Jangle Pop is alive and well with Wellington, New Zealand's Pleasant Surprise on their album The Canopy Layer. There is a saying that, in Japan, the wild-and-wooly garage outfit Blue Cheer (responsible for the '60s garage anthem "Summertime Blues") were bigger than The Beatles. They use this as an explanation for the truly-far-out psych freakouts of bands like High Rise, Keiji Haino's Fusitsusha, and that tireless cosmic juggernaut Acid Mothers Temple.
Wellington, New Zealand's Pleasant Surprise reimagines a time, in the late '70s and early '80s, where the proggy art pop of The Kinks, the baroque beauty of The Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee" and the psychedelic insanity of The Teardrop Explodes laid the template for modern rock, rather than Abbey Road or Led Zeppelin's I.
New Zealand has long been an outlier for this particular brand of guitar rock. Legendary labels like Flying Nun and Xpressway focused on a particular clean, chiming, ringing guitar tone, as if Buddy Holly had survived and been given access to a full-blown basement 8-track studio. It's psychedelic, in its way, but also airy and experimental, focusing on the real, rather than the plastic confines of the post-production studio.
This sound would be carried into the future, and taken to its ultimate damaged conclusion, with the early works of Sonic Youth, who name-checked the sound in the classic track "Xpressway To Your Skull". Sonic Youth, as well as the original proponents of "The Dunedin Sound", are useful touchstones for the sound of Wellington's Pleasant Surprise.
Pleasant Surprise a clean, dry, organic brand of artful Indie guitar rock, which is then fleshed out with prodigious echoes and reverb, similar to the canned post-punk existentialist of modern day revisionists Sacred Bones Records. If someone from Sacred Bones happens to be reading this, you should really snatch up Pleasant Surprise, who are doing much to carry this damaged Indie Pop into the future, instead of relying on rosy-hued nostalgia.
Pleasant Surprise embody all that is great about artful Indie Pop. Melodic to the extreme, their guitar hooks and vocal barbs stick in your ear like saltwater taffy, but you'll not be rushing to the ER to remove this infection anytime soon! Things never get too dull or polished, however, with layers and layers of distorted grit in the distance, like a bank of stormclouds marring an otherwise idyllic beach day
Pleasant Surprise are exquisite songsmiths, in addition to having a great aesthetic sensibility. Listen to the gentle, climbing chords of "Gardens", perfectly simple, but giving a sense of urgency, of something happening. It's just three chords, sure, but strung together like heirloom Christmas lights on sterling silver wire. It's a slow, ebbing build, crackling with electricity and anticipation, which never fully breaks, as "Gardens" remains entirely instrumental. In this way, "Gardens" is a throwback to the other side of New Zealand noise rock, namely The Dead C camp of Bruce Russell and Michael Morley.
Here's to hoping Pleasant Surprise will encourage more listeners to delve into the fascinating history of Antipodean Rock. Or else, just get lost in these 10-tracks over and over, which will undoubtedly happen anyway. It's so great that digital music gives us access to formerly inaccessible sounds. Viva Pleasant Surprise!
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