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Couchmaster

The Bats

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Album Review

Breaking just enough from the formula but never losing that inspired gift for softer melody and doubting lyrics, Couchmaster lets the Bats finally move from being simply a very good group with inspired moments to a great band, flat out. Part of it could be ascribed to the brief, fragmentary tunes that crop up throughout the album, serving as brief transitions from song to song. Other times it's the newer space in the recordings, the alternation between quieter and louder points (but not the rapidly clichéd loud/soft/loud approach that Nirvana popularized, happily). Whatever the source or reasons for the change, though, it works in spades. "Afternoon in Bed," the first full song on the record, kicks things off excellently. It's easily the Bats' best song since "North by North," Scott's reflective lyric on puzzling out another's statements accompanied with a perfectly balanced build and retreat in the music, not to mention some low-key but strong soloing. From there on in, the Bats steer away from doing "just another Bats song"; they play around with the arrangements, lower or raise voices in the mix, and try different rhythms or elements. Standouts include the slow chug of guitars in "Around You Like Snow," the frazzled background electric scrapes and wails on the wonderful "Chain Home Low," and even the first turn of Woodward on a lead vocal on "Shoeshine." Scott's still wistful, still questioning lyrics are as strong as ever, and the band sounds newly energized; they're willing to go that extra step, and it shows.

Biography

Formed: 1982 in Christchurch, New Zealand

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Yet another outgrowth of the seminal Clean, the Bats are an institution on the New Zealand music scene, their melancholy jangle pop sound and infectious melodies consistently defining the kiwi rock aesthetic at its very best. The Bats were formed in Christchurch in 1982 by ex-Clean bassist Robert Scott, ex-Toy Love bassist Paul Kean, singer/multi-instrumentalist Kaye Woodward, and drummer Malcolm Grant; with Scott adopting lead vocal and guitar duties as well as serving as the Bats' chief songwriter,...
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