Tuesday, October 04, 2005

There's only cliché to get across this feeling

Going from punk to off-kilter lo-fi bedroom pop, Chris Knox has had a career that's impossible to overlook when discussing New Zealand's musical history. Starting off in the late 70s Kiwi bands the Enemy and Toy Love, Knox and Alec Bathgate then teamed up for the duo Tall Dwarfs, one of the most beloved bands on the Flying Nun roster. The geographical separation of the two has put time constraints on their collaborations, despite the band being the most prominent project for each of them. Knox has recorded quite a catalog of solo work and also creates animated movies, draws cartoons, and writes columns. Merritt fans will recognize him as being the vocalist for the 6ths track, "When I'm Out of Town," and he was cited by Merritt as being one of the "best contemporary lyricists in English" in Chickfactor #12.

Chris Knox's "Not Given Lightly" was Merritt's favorite recording of 1989, and it's an intimate and completely charming song, written as a love token for Knox's wife. In 2001, members of the APRA named the track as being New Zealand's ninth best song of all time, and it's available on the album Seizure (FYI, Knox sometimes suffers from epileptic fits), which is a good starting place for diving into Knox's solo material. There's a bit of uniformity within the solo Knox catalog, with a typical song being built up from a rhythm loop, a rhythm guitar riff, and maybe an Omnichord (a sort of electronic autoharp). Knox has an odd, sometimes naughty sense of humor, yet he also has numbers that are totally heart-wrenchingly sincere, sometimes to the point of discomfort (take for example "Young Female Caucasian," during which Knox actually weeps.)

Some tracks by Tall Dwarfs are compatible with the Chris Knox solo formula, but Bathgate and Knox feed off each other's weirdness and often go into stranger (yet listenable) territory. They are unafraid of the grotesque (speaking of which, their self-portraits are the most unflattering likenesses ever), in terms of both lyrics and sounds, and have a low-tech recording style that lends much to the Tall Dwarfs listening experience. Merritt has expressed his admiration for Tall Dwarfs, in particular the album Hello Cruel World, a compilation of the duo's first four EPs from the early 80s. From the opening twin guitar chords of "Nothing's Going to Happen" (which would be re-recorded for a grand Phil Spector homage called Wall of Dwarfs), you know you're onto something amazing. Hello Cruel World, which includes this week's second selection, is a great entry point, and you can't go wrong with 3 EPs and the Dogma EP (bundled with Fork Songs), too.

Chris Knox - "Not Given Lightly"
Tall Dwarfs - "Crush!"

(sorry for the late post, folks!)


Anonymous mika said...

I was waiting for a Chris Knox post! Glad it came along!!

11:22 AM  
Blogger Ernest said...

Happy to oblige!

10:17 PM  

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