The Clean, Mister Pop
The most reliably great band that's ever come out of New Zealand celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2008. They haven't been a group for 30 continuous years — their previous studio album, Getaway, came out in 2001 (although they've released three live albums since then) — but David Kilgour, Hamish Kilgour and Robert Scott reunite every few years and record some kind of report on where their unshakeable chemistry as a group is leading them.
Listening to a Clean album can be like watching one of Michael Apted's "Seven Up" movies: the band has effectively grown up together on record. With Mister Pop, they've settled comfortably into their late 40s and early 50s — a little slower than they once were, a little more relaxed, but also more willing to mess with their formulae. (The first voice we hear on the album is a woman's, and "Tensile" would be a straightforward Clean rocker except that its vocal is run through a harmonizing Vocoder effect.) "In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul" is David Kilgour's tribute to the way psychedelia can open up a pathway out of quotidian existence; "Are You Really On Drugs" makes the same point a bit more bluntly.
But lyrics are almost always secondary on Clean albums, and melody is generally beside the point unless Scott is singing ("Asleep in the Tunnel" is his showcase here). The band is all about deep exploration of grooves and textures in as simple a pop-song context as they can work up — the album's longest song, "Moonjumper," is a one-chord instrumental, and it could hardly be mistaken for any other group's work. (If a rhythm was good enough for the Velvet Underground, it's good enough for Hamish Kilgour, as direct a drummer as has ever made a record.) Most of Mister Pop has a casual, semi-improvisational vibe; as they've gotten older, the Clean have learned to give each other space, and let their drones and patterns reverberate into space like ripples on water.