The idea is a cool one: Celebrate all the varied pop music of your country by having contemporary bands cover classics on one disc, then have a second disc of rarities. For the most part, Not Given Lightly is a fun, eclectic two-disc set of New Zealand rock and pop (there is also a three-LP version). It is a reminder that, say what you will about how it has played out nostalgically, the early ’80s was a time of musical experimentation worldwide, one that drew off of the ’60s/’70s and added its own sense of frivolity, brooding and cynicism.
The first disc is kicked off by the ethereal “I Like Rain,” by Lali Puna, a track that also features a haunting but killer piano riff. While only Guther’s “Glide,” with its mix of shimmering guitar, strings and up in front bass has the emotional depth of the opening track, there are others worth the price. It’s a Musical’s “All My Hollowness to You,” the brittle “Afternoon in Bed” by the Wooden Birds, and Borco’s mighty “Up in the Sky.” Also worth mentioning are tracks by Electric President, Saroos, and Sin Fang Bous. There are two covers of “Pink Frost,” by the Chills, but neither the Go Find nor Masha Qrella find a groove within which to add much to the original.
The second disc has more than a few gems, amid some tunes that ought to have remained “rare.” On the upside surely is Radical Face’s “Wandering,” Guther’s “New Science,” and “White Noise” by Electric President. It’s a Musical and ISAN (with its heartfelt ode to “Happy Chord Whore”) also deliver strong efforts.
Not Given Lightly looks back to pay tribute to the Kiwi and Dunedin sounds, but it also points to a bright future for the small, isolated country. Its inhabitants often hear new music after the fact, but they take those tardy shipments and make their own sounds.