There was a darkness on the Office Playlist this week. Black Hands is a chilling true-crime podcast that re-negotiates our relationship with picture perfect New Zealand. And while Slowdive’s first album in 23 years has a black cover, it’s music that will restore and nourish your soul.
Black Hands is the New Zealand version of Serial – that’s what production company Tandem Studios say they set out to create – and it’s probably the perfect description.
We love New Zealand. It’s a spectacularly beautiful and ridiculously fun country to visit and there’s a charming, friendly personality amongst Kiwis. You can hear many of those elements in our “audio photo album” Tales from Taranaki which captures the landscape and people through a tramp in the South Island.
We’re especially fond of the New Zealand Accent. So close to the Australian accent, it has an enchanting lilt that makes everything sound like more fun. But that fun comes to an end early in the first episode of Black Hands with the line “They’re all dead, shot in the head”. Suddenly the Kiwi accent leads us down a path of darkness and malevolence.
For many people there’s no other type of podcast than crime podcasts and it’s easy to hear why. Crimes are usually settled in courts where the legal system is simply a system to establish decisions beyond reasonable doubt – those decisions almost always leave room for debate. So, there’s plenty to talk about in a podcast!
The legal system also delivers so much incredible audio, from court recordings, to news reports and the broad range of opinions that people are willing to discuss. Black Hands makes use of all of these things to create a rich listening experience that is compelling.
And then there’s the case itself, which the Black Hands podcast producers Tandem Studios describe as:
“The Bain family murders took place on June 20 in 1994. Five members of one family were shot as they lay sleeping at 65 Every Street, Andersons Bay, Dunedin. Only the eldest son was spared. Four days later the son, David Bain, was charged with killing his family.”
David Bain was convicted for each of the murders and jailed in 1995, then released in 2007 after the Privy Council declared there had been a substantial miscarriage of justice. Bain was retried and then in 2009 acquitted of all charges.
Martin Van Beynen is a journalist in New Zealand who reported on the 12-week retrial, then wrote a book about how the jury got it wrong. Van Beynen wrote the podcast and worked with Tandem Studios to revisit all the evidence through audio.
The great thing about crime podcasts is that there are no pictures. Black Hands describes the graphic nature of the crime, but you rely on your imagination to fill out those pictures. For me that simplifies things a lot – my imagination softens the edges and eliminates a lot of the gory details. I’m not sure how it works for you, but I’d recommend not looking online for additional details if you’re squeamish!
Black Hands was published in July last year and has reignited interest in the Bain family murders, which is no doubt what Van Beynen intended. It’s also shown that New Zealand can create a crime podcast that has all the qualities of Serial without mimicking the American presentation style. Van Beynan speaks like a Kiwi crime reporter throughout and I was hanging on every word.
Black Hands is a joint Stuff-Tandem studios production.
When bands used to release albums (and people used to buy them) there was a theory that they should record their first album and put it away, then record their second album and release it first. The idea is that your first album is the album you’ve been working on all your life, which is why the difficult second album, often rushed out to capitalise on the first, is often a flop. Many successful bands don’t even get to the second album.
Slowdive’s self-titled album is their fourth. It comes 23 years after their third album Pygmalion. And it’s so good that it might prompt other old rockers to get the band back together!
Slowdive were part of the ‘shoegaze’ movement in British music that emerged in the early ‘90s and was so-named because the often-shy bands would stare at their shoes while strumming their guitars. Those guitars were layered, swirling and delayed creating a dreamy, often noisy sound that could swallow vocalists whole.
Two decades later, Slowdive’s sound has matured with them. The guitars are still layered, swirling and delayed, but they sit further back in the mix giving the still softly sung vocals the opportunity to rise above.
And there’s a lot more space. In ‘No Longer Making Time’ the sound is occasionally reduced down to singer/songwriter Neil Halstead, drums and a solo guitar with no effects.
For those that remember Slowdive, there’s a familiarity here that feels like an old friend who has aged with you, even if you haven’t seen them for a while. There’s also a contemporariness to the sound that doesn’t sound out of place in a modern playlist.
‘Sugar For The Pill’ ekes into being with an echoing guitar that could come from the latest The XX or Lorde, and the sweet vocals that follow deliver on that promise. The song passes so easily that despite being almost five minutes in length, it feels like it finishes far too soon.
It isn’t surprising to find Slowdive on our office playlist, as we were both big fans of shoegazers from the first fuzzy guitar riff to the death-blow delivered by Brit Pop. Also, we’re big fans of the long run, believing that your best work is always yet to come. We’ve been writing and recording since Slowdive’s first album came out and we love the opportunity that every new project brings. The opportunity to do the best thing you’ve ever done, by distilling ever done before and applying it to this shiny new thing.
Slowdive’s ‘Slowdive’ is an album that’s totally safe for the office playlist and offers many inspiring moments to keep you hitting repeat.