If your knowledge of New Zealand’s music scene doesn’t extend beyond Flying Nun Records and Flight of the Conchords, then rejoice — there’s a shitload of excellent Kiwi music just waiting to be discovered! With the excellent new album by James Milne — aka Lawrence Arabia — out this week, we thought it’d be a fine time to survey some of the other great music coming out of the North and South Islands. (We’re focusing on indie stuff here, so there’s nothing from the world of New Zealand dub, which is probably a whole separate post in and of itself.) Anyway, suggestions are, as ever, welcome.
Kiwi bands have long had a way with a jangly guitar and an infectious melody — an entire scene was built around such things in Dunedin in the 1980s, focused around enduringly excellent indie label Flying Nun, and much of the music made its way onto US college radio, which is why you’ll find a surprisingly large number of fans of bands like The Clean and The Verlaines on this side of the Pacific. Anyway, Lawrence Arabia’s work shows that the gift spans generations — his songs are perhaps somewhat more twee than those of his forebears, but they’re no less appealing for it.
Die! Die! Die!
Despite their rather aggressive sounding name, Die! Die! Die! aren’t a grindcore band or a bunch of skinheads — they’re noisy enough, sure, but their post-punk sounds are as melodic and well-constructed as they are raucous. In fact, in many ways, they’re perhaps the foremost contemporary heirs to the Flying Nun sound, balancing muscularity with melody to excellent effect.
Not to be confused with the defunct Atlanta band of the same name, the Kiwi band who go by the name Coolies are a pleasingly anarchic garage-pop three-piece from Auckland — they’ve been around in various forms since the late ’90s, and these days they’re signed to long-running and consistently excellent Australian label Chapter Music, for whom they’ve released two albums of the sort of stuff that you could happily call “pop punk” if that term didn’t conjure up images of Blink-182.
Terror of the Deep
It’s not all Auckland and Dunedin, though. The excellent Terror of the Deep hail from Wellington, and they do a fine line in eminently hummable indie rock that’s all chiming guitars and clever lyricism – they rather remind us of a band from across the Tasman, namely The Go-Betweens. You can hear more of their work at their Bandcamp. We’re not entirely sold on the drummer’s haircut, mind.
The Ruby Suns
They may be centered around an ex-pat from California, the splendidly monikered Ryan McPhun, but The Ruby Suns are a New Zealand indie institution and have been for the best part of a decade now. They’ve released three fine records (the most recent of which was 2010’s Fight Softly, so they’re probably just about due for another), and they’re signed to Sub Pop on this side of the Pacific, making them one of only two NZ bands backed by the Seattle institution — as far as we know, anyway. The other? Flight of the Conchords. (Also worth checking out are McPhun’s side project Spring Break.)
One of the better NZ bands of the ’00s was the abrasive electro-rock crew Mint Chicks — sadly, they split a couple of years back, with the band’s core group of brothers Kody and Ruban Nielson going their separate ways to pursue new projects. The latter moved to Portland, OR, to form Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but the former stayed at home and went solo as Opossom. Both are worth checking out, but we’re particularly partial to Opossom’s DIY synthpop (and to the rather excellent video above).
The bedroom laptop pop of Bachelorette — aka Annabel Alpers — isn’t a million miles away from Opossom’s work, although there’s something perhaps more naïve and ingenous about her wide-eyed pop songs. Both her albums were apparently recorded in complete isolation (the first was called Isolation Loops), and it shows – both feel like self-contained worlds, worlds that are both immersive and idiosyncratic. We particularly like Isolation Loops’ follow-up, My Electric Family, from which the above track is taken, but they’re both good.
The Vietnam War
A YouTube commenter on the above video describes The Vietnam War as “a New Zealand version of Jack Johnson,” but don’t hold that against them – they’re much better than that, even if you can sort of see what the guy means. The band do a fine line in hummable fireside acoustic songs, but there’s a heap more depth here than you’ll find on any of Johnson’s records. Thankfully.
We don’t usually like quoting bios/Last.fm profiles, but we did have a giggle at Street Chant’s description of themselves: “Heavy pop trio from Auckland, New Zealand formed in 2007 that sound like bubble gum with the liquid center, and getting punched in the face.” Whack.
And finally, a genuine original Dunedin band who are still going strong today, some 30 years after they first came together (even if they’ve taken a few breaks along the way). Although they actually formed in Christchurch, The Bats are kinda Dunedin royalty – Robert Scott was also in The Clean, while Paul Kean has been the sound engineer for pretty much every Flying Nun band you can think of. They released their eighth studio record last year and still tour regularly.