Hard News by Russell Brown

15

Friday Music: Digging ASMR

A week ago today on Lorde Listening Day, the singer and producer Chelsea Jade (who has a good new tune out, see below) tweeted that she was "getting ASMR shivers cascading down my skull from ella's voice all through this record". Another follower responded "Hey! I have ASMR too, it's pretty amazing how she triggers it for me as well!"

Well, me too. Last night I was standing in the kitchen, listening to Melodrama ('The Louvre', I think it was, and then the transition to 'Loveless' from 'Hard Feelings') and feeling my scalp fizz all over. It was pleasurable and, it seems, repeatable.

At this point you may be wondering what I'm on about (or possibly, what I'm on). Well, Autonomous sensory meridian response is defined by Wikipedia as ...

... an experience characterised by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia.[1][2] ASMR signifies the subjective experience of "low-grade euphoria" characterised by "a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin". It is most commonly triggered by specific acoustic, visual and digital media stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attentional control.[3][4]

It's not a new thing. Indeed, millions of YouTube views have been racked up by videos intended to trigger ASMR responses, many of them featuring women whispering slightly creepily. On the other hand, there's a 15-minute video of noodle packets being crumpled, which does it for me:

There's been discussion and at least one research paper as to the relationship between ASMR and music chills. For me, they're separate but related experiences, with a spine-tingling response to music more often likely to be related to something that's happening in a piece of music – typically a climax or melodic shift – and ASMR as likely to happen out of any musical context (there is not, after all, anything being communicated in the crackling of a noodle packet). In 'The Louvre', I guess both things are happening: a crackly, draw-you-in whisper and sweeping musical shifts. In the 'Loveless' intro, the sample of Paul Simon taking about his favourite tape certainly has some ASMR-like crackling.

Naturally, people have sought to retrofit it back into music too, notably in the deadmau5 strack which samples a well-known wake-up whisper.

I know not everyone experiences this pleasant synaesthetic response to sound, but I'm quite glad I do.

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Amid all the noise around Melodrama (yes, not least here), it's as well to recall there is some other new music being made by New Zealanders. I sat in the lounge, by the fire, last night listening to Ladi6's new Royal Blue 3000 EP on headphones and it was a dreamy experience: most notably the title track, for which Parks and Brandon Haru have wound a sumptuous synth backing around Ladi's voice.

Plaudits include a Songs We Love on NPR, which suggests that Ladi is "building a reputation by taking everything that was (and remains) great about '90s soul music and updates it, sprinkling cosmic effects and big synths throughout."

You can grab the EP on your streaming service, or, if you want to own the high-quality files, buy it for only $7 on Bandcamp.

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Beautiful music of a different stripe can be found on Blair Parkes' new album, saturations. I really like the wistful, wavy organ sounds on the first track, 'So Very Useful':

But there's also the garage pop (I have been in the actual garage where it's made) of 'Dont Worry Baby'.

And 'Run Electro', the kind of unabashed kraut-pop Blair hasn't made since the L.E.D.s albums.

I enjoy the way Blair plays with the tonal quality of his music, and what he crafts from such simple components. You can't (presently) hear this on Spotify, but you can buy the album for $10 on Bandcamp.

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Also fresh: the video for 'My Smile Is Extinct', a pure slice of indie-pop from Kane Strang's album Two Hearts and No Brain, which is out next week.

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And rounding up ...

WFMU's Brian Turner presented a three-hour Flying Nun special this week. It includes chats with Roger Shepherd, Hamish Kilgour and Francisca Griffin and some interesting live recordings you might not have heard.

Lewis Tennant's Verbal Highs podcast, a series of extended chats with persons of interest, alights on the marvellous Murray Cammick this week.

Dunedin noise outfit LSD Fundraiser made international headlines when their new cassette album was mistaken for a bomb and the NZDF's ordnance disposal unit was flown in by helicopter to destroy it. No, I am not making this up.

