Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Straitjacket Fits - Blow (1993)

Continuing in the 1993 vein, we now have Dunedin band, the Straitjacket Fits, led by Shayne Carter (now of Dimmer). They formed in 1986 from the ashes of The DoubleHappys after the accidental death of one of the members, and rose to prominence on the NZ music scene. They are probably one of the most well known  bands of the era, along with The Chills. One of my High School friends was a bit SF fan, and I became quite familiar with their music - alas at that point they had already parted ways. However, we did attend a couple of Dimmer concerts at local pubs.

This album was their third full length release and I acquired it second hand via Bishopdale Library. Either that, or I've had it out on hire for a great many years! The poor disc has seen better days, being scratched quite badly, but we'll see how well she spins. In terms of album desire - the cover is not overly dramatic - blueish-green, the word "BLOW", some dandelion "parachutes" dancing across it. Inside the band look very young and quite feminine. Carter has adorably high cheekbones.

We rock it off with the cruisy "Done". Carter's vocals are smooth with a bit of a quirky lilt and the music seems to overwhelm them in parts.Slightly fuzzy-sludgy edge to the recording that I've come to think of as the "Flying Nun" sound.

"Falling" gets off to a lively start. The guitar plays a bouncy poppish rhythm, trilling and dancing like some sort of vibrant insect. the vocals leap and dance gleefully around the chords.

A dramatic cascade leads into "Brother's Keeper" with its surging rhythms and sludgy vocals.

"Cat inna Can" is a somewhat playful piece, with poppy-rock rhythms and a "mew-ing"chorus line.

A rather moodier number, "Burn It Up" is laden with sludgy-dreary darkness. The bass kind of looms and the vocals spark whilst the guitars flicker and trace smoke through the air.

Then we surge into the jubiliant "Joyride". Still sounding somewhat mired in fog, but with a youthful enthusiasm.

Gentle plucking picks up the pace as we dash into "Train". There's a sense of "goodbye" here, but also the hopeful expectation of new beginnings - like moving from the old life and into the new.

Another poppy-boppy number "Let it Blow" The guitar strums start light and the vocals thickly distorted. The chorus has a sense of childishness: Probably because of the "la-la-la-la-la-la-la let it blow" which sounds like a pretend "I'm not listening" brush off if ever I heard one.

The hauntingly melancholic "If I Were You" is a beautiful, if somewhat bittersweet piece. The vocals are soft, dancing lightly across the gentle caress of the music.

Heavier rhythms herald the start of "Turn".  Vocals distorted, almost like a feral purr.

Vibrant and poppy; with a cruisy surge to it we ease into the dreamy "Way" with its fleetingly sweet vocals and gentle instrumentations.

Equally cruising and oddly soothing is closing track, "Spacing". There's something lethargic and dreamy about it, thick with mellow rhythms and slow, relaxing.

Overall, the Straitjacket Fits are a gentle, nostalgia inducing band; their thick Dunedin sound combined with quirky guitar (and other instrument) rhythms to add a dreamy, otherworldly quality to their music. They sound young, and fresh. Listening to them always makes me hark back to a time of sneaking into smoky bars (you could still smoke inside, once), of drinking bitter brew (Speights, pride of the South - not my choice!) and talking myself hoarse with my friend Vaughan, who was very fond of the band (albeit we never actually saw the Fits live, only Dimmer, but they did play the occasional Fits song, IIRC).

They've never been a particular favourite of mine, although I do enjoy their music. The production is a bit mired down and the vocals muffled, thus I shall rate this album: 6.5/10.

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