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Issue 15, 2015


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  • Nothing says Re-O-Week like no tutorials and a black out

  • Don’t be mean behind the screen

  • Eye On Exec: C for City, S for Sadness

  • Monumental nightmare occurs as computers shit themselves

  • Truth Telling 101

  • VUWSA: We are the voice of NZ students!

  • Internship cancelled amid slavery accusations

  • Academic VP Jono Gee tells Vic “Come tri-me”

  • Features

  • weed

    The police are decriminalising weed in New Zealand

    Why have cannabis-related arrests halved while use has remained the same? There’s a simple answer: the Police are decriminalising cannabis in New Zealand


  • giraffe

    Would You Chop Up a Giraffe?

    Psychologists estimate that around one per cent of the world’s population are psychopaths. Statistically, you are bound to have met one at some point in your life. I think I met my first one last year. I was visiting a friend in Otago. It was the first time I had ever stayed at someone’s flat […]


  • cheese dreams

    Abuse of Dairy Comes As No Surprise

    A familiar situation: you’re in bed and as you wake up, you recall bizarre scenarios dreamt up the night before, way stranger than usual. Instinctively, you ask yourself—did I eat cheese last night?


  • ssri

    The Discontinuation Method

    Imagine, after a period of damnable mental decline, you go and see your GP and they prescribe you a SSRI or SSNI


  • fees

    An American in Wellington

    $160,000 sounds like a lot for a scholarship, but in reality it barely makes a dent. Hundreds of thousands of American high schoolers are awarded large scholarships from universities—that’s my number above, awarded to a mainly straight-A, hardworking student by four different universities—and yet, a large percentage of them will graduate with anywhere from $20,000 […]


  • weed

    The police are decriminalising weed in New Zealand

    Why have cannabis-related arrests halved while use has remained the same? There’s a simple answer: the Police are decriminalising cannabis in New Zealand


  • giraffe

    Would You Chop Up a Giraffe?

    Psychologists estimate that around one per cent of the world’s population are psychopaths. Statistically, you are bound to have met one at some point in your life. I think I met my first one last year. I was visiting a friend in Otago. It was the first time I had ever stayed at someone’s flat […]


  • cheese dreams

    Abuse of Dairy Comes As No Surprise

    A familiar situation: you’re in bed and as you wake up, you recall bizarre scenarios dreamt up the night before, way stranger than usual. Instinctively, you ask yourself—did I eat cheese last night?


  • ssri

    The Discontinuation Method

    Imagine, after a period of damnable mental decline, you go and see your GP and they prescribe you a SSRI or SSNI


  • fees

    An American in Wellington

    $160,000 sounds like a lot for a scholarship, but in reality it barely makes a dent. Hundreds of thousands of American high schoolers are awarded large scholarships from universities—that’s my number above, awarded to a mainly straight-A, hardworking student by four different universities—and yet, a large percentage of them will graduate with anywhere from $20,000 […]


  • Arts and Science

  • This Must Be The Place

    Makaro Press
    Annabel Hawkins (words)
    Alice Clifford (design)

    In a dimly lit Meow, with her glasses donned, Annabel Hawkins recites, between giggles, amid banter with the audience, a selection of poems from her debut collection This Must Be the Place. Hawkins adopts a wry smile and convinces the audience that she’s just “Jenny from the block”; having her first collection of poetry published at age 23 isn’t something she imagined happening—she’s just from Hawke’s Bay.

    The collection has been adapted from Hawkins’ blog, Scrap Paper and Spare Pencils. The blog started when she was 21, and filled a void that had been created in the vortex of post-university life as she prepared for her eat-pray-love adventure. Never conceived under lofty ambitions, it was merely a place where, as the name suggests, those musings found on scrap paper, written with spare pencils, were given space and permanence. They were quiet and fragile, and I think most importantly, they were honest.

    After emailing her former lecturer Mary McCallum, of Makaro Press, a link to her blog, Hawkins had a book deal, and a secret. It was a summer of secrecy, as she waited for her best friend Alice to return from England. Alice would be the designer, an incredibly important facet of this book. But Hawkins knew it had to be both of them.

    Alice is a freelance designer who specialises in typography. This was a perfect opportunity for both of them to have their work published, as designer and writer. While Alice battled directly with printing presses and sourced found images and rights to types, Hawkins was determined to translate the blog to a collection of poetry.

