BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2015; THE EDITOR'S CHOICES

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BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2015; THE EDITOR'S CHOICES

As always, our selection of the Best of Elsewhere begins with qualifications: We didn't hear everything released this year (Didn't even try. Would you?) and so missed some which will be on others' lists. And that these are only notionally “The Best” because as you know next month something else will become My New Favourite Album and . . .

And that of course we heard a lot more than we actually got around to writing about. For example you won't find Marlon Williams' album here (which is already appearing on many lists) because we heard it, said this but didn't actually review it.

A heresy perhaps when you see the Aquadolls album (“The who?!”) on this countback.

Well, round this way we believe pop like the Aquadolls can often have more durability and offer on-going enjoyment when those Really Worthy Albums just simply don't.

So this list is about the albums we heard and liked for many and various reasons . . . and which we fully expect to be listening to in five years.

Whether it be A Gilt-Edge Classic, kinda cool or just plain fun pop.

As with all such lists it is here to be debated, dismissed, critiqued or maybe even used as a pointer to some albums you missed.

Feel free to Post A Comment . . . but please make it pithy. If you have more to say then via e-mail send me your three or four favourites from the past year and I can make up our customary Readers' Picks list to be published next week.

Remember, music isn't objective so your opinion/feelings/pleasures cannot be "wrong".

Please, don't send me your top 50 or ones which have been mentioned here.

And tomorrow I shall post the Best Reissues

Meantime, in no particular order we offer The Best of Elsewhere 2016 . . .

beth_hartBeth Hart: Better Than Home: Her Auckland show at the Powerstation before an audience of loyalists confirmed the sheer soul-blues and rock vocal power of this woman who on this album delivered soul-baring autobiographical songs set to classic soul-rock Joplin rock'n'roll.

At the time we said of this album, “Quite a woman, quite an album. The most powerful and personal of her career”.

To read our full review go here


Mbongwana Star, From Kinshasa: From the Democratic Republic of the Congo (their words) comes this extraordinary mash down of Congo music, two-dollar electric equipment, snakes'n'ladders guitar parts, knowledge of hip-hop and . . . Just so much more.

At the time we said of this album, “You'll not find a more odd or good-natured album to baffle friends and yourself”.

To read our full review go here.


Father John Misty; I Love You, Honeybear: This beautifully arranged song cycle about relationships (and a new love) might initially seem weighed down but its tumble of words an images which pack short stories into a few words, but he also leaves emotional space for the listener to occupy. You won't listen to this right through too many times and maybe not even that often, but when you do . . .

At the time we said of this album, “[He] wraps his lyrics in often delightfully airy melodies and sometimes you could imagine him as the lovechild of Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson . . . or the Shoes in the studio with George Martin persuading them into folk-ballad mode while writing out the orchestrations”.

To read our full review go here


Jamie XX; In Colour: On this debut album by Jamie of XX, the journey is from about 8pm at home to maybe 4am on the dancefloor (or sock-sliding in the kitchen after one toke over the line) but the trajectory is effortless, there are tea-breaks along the way the whole is a very clever amalgam of hip, now, back then and into tomorrow.

At the time we said of this album, By the final third a few bottles have been emptied, plates cleared away and the chairs pushed back

To read our full review go here


Tami Neilson; Don't Be Afraid: Whether it be belting out her soul, connecting with the gospel spirit, looking to her country heart or respecting her late songwriting father whose spirits hovers over much of this, Neilson again proves what a singular talent she is . . . and what a range she commands.

At the time we said of this album, “Hard to think of another artist whose quality control has been set so high”.

To read our full review go here


The Aquadolls; Stoked On You: Don't people take pop music so seriously these days? It isn't all Art, sometimes it is just enjoyable pop and you just can't shake it off . . . as with this lo-fi band from California which seems to be the project of Melissa Brooks who plays off her surfer-girl image but can also write adult songs couched in classic teen-op musical references (Shangri-Las, Beach Boys, Sony and Cher, the Ramones). Hey, is she really going out with him?

