Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Some months ago when Elsewhere added this Christchurch band's Bleeding Star (1993) to our Essential Elsewhere albums list, we conceded immediately that others had nominated their Love Songs ('87) as a better album, or would opt for their self-titled debut EP ('86) as superior.
Each to their own, but it does say something about JPSE that so much of their work should be considered so good and so important.
Certainly they were different from many other bands on Flying Nun and Dave Mulcahy (guitars), Dave Yetton (bass), Gary Sullivan (drums) and Jim Laing (guitars) they seemed a rare implosion of songwriting and playing talent.
That they would all go on to other creditable projects and groups (among them Superette, Dimmer, Solid Gold Hell, Stereo Bus, Mutton Birds) after the band's demise in '94 – a decade after they formed – is a measure of their individual talents.
But together they really were something . . . and their small but mostly impressive catalogue (three albums and some EPs) confirms that.
For too long their albums were hard to get, but no longer because Fire Records in the US (in association with Flying Nun) have just bundled up everything (including some remixes of Bleeding Star tracks and rare singles) into one staggering, 54-song collection I Like Rain; The Story of the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience.
JPS Experience or more simply JPSE – names used after trouble with the philosopher Sartre's estate which clearly didn't have a sense of humour – were masters of understatement (Grey Parade) and space (Fish in the Sea, Let There Be Love) but could also deliver angular white-funk (Crap Rap), delighful pop (I LIke Rain), intensity (Flex) and widescreen psyche-pop with nods to Manchester (most of Bleeding Star).
And pieces like Elemental about which Yetton said, "[It was] one of our first experiments with a looped drumbeat and a strummed bass guitar. It's one of those 'pure' love gets trashed and trodden on by reality (and New Age workshops) type of songs. With a vague nod to Brian Eno's line about needles in camel's eyes slipped in for good measure."
Their lyrics were often shot full of unease and doubt, darkness and menace, and they were worth trying to decode.
The guitars of Mulcahy and Laing could intertwine with mesmerising dexterity.
Grant Smithies captures that aspect perfectly in his Soundtrack book: “Spindly single-note lead runs that twisted and twined and crossed over each other with the perfect geometry of a spider's web”.
When they moved to Auckland in '91 they added Russell Baillie (longtime Herald entertainment editor) to the line-up for a while. When he left he jokingly told me it was because of “musical differences. I was musical and they were different”.
They toured widely – US, UK and Europe – but that was in the closing stages of their career. Mulcahy quit and was replaced by Matthew Heine (from Solid Gold Hell) but another tour in the UK took its toll and they called it a day when they came back.
The planned fourth album never happened.
Their music changed over the decade they were together – the simple, spacious songs giving way to more densely arranged material on Bleeding Star. But there was a consistency about it which few others at the time – aside from perhaps the Chills, Straitjacket Fits and the Clean – could muster.
And it's all on I Like Rain which comes as a complete download or as a three LP box set of their albums plus assembled bonus tracks and rarities like the Precious EP.
This is a massive dollop of remastered music from a "second wave" Flying Nun band which commanded a loyal following but has almost disappeared into the fog of the distant past.
But the breadth of their vision, and the fact they wrote many great, memorable songs make this a real top-shelf collection.
It is everything.