New Zealand doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to music. The sheep-to-people ratio inspires sly comments and thanks to Neil Finn, Split Enz / Crowded House remain their biggest "musical" export. In truth however, the Kiwis have more of which to be proud.
The Shocking Pinks' contemporary late-end punk was beguiling, the D4's brainless garage-punk was fun and more than of note. Further back in time, The Clean did great things for lo-fi allowing them to stand shoulder-to-shoulder today with better known artists such as Pavement. Even the Nick Cave-meets-Jeff Buckley shtick of The Veils can be argued as Kiwi as front-man Finn Andrews spent so much of his youth there.
So up steps James Milne, better known as Lawrence Arabia. After two quietly successful albums in his native New Zealand, this latest signing to Bella Union lets slip Chant Darling, touring it in support of the currently much-lauded Beach House. No stranger to touring, having taken bass duty for Okkervil River on occasion, Milne's smug, harmony-heavy alt-pop ought to stand him in good stead.
He launches into the opener "Look Like A Fool" with Andrew Bird-like optimism and his shuffling rhythms and jaunty croon soothe Chant Darling into being. But Milne seems sponge-like, "The Crew Of The Commodore" is awash with the Beach Boys' vocal harmonies and Grizzly Bear's bounce. "Auckland CBD" jitters in Vampire Weekend-country and the slow-paced closer "Dream Teacher" whiffs of maudlin 50s rock `n' roll love songs. Elsewhere, Milne frolics with falsettos ("Apple Pie Bed") and fleshes out his arrangements with brass and strings to competent effect.
Chant Darling does flirt with insubstantial whimsy (the OTT antics of "Eye A"), but happily Milne's general summeriness mostly compensates. What is interesting though is that although Chant Darling's originality is at times questionable, these tracks are easily its best moments.