which reminds me that I still need to pick up Ravan's new memoir.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Chills -- Submarine Bells

This album is the one that's generally regarded as their classic, but I was more taken by Soft Bomb. That's not to take anything away from Submarine Bells, though. This disc, from 1990, actually has more catchy tunes on it. It's got a heavier emphasis on keys, too, which might explain why I was more turned to the other one, though I'm not sure -- it could just be because I've given Soft Bomb more quality listens in the car, and this one more half-listens in the study. Either way, you can't go wrong with the Chills.

Highlights: "Heavenly Pop Hit"

Tomorrow, the final and best entry on Kiwi Rock. If you're a fan of the Flying Nun circle, you know which one I'll be talking about.

The Chills -- Soft Bomb

The Chills' Soft Bomb might or might not be a full concept album, but it's certainly a unified piece. Several songs ("The Male Monster from the Id," "Soft Bomb," and "There Is No Harm in Trying") have direct responses later ("Sanctuary," "Soft Bomb II" and "Soft Bomb III", and "There Is No Point in Trying"). As a whole, the disc is concerned with working out this concept of a soft bomb. The violence is sometimes subtle, as with coercion in the music business, and sometimes not, as in the case of domestic violence. The album increases in gloominess before Martin Phillips sings, "For the deep black sea -- longs for me / It thinks that's where I belong." The ending's uncertain: is there a failure? a continued resistance? The album closes with the repetition of the phrase "soft bomb," but it's unclear if it's a dying wish, a rallying cry, or something else.

While the album thrives on thematic (narrative?) uncertainty, it excels on direct rock. The Chills have a sound similar to that of most of their Flying Nun compatriots, but they do it very well. There's a bit of California-psychedlica here. Pacific Rim Rock, perhaps?

All in all: classic.

Highlights: "The Male Monster from the Id," "Sanctuary," and "So Long"

PS - According to their website, the Chills are about to release a new EP.

This is simply beautiful

Get the full story at:

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Dylan and Clapton

I've just finished my first listen to Dylan's Empire Burlesque, and it's not as bad as people tend to say it is. I think it's pretty comparable to Clapton's Journeyman album. Both suffer from the same problems: period-specific production, sometimes cheesy guitar tones, and uninspired songwriting. Dylan's, of course, is better, but it doesn't compare to most of the rest of his catalog. The other key difference is that Dylan got back on track with the brilliant Oh, Mercy; the great Time out of Mind; and the very good Love and Theft. Clapton, on the other hand, has never returned to form. A few of his albums since then have been acceptable, but nothing's been essential, and his collection of Robert Johnson covers is as boring as it gets.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Pick of the Week 9/27/04

Booker T. & The Mg's -- McLemore Ave. (Phantom / Stax) 1990 reissue.

Who TV

Of course I'm excited about Who TV.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

!!! on Hippies

!!! vocalist Nic Offer, answering a question about drugs:

I mean, it's just like, why are hippies literally the stupidest people, you know? There's something to that. It really is true. I don't really want to sound like a cliché, but the punk rocker in me is like, I really do have a problem with trying to talk to them sometimes. It's like, come on man. It's like, whatever.

Quite a comment from, like, one of the worst lyricists out there.

The quotation's taken from SanDiegoPunk from a few years ago.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Tom Waits Article

Okay, so the article's 5 years old, but the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 has one of the most fun articles I've read in a while. "Gone North" by Robert Lloyd (LA Weekly) tells of a day spent with Tom Waits. Waits continually drops bizarre comments, observations, and trivia (from his notes) into conversation. Here are some of my favorites.

On the Mona Lisa: "The shaved eyebrows. That's what I go for."

On cooking (and I agree): "Of course, if I'm making something just for me, I'm not very picky, I might just pour some sugar in my ear, suck on a piece of dirt in my mouth, light my hair on fire. I'm fine with that."

On his music: "It's nice to be part of the dismemberment of linear time."

By the way, Waits has a new album coming out, Real Gone. I've only given it one listen so far, but it's pretty decent. This article, more than the new record, is going to send me digging through back catalog.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The Bats -- Spill the Beans

Spill the Beans is almost a great EP. Four of the tracks are really strong, but "Empty Head" just sounds like an REM ripoff that came a few years too late. The whole disc has that early-'90s college rock sound, but the Bats usually pull it off well. Spill the Beans is nowhere near as fun or interesting as Thousands of Tiny Luminous Spheres, but it's still enjoyable.

