The Prophet Hens ★★★★
The Wonderful Shape of Back Door Keys (Fishrider Records) American music blog The Finest Kiss proclaimed this Dunedin quartet the perfect marriage of The Chills and Belle & Sebastian and perhaps ‘‘better than both’’.
It’s a big call, but not without foundation. Certainly, singerguitarist Karl Bray often channels Martin Phillipps’ wide-eyed and wounded delivery, and there’s a mix of defiant exuberance and minor key melancholia here that poured forth by the gallon from Glasgow during the 1980s.
But with their fairground Casiotone, busy basslines, chiming guitar arpeggios, brisk drums and boy-girl harmonies, the closest touchstone for me is splendid Melbourne happy-sad janglers, Twerps.
Like that band, these clairvoyant chooks stitch downcast lyrics to sunny melodies, evoking a slightly mopey glee that’s a rare and specific emotion to condense so effectively into sound. This second album sports more ambitious arrangements than 2013 debut Popular People Do Popular People, and organist Penelope Esplin takes more lead vocals, sounding like a less posh Harriet Wheeler from UK band, The Sundays.
She’s at her best on the wry, swooping Drunk In A Park by bassist Robin Cederman, which sounds like a tale of romantic misadventure in the Dunedin Botanics. And Oh Wait It’s Me Isn’t It is a song The Feelies wish they wrote, the guitars springy and finely-chopped, the melody bright as a new coin, the energy lifting off like a nervous rocket. – Grant Smithies