Though likable and often catchy, New Zealand singer-songwriter Kane Strang’s debut album Blue Cheese comes off like nothing so much as a patchwork quilt sewn from scraps of found material: not exactly original and not exactly derivative.
The album opens with “The Web,” a curious song that sets the terms for its listener. In it, Strang combines the kind of metrical simplicity and bass-heavy minimalism that grounds the song in punk with a splash of bright synth that weaves in and out of the track, entirely incongruous but unobjectionable — like a silly hat on an otherwise sober outfit. Over this, he sings about finding a lover online, droning: “Yeah, I met someone else / Without leaving my little house / No, I haven’t held her yet / I met her on the Internet.”
In effect, “The Web” sounds like a collage of rather conventional musical and lyrical elements that listeners may be accustomed to encountering disjointly — and when it all comes together, it does seem odd, but consciously, deliberately so, like a person who self-describes as “quirky.”
From then on, Blue Cheese turns toward a more conventional route, with songs very much grounded in a brand of melodic lo-fi descended from acts such as Angel Olsen and Real Estate. At its best moments, the album features some really lovely poetic phrases — such as “Scarlet King Magnolia” — over catchy, if a bit staid, melodies. But perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Strang’s music is his marked interest in the droning repetition of very simple musical segments — check out the dogged reiteration of the titular phrase in “Things Are Never Simple” for reference.
By the end of the album, it’s hard to tell whether Blue Cheese grows on you or if it simply ends on a really strong note. The last few songs, starting from “Never Kissed a Blonde,” are the best in the album, and it may be because around there, Strang introduces a streak of songs with great, catchy pop hooks. But part of the appeal of these songs, as well as the rest of the songs in the album, is that they sound familiar — the first bars of “Scarlet King Magnolia” are reminiscent of Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song),” and the chorus of “The Canyon Her River Carved” sounds like an echo of Mac DeMarco.
None of the songs from Blue Cheese is bad and most aren’t even really strikingly derivative. The problem is, like blue cheese, none of these songs sound fresh.