Release Date: Jun 23, 2009
Record label: Hidden Agenda
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
After a couple years with no follow-up album, the Bats returned to action in 2005 with At the National Grid, which seemed like it might be a one-off occurrence, and that they might choose go back into the hibernation they had been ensconced in for ten years. Thankfully for fans of their jangling, melancholy sound, the band re-grouped and returned with The Guilty Office in the early summer of 2009. Though they have a new label (Hidden Agenda), the band's seventh album sounds as if it could have been released anytime in the past 25 years the band has been making brilliant music.
Whether they know Christchurch from Cleveland or were alive in 1987 when Daddy's Highway made small but far-reaching ripples, indie rock fans have been absorbing strains of the Bats' and fellow "New Zealand sound" evangelists such the Clean and the Chills via osmosis for a couple of decades. The chugging, scrappy, Velvets-indebted aesthetic is so finely woven into "classic" indie rock's DNA (thanks largely to 90s uber-fans like Pavement and Superchunk), that it's easy to take a new album from one of the key Kiwi bands for granted-- even to write it off as quaint and anachronistic. So inevitably, nostalgia nags The Guilty Office, the Bats' first release since 2005's At the National Grid, their respectable but underwhelming return from a decade-long hiatus.
In the world of indie-pop cultists, those who worship at the altar of New Zealand rock are a breed apart. The most intensely fanatical of musical obsessives, they murmur meaningfully to themselves and make the sign of the Kiwi whenever they hear hallowed "Dunedin sound" names like The Clean, The Chills, Tall Dwarfs, and yes, The Bats. "Hey, wait," cries one of the aforementioned obsessives, "The Bats formed in Christchurch, not Dunedin!" Settle down, trainspotter, Bats singer/guitarist Robert Scott was in Dunedin O.G.'s The Clean, so the former are grandfathered in.
Since the mid-‘80s, the Bats have been quietly releasing thoughtful and awfully catchy pop records. After Robert Scott, bass player for the Clean, thought that band had split for good, he started the Bats as a way to develop his own songs. And, though the Clean are still around and still great, the Bats have become an exciting band in their own right, and The Guilty Office is another solid installment in their discography.
Over a decade ago, I had a conversation with a neighbor of Robert Scott, the Bats’ lead singer and main songwriter, in which they described how he paints. Scott sets up several canvases side by side and went from one to the next with first one color, then another, and then another. Whether you take this for ill or good, it explains a lot about his music.
First off, kudos to The Bats for this cover art. Isn’t it great? It’s just 4 rooms, but it seems so subtle and serene. And it’s pretty fitting, really. The Bats has that very subtle quality about it that makes the band such a great listen. You can hear so much beauty in one of the group’s ….