Graham Reid | | 11 min read
By my loose count, Elsewhere has written reviews or overviews on around 200 albums this past year (mostly new releases but also reissues, compilations and so on). Most of those reviews appeared at Music from Elsewhere, but there were also some others under World Music, Jazz, Reggae and Blues.
And when it came to box set reissues or the like, they got some greater essaying and discussion under Absolute Elsewhere.
So we covered a lot of music (not to mention books, films, cultural stuff and so forth) but obviously you can't get to everything. So yes, we missed a lot and there were others that we heard but could just not find the time to write about. Had we done the Elvis Costello Look Now it would have appeared in the list below.
But the days went by and so . . .
I have already offered my choices of The Year in Reissues so for the purposes of this Editor's Picks I haven't included them, compilations, live albums, greatest hits and so on. Just new albums.
And so, in no particular order here are my picks for the 30 best albums I wrote about this year, one's which I have no doubt I would still be listening to in five years time. And you can follow the links to our original review (and/or interview) and the link to another album.
Have look and a listen . . and then let me know by e-mail a couple I missed which were your favourites of the year. I will compile them as in previous years into Readers' Picks.
Just for your information also, New Zealand albums (or those which significantly feature New Zealand musicians) are marked with an *
Now on with the countdown . . .
Alien Weaponry: Tu *
Astonishingly powerful and political thrash metal-meets-haka which could only have come from this place but is getting this young trio a foothold in the rest of the world. Magnificent, and even more so in the gatefold vinyl edition. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Check out The Last Poets: Understand What Black Is. We wrote about it here.
Marlon Williams: Make Way for Love *
Still don't like the cover but the contents are very close to sublime in that Williams effortlessly brings together elements of pop, rock, country, Pasifika and more in songs which were coded and loaded, personal and yet universal. We wrote about it here.
Julia Deans: We Light Fire *
In any other year – the one without Alien Weaponry and Marlon Williams, and the ubiquitous Six60 – this astute, mature and engaging album would have picked up plenty of awards, but Deans just had to be satisfied knowing she's made the best album of her career and that it got to an audience. We wrote about it here.
Jamie McDell: Extraordinary Girl *
With this album the wholesome teenage pop singer emerged as an adult singer-songwriter who knows her way around memorable tunes but here stacked them acerbic and mature observations, some obviously drawn from bitter relationship experiences. Some might still dismiss her as a pop singer, this album proved her to be something else.We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Princess Chelsea: The Loneliest Girl? * It is also adult pop, but of a very different kind. We wrote about it here.
Barbra Streisand: Walls
It's probably hard to get Elsewhere or pop-rock readers to even consider La Streisand but this album is loaded with strong and regretful sentiments about the current state of America, delivered in That Voice which has always been so commanding. A great return to form from someone who looked to be easing out with duets and hits collections. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Gretchen Peters: Dancing with the Beast for clear-eyed country songs with serious personal and political messages? We wrote about it here.
Emily Fairlight: Mother of Gloom *
Bad title on an excellent album of folk-tropes and expansive alt.rock which is far from the utter downer it seems. One which seems to have gone past most. Pity. We wrote about it here.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Sex and Food *
A fascinating and often fun collection of styles which Ruban Nielson has in his pocket – pop to Prince-funk, rock to psychedelia – which is clever but never smug. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Death and the Maiden's Wisteria? * Yes, there is a bit of the dark stuff as befits the band name but – as with the Emily Fairlight album title above – names don't tell the whole story. We wrote about it here.
Tami Neilson: Sassafras! *
The Tami story just keeps getting better, bigger, wider and deeper, and on this collection she explores female empowerment with wit that won't back down. Still the most impressive female singer in the country for the breadth and depth of emotion she can convey. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Shannon Shaw's Shannon in Nashville which covers not dissimilar musical and emotional territory? We wrote about it here.