Spotify is bringing back payola – but if you're a premium user you'll be able to opt out.

At The Spinoff, Gareth Shute considers the history of songs for and about the All Blacks then present his own offering. It's quite silly.

If you're up for a late one in Auckland tonight, K Road is the place for you. At Whammy, Tom Scott has put together a lineup headlined by the excellent British-Ghanaian poet and musician Kojey Radical. And a few doors own at Neck of the Woods, The Boog is on again, with Frank Booker and others presenting a feast of funk, disco and vintage hip hop.

And finally: it's Glastonbury weekend! Fire up the VPN and watch the BBC coverage or keep an eye on YouTube.

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Tunes!

Here's that new Chelsea Jade track. It's winning, head-nodding pop with a bassline.

I ran into P Money at a Base FM gathering a few weeks ago and he said he'd been paying the bills as a club DJ and spending his days working on some new music with Jess B. It sounds like this – "this" being some great old-school hip hop. I'm digging it a lot.

I also like this: Lego Edits tightens Fela's classic 'Sorrow, Tears and Blood' into a funky banger. Click through to buy it on Bandcamp or pre-order the 12".

An excerpt from a very fresh new Loop Recordings release, MACAM7800, which is described as "One continuous doof by Dynamo Dave, recorded on at Kog Studio on 21 June 2017," with Chris Chetland at the controls. Click through to buy the full three-hour jam.

And finally, because there is still not enough disco in this world, a Dimitri edit to freely download:

And a new edit of Barry White's timelessly sweaty 'It's Ecstasy When You Lie Down Next To Me'. Click the "Buy" button for a free download.

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The Friday Music Post is sponsored by:

Songbroker

Representing New Zealand music

167

Barclay and arrogance

It's not especially unusual for someone to to compare the governing political party to a criminal gang – that's every day somewhere on Twitter, right? – but when the person making the comparison is a respected legal commentator and he's quoting the Crimes Act, that's noteworthy.

The commentator is Andrew Geddis and he was responding today to Melanie Reid's extraordinary investigatve story for Newsroom, which reveals that:

The clandestine taping of an employee by Government MP Todd Barclay has resulted in a secret payment from former Prime Minister John Key’s leader’s budget to make the issue go away. 

Current Prime Minister Bill English knew about the payment and the bugging — and National Party board members and the Parliamentary Service also knew about the secret recordings.

Barclay’s former electorate agent Glenys Dickson was paid the hush money after learning of the dictaphone left running in the Gore office and then engaging an employment lawyer.

Police who investigated whether illegal recording had occurred closed the case without being able to speak to Barclay and without seeking search warrants to obtain the dictaphone or transcripts from the office or his home.

But the part of the story that immediately stood out for me – and clearly, for Geddis too – is this:

Within weeks of laying her police complaint, Dickson says she spoke to a National Party board member.

“I was told if I didn’t withdraw the police complaint I could potentially take down the National Party, and there was an [implication] that if National didn’t have Barclay in Parliament they were one short to pass legislation.” 

Dickson said she was also told that it would be difficult for her and her family if she had to appear in a high-profile court case.

“The board member explained to me if I withdrew my complaint I would be considered a hostile witness and the police would have not had a case.”

Geddis considers this news in light of the part of the Crimes Act covering the imprisonable offence of conspiring to defeat justice and concludes his post on Pundit thus:

And then let's imagine this scenario: a gang member makes an complaint to the police that another gang member has stolen some of her property. One of the gang's leaders then comes to the complainant's home and tells her that her complaint makes the gang look bad, that it's causing friction between the membership and that if the accused gets convicted and jailed it will hurt the gang in its future battles with rival gangs ... so she might want to withdraw the complaint as it would be difficult for her and her family if she doesn't.

What do we think the police should do if they are made aware that such a conversation has taken place? And why does it change things if instead of a gang leader, we instead have a claim that a member of a political party board is involved?

