Various Artists (Flying Nun)
THE ‘LOST’ EP
Chills (Flying Nun)
Any place the Fall can get into the Top Ten has gotta have something going for it. Such a place Is New Zealand. And it’s not only imported outlaws who can set the country’s pop-cultural hegemony on its ear: Even local indy records, roughshod production jobs though they may be, have been known to enter the upper echelons of the charts. Clearly, there’s something going on here.
The Kiwis with an intelligent interest in rock and pop are probably as ashamed of Mi-Sex as they are proud of the Mentals’ brothers O’Doherty or even Dave Dobbyn. And it’s a fact that in the last few years New Zealand’s underground has produced an incredible assortment of bands, and some great music. Not coincidentally, much of it emenates on the maverick indy label Flying Nun, and I cannot strongly enough implore Australian listeners to sample this Flying Nun sampler, which has just been released in this country.
You may never hear purity, untainted beauty such as this again. And what of innocence? Well, Innocence went down to the bottom of the garden and came back again and has never been the same since.
Flying Nun was originally established in Christchurch in 1981 by Roger Shepherd, who was soon joined by the production team of Chris Knox and Doug Hood (refugees from pioneer NZ punk band Toy Love, who had previously spent an unhappy tenure in Australia – I wasn’t much impressed either, I have to admit). The first Flying Nun release was a single by the Clean, “Tally-Ho,” and from there the label accrued an unstoppable momentum. I myself became acquainted with it a few years ago through the Clean, and then others like the Gordons, the Chills, the Verlaines and Sneaky Feelings.
But is there, as the informative sleeve-notes by Roy Colbert beg to know, a COMMON THREAD here? Immediate appearances reveal a preponderance of jingle-jangle guitars, and a belief in The Song, suggesting an affinity with the whole 60s/psychedelic/roots-rock-revival, which perhaps eventually sounds like nothing so much as the Byrds-meets-the-Velvets – and while there is an element of this, that’s not all there is to it. The Flying Nun catalogue is far too diverse to categorise all at once. Tuatara (no, dunno what it means) brings together the aforementioned five bands, plus seven more, and throughout it veers between pastoral pop, post-punk hard rock, ‘experimentalism’ (for want of a better word) and outright eccentricity. All that is common really is a rawness (the result of very basic recording techniques, ie no money), a DIY sort of primitivism and energy. Perhaps more than anything else Flying Nun is a state of mind, a brave bid for salvation in the face of claustrophobia and crushing boredom – rustic, brash, spontaneous, lyrical, provocative, quietly self-assured, spiritually uplifting…
Tuatara, then, is an essential purchase, and while not even cut on the album may be the band’s best that should only encourage the impressed listener to seek out the rest. As documentation, Flying Nun records probably tell us more than anything else about what it is to be a – young, white – Kiwi today.
By now, it’s the idiosyncratic Chills who have emerged as Flying Nun’s real flagbearers, and recently they embarked for England (bypassing Australia) touting The ‘Lost’ EP, which has also just been made available in this country.
Thanks especially to songwriter Martin Philips, the Chills have a sublime way with melody and a playful way with arrangements, atop a folky-rocky base, and this EP presents five ‘new old’ songs which probe further afield but still come from the same place. New Zealand, it seems, breeds hungry hearts, and Philips rues his which feels so empty.
Whether or not it will fulfill it for him remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt he will do something himself to warm the hearts there that are so cold.