Agony Shorthand

Friday, November 19, 2004

Wow, this is something I hadn't played in years and that's more than held up in the interim. Hearing it for the first time in the 21st Century, it plays as some of the finest hypnotic, dreamlike, Velvets-inspired rock and roll created in the 20th. DADAMAH were a very short-lived Christchurch, New Zealand-based foursome who recorded two singles and an EP for the Seattle underground label MAJORA around 1992-93 and then called it a day. All these records were quickly collected into this CD by Kranky Records. I interviewed the band in 1993 for the fanzine I was doing then, done the "old school" analog way: I sent a list of questions and a blank cassette tape, and then the band sat around a tape recorder chatting back their answers. I guess I hadn't pegged them to be New Zealand's posthumous breakout group from that exceptionally fertile time period (Terminals, Olla, Dissolve, Chris Heazelwood, Trash, Dead C, many more), but I can't think of a single band right now that comes even close. They're probably the single best and most direct descendent of BILL DIREEN & THE BILDERS, one of the most supremely underrated NZ acts of the 80s. Let me elaborate.

If you're at all familiar with Dadamah, it may be due to the presence of the deep-voiced guitarist ROY MONTGOMERY, who I have it on good word is affectionately known as "Roy Division" in his native land (Ian Curtis was a mincing falsetto compared to this guy). Montgomery's been in some superb bands and put out some solid solo records in the US, and I once had a nice long backyard gab with him about music over a keg. He was a super friendly fella. While he's the minority vocalist on this one (Kim Pieters handles most of the vocals with lo-fi diva aplomb), his handprints are all over the CD: strange, often-barren soundscapes, drone-filled buzzing and humming guitar, and a relentless VU backbeat which'll sound like home to those who've heard his other stuff. I mention BILL DIREEN because Dadamah also employed very similar ringing, snake-like keyboard tones as Direen did, which saunter and wind through all sorts of noisy & quiet patches and add a layer of density that sounds real fine. "Limbo Swing", for instance, is like a warped version of The Clean's "Tally Ho", run off the rails due to a drunken keyboard operator. While the terrific 1993 EP comprises the first 6 tracks on here, the two Majora 45s that preceeded it are easily as great -- a little more experimentally weird and certainly less heavy, especially the "Nicotine / High Time" 45 that really made me a believer back then. I was sort of taken aback, however, at just how propulsive and rocking Dadamah sound in 2004. This disc needs a lot more converts than it's received, so let me clang the bell now and give it a push. It's one of the 1990s' best hidden treats.