At the time we said of this album, “Brooks is cute, 20 and says she likes gummy bears . . . but don't let that fool you”.

To read our full review go here


bob_dylanBob Dylan; Shadows in the Night: After his Christmas album a few years ago it probably wasn't surprising that even old loyalists would dismiss this album – Bob singing classic and lesser-known songs associated with Sinatra – as the folly of an old duffer. Nothing could be further from the truth as he imbued these lyrics (and Bob is a word guy) with rare emotional depth. Songs and stories reinvented.

At the time we said of this album, “A revelation of this singular man, his voice broken on the wheel of life, the refined songs and that oft-ignored songcraft”.

To read our full review go here


Delaney Davidson; Lucky Guy: Davidson often channels a dark Johnny Cash/swamp mystery spirit, and he still does here. But often enough on this tight collection he unleashes his pop'n'roll interests and so you get an album of the old style where styles rub up against each other and by the end you've had quite a meal, even if they are all quite deliberately tapas-sized servings.

At the time we said of this album, “This time out with that smattering of pop economy, brittle blues and a dozen short, sharp songs in a fraction over 35 minutes this, you'd hope, might be the album to take him to a much wider audience”.

To read our full review go here


Sleater-Kinney; No Cities To Love: The world is drowning under re-formed bands. So punk-era folk who troupe off to see The Fall or the Ruts can just step back from criticising anyone who goes to see Neil Diamond or whatever version of the Searchers is still out there. Nostalgia is what it is, own up to it. Few folded bands from the early Eighties onwards have come back with much which captures their once-brittle incarnation. But S-K – a decade after their departure – did it on this often incendiary riot-grrrl salvo. Nothing nostalgic here.

At the time we said of this album, “They certainly take their own advice from Fade: "If we are truly dancing our swan song, darling, shake it like never before. I suspect this is no swan song”. 

To read our full review go here


Blur; The Magic Whip: At the geographic distance it was always possible in New Zealand to like both Oasis and Blur, just as it once was to not fall into that Beatles/Stones divide.

At the time we said of this album, “A real grower, erring towards slower material than stadium-shakers and a much better album than we had a right to expect from a band which first appeared 25 years ago . . . and last released an album 12 years back”.

To read our full review go here


Neil Young and Bluenote Cafe; Bluenote Cafe: Although these live songs were recorded live in '88 these expanded versions (and unreleased songs) haven't been heard previously . . . and you wish they had been. With a small horn section but a big sound, Young Channeling BB King at times and the audience cheering them on the group offer up a musical history lesson from blues to swing, and

At the time we said of this album, “Play this loud, be prepared to dance, think and nod in agreement. You'll wish you'd been there. Now -- almost three decades later -- you are”.

To read our full review go here


Ryley Walker; Primrose Green: Although he has yet to match his influences in terms of emotional depth and vocal reach, this American singer-songwriter (whose guitar playing errs towards John Renbourn as much as Appalachian folk) delivered one the year's most promising albums.

At the time we said of this album, “As with Morrison and Buckley, he employs jazz players on acoustic bass, cello, drums and vibes so there's a sense he's not only standing on the shoulders of his predecessors but more than able to match them when the music really starts to soar.

To read our full review go here


Avalanche City; We Are For the Wild Places: We are cheating here because we didn't exactly review the album but did an in-depth interview with Dave Baxter (aka Avalanche City) which must have shown our hand.

To read our full interview go here.


91YaA_C8c7L._SL1500_Deerhunter; Fading Frontier: While many Best Of lists will have Kurt Vile's album – which we thought less impressive than it initially seemed – fewer might have this one by the very smart Bradford Cox. The quote below sums it up but our final line was we were glad to have discovered it in time for summer.

At the time we said of this album, “There are songs here with as much gentle psychedelia as has come from Kurt Vile and Flaming Lips, pop structures and sounds that wouldn't be amiss on mainstream rock radio (after 10pm perhaps) and you suspect his recent listening has included Brian Wilson, mid-period REM, the Church and such”.

