although the curiously titled Cake Kitchen was mostly released on an obscure German label and various no-name distributors, its safe to say that their best received album (“the Devil in the Deep Blue Sea”, on Merge) is exactly what Jeffries would have released on Flying Nun. Also, as his supposedly best received album critically, I can attest that its actually fucking terrible to sit down and listen to. The opening track is a full ten minutes of meandering instrumental jamming, before turning into an album of modest song demos, with Jeffries singing promisingly into what sounds like a Tascam four track with a single mic setup. This release is only really notable for its poor quality, which brings me to . . .
Chris Knox’s is something of a paradox, firstly because he, in all his expressive, bohemian, enthusiastic mugging very much wants to impart a dose of ‘New Zealandness’ into his public persona, and his music, however the broader New Zealand public has close-to-completely ignored the man. You could also point out how often he publicly slandered and downright shat on other Flying Nun bands, when he himself was selecting artists for the label. Not terribly ‘svengali’. Chris Knox albums are extremely cheap and crude, and induce powerful cringing that may require days to recover. Chris does have a good ear for pop melody however, possibly due to the influence of years spent singing along to Beatles tracks and 80s pop. Ultimately, he’s more annoying than cloying, in fact Chris Knox deserves a very high ranking at AmIAnnoying.com, making his music seem almost like a side issue, really.
In the early 90’s Flying Nun Records was partly sold to Australian holders, and the label probably wanted something that resembled an authentic record with singles that people would actually listen to, and would likely receive coverage outside of the ‘New Zealand market’ (Please Note: there were only about a hundred music stores in the country anyway, which might account for Flying Nuns disingenuous, tardy bookkeeping, which in turn accounts for why many Flying Nun artists so readily discredit label boss Roger Shepard). Anyways, Chris Matthew’s Headless Chickens group were a recording project that showcased the pop vocals of Fiona MacDonald, a studio vocalist and wannabe radio singer based in Auckland. Matthews has been sited as a key writer, and indeed the main creative force of the group. However, Headless Chickens amounted to naught a year later when Fiona MacDonald left the project, sighting drug use as an indication that the other Chickens were unreliable and were getting to be assholes half the time anyway, like the majority of drug users. Her subsequent solo career was a non-starter, but does exist on paper.
HDU are just awful. Audiences have chanted the band OFF stage at student orientation concerts, and orientation crowds are among the most forgiving around. The nineties version of this band combined self indulgent guitar noise, an out of tune drum kit and a guileless, anonymous bassman laying down a thick psychedelic groove amidst HDUs morphine inspired drone noise. Indeed, if narcotics are supposed to supply the user with pleasure, this band was the exact opposite. No real songs either, and cheap album production to boot (a Flying Nun staple, it seems). Years later, main guitarist and ‘songwriter’ Tristan Dingemaans operated a little coffee stall in Dunedin and tours with Mountaineater, an HDU sound-alike. He also has noticeable brain damage.
Is this band about farting? Is this band named Sneaky Feelings because someone farted into a cushion with a surreptitious “PFFFFFTT” and its apparently a big secret? Basically they shot themselves in the foot with this one. Sneaky Feelings are 60’s style indie pop classicists that never really caught on because they were signed to Flying Nun, they were called Sneaky Feelings, and their best song is called Husband House. Good chord progressions and some nice studio production earns a noble two stars for this fart inspired New Zealand pop band.
Pan-Am sounds like a bad high school band that you might find in the practice room of a New Zealand high school: loose, noisy and without noticeable personality. Their video singles “Japanese Girls” and “Interstate Boy” received airplay in New Zealand, showcasing their lack of originality and flair for handheld, sloppy and poorly edited rock video.
Shocking Pinks are cut from the same cloth as Pan-Am, in terms of age and social scene, except with better videos and more press because main songwriter and guitarist Nick Harte is a pretentious lying twat who wrung a (short lived) record contract out of DFA in the US media by talking himself up and then not following through. He has the singing voice of a deaf nine year old. Possibly a legal issue here, too – as ‘Shocking Pinks’ is the name of Neil Young’s old band. . .
David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights
Classic rock/folk revivalists that inexplicably called their best received album ‘Left by Soft’ for cringe value. (Hint – if your title doesn’t invite listeners or show the way somehow, its not the best option.). Basically, this music is BORING, as with many songwriter focussed Flying Nun releases, but best conveys their moderately emotive folk rock ramblings.
