Album Review

Means

Means

By Street Chant

Arch Hill Records
8.5 / 10
23rd August 2010

By Paul Gallagher

New Zealand's musical history has become so, you know, 'cool' lately. There's all sorts of bands springing up all over the globe borrowing the best of what's been aired to meet the largely American blog-driven resurgent lo-fi / skuzz / dream pop market. From the mid-1980s Car Crash Set and Dead C to eponymous Kiwi bands like the Chills and the Clean, chillwave and lo-fi groups are footnoting and referencing as they go about their daily doings, happy to liberally help themselves to our collective aural heritage. Generally the world's all the more richer for it, but with the rate that new groups are popping up these days not all of them deliver a satisfying crunch. Yes, there are those that build on the victories of the musicians that have gone before them, using back catalogs for referential homage with a whole new twist. But there are also those who are plain and simply plagiarizing, ripping off masterpieces from decades past to meet the fashionable demands of the 'scene'.

Luckily for us Street Chant have always been firmly in the former camp, notable for avoiding and forgoing the pastiche of the latter. They've always been happy to add to the pile, rather than just taking from it. They're not just a band-of-the-moment, and have done the yards over the last four or so years steadily building a reputation and solid base of devotees. Despite their strengths, previews of this album have been enough to stir up some not-so-dormant tall poppy syndrome within message boards and blogs. Well, that's indicative of the vindictiveness and bickering immaturity that can emerge within New Zealand's smaller-than-your-average-fishbowl 'scene'. But let's collectively take a deep breath and give ourselves a moment to take stock: as the rise and rise of Surf City is anything to go by, Arch Hill aren't exactly known for signing lightweights.

Street Chant stand alongside and hold their own amidst the ranks of the absolutely talented: Surf City, Ghost Wave, Deer Park, Wilberforces, Nevernudes, Rifles, Sharpie Crows, Damsels, et al. It's a colliding melodic mess held together by a successful formula. Emily Littler is outstanding with her vocals emerging with a real shine not always heard in the live setting, coming a long way from the certain yet unrefined derision in her Cock Destroyer past. Her talents are more than matched by Billie Rogers, and when former DHDFDs drummer Alex Brown is let off the leash he does so with prominence (particularly on Less Chat, More Sewing), cementing himself with gusto within the percussion. It's all brought home by the successful marriage of Bob Frisbee's none too intrusive and cooperatively sympathetic production values.

Those who know Street Chant will be aware of the stand out tracks - obviously the b.Net darling tracks Scream Walk, You Do The Maths and Yr Philosophy appear, and need little introduction. These are solidly book-ended by a pair of songs that mark the album's post-punk / grunge stupor as adequately as Street Chant's most well known output. Opener The Fatigues is a blustery and rigorous awakening, setting a tumultuous melodic Vivian Girls-esque scene for the rest of Means to follow. Of most surprise is the closing track The Password Is Password - an insight into restraint and clarity which burdens the listener with tension with building drums and guitar strums which breaks into a pause for thought before falling away, into nothing. Penultimate track Cloud Jumpers is an intriguing tour de force reminiscent of a junior Dinosaur Jr, which I'll be returning to again and again in the coming days.

What's hard to deny is the passion with which Street Chant take to their task, and take others to task too. And while it sometimes may not have as much allure as their incredibly engaging live performances, it remains irrepressibly convincing in its entirety. I'm a big believer in the conviction with which this band carry themselves, the brash confidence that accompanies all the fun. With Means seemingly having been years in the development, and with tours with luminaries such as the 3Ds and Dead Weather under their belt, I have high hopes that Street Chant will continue to do what needs doing.






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