    The move from a blog, where the posts were an amalgam of structured poems, as well as open-form entries with no real structure, was a challenge. Here, in This Must be the Place, these have been collected, worked on, revised, and her words are bound together with feelings and memories. The form is stricter, but the intentions and honesty remain in the collection. Hawkins avoids high-brow language and form, aiming instead for accessibility. Her language oscillates, as if working to a pattern, between poeticism surrounding time and abstract emotions, and specific language of both time and place—with references to polar fleeces, durries, skateboards, ripped jeans, Briscoes, all carving out an eternal moment in time.

    The book, as I write this, sits on my desk, among a collection of New Zealand poetry books my mum saved from the rubbish bin at her school library. Among the 1970s editions of pastel colours, repeated patterns, and stylised imagery, This Must Be The Place looks at home. A pallet of colours which have already faded, a book that knows its age and youth at the same time. Ingrid Horrocks, as she launched the book, called it “contemporary retro”, an accurate description of the particular aesthetics, founded upon the duality of past and present that traverses the poems in this collection. With imagery inserted throughout the collection, the design and production of this book is in direct discourse with the poems on the pages.

    Hawkins’ collection is informed by her life from 21 to 23. A period of such ripening and growing has been treated with honesty and courage; an age where the relationships that change and grow become defining experiences. The collection looks at families and lovers, but spends most of its space meditating on friendships and memories—Hawkins’ work is particularly affected by those friendships and relationships that have been altered, or gone.

    The collection opens with “When we flew”, which remembers nights spent skating and smoking, and the feeling of freedom that they allowed. While many poems remember past moments of intense friendship, her poem “For Alice (from Fiji)” imagines their friendship in the future, as she watches two older women enjoying the beach—“Perhaps they just stumbled home one night, clambered in to bed in borrowed T Shirts and socks, lay down and talked about their dreams, and ended up here.” Friendships exist as past and eternal in the same breath.

    Her poems are full of we, a we that is of her and Alice, as well as of the reader. For we, those who hold this book, are invited to imagine their own versions of these stories beneath the poems—it is not the details that are primary, but the emotions that flow underneath.

    It would be wrong to reduce Hawkins’ work to journal entries of a young woman. These are potent works, which are full to the brim with the experiences of youth, the trauma of changing worlds, and the power of a notebook. Didion writes in her essay on keeping a notebook that it is not the facts that are important to record, rather “how it felt to me, and it might as well have snowed, could have snowed, did snow”. Annabel Hawkins has evolved what lived on scrap paper, into a blog, and once more into her debut poetry collection, where her words are about finding a way back to a feeling.


  • Happy Birthday Lindsay Lohan—An Interview With Claire Harris

    I have long held a quiet fascination with Lindsay Lohan—the Parent Trap twin conspiracy, hitting a baby in its pram with her Maserati, the Mona Lisa eeriness of her mugshots, are all points of intrigue. So, when Matchbox Studios recently hosted Claire Harris to watch Lindsay’s complete filmography over 29 hours for her 29th birthday, I made certain to catch the performance art piece. I caught it through the online live stream, finding it the perfect balance between ridiculous and warmly provoking, its simplicity making it successful both as performance art and as an act of fan love. Wanting to know more, I emailed the artist:

    A bit about you?

    I’m a Wellington-based artist. I work in a variety of mediums mostly with some kind of narrative basis, for example performance, video, and zines. Fandom and identity as mediated by celebrity culture is a big theme in my work. I’m also a member of art band Fantasing.

    How did you come up with the idea?

    I first did Happy Birthday Lindsay Lohan in 2011 on Lindsay’s 25th birthday. This was during the time when she was under house arrest due to her DUI conviction. I wanted to do something to try and express a sense of goodwill and solidarity to Lohan and to refocus attention on her body of work, and looking at how prolific her acting career had been, I realised that the runtime of all the films she had been in added up to 25 hours. That’s when the idea of the movie marathon occurred to me.

    I had already been musing on a kind of “deheroics” of performance art, trying to recontextualise the physical discomforts, durational endurance and repetitions of key performance art works into everyday forms of ritual and meaning creation. With the movie marathon, I was able to draw a direct analogy to teen girl sleep overs as ritual sites of construction and consumption of “girlhood”.

    What drew you to Lindsay Lohan in the first place?

    I’d been a fan of Lindsay Lohan since her role in Freaky Friday. I find her a compelling performer and think she would have had a great career under the Hollywood studio system. There’s a core fangirl love I have for Lindsay that’s beyond analysis. There’s also so much culturally telling stuff about our society’s dismissal of and discomfort around young women in the narratives around Lindsay.

    As Lindsay tried to transition into playing adult roles, one persistent rumour was that parents at test screening for Herbie: Fully Loaded had complained about Lindsay’s breast size, claiming it was inappropriate for a family film, and that the movie producers had responded by digitally shrinking her breast size in post production. That struck me as so telling—that having had a career as a child model and actress, the reaction to her adult body was to see it as obscene by definition.

    It also seemed to me like there was a ghoulish hunger for Lohan to self destruct, and a dismissive tendency toward her, like an assumption that she must be a bad actress. With the first HBLL, I was really interested in what the reaction would be to me publicly taking Lindsay Lohan seriously as an actress and culturally meaningful figure. My overall artist statement can be boiled down to “I was sick of people making fun of Lindsay Lohan”. I’ve done HBLL in some version every year since, extending the marathon by an hour each time to match her age and increasing filmography.

    How was the experience itself?

    The experience itself is all a very strange sleep-deprived blur. It’s great re-watching the films—I have favourite bits of each performance, usually Lindsay’s social face acting. She’s brilliant at acting so that you can see that there is a interior life to her characters. My favourite of her films are Georgia Rule, Mean Girls, and Labour Pains.

    I was great doing it in the front window of Matchbox Studios this year and having interaction overnight from people on the street. I had quite a few people stop and watch along over my shoulder. I love meeting fellow Lindsay fans which also happens a lot through social media as I live stream and tweet HBLL.

    There’s an accompanying HBLL zine to go with the piece. What’s inside?

    The HBLL zine has documentation of all previous years, plus two essays—one by curator and artist James Bowen, and one by celebrity studies academic Allison Maplesden. They both do a very good job contextualising the project.

    Do you have any future pieces in mind?

    I’ll keep doing HBLL every year in some format. I’ll have to change it up next year for Lindsay’s 30th. Maybe I’ll try and find 30 30-year-olds to do a Lindsay movie marathon in a relay around the world?

    Currently I’m working on starting up a new art zine called Contemporary Menstrual Art. It really hits a lot of my key concerns—gendered experience, embarrassing and/or overly earnest art, cultural discomfort with uncontrolled bodily function.

    Finally, what do you foresee in Lindsay Lohan’s future?

    I really hope Lindsay gets steady acting work again. I’d love if she had some weird TV protagonist roles like Nurse Jackie, or True Detective, or The Comeback.

    Claire Harris’ Happy Birthday Lindsay Lohan zine can be purchased at Matchbox Studios.


  • Puffer Jackets

    I have a lot of very strong feelings about puffer jackets. As in, I would rather light myself on fire in a desperate plea for warmth than be seen dead (which obviously I would be if I was to light myself on fire) in a puffer jacket. If I was stranded in an Antarctic blizzard and my only chance of survival was to don a puffer jacket, I would direct myself an Oscar-worthy freezing-to-death sequence. If I were aboard the Titanic, and puffer jackets doubled as flotation devices, I would enact an Oscar-unworthy (sorry Leo) freezing-to-death sequence.

    It utterly baffles me that any self-respecting human being would willingly subject themselves to such masochistic torment and humiliation, as to be seen wearing a puffer jacket. They are quite literally the mutant spawn of sleeping bags, with the adaptive advantage of armholes.

    After several interviews with the willing human hosts of these parasitic garments, the consistent excuse for their wear appears to be “they’re so warm.”

    “Yes, but you look like a walking marshmallow.”

    “But I’m SO warm.”

    From the perspective of someone who grew up in Sydney, city of heat waves, it quite simply does not get cold enough here for it to be acceptable for one to parade about wearing bedding. Unless you’re on a ski trip, braving the frigid Dunedin winter for which not even half a litre of vodka could provide a sufficient beer blanket, or cosplaying the Michelin man, then please take whatever the cost of looking like an absolute prat your parents have offered to shell out for one and buy yourself a decent wool coat. Ruby has a rather lovely selection on their under $300 sale rack at the moment.

