Straitjacket Fits: Shayne Carter, Andrew Brough, John Collie, and David Wood Credit: Courtesy Flying Nun Records

One nice thing about being in your late 40s—there actually are a few—is that you’ve been alive long enough to fall in love with an album, drift in your tastes and sell your copy of it, forget that the band who made it ever existed, and then get surprised 25 years later by a reissue.

When I bought a CD of Straitjacket FitsMelt in 1991, shortly after its stateside release, I doubt I even knew the band were from New Zealand. It’s not like I could look them up on the Internet. I probably just thought the cover art looked cool (it turns out to be by the band’s drummer, John Collie). I played the hell out of that CD for a couple years, but I don’t think it even made the move to Chicago with me in 1996.

Almost everything I know about Straitjacket Fits I’ve learned in the past 24 hours. It started Sunday with a tweet by music writer Dave Segal about their 1988 debut full-length, Hail, that lit up a long-abandoned pathway in my brain. I set to researching the band, and the first thing I discovered was that vastly influential New Zealand indie label Flying Nun had reissued Melt for the first time last September.

Guitarists and songwriters Shayne Carter and Andrew Brough were Straitjacket Fits’ Lennon and McCartney, each contributing his own distinctive material and singing voice—Brough’s airy and angelic, Carter’s nasal and almost sneering. Brough tended to write the gentle, pretty songs, and Melt was his last album with Straitjacket Fits. For the band’s last two releases (they split in 1994), they cranked up the multicolored guitars.

My music collection no longer includes much that’d sound remotely appropriate on a mixtape for a crush, but Brough’s “Down in Splendour” feels engineered for the purpose. It’s also the only song on Melt that I recognized instantly, after not hearing it since Bill Clinton’s presidency. The whole record has a gorgeous sweet-and-sour vibe—lush and abrasive, peppy and mournful, thrilling and sinister.

Flying Nun’s resuscitation of the Straitjacket Fits catalog (it reissued Hail in July) doesn’t seem likely to result in a reunion, unfortunately—bassist David Wood died in 2010, and Brough followed this past February. But it should secure the group’s place on the bafflingly long list of great New Zealand guitar bands that have never blown up in the States.

Flying Nun has released music by an impressive share of those bands over the decades, for which it was rewarded with a string of new owners and years of exile in major-label hell. Festival Records, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, purchased a 50 percent stake in Flying Nun in 1990, then merged with Mushroom Records in 1998; the combined company was absorbed by Warner Music Group in 2006. But in 2009 a partnership that included Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd bought the label back from WMG, and it’s been its old independent self ever since. Thankfully, you can buy Straitjacket Fits reissues without giving a penny to a disgusting multinational conglomerate or a serial purveyor of brain worms.  v

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Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.