SHORT CUTS: A round-up of recent New Zealand releases

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Death and the Maiden: Skulls
SHORT CUTS: A round-up of recent New Zealand releases

Facing down an avalanche of releases, requests for coverage, the occasional demand that we be interested in their new album (sometimes with that absurd comment "but don't write about it if you don't like it") and so on, Elsewhere will every now and again do a quick sweep like this, in the same way it does IN BRIEF about international releases.

Comments will be brief.

Paper Cranes; The Road Home (DRM/Aeroplane): Let's just cut to the point, this is an excellent debut by the small ensemble around singer-songwriters Fraser and Naomi Browne. The Paper Cranes draw from a wide river of folk and pop -- from the Everly Brothers to the upbeat end of alt.country -- but bring a sense of joy, commitment and narrative that is so often lacking in others working the same vein. Yes, there are melancholy moments here (Every Part of Me) but they share the same sense of crafting and thoughtfulness as elsewhere. Tillsammas, Futaride is as gorgeous a ballad as you likely to hear this year, and just the title alone of the stately Come, Sweet Sleep tells you there is a poetic sensiblity at work. They are touring to support the album in April and dates are at their website here. See you somewhere they are.

Death and the Maiden; Death and the Maiden (Fishrider): Conceived by singer Lucinda King while in Berlin and with a band name drawn from Edvard Munch's famous painting, the signals for this melodic synth-noir are emblazoned big. But this never feels like the downer it could have been. King brings a light touch, synth player Danny Brady knows a hypnotic sound and nagging arpeggio, the guitars and drums of Hope Robinson thicken, tickle and ground the sound . . . and the result is less pretentiously titled art-project than an arty synth statement with emotional depth, romantic ennui and a pop sensibility. Recommended.

The Jury and The Saints; The Jury and The Saints (SPV/Aeroplane): It's important to acknowledge your limitations, interests and prejudices, so when confronted by some teenage pop idol like a Bieber or a death metal band I simply say, "They don't make music for me". If others like it that's fine. Any comment I might make about Bieber or the metalnoise is irrelevant and probably idiotic (I'd mention however I do like some Bieber songs however). So I will be honest about this punk-pop/powerpop metal band who are signed to a German label. They do what they do extremely well, their hooks are irresistible, the chant-along chorus and such are designed to get the whole joint shaking and they deserve all the success their late-teen/early 20s audience will accord them. They sound fun, I enjoyed bits of this in the car (but after three songs of similarly relentless energy I changed discs or listened to the radio) and I'd be happy if my teens liked this. I suspect they could be very successful at home and abroad, I hope they are . . . but they don't make music for me.

Xanadu; Xanadu 1999-2002 (Xanadu): If memory serves me well, for many years at the start of the 2000s I would see posters -- usually cheaply done and plastered in all the wrong/right places like power poles -- for various bands, among them Xanadu. I remember thinking at the time that only young people would give their band that name, and that I liked young people for such things. (My own kids had band names like Anacrusis, Braintree, Uncle Pete's Garden Shed, Stayfree Carefree and - best of all -- Slow News Day which has probably now been taken). But I digress. Here is a limited edition vinyl run (just 100) of Xanadu from back then who deliver an impressive artifact of their no-fi rowdy and edgy originals (yep, there's some slo thing and they do no harm to Dead C's Sky -- which is your sonic reference point). And all of this I take to be live. I bought this black vinyl record from them out of curiosity and I don't regret it. This is unreconsituted youthful energy, unfiltered by commerce or by the expectation of a career signed to a major (or even minor) label . . . and it's all the more honest, exciting, rough-hewn and rock'n'roll for that. If you're too late for the vinyl you can pay a paltry sum for a download here  and I'm going to suggest you should. (Just do it, it's only $7 for godsake). It's a reminder that rock music is best made by committed, earnest and possibly even troubled young people for whom this is a do-or-die moment in a shitty venue, usually playing to only their friends. I really-really wish I'd bothered to stop and find out where they were playing back when I saw their cheap posters. They sound like my kind of young rock band (cf above!)

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