Now's as good a time as any to mention my love of the EP as a format. And for the short full-length. There's no need for most albums to approach an hour in length. Give me a solid 30 minutes and I'll be satisfied, unless you've really got something to say, in which case you should go for it.

Brilliant short album (that you should all own): Guitar Romantics by the Exploding Hearts.

I Disapprove

According to their web site, Luna's calling it quits after this next tour. The new album's very good -- much better than the Dean and Britta stuff I've heard (no matter how catchy "Night Nurse" is). Looks like I better put forth the effort to see them on this go-round.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Gary Benchley

You should all be reading this. If you haven't been there from the start, you can read the archives to get caught up on the whole, hilarious story.

Katherine: So what happened to the future of punk rock?
Gary: Electroclash.
Jacob: Blogging.

A Gary thought to live by: "What we are searching for is the quality of awesomeness."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Son Volt Re-forms

All the news is at Jay Farrar's web site.

Interesting note:
As this revered band reconnects, a unique glimpse inside the Son Volt
sessions will be offered. Beginning October 1, a webcamera will be
placed in the studio to capture a day of pre-production and 16 days of
recording. The webcamera can be accessed at
and will feature streaming photos that refresh every 5 seconds.

Thanks to Ben for the tip.

David Kilgour -- Sugar Mouth

By this time, I'm not surprised to hear a Kilgour album with great hooks -- that's his forte -- but Sugar Mouth just isn't drawing me in like the other stuff I've heard from him. That's more a compliment to the rest of the Kilgour/Clean catalog than an insult to this disc, though. My own complaint here is the echo-y vocals on the first track, "No No No." Generally if the worst complaint you can come up with is a production quibble, then you're listening to good stuff.

Bubblegum Blues

I'm in the middle of my first listen to Bubblegum by the Mark Lanegan Band. I wasn't sure what to expect, being unfamiliar with the Screaming Trees and not so into Queens of the Stone Age. I've seen quite a few references to Lanegan's blues roots, and they really come through on this album. It's not so much an updated take on the blues -- a suggestion I read somewhere -- as it is just the blues run through a post-grunge filter. The strength of the album is in Lanegan's voice. He's got a full sound and an emotional delivery.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

New Cale

I'm trying to decide if the new John Cale album deserves all the fuss it's getting. I'm not putting it down at all, but I'm just not blown away. Cale sounds like a cross between late-era Pete Townshend and Nick Cave, which really is a good thing. There are few great songs: "Things" and "Letter from Abroad" for starters. There are no duds (with the possible exception of "Things X"). Even the bonus EP has five solid tracks. The Stylus review reads, "Hobo Sapiens ought to be one of the avant-pop templates for years to come." Really?

Monday, September 20, 2004

On Fire

We've got a new contender for album of the year: The Arcade Fire's Funeral. This record's about as good as rock gets.

Okay, so I'm making that claim after only a listen and a half (plus a few spins of "No Cars Go" from the EP), so it might be a bit hyperbolic. Still, this album's got me worked up, and is Kanye's only real contender so far for the top slot on my year-end list.

The 3Ds -- Fish Tales/Swarthy Songs for Swabs

Released in 1991, Fish Tales/Swarthy Songs for Swabs collects the 3Ds' first two EPs along with two bonus tracks recorded on a Portastudio. It's a solid outing, but nothing too spectacular. The band's still groping for their sound here, and they often lose themselves in their use of noise (which will become so effective on The Venus Trail). To me, this group's all about Denise Roughan -- I'd like to hear her sing on every track, and now I'm going to have to track down some Look Blue Go Purple discs.

I don't really have much more to say on this one. I'd recommend starting with The Venus Trail, and moving on to this CD if you'd like some more noise and lower-fi recordings.

Pick of the Week 9/20/04

The Feelies -- Crazy Rhythms (A&M Records) 1980

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Bats -- Thousands of Tiny Luminous Spheres

I'm not sure that the Bats (founded by ex-Clean bassist Robert Scott) do anything in particular to set themselves apart from the rest of their circle. In fact, they're probably the most straightforward of the NZ poppers. At times while listening to Thousands of Tiny Luminous Spheres, I had the sense that these guys had only ever heard "Don't Fear the Reaper" before starting their own recording. That sounds like a criticism, but it's not meant to be. The Bats have a great sense of melody, nice guitar leads, and catchy hooks. The harmonies are a little off; in fact, I get the sense that no one in any of these bands cared too much about precise singing, and maybe that's part of why I like all of them.

