Kirsten Morrell is best known as the vocalist and frontperson in Goldenhorse. Their 2002 album Riverhead is well-loved in Aotearoa – songs such as ‘Maybe Tomorrow’, ‘’Golden Dawn’, Northern Lights’ and ‘Wake Up Brother’ struck a chord with audiences, and Riverhead hit No.1 on the NZ album chart in August 2004, spending over 70 weeks in the charts. The follow-up album, Out Of The Moon, debuted at No.2 on the album charts in April 2005. After the release of their third album, 2007’s Reporter, Goldenhorse went into hiatus. Kirsten released her debut solo album Ultraviolet in 2010; after spending a few years in the UK, she has returned to Aotearoa and will release her new solo album Morrellium in 2024. (Listen to Kirsten’s 2023 single ‘Strawberry Fool’ here.)
Hi, it’s Kirsten Morrell here, musing to you from my home studio in Auckland centralè! Voila, here we are! When AudioCulture asked me to do this piece I thought, fabulous, yes. Then shying off a little I was worried a bit at first about talking about musicians and local bands, and more specifically songs, my peers. The pressure, it’s deafening. And so far, for me, making music in the land-of-the-long-white-cloud has been one of extremes and one I want to take a part in shaping for future generations. Well anyway I hope this selection tickles your fancies and gets you listening to more Aotearoa, New Zealand music. We’ve such a rich, diverse, and beautiful raft (or waka, excuse the pun) of music to choose from. What are you waiting for?
In the Neighbourhood – Sisters Underground
I first heard ‘In the Neighbourhood’ by Sisters Underground while waiting for a city bus on my way back from school. It struck me then that we no longer lived in the burbs of Auckland and that actually, I didn’t enjoy having to catch a public bus along with other city-sider kids that went to my school, work commuters and the like. However, this song captures everything sunny, funny, and warm about what seems like the endless Auckland suburban neighbourhoods (the suburbs really do stretch on ad infinitum here) with its frowzy, browsy, summertime, mainline chorus, and female soft rapping style. I love the ease of ending too, with its throwaway style – bet you that it’s not.
Nesian Style – Nesian Mystik
This song remains on my playlists. And when I’m homesick I play it. Or if I feel worried traipsing around the globe as a musician I put it on my pods, because it reminds me of good times here: when you go to Pasifika and as you walk in and hear a wall-of-sound that is a blend of Oceanic drumming, ah! There’s nothing like it. And it’s all so unique Tongan, Niuean, Samoan, Cook Islands. The Polynesian part is a dip in the sound ocean of the larger Oceania geography. ‘Nesian Style’ is quite linear to listen to – it doesn’t challenge you too much. Like Polynesian traditional drumming, it lures you in. Nesian Mystik popped up and captured that energy, that sound, so well. Other people watch an All Blacks game of rugby for Aotearoa comradery, I listen to music – and it gives me that same sense of wellbeing.
Misty Frequencies – Che Fu
This list is in a specific order, perhaps you can tell? My first music impressions in Aotearoa are from those that surrounded me. At Selwyn College we had an amazing person in our midst, music teacher Jonathan McKeown-Green. Along with Trevor Thwaites (who once jammed with Eric Clapton in the 1970s) they gelled an inner-city music schools hub. So, we joined with Che Fu’s school Western Springs College, Glen Innes High School, and any other music department in between that catchment area. Che’s ‘Misty Frequencies’ speaks to those values, giving back to community, going the extra mile, education, access. Hell, I’ll say it: a government that created policy to play local, New Zealand music on the radio. I like that he places the female character central to this song.
Cruise Control – Headless Chickens
It was a late night, after an MYT (Maidment Youth Theatre) session, I’d never seen a Moog keyboard before. A group of friends and I went to see the Headless Chickens play at the Powerstation. They were great live. And ‘Cruise Control’ – written by Chris Matthews and Michael Lawry – was sublime. Fiona McDonald is one of my female lead singer inspirations. I mean at any one time in that band she dealt a fine set of vocals ranging from groovy pop through to full-punk-throttle. I read in an article somewhere Chris Matthews freaked out that they’d gone through too many musicians – thinking he was like Martin Phillipps from The Chills. Ha! Know that feeling. ‘Cruise Control’ is groovy, smart, quite linear to listen to. The best earworm.
