The Gordons - s/t

Given where the Gordons eventually ended up with Bailter Space, it's little surprise that the band's excellent first album sounds the way it does, with Parker's instantly recognizable vocals on "Spik and Span" already shot through with the weary energy that made later albums like Thermos and Robot World so grand. There are definite hints of Mark E. Smith's snarl and whine in his approach, but even more impressive is the group's ear for structured melancholy and explosion. The comparisons after the fact to Sonic Youth were understandable, but it's more accurate to say that in the early-'80s they were both listening to plenty of things like Wire and Joy Division and translating it accordingly. The clipped, repetitive structure of "Sometimes," in particular, calls the former band to mind, with lyrics quietly groaned over the circular anti-funk riffing. Hints of what would eventually be known as the experimental New Zealand rock sound -- crumbling guitar, muffled vocals, and more, as also seen in bands like This Kind of Punishment -- are also present, with songs like "Growing Up" and "Coalminers Song" having a fair amount of the same. Generally speaking, though, the Gordons want to be known directly rather than sneaking in from the side. The songs mostly come in at around five minutes or longer, time for the threesome to explore sonic motifs to the point where they achieve a hint of low-grade motorik trance -- again a harbinger of the more openly obsessed Krautrock future with Bailter Space. Even at their most rampaging, the three have a nicely arty overlay -- consider the sepulchral vocals on "Right on Time" interspersed with bass freakouts amidst the feedback-laden charge. "Laughing Now" ends the album on an at once chaotic and slow-moving note that doesn't drag, sort of a cousin to the likes of early Pere Ubu and Alternative TV.

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The Clean - Odditties

This is an odds-and-sodds collection originally released on Flying Nun in 1982. It was later issued on CD, but I believe these are from the original release and not the CD. Yet another good addition if "Compilation" leaves you wanting more.

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The Pin Group - s/t

Siltbreeze's Retrospective is a re-issued collection of recordings by New Zealand's seminal Pin Group (fronted by Roy Montgomery) -- the disc includes the "Ambivalence"/"Columbia" 7" (actually the first single issued on the Flying Nun label), the "Coat"/"Jim" 7", the Pin Group Goes to Town EP, a live cover of War's "Low Rider" and two low-fi studio tracks recorded during the group's 1993 "reunion." The band's sound -- a huge influence on the incredible New Zealand pop scene of the '80s -- was a decidedly post-punk approach that started off sounding very much like Joy Division or an extremely stripped-down version of Echo and the Bunnymen's early work -- over the band's brief career, however, the shimmery, jangly aspects of antipodean pop slowly emerged. Retrospective is a perfect collection of this material, since most of the band's original releases are incredibly scarce -- it's a vital addition to the record collection of anyone with an interest in the New Zealand/Flying Nun pop scene, and an excellent example of post-punk and its influence in New Zealand.

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Straitjacket Fits - Melt

The second album from New Zealand's Straitjacket Fits suggests that perhaps the Kiwi quartet had been listening to a lot of Cocteau Twins records in the couple of years since their debut, 1988's Hail, was released. Nearly every note of Melt is covered in the sort of gauzy reverb and pillowy echo that characterizes the Twins' albums, and at times, the atmosphere overpowers the songs. (Perhaps it's the fault of producer Gavin MacKillop, who similarly dominated the production of the Chills' Soft Bomb a couple years later.) Once the listener gets past the distracting production, however, this is probably the Straitjacket Fits' strongest set of songs. Certainly the opening one-two of the enormous New Zealand hit "Bad Note for a Heart" and the rumbling throb of "Missing Presumed Drowned" trump anything else the band ever did. Though MacKillop's production eventually makes the songs bleed into each other more than they should by the end of the album, songs like the dreamy "Hand in Mine" are strong enough to overcome any flaws in the sound.

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Various Artists - Flying Nun Records: Popeyed

A 2004 compilation put out by arguably the most important NZ label. Sorry again for the cover, it seems that many kiwi rock releases have hard to find cover scans on the net.

