Scott Kara: Faith restored

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My faith in what is often a bland local music scene was restored last week when the Mint Chicks kicked arse at the New Zealand Music Awards.

I was expecting Brooke Fraser or Hollie Smith to win, judging by the safe and predictable choice of winners from previous years. I'm glad they didn't.

Don't get me wrong, both are fantastic musicians and released good albums that sold truckloads, but safe and predictable is how the music awards almost always end up.

About as dangerous as it has got was when the Datsuns won best album in 2003 for their self-titled debut. And yes, Fat Freddy's Drop's big year in 2005 was a rare victory for odd chart-topping music. However, the thing about the Mint Chicks is that their second album, Crazy?Yes!Dumb?No!, sold bugger-all copies (although following the awards it's re-entered the top 40 this week). Since being released in September last year, it hasn't even reached gold status, which is less than 7500 copies. What a shame. If you haven't heard it, then go get it. But hey, they won.

You have to feel for Fraser. In 2004 she was bumped out by Scribe following the release of her debut and this year, with her second and better album, she got beaten by four skinny little art-school upstarts. The Mint Chicks won their five awards, including best album and best group, on pure artistic merit rather than a combination of sales, profile and reputation.

It's no wonder Crazy?Yes!Dumb?No! hasn't been commercially successful - it's not your typical award-winning album. I like to think of it as noxious pop. From the opening chaotic churn of Ockham's Razor to the eerie sparseness of 100 Minutes of Silence it's clever, passionate, and thrilling. It's rousing and noisy pop music that makes an impact, and that's something you don't come across often, especially at the NZ Music Awards.

In the time between releasing their unconvincing 2005 debut F*** the Golden Youth and Crazy?Yes!Dumb?No! the Mint Chicks grew up and pulled their heads out of their bums. There were great pop songs waiting to get out - the Apra Silver Scroll nominated Opium of the People was an early example - but their overall approach was hard going and far from accessible.

So, this time round, Mint Chick brothers Kody and Ruban Neilson got their dad, Chris, on board to help them produce the album and they crafted, and no doubt bashed, their music into a more appealing package without compromising their frantic and jagged sound. Check out the single Crazy?Yes!Dumb?No! for proof.

Faithful fans of the band may have felt their push to the mainstream was a little too obvious on that song but there's enough abrasive pop moments elsewhere on the album, with songs like Walking Off A Cliff Again and album centrepiece and highlight, That Fateful Funeral Day, to make the Mint Chicks the people's band.

Okay, so I'm dreaming. I'll admit it, that's not likely to happen considering OpShop - a great but safe band - were the People's Choice winner this year. But it's good to give the weirdos a bit of airtime because, and I've said this before, we do weird well here in New Zealand. And could the Mint Chicks' win be the start of the second coming of local indie label Flying Nun, which had its heyday about 15-20 years ago?

Wellington band the Phoenix Foundation are also on Flying Nun and have just released Happy Ending, one of, if not the best, albums so far this year. Who knows, it could be their turn at next year's music awards.

One last thing. There should be a metal category at the awards. I mean, we have the Aotearoa Roots category which was initiated in 2003 when bands like TrinityRoots and Katchafire were nearest and dearest to our hearts. But there's no way a metal award would become redundant after four years like the Roots category did this year with two of the three finalists, Hollie Smith and Age Pryor, stretching the bounds of what roots music actually is. If a heavy metal category is good enough for the Grammys, which has a best metal performance award (won by Slayer last year), then why isn't it good enough for the Vodafone NZ Music Awards?

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