A story about an MP who behaved as a nasty bully towards his staff has clearly become something bigger and broader in the effort to politically manage it.

It also now equally clearly takes in Bill English, Prime Minister and Barclay's predecessor as MP for Clutha-Southland, whose character is cast in serious doubt. In short: in order to make a political problem go away, he seems to have been happy to throw under the bus the staff who had loyally worked for him for 17 years.

In recent hours, the Prime Minister has invited us to believe that while he might have known that Barclay had secretly recorded his staff, he just can't remember who might have told him.

And yet he knew enough to approve the use of money from the Parliamentary leaders' fund to pay former senior Electorate agent Glenys Dickson what he described in texts obtained by Reid as a "large" settlement "to avoid potential legal action". As Graeme Edgeler explains in Sam Sachdeva's accompanying story for Newsroom, it's not illegal or even inappropriate for the fund to be used to settle an employment dispute, given that it can be used to hire staff. But for the public to make a judgement on such a use of its money, the public needs to know about it, and ... we didn't.

Gallery correspondents have been swiftly on the case, with Audrey Young declaring that "now about the Prime Minister, trust and credibility" and Patrick Gower writing that the user of the leaders budget "for taxpayer hush money is an absolute breach of privilege."

But this story does also demonstrate the limitations of relying on Gallery staff for political reporting. It was the Otago Daily Times reporter Eileen Goodwin (working in cooperation with the Herald's David Fisher) who broke the story of Barclay's refusal to cooperate with police more than a year ago, and Goodwin who revealed that the "employment matter" involved a clandestine recording.

Barclay survived a selection challenge last November and everyone pretty much moved on to whatever the next day's political story was. But Melanie Reid didn't, and she worked at it and won the confidence of both Glenys Dickson and former electorate chairman Stuart Davie (who had hitherto refused comment after resigning in April 2016) – and she got a very important story.

We deserve to hear more about why Barclay was able to make a police investigation go away by simply refusing to talk to the police (after he had assured the public the police would have his full cooperation).

But I think that underlying this story is something that sometimes gets a government into trouble but quite often doesn't: arrogance. It was there in Nicky Wagner's idle tweet about the tedium of having to do her well-paid job serving the interests of New Zealanders with disability. And it appears to be there in spades in the way that ordinary people doing their jobs were brushed aside to defend the reputation of the governing party and its would-be wunderkind.

13

Touching Waterview

Yesterday, I joined thousands of other Aucklanders on the first public walkthrough of the 2.4km Waterview tunnel that will, when it opens to traffic early next month, bring SH20 all the way to SH16, thus completing the Auckland motorway network.

Why would someone who bangs on about bikes all the time be moved to go to the opening of a $1.4 billion stretch of motorway? People did ask that. But when you've watched something this big grow gradually over years on the edge of your suburb, you want to see and touch it – and this week's access is the only time most of us will get close enough to touch.

It's a fair old walk from from the entry point off Hendon Ave to the southern tunnel entrance, and from there walkers go about a kilometre into the northbound tunnel before using either of two crossing points about 100 metres apart to return via the southbound. Wear comfortable shoes and take a jacket, because it's a little chilly inside.

There was, as you might expect, the mass taking of tunnel selfies yesterday, but I also found myself inspecting and photographing the glossy, cream-coloured concrete walls of the tunnel, which are dotted with ports and slots; artefacts of the construction process that make for a kind of accidental art.

Perhaps it's also Grenfell Tower being fresh in the mind, but fire-and-other-emergency facilities seemed to stand out too. There were hydrants and escapes all along the route.

Note that if, like me, you have a ticket for next weekend's bike-only ride-through, you'll get to ride the full length of the tunnel, from daylight to daylight, before returning.

