Band competitions are often pretty cringe worthy. Shitty high school bands with shitty high-school band names are normally the type of act that inhabit these types of contest But not Roundup – oh no. Well, at least the finals weren’t. They showcased some of the best bands in Christchurch on Saturday night. The Dux de Lux was full to the brim, and so was the level of quality music being performed.
The New Originals played a solid set of dense (but messy) jangly/sloppy indie rock. There was an obvious improvement from previous recent shows As is usual with the local four-piece, the drums need to be pushed back in the mix (a lot) and the bass needs to stay in time. But I’m always a sucker for this messy sound – the keyboards add a particularly nice touch. If better paced and more subtle, their sound would work a lot better. Plus, Tim Moore’s theramin was not only well placed but of course had huge indie-geek appeal. It sounded terrific – the Neutral Milk Hotel influence was clear.
The much tighter sound of Happy Palace then highlighted any inadequacies in The New Originals sound. Their layered shoegaze style recalls both the density Bailterspace and the upbeat guitar riffs of Bike or The Stereobus. Like these bands, their penchant for melody is at the forefront of their music. But after half their set, the repetition that was at first rewarding became a little overused – the keyboard especially in some parts. Their aesthetic doesn’t give way for much variation. It’s all about sounding meticulous. Waves of meticulously played chords and upfront, feel good vocals. The latter usually work in a good way If they embraced the use of noise and distortion the way My Bloody Valentine, Ride or Serena-Maneesh do, then a far more intricate, subtle and generally more rewarding sound would be easily achieved.
Third band House of Dolls certainly had the “X-Factor”. Compared to the previous two acts, their sound was exciting and exhibited elements of fashonista that were more refreshing than the standard indie-rock fare of other bands of the night. But that’s probably a little beside the point. Their sound, though, was as sharp was their dress. They were the most professional sounding band of the night. Their previous experience in overseas music was clear – in terms of instrumentation and depth of sound, they were the most professional band of the night. Consisting of only a guitarist, synthesizer and drummer, they are sparse and angular – the loud/soft and danceable/stagnating dynamics sound mature and assured. Reminiscent of Joy Division, their 80’s nostalgia was matched by a forward-thinking enthusiasm that was encouraging of some explosive dancing.
The Undercurrents pleased with their now-renowned brand of confident and solid indie-rock. Slightly branching out from the traditional four-strong guitar band lineup with a violinist adds another successful dimension to an already good sound. Their strongest facet is probably how well-paced they are. They take their time, embracing the more unassuming elements of indie-rock and reclining within them, exploring intricate melodies and structural features to strong effect. Louder and most overt moments work just as well as those of a more subdued nature. They work between these contrasting elements to exhibit depth, range and musicianship. It’s like the slackness of Pavement and the emotion of Sebadoh combined and built upon. They love lo-fi. Oh yeah, and they won the competition. (Yeah, they won. All the other bands came last!). And deservedly, too. They’re polished without pretension, and can show how to craft solid indie-rock with self-assurance and skill. I was kinda gunning for House of Dolls, though.
Last band of the night was Christchurch rock mainstays Orkid. Combining post-punk guitars with more quirky and eccentric vocals and song structures, they sport a diverse style. And sure, they’re pretty good. But their sound can be a little one dimensional, and ultimately pretty boring. They’re the sort of band who, like someone such as Tool, keep the melodies close together, in the sense that they sound quite monotonous and gray. The Dismemberment Plan provide an excellent comparison, except they tend to branch out from the same notes a little more. Their sound sports the type of eccentricities that are interesting for a while but ultimately too devoid of passion to be engaging enough. Stunted and spastic guitar stabs and bouncy bass lines are confident but their irony-steeped aesthetic oppresses any real emotion or fervor. Which is probably the point, really. It comes down to personal taste more than anything.
Such a fine selection of bands isn’t often seen in one evening in Christchurch. It’s very encouraging – hopefully all the bands that competed will escalate their live outings. It must have been a tough decision for the judges. Each of the five is worthy of attention at independent gigs and on recordings – make sure you show them some.
5 months ago