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Sky Above the Mud Below

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, February 11, 2003
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$15.72 & FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Details Temporarily out of stock. Order now and we'll deliver when available. We'll e-mail you with an estimated delivery date as soon as we have more information. Your account will only be charged when we ship the item. Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.


Editorial Reviews

In their 24th year, New Zealand's offbeat pop merchants the Tall Dwarfs -- centered around Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate -- put together an arsenal of lo-fi pop on the bewitching The Sky Above, the Mud Below. Housing 17 proper songs, plus eight bonus numbers recorded as the International Tall Dwarfs and featuring folks like Jad Fair, Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum, and members of the Verlaines and the Clean, the disc is long on peculiar numbers like "Possum Born," a comical ode to said rodents, and the strangely alluring rocker "Carsick." The Dwarfs rely heavily on the Fab Four, even going so far as to chronicle an unplanned meeting with the late George Harrison on "Meet the Beatle," but it's John Lennon whose pipes Bathgate resembles most on nuggets like "Big Brain" and "Room to Breathe." While "Baby, It's Over" is the hit the Tall Dwarfs deserve, The Sky Above, the Mud Below isn't about crossing over, it's about digging deeper. And repeated listens reveal vital pop/rock that's as distinct as it is delightful. ~ John D. Luerssen, Rovi

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Meet the Beatle
  2. Beached Boy
  3. Deodorant
  4. Michael Hillbilly
  5. Room to Breathe
  6. Right at Home
  7. Time to Wait
  8. Melancholy
  9. We Are the Chosen Few
  10. Baby It's Over
  11. Cascade
  12. The Beautiful Invader
  13. Big Brain of the World
  14. You Want Me Shimmy
  15. How the West Was Won
  16. OK Forever
  17. Your Unmade Eye
  18. Seduced by Rock N Roll
  19. Amniotic Love
  20. Carsick
  21. Wax
  22. Open Wide Your Pretty Mouths
  23. Possum Born
  24. Over the Waves
  25. The Runout Groove


Product Details

  • Audio CD (February 11, 2003)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Carrot Top Records
  • ASIN: B00008BLFX
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,924 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
After 20 years of continually releasing dynamic, independent and thoroughly inventive music ' the Tall Dwarfs have released perhaps their most laid-back and restrained full length with The Sky Above, the Mud Below, their 13th album. Wearing their influences on their shoulder, the album varies between shades of the Beatles and Beach Boys brands of pop, and the Tall Dwarfs trademark lo-fi inventiveness. For the first time, the group incorporates digital techniques (which might send some shivers down the spine of the purest of listeners ' don't worry it's only for editing purposes!) to modify their endless collection of loops, sample snippets, tape-effects and found sounds.
The warmth of their previous recordings is still very evident, this time being far more reflective than their previous albums. Both Baithgate and Chris Knox (who has now reached the ripe old age of 50) seem at peace with themselves, and how they make music ' no longer concerned with the "lost opportunities" that their other recent albums such as 50 Flavors of Glue and Knox's solo release Beat portrayed.
The album starts with the chirpy, upbeat tribute to the late great George Harrison "Meet the Beatle" inspired by Chris' accidental run-in with Harrison a couple of years ago. "I know that guys like me are a drag, you must have had it up to here with fans" - a lyric typical of Knox's content throughout the album. He's playing for himself now, and songs like "Meet the Beatle" and the follow-up "Beached Boy" demonstrates he knows his place in the (music) world.
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Format: Audio CD
The Tall Dwarfs occupy the same territory in New Zealand's independent music community as The Clean. While the music of the two groups have little in common, both are revered and respected as indie elder statesmen. Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate trade in the Kilgour boys' velvety rhythms for a much scrappier, fuzzed-out pop that often hits the bull's-eye. The Sky Above The Mud Below doesn't deviate from this path, revealing lo-fi nuggets resting alongside a couple of ill-considered sketches.
The two opening songs illustrate the band's hit-and-miss approach with "Meet the Beatle" and "Beached Boy." The first of these is a jangle-fuzz letter to "Mister Harrison" from an overzealous fan (Bathgate himself). It's goofy fun that wraps itself up under three minutes. The Casiotone percussion, piano and backwards guitars make the point perfectly clear that sweet simplicity will never go out of style. However, "Beached Boy" is a strained affair. Whether it's supposed to be a joke or not, one can't be sure; either way, it's a tough listen. Chris Knox's parched voice is stretched thin over some uninspired bass, loops and piano. Unfortunately, this is one vessel that should have been scuttled long before it reached the shore. In the end, the idea of opening the record with two songs paying homage to their influences was much better than its execution.
Thankfully, this is the largest misstep on the album. Most everything else retains the adolescent charm and garage-fidelity that the Tall Dwarfs are known for. Highlights include the sarcastic crunch of "Deodorant," the pretty pop of "Room to Breathe" and the Beefheart inspired "You Want Me Shimmy.
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Format: Audio CD
This is the first Tall Dwarfs release I heard, even though I had known of them for decades. Their music is not easily found abroad, and if I had let my impressions of this album dominate, I wouldn't have trawled back into their back catalogue, where considerably more appealing efforts awaited. This album, frankly, has the standout track "Baby It's Over" and, only a bit less attention-grabbing, "The Beautiful Invader." Yes, and the first track, "Meet the Beatle," is worth a listen. While much of Chris Knox's work with Alec Bathgate as TD and on his own as a one-man solo singer/musician/songwriter/studio wizard has taken after the Lennon & McCartney tradition, this album--as the first song alerts us, seems more George Harrisonish. No sitars, unfortunately, but it's more melancholy and a bit more downbeat rather than anguished (John) or effusive (Paul).

It's not bad, but not great for the most part. Tall Dwarfs and Knox's records are notoriously hard to distinguish, given their remarkably consistent quality, but this one does show weariness. The band takes the International Tall Dwarfs concept from the CD "Stumpy" and expands it with "all-star" American indie critical faves, mainly from the Merge label. This fits, as Elf Power would be nowhere without this influence. These songs prove irritating as well as interesting: a mixed bag same as the unevenly paced album by the two Dwarves proper.

As I said, it's worth it for completists, but I'd start earlier in their catalogue first, if you're a newcomer. Too many of the tunes chug along acceptably, but the heights these Tall Dwarfs have previously reached are far less scaled this time around.
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