Release Date: May 6, 2014
Record label: Yep Roc
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Unlike other children of famous rockers, the 30-year-old New Zealander Liam Finn has managed to make a career of constant exploration and reinvention of his sound. Hunkered down in Brooklyn, Finn combines lo-fi electronica and heavy, bass-y grooves with grungy indie rock, which when done incorrectly would be the musical equivalent of oil and water. But, ultimately, the singer’s delicately harmonious pipes shine above all, thus proving that following in your father’s footsteps isn’t as hard as advertised.
Technically, the record-buying public had its first taste of Liam Finn’s colourful imagination when he was just 10 years old; dad Neil wrote Pineapple Head, from the 1993 Crowded House album Together Alone, based on the non-sequitur sleepy ramblings of his poorly child recovering from a fever. Today, though not laid low through illness, Finn junior continues to favour the unusual and off-kilter. The Nihilist, only his third full album in nine years, is even more adventurous and out-there than its predecessors, a devil-maycare concoction that manages to find space for the melodic pop that made his old man famous, Prince-like minimalist funk, trippy psych tropes and prickly art-rock.
Liam Finn is an easy guy to take for granted. A gimmick-free craftsman who trades in smartly rendered melodies and carefully unkempt arrangements, all of the things he does well are the same things that make him easy to overlook. Being the son of Crowded House and Split Enz frontman Neil Finn probably helped him get a foot in the door, but the fact that he has so clearly followed in his father’s footsteps also makes it easy to assume that he’s probably not taking too many chances as a songwriter.
Liam Finn has never been afraid to embrace the quirky side of his music, and his albums I'll Be Lightning and Fomo boasted their fair share of intriguing creative left turns, but 2014's The Nihilist is where he dives headfirst into his aural eccentricities and truly makes the studio his playground. Much of Finn's solo work has found him recording as a one-man band, but he pushes the possibilities of overdubbing himself far past his previous boundaries on this album; "Arrow," "4 Track Stomper," "Snug as Fuck," and the title track vaguely recall Prince's studio work of the '80s, not so much in terms of grooves but in the way Finn layers synths and drum patterns (some real, some programmed) against his falsetto vocals. Elsewhere, "Helena Bonham Carter" sounds like some lost new wave classic with its vintage electronics and off-kilter funk accents, "Wild Animal" suggests a summit meeting between the Rolling Stones and Guided by Voices, and "Wrestle with Dad" is a fun-house nightmare of wailing guitars, pitch-altered vocals, stomping drum boxes, and keyboard squeals.
Many moments on this, New Zealander Liam Finn’s third full-length solo album, suggest that he fancies himself as a bit of a musical space cadet rather than just another ‘singer-songwriter’. The semi-sprawling ‘Miracle Glance’ swipes sonic chunks from The Flaming Lips’ ‘The Soft Bulletin’, opener ‘Ocean Emmanuelle’ recalls flickers of Bowie’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’, and the lurching ‘Snug As Fuck’ resembles MGMT’s ‘Congratulations’, only without the rubbish drawn-out bits. The problem is, they lack that indefinable sense of genuine oddness that makes those comparators so compelling.
It’s not that Liam Finn is trying to compete with his dad. After all, when your father is an accomplished pop provocateur like Neil Finn, there’s no reason to even try. So credit the younger Finn with pursuing his own muse via a series of successful solo ventures that’s yielded two previous long players as well as an additional EP. With The Nihilist, Finn further explores the unique sonic palette that’s set him apart, a combination of hallucinogenic psych rock and shifting scenarios that occasionally run the risk of keeping listeners at arm’s length.