Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Songs of Ennui

It's five whole years since Street Chant released their debut album Means. The record's smart, crunchy guitar pop songs took them from being the young band who seemed to be playing somewhere in Auckland every weekend to memorably winning the Critics Choice prize – beating the all-stars-aligned Naked and Famous on the night – and touring internationally with the Lemonheads.

But the difficult second album seemed to be inordinately difficult to finish. Apart from an EP of alleged out-takes, there has been nothing. In the meantime, Emily Littler established a prolific solo thing as Emily Edrosa and they lost a drummer. Well, the album has a name, Hauora, and a release date in November. But most of all, this week there's a first taste. And it's great.

Like 'Stoned Again' from Means, it's about being a bit stranded. Emily says:

'Pedestrian Support League' is a song loosely about Auckland life. Coming back from being on tour a lot and moving back into a crummy flat in Grey Lynn I felt an extreme sense of ennui amongst my peers and especially in myself.

A few years ago I had felt excitement for the future and now I was paranoid my flatmates were stealing all my margarine. The chorus "enrol to vote and so it goes, everyone dresses like us nowadays" expresses the amusement and dissatisfaction I felt with my surroundings – amusement because I felt like I was living out some “food for flatties” cookbook cliche, but watching National win another election as well my seemingly endless ability to stagnate brought about an extreme sense of apathy.

Street Chant play The Sherwood in Queenstown tonight, Chick's in Dunedin tomorrow night and the spectaular The Other's Way Festival on K Road next Friday.

Also playing The Other's Way next week: Kody Neilson's Silicon, whose debut album is out today. It hasn't appeared on the wires yet, but you can stream all the tracks via the record company's website.


New on Audioculture, Gareth Shute's history of the Wine Cellar and Whammy, which reveals the way Wine Cellar founder Rohan Evans was inspired by the squatter bars of Berlin and the neighbourhood Izakaya bars to make a place that he wanted "to look like the bar might’ve always been there. There wasn’t any intention for it to be a music venue. It was just a dive bar, where it’s the people and the things that you’re drinking that are important so it’s always been dark and dingy and recycled."

Turns out I wasn't the only one a bit mystified by Sony NZ's big local signing Maala. It seemed the mystery was strategic, but who exactly was he? Melody Thomas's Music 101 interview with Maala (real name: Evan Sinton) explains a lot.


Hey! We've got a giveaway! I've got three copies of Yo La Tengo's Stuff Like That There, an album largely composed of an eclectic mix of cover versions of songs originally recorded by Hank Williams, The Cure, Sun Ra and, er, Yo La Tengo. Just click the email link at the bottom, put "Yo La Tengo" in the subject line and I'll draw it tomorrow.


You know who else is playing The Other's Way? Chelsea Jade. And if you like her music, you'll probably like this dreamy track from Melbourne's MayaVanya, not least because she has a guest vocal on it:

Auckland-born, Peckham-based Chaos in the CBD have a pretty gorgeous new EP of supple, atmospheric house music out now. Stuff like this:

That track is a free download here. And the Midnight in Peckham EP itself is available on Bandcamp in digital and vinyl formats.

Another free download: Team Cat Food take Boycrush's 'Caprice' to the house:

I really liked Electric Wire Hustle's Kimbra collaboration 'Brother Sun' when it dropped a couple of weeks ago, and the EP from which it came, Aeons, is out today. With its swirling electronic strings, the title track is quite a different affair to the single. You can buy the EP for $5.50 on Baboom.

And finally, dancefloor remixes of stone classics are a risky business, more so when the sonic character of the original is so much part of the magic, but I kinda like this accelerated edit of 'Sign of the Times':


Everybody has one

Dita de Boni bowed out from her New Zealand Herald column this morning with a powerful explanation of why she might, as some people have apparently suggested to her over the years, have become more "biased against" the government.

The answer's that the examples of contempt for the public, hypocrisy, and flat-out bulls***tery have become too overwhelming to ignore.

And while these traits can also be found in the opposition, it's not the same. A journalist - even an opinion columnist writing on politics, which is not the same thing as investigative journalism and certainly not as important - must necessarily give more weight to the actions of the party in power. Anything else starts to look like meaningless diversion.

