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Ha the Unclear - Album Review: A Kingdom In A Cul-De-Sac

25 Apr 2024 // A review by Cathy Elizabeth

If I could choose one word to sum up Ha The Unclear’s recent album release I would have to go with the word “inspiring”. And if I could throw a few more together in a kind of haphazard stream-of-consciousness way, I would add that A Kingdom In A Cul-De-Sac is oozing with creativity, quirky humour, plumbing the depths of musical understanding, and coming back up to the surface with a gift - permission to be one’s authentic self.

I felt very inspired by this music. Just listening to it for the first time caused a random rush of completely unrelated thoughts and ideas to flood my mind, which I needed to then quickly write down. It was very freeing. But why?

Paris label Think Zik ! obviously gets it, recently signing these four humble lads, originally hailing from Dunedin to their label. Ha The Unclear will tour the release in iconic venues in Paris before returning to New Zealand to play a series of much-anticipated home shows, with band members Michael Cathro, Paul Cathro, Theo Francis and Ben Seargent.

The album bursts into life with the quintessential break-up song Growing Mould. Michael Cathro’s unmistakably Kiwi accent delivers the devastating blow-by-blow with self-depreciating humour. Rich with backing vocals, as almost all of the songs are, and extremely catchy with retro overtones.

I absolutely love the concept behind Secret Lives of Furniture, which uses my favourite of all the writing techniques; personification. I wrote a poem many years ago using a similar concept (Relax couch, sit down chair, just stand there fridge and pass me a beer, lie down bed and curtains hide, what built-in wardrobe keeps inside … ) Mine was called Communing with the Furniture (as they carry out their domestic functions), so I was extremely excited about this song!

And wow what a masterpiece it is. Absolute genius, I have to say. The magic of personification is in its ability to project human emotions onto inanimate objects, where they can be better examined. This gut-wrenching story from the perspective of the coffee table is an intense emotional journey, and it’s just brilliant. Lyrically, musically and in every other way.

Then Mannequins gallops through, with its hilarious imagery, complex chord chart, and infectious frenetic energy. Which leads us to Alchemy. And now I’m really falling in love with the masterful use of melody and harmony this band employs. I like the 70’s throwback feeling of this song, juxtaposed with a raw and dirty guitar solo for good measure.

The album then switches up the vibe again as we get deeper in, with Paperboats; a more country aesthetic, but still somehow completely in keeping with their distinctive Ha The Unclear sound. Cathro’s voice soars in the bridge, giving Sticky Fingers vocal tones, would you believe?

Cave Paintings is a beautiful dance between guitar and vocal, and I appreciate so much that it was recorded this way. The clean simplicity of the acoustic arrangement allows its true beauty to shine.

From Wallace Line (fast becoming my favourite track of the album) through to successful singles Fish and Strangers, French 80’s cover C’est Comme Ca, and finishing out with the melancholic Infatuated and ever-reflective Mind And Matter … The album, on the whole, is a very satisfying journey. A celebration of musical literacy and playful vulnerability, showcasing a body of work from a multi-faceted, interesting, and talented band. It’s a big hearty Bravo! from me.

 

About Ha the Unclear

Ha the Unclear (an anagram for Nuclear Heath) is a band from the Gothic harbour town of ?tepoti/Dunedin, New Zealand.

After recording a run of lo-fi EPs, the band migrated northward to Auckland. While student radio peppered the national airwaves with singles like Growing Mould and Secret Lives of Furniture the band soon garnered wider reception with performances on prime-time TV shows 7 Days and Seven Sharp. More success followed with Invisible Lines reaching #9 on the NZ Album Charts and 2020 elevator anthem Strangers hitting #1 on the Radioscope Alternative Airplay Charts. Accompanying this, the band released a series of mind-bending music videos featuring a room full of furniture meddling in the life of their owner (Secret Lives of Furniture), an astronaut crash landing on a foreign planet (Kosmonavt), and the emergency delivery of a baby puppet in a broken elevator (Strangers). The latter track was later released on the Threads EP alongside the Sylvia Massy co-produced Julius Caesar and time travel lament Supermarket Queues.

Now signed with Paris-based label Think Zik!, the band has been warmly embraced by French audiences with playlisting on significant national radio including Europe 2, FIP, RTL 2, and France Inter and a milieu of college radio taste harbingers. 2023’s Handprint Negatives EP was recently released in the EU to critical acclaim with French press describing it as "a sweet madness" (Rolling Stone), “a real triumph…maybe confirmation of a major band” (Benzine) and a “spontaneous enthusiasm with a feeling of freshness” (Revue Pop Moderne).

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Ha the Unclear

Releases

A Kingdom In A Cul-De-Sac
Year: 2024
Type: Album
Invisible Lines
Year: 2018
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Bacterium, Look At Your Motor Go
Year: 2014
Type: Album

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