2016 was a bumper year for new music (although we admit we might say that every year) so we have some more choice top picks for you to browse. Most genres are covered here, so there should be something for everyone!
Arrangingtime. Pete Yorn
Pete Yorn was one of those artists that never seemed to live up to the potential of his fantastic first album. His second was a solid follow-up, but the next couple were patchy, and his last effort, 2010′s ‘PY’ with Frank Black was a total misfire. After that he seemed to disappear, popping up briefly as part of ‘The Olms’ in 2013 whose very short Beatles-esque album had some Ok tracks. However Yorn was back in 2016 with his first solo album in 6 years on a new label. ‘Arrangingtime’ shifts the guitar sound to a wash of synths on some tracks but he still hews close to the sonic template of his first couple of albums. Sounding invigorated by the break, this collection of melodic synthy rockers is his most consistent and enjoyable for a long time.
Swan song series. Tanya Donelly
One of the most influential female figures in the 90s music scene returned with a 3-Disc collection that rounded up the 5 EPs she released on Bandcamp between 2013-14. Co-founding Throwing Muses with stepsister Kristen Hersh, which she played in from 1983-1991, she then co-formed The Breeders with Kim Deal of The Pixies, before founding her own group Belly. After ‘Belly’ folded she released 2 indie pop albums followed by 2 more introspective acoustic albums before essentially stepping away from music; so it was a surprise when 7 years later she began to release a series of EPs on Bandcamp. Each release featured songs co-written with friends, musicians and previous collaborators, including noted authors. American Laundromat Records collected up all the EPs and some extra tracks for a richly diverse compilation that wandered through a number of genres all anchored by a sense of experience and wisdom, in addition to her lovely voice which sounds as good as it ever was.
Give up on your health. Teeth & Tongue
Teeth & Tongue is the moniker of Melbourne based, Wellington raised songwriter and musician Jess Cornelius. Her family moved to Wellington when she was 11, and music was the one constant, her parent’s record collection played a huge role in fuelling her desire to make music. She entered a couple of local “battle of the bands” comps while at school, but it wasn’t until a move to Melbourne at 19 that she fully tapped into her musical potential. Latest album ‘Give up on your health’ is a swirl of Giorgio Moroder 80s synths, but underneath the fantastic production is a set of serious songs that focus on fracturing relationships, isolation, and past regrets. Electro-pop tends to veer towards cool beats, hip choruses and emotional detachment, but Cornelius and her backing band plunder the digital sounds to record the messy analogue organics of real human interaction.
The 11th sky. Electric Wire Hustle
Just when you think Electric Wire Hustle can’t get any better they (or rather Mara TK, the last man left of the original three piece band) up their game yet again. His fantastic voice sits comfortably in that late period Marvin Gaye/Leon Ware pocket, but the sound of ‘The 11th Sky’ is harder and fuller. Moving away from the patented psychedelic Neo-soul of the last 2 albums they move into a sonic realm of darker, heavier, beats that envelop Mara TK’s analogies to Maori mythology, and metaphysical concerns on the pressures of money, love and expectations that weigh down peoples journey towards a better place within themselves. A real sense of searching for meaning pervades the album.
Ace & Gab’s honeymoon. Maple Syrup
We really liked Vera Ellen’s solo album Monte Casino, and now she is part of Maple Syrup, a new 4 piece that melds a grungy garage 90s alt-rock aspect with the pop sensibilities that were on display on Monte Casino. Riffy guitar lines, catchy melodies, rocking tracks. Makes you remember why you like new bands. The vibrancy and sense of purpose. The adherence to old forms, yet that energy and discovery.
I’ll forget 17. Lontalius
‘Lontalius’ is one of the stage names of 19 year old underground Wellington sensation Eddie Johnston, who also records under the moniker ‘Race Banyon’, and has been an active participant in the local live scene since his early teens. After a slew of independent releases on Bandcamp he came to prominence in 2013 via a collection of Casiotone rap covers, which soon found endorsement from Lorde and Ryan Hemsworth. He signed to New York label Partisan Records for full length debut ‘I’ll Forget 17′ and moved away from R&B covers and the Hip-Hop of alter ego ‘Race Banyon’, to deliver an album of intimate alt-pop tinged with melancholy & a lyrical maturity beyond his years.
