In the world of indie-pop cultists, those who worship at the altar of New Zealand rock are a breed apart. The most intensely fanatical of musical obsessives, they murmur meaningfully to themselves and make the sign of the Kiwi whenever they hear hallowed “Dunedin sound” names like The Clean, The Chills, Tall Dwarfs, and yes, The Bats.
“Hey, wait,” cries one of the aforementioned obsessives, “The Bats formed in Christchurch, not Dunedin!” Settle down, trainspotter, Bats singer/guitarist Robert Scott was in Dunedin O.G.’s The Clean, so the former are grandfathered in. The point is, Bats fans take the arrival of a new album very seriously. Their latest, The Guilty Office, is no exception, so let the scrutiny begin.
Over the course of The Bats’ discography, which goes back to 1984, little things mean a lot. The band’s basic sound has changed relatively little over the years, and the small alterations that mark the band’s gradual evolution from album to album have to be put into sharp focus. So while the jangly guitars, gently unfurled melodies, and hazy, bittersweet moods that occupy the Office have been basic Bats building blocks from the beginning, it’s things like the artful, elegant string arrangements and the graceful touches of harp (no, it’s not slang for “harmonica,” we’re talking about the big harp) that really set this album apart from its predecessors.
The dreamy-but-tuneful approach that Bats lovers have come to expect still reigns, but The Guilty Office also shows a willingness to expand things a bit. Keeping true to the roots without surrendering to stagnation — what more could a Bats booster ask?