The other reason, of course, is that I love New Zealand - not in a new flag baloney, jingoistic, Richie McCaw-worshipping kind of way, but as a country that is small enough, wealthy enough, and forward-thinking enough to ensure a great life for most.

She goes on to lament government policy – or the lack of it – in Housing and Corrections, noting that while she has a nice life in "an expensive house in central Auckland ... children live in sheds and sleepouts and die from the diseases of overcrowding not 40 minutes away." It's a strongly-written piece about holding power to account.

In the same online paper today, Mike Hosking has a confused and self-serving column that also addresses claims of bias, most notably from Winston Peters. Hosking professes surprise at "how appallingly ill-informed so many people are about how the media works" and explains that because he is not, as is widely supposed a journalist, "I can, like most people, say what I like." Most people do not, of course, have the benefit of multiple platforms on which to amplify their sometimes weirdly inaccurate reckons.

It would be easy to think that Hosking's primacy and de Boni's departure represent a conscious editorial tilt to the right. I don't think that's necessarily what's happening here. After all, Toby Manhire still writes very well every week, and Jarrod Gilbert this week offered an insightful opinion on the way that public anger gets in the way of actually addressing the causes of violence against children.

It's more like this: Hosking's thoughts are automatically echoed in the Herald because Newstalk ZB and the Herald are part of the same company, NZME, and Hosking is one of NZME's banner names. The company wants both to promote Hosking and reticulate traffic through its different media assets. (TVNZ is basically an add-on to this.) Over at Mediaworks, an increasing proportion of what you see and hear is also in service of another part of the company – and that will become even more the case when Mediaworks' events venture gets up to speed. In both companies, commercial radio provides the profits, meaning radio calls the shots. If there's a conservative influence, that's radio.

The other factor is that opinion – and that's increasingly what column-writing is becoming, rather than analysis or argument – is in oversupply, because everyone has one of those in the age of the internet. It no longer fetches much of a price.

So while Jarrod Gilbert gets paid in recognition of his greatly-deserved Blogger of the Year award, it suits the Herald to keep on Bob Jones, who writes for free, and dump Paul Casserly, who doesn't. The tedious tit-for-tat columns that Judith Collins and Phil Goff get their staff to write in the Sunday Star Times are, similarly, funded from your tax dollars, rather than the paper's editorial budget. [Correction: Collins is paid a modest fee and donates the money to the Totara South Auckland Hospice. Not sure about Goff.]

Dr Michelle Dickinson's new Science and Tech column in the Weekend Herald is sponsored by Callaghan Innovation "to promote the coverage of science and innovation". As welcome as a science column is, and as fine a communicator as Michelle is, I suspect this means the paper is being paid to publish a columnist, rather than paying a columnist. You'll see more of this in future. It would be good to think that means more money for investigative journalism.

Hosking's column includes a shot at his journalistic critics – for foolishly mistaking him for a journalist. He declares " as a journalist one of your primary tasks is accuracy and if you start off with inaccuracy you never really recover".

Hosking, on the other hand, is relieved of the burden of accuracy because it's just his opinion. But it appears in the newspaper, and I'm sure there are many at the Herald who worry about the paper being dragged down to commercial talk radio standards of opinionating, let alone prose style. I suspect in the hard world of modern media, they don't have much choice.

Hosking further suggests that "my glass half-full view of the world might just happen to coincide with the glass half-full view of the Government" and declares himself to "have been glass half-full for about 50 years".

De Boni invokes the same phrase in her farewell column:

If I have a "glass half full" mentality, it's because that's easy for someone in my privileged position to have.

I need hardly explain to you the difference in what they're saying.


Announcing: IRL at The Golden Dawn

Hello! You know, it's waaay too long since we've done an event for you. Well, I've fixed that. On the afternoon of Saturday week, September 5, we're kicking off a new talk series called IRL at The Golden Dawn and it's going to be a lot of fun.

"We" in this case is me, 95bFM's nine-to-noon host Esther Macintyre, Matthew Crawley and his team at The Golden Dawn in Ponsonby – and Orcon, who are kindly making all this possible.

Esther helped me out with this year's Splore Talk and I'm a big fan of her radio show, so I was keen to work with her again.

