Fazerdaze // Original photo by Imogen Wilson.
Fazerdaze: Morningside LP | 2017
Good records often seem to conjure up a time and place. Not necessarily the exact month of recording or the day of release; the connection is more about the atmosphere. To me, Fazerdaze’s album, Morningside, oozes the languid heat and fuggy humidity of Auckland late in summer. It's an album of beautiful restrained modern pop songs. Songs that are dreamlike fuzz guitar masterpieces.
Fazerdaze is Amelia Murray. Amelia grew up in Wellington, New Zealand and attended Onslow College where she mainly listened to what is now identified as Classic Rock (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc) which she largely accessed on loan from the Wellington Public Library. There were a couple of years being immersed playing in the all girl The Tangle and getting some hands on experience in the Rock Quest world. She had the music bug which she could not shake, so she kept at it with three years at music school in Auckland. There were a few more bands before she found herself working solo in 2014, when she released her debut self-titled EP.
Amelia was by then working at the Flying Out record shop in Auckland which was associated with Flying Nun back then (set up by Flying Nun co-owner Ben Howe, before he sold his 50% share in 2020). With a good rapport established, it seemed natural that the album Amelia was now working on, Morningside, would be released on Flying Nun.
Recorded in Morningside, Auckland in and released in 2017, Morningside boasts an awful lot of standout songs. Side one kicks off with ‘Last to Sleep’, which sets the bar inordinately high. It begins with a deceptively simple drum, bass, guitar construction with Amelia trademark vocal stamping its mark from the outset. It is a vocal style at once relaxed but emphatic, laid back but precise, relaxed but urgent. The song has its own precise internal momentum and builds as keyboard layers are added. ‘Lucky Girl’ has a touch of Altered Images about it, it’s a very thin hint of a connection and it sounds like a hit single. ‘Misread’ kicks off with bass guitar and a sense of despair that ends with a whack of guitar aggression. ‘Little Uneasy’ is another polished, gem-like song with a relaxed vocal with a melody contrasting with some intricate instrumental complexity. ‘Jennifer’ opens to chimes with Amelia’s vocals and acoustic guitar transporting the listener to somewhere that isn't languorous Morningside, Auckland but rather the sunny hot of a beach in music making California perhaps. The Beach Boys might not be present but half of The Mamas and the Papas just might be.
Side two opens with one of the album's strongest songs. ‘Take it Slow’ which leisurely and steadily builds with progressive vocal and instrumental layered steps culminating in a reverby swirl of voice and sound. ‘Shoulders’ features a casio-like keyboard sound, that reminds this listener of the casio work of Chris Knox and Tall Dwarfs, and Amelia's layered mournful vocals. Another standout is ‘Friends’ with an intro of single bass notes leading to a vocal, then simple drum beats and finally a contrasting loud guitar. We were ready for a blast of colder air and this blows and mingles some of the traces of unease that have accumulated and now reside faintly beneath the surface of this album. Unease is a good thing, as are the other slowly shifting mood layers of emotion; these are complexities that make music listening rewarding. A distant vocal and a simple twangy guitar take us through the plaintive ‘Half-figured’. The album finishes with the delicate “picking” of notes through ‘Bedroom Talks’ with summery cicadas clacking in the background heat. The last two songs sound like the mood of the record is settling back into its predominant and “proper” place. One of thoughtful (and for the listener, enjoyable) introspection. The music is well arranged with a spare placement of notes all working to build atmospheres while Amelia's vocals drift through and over the music. Morningside is a deeply satisfying introspective masterpiece.
When Amelia worked at the record shop, she became friends with April Brimer and saw in one of her photos the future cover of her album. The image was of the top of a person's head with their hands thrown up and together in a way that only young people can unselfconsciously manage. Behind is blue sky and the bright burning daytime glow of the sun. Simple, intense and a perfect Fazerdaze record cover. Much work still needed to be done; the blue needed to be more blue and fiddling with the pixels offered endless aesthetic choices. The choice for the finished cover is clearly one that celebrates optimism. While the music hovers near the bumps in life, the record cover is screaming “isn’t life absolutely great!”
Morningside album cover.
Morningside took a couple of years to record as it was effectively a DIY solo project undertaken by Amelia. The songs are personal and intimate and the listener has the sense that the process was cathartic. These songs and the arrangements were developed by Amelia in a self-isolating, self-produced way. Amelia found it important to the development of new ideas and in the refinement of her sound, and Morningside certainly does have a sound. When she was ready with the songs and the arrangements were complete, musicians were then recruited to play and be recorded where needed.
The recorded songs are deceptive; seemingly simple, immediate and built with an internal scaffolding of the traditional rock and roll instruments: guitars, bass, drums and some keyboards. The construction shows the bare minimum of fuss and showcases Amelia’s controlled but expressive vocals. Simple musical ideas are built up in layers and given a light reverby haze. Amelia uses it with a light touch and in a controlled way, as a discrete instrument in itself rather than using it as an overarching affect. The treatment helps create the summery vibe; this is the cool record you play in the thick damp air of an insect full late summer, or at any time at all.
Morningside was released worldwide by Flying Nun - except in Japan where it was released by Tugboat and mainland Europe by Groenland. A sizable international fanbase organically and naturally developed. Fazerdaze played sold out venues everywhere from Jakarta to New York, Melbourne to London. She performed at Coachella Festival and headlined or played other big festivals throughout South East Asia. She also got significant airplay on TripleJJJ, BBC and US College radio. And after a 5 year hiatus, Fazerdaze's new EP, Break! is out next Friday the 14th of October. You can preorder it on vinyl here.
Fazerdaze in Taipei, Taiwan in 2017 // Photo by Guy Cowan
Fazerdaze in Jakarta, Indonesia / Photo by Guy Cowan
Fazerdaze in New York City / Photo by Ben Howe