Graeme Jefferies has made an indelible mark on New Zealand’s fertile underground scene, most notably with Cakekitchen and his prior band, This Kind of Punishment, a collaboration with his equally influential brother Peter. Both men possess thick, deep voices which, along with their use of 4- and 8-track recording equipment, elemental sounds and non-traditional rock instrumentation (violin, recorder), distinguishes their music from that of their contemporaries.
Although billed as a solo record, Messages for the Cakekitchen is effectively the first Cakekitchen album. Sparser and darker than the official band work to follow, it’s more in keeping with the homemade recordings of his Xpressway label brethren. At times, his vocals sound vaguely gothic (“Reason to Keep Swimming”), while the music alternates between tension-filled electric guitar arrangements (“All the Colours Run Dry”), deliberate acoustic ones (“Nothing That’s New”) and combinations of the two (“Prisoner of a Single Passion”). Although not as fully realized as its immediate successor, Messages details Jefferies’ signature elements and his keen, individual songwriting style.
Previewed on an eponymous 1989 four-song EP, Time Flowing Backwards begins with the enormous guitar sound of “Dave the Pimp,” which sets the album’s intense mood, washing over the droning melody and burly rhythm like a tidal wave. Though certainly intense, the rest of the album tucks Jefferies’ delicious melodies into subtler settings (like “Silence of the Sirens”). The drone remains crucial to “One + One = One,” while the noisy “Walked Over Texas” boasts a 3Ds-like lurch (3Ds guitarist David Mitchell guests on the track). Surely one of Jefferies’ most accomplished albums, Time Flowing Backwards also introduces the Cakekitchen’s first solid lineup — a trio with bassist Rachael King and drummer Robert Key.
World of Sand ranges from sweet melodies drawn by Jefferies’ subtle acoustic guitar playing and given depth by his guttural voice (“World of Sand,” “Dogs and Cats”) to vibrant displays of his electric six-string fury (“Walking on Glass,” “This Perfect Day”), with additional “noises” spicing up the mix. Noted NZ violinist Alastair Galbraith makes an appearance on the title track; the album is brought to a promising conclusion by a rousing duet with another 3Ds member, Denise Roughan, on “Crimson to Gunmetal.”
Having relocated to London, Jefferies assembled a new rhythm section (bassist Keith McLean and drummer Huw Dainow) and recorded Far From the Sun. As usual, the album displays both Jefferies’ denser, electric side (“Stranger Than Paradise,” “Man in the Mirror”) and his contemplative singer/songwriter side (“Greater Windmill Street Blues,” the title track), both of which are given a bittersweet melancholy by the low lonesome sound of his voice. Jefferies reveals a penchant for experimentation, incorporating odd sounds into several arrangements: his gentle acoustic playing in “Overexcited” is violently disrupted by what sounds like a jackhammer, while “Far From the Sun” begins with the sound of water dripping.
Another year, another Cakekitchen lineup: Stompin’ Thru the Boneyard was primarily recorded by Jefferies and Jean-Yves Douet, a Frenchman whose aggressive drumming underscores the album’s rough-around-the-edges but poppy sound. Despite somewhat muddy, hollow production, Jefferies sprawls out stylistically. “Tell Me Why You Lie” is concise pop; the multi-part “Hole in My Shoe” ends with a longish instrumental segment; “The Mad Clarinet” is a highly textured acoustic piece complicated by Galbraith’s fervent violin playing.
The material on The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea appears to have been recorded contemporaneously with that on Stompin’, although its overall tone is more serious and less immediately catchy, the production a little fuller. The core lineup remains Jefferies and Douet, with contributions from Hamish Kilgour of the Clean/Mad Scene (percussion on “Ballad of Oxford Circus”) and Galbraith (violin on “Escape to Fire Island”). On the sober, lilting melody of “I Know You Know,” Jefferies is accompanied solely by his own acoustic strumming and violin playing; the spare “You Make a God of Money” promises goose pimples as Jefferies sings, “And I’m so scared that I am going to die/It makes me feel so very fragile,” before the song’s “rock” segment kicks in. As if to balance out the album’s personal, reflective aura, “Baby I Luv You” is a revved-up, Lou Reed-like rocker, and “Everything Turned Orange” hearkens back to the more driving, droning guitar sounds that bored their way through earlier Cakekitchen material. Picking up on the previous album’s more experimental leanings, the eleven-and-a-half-minute opener, “Old Grey Ghost,” labors through five minutes of amelodic noise before reaching the song; “Take It Easy With Me” incorporates tape loops and some wild non-verbal vocals, and the instrumental “Escape to Fire Island” begins as a harsh noise collage before erupting into sweet guitar/violin/piano interplay. The Bald Old Bear EP includes the title track and four otherwise unavailable songs recorded with members of the Hausmusik collective; one is a cover of Michael Hurley’s “Wild Geeses.”
Before focusing full-time on the Cakekitchen, Graeme recorded as This Kind of Punishment with his brother Peter and a revolving cast of locals. Captured on Xpressway’s favorite machine, a Teac 4-track, the nine songs on 1984’s A Beard of Bees ripple with an edginess enhanced by the intimate recording quality and rich arrangements, also featuring a variety of instrumentation. Peter’s poetic piano playing colors the proceedings in dark hues, deepened by both Jefferies’ eerie baritones. Most, but not all, of Graeme’s contributions are on the guitar.
While similar in mood, the stronger In the Same Room album (recorded 1986-87) is driven by more traditional rock instrumentation (Peter plays drums more often than piano here), making the whole thing more approachable, the songs easier to grasp. “Holding,” written and sung by Michael Morley of the Dead C, also features Shayne Carter (Straitjacket Fits) on “subliminal” guitar, while Galbraith makes another appearance on “Left Turns Right.” The tension really explodes on “Words Fail Me,” a taut encapsulation of the Jefferies’ complementary talents: Peter’s rumbling beats put the force behind Graeme’s turbulent guitar playing, against the waves of which Peter’s vocals battle, seeming to gasp for each breath. 5 by Four — five songs recorded by the Jefferies, Chris Matthews and Johnny Pierce — dates from 1985 (between the first two albums) and dips back into darker, more experimental waters. The songs are edgy: “Mr. Tic Toc” is essentially a spoken-word piece, while the instrumental “North Head” features industrial-sounding percussion.
In the early ’80s, the Jefferies brothers played together in Nocturnal Projections, Graeme on guitar and Peter on vocals. The group released one 7-inch and two EPs, all in very limited editions, and had a track (“Walk in a Straight Line”) on the influential Xpressway Pile=Up compilation. The belated Nerve Ends in Power Lines offers an overview, including both “In Purgatory” (on which Peter’s vocals sound particularly goth-y, via Joy Division) and “Nerve Ends in Power Lines” from the 7-inch, three tracks from the two EPs, four live cuts and two previously unreleased studio tracks. The raw, angsty sound of these early recordings sounds only slightly dated today, as the group’s snarling, punk/isolationist edge shines through tension-filled songs that hold up surprisingly well. Graeme’s informative, personal liner notes on each track are also welcome.