Release Date: May 27, 2014
Record label: Carpark Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Noise Pop, Neo-Psychedelia
Now resident in London, Auckland trio Popstrangers have unpacked second album ‘Fortuna’. Far lighter than their grungey 2013 debut, ‘Antipodes’, it’s pitched between the blissed-out guitar of Splashh and the idiosyncratic pop approach of fellow Kiwi, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Full of fluttering, underwater vocals, it contains the likes of ‘Violet’ and ‘Tonight’, which are doused in drunken-sounding effects pedals.
"Sometimes I get the strangest of feelings," Popstrangers' Joel Flyger sings on "Sandstorm," the first of Fortuna's many portraits of change and upheaval. Considering that Popstrangers moved from New Zealand to London and traded their grunge fetish for moody psych pop, it's not surprising that their second album revolves around transformation and its aftermath, but paradoxically, these differences only enhance the strengths they showed on Antipodes. Underneath their debut album's heroic doses of distortion, there was a mysterious, elliptical quality to their songs that hinted that there was more on Popstrangers' minds than they revealed at the time; Fortuna hones in on that vibe with its swirling guitars and winding melodies, cleverly emphasizing the feelings of flux in its lyrics.
A mere year following Popstangers’ exceptional debut LP, the New Zealand trio have dropped an album that is much more pop and much less strange than its predecessor. 2013’s Antipodes was a jangling, droning procession of distorted guitars complete with toxic licks, spiky assaults and catchy compromises that combined a smorgasbord of influences, ultimately creating a superb record that is impossible to pigeonhole. A year on, Fortuna is clearly the work of the same band, studded with evasive melodies and a meticulous balance of despondence and beatitude, but this time it slips into a more focused, sun-warped, psychedelic paradigm.
Popstrangers are a peculiar sort of New Zealand nationalists: proud enough of their homeland to name their 2013 debut album Antipodes and to fully embrace the country’s indigenous indie-rock tradition of jangle and drone, but not so sentimentally attached to it that they didn’t get the fuck as far away from Auckland the first chance they got. In hindsight, Antipodes wasn't so much a nod to Popstrangers’ southern-hemisphere heritage as the word’s proper geographic definition, with the band’s current home of London, England situated at the polar opposite location of their native soil. With Popstrangers’ big move to Blighty comes an equally pronounced uptick in ambition, resulting in a sophomore outing that’s decidedly more pop and less strange.
When last we left Popstrangers on their fine debut album Antipodes, the band was twisting snarling guitars and big hooks, simultaneously re-imagining and paying homage to rock sounds from two decades ago. Since then, though, things have changed. The New Zealand band has moved to London, and the sense of a new place, of moving out of your comfort zone, of the things and people you lose along to the way to growing up, to finding your corner of the world, these feelings are all over the expansive, gauzy Fortuna.
For a couple of islands with such a tiny human population compared to the number of sheep who live there, New Zealand has a disproportionate amount of musical talent available for export. The Flight of the Conchords, The Naked and Famous and some unknown teenager going by the name of Lorde all call it home - and the country’s independent scene is thriving too. It’s here where Auckland’s Popstrangers have blossomed, ditching their fuzzy pop of old on this third full-length for the kind of 60s psych that’s proved so successful for near-neighbours Tame Impala.