Charles Mingus: Jazz in Detroit/Strata Concert Gallery/46 Selden
Not a reissue because these remarkable live sessions from the long-gone master bassist/composer had never appeared before. Mingus at one of his many peaks across a terrific five CD set. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out John Coltrane's Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album which was also a hitherto unknown release of a day-long session, so also not a reissue. Although it quickly became one when it was boxed up with two other albums from '63. We wrote about it here, and then the box here.
Delaney Davidson: Shining Day *
More sweet and sour, pop and country, distortion and clarity from one of the country's most prolific and peripatetic songwriters whose singular pop-rock should be damaging the charts. But isn't. So everyone loses. We wrote about it here.
Jon Hassell: Listening to Pictures/Pentimento Vol 1
More lovely trance-like sounds from trumpeter Hassell who creates a space between lean Miles Davis, electronica, imagined world music and ambience. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Khruangbin's dreamy guitar ambience and so-dance of Con Todo El Mundo. We wrote about it here.
Laurie Anderson/The Kronos Quartet: Landfall
Art music meets memory and docu-drama as Anderson and Kronos explore and recreate the impact of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 through music and spoken word. Not easy, but not an easy subject either. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Gurrumul's Djarimirri/Child of the Rainbow where the late Aboriginal singer's vocals – singing and chants – are woven through orchestrated settings to create a song cycle about creation, time nature and life. Also art music meets memory, but very different. We wrote about it here.
Wojtek Mazolewski Quartet: Polka, Deluxe Edition
Slightly cheating here but we can guess very few heard this jazz album on first release in 2014 but this expanded edition was certainly readily available and you need to know a number of things: it isn't a polka album and yes Polish bassist Mazolewski is heavily tattooed and pianist Joanna Duda does have a mohawk. So very edgy jazz which also has its heart in traditions which stretch from Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman, or rock legends. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out GRG67's The Thing? * We wrote about it here.
Avantdale Bowling Club: Avantdale Bowling Club *
Where candid autobiography and social observation collide in a hip-hop context and Tom Scott's raps are utterly gripping. What brings all this home however is the jazzy settings which either add comfortable sound beds or energetic impetus. A rare one. We wrote about it here.
Eve de Castro-Robinson: The Gristle of Knuckles *
On which some of the contemporary classical composer's songs are reconfigured by the likes of Nathan Haines, Delaney Davidson, Don McGlashan, various jazz players and . . . Not as challenging as it sounds for those who might recoil from “contemporary classical” but a bridge between art music and innovative alt.rock. Really quite something. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Dudley Benson's Zealandia? * That is art music which brings together orchestration, beats, a choir . . . It is a love letter to Aotearoa (expressing disappointment about what might have been). We wrote about it here. And he shared this about it.
The Beths: Future Me Hates Me *
There is always a place for enthusiastic power-pop and fizzing indie.rock and this Auckland band nailed it all into an album of short, sharp songs. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Racing's Real Dancing * where rock and dance meet? We wrote about it here.
Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at Zardi's
This remarkable live set – the great Fitzgerald recorded it just before she signed to Verve in '56 – went unreleased until very late last year (and was reviewed at Elsewhere here this year, so it counts!). A great double disc peppered with passion and humour.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Cecile McLorin Salvant's The Window which might not be quite as strong as her essential Dreams and Daggers double disc of 2017 but still showcases her remarkable vocal talent. We wrote about it here.
Thom Yorke: Suspiria
Soundtrack of the year round Elsewhere's way for it spooky ambience and Radiohead's Yorke puling together his experimental tendencies and some strange songs into a shape for the remade film which has had critics divided. But everyone seems to agree the soundtrack is outstanding.We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Steve Reich's Pulse/Quartet which might be a lighter and necessary corrective? We wrote about it here.
Tune-Yards: I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life
Gripping electrobeats, singer Merrill Garbus' assured and strong vocals, soul and pop and drama, and political as the title suggests. We wrote about it here.
