Graham Reid | | 9 min read
By my approximate count, Elsewhere has written reviews or overviews on about 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 -- given this is Elsewhere -- 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.
Yep, we missed the excellent Arctic Monkeys album for example, and the very nice Billie Joe Armstrong/Norah Jones album of Everly Brothers covers has arrived too late for consideration.
But we did our best and certainly brought you a broad and eclectic selection of music for your pleasure, endurance or consideration.
For the purposes of this Editor's Choice though I have not included reissues, compilations, live albums, greatest hits and so on. Just new albums. (I have offered an opinion on some of the best reissues here.)
And so, in no particular order here are my picks for the 30 best albums I wrote about this year (and you can follow the links to relevant interviews or to our original review if you care to.
Have look and a listen . . and then go for your life at our Readers' Picks page here under Post A Comment (Maybe just pick one album we have missed and nail it in one sentence to let others have their say? Don't hog the box.)
ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ROOTS; WISE UP GHOST:
Costello has been on a real roll recently with his albums Secret, Profane and Sugarcane then National Ransom (all the whle doing solo shows and some with the Imposters). But this complete reinvention of his sound, some previous songs and new material with the Roots' Questlove (and producer Steve Mandel whom Costello speaks of as an equal partner) was not just a suprise but a remarkable album long on idea but tightly focused. Our review is here and Costello is interviewed about it here.
WILLIS EARL BEAL; NOBODY KNOWS:
This second album by the fascinating and self-aware Beal is some distance from his debut (which was a collection of older songs, see here). So the reference points change from Tom Waits to classic soul, and the man proves he can write and sing like a master. He was also one of the smartest people Elsewhere has interviewed in years (see here). The original review is here.
On paper this is sub-Sahara desert blues from the next generation -- the one familiar with Western rock -- but really it is much more as it stretches into dub, psychedelic rock and much more. Quite a trip. And it didn't appear at Elsewhere under World Music. Read the full review here. (And if this works for you don't miss Etran Finatawa's Sahara Sessions here.)
LORDE; PURE HEROINE:
The conversation about this exceptionally talented and rather different singer-songwriter now errs towards the statistics on sales, time at the top of the US charts, number of awards won etc. And her "Goth" look. (Really?) BUt let's shift the discussion back to the spacious music, astute lyrics and clever production (we noted Prince in our review here, a thought confirmed by producer Joel Little when he answered our Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire here). A rare one.
MAVIS STAPLES; ONE TRUE VINE
Her albums in 2007 and 2008 made our Best of Elsewhere lists for those years (see here and here), and the grand lady of politicised soul shows no sign of either slowing down, but -- again with Wlico's Jeff Tweedy, she delivers a masterstoke. But of a different kind. This one is a restrained, slow-fuse gospel soul-funk where less is just way, way more. Our full review is here.
DARKSTAR; NEWS FROM NOWHERE
Pastel shades, pastoral moods, light-as-air electronica in places . . . Lovely outing by this British trio. Our review is here.
SAMSOM, NACEY, HAINES; CROSS NOW
New Zealand jazz has been increasingly delievring not just interesting but quite exceptional albums, and because they just keep coming -- many through the estimable Rattle Jazz imprint -- you get a feeling of continuity and growth. This album should satisfy both older and younger jazz listeners as it is everything good jazz should be. Daring at times, studied at others, and unpredictable. Our review is here.
No, we don't get the parentheses either but British singer-songwriter Conor O'Brien here offered an albm that was layered, thoughtful and had something to say. This came out way back at ther start of the year but even then we were thinking it would be one to remember around this time. And it has proven to be so. See our original review here.
DAVID BOWIE; THE NEXT DAY
If Bowie had been as ill as rumour had it, then he could hardly have delivered an album like this which is full of seething energy and rage in places. Seemed more like he'd been saving himself for just this commanding and demanding album which is rarely easy listening. And by recording it in secret and slipping it out cleverly in this age of on-line blather, twittering and "here's what I just thought" texts, it gave you hope that things could still catch you by surprise and can remain hidden from view. Our review is here. And the jury is still out over the cover.
THE PHOENIX FOUNDATION; FANDANGO
Maybe at almost 80 minutes it does seem overlong to some, but the sheer musical (and lyrical) intelligence on display has kept our attention all the way. And if some of that is prog-rock then that genre is in good, safe hands. You can read about them and this album here.
DONNA DEAN; TYRE TRACKS AND BROKEN HEARTS
We're still thinking the album title is a bit country-obvious but that takes nothing away from the sheer power of each individual song here, and how they come together as an utterly persuasive album of many moods. Darkness and light which sounds beamed in from somewhere Southern, which rather explains why so many big name US players lined up to contribute. Our review is here.
MICHAEL FORMANEK; SMALL PLACES
Bassist Formanek has often brought a bit of an edge to the ECM jazz label and if this one pulled back a little it was only to push in other directions. The power of understatement as much as the quartet's ability to twist a preconception is on display everywhere here on an album that challenges and seduces at the same time. Our review is here.
BILL CALLAHAN; DREAM RIVER
These days albums by the great Callahan are more like eavesdropping on his conversations with himself and that intimacy is beguiling, especially on this album which covers a lot of emotional ground and subject matter, but always sounds a celebration of being alive and taking pleasure in the small things. You may read our original review here.
AOIFE O'DONOVAN; FOSSILS
Possibly alt.country if you really must need a label, but coming at it from the corners of classical music and bare-bones poetry. And when required she can kick up the tempo. One of the year's real slow creepers/keeprs. Read more here.
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING; INFORM-EDUCATE-ENTERTAIN
Using British radio and soundtrack samples from the Forties and Fifties, this exceptional album of electronica and ideas might seem almost nostalgic. But because the samples mostly refer to the excitement of progress and machinery (trains, planes) it almost feels forward looking, and you wish we still had that enthusiasm again. Very special. The Elsewhere review is here.