NB: Feel free to add your own pictures of the day, by clicking the "Choose file" button by the comment window (you need to have typed some text into the window for it to work). You can add up to the images to your comment by using the 20-minute edit function to go back in and choose another pic. Pics ranging from 500KB to 11MB in size are about right. If you want to add a video clip from YouTube or Vimeo, just paste in the URL and it will automagically embed.

For now, here's a short video I took not long after the crowd entered.

28

Friday Music: Melodrama

"Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark," Lorde sings to her departing ex in 'Writer in the Dark', a standout track on her second album, Melodrama. "Now she's gonna play and sing and lock you in your heart."

And so she has, with honesty and artistry. But Melodrama isn't just a breakup album. It's rooted in the two years she spent growing up, being a citizen and trying to create it.

Along with its melancholy there are sex, drugs and parties, most notably in 'Perfect Places' ("All the nights spent off our faces / Tryna find these perfect places / What the fuck are perfect places, anyway?"). She loves to dance but she can't party without thinking. Even 'Supercut', a wistful metaphor for the way memories don't so much fade as break down into fragments, is presented as an exultant Arcade Fire-style alt-rock-disco banger.

'Writer in the Dark', like the already-released 'Liability', fills another role: it's really, really different to Pure Heroine. A ballad with piano, strings, reverb and a mad chorus, it sees Lorde venture past her familiar, tough low register and sound  like she hasn't sounded before.

Those three songs, along with the dreamy reprise of 'Liability II', represent an extraordinary finish to the album, as if she'd planned it that way. Perhaps she did.

By contrast, 'Homemade Dynamite', written with Tove Lo and her producer-writers and produced by Frank Ocean producer Frank Duke and Beyonce collaborator Kuk Harrell doesn't have the same sense of focus. It feels like an attempt to write an R&B pop tune, Lorde-style. The intensity of her creative relationship with Jack Antonoff, who co-produced and co-wrote every other track on the record, is far more illuminating.

Melodrama is not completely unlike Pure Heroine: there are still big drums and moments of space. The tempo is still generally pretty restrained for a pop record and she still sings her own layered backing vocals. It's also a whole new thing.

 As one of the dreaded Middle-Aged Men Who Dig Lorde, I played Pure Heroine a lot. And, having had a couple of days' advance listening, I'm thrilled with Melodrama. There's a real sense of craft in the music, the songs do surprising things and she's a better writer than ever. And not only in song: her Sunday Star Times piece about nearly losing her mind trying to write the difficult second album, has a killer opening line.

She concluded the Star-Times essay with a paragraph about shucking off the burdensome idea that delivering her album was like delivering a baby – after meeting a real baby –  and realising it was just a record.

Whatever happened, I realised, would be fine. It was just an album. I would make many more, and with time they'd come to look more like the pictures in my head. I was going to have to come up with a different metaphor.

Happily, coming up with metaphors is something she's demonstrably very good at.

What was needed after the singular, unrepeatable Pure Heroine, was evidence that there was more there, that she had places to go as an artist. I think Melodrama really, really confirms that's the case.

You can listen to or buy Melodrama here.

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A word here, too, for Lorde's record company, Universal Music New Zealand. A global launch at this scale is unprecedented for a New Zealand-based company. I was actually keen to do an interview about it for this post, but they have a rule about staying out of the narrative and letting the artist speak for herself, which is admirable.

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This is a mixed-media painting called Superboy; it's a 1994 work by Chris Knox. Would you like to own it? Would you feel good about knowing anything you paid went straight to Chris himself? Well ...

The owner is a friend of mine who'd rather not be named. He doesn't have room for the work any more so he's selling it on Trade Me and I'll help him make sure the money gets to Chris himself. Chances to buy something like this are few and far between.

This is also a good time to note that Chris has been gradually selling a large series of paintings completed since his stroke, most of which document his experience. They come up on his Facebook page, mostly for $300 and $400 each.

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Mark Ronson – no, really – has produced the new Queens of the Stone Age album and they've come up with a funny video about how weird that is.

