Highlights: Travelling Shoes, Lick Your Wounds, The Bisexual, Legends
Not enough people realize it, but New Zealand has had a really powerful intelligent pop scene spanning over several decades now. From The Clean to Garageland to (more recently and to a lesser extent) Flight Of The Conchords, it’s been brilliant, weird, inventive, erratic. And James Milne (here under his inexplicable T.E. Lawrence moniker) is without a doubt among the most interesting New Zealand songwriters working today. Not yet in the Martin Phillipps league, but getting there.
The Sparrow, this group’s third full-length, is an indie pop album played in a very classy, self-consciously non-indie style. No modern technologies, no fuzz, no nothing – just a very tasteful, very stylish collection of beautifully executed, elegant baroque pop compositions. With classical violins, pianos, thumping bass and James’s lovely, slightly Lennon-esque vocals (occasionally adhering to falsetto).
The opening “Travelling Shoes” with its irresistible vocal melody is a clear highlight, but you can’t go wrong with aural delights like “Lick Your Wounds” (imagine Erik Satie playing in a modern rock band) and the mystical, intriguing “The Bisexual”. “Bicycle Riding” is sheer understated magic, too. There are a couple of weedy moments in the middle, but the Paris-in-the-20’s instrumental “Dessau Rag” (which is more nice than great) is the only one I find somewhat expendable.
Because the overall impression is quite amazing. You could make a point that The Sparrow is pop music for snobs – there really is something high-class about this sound and these tunes. Very highly recommended.