Every Record I Own: Peter Jefferies: The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World

Every Record I Own: Peter Jefferies: The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World

Peter Jefferies is likely the artist that plays on the most records in my collection. He was the drummer in every Dunedin band around 1990. I have records from his earlier bands with his brother, a bunch of his solo stuff. He also produced a lot of the Xpressway records work from that era. In my early 20s I was a massive fan, which was only amplified by the mystery of him giving up music in the early 2000s, returning to his small home town in Taranaki and never appearing again.

This is his first solo record, and maybe the best thing her ever did?

Back when I listened to a lot more challenging music on a regular basis, I considered this album quite… beautiful. The type of easy to listen to thing I could (and did) put on at a chill afternoon board games hang out.

That really shows a. how depressed I was b. the patience of my friends and c. the big change to my music listening habits over the last 5 or so years. Because this album is quite an uncomfortable experience.

I can see why I thought it was more easy listening than it is. There’s a song which is a cappella except for the sound of someone making a cup of tea in the background.

Most of the songs don’t have loud distorted guitar (except there are some songs that definitely do) and they’re not heavy or rocky in a traditional way. Most the songs are built out of piano lines, which has generally been an instrument I associate with ‘nice gentle’ music.

But the piano lines repeat endlessly, occasionally signalling a hopefulness, but more frequently a whirlpool-esque downward suction. and the lower chords act like a kick drum, holding the beat and pushing the song forward.

There’s also the typical use of hiss and noise and backwards guitars that pop up in every Xpressway adjacent 4 track recording from the era. There’s a low frequency throb or hum through the album, which often occurs in lo-fi tape recorded music, which has disappeared in most modern production.

His slow deep (baritone? bass? idk) vocals add a calmness, albeit a sad one.

There is a convincing argument that Fate of the Human Carbine is one of the best ever songs to come out of New Zealand. It’s about a sad life of a sad man that is expressed perfectly through it’s lyrics and music. Peter Jefferies sings almost monotone over a droney finger picked guitar, while other instruments (piano, guitar, mandolin(?)) pop up one at a time over to add a couple of bars of emotional weight, to the otherwise apathetic feel of the song. Towards the end of the song a distorted guitar taking the secondary instrument position and completely overwhelming the droney guitar.

It has been covered by Cat Power (cool) and Amanda Palmer (…) but Peter Jefferies version is the best imo.

Amanda Palmer did convince him to come out of retirement/isolation, which led to him touring and me seeing him perform so I will spontaneously stand up and applaud her for that.

Songs such as Fate of the Human Carbine could easily be enjoyed by a wider audience, and compared to a band like the Dead C it is quite accessible, but it is more of an uncomfortable listen than I remembered it being.

I still love this record, but I can’t imagine it coming back into my super regular rotation again anytime soon. I’m less likely now to put on music that makes me feel so uncomfortable on a day to day basic. And I wouldn’t put my flatmates or friends through that like I was willing to in the past. But it’s an album that I’ll come back to every six months or so when I’m alone and I hope that I’ll be able to keep seeing those beautiful things in it that I did in my early 20s.

2 thoughts on “Every Record I Own: Peter Jefferies: The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World

  1. David April 21, 2023 / 3:53 pm

    This is a good read. I remember seeing him play at Caroline with you. Very cool. On an Unknown Beach is my fave.

    • eamonnmarra April 21, 2023 / 3:57 pm

      Yes! Felt very lucky to see him after the years of mystery. I think Robbie Muir joined him for some songs too?

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