November 10, 2014 The Karori Cemetery Jogging Mix
“Best band you never heard of.” That’s the assignment Noah Berlatsky gave his pop culture writers at Hooded Utilitarian recently. I responded with best country you never heard of instead.
If you ever played a game of Risk, then you know why you can’t find New Zealand on a map. I would have placed it in Indonesia—before my wife won a Fulbright and our family lived in the capital Wellington for five months. Friends and colleagues kept thinking we were going to Australia. One of our college administrators actually wrote “Australia” in her letters. It was as if were traveling to Counter Earth—that near duplicate planet High Evolutionary invented and set in orbit on the other side of the sun. Superman’s radio writers placed Krypton there too. New Zealand occupies the same position relative to the globe and the American imagination. We don’t really know it’s out there.
When we settled into the Wellington suburbs in January 2011, one of my first stops was the Karori public library to get books for the kids and CDs for me. I took a daily, forty-minute jog through the hills of the historic cemetery, listening to whatever new disc I’d downloaded to my iShuffle that week.
It’s an island nation and so home to some evolutionary oddballs: flightless kiwi birds and giant weta insects. Its music scene grows mutations too. “Flight of the Conchords” had already flapped stateside, but I discovered Fat Freddy’s Drop before flying over too: techno, blues, reggae, jazz, rock—they give new and glorious meaning to the term “fusion.” I’d of course heard of Split Enz and Crowded House too, and Neil Finn maintains a deservedly god-like presence. “Weather with You” is simply the best pop song ever—though I didn’t realize that till I heard it covered by the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra.
An early 80s compilation album nearly destroyed my mind with a roster of never-heard-by-me New Wave hits that were not imitations of the bands I grew up with but Counter Earth variants orbiting parallel to them. But it was the recent releases section of the library shelves that most wooed me. Every week I’d select one track from the CD I’d been spinning during jogs and family meals. When we left in May, I had a playlist of my idiosyncratic exploration of kiwi musicology.
The first track is the national rugby team performing a Maori war chant, and the last is another traditional Maori song spilled into electronica. The Naked and Famous followed us home. I didn’t hear Kimbra and Lorde while jogging, but they roosted in U.S. airwaves since our return too. All of these artists deserve the same exposure. Some even got me enjoying reggae, a peculiarly ubiquitous style for a nation floating in a different ocean than Jamaica. Folk and blues and pop and jazz and progressive rock washed up on my New Zealand beaches too. Only 4 ½ million people populate the country, but it’s a planet of music.
Here’s your introductory playlist. I recommend jogging up and down grave-scattered hills while listening.
- All Blacks, “Ka Mate Haka” (2007)
- The Naked and Famous, “Young Blood” (2010)
- Sallmonella Dub, “Dancehall Girl” (2004)
- Brooke Fraser, “Something in the Water” (2010)
- Phil Judd, “Hanging By A Thread” (2008)
- The Woolshed Sessions, “Dead Happy” (2008)
- Gin Wigmore, “Hey Ho” (2009)
- The Checks, “What You Heard” (2007)
- The Phoenix Foundation, “Buffalo” (2010)
- Goldenhorse, “American Wife” (2004)
- Hollie Smith, “Let Me Go” (2010)
- Don McGlashen, “Not Ready” (2008)
- Tahuna Breaks, “Casually Acquainted” (2007)
- The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, “Weather With You” (2007)
- Little Bushman, “Nature of Man” (2007)
- Norman Meehan & Bill Manhire, “The Oreti River” (2010)
- James Duncan, “My New Flumes” (2009)
- Hinemoa Baker, “Talk You Up” (2004)
- The Close Readers, “Lake Alice” (2011)
- WAI, “Tirama” (2010)
Tags: “Ka Mate Haka”, Brooke Fraser, Gin Wigmore, Goldenhorse, Hollie Smith, James Duncan, New Zealand, Sallmonella Dub, The Checks, The Close Readers, The Naked and Famous, The Phoenix Foundation, The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, The Woolshed Sessions