Although he’s never cultivated as high a profile as some of his contemporaries, Peter Jefferies can be found dangling from just about every important branch of New Zealand’s post-punk family tree. Over the course of a decade and a half, he’s wended his way from fronting the aggro-punk Nocturnal Projections to co-starring (with brother Graeme) in the dour This Kind of Punishment to his role as in-house tape manipulator at the Xpressway label. It’s on his solo records — and the collaborations in which he’s allowed to take the reins — that the expansive sweep of Jefferies’ vision can best be appreciated.
The tone of The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World is unremittingly bleak, but Jefferies can invest that base mood with either anger or defeat, which puts him that much further ahead of most emotional one-trick ponies. On the songs where he flies solo-like the drizzly “On an Unknown Beach”-his elegant piano shadings and flat, firm vocals are reminiscent of John Cale at his most severe. Elsewhere, members of the Dead C and Look Blue Go Purple make cameos that add a brittle rock edge — especially evident on the astringent “Cold View.” The basement fidelity doesn’t restrict Jefferies: on the contrary, the paucity of production draws you in close enough that you can practically feel him breathing down your neck.
Electricity proceeds in much the same manner, wending its way from such introspective observations as “By Small Degrees” and “Quality” (a stately march that recalls “All Tomorrow’s Parties”) to nerve-jangling tape-loop experiments like “Next.” Fortunately, Jefferies concentrates on the more melodious (if somber) end of things for most of the record, an approach that crystallizes beautifully on an album-ending cover of Barbara Manning’s “Scissors.” A Chorus of Interludes collects much of Jefferies’ harder-to-find material, including the entire Swerve double-7-inch EP and his stirring (separate) collaborations with scene stalwart Stephen Kilroy and Straitjacket Fits leader Shayne Carter, whose “Knocked Out or Thereabouts” is a pleasantly abrasive surprise. Cyclops is another collaborative effort, this time with Look Blue Go Purple’s Kathy Bull: the duo has issued numerous singles, as well as the drunk, acid-flecked Goat Volume LP, all of which cleave to the essential ethos “noise annoys…and we dig it.”