Straitjacket Fits were great, once you get past the awkward introduction, but then, their album proper was an Arista release, so isn’t actually part of the Flying Nun ‘cannon’.
This band is awful, but it could have been different. Why, you ask? Main man, and resident rock god Jeremy Eade was too blonde, too sanguine, and too pussy to get the hook through to the listener, who in turn didn’t return the favour. Basically, old fashioned power pop only works if you have a hook. For every Big Star out there there’s a thousand other bands with nothing but cute guitars and forgettable, crunching pub rock songs. Miles better than Pan-Am, and without a phony American vocal too, which is a plus, but really no-one ever paid attention to Garageland because, a) they were signed to Flying Nun, and b) because the shallow digital-sounding production robbed their recordings of its weight and color. (see: “Do What You Want.”)
Nineties power pop band, sounded like it was mixed in the late eighties, also suffered from hollow production values, as if someone took a great photo and made it semi-transparent so it looked a bit shit.
Loves Ugly Children
Awful. Did I mention, this band is called Loves Ugly Children? Even the most committed internet pirates have avoided this band for fifteen years. Delete.
The Hasselhoff Experiment
A glamour/vanity project started by a tweedy, workmanlike and utterly talentless Auckland musician named Andrew Tolley and his ill-matched bogan loser pal on drums. Basically, if your band ingratiates itself into every print magazine and music TV special in the country, and people still don’t buy your record, it just makes you look like an even bigger dick than ever. Tolley now runs the lo-fi cringe outfit Blood Bags and has shied away from the halcyon days of the Hasselhoff fame spotlight. Click.
In North Auckland there’s a coterie of rich kids that play ye olde 60s British R&B/pop beat music, for example the Checks, and presumably their rich parents help foot the bill. Also, around 2002, similar Auckland pub rockers such as the Rock and Roll Machine and the D4 emerged as part of an ersatz garage rock movement, started mostly by the internet and the American joke band White Stripes. The D4, like so many bad local bands, released an album that doesn’t seem to play past the fourth track. Rolling Stone magazine described the D4 as ‘utterly mediocre’ in an early 00’s roundup of new guitar based rock music. In New Zealand they found a bigger spotlight because, um, the singer was squiring a music channel presenter. (NOTE – ‘squiring’ means ‘fucking’ for those of you that don’t have a B.A.)
Actually pretty good, except for two fatal errors; their best shot at overseas recognition, and credibility outside of the student/volunteer radio audience was the track “Death and the Maiden” which has such an incredibly bad music clip, they just shouldn’t have bothered with a video at all. Nonetheless, the man who wrote the music is an authentic musician and academic, and they deserve recognition and kudos, if you like that sort of thing. (“that sort of thing” being retro influenced indie rock, you know, the Smiths, REM etc). The bands other fatal error has to be the track “This Valentine”, a great tune, until it becomes apparent that its a rip-off of the Finn brothers, New Zealand’s leading exponents of Adult-Pop bland.
Good, sure, but derivative. Best known album sounds a lot like REM, in fact, could be described as an REM clone, if that simile helps potential listeners. Proficient, joyless, jangle-centric pop rock, minus Michael Stipe’s vocal. It doesn’t help that Michael Stipe enjoyed the critical equivalent of an endless twenty five year blowjob from the US critical class, giving him a reputation that he couldn’t possibly fulfill and making him appear somewhat phony at the same time. Many, many bands copied the REM template, although New Zealand listeners can enjoy ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’ by the Chills as a genuinely great song in its own right I guess.
Jangly pop group. Lead singer has solo albums too, somewhere.
This band can be initially misapprehended because the single ‘Buddy’ has a catchy, 90s alt pop vibe, but the album itself suffers from, in no particular order: bad mixing, average drum tracks, buried vocals and a general lack of ingredients. Snapper frontman Peter Gutteridge is the living, breathing incarnation of an unhealthy looking drug casualty these days, but has also reformed the group with new members for occasional gigs.
The Cleans original albums have been retrospectively ‘approved’ by US music websites such as AllMusic.com and Pitchfork, but really, unless locals are deceiving themselves, the Clean anthology was really just a standard 60s (i.e.:pub rock) inspired series of minor releases with an amiable, sing-along quality. Again, the question is begged, if their albums are supposedly so good, why doesn’t anyone ever bother listening to them? If three chords and a chorus means your music is “Velvets Inspired”, then there are currently 8.2 million bands operating today that can be accurately described as “Velvets Inspired” . . .