Slow Leak

Because Pitchfork released 200 Best Albums of the 1980s and I view such things as a personal challenge.  



Never heard of them.  Galaxie 500.  While I was listening to this album I got bored quite a few times and thought: “ffs, this is only the second random selection out of 200 and you’re bored already?  How are you going to get out of this?”  Which reminded me that there is nothing to get out of because it’s just a stupid thing on a blog.  Which then made me think that maybe I should be doing pairs of albums anyway because: (1) when I listen to things now they always remind me of other things, and (2) Pitchfork’s list is far too American, and “cool” and therefore has the whiff of boring about it.

All of which means that I am now talking about On Fire by Galaxie 500 and Daddy’s Highway by The Bats because Galaxie 500 reminds me of The Bats.

Which takes me here as a starting point:

Which reminded me of the time I flicked through an old photo album and thought: “photo albums slowly fill up with dead people.”

Standing in my (Mis)Understanding Religion class on Friday we watched a video of Stephen Fry explaining the meaning of life on behalf of and I said something like:

He just described my world view perfectly except I cannot accept that once you die that’s it because it seems to overshadow everything.

It’s been a lovely week though.  The weather.  The air in the morning and the early evening is what I would actually describe as delicious.  It is just on the line between cool and warm; in the morning it has the dew in it, in the evening the warmth of pavements, and through it all the sweet note of blossom.

Which is a long way of saying: good and bad are often inseparable and simultaneous and revelation exists in the most quotidian of actions.

So, Galaxie 500 and their album On Fire.

It’s fine.  I guess.  But it reminded me of The Bats.  As I said.

Before I saw Marlon Williams, The Bats were the best band I saw live.  They played at Orientation when I was at uni in the 90s and I went.  I don’t know why.  I’d never really listened to The Bats.  What I knew was Made Up In Blue because Dick Driver played it once on Radio With Pictures.  I loved that song.  I suppose that’s why I went.

They were brilliant.

People who know more about these things say that Daddy’s Highway is one of their best albums.  Objectively I think you could say that The Bats are a bit shit.  Perhaps the stand out points in this argument might be the lead singer’s voice, and the wobbly bass playing.  The thing is that one of the stand out features of hearing them live was the freakin’ great bass lines.  So there’s that.  But the voice is, well – it is a limited instrument.  Like a guitar that’s had a few strings taken off and has had its neck truncated.  It is a constraint, but the whole band feels like it is sincerely, and creatively exploring those constraints not being, well… constrained by them.  Anyway.  Bob Dylan.

In the book I am using to find my New Zealand albums (Soundtrack, by Grant Smithies) Richard Langston says of The Bats, “they’re easy to underestimate”.  Which is true.  They sound like you imagine your cousin’s band might sound playing in a school hall.  Except they’re (not) obviously much better.  A song like Sir Queen.  The synthesizer does a wonderful, mournful job as the bass bobs about, and the singer sings rather sadly, rather sweetly before drifting into the chorus: “you live, you love again.”

Which is nothing like a Galaxie 500 song.  Snowstorm.  It’s the song I like first on their album.  Grander and more polished than anything from Flying Nun in the 80s, with a wider range of drum sounds.  There’s nothing off.  Nothing like the notes that slip out of tune on Miss These Things.

The lyrics on Strange by Galaxie 500 are pretty awesome:

Why’s everybody actin’ funny? Why’s everybody look so strange? Why’s everybody look so nasty? What do I want with all these things?

I went alone down to the drugstore, I went in back and took a Coke, I stood in line and ate my Twinkies, I stood in line, I had to wait.

Probably that’s a more sustained lyrical turn than The Bats manage, but the strength of The Bats’ lyrics actually kind of comes from the singer’s wavering, and naive sounding voice.  When he sings:

And I’ve been here, waiting in the wings
Like a little lost soul, trying on your things

It sounds sweeter for the unpolished delivery.

The Bats have more ideas.  Fewer tools, but more ideas.  Something like Decomposing Trees by Galaxie 500 has the heavy strumming guitar of a Bats song, and a solo early on that also seems in that vein, but they build up and give us a lot of saxophone and drama.  To me, though, it seems less interesting than a Bats song.  A song like Had to Be You briskly goes about its riffs, and lets the bass take on a major melodic line, as the guitar maintains a nice rhythmic off beat upstroke.

Take me away… I know not where.

I liked growing up listening to New Zealand music.  Even though New Zealand music in the 80s was good most people regarded it as bad.  If anything the non top 20 New Zealand music sounds even better with age.  Unsaturated in technology; messily, and crudely played by human hands.  Little riffs laboured over in bedrooms, on the edge of beds, for the pleasure of the pleasure of it.  Thank the atheist gods for it.