Brothers and sisters of the black lagoon. Orchestra of Spheres
More experimental rock madness from this cult Welly band who are breaking big overseas, signed to Fire Records out of the UK, featuring as The Guardian’s Band of the week, and getting glowing reviews for this latest album. A funky melange of shifting music styles.
The death of all things. Beastwars
More beautifully sludgy metal from Wellington’s premiere purveyors of ‘The Riff’. Internal band dynamics made this the most difficult (and for lyricist Hyde the most personal album yet). Anger and unease seethes beneath every song, but the tension results in what may be their best album yet. On hiatus after a brief tour, one can only hope they return at some point for another chapter in their music.
Humid nights. Eva Prowse
Great new album from Eva Prowse, that forsakes the violin country/folk of her first album I can’t Keep Secrets and jumps right into the electro-pop world of bubbly midi’s, bouncy pop tunes, and fond musical memories of growing up in the 80s. Sits comfortably alongside any of the many international artist’s working within this retro synthy sound. Definitely one of the best ‘Wellington’ Releases of the year.
Brown girl. Aaradhna
Aaradhna’s albums always have a retro feel which highlights her love of older musical styles, whether it’s 50s doowop, 60s Motown or 70s soul, however she always surrounds those styles with plenty of contemporary sounds & flourishes, and more importantly always brings her unique sense of integrity & emotion to everything she does, as well as the incredible power of her soulful voice. ‘Brown Girl’ is her most personal album yet, directly addressing the racism she experienced growing up and the breakdown of a long term relationship.
The Thompson fields/Maria Schneider Orchestra.
Leading jazz orchestra is no easy task both artistically and financially, but that is what Maria Schneider has been doing marvellously for more than two decades. Drawing her influence from modern classical masters such as Ravel and Hindemith, and above all her mentor Gil Evans, she has invented a watercolor-like transparent sound. She seems to hit the top with this landmark album, offering a glorious lyricism as well as a superb dynamism featuring the fantastic soloists. Sublime.
Aziza/Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke, Eric Harland.
Legendary jazz bassist Dave Holland formed another suppergroup with Lionel Loueke (guitar), Chris Potter (saxphone) and Eric Harland (drums) and they superbly unite and present a bouncing funk-jazz with an African twist. Every member contributes two compositions each and they are rather complex which often in irregular time, but these master musicians play effortlessly and groove hard. Holland has been active in the front line for five decades but shows no sign of slowing down. Brilliant.
Monoswezi Yanga. Monoswezi
Monoswezi, whose name is taken from the names of the members’ birth countries (Mozambique, Norway, Sweden and Zimbabwe), offers subtle hybrid music of African, jazz and minimal music, centring around Zimbabwean singer Hope Masike’s voice and mbira (thumb piano). It’s a low-key affair but their less-is-more approach somehow gives you a rich musical journey, like some good ECM albums do.
Ape in pink marble. Devendra Banhart
He has been busy as a visual artist in recent years (had exhibitions at several places around the world) but the ‘freak-folk’ singer songwriter Devendra Banhart is back with another stellar album. It’s an airy effortless music which enigmatic experimental sprits within. There is nothing particularly new here and he probably doesn’t need any changes, but everything; songs, arrangements, performances, come nicely together more than ever.
A moon shaped pool. Radiohead
Evolving into something much larger than just a rock band, Radiohead shows tremendous presence and the supergroup aura. They seem to be heading somewhere no one ever got before.
Nothing more to say/The Frightnrs.
Void beats/invocation trex. Cavern of Anti-Matter
Earth into aether. Bill Baird
Eyes on the lines. Steve Gunn
Inner journey out. Psychic Ills
The heavy entertainment show. Robbie Williams
Phase zero. Morgan Delt
Nonagon infinity. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Blood bitch. Jenny Hval
Island songs/Ólafur Arnalds.