Great Sounds Great

City Paper

The last decade or so has been all about bands getting their due. What I mean by that is bands from the pre-internet era that were either critical darlings or criminally underrated with a devoted cult following (often both) are suddenly finding a place in the canon. This is especially true of indie rock, where groups that seem prescient or influential finally get acknowledged as such, and suddenly more people are clamoring to see the Pixies or Pavement than did when either was still putting out records (we’ll just pretend “Indie Cindy” never happened).

This has been written off as nostalgia on the part of both the bands and old-head fans, but that’s not entirely it—a lot of people are coming to these bands for the first time. That was the case for me several years ago when an editor friend of mine introduced me to The Clean, a New Zealand indie band from the 1980s that, it turned out, proved influential on some of the bands I already loved—especially Pavement.

Centered around brothers David and Hamish Kilgour, The Clean played a slack, jangly garage rock that takes the best parts of the Ramones and The Velvet Underground without being heavily indebted to either. Well, it kinda managed to jump across the map more than that description would have you believe. ‘Tally Ho!,’ the A-side off the band’s first single, has a jaunty electric organ line, giving the song a bit of ’60s pep that runs counter to the casualness of the drawn-out vocals. The B-side, ‘Platypus,’ has the sort of shimmering fuzzed-out disjointedness that Guided By Voices has built a name on.

As you’ll find on “Anthology,” the career-spanning work reissued by Merge Records—the reason for which the band is coming to Metro Gallery on Saturday—The Clean could sway from the tossed-off post-punk of The Fall (‘Side On’) and just as quickly shift to tightly wound, brightly infectious college rock (‘I Wait Around’). And it’s just as capable of doing some out-there experimental Zappa shit, as seen on the aptly titled ‘Psychedelic Ranger.’

Brief history tidbit: The group put out two EPs and some other minor releases in the early ’80s before disbanding. It only came back to write and record its first proper LP, “Vehicle,” in 1990, because, as David Kilgour told The Washington Post in 2011, “Rough Trade said, ‘If you want to make a new record we’ll pay for it.’” The Clean has kept at it since: Its last album of original material, “Mister Pop,” came out in 2009.

What ties all of it together are the beautiful clangs of guitar chords—so simple to play, and yet still so wondrous to the ear—and a pop sensibility that offers great melodies to reel the listener in without ever being showy about it. It’s a style that has endeared The Clean to record nerds for years. With a terrific new compilation that serves as the perfect jumping-off point, maybe it will go beyond that. 

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