Saturday, July 16, 2011

List: Five More ‘Kiwi’ Desert Island Discs

More essential New Zealand albums of my lifetime:

The Gordons – The Gordons (1981)
John Halvorsen, Brent McLachlan, and Alister Parker are probably better known as key members of the band Bailter Space (aka Bailterspace), but long before Bailter Space enjoyed relative success as stalwarts of the New Zealand indie scene with a run of fine albums through the late Eighties and early Nineties, the same trio had earned their recording spurs as The Gordons. And while The Gordons turned out to be a rather short-lived affair – releasing just two albums and an EP – anyone lucky enough to see the band perform live surely won’t have forgotten the experience. In fact, their ears will still be ringing. Put simply, no other Kiwi band, before or since – The Skeptics being one possible exception – could replicate The Gordons’ unique sound, which was a heady combination of jagged feedback and guitar-led noise, with just the occasional hint of melody thrown in for good measure. That may not sound especially appealing to some, but somehow, on the band’s 1981 self-titled debut it all came together perfectly and The Gordons created a real humdinger of an album, a cohesive whole that greatly exceeded the sum of its otherwise jumbled parts.

Ak 79 – Various (1980/1993)

It may have taken a year or so longer to arrive on these tranquil shores, but the popular music phenomenon we know (and love) as ‘Punk Rock’ had well and truly taken hold in Godzone by 1979. Not just in Auckland, but in all of the main centres, all the way down to Dunedin. It’s a cliché now, but Punk really was all about adopting a fresh attitude and challenging polite society’s accepted norms, and wherever there was a relatively large population base you were bound to find a pocket of individuals taking great pride and delight in doing just that. Ak 79 is a compilation album that brings together many of the movement’s key protagonists in this part of the world – Toy Love, The Swingers, The Scavengers, and Proud Scum. An expanded edition was released in 1993 to include other era luminaries such as The Spelling Mistakes and The Suburban Reptiles. Ak 79 captures the spirit of its time perfectly, and is an absolute “must have” for any self respecting New Zealand music collector.

Flock (The Best of ...) – The Mutton Birds (1992)

I’m probably quite biased because two latter period band members were acquaintances of mine from the sprawling metropolis of Palmerston North (bassist Alan Gregg and guitarist Chris Sheehan) but ultimately the reason I was a big fan of The Mutton Birds was down to the band’s main man Don McGlashan (founder, composer, vocalist). McGlashan had a rare talent for writing quintessentially Kiwi songs ... songs about us, songs specific to our location, and music that spoke to our sense of what it means to be a New Zealander. He’d done exactly the same thing with Blam Blam Blam and The Front Lawn, but by the time The Mutton Birds came along he’d developed his art into a far more accessible form, which in turn catered rather more to the mainstream than either of those earlier projects. Oh, and it probably helped that his boy-next-door vocals contained the most charming nu zild accent ever committed to vinyl. 

Into The Dojo – Black Seeds (2006)
So often unfairly maligned by local music critics who toss around lazy labels like “UB40-lite” and “barbeque reggae”, the Black Seeds have nonetheless established a strong loyal fanbase – not only in hometown Wellington, but throughout the country and beyond – thanks to a run of consistently strong albums following on from their 2001 debut, Keep On Pushing. Into The Dojo was the band’s third full-length studio effort and for me it rates as their best – rootsy, earthy, packed full of decent tunes and warm summery vibes. Disregard the haters and the tall poppy bashers, Reggae/Dub as a genre has always had to fight hard for survival in this often insular corner of the planet, yet one listen to a track like ‘Love For Property’ ought to be enough to convince any doubters that Aotearoa’s dub contingent are on the right path ... or should that be the path to righteousness? In the case of the Black Seeds and specifically Into The Dojo, that path led to a double platinum number one and a whole year in the local album chart ... there must have been an awful lot of barbeques that particular year.

Heavenly Pop Hits – The Chills (1994)
I’m cheating here by including another compilation album but in all honesty, it just doesn’t feel right leaving a band as iconic as The Chills to sink without any fanfare ... and this is all about survival on a desert island after all – no matter how indulgent it might be attempting to salvage so many albums (ten and counting!). Just as it doesn’t feel right to single out any specific Chills album (and there are a few). Heavenly Pop Hits does however collect the very best of The Chills, from the band’s earliest days as a Flying Nun (label) original, right through to its on again/off again format of recent years ... essentially becoming more than ever the “solo” project of Martin Phillipps. While his voice wasn’t always to my taste – a little monotonous – there is no question he was a brilliant composer and songwriter. If there was a pop hook to be found amid the otherwise often gloomy sound, Phillipps would find it, build upon it, and ultimately create a song that not only appealed to post-punkers, but also the wider music-buying public. ‘Pink Frost’ gave Kiwi music its very own Joy Division moment, while ‘I Love My Leather Jacket’ has taken on a life of its own in the years since its release.