The programme will kick off with Esther interviewing Mainard Larkin, aka Randa, who is one of the most intriguing figures in New Zealand popular culture.

Then I'll be chatting to Ali Ikram, the Campbell Live reporter who left his job with TV3 when that show got the chop and has now joined the ranks of media soldiers of fortune. You can be assured I'll get the, er, story.

Silver Scrolls finalist Anthonie Tonnon will then join us to play some of his smart, journalistic songs.

And finally, all of us, Anthonie included, will convene on a plenary panel to address important questions submitted by you, the live audience, on hand-crafted artisan pieces of paper, which Esther and I will draw from a hat. (NB: Serious questions and silly questions are both important. And the paper probably won't be artisan. As such.)

It's going to be a lot of fun, and there will be the excellent Golden Dawn food and drink to add to the merriment. Note that this is happening out in the Golden Dawn courtyard, which is mostly sheltered, but if the weather is too foul, we have a rain date set for the following Saturday. But hopefully not.

Note that, like the old Great Blend events, IRL is free to attend, but you'll need to RSVP here.

Capacity is limited, but I've held a few places for the unfortunate souls who can't use the internet at work and will release those this evening.


The Sky Trench

Back in June, I wrote a post about the consultation process with potential users of the most exciting part of the Nelson Street Cycle Route being delivered by the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport – the swoop of the disused motorway off-ramp that will run from Canada Street, under Karangahape Road to the top of Nelson Street.

Auckland Council's short online survey offered options on the look of the road surface, from “Distinctly New Zealand” to “Words/lyrics/storytelling” and I wasn't alone in feeling that NZTA and its partners should just keep it simple and let the skyway be what it is. My preferred option was "Don't fuck it up."

Well, construction of the route is well underway and Matt at Transportblog has posted the pictures. The news is that they've fucked it up. Royally, and in a way that no one who looked at the survey options could have anticipated.

The cycleway in the sky will be closed in with three-metre high walls.

Yes, the walls to be affixed to the big metal pillars will be some kind of transparent plastic, but from a shallow angle, they will be decidedly less transparent. They will not have a direct bearing on the usefulness of the route – but they will rob it of most of its environmental joy. That is, of one of the reasons we ride bicycles in the first place.

The obvious assumption is that the high walls have been ordered to stop people throwing objects off the bridge onto the motorway below (which they clearly will not) or to stop people jumping or falling off. But if it's the latter, why do none of the bridges over the motorway network (including the recently-upgraded Upper Queen Street shared-use bridge) have similarly monolithic walls? Why has the soon-to-be-installed access bridge to the same cycleway been spared the walls?

I had planned to get out and photograph some of those other bridges, but Matt has already done that, so feel free to consult his excellent post.

So why has this happened? I can only guess that it's some attempt at design coherence with the 2011 K Road overbridge redevelopment. That, too, needlessly blocks the public view. (It also features shelters that do not provide shelter, and was badly received by users when it opened.)

There's also the soundwall that runs along the Freeman's Bay side of the approach to the harbour bridge. But that separates walkers and riders from the noise and peril of five lanes of motorway traffic. It addresses an actual problem.

But this? I'm dumbfounded. Apparently Transportblog got wind of the plan a few months ago and tried to talk NZTA out of it – but the panels had already been ordered from Germany. That no one thought this overwhelming feature of the cycleway's design warranted being part of the consultation process just defies belief.


Friday Music: Play Versions

It is the price of a tidy kitchen that my family will sometimes have to put up with me playing my latest jam repeatedly while I dance around doing the tidying and stacking. It might be a new tune, or it might just be one I've discovered and fallen in love with.

This week's jam is the latter. I'm not sure how I didn't know sooner about Dusty Springfield's 'Who gets Your Love', the lead track on her 1973 album Cameo, a commercial flop which, in the words of its Wikipedia entry, "has since been re-evaluated by both fans and music critics alike and is now often cited as one of the highlights of Springfield's recording career".

