The ageless Bats continue to defy the odds with their 2017 album, The Deep Set. They've been a band since 1982 with the same lineup and same basic sound, and each record they release is as good as the last. Here on The Deep Set, their jangling guitars, springy bass, and simply powerful drums remain intact; Robert Scott's plainspoken lyrics tell the same mix of personal and mildly political stories; and the sound is as crisp and clean as ever. The only thing that's a little different is that for the first time Scott's vocals at times come across a tiny bit gruffer and less wistful than usual. It's not any kind of problem, though, and those who took 30 or so years away from listening to the band could be fooled if you told them any song here was the follow-up to something from their 1984 By Night EP. Well, maybe "Shut Your Eyes" might not, since it's maybe the first time the band has augmented its sound with a sweeping violin section. Apart from that, every song has the trademark bounce, jauntily interlocking guitars, and winsome melodies Bats fans have been loving for years. Stack the insistent "Antlers," the melancholy gem "Rooftops," or the lovely loping love song "Diamonds" up against any of their best songs from the past and there's no question that they belong. Indeed, the album as a whole slots in very nicely next to their best work, from 1987's Daddy's Highway to 2011's Free All the Monsters.
Despite the warm nostalgia one is sure to get from listening to The Deep Set, there's also a fulfilling sense that the music is made by people who care about each other, care about making their music as pure and rich as possible, and have never set foot in a less than Bats-like direction. It's beyond impressive and each album they make should be hailed as a gift to anyone who loves the classic Flying Nun sound. Or anyone who loves guitar jangle or Robert Scott's voice. Or those who treasure Kaye Woodward's cascading lead guitar runs and her lovely vocal harmonies. Or lovers of rock-solid rhythm sections, because bassist Paul Kean and drummer Malcolm Grant are immovable. The Bats are one of New Zealand's great treasures bestowed upon the world at large, and anytime they make a record, especially one as good as The Deep Set, it's an event worth celebrating.