Hamish Kilgour was always the most unassuming member of New Zealand’s Clean, which may help explain why his latest band, the Mad Scene, has received less attention than his brother David’s solo outings or Robert Scott’s Bats. In any event, the Mad Scene, which also includes Lisa Siegel on guitar and vocals and, in its most recent incarnation, former Go-Betweens bassist Robert Vickers, is a solid and occasionally spectacular pop band that has shown steady improvement throughout its recorded career.
The Mad Scene debuted in 1992 with the 7-inch Falling Over, Spilling Over EP, three songs from which also appear on A Trip Thru Monsterland. Recorded at various times during 1991 in New York and New Zealand and released on Flying Nun (Kilgour, despite having relocated to New York, was without an American record deal at this point), the album finds the group reaching to come to terms with a sort of textural guitar-pop that sounds, unsurprisingly, much like the Clean. Some of the efforts — like “Paper Plane,” “People to Talk To,” “Whole World” and “Bee” — are exemplary, although “Eye” and the badly misconceived “What’s Going On” are less successful. A worthwhile and promising beginning.
A few personnel changes later, the group reappeared in ’95 with another 7-inch, The Greatest Time! Anchored by “Balloon,” a slow, haunting number that is among Kilgour’s finest, the three-song single was soon followed by Sealight, a superior album and easily the band’s best work. Siegel (spelled here Seagul), whose previous turns at the microphone had ranged from amateurish to shy, sounds more confident (though no less disarmingly childlike), and her songwriting has advanced to the point where she now lays claim to the lion’s share of the band’s top work: her “Spilled Oranges,” “Birthday Party” and “Transatlantic Telephone Conversation” are as good as anything Hamish has ever come up with. For his part, Kilgour makes some fine contributions as well (“You Wear Funny Clothes,” “Marching Song”), but Vickers weighs in with the record’s strongest track (sung by Siegel), “Here Goes Nothing.” A great record from a band coming into its own.
The seven-song Chinese Honey EP marks time with two excellent drone-oriented tracks that find the band in top shape (“The Big Setup,” “Waiting for the Rain”), a pleasant but inconsequential ’60s-pop genre exercise from Siegel (“I Met You in My Dreams”) and a few middling tracks of filler. Not the Mad Scene’s strongest work, but enough to encourage investigation of any subsequent releases.