    Alternate, less ridiculous-looking means of keeping oneself warm:

    1. Buy yourself a decent coat.
    2. Buy yourself a decent coat.
    3. Buy yourself a decent fucking coat.
    4. Wander about with several hot water bottles strapped to your person, ensuring that you top them up with hot water to remain toasty throughout the day.
    5. Do not leave your bed until September. Hibernate for the winter, have a pal record your lectures for you, order your groceries with special instructions to have them brought to your bedside.
    6. Cultivate a beard so immense that you are able to fashion a jumper from it, providing a convenient extra layer of insulation.


  • Aloha


    I don’t quite know where to start. This film is such an odd mess in its execution and presentation; the elements it has conflict with each other, the dialogue feels so quick that it flies over the head of the recipient. There are some good parts to it, those that felt more cohesive, but the end result is a peculiar one, and there is too much and too little happening at the same time. I don’t expect most romantic comedies to deviate from the norm and its conventions, but this one did in a sense—just from its outright weirder elements.

    The film could have worked by retaining the premise that Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a military contractor with a history of misfortune and tribulation in the areas concerning his profession and love life. A narrated debacle in Kabul leaves him with the much-preferred option of returning to work for the military in Hawaii. There, the reappearance of a now-married old flame (Rachel McAdams) and interactions with his assigned bodyguard complete with an “amusing” name (Emma Stone) challenge his single lifestyle, patronising character, past, and ability to grow and become a more bearable person. Top it all off with a beautiful filming location, attractive stars, and laid-back soundtrack with a few familiar songs, and you’d have something that would be at least coherent. That would be so, if not for practically everything else in the film.

    The other storyline you might not have realised was in the film concerns the launching of a satellite sponsored by a businessman played by a dishevelled and glassy-eyed Bill Murray. His own machinations, unknown to the rest of the characters, involve launching nuclear weapons on board the satellite, raising the stakes to Golden Eye-level proportions. This, coupled with the sudden introduction of brief and ineffective Chinese hackers, made me completely forget that a previous moment in the film featured a heated conversation between two of the leads about their feelings for each other in a Hawaiian gift shop. Back on Earth, there are other subplots that aren’t resolved or are added for the sake of including Hawaiian elements. McAdams’ son is little more than a plot device with a constantly recording video camera, whose unremitting quotations of Hawaiian myth are only there for jokes about clichéd ineffectual parents with quirky and out-of-control children.

    The film also tries to incorporate Gilcrest’s developing humility for the Hawaiian way of life with the notion that what really matters is retaining a cultural and holistic outlook. There is no real resolution to this conflict, but I could see the reason for it being that way. I think what the director was really going for here was a subversion of the tropes we associate with melodrama by addressing genuine problems which we cannot immediately resolve, which admittedly the film does show. Obviously communication is key, as is our known propensity for misinterpreting people’s feelings, and the scenes between McAdams and her character’s husband are actually well-done for what they are. There are some good jokes interspersed at random intervals, some which are there for the sake of showing something unusual—like laughing at a baby named Don, or unintentionally laughing at Murray’s performance and feeling bad afterwards because he wasn’t really acting. On the other hand, some are at least reincorporated into the story, such as the husband character’s distinct muteness in several scenes, and not-Emma-Stone’s constantly-reiterated Hawaiian ancestry.

    It’s just that the film itself is so unfocused with what it’s actually trying to get across. The idea that a romantic comedy set in Hawaii, which devotes so much focus to a subplot about the dangers of technology and the effect it has upon protected environments, could turn out so unsatisfyingly is a strange one. I mean, the cast mostly did what they could. McAdams probably gives the best performance in the film, Emma Stone flips like a coin when her character starts to bond with Gilcrest, and Alec Baldwin shouts a lot.


  • The Adam Sandler Cash Cow

    “Adam Sandler is an asshile”, [sic] according to studio exec, Amy Pascal, in one of many leaked Sony emails last year. Since 1995, Sandler has continuously churned out films using the exact same formula with, more or less, the exact same character, and yielding an offense of critical panning, all the while booking exceptionally large revenues. Over his 20-year career, he has bankrolled nearly $3 billion; however, with only $3.20 turned over for every dollar he’s compensated, Sandler is the most overpaid actor in Hollywood, and his high remuneration demands make him all the less bankable. Last year, he ambitiously pitched an idea for a $200 million movie based on the CandyLand board game (wut?). Sony said no, and Pascal used a misspelled insult.

