Our Favourite Artists Of The Decade: The Mint Chicks
Some bands are obsessed with standing still, continually zooming into an annoyingly detailed view of their music in an attempt to perfect their craft, which has the negative transverse effect of halting their artistic development.
Auckland's The Mint Chicks have never been too interested in tracing over their former achievements, instead the group obsessively evolve and transform their sound, with seemingly little care as to how it will be received by fans or critics. The group are one of our favourite bands of the last decade not solely because each of their three full length releases sound nothing alike, but because they have refused to ever become complacent with their artistic endeavours, while at the same time never failing to produce mind-blowingly brilliant music.
My (mostly) one way love affair with The Mint Chicks started in 2003 when I caught the blistering video for Licking Letters on Channel V (back when the channel actually played videos not by Australian Idol contest losers). I was immediately hooked by the raw punk energy of the band. Considering that I had only recently become interested in punk music, via the slam-dancing antics of Texan legends At The Drive-In, The Mint Chicks were the perfect band to cut my teeth on (not literally). They were energetic, untamed and free from any of the usual characteristics that would make them possibly become chart-topping darlings.
Kody Nielson hanging upside down during a performance at Auckland University of Technology. Via Wikipedia.
I immediately jumped onto the Internet, which in 2003 it wasn't too different from a modern day fax machine, and ordered the band's only release at the time - the Octagon, Octagon, Octagon EP. That, and the follow-up release, the Anti-Tiger EP, were brilliant snippets of guilt free bratty punk music - sounding like a band completely unfazed and uninfluenced by any of the music trends of the time. Having missed the standard rebellious teenage phase and becoming increasingly unsatisfied by the 'rock revival' of the early 00s, The Mint Chicks' sound was a musical awakening and my first proper exposure into the blissful world of creatively free music.
When it came to go to work on their debut LP, in what would become a characteristic mindset of the band, they decided not to harness their almost cult-like following and foolishly aim for larger success, but instead retreat to a remote beach house (only accessible at low tide) located at Northland, New Zealand to record the album themselves. The resulting record, Fuck the Golden Youth, is an extremely lo-fi affair, not only the most traditionally 'punk' thing the band has ever committed to tape but also their most experimental. The tracklist, consisting mostly of re-recorded versions of songs from their two EPs, is broken up by haunting unfinished demos and bizarre skits.
Fuck the Golden Youth is undeniably a brilliant record. It succeeds at the seemingly impossible task of capturing the raw energy of the band's hectic live show into 37 minutes of blissfully chaotic recorded music.
The band's second record Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!, far and away their most commercially successful to date, was released in 2006 in New Zealand, with the international version following in 2008. The album was a complete musical contradiction to their lo-fi debut, with the production, once again handled by the band's guitarist Ruban Nielson and singer Kody Nielson, adapting a much more polished studio sound, even though, much like their debut, it was recorded using mostly home equipment. The accessible nature of the record, combined with the fact the band didn't destroy their core sound, saw the record lauded in both critical acclaim and commercial success. This was solidified with the group cleaning up at the 2007 New Zealand Music Awards, taking home the awards for Album Of The Year, Best Group and Best Rock Album.
It's hard to compare Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! to the band's debut because they are two completely different albums. Both, however, strike an amazing balance between urgency and control, a paradox that has remained one of the band's key attributes throughout their musical development. The punk sense of veracity isn't thrown off course and both records, although completely different in their approach, still squarely focus on a undeniable pop sensibility. While I personally find Crazy to be the band's least creative album, it's still a record that I would happily play every day for the rest of my life.
After the success of Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!, the band decided to expand their horizons, announcing at the end of 2007 that they would be relocating to the sunny land of Portland. Around the same time bassist, Michael Logie, left the group. Their adaption to their new surroundings, combined with the band deciding not to replace Logie and move forward as a trio, meant that once again the group's sound would evolve.
The group's third record, Screens, although not enjoying the same commercial success as it's predecessor, is undeniably (in our minds at least) the group's finest work to date. We have already garnished a fair amount of praise on the perfect nature of this record, so it seems a little silly to repeat ourselves here. However, in the context of the band's development Screens is a dramatic, albeit logical, leap forward in their sound. The polished rock fundamentals of Crazy are replaced with lo-fi toy box sounds, with the mild outbursts of punk aggressiveness replaced by a more reflective, introspective tone.
I honestly struggle to think of an album as utterly perfect as Screens and, while their other work is probably almost enough to get them included in this list, their latest record is the factor that puts them beyond doubt as one the most creatively progressive musical outfits of the past decade. We tilt our hats at you Minty Chicks.
To reward you for reaching the end of this 'fan-boy gush', here is a video of The Mint Chicks performing Life Will Get Better Some Day, mashed up with Lil Wayne's A Milli.