Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dead C Collection Receives Pitchfork Praise

Kiwi noise legends The Dead C received an amazing Pitchfork review today!

The Dead C
Vain, Erudite, and Stupid: Selected Works 1987-2005
[Ba Da Bing!; 2006]
Rating: 7.9

In my teen years, Chicago store/distributor/label Ajax Records was
like a treasure map: Amid their brief catalogue descriptions I first
stumbled upon Pavement 7"'s and then, just as importantly, located the
impossibly varied, amazing bands coming out of New Zealand.
Summer job dollars spent, records labeled Xpressway, Feel Good All
Over, Flying Nun, and Siltbreeze arrived on the doorstep containing
music by everyone from Alastair Galbraith to Wreck Small Speakers on
Expensive Stereos. Each had its place in my nascent view of the
country, but the holy NZ trilogy consisted of the Jefferies brothers
(Peter and Graeme), Chris Knox, and the Dead C (and their various

The Dead C should go first: Michael Morley, Bruce Russell, and Robbie
Yeats' ramshackle, half-speed, and scary racket externalized what was
teeming inside my head. (Tellingly, favorites were DR 503, Eusa Kills,
White House, Trapdoor Fucking Exit, Harsh 70s Reality, and The
Operation of the Sonne.) Really, I've probably mentioned the band in
more reviews than any other group, excepting the Sun City Girls. That
critical shorthand could strip references to the trio of all nuance,
but each time I've name-dropped, I hear "Max Harris" or "Power" and
remember exactly the way they fucked with my conceptions.

As a testament to that fandom, I own all the individual albums,
singles, magazine editions, and the like collected on the two discs
that make up Vain, Erudite, and Stupid: Selected Works 1987-2005. Some
of my favorites are here, some aren't; it seems like a waste of time
to harp. In fact, the band selected the songs-- so, no matter the
ostensible gaps, it's fascinating. Founding member Bruce Russell also
penned notes and diaristic reminiscences for each track-- he speaks of
process, instrumentation, the weather. (You can also read opaque and
anecdotal reminiscences from Bananafish editor Seymour Glass,
Siltbreeze founder Tom Lax, and The Wire scribe Nick Cain.)

I bought the vast output as it was released, but experiencing it again
as a sort of time-lapse listening experience is incredible. You can
trace a history and see overlaps, divergences from the slow-mo bedroom
psychedelia of "Max Harris" to the warping, snare-scuffling Throbbing
Gristle swarm of "Maggot", punctuated by Morley's shrieking, monstrous
taunts. Tracks and fragments jump from chattering ambiance to
real-time collage to spoken Mark E. Smith phaser shifts to scrawling
handfuls of dust-- songs cut or continue unexpectedly; some soar from
the trash heap, as is the case on the almost 11-minute "Helen Said

Haven't heard the band? The sound's difficult to describe. One thing:
Nothing is ever aurally spiky or sharp-- every feedback twang's draped
in this weird NZ dew. They eke the loveliest distortion tones from
guitars and tape echo, and much occurs on the spot: They're amazing
improvisers, upchucking Twin Infinitives-sized messes at will. It's
garage rock, maybe, but the garage is burning down and you're in no
rush to escape. For me, the mournful stuff's the best; and when
they're tapping sounds from a ham radio, giving themselves the space
to open entirely as on the slow burn of "The Marriage of Reason and
Squalor" and its sci-fi Shadow Ring weirdness. The rarely just rock--
well, but what about "Bitcher"?-- and even then there's almost always
some kind of swerve.

Praise singing complete, I hadn't really listened to much of the
band's most recent output. The last couple of songs on disc two, from
2001 and 2003, respectively, find the band getting more spiraled and
"tight." See, they started using laptops a bit and, bubble popped, my
interest waned. That's a minor purist gripe, though-- the approach
remains impressively aggressive even if the ambiance is partially
lost. Plus, it's interesting to see just how cohesive the practice
largely remains over twenty-something years (distilled into this
two-plus hours).

Sure, collections are never complete and you can't replicate
discovery, but damn if this fucker doesn't seem plenty full. Until
someone does a Please Kill Me for the period I alluded to at the get
go, documents like this (and back issues of Forced Exposure) are our
aural/oral history books and lessons: Vain, Erudite, and Stupid feels
extremely primary.

-Brandon Stosuy, February 01, 2007

The Dead C wail away on New Zealand television.

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