It’s been a whirlwind of a ride for Kane Strang. In 2015, he recorded his debut album, Blue Cheese, in the confines of his bedroom and self-released it. Shortly after, Flying Nun stepped in and distributed the LP internationally, and the record was widely applauded for Strang’s ambition and clever lyricism. Then late in 2016, indie label giant Dead Oceans announced they had signed the indie-rock sensation from Dunedin, New Zealand, and would release his second album, which saw the light of day on Friday.
Armed with a backing band this time around, Strang is more reverb-drenched on Two Hearts and No Brain. Echoes of ’90s-era rock from alternative to indie to grunge are filtered throughout the album, but one thing remains constant between Strang’s two albums. His songwriting is still poignant, whimsical, and biting, and his style is reminiscent of Stephen Malkmus, Jeff Mangum, and even the introspective Kurt Cobain. Occasionally, all three are channeled in one song, such as the opener “Lagoons,“ a melodic, Modest Mouse-esque rocker about two people down in the dumps, and the grungy ballad “Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost).”
For the most part, however, Strang’s songwriting style draws closer to the late Nirvana frontman, as he depicts his emotions in relation to the people and things around him. Through the sun-drenched, guitar-driven melody, “Not Quite” reveals Strang’s open approach and, thus, his state of mind. As he sings on this fantastic number:
“Not quite all right
Yet I have the whole place to myself
Not feeling fine
You’ve got the whole house to yourself
And I’m not really not doing very well
No I’m not doing very well.”
A loneliness devours the slow grooving, Neutral Milk Hotel-esque “Silence Overgrown,” specifically the growing space between two people. The dark but tantalizing “See Thru” is its companion piece. In a downtrodden voice, Strang thinks outloud, “I don’t know what you want to do. I won’t tell the truth when I’m talking to you, but I’ll try to make you smile.”
The one-two combination of “Two Hearts and No Brain” and “It’s Not That Bad” feels like excerpts from Strang’s journal. Both are played to a Thurston Moore-like approach with the alt-rock-infused dissonance that echoes from the electric guitar and Strang’s languid vocals. The former is Strang discussing his emotional and psychological well-being while the latter is his conscience convincing him that things are better than they seem. Live, these two numbers would be absolutely menacing, but as studio outputs the songs are restrained to allow Strang’s vocals and lyrics to shine.
With “My Smile Is Extinct,” Strang and his band let loose a bit more with a stupendous, jangly pop-rock tune. It is also one of the more light-hearted songs on the album, where Strang’s self-deprecation shines. The song is right out of a coming-of-age movie, as Strang recounts the events of losing his girlfriend to another guy at a party. He’s Napoleon Dynamite, acting like the wallflower as another guy swoops in to steal his girl. But in typical fashion, he cannot get over her because she is the “best he’s ever had.” The melodrama then kicks in as he sings:
“I said kill me know, I want to die
There’s another chance in the afterlife
I might not get let in, but at least I won’t be living.”
The mi-fi indie-rocker “Oh So You’re Off I See” revs up the reverb and the angst. It is not so much a “fuck you” song, but rather it’s Kane in very Kiwi fashion telling someone to bugger off. The understated humor and blatant honesty are reminiscent of Stephen Malkmus’ work with Pavement, and even the oft-kilter, gnarly riffs are akin to the indie rock legends’ approach.
Strang, despite his young age, is in many ways a throwback. He’s essentially like the indie-rock and grunge singer-songwriters that occupied college radio stations in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And in this sense, what he is doing is ambitious, as guitar-driven indie rock is being pushed aside for electronic-heavy music. But like Malkmus, Mangum, and Cobain before him, he, too, will overcome this wave of music and become the symbol of a new generation’s angst. Become their new guitar and songwriting hero. Or at the very least, he’s left them and us with a timeless album for all ages.
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