Brilliant dream pop from New Zealand
I’m just going to go straight to the point about Morningside, the debut album from Fazerdaze (essentially the output of New Zealand’s Amelia Murray). It is an extraordinarily accomplished work of art. I could just say go and order the album without hesitation and leave it at that. It’s that good.
However, I shall indulge, as is the wont of writers, with a little background and a little more detail as to why I find this album so wonderful.
For lovers of indie music of a certain vintage, the musical output of New Zealand in the eighties was incredible – mostly under the auspices of the legendary Flying Nun Records (originating in Christchurch but producing a lot of bands coming from Dunedin). Bands like The Chills, The Bats, The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience and The Clean. The contribution of Split Enz and later Crowded House must also be mentioned. It is very easy to assume that there was something unique about New Zealand music scene back at that particular point in time – achieving global critical recognition for so many bands coming from such a far flung corner of the world. Witness too the fact that many of these bands are still producing brilliant music.
More recently, New Zealand musicians such as Lorde and The Naked and Famous have achieved world-wide recognition. Mainstream maybe, but both displaying a distinct and creative talent that to me is uniquely New Zealand. The underground indie scene appears to be flourishing as well. Muzai Records (based in Leeds but representing New Zealand bands) is one example – producing a number of innovative bands such as Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing and God Bow to Maths. There are a number of other artists such as Hex, Aldous Harding (recently signed to 4AD), Nadia Reid and Kane Strang that are gaining world-wide attention and worth listening to. One of my favourites is Modern Chair – see my review last year of their EP “Can’t look Back”. I don’t have enough background to know if this is a renaissance of sorts in New Zealand or whether this scene has continued throughout the 1990s and 2000s and has hitherto escaped my attention. It’s on my radar now.
I guess the key point to be made, though, is that the New Zealand music scene is not all about nostalgia and Flying Nun Records with their posse of innovative bands in the eighties. And yet…here comes Flying Nun Records in the modern era with a extraordinary contemporary new release.
The title of the album, Morningside, is named after the Auckland suburb where Amelia Murray lives, although she was born in Wellington. Murray released an EP in 2014 and in the intervening time has caught the attention of the NME, played with Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Connan Mockasin, toured the UK with Big Deal, and was invited to join the Red Bull Music Academy in Montreal in 2016.
The album clocks in at 31 minutes – ten relatively short songs that pack superbly crafted melodic pop songs into memorable vignettes of life. Murray’s vocals seemingly float on another plane, mixed slightly back, melancholic and ethereal. I am reminded of The Jesus and Mary Chain in the album’s delivery – sweet soft melodies skimming over the surface of a muscular beat. There is a shoegaze element to Fazerdaze – think of Lush or My Bloody Valentine – but delivered in a softer package. As with Lorde, the lyrics seem to reflect the personal experiences of Murray, giving them a sense of immediacy and poignancy.
The latest single off the album has just been released – track six “Take it Slow”, a very melodic, summery tune that reminds me a little of The Go-Betweens:
The album opens with “Last to Sleep” – evoking elements of The Naked and Famous or Alvvays but with a distinctive musical electro-fuzz that reminded me a little of Depeche Mode. The second track off the album, Luck Girl, comes with a video edited by Murray herself. It’s a pop masterpiece that bounces along with infinite effervescence, a bright lyrical optimism undercut by Murray’s disenchanted delivery:
Third track, Misread, has a more muscular grungy Stone Temple Pilots with an almost contemptuous, louch delivery.
First single off the album was “Little Uneasy”, the fourth track on the album, accompanied by a fantastically simple single-take video of Murray skateboarding – capturing an element of the vibrancy and freedom in the music:
“Friends” and “In My Room” display the less dreamy and more muscular side of Murray – almost low-fi grunge with a sneery stance that can trace its roots back to The Velvet Underground.
Every song on this album maintains a melodic strength and musical maturity that is superb. The album has an evocative mix of angular, chiming music and ultimate pop sensibility. What is even more astounding is that Murray wrote, recorded and produced the album by herself.The two singles released so far perfectly capture the album’s tone and resonance.
The album is due out on 5 May 2017. You can preorder from here. Limited advance clear vinyl will be available on Record Store day (22 April) in New Zealand. Pre-orders are available now. If you like the other musical points of reference I have made, you should just go ahead and get this album.