Harte, Broken: Things are looking down for Shocking Pinks’ frontman.

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Preoccupied with betrayal and revenge fantasies, today’s dominant strain of third-wave emo shares a few too many sensibilities with the Death Wish series for comfort. But sad-boy melodrama doesn’t have to be angry. It can also be poignant, tender, and intelligent—just ask any Morrissey fan. New Zealand indie-rock auteur Nick Harte has mastered this kinder, gentler brand of cry-music. The sole member of Shocking Pinks, Harte fills his self-titled debut with stoner yearning and foot-pedal fetishism, crafting noisy songs about girls, love, and being too messed up to love girls correctly. By and large, he refrains from any conduct that might get him hit with a restraining order. “I love you when you’re happy/I love you when you’re sad/But I’d rather be your retard, babe, than be your motherfucking dad/Telling you what to do,” Harte sings on “How Am I Not Myself?” His voice strays in and out of tune over shambling acoustic guitar before falling into a dreamy oohs-and-ahhs interlude. Confessional, tender, and consciously simple, the song stakes out a weird yet poignant ground between Radiohead and the Vaselines. “I Want U Back” is heavier, packing teenage melancholy into less than two minutes of fuzzy and distorted pop, with Harte moaning, “I want you back/All the time/But I lost my way.” Shocking Pinks definitely qualifies as emo: Harte is lovelorn, heartbroken, and often moved to spout awkward phrases like, “You saved me from what I shouldn’t do/I wish I could go back in time/And fix this fucked-up mind” on “Blonde Haired Girl.” But unlike the Fall Out Boys of the world, Shocking Pinks’ songs are hardly ever vindictive. If anything, Harte may even be too much of a milquetoast. On “Jealousy,” he responds to a cheating lover by resigning himself to emotional martyrdom over a jangling Afro-pop hook: “Repeating undoable black hole of love will just continue to stay open 24/7/Because I really do love you,” he sings. If you’re in the mood to sit in the dark and smoke a few clove cigarettes, Harte’s your man—all of that time spent recording alone in a New Zealand basement has given him a sharp command of spare and lonely post-punk balladry. On the album’s final track—an appropriately heartsick cover of Arthur Russell’s “You Can Make Me Feel Bad”—Harte plaintively sings the title over and over again backed by the soft reverberant strumming of an acoustic guitar. “You can make me feel bad, if you want to.” It’s a song that listeners should be singing to Shocking Pinks.