by James Conway
We all love punk right? What’s not to love about simple three-chord riffs, infectious sing-along choruses and a healthy disdain for authority and ‘the man’? This type of music gave pop the kick up the backside it so desperately needed, injecting a sense of urgency and relevance into the public’s collective lugholes. Funny then, that the genre has made little progression in the 35 years since its inception, with so many bands unwilling to experiment with a style that only seems fresh when the Tories are back in office.
However, there are some exceptions to the rule, as demonstrated by the new solo album from Kody Nielson, a New Zealand multi-instrumentalist who fronted self-styled ‘trouble-gum art punks’ The Mint Chicks for eight years until he left to indulge his love of, well, almost every other genre around, given the diverse mix of styles prevalent on ‘Electric Hawaii’, the first release under the Opossum moniker. The name is an appropriate one, for under Nielson’s cute, cuddly exterior lurks a feisty, unpredictable sense of mischief that is allowed to run riot over the course of ten enigmatic tracks.
Beginning with the breezy ‘Girl’, a whimsical ode to young love, Nielson takes the listener on a journey brimming with bright colours and joyous experimentation, something he touched on but was never able to fully explore with his previous band. Next track ‘Fly’ is propelled by a simple drumbeat and chunky organ stabs, which instantly brings to mind the sluggish, hazy feeling of lying under a palm tree after imbibing too many deceptively colourful island cocktails.
‘Blue Meanies’ lays on the psychedelic vibes with a trowel with its in-your-face drumming and shimmering keyboards attempt to invoke a sensory overload along with the blissed-out vocal harmonies. The pace quickens on ‘Getaway Tonight’ which sounds like Pendulum if they were stranded on a desert island and told to recreate their sound with sticks of bamboo and an ancient baroque organ.
The strangest and most enthralling track on the album has to be ‘Watchful Eye’ which despite being based around a basic quiet/loud sparring tactic keeps the listener second-guessing as no section sounds the same with the whimsical harmonica, buzzing keyboards and fragrant melodies suggesting that Nielson has wandered so far off the beaten path of convention that the only option left is to follow him deeper into the sonic jungle.
The energetic ‘Why Why’ features an array of guest magicians including Kody’s father Chris on trumpet and percussionist Miguel Fuentes who spice the track up with their juicy additions, best expressed in the gloriously noisy chorus. “Why why, what did I do?” asks the vocalist, and the only satisfactory answer would be ‘I don’t know, but it’s entertaining!’
The all too brief ‘Cola Elixir’ has a chorus that sounds like a jaunty little theme for a soft drink advert, with more imagination obviously, before merging into something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mr Bungle album with its crashing symbols, tribal vocals and abrasive synths which stop abruptly before calm is restored in the sweet 90-second instrumental title track.
Nielson gets out the organ again for ‘Outer Space’, a gently plodding number with enough otherworldly vibes to merit its name before closing track ‘Inhaler Song’ again tries to trip the listener up with its effects-laden vocals and delay soaked drums suggesting the ending will be serene as a Hawaiian sunset, despite the unexpected intrusion of a blistering wall of noise along the way, for no apparent reason.
The trip is over all too soon, but as with all good records, the eagerness to hit play again is a strong one. Nielson has crafted an album full of curveballs, taking established genres and twisting them into whatever shapes he wishes. Electric Hawaii is an impressive debut from an inventive songwriter who should have no trouble at all expanding on his sound when the time comes for the Opossum to go exploring once more.