It would be easy to call Garageland New Zealand’s answer to the Pixies, but it would also be lazy. The band’s style (like everyone else’s in the indie guitar genre) definitely owes a debt to Black Francis and company, but only a few songs into any of Garageland’s albums and you can tell that they aren’t content to merely copy a style. Last Exit to Garageland (the group’s 1997 debut, here reissued with eight bonus tracks) makes it clear that Garageland are simply one of those rare bands that hit the studio with a clear idea of what they wanted to do from the start. Since Last Exit to Garageland put them on the map, their two subsequent records (1999’s Do What You Want and 2002’s Scorpio Righting) have found them keeping—and refining—the course.
So does Last Exit to Garageland hold up? Oh, yeah. Admittedly, the Pixies/Pavement influences are strong on songs like “Come Back” or “I’m Looking for What I Can’t Get”, but bandleader Jeremy Eade knows his way around a pop hook, as evidenced by the almost sing-along quality to the vocals competing with the fuzzy, frenetic guitar of “Never Gonna Come Around Here Again”. Witness also the true longing he threads through each line of the classic “Tired and Bored” as it winds its way along a woozy guitar figure straight out of Modest Mouse. Also, whereas the Pixies often went for the throat, Garageland have typically been content to lay back and try some subtlety on for size, such as the gently washed-out guitar that closes out “Beeline to Heaven” or the winking, spry vibe of “Fingerpops”.
So Last Exit to Garageland, as we know it, holds up extremely well. But what of the bonus tracks? In the press materials, the band confesses to a bit of chaos surrounding the creation of Last Exit, that songs didn’t necessary make the cut or get shelved for any logical reason. For American audiences, many of these eight cuts have been unavailable, although several have shown up as b-sides, EP tracks, and the like in international markets.
“Underground Nonsense” is bouncy and catchy, definitely worth repeated listens for sheer fun factor. Their cover of the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” cranks the amps, but turns out pretty faithful—if a little bit more aggressive—by song’s end. “Bus Stops” seems unassuming at first, but builds into a stunning rise-and-fall of guitars. “Struck” returns to a slight Modest Mouse feel, simmering nicely, and “Graduation from Frustration” explodes into a loose, ramshackle rocker. “One Shot” blends tender vocals and deft guitar lines, while “Shouldn’t Matter But It Does” rides a fuzzy riff from start to finish. The final bonus cut, “Cherry Cola Vodka (Hold the Ice)”, floats along nicely before ending in a maelstrom of guitar noise.
Really, not a stinker in the bunch, and this new version of Last Exit to Garageland doesn’t overstay its welcome despite clocking in at about 68 minutes. Any of these 22 songs could have made the original cut and the album would have been just as strong. The only explanation that I can think of for Garageland not being more popular is that they just didn’t strike out for the fringes aggressively enough. The Pixies, Sonic Youth, and Pavement got deserved props for blazing the trail, and bands coming after probably found it hard to distinguish themselves. Modest Mouse found its guitar surrealism, Jesus and Mary Chain found their deep pit of feedback despair, but Garageland opted for more conventional songcraft and pop hooks. It hasn’t resulted in commercial windfalls (at least not in America, anyway), but Garageland definitely hold up as a band of uncommon quality.