The Vietnam War – The Vietnam War (Round Trip Mars/Universal)

Auckland-based five piece The Vietnam War is an incongruous little band. From their name (are they referencing war or peace? Internal conflict? Drug culture? 60s music? Or did they just think it sounded cool?) to the blinking, flower-festooned owl (drawn by bass player Kristal Gallagher) on the cover of their self-titled debut album, to the grimy photography of drummer Kari Hammond, to the music itself, this band is an enigma.

Recorded by Karl Steven (The Drab Doo-Riffs, Supergroove), the twelve tracks meander between melancholy and sunny, overly American and distinctly kiwi, rousing alt-country and timeless folk, and are sung by Lubin Raines in a voice that sounds at times like a drone that only a mother could love, and at times like the compelling murmur of a modern K’Rd prophet.

What all twelve tracks do have in common are some wonderful lyrics. Real, raw and resigned, Raines sings about loneliness and loss. Listening to this album is like looking through a faded photo album of someone’s life. You can see the tumbleweeds when on opening track High Window Raines sings “nothing left for you in this town” over the subtle jangle of the tambourine. The harmonica picks up where his vocals leave off, expressing something unspeakably sad with its high, sweet tones. “You’re my lost years and I’m your wasted time – and it’s heavy on my mind,” Raines drawls over the next track, before song number three – a rousing country stomp with the title Love is Nothing kicks in. On Two for One Raines sings “maybe she’ll come back to me” and “anything left alone will die”. The guitar gently weeps on this track, evoking a feeling that she did not come back, and that a piece of the songwriter did indeed die.

This mysterious band has produced a bittersweet family album documenting, without nostalgia, children growing up, love being lost, and battles of the mind being waged.

Kathryn van Beek

Click her to listen to Heavy On My Mind from The Vietnam War: