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September 21, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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The Clean: Mister Pop (Merge)

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For a band which has only released four albums and a smattering of singles in a recording history that has spanned over 30 years, The Clean sure has a good sense of timing. Their mid ‘90s albums Modern Rock and Unknown Country coincided perfectly with the discovery of their trademark sound (skuzzy guitars and lyrical witticisms) by American indie bands and college radio. Fast-forward to 2009, and an age where musical fads come and go at a rate so fast that even the most cutting edge of blogs can scarcely keep up. Despite these fickle conditions, one discernable trend is the prevalence of understated summer-pop cropping up on private torrent sites and hidden rapidshare uploads. Though not sounding strictly like what was to come, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion use of watery samples and round-the-campfire attitude set the initial tone, which has since been fully defined by up-and-comers like Beach Fossils, Real Estate and Ducktails.

In a delightful slice of serendipity, Mister Pop, The Clean’s first album in eight years, largely trades in their old dirty guitar chug in favour of a more relaxed psychedelic aesthetic. Take the looping keyboard melody and sighing female vocal harmonies of opener ‘Loog’, which instantly conjure images of poolside relaxation and tiny cocktail umbrellas. ‘Are You Really on Drugs’ marks the appearance of the first conventional vocal from frontman David Kilgour. It rolls along pleasantly enough, with its bright guitar jangle punctuated every now and then by cheeky whooshing noises, while Kilgour repetitively asks somebody (possibly himself): “Are you really on drugs?” ‘In Your Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul’ is perhaps the highlight, its wistful lyrics and gently chiming guitars recall the warm sounds of 60s pop, but its casual slide guitar solo is 100% kiwi ingenuity (of the most psychadelic kind). ‘Back in the Day’ is another fine example of the Clean’s newfound summery sound. Its twangy, upbeat guitars would have sounded at home on a Real Estate single, but it’s the typically understated chorus vocal that make the song especially memorable, with Kilgour cheerfully reflecting: “Hey, it puts me right back in the day, yeah.” The appearance of a vocoder on ‘Tensile’ finds The Clean (quite successfully) adding new elements to their sound. Simultaneously, the gently driving guitars and squiggly synths of the same song find them rolling back the years to do what they do best. All up, Mister Pop is an effortless effort, a wonderful combination of nostalgia and vitality, and a welcome return for one of New Zealand’s most loved musical acts. Now come on Kilgour, how about some tour dates please?

Ratings:
Mainstream: 3
Indie: 7.5
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