By the time that punk rock made its way to New Zealand, the Sex Pistols had nearly broken up, and the Ramones were nearing their fourth album. For the brothers Hamish and David Kilgour, who had been nursing a love of NYC rock from the Velvet Underground onward, the nascent sounds of punk’s immediacy gave them the impetus they needed to just start cutting songs—regardless of proficiency and fidelity. Gigging away in Auckland and Dunedin, they finally scraped together some cash (some say it was just fifty dollars) and recorded “Tally Ho” in 1981. This reckless, wayward pop song, with its bright organ flourish (from Martin Phillipps of The Chills), and its dashed-off immediacy still sounds shockingly out-of-time.
The Clean’s acoustic/electric guitar combo drove them to create songs that merged psychedelic drones, beatnik pop, and the kind of head-nodding fuzz guitar that was invented by Lou Reed and company’s third album. The Boodle Boodle Boodle and Great Sounds Great EPs defined indie guitar-pop practically two decades before it had a name. “Anything Could Happen” is a perfect fusion of post-punk primitivism and Byrdsian jangle, and it should be filed next to R.E.M.’s “Gardening at Night,” the Go-Betweens’ “Cattle and Cane,” and Wire’s “Outdoor Miner.” Anthology puts all of these essential Clean tracks from the early EPs alongside other bizarrely out-of-print material up until the ’90s into one package (originally rereleased in 2009 on double-CD, it’s now available as a thick, quadruple-LP set). If you’re one partial to rhythmic, slightly off-kilter guitar pop, and are familiar with the Feelies, Galaxie 500, and Yo La Tengo, or if your newer records bear imprints from Burger Records, Woodsist, or Slumberland, then having an intimate and sustained relationship with this music is absolutely mandatory.