The title of Zealandia, alternative artist Dudley Benson‘s third album, references the 94 per cent submerged continent that lies beneath the ocean, of which New Zealand is just a fraction.
It conjures a sense of primordial urgency, which is reflected in the record; Zealandia, eight years in the making, is an ambitious high-concept album with 12 sprawling tracks, clocking in at more than an hour in total. There‘s something tectonic about it – right down to the literal rocks that Benson samples as beats throughout.
Zealandia‘s songs each speak to thorny issues surrounding New Zealand identities. Opener Papa depicts the creation of New Zealand, while following track Birth of a Nation looks at the damage inflicted by Pākehā colonisers; “Can we decolonise ourselves?” he asks. Cook Beleaguered, one of the record‘s most intriguing moments, paints Captain Cook as a wicked figure, paired with thrilling horns and strings that resemble a nautical drama.
With each song so richly textured, Zealandia requires full attention; many songs refuse to be boxed in by pop structures and instead race through multiple ideas. This can sometimes overcomplicate proceedings, along with some intense production trickery – such as when Benson‘s lovely vocals are clouded by an at-times unnecessary autotune. The tracks that adhere more closely to clean pop hooks are some of the strongest, such as the sparse Muscles or the gritty Solo.
Benson, as a Pākehā man, has acknowledged the limitations of his worldview – but with a nuanced understanding of te ao Māori, it‘s clear he‘s considered the connectivity of everything, from music, to the land, to the people. Zealandia is a beautifully intricate tour de force, and it demonstrates Benson‘s understanding of how some Kiwis, to our own detriment, choose to keep submerged the conversations we should be having about our nation.
Dudley Benson, Zealandia
A meticulous, arresting rumination on New Zealand‘s complicated identities