Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Hunters & Collectors

I'd never even heard of Hunters & Collectors until about ten years ago. I was browsing through one of my old reliable music books, the Trouser Press Record Guide, and happened to come across their name. I can't remember what most of the article about this band said; the main thing I recall was that the TPRG mentioned that the band's sound was similar to that of England's The Fall.

Being a HUGE Fall fan, that was all I needed to hear. I instantly became more interested in what this band was about.

Hunters & Collectors was formed in Melbourne, Australia in 1981 by a bunch of local college students. They named themselves from a track on an album by Can. The band lived up to its naming source by creating a post-punk sound heavily influenced by 1970s German experimental groups like Faust, Tangerine Dream and, of course, Can, filtered through an Australian rock sensibility (Mark E. Smith's love of Krautrock was a primary early influence to The Fall's music as well; hence the comparison between The Fall and Hunters & Collectors in TPRG). The band's lead singer and principal lyricist was a guy named Mark Seymour, whose younger brother Nick later became bassist for Crowded House.

Hunters & Collectors were quickly signed to a subsidiary of Mushroom Records, and their first release, a 3-song EP called World Of Stone, was released in January 1982. Their debut album, Hunters & Collectors, was released by the label the following July, and reached #21 on the Australian charts. Another EP, Payload, was released on Mushroom in November of that year. In early 1983, the band began a six-month tour of the UK and signed to Virgin Records, who combined the band's LP and the Payload EP into a UK LP rerelease of Hunters & Collectors. Another album, The Fireman's Curse (recorded in Germany and helmed by renowned Krautrock producer Conny Plank), was released on Virgin in September 1983. But a multialbum deal with Virgin fell apart after the band publicly insulted the manhood of the managing executive of the label. By November, Hunters & Collectors had disbanded.

But by early 1984 the members had returned to Australia and reformed, at the same time revising their sound, moving away from post-punk and arty German rock pretensions towards a fuller, 'pub rock'-ier, bass-&-horn-driven attack that brought them nationwide fame. Hunters & Collectors' breakthrough album was 1986's Human Frailty, featuring their most popular song, "Throw Your Arms Around Me". The album was their first Australian Top Ten LP, and from then on, the band was one of Australia's top live draws, a 'bloke's' band that recorded several other popular songs, such as "Back On The Breadline", "When The River Runs Dry", and "Where Do You Go", before finally calling it quits in 1998.

Hunters & Collectors didn't do diddley-squat in America, but it's not for lack of trying. In 1986, they signed a parallel record deal with I.R.S. Records to release their albums in the States, but found little mainstream success ("Back On The Breadline" did make the Top Ten Modern Rock charts here, however). They were the support band for Midnight Oil's 1990 U.S. tour (The Oil's were touring on their American breakthrough record, Diesel & Dust), but failed to make any headway. I think that I.R.S. considered the band to be "too Australian" (whatever the heck that means), and as such, didn't know how to properly market the band in the U.S.

[Of course, that rationale makes absolutely no sense - Midnight Oil was a hell of a lot more "Australian" than H&C, and so it stands to reason that Diesel & Dust, a song cycle dealing almost exclusively with the plight of the country's aboriginal population, should have tanked here - instead, it was the album that made them in the States. So go figure.]

It's too bad that H&C couldn't find a U.S. audience. It's also sort of a shame that they changed their sound after 1983. Their debut self-titled album is absolutely superb. The 'hit' off of this album was supposed to be "Talking To A Stranger". But my favorite song off of Hunters & Collectors is "Run Run Run", an absolutely mesmerizing song that starts off as a bass-and-nagging guitar motorik hybrid, before suddenly, in the middle of the song, changing into a hypnotic chug that modifies yet AGAIN near the end into a grinding guitar workout. A completely amazing work.

But don't take my word for it. Here's the album for you to judge for yourself. As always, let me know what you think:

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