The Clean – Anything Could Happen

In the Gazin’! series, we covered music that was layered; detailed; lush.

As much a technological achievement, as a musical one. Shows off your good ‘phones and your hi-fi stereo.

But THIS is murkier music that will sound pretty much the same coming out of a plastic transistor radio (or, those crappy computer speakers on your desk) as it would if played on an expensive stereo system.

It shares with shoegaze an affinity for signal-obscuring (and, perhaps counter-intuitively, potentially melody-enhancing) noise and texture, while largely eschewing shoegaze’s often carefully-sculpted approach in favor of something a little more spontaneous.

Once again there are melodies here; but you may have to move some sonic scuzz aside to find them.

This is home recording. This is 4-track. This is lo-fi.

Abandon all notions of sonic clarity, ye who enter here.


Lo-fi is like any genre. If you have the songs, the attitude, and the vision, it’s going to be inspiring. If you don’t, it’s going to be lifeless. Lo-fi was the last truly charming and inspirational movement, the perfect extension of punk. Not only did you not have to know how to play, you didn’t even have to worry whether it sounded good by contemporary production standards. – Robert Pollard, Guided by Voices

I’ve gone on at length about my love for Guided by Voices.

But as great as it was to see once more that band’s “classic lineup” at Matador 21, the possible highlight for me was getting a chance to see New Zealand legends the Clean.

(Well…that and getting married. Hey-o!)

The Clean – Tally Ho!

On the Velvet Underground’s White Light / White Heat, the producer reportedly abandoned the studio during the recording of “Sister Ray”, displeased with the ungodly racket.

When the Clean encountered similar resistance from Kiwi recording engineers, they politely (they are New Zealanders, after all) picked up their songs and literally went home, choosing to record themselves on 4-track rather than constantly tussle with engineers and producers who didn’t get what they were doing.

As with the Velvets, time turns much “noise” into “pop” – it’s hard to see what those engineers were so unhappy with, with catchy tunes like these:

The Clean – Beatnik

I LOVE this next track: the ascending/descending riff that grinds and warps; the periodic strange clicking/tinkling percussion that sounds like it might be a sack of stolen silverware; the mournful horns; the relentless thwack of the snare driving the whole thing forward like a sled-driver’s whip; the rousing countdown before each chorus; the whole shebang:

The Clean – Getting Older

England’s Swell Maps were not only influential to your Pavements and Sonic Youths etc., etc., but they boasted two of the greatest nom-de-rock handles ever, in brothers “Nikki Sudden” and “Epic Soundtracks”:

Swell Maps – Midget Submarines

It sounds like Portland’s Eat Skull stole the Clean’s rinkydink organ:

Eat Skull – Stick to the Formula

This next song is a (literal, fuzzy) blast. Gleeful gang-shouted pop melodies do battle to the death with shredded-speaker noise.

I don’t want to die in the city alone.

Especially if that city is Columbus, OH:

Times New Viking – Teenage Lust!

Yeah…that’s EXACTLY what a song with that title should sound like…messy, amateurish, overwhelming, exuberant, and a little desperate.

Speaking of desperation:

Times New Viking – No Time, No Hope

Though the title nods to the Buzzcocks, the vocals on this song remind me more of Beat Happening:

Times New Viking – Ever Falling In Love

Flight are from Mississippi. There seem to be some dark, almost gothic undertones to their stuff.

Like the songs are the bones of old murder victims, caked with dank river mud.

Flight – Flowers

You might remember the original version of this next tune from a disturbing and NSFW movie scene.

Flight – Goodbye Horses (Q Lazzarus cover)

Bored yet? We’vve all been there:

Wavves – So Bored

Lo-fi isn’t only suited to energetic abrasiveness; intimacy is another route it can take. Home recording can allow the vision of one person to shine through; after all, it’s possible for a single person to be the whole band, engineer, and producer.

Dump, the bedroom 4-track side project of Yo La Tengo’s James McNew, really gets at the fragile beauty at the heart of this Prince song (this track is taken from an entire album McNew did of Prince covers, with the wonderful title That Skinny Motherfisher With the High Voice):

Dump – Pop Life (Prince cover)

Staying in Minneapolis for a moment, Paul Westerberg’s official solo debut, Fourteen Songs, was mostly pretty weak. Overproduced and uninspired, with little of the sharp wit or pathos his best writing with the Replacements had.

But in this track, a few clumsy lyrics here and there can’t break the melancholy spell woven by mostly just a voice, a strummed guitar, and a rapidly-ticking drum machine (OK, and a bass and a few tinkling keys), in what I like to think could be a tiny kitchen with faded and cracked linoleum on the floor:

Paul Westerberg – Black Eyed Susan

Like Dump, East River Pipe is just one man, but he somehow manages to sound like a full band on his records, with far more polish and professionalism than you’d expect from a recording made in the corner of a tiny Queens apartment.

