Kane Strang creates music in odd situations. In 2013, he went to into a WWII bomb shelter in Germany and came out with the recordings for his first EP, A Pebble and a Paper Crane. After throwing out another album’s worth of work, he then set up shop at his parents’ home in his native Dunedin, New Zealand, where he housesat for two months. The result of that strange experience is a debut LP, Blue Cheese, an album that obscures the comfortable yet regressive isolation under fuzzy, guitar-driven pop.
At first listen, Blue Cheese fits neatly into the legacy of record label Flying Nun and his hometown’s “Dunedin sound”—indie guitar-pop popularized by The Chills and The Clean in the early 1980s that was largely jangly, but with a bit punk and a touch of the psychedelic. In songs such as the languid opener “The Web” and the clanging closer “Scarlet King Magnolia,” a distant, gravelly voice blends with bright yet droning guitars in simple structures that are true to the Dunedin legacy.
But Kane Strang is also very much his own. Despite the upbeat pop tone, there’s an off-kilter strain throughout the album—experimental but not fussy—that reflects an idiosyncratic mind. Often staccato, the melodies sometimes jump around to unexpected places. In “Full Moon, Hungry Sun,” a repetitive swirl of fuzzy guitars anchors a driving song whose vocals ascend and descend unpredictably; in “It’s Fine,” a catchy guitar riff and pulsing drum beat interplays with a vocal melody that takes surprising turns after an initial simple pattern; and in “She’s Appealing,” the vocals seem to float and never return to the ground in a dreamy song whose strangeness belies its simplicity.
Blue Cheese mirrors the subtle disjointedness of its melodies in much of its theme. Perhaps a reflection of his recording location, Kane Strang injects a sense of isolation in many of the tracks. Would-be pop love songs have a detached quality caused by reflective analysis, sometimes heightened by a hint of irony. “The Web,” for example, begins, “Oh yeah, I met someone else,” and then goes on to explain, “I haven’t held her yet / I met her on the Internet”—a song that brings to mind the listlessness of staying in his parents house. “Never Kissed A Blond,” a twitchy track with a bluesy chorus, is apparently a scathing reaction to a comment Strang overheard at a bar and (thankfully) not an authentic regret.
Even “She’s Appealing,” the tune exhibiting the most longing, undercuts its emotional force with the lackluster claim in its own title (“appealing” is not exactly the stuff of desperation). Rather than detach the listener with its own sense of detachment, though, the album draws you in with its unconventional pop sentiments. Not falling back on clichés in melody or narrative, it is anything but trite or dull.
Kane Strang’s debut isn’t always easy to nail down with its bright, big-seeming pop that is also strange, angular, and even at times intimate—but it certainly makes it fun to try. Born from small, unlikely spaces, his music is on the cusp of taking off into larger arenas.