Chris Knox and his partnership with Alec Bathgate are the epitomes of the unbelievably under appreciated musicians that your music critic friend always burns onto CDs for you (you throw them out, we know). Based out of New Zealand, Knox has been around since time with pivotal New Zealand punk groups The Enemy and Toy Love, bands with which Knox used to play on stage whilst cutting his arms with broken glass to attract the attention of the audience. His current group is an eclectic rock duo of himself and Alec Bathgate called Tall Dwarfs. The band operates with two multi instrumentalists and no traditional drummer. The duo loops hand claps and homemade percussion instruments instead.
The band released only EPs for many years, until they compiled enough tracks for the full length album Weeville in 1991. Their 1994 release 3 EPs (not to be confused with The Beta Band’s The Three EPs) included a note that asked for fans to send in their own percussion tracks for the next Tall Dwarf’s albums. The result was International Tall Dwarfs, and utilized percussion from all over the world.
The two members of Tall Dwarfs are self admitted opposites: “I’m a bit of a control freak and Alec is really mellow,” Knox has noted in previous interviews. The difference shines through in their music.
As Pioneers of the lo-fi movement which later inspired Sonic Youth and Nirvana, there is a clear musical conversation in their music that gives it a fun, 80′s pop feel, while being intricate and passionate enough to maintain a sincere level of emotionality. Songs like their recent tune “Cascade” showcase this musical conversation in pure lo-fi instrumental form
“Not Given Lightly” (played by the group though Knox recorded it as a solo track) combines a very commercial feel while not losing their feel of being very personal admissions. After all, as Albert Camus said, “A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.” In 2004, the song was called the 13th best song in New Zealand history.
The group’s most recent album has a more noisy feel than Knox’s solo work, but the noise is not as overpowering as is usual for a lo-fi group. Instead, The Sky Above the Mud Below, has a jam folk feel more intone with Grateful Dead’s Touch of Grey than The Pixies Doolittle. Its sound is accessible, varied, and never looses focus. Like all great bands, The Tall Dwarfs work seemingly transcends time, and remains just as influential today, with minimalism making a come back in songs like “Someone that I Used to Know” and “Bizness.”
In 2009, Knox suffered a debilitating stroke, and a multitude of indie music celebrities offered their help through a support album. Well known acts like Jeff Mangum and Yo La Tengo contributed tracks free of charge to help Chris’s fans find a way to financially aid in his rehabilitation.
For a guy who once said “The New Zealand media like to have as much mediocrity in front of the country as humanly possible, so I fit the bill perfectly,” Chris Knox is one hell of a musician.
Songs to Check Out: Deodorant, Cascade, Not Given Lightly, Room to BreathTags: Alec Bathgate, Bizness, Chris Knox, Gotye, Grateful Dead, Lo-Fi, new zealand, Nirvana, Not Given Lightly, Pixies, rock, Someone That I Used to Know, Sonic Youth, Tall Dwarfs, The Sky Above the Mud Below, Tune yards