10 Classic New Zealand Albums

Posted by Billy Gil, May 29, 2014 10:26am | Post a Comment

One of New Zeland’s best bands, The Bats, have just had three of their albums reissued on vinyl by their native Flying Nun label, The Law of Things, Compiletely Bats and Daddy’s Highway, plus a three-CD set with all three albums (also available to download). To celebrate, we’re counting off 10 of our favorite albums from the island country, in no particular order.

Split Enz - Mental Notes (1975)

split enz mental notes lpBest known in the States for crossover power-pop hits like “I Got You” (off the True Colours album), Split Enz’s first album is full of epic, prog-pop weirdness, featuring the songwriting talents of brothers Neil and Tim Finn.


The Clean - Anthology (2001)

The Clean are one of the few bands where it would be a disservice to not include its anthology as opposed to one of its albums. The Clean were around since the late ’70s, producing some perfect lo-fi pop singles for the Flying Nun label like the immortal “Tally Ho” but didn’t get around to recording a proper album until the ’90s. This release captures the band’s early lightning in a bottle. Their 2001 album Getaway, featuring contributions from Yo La Tengo, is also an underrated gem.


Crowded House - Crowded House (1986)

One of the biggest hits to ever come from the island nation was Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” which went to No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and topped the charts in various other countries. Featuring Neil Finn (formerly of Split Enz), the band’s debut carries elements of the country’s trademark acoustic jangle with a more soulful, radio-rock bent.


The Bats - Daddy's Highway (1987)

The Bats embody the “Dunedin Sound,” the New Zealand brand of jangle-pop that cropped up around the university city of Dunedin in New Zealand in the early ’80s. Like their British brethren in bands like The Smiths and American college-rock bands like R.E.M., the Duenedin Sound is typified by jangly acoustic and clean electric guitars and emotive songwriting indebted to punk and The Velvet Underground. Bands shared members and equipment, and many of them would go on to release albums on Flying Nun. Its influence was immediately felt in bands from R.E.M. to Pavement and Real Estate. Daddy’s Highway, full of buoyant basslines, memorable jangle riffs and Robert Scott’s bellowing tenor, is one of the best albums ever put out the label. (Read more about the DunedIn Sound via Stylus.)


The Verlaines Bird-Dog (1987)

Though it’s easy to fall into thinking New Zealand is just some beautiful, green place where awesome bands tour the countryside playing perfect indie-pop songs on acoustic guitar, The Verlaines were defiantly strange and difficult, infusing their version of the Dunedin Sound with angular riffery and dissonance. Bird Dog is catchy and frantic, exploding with inventive melodies and outsider cool. Juvenilia is also great and more accessible.


Fourmyula Creation (1969)

fourmyula creationFourmyula (or The Fourmyula) represent the moment New Zealand became a place with its own distinct musical heritage, as far as pop music goes. With their own take on British-style psychedelia, The Fourmyula proved Kiwis could produce their own music without relying on overseas imports. Songs like the classic “Nature” are imbued with a singsongy wistfulness that would inspire Kiwi bands to follow—another notable New Zealand band, The Mutton Birds, covered the song in 1995. (Though any Fourmyula album is tough to find, you can grab their notable songs on Inside The Hutt: New Zealand's Pop-Psych Kingpins 1968-1969.)


Dave DobbynTwist (1994)

dave dobbyn twistCrowded House’s Neil Finn produced this creative high point for Kiwi singer/songwriter Dave Dobbyn, who first came to prominence in new wave group Th’Dudes (who have the awesome distinction of penning New Zealand’s unofficial drinking song, “Bliss”). Twist features Dobbyn at his best, full of dark, intricate songs that call to mind the songcraft of Elvis Costello with perhaps some of the eccentricity of Robyn Hitchcock.


Toy Love Toy Love (1980)

toy love lpThough they existed for a mere two years and produced only one album, Toy Love changed the face of New Zealand music, helping to inspire the formation of Flying Nun and the Dunedin Sound with their manic post-punk. Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate would also go on to form another crucial New Zealand band, Tall Dwarfs. For an even better representation of Toy Love, check out Captured Tracks’ recent reissue of their early singles and demos (also called Toy Love) as well as Live at the Gluepot 1980, which truly captures the band at their best as a vital live act.


The ChillsKaleidescope World (1986)

the chills kaleidescope worldThought the Chills would go on to become on of New Zealand’s most well-known bands, this collection of their early singles, including the moody, chiming “Pink Frost,” holds up best. The band recently reunited and released a live album last year called Somewhere Beautiful, which bucks the trend of such things—it’s as good as anything they’ve done.


LordePure Heroine (2013)

Say what you will about Lorde. She certainly has put New Zealand back on the map in terms of international, radio-ready pop. And she also represents that crucial, oft-overlooked stepping stone in musical upbringing: the gateway artist. Without Lorde’s minimalist compositions and Queen-referencing harmonies, so many tweens may have been stuck listening to One Direction for the foreseeable future. I’m guessing history will judge this one kindly.

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New Zealand (9), The Bats (3), Split Enz (2), Dunedin Sound (2), Jangle Rock (1), The Clean (5), Crowded House (2), The Verlaines (1), Fourmyula (1), Dave Dobbyn (1), Toy Love (3), The Chills (3), Lorde (3)