The Verlaines – Juvenelia

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

This is technically part 1 and for now the first Verlaines entry, but its the most recent of my Verlaines acquisitions and this post post-dates the other Verlaines posts, so I’m not going to say much in this section and the usual part 1 narrative will be found in one of those later/earlier posts. I’d been hoping to acquire this for some time and am really happy that I finally did! It’s an excellent album that makes me appreciate the Verlaines even more. I need to get Hallelujah All the Way Home.

What I Think of This Album

Once again, a comp whose composition is frustratingly not well explained in the liner notes. As far as I can tell, it consists of the Ten O’Clock In the Afternoon EP (six songs) plus the “Death and the Maiden” single (b/w “C.D. Jimmy Jazz and Me”), and then three songs that were part of the legendary Dunedin Double EP, recorded by Chris Knox (and which also included the Chills’ first recordings). That adds up to 11 tracks, spanning 1982-84. Which means there are four bonus tracks:  the “Doomsday”/”New Kind of Hero” single from 1985 and live versions of “Instrumental” and “Phil Too?” Of course, these Flying Nun-released songs are all intermingled on Juvenilia and not presented in their original order.

Does this sound like a complaint? I suppose it is, but I can overlook the bewildering decision to not provide an accurate history through the sequencing because the music is so damn great. Even as Graeme Downes humbly details the band’s naivete and inexperience (they did not know what overdubs were or what mixing was at the time of their first recordings), the songs betray his talent as a songwriter and arranger as well as the band’s enthusiasm, charm, and bravery.

The three Dunedin Double tracks from 1982 were the band’s first recordings:  “Angela,” “Crisis After Crisis,” and “You Cheat Yourself of Everything That Moves.” These songs definitely show promise. ”Angela” boasts a warm melody, pleasant jangle, some odd arrangement choices, and an inventive drum pattern. “Crisis After Crisis” is a clear-eyed response to a haughty ex, brimming with great lines. And “You Cheat Yourself” is a slow burner with desperate vocals from Downes.

A few months later saw the release of the inexplicable and stunning “Death and the Maiden” single. Indeed, “Death and the Maiden” somehow avoids several potential pitfalls on the way to becoming a standout early track. Among other things, referencing poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud would be pretentious enough without also naming the song after an artistic motif juxtaposing death with the erotic (there are tons of Death and the Maiden paintings, including by Edvard Munch, Marianne Stokes, Egon Schiele, Evelyn DeMorgan, and Henry Lévy). Also, the song incorporates at least three different time signatures, including a waltzing circus organ bridge that *should* derail everything. But no, this all works and it’s a fantastic fucking song. Downes explains that each chorus features fewer and fewer voices so it sounds prettier and cleaner as the song progresses (and by the end, you can indeed clearly hear bassist Jane Dodd’s previously buried harmonies).

B-side “C.D. Jimmy Jazz and Me” would end up being rerecorded for Bird Dog. Once again, Downes’s smarty pants approach – C.D. being a reference to Claude Debussy and Jimmy Jazz a nickname for James Joyce (and alas, not a Clash reference) – fails to get the better of him. While the album version may document technical improvement, including prominent use of brass, this rougher and more straightforward single thrums with youthful energy, unspooling in a way that seems like the song will never end and leading you to hope that it won’t. 

The six songs on the Ten O’Clock EP – variously reported as being released in 1983 and 1984 – make up the plurality of the comp:  “Baud to Tears,” “Pyromaniac,” “Joed Out,” “Burlesque,” “Wind Song,” and “You Say You.”  All are fantastic.

The lyric “he hasn’t got a shit show” appears in “Baud to Tears” and it makes me wonder if that terminology (one of my favorites) is used differently in New Zealand. More important are lyrics like “you’ll never spend a season in hell / If you lie in bed all day / And you won’t ever see anything beautiful again.” I have to assume the Baud in the title concerns Baudelaire but I am too uncultured to know how (I also have to assume at the same time that this is not a song about modems).

“Pyromaniac” benefits from the same sense of urgency that drives most of these tracks. I tend to doubt Downes’s protestations of amateurism, as the playing is uniformly very good and the songwriting is inventive and sophisticated. “Joed Out” is an uncharacteristically straightforward love song, approximating the kind of work the Go-Betweens regularly produced (is it bad form to compare a Kiwi band to an Aussie one? Am I offending both in the process?); it also provides the title of the EP on which it originally appeared. The acoustic solo at the end is lovely.

