Though only a 7-inch single, the 1991 record offers a primal primer on the New Zealand experimental scene.
Nearly 35 years ago, experimental guitarist Bruce Russell founded a little label called Xpressway in Dunedin, New Zealand. A long time fan of kindred New Zealand label Flying Nun, home to the Chills, Verlaines, 3Ds, Tall Dwarfs, Bats and other early ‘80s post-punk bands, Russell’s tastes were more esoteric, preferring less commercially viable experimental guitar-based artists including Dadamah, the Renderers, Peter Jeffries, Alistair Galbreath and Russell’s own projects, the Dead C and A Handful of Dust (with Galbraith).
Driven at times by messes of shoe-gaze style distorted guitar and barked-out vocals, at others by Sonic Youth-style detuned chords (SY were big Xpressway fans) and at others by delicate instrumental excursions, Xpressway only lasted five years, but in that time established a roster that continues to create brilliant sounds decades later.
In the U.S. Xpressway made its biggest dent when Chicago label Drag City compiled the Xpressway roster onto a 7-inch EP called “I Hear the Devil Calling Me.” Released in 1991, its place in the Drag City discography is notable: It came out the same year that the label released Bill Callahan’s debut 45 as Smog, Floating EP, and that it released “Summer Babe,” the breakthrough single by Pavement.
Though only a 7-inch, “I Hear the Devil Calling Me” features a dozen tracks and feels like a compilation album. And as an introduction to Xpressway, it reveals a virtual hallway of doors, behind which lie the discographies of many brilliant creators.
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