It’s probably safe to say that of the rich roster of bands that New Zealand’s Flying Nun label produced over the years that the lion’s share of kudos have gone to the Clean, the Bats, and the Chills. Sure, those bands no doubt deserve the recognition, but the more one digs into the label’s catalog—and thus ostensibly the bulk of the Kiwis’ post-punk contributions—the more there is to love.
Take the 3Ds. Though not exactly overlooked during their time (they opened for U2 and Nirvana and received accolades from the British press), the Dunedin band probably lagged somewhere behind the Tall Dwarfs and the Verlaines as far as visibility on this half of the world. The records the 3Ds put out during their tenure (1988 to 1997)—three full-lengths and four EPs—have mostly been forgotten by all except the most astute aficionados. Even with the band reforming to play Merge’s 20th anniversary party a couple years ago (Superchunk were big fans and the label released their Venus Trail in the U.S.) and Flying Nun reissuing their full-lengths last year, the 3Ds haven’t received the reverence that some of their comrades have.
While Venus Trail and the other two albums, Hellzapoppin’ and Strange News from the Angels, are certainly worth seeking out, so too is this new compilation of the band’s earliest work, the pragmatically titled Early Recordings 1989–90. The disc is comprised of the band’s first two EPs, Fish Tails and Swarthy Songs for Swabs, as well as a bunch of demos, of which only a couple have been previously released. There’s a 16-page book of liner notes by the Dead C’s Bruce Russell and, of course, everything has been remastered to meet 21st century standards.
Here the group, named the 3Ds when they were a three-piece of Dominic Stones, Denise Roughan and David Saunders, before they added the fourth “D,” David Mitchell, already exhibits the bounding melodies and blurred edges that would become hallmarks of their later work. As such nothing sounds any more “rough” than it should, but rather fuzzily of the era. Even on the demos, it’s only the sound quality that comes off any less refined than necessary. To me, the 3Ds were the bridge between the pop sensibility of their countrymen and the scuzzier sounds favored on these shores, and here that is particularly evident. On “Ritual Tragick” (from Swarthy Songs), the band buries a melody in feedback and guitar squeaks, while on the appropriately ethereal “Dreams of Herge,” (from Fish Tails), they never allow the distortion to obfuscate Roughan’s sweetly sung refrains. Indeed, it’s this kind of tug-and-pull that characterized the band’s best work. This collection shows that the 3Ds were already onto that disarming formula.