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Various Artists: I Hear The Devil Calling Me

Long out-of-print 7"EP compilation, released in 1991 on Drag City label, as an Xpressway sampler. Along with the "Making Losers Happy" (already posted) and "Killing Capitalism with Kindness" compilations, this contains the leaders of the so-called "NZ-noise" scene (although I'd call them "the second NZ wave"). It's sub-titled "an XpressWay sampler" and has 12 short tracks (about 1:00' each) from 12 artists/bands. Recorded in Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland 1990-91, it's an amazing compilation, showing to the rest of the world that the hidden side of NZ music scene had many treasures, and was more adventurous than the better known acts.

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A Mission Statement of Sorts...

Hey guys, thanks so much for all of the positive feedback thus far. I noticed a huge lack of NZ music in MP3 blogs and I am glad I am filling a void for you all.

This mission of this blog is quite clear, to bring all of the best NZ music into one place. I am not interested in compiling all of the music that comes from NZ, only that which is worth listening to and essential. A quanity over quality rule seems to apply for a lot of blogs, but not this one. I want every one who comes here who has a vested interest in NZ music to know that they are getting quality worthwhile music.

Thanks so much to all of those who are helping out with contributions so far. We still need help getting our hands on old compilations, singles, and cassette releases from the late 70's and 80's. If you can be of any help please contact me. Anyone who contributes will recieve credit.

Thanks again and keep listening and support the NZ artists that you can!

Bailter Space - Vortura

Bailter Space open up Vortura with something far fiercer than their usual combination of fire and ice. Defying expectations sometimes backfires, but "Projects" is a massive, brawling monster of a track, on which Parker rages about people stuck living in ghettos while others "in high places" live comfortably. Overall, it's one of Bailter Space's best efforts ever -- a call to arms that works on all fronts. "Process Paid," featuring a ranted verse and softly sung chorus over a propulsive trance-rock track, recalls the general sound of Robot World. From there on, it's business as usual for the trio, who do what they do best over the course of these 11 songs. The first single, "X," is another definite high point for the band -- a confidently anthemic charge that brings to mind Echo & the Bunnymen and various shoegaze bands, but without sounding like either. Some songs are slightly tweaked from the basic Bailter Space sound, such as "I.C.Y.," which is much more stripped down than many of the band's songs, and "Reactor," which consists mainly of Halvorsen's bass, McLachlan's generally buried percussion and pulses, and Parker's guitar filling in shades and sounds instead of crunching through a lead riff. Generally, though, it's pretty much typical Bailter Space, and while it may lack the sense of freshness and achievement of Robot World, Vortura still serves up the goods. Halvorsen and McLachlan make for a great rhythm section, as always, while Parker's guitar playing and evocative, if often cryptic, lyrics and singing remain sure and true.

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The Clean - In-A-Live EP

This EP was put out in 1989 and features 5 tracks taken from a classic Clean show. This EP is far superior to the Live Dead Clean EP that was also released in the 80's. The version of "Anything Could Happen" is of particular note, being much more upbeat than the album version. A reccomended addition to "Compilation".

More rare 80's Clean coming this week.

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Making Losers Happy: Xpressway Singles: 1988 - 1991

This comp collects several very limited-pressed singles from XpressWay, literally unavailable, but the value of its compilation is not this: it contains music from some amazing NZ artists, maybe the best, written in their most creative years. Alastair Galbraith, Peter Jefferies, Dead C, Terminals, everyone that matters.

XPressway was perhaps new zealand's first truly underground music label, Xpressway was formed by bruce russell in 1985 to release his then-fledgling christchurch band the dead c, live archival recordings from this kind of punishment and the debut solo material from alistair galbraith. over the course of the next 23 (mostly cassette-only) releases, xpressway, russell and his comrades themselves formed an ever-growing
niche-market of dark, brooding releases, mostly in lo-fidelity form, but full of character.

Special thank you to our new contributor Rainy Day Sponge!

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Bailter Space - The Aim EP

Bailter Space's first American release is also one of its strongest, a near-perfect four-song slice of original material that shows why the band's hype was so well deserved. Concentrating the strengths of Thermos and adding a few new touches, like the hushed whispers on the title track, the trio show their ability to rock both tenderly and loudly, but in ways that never sound like the typical connotations of either description. The title track is actually the least memorable of the four, with Parker sounding a bit lazy on the vocals. "We Know" is something else again, with its heavily processed vocals and crunching melody. "Shine" is simply gorgeous, featuring a beautiful background melody, another fantastic Parker love lyric, and understated vocal passion. The kicking thrash of "Unseen" wraps it up, with all three musicians going off, while sticking to that steady beat that's served them so well over the years.

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Mick Turner - Marlan Rosa & Moth

With Marlan Rosa, Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner outdoes himself, offering up a gorgeous, heart-rending instrumental album more fully realized than his first solo recording, Tren Phantasma. There are multiple tracks of guitar and effects, providing layers of beautiful melodies and shape-shifting, atmospheric effects, with twangy string soloing over it all. Turner is joined by violinist Jessica Billey on a few songs, including "El Arbol," and loosely accompanies himself with various percussion -- cymbals, tambourine, tapping, and drum kit sounds -- as well as organ on a few others, such as "Marlan II" and "Rosa II." He also adds processed harmonica tones to the fore and background of "Marlan IV." Much of the album's mood and style comes across as gently random, like windchime action, and in the same spirit as the music of the Dirty Three, although more peaceful. It's all nighttime and muddy jewels, cherished nostalgia and regrets, and a sincerely vulnurable yet beautiful realization of all of these.

On his third full-length solo offering -- plus a handful of EPs in collaboration with other artists -- Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner has steeped himself more in the labyrinthine pool of shimmering musical mystery than ever before. Moth is a single piece divided into 19 sections. Turner plays all the instruments with the exception of piano -- courtesy of Michael Krassner -- and organ on one cut. That said, besides guitars and textures, there aren't that many more instruments. There are wispy layers of guitars backing crystalline minimal flourishes of one or two in the forefront, which come across as gorgeously melodic, almost songlike lines, though in truth they are phrases that surround a ghost melody, one that isn't actually there. Moth feels more like Tren Phantasma, though it's more fully realized. The harmonic ideas Turner put forth there, which gave way to the whispering textures of Marlan Rosa, are everywhere in evidence here. The music is poetic, spare, nearly ethereal, but there's so much emotion present in these soft sections that they are rooted in the four elements. If anything, Moth is an album that reflects the beguiling nature of the night; it twinkles like stars and washes out like a midnight sky. It suspends time and floats through it. It conjures images that are fleeting because they exist only in the heart of the listener. The Dirty Three have moved toward more contemplative material in recent years, and its clear to see Turner's influence in that change of direction. But Moth is even more so; it sounds like no other recording out there -- other than a Mick Turner album -- and offers the listener the opportunity to find in its absolute tenderness and empathy a place for wonder, for tears, for quiet joy, for opening. While the pervasive sea imagery that has persisted on albums by Turner and the Three is not overly dictated here, its presence is everywhere evident in the softly undulating eddies and pools of sound that reach into the ocean of silence and create ripples in its surface, but come up from its depths.

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The Dead C - Tusk

It may be named after the Fleetwood Mac album -- at least allegedly -- but anyone expecting crystalline late-'70s AOR harmonies and the like will be sorely disappointed. Then again, the strange line drawing of beast and person on the front cover might suggest that much. Again straddling the line between shorter numbers and extended experimentation, and definitely favoring the latter here, Tusk finds the Dead C again exploring new and strange territory even for them. While the general concept of what the band is supposed to be about had long been established, the trio steers even further away from the dark, crumbling guitar sounds of its past at points. "Plane," the opening number, is one of the Dead C's least "typical" tracks ever, opening with a persistent shift back and forth between two loops of what could be anything from broken bells to tinkling, heavily treated guitar. It's an almost Main-like level of minimal ambient creepout, a mood only broken halfway through by a sudden cut to a more familiar lo-fi fuzz of the full band doing a slow jam. Elsewhere, the band builds on the sense of anthemic lift and roar showcased on The White House, to often stunning effect. "Head" is just simply marvelous, slowly but surely building up and up to a grand conclusion; when Morley's vocals suddenly appear, it's the perfect way to send things over the top. The final two numbers are the real winners, though. Both "Imaginary" and the title track are full-on Dead C to the max noise numbers achieving transcendence through volume and feedback. The latter is especially fine, breaking into a electronic beep-touched climax halfway through, then further shifting in a series of rhythmic guitar screams and whines. It's a fitting end to a strong album, showing that the Dead C seem to keep getting better with age.

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The Clean - Compilation

Compilation offers a nearly complete overview of the Clean's legendary early recordings, including the classic "Tally Ho" single and highlights from their two EPs (Boodle Boodle from 1981 and 1982's Great Sounds), as well as six live bonus tracks (on the CD version only).

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Split Enz - Spellbound: The Best of

pellbound is an Australian-only two-disc collection that offers 39 of Split Enz's biggest hits and best-known favorites. There is no shortage of Enz collections on the market, and this is the best to date. All of the tracks have been remastered, and as an incentive to collectors, the rare Luton version of "Semi-Detached" and a drastically remixed version of "Stuff and Nonsense" have been added. The one major flaw is the non-chronological sequencing, which, for a band with two distinct phases and a clear career arc, misses the opportunity to tell the band's story completely. Minor complaints aside, Spellbound is a good starting point for those who want more than any of the single-disc collections have to offer. [In typical Enz fashion, Spellbound was released in several different-colored covers.]

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Mad Scene - Sealight

Recorded in New York but a pure slice of lovely New Zealand pop/rock heaven, Sealight is further proof that the Mad Scene have an ear for instantly appealing music. In comparison to, say, the equally talented but admittedly repetitive Bats, Hamish Kilgour's crew lets the variety really flow forth, especially given that everyone but drummer Bill Gerstel splits the songwriting in numerous combinations. Kilgour's light, quietly passionate voice balances against Lisa Seagul's slightly more withdrawn but not buried performances very well, and both have excellent knacks for wonderful guitar melodies and often sharp lyrical turns. Collectively, the Mad Scene create music that on the one hand is instantly identifiable indie rock and on the other finds its own particular way; it's certainly a product of New Zealand's wonderful traditions, though -- sweetness mixed with a definite melancholy and slow-burn intensity. One of Kilgour's best moments along these lines is "Gotta Get Back (To Something)," starting with a stripped-down, slightly tense arrangement that vaguely hints at Middle Eastern melodies via surf here and there, alternating with just gentler enough sections in a give and take that's subtle instead of forced and obvious. "Marching Song," a beautifully hushed number that builds to a sudden climax before sudden calming down, is another standout, John Sluggett's guest turn on piano worthy of note. Seagul's winners include "Birthday Party," a quietly majestic vision of a hesitant romance not really happening (her lead guitar here is particularly grand, swooping sadly in the background) and the slow, semi-waltz-time lope of "Hoping." On Seagul's wonderful, near-solo "Silhouette," the mix of instruments used by the band and various guests -- clarinet, trumpet, Casio keyboards, and even African slit drum at one point -- gives Sealight a lushness without being overbearing.

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The Dead C - Vain, Erudite and Stupid: Selected Works 1987-2005

A good starting point for The Dead C. Though there are some questionable omissions this will still give you a very good first glimpse into their world.

