First off, kudos to The Bats for this cover art. Isn’t it great? It’s just 4 rooms, but it seems so subtle and serene. And it’s pretty fitting, really. The Bats has that very subtle quality about it that makes the band such a great listen. You can hear so much beauty in one of the group’s songs, yet you can’t pinpoint the beauty’s source. Or if you find the source, it reveals only simple guitar strums, which is a quality that seems to embody subtlety. Take for instance, “Broken Path.” The guitars keep their steadfast approach to the song, but a simple melody change sets off the song into a really gorgeous place. Subtlety, baby!
To describe The Bats, I hear some Interpol in the music (or I guess I hear The Bats in Interpol, since The Bats came first.) Frontman Robert Scott sings with a similar melancholy inflection to Paul Banks. The guitars are clean, strumming machines, not unlike something those Interpol boys would pull off. Chords are thoughtfully arranged to richly fill the songs and as simple as they seem, they provide a really nice landscape for the melodies that Scott lays down. And on that note, I’m giving Scott’s unique melody style the MVP of the album. It’s really quite simple, but one word or phrase in a chorus will gently rise above the melodic stream, something that works extremely well, consistently throughout the album. Again, that’s a minor detail that Scott allows to shape the song. Minor details define this album, as nothing about The Bats is theatrical; there are no crescendos to send rushes of energy through songs. Most songs, however, are accented with a third party that enriches the song; some strings, an accordion, and even some harp. They’re gentle touches that almost subconsciously affect the music, but their warm presence is felt. Also, I don’t want to speak with a lot of authority on this subject, but from my headpones, this album also has a quaint lo-fi feel to it. The music seems confined, almost like it’s being played through a tin can, but it works, and I like it.
My favorite stretch of The Guilty Office are tracks 9 through the closer, 12. The most solid, catchy stretch on the album is a phenomenal way to close things out. “Steppin’ Out” is the most upbeat song to be found here, with the drums playing a bit bigger factor than normal. Some nifty guitar work puts the cherry on top of an already really good song, carving out a nice melody to stand alongside Scott’s. “The I Specialist” makes a run a best song with a Neil Young-ish melody, that is beautifully haggard. Not to be outdone, the title track also makes a strong case for best song with a more traditional take on beauty. The guitars play by the same template as before, but the chords are extra sweet, making this a delicious listen. The melody is brittle and is perhaps the best one to be sung by Scott on the album. The music carries on without Scott, picking up a flickering guitar riff along the way, to close the song out perfectly. I feel like I should be waiting for at the bus stop in the rain when I hear that song, it just has that kind of mood to it. A string heavy “The Orchard” closes out the album, with Scott doing his thing, leading the charge of another great song.
With 27 years as a band, the New Zealanders have been around the game a long time. To themselves and their fans, this is probably just another good Bats record. To newcomers, like myself, this is a great record that really deserves to be checked out. And I’m eager to see how this compares to their previous work. But on this one, they never work outside of themselves. There isn’t anything wrong with this album, everything is well done. It’s the perfect blend of melancholy, subtlety, catchiness, and musical savviness.