The opening line of “Burlesque” tells you all you need to know about this track:  “One day you’ll be dying of triple-throat cancer / Ha ha.” This unusual and unsettling song shudders along thanks to drummer Robbie Yeats’s syncopated pattern, with an ominous and mocking organ serving as your guide.

“Wind Song” is an atmospheric marvel, augmented by a variety of children’s toys (and Downes’s oboe) and elevated by Dodd’s heavenly harmonies. Truly beautiful. For a band that didn’t know about overdubs, this is some amazing work. Downes adds violin to “You Say You,” a song about empathy in a small bedroom that sounds like it is about murder in a gothic mansion.

The “Doomsday” single is energetic and lushly jangly, with a surprising (and lengthy) instrumental outro. B-side “New Kind of Hero” rises above it bitterness thanks mostly to Dodd’s harmonies. “Instrumental” is exactly that, and a lot of fun – who needs lyrics? “Phil Too?” is frantic and that is cool for what it is but this is easily the weakest song on this comp.

Jane Dodd (the second (?) bassist in the Verlaines) had been a founding member of the Chills, along with her sister. She also played in the Able Tasmans and designed the artwork for several Verlaines and AT releases. She is now a celebrated jewelry artist. The Verlaines went through many drummers but their second (also ?) – Alan Haig – was also a founding member of the Chills.

The Best Thing About This Album

Wow. Hard to say. I guess the fact that Downes and company were able to come out of the gate so strongly and overcome logistic obstacles on the way to turning into a phenomenal band.

Release Date

1987

The Cover Art

Ok, so this is the slipcover for the CD release. The actual art on the CD is the same image but the background color is a greenish-yellow and the other colors are also altered. The band name is difficult to make out and the album title is basically indecipherable, and for those reasons I don’t really care for this art.

The Bats – Foothills

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 8)

I’ve made some (excellent) album purchases in the last several months, so I think it is time to backfill the relevant parts of my alphabetized collection. There is so much to appreciate about Foothills. It is the Bats’ tenth album, coming in their 38th year of existence – as previously mentioned, always with the same line-up. The music is just as appealing, polished, and melodic as everything else they’ve released. What a tremendous fucking band!

What I Think of This Album

There were probably a lot of reasons why this album might not have existed. The Bats have absolutely nothing left to prove – they’re giants of the New Zealand music scene and their track record is unassailable. They’re all in their late 50s to late 60s, and not only have day jobs but other musical projects as well. And the album was released during the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving the band with no ability to tour internationally to promote it. But we are all very fortunate that it does exist.

The Bats grace us with twelve warm, woody, comforting songs, mostly jangly in nature and sometimes augmented with colorful keyboard. Robert Scott delivers another strong batch of mostly downcast songs which he sings with his distinctive voice, and guitarist Kaye Woodward adds her perpetually underappreciated guitar leads as well as critical backing vocals and keyboards, too. The rhythm section of bassist (and sometimes second guitarist) Paul Kean and drummer Malcolm Grant adds a sense of urgency and fullness to the proceedings. That the record company could print the lyrics to twelve songs on two pages with plenty of negative space left over speaks to the economy of Scott’s songwriting.

As on all Bats albums, there is nothing to complain about and much to praise. “Red Car” is deceptively simple lyrically, but Scott and Woodward give revelatory performances that turn this so-basic-it’s-opaque song into a cathedral of musicality. The backing includes what sounds to me like a melodica, but there is no such credit (rather, it appears Woodward is making these sounds on a keyboard); in any event, it adds depth, drama, and nuance to what ends up being a stunningly beautiful song.

“Warwick” is another standout, with a precise and sharp lead part and energetic drumming; when Woodward adds her vocal harmonies, it feels like a flower blooming. The delicate “Beneath the Visor” finds Scott and Woodward making lyrics like “I’m none the wiser with you” sound like the pinnacle of romance. 