This disc is one of my favorites so far, which may be a bit unfair given that it's a career overview. The tracks could almost fit together as an album, though, because the jangly REMish sound is that consistent ... hmmm, perhaps they sound more like a more-electric Teenage Fanclub.

Almost no duds here, but highlights: "North by North," "Block of Wood," and "Mastery."

Friday, September 17, 2004

Graeme Downes -- Hammers and Anvils

Last Verlaines post for the foreseeable future, really:

The other day I mentioned the Tin Pan Alley influence that started creeping into the Verlaines' work. It's in full effect on this Downes solo album, to the CD's benefit and its detriment. The disc's strongest track is easily "Cole Porter" (there's a giveaway on the influence). The brilliant and catchy refrain:

"I've been plundering all of Cole Porter this morning
To find me a rhyme half as beautiful as you."

Hammers and Anvils is a good record, but parts are a little too cabaret for my tastes. I do appreciate the clever lyrics, though, and that's Downes' strength on this record. Musically, he does a great job allowing the empty spaces, and the production is really well-done, without being too crisp. His rock skills shien when he lets them, as on "Cattle, Cars and Chainsaws" and its great lead guitar line.

It's an album worth getting, but I'd start on with some Verlaines first, possibly Hallelujah All the Way Home.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The 3Ds -- The Venus Trail

The 3Ds have this Sonic Youth-thing going on, and that's generally a good thing on The Venus Trail, the band's second full-length. The group (composed entirely I think, of people whose names start with a "D") has a good ear for melody, but they often bury it amidst the noise of screeches and feedback. The album's got some strong guitar hooks and the band keeps the intensity up.

Highlights: Any track Denise Roughan sings on. The closing track "Spooky" is an unsettling acoustic number with great lo-fi production and good harmonies.

David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights -- David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights

I'm sitting here trying to keep this Kilgour album on in the background, but it keeps distracting me. I mean, it's not even Kilgour's best (I like Frozen Orange more and still haven't heard Feather in the Engine), but it has some incredible passages. The pairing of the last two tracks is genius sequencing, and "Tumbalin" is the perfect way to close out the disc -- mellow beauty after some serious rockin'.

Only complaint: I'd like some less muddy production. But take that as mildly as you can. In a few days, I'm going to be praising the Clean for their most lo-fi work.

Moneyest track: "Diggin for Gold"

Odd note: my local record store seems to have an unlimited supply of cut-out versions of this album for only $4.99. Those of you in Cville best pick it up.

Not Glad to See You Go

Good-bye, Johnny Ramone.

The best soundtrack for NHL95 ever. And a shout out to Fuoco, too, wherever you are.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Verlaines -- Ready to Fly

Last post on the Verlaines for the time being:

At first listen, Ready to Fly was a bit of a disappointment. It was poppy and jangly and kind of empty. On my second spin, though, I completely changed my mind. There are some smart lyrics on here, and some exciting drumming with lots of fills. The Tin Pan Alley influence comes out too strongly on this album, but it nearly always works, unlike on Downes's solo album (post forthcoming). I can see this one getting high rotation for at least the next few weeks. While it's not brilliant, it's a very enjoyable record. Top tracks: "Gloomy Junky," "Tremble," and "Hurricane."

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Tall Dwarfs -- Weeville

Back to the Flying Nun stuff, this time the Tall Dwarfs' Weeville. To me, this group feels like the weirdest of the Kiwi rockers I've come across so far, and I haven't decided yet if that's a good thing or a bad thing. They've got a comfortable pop base, but they go off on some odd tangents (like "Crawl"), and add in some noise tracks, which are generally pretty enjoyable. It's songs like "Lucky" that I don't know what to do with. In theory, I like the oddness, but I'm not sure that I'd ever think, "Oh, I need to go listen to that track." "Bodies" feels like an incongruous number here -- the sudden darkness doesn't sit right amidst the rest of the album. Tracks 10-14 would have made a spectacular EP.

I'll try to wrap up the NZ rock reviews by the end of September. Still to come: the 3Ds, the Bats, more Verlaines/Downes, Kilgour solo, and, of course, the Clean.


This in the Times:

Rappers Are Raising Their Churches & Roofs

The best part? Kanye on "Jesus Walks":

Mr. West, the son of a Christian marriage counselor, said
that when his father heard the song, he said, " 'Maybe you
missed your calling.' I said, 'No, maybe this is my
calling.' I reach more people than any one pastor can."

