New Zealand has served up its share of singer-songwriters, maintained its quota of metallers, punched above its weight in the indie rock arena, and can boast the highest number of dub reggae groups per capita in the Western world. But how many original pop romantics can we claim?
Andrew Keoghan is that rare creature, not that the picture on the front cover of his Arctic Tales Divide quite tells you that. Clutching his violin against a starry backdrop in his slightly crumpled cream suit, the unfortunate impression is of a low-budget André Rieu.
Keoghan has classical training in violin, but the way he uses the instrument is light years away from light classics. At times he will pluck or strum it, like some high-strung rhythm guitar; elsewhere he multi-tracks long flowing harmony lines. And these are just a few of the colours he employs on his heart-meltingly melodic, hook-filled debut album. You’ll also find tuned percussion, assorted synths and samplers and the more traditional guitars, bass and drums, played by a skilled crew that includes erstwhile Tim Finn and Dave Dobbyn drummer Wayne Bell, the album’s multi-instrumentalist producer.
But although the settings are colourful and varied, the central instrument is Keoghan’s voice. When he sings it is as though all other sounds move over to make room, and he writes songs that make the most of his crooning tones. His melodies build towards choruses in which he flies effortlessly into falsetto. Sometimes he layers multiple voices, creating small choirs of himself.
What does he sing about? Love, mostly, and his quirky imagination finds some new angles on that most hackneyed of song themes. “Your eyes are wired, and in them a bright idea begins,” goes the chorus of Bright Idea, one of the album’s more upbeat tunes with its shuffling Motown feel. “Her university degree in something strange is foremost a saviour in our small talk,” he confides, against the popping bassline of the disco-ish title track.
Even a recycled title such as I Only Have Eyes for You – one of the ballads that dominate the disc – gets a fresh and complicated twist: Keoghan’s romance concerns not one couple, but two.
Keoghan has made a charming and accomplished album. What’s more, he appears to have found a musical niche that – locally, at least – he has all to himself.
ARCTIC TALES DIVIDE, Andrew Keoghan (Brave Beluga).