New Zealand indie rock trio Popstrangers have ditched the distorted noise of their first album for a hazy 60s pop sensibility. The classic sounds of London rock are evident in their new work, unlike the Kiwi-fied focus of their previous music. A combination of subtle urban anxiety and straightforward hooks forms the foundation for their newest album Fortuna, out May 27th. This is an album that really explores the emotional side of pop. Throughout diverse subjects of love, comfort, communication, and hostility, a singular mood prevails. Even though this is not a joyful record, that mood contributes to a strong sense of fullness which is satisfying and engaging.
Initially, Fortuna’s sound left a disjointed first impression. But the disparate relationship between jerky guitar and soothing rhythms gave way to a sense of balanced dreaminess. If nothing else, Popstrangers have created a record that is both simple and hard to pin down. Joel Flyger’s vocals exist in a fusion somewhere between downtown dance-punk snarl and 80s New Romo crooner, but influences on the record represent a serious range, from the psychedelic opening riffs of “Violet” to the urgent, Costello-esque pop rock of first single “Country Kills” in which Flyger flippantly laments “My country will kill me now” before launching into a chorus of “whatever.” The video for that latter track, directed by friend and Mazes member Conan Roberts, is particularly reminiscent of early-aughts Strokes. But these similarities are never overwhelming; the album moves gracefully through those associations with such ease that it’s hard to get stuck on them.
More than anything, it’s the simplistic undertones that dominate the record and make it feel like an instant classic. These songs take simple hooks, some atonal guitar, and muddy up the lyrics just enough that you have to strain to pick apart meanings and themes. The delivery isn’t jaded so much as effortlessly cool; tracks like “Tonight” come across as automatically familiar, making easy to get into. The simplistic melodies and rhythms push the tone or feeling of the songs forward, and it feels quite refreshing to be able to rely on a visceral reaction for once. As Popstrangers sing on opening track “Sandstorm,” “Sometimes I get the strangest feeling / Oh.” Like a sixth sense that cannot be easily explained with words, Popstrangers use these compositions to get that sense of drifting across, hinting that instinct leads to better understanding anyhow. It’s not minimalist by any means, but it’s definitely not incredibly complicated songwriting, and that’s more than okay.
Fortuna may not be complex, but it has just enough substance to keep your attention and provide some fun, without strain on the mind or the ears. Check out latest single “Don’t Be Afraid” below, and score a of the LP when it comes out on May 27th via Carpark.