Apr 14, 2007

VA - Xpressway Pile=Up (Avalanche Records 1990)

Being that the land of the Kiwis is on every bearded tongue in the nation these days, thanks to cats like Campbell Neale and his ever-growing clan of psi phenomena, and the reappraisal of Bruce Russell & the great Dead C, I thought it fitting to talk about a fantastic document of NZ's DIY neo-psych heyday. Mostly you'll get to hear me nostalgia-ize all over the place.
Man, when I was a smaller lad, all of 14 or 15, I went positively batshit trying to collect everything I could from Flying Nun Records from the early 80s, hoping I would find that thing that all the critics were ejaculating over. I mean, I found the first two Raincoats LPs (the reissues, thanks to a certain Kurt) and got them on a whim and you know what? I totally loved them. So why not follow the thread? If prayer can travel around the world, why not sound and sense? So I dug. & dug. I thought the Chills were a little too silly. The Clean were okay, especially that one song. The Bats were a little hard to grok. That was about as far as I got. I stopped pestering record clerks and gave up and chalked it up to experience. But all that blown grip! I'd have to babysit the storage facility in Middlebury all summer to make amens with my wallet! So, there I went, stuffing envelopes and refiling all of Aunt Bee's misspelled index cards, all the while wondering how I missed all the hubbub about the Land of Sheep and Fuzz. I read all the Janet Frame I could, hoping that would shed some light. Oh please. Don't get me wrong, I love the gal, but if her books set one toe outside the confines of her skull, it's on a dead beetle, not her homeland.
When was the mystery going to unravel like a proverbial wool sweater? Into my hometown moved a kiwi lass. Don't ask me how she ended up in New Haven, CT, because I didn't ask either. But she was certainly no help. The only music she dug came from leather-clad longhaired Brits circa '81. Dead end #12. New Zealand probably left my mind for a while so I could look at things on the Electric Human Project or Happy Couples Never Last or some such nonsense (although I listened to the Drago Miette 7" out of the clear the other day and it really holds up!) so I could hang with the twitchy side of of the tracks.
Time did whatever it does.
Some time in 2003, the mystery reemerged. Suddenly I was hearing about all this noise coming from New Zealand. Not fun noise; noise noise. Big bright chirping buzzing fluted tunnels of noise, homemade and self-released. Ugly and gorgeous and everything you want something wrapped in wallpaper and $12ppd to be. By then it had probably been going on a while, but being lost in my own fog, it was new to me. So I began to dig anew, this time in a different spot. How different could NZ music from 3 or 6 years post-Clean be?
Oh, what I was in for.
Unbeknownst to me, this was the NZ I'd always wanted without even knowing it. Look Blue Go Purple were great! How did Essential Logic get so known while those gals sat in the couch of obscurity? Fuck a Lora Logic! And that's not even a sliver. The
Songs From the Lowland compilation? More like revelation! How could all these Matador folk be strutting around like they owned the bright & dreary sound? The World, the Himalayas, Raith Rovers--oh man. I'm still itching to hear Raith Rovers' Ralph cassette. Fat chance, I know. It never occurred to my mark-ass mind that it's not that I didn't like the lo-fi crunch and stumble sound of early-90s America. They were just doing it wrong.
So that brings me to Xpressway Pile=Up, which I have only recently heard. It might be more significantly significant than Lowland, if only because my expectations were again blown. Thought I'd nailed them shits down. One would be pressured to call these humble sounds, sounds aware of their means and their skills and all that, but one'd be wrong. One'd look at their country of origin and pass unfair judgment. This is brave, warm, fully-formed music, wearing influences like scarves, not insignia. Snapper smokes every bloody valentine with the power of two chords in "Death and Weirdness In the Surfing Zone". The abrupt fade after the squalling amp yawn is the ultimate wipe-out. Gets me every time. What do you know? Features members of the Chills and the Clean. Peter Jefferies's "On An Unknown Beach" would be Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue in anyone else's mitts. Instead, with subtle shifts in vocal presence and lyrics that oscillate between silly and abandoned, the feeling of cool solitude sinks in with the quickness. Nocturnal Projections' "Walk A Straight Line" rode right out of Metal Circus without a scratch.
I haven't even begun to gush, though I'll quickly add that the 3ds and Stephen Kilroy tracks will have you tossing out your Yo La Tengo in favor of Gillian Elisa & Tiny Town, and looking puzzled at your copy of Glider respectively. Puts the whole stoned and droned movement into perspective. Never again will I doubt the little green islands.
You want all of this.

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