THE BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2016: THE EDITOR'S PICKS

 |   |  5 min read

THE BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2016: THE EDITOR'S PICKS

Okay, the best album of 2016 was . . . the one you liked the most.

And you don't need a critic to tell you what that was.

It might have been David Bowie's exceptional blackstar, Beyonce's Lemonade or the Rolling Stones' unexpected -- if not astonishing -- return to old form with Blue and Lonesome . . . which we haven't included below because they are such obvious choices.

Or yours might be Anika Moa's Songs for Bubbas 2.

You have your own taste, but we thought we might point you to some fine music which came out but maybe slid under your radar.

These are just chosen from the albums we reviewed at Elsewhere and of course a few classics doubtless went past us. (We might have heard them, but if we didn't write about them we haven't included them here.)

We think the dozen albums here (with suggestions for other investigations, just click the links to see what we thought at the time) are those you'll still be listening to in years to come, like blackstar, Beyonce and Blue and Lonesome.

And unlike Songs for Bubbas 2.


Suede; Night Thoughts: The one-time Britpop scenesters confirmed their 2013 return to form on Bloodsports with this confident reflection on adulthood, yet retained their classic Bowie-like melodrama and cloying claustrophobia. The ambiguous sexuality of their first incarnation has dissipated but what is here is utterly compelling. Get the CD/DVD version to appreciate the full breadth of this one. For more on this one see here.

Want more people sounding like their classic selves? Try Bonnie Raitt's Dig In Deep, Elton John's Wonderful Crazy Night and Van Morrison's Keep Me Singing,


Lawrence Arabia; Absolute Truth: The grown-up album. Written after the birth of his first child and in the rare time snatched for creativity made him focus on blessings, questions and economic music and lyrics. The elegance and poise is still there, but the songs often seem more simple and pared back, even if the lyrics explore deep territory. Pop with brains, and one that sneaks up over time. For more on this one see here.

Want other real slow-grow keepers? Try Angel Olsen's My Woman and Ultimate Painting's Dusk.


Greg Fleming and the Working Poor; To Hell with These Streets: Constructed like a song-cycle of a day among the drifters and the emotionally adrift in big city New Zealand, these songs move from observational to internal narratives and present hard and often uncomfortable truths about what we have allowed ourselves to become. Our country as it shouldn't be? Gripping stuff. For more on this one see here.

Want more truth-telling? Try Steve Abel's Luck/Hope and the Waco Brothers' Going Down in History.


Wire; Nocturnal Koreans: This may be just 26 minutes long and suggest a band in transition. But these one-time UK post-punk minimalists who became an art project turn in a terrific set of sometimes unnerving songs which roam from elegant pop-rock to their former minimalism and sonic landscapes. Their recent incarnation has been as fascinating as their first. For more on this one see here.

Want more rewarding challenges? Try Lydia Loveless' Real and Agnes Obel's airy Citizen of Glass


Chris Stapleton; Traveller: The former singer-writer with the appropriately named Steeldrivers bluegrass band stamps the road dust off his worn cowboy boots, slugs back another whisky and by channeling the spirits of George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr, Kris Kristofferson and Steve Earle sets about bridging classic country and Clash-inspired rock. He's tough, political at times, a sensitive soul missing family . . . and he wrote If It Hadn't Been For Love which Adele covered on her 21 album. He looks like a typical mountain man, but he's someone special. For more on this one see here.

More from the country? Try Jackie Bristow's Shot of Gold and Loretta Lynn's Full Circle


Heron Oblivion; Heron Oblivion: San Francisco still has a mainline into its psychedelic past if this outfit is any measure. Drummer/singer Meg Baird from Philadelphia's folk-rock Espers joins these SF locals for soaring Jefferson Airplane-cum-Hendrix rock, with nods to Crazy Horse and the widescreen sound of fellow SF band Wooden Shjips. Wah-wah to the stars at times. Tune in, turn on . . . For more on this one see here.

Want more stoner rock? Try Chris Robinson Brotherhood's Any Way You Love We Know How You Feel and Vodun's Possession.


