Nick Bollinger discusses an intimate and international set of power pop from Dunedin’s Kane Strang.
Some people are just blessed with the right name for the job they do.
Kane Strang is power-pop in a name. An onomatopoeic approximation of the big jangling sound this Dunedin musician makes when he gets a guitar in his hands.
His new album has just been released worldwide on the American-based Dead Oceans label, and with the ears of the world turned his way, the album has a sound that seems designed for the world to hear.
It combines the kind of raw chords Nirvana used with some of the aching tunefulness of Elliott Smith, all filtered through a crunchy contemporary production.
It’s a sound that, in a way, could have come from anywhere. So it’s a nice and surprising detail that Strang made the album, with his friend Steven Marr from the Christchurch group Doprah, in the former Chick’s Hotel, a Port Chalmers landmark that was for many years the definitive Dunedin music venue. Though nominally the work of a band, the whole thing is very much Strang’s personal statement.
My Smile Is Extinct’ is the album’s emotional statement of intent. Capturing both the melodrama and the humdrum details of a relationship bust-up – the kind where what you thought was the love of your life turns out to be a non-starter – the song walks a delicate line between tragedy and pathos, with a melody that keeps rising hopefully, then sinking again, just like the singer’s heart.
Sometimes it’s a less specific anguish that is at the heart of a Strang song. “I’m not doing very well” is a line that crops up more than once, and seems to speak to a general state of mind.
You could almost characterise the mood of the whole album as being one of low-to-moderate-level depression, which might seem at odds with music as bright and tuneful as this. Then again, you only have to look at Kurt Cobain - or for that matter, Beethoven, a likely manic-depressive and alcoholic – to see that emotional turmoil can find its release in surprisingly uplifting ways.
In fact, Beethoven springs to mind along with mantra-era Beatles when I hear the glorious churning repetitions of the song he calls ‘Summertime In Your Lounge’.
The track has a great false ending too; just one of the countless musical surprises that keep this album interesting, in spite of an overall uniformity. A solid 4/4 is Strang’s beat of choice while his chords tend to be blocky and four-square. As I’ve already noted, the theme of the album might be summed up as: ‘Teen angst is eternal.’
Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a way of turning those very familiar and well-worn tropes into something invigorating and fresh. With this excellent album, Kane Strang has proven there is.
Two Hearts and No Brain is available on Dead Oceans