With members drawn from other notable New Zealand groups (Look Blue Go Purple, Exploding Budgies, Bird Nest Roys, Goblin Mix), the 3Ds have achieved a nearly perfect amalgam: brash, head-butting guitar lines that shape themselves around irresistible hooks and colorful song structures supported by burly rhythms. The band (named for founders David Saunders, Denise Roughan and Dominic Stones, although fourth member David Mitchell fits right in) fashions these elements into both buoyantly poppy and incessantly grinding songs. Maintaining a high quality level, the quartet’s music resounds with ingenuity and passion.
Both Saunders and Mitchell (whose creepy artwork adorns many NZ records) play aggressive, melodic guitar lines with a dizzying and dynamic array of hooks driving all seven songs on Fish Tales: the crunchy, snarling “First Church,” the more contemplative “Fish Tails,” the playful “Evocation of W.C. Fields.” Saunders, Mitchell and bassist Roughan alternate vocals on all of the 3Ds’ recordings; while none has a “nice” voice, they’re all distinctive singers, adding another layer of intrigue to an already engaging mess of sound. Fish Tales makes it gleefully apparent that these four have more than their share of musical ideas and the gutsy energy to make something of them.
The six-song Swarthy Songs for Swabs begins with the aptly named exuberant “Sing-song,” one of the band’s finest moments. “Ritual Tragick” suggests the 3Ds’ closest Northern Hemisphere counterpart, Pavement; although there are no traces of Pavement’s lazy “Range Life” vibe here, the 3Ds’ facility for hooks and their deft incorporation into compact song structures certainly equals that of their more famous brethren. The CD containing both vinyl EPs is rounded out by two leftovers recorded on a Portastudio with bassist Rachael King of the Cakekitchen.
With such a promising introduction, Hellzapoppin, the 3Ds’ first full-length, gets off to a delicious start. Overstuffed with the Davids’ punchy guitar lines and fervently chased by their sing-songy vocal shouts, “Outer Space” perfectly captures the group’s spastic energy and crisp melodicism. Though thoroughly enjoyable, the other poppy songs here (“Hellzapoppin,” “Hairs”) don’t equal “Outer Space,” but the group’s range is never limited to such confines. Roughan carries the surly “Sunken Head” through dark, choppy waters, “Ugly Day” rides the ferocious waves of a beefed-up guitar sound and “Leave the Dogs to Play” employs a thick lurching melody and distorted vocals.
The Venus Trail can’t match Hellzapoppin’s amazing gusts of energy — not even with the angry, two-minute sock in the face “Hey Seuss” — yet it attains nearly the same level of accomplishment in the expanded range of sounds. “Beautiful Things” applies a quieter setting to a familiar 3Ds song structure, highlighting Roughan’s firm ability to lead the band, while the duets on the mellow, electric “The Young and the Restless” and the somber, acoustic “Spooky” erect a new tangent on which the group can build.