    Despite his bite into producers’ budgets, he has been a cash cow, but not from Lewis Road Creamery, nor even Farmgate. The quality of his films is more analogous to the carton milk drunk in American elementary schools. His filmography mean score is a meek 32 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty shit. It’s a bit of a conundrum who goes to see Sandler films and why, given that they are funding the shameful Sandler legacy. I imagine the target demographic is something like “12-year-old boys who still think it’s funny to set fire to paper-bagged dog shit on their neighbour’s doorstep”. Either way, my sense is that Sandler films sit in the “so bad, it’s good” category of films, alongside Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. This sweet spot compels people to purchase Sandler movie tickets en masse for the enjoyment of cringing.

    We saw this behaviour from New Zealand comedians Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt, in their “Worst Idea of All Time” podcasts, in which they reviewed the sequel to Sandler’s Grown Ups every week for a year. It’s fairly rationale to argue that the publicity the movie attracted for being so bad helped it to be such a commercial hit, earning over quarter of a billion worldwide. This is the Sandler money machine in motion—designing dumb movies that fuel the public’s hunger to cringe.

    I would never condone calling someone an asshile, but it’s easy to sympathise with Pascal. It was okay to think Sandler was funny when you were 12, but, in 2015, it’s hard to laugh at a man nearly in his 50s have arbitrary anger outbursts and make fart jokes. Next time you’re desperate to cringe, watch one of the classics like Battlefield Earth. Don’t do it for Sony or Pascal, do it for CandyLand.


  • All Hail the Comeback Kid: Liam Neeson and Dad Cinema

    In ye-olden times (the pre-2000s for you undergrads), Liam Neeson was best known as a character actor. Likeably Irish, the actor’s gentle wit made him appealing to the over-35 female demographic and his grizzle was enough to draw male fans into theatres. He was riveting as Oskar Schindler, inspiring as Michael Collins, and tolerable in The Phantom Menace—a critical darling and affable everyman.

    These days, Neeson is more likely to be starring in a Schindler’s List sequel, probably directed by Michael Bay, and probably titled Schindler’s Fist. What started as a sojourn into action fare, with roles in Batman Begins and Gangs of New York, has turned into an honest-to-god career re-invention, with eleven of his post-Taken films casting him as Admirals, hit-men, CIA agents, and Greek Gods (was anyone crying out to see Neeson as Zeus?).

    His recent box office hits risk running his newly-founded persona into the ground. You’ve seen the trailers and joked about the resemblance to Taken. It would be easy—and sometimes, correct—to point out the overuse of action clichés, many so tired they’d make Harrison Ford look lively. Run All Night, Battleship, and Unknown were deemed throwaways, while Taken 2 and 3 were ludicrous drag-outs of an already played-out story. Looking at the Neeson oeuvre since his renaissance, it’s clear that his pedigree has set him above the schlocky nostalgia of his Expendables competition (Stallone and Willis) and their hyper-masculine young counterparts (Hemsworth and Lutz).

    Still, how is this relevant to the rest of society? For all of the talk about marketing, target demos, and niche audiences, film-going in the modern era has become much less predictable. At a time when baby boomers are flocking to see comic book movies and the under-25 set are increasingly favouring independent fare, the appeal of Neeson’s dad-wish-fulfilment films remains curious. Maybe Neeson’s career appeals to us because it renews our belief that it’s never too late. Maybe we’re using our dollar to buck ageist convention. More likely is that Neeson’s success is an extension of the reality that, for ageing wealthy white male celebrities—and their ticket-buying counterparts—nothing is unattainable. Will Neeson’s dad-wish-fulfilment plot machine wear out its welcome? For now, the respectability he lends to action-thrillers seems to be weathering the genre’s diminishing returns.


  • It’s Simple, We Kill the Bad PC Ports

    Praise Gaben, for he has seen the light and given power to the consumer once more. And boy have we put it to use!

    Just when I thought it was about time to give up on Steam ever giving a shit about customer service, they totally redeem themselves by announcing a new refund policy. Before this policy was announced, getting a refund from Steam was a blood-from-a-stone process, no matter how broken or poor the game was. This, in conjunction with the poor moderation of Steam Greenlight, quite possibly led to a lot of developers—Triple-A and lone-kid-in-his-bedroom alike—becoming complacent about releasing unfinished, poorly optimised or just plain bad games onto the store: even if it’s shit, the suckers who buy it won’t get their money back (not to mention that this is a blatant violation of the NZ Consumer Guarantees Act, which guarantees you can get a refund if a product doesn’t work as intended, which includes digital goods).

