By RUSSELL BAILLIE
NV might be green but they sure know what they're doing. Worryingly so.
The Wellington trio, unheard of until this debut album complete with major label backing, deliver an assured line in downbeat pop care of a moody balance struck between the vocals of Liz Fa'alogo, the quasi-jazz, classical and folk pickings of Neil Becker and the electronics of Andre Upston.
Yes, it can sound at times like a whole bunch of style-conscious English stuff, the wine-bar dance-pop of Morcheeba, One Dove and the like. Or Portishead at the beach.
But - perhaps because NV approach from a pop angle rather than a dance one - their songcraft allows more than distraction from the comparisons.
It's true that some of this sounds so measured that it fails to touch the sides (like the opening six minutes-plus of Quiet). The tendency towards a bitter brand of bubblegum in the lyric department renders the likes of single Don't Make Me Wait less than involving.
And lines of other people's better songs keep popping in too, whether it's "not given lightly" on Quiet or "safe from harm" on Rain Still Falls.
But this maintains its chilled electro-chamber mood throughout, while managing a few surprises (the trancy Swim, with its Womad-audition Enya bits), some pulse-quickening momentum (when the layers of highlight Some Everytime start working up a friction) or an indelible soul-folk tunefulness (Unlikely in its two versions, with percussion and without).
NV aren't quite original and certainly not sinful. But they show that we've got a classy come-down band on our hands and a local quota filler for the cafe nation. And that's worth getting quietly upbeat about. * * * *
Bring It On
This one has been hanging around a while in the pile marked "initially unfathomable" but when the English five-piece with the strange rootsy urges won Britain's Mercury Prize it seemed time to finally get to grips.
A good thing, too - it's terrific. Once, that is, you get past the wrong-era, wrong-side-of-Atlantic confusion their sound throws up with its songs that groan, rattle and wheeze into life.
A little bit Captain Beefheart, a little bit quirky English psychedelia dragged 90s-wards, complete with various electric and acoustic guitars with minds of their own and a couple of singers. The most notable of these is the gravel-paved layrnx of Ben Ottewell, who gives songs like Get Miles, Here Comes the Breeze and Make No Sound a rugged buffing into jagged gems.
Elsewhere there's slide, strings, bent blues licks, stoned acoustic strolls, artful organic noises, and transposed West Coast moods (Tijuana Lady).
That sense of adventure makes for a terrific bunch of songs which evoke their own misplaced, initially unfathomable world. Once you've lot the lie of Gomez-land you may agree that the list of albums of the year just got that little bit shorter. * * * * *
The fourth album from these American outsiders sees them tempering some of their previous avant-garde urges, getting pop-classical in the arrangement department and calling in former members of the Band (drummer Levon Helm and saxophonist/keys man Garth Hudson) to sprinkle some Music from Big Pink fairydust about the place.
The result is a rich, unwieldy collection that - with its reliance for texture on various pre-digital keyboards stacked to the roof - exists somewhere about the birth of the band's five thirtysomething members.
The otherworldly vocal whine of songwriter Jonathon Donahue might be dividing point for many, but there's an askew dreaminess to his melodies throughout - the high-altitude opener Holes, Opus 40 (a mix of Beach Boys-stately and the Band), and the relatively uptempo likes of Goddess on A Highway and the aptly-named Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp. Recommended. * * * *
Stellar, What You Do (Epic): The great leap forward for the Boh Runga-led Stellar is this attractive sneer of pop song, a brooding two-fingered salute with a hook or two and its guitar/electronic mix giving it more than a few Garbage overtones.
Zed, Oh! Daisy (Universal): Christchurch guitar trio following the Finn/Luck Kiwi pop bloodline deliver a song of deft 60s harmonies and fuzzed-up energy rather let down by naff chorus lyrics. Still, as they say, highly promising.
--Russell Baillie, Weekend TimeOut, 05/12/98
PICTURED:NV [Andre Upston, Liz Fa'alogo and Neil Becker]
By RUSSELL BAILLIE