To read our full review go here


Reuben Bradley; Cthulhu Rising: Jazz concept albums are few and far between, and more rare than intelligent news television news in New Zealand. But here's one which bridges from the horror fiction of HP Lovecraft to prog-rock with pitstops in post-bop along the way. It's a big ask as the league commentators say, but the boys are up to the task.

At the time we said of this album, “An ambitious and perhaps even esoteric cycle at the interface of jazz, imaginary soundtrack, classical composition and, improbably, prog-rock. But, necessarily dark though it may be in places, it also swings aggressively (The Shadow Out of Time) and hits some more tender places.

To read our full review go here


Seckou Keita; 22 Strings: The 21-string kora from West Africa is a mesmerising instrument but we are often used to hearing it played to impress. Here one of the young masters goes back to the original 22-string instrument for a series of reflective, often aching pieces which are hard to pull away from.

At the time we said of this album, “There is a quietude in these 10 poised pieces, which frequently have a stately quality, sometimes suggesting a front parlour recital more than the broad landscapes of the instrument's origins in West Africa. 

To read our full review go here


Terakaft; Alone: Just when you think a genre like desert blues/Sahara blues has exhausted itself in the two decades since it has been coming at us, comes this second generation band with its ears on contemporary rock to mix it up all over again . . . and psychedelicise your mind.

At the time we said of this album, “An evocative, compelling and often quite thrilling album which not only re-invigorates a genre but stands as an exciting slice of rockist-desert blues, especially when those guitars start to sting and sing”.

To read our full review go here.


Ryan Bingham; Fear And Saturday Night: He's always sounded older and wiser beyond his years but here 33-year old Bingham grows into a leathery alt.country skin and lets the troubles of his life settle for long enough to be reflected on, angry about, troubled by . . .

At the time we said of this album, a country-rock poet with the voice of barroom bawler

To read our full review go here


Khruangbin: The Universe Smiles Upon You: This guitar trio out of Texas – stop, we know what you're thinking – made a late entry in the year with this one, a trip-hop, psyched-out mostly instrumental album with its ears on old soul, Thai funk and the soundtrack to a slow surf movie in your head. Your barbecue music just got a whole lot more interesting this summer.

At the time we said of this album, “the dreamy, distant sound of the lightly fuzzed guitar, head-nod rhythms, gentle exoticism and the occasional vocal passage to add another dimension make for something which commands repeat-play”.

To read our full review go here


Don McGlashan; Lucky Stars: Cheating again perhaps because there is no “review” of this at Elsewhere . . . but there is a mighty long, in-depth and track-by-track interview with Don about this album which is – albeit slightly coded in places – revealing and his most personal yet.

At the time we said of this album, “a very different and emotionally direct Don McGlashan album”.

To read our full interview go here


waterboysThe Waterboys; Modern Blues: There was nothing “modern” about this album because Mike Scott looked to the best reference points (Dylan, Van Morrison, Irish poets, his own history, the E Street Band, American rock'n'roll heroes of the Fifties) and pulled them all together on album which some would dismiss for its derivativeness, but they'd be missing his idiosyncratic originality.

At the time we said of this album, “What prevents these songs being just stylistic implosions is Scott's word-spinning gift in images (“Venus in a V-necked sweater”) and dense, memorable couplets urgently tumbling over each other. And this great band (see that interview) recorded live in the studio on discreet songs with his committed, up-close delivery.

Scott is so persuaded by his own abilities he immerses himself in the music

To read our full review go here


Songhoy Blues; Music in Exile: The title is important because their homeland of Mali has been torn apart by Islamic fundamentalist militants so here there is a sad anger fused with an understanding of American blues and rock. A powerful and heartfelt collection.
At the time we said of this album, “focused, thrilling and very significant blues-rock from West Africa

To read our full review go here


Derek Lind; Solo: Auckland singer-songwriter Lind returns after a long absence with a double album which isn't “solo” as the title suggests, but him as a father of three and grandfather who lost his wife two years ago and now confronts that almost unbearable crisis. Bt the album celebrates the pleasures of life as much as what it we must endure. An extraordinary collection of songs by one of the country's finest but least heard songwriters.

