Courtis/Moore’s aural cornucopia, The Bats’ early tracks
The inter-continental postal collaboration Courtis/Moore virtually unites two like-minded recording artists: Alan Courtis (a.k.a. Anla Courtis of the Argentinian experimental band Reynols) and Aaron Moore of Volcano The Bear, from England but currently residing in Brooklyn.
The duo’s new, unpredictable aural cornucopia of beautiful discomfort, KPPB, takes its name from the initials of the album’s two long tracks, “King Pancreas” and “Punk Butter,” created from a long-distance sound exchange. It leans toward the musique concrète avant-garde, but it doesn’t totally commit to the electro-acoustic side, a la Francois Bayle or Bernard Parmegiani nor to the sound-song side, a la early Residents; it’s somewhere in-between, with patterns emerging that divide the tracks into distinct phases, yet with a freely flowing attitude not in structural lock-step.
Near the beginning of “King Pancreas,” the listener’s attention is immediately grabbed with startling, almost punishing drum rolls, contrasted with brass samples; it’s apparent that the two are sound collectors, using jackhammer recordings and the sound of scratchy vinyl records with ample surface noise.
Shifting again abruptly, there’s the strange pairing of drifting Hawaiian guitar parts with violently shimmering cymbals and disquieting tones. There are even some tender vocals and piano chords, before drones that seem to warn of an impending invasion; the mish-mash continues with electronic drips, a wanton viola, distinctly non-western malleted percussion and a reverberating pulse.
“Punk Butter” is just as disjointed and fascinating, with looped gamelan patterns, rattling strings and what sounds like a synthetic insect swarm; clumsy ghosts enter the room with a slow-grind cello, leading to backwards bells and the clink of ice cubes being stirred in glasses. A din of discordance is filled with animalistic howls, and as the track wraps up, it first sounds like it is going to be a Faust-esque jam, with a crunchy guitar and tribal tom beats, but it ends up slinking away as mysteriously as it entered.
While anyone can simply string sound effects together, KPPB transcends mere “haunted house”-type collages; clearly, the two artists are in love with the sounds they cull, and here, they’re tied together in unusual, often arresting ways.
The Christchurch, New Zealand quartet The Bats has an approach so straightforward and simple yet utterly satisfying for certain indie-leaning pop/rock sensibilities, that it’s difficult to properly convey its charms, in a time when the seemingly social-media-driven de rigueur communication style is riddled with upper-case letters, exclamation points and hyperbole.
Since forming in 1982, the group has become one of the most beloved outfits on the legendary Flying Nun label, and although based in Christchurch, it is linked with the “Dunedin sound” that shaped ’80s indie-pop (this writer would argue that it’s not really a “sound” because of the diversity of bands but more of an attitude and personality, characterized with a cordial, honest and unpretentious delivery—but that’s a topic for another piece.)
The release at hand is a three-disc compilation of The Bats’ earliest material, including the 1987 debut album Daddy’s Highway (with a rearranged track order that may be confusing for those acquainted with the original), the second album The Law of Things and Compiletely Bats (sic) which collects the band’s first three EPs.
Plus, there’s a generous helping of bonus tracks and demos, including the 4 Songs EP and two early, drum-machine-driven versions of the Bats signature classic “Block of Wood” with a slower approach with more shimmery guitars, providing a glimpse of what the song could have been with a blissed-out method.
Lead singer and songwriter Robert Scott (also of The Clean) rarely strays from his vocal style, with the same friendly, semi-declarative tone for either upbeat numbers like “Made Up in Blue” or pensive, minor-keyed tracks like “Smoking Her Wings,” and backing singer Kaye Woodward provides choice harmonies at key moments. A typical Bats melody is clear, concise, well-defined and catchy, with each number being a potential earworm. The group’s sound has frankly not evolved much over the years, but it has demonstrated a consistency in both quality and style about which it’s hard to quibble. Volume 1 is the perfect starting place for newcomers, and longtime fans will appreciate having the early odds and ends in one tidy package.