Verdict: Nun-relaunching solo effort is so, so good
Disclosure: In the rush to feature Grayson Gilmour in these pages some weeks back - he being the first release on the revived Flying Nun album and all- our review of the album went by the wayside. The delay is even more regrettable because, well, it's so bloody fantastic.
It's that, firstly, because it confounds two expectations. Firstly, the one of what a Nun album should sound like in 2010. With its sweet singing, guitar aversion, and piano enthusiasm it sure doesn't conform to any of the label's past glories, except perhaps for the ol' DIY ethic.
Neither does it sound like a solo album by a member of Wellington synth-rock wonderboys So So Modern. Though it doesn't lack for rock punch, the mood is a long way from the jerky best-experienced-live energy of SSM. But then the 22-year-old classically trained pianist has been recording and releasing his own material since he was 16.
The bigger reason why No Constellation is so good is how its ambitions and attention to detail don't stop the elaborate songs from being captivating. Quite lovely tunes they are too.
Gilmour's dulcet voice, often multitracked into swirling arrangements, make him sound like a man who knows the difference between the harmonies of the Beach Boys (as on the swooning Our Heads Collide and Fire Downstairs) and the Beatles. And that he knows how to use them to disarming effect.
Some of the songs do come with a latter-day Beatles lushness especially Gem Apple John, which, lyrically has a possibly telling reference to "May '68" among its cascading piano and McCartneyesque vocals. Then there's Diamond Gutters, Mermaid Sewers, the album's epic A Day in the Life near-climax.
But this doesn't feel like it's trying to evoke any other era except its own. It might be given to some dreamy ivory-ticklings - apparently the younger Gilmour served time as a hotel lobby pianist - but it still has plenty of youthful indie-rock verve. Especially on opener Loose Change, which might start out all sweetness and light with its piano and glockenspiel figures but is soon delivering extravagant fireworks. Likewise, I Am A Light! earns that exclamation mark with its staccato piano attack while All Authenticity recalls a minimalist Thomas Newman screen theme before turning up the pop-rock voltage.
The post-Nun Kiwi rock generation hasn't lacked for precocious left-field pop talents with the likes of Liam Finn and Lawrence Arabia. No Constellation announces the arrival of another. And on an album that - and those weeks of listening to it have removed any doubt - is a clear contender for local record of the year.