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Tall Dwarfs – Bovril


Aptly named after an iconic British meat paste, the latest Tall Dwarfs release by Thokei Tapes is an up-close-and-personal, wonderfully fuzzy mish-mash of previously unreleased songs, live recordings, and recordings from various side projects from Dwarf members Chris Knox (vocals/ guitar/ bass/ keyboard) and Alec Bathgate (guitar/ piano/ vocals), including a raw live track from Knox and Bathgate’s punk group The Enemy (not to be confused with The Enemy from the UK, who supposedly recorded one of the worst albums of 2012).

The lengthy 28 track album provides a pretty comprehensive journey into Tall Dwarf’s genre and sound experimentation, all the while clinging to their characteristic DIY attitude that they show off so well. For curious folks wanting to know more about the weird, underground New Zealand indie scene to which Tall Dwarfs contributed, read up on Bruce Russel’s compilation “Time to Go: The Southern Psychedelic Movement 1981-1986” right here.

The album opens with a lower, more distorted cover of T. Rex’s “Ride a White Swan”. In typical Dwarfs fashion, it sounds like it was recorded in somebody’s garage, but that doesn’t make it any less jam worthy than the original. One track later, the listener is treated to a live version of “1978” by The Enemy, for which the label mentions that “some sound interferences on the original material couldn’t be eliminated by mastering.” But honestly, the way the track explodes with aggressive electric riffs and equally as aggressive vocals, it practically begs to be played on a cheap stereo in your older brothers’ rusted down pickup truck, where interference is inevitable, but altogether edgy, no-nonsense, and just down-to-earth punk rock.

The 3 and a half minute instrumental track “Dee Street” is worth a mention, as it shows off what Tall Dwarfs can do with a keyboard. In the track, medieval tones build upon themselves and fall in a circular, satisfying fashion, while layered upon a moderate bass line.

The tracks that perhaps stand out the most on the record include the previously unreleased tracks, “Hospital Waltz” and “Crushed Velvet”. Backed by a hoppy, light acoustic melodies, the lyrics to “Hospital Waltz” are intimate, honest, and paradoxical when he sings softly, “I saw my blood on the hospital floor / Little red circle shiny and pure / Made me feel happy like I’d been reborn / Made me feel ancient and new (x2)”. The imagery in these lyrics are almost contradictory to the pleasant, calming tone of the track, almost reminiscing in homage to Nick Drake. The next verse describes “Pale green shadows of fluorescent light / Slow distant voices, a soft dying sigh/ Made me feel lost and alright (x2)”. While this track is such a sidestep from the higher tempo of the rest of the album, it serves as a refreshing intermission to prepare the listener for the rest of the album.

“Bovril” also includes 9 tracks from In the Dying Days of Helen Young Radio Session, which was recorded in 2004 in New Zealand. Included in this session is a somewhat satirical country-influenced track called “Fatty Fowl in Gravy Stew”. Tall Dwarfs introduces the track by stating in a very honky tonk “American” accent, “This is the song from the Appalachians that we wrote ourselves while skinning chickens while sitting on the bear”. While I seriously doubt that this was actually the case, or that Tall Dwarfs know how to skin chickens, the track itself is not nearly as goofy as they make it out to be. Rather, it’s full of twangy repetition to a tune that would be kind of fun to line dance to.

The rest of the Radio Sessions tracks contain mistakes and mess-ups that cause Tall Dwarfs to have to start over again, chilled out lo-fi acoustic tracks, and even a recording of their currently most-listened to song on Spotify, “Nothing is Going to Happen”. The use of the organ is a lot more prevalent on the Radio Session recording, and Knox almost speaks parts of it rather than singing, with a lot more inflection. He breathes new life into it this way, as if he really is trying to convince you that well, nothing is going to happen.

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