Into the East; How to Turn a Blind Eye: The South Island duo of Liv McBride and Graeme Woller often sound like they've been transported here from the old American Midwest or remote 19th century Appalachia. But this time they also connect to the harsh, car-sleeping realities of our times and kick things up a notch with some rollicking songs alongside the reflective ones. Their debut Fight from the Inside won the Tui for the best folk album of 2014, oddly enough this was overlooked in 2016. Don't make the same mistake. For more on this one see here. For more on this one see here.

Want more alt.country: Kevin Morby's Singing Saw, Robbie Fulks' Upland Stories


Michael Kiwanuka; Love and Hate: Opening with a leisurely guitar part beamed in from Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, this album then connects with Motown gospel handclap pop, Gil Scott-Heron's black politics, Marvin Gaye's soul-searching with strings and some very personal reflections. Where Gaye aimed for the big picture, London-born Kiwanuka keeps things much closer to himself and his own pains, yet over the full album he manages to touch some universal sentiments. For more on this one see here.

Want more like this? Check out Billie Ray Martin's The Soul Tapes and Sturgill Simpson's Southern country-soul on A Sailor's Guide to Earth.


Pacific Heights; The Stillness: Pacific Heights is Wellington producer-songwriter Devin Abrams formerly of Shapeshifter who here dials the beats right down for some falsetto pop-soul with electronica (and Louis Baker guesting on the outstanding Buried by the Burden). Ambient soundscapes, subtle beats, ethereal effects and dream inducing neo-soul. Very impressive. For more on this one see here.

Want more soul/electronica? Then try Andrew Keoghan's Every Orchid Offering and Electric Wire Hustle's The 11th Sky


Leonard Cohen; You Want It Darker: As with Bowie, Cohen seemed to craft a farewell note with this final album in which he speak-sings of “leaving the table”, examines his life without regret or apology, conjures up New Testament and religious imagery, and offers an almost palpable sense of weariness with this world. Dylan always expressed as much admiration for Cohen's music as his lyrics, and the soundbeds for these reflections are the evidence. Subtle flavours of country and hymns make for an album to immerse yourself deeply in, maybe closer to midnight than noon. For more on this one see here.

More considerations of life and death? Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Skeleton Tree and Anohni's Hopelessness.


Trip to the Moon; A Traveller's Tale: They locate themselves in the cosmic sky between leisurely jazz, smart electronica, evocative soundtracks for films of the imagination and even stuttering guitar funk. This local supergroup of Trevor Reekie (guitars), Tom Ludvigson (keyboards, programming), Greg Johnson (trumpet), Jim Langabeer (sax) and guitarist Nigel Gavin offer an album of many parts, constant revelations, exoticism and adventurous, genre-denying pieces which make for an intelligent whole. For more on this one see here.

More intelligent take-me-away? Norah Jones' Day Breaks, Unity Pacific's Blackbirder Dread and Sarathy Korwar's world music-cum-jazz Day to Day.


King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard; Nonagon Infinity: Australian psychedelic rock with an overload setting and thumping beats, bluesy harmonica and songs which segue into each other. So this is strap-in and hold-on, moon-howling rock which takes a left turn from punishing head banging into furious pub rock and tripped out dimensions. The PLAY LOUD album in your 2016 collection. For more on this one see here.

Want more like this? Try Dinosaur Jr's Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not and Troy Kingi and the Electric Haka Boogie's double package Guitar Party at Uncle's Bach


Next week the 2016 year in reissues. Meantime flick us a few of your picks of the year's best and we'll compile our annual readers' choices.