Hine e hine – Hayley Westenra
After releasing her first smash, the award winning, Decca-backed, pop/classical crossover album Pure, Hayley had a bit of a rough ride here! So, I’m resurrecting ‘Hine e hine’. The waiata itself is sublime. This version conjures up images of the disappeared Pink and White Terraces, it takes its hat off to our indigenous culture and our landscape and does so with a graceful recording collaborative bow. It also shows how far we’ve come now with te reo and te ao Māori here in Aotearoa. How you can now be invited to take iwi consultation, creative guidance and discuss music and lyric interpretation. Incredible really – this track does have a beautiful sound with the combined efforts of Rolf Wilson, Francois Rive, The Metro Voices, Te Tau Choir, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, etc ... but boy did it spark some feisty arguments within my whānau at Christmas time!
Yesterday’s Over – Mulholland
I promised you variety, didn’t I? Here goes. Swooping into the rock’n’roll phase that enveloped what feels like an age here in Auckland is Jol Mulholland. Jol takes a song like ‘Yesterday’s Over’, simple at the outset, and crafts beautiful pop songs with a solid basis in rock’n’roll. Not dissimilar to Bressa Creeting Cake. His voice really is sexy, and like ‘Yesterday’s Over’ he’s consistent with it across his work. I love his lyrics, at times they’re simultaneously banal and exciting. He also produced my first solo album Ultraviolet and has a promised song partly written for me that we haven’t finished yet. Don’t worry, I’ll hit you up for that later Jol!
All It Takes – Cut Off Your Hands
There’s a little collection of Kiwi bands I have on a playlist, this is one of them along with Kingston and Family Cactus ... with smart chord changes, solid drummers and very nicely recorded, it sounds a bit reminiscent of The Strokes. I’ve never seen any of them live but would like to – it’s like they’re all in some super music hub together and it reminds me of when Goldenhorse was gigging with Pluto and Goodshirt. Friendly but listening and aware of each other. Wanting to write the next better song! Is that like The Strokes? Nope, you can spend hours, days, nay years listening to one song of theirs ... while all the time in New Zealand we’ve got an equivalent, much more rooted to our culture, sound, and variety with tracks like ‘All It Takes’ by Cut Off Your Hands.
Save Me – Kimbra
I literally stumbled across this the other day when thinking of songs to write about here. What an incredibly moving song. Love it, Kimbra. This song really takes you emotionally to that place that many artists go to at times. Teetering on the edge of self-loathing, insecure and thinking someone else can save us. It has a fab, lilting repeated stringed bassline. A hypnotic vibe that at once captures your imagination but also pokes at something brittle, something about to burst underneath. Am I allowed to give a heads up too, here? My latest producer Clint Murphy has worked with her music, in an engineering capacity. He’s ace.
Wildflower – Francis Sect
Here’s the obscure nugget. I heard this song and this group when listening to the misty frequencies of bFM, back-in-the-day, when bFM was an independent student-run radio station. I was 13 and tuning in (thanks again, Che). I had no idea they were students at Otāhuhu College, just up the road. These guys are the perfect princely quad of a pop band! Playing with Francis Sect on drums was journalist Alan Perrott [read Alan’s AudioCulture stories here] who often DJs under the name House of Bamboo. Anyway, ‘Wildflowers’ has that gypsy pop sound and in between their more raucous tracks, holds its tune. The tasty synth-heavy guitar sounds good too – love it! Not dissimilar to The La’s or The Smiths or The Front Lawn.
Forever Tuesday Morning – The Mockers
This track from The Mockers is a king of Aotearoa pop songs. I don’t know why it didn’t project them to instant international stardom. Andrew Fagan’s vocals are sooo good. It’s structurally so simple but really gets you “right there”. Coupled with his wiry, fairy-like appearance, a patupaiarehe, he really could be a creature from the forest come to woo you with beautiful melodies and song. In fact, the whole band has that same enchanting look. The backing vocals too on this song, so great, sublime harmonies tucked in 3rds. “Without you my life’s gonna be” ... I could listen to that line again and again – and one does. Essentially, it’s about a boy having a-bit-of-a-whinge about not being with his girlfriend. But the music combo lifts this to pure pop heaven and makes it one of those bucolic listens. He’s not wrong though in saying “the world is wicked” and especially now, it seems expedient to mention.