Listening Post: The Bats/Public Service Broadcasting/Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band/The All Seeing Hand

The Sunday Star-Times weekly wrap of new music.

The Bats are back in the bats-mobile for the first time in five years.
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The Bats are back in the bats-mobile for the first time in five years.

The Bats
The Deep Set
(Flying Nun)

★★★★ 

Five years on from 2011's damn fine Free All The Monsters, a new album crests the horizon from Port Chalmers' songwriter Robert Scott and his Christchurch colleagues, lead guitarist Kaye Woodward, bassist Paul Kean and drummer Malcolm Grant. It is sturdy of frame and golden of melody, as you might expect, with hefty bass and drums punching home tender lyrics and a melancholy undertow throughout, as Scott revisits favourite themes: tricky relationships, loneliness and landscape. The band's long acquaintance shows in every chiming chord and lovely backing harmony of standout singles Antlers and No Trace; they've been together since New Year's Eve 1982, and an unhurried, intuitive, emotionally generous feel continues to inform the sound. Rooftops finds the narrator floating free in his dreams at night, but having to face some harsher earthly realities by day. Locked tight around a heavy acoustic guitar strum, Looking For Sunshine seems to be suggesting dress-ups and make-up as a winning strategy while waiting for life to improve ("we can try on Shiseido/ while we're looking for sunshine"). An ode to wild Otago with gorgeous ringing guitars, Scott revisits the Taieri fishing spots of his youth in Rock And Pillars, while Walking Man invents an empathetic backstory for a solitary soul Scott noticed passing him in the street each day at precisely the same time.

Grant Smithies

Public Service Broadcasting
Live at Brixton
(Southbound)

★★★★

For an indie band that heavily relies on sampling, Public Service Broadcasting sure knows how to rock. That much is clear on the band's new double album, Live at Brixton, which catches them in full flow at a London show in late 2015. PSB's schtick is using audio snippets from old newsreels and propaganda films – usually of famous events like, say, the moon landings – and building epic instrumentals around them. The results are often impressive, with huge walls of sound underpinned by a thrashing rhythm section and sharp guitar hooks. Live at Brixton doesn't deviate too far from PSB's studio material, which is unsurprising given the precision required for so many instruments – there are plenty of horns and strings – and the samples themselves. Gagarin, Go and Everest stand out in particular, but it's excellent across the board.

Jack Barlow

Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
Big Machine
(Southbound)

★★★

As one one my favourite British folk artists, Eliza Carthy's The Big Machine comes as something of a disappointment. She has previously explored, on her own and as a member of The Watersons with her mother, the rootedness and interconnectedness of the English folk tradition.  On Big Machine, her most ambitious album to date, she takes on a more global translation of her natural influences that are big and bold but, at times, missing the simplicity and passion reflected in previous albums.  It's a brave step into a new world with a couple of poignant moments, particularly I Wish That The Wars Were All Over, featuring Damien Dempsey and apparently a song about custard-poisoning, but it's one her existing fans should approach with caution.

Mike Alexander.

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The All Seeing Hand
Sand To Glass
(MUZAI Records)
★★★★

You will not remain unmoved by this Wellington trio's fourth album. Whether you're left thrilled or deeply distressed is another story, or both, perhaps, intermittently within the same song. Turntable legend Alphabethead, drummer Ben Knight and throat singer Jonny Marks deal in a sort of take-no-prisoners audio ambush that might scare off anyone not weaned on hardcore punk and techno, industrial music or metal, such is the level of noise, speed and visceral intensity on many tracks. Their second album Mechatronics made me a fan, albeit a wimpy one who could only listen once or twice a year with the doors locked and all the lights on. Sand To Glass is better still, with a far broader sonic palette – the menace offset by more reflective minimalist passages, the bludgeoning beats and dive-bombing electro riffs leavened by the occasional – gasp! – acoustic guitar. A dystopian sci-fi epic unfolds before your startled ears, spanning a civilization's troubled history, lurching from bone tools to black holes as some sort of malignant master-race makes a power play. Jupiter's Moons and Silicon And Synapse may well be the most marvellous collisions of turntable, throat and drums you ever hear, by turns tense and lovely, like intergalactic folk music knocked out by angry aliens. Lizard Brain is primeval punk. And Cro-Magnon Corp? Truly terrifying. I'm writing this review while hiding under my bed.

Grant Smithies

 - Sunday Star Times

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