Twee Kitten Record Reviews - 27 May 1997:
International Tall DwarfsTwee Kitten Record Reviews - 26 December 1996:
Flying Nun. FN-384.
Reviewed by Keith McLachlan.
Gosh this is a weird one, it is so comfortably nestled left of left-field, that anyone who actually believed that the Tall Dwarfs were anywhere near normal will have to readjust their thinking. The dwarfs became international when, on their last full length, they solicited contributions, from their fans, of taped loops of sounds that could be used as rhythm tracks, and here a bunch of nuts who share the same brand of dementia do nicely to lead the boys in directions that may have been otherwise untraversed.
Last year Alec Bathgate's first solo album was a parade of perfect pop and Chris Knox has always had a penchant for the wonders of pop-dom, so it seems they have made the Tall Dwarfs their arena for madness. Of course, that being said, this is probably their warmest album yet, thanks mostly to Chris Knox's stirring vocals on beautiful songs like "Crocodile" and "Albumen."
The basic formula is unchanged, Alec comes up with a perfect guitar line, Chris adds some odd looping percussion or effects and then intones some lovely imaginings over top and these 8-track recordings become sparklingly clever and enticing.
The international contributions ranging from electrical distortion from death valley, to a train in Nice, to some odd dutch fella sampling himself all fit in perfectly and really are not outside anything we might have expected the boys to come up with themselves. The range of topics is eclectic as well, from Zeus and Leda to severed heads and blood serum proteins and terminal disease. All are fantastically bizarre and cozy at the same time.
It is not nearly as beat-friendly as their early stuff, but it moves along at a friendly enough pace and should be held in the same regard as previous Tall Dwarf records. And seeing as how so many bands from the Olivia Tremor Control to Kleenex Girl Wonder to Guided by Voices have been influenced by the Dwarfs maybe you should checkout the original.
ALEC BATHGATE Gold LamťThe Real Groove - 26 December 1996:
Flying Nun, fnn 353
Reviewed by Keith McLachlan.
For years the nearly silent half of the magnificent Tall Dwarfs, Alec has stepped from the shadow of his more famous cohort Chris Knox and created a charming little jangler of an album. Alec is the only member of the Dwarfs that can actually play so you learn that he is the architect of the Dwarfs wonderful hooks as this comes off sounding like a record of Alec's out-takes from Tall Dwarf sessions. Mostly acoustic and winsome, Alec does get louder on tracks like "Your Heavy Dream Won't Fly" which has the best harmony vocals I've heard since, uh, whenever, and "Happy Hound" which ends in a crazy instrumental freakout. But mostly the songs are sweet, intelligent and dizzyingly melodic. A treat.
StumpyRip It Up Review - Issue 212 April 1995:
Fake blues, fake grey metal (not black enough), fake Beatles, fake Nick Cave (the fake), fake Residents - you name it, there's something for everyone here. Chris and Alec do a great line in musical caricatures (almost anthological, as usual), and their latest product is as self-indulgent, derivative, difficult and delightful as ever. Stumpy is an often delirious and (economically) demented collection of poems and very short stories masquerading as songs, inspired and/or accompanied by a miscellany of home recorded samples sent to the dodgy duo from all over the world, and set to the music they call their own - space-age pop touches down and talks to the trees. There are tapes of guitar under a mattress, drunk bass, slo-mo drums, kazoo, radio noise and an Ih Eh Oo Ih Eh Ay Clap Louse for extra measure, amongst many other "no expense involved/bond with the gurus" contributions. Maturing Dwarfs can get fuzzy and cloying, but their world of the commonly unseen and uneasy edge of humanity and emotions, and the temporary nature of life, is once again the main attraction. The songs veer from toilet paper doodlings and a self-portrait to death and steak knives, and even include "Nothing's Going to Happen II" by Viv and the Valiums with the 19 minute finale of "Up." In their own humble way, the Dwarfs have infected every unsuspecting mind that unwittingly or otherwise touched their music (now, where did I leave that 15 minutes of fame...) and the disease lives on in Stumpy. (7)
Chris Knox: Songs of You and MeMZ.com - The on-line music guide:
Yup - Another solo record from the man who just doesn't know when to stop reading his press kit. The newie is a double, Hanging out for time to cure birth is the "You" side, while A stranger's Iron Shore is the "Me" side.
As usual the lyrics sheet will take you weeks to wade through, more words than your average Mike Leigh film. Knox tries to make `songs out of speeches' (to paraphrase `Mirror, Mirror')
On Duck Shaped Pain he told us we should all read Faludi's Backlash. On Croaker's `Liberal Backlash Angst (the Excuse)' he told us of for being lazy bastards that won't do anything for change. On Seizure he told us `Honesty's Not Enough' for change. Knox never seems to tire of trying to convert us to his PC world view.
On `Songs of You and Me' his topics include suicide, being crippled and drugs, before he moves into his personal life, which seems to consist of being in love, being fucked up or fucking up relationships - something else he never tires of writing about, though I do wonder if his partner of 15 years is not feed up with it.
His lyrics are intelligent (He admits his ignorance), intensely personal and usually avoids the cliched and banal. What more could you want from him?
