In the year Kiwi teenager Ella Yelich-O'Connor lorded over the music world and Miley Cyrus was better known for shaking her bum, Culture reviewers Simon Sweetman, Colin Morris, Lindsay Davis and Tom Cardy name their five top albums.
The Necks - Open (Fish of Milk)
The Necks stretch the definition of what a jazz trio is - what one can do - and here with their latest offering the prolific trio stretches the very idea of the music. It is one track, 70 minutes long, and it's a sprawling, almost beatless meditation that swirls and unspools, slowly, purposefully, magnificently.
Lustmord - The Word as Power (Blackest Ever Black)
As Lustmord, Brian Williams has created a strain of industrial and dark ambient music that creeps along like a horror soundtrack one minute, then slowly, surely unfolds to reveal the beauty (and still the darkness) of sublime classical music, of minimalism.
Bonobo - The North Borders (Border)
After five albums in 15 years of expanding the palette, Simon Green (aka Bonobo) delivers his finest. Like fellow electronica act Flying Lotus, Bonobo is a brand that lives and breathes, evolves, improves with age and is a signpost - a mark of quality - in the dance/electronica/instrumental hip-hop worlds.
Lord Echo - Curiosities (Bastard Jazz Recordings)
The second Lord Echo album sees Mike Fabulous (The Black Seeds, Fly My Pretties, Fabulous/Arabia) conjuring beautiful spells of music that surge and waft through jazz and dance ideals. One minute it's disco- tinged, the next it's spiked with soul - sometimes at the same time.
Nils Frahm - Spaces (Erased Tapes)
A prolific period continues for German composer and pianist Nils Frahm with live album Spaces. It's perhaps even more remarkable to think of it as the best thing Frahm has offered so far.
Eberhard Weber - Resume (Ode/ ECM)
For experimental sounds that take the instrument out of its comfort zone, Eberhard Weber is my man. This is truly inventive and improvised jazz.
Reuben Bradley Presents Mantis - A Tribute to Drew Menzies (Rattle)
This is a wonderful disc, accessible, melodic, intense and engaging. The marriage of strings and like- minded musicians pays homage to Drew Menzies (bassist), who played with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra until his death, aged 31, in 2007. ROCK
Arcade Fire - Reflektor (Universal)
There may be too many influences (for some) to shake a stick at on this excessively complex double album, but what raises the group above the parapet is the ability of an indie band to be accepted by the general buying public without any loss of street cred.
The Unthanks - Diversions Vol. 2 (Southbound)
I have now what the poets call an obsession. The marriage between folk music and brass bands is not new, but hardly bettered by this disc.
The Relatives - The Electric Word (Southbound)
Want another surprise for your ears after reading of the revival success of Bette LaVette and Rodriguez? Discover The Relatives. It's 43 years since the Rev Gaen (pronounced "Dean" West formed The Relatives and 33 years since they broke up.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd)
After the success of Nick Cave's Grinderman project, and with the Bad Seeds on Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!, they return with a subtle album, ripe with slow- burning menace and beauty, in which the guitar takes a backseat. This is an evenly paced journey into a dark wonderland.
Deerhunter - Monomania (The Label)
There's a wonderful feeling of free-spirited experimentalism to the sixth album by Atlanta's Deerhunter. Unpretentious and surprising in places, there's an adrenaline-charged enthusiasm at play that is hard to ignore.
Kurt Vile - Wakin on a Pretty Daze (Matador)
Kurt Vile's fifth album hits a home run right from the opening bars of the title track. Rich in swirling melodies, its gentle charm will stay with you long after the album ends. Vile plays the St Jerome's Laneways Festival in Auckland on January 27.
Atoms for Peace - Amok (XL)
For those of you waiting for the next Radiohead fix after the polyrhythmic joys of The King of Limbs, then Thom Yorke's side project, Atoms for Peace, is just the medicine. The chemistry between the players is obvious and the end result is sensory overload as an interwoven pattern of experimental psychedelic funk meets laptop voodoo grows richer with each listen.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - II (Jagjaguwar)
A great year for Kiwi music with a fantastic album from Jonathan