An atmospheric arrangement adds mystery and drama to the lovely “Scrolling.” The same is true of the watery guitar tones on the majestic “Another Door,” which benefits from an uplifting chorus that showcases Woodward’s vocal harmonies again; she also adds a great (albeit short) solo that Neil Young would be proud of. 

“Field of Vision” is one of the more upbeat tunes, with a great guitar part from Woodward and emphatic propulsion courtesy of Grant. “Change Is All” hints at domestic difficulties but does so via a charming melody, and towards the end of the song, the band adds a very encouraging drone (likely via Kean’s ebow guitar).

“As You Were” comes across as more intricate and also slightly darker in tone than the rest of the songs here, though Scott finds a way to interject some unusual bird-related humor into the proceedings (“You couldn’t say boo to a goose / You’re such a chicken”). Conversely, the surprisingly pounding “Smaller Pieces” sounds like the work of a tougher band, which is not to say there isn’t some delicate guitar work in the mix; this track may be the most welcome surprise on the entire album. Another surprise is the coda to this song.

The ebow makes additional appearances on “Gone to Ground,” which vacillates between reflective and somber, and the much more engaging “Electric Sea View,” which is the kind of song I could envision Ride playing when they are this age (if they are fortunate enough). 

Yes, it’s a Flying Nun release.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Red Car” is phenomenal.

Release Date

November, 2020

The Cover Art

Reminds me of Yo La Tengo’s Fade, but in any event, this is very pretty and calming. Good sans-serif font use, but perhaps too large and not well-placed.

The Verlaines – Way Out Where

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

The Verlaines took a long break after this, and possibly lost U.S. distribution. They certainly fell off my radar and I was surprised to learn that there are four more albums that post-date this one, through 2012. I suppose it’s time to hit up Spotify (and maybe Discogs).

What I Think of This Album

I could say something like “The Professor finally discovers rock” but that would be obnoxious. Though this is the most muscular album of the Verlaines’ output (at least as far as I know), it’s not like academic Graeme Downes hadn’t relied on rock instrumentation before. But this time the band has added a second guitarist and toned down the orchestral elements. That frankly makes the album considerably less interesting than Bird Dog or Ready to Fly (the two you should definitely own), but it is by no means bad.

The songs are pretty strong and Downes’s voice still conveys buckets of emotion. It’s just that the tunes lose something by relying solely on traditional instrumentation, even as Downes still explores the usual different styles.

For example, on an earlier release, “This Valentine” would have incorporated strings and brass, and the choice to instead feature a distorted guitar seems like the wrong one; “Cathedrals Under the Sea” would absolutely have been wrapped in dramatic and empathic orchestration. I can almost hear the alternate arrangements in my head when I listen to these songs.

Even “Blanket Over the Sky” and the title track, both of which actually benefit from the sturm-und-drang of the guitars, still probably would have sounded even better with more intricate arrangements. A oboe and then an organ are heard on “Lucky In My Dreams,” and it is like a gift from above.

To be clear, there are string and woodwind credits, as well as keyboard credits, but it appears that they are limited to closing song “Dirge.” And there is additional variety found in the pastoral “Black Wings,” with some nice percussion.

Just so there is no confusion, this is another Flying Nun release.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Lucky In my Dreams” for its more expansive sound, but “Stay Gone” is an outstanding song.

Release Date

1993

The Cover Art

I’m pretty sure they borrowed this font from the Cramps? Or maybe the Misfits? Whatever its origin, it does not work here at all. And the Courier-like font for the title is also bad. The vulture is pretty ugly, too, actually, but I’m also not sure there is such a thing as a not-ugly vulture.

The Verlaines – Ready to Fly

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

This was the Verlaines’ major label debut, which was on Slash, which was also the label that picked up fellow Kiwis The Chills the year before. Clearly, someone at Slash was paying attention; they should have just signed the entire Flying Nun roster. Though I doubt either band sold well enough in the States to make those signings pay off. The Slash logo is cool. The Verlaines toured behind this album but I was not yet into them in 1991, sadly.

What I Think of This Album

Look, if one of the lyrics of your song is “Why don’t you love me?,” then I am probably going to like that song. Does this make me a pathetic fuck? No. It doesn’t make me one  . . . it just underscores the degree to which I am one.

