Days of Lore

The Verlaines, New Zealand’s finest

The Verlaines, New Zealand’s finest

Postcard to NZ
Being that Mark Lore was kind enough, or foolish enough, to let me [Conrad Nystrom] take over his column while he is in New Zealand, it is only fitting that I prattle on regarding a topic that dominates perhaps every-other sentence of my speech: Rock and Roll Music.

When talking all things New Zealand (all things rock in New Zealand), the following bands and albums are a must:

The Verlaines, Juvenelia: The first, and to my ear, the best of what I have heard of the NZ bands. Songwriter Graeme Downes applies classical music complexity to a heart-wrenching wistfulness rarely ever heard. Key Tracks: “Death and The Maiden” and “Joed Out.”

Straitjacket Fits, Hail: The country’s shoegazers are at their mesmerizing and menacing best with gorgeous, flowing waves of guitar augmented by leader Shayne Carter’s idealistic voice. Key Tracks: “She Speeds” and “Sparkle That Shines.”

The Clean, Compilation: The granddaddy of NZ’s Flying Nun Records’ sound. Shambling, witty and occasionally haunting. The Clean is one of those bands people have to try not to like. Key Tracks: “Tally Ho!” and “Point That Thing Somewhere Else.”

And of course you (and Mark Lore, while he’s there!) can always pick up anything by Bailter Space, 3D’s, David Kilgour, Chris Knox, The Chills, The Bats, Garageland or Shocking Pinks and be perfectly happy. (You can always ask local singer/songwriter Barbara Manning for tips, as she has had the opportunity to collaborate with many of these wonderful musicians.)

Check out Flying Nun’s four-disc 25th anniversary box set for the bulk of the NZ story.

Big Dipper should matter to you
Who would have thought that Mission of Burma, The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. would ever reunite? Just last month, it was made public that My Bloody Valentine was joining the party, as they plan to perform UK shows in 2008 and to finish an album left on the shelf more than 10 years ago. While that is big news, equally exciting is the return of Boston’s Big Dipper.

“Who the hell is Big Dipper?” you ask?

Big Dipper was the perfect reason to gather on the porch in the late-’80s, and just soak in the Chico summer’s dusk heat, and drain the most affordable beer your bottom dollar could find. For those evenings, and subsequent days, Big Dipper’s music meant everything.

Big Dipper was one of the early high-water marks that showed me the limitless potential of creativity in “underground rock.” Formed in the late-’80s, and during the reign of fellow Bostonians Throwing Muses (and just before The Pixies), the band was comprised of ex-members of The Volcano Suns and The Embarrassment. No other band before or since has had the talent to combine off-kilter vocals and jagged wit with luminously loud guitars quite like Big Dipper. Songs such as “She’s Fetching,” “Hey! Mr. Lincoln” and “Younger Bums” are perfect examples of Big Dipper’s magic.

The band signed to Homestead (at the time putting out albums by Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.) and released an EP (Boo Boo) and two albums (Heavens, Craps) until they signed with the major label Epic to issue Slam, their final recording. Soon after, the band called it quits.

This spring, the kind folks at Merge Records (Arcade Fire, Spoon) are using their label smarts and releasing Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology. The anthology will include all of the band’s recordings including the great “lost album,” comprised of sessions that were to be the follow up to Slam. East Coast reunion shows for the band are planned in 2008.

Without a doubt Big Dipper deserve the same sort of reverence and acclaim that followed Mission of Burma’s reforming; not to be one of the many forgotten bands from the alternative music boon of the late-’80s.