At the time we said of this album, “a powerful, intimate and moving cycle of songs as you are ever likely to hear”.

To read our full review go here


Wreckless Eric; amERICa: The cheeky chappy from Stiff Records in the late Seventies/early Eighties never went away but his eye has become more jaded, his tongue more sharp and his rough-hewn pop-rock all the more enjoyable. Everything from re-formed boy band to God and his own struggling career is up for a knock. Is he havin' a laugh? Not really. Funny but very pointed.

At the time we said of this album, “Wreckless Eric back on the same old form, which is pretty top”.

To read our full review go here


Public Service Broadcasting; The Race For Space: Seemed it was open-season on this UK duo for being clever and commercial with their mesh of aural samples from historic archives and dance beats. They came off as boffin-fogies so there's a reason not to like them, but in truth they are smart, intellectual and yet get a crowd up dancing with this loosely conceptual album about the thrill of space exploration in the Fifties and Sixties.

At the time we said of this album, “most often a listening experience, although Gagarin – which celebrates the cheeky looking Soviet cosmonaut – comes with a funky dance beat”.

To read our full review go here


SJD; Saint John Divine: Sean James Donnelly has rarely failed to deliver but this album which bridged the spiritual and the secular with wonderful songs and touches of earthly humour put him on a very different level entirely.

At the time we said of this album, “With so much musical information here -- lyrical and in its arrangements -- this is him stepping onto another platform, and you might even be tempted to say a higher plane”.

To read our full review go here


11149449_10153248834964510_2090385049047257372_nMel Parsons; Drylands: The joke used to be you had years to write your first album, your second had left-overs from the first and your third would be about hotel rooms and touring, because that is what your life had become. Drylands is Parsons' third and sure enough . . . but the songs are strong, the sentiments considered and she nudges her folk more into rock. Result!

At the time we said of this album, “as confident, mature and consistent an album on the cusp of folk, folk-rock and country as anyone has a right to hear”.

To read our full review go here


Unknown Mortal Orchestra; Multi-Love: Ruban Nielson helms his UMO vessel into diverse adventures in funk, soul, ethereal pop ballads, and deals with a menage-a-trois. Mature? You bet.

At the time we said of this album, “the spirit of classic Prince and Seventies jazz-funk haunts much of this music (no bad thing) but Nielson/UMO twist them into something their own, a kind of musically literate white-boy pop-rock with its feet on the dancefloor and stars in its slightly jaded eyes”.

To read our full review go here


Destroyer; Poison Season: Don't be put off by the nom-de-disque and album title, this isn't death metal. Rather it is a complex, sometimes soulful outing by a singer-songwriter who can bang off an E Street Band-like stomper but mostly eases his words (and there are a lot of them) around slippery tunes and fully fleshed songs that are quietly addictive.

At the time we said of this album, “This may not be the easiest album you'll hear this year, but my guess is once you engage it (and it, you) then this time next year you will still be listening, still deciphering, still pleasingly puzzled”.

To read our full review go here


The Jac; The Green Hour: The Rattle label had a remarkable year, not just with its jazz releases (two in album of the year, Dog released in 2014 winning it and The Jac's previous release The Nerve) but also its classical releases, not the least the Michael Houstoun/Beethoven set (see below). This large ensemble from Wellington includes many jazz school graduates but they have honed their craft on bandstands and is a step up from their debut The Nerve.

At the time we said of this album, “these distinct talents not only express their individuality but also come together as a powerful, tight ensemble”.e

To read our full review go here


Kevin Field; The A List: Here pianist Field moves beyond acoustic and into sometimes funky and witty territory with nods to disco and Eighties grooves. A real journey.

At the time we said of this album, “from the past to the present and some imagined SS Enterprise future, Field and his fellow travelers give you plenty to think about, much to enjoy

To read our full review go here


Screen_shot_2015-07-27_at_5.08.31_PM_1Mike Nock and Roger Manins; Two-Out: Cross-generation study where pianist Nock and saxophonist Manins know they have nothing to prove to anyone or each other when it comes to jazz chops so find their common ground in standards which they re-invent with empathy to the material, each other and the traditions they embrace. Truly engrossing.