Anyway, that line is but one of the many charms of wonderfully titled opening track “Gloom Junky,” which also offers this classic:  “I don’t mean to say you’re infantile / But do you ever listen to yourself?” The song – like the entire album – finds Graeme Downes striking the perfect balance between his pop and orchestral sensibilities.

Still formally a three piece, the Verlaines get help from no fewer than twelve additional musicians, mostly on horns, strings, and reeds. That said, “Overdrawn” is possibly the fastest, most drum-heavy song they had recorded to date, while “Such As I” sounds like it was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, but in neither case does it sound like the Verlaines are going too far in one extreme or the other.

And indeed, most of the songs follow the pattern of the glorious love song “Tremble” – effectively bringing together the rock instruments and the orchestral ones, with Downes’s emotive vocals tying everything together. “Hurricane” is another pop song that borrows from Broadway, but it works perfectly. “War In My Head” is appropriately frenetic, with Downes doing his best to explain his competing, extreme emotions.

“Inside Out” is another song that marries horns and strings to a roller coaster drum part, and which relies on Downes’s way with a melody, while “See You Tomorrow” is basically a country-blues number from an alternate universe version of Oklahoma! where Laurey and Ado Annie wear Chess Records t-shirts.

Oddly, “Hole In the Ground” starts out like a Wire song, but quickly develops into a warm message of support to a heartbroken friend (“Dance as if you were on his grave”). The title track is a full-throated declaration of freedom (“You’re wearing me down / I’m ready to fly”). “Moonlight On Snow” is less immediate than the other tracks, but is a very pretty orchestral piece. The Verlaines end things with the quick sine wave of “Hold On.”

The Best Thing About This Album

Everything here is fantastic, but I will go with “Tremble.”

Release Date

1991

The Cover Art

They broke out the fisheye lens, but didn’t really need to go through all that trouble, as there is barely any fisheyeing going on here.

The Verlaines – Some Disenchanted Evening

What I Think of When I Think This Artist (part 3)

I’m not trying to defend my music tastes or collection. This isn’t a competition. I like things you might think are terrible, and you like things I definitely feel are garbage. That’s fine. We can coexist, and maybe even be friends. We just won’t go to shows together, and car rides may be difficult (true crime podcasts, it is, I guess). I have little interest in convincing you to like the Verlaines, and none in relying on this album as argument. Should you give them a listen? Yes. Am I going to insist you do? No. Your disregard of the Verlaines does no injury to my love of the Verlaines. It might even enhance it.

What I Think of This Album

Honestly, this is a borderline Verlaines album (again on the Flying Nun label). It is missing the energy, grandeur, and tunefulness of Bird Dog, and arguably finds Graeme Downes indulging his worst impulses. Still, there are things to enjoy about it.

“Jesus What A Jerk” is a rollicking tune. “The Funniest Thing” is even better, approaching the heights of Bird Dog, with a robust and energized presentation and some excellent lyrics. The arrangement of “Whatever You Run Into” is brilliant, including fine harmonies from Sarah Macnab and Jan Hellriegel.

There is an appropriate level of drama to the grandiose “We’re All Going to Die,” with Downes offering a great vocal. The Randy Newman-esque “It Was” is entertaining in its own way, though maybe a bit precious (which perhaps renders it more faithfully Randy Newman-esque). And if I am being generous, there are some compelling moments in “Come Sunday.”

What you should avoid are songs like “Faithfully Yours” and “Damn Shame,” which sound like they were lifted from a self-financed off-Broadway musical. “This Train” comes close to committing the same sin; its marginal pop sensibility saves it from being unlistenable, but the song still is not anything I want to hear.

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Funniest Thing” is the prize here.

Release Date

1990

The Cover Art

The font is awful, but the impressionist art is at least okay, and possibly worth a few seconds’ study.

The Verlaines – Bird Dog

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Another excellent New Zealand band, the Verlaines are the most highbrow of the lot, which means they also stand the most to lose. Singer and songwriter Graeme Downes was an academic who specialized in 19th century symphonic music, and specifically was an expert on Gustav Mahler; he eventually became a lecturer at and then head of the music, theatre and performing arts department at the University of Otago, where he taught courses on musicology and composition. He named the band after poet Paul Verlaine, for goodness’ sake. The band’s lineup varied greatly, and the sound eventually stripped away the orchestral trappings, but almost no matter which album you listen to, the Verlaines make some great music. Downes stepped out of the public eye after a cancer diagnosis in 2020.

