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The Clean; Slumber Party 

Getaway; Psychadelicate;

Wednesday, Sep 19 2001
In the late '70s, when the alternaworld sprang fully formed and safety-pinned from the head of Zeus (or John Lydon, depending on whom you ask), a quieter rock revolution got under way on the tiny Pacific island of New Zealand. Toy Love leader Chris Knox of Dunedin, having seen his punk band gutted on the pyre of rock stardom, decided to blow off the outside world and create a home-grown scene. Along with friends at the fledgling Flying Nun label, Knox set out to help local bands pursue their unique, oddball muse, veering away from the prevalent trends of new wave, hardcore, and post-punk. Kiwipop, as the sound came to be known, was alternately doleful and goofy, ranging from Joy Division-ish mopery to irresistible power-pop. While the groups haven't garnered more than a cult following stateside, their records are often transcendent.

Among New Zealand's greatest indie auteurs is guitarist David Kilgour, whose band, the Clean, was Flying Nun's first big group. Both in his solo work and with the Clean, Kilgour explores the mystical edges of sound, strumming fuzz-drenched open chords that either jangle or drone. His lyrics are impressionistic, elusive, and entirely seductive, conveying a darkened, jaundiced vision that complements the mesmerizing tone of his music.

Unlike some of his more experimental peers, Kilgour is one of New Zealand's most consistently pop songwriters, sticking to lilting melodies and fairly standard song structures. But like Knox and others, he has his indulgent, whimsical moments. On the Clean's fourth full-length, Getaway, Kilgour and songwriting partner Robert Scott (ex-Bats, ex-Magick Heads) present several typically sublime songs, while also drifting off into musical tangents that seem a bit light in comparison. The style is the sort of naifish pose that makes artists like Joan Miró and Laurie Anderson so confounding: You're tempted to say, "Even I could do that!," when of course you couldn't.

An even greater mystery is how completely the Slumber Party -- a drony neo-psychedelic band from Detroit with a new second LP, Psychedelicate -- resembles the N.Z. bands in general and Kilgour in particular. While the all-gal group claims allegiance to the feedback slop of '60s bands such as the Velvet Underground and Standells, the ruminative tone of its lyrics and the softened distortion of its guitars is nearly identical to that of the New Zealand crowd. Perhaps the similarity is one of those instances of spontaneous invention, like the radio being invented on separate continents. Whatever the reason for this happy accident, kiwipop fans would do well to keep their eyes on these gals: Their brand of hypnotic rock may be hard to pin down, but it sounds eerily, pleasantly familiar.

About The Author

Lawrence Kay


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