THIS SEVEN-SONG recording is somewhere between an EP and an album, which makes it a mini-album, I guess.
It’s from Wellington songwriter Matthew Pickering, who sounds a lot like he looks in the photo adorning the cover of Up At The Bunkers: sensible jersey, sensible glasses, sensible hairstyle, and a pensive expression as he gazes out to… Well, we can’t see where he’s gazing, just that he is, but he’s standing, facing the wind, up near the bunkers at what is presumably the top of Brooklyn hill. My memory of Wellington’s geographical features evades me.
So yeah, Pickering writes and sings music as clean-cut and sensible as he looks. It’s influenced by folk, but it’s happily not just strum. There are strummed guitars, but also picked guitars, and ukuleles, and pianos, and double basses and even horns, which give it a nicely baroque feel, a musical garnish that does what a garnish is supposed to do: lift it.
Pickering writes about the things close to him, the people in his life, and there are some tender, poetic moments (check out ‘Like An Eyelash’) and even the odd suggestion that he’s got a boner for some chick.
Sorry, I had to write that line, because Up At The Bunkers is so damn nice that it drove me to rashness. Pickering sings in an open, keening tone that is slightly reminiscent of former choirboy Dudley Benson. There’s also the fact of Pickering’s Christianity, and while I’m certain my mother would like him, there’s a passivity to the proceedings that ends up being just a little cloying. It’s not that he needs to come over all Marilyn Manson on us, just that there’s no shadings or even hints of darkness in the sound, which means we’re just not getting quite the full picture. I mean, by night he could be an axe-murderer, and we would never know.
Still, while Pickering’s mini-album will prove slim-pickings for anyone with a rock’n’roll backbone, I’m sure there will be adherents who appreciate his sensitivity and sheer niceness, and others will enjoy the craft of the songs themselves. Apparently his day job is documenting the aural history of the government as a Hansard editor at Parliament. I’m not surprised. His songs are full of small detail that others may have ignored. GARY STEEL
Music – 3/5
Sound – 3/5
* Matthew Pickering performs in Auckland on Friday 12 October, 7.30pm at the Artworks Community Theatre, corner Korora and Ocean View roads, Oneroa, Waiheke Island.