VA: Not Given Lightly
Morr Music

Subtitled A Tribute to the Giant Golden Book of New Zealand's Alternative Music Scene, Not Given Lightly perpetuates Morr Music's predilection for ambitious concept-oriented compilations, with the new one a more-than-satisfying sequel to 2000's superb melodic-electronica collection, Putting the Morr Back Into Morrissey, and the later Slowdive homage, Blue Skied An' Clear. On this go-round, the focus shifts from to New Zealand in the ‘80s when lo-fi, indie-pop bands such as The Clean, The Chills, The Bats, Tall Dwarfs, and Jean Paul Sartre Experience ruled the airwaves. Having paved the way for independent labels like Morr Music, the label pays homage by having its artists re-interpret the New Zealand bands' songs.

Being a collection of folk-inflected dreampop, the new collection has more in common with the Slowdive tribute than the earlier instrumental-based compilation. Not Given Lightly also further solidifies Morr's re-positioning of itself as a label devoted to vocal-oriented pop, with Morr vets such as Lali Puna, ISAN, B. Fleischmann, and Tarwater sharing space with newer names like Butcher The Bar, It's A Musical, Seabear, Borko, and Sin Fang Bous. Most tracks are in a ‘60s-styled folk-pop style that's sonically far removed from the electronic emphasis of Putting the Morr Back Into Morrissey. Many of the hook-filled tunes sound like some of the best pop tunes the ‘60s never produced. Masha Qrella's lush version of The Chills' “Pink Frost” is indicative of the collection's radio-friendly vibe—if only there were radio stations cool enough to get on board. It's the proverbial treasure trove, of course, with eighteen cover songs on the first disc followed by sixteen originals on the second.

The first half includes many standouts, beginning with Lali Puna, which starts the collection on a high with a luscious cover of Jean Paul Sartre Experience's “I Like Rain” (not surprisingly, a great showcase for Valerie Trebeljahr's singing) that's equaled by People Press Play's entrancing treatment of The Chills' “KaleidoscopeWorld.” The Chills' “Pink Frost” turns into a breezy, ‘60s-styled gem in The Go Find's hands. When Julia Guther's voice likewise elevates Chris Knox's “Glide,” one could be forgiven for hearing the match-up as near perfect. Amidst bright vibraphone accents, male and female vocalists murmur sweetly in Bobby & Blumm's version of Peter Jefferies' “On an Unknown Beach,” and in one of the few purely electronic treatments, ISAN's “Harmonic Deluxe” cover tinkles as effervescently as anything on Lucky Cat. In addition, the appearance of Ronald Lippok's voice in Verlains' “Death and the Maiden” instantly signifies that we're in Tarwater territory, Sin Fang Bous gives The Chills' “I Think I'd Thought I'd Nothing Else to Think About” a raucous treatment that merges a jaunty gallop with subtle psychedelic touches, Butcher The Bar offers a swooning (and too-short) take on Tall Dwarfs' “Bee To Honey,” and Tall Dwarfs' “All My Hollowness to You” (replete with the ear-catching couplet “I want to screw you / I wish I could through to you”) receives a nice, light-hearted reading by It's A Musical.

Different in character from the first, the second disc features previously unreleased originals by Morr roster artists who sound content enough presenting their own styles rather than aping those of the New Zealand bands. Benni Hemm Hemm immediately announces the change from the first half by opening the “originals” disc with a piano-led instrumental (“Stoffelse”). Memorable moments come courtesy of Radical Face's brooding electro-pop “Wandering,” Guther's “New Science” (as blissful a sampling of vocal-based pop as the group's cover contribution), and Sin Fang Bous's “Nothings,” which brings the collection into the psych-folk orbit associated with Animal Collective and Ariel Pink. Surf City's poppy “Kudos” brings some rare electric guitar heat to the album, Populous pilfers a bar or two of Three Dog Night's “Easy to Be Hard” for the sample-based “Zodiac” (the title a nod to David Fincher's 2007 film), and It's A Musical again entrances, this time with the lilting “In Case Of Harmony” which segues from gentle balladry in the verses to rousing jubilation in the choruses. Old hands such as ISAN and Tarwater re-appear but their tracks are trumped by Bobby & Blumm's irresistibly melodic gem “Take A Sip” and the six splendorous minutes Seavault serves up in “Cornfields.”

May 2009