We Need To Talk About... #1: Rosy Overdrive, Part II


Presenting We Need To Talk About... , a new feature where a certain artist(s) is examined, appraised or defended. Wrapping up the discussion with Rosy Overdrive in the previous issue, we finish by discussing our favorite bands and albums from New Zealand, Cymbals Eat Guitars and Club Night. 

Rosy Overdrive: We’re going to talk about New Zealand next. This part of the discussion is a little different, as we don’t have any one particular band picked out, but rather we wanted to highlight a handful of them. 

Zach: Exactly. New Zealand is a goldmine after all.

Photo credited to Matt Grace

So a little thing about me - the only band I am a “superfan” of is Flight of the Conchords. In many ways, they were my first favorite “band,” partially because I was in middle school and was just trying to laugh through the pubescent pain. But the group’s sense of humor, love of pastiche and deadpan delivery were pivotal in shaping who I was at that time, as well as my interests to this day. Much like Homestar Runner, there’s a lot of comfort nuzzled away in New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk-parody duo for me - I have various Flight of the Conchords framed posters currently in storage, one of them a painting I made in my eighth grade art class! I’d say watch the duo’s HBO show, a musical comedy about what it means to “make it” as a band when you’re not fit for it, if you aren’t familiar. It contextualizes their albums within the show and helps add to the songs, but “The Most Beautiful Girl In The Room'' and other classics (“Robots,” “Sugalumps,” “Hurt Feelings”) hold up to this day.

RO: I’m sure someone more eloquent than I could talk about how and why some “novelty” bands are frequently the first step towards “serious” music fandom in adolescence (especially young males). You see it in the near-universal public goodwill that Weird Al has built up over his long career, and for myself, I’m gonna have to write about Jonathan Coulton and (speaking of Homestar Runner) They Might Be Giants one of these days. Shit, we should’ve just done a whole thing on Homestar Runner. Anyway…

This Kind of Punishment. Photo courtesy of Flying Nun. 

I’d like to start my New Zealand overview with the Jeffries brothers, Peter and Graeme. They got their start playing together in the 80s post-punk band Nocturnal Projections, and later the lo-fi pop act This Kind of Punishment, but for whatever reason the music they made after they split up I’ve always loved the most. I’ve already written a bit on my blog about Graeme’s 90s band, The Cakekitchen. I’ve been listening to their Time Flowing Backwards compilation and their album World of Sand recently, and I’m impressed with that project’s dexterity - Graeme had a tight band that could do roaring alt-rock when they felt like it, but would also pull out tender downer guitar pop. Peter, meanwhile, took on a bit more thorny path post-This Kind of Punishment, and pushed his old band’s kitchen-sink production and recording style to an extreme in his solo work. His album The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World is a lost 90s lo-fi masterpiece, anchored by the beautiful piano ballad “On an Unknown Beach” (best known, for better or worse, as a cover song on an Amanda Palmer live album). 

Even among the under-the-radar category of “New Zealand indie rock bands,” The Verlaines seem to fall under the genre’s second tier. I’d like to shine the spotlight on them a little bit, because I’d put them up there with any of the other Flying Nun bands--they’ve got the indisputable guitar pop classic (“Death and the Maiden”) and a stacked singles/EP compilation (Juvenilia) whose content rivals that of Kaleidoscope World and The Clean’s Anthology. And while I’m at it, I also want to shout out Sandra Bell’s Dreams of Falling, which I’ve been listening to a lot lately, and New Zealand’s finest shoegaze/noise pop band, Bailter Space.

Zach: You’ve covered a vast amount of ground here, some of which I actually need to be more well versed in myself! But I’m glad you mention The Verlaines - I own a copy of Hallelujah All The Way Home on vinyl, and find that their contribution to the Dunedin sound (a fusion of American college rock, British jangle pop and that twee, Kiwi spirit) to be the most anthemic and communal. A song like “Lying In State” just naturally unites your spirit with your closest friends, wherever they may be. They do tend to be overlooked for The Chills and The Clean, but you can’t go wrong with any three of these groups.

I’ll finish our time here speaking on two compilations. First, I’ll speak on alternative rock band Blam Blam Blam, whose compilation The Complete Blam Blam Blam stores a versatile array of satirical, mood-driven alternative rock. The group is most known for their song “There Is No Depression In New Zealand,” a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the nation’s isolated place in the world, featuring bubbly harmonies and a post-punk edge. Bands like The Police and The Cure give a lot of inspiration to their sound, particularly in the gothic instrumental “DR. Who” and the funky, sputtering drum machine of “Respect,” but there’s a recognizable DIY ethos and edge to their songcraft that makes this a must-listen for fans of lost alternative gems.

Finally, the AK-79 (Auckland 1979) compilation is an essential album for every early punk completist. Featuring the groups Scavengers, The Terror Ways, Proud Scum, Toy Love and The Swingers in its original iteration, later reissues expanded on the acts to include bands like Primmers, Suburban Reptiles and The Spelling Mistakes. What I love most about this compilation is how it’s an expression of punk’s original ethos, but recorded entirely in an isolated vacuum, to where the sound of punk conjured is literally “whatever the hell you want.” At their core, most of these songs are love songs, ska tracks, nonsequitur rants or 50s doo-wop ballads, garnished with janky guitar and lo-fi production. Because of this, I believe this album is the perfect historical document for how and why punk and new wave emerged simultaneously as one in the same - only developing into different genres later down the line.

Highlights of the 40th Anniversary Reissue include “You’re Gonna Get Done” by Primmers, the best song Paul Simonon never wrote; “She’s A Mod” by The Terrorways; “I Am A Rabbit” by Proud Scum; and my personal favorite, “True Love” by Scavengers.