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Stevie Nicks has a new song, it was recorded for the new Naomi watts film, and it sounds quite a lot like Lana Del Ray (with whom she has collaborated for Del Ray's forthcoming Lust for Life album). It's not bad ...

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Over at Audioculture, Andrew Schmidt takes another deep dive into the Christchurch post-punk scene, this time concentrating on the year 1981, when there were bands playing six nights a week at the Gladstone. (It could have been seven, but in the olden days pubs were shut on Sundays.) The yarn includes a note on the origin of the Dance Exponents, a quote from a reiew for Gary Steel's In Touch by a 19 year-old me, and posters like this Robin Neate classic ...

Martyn Pepperell has been posting various of his interviews from this year on his Tumblr, including chats with Connan Mackasin, NAO and Tom Broome, the guy who has built a studio in the bowels of Storage King, by St Lukes mall.

On Music 101 last weekend, Nick Bollinger caught up with the Saturday night headliners at this month's Wellington Jazz Festival (you've missed it), The Comet is Coming. Their new album, Death to the Planet, is pretty cool, and it was an album of the day this week on Bandcamp.

Christchurch's DarkSpace festival has announced a psych-heavy lineup for July 22, including Hex, Teeth and All Seeing Hand.

Friends of the late Daisy Ram have their annual Doggy Style for Daisy show in her memory (all proceeds, as usual, go to Chained Dog Awareness) on Saturday night at the Kengs Arms. The lineup includes Team Dynamite, Eno X Dirty, Jess B and quite a few more.

And, finally, that asshole Gene Simmons is trying to trademark the goat, which he claims to have invented.

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Tunes!

Just the one: a nice revisioning of Moby's 'Natural Blues'. Free download.

sdjhds

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The Friday Music Post is sponsored by:

Songbroker

Representing New Zealand music

54

Grenfell: a signal moment

When I left London in 1991, it was with mixed feelings. Five years there on my own cognisance had been good for me. I'd grown, and had some of the best nights and days of my life. But we had a new baby and it felt like the Frontline in Brixton wasn't the place to have that adventure. Moreover, in the back of my mind was the feeling that Britain was coming apart at the seams.

One night in 1987, 31 people had died in a terrible fire underground at King's Cross Station. Senior transport chiefs resigned after an inquiry and Oppostion MPs accused the Conservative government of sacrificing the safety of travellers by cutting budgets. Only two days before the fire, Margaret Thatcher had delivered a speech – apparently aimed at US lawmakers considering their own budgets – about the importance of "prudent finance and living within your means".

The following year, a signal failure subsequent  to a wiring upgrade caused a crowded passenger train to plough into the back of another at Clapham Junction, killing 35 people. An inquiry found that the electrician responsible was on his 13th consecutive seven-day work week and that his work had never been inspected. British Rail was fined £250,000.

The Hillsborough Stadium disaster was the year after. Police fed false stories defaming the football fans to compliant media: most notably The Sun. It was only last year that a second coroner's inquest finally found that the crush had been caused by gross negligence on the part of the police and that supporters were not to blame at all. Ninety six people had died.

There were others, including the Marchionesse disaster  in 1989, which took the lives of 51 people at a party on a riverboat on the Thames (some Marchioness families, unusually, won civil compensation, a success which was almost entirely a matter of social class). An inquiry recommended that the government improve river safety. And, in 1987, the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, when 193 people (many of them working-class readers of The Sun, who had taken up a promotion by the paper) died after the British-registered Herald of Free Enterprise ferry capsized. A charge of corporate manslaughter was thrown out of court, but 11 years later Tony Blair's new government made good on a pledge to introduce a corporate whistleblower law that Labour MPs had long campaigned for under the Conservatives.

