Prominent popular music from New Zealand in the late 20th century was often Caucasian in origin, with the most internationally recognised musicians coming either from the Flying Nun stable of twisted guitar pop or the mainstream pop of the Finn Brothers. The early 21st century saw a proliferation of reggae-influenced bands with Polynesian origins. Trinity Roots, a Wellington-based trio, fuse dub and soul into arty, spacey songs while infusing a distinctly New Zealand atmosphere. The repetition and restrained atmosphere draw out the innate beauty of the songs.
While contemporary bands such as Fly My Pretties and Fat Freddy’s Drop are dispensable, often justifiably labelled by their detractors as “BBQ Reggae”, Trinity Roots have always felt like the lasting band from the scene. While their albums can sometimes meander, their music has a spiritual element that gives it gravitas.
The group is led by guitarist and vocalist Warren Maxwell, while Rio Hemopo contributes harmony vocals and bass. Riki Gooch was the drummer during the group’s initial 1998-2005 tenure, while Ben Wood drummed on the 2015 reunion album Citizen. I’ve never heard Citizen, and it’s generally received poor reviews, but the band’s first two albums are a nice taste of New Zealand for adventurous music fans.
Trinity Roots Album Reviews
Favourite Album: Home, Land and Sea
Trinity Roots’ debut album was among the first wave of albums to emerge from the Wellington reggae scene at the turn of the 21st century. The initial recordings for True were made in Oruawharu, a colonial-era house in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay. Texturally, Trueoccupies a space between acoustic strummed guitar and deep dub grooves, with Rio Hemopo’s basslines prominent, as well as touches of soul and jazz.
As well as True captures Trinity Roots’ sound, it’s underwritten compared to 2005’s follow-up Home, Land and Sea, and it largely coasts by on texture and groove. The closing ‘Little Things’ is the most memorable song on True, based around a gentle acoustic guitar riff, rather than the deep grooves that fuel the album’s other songs.
True is a nicely captured snapshot of a uniquely New Zealand sound, but Trinity Roots would have stronger material for their second album.
Home, Land and Sea
With a marked growth in artistic maturity, Trinity Root’s second album showcases more interesting lyrics and a more diverse musical approach. Without ever feeling hurried, the album’s nine songs gradually ebb and flow over an hour, among washes of gentle Fender Rhodes, gently strummed guitars and a fluid rhythm section, all minimally arranged for maximum effect.
There are still grooves like ‘Longs I For You’ and ‘Way I Feel’, but they feel stronger when they’re surrounded by more diversity. The opening ‘Aotearoa’ feels like a short pōwhiri for the album, while the concluding title track – a straightforward tribute to New Zealand – has a directness and grandiosity that makes it stand out, providing a climactic conclusion without abandoning the subtleties of the remainder of the record.
A few more great individual pieces would elevate this record to even greater heights, but as a mood piece Home, Land and Sea is all but impeccable.
2015, not yet rated
Trinity Root’s reunion album after a ten-year hiatus, during which Warren Maxwell fronted the more rock-oriented Little Bushman. Citizen has received lukewarm reviews, and I’ve been less interested in hearing it.
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