Tall Dwarfs

Chris Knox's post-Toy Love band. Toy Love deserves its own entry, honestly, and Chris Knox, the godfather of New Zealand's 80s alt-rock scene, does, too, arguably, but it's Tall Dwarfs specifically that I'm fixated on today, so that's what you're getting.

First, Knox was in a tattered, junkyard punk band called the Enemy. Listening to them, you can hear their black eyes and broken teeth. Far as I can tell, they recorded nothing in the studio, but there is a live album.

After the Enemy, Knox started Toy Love, a post-punk act that had a tidier, bonier sound, though his puckishness still shines through. Best to listen to Cuts, a very comprehensive collection of album material, B-side, demos, rehearsals.

Then came Tall Dwarfs, the outfit that lasted longest. Basically, it was Toy Love without Paul Kean, who left to get in bed with the Bats, another fantastic NZ group. So Tall Dwarfs was a duo, and with one less person to worry about, Knox let his sound get even more sinewy. Looped-up, percussion-heavy experimentation, eccentric instrumentation, and abstract arrangements congealed by a cool, studied sort of low-key swagger. At times, you can't help but make comparisons to Swell Maps or Young Marble Giants.

Begin with Hello Cruel World, a collection of the first run of EPs.

Be sure to listen to '92's Fork Songs, too. It's my favorite album, perhaps because it's where they twist into a more despairing and bitter place, and, in their own way, start a conversation with American art-house grunge, like, say, Smog or Yo La Tengo.