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The Singles Life: The eerie defiance of Mermaidens

Thursday 22nd June 2017

Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.

Gussie Larkin and Lily Paris West of Mermaidens.

Wellington act Mermaidens evoke the lush aesthetic of a bygone era with new track Satsuma: look closer, however, and you’ll find the domestic dream is rotten to the core.

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Hussein: Anyone who’s seen Mermaidens play live before will be able to vouch for how good they are. It’s been just over a year since the Wellington trio - made up of Gussie Larkin, Lily Paris West and Abe Hollingsworth - released their debut album, Undergrowth, but their focus has already shifted onto what’s next. Now signed to Flying Nun, the group’s follow-up record Perfect Body is due out this August. First we got ‘Lizard’ and now another new single ‘Satsuma’ has landed too.

This one comes paired with a video directed by Ezra Simons (assisted by Will Agnew), who’s known for his own work in bands like Red Sky Blues and Earth Tongue - the latter of which is an underrated collaboration with Larkin that channels some of the same ferocity you can hear throughout Mermaidens’ own catalogue.

Watch the video right now. There’s a lot to like.

Katie: I have not seen Mermaidens live, nor was I really aware of them prior to this song, but man I love it.  The whole thing is so atmospheric: that gradual, creeping escalation, her weird, lovely voice and the total sense of foreboding.

The video, to me, is such a perfect rendering of the New Zealand gothic: the perfectly placed iconography, the incredible setting (courtesy of Larkin’s family home), the abjection of the finger nails, and the warping of the familiar to create something entirely uncanny.

There are obviously a lot of filmic influences at play. They talk about being inspired by David Lynch, Robert Altman, Ingmar Bergman and Todd Haynes here, all of whom I’m sure get name checked a lot by some pretty corny artists. I’m into it here, though: the music is as cinematic as the images, and it feels nuanced and specific. It kind of has an Alison Maclean vibe.

Hussein: The video is a perfect example of how you can do a lot with a little. I can't imagine they had a considerable budget to work with, but it doesn't feel cut-rate whatsoever. They totally nailed it. You can tell that the band have put a lot of thought into every aspect of how they present themselves and how that all links back to their music. As clichéd as it sounds (very), this is what people that write about music actually mean when they try to describe something as "fully formed". There's more than a few artists around the country that could - and should - be taking note.

Katie: Totally. It’s informed without being derivative, which is pretty rare in an industry that can never quite decide how much it wants to riff on the American market.

Hussein: 'Satsuma' doesn't switch up the formula that the band is known for, but it's a little more succinct than some of the singles they've released in the past. Yet it still doesn't feel super polished or anything either, which is really what gives it some life. They've made reference to acts like Exploded View, Sleater-Kinney, Fugazi and Warpaint, which makes sense. Dig in and you'll find a nod or two to Kyuss and their sludgy stoner rock kin, as well. And how about that sinister pre-chorus, which hits straight to the chest? "You were sweet like satsuma when I peeled you off and split you in two". If you were looking for remorse, you won’t find it here.

Katie: That line is so perfectly sinister; they’re like creepy sirens or something. As predictable as it is to bring up the ~representation of women~, this reminds me of a great piece Megan Garvey wrote for MTV about the female gaze, where she talks about what happens when female artists subvert the male gaze not by returning it, but by directing it toward the void.

The image of female suburban boredom is a pretty classic feminist trope and I really dig what they’ve done with it here. As Larkin says here, the images echo 1970s-style female archetypes, in a way that’s both aesthetically gorgeous and super uncomfortable: “there’s something grotesque about these women who are supposed to be sexy, domestic and intelligent at the same time.”

It’s funny that it should be a bold move to evoke 1970s feminist cinema, but in the New Zealand band circuit it feels like there is still a pretty big push to play up hardness and masculinity. It’s eerie, defiant and brimming with potential, and very bloody welcome in a scene overflowing with boring dudes.

 

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Hussein is a writer and former editor of thecorner.co.nz.
Katie is a journalist at The Wireless.
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