10 Track, LP (2012, Create/Control)
Related: The Mint Chicks, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Opossom.
This album would feel a bit different if Kody Nielson had been the first of the late Mint Chicks to debut a new band and album. But his brother Ruban beat him to it with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Opossom and UMO are something of twin projects, and not just because of the sibling ties, shared prior band or fact that both are the fruit of humble home recordings. The similarities run deeper than that, from the crackling drum breaks to the druggy pop bent overall.
So Opossom doesn’t have the shock of the new UMO did, and no matter how analogously distorted and skewed it can be, the project doesn’t bear out UMO’s devotion to a hip-hop bedrock. That’s not to dismiss Electric Hawaii; it’s just fated to be more a companion piece to its predecessor than taken on its own merits.
Those merits are considerable, even if it takes a few listens to fully appreciate them. The first three songs announce Nielson’s firm grasp – as both producer and project mastermind – on damp, layered psych. The repeated “What a drag” aside on bouncy opener ‘Girl’ evokes vintage ’60s garage, while ‘Fly’ ups the funk influence and ‘Blue Meanies’ typifies Electric Hawaii by seeming at once spacious and handcrafted.
After the album’s wobbling sound has been established, later songs are free to detour a little more. Trumpet from Nielson’s father Chris warms up the punchy ‘Why Why’, ‘Cola Elixir’ offsets a light opening with growing surf-damaged gloom, the title track materialises as a synth-y instrumental, the drifting ‘Inhaler Song’ hinges on downcast piano melodies and ‘Watchful Eye’ is gooey bliss. ‘Outer Space’ pairs sweet wavering melodies with distorted drums as well as any track here, but lead single ‘Getaway Tonight’ stands out with its juggling of catchy vocoder verve, a nice float-y chorus and hyperactive drums like the scrambling of cartoon feet.
Cartoons are a handy reference point for such exaggerated psych and pop quirks, just as they were for the brattier Mint Chicks. It’s good to see both Nielson brothers starting anew in the wake of that underrated band, which Kody is doing after having handled production for Bic Runga and Auckland’s the DHDFDs. Runga actually sings a bit here and is part of Opossom’s live incarnation along with Mint Chicks bassist Michael Logie. A proper touring band should add another dimension to Kody’s kaleidoscopic leanings, and maybe even help Opossom stand apart.
by Doug Wallen