The Adults: Haja *
Where world music, soul, hip-hop and rock all meld under the guidance of Shihad's Jon Toogood and transcend the limitations of the various genres. Unlike anything else in local music this year, maybe in any year. We wrote about it here.
Harry Lyon: To the Sea *
Looks like a modest collection of songs from former Hello Sailor writer/singer/guitarist but even though some of these date back decades or reflect on times past there was nothing to be modest about. Strong and memorable songs, some given the Delaney Davidson production treatment and in Christmas in Dublin a gentle seasonal heartbreaker for those with family far from home. At 68 Lyon can still rock. We wrote about it here and he is interviewed here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Paul Kelly's Nature for more mature songwriting and delightful or pointed settings of poems to music. We wrote about it here.
Fraser/Burridge/Johnstone: Shearwater Drift *
A quiet sonic journey through time and space which requires the listener to slow right down (no bad thing) and just enjoy the journey from dawn to night. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Al Fraser and Phil Boniface's equally weightless Ponguru? * We wrote about it here.
Richard Thompson: 13 Rivers
As we noted at the time we are probably only preaching to the choir when it comes to the uneasy genius of Richard Thompson who not only shows no sign of slowing down but certainly isn't getting any happier as he closes in on 70. The guitar playing remains thrilling, the songs are penetrating and late in life he really seems to have hit another purple patch. As we said here when addressing the choir, “you know who you are”.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out The Chills' Snowbound * because Martin Phillipps is also on a roll and writing almost archetypal Chills classics. We wrote about it here. And Phillipps spoke to us about it here.
Joan Baez: Whistling Down the Wind
The voice is more ragged but if this is to be her final album as she has said then she goes out with a remarkable collection of original and covers (Waits, Anohni, Ritter) which ache with disappointment and hope in equal measure. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Then have a listen to Mel Parsons' polished country, folk and mainstream pop on Glass Harp * which we wrote about here.
Alejandro Escovedo with Don Antonio: The Crossing
This great Hispanic singer-songwriter and political conscience is coming to New Zealand next year and so this album – a country-rock narrative about outsiders, those on the move across literal and metaphoric borders and more, is essential background. Great guests also. We wrote about it here.
Tony Joe White: Bad Mouthin'
The late Tony Joe checked out with this very lowkey – and he did lowkey lower-keyed than most – collection of blues and blues-adjacent songs. Mostly just him and guitar in an informal studio session. We wrote about it here.
Various Artists: Chicago Plays the Stones
Far from the first album of Stones covers but this one fires on all cylinders as Chicago blues locals (mostly unfamiliar but Buddy Guy and Billy Boy Arnold among them) dig deep into the Stones catalogue and essay the expected and unexpected with equal enjoyment. You won't have heard a version of Angie like this before. We wrote about it here.
Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti: Trikala
This double album of Indian and Baul music – with local players and singers – by Scottish guitarist-without-portfolio Thacker will not be an easy one for most. But the pieces are discrete, the booklet informative and the music often mesmerising. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Minyeshu's Daa Dee for music from Ethiopia which bridges jazz and world music. We wrote about it here.
Antipodes: Good Winter *
Jazz from players who are literally at the antipodes from each other (Australasia and Europe) but find common ground in the space between classic jazz, swinging rhythms and more free playing. We wrote about it here.
Like the sound of that? Why not check out Chisholm/Meehan/Dyne's Unwind * where the title gives a clear hint at the contents? "A world without haste" we said when we wrote about it here.
Lee Konitz and Dan Tepfer: Decade
No, not a jazz reissue because the great saxophonist Lee Konitz is still alive and playing (at 90) and for these duets with pianist Dan Tepfer he stretches between humour and fierce focus. Life-affirming listening and hope for us all . . . if we keep working. We wrote about it here.
And this is it from the editor! Whew. Now it is your turn to let me know what impreseed you this year.