    Not anymore. From early June, any purchase on Steam can now be refunded for any reason. As the official announcement says, “Maybe your PC doesn’t meet the hardware requirements; maybe you bought a game by mistake; maybe you played the title for an hour and just didn’t like it.” Literally any reason will guarantee you a refund, as long as you played less than two hours and request it within two weeks of purchase. While not perfect (the two-hour limit seems a little short to me, plus the time limits still violate consumer law), this is immensely better than what we had before—in fact, refunds are automatic within 48 hours of purchase, and you can get a refund if you bought a game at full price that then goes on sale!

    PC gamers finally had a reason to celebrate in 2015. And then, almost as soon as the celebration party was over, Batman: Arkham Knight was released.

    It is probably no exaggeration that Arkham Knight is one of the worst PC ports ever released. It runs terribly, with frequent framerate drops, and freezes even on the best hardware available. The highly-touted Nvidia Gameworks enhancements hardly make a lick of difference to the game’s performance even if you turn them off. There is even clear evidence that the PC port suffered from a visual downgrade, with screenshots from the port and the PS4 version showing the game looks better on the bloody console! Most criminally, there is a 30 frames per second lock, changeable only in the game’s installation files. This seems to be tied to some of the game’s physics (a rookie mistake for any PC developer), but even with the cap the game still runs like arse. Also, the game crashes randomly.

    So, faced with a game that runs better on a potato, PC gamers asked for their money back. Because now, they know that they can.

    The reason PC is popular among hardcore gamers is that they pay a premium for the best hardware and expect games to perform at their best on said hardware. The current-gen consoles are struggling to keep up with even mid-level PCs, essentially guaranteeing that PC versions of most games are the definitive version. That’s the theory anyway; Arkham Knight is actually just the latest in a series of increasingly broken and blatantly unfinished PC ports—most prominent example being Assassin’s Creed: Unity, which ended up being wank on all formats. However, Arkham Knight actually had no issues on consoles; a Triple-A blockbuster like this should not run better on a potato than on a rig worth $5000, which should be the finest gaming experience possible. Developers think they can get away with doing this because they have the ability to patch it up later, while telling the consumer to pre-order to get little extras. The result: less incentive to actually finish the game while still getting our money.

    That can fuck right off. Now with Steam refunds, consumers on PC can vote with their wallet and yank their money back from underneath the publisher’s feet. That’s what has happened with Arkham Knight, and Warner Bros have learned that the hard way. As of writing, they’ve yanked it off the Steam store and apologised for the poor state of the port. This is indeed a good move, but they shouldn’t have to do this because the PC port should never have been that bad.

    Because of this mess, I actually have increased hope that PC will continue to be the definitive format for gaming, and I look forward to a future where the developers make their ports the best they can be. Just remember to not pre-order.


  • Interview with Dave Baxter of Avalanche City

    It’s been a few weeks now since the mad talented multi-instrumentalist Dave Baxter released his band Avalanche City’s sophomore album We Are For The Wild Places, so it seemed a better time than any to catch up with him and find out what it was like heading back to the studio for round two. Read on… it’s interesting.

    We Are For The Wild Places has been out for about a week now, are you happy so far with how the album’s been received? Any drastic life changes report on in the weeks since?

    Yeah it’s been great! It’s so nice to finally have it out there. I’ve had really good feedback on it, it’s actually quite a relief. Nothing life changing in the last week.

    The grind of writing and producing an album isn’t easy—pouring your heart and soul onto a piece of paper definitely isn’t a career for the faint hearted—did you find it more difficult the second time around, particularly coming off the back of such a successful debut album?

    I was really excited about starting work on my second album. It’s so much fun being in a room surrounded by instruments and just having the whole day to explore songwriting. It was extremely difficult to draw the line and say the album is done. That’s what’s hard about doing it all yourself. When you have to book a studio and hire a producer, you have time constraints. So that was one of the big challenges. I could sit and tweak a song forever. And yeah, it’s actually a scary thing to pour yourself into songs and send it out into the world. So that’s always in the back of your mind. It was a really nervous time in the days before I released “Inside Out”. It had such a good reaction from everyone, though, that it made me feel better about releasing the album. There weren’t any nerves after that.

    What is it about your music that you think resonates so well with people? 

