, March 15th, 2012 13:35
In the shiny pop utopia of my more fervid imaginings, there's a sweet spot triangulated from Man Machine and Computer World-era Kraftwerk, Scritti Politti (from any damn era) and Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto's 'Forbidden Colours' (and you could square it with NZCA labelmate Susumu Yokota). Because pop should be/is a place of magic where dreams come true, there is NZCA/LINES – a debut so exquisitely tooled I cannot find a thing wrong with it. If the word weren't so open to misinterpretation, I'd call it perfect.
Romance, wit, human frailty – little miracles of the (not-so) mundane, measured out by the metronomic precision of machines. A swoon amidst bleeps.
Like Active Child's Pat Grossi, Michael Lovett is a solipsistic angel (understandably) entranced by his own voice. Lovett coos creamily, delights in sudden, delicate vocal swoops, and the pleasure in play is palpable: in 'Okinawa Channels' the ecstatic, multi-tracked 'Yes!' at 2.30 and 2.46 is so heart-stoppingly sweet you can't but smile, and then skip back through the track just to give yourself that little hit again, and again; then there's the all-too-brief 'AM Travel Interlude' which is interstellar doo-wop, as imagined by Benjamin Britten.
Unlike Active Child – windswept, gothic, splashed with neon, directed by Michael Mann - Lovett makes NZCA a little wonky, sexy, funny, intimate and precise, choosing specific everyday images ('the coins in my pocket…/the rain on the bonnet') and making them glow. If NZCA/LINES were a film, it might be directed by Michael Winterbottom.
NZCA/LINES is probably going to be compared in certain quarters to Hot Chip – well, imagine Hot Chip if all the songs were as good as the good songs, and there wasn't the overwhelming sense they were working really, really hard at it; NZCA/LINES is probably also going to be compared to Junior Boys – where (despite early promise) there's little hint of anything substantially effortful, where all messily fleshy humanity has been abstracted into ether. There's an instinctual deftness here, a melodic facility that makes everything truly felt but never laboured.
The gestures towards an international itinerary – Japan, Peru, the dream-geography of sorta theme-song 'Nazca' itself – belie the essential Britishness of this music. That's not British like Britpop, it's British like Robert Wyatt's Dondestan, like Prefab Sprout skipping through different Americas on From Langley Park To Memphis. Irresistible opener 'Compass Points' has some of that record's wide-eyed, unabashed romance (and none of its occasionally cloying clever-cleverness). The first few seconds encompass everything that's wonderful about NZCA/LINES – a perfectly clipped beat set in a lustrous emptiness, contrasted with a sort of synthetic twang that's deliciously (but only by the merest whisker) a little bit off, and Lovett – breathing: insistent, warm, human, immediate. Perfect, dammit. Perfect.