Photo credited to Jung Kim

To end this discussion, we wanted to shift our focus to the modern day. I’ll have you start by talking on a group you believe should be more recognized in the contemporary indie sphere: Cymbals Eat Guitars.

RO: Yes, absolutely. We all ought to be giving more respect to Cymbals Eat Guitars, Staten Island’s finest. Although I am on record as preferring bands with large discographies, I also have to admire the CEG method - make four great-to-classic albums in ten years that each retain what’s good about your music while pushing it forward as well, and then quietly bowing out. Any one of their four LPs you could call their best and I wouldn’t blink. And I do want to re-emphasize the progression they made over their career. It’s a bit of a shock to go from the noisy, sprawling squall of the opening song from Why There Are Mountains (“And the Hazy Sea”) to the confident and polished pop-rock of, say, “Wish” from Pretty Years - but it all happens incrementally, so it all feels naturally listening chronologically.

They kind of remind me of Strange Ranger’s evolution - they went from ambitious, sloppy 90s indie rock tributes when they were known as Sioux Falls to making slick post-grunge-pop-rock with Remembering the Rockets. And I bring up that comparison because there aren’t very many for Cymbals. They drew from 90s underground rock influences, broke out in the 00s as one of the last “blog-rock” bands, and spent the majority of their career in the 10s awkwardly trying to fit in with either the grunge revival or emo revival while not really being either. They were so out of sync, and they didn’t really have a wave of like-minded bands pulling them up. And that probably has something to do with why they ended it just after making their (in my opinion) best record, Pretty Years. All I have to do is hear the intro riffs to “Finally” or “WELL” and I have to listen to the whole damn thing.

Thankfully, the band’s lead singer, Joseph D’Agostino is still making music as Empty Country, and that project’s self-titled debut was one of the better records of last year. It scratches the Cymbals Eat Guitars itch to a degree, but it’s also very much its own thing. I also forgot until now that Charles from The Wrens (a clear influence on CEG) sings on Empty Country. In an alternate universe where the Wrens actually followed up The Meadowlands and became the biggest indie rock band, maybe Cymbals would’ve gotten more attention. Alas…

Zach: The Empty Country album slipped by me more than I’d like to admit, but I’ll be returning to it soon. You do a great job of contextualizing who Cymbals were and how singular in contemporary indie rock they are. Strange Ranger’s a great comp -- personally, I find that they have sprinklings of Dismemberment Plan and Minus The  Bear, maybe even sounding like Two Inch Astronaut at times.

But what I love most about Cymbals is how they exist as themselves. I’ve said that a few times in different ways throughout our convo, but Cymbals did it in the Internet and blog age: an age where more so than ever, scenes have turned to existence through social media, self-contained think tanks varying more in branded aesthetic than sound. Cymbals were indie rock in the broadest sense, distilling everything from Afghan Whigs to The Walkmen into compact statements that were nostalgic, familiar, and progressive. But no one wanted to be them, because their sound didn’t fall neatly into line with what their genre's trends were dictating. In a way, I see a band like Cheem as current successors to this mold - the group has evolved and existed as something far removed from the contemporaries of their scene, but its only been until recently that they've started to receive a fraction of the recognition they deserve.

If I were to pick my favorite Cymbals record, it’s LOSE. It’s the one that exposed me to the group, and what made me fall in love with D’Agostino’s voice. “Child Bride” brings back fond memories of sitting by bonfires with my friends, talking about high school woes and who we wanted to be. But you also get “Laramie,” “Chambers,” and the “Miles Iz Ded”-esque “Warning” among its nine tracks. THAT’S JUST UNFAIR, ROSY!!

Finally, let’s talk about Club Night. What Life was one of my favorite records of 2019, and one of the best examples of a micro-trend in the current “fifth wave of emo.” There’s a few bands that currently capture a kitchen sink approach to songwriting, cramming as much sonic and structural fuckery into the runtime as possible, without being indulgent. I immediately think of glass beach, lobsterfight, and Floral Tattoo as being champions of this style. But Club Night, I find, has the record with the most rewarding collection of songs thus far. The vocals are often group-sung in that now-classic mid-00s style, the math-rock interplay is tasteful, and the vibe places you into warm introspection. It’s a mixture of sun-bleached California twinkle and feel-good indie synths that’s instrumentally exceptional and perfectly content in what it is. 

RO: I couldn’t have said it better myself! We’ve hit on a bunch of bands that have accomplished a lot and compiled great discographies--but Club Night is the one act here whose best days are - in my humble opinion, and with fingers crossed - ahead of them. That, of course, doesn’t mean I don’t agree that What Life was one of the best albums of 2019. It’s an incredible debut album! Every once in a while, I run into the stereotype that math rock is “joyless,” or an emotionless exercise in instrumental wankery - I’d like to play What Life for everyone that adheres to this belief. “Trance”? “Wit”? Those are pure catharsis, something you can scream along to. 

The Hell Ya EP is good too, but I’m biased in favor of What Life because that’s where I came in. I think the Tiny Engines “brand” carried real weight with me in early 2019. But back to what I was saying earlier - I do think the sky’s the limit for this band, who I want to emphasize has only made one LP so far. This does, I think, have to do with the “kitchen-sink” approach like you said. I mean, look at where their former labelmates Spirit of the Beehive ended up, and their first album was nowhere near as promising as What Life! (It’s still a fine debut album, don’t send me hate mail please). I have no idea what their current label situation is, or if they have one, but What Life and Club Night really deserve not to get lost in the shuffle.

Zach: What a great way to wrap this up. Thanks once again for doing this! Maybe we’ll do another one of these…

Up Next in Issue #2: Zach will dive deeper into the exponential influence of The Drums, why they hold such a personal significance, and what their legacy should ultimately be.

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