He likened "Jesus Walks" not to church teaching but to his
secular songs, which celebrate the high life without
moralizing. "I don't tell anyone they have to do this or
that. I never said, 'You better have your Louis Vuittons on
or something's going happen to you.' I just said, 'This is
what I want.' Same with Jesus."

Monday, September 13, 2004

Rilo Kiley

The new Rilo Kiley album is generating plenty of discussion. Robert Christgau's even written not one but two columns on it.

I'm not sure what the fuss is about. More Adventurous is certainly a strong album -- one of the best pure pop albums I've heard in a while -- and easily the most accessible CD I've added to my collection in a while. What it isn't is groundbreaking. But that's fine by me, every now and then it's good to throw on something simple and just feel it. Singer Jenny Lewis has a great delivery (and if critics want to claim it's over-the-top, they'll just be wrong) and the band has a some smart lyrics. The first half of the disc reminds me of all the groups I used to see in college (only RK is far, far better), but the second half fades off in its folk-rockingness. It doesn't get bad, just not as good, and I'll take the first 3 or 4 songs anytime.

Click here for some samples.

Pick of the Week 9/13/04

Konk -- The Sound of Konk: Tales of the New York Underground 1981-88 (Phantom / Soul Jazz) 2004

Saturday, September 11, 2004

This Is It

More news on the folkie Christian front, although this time from experimental label Asthmatic Kitty (home of Sufjan Stevens). Cathedral, the debut album from Castanets, is a stunning example of what I want in Christian music. It's sonically unique, lyrically intense, and never self-righteous. Raymond Raposa -- who more or less is Castanets -- is one of the promising people on the Asthmatic Kitty, which is rapidly becoming one of the most intriguing labels out there because its artists match smart Christian lyrics with avant music, something sorely lacking in most religious music.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Betchadupa -- Alphabetchadupa

From the Finn Brothers to their Neil's son Liam and his band Betchadupa:

The group's debut full-length from 2002, Alphabetchadupa, has a bit of a post-grunge sound. The band really rocks out at times, which beats their slower numbers easily. Finn has a great voice (he sounds like his dad), but he needs the songwriting to go with it. The first single, "Sleepy News" shows too big a nod to the charts (where they were fairly successful in NZ) and not enough to guts or originality. Nothing really outstanding here, but they might be worth keeping an eye on.

Bethany Dillon

A friend just gave me a heads-up on Bethany Dillon, a 15-year-old Christian folk/rock artist. She's not someone I'm going to be listening to much myself, but I do think she's talented. Her music is solid but unoriginal, but it's her lyrics that stand out. She's got a track called "Beautiful" that is about God's role in body-image issues, which is something that has tangible implications that young people (especially women) would be well-served to explore. It's straightforward pop that will probably be of interest mostly (but not only) to adolescents and post-adolescent.

You can stream most of her album on her homepage, which certainly warrants a visit. She's also got a blog there that's surprisingly articulate for someone of that age.


Head here for a preview:

SMiLE the Album

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Finn Brothers -- Everyone Is Here

Jumping forward a few decades to this year for Everyone Is Here by the Finn Brothers. You might have encountered these siblings (Neil and Tim) in either Crowded House or Split Enz (or their solo work). The new album's pretty high-quality pop, but it's a little overbearing at time, as on "Nothing's Wrong With You." The brothers' voice are still in good form, and the harmonies on this album are its greatest strength. When the music drives, I enjoy it; the slower numbers kill Everyone Is Here, with "Edible Flowers" being a disaster of a ballad. All in all, it's a solid, enjoyable album, but it doesn't really go anywhere. You could throw this disc on at any time and be fine with it, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


Interesting article on new P2P technology:

New service links IMing and music sharing -- for free

The idea of streaming other people's files should have come around some time ago. This project should satisfy the RIAA (free publicity for all the music people see fit to share) as well as exploratory downloaders. I'm not saying Mercora will replace P2P file-sharing programs, but it will provide a free, fun, legal alternative.

Thanks to Coolfer for the link.

The NZ reviews will resume tomorrow with the Finn Brothers.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Verlaines -- Hallelujah All the Way Home

One thing I'm quickly learning about this group is that they use dynamics better than almost anyone else out there. There are no long, sweeping crescendos -- just simple changes that match the music. It's really pretty fantastic. The opening track here, "It Was Raining" is the prime example of this.

"All Laid On" follows. It's a fun number with some good banjo. The track sounds Celtic to me, but that probably just shows my lack of NZ musical knowledge. "The Lady and the Lizard" has a fine middle section, with the music cutting in and out to segue into a smooth, calm passage before the guitars suddenly pick up again. Great use of reeds, too. Downes and his mates should give classes on how to construct pop songs. Oh, but he is a professor at Otago, I think.