I thought of all this yesterday, watching the achingly awful unfolding of the fire disaster at Grenfell Tower in Kensington. More even than the tragedies I've listed above, this one seemed enmeshed with the politics of its day. Grenfell was one of around 10,000 properties managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which was established in 1996 under the then-Conservative government's "Right to Manage" regulations and subsequently took over the council's entire housing stock.

I lived, squatting, in several council flats and I wouldn't want to claim they were lovely places. But it appears already that the prettification of Grenfell is behind the disaster. It quickly emerged that a residents' organisation called the Grenfell Action Group had repeatedly warned of the fire risk in the building. As far back as 2013 the group was writing of "an ongoing culture of negligence at the TMO" with respect to fire risks.

Ironically, it appears that it may have been a much-trumpeted refurbishment that helped make the Grenfell fire so deadly. The building's exterior was given a cladding similar to that which caught fire on Lakanal House in Camberwell in 2009. The expert who represented Lakanal families has said this to The Guardian:

“A disaster waiting to happen,” is how the architect and fire expert Sam Webb describes hundreds of tower blocks across the UK, after the fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington that has left at least six people dead. “We are still wrapping postwar high-rise buildings in highly flammable materials and leaving them without sprinkler systems installed, then being surprised when they burn down.”

The technical director of the Fire Protection Association added this:

“We really are forgetting the lessons of the past,” he adds. “I think the inexcusable element here is that with cladding or insulation there are choices. There will be a perfectly good non-combustible choice that can be made, but somebody is not making those calls. It’s a tragedy that long-awaited changes to regulations usually only happen after significant loss of life.”

While the residents were trying in vain to get their council interested, the FPA was begging the government for changes to building regulations to address the issue. But ministers and officials – including Theresa May's new chief of staff –  "sat on" a report warning of the fire danger in blocks like Grenfell for years. A former Housing minister declared that sprinkler systems were a matter for the "fire industry", not government, and noted the Conservative government's pledge to eliminate two regulations for every one it introduced.

As Labour leader last year, Jeremy Corbyn pushed for an amendment to the government's new housing bill to require private landlords to make their homes safe and “fit for human habitation”. Seventy two of the MPs who voted down the amendment were themselves private landlords. Perhaps the amendment wouldn't have helped in the case, but its fate seems hugely symbolic.

I watched a number of video interviews with residents yesterday and they seemed such good, decent people. There is a solid Morrocan community in the neighbourhood and it appears that the fact that it was Ramadan and many Muslims were still awake breaking their fast saved many lives, as they ran door-to-door waking neighbours, even as the corridors filled with smoke.

One resident told the BBC that the community had been strengthened as it came together to oppose council "regeneration" plans which would essentially mean the demolition of the whole area. Had the authorities, as he implied and other residents said out loud to camera crews, been craving just such a tragedy to better advance their plans? I cant believe that, but you can't blame them for thinking so.

He also noted the "euphoria" in the neighbourhood at the startling election of a Labour MP in Kensington last week: "We felt we were having our voice heard, at last."

I was stopped cold by another tweet observing that the residents least likely to have escaped the fire were those with disabilities. The same people whose lives have been most ravaged by "austerity" policies.

There's an inevitable politics, too, in the fact that the services that converged on Grenfell as anyone who could was fleeing are the same services that have had their budgets slashed. Not only the fire services, but nurses like this woman:

I shared that video on Twitter last night and woke up today to find that the nurse, Simone Williams, had replied: "I'm just a nurse guys nothing special my heart is to serve my community no matter what it takes x"

Kensington wasn't my manor when I lived in London, but I still love the city. Part of who I am still lies there. I'd have voted Labour had I still been living there last week, even though I haven't been entirely on board with elements of the Corbyn project. That doesn't seem to matter now, and the people whining this morning about Corbyn "politicising" the tragedy should just shut up. It is fucking political.

This feels like a signal moment in the history of a country. I realise the Queen's not going to go over to Downing Street and relieve Theresa May of the keys to the nation. But Britain can not and must not go on like this.