The Mint Chicks’ Kody Nielson flies solo with great psych-pop results.
Martin Aston 2012-07-30
News recently emerged of a drinking game called Possum, invented in Dunedin on New Zealand’s south island. The rules are simple: you sit in a tree (Possum-style) and drink until you fall out of it.
Dunedin is also the spiritual home of New Zealand psych-pop. These two facts are only united by Kody Nielson. As Opossom he’s the spiritual carrier of NZ’s expert psych-pop gene, and Electric Hawaii is one of the most striking albums to emerge from the Land of the Long White Cloud in eons.
Just as New Zealand, per capita, wins more Olympic gold medals than any other nation, so the country more than pulls its weight when it comes to extraordinarily great psych-pop, almost all released by Flying Nun. One of the label’s most recent winners was Kody’s former band The Mint Chicks, also featuring his brother Ruban, who now fronts Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Bar the odd vocal assist from Bic Runga and Kody's dad Chris on trumpet, Electric Hawaii is entirely Kody, whose 60s beat and 70s new wave leanings emerge. Like preceding NZ escapades, from The Chills to The Ruby Suns, Brian Wilson is a notable influence.
Electric Hawaii starts off simply, with the gleaming sunshine pop of Girl, Fly and Blue Meanies – the adjective “groovy” is rarely used nowadays but applies perfectly here. It soon shows off more complex manoeuvres, from Getaway Tonight via Why Why and Cola Elixir’s unfettered glee before closing on Inhaler Song’s bliss overload, as Nielsen pushes the studio controls into the red.
At which point, you might reasonably imagine a one-man Flaming Lips has captured your imagination. Yet if one comparison sticks during the album’s more maximalist second half, it’s Animal Collective as smitten by surf rock as they are The Beach Boys’ Smile. Kody slathers primitive echo and reverb all around, riffs are rubbery and his voice yelps, hollers and croons.
Considering the suggestions of sun, surf and an enhanced mindset, Electric Hawaii is a very apt title indeed. And you don’t have to fall out of a tree to get the most out of it.