I just checked out a discography, and this is the first full-length by these guys. I've got Ready to Fly and Hammers and Anvils on the way, and I'm excited.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Verlaines -- Bird Dog

Getting into the Flying Nun set now:

The Verlaines' Bird Dog is generally considered their masterpiece, so it's my starting point for them. It is a strong album, full of great pop hooks. The Jam are closest Northern Hemisphere touchpoint I can find -- there's something slightly mod-ish about the Verlaines, and Graeme Downes has a bit of Paul Weller in his delivery. The album's one failing is the Gregorian-like chanting on "Icarus Failed." I applaud the effort, but it comes out more like a general weirdness than anything interesting, except maybe as an obvious point of the co-existence of classical and popular influences on Downes's writing. I enjoy the Weller influence more than the Mahler, though. Give me those hooks, and let the oboes and odd instrumentation take a supporting role. The group's aesthetic commands attention, but I suspect that the songs would stand up well if they were just performed by Downes on an acoustic guitar. The standout track here is "Bird Dog," with its rousing barroom chorus hiding an intelligent narrative, which is somehow echoed by the outro. I'm not sure that I'm ready to put this one on my essentials list, but it certainly worth keeping around.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Don't Dream It's Over and Fiery Furnaces

I know, there's been a slight delay in the Kiwi series, but it will continue. I've mainly been holding back until I can get more detailed thoughts on the Chills' Submarine Bells and Soft Bomb, both of which are excellent albums. I received a tip today to check out the Finn brothers' work, so hopefully I'll have a chance to do that soon (you might remember Neil Finn from Crowded House).

In other news, Slate just ran an interesting article on the Fiery Furnaces. I'm not sure I'm keen on what they're doing. I was a little let down to discover that they didn't actually sound like the Who, a comparison every single article on them has to include. Upon the insistence of a friend, I gave Blueberry Boat a second and third listen and, by golly, it's some good stuff. Even so, I'm not sure I agree with the aesthetic of embodying "failure and incapacity". I should like it, maybe; after all, it's the late 20th Century outgrowth of modernism. Art's no longer a redemptive force, but itself a self-referential mess of failed transcendence, where "l'erection tombe".

It's not doing it for me because it sounds like a copout. I like the ambition, but go ahead and match that with a magnificent failure, not an ironic one: '“A Quick One” and “Rael” are, pre-eminently, narrative art music, self-consciously debilitated; we would like you to think of Blueberry Boat as their appropriately disabled descendent.'

Still, FF, come to VA -- I'd love to see one of these live "mishmash" shows.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Fortress of Solitude

I'm currently recommending Fortress of Solitude to everyone. I had only known author Jonahtan Lethem from his Da Capo anthology, but I'm glad a took a chance on his novel. The music stuff is great and more fun to read than most histories (not having been in Brooklyn, or anywhere else, during the time of the novel, I can't vouch for its accuracy, but it sure feels right). We get the rise of NYC rap, punk, and new wave, and a sideways glance at the intersecting cultures, boiled down to a personal level.

I like the formal structure of the book, esp. the use of liner notes as a narrative device and a segue between sections. The notes read like liner notes and don't feel forced at all. Lethem shifts voices easily, and he does a good job developing the narrator of the third section's voice in both the narrative and the notes -- it's clearly the same person doing two types of writing. The novel's not in chronological sequence, but neither is it a scattershot presentation. I expected Lethem to have a po-mo sensibility -- and it's there a bit -- but he's precise in his technique.

By the way, I still have almost 100 pages left, so no spoilers, please.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Roy Montgomery

The first of my NZ reviews. I'm starting with Roy Montgomery's Temple IV not to avoid Flying Nun off the bat, but because it's handy. I'm not too sure what to do with this album. I'm interested in the sounds he's creating, particularly because he doesn't seem to use many effects (or at least he uses them subtly). "Jaguar Unseen" even contains a guitar part that sounds like I plugged my electric directly into my old Tascam 4-track.

Montgomery does a great job constructing his instrumentals without relying on crescendos, like every post-rock group out there (esp. Constellation bands). He's a little drone-y without fitting into the shoegazer category. The only problem with the record comes when Montgomery goes on for too long (as on "She Waits on Temple IV" and "Above the Canopy"). I like repetition, but those two tracks way overdo it.