What I Think of This Album

This album is the sonic equivalent of one of those growth charts that you keep in pencil on a kitchen door jamb – with a couple of exceptions, Bird Dog gets better with each tune.

This is certainly true for the first five tracks, as excellent songs (angular and dramatic “Take Good Care of It,” which somehow folds in some avant-garde piano strumming – yes, piano strumming; bass-driven and grey “Just Mum”) are stacked on top of a great song (thrummy “You Forget Love,” featuring angelic harmonies from bassist Jane Dodd and guest Caroline Easther), which rests upon the shoulders of a good song (the spare “Makes No Difference,” complete with flugelhorn), culminating with the glorious, keening howl of “Slow Sad Love Song.”

There is some regression with the somber jazz of “Only Dream Left,” but things pick up again with the bouncy “Dippy’s Last Trip.” Tim Dodd – likely relative of bassist Jane – plays the piano on this and one other track. The wonderful title track is a feverish, surreal tale of frightened preachers, a dog-skin coat, and imported German beer.

“Icarus “ disappoints (Gregorian chants? really?), but colorful closer “C.D. Jimmy Jazz and Me” is phenomenal, ending in a cinematic burst. Okay, so maybe not like a growth chart, but maybe a spin class workout.

By the way, “C.D. Jimmy Jazz and Me” is about Downes palling around with Claude Debussy and James Joyce in Paris . . . but it doesn’t sound like it. That’s the key (it probably helps that what Downes actually sings is that the three of them “fucked off to Paris to write of the sea”). This could all come across as stodgy, pretentious crap particularly given the tuba, bassoon, strings and horns – but it absolutely is not. It doesn’t sound like rock, certainly, and it’s barely pop, but it’s still incredibly melodic and somehow both straightforward and complex at the same time. Downes not only sings and plays the guitar, harmonica, and piano on this, he also is responsible for all the oboe parts.

Bird Dog is the second Verlaines album; I’ve never listened to the debut. Obviously, this is a Flying Nun release.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Slow Sad Love Song” is a killer track.

Release Date

1987

The Cover Art

Honestly, probably the darkest, saddest cover art I’ve ever seen. Don’t do this to me, the Verlaines.

The Clean – Anthology

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The Clean are the diffident Zeus in the pantheon of New Zealand bands. Without the Clean, we would not have the Bats, Bailter Space, or influential label Flying Nun, which means we don’t have basically any New Zealand indie rock at all. And other non-Kiwi bands like Pavement and Yo La Tengo would sound very different without the Clean, I believe. Formed in 1978 by Hamish Kilgour and brother David, it eventually included bassist Robert Scott. A fractured history ensued, and they did not release their first album until 1990. Scott also fronts the Bats, whom I love, and Hamish Kilgour formed Bailter Space and the Mad Scene (which at one point included former Go-Betweens bassist Robert Vickers).

What I Think of This Album

I believe this is what people refer to as “an embarrassment of riches.” At 46 tracks, this massive two-disc compilation is arguably all the Clean you need, and most certainly all the Clean you want. I often struggle with albums of this size – it’s daunting to take in all at once. I usually like to break things down into 12 song chunks or so when listening.

The first disc is from the band’s early period, when they neither released full albums nor anything not on vinyl. Starting with the impossibly catchy and cheerful debut single “Tally Ho,” I believe disc one gathers together everything from the early ‘80s (up until the band broke up, leading Scott to form the Bats, and Hamish Kilgour to eventually convene Bailter Space). The story is that the recording budget for “Tally Ho” was $60 (New Zealand dollars). Whatever the cost, it was money well spent, as the cheery, chintzy organ sound (which calls to mind garage standards like “California Sun,” “Little Bit O’ Soul,” and “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love)”) is easy to fall for and propelled this simple, wonderful track to the Top 20 in New Zealand and thrust Flying Nun (this was the second single the label issued) into the limelight.

