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Pop CultureMarch 20, 2017

Best Songs Ever: Brain-frying pan-generational Wellington supergroup Teeth & more!


Our regular round-up of new songs and singles, this week featuring Teeth, Fleet Foxes, Weezer, Physical, Shakes and Girl Ray.


Teeth – ‘Succubus’

Brain-frying self-styled “pan-generational Wellington supergroup”.

I’ve been enjoying the Phoenix Foundation’s aging process; their 2015 album Give Up Your Dreams is, to my ears, the best thing they’ve done. And while they may have given up on their dreams (world stardom? Pitchfork domination?), whatever filled that void has obviously left them time to see other people and make looser, cheaper, jammier records on the side. For singer/guitarist Samuel Flynn Scott, this meant Bunnies on Ponies, an album of fuzzy, funny ‘90s alt-rock. For Lukasz Buda (the other singer/guitarist) and Tom Callwood (bass), this now means Teeth, a loud, messy and melodic psych-rock band with Wellington drum hero Anthony Donaldson and guitarist David Long, who has gone from the Mutton Birds to soundtracking Peter Jackson movies.

‘Succubus’ is a reverb-drenched, fuzzed-out rocker with wild guitars and wilder drums, anchored by a melodic bass and buried-in-the-mix vocals that bring it all together for the first two minutes before splintering into a spacey jam-out that goes for a minute, but could just as easily go for ten, before returning to the hook, the guitars energised from their minute of freedom, never quite coming home. If this record was made 20 years ago, it would have said ‘Play loud’ in the liner notes. / Henry Oliver

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Fleet Foxes – ‘Third of May / Ōdaigahara’

That band controversialist Father John Misty used to be in.

Fleet Foxes have been painfully silent since their critically-lauded 2011 album Helplessness Blues. Their gig at Auckland’s town hall in early-2012 was one of their last before going on extended hiatus. In that time their drummer, Josh Tillman, transformed himself into Father John Misty and has garnered perhaps even more popularity than Fleet Foxes themselves. Now he’s gone, and band mastermind Robin Pecknold has forged ahead and finally given us a glimpse into where their famously folky sound will go next. If Helplessness Blues represented an increase in complexity and grandeur from their debut Fleet Foxes, then this song suggests a continuation along that trajectory. Enormous strings and pounding percussion elevate this anthemic track into the stratosphere – it’s definitely up there with some of Fleet Foxes’ best. The second half gets even weirder than ‘The Shrine / An Argument’, a song that clearly laid the blueprint for this epic composition. The densely-picked guitars, mandolins, and bubbly Moog synths take you out on an unsettling but beautiful note. – Mitchell Houlbrooke

Physical – ‘Islands’

New Wellington electro-pop duo.

‘Islands’ is about a relationship that’s doomed to fall apart outside of a short-term island “paradise”, sung smooth as smoke with a steel strand of resignation. It’s a mature, confident piece of songwriting, and understandably so – Physical is the latest project of Wellington singer-songwriter Julia Parr, one-half of the “dark pop”, “cold wave” duo Black City Lights that had some success at home and abroad around 2013. As Physical, Parr is joined by Nik Brinkman of the band Junica and the songwriting outfit Ghostwriters Collective; their debut album Ride It Out is due out this year. Mellow and moody, it creates an expansive world that it then exits abruptly: “I got bored / and fucked up / this love”. “We wanted the track to evoke that floating feeling of being in paradise, but with an unsteadiness, the feeling in the pit of your stomach that something isn’t right,” Parr told Nylon, where the track premiered. I’d say mission accomplished. – Elle Hunt

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Weezer – ‘Feels Like Summer’ 

Rivers Cuomo is Peter Pan.

Weezer fans fall into two camps; older fans who grew up with the band, and younger fans who enjoy emo and power pop and came to the Weez via their influence on their modern day heroes. Of these, the former group has one of the oddest relationships to a band in rock history. For these Weezer enthusiasts, every move back toward the guitar-heavy sound of the first two records is greeted open-heartedly and warmly (per 2016’s self-titled record, known as their ‘White Album’), whereas any deviation from that core aesthetic conjures up a mix of disillusionment and animadversion that makes no sense for a band whose peak popularity was 22 years ago. These aging fans conflate Cuomo’s willingness to embrace myriad musical styles, and stumble while doing it, with a disdain for their elevation of the band to the status of generational sign post, an attitude that misses the fact that River’s quite clearly doesn’t care what fans think of his music. New song ‘Feels Like Summer’ is undoubtedly one of those rage-inducing moments. Cuomo puts the lightning bolt ensconced Stratocaster down and writes a dance-inflected pop song along the lines of Twenty One Pilots or Imagine Dragons. It doesn’t really work. The melody is not as memorable as Cuomo’s best work, and he sounds like an awkward dad (which he is of course) delivering his simplistic lines. So it’s not good, but it’s hard not admire an artist who works so hard to recapture some of the audience from his youth, only to abruptly turn his back on them again. After all, what is more rock n’ roll than that? – Pete Douglas

Shakes – ‘Waiting on a Feeling’

Psych-tinged radio-pop from Mt Maunganui.

Shakes are a four-piece led by Alex Wildwood, who wrote, recorded and produced ‘Waiting on a Feeling’ at his home studio in Mt Maunganui. It’s no surprise the song betrays no trace of its bedroom origins: it was mastered by Brian Lucey, who has worked on The Kills, Arctic Monkeys and Chet Faker (sorry, Nick Murphy. Whatever). It’s about as radio-ready a song as they come on Soundcloud, like Tame Impala crossed with Simple Minds, with a very glossy video and a guitar solo (so retro!) to match. The knowledge it was inspired by the Oscar Wilde quote “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what you want, and the other is getting it” adds precisely nothing, but it’s already an easy song to like. – EH

Girl Ray – ‘Stupid Things’

Winsome UK girl-group art-pop.

Music for a damp, grey autumn, UK trio Girl Ray’s winsome ‘Stupid Things’ evokes late-50s/early-60s Brill Building girl-group pop filtered through late-60s/early-70s art-pop types like Todd Rundgren (I mean, the intro to this quotes his ‘I Saw The Light’) and Laura Nyro, inflected with the non-showiness of the Raincoats, Young Marble Giants or even ‘aughts Auckland indie duo the Gladeyes. Think of a Stereolab who’d never heard anything from Europe, or had no higher lyrical themes than “I called up my friend and asked her what you liked / It was just to feel close to you / I’ve never done so many stupid things.” – Stevie Kaye

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