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Review: New Albums by Bic Runga & Anna Coddington


Review by Howard Davis

What is it about the New Zealand climate that continuously produces such beautiful vocalists? From the superstardom of Kiri Te Kanawa and Lorde, to the more modest homespun musings of Mel Parsons and Moana Ete, extraordinary female singer/songwriters seem to proliferate like possum. Two new releases by Ric Bunga and Anna Coddington exemplify this efflorescence, without exhibiting any deleterious effect on local fauna.

Bic Runga grew up in Christchurch, surrounded by a musical family, and started recording songs with her sisters when she was just four (her older sister Boh is now a vocalist in the Stellar, while Pearl is a session singer). She learned to play drums at the age of eleven, guitar and keyboards at fourteen, and was soon performing with local jazz groups. Since the release of her debut single 'Drive' in 1996, she has sold over 500,000 albums and been awarded virtually every musical honour in New Zealand, including the APRA Silver Scroll Songwriting Award, 20 Tui’s, and multi-platinum discs - making her the country's most awarded solo artist. Her first three albums debuted at number one on the New Zealand album charts and her services to music were recognised with the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2006. Her songs have been featured on film soundtracks and her records released around the world, winning her devoted followings in Europe, Asia, and the US. On November 17, Runga will receive the 2016 NZ Herald Legacy award at the Vodafone Music Awards, acknowledging her outstanding contribution to the New Zealand music industry.

'Close Your Eyes' is Runga’s fifth album, and her first release since the critically-acclaimed 'Belle' in 2011. Co-produced by her partner Kody Nielsen (Mint Chicks, Opossum, Silicon) in their Mission Bay studio, it features a selection of her favourite songs and two new originals. Runga describes making the album as a creative challenge and learning experience - "There are so many songs I've always wanted to cover. I wanted to see if I could not just be a singer-songwriter, but someone who could also interpret songs. In the process, I found there are so many reasons why a cover version wouldn't work, perhaps because the lyrics were not something I could relate to first hand, because technically I wasn't ready or because the original was too iconic. But the songs that all made it on the record specifically say something about where I'm at in my life, better than if I'd written it myself. It was a challenging process, I'm really proud of the singing and the production and the statement."

"Kody and I met on the recording of 'Belle,' and since then, as a production team we have made a huge leap I think. On this record, we play all the instruments ourselves, with the added pressure of having an original version of a song to compare our work to. I think this record is punchier and more confident than Belle, it was made much faster and more decisively."

"We have a studio in Mission Bay in Auckland that we call The Box. It's mostly analogue recording gear, vintage synths, preamps and drums. Our recording techniques are 'old school' - it's about capturing good performances on good instruments. It seems obvious in a way, but it means you have to work hard on the take, and not rely too much on editing and mending things."

* * *

Anna Coddington grew up in Raglan and her early musical development in some ways shadowed Runga's, to whose third album 'Birds' she contributed background vocals. She started playing drums at eleven, guitar at fourteen, and by age sixteen she was fronting and writing songs for her first band, Handsome Geoffery, which won the national student music competition at Smokefree Rockquest in 1998. The band's members included actor/director Aidee Walker, who has since directed a number of Coddington's music videos. Her second band Duchess released a six track EP in 2005, on which she sang, played guitar, and wrote the songs. Three years later, she released her first solo album - 'The Lake' (2008) - followed by 'Cat & Bird' in 2011. She has also made a number of stellar cameo appearances with Fly My Pretties. Now comes 'Luck/Time,' the culmination of four years of diligent labour addressing issues of love, loss, hope, despair, and having a bit of luck over a lot of time.

The new album on Mikee Tucker's Loop label features Coddington's hallmark melodic tunes, carefully crafted lyrics, and astute production values, coloured with hints of indie, disco, and yacht rock. Swimming against the current stream of beats-heavy production, she stands proudly with guitar in hand, surrounded by luscious string arrangements. Her lyrics are intense, haunting, and highly emotional, often tinged with a melancholy hue. The album features two previously released singles, 'Bird In Hand' and 'Make You Mine,' both of which were finalists for the APRA Silver Scroll Award. Also featured are new and forthcoming singles 'Apples' and 'Without A Fight.'

Mainly produced by Coddington in her home studio, 'Luck/Time' employs the talents of Sean Donnelly (SJD), Jeremy Toy, and Jol Mulholland. The album was mixed by Djeisan Suskov of Leisure fame, who adds a touch of future-funk to the proceedings. 'Apples' is undoubtedly the standout track, featuring a wildly infectious bass line anchoring another achingly vulnerable vocal. Layers of tactful guitar from Coddington combine with a call-and-response chorus to create an instant earworm. The song stems entirely from “a bass line and a desire to capture a certain feeling/groove in the music," and reveals another side of Coddington - “slinky and relaxed, and a little bit creepy.” The single is accompanied by a video directed by Aidee Walker that displays her music-making process - “I just go into the studio, grab whatever is up there, make noise with it, arrange it till it sounds good, and stack up those brightly coloured Pro Tools waveforms”. Coddington is about to embark on a four-city tour with her current band - Mike Hall (Nightchoir, Pluto), Jol Mulholland (Mulholland, Gasoline Cowboy), Chris O’Connor (The Phoenix Foundation) and Anji Sami (The Sami Sisters, She’s So Rad). Check it out!

Friday 28/10 - Tuning Fork, Auckland (w/ Miloux & The Blackbird Quartet )

Saturday 29/10 - The Rising Tide, Mount Maunganui

Friday 4/11 - The Piano, Christchurch (w/ Terrible Sons)

November 5/11 - San Fran, Wellington

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