Share It

Your Comments

Steve M - Dec 12, 2016

Righto, Graham: aside from the obvious (Bowie, PJ, Nick Cave), I nominate the following:
Wilco; Schmilco, Dexys; Let the Record Show..., Lake Street Dive; Side Pony, Martin Phillipps; Live at the Moth Club (I think as much for the doco, as the concert), and Eli Paperboy Reed; My Way Home.
So, whereas last year female Art-Pop was incredibly rewarding (Julia Holter, Anna von Hausswolff, et al) with all its complexity, looking at this list I see a common thread of the artists' consistent, sustained effort, along with musical purity and connections to what has come before - and they all made me feel good!
Best of the year, though, is Kate Bush's live triple CD from her 2014 shows - I just wish she had released the visual to go with it. Along with Bowie and Gabriel, one of the world's few true musical geniuses.

Chris P - Dec 15, 2016

Heard a lot of excellent music this year but for me the two real standouts were:
Anthony Braxton - Quintet (Tristano) 2014 (http://tricentricfoundation.org/all-releases/quintet-tristano-2014). I sometimes find with box sets that, even with an artist that i love, they can end up being a chore to get through. Not the case here: the 7 discs flew by on first listen and they haven't left my iPod since.
Taylor Ho Bynum - Enter the Plustet (https://taylorhobynum.bandcamp.com/album/enter-the-plustet). All of Ho Bynum's albums on Firehouse 12 are excellent, but this one has that extra special something in my opinion. The music takes so many turns that if you're not particlularly feeling it at times, hang in there because it's bound to turn a corner soon.
Honourable mentions to Mary Halvorson's Away With You and Allison Miller's Otis Was a Polar Bear.
Best wishes to all for the new year! Cheers.

Jos - Dec 16, 2016

My eclectic lot in no order whatsoever:
The Clean - Getaway
Howe Gelb - Future Standards
Lambchop - Flotus
Beth Hart - Fire On The Floor
GoGo Penguin - Live at Abby Road
Conor Oberst - Ruminations
Passenger - Young As The M. Old As The Sea
Devendra Banhart - Ape in Pink Marble
King Creosote - Astronaut Meets Appleman
Lydia Loveless - Real
John Paul White - Beulah
Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop - Love Letter for Fire

I could go on :)

Peggy in America - Dec 16, 2016

Bang zoom hello .. Or such ..Cheap Trick. I am NOT a big fan of staid, formulaic 4/4 beat AmRock, but let's face it, these cats are stellar, inceptionary, and still have their punch edge. Let's hear it for the grace of aging well!

Finn McLennan-Elliott - Dec 18, 2016

Just a note - Into the East didn't win the Tui, they were finalists, Tattletale Saints actually took the award out. And their album was in the running for the 2017 Tui this time, as it was released in this calendar year. As it is I agree, it should have been looked at considering the finalists for the Folk Tui are out and they're not among the list!
Finn

Shani.O - Dec 19, 2016


Venturing into album territory here, climbing out of my little EP box to throw my milennial pop-oriented picks in to the mix! Would love to make some honourable mentions that were already in your list Graham (Leonard Cohen, King Gizzard etc) but will stick to some curveball choices for the more mainstream as listed below:

1. Lianne La Havas - Blood (Solo). The original album simply entitled 'Blood' was actually released last year however earlier this year Lianne released a solo version of the whole album and I find myself playing this more than the original these days. Saw this woman live when she was here opening for Coldplay a few weeks back and did a solo live show at the Tuning Fork. Fair to say, she absolutely blew the room away. Voice that sounds even bigger live and guitar chops that are effortlessly impressive. One very talented lady and a new favourite of mine.

2. Matt Corby - Telluric. For one, this is a beautifully produced, mixed and mastered album. Corby's voice is like velvet and the arrangements are so tasteful that I never tire of them. There are so many outstanding songs on this album but I have found a subdued little gem in the track 'Good To Be Alone'. Corby keeps it simple on this track yet somehow in the process makes the whole thing more heartbreakingly beautiful by almost sitting at a distance from the lyric in the singing style. I will be listening to this album for many months to come.

3. The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It. By far my pop-iest selection but something about the unashamedly 80's Synth-Pop nature of this album had me coming back to it all year. 'Somebody Else' is a track that has been on repeat - something about the hypnotic chordal movements and vocal layers had me absolutely enraptured by this song for a good while. Still a favourite and an album that indulges my inner-most synth-pop fan.

