The past five years has seen New Zealand songstress, Maxine Funke, deliver her most defining work so far.
Raised on an island north from the mainland of New Zealand, Funke then moved south to Dunedin, and here was where her world of creativity seemingly opened up.
The stepdaughter of drummer Michael Dooley, whom she joined in brief stints on guitar in The Beaters, Snapper, and The Snares, Funke then met her future partner, Alastair Galbraith (The Rip). Alongside he and Dooley, Funke would go on to form Hundred Dollar Band who released their 2006 LP, Waves & Particles.
Playing cello in Hundred Dollar Band sparked Funke’s love affair with tranquillity; particularly the acoustic guitar. Moving from Dunedin to the country, on a four-track cassette recorder, this is where the songwriter’s debut Lace arrived in 2008, with Felt following four years later. Both albums unrushed and inspired by Funke’s tranquil surroundings, this is essentially where the songwriter found her voice, unshackled from release schedules and all the other insidious by-products many are bound to in modern age artistic endeavours.
Since the release of Funke’s third LP, Silk (2018), Funke hasn’t looked back, and with her latest offering, River Said, her third in as many years that follows Pieces of Driftwood and the game-changing Séance, here we find an artist deep in the grooves of their creative process.
Slightly more drawn than Pieces of Driftwood, on River Said Funke follows a similar linage of Séance. While the latter was held together by the ideas of reel-to-reel lo-fi hisses – many of its songs deriving from late night recordings in Funke’s bathroom, backyard and a cemetery close by her country home – these songs, whilst still skeletal and raw, imbue more confidence. Funke, a self-professed “internet-shy” soul, and while that aloofness still runs deep through these songs, you sense that she is slowly revealing herself more with each release.
Take the campfire folk lustre of Cherry Blossom Gin. It’s a wonderful story of simplicity where you can almost smell the alcohol from the bottle amid the warm flames. The finger-picked majesty of the title track and Afterwards reveal the true nature of Funke herself: seemingly an artist not born for these times. The new world grind of social media and measuring someone’s emotional intelligence via emojis is a world Funke isn’t cut out for. Her best work is crafted in the shadows and places so quiet you can almost hear the blood running through your veins.
The earthy Call On You echoes through the same rooms Jessica Pratt once inhabited. Funke adds her own spin on folk here through localism. A modesty bursting through these songs which mirrors her fellow New Zealand people and their collective relaxed, loving nature. It’s what makes the country such an unforgettable place, and Funke’s music is an extension of it.
While these songs undoubtedly stand on their own two feet, so singular in nature, sometimes the threat of similarity lurks. Taking its cues from the sonic interludes of Pieces of Driftwood, Long Beach proves a nice gateway for River Said’s closing track, Oblivion.
Abstract with wonky electronics, piercing strings and hushed vocals where Funke oscillates between melody and sing-speak, Oblivion is the outlier on River Said, going against the grain of the album’s core. It’s Funke’s own way of kicking against the norm.
Certain artists have an ability to create songs containing vast amounts of emotional depth. Others just play nice songs. With an original homespun warmth, Maxine Funke does both, and with her ghostly melodies overshadowing AM dread, River Said sees Funke joining the likes of Julie Byrne and Pratt in a space where they capture the perfect light, shade and ambience of folk music.
River Said is out now via Disciples. Purchase from Bandcamp.