I am not going to go into each of the other 21 songs on this first album, but in general . . . it’s pretty cool. There is sometimes a Velvet Underground churn to the tracks, like on “Billy Two,” “Point That Thing Somewhere Else,” “Fish,” and “At The Bottom,” and sometimes more of a jangly sound, as exemplified by “Thumbs Off,” “Anything Could Happen,” and “Flowers.” There are slightly experimental numbers like “Side On” and “Sad Eyed Lady” (with Chris Knox on vocals; Knox also recorded several of these early tracks), or “Slug Song.” The organ reappears on “Beatnik.” Hamish Kilgour reliably plays a sort of motorik beat. And there is consistently a joyful exuberance to the performances.

Martin Phillips of the Chills sings backup on “Getting Older,” which features an unexpected trumpet from Scott (as well as viola). The wonderful quasi-anthem “Whatever I Do Is Right” is hilarious. And best song title goes to the surging “Odditty” – as in, odd ditty.

The second disc pulls from the post-reunion albums Vehicle, Modern Rock, and Unknown Country. This is generally more straightforward sounding, with much cleaner production. There is no reason songs like “I Wait Around” (which admittedly sounds like a looser version of the Bats) and the warm “Big Soft Punch” shouldn’t have been more popular. “Big Cat” is adorably unusual, while “Outside the Cage” is unusually lush.

There is a lot about the Modern Rock and some of the Unknown Country tracks that reminds me of Yo La Tengo. The revelatory “Do Your Thing” sounds like the band recruited J. Mascis on guitar and Warren Zevon on the piano. Outtake “Late Last Night” is better than most bands’ A-sides. “Wipe Me, I’m Lucky” (WHAT?) is an incandescently morose near-instrumental. “Clutch” is what Lou Reed and Brian Wilson collaborating would sound like.

Alan Moulder (Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, Swervedriver, Interpol, U2, Nine Inch Nails, the Killers) produced the Vehicle tracks. Hamish Kilgour’s drawings throughout the booklet are delightful.

The Best Thing About This Album

The bright enthusiasm of the performances is disarming and lovable.

Release Date

2002

The Cover Art

I like it. Hamish Kilgour’s whimsical doodles are the ideal complement to his band’s music.

The Bats – The Deep Set

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 7)

I defy you to identify another band that has been around for almost 40 years and produced such a consistently high quality of music. Most bands this age are either nostalgia acts or have had more volatile careers, churning out duds along the way. The Bats write jangly, catchy song after jangly, catchy song and fill their albums with warmth, light, and care. This band is a treasure and everyone should cherish them. And props to Flying Nun for keeping them on the label.

What I Think of This Album

This is the most recent Bats album as of this writing – their ninth overall, but just their fourth since 1995’s Couchmaster (and the third since 2005’s At the National Grid). The point is that the Bats have slowed their pace considerably but they are still producing excellent music.

The Deep Set is appropriately titled – it is a strong album brimming with the classic Bats sound. All the usual elements are there – Kaye Woodward’s lead guitar and essential harmony vocals; Robert Scott’s tuneful, wistful songwriting and warm voice, and the rhythm section’s understated work.

“Rooftops” is a great opener, with a compelling lead part by Woodward and surging vocals by Scott, and a proper introduction to the superb work that follows. “Looking for Sunshine” is indeed on par with it – another fantastic track. The rhythm guitars on “Rock and Pillars” evoke the sound of the Vulgar Boatmen, though New Zealand and Indiana probably don’t have a lot in common; needless to say, Scott’s vocals are his alone. Viola and cello add color and gravitas to the energetic “Walking Man.” The Scott/Woodward duet on “No Trace” can only bring a smile to your face, and “Diamonds” is a straight up love song, no joke. I don’t love “Antlers” but Woodward’s backing vocals and lead guitar are great, and Scott dials it up a notch for the final minute to salvage this song. “Busy” is another sold Bats tune – like so many that you could easily take for granted because there are almost no bad Bats songs to contrast it to; that said, follow-up “Steeley Gaze” is largely forgettable. “Durkestan” is grey and morose – as well as vaguely political – but no less catchy for it and the vocals are lovely. Closer “Not So Good”’s only flaw is that it is guilty of false advertising.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Durkestan” is haunting.