It's a sad breakup song that bursts into a storming soul chorus orchestrated by her writer-producers, Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who wrote a string of minor hits and also-rans through the 60s and 70s (including for New Zealand crooners Craig Scott and Dean Waretini) and produced Glen Campbell's 'Rhinestone Cowboy'. I'm not sure they did anything better than this:

If I didn't know Dusty's original, I had been playing another version, by Jamaican singer Ken Boothe, since I rediscovered it on a Trojan Records compilation LP I bought in the 1980s. Boothe's version is tense and haunting:

The third version of any note is the one by Margie Joseph, which was sampled/remixed last year by dance producers Vanilla. I haven't embedded those because they don't come near the versions that fall in the respective sweet spots of the two legendary singers above.

Hey, you know what? I don't have any great meditations on the state of music this week, so maybe we can just share some favourite versions. If you want to play, just find your jam on YouTube and paste in the URL (just the URL, not any embed code) into the comments window below. It'll auto-embed when you save your comment.

I'll start with another tune I've played out a few times: the unlikely and gorgeous cover of James Blake's 'The Wilhelm Scream' recorded by Australian outfit The Bamboos. It really does work:


I've mentioned before that I am a member of the Digital Media Trust, which oversees Audioculture and the long-running screen heritage site NZ On Screen. And almost since the whole project began seven years ago, I have been politely asking after the music video for Sharon O'Neill's 'Asian Paradise'.

It has been a long and difficult road, because Sharon's former record company long ago lost the video master and no one else seemed to have one. It eventually transpired that the ABC in Australia had a copy and earlier this year NZ On Screen paid a transfer fee to get a copy back for New Zealand.

And this week, the video was posted. I am sure that all of you who were male teenagers in 1980 will share my ... feelings about this:

Also fresh on NZ On Screen this week: a long-forgotten (by me, anyway) Radio With Pictures recording of John Cale's brilliant 1983 show at The Gluepot, with Tall Dwarfs in support. A bootleg tape from the mixing desk of this show has been traded amongst Cale fans for years (I had one and pretty much wore it out), so to have the video available after all this time is a very special thing.

On Audioculture: how the music came back to New Plymouth (includes Peter Jefferies and Amanda Palmer) and Andrew Schmidt's profile of the most influential musical figure to emerge from the Hutt Valley, Chris Parry – who played on The Fourymula's before stepping away from the drumkit to sign The Jam, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure, and, later, to launch the game-changing London music station Xfm.


I went down to the launch of Randa's new video for 'Lifeguard' on K Road this week. It's the latest in a series of collaborations with with Candlelit Pictures, directed this time by Thunderlips. And I think I am on safe ground in saying that the response of the crowd was "Wow, that was amazing! And a little bit creepy ... "

Also new this week, Princess Chelsea's 'We Were Meant 2 B', which uses clips from the 1980s coming-of-age film Against the Odds, on whose soundtrack it features. As someone points out in the comments, it has the odd, but not unpleasant, feel of watching a late 80s video:


Elsewhere, Godfrey de Grut analyses UMO's 'Multi-Love' in NZ Musician magazine.

Russell Baillie chats to Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne in light of the exciting new that the Lips, Disclosure, Kurt Vile and a bunch of others will be playing the inaugural McLaren Valley Music and Arts Festival next January. I'm going.

If you missed Julia Parnell's excellent Dragon documentary, it's on Sky Go.

New at Te Ara, Ewan Lincoln's A History of Aotearoa in seven musical instruments.

And more good video from the Radio NZ Music team: at home with Fazerdaze:



Currently sitting pretty at the top f the 95bFM Alternative Top 10, Soccer Practise's sleek 'Windfall':

I have a lot of time for Lizzie Marvelly as a person, but I think that like many who've done it, she has struggled to make the move from a light classical career to cool pop music. I think she might have got there now, with this smoochy P Money-produced R&B tune from the soundtrack of Stan Walker's forthcoming film Born to Dance:

Thanks to Disasteradio for the heads-up on the new album of chiptuney electronic fun from Mark McGuire as The Road Chief, previewed here by The Hype Machine:

There aren't many tracks that are as safe a bet on the dancefloor as 'No Diggity'. And this housey remix is quite the banger. Free download:

And finally, RocknRolla Soundsystem are back with a new mixtape. I need hardly explain to you what a good time this dirty grab bag of funk, soul and breaks represents. Free download: