Various Artists: Temporary (Selections from Dunedin's Pop Underground, 2011-2014) Review

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Various Artists: <i>Temporary (Selections from Dunedin's Pop Underground, 2011-2014)</i> Review

Figuring out what pop music is won’t be any easier after taking a listen to the Fishrider Records-produced album of Dunedin, New Zealand, ensembles from the last several years.

The south island town is probably most historically relevant in terms of music for contributions made through both Flying Nun Records and the Xpressway imprint during the 1980s. Sunnier moments from those labels, which were set alongside some pretty heady improvisations, probably exceed what’s included on Temporary. Work presented here, though, offers outsiders entrée to a diffuse and sonically unique clutch of bands that most folks on this side of the world likely wouldn’t be privy to otherwise.

Both the Shifting Sands and Kane Strang come off as deeply impassioned about their city’s perfect pop progenitors, The Clean, which is to say, each kinda like Syd Barrett and try to update what the old man was doing back in the 1960s. A U.S. corollary could be the upstate New York troupe Woods and its shimmering summer pop hits. But by no means is either act representative of this compendium as a whole or a concerted and updated Dunedin sound.

What’s remarkable—but probably shouldn’t be at this late date—is that about half the acts represented on Temporary are fronted by female vocalists. And while sonically, that has relatively little to do with the bands’ sound, it allows for a sometimes disregarded perspective to be put properly on display.

The snarkily named Opposite Sex turns in “Supermarket.” And even if the title accidentally summons some relation to The Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket,” more relevant discourse is offered on this newer composition. There’s a bit about L’Oréal covering up the way women actually look, before moving on to the desire to be fragile and petite—but only to land “some dickhead who plays rugby.” It’s a rare enough thing to hear genuine expression in any contemporary music. But to find it relayed with such biting sarcasm, laid out over top of some weird, slinky pop music shouldn’t take digging a hole through the earth and popping out in Dunedin.

It’s impossible to detach the island’s music capital and its bands from such a distinct lineage. But each ensemble represented on Temporary makes a case for giving it a shot—even the electronically perverse Death and the Maiden.