Musically he is the Chris Knox that we know and love, dellicate ballads in `Brave' and `Open', the cool pop of 'Mirror Mirror', which should have been the single, and the fuzz of `Chemicals are Our Friends' He may not know when to stop, but it doesn't matter - its not time yet.
* * *
Lo-fi Godfathers of the New Zealand indie scene, Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate are living proof of a pop truism: anyone can do it. Stumpy consists of no less than 21 miniature pop gems, almost all under two minutes, spanning a vast range of moods and styles and concluded by the 20-minute opus "Up" (which is no "Sister Ray"). It doesn't make for an especially coherent musical statement, but coherence is hardly the point - this is the closest we have to modern folk music, for everyone to give to and take from as they please. The band is hereby known as International Tall Dwarfs, for the 16 additional contributors around the globe who took up an open invitation to submit their "weirdshit sounds". Yes! You too can be a Tall Dwarf. - Andrew Stafford
Rough Guide to Rock and Roll:
Weeville (1990; Flying Nun). Tall Dwarfs' best record shines a fierce light on New Zealand and is none too pleased with what it finds on either a political or a personal level.
Meat (1993; Flying Nun). Seizure and Croaker collected on one CD almost constitute a Knox 'best of', with such brilliant items as "Not Given Lightly" (a love song for people who don't like love songs), the weird but catchy "Meat", and the feminist morality tale, "Growth Spurt".
Washington Post - June 30, 1995:
Chris Knox - "Songs of You & Me"
by Mark Jenkins
Though one of his songs has been covered by Marshall Crenshaw, Chris Knox remains on the fringes of the music industry. Since he lives in New Zealand, he's literally isolated from the biz, but he maintains a psychic distance as well. When he's not drawing his regular cartoon for one of the country's leading newspapers or reviewing movies on New Zealand TV--or recording and playing with Tall Dwarfs, his longtime but part-time band--Knox makes solo albums in his basement. Their sound is rough, but these recordings feature fully realized songs that confidently blend folk, punk and other traditions.
Divided into two separate sets, "Songs of You & Me" includes 11 personal songs and 10 more about "other things." Melodically, the sections are equally outgoing: Some songs are quiet, others noisy, and some both. There are two versions of "Instant Mashed Potato"--one gentle, one boisterous--but also tracks like "A Song to Welcome the Onset of Maturity" that meld balladry and cacophony. Like other stalwarts of New Zealand's Flying Nun label such as the Verlaines, Knox excels at simple vamps like "Vol au Vent" and "Bully Up & Grinning," but he also has an unusual feel for doo-wop harmonies that gives such songs as "Mirror Mirror" and "One Fell Swoop" a distinctive twist.
Tall Dwarfs - "Stumpy"
The time line of a first-time Tall Dwarfs listener:
(0:03) What the hell are they doing?
(0:10) Hey, I kinda like this.
(0:35) I still have no idea what they're doing! But it's catchy!
(1 week) I can't stop listening to this! And I still don't know what they're doing!
Pop music may seem like a sweet, simple thing, predictable and kind. However, the Tall Dwarfs take great delight in making pop music that intentionally breaks nearly every rule imaginable, combining bizarre rhythm loops and unorthodox instrumentation with lovely melodies and surrealist lyrics. For instance, on one of the more subversively infectious numbers on Stumpy, "The Severed Head of Julio," the New Zealand duo manage to make a beautiful song out of a plane-wreck story sung in a slowed-down voice over woozy slowed-down piano and guitar. The 22 songs on this album are a worthy continuation of the TD's 16-year-old legacy of gorgeous pop destruction.
Pop music is like a sweet, slow brontosaurus. And the Tall Dwarfs are like scheming little mammals who steal brontosaurus eggs and eat them.
Chris Knox - "YES!!"Chaos:
by me (Craig Latham)
Where do you start when reviewing a new Chris Knox album?
Do you start with the fact that he is the godfather of punk in New Zealand? Or do you start with how his latest effort should be seen in light of a series of brilliant solo and group albums? Or do you stress that he is one of the major proponents of the "lo-fi" music scene? Or do you simply start by saying that this is damn fine music?
Words are incapable of portraying the beauty, the harshness, the "thinginess" of Chrisí latest offering. From the opening of the album through to its close (well maybe not quite its close - for more read below), this is captivating music.
For those of you who havenít encountered the music of Chris Knox, itís hard to find a point of reference. Heíd fit into a punk-pop category, although a little uneasily. You can hear a little folk here, a little rock there, but then he really surprises you. Let me put it this way, Iíve enjoyed the music of Pavement, Sebadoh, Guided by Voices and Dinosaur Jr. But, when I heard the music of Chris Knox and the Tall Dwarfs, I sat back and said that this is the music Iíve been waiting for....
(Incidentally, it was actually when the guys from Pavement programmed a local music show that I caught my first glimpse of Chris Knox (in his band, The Tall Dwarfs) - CLICK HERE for a list of Pavementís programming.)
The best way to describe the album is to give you my thoughts as I listen to it:
- The Joy of Sex
Building tension in rock then release by breaking into pop with lines being accented by feedback.
