Nick Bollinger revels in the debut of Wellington supergroup Teeth.
If I had to describe this album in ten words or less, I might say it’s a bit like The Clean, but with chops.
It’s not the Clean, of course, and a lot of it doesn’t really sound much like The Clean at all. Still, with ‘Something Has Gone Wrong In My Brain’ - the opening track on the debut of this local band of noble lineage - I could almost imagine I was hearing some supercharged version of that prototypical Dunedin band, from the motoric beat and guitar-driven drone to the throwaway minimalism of the vocal choruses.
Teeth consists of two members of Wellington indie-rockers The Phoenix Foundation: guitarist/singer Luke Buda and bass player Tom Callwood, plus two veterans of jazz-art combo Six Volts: drummer Anthony Donaldson and guitarist David Long, Long having also been an enduring member of The Mutton Birds. But as Teeth they have created an identity that is quite distinct from any of their other ventures. It is a guitar band, first and foremost, and uses those instruments far more sonically than either the Phoenixes or Mutton Birds ever did. Long and Buda’s guitars rumble, roar and ricochet off each other, occasionally coming together in glorious chiming harmony. And though both bassist Callwood and drummer Donaldson have groundings in jazz, their main function here is to provide an unyielding, rocking pulse.
In some ways it’s an austere palette Teeth have given themselves, without the keyboards or more elaborate colourings of Buda’s other band, nor the big lyrical songs of either The Phoenix Foundation or The Mutton Birds. A Teeth tune will often be built around a single chord and a seemingly throwaway phrase, inevitably repeated. Yet the effect can be indelible, as though the song has been hypnotically drilled into your consciousness.
If a guitar band is as good as its best riff, then Teeth is a very good guitar band indeed. The only problem is picking which riff is their best, from such a multitude of good ones. My favourite might be ‘Gangrene’ in which Luke Buda’s rhythm guitar plays a nagging groove, which Dave Long circles with what sound like exotic bird calls. And the aching vocal line is perfectly suited to a lyric that seems to be about pain management. But if that song is indie rock of the post-Pixies-and-Pavement variety, other tracks here mix things up a lot more. In ‘Succubus’ I hear traces of surf music and Krautrock, plus a brief concentrated reminder of drummer Anthony Donaldson’s roots in improvised jazz.
Teeth get maximalist for a moment, yet mostly what’s striking about this mischievously good album is its economy. And in the end, perhaps that’s the thing about Teeth that reminds me of The Clean. Whether they are inspired primitives or virtuosi is beside the point. They know that to make something that matters doesn’t require a whole lot of words, notes or beats. Just the right ones.
Teeth is available on Slow Boat Records.