2009 NZ Music Awards

It’s been emphasised that the upcoming NZ Music Awards isn’t like the APRA Silver Scroll Award, which is all about the quality of the songwriting. After listening to the finalists I can say that’s probably for the best. The finalists have all sold a lot and are very popular, and none of their albums are exactly terrible, but there’s a depressing mediocrity to some of them, and if they weren’t local albums they probably wouldn’t have achieved release here. I’m not saying this to be mean, and as someone in their mid-thirties I’m way out of their target market, but I do listen to a lot of music and I recognise blandness when I hear it.

A fortnight after listening to You And I by Cut Off Your Hands, all I can recall is that I enjoyed it. I can’t actually remember any of the songs. Giving it a quick runthrough again, it has some of that appealing indie-’90s NZ sound (see any classic Flying Nun album), with rather a lot of The Smiths and The Cure thrown in. It’s scrappy and a lot of fun.

Fat Freddy’s Drop are professional and consistent, and Dr Boondigga and the Big BW is as solid as any of their releases. It’s about as exciting as a really good cup of tea, but they seem to be going for the older stoner market anyway. It’s what account managers in their late twenties who are just starting to develop massive potbellies put on the stereo while getting dressed for Sunday brunch at the Matterhorn.

Ladyhawke’s self-titled album is easily my favourite of this bunch. It’s been criticised for riding the whole ’80s revival wave (see also the excellent La Roux) but I like her influences and her whole high-functioning Aspie seriousness, which I believe is something she shares with Gary Numan. She reminds me of the excellent, underrated British electropop band Robots in Disguise, but without the associated Mighty Boosh wackiness.

Midnight Youth are truly dreadful, full of empty, earnest gestures cribbed from Coldplay and early U2. They are immensely popular amongst the easily impressed. Everyone in the band is super-handsome except for the lead singer, who looks like a tall, balding ’70s-period Woody Allen. The nicest thing I can say about their album The Brave Don’t Run is that it’s very well produced. The songs say absolutely nothing. They come from nowhere, and I don’t believe they’re going anywhere after this… although, depressingly, The Feelers have just celebrated their 10th anniversary of being completely fucking awful, haven’t they?

Again, the production of Smashproof’s The Weekend is impressive, and you have to give them credit for trying to express something in their songs. Even if the album is extraordinarily derivative and pleads rather too hard for its own staunchness and authenticity. For some reason, although all of these albums are sung with American accents, it really grates on this particular one. For a nation who hates poseurs so much, we tolerate a lot of this in our popular music. Still, this is the most identifiably New Zealand album of the bunch. I also like how Gin Wigmore looks and sounds like an querulous duck.

So, where were Minuit? SJD? Dimmer? Ah, it’s just a popularity contest.

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