I take it back. Last year I did successfully predict the winner of the Silver Scrolls 2021, which went to Troy Kingi. Good for me. Are the batteries in my crystal ball charged for this year? Well, I don’t know, but I will give it another try! As usual, there are five songs chosen as finalists for the 2022 APRA Silver Scroll Award, as voted by New Zealand APRA members.
This X-Factory article will unpack these tracks and try and determine a winner.
Performed by youthful East Coast choir Ka Hao and notably featuring Rob Ruha, this track went viral on social media last year, a great start for a choir that only formed in 2019. 35 is particularly infectious. I know I am biased but the piano and organ playing is remarkably good, a very nuanced and modern interpretation of gospel playing. But the groove overall by the band is warm and in the pocket, combining the solidity of the kick and snare mixed prominently, plenty of space yet plenty of character. This track oozes personality and is also drenched in community spirit. Sung both in Māori and English the vocals are strong, with appealing solo moments from members of the choir and Rob Ruha. I love this track and am secretly hoping that it wins this year, it is simple and nuanced, celebratory and grounded.
Next is Tami Neilson. Beyond The Stars is a well-arranged country waltz featuring a stalwart of the American country scene in Willie Nelson. Dealing with the death of beloved family members the track has a morose quality that is reflected by the regularly occurring descending harmony Am-F-Em (in the key of G), which is both surprising and poignant, all the other harmony is functional and diatonic. The descending harmony and chromatic movement from the strings serve as musical prosody, supporting the lyrical narrative. Willie Nelson’s vocals have a vulnerability which compliments Tami Neilson’s class. Beyond The Stars is both beautiful and sad.
The first thing that struck me about Girl At Night from comparative newcomers There’s A Tuesday is the detuned synth intro. These days it is perhaps a cliché that sits alongside devices such as side-chaining, usually reserved for a less of an indie-type song. But this is an indie song, borrowing heavily from its indie predecessors – and equally as interesting perhaps, this synth is not repeated during the song after the intro, a fascinating production decision. Guitars of multiple dimensions and a prominent groove provide interest to the reflective narrative.
He Ōrite seems to be a combination of (1), a straight-ahead rock track with influences ranging from The Police to Talking Heads, and (2), psychedelic space jams partly borrowed from Kingi’s previous repertoire – and by extension bands like Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead. I didn’t get the second part until 1m27s during the synth solo and then again during the guitar solo at 2m12s, when the harmony moves away from its diatonic and chromatic tendencies and seems to ‘launch into space’. Having had the fortune to be a part of a songwriting session with Troy Kingi, at the time I noticed that he likes to combine the un-combinable, kind of reaching for sounds that don’t normally fit together, then try to weave a melody together that makes sense of it all – like the harmony heard over the guitar solo is Eb-Dm-Am-Ab-F-Am, which includes the two non-diatonic outliers of Eb and Ab. Kingi does this with conviction, fully trusting in his intuition which is fascinating to observe. He is a real in-the-moment songwriter. He Ōrite feels reassuringly similar in that sense, influences of The Nudge and Kingi on the musical playing field if you like.
Last but certainly not least is My Boy, a quirky pop track dripping with self-irony and reflection. For me this track is a refreshing turn away from Williams’ previous downbeat country-esque tendencies. The lyric-less vocal hook of My Boy is particularly infectious, a syncopated and cheeky line with descending major sixths all in G major. The intro is harmonically ambiguous (Am-G-Am-G) as it doesn’t give you a sense of the key centre (however it does foreshadow the first part of the pre-chorus), so when the chorus enters at 10s it contains a surprising element. The secondary dominant of A7 heard in the pre-chorus and reflected in the melody provides a welcome respite from an otherwise diatonic palette.
I really like My Boy too, and find it interesting that both of my favourite tracks have the same harmonic structure. Perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps I am just a sucker for quirky and notable melodies. Tami Neilson’s track is also a strong contender. In fact the all five Silver Scroll finalist songs this year are particularly good, I will be following the night with interest. Maybe the quality of these songs reflect a creative reaction to these crazy times!
Dr Mark Baynes is Programme Manager for the Bachelor of Musical Arts degree at MAINZ, Auckland; a degree program that fosters students’ ability to find their own musical voice, culminating with the creation of a capstone project such as an album, film score or music for game audio.