Agony Shorthand

Monday, March 10, 2003
BILL DIREEN AND THE BILDERS / BUILDERS / & DIE BILDERS ETC….No artist that I know of more willingly courted obscurity in his early years than BILL DIREEN, in concert with his band the BILDERS (often just Allen Meek on bass). In 1980-81, this Christchurch, New Zealand folk hero recorded several EPs and 45s under a variety of names, with an incredibly disproportionate disregard for a popular following given the quality of his music – which follows a tight arc from “Run Run Run”-esque Velvet Underground noise to boozy pub rock and barreling right on through to punk. It’s all tinged with a smattering of weird church organ and a quasi-heavy religious feel at times, as distinctly “New Zealand” as it gets, though standing very proudly as its own thing. The early EPs and 45s came out with no information save for the “band” name – one-off names like Six Impossible Things, High Thirties Piano or Die Bilder, Schwimmen In Der See – and were often released in NZ in editions of 100. A record collectors’ wet dream band, as you can see; it’s a good thing the music lives up to it.

The first retrospective volume of his work came out in 1994 on Flying Nun, and is called "Max Quitz – Bilders Vol. 1". I’ve been re-listening to it quite a bit lately. It has the first five rare EPs released before his debut LP "Beaten Hearts". I’m not saying this stuff is always brilliant – it clunks or feels tossed-off often enough on enough of the tracks to keep it from the upper echelons of the NZ Valhalla occupied by, say, The Clean. But tracks like “Alien” (really, a 100% perfect song and an all-time favorite), “Summer On The Nullarbor”, or “Bedrock Bay” are fantastic. There’s a real effortless, first-take-is-the-best-take vibe throughout his recordings, some of which are definitely recorded live in tiny Christchurch watering holes. I myself saw Mr. Direen play a one-off show in San Francisco around the time of the reissue and it was pretty alright, with a set that appeared tossed together with a finger to the breeze. Renaissance man Direen now writes short stories, plays and poetry, and you can learn all about it right here. I highly recommend three of the four retrospective CDs from Flying Nun – only "Pyx, Volume Four" is a snooze. Start with "Max Quitz Volume 1" and see what you think, if you’re not already on the Direen tip yet.