At the time we said of this album, “By the end . . . you know you have been in the presence of two unique individuals who have made exceptional music together.

To read our full review go here


Tame Impala; Currents: So how best to describe this electro-dreampop album which nudges towards prog, funk, psychedelia, old school soul and includes phasing? Maybe we just have.

At the time we said of this album, “This rewards every listening”.

To read our full review go here


Sufjan Stevens; Carrie & Lowell: The folk poet goes back to lives of the mother who was lost to him and the stepfather who became the pillar in his life. Family life has rarely been so complex and yet love and compassion so simple.

At the time we said of this album, “Heartfelt beauty given musical wings”.

To read our full review go here.


PromoImage_1.jpgThe Chills; Silver Bullets: Even at their peak the Chills never delivered a fully satisfying album and now, a mere 36 years after their last, Martin Phillipps and his Chills come back on forward thrust with an album which seamlessly brings together politics and social observation with his archetypal, melodic sound shot full of urgency and need. A return to form so belated as to be alarming . . . and there is that flaw in the diamond.

At the time we said of this album, “Martin Phillipps sounds like a man re-invigorated on Silver Bullets, but it's worth noting that these Chills actually sound like a band . . . as fine a local album you'll hear this year”.

To read our full review go here


Ahmed Mukhtar; Babylonian Fingers: Baghdad-born but these days based in London, Mukhtar is a master of the oud which is a lute-like instrument capable of a broad range of expression, although here he chooses the more reflective end of the emotional spectrum in music which is hypnotic and sometimes – not surprising given what is happening in his homeland – capable of ineffable sadness.

At the time we said of this album, “a fascinating journey through landscapes more scenic than you might have seen on the movie screen lately, and into narrow byways where there are real people not men with murder on their minds”.

To read our full review go here.


AND SPECIAL MENTIONS

resized__400x357_houstounMichael Houstoun; Beethoven, The Complete Piano Sonatas: Although this deservedly won the classical album of the year award, it's fair to observe most people have no comprehension of the magisterial scope of this project, nor the sheer weight of experience Houstoun has brought to what must be the pinnacle of an exceptional career, which he chooses to live out in New Zealand. It came out very late last year so we include it as a 2015 release, but actually it belongs to al time.

As Andrew Dawson wrote in his excellent essay for Elsewhere about this, “if Beethoven could hear Houstoun’s interpretation, he’d roll back over and rest easy”.

To read Andrew's complete piece go here.

Kamasi Washington; The Epic: In his early 30s and prepared to piant a large canvas, this American saxophonist/composer here delivers three hours of jazz across three discs which astutely references his predecessors and influences (Coltrane, Monk, Ellington and Marsalis). If it might seem to much then the question is which parts might you cut. That you don't want to speaks volumes about this extraordinary if time-consuming, loosely conceptual vision which lives up to its title.

At the time we said of this album, “[The Epic] confirms this jazz stuff and these players not only respect the past but can hear a place for it in The Now . . . and The Future. An epic achievement.”

To read our full review go here.


HowBizarreBookSimon Grigg; How Bizarre, Pauly Fuemana and the Song That Stormed the World: We slip this book back into your attention because it is quite extraordinary

We in New Zealand and millions around the world know the song but the story behind the making and marketing of it, the volatile nature of its singer, the insider's view of the music industry at home and abroad is only part of what Grigg – on whose label Fuemana recorded – tells with fearless clarity and an easy style.

That he hasn't been sued only tells you that what might seem like fiction is actually true. A rare book.

To read our review go here

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Your Comments

Keith Ward - Dec 15, 2015

You forgot the Banditos! I bought their brilliant album solely on your review. GRAHAM REPLIES: And now you have brought them to everyone's attention! If you liked that woman's voice check out the Beth Hart album.

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