This is a record packed with hazy melodies, lo-fi drones and beats, and contains some of the most heartbreakingly melodic and melancholic songs, as well as some of the moodiest and difficult (but ultimately rewarding) sounds you'll hear all year.
Review by Heather Phares
As Shocking Pinks, Christchurch, New Zealand's Nick Harte released three albums in two years. The first, 2004's Dance the Dance Electric, got him noticed by DFA Records; Mathematical Warfare and Infinity Land were both issued by the legendary Kiwi label Flying Nun in 2005. Songs from these later albums make up Shocking Pinks, Harte's DFA debut, which is unexpected, considering that Harte's debut album was more eclectic and electronic -- more in keeping with the DFA's previous output, in other words -- while his Flying Nun albums owe more of a debt to that label's classic bands and My Bloody Valentine's abrasive pop instincts. Only "Cutout"'s hypnotic groove and the moody, percussive "Smokescreen" hint at any dance leanings (ditto for the remixes by heavy-hitters such as Eluvium and the Glimmers on the singles leading up to Shocking Pinks' release). The rest of the comp shows off Harte's way with love songs that are heartbroken, aloof, and even a little arrogant. "This Aching Deal," "End of the World," and "Second Hand Girl" are full of confessions and recriminations tucked safely away in blankets of distortion and tape hiss. Harte's wispy voice can barely hold the emotions in his music, whether it's "How Am I Not Myself"'s petulance ("I'd rather be a retard than to be your motherfuckin' dad") or "Girl on the Northern Line"'s slow-motion yearning. It's easy to hear why Harte's band name was inspired by Pretty in Pink's teen angst; he can sing "fuck" and sound completely innocent, or "you make me feel bad" like it's the most romantic thing ever. Shocking Pinks' brittle, noisy production also harks back to the golden age of college rock in the late '80s and early '90s; in the best possible way, it often sounds like an ancient cassette that has spent years buried in the glove box. "Blonde Haired Girl" shows that the My Bloody Valentine that inspired Harte wasn't Loveless' meticulous layers, but the scrappy sonic free-for-alls of Isn't Anything -- the song's drum rolls are right out of "Feed Me with Your Kiss." Shades of Eric's Trip and fellow college rock revivalists Marmoset hover around shambling, vulnerable songs like "Victims," "Emily," and "I Want U Back." And, in classic indie fashion, Harte balances out the rough-edged but piercing beauty of some songs with others that take willful tangents, such as "Yes! No!" Crucially, though, it doesn't feel like Harte is mimicking his influences so much as finding his own ways of embodying them. Even if it tends to portray Harte as a more straightforward artist than he actually is, Shocking Pinks is an intriguing introduction for listeners who want to catch up with his ever-growing body of work.
When New Zealand's Shocking Pinks emerged in 2004, they sounded like they belonged on DFA. Debut album Dance the Dance Electric took up arms in the disco-punk revolution the label had declared a couple of years earlier with near-perfect 12"'s like the Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" and LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge". Except Shocking Pinks' one-man-band man Nick Harte couldn't be pigeonholed as easily as most of his cowbell-wielding peers. Harte's interests were more eclectic, his lyrics bittersweet. Party-starters aren't supposed to have, like, feelings.
Beyond its high standard of quality, Shocking Pinks' first DFA release might seem a less obvious fit for the label. And not just because Harte's project shares its name with Neil Young's 1980s rockabilly sidemen. A 17-track, 45-minute compilation cherrypicked from Shocking Pinks' two 2005 albums for New Zealand's legendary Flying Nun imprint (Mathematical Warfare and Infinity Land), Shocking Pinks veers even further from early-2000s Brooklyn for an emotionally vulnerable highlight reel of scruffy Jesus and Mary Chain dream-pop, ecstatic My Bloody Valentine haze, droning C-86 confessionals, and bedroom New Order bass lines. Oh yeah, and cowbell.
Harte is the ex-drummer for the Brunettes, who made their promising Sub Pop debut earlier this year. Those Kiwi indie-poppers go for lavish studio orchestration, but Shocking Pinks adhere to the lo-fi principles of hugely influential Flying Nun bands the Clean and Tall Dwarfs. Harte's vocals are whispery and fragile, delivered with a slight lisp. He plays all the instruments himself: The tragic synths on "End of the World" or "The Narrator", the electric-guitar squall of "Blonde Haired Girl" or Psychocandy descendant "I Want U Back", the distant acoustic strums over the fuzzed-out anomie of "Victims", the prominent Peter Hook bass of "This Aching Deal". You can hear strings squeaking, fingers sliding-- the homemade-pop legacy of Flying Nun's early-1980s Dunedin Sound left to 1990s indie groups like Pavement or Boyracer.
Most of all, you can hear the drums. Jealous love song "Emily" pans them over to the left, where Harte's cymbal-heavy clatter stands opposite skuzzy bass, elongated synths, and chiming percussion. In fact, an emphasis on rhythm and percussive elements seems to be the one place where Shocking Pinks intersect with other DFA acts. "SmokeScreen" is the most overt dance-punk nod here; Harte's clipped speak-singing ("Just take the medicine") and cowbell ruckus could fit easily onto LCD songs like "Us V. Them". Original New York dance-punks ESG or Liquid Liquid might recognize the funky breaks beneath ominous, synth-led "Yes! No!" or buzzing hi-hat exercise "Cutout".
Shocking Pinks is ragged and emotive where the DFA's other recent full-length release, UK post-punk duo Prinzhorn Dance School's quite good self-titled debut, is terse and mechanical. "I love you when you're happy, I love when you're sad/ But I'd rather be your retard babe than be your motherfucking dad/ Telling you what to do," Harte sings with hissing breaths on the album's heroin-clouded standout, "How Am I Not Myself?". On midtempo lo-fi rocker "Second Hand Girl", Harte imagines a tearful encounter on a woman's doorstep: "You let them go like falling stars, passing through the years." Elliott Smith used to juxtapose pop sentimentality and fucked-up romantic bitterness like this, too.
A couple of tracks are basically just interludes-- instrumentals "Wake Up" and "23"-- and one or two, specifically "Girl on the Northern Line" and "Jealousy", are more languid and meandering than the best songs here. Even so, Shocking Pinks' DFA debut is an auspicious one by a young artist who knows as much about loneliness as he does noisy pop classics. The finale, Harte's cover of Arthur Russell's "You Can Make Me Feel Bad", reworks the Calling Out of Context original's dive-bombing cello as naive, evocative guitar-pop. Its title could be Shocking Pinks' songwriting manifesto. His heartache, our pleasure.
-Marc Hogan, September 27, 2007