4. Anderson. Paak - Malibu. I must admit, I was VERY late to the party with this one. After numerous recommendations I recently delved into this album and still feel as if I have only scratched the surface. This is a thoughtful, gritty, intensely musical piece of work that seems to sit on its own level - meshing hip hop/jazz/rnb/soul/rock... and the list goes on. Lyrics that are as raw as they come and arrangements about as ingenious as they could be without venturing into overbearing territory. One to really sink your teeth (or ears??) into.

5. Solange - A Seat At The Table. Upon release, this album seemed on one hand target marketed for mass appeal, yet on the other absolutely laughing in the face of mass appeal itself. Race, politics, religion; Solange tackles it all in this journey of an album. Despite discussing some significant issues however, she seems to float above it all in some kind of synth pad haze: an onlooker, an ethereal storyteller. There is something very enchanting about this album that allows for varying degrees of participation. Dig deep into the lyric and you will find some immense insight on current issues of race in particular - a rewarding listen!

And there you have it! Some slightly more mainstream picks to amp up the great diversity already on display on this post!

Mike Rudge - Dec 19, 2016

It has been an interesting year where second hand vinyl has generally outnumbered new releases two to one. Interestingly the second hand mix is a lot more eclectic with Jazz, Soul and Blues dominating over everything else. In terms of new music my list is dominated by Americana. My list in order (this morning) would be;
Peter Case – Hwy 62 - what a great return to form
Eilen Jewel – Sundown over Ghost town : sorry I missed her show but this was great!
David Bowie - Blackstar, Bowie was my introduction to rock in 72 and has been a constant since. This album was everything the critics said it was, a progression, experimental and a strong way to face death
Dinosaur Jr – Give a Glimpse - I am a late comer to the pleasures of this crew - they seem incapable of putting out a bad album
Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like a Levee - just as you described it - it did not grab on first listen but got better each time
Willie and Merle – Django and Jimmy - another strong album in the fine late run from Willie.
Nadia Reid – Listen to Form - More great NZ music
Others worth mentioning
God Don’t never change - Various
Hard Working Americans - Rest in Chaos
Margo Price – Midwest Farmers Daughter
Anderson East - Delilah
Richmond Fontaine's latest
Brandy Clarke – Big Day in A Small Town
Drive By Truckers – American Band
Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Anyway etc
Cass McCombs Mangy Love
The Felice Brothers – Life in the Dark
The Pines - Above the Prairie
Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories


Fred - Dec 19, 2016

In addition to those mentioned, I'd add the sublime second CD Nine Pin from Quebec native Kaia Kater. Recorded in one day with principally banjo accompaniment. Try the beautiful 'Paradise Fell' and 'Ti Chagrin'.
Another favourite is the self-titled debut by Imarhan. Desert blues is in safe hands!

post a comment

More from this section   Music articles index

Sam Phillips: The Disappearing Act 1987-1998 (Raven)

Sam Phillips: The Disappearing Act 1987-1998 (Raven)

When this fine singer-songwriter appeared as Sam Phillips in the late Eighties/early Nineties (she'd been a Christian folk-rocker Leslie Phillips for three albums before her un-conversion) I was... > Read more

Various Artists: The Birth of Surf Guitar Vol 3 (Ace/Border)

Various Artists: The Birth of Surf Guitar Vol 3 (Ace/Border)

It seems odd that surf guitar rock should be so enduring. For some it was just a brief phenomenon of the late Fifties/early Sixties but here at Elsewhere we've recently written about surf... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Arthur Ahbez

THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Arthur Ahbez

And still they come . . . Musicians are washing up on New Zealand's shores with more regularity than sea weed and empty water bottles these days. But here too comes local contender Arthur Ahbez... > Read more

Tokyo, Japan: Night cries

Tokyo, Japan: Night cries

The sound of a baby crying in the night is a terrifying thing. The screams go on and on, no one seems to be taking care of it, you look out your window into the darkness but cannot see where the... > Read more