The Clean: Anthology

Adam Dlugacz

The Clean


Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2003-01-21
UK Release Date: Available as import

If I were a more ambitious man, I would save the first part of this review for a White Paper that I would sell to the music industry. It is for the label executives who are going hungry in the street having the bread torn from their children's mouths by dastardly file sharers, CD burners, and MP3 traders that I write this. I've entitled it "The Successful Marketing and Selling of a Band".

It was nearly two years ago when, while taking a break from the drudgery of the workplace, I discovered the Clean while visiting the Merge Records website. I first became interested in Merge because it was founded and run by members of Superchunk, one of my all time favorite bands. At first I was strictly a Chunk man, however, driven by my insatiable musical curiosity I began to look into other albums that bore the Merge label. A college chum recommended I check out the Magnetic Fields, which led to a brief period in my life where I refused to listen to any music not sung by Stephin Merritt. My fascination with all things Merge led me to two bands that would forever alter my perception of music, the Neutral Milk Hotel and Lambchop. Both bands presented music in a format that was vastly different than anything I had ever heard before and both led me down paths that would open my eyes to worlds that I never before would have found. Having never steered me wrong, I developed a trust with Merge that would bring me to purchase records by bands I had never heard.

Because of my success with Merge I often visited their website. On their MP3 page, which offers free downloadable music, I listened to a track by the Clean. Smitten with their unique brand of psychedelic pop, I went out and purchased their album Getaway. The Clean struck me as a developed version of the Soft Boys, and when I heard that they had been existence for over 20 years, I yearned for more. I returned to my trusty Merge Records website and found out that they had put out a solo album, A Feather in the Engine, by Clean founder David Kilgour, which I ordered online. I also discovered the Bats, featuring Clean member Robert Scott (their records can be found on Mammoth). By building up consumer trust through reliable products that consistently meet or exceed expectations Merge continues to thrive. So instead of investing billions in flashy videos or commercial campaigns, labels would be wise to invest in bands that actually have talent. Pleasing consumers doesn't hurt either.

The Clean were formed by Hamish and David Kilgour in New Zealand in 1978. In 1979, they finalized their lineup when they added bassist Robert Scott. The trio went on to release two 12-inch EPs, two 7-inch singles, a cassette compilation, Odditties, and a live EP Live Dead Clean, on Flying Nun Records. Had they come from New York City or England, they would most likely be household names joining the ranks of seminal bands like XTC, Sonic Youth and even Velvet Underground. Instead, they've been relegated to cult status embraced by bands that follow them and the few enlightened fans that were lucky enough to get clued into them. Thankfully, Merge Records has seen fit to compile everything the band has ever recorded up to Getaway and release it as a double disc anthology. The first disc is made up of all of the group's early recordings for Flying Nun records. Disc two is made up of the band's three full lengths Vehicle, Modern Rock, and Unknown Country, all released between 1990 and 1996. As a bonus, the second disc also features four songs that appeared on two rare 7" singles.

The real treat is the first disc, which showcases all of the band's early material. Novices all, the trio admitted to learning their instruments as they went along, enabling the Clean's sense of adventure and exploration. Imagine the Velvet Underground influenced by psychedelic drugs instead of heroin and having the beauty of New Zealand instead of New York as a backdrop. If you can do that, you understand what the Clean sounded like. "Outside the Cage" and "Safe in the Rain" are the two most optimistic VU tracks that Lou Reed never wrote. Since none of this is still in print it is all essential. The second disc showcases a more mature and focused band. As the band progresses from Vehicle to Modern Rock, they begin to develop a sound akin to the one Yo La Tengo has been toying with for the last five years. The tracks from Unknown Country are mostly instrumental and lack the spirit of earlier efforts.

Music lovers should log off the web (or go to the Merge website) and purchase this immediately, it's that important. The Clean are one of those rare bands whose sound can be heard in the best of the bands who came after them. The amazing guitar sound shared by Yo La Tengo, Pavement, Superchunk and Archers of Loaf is realized here, only years before those bands came along. For 20 years, too many people have been overlooking one of the most forward thinking, melodic bands ever, missing out on the treasure that is the Clean. Anthology is an audiophile's treasure, delivered to the masses by the fine people at Merge.




Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.