Chris Knox

Beat (Thirsty Ear/Flying Nun Records)

Renaissance man Chris Knoxis all over the place. The 47-year-old directs his boundless energy toward film and video production, cartooning, writing, and criticism, as well as several music projects. His seminal lo-fi work with the Tall Dwarfs laid the groundwork not only for the fledgling New Zealand pop scene but for experimental disciples worldwide. Knox's eighth offering, Beat, presents a diverse collection of what he describes as "classic pop songs, satirical folk, and a couple of full-on, hard-out rock monsters" that run the emotional and musical gamuts.

Beat leads off with "It's Love," leaping headfirst into the realm of pop purity with attention-grabbing hooks, driving the ditty with a skittish Tinkertoy beat, charming toy piano­ tinkling, and quirky commentary. Fortunately Knox has included his hand-written lyrics sheets, with musical notations and unsung stanzas, which serve as a handy scorecard for his sweet-and-dour songwriting. Knox, in his inimitable Antipodean whine, bangs out each track with more of a sense of worldly pop history than of the marketplace, which makes Beat all the more interesting. Whether chanting a feminist epistle or rhyming "destitute" with "yer breasts are cute" (on "The Hell of It") or coming to terms with his father's death and his own palpable mortality, Knox delivers each composition as a happy-go-lucky (or somber) pop classic. His pinched, nasal voice vacillates from raspy and cartoonish to gentle and soft -- like a prettier young Dylan. "My Only Friend" is a pastoral love paean, sparse and delicate with a simple fuzz-guitar riff/gentle vocals combination that includes a nice bit of self-reflection: "I know how hard it is to be/Completely open, strong & free/To say what's truly on your mind/It's never easy to unload/The very essence of the code/That holds the key to your design." The thoughtful collection includes tunes as catchy and lightweight as bubble gum but not as cloying ("It's Love"), some lead-heavy rock ("Everyone's Cool"), corrupted folk ("The Man in the Crowd"), a pair of funky tunes ("Ghost" and "The Hell of It") nicely enhanced by the Salivation Army Horns, and "What Do We Do With Love?" a witty rant offset by a dangerously contagious chorus. This Beat goes on, thriving on raw, bold honesty more than sophistication -- which is pretty sophisticated on its own.

 
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