A winning blend of careful precision and mercurial abandon, Kane Strang’s songs are constantly surprising. With a penchant for melodic earworms to rival those of the world’s best pop songwriters, the New Zealand artist’s glittering hooks twist and turn in perfect synch with meticulous band arrangements. Hints of 60s pop (NB: Zombies, Stooges) and 90s alt-rock shine through; but there’s a contemporary crunch, sheen and bald lyrical tone to Strang’s sound that places him firmly in the here and now. Hailed as “the next Stephen Malkmus”, by The Revue, Strang’s on the brink of becoming indie-rock’s intelligent poster boy “The young man is that talented.
The story goes: a young upstart from New Zealand’s iconic city of indie rock, Dunedin – home to the Clean, The Bats, Chris Knox – sows and tends to the early seeds of pop magic in a country with DIY ingrained into its national psyche. Yet in reality, NZ’s musical history means little to Strang; whose inspiration calls more to the intelligent collegiate rock of Pavement, the no-wave inspired guitar drones of Interpol and the masterful pop sensibility of Brian Wilson.
It would have been easy for Strang to cut his chops in the shadow of the city’s guitar heroes – play a few shows; hit up a studio, lay some tracks. Kane Strang chose the hard road, ditching his forebears on the shore of New Zealand’s South Island, discarding an unnamed older producer who told him he sounded like he was “on his way to a funeral”, and relocating in the quick beat of a heart to Germany.
The adventurous shift would foreshadow many more to come. Teenage Strang holed up in an old concrete World War II bunker to lay down the blueprint for the roughly disaffected demo collection A Pebble and a Paper Crane, precursor to his acclaimed debut Blue Cheese. The extreme writing environment drove a fierce pop sensibility, in compelling tandem with that industrious DIY ethic. With a quick and confident command across instrument, and an unusual style of composing for rhythm section before even considering words; Strang made the DIY approach seem effortless, breezing between brain-burning guitar hooks and surprises around every melodic corner. The charming fuzz of lo-fi played off the gravitas and sophistication familiar to artists many years his senior.
Kane Strang’s 2015 debut release Blue Cheese (Flying Nun/Ba Da Bing!) continued to grow in reputation long after its conception. Paying heed to Dunedin’s musical history, it ultimately sought its own more contemporary ends – from the pummeling bass and twinkling synth of restless album opener ‘The Web’, to the ‘80s garage pop of ‘She’s Appealing’, and the anthemic ‘Full Moon, Hungry Sun’, Strang’s sound is melodic, direct and precise, calling on Bowie and Ariel Pink as much as his New Zealand labelmates. “He’s carved out his own sound already despite being a very new artist”, said Brooklyn Vegan.
As Strang’s songs wormed their way into ears and hearts around the globe, Blue Cheese saw the beginning of a promising path for Kane Strang. “It’s a good indicator that Strang will be around for a long time”, read Pop Matters.
“Strang has a gift for pulling diamonds from the rough”, said Pitchfork of the debut LP, which drew comparisons to David Bowie and Ariel Pink). “[His] songs have a way of making modest acts seem heroic.” Strang’s proclivity for writing smart, anthemic guitar pop shortly caught the attention of indie super-label Dead Oceans, who signed him for release of his second album Two Hearts and No Brain in 2017.
What sets Strang apart from the rafts of DIY indie songwriters the world over is a willingness to push further. Having mastered the lo-fi aesthetic, Strang sought a new sound for his follow up; wanting to stretch his already limber songwriting legs and production chops to new, unexpected spaces.The promise of international touring and releases the world over saw Kane’s vision for his sophomore record extend far beyond the bedroom.
Enter the sophomore LP; Two Hearts and No Brain. Kane returned to Dunedin’s notoriously haunted Chick’s Hotel studio to make the new record. Teaming up with producer Stephen Marr from trip hop group Doprah may seem, from the outset, unexpected – but the collaborative result is a razor sharp blend of intelligent alt-rock, bearing the signatures of grunge/alt rock swiftly executed with careful, meticulous precision over 11 tracks. Marr’s influence brings a pristine, retro-futuristic sheen which complements Strang’s perfectionist recording style, sharp melody, verbose lyrically neuroticism. Strang never misses a beat delivering his wryly deadpan lines, taking mundane subject matter and whittling it into effortless pop, lyrics shifting cleverly between sentimentality and droll self-deprecation.
The album’s early outing “Oh So You Are Off I See” offers a stellar glimpse into what Two Hearts and No Brain offers. “Strang is poised to make a… leap to acclaim”, lauded NME. “‘Oh You’re Off I See’ showcases the new method in breathtaking fashion, with a sleazy, languishing guitar line juxtaposed with ambitious melodies throughout”, lauded NME.
The album courses along a similarly invigorating vein. From the head-nodding groove of opener ‘Lagoons’, the anthemic tribute to anxious love ‘Not Quite’, the 60’s, percussive synth plod of ‘See Thru’, reverb-soaked ‘Summertime in Your Lounge’; jangling crowd-please ‘My Smile is Extinct’, and the heart-wrenching melody and unforgettable guitar twang of the album’s title track – Two Hearts and No Brain is pure pop genius from start to finish.
It’s hard to imagine who else could convincingly fuse fuzzy synths with slide guitar; crunchy chords with chiming vocals in such a kaleidoscopic pop vision. The album’s cover art, featuring a refracted analogue photograph taken of Kane atop of a rocky precipice; echoes the spirit of lean guitar-pop shining through a truly contemporary, innovative lens.
His attention to detail shows up the fat slack present in the work of many of Strang’s contemporaries; yet his sound remains emotive and playfully laced with a tongue-in-cheek nostalgia – timelessly old and new in the same breath. With a live show that exhibits Strang’s unpredictable and exhilarating command on stage, Kane Strang’s amassed band of cohorts execute his vision with arresting impact, charming crowds with his sideways slant of guitar pop. After recently playing to rave reviews at 2017 SXSW, Kane Strang is winning new ears around the globe, performing tracks from the forthcoming LP Two Hearts and No Brain – released on Dead Oceans in June 2017. Taking to well-worn subject matter (heartbreak, loneliness, family) with a disarmingly frank scalpel, Strang’s wryly deadpan lines never miss a beat – the results often sardonic, and always captivating.