- - 8/108/10
‘Zealandia’ is an almost entirely submerged mass of continental crust that sank after breaking away from Australia 60–85 million years ago, and is the inspiration behind the sprawling avant-pop album of the same name by renowned artist Dudley Benson.
Released in his homeland of New Zealand this time last year, ‘Zealandia’ was officially unveiled in the UK on 23rd August 2019 to coincide with Dudley’s debut European tour. A high concept album, ‘Zealandia’ is Dudley’s magnum opus having spent eight years honing a record that cements his status as one of the most distinctive and divisive artists in his home country. Featuring over 160 contributors, including the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, the New Zealand Youth Choir, and GNS Science geologists, Zealandia tackles themes of decolonisation, nationhood and the relationship human beings have with nature.
Opening with the almost dream-like ‘Papa’, a song that portrays the formation of New Zealand, Dudley Benson sets out his stall for challenging the listener both sonically and mentally. ‘Muscles’, complete with bleeping, glitchy electronica, offers a more introspective, personal edge to its lyrical content while ‘Cook Beleaguered’ playfully reimagines the fables of Captain James Cook. Throughout the album we are exposed to experimental soundscapes and challenging samples but never lose site of the beauty poring from every note. Merged with lush orchestral segments and wistful harmonised vocals, ‘Zealandia’ is rewarding as it is challenging.
This is no more apparent than on stand out track ‘We Could’ve Been Gods’. A song born out of a conversation Benson had with 90-year old New Zealand painter Jacqueline Fahey, the pair discussed the human impact on the Earth, with Fahey retorting: “We could’ve been gods!”, to which Benson replied “But we fucked it up”. Opening with this line, ‘We Could’ve Been Gods’ is a quirky, whimsical journey, hypnotically building throughout six and a half joyful minutes. Working with a number of producer friends including Alcs, Airwalk and P.H.F. (Perfect Hair Forever), Dudley remixed ‘We Could’ve Been Gods’ into various incarnations and interpretations of the original. You can have a first listen to the dance-tinged remix EP below.
Working through the record track by track, you are struck by the lack of boundaries and well worn song structures Dudley adheres to. Refusing to be bound by genre, ‘Zealandia’ is a record unlike anything you’re likely to hear in 2019. The second half of the album resembles a score for a fantasy film, with tracks such as ‘Matariki’ and ‘Rutu’ offering a filmic serenity usually reserved for mavericks like Björk.