It would stand to reason that for a band as enamored with the sounds of New Zealand janglepop as Smokescreens, recording your next record with David Kilgour from The Clean at the helm might be checking a lifelong dream off the list. The Kiwi legend brought his producing touch to the record and the collaboration has netted an album that’s reverent to the past — shades of The Chills, Toy Love, The Bats, Verlaines, Go-Betweens, and naturally The Clean abound — and yet still captures a wistfulness that’s as timeless as ever. The jangles here are clean and polished but with that slight brittle edge that inevitably pushes them closer to the Aussie/Kiwi axis than to the Byrds disciples and C86 acolytes. Though they take at least a bit of swipe or two through the UK over the course of the album and lean in wholesale with a cover of Scottish band Scrotum Poles that’s reverent, yet provides the perfect fit for their sound.
The band’s last album peaked my interest hard and they only double down here. The runtime is short, Smokecreens are not ones to overstay their welcome, but each song endears A Strange Dream even further. Bittersweet, breezy, catchy without becoming a confection, the band and Kilgour have created the kind of jangle-pop classic that’s hunted down a generation or two later. With their harmonies slightly askew, the tumble of strings soaked in sun and streaked with silver clouds, I couldn’t build a better mixtape of what’s endearing about their chosen era of admiration. It’s clear that the band are themselves curators and collectors of jangle-pop’s past and their enthusiasm creates a link in the lineage of ‘80s Dunedin that’s hard to resist for those of us that are always looking for more from this wellspring.
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