It’s been the strongest year for local music, perhaps ever, evidenced by the fact that three kiwis have topped local and international 'best of' lists.
Lorde, Aldous Harding and Nadia Reid have been critics choices at NME, The Independent, Guardian, NPR and many more, and of course feature in this discussion too.
But there’s been so much more besides - spanning the gamut from hip-hop to dream-pop, metal to soul. Pointing out some of our favourites is Kirsten Johnstone, Alex Behan, Yadana Saw, Nick Bollinger and Tony Stamp.
Lorde - The Louvre ( Melodrama)
Album of the year, hands down. A beautifully constructed piece of work that mines the depths of emotion, with incredible self-awareness. Lorde writes such visceral vignettes, and every word is crafted with care, which creates a real feeling of intimacy from the songs. It took me right back to my first big breakup, with regret that I didn’t buy myself more flowers like Lorde does in ‘Loveless’. Jack Antonoff’s production hits the feels in all the right spots, without ever overshadowing the vocals. Melodrama is a classic that I’ll return to for years to come.
Ria Hall - Black Light (Rules of Engagement)
Ria Hall duets with Electric Wire Hustle’s Mara TK on this track from her ambitious concept album Rules of Engagement, in which hard electronica meets deep soul and examinations of history suggest lessons for the future.
Stan Walker - New Takeover (single)
Sometimes you don’t need a song to grow on you, sometimes they’re such well crafted earworms they have you at their mercy from first listen. 'New Takeover' is a new, matured Stan Walker harnessing all his skills and delivering a knock-out punch. Vocally, he’s channeling his best Rhianna, the production and treatment are bang on 2017 and the music video just nailed it.
Tha Movement - No Doubt About It (The Undisciplined Son)
Five minutes or so of pure swagger from the heart of Ōtara. Over an expertly deployed soul sample, Tha Movement tells a story in three parts: Part one deals with his time selling weed, part two his burgeoning success in the music biz, and part three his realisation that family takes precedence over the first two. Laced with references to South Auckland and Samoan culture, it’s an underdog success story that’s anthemic, triumphant, and perfectly evokes a specific place and time.
Glass Vaults - Mindreader (The New Happy)
The latest offering from the local merchants of bliss is front and centre of my summer holiday mixtape because it is such a summery sounding song.
There are lots of squelchy synths, hand claps, and it’s sort of reminiscent of a particular ice block commercial that may propel you into permanent beach holiday glow.
This is my solo get-loose-and boogie-down-in-my-lounge-and- slide-around-the-wooden-floors-in-my-socks album. It’s a great one to half-ass dance to and one that the whole extended family can get into.
Aldous Harding - I’m So Sorry (Party)
It’s fair to say I’ve been a bit obsessed by Aldous Harding over the last 18 months, and I don’t think I’m the only one. I find her voice so fascinating, agile and characterful - she has a way of serving up words and phrases that is unpredictable and beguiling.
Produced by John Parish (best known for his work with PJ Harvey), Aldous’ second album Party came out in May on 4AD. I love all the unexpected little production flourishes, the clarinet parts that weave throughout, and the subtle harmonies on carefully chosen phrases.
This is an album where she pits art against love - and her own ambition wins out over the relationship.
Reb Fountain - Down in the Valley (Little Arrows)
Reb Fountain re-purposes fragments of old folk and gospel songs while the late Sam Prebble’s violin soars in this opening track from Fountain’s excellent Little Arrows album.
Kane Strang - Two Hearts & No Brain (Two Hearts & No Brain)
Kane Strang’s second album Two Hearts & No Brain overflows with memorable hooks, which on their own are enough to cement his place as one of our best new songwriters, but it’s his knack for wordplay that really marks him as something special. His lyrics are so heavily doused in winking self-deprecation that a phrase like ‘two hearts and no brain’ seems pretty silly on its surface, but repeat listens unearth a idea that’s universal and kind of profound. When the drums kick in and Kane takes his voice up an octave it’s hard not to feel a similar lack of brain, and abundance of heart.
Anthonie Tonnon - Two Free Hands (Two Free Hands EP)
Songs that grow on you are my favourite. I had been listening to this song for several week before the intricacy of the lyrics really sunk in. Anthonie makes every note and every word count in this elegant love letter to independence, beauty and a life lived for the right reasons. His performance for RNZ Music captures his attention to detail in one of my favourite live sessions of the year.
Lord Echo - Sweetest Meditation ft. Mara TK (Harmonies)
I have not moved past Harmonies, which is the final in a trilogy of albums names Melodies (2010) and Curiosities (2013) by Wellington’s Lord Echo AKA Mike Fabulous.
The upbeat, warm, dub-flecked, afro beat club jams of Harmonies would see this LP sit comfortably in a Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack, Roy Ayers playlist.
Shout out 2017 MVP of Local Music Mara TK whose beautiful soul croon takes 'Sweetest Meditation' to the top of my ‘love songs of the year’ list.
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