ONE MAN BANNISTER; EVOLVER
Whatever skerrick of credibility Elsewhere may have had will doubtless go out the window for many with this nomination because Matthew Bannister (Sneaky Feelings/Dribbling Darts/One Man Bannister) didn't write any of the these songs. Yes, it's a covers album . . . in fact it is a cover of a whole album (the Beatles' Revolver) but against the odds -- given that is a Firm Favourite for many Beatle aficionados -- Bannister reconstitutes the songs and delivers up something fresh, interesting, courageous and utterly enjoyable. Tomorrow Never Knows as a swirling piece of Britpop? Believe it. For our original review go here, and Bannister answered our Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire here.
PET SHOP BOYS; ELECTRIC
No one makes nightclubbing seem quite such a lonely and desperate affair as the Pet Shop Boys who here simultaneously celebrate and are dispassionate observers of clubland cool and suburban angst. And they do it all on an album that fairly bangs along, and includes a cover of a Springsteen song. Check our original review here.
INTO THE EAST; FIGHT FROM THE INSIDE
We called this album by a duo from Southland a very tasty slow cooker of Americana-influenced folk of no fixed cultural abode. And seeing them live (genuine engagement and humour) confirmed they are something rather special. For our original review of this -- which has just been announced one of the three finalists for New Zealand folk album of the year -- go here. (And their album cover artist Hanna Isaac opened her sketchbook to Elsewhere here.)
THE HANDSOME FAMILY; WILDERNESS
Unlike Into the East, America's Handsome Family disappointed a few loyalists on their tour this year, but that should take nothing away from this charming, confusing, wry and thoughtful album which celebrates/investigates Nature but offers so much more. See the original review here and read Rennie Sparks' answers to the Famous Elsewhere Questionnare here.
TAMA WAIPARA; FILL UP THE SILENCE
Although this gifted singer/arranger/facilitator didn't exactly announce "hope you like my new direction" he didn't need to because this album covered such a broad spectrum that anyone who took the time couldn't help but be impressed by the confidence on display, not to mention the memorable songs which ran from backporch strum to banging beats. A real ear opener (our review is here) and Waipara explained it all in a lengthy and fascinating interview with Elsewhere here. The local album that got away.
JOHN MURRY; THE GRACELESS AGE
Perhaps a "critics' choice" album because it hardly seemed to connect widely. But take the time on this dark American singer-songwriter (who survived actual death in the back of an ambulance) and his hard-won truths come through strong and engaging. Our original review is here.
EELS; WONDERUL, GLORIOUS
Because Mark Everett (aka Eels) has been such a regular feature at Elsewhere (see here), it should be unnecessary to bring this one to people's attention -- but as always he remains firmly hovering just above cult status, despite his albms becoming increasingly more approachable. In our review here we specifically mentioned White Stripes and Black Keys to hook in the casual, but it seems Eels might remain a private passion for a small number of devotees for a while yet.
SHEEP DOG & WOLF; EGOSPECT
Elsewhere was not as instantly smitten with this one as many other writers (see the review here) and noted this was not easy-entry music. In fact even now it sounds a bit ADHD arthouse, but there's no denying it is a genuine work of intelligence which grows in stature on every play, and it does require attention to get the full spectrum being explored. I said the years may be kind to it, in fact six months of listening was enough to be persuaded.
KURT VILE; WALKIN' ON A PRETTY DAZE
Hard to tear this transcendental, guitar-pscyhedlic album out of the player once it is lodged. It breaths summer laziness and lies somewhere between Velvet Underground and the Church at their most languid. Nice place to be. It has just been reissued with previously unreleased tracks, but you can read our review of the original album here.
ROTOR +; DUST
We called this local album of ambient noise, electronica, silence and much more/less "beguilingly beautiful" and as the concluding piece in an equally fascinating trilogy, it set a new threshold in atmospherics and a world of its own making. There is a feature on the trilogy here.
FAT FREDDY'S DROP; BLACKBIRD
I still think it gets off to a predictable start, but once things settle (and it is a long outing so it really hits its straps) all is forgiven and the journey is as rewarding as the destination, the seven minute-plus closer by which time you self-medication has really done the job. Our review is here.
BILLY BRAGG; TOOTH AND NAIL
A radio reviewer of this turned-down outing by Bragg -- who said he'd never much liked his vocal style -- commented to the effect that it seemed as iof Bragg had discovered he could actually sing. Interesting point. I thought he always did, but I know what he means. This is an older, less strident, more considered and sometimes hurting Bragg and -- with producer Joe Henry -- finding the right voice to deliver the inner pains. Lovely. Our review is here.
BARRENCE WHITFIELD AND THE SAVAGES; DIG THEY SAVAGE SOUL
Making the case for American-styled pub-rock with a splattering of a soul revue, these guys just put the hammer down on a party mood of the old style. It isn't art, there's no wheel reinvented, no maps redrawn, no envelopes pushed . . . just good honest rock'n'soul. Read our review here.
BASSEKOU KUYATE; JAMA KO
Malian ngoni player Kuyate learned from being in the late Ali Farka Toure's group and, like that master, pulls out melodic magic. This time out though the political backdrop was different -- Islamic militants and extremists running amuck in his country -- so there is a taut urgency evident. Taj Mahal guests also. Our original review is here.
DAVID DALLAS; FALLING INTO PLACE
Yes, this has its faults, but frankly to few to mention in the context of the bigger picture of poetry, rap, social observation and an amalgam of beats, rhymes, samples and . . . All the rest. Even when it is declamatory there is an astutenes and sometimes even sadness at its heart. Social commentary seldom sounds as alive and engaged as this. Our review is here.