The troubled state of the world has escaped the attention of no one, of course, and we are under no delusion that when we wake up in the morning of the first day of 2021 all will be better. However, as we end another year of covering music we wish to make the subject of our final feature of the year a superb record that not only contains excellent songs, but also represents several qualities that qualified it as our choice for hope and normalcy in troubled times. Foothills is the tenth album from New Zealand south island four-piece The Bats. Ten albums is, itself, a feat. But the fact that the albums are spread out over nearly four decades highlights those other qualities we mentioned. To be together that long requires friendship, trust, give and take, and likely a great sense of humor. The time span also suggests a comforting normalcy. These people have jobs, families and friends, and interests outside of music. That music is hugely important to them is obvious from the length of their career (and by their connection with their audience if you are fortunate enough to see them live). But music is worked into their lives rather than their lives chained to the music. And this is why we waited six weeks to write up one of our favorite albums of the year -- to close out the year celebrating friendship, normalcy and artistic achievement to end 2020 and give us hope for 2021.
The Bats’ music is invariably melodic with a mid-tempo pace, folky accents, jangling guitars, playful basslines and sturdy drumming. The songs range from the pastoral to pop/rock, and although the arrangements tend to be straightforward, the band adds subtle embellishments such as keys and fuzzed or tremolo guitars that amplify the effect of the song without becoming distracting. Thematically, the songs are self-contained stories by Robert Scott (who also is a visual artist) embellished by the band. His sketches are prefect, evocative with just enough detail to invite the listener to color in between the lines. It probably doesn’t need to be said that the sound of a band together this long is completely locked in like a single organism. Yet, the cohesion is remarkable. We found that choosing favorite songs from Foothills is an impossible task, so we just picked few to show the range of styles. However, as music fans who are very familiar with The Bats’ catalog, Foothills stands among their best albums in terms of both standout songs and even more in terms of consistency. It is a celebration of quality indie guitar pop, and it symbolizes our hopes for a more normal future.
The Bats are, and always have been, Robert Scott, Kaye Woodward, Paul Kean, and Malcolm Grant. Foothills is out now via Flying Nun Records.