Now if there’s ever an artist that’s on my all timer list of folks you need to have on your radar, its Chris Knox. Knox first caught my ear with his band, Toy Love, and then through his idiosyncratic solo recordings that filtered out in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Toy Love were kind of the first big success and cautionary tale of the New Zealand boom. The band formed from the ashes of The Enemy, got signed to WEA and became a touchstone for quite a few of their countrymates in the coming years, but they burnt out early, and were never able to repeat their local success on a bigger level. Both the band’s Alec Bathgate and Knox would shake off the ashes of Toy Love and form Tall Dwarfs in their wake. The band was a bit of a complete right turn from the brittle punk of their former outfit. The pair found their form in lo-fi, home recordings. The studio sound left far in the rear-view, they’d wind up the blueprint for more than a few bands with a couple of scratched acoustics and no drummer.
This collection from Merge rounds up quite a bit of the lot into a 55-track collection that gives about as clear a picture of Tall Dwarfs as you’re likely to get. The band issued eight EPs and six albums over the years, mostly on Flying Nun. They prized hooks over perfection and that immediacy and intimacy has long been what makes them stick. The band jangles, falls into groove and then falls apart just as often. Consistency isn’t’ what listeners come to Tall Dwarfs for, though. The moments flash with brilliance and a winking smile from the band. The duo was always an experiment in seeing how far pop could stray without fully dissolving into avant tributaries. Still, moreso than the legacy of their songs was the inspiration they gave to musicians that the studio wasn’t necessary. Tall Dwarfs proved that a Tascam and a bit of dedication could yield records with an immediacy that far outstripped their fidelity. The band would eventually find their way to the studio on later releases, but those years when Bathgate and Knox are arcing their voices over double strums and a clatter of handclaps and pot taps is pure bliss.
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