It is impossible to keep up with all the great music flowing out of New Zealand at times. Because of this, some truly seminal albums fall through the cracks and are almost forgotten. Luckily, some labels have stepped forward to make sure a number of these albums are remembered, and Last Visible Dog is leading the way. Recently, they rescued Peter Wright's "Distant Bombs," and now they've given Stefan Neville's Pumice its first wide release with "Raft." Everyone reading this should send them an email saying thank you.
"Raft" is Stefan Neville's master opus. Carefully constructed and only slightly-polished, this album runs through a gambit of emotions and ideas. Every note feels like it was carefully put into position, and each song sequenced in the perfect order. "Raft" is filled with so much hazy beauty that it's almost too much to take. This is especially apparent when Neville's fragile voice is added to the mix. On "Pipes," I feel like I am hearing a broken man profess his dying wishes to his long lost love. While the fragile verses are barely held together by twine, masking tape, and Neville's voice, the chorus is overrun with exuberance and hope. It's a beautiful combination. It's like a person who is constantly fighting the battle between their optimism and their despair. As I write this, it is four days after the disaster of an election we had here and these are emotions I can relate to. You don't know whether to roll over and die or stand up and fight harder. Neville protrays this magnificently on "Pipes."
Like most great records, the sequence comes into play on "Raft." After the previously mentioned "Pipes," we move into "Ridge" and feel renewed energy in our bones. On "Pipes," Neville is scouring the ground, but on "Ridge," he is looking toward the sky. With a title like "Ridge," I imagine the brilliant sunset fading behind the horizon awash in gold and orange. Neville channels the overpowering beauty of the moment through his fingers and his guitar. I can almost picture tears flowing down his face as he belts out each note. This is an exorcism for those who have been forgotten. This is amazing music.
How "Raft" succeeds so mightily, though, is in drawing the listener in with the first note. "Pumiceraft" opens the album in a subdued and cerebral way. It perfectly embodies all that is great about "Raft," and does so in a way that works as an ode to the album title. Indeed, listening to "Pumiceraft" is like floating down a lazy river on a wooden, shackled raft. It's transcendent and peaceful, but you know you could be swimming at any moment. Neville uses great skill to craft this track, and it thrives in its simplicity. "Pumiceraft" stays with you well after the last notes of this album have finished.
Stefan Neville has been making music for quite some time, but he has reached the pinnacle with "Raft." This is a beautifully fractured album, rife with emotion and full of texture. This is an excellent album in every way. From the artwork, to the music, to the sequencing, to the effect, "Raft" is a minor masterpiece waiting to be discovered. 9/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)