The Verlaines have been a seminal Dunedin band since 1980, creating songs that mix astute lyrics with complex, visceral music often influenced by songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Graeme Downes’ day job as a music academic at Otago University. ‘Dunedin Spleen’, the band’s 10th album, continues this trend – and makes up for any delay between records with 19 tracks.
‘None of these chords I own, I’ve only gave them temporary shelter,’ the album begins, and the lyrics throughout are similarly thought-provoking, intelligent and satirical, though not without warmth and sadness.
The impressionistic chords and touching lyrics of A Crib At Flatline Bay reveal deep loss, while Way Too Old To Grow Up Now is an affectionate nod to a friend and fellow musician in a particular Dunedin scene.
A new Verlaines album always means sophisticated songwriting and musicianship, which ‘Dunedin Spleen’ has in buckets. Freeform impressionistic jazz, show tunes, Weimar-Germany influenced punk jazz (Church And State) and garage rock (None Of These Chords) all feature at points, while elements of punk, indie, and art-rock help to define the album’s sound.
Crashing chords, and winding guitar and organ lines add depth to the songs, which are immediate and vital. It’s fair to say that some of the more recent Verlaines’ albums have been harder to engage with, but not so ‘Dunedin Spleen’ – it’s urgency frequently matches the visceral classics from the band’s early years, and shows Downes (and The Verlaines) at their melodic, and intricate, best.