Last week, influential indie-rock label Captured Tracks announced a massive reissue campaign of records from the Flying Nun catalog, itself one of the most influential indie-rock labels of all-time. Through acts such as the Clean, Tall Dwarfs, the Chills, and the Verlaines, the New Zealand label inspired an entire generation of underground musicians, some as legendary as Stephen Malkmus, Jeff Mangum and Jay Reatard. While Captured Tracks prepares for a double-LP compilation from Toy Love (featuring Chris Knox, who enjoyed a fruitful solo career after the dissolution of Tall Dwarfs), today we salute five top-of-the-line contemporary indie bands bringing the influence of Flying Nun well into the 21st Century.
As one of Brooklyn’s premier psych-pop bands, Crystal Stilts had been singing the praises of Flying Nun since the beginning of their career, back when their contemporaries were merely dusting off their C-86 cassettes. After forming in 2005 and finally capturing national attention three years later with their self-titled demo collection and debut album Alight of Night (Slumberland), their wide-eyed, major-key clangor was so undeniable even Flying Nun stalwarts the Clean brought them along on tour. It’s easy to see why: Even with lead singer Brad Hargett’s morose baritone -- probably most suited for Factory than any other label you can immediately reference -- the Stilts are lush and expansive, easily sculpting a widescreen version of the kind of music Flying Nun brought to the world.
There’s far more that links Columbus, Ohio’s greatest-ever band to the historic Dunedin Sound (or kiwi-rock, if you prefer) than Jared Phillips’ harsh-but-jangly guitars and Beth Murphy’s chintzy, Farfisa Organ-sounding keyboards -- though it’s true that without them, Times New Viking would sound much more like DIY legends Swell Maps or Desperate Bicycles. But TNV employ many of the same songwriting tricks that made the bands on Flying Nun easy to obsess over; their tunes are propulsive, brief, uncomplicated, and most importantly, hopelessly catchy. The fact that a great many of these songs are buried in layers of confrontational static makes them a perfect fit for the noisier cross-section of less-heralded Flying Nun bands.
Out of the bands currently basking in the influence of Flying Nun -- on this list and beyond -- few, if any, of them are as profoundly obeisant of the label’s benchmark groups as Twerps. Hailing from Melbourne, Australia -- closer north to Flying Nun headquarters than most of the places their records get shipped to -- Twerps specialize in loosey-goosey drums, lyrics delivered so off-the-cuff they sound entirely improvised, and guitars as addictive as they are high-flying (pun intended), all key traits of the label’s most celebrated bands. In fact, if you can listen to “Coast to Coast” or “Jam Song” passively and not mistake it for something off of an early-’80s Clean single, your frame-of-reference is surely wider than that of most people.
It would be just as easy to categorize San Francisco’s Brilliant Colors as a twee-punk band -- frontwoman Jess Scott’s girlish alto could have been pulled anywhere from the catalogs of Postcard or Sarah Records -- but then those trebly, overdriven guitars push the speakers into the red and you’re instantly reminded of the Clean’s “Count to Ten” or “Art School.” And just like early efforts from the Verlaines and the Chills, brevity’s the word here: Throughout Brilliant Colors’ two Slumberland-released efforts, there are only three songs that run past the three-minute mark.
5. The UV Race
As the Flying Nun Wikipedia entry will tell you, when Australian radio titan Triple J listed their thirty-greatest New Zealand acts of all-time, a staggering two-thirds of that list were artists who had, at one point or another, been signed to Flying Nun. Just like their Melbourne peers in Twerps and Eddy Current Suppression Ring, it’s incredibly likely the members of the UV Race grew up listening to the core stable of Flying Nun acts, as they’ve forged as sound as irreverent as vintage Tall Dwarfs. Though their new album, Racism (In the Red) skirts toward the punkier sound of Flying Nun -- think Toy Love and the Dead C -- their fun streak as just as prevalent as their sometimes-aggressive freakouts, proof positive of Flying Nun’s versatility.