The Prophet Hens‘ Popular People Do Popular People was a near perfect first record. It was immediate and inviting. You heard it once and stashed it in your favorites bin along with the Chills, the Clean and the Bats. So what do you do after releasing a brilliant first album and how do you avoid the notorious sophomore slump for record number two?
Perhaps you intentionally rethink your brilliance into something slightly different. Or perhaps you roll with changes that life throws at your band. Get a new rhythm section and give Penelope Esplin a greater roll in the vocals department, let loose a little and embrace a less delicate approach to you general sound.
It may not be as as immediate and it wasn’t for me at first, but as it percolates it begins to surpass what you thought at first was unsurpassable. The Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys leaves bedroom and sheds the moodiness of the first record, and embraces more driving rhythms sometimes even bleeding into motorik territory (see closer Modal). I’m not sure if it’s a better record than the debut, but it’s more confident and fun and certainly it’s no slump!
Earlier this week construction workers were digging a big hole for a new building in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle and discovered the eight foot tusk of a 2,000 to 60,000 thousand year old mammoth. The giant tusk was excavated and is now safely at the Burke Museum here in town, but many questions are still left unanswered. What was this creature doing in Seattle 50,000 years ago? What was the music scene like? Was there any indiepop? Is the tusk real, or was it perhaps, a trick mammoth?
I don’t know if there have been any recent mammoth bone discoveries in New Zealand, but they’ve got a pretty good Trick Mammothdown there. From Dunedin and certainly not prehistoric this trio sounds like they know their history. Taking inspiration from the Bats, Pastels, Beat Happening and Heavenly these indiepop archaeologists piece it together quite nicely. Their debut album just out on Fishrider in New Zealand and Occultation in the UK is full of dainty delights that brush away the dirt. I especially like the way vocalists Adrian Ng and Mille Lovelock blend together like butterfly wings fossilized in ancient sediments. This records is a beauty that is well worth preserving.
Power pop ain’t exactly a path to riches and fame. There are hundreds of powerpop bands littering the footnotes of rock history. So when I hear a band described as powerepop I fear for their future. So for their sake let’s not call Males powerpop. How about helium powered pop?
Males being a band of males from Dunedin, New Zealand. Because of this mere fact you might be expecting me to be spouting off comparisons to a myriad of Flying Nun bands, but you would be wrong, at least in this case. Their hyper active pop songs remind me more of the Wannadies, Blow Pops, Tommy Keene and a little bit of Let’s Active. Based on that kind of lineage it’s fairly obvious that pop hooks come at you a quick pace and they don’t let up. Their nine song record is packed full of two minute pop candies that fly by so fast that you barely have time to go through addiction or the subsequent withdrawal. My main complaint is that it’s over too fast. Maybe one more verse on a couple songs would help it stick to your ribs better. As it is, I keep it on repeat and listen to it twice instead of once to get a longer lasting effect.
Fishrider Records also of Dunedin, who you may remember put out the excellent Prophet Hens record earlier this year, have just released the record on CD, vinyl and digital. You could call it an album if this your introduction to them. Other trainspotters will note that it actually compiles a previous EP, a single that never came out on Manic Pop and fresh set of songs not heard before. In any case the nine songs are now available in one convenient package. Now if I could just figure out what the singer is singing on the chorus of So High. It sounds like “I’ve been getting academic ulcers.” If that is the case, it’s perfect study music for those all-nighters.
What if Weezer were from New Zealand? The obvious answer is that probably nobody would have ever heard of them. Well, you people would have, because you guys are erudite pop aficionados. The Eversons are from New Zealand, so they’re working with one hand tied behind their back, but they’re taking the bull by the horns and moving to Melbourne, Australia. Not really, though they allude to it in their song Heading Overseas.
I’ll admit it, I was never much of a Weezer fan, so I’m going on hearing only a handful of their songs and the fact that the Eversons themselves tagged their bandcamp page with that band. The Eversons excel in writing songs containing call and response lyrics with a mean sense of humor. Comedians often talk about their jokes being rooted in sadness, depression and truth and if that is to be believed, then the Eversons seem to mining their own discontent. These songs on the surface seem to be off the cuff funny, but on closer listen the songs give way to vitriol. That’s what makes their debut album Summer Feeling sustain, the humor kind of gets your attention, but the underlying malcontent and frustration keep you coming back. That and the fact that these guys can write a pop song.
Yeah, there’s the afore mentioned Buddy Holly worshippers, but the Eversons also look to the Kinks and Blur in the way they architect their songs around the ordinary guy. They’re lucky to have two songwriters, which provides some diversity to the music. Some songs have an off-kilter weirdness of the Moles and others are more direct with their big clean riffs bringing to mind the Wannadies. The Eversons’ EP from last year was promising, and the New Zealand band fully deliver on that promise with this LP. Maybe they’ll move to Melbourne and make it big.
You smoke pot and you’re sleeping in, mid-afternoon with your friends down in parliment… You want to be a writer, but you’re not very good… You went on a tour with a band. I had kids I’m a family man… You fill your house with the records you own. That sounds kinda sad…
Lil’ Chief Records, the lil’ label down in New Zealand that brought us Ruby Suns, Reduction Agents, Brunettes, Voom and Lawrence Arabia among others have just release the first EP from Wellingon’s the Eversons. They are four guys that sound like they know their native pop history and cleanly sprinkle it with chunks of pavement. In addition to their impeccable pop hooks, they’ve got a sense of humor that is reminiscent of the Pooh Sticks and Art Brut. What’s not to like especially if your an awkward kid with a sensitive side and a strange trainspotter sense of humor?
Surf Friends are from Auckland, New Zealand. I don’t know how they met, but based on their name and their sound I would guess it was over some conversation that they struck up about fellow New Zealanders the Clean at some point break while waiting for the next set to come in. They’ve put out a slew of singles on Power Tool Records down south and now they have decided to put out a long player which they’re calling Confusion. It rolls with some Krautrock grooves, jangles in a few places and Velvet Underground riffs abound. Derivative you ask? Yes, but it looks to all the right places.
Chant Darling came out last year down in New Zealand, and when it came out I made a mental note to pick it up, but that note got lost in some dusty corner of my skull. Thanks to Bella Union for the second reminder note which amounts to their issuing Lawrence Arabia‘s second album Chant Darling in the UK. Lawrence Arabia is the nom de plume of Jason Milne who has had his hand in many kiwi productions, most of them associated with the fine Lil Chief record label. Besides his own previous Lawrence Arabia album, Milne played with Ryan McPhun in McPhun’s Ruby Suns, and teamed up with McPhun again in the one-off Reduction Agents album. He’s also played with the Brunnettes and toured with Okkervile River and Feist.
Last year Milne struck out on his own in a couple of ways. He put Chant Darling out on his own Honorary Bedouin label and he packed up and left New Zealand for the UK. The self-title debut was too synth-heavy and fell little bit flat. No such problem with the new record, Chant Darling is a major step forward. It is a much more practiced and thought out affair. Milne kind of sounds (and looks) like a young Harry Nilsson meeting Louis Philippe for the first time and arranges his songs using the Brian Wilson by way of Fleetwood Mac school of pop. There are little effects like the gasp in the song Eye A and the submarine-like bass throughout the record begging you to listen to it on a big hi-fi. Milne’s time as journeyman musician has payed off, enabling him to incorporate influences from his previous bands like the Ruby Suns in the world music flavor of Auckland CBD Part 2, or the Reduction Agents in the country tinged I’ve Smoked Too Much. If you are a fan of psychedelic pop this record is a sure thing and a fine addition to the likes of the Crayon Fields, Brown Recluse and the Afternoon Naps. Bring on the new worldwide Elephant Six Collective!