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The Clean 

Getaway (Merge)

Along with the Bats, the Clean is the most venerable of all the New Zealand alternative rock units, having endured a history that takes us almost all the way back to the original birth of punk. Its members have been around so long, they've left behind a trail of hot rocks that would pave the streets of Dunedin. While they've concentrated to a large extent on 45s, EPs, and other ephemera -- like the indie crusaders they'll always be -- they've released only three full-length albums in almost 20 years, not including their latest, Getaway. Anyone who's followed the group for the past couple of decades is not going to be surprised or disappointed by this disc. The group still revolves around brothers David and Hamish Kilgour, who handle guitar and drums, respectively, and bassist Robert Scott (the de facto leader of the Bats in his own right). All members sing as well as compose, but the musical evidence would suggest that this process takes place in a totally organic fashion, since few of the songs sound as if they were conceived outside of the communal band experience.

There's everything here from atmospheric burble ("Jala" and "Twilight Agency") to Lou Reed-like streetcorner strumming ("Crazy"). All of it's delivered with stately simplicity and eloquence. Musings like "Poor Boy" are Anglo-literate in a manner that Ray Davies hasn't been able to approach for years. The album also features guest appearances by Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo, whose own efforts over the years can be viewed at least partly as Clean-inspired -- something that can be said about quite a few of their peers. Michael Azzerad just wrote a book about the American indie-punk underground, and someday somebody's gonna have to write one about New Zealand's. When that happens, the Clean will be featured prominently.

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