Release Date: Sep 8, 2009
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Ah, the Clean-- the Halley's Comet of indie-rock, appearing after prolonged absences in a flash of brilliance, only to disappear just as quickly and practically be forgotten about. But if the New Zealand trio's output has been notoriously sporadic over their 32-year lifespan, their releases have been fortuitously timed to capitalize on their unyielding influence: After a brief string of legend-making singles in the early 1980s, the band's relatively prolific 1990-96 run coincided with the ascendance of Clean acolytes Pavement and Yo La Tengo; their last release, 2001's Getaway, dovetailed with the Strokes and the Shins' back-to-basics ethos; while the new Mister Pop-- only their fifth full-length release-- arrives at a time when a new generation of lo-fidelity all-stars (Jay Reatard, Bradford Cox, Crystal Stilts, Love Is All) is displaying a voracious appetite for Kiwi pop. But the Clean have always exuded a casual grace that suggests they'd still be making the same records even if no one was listening, employing the same set of devices-- ramshackle locomotive rhythms, buoyant basslines, swirling organ lines, and wide-smile melodies-- irrespective of prevailing fashions, technological developments, or geopolitical unrest.
If the Clean were motivated by anything other than a seemingly pure love of music, Mister Pop would have been a very different album. Since the last time the band made a record, scores of new bands have discovered the awesome early work the Clean recorded back in the '80s and have incorporated the raw, scratchy, and energetic feel of those records into their sound. The group could have easily tried to capitalize on its newfound icon status and made an album that harked back to its early years.
Back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, when the hermetically sealed worlds of indie subculture and mainstream chart music almost never met, the New Zealand music scene represented a kind of parallel pop universe. This was the land where the brushtailed possum roamed, mountaintops glistened, and idiosyncratic indie bands like the Chills and Straightjacket Fits penetrated the Top 20. The Clean, formed in 1978 by David Kilgour and his brother Hamish, were perhaps the band most instrumental in kickstarting this scene.
As surely as curious youngsters are digging through their parents’ old Zeppelin and Creedence LPs, curious hipsters are downloading early Clean albums. It’s as inevitable as the past is recyclable; the closer indie-rock came to mining late 70s alt-punk, the wider The Clean’s comeback platform unfurled. And given the fact that Morr Music has recently dedicated itself to modernizing New Zealand’s indie rep (last year’s Surf City EP, this year’s all-star double-disc covering New Zealand’s alternative scene), it’s no surprise to find Mister Pop arrive via the popular German imprint.
The Clean is a band whose members have no sense of time. It can take them years, and sometimes even the better part of a decade, to release a new album—their first full-length didn't arrive until 1990, a full 12 years after forming in New Zealand—and their records pay little credence to the era that spawned them. Their organ-laced, ramshackle early pop singles were like little else from the punk period, and their latest, Mister Pop, is similarly divorced from modern indie-rock, suggesting an alternate reality where The Feelies and Galaxie 500 never broke up.