Release Date

January, 2017

The Cover Art

Mediocre. The cover (painted by Scott) is slightly disturbing, though there is an absence of menace on the creature’s faces (in fact, they appear to be smiling). Still, I don’t want them making an appearance in my dreams and the purpose of those tools is questionable, particularly in the dungeon setting, with the cult-member uniform adding further ominous gloss. I approve of the font and the use of proper capitalization.

The Bats – Free All the Monsters

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 6)

I am profoundly unhappy and have been for most of my life. Music provides solace, comfort, escape, beauty, and inspiration. I love the Bats. They are so good at helping me feel ok for a little bit. I hope you have something like that.

What I Think of This Album

This is a wonderful album – arguably the best of their career (though I still prefer Silverbeet by a very slim margin), and how often can you say that about a band on its eighth album and in its fourth decade?

Honestly, there is almost no point describing each song on here. The melodies, guitars, and vocals are mesmerizing on every track. Kaye Woodward’s guitar will liberate your soul. Robert Scott and Woodward’s vocals will encircle you and protect your from harm for almost 43 full minutes. The bass and drums will suspend you over waves of despair. I make no promises about the viola, dulcimer, and mandolin accents, but I am confident they can only help. “Canopy” is probably the best instrumental they’ve ever written. This was recorded in a former asylum in New Zealand (and released on the Flying Nun label). You owe it to yourself to buy this album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Fingers of Dawn,” though it could just as easily be “Spacejunk,” the title track, “Simpletons,” “Getting Over You,” “It’s Not the Same,” or “Long Halls.”

Release Date

October, 2011

The Cover Art

Not bad, and considering the Bats’ history in this respect, pretty good, actually. I approve of the bold handwriting-like font and the photo offers a forbidden peek at the band making magic.

The Bats – Silverbeet

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

On the one hand, hunting down hard-to-find albums is much easier in the age of the internet; there can be no debating the boon of instantaneous searching and online payment to the music collector. On the other, it’s almost too easy, which seems like an odd complaint. But there was a romance surrounding finding that long-sought platter in a record store (I still called them record stores even though I’ve almost always just bought CDs); there was the rush of excitement and the relief of discovery and the apprehension that maybe this band you’d only read about might not be something you actually liked and was it worth the gamble? I’ve had both experiences with the Bats’ albums – I bought The Guilty Office in a record store and ordered the rest online (that many of these were New Zealand releases without American distribution (or distributed on tiny labels) makes finding them organically, thirty years later, sort of impossible). As it turns out, Silverbeet was on Mammoth (here, but on Flying Nun in NZ), but I still bought it online many years after its release. In the case of the Bats, it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the albums, but I can see how it might.

What I Think of This Album

Silverbeet is a much more muscular affair than normal. I am tempted to attribute this to the behind-the-board work of Lou Giordano (producer of Sugar and the Goo Goo Dolls); this album strikes me as the most “American” sounding of the band’s offerings. But production aside, it seems clear that the Bats decided to inject a little more fire this time around. Anyway, it works; everything is louder (well, maybe not Robert Scott’s vocals) and focused.

“Courage” is expertly crafted indie-pop. “Sighting the Sound” features a mind-burrowing lead line and adds some tambourine coloring to Scott’s winking vocal. “Slow Alight” is propelled by sprightly drumming and and nice ascending guitar lead. “Valley Floor” throws in some unexpected droning organ to create an understated, impressionistic, silver-streaked gem. The band spreads foreboding on the darkly driving and intricate “Love Floats Two,” and continues the naval theme with an impassioned dedication to Greenpeace and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand waters by France on “Green.” Fellow southern hemisphere musicians the Go-Betweens are aped on “No Time for Your Kind” and “Straight On Home” does not stray far from that sound, either. “Drive Me Some Boars” slows things down to offer a truly beautiful bit of rumination. This might be the best, most consistent album of the Bats’ career, and that’s no small accomplishment.

The Best Thing About This Album

Really, almost every song is excellent. “Drive Me Some Boars” is what I find most memorable.

Release Date

June, 1993

The Cover Art

I like it. The font is fun, and the color scheme works well (note how the red rim of the plate matches up with the red bands on the cover. The silver foil looks good and the solitary leaf of swiss chard is intriguing; as it turns out, silverbeet is another name for swiss chard.

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