29 May 2020
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Wendyhouse - Album Review: Born To Be Alive and Killed By Death

01 Mar 2020 // A review by Peter-James Dries

For my next trick, I will be approaching Wendyhouse's album and zine, Born to be Alive and Killed by Death.

To me, this is a novel concept.

I only have two memories of zines in my waking life; a homework assignment when I was 11, which I didn’t do – the same teacher had assigned something to do with creating our own pop art, which I also didn’t do – and the one section I can remember visually from Courtney Love’s published diary Dirty Blonde. Their existence has faded in and out of my peripheral consciousness, but I didn’t expect one to fall on my reviewing desk.

I told my mate I was reviewing a zine over a local session hazy IPA. He looked at me blankly. It could have been the beer.

I tried to explain what a zine was, and the abridged oral history of the art form, and purpose. That was the beer. He interrupted stating he knew what they were – his sister made them in the 90's – he just didn’t believe they had made a resurgence. He obviously hadn’t seen the Facebook posts about the inaugural Palmy ZineFest. Been a post-Irish Wellingtonian, I suppose it would be weird if he had.

Resurgence was inevitable in our cyclic culture. Chatter-rings, flairs, push-scooters, and vinyl have all made their reappearance after their first extinction.   

Unlike flairs, I suppose this is the right social climate for the DIY aesthetic zines embody. We have the pushback against major markets in favour of local products, the popularity and push for acceptance of niche identities, a shift in fashion and attitude back towards riot culture, the widespread dissatisfaction of the political system of the US, the generation war between Boomers and Millennial,  a bleak financial outlook and no future for the latter... All catalysts for a rebellion against the commoditisation of the mainstream media.

That and DIY is part of the essence of the New Zealand artistic scene. Unlike other Western nations, little merit is given to artistic ventures here. Unlike our meat there is no export potential for our wares, which have speciated with our geographic isolation, and that means there ain’t no profit in it for our industry gatekeepers. DIY is a necessity.

It used to be that a zine was an opportunity to discuss your band when no one else would. I see the merit. Not all of us have opportunities to submit reviews of our own albums to the music magazine we work for. I'm pointing at you, The Artist formally known as Brian Warner.

Yet I don’t feel these are factors in the creation of Wendyhouse’s zine and album. The release doesn’t feel reactionary. It feels more like this is something they’ve created this way because it’s something they’ve always done, perhaps out of necessity but more likely as a personality quirk. Weird and wonderful wares from weird and wonderful people.

It’s a real chicken-or-egg situation; did the zine-scene influence the music, or does the music just happen to suit a zine. This vanity-pressed passion-project, smattered with in-jokes and oddball humour, is the best way to extricate the inner life of these artists. The music suits the medium, with photocopies and loops as analogues, and with minimalist doodles mixed with sections of great detail in both the physical and audible products.

The zine is what you’d expect. Photocopied pages of outsider art. Not quite an Artist’s Diary, more than CD liner-notes. The music is Post-Folk meets Post-Punk, Punk structure with Folk instruments. Ukulele and Casio tone drum loops. There’s a smattering of 80’s goth in the opener Terra. By default, this makes it my favourite track, but the absurdist, “Hug a Tree”-imperative laden Banana Wine has a special place in my earworm library.

In the pre-YouTube world, a wendyhouse was where you sent your kids to dream, outside of the thought and logic constraints of the real world. An incubation chamber of unbridled creativity. Typically, they became a storage facility for dissected trees in their later life, as indulging in non-corporeal tea makes way for divulging on social media.

Such an apt name, as so too is this band. Their woodshed, a zine printer. Their music, outside of the mainstream, is a product of the music scene from my childhood, an era no doubt still alive in the minds of these artists. Their mental ruminations and reminiscence, an allegorical pot boiling over, have created something unique to them, something beyond our time, yet relevant to our current counter-culture.

I admire their unique sound; I enjoyed their doodled lyric sheets. 5 out of 5 stars.

You could have probably found Wendyhouse’s Born to be Alive and Killed by Death at the Palmy ZineFest. In lieu of a time machine, you can find the album on Bandcamp.

Post script. I have just discovered that the paper detritus we’ve been irreverently kicking around the garage for the past few weeks is what appears to be a Hamilton History zine. Origin and back-story unknown. They’re making a footprint in our waste, so that means they’re officially back. Cue the corporations appropriating the medium.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )
 

About Wendyhouse

Wendyhouse formed in 1992 as a one-off art installation for Soundwatch '92, Artspace, Auckland.

Twenty-six years later and the band is still going. Existing around core members Bryce 'Mr Pudding' Galloway and EE Monk, Wendyhouse have often added personnel to flesh out recordings and live appearances.

Wendyhouse make sporadic appearances live or on recent CD/Comics. The most recent project by the duo is Banana Wine; a CD/Comic released in conjunction with the Audio Foundation and funded by Massey University's College of Creative Arts. The official launch for Banana Wine @ The Audio Foundation December 19, with Wendyhouse in residence to write and record NEW material. Banana Wine is available for NZ$10 + postage by emailing a.b.galloway@massey.ac.nz or posting PO Box 27527, Wellington 6141, NZ.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Wendyhouse

Releases

Banana Wine
Year: 2018
Type: Album
The Wendyhouse Christmas Album
Year: 2005
Type: Album
Pan
Year: 2004
Type: Album
Utopia Metopia
Year: 2000
Type: Album
Live From The Pillow
Year: 1999
Type: Album
Hot Action Plastic
Year: 1994
Type: Album

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