My first listen through this album brought me flashbacks of listening to other albums, albums that were early in the careers of bands that ultimately became quite influential, albums that were raw, sparse, fresh, and full of energy. This auditory pastiche included "The Blink Leading The Naked" by The Violent Femes, They Might Be Giants' pink album, and pre-Darkside Floyd. Chris Knox, the New Zealand man responsible for this delusion, is part of the enigmatic band Tall Dwarfs and is able to create delicate ballads, cool pop, and satirical folk songs without breaking a sweat. Knox has an odd sense of humor with a skewed view of the world that manages to avoid cliches. Like the music that he plays, his voice is r
ubbery, bouncing effortlessly from verse to verse like a super bounce ball from those machines at the grocery store.
The, ahem, heart of the album are three songs that came about from the decline and death of his father. These songs are sadder and more open than past songs, but not without hope. Other songs include the infectious "It's Love" which mixes bright piano, fuzzy guitars, and a peppy melody into a quickie that brings up images of Matthew Sweet's 100% Fun, The Troggs, and the Buzzcocks. More fun follows with the jangly guitars and funky horns of "The Hell of It" and the rantings of "I Wanna Look Like Darcy Clay". "Everyone's Cool", the gritty anthem of individuality has a rhythm and sound that would fit in well played in a large stadium. Other songs find Knox in his role of political activist. "When I Have Left This Mortal Coil" and the Dylan-tinged "The Man In The Crowd" sound like updated 60s protest folk songs and the lyrics are definitely in line with the charged atmosphere of change. Lyrically, this man sings speeches. There are lots of words but they are quite good. The album is full of such great lines as "You're better than me by a minor degree" and "When I have left this mortal coil I'll leave no shade / When I have left this place I'll leave my bed unmade." And lets not forget the teeming melodies that worm their way into your, eh, well, heart. For those who seek adventurous music free from the constraints to "move units", this album will definitely brighten your day.
This article first appeared in WhatzUp, September 2000.