It would be extremely simplistic to suggest that the sound of New Zealand's indie music has evolved as a reaction to the aggressively macho streak in antipodean culture, but there's probably a grain of truth there somewhere. It's difficult, otherwise, to explain why so many of the country's best groups make such subtle, self-effacing music. The Phoenix Foundation are the latest band to embrace this tradition: their new album Buffalo is a gentle collection of songs which, rather than grabbing your attention, stands there politely waiting for you to acknowledge its prettiness.
The group's strength lies in their expert use of ideas borrowed from sixties and seventies pop music; vocal harmonies reminiscent of bands such as The Beach Boys, and a hazy, dreamy, faintly psychedelic atmosphere which, when combined with melodic smartness, has echoes of both The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young. Tracks built up slowly and patiently; the excellent title track, for instance, is content to glide along steadily before peaking with the introduction of swirling synths and Fleet Foxes-esque vocals. Slowly but steadily, you find yourself immersed in a warm cocoon of delicate guitar music. Few songs deviate from this mood, although one track that does, the eerie 'Skeleton', impresses with some understated guitar work and creepy synths.
There are some missteps; the vocals on 'Bitte Bitte' share a worrying amount with those of Mark Knopfler on 'Sultans Of Swing', some of lyrics aim for 'quirky' and only get as far as 'ridiculous', and too many songs rely on that same slow-building formula. Nevertheless, this is a good record which deserves more attention outside of New Zealand than it has so far received. The band have been nominated for a slew of awards and sold a considerable number of records in their home country; it's a little puzzling, giving the accessibility of their sound and the qualities they possess, that this hasn't led to a degree of international acclaim. One would have thought that the advent of the internet ensured that geographical isolation from Europe and America didn't leave good bands stranded, but seemingly not. Now is a good time to start rectifying this mistake and paying The Phoenix Foundation the attention they deserve.