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Strawpeople - Album Review: Knucklebones

29 Aug 2023 // A review by Corinne Rutherford
For the first time in 19 years, slick electro-pop duo Strawpeople (Fiona McDonald ex-The Headless Chickens, and Paul Casserly) have released an album sparking early 2000's nostalgia. Knucklebones is a fusion of their iconic sound mixed with a collection of entirely new material. New Zealand electro-pop Royalty and masters of sampled beats are back with a vengeance delivering another gold standard album to a new generation.

The iconic sound of Strawpeople is woven into the lives of many Kiwis, I wore The Best 1990-2000 CD out literally thrashing it day in and day out when first purchased back in 2001. I had fallen in love with the band’s music. Unique, original (including mixing of covers) New Zealand’s very own outstanding electro-pop band with a style and sound to give Portishead a run for their money.

If you look at the band’s discography, there is an impressive catalogue ranging from 1990 through to 2004, many gaining awards and recognition including winning a Silver Scroll for the song Sweet Disorder and NZ Album of The Year for the album Vicarious, which was the first album released after original member Mark Tierny left the band.

It’s the duo of Casserly and McDonald which are back on board with Knucklebones, the partnership delivering exceptional creativity in all aspects of the album. Joining them are guitarist Chris van de Geer and bassist Joost Langeveld as players and producers, with support from some of New Zealand's top musicians. Chrissy Diamond (The Human Kind), Matthias Jordan (Pluto), Nick Atkinson (Supergroove), Chris O’Connor on drums, Mark Huges on bass and a cameo from popular Auckland busker Luke Hurley on guitar.

Knucklebones is a low-fi collection of 9 new tracks including a leisurely rendition of Baby It's You, heavy with rich synth proving that their distinctive method of interpreting and mixing covers is still going strong.

The band may do great cover songs, but it’s the originals where things really get interesting.

Second Heart, the first track on this album, is a real group effort from Vande, Geer, McDonald, Jordan and Casserly. Collectively writing together to create that familiar sound with entrancing lyrics. Nostalgic vibes kept kicking my ankles, more so when Fiona McDonald's vocals clearly belt out. Strong, unwavering, and harmonious.

Watch You Sleep is a superbly delivered in an interesting ominous manner combining electronic with bass, guitar, and the slightly jazzy sound of brushed drums.

As a big fan of incorporating vocal samples and sound bites into music, Love Diktat was a personal favourite. Skillfully mixing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin duetting with Pope John Paul II. An unusual pairing that works exceptionally well to an electronic backdrop. There is also a powerful message attached… “Everybody” he said, “must be loved”.

Rounding up the album is Forgot To Forget, a glorious mix of sexy sounding percussion and melancholic vocals.

Each track on Knucklebones is laden with moody undertones, songs edged with darkness and mystery. A magical undertaking of musical creativity. In between my musings and gushing of the iconic Kiwi band I realised I was still rather smitten with Strawpeople. They developed a unique, marketable sound back in the 90's and launched it upon what I suspect was an unsuspecting audience. That sound they developed has stood the test of time. This beautiful, lush album is a testament to that.

 

About Strawpeople

Life for Strawpeople began at 95bFM. Paul Casserly and Mark Tierney met there in 1985 when both had foregone the golden path to academia for the small and damp corridors of student radio. Tierney was the studio engineer at the time, Casserly an aspiring DJ.

Various 'experimental' recordings followed - a cut up of a cassette Casserly had stolen from his mother, The Pope's In Ireland, resulted in Something Else Is Needed. "She took it back when she’d heard what we’d done", remembers Casserly.

Then came soundtracks for various art school short films. The production of a mini album for the Greg Johnson project; This Boy Rob, and the first recordings for the album Hemisphere.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Strawpeople

Releases

Knucklebones
Year: 2023
Type: Album
Count Backwards From 10
Year: 2004
Type: Album
The Best Of 1990 > 2000
Year: 2000
Type: Album
No New Messages
Year: 2000
Type: Album
100 Street Transistors
Year: 1997
Type: Album
Vicarious
Year: 1996
Type: Album
Broadcast
Year: 1994
Type: Album
Worldservice
Year: 1992
Type: Album
Hemisphere
Year: 1991
Type: Album

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