Michael Lovett knows how to construct perfect pop music. The previous NZCA Lines album, ‘Pure Luxury’, was aptly enough a scintillating collection of sophisticated, luxurious pop dance tunes and one of 2020’s very best releases. This comes in addition to his day job with Metronomy who have the art of making glorious tunes down to a fine tee.

As a perfectionist, Lovett has had issues with finishing music and being prepared to think that his songs are ready to be shared. He now embraces the idea of releasing EPs as a time capsule and celebration of spontaneity. Each of the four songs on ‘Universal Heartbreak’ began life on a Wurlitzer electric piano and an 808 drum machine. While they have been stripped back to express the frustration, anger and sadness he has worked through in the past couple of years, they shimmer with an artfully constructed sheen that sounds effortless but will clearly have been the result of much deliberation.

From the opening plaintive piano of ‘Push Reset’, reassuringly solid ground is being trodden. There is a wonderful combination of a tune balanced between euphoria and a tinge of sadness pushed along by 90s hip hop inspired drums and lyrics that express regret at past mistakes and a yearning to restart from scratch while acknowledging its impossibility. ‘Overloaded’ is more minimalist, especially when all apart from the organ which recalls ‘The Look’ drops out, while the use of auto-tuned vocals contrives to heighten the song’s emotion.

The title track draws on darker moments but stresses the importance of not dwelling on mistakes. He is haunted by “bad dreams every night… But we’re both too old to be here by now”. The music with its synthesised orchestration and infectious basslines provides a glorious contrast to the regrets.

The EP draws to a close far too soon with ‘Everything Hurts In The End’ which is prime wallowing material, made up of an insistent chorus consisting of the title’s words, synths wobbling like jelly, some significant bass action and a distorted guitar break to conjure those mixed feelings of being sad yet elated.

It completes a set of songs on ‘Universal Heartbeat’ that demonstrate NZCA Lines has not lost the knack of producing A star pop.

NZCA Lines: Universal Heartbreak EP – Out 22nd September 2023 (Memphis Industries)

LINES – Push Reset (Official Video) – YouTube

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.