If you could time travel to any musical era, any place in the world, where would you go? NYC of the '40s to hear Charlie Parker and the beginnings of bop? Bakersfield in the early '50s to catch Buck Owens & His Buckaroos kicking up some serious dust? London, 1965? L.A., 1978? Me, I would pick New Zealand in the mid-'80s, and these records are the reason why. (Oh, and they all need to be reissued, as soon as possible!)
The Bats - Daddy's Highway
The Bats, headed by Robert Scott of NZ heroes the Clean, played the cleanest, purest pop of any band anywhere. They are the definition of jangle pop but they also brought a very pleasing chug to their sound (chug pop?) that was indicative of much of the Flying Nun stable of bands. They released a ton of records (and are still very much a going concern with the release of a very good album, At the National Grid, in 2005) but the pinnacle of their sound is Daddy's Highway. Warm, peaceful and full of pastoral soul, the album is simply magical.
The Bats - "Round & Down"
The Bats - "Block of Wood"
The Chills - Kaleidoscope World
The Chills had the jangle and chug too. They also added an extra layer of cotton candy fuzz and some wonderfully rollicking organ to their sound. Martin Phillips was a crack hand at churning out memorable and sometime breathtakingly hooky tunes. Like the Bats, the band made a bit of headway in '80s and almost broke through in the early '90s with some slick but still great albums. Their best album though is Kaleidoscope World, a collection of singles and stray tracks from the early-to-mid '80s that stands as an essential document of NZ pop.
The Chills - "Pink Frost"
The Chills - "I Love My Leather Jacket"
The Verlaines - Juvenilia
Verlaines' head honcho Graeme Downes was trained in classical music and his band had a definite baroque feel. Their songs twist and turn like wild birds, swooping into unexpected changes that leave you giddy and then flooring you with drop-dead choruses. The group's first first three albums (Hallelujah All the Way Home, Bird Dog and Some Disenchanted Evening) are pretty genius and should be made widely available again, but where you should start is with Juvenilia. This collection of singles and EP tracks is stunning and contains possibly the best song to ever emanate from the fair island in question: "Death and the Maiden." Like the Bats, the Verlaines are back together and making records again, and that is cause for celebration.
The Verlaines - "Death and the Maiden"
The Verlaines - "Joe'd Out"