Considering how there was a collective gasp with the news of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor being a double LP, anything longer than 40 minutes seems to be nothing more than musical onanism on the part of the artist these days. Nick Harte – AKA New Zealand’s Shocking Pinks – is evidently unaware of this unspoken expectation.
Endless bedroom recording sessions since the release of his last album back in 2007 have resulted in a stockpile of eight albums worth of material, three of which make up this release. If like me your favourite album by The Clash is the equally as sprawling triple disc Sandanista!, then you’re in for a very long (2.5 hour) treat. The album’s intention is to drag you through loads of genres that don’t go together without any real structure or sequencing, like a cheap tape from someone who likes really varied stuff, and who might also be a bit weird.
The earthquakes that ruined Harte’s home town of Christchurch triggered a period of deep depression. Darkened rooms, blacked out windows and sleep deprivation resulted in a nervous energy which manifests itself in these songs, the majority of which sound so on edge you can almost hear the sound of fingernails being bitten down to the husk.
The ramshackle first ten or so tracks containing “Gun Nest”, “Ten Years” and the particularly trancelike “Swam” all have a Bradford Cox-like, slackgaze quality to them, but without anything as cumbersome as being rehearsed (or even noticeably produced) – an indie ethic which has a welcome naivety to it.
Harte then turns to electronica to place his indie scuzz over. The offbeat bassline of “Vendetta” is the kind of psy-trance influenced track that will have the EDM set quickly reaching for the ket before the big drop, “Love Projection”’s electro beats sound so muffled it it’s as ifthe music is coming from a room two doors down, and “What Up With That Girl” (featuring the vocal sighs of Ashlin France) encapsulates Harte’s label history perfectly: the wailing synths and monotone vocal work is typical of his previous imprint, Christchurch’s Flying Nun, fused with the crisp disco influenced 4/4 beats you’d expect to find housed in a Stars & Letters sleeve (Harte’s label in the US). It’s easily the best track on the album, and it’s no coincidence that it’s the one that sounds like it had most time spent on it.
There follows expansive instrumentals in the guise of Animal Collective: “Swam”, a beatless melange of reverbed guitars and synths, and “Few Skeletons”. “My Best Friend” is so fragile it threatens to fall apart throughout and “DOUBLEVISIONVERSION”’s warm bass, simplistic drum machine patterns and fuzzed up synths give Washed Out a run for their chillwave buck.
Just as you are starting to think of slight overindulgence, we get “LV VS SX” – a monotone 16 minutes of reversed 4/4 beats with Billinda Butcher influenced ooh-ing, almost working as an update to My Bloody Valentine’s “Touched”. “Motel” is a piano-led tearjerker and another moment of lucidity, a psych ballad that sticks out like the proverbial used needle. Double dipped in heavy doses of reverb, it takes three minutes of build up to lead into drunken drums with a dramatic Slowdive-like sheen – a real ‘stop what you’re doing’ moment.
The tender warmth of the acoustic “A Million Times”, the fragility of which is given a warm hug by gorgeous synth outro, shows Harte can turn his attention to recording something of real beauty. When Americana is visited on”B & B” , it’s relocated from the highway to the Waikaramoana Lake in the rain, and “Working Holiday” nods to New Zealand’s alt-past by using Flying Nun staples The 3Ds and The Chills as an influence.
Using a blank musical template and an anti-production ethic so loose it makes Ariel Pink look like an obsessive perfectionist, it does take time to find the tracks to love on Guilt Mirrors. “Glass Slippers”, “Beyond Dreams” and “Hard Fuck” are all pretty horrid exercises in white noise and electronic malfunction with as much point as MBV’s infamous ‘Holocaust Section’, but these numbers exist right beside early 80’s indie funk (“Translations”), schizo-cut and paste Olivia Tremor Control-style indie (“Not Gambling”), and he even drops a 130bpm house track with “Slightly Killed”. It’s this not giving a fuck that gives the album such a fascinating ‘what will happen next?’ edge,
Many people have said that if you cut Sandanista! down to a single album, you’ll have a classic. No way – it’s the warts that make it such a fascinating journey, and it’s the same with Guilt Mirrors’. There’s a hell of a lot of warts here; bum notes, a raw approach to production indicative of scars that haven’t had time to heal, dropped beats, off cue guitar riffs, all masking the existential angst of an artist falling apart. Guilt Mirror’s musical confusion overall is shattering, there are moments of violence, others of beautiful fragility, and it’s a great big mess of ideas all thrown against a wall until they’re smashed into tiny pieces… lucky wall.