Graham Reid | | 1 min read
If there is an area of New Zealand music which has gone woefully overlooked -- largely because the albums were released in limited numbers at the time and are no longer readily available -- it is the avant-garde music made during the Eighties.
Musicians like Ivan Zagni, Steve Garden, Peter Scholes, Don McGlashan and others in Auckland (often recorded on the now defunct Unsung label), and the prolific Braille Records collective out of Wellington, were pushing the boundaries and creating genre-less music on the margins of rock, classical, jazz and free-form improv.
It isn't easy to find those innovative records by Big Sideways, Avant Garage, Zagni and Garden, Zagni and McGlashan, The Family Mallet, Primitive Art Group, Four Volts and others. Yet what they were doing provided platforms for many of those musicians in subsequent years.
Quite a number are still performing in some ensemble or fashion, and certainly the core people in Braille -- David and Anthony Donaldson, David Long, Jeff Henderson and others -- are still active, many of them turning up on albums on the iiii label out of Wellington.
The Labcoats are the Donaldsons, Long, Toby Laing, Steve Roche and Riki Gooch, and this album follows their excellent and equally angular Acid and Alkaline album of a few years back.
It would be a courageous writer who simply tried to describe some of these 13 pieces because they include obliquely swinging horns, spoken word samples, lonely Mexican trumpet, synth sweeps, little keyboard figures, strange voices, backward guitar, madcap capers, moments of elegant beauty, melancholy moods alongside electronic experiments . . .
There's even something approaching an out-of-shape pop song in Get Back on That Horse.
The overall conception is one of wit, a willingness to take a chance and a much more certain sense of melody and shape than was evident on some of the Braille releases back in the Eighties that some of these players were involved with.
The collective experience of these players -- Six Volts, Thrashing Marlin, Mantarays, Muttonbirds, Trinity Roots, Eru Dangerspiel and Fat Freddys Drop among them -- illustrates the scope of experience they can draw from.
But that heretical, outsider elements also remains intact: Xmas in the Park sounds like The Goon Show crossed with a slo-mo band playing in a rotunda.
If the silly end of Braille albums in the Eighties (pieces like Mr Chowmondley by The Family Mallet for example) appealed to you, then you will be more prepared than others who might venture here but leave their sense of humour gland at home.
It isn't all wit though and quite a number of pieces among the 13 morph and reshape themselves with low cunning.
Not for everyone -- this kind of music never is -- but certainly a thoroughly rewarding, sometimes slightly demanding, venture into a very different kind of aural outer'n'inner space.