Grace Wood won the Play It Strange songwriting competition in 2015. Since then her track ‘Young, Naive and Reckless’ has had over 250,000 plays on Spotify. Grace is currently studying civil engineering at University of Auckland: she does her best to balance her studies with writing her own music.
Feel Inside – Flight of the Conchords
There’s something quite spectacular that occurs when your favourite art forms combine into one creation. A “sonic boom of creativity”, one might call it. Flight of the Conchords’ combination of comedy, lyrics and instrumental in ‘Feel Inside’ has got to be on my list of favourite New Zealand tracks. I love it when artists take lyrical inspiration from other, perhaps unusual sources. In this case, the song is entirely composed of lyrics contributed by Wellington primary school kids. If you watch the creation video behind ‘Feel Inside’, you’ll see that Flight of the Conchords asked the kids all sorts of humorous questions like: “What rhymes with hospital?” and if you listen carefully to the song lyrics you can hear all their wonderful responses. There’s nothing quite like the mind of a child, filled with untapped creative potential. Additionally, it should be appreciated that profits from this track went straight to the Red Nose Day charity, making it not only fantastic music but also music with a social conscience.
I Feel Nothing – Openside
There are two songs on my list of New Zealand music that are written by people my own age – one band, and one solo artist. The thing I like most about music from younger artists is that it’s often raw, full of teenage angst and all sorts of other emotions. As we get older, we learn to put a cap on these mood swings, but I find some of the best music written is impulsive. Openside’s ‘I Feel Nothing’ is a teenage mood swing and a half. The soft, high vocals at the start of the track overlay a punchy bass riff, before bursting into chorus. The two guitarists went to school with me at Remuera Intermediate, and though I never spoke a word to them then, I still very much admire how their music has progressed. A lot of credit has to be given to their lead singer, Possum Plows. I’ve seen her progress over time from budget, home-recorded YouTube guitar covers to lead vocals with her own band, not to mention becoming University of Auckland’s Songwriter of the Year in 2014. Her lyrics have become cleverer and found a balance with the band which has clearly taken time and effort. I think it will pay off big time for this group.
Don’t Dream It’s Over – Crowded House
When I hear the first two bars of this song playing I’m always in the mood for it. Neil Finn always had a knack for creative, sensory lyrics, which in my opinion brought Crowded House a great portion of their success. Though there were also two Australians in the band, I consider ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ to be one of the greatest New Zealand tracks of all time. The song starts with that laid-back guitar that seems to immediately transport you somewhere else far away. To me, this song plays on the radio while I’m sitting in the car in the backseat as a kid, probably on the four-hour drive down to Taupo from Auckland, with the wind slipping through the crack at the top of the window. The lyrics appeal to me in that they are intriguing (“There is freedom within, there is freedom without”), thoughtful (“In the paper today, tales of war and of waste, but you turn right over to the TV page”) and clever rhythmically (“Now I’m towing my car, there’s a hole in the roof, my possessions are causing me suspicion but there’s no proof”).
MAALA – Touch
If you love electronic music and you haven’t yet heard of MAALA, look no further. I hear he performed at Music in Parks in Auckland over the summer of 2017 and absolutely nailed it, proving that he is much more than a man behind a computer. As a fond user of Ableton Live, I love to see electronic music making its way into the mainstream. The placement of vocals from the first line (“she – dropped – her – sight”) is simple but effective. MAALA tends to execute all of the simple details to perfection, making the track sound polished and less intense than most electronic music. The laidback drawling vocals combined with the chords in this piece make me think of the city, nightclubs and crowds of people on the dancefloor at 1am. The lyrics are incredibly observational and sensory; after all, it is titled ‘Touch’. This song reminds me of suddenly being very aware of your surroundings, with every sense amplified.
Shadowfeet – Brooke Fraser
Brooke Fraser was one of those artists I listened to a lot on the radio when I was younger, without actually recognising her songs as belonging to her for a long time. I remember listening to this at my friend’s bach on her floor next to the iPod dock, years later, and piecing two and two together. Before all these fancy band arrangements and electronic software came along, we had Brooke Fraser, with the piano, a drum kit and her voice. And somehow, all on its own, the song is really beautiful. There are two things that work wonders in this song: the vocal melody, and the spiritual message. It must be appreciated that Brooke has a truly beautiful voice. As a singer who was very much in touch with her faith, you can really hear that spirituality come through in her vocals.
