All fans of the Flying Nun sound will enjoy “Heavenly Pop Hits,” a documentary about the New Zealand label, available in its entirety on YouTube. In installment 3, Stephen Malkmus talks about reusing a vocal line from the Verlaines’ 1983 single “Death and the Maiden” for a Pavement song. Malkmus doesn’t say which song, but as soon as he starts humming the melody — the Verlaines are singing “Is there any less pessimistic thing to say?” — it’s instantly revealed as the “made me realize I was on a train,” from “Box Elder.” One more secret of Pavement revealed.
Here’s “Death and the Maiden,” whose opening guitar, I now realize, is also identical with that of “Box Elder”:
And “Box Elder” (no video):
And here’s part 1 of “Heavenly Pop Hits”:
It seems I’ve already mentioned that I love Prickly’s cover of “Death and the Maiden” with the heat of a thousand suns. That version doesn’t exist on the whole wide Internet, but here’s Malkmus himself singing the song.
Douglas‘s label Dark Beloved Cloud put out a great record by the Magick Heads called Transvection. You and I think a transvection is a unipotent element of the symplectic group, but it turns out it also means — well, let Douglas explain it:
DBC222 The Magick Heads’ Transvection CD
“Transvection” is the act of riding through the air on a stick or a broom, and The Magick Heads’ glorious ride spanned almost a decade. Natives of Dunedin, New Zealand, driven by the songwriting prowess of Robert Scott (of the Bats and the Clean) and the throbbingly gorgeous singing of Jane Sinnott, they released two exquisite albums on Flying Nun and a couple of EPs. Before they called it a day, they assembled this collection of levitational performances from their entire career: studio recordings, live tracks, radio sessions and 4-track demos–13 never-heard songs and three radically different versions of Magick Heads classics. Delicious he sang/she sang harmonies, the savory friction of acoustic guitars against electrics, backing by members of the 3Ds–it’s all here, and it’s all exquisite. $10 ppd.
The record is just as great as Douglas says. It reminds me a little of an amazing old Boston band, Prickly; Collin Oberndorf’s clear, high, hollow-sounding vocals cut through the haphazardly layered guitar on that record much as Sinnott’s does here. Here’s the Magick Heads, “Standing on the Edge,” courtesy of Flowering Toilet:
Back to New Zealand: if I could post my own .mp3s on the blog, I’d put up Prickly’s great cover of “Death and the Maiden,” by NZ’s Verlaines. And the Magick Heads, via Robert Scott, are related to the Clean, whose song “Odditty” is the greatest pop monument New Zealand ever produced. Tom would probably accord that honor to “Not Given Lightly”:
At the very least, this song is tied with “Stand” and “Chinese Bones” for best use of the open E (and is the uncontested champion in the “not played by Peter Buck” division)
More group theory: the Pin group is not just a double cover of the orthogonal group, but an early NZ post-punk outfit. The Pin Group was that rare thing, a band that sounds a lot like Joy Division without being second-rate parody. Here’s their 1981 single “Ambivalence,” (via The Walrus):
I have this single in my collection only because it’s part of The Greatest Mix Ever Made, which is to say the 13-disc, 411-song box set “1981”, consisting entirely of songs released in that year. It’s one of my prize posessions, and I am eternally in awe of and debt to its compiler, the musical encyclopedist known as Soundslike. Who it turns out makes his own music, and it’s kind of great! Surprisingly easy-going and gentle, given the vast amount of aggressive post-punk he’s brought into my life. Here’s a standout track: