What can be said about The Clean? In 1978, they were the seeds of New Zealand punk and the reason for the founding of Flying Nun, one of the greatest record labels that ever existed. They carved out a big sandbox for everyone to play in, and their influence resonated not only in New Zealand but around the world. Not only do bands like Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, Pavement, and their ilk owe a debt to The Clean, but many of today's young upstarts such as Times New Viking, Eat Skull, and a band from China called Carsick Cars have the Dunedin godfathers deeply etched into their DNA.
I've personally witnessed four or five waves of rediscovery of The Clean in the years since I first heard them in 1986, and the stuff just continues to educate. Homestead's US issue of Compilation in the late '80s and Merge's double-disc Anthology from 2002 both laid out a complete rulebook, and a pretty in-depth one at that. Nevertheless, if someone else compiles them again in 2015, it's going to resonate just as strongly. Simply put, the music of the brothers Kilgour and Bob Scott holds up pretty damn well in 2009 for anyone checking them out for the first or 5,000th time.
What's the sound? It's completely theirs but draws on everything from the psychedelic paste of Barrett/early Floyd to vintage Velvets propulsiveness to almost everything else under the sun. In the case of the live staple "Point That Thing Somewhere Else," here is a song that levitates any room in a way that makes you swear the band just stepped out of Conny Plank's studio in Germany with all the bulldozing power of Hawkwind. Their jubilance at times (the organ-laced "Tally Ho," "Beatnik," "Whatever I Do") makes the Banana Splits sound like Bauhaus while simultaneously exhibiting dark undercurrents, making Bauhaus sound like the Banana Splits. They created both full studio sound and lo-fi recordings before, during, and after the various waves of the 4-track revolution, making both recording modes work with no loss of the band's identity. As far as other influences, you can hear Arthur Lee, Shirley Collins, and the Rolling Stones, among others, but it's never a kind of forced appropriation; while some bands seem to say, "Look at my record collection," in the case of The Clean, it's organic, seamless, and inimitable. Though hardly as prolific as The Fall, another maverick group of originality, The Clean have endured for almost as long while maintaining a completely unique, quality stamp that's often replicated but never quite mastered by anyone but themselves. They're also one of the best (and sometimes loudest) live bands I've had the pleasure of seeing.
The Clean's modern age has seen them splitting time and hemispheres: David has a reputable solo catalog; Bob has the Bats; and Hamish has been an endearing and enduring fixture in New York City, playing with assorted combos including his own Mad Scene with wife Lisa. The Clean's 2007 three-night stand in NYC was nothing short of a celebration of intersecting fanbases, so this fall's Mister Pop sees them continue the great pop pastiche. Circus ragas ("Moonjumper"), gorgeously hazy sunset anthems ("In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul"), and the sometimes loose Dada approach to wordsmithery continue right alongside "proper" lyrical forays, and yep, a few Autobahn referential instro moments to boot ("Tensile"). Bob's love of pastoral UK folk has brought some added weight into the overall Clean equation, as does David's Eastern and African guitar jones, though all this has always fit in with and still constitutes the total basis of The Clean sound journey.
WFMU Music Director
Jersey City, NJ