Anasethetic – Thomston
Songwriting in New Zealand high schools is something that has really been encouraged in the last few years thanks to the Play It Strange competition, which gives students the chance each year to submit their own compositions and record them in studio. I remember hearing this artist, Thomas Stoneman from Avondale College, on the first Play It Strange album I listened to. As I was two years younger than him I couldn’t help but be jealous of how unique and professional his track sounded. What initially struck me most about his music was his clever use of chords. In so many pop hits, the same four-chord progression is used, so much so that we almost feel we’ve heard it before. Thomston’s music has none of that. His debut ‘Anaesthetic’ was released a year later, and I was even more impressed. The eerie whistle in the background of the track really makes it for me. Those little echoes in the background create atmosphere and movement that makes it very easy to get lost in this song.
Wandering Eye – Fat Freddy’s Drop
If you’re not hooked by the song title or the band’s name, then something must be off. The old-school soul sounds of Fat Freddy’s Drop have been heard by teens all over the country. Without needing to know the lyrics, the song seems to make you swing your hips and hum out the catchy melody. However for me this stops as soon as the chorus comes and I can belt out “I have the wandering eye”. To me this song is a local version of Bob Marley’s soulful sounds. Everyone loves the relaxation that Marley brings and it feels special when a New Zealand artist puts their own spin on it. I like this song not only because of the music but also the humorous music video. I remember watching it with my dad when I was younger and him cheekily explaining what they meant by a “wandering eye”.
One Day – Opshop
A true New Zealand classic in my eyes. The first line “absence makes her heart grow fonder” is probably the most recognisable lyric I’ve mentioned on this list. The alternative sound of Jason Kerrison’s voice and vocal range is captivating and gentle on the ears. I like this song because although it’s a sadder, slower song, it always seems to play at happy times; from Christmas in the Park, to the tracks behind adverts on the TV. It dates back to when I was just nine and life was a breeze and any reminder of this with positive energy seems to instantly gain my full attention. Growing up I was a Coldplay fanatic, and the band’s similar acoustic with violins and pianos, plus a touch of the close-to-home feel, generates that little extra spark within the music. The lyrics of the song speak from the heart and tell a captivating story that we can all relate to, even if it’s not the way Opshop intended us to. It speaks of growing and finding meaning, and having someone to share that with. Personally at the time I found it painted a story that I could imagine and desire to experience one day.
In the Winter – Loui the Zu
At times when I have felt at my loneliest I have enjoyed finding songs that speak my feelings. ‘In The Winter’ by Loui the Zu is one of the most comforting songs. With Lydia Cole’s angelic voice repeating throughout the song, we hear her singing “feels like I ain’t got nobody, feels like I ain’t got nobody else”, speaking from a very true perspective of what it’s like to lose someone or to be alone. This is then contrasted by Loui the Zu’s rapping which, unlike most rapping, doesn’t have that deterring violent edge or repetition of swearing and drug abuse. In this day I find that is what puts me off rap music, therefore something more soulful and soft has a pure sound to it. I like the way New Zealand music seems to address reality and speak of things that are ignored from most societies. Loneliness is something everyone has experienced yet it is so indescribable; here it is broken down through the song into words of feeling and emotion.
Black Sheep – Gin Wigmore
Gin Wigmore really resonates with me as someone who stands out in New Zealand music history. Whether you think it’s her unique voice, lyrics or personality, New Zealand loves Gin Wigmore. I remember the first time I heard her as a feature in Smashproof’s ‘Brother’. It seemed as the whole of New Zealand – me included – went “who’s that?” and from then on we were all on the Gin Wigmore wagon, just like that. ‘Black Sheep’ is a moody, unapologetic mix of sass and style. I love Gin’s moody lyrics (“Once you go black, you never go back”), and rounded band sounds that give her grunty vocals a sweet kick. ‘Black Sheep’ was in fact a last-minute addition to her album, but you wouldn’t think that when listening to it. It’s packed full of energy and punch, which gives Wigmore her own personal brand. She has claimed that performing ‘Black Sheep’ requires so much energy she’s had to “get physically fit”. A fantastic New Zealand song to round of the list – after all, it even has “sheep” in the name.