The Bats – Volume 1 (Captured Tracks/Flying Nun)

Volume 1 compiles three early albums from The Bats, one of the cornerstones (along with The Tall Dwarfs, The Chills, The Clean) of the New Zealand alternative rock sound of the ’80s and ’90s. The Christchurch foursome were a very consistent band, but, by steadfastly sticking to the same low-key mid-tempo folk-rock/post-punk hybrid for three decades, that consistency is more of a fault than an asset. Listen to any one of their songs and you will pretty much hear everything the band has to offer; guitars that can only be described as “chiming”, loud bass plunks, drums that are the exact opposite of everything Keith Moon ever did, and singer Robert Scott (also a member of The Clean) painting melancholic pictures with his words and voice. I like The Bats, but having so many similar (and somewhat plain) songs in one place (53 of ’em, on three discs) is simply too much. Picture a meal with nothing but rice on your plate, and you’ll get a pretty good idea what it’s like to listen to Volume 1. Compiletely Bats collects their mid-80s EPs, where the songs were there, but the performances were still a little shaky and the recording too lo-fi. Their 1987 debut full-length, Daddy’s Highway, is usually regarded as their best and it is a marked step up from the early material, with a much better recording and some sly nods to The Velvet Underground. The set ends with the decade-capping The Law Of Things, which again features a step up in recording quality and musicianship. “The Other Side Of You” reminds me of Orange Juice (the band, not the drink), while “Time To Get Ready” could almost pass for a less mumbly R.E.M. If you already love The Bats, then you know what to expect from Volume 1 – with the added bonus of remastering, bonus tracks and informative liner notes. However, for the uninitiated I recommend dipping your toes in the water with a single album before committing to this exhaustive (and exhausting) set.

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