His songs are sometimes funny, and frequently sad, and they almost always sparkle like sunlight on water, on an afternoon when you’ve had too much to drink:

East River Pipe – Kill the Action

East River Pipe – Axl or Iggy

Speaking of “sunlight” and “too much to drink”:

A Faulty Chromosome – Jackie O. (John Mellencamp cover)

Lo-fi isn’t just for the little guys. Anyone who likes bootlegs and demos may be familiar with the epiphany of discovering a much more human-scaled side of artists that are normally presented as larger-than-life.

Radiohead – Rhinestone Cowboy (Glen Campbell cover)

Rolling Stones – All Down the Line (demo)

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21 thoughts on “Crud!

    • Yeah, that song stands out. For some reason, I always conflate it with this one:

      I only have the one Wavves album (Wavvves) – I like it OK, but it’s pretty same-y.

      Which, to be fair, might be a charge some might level at a lot of these bands; even if they *are* writing varied songs, the muddy production can make it hard for a casual observer to easily differentiate between them.

      But as with shoegaze or garage rock (or, really, anything) one good song is enough – I can assemble it with like others (that may have no geographic or temporal proximity) to make kickass mixes. And as with shoegaze, the textures can be tactile and addictive.

      Have you ever listened to The Microphones’ The Glow Pt. 2? That thing is a paradox, and I couldn’t figure out where to slot it in here. It’s the most detailed lo-fi I’ve ever heard. A headphones lo-fi record.

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      • i like that microphones track. i’ll have to check them out.

        part of the difficulty of lo fi is that without sufficient differentiation in playing styles and instrumentation, everything is going to sound pretty samey. i’ve liked some pretty grimey techno in my day, etc, but there’s definitely a serious weakness to the form.

        speaking of lo fi, i really enjoy early will oldham recordings. it sounds like you’re in the room with the guy in the midst of poor decisions.

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      • Well, the best lo-fi artists (coughpeakGbVcough) definitely switch up styles and even recording styles (different *types* or levels of lo-fi) so as to make the sound work for them, not against them. As much as I like Times New Viking, I sometimes wish they’d switch it up more, because it’s possible to become fatigued with a lot of their albums after the initial rush of a song or three. (Their newest one, Dancer Enquired, tones the noise down quite a bit – it’s the first one they did in a studio. You’d still never mistake it for a Boston record though).

        Speaking of techno, I am digging the new Graze:

        And that Gesaffelstein strikes me as proper dark techno (linked rather than embed, there’s blurred nudity there).

        And it’s not techno, but the new Warpaint has a definite trip-hop feel to some of it:

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  1. OK, this may be the first of these posts (with the possible exception of the Girls! one) in which I loved every single track. Damn it, now I’m going to be chasing down some of these bands for the rest of the week.

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    • Sweet! I thought this one might be a whiff with a lot of people…it can be an acquired taste, and I’ve heard very negative reactions from both people who aren’t down with the concept at all (“WHY would you present your art in such an unflattering light?”), AND people who used to be down with the concept back in the pre-digital days when 4-track analog recording was the most economical choice, but feel that bands striving for that similar sound now, are somehow posing; putting on airs, because now there’s no reason to sound this way; you can get a laptop and make much clearer, “better” sounding recordings, easily and cheaply.

      But of course, “better” is relative. Is there still a point to taking a picture in B&W, when we have color cameras? Or shooting something on grainy film stock, when we have crystal-clear digital video available? Yeah, there is; certain tones and textures can be achieved the old way that just can’t be easily achieved in the new way – or, even if they can be easily achieved in the new way (for all I know, some of these bands are using software to achieve these effects and textures), the texture *itself* is pleasing, or carries certain connotations and associations like the crackle and hiss of old vinyl.

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      • I, myself, find myself wondering “HOW IN THE HELL CAN HE KEEP PUTTING TOGETHER POSTS LIKE THIS???”

        I mean, I see a post with this much depth and covering this much ground and figure “okay, he’s blown his wad”, but next week there’s another one. I am flabbergasted.

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      • Jay, how do you think I feel when I write one of these things:

        “Damn, how the hell am I going to write one thatgood?”

        Glyph, I still can’t stop listening to that whole late-70s gritty New York scene (Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads), which was sort of a previous take on black and white pictures, and right now I have this, which sorta is a black and white picture, stuck in my head:

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      • Oh, consider the wad blown. After this January coup I staged, I gotta get back to work. I’m handing the reins back over to Chris, and looking forward to his.

        Those shoegaze ones just needed doing, and this one felt like the antidote to shoegaze overload.

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      • I’m away from my computer at the moment so I can’t listen, but I have no idea what that Hunger band is, looking forward to it.

        But I must make a shameful confession…I don’t get Patti Smith. Maybe that’s not as shameful as me not really caring about the Beatles, or being lukewarm on Elvis Costello (though My Aim is True is pretty good), but I know I must be missing out somehow.

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      • That Hunger is definitely of its time (dig that organ!). I always like getting introduced to some weird more-or-less unknown rock corner (Rufus linked that Simply Saucer recently, which I NEVER would have heard of).

        Here’s one a friend introduced me to years and years ago. I guess it WAS a moderate hit in 1970, but it was new to me:

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