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V/A - Need For a Crossing: A New New Zealand Vol. I

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Artist: V/A

Album: Need For a Crossing: A New New Zealand Vol. I

Label: Xeric

Review date: May. 22, 2007

To those paying attention, New Zealand is not new, and nor is its underground. In fact, the secret underground of New Zealand has long been outed with the help of the Internet, and now much of its history is being re-issued for reconsideration. (See the recent Dead C retrospective on Ba Da Bing! and the Roy Montgomery singles compilation for historical antecedents to this comp.)

So, Need for a Crossing offers no revelations... but it is a vibrant and lyrical reminder that the island nation still has much to say to us.

Birchville Cat Motel opens the disc with a kind of red herring, the stonecrusher riffage and granite drums of “Skies Crimson Tears” being the most extreme sonics on display. Instead, most of the disc is dedicated to the ramshackle song structures of Pumice, Blowfly Saint and GFrenzy, the lilting celestial drone drift of Antony Milton and Peter Wright, and Greg Malcom’s guitar re-inventions. The 10 tracks are elegantly sequenced, with Birchville Cat Motel and Peter Wright bookending the disc and Pumice and GFrenzy forming its center, resulting in a dissonant symmetry that suggests rather clearly defines a whole.

In the amplifier hum and crushed piano tones of Pumice’s tracks, one could find, if so inclined, the Dead C’s audio verité heritage, just as Greg Malcom’s two pieces for multiple guitars echo Roy Montgomery’s poetic tone travelogues. But to nail down influence or clear lineage is too easy, especially when so much of what has come out of New Zealand seems to flow from a general spirit of experimentation, rather than from any evolutionary innovator-inheritor model.

How else to explain the deep strain of lyricism, rather than free-ranging noise, found here? Malcom recasts “Naima,” perhaps John Coltrane’s most heart-rending melody, for acoustic guitar, feedback wash and tambourine. Blowfly Saint, a duo by Leighton Craig and Stefan Neville, try their hand at brittle lo-fi blues and end up with a simple, electrified folk melody. Later, Craig uses a Casiotone to evoke a sacred air with his humble “Hymn for Agnes Martin.”

Rather than surprising us or defining the scene, Need for a Crossing accomplishes something much more subtle: it gives us not only a sense of place, but a sense of atmosphere, bringing a faraway world closer. The booklet features black-and-white photographs taken between 1955 and 1985 and salvaged from the archives of the New Zealand Ministry of Transport. Depicting roads winding through small towns and countryside, the photos were scheduled to be destroyed, and they represent landscapes that are probably already extinct, images that are no more than memory. With these images and this music, Need for a Crossing does what any good art should - give us a new place to explore, a place that exists at a crossroads of the world as it is and the world as we imagine it.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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