CHAVEZ Better Days Will Haunt You (Matador)

Chavez were a mid-90s New York-based quartet, forever slightly famous for including in their ranks Matt Sweeney, who would later record with both Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Billy Corgan’s Zwan project. In the booklet notes Matador honchos Chris Lombardi and Gerard Cosloy declare Chavez to be the label’s “top seller of the 90s” - which being a decade in which they also released the work of Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices and Belle & Sebastian , is a claim difficult to consider without the assistance of a soupcon of sodium chloride. (But I’ve got into trouble for doubting the veracity of Matador press releases before now, so maybe it’s true, even if the label’s own website lists Chavez as enjoying only “a small but fanatical fanbase”.)

“Better Days Will Haunt You” certainly constitutes handsome booty for the Chavez fan. Over two CDs and a DVD it bundles up the band’s two studio albums, a bunch of non-album tracks, one of which is previously unreleased, two promo videos and a tour documentary with commentary by “Pretty Woman” director Garry Marshall (father of the band’s bassist) and two booklets in a triple gatefold digipak. Clearly excellent value (I found my copy for under 9), until, that is, you actually come to listen to it.

The men of Chavez made (or, given their recent reformation, make) squally math rock, frequently accompanied by ear-syringing guitar lines that attempt to scratch their way into the listener’s brain. To quote Luke Haines, this is not entertainment; it’s hard work. If Black Sabbath went to university they might’ve sounded like this: sludgy, angular and atonal. At least the odd fragment of found sound – firework displays, rollercoasters – offers some respite. The relatively straightforward indie guitar thrash of “You Faded” is actually quite welcome, given its surroundings, and “Little 12 Toes”, a whimsical delve into the practicalities of a base 12 number system, is charming in its literal interpretation of the math rock genre (perhaps inspiring Shellac’s “New Number Order” en route). It’s not an encouraging sign that the better tracks are generally those less typical of the band’s sound, but the gently melodic “Unreal Is Here” and the distant piano balladry of “Ever Overpsyched” are on the right side of unlistenable.

Over on the DVD we get “Boys Making Music…Music Making Men”, possibly the world’s least exciting tour rockumentary. Its 30 painful minutes were reluctantly camcorded by the band themselves during their 1995 European tour. What makes it marginally more interesting than watching hills erode is the occasional occasion when tour buddies Guided By Voices wander into the frame to shatter the inaction; otherwise it’s left to Scott Marshall’s uncanny resemblance to Jason Mewes and the peculiar tint brought to Britain by seeing it through the eyes of a bemused young American rock band to sustain the excitement. However bad it might be, switching to Garry Marshall’s commentary – which consists mainly of bemused observations concerning the on-screen activity that rarely burrow deeper than the glaringly obvious – instantly worsens the experience. It’s a surprise, then, to note that the two accompanying music videos are just about the most entertaining part of the package. “Break Up Your Band” finds Chavez backing male strippers on what appears to be the world’s lowest budget daytime cable television show; “Unreal Is Here” has the band in gently ironic mode, preparing for a Hollywood Bowl-ful of success that even Matador’s top seller of the 90s never attained. I’ve just discovered on Matador’s website that there are Easter eggs scattered around the DVD: fearful that they might lead me to yet more of Chavez’s audiovisual legacy, I won’t go back to look for them.

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