- The Sweaty Hide of Circumstance
Soaring. I have absolutely no idea what heís talking about. I think it is probably a story of being caught just exisiting. A fine pop song.
Bagpipes! A stinging attack on the system - "honesty recedes and falsehoods fill our needs". Itís rebellion against Godís design, the government and anyone else whoís around. This is the only song on the album where someone else plays (Chris apparently canít play the bagpipes).
- Backstab Boogie
Donít believe the "boogie" - itís pop sung over a punk song. Quite brilliant.
- Ballad of a Victim of the Economic Recovery
Lovely chorus - "I could grab you and break every bone in your face". Chris is letting off a bit of steam with his "bad little song". If you were not listening to the lyrics, youíd think it a sweet song.
Whatís an omnichord 100? Thatís what heís playing. Soft, sweet singing over an organ. Chris assures us heís not after fame - just somewhere to live.
- Tantamount to Treasury
Crunching guitars - spoken lyrics. No matter how hard I tried, I would be unable to work the lyric "you lick the sores of the priestly whores" so that it sounds like it should be there.
Crowtheremin (a ghostly sound) - now thereís an instrument you donít normally get to hear. A break up song where you donít necessarily want to break up.
Distorted voice over the Omnichord 100 and "Hot-cake" (Iíve only just got comfortable with the Omnichord!). Chrisís lyrics seem detached from the music. I have a strange feeling that Chris is feeling romantic about his telephone - "phone is my best friend". (I actually managed to ask Chris what heís on about - yep, itís a love affair with a phone.)
- The Uncertainty principle
Back to guitars and drums. "There is no knowledge in this world" - but at least Chris assures us that there is "no need to be afraid".
Back to the old Omnichord 100. Sweet.
- Almost Tempted
I really donít know how to describe this one - itís a song. Itís probably not pop or rock.
- Flaky Pastry
A driving beat, highlighted by the fact that itís only guitars and a drum machine. Too many brilliant lines to note them all:
- "give us today our daily greed"
- "serving vegeburgers to the Ku Klux Klan"
- "hiding from the cretins looking back at you from every mirror"
- "counting all the blessings as they pass you by"
17 minutes of noises ranging from staples in a pill bottle through to a cake mixer on tin foil and then on to a loose table leg (and a host of others). Chris describes it as "ear candy". Worth a listen, but youíll probably find yourself ending the CD at track 13 after a couple of listens to this noodlefest.
This is a harder album than most Chris Knox - fewer toy pianos - more crunching guitars. However, the rewards for listening are handsome.
If youíre being weaned off "mainstream-alternative" music, then this is an excellent album with which to start. However, don't forget to sample the brilliance of Chrisís earlier albums.
Alec Bathgate - "Gold Lamť"
by me (Craig Latham)
The lo-tech jangle-pop masters, The Tall Dwarfs (of which Alec is half), have been going for many years with Chris Knox (the other half) regularly releasing solo albums. With Gold Lamť, Alec dips his toe into the solo world and what an attractive little toe he has....
The songs that Alec bestows on us are little pieces of blissful pop heaven. The major elements of the Tall Dwarfs are here with exquisite guitar playing alongside the sounds of Casio, toy piano and tape loops.
From the garage rock of Pet Hates through the harmony of Happy Hound, on to the haunting Friday in the Ground and then to the cover of The Ethiopians' (reggae legends) "Train to Skaville" should prove forever that Alec is no Tall Dwarf wallflower. What's more the whole thing was recorded at Alec's home on a 4 track.
In Alec's words "50,000,000 Elvis fans can't be wrong", you really should go out and and buy that suit of gold lamť!
Chris Knox - "Beat"
by Russell Baillie
What with his many multi-media works - if you don't know who Chris Knox is, he's the fortysomething chap in the T-shirt who reviews films on Backch@t while looking like he's directing taxiing aircraft, and also the author of our Max Media strip just down the page - it might seem that his musical pursuits are becoming a sideline.
Then comes along an album like this to remind you that music - well, actually songwriting of strange passions, dark wit and barbed tunes - is what Knox does best.
Coming after the relative indulgences of his last solo album, Yes!!, and the last Tall Dwarfs' effort, Beat is a direct, cohesive and thankfully less self-conscious affair. Throughout it's highly pop-infectious on the fuzzy likes of the lyrically sweet and sour What Do With Love?, the yelping Denial Song, and the bubblegum electropop of opener It's Love.
But there's many an affecting moment here, too. Like the sweetly devotional My Only Friend (a relative of his earlier love song Not Given Lightly), the mortality-contemplating This Mortal Coil and Becoming Something Other, a lyrically disarming dirge which addresses the recent passing of his father.
Elsewhere Knox offers the worryingly titled throwaway I Wanna Look Like Darcy Clay, gets in some brass backing on The Hell Of It and the Lust For Life-grooved Ghost.
Widening musical horizons show in the last of the 13 tracks, Laughter, a song of limpid melody showing a hitherto undetected influence on this first-generation Kiwi punk-rocker - Bach.
As its cover shows, Beat is an album with heart. Which makes it quite the best thing Knox has done in ages.