New Zealand

REVIEW: Fazerdaze - Morningside

Laura Kerry

Fazerdaze, AKA Amelia Murray, started a few years ago in the Wellington, New Zealand–born artist’s apartment in Auckland, where she was pursuing a degree in music. Murray’s path to her first LP, Morningside, is filled with many different apartments and rooms. Released on New Zealand’s legendary Flying Nun Records, her album is bedroom music in the truest sense—written, recorded, and produced in her home, where Murray says she is most comfortable with her art.

The term “bedroom pop” functions on multiple layers in Fazerdaze’s music; not only does it come from her bedroom, but it often addresses it, too. Murray’s songwriting contains the immediacy that comes from working out feelings through the act of creation. Much of that processing, like her music, seems to happen in the space of a room. “Are the walls getting closer as I’m getting closer to you?” she sings, conflating feelings and place before the release in the chorus of “Lucky Girl.” In “Half-Figured,” she sings, “In my room / I’m so consumed by things that haven’t happened yet,” enacting the “over-thinking” that she describes throughout the song.

Beyond those two songs and the confines of her four walls, Murray displays a self-deprecating, self-reflective streak in her lyrics that is oddly charming. “Don’t you know I’m shit at having friends / I’m sorry I can only do my best,” she admits in “Friends”; “I’m trying not to try so hard for you,” she sings in “Shoulders”; and in “Misread,” she asks, “Have I misread the way I feel about you?” Fazerdaze exhibits the same plain earnestness of artists such as Frankie Cosmos (for whom she has opened), who package the rich excavations of introversion in simple but impactful girlish pop. Fazerdaze is less twee than Frankie Cosmos, though, and some moments in Morningside even pack a punch. “Misread,” for example, backs biting lyrics with fuzzy power chords, and in “Friends,” a quiet verse with shaker and bass escalate into a near-shouting chorus over grinding guitar.

Not all of Morningside is tinged with self-doubt, sad reflection, and punches. There’s joyfulness in the instrumental swell at the end of “Last to Sleep,” the dreamy synth on “Jennifer,” and hints of ‘90s pop in the final song, “Bedroom Talks.” Murray makes pop, after all, and even in its most pensive moments, the album is bathed in sunniness. Though many of the songs are about the difficult parts of being a person in love (romantic or otherwise), they are love songs nonetheless, and underlying their various emotional journeys is the feeling that Fazerdaze lands on in the beginning of the album, that she’s a “lucky girl.” In these versions of love songs, we see the artist reaching beyond herself, way beyond the walls of her bedroom, into the hearts of a growing number of followers. We predict that it will continue to take her much further.

PREMIERE: P.H.F. / Roidz - Split

Kelly Kirwan

Auckland, New Zealand-based acts Roidz and P.H.F. (formerly Perfect Hair Forever) have had similar genre-origins. Both have roots in the lo-fi arena, carving out their own styles of bedroom pop that continually veered into fuzzy, fevered paces. P.H.F.’s punk-inclined creator, Joe Locke, would let his tracks pass through the process of reinterpretation—giving bands his melodies for them to flush out for a richer performance. At the same time, Roidz was transitioning from Daniel Smith’s solo-project to a four-man band, sharing stages with the likes of the eminently chill Mac DeMarco. It’s no wonder that these two outfits have now intersected, stitching together a split EP that celebrates their stylistic harmony. That is, Roidz reworked "Fearless Summer," a Joe Locke original, while P.H.F. took a crack at the single formerly known as Roidz's "Loneliness is Lame."

Roidz opens their cover with a bluesy strum and languid unrolling of lyrics. It periodically breaks into a thrash of harsher notes worthy of a mosh-pit underground, the vocals muted in the haze of head-banging riffs. It’s a high-amped interlude that feels like an homage to the song’s original form. Then there’s "Loneliness is Lame," which opens with an explosion of riffs and heavy drumming—the kind of clashing, about-to-burst interplay that’ll have sweat lining your brow and your teeth gritting from giddy intensity. P.H.F. ends it with a tenuous spin-out from the guitar, as if it were dropped on stage and the amp was holding onto its last stream of reverb. The new lens on these songs points only to the malleability of the two groups and their melodies. They’ve both got this fever pitch—an itch to deliver a track that'll spike your heart rate. Out via Danger Collective Records in the US, this is a crossover to tune into.

REVIEW: Kane Strang - Blue Cheese

Laura Kerry

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.

REVIEW: Hans Pucket - Jalapeño

Raquel Dalarossa

“If life’s a nuisance, embrace your accidents,” advises Hans Pucket’s lead singer Oli Devlin, on the second track of the band’s second EP, Jalapeño. And though, just a couple songs later, he admits that he “never even takes [his] own advice” (“Illest”), the five-track release is evidence that the New Zealanders have indeed gladly rolled with the punches that have brought them to their current standing.

