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Various: Arch Hill 10th Anniversary

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Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Free download of top-notch retrospective from Auckland indie label.

Arch Hill 10th Anniversary. Photo / Supplied
Arch Hill 10th Anniversary. Photo / Supplied

With Flying Nun's clout waning in the late 90s because many of the label's original signings had split up or moved on, it was Auckland's Arch Hill Recordings that became the flagbearer for much of indie rock in New Zealand through the 2000s.

This 18-track compilation celebrates the label's 10th birthday - and, best of all, it's free and can be downloaded from archhill.co.nz.

The sound that - mostly, anyway - typifies Arch Hill is plaintive, darkly poppy, a little jangly; often songs that take a while to work their way under your skin and into your head. Like the beautiful thrumming tranquility of Dave Mulcahy's Kissed Away, from the label's first release in 2000. Or the fuzzy Breeders-Pixies-esque jaunt of Mestar's Konked Out.

The compilation starts with new songs by up-and-comers Surf City (keeping up the fine tradition of catchy fuzz pop on See How the Sun) and Street Chant (with Philosophy the rowdiest song here), and then it runs chronologically backwards taking in the likes of Flying Nun veterans The Clean and the Bats, lesser-known yet stellar acts like Grand Prix, Ghostplane and Mestar, and Arch Hill's original signings such as Mulcahy (formerly of Superette and JPSE), Fang, and Christchurch trio Pine.

Apart from a few dreary tracks - not bad considering its overall length - it works seamlessly as a collection of songs.

The magical beat and strum minimalism of Pine's Then I Was Left Out gives way to the poppy dirge and drone of Fang's Employee of the Month; then there's the sashaying alt-country twang of Ghostplane's The Straight and Narrow and Grand Prix's Always Beginning is an unhinged mix of country, 60s surf and garage rock, and girl-group doo-wop. The big-name stand-outs are the Clean with lovely dreamy organ track Loog and Phoenix Foundation's Luke Buda's offering Weekend Dad off 2008's excellent Vesuvius.

The compilation also acts as inspiration to go back and check out some releases that might have passed you by first time round. Especially last year's Clean album Mister Pop, which opened with Loog, and Ghostplane's 2004 EP Panther Valley Country Club EP - a short, but beautifully bent and slightly twisted gem of which Straight and Narrow is the perfect example.

And did we mention this anniversary album is free, with Arch Hill inviting you to pillage and plunder at your leisure?

- NZ Herald

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