A community support worker by day, Mali Mali (real name Ben Tolich) has dedicated his spare hours over the past seven or so years to building collections of concise, meditative chamber-pop. Debut album Gather 'round the Gooseclock (2013) caught the attention of many and 2016’s follow-up As a Dog Dreams earned accolades the country over. In 2018 Mali Mali returned with Azimuth, replete with metaphysical abstractions wrapped up in succinct chamber-pop. ‘Azimuth is melodic and poetic, yet also grainy and mysterious’, said Nick Bollinger in an RNZ review. ‘While it’s playing you think of nothing else, nowhere you’d rather be’, raved Off the Tracks.
In a swift follow up to 2018’s Azimuth, 2020 sees the release of I Was Told to Keep an Eye Out. On the record, Tolich’s songwriting exhibits a depth of maturity and poeticism buoyed by a cutting edge, and an instrumental sophistication akin to the likes of Wilco. Recorded once again at his home studio on Tamaki Makaurau’s North Shore, I Was Told to Keep an Eye Out calls to the experimental nature-pop of Alaistair Gailbraith, and to the razor sharp lyrical intelligence of both Bill Direen and Peter Jefferies.
The nine tracks brim over with succinct yet poetically explorative meditations buoyed by textures of reverberant piano, delicate guitar, explorative synths, and percussive loops. Moving deftly through complex subjects and arrangements with levity, the record is lush, though never easy-listening; Tolich’s poetic lyrics exploring complexities of social, cultural and class distinctions, grounded in a distinctly NZ melancholy and self-deprecating humour.
While his production reaches sweeping new levels of accomplishment, Tolich is also a compelling live performer. Mali Mali has toured Australia and New Zealand extensively both solo and with a band, and supported such international acts as Perfume Genius, Jordan Ireland, Soda Eaves and Boy & Bear. The latter included playing to a sold out crowd at Auckland’s Powerstation. Not one to be charmed by the bright lights of big stages, Tolich has also completed multiple intimate living-room tours, including a show in Los Angeles to a smitten crowd.
RIYL: Anthonie Tonnon, Peter Jeffries, Bill Direen
- Some Crime from Way Back When
- Two Truths and a Lie
- For the Wisdom to Blossom
- Ceremony for a Key
- I Was Told to Keep an Eye Out
- Harlequin Bay Rushes
- The Crickets