New Gold Mountain is so good – so well crafted, and singularly driven – that it is difficult to resist using clichés to describe it. It is the very definition of a breakthrough album, the kind of record that music critics anxiously await so we can trot out hoary maxims like ‘incendiary’ and ‘atmospheric’ while labelling New Gum Sarn, the young New Zealanders responsible for its creation, the next big thing in rock and roll. It is a highly intelligent record, paced and structured with real skill, but it is also nothing if not a good time, effortlessly combining heart, humour and humanity.
Proceedings are dominated by a low-fi sensibility, if not a lo-fi aesthetic. Although a sense of humility dominates the proceedings there is no use pretending New Gum Sarn are anything but a group of consummate musicians. Indeed, it is their technical skill that justifies the potentially risky decision of beginning an album with an instrumental; opener Anxiety Nap coasts towards a cathartic climax without a single syllable ever being uttered, and serves as a brilliant advertisement for the band’s sonic cohesion.
The excellent Bad Soy layers prickly melodies with spoonerisms and the distinct vocals of lead singer Oscar Dowling, though the truest key to the song’s success lies in the band’s reluctance to ever go for the easy emotion. Defiant and yet distraught, it is an anthem for the aimless, one bursting with its own unique brand of power. Title track New Gold Mountain is another highlight, with its laidback time signature and world-weary lyric hitting home in a deeply relatable way. Though, to be honest, every single song on the album resonates, from Money Talks, a spikey ode to employment, to closer Saigon Paris, a tune that blisters towards a fittingly epic conclusion, and feels as though it could have been co-authored by the twin geniuses of Brian Wilson and Stephen Malkmus.
New Gold Mountain is one of the most realised and intelligent debuts from a New Zealand band since The Bats’ Daddy’s Highway. But it isn’t just a success as a first record; it is a resounding success in almost every conceivable way. It is an album that needs to be heard to be believed; after all, there are only so many ways you can describe a record as impressive as this.