Soundcheck: The Sound of Middle Earth

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Published August 10, 2009

There’s more to Kiwi music than “Flight of the Conchords.” Below, some of the greats of New Zealand indie rock:

THE CLEAN, Compilation (Homestead, 1986)
The Clean were one of the first truly original New Zealand rock bands to spring up in the post-punk era of the late 70s. This not-so-creatively-titled compilation pulls together some of the band’s best early songs, including the gleeful “Tally Ho!,” which is  likely one of those songs that you’ve probably heard a million times without ever knowing who it was or where it came from.

Video for “Tally Ho!”:

 

SPLIT ENZ, True Colours (Polydor, 1980)
A staple of college radio/”120 Minute”-era mixtapes, Split Enz was the first band from New Zealand to achieve global success. Other than crafting wonderfully oft-kilter new-wavey pop music, the band is also responsible for introducing Tim and Neil Finn to the world (Neil would later go on to form Crowded House). 

Video for “I Got You”:

 

THE CHILLS, Kaleidoscope World (Flying Nun, 1986)
When rock critics reference a specifically “New Zealand” sound in regards to indie rock, you need look no farther than The Chills to know what they are talking about. Characterized by jangly, chiming guitars and melodious vocal harmonies, the band was  synonymous with “Flying Nun” sound, so named for their influential record label.  Though they released a number of excellent albums, this collection of early recordings best capture their spirit.

Video for “I Love My Leather Jacket”:

 

BAILTERSPACE, Robot World (Flying Nun/Matador, 1992)
Often compared to fellow guitar noisologists like Sonic Youth, Bailterspace were New Zealand’s answer to the UK’s shoegazer movement. Often obtuse, the band’s songs were long on atmosphere and short on discernable hooks or singable verses. The guitar sounds on this album sound best when played very, very loudly.

Video for “Splat”:

 

THE PHOENIX FOUNDATION, Horse Power (Capital Recordings, 2003)
This  band is all over the place, sounding at times like a less cheesy Coldplay or a heartbroken Mojave 3. At their sparsely attended show a couple years ago, my constant requests prompted one of the guys in the band to ask me if I was actually from New Zealand. I kept my mouth shut.

Video “Let Me Die A Woman”: