Artisan Guns: Coral (Warners)

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Artisan Guns: It Aches
Artisan Guns: Coral (Warners)

Unlike so many young bands who leap quickly onto record, this Auckland band (once described as "young" but now "mature" might better) have progressed slowly and steadily towards this debut album after two fine EPs.

Elsewhere caught up with them way back (see here) after being impressed by a live performance in a record company boardroom, and has followed them with interest. Their low-key album launch for this a month or so ago at the Wine Cellar confirmed that here was a band which could deliver its sensitive and diverse material in an intimate setting as much as on a big stage.

They've certainly done the legwork in the past few years and this album -- with a strangely wistful and almost nostalgic quality in many places, due only in part to Matthew Hope's cracked and weary vocal style -- is a step well away from what most bands go for on a debut.

While many bands are, understandably, out to make an impression through visceral impact on their first outing, Artisan Guns go the other way . . . and by talking quieter make you lean in to listen more closely.

The languid Swim here -- gentle guitar chimes over an interesting drum part -- sounds seductively liquid as you it pulls you down into dark warm waters. And the opener Rain in Summer -- a quietly shimmering sliver of melancholy pop about love and loss -- plays with understatement for effect (and again, spotlights Jonathan Pierce's supple guitar).

A similar mood permeates the delightful Heights (with Hope slipping in some gentle falsetto) and a standout which might just go overlooked is the quasi-Pacific/George Harrison-like dreamy ballad It Aches.

But lest you think this is all muted colour and introversion, they pull out the widescreen chords for Baby Blue with its pop-stomp, and the five minute Pulled You In which comes off like a better dressed and distant cousin of Flying Nun pop-rock in the early Nineties where melancholy melody and rhythmic menace are in sharp balance.

Kinda Painful is a claustrophobic piece which shows just how smart they, evoking physical hurt (hospitalisation) and emotional distance: "I don't know how to talk to kids my own age, I know we haven't spoken for a while but believe me I'm the same".

Artisan Guns have made an album which is courageous in that it doesn't aim for the pop option but goes darker and deeper and into the personal.

It might cost them in chart action, but this one is going to last a long time. And in the strength of its songwriting as much as the delivery, this is an impressive and different a debut album as you can imagine from a New Zealand rock band.

Mature might be the word.

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