David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights
End Times Undone
No history of New Zealand indie rock is complete without a chapter on The Clean—the legendary trio of brothers David and Hamish Kilgour (guitar and drums, respectively) with Robert Scott (bass) that has served up stirring, driving rock-pop that does a lot with a little.
Infectious numbers like “Tally Ho!,” “Odditty” (sic) and “Draw(in)g to a (W)hole” are rightful classics, marked with Hamish’s meaty motorik-esque drumming, a punk simplicity and an irrepressible joy.
The 2002 2-CD compilation Anthology is a perfect introduction—which was recently reissued by Merge as a 4-disc vinyl set—but those wanting to do a deeper dive will be rewarded by the proper full-lengths, up to 2009’s excellent Mister Pop.
It’s also a perfect time to delve into the non-Clean (unclean, and Great Unwashed) output of guitarist/vocalist David Kilgour, both as a solo artist and with his backing band the Heavy Eights.
Kilgour’s latest full-length is End Times Undone, and it reflects the consistency he has demonstrated over his entire career; superficially, it’s not very different than his other Heavy Eights releases, often using locomotive chord repetition to draw in and hypnotize the listener, somewhat akin to mid-’80s Feelies material.
However, consistency is a good thing in Kilgour’s case, as he rarely releases something half-baked or sub-par. Those familiar with Kilgour’s catalog won’t be surprised here, although a few diversions exist, like the keyboard-enhanced “I Don’t Want to Live Alone” which is simultaneously spare, wistful and optimistic.
The album starts off well and actually gets better toward the end, with “Down the Tubes” being a high point, with glorious stabbing chords and a satisfying feeling of revelation.
It’s refreshing to hear music that isn’t painfully derivative, and while End Times Undone isn’t exactly groundbreaking music, it has a sort of timeless quality to it—it’s all about an honest, invigorating delivery rather than mapping out new ground.
Fred Frith and John Butcher
The Natural Order
Some music can be safely tuned out, barely registering in a person’s consciousness while flipping through magazines waiting for a dental appointment or going on autopilot, insufficiently caffeinated on the morning commute. And some music—ambient music, in particular—is intended to be “as ignorable as it is interesting,” to quote Brian Eno.
Then we have an album like The Natural Order, made by two British improv giants, guitarist Fred Frith and saxophonist John Butcher, which is the complete opposite of background music. This is not a “listen to this on headphones album while you attempt to get work done”—it is too varied, fluid, strange and complicated to be ignored.
Now, being impossible to ignore isn’t always a good thing—think of a screaming child—but in this case, the vast and impossibly sprawling sound inventory of the duo is both richly nourishing and perplexing, with the listener constantly thinking, “How on earth do they make these sounds?”
The Natural Order is a studio recording from 2009, finally released after being mixed in 2012, with no overdubs, and presented in the order in which it was recorded. Over an astounding 45-plus-year career, in bands including Henry Cow, Art Bears, Massacre and Naked City, Frith hasn’t softened or tired a bit, sounding as curious and stimulating as ever with dexterous electric guitar work, sharpened with agitated distortion.
For the last three decades, Butcher has proved to be one of the most skilled and astounding free improvising saxophonists around, effortlessly playing difficult multiphonics and utilizing extended techniques.
“Faults of His Feet” is a scampering, noisy number with tight patterns, while “Turning Away in Time” expresses subtleties within the interplay between the two, with Butcher cooing and mesmerizing and Frith carefully shaping his notes with his volume pedal.
Like nearly all free improv, The Natural Order can be difficult listening, but it is far from being pointless noodling, presenting two masters with fiery imaginations and formidable performing talents who go past conventional thought and can keenly articulate their wild ideas into sound.