    That’s always a tricky one to answer! As a songwriter I always try to write music that people can relate to. The absolute best thing for me is when someone listens and goes “yeah, I’ve been there! I get that!”.

    Unlike most Kiwi artists, you’re lucky enough to have a studio set up in your own home. Do you find being able to work from home and with familiar surroundings makes a difference?

    It works really good for me. It’s definitely cheaper! I love having the freedom of exploring whatever I want. I also like to work fast and if something’s not working, I’ll often just switch songs. That’s a lot easier to do when you work by yourself.

    I understand you worked pretty closely with Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie fame. How did that collaboration come about?

    Ah, we just asked him if he wanted to mix the album. He only takes on projects that he wants to. So I sent him the tracks and he said he’d love to do it, which I thought was a pretty good compliment!

    Finally, I know that you’re pretty popular with the hip and cool Wellingtonians down here, are there plans for an album release tour in the coming months?

    Yeah, definitely!


  • Avalanche City—We Are For The Wild Places


    We Are For The Wild Places is without a doubt one of the finest Kiwi albums we’ve heard this year.

    On first listen, it can’t be faulted. No detail has been overlooked and everything is exactly where it needs to be. Folk music can all too often feel overdone, but not once does this feel forced. To be able to pour so much of yourself into something and still have it come out sounding effortlessly cool is an impressive feat that shouldn’t pass by unnoticed.

    I could write a thesis on this album and the themes addressed, but for now I’ll stick to one of the more intriguing. Where many artists today are all about pulling bitches and breaking hearts, Baxter has addressed more relatable problems that arise in committed relationships such as compromise and compassion. This is particularly noticeable in “Keep Finding A Way” and “Fault Lines”, and is incredibly refreshing. Coming from any other top 40 artist, such themes could be dismissed as bland or irrelevant, but Baxter’s masterfully crafted lyrics and exceptionally put together arrangements give the themes meaning in a way that is anything but tiresome.

    It’s the kind of album that on paper shouldn’t affect you on a deeper level, but the true magic of it lies in the fact that it does. It’s memorable, and in an incredibly oversaturated market, I think that’s all any artist could ever hope to be.


  • Years & Years—Communion


    On July 10, UK breakthrough group Years & Years released their highly anticipated debut album Communion. The electronic-pop trio were the 2015 recipients of the prestigious BBC Sound Of… award and have had the world’s eyes on them ever since.

    If pop music in 2014 was Lorde, then pop music in 2015 is Years & Years. It’s only a matter of time before the copycats will be creeping in trying to emulate the band’s signature and oh-so-current pop sound that carries throughout their album. Their heavy lyrics are masked beneath funky beats, and it’s this substance and juxtaposition that has set them apart from their more superficial counterparts.

    But possessing a signature sound alone sometimes just isn’t enough, and by track ten you might start to wonder whether the end is in sight (spoiler: you still have three songs to go). Despite this monotony, born of an album full of songs that are all only slight variations on each other, they’ve managed to tick all the boxes for a chart-topping album that will no doubt be a commercial success. The reality of the situation is that they’re an emerging act that has been under immense pressure to deliver perfection, so it makes sense why they chose to play it safe and not once veer away from what they know.

    Ballad “Eyes Shut” is the clear standout of the album. It’s pretty damn powerful and, coming in halfway through the album, it will snap you out of whatever kind of dance-pop trance you’ve fallen into. It masterfully combines elements of a traditional ballad (heavy keys and percussion, and strong lyrics) with their distinct style. It shouldn’t work, but it does, and it’s damn near perfect. If you’re a sucker for songs about lost love, pair “Eyes Shut” with “Without You” and get ready for feels to be seriously cranked up a notch. If, on the contrary, you were a fan of the party tunes released prior to the album, then you’ll be happy to know that “Real”, “Ties”, “Gold” and “Border” all sound pretty much the same as “King”, “Desire”, “Worship” and “Take Shelter”—and that’s about all I have to say about that.

    Communion is the album you want to be the soundtrack of your summer. The kind of album that will bode well with white sand beaches, UV paint parties and road trips. Unfortunately for us Southern Hemisphere folk, this album can only act as a facilitator for such escapism. It’s not going to overpower your fun and it can quite happily play in the background without sparking intense conversation about the meaning of life. If you can take it for what it is and not look past surface level, then Communion is essentially just a really good time that has been perfectly packaged for the mainstream market. Nothing more, nothing less


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