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The Dead C - The Damned

A relatively conservative release for the Dead C, The Damned doesn't break much new ground for the band and isn't the logical next step hinted at by the electronic flirtations on New Electric Music. But the band proves it can still turn a tangle of creepy rumblings, dark scrapings, and piercing squalls into art like few other bands can. The leadoff song, "Truth," is just that, a song -- just over three minutes long and maybe their most straightforward attempt at rock in years. But the surprises end there. "Atmosphere" presents a throbbing piece of industrial ambience, and on "Holy Heat" a squealing guitar is kicked along by a stumbling drunk stepfather of a drum kit. Low mumbling and a quiet, steady rhythm underpin a chiming guitar "solo" on "The Provider" before "Casino" kicks the band into a very Can-like groove. The disc ends with an untitled track, presumably a field recording from the streets of some city. It's only interesting in that it shows that, if mixed properly, such a recording can sound the same as two guitarists and a drummer. All in all, there's nothing here that Dead C fans haven't heard elsewhere. On the other hand, The Damned is relatively brief and easy to digest, so it might not be a terribly bad place for the uninitiated to start.

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The Dead C - Harsh 70's Reality

While just about all of their albums are winners, for many fans Harsh 70s Reality is the unquestioned best Dead C release, a fact it's hard to argue with. Art and sheer rock power collide beautifully on this album, which transforms murky noise and open-ended jams into serenely chaotic wonder. That may sound like a strange assessment, but Harsh 70s Reality is as ambient as it is feedback-riddled, and the creative threesome behind it all know just how to balance everything out. "Driver UFO," the 22-minute-long opener, demonstrates this knack quite well, with a gentle keyboard part emerging halfway through against the rumbling hum and scrape of the guitars. It's arguably also the most song-oriented album from the group in a traditional sense, though the usual combination of recording approach and performance isn't exactly going to win over the VH1 audience. When the three add in vocals to the mayhem, everything sounds even more distanced and unsettling. Thus, on "Sky" the lead vocal sounds like the singer is on the verge of collapse and the backing shouts hollow and creepy, even as the main riff makes for one of the band's most accessible efforts. "Constellation," one of the most violent numbers (though as ever the quality of the recording makes it feel more gauzy and interesting), benefits even further from the gently deadpan vocal, like Sonic Youth but not so concerned about making things clear. One of the funnier moments comes with the start of the audibly from-the-other-side-of-the-venue live recording "Suffer Bomb Damage," especially since Robbie Yeats sounds like he's about to break into War's "Lowrider." Though Harsh 70s Reality is available on CD, the original vinyl is worth seeking out for the extra two tracks that couldn't fit on the digital format, especially the astonishing "Shark."

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The Great Unwashed - Clean Out of Our Minds

Great Unwashed is a classic cult New Zealand rock group made up of members of the Clean, Snapper, and the Bats in which they could indulge some of their more quirky and experimental tendencies. The '80s recordings are classic post-punk garage rock; the melding of post -Velvet Underground one-chord groove, Pere Ubu-style rave-ups, and Krautrock keyboard droning results in a unique sound perhaps only comparable to the early groundbreaking lo-fi of the Clean.

(apologies for the cover, it was the best scan I could find)

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The Verlaines - Juenalia

A collection of singles from the band's early career that provides an adequate introduction to the Verlaines' unique style. "Death & The Maiden" is a kiwi classic, it was even covered by Stephen Malkmus, who claims that it was inspiration for "Box Elder"

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Tall Dwarfs - Hello Cruel World

Leaving the bulk of their catalog to the Flying Nun label, Tall Dwarfs have found another friend in the Homstead imprint for releasing this excellent collection of tracks from a handful of the group's rare EP's. The New Zealand lo-fi innovators are certainly well-represented with these 22 varied and top-notch sides from the first half of the '80s. With plenty of deft guitar, organ, and handclapping work to go around, fans new to Hello Cruel World will soon understand why it gave the Dwarfs their widest audience after being released in the late '80s.

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Toy Love - s/t

Toy Love's sole album was recorded at a low point for the band during a hectic touring schedule and a failed attempt to break out of New Zealand into Australia. Predictably, the album lacked much of the live energy for which the band had come to be known, turning out instead to be pretty standard new wave fare. Though it didn't properly showcase what the band was capable of, it did hint at Knox's potential as a songwriter, and it proved to be influential to the emerging alternative scene in New Zealand, providing the blueprint for much of that scene's unique sound -- fractured, off-kilter garage-pop owing as much to the '60s as it does to punk.

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