While some might consider Family Cactus as spiky a musical proposition as the group’s name suggests, such an obvious interpretation doesn’t even skim the surface of the evocative music made by this New Zealand group. Led by multi-instrumentalist/composer/singer Adam Ladley, Family Cactus comprises seven members of differing musical pedigrees all united by musical purpose on debut LP, Come Howling. “We’re attempting to make music that means something”, says Ladley. “With seven members we end up creating music that we wouldn’t ordinarily make. We want to make music that we can play and sing as loud as we want to, but at the same time play music that is dynamically interesting.”
It isn’t simply the tower of sound evoking widescreen vistas engaging the imagination: the co-lead vocals of Adam Ladley and Nina Siegler propel songs away from vague descriptions like ‘cinematic’ into story-driven mind-movies. Ladley populates his songwriting characters and perspectives: from miners facing tragedy in crumbling coal towns, to bored suburban teenage punks bent on petty destruction. And as ‘New Zealand Gothic’ is not exclusively a literary motif, far from couching these tales in the time-honoured, uniformly-downcast troubadour style, Family Cactus sculpt a multi-textured, hook-laden, vividly-imagined musical kaleidoscope where the subjects of Ladley’s observational songs burst into life.
But neither the songs nor the group are the domain of chin-strokers. Generating the sort of underground-on-the-brink-of-crossover buzz that their spiritual kin Arcade Fire & Wilco had, Family Cactus have clocked up an alternative radio hit with the exuberant ‘Kingmaker’ and developed a reputation for ecstatic live performances on the indie circuit & beyond. In two years of existence, while playing NZ’s peculiar festival circuit (and opening for like-minded souls such as Okkervil River), Family Cactus have set a course to redefine a kind of New Zealand expression: one which will resonate acoss the globe.