Hans Pucket started out as a twosome—the lo-fi, pop-punky project of twins Oliver and Callum Devlin. Their first EP arrived in January of 2014, comprised of seven songs totally steeped in reverb and delay, with some added psych-y effects which helped flesh out their recordings. As the months went on, the two went on tour, relocated to a new city, and discovered a new underground community, all while continuing their studies. They even added a third member to the group, drummer Jonathan Nott. Though live performances remained pretty regular, the recording process for their second release proved to be much more challenging than their first go around.

These unplanned twists in the band’s development turned out to be fruitful, to say the least. Though a two-year break in between their EPs was certainly not intentional, it allowed word-of-mouth about Hans Pucket to steadily spread, and Jalapeño is now being met with anticipation that was long simmering. They dedicated time to honing their live sound, while also being forced to do some recalibration following their evolution into a trio. Without a doubt, it’s all paid off: the five new tracks we’re getting showcase a sound that is more confident and much more nuanced.

The EP kicks off with a super engaging instrumental, featuring a hoppy lead guitar that shows just why “Jalapeño” would make for a fitting title. The sound is immediately noticeably different from the band’s previous release—punchier and neater, as though a layer of grime has been wiped right off. Once the vocals appear in the following tracks, the marked clarity of these recordings becomes even more obvious; gone is the super lo-fi aesthetic, but the garage-pop feel of the music remains, with minor psychedelic embellishments making an appearance from time to time. The third track, “Feelings,” makes all of these elements recognizable up front: a woozy opening leads to hard-hitting, ‘70s-leaning power chords, while catchy hooks and “ooh”s in the chorus reinforce the pop angle. 

Mostly, these tracks are rather mellow, but they each involve a heavy amount of instrumental and even lyrical playfulness that keep things very interesting. And at these somewhat slower tempos, it’s easier still to perceive how much refinement and growth Hans Pucket has undergone. Though it’s merely a five-track, sophomore release, Jalapeño is no doubt a statement. If the trio continue at this rate, a full-length album from them is sure to be a stunner.

REVIEW: The Naenae Express

Laura Kerry

Legend has it that John Lennon wrote “I Am the Walrus” after a student from his former high school sent a letter informing him that the boy’s teacher made the students dissect Beatles’ lyrics. Lennon then set about writing his most opaque lyrics yet, including tidbits from acid trips, a Lewis Carroll poem, and a police siren. One biography says he remarked to a friend while writing it, “Let the fuckers work that one out.”

Sometimes, though, a song about a sea creature is just a song about a sea creature. In the bright opener of The Naenae Express’s eponymous debut, the guitar-pop band sings about a sea anemone. In a line with infectious phrasing, they say, “Sea anemone you’re no enemy of mine / Taking your time just sitting on a rock / Or hitching a ride on a hermit crab.” Repeating “you don’t bother me” and “what a nice way to live,” it might sound like the underwater setting of a children’s book if the music didn’t so readily resemble the sunny daze of so-called slackers such as Mac DeMarco—too easily evoking an image of smoking weed outdoors on a summer day.

And then again, maybe “Sea Anemone” is more than a song about a sea creature. In the same sunny tone, the song’s second verse says, “Since the ‘80s the Americans have been picking you up and putting you in a box…not where you belong.” Could it be a New Zealand-based band’s take on American greed and neglect of the environment? A metaphor for the pressures of modern life? Who knows, but it does seem that we should be at least a little suspicious; on The Naenae Express, nothing is quite as it seems.

Throughout the EP, the band has a habit of building up a contained little world then tearing it down. On “Rain Delay/Save The Bees,” for example, they tell a simple story set over a basic guitar structure about a sports match that is postponed for the weather then begins when the rain clears. As soon as the match starts, however, the narrative shifts to a cat on a fence beside the field that is more interested in watching the bees. All of a sudden, the chorus changes from, “we’re in for some fun” to a fiery round of “save the bees.”

Maybe then, the second song, “Dream State,” is the key to understanding, a meta comment on the starry-eyed world of their music with its sea creatures and buzzing bees. “In a dream state,” they sing, “you just make up the laws as you go along.” And maybe when the music builds in a fuzzy swell and swallows the voice at the end, it’s the real world busting in. And, along those lines, when “Overlander” breaks into that catchy three-note riff from the song “Brazil,” perhaps it’s not just a fun musical quote, but instead a nod to the use of that song in the Terry Gilliam film of the same name, which deals in dystopias and the blur between reality and dreams, and so on and so on…

Then again, maybe The Naenae Express is just a collection of delightful and down-to-earth little stories told in sun-soaked, jangly psych-rock, created not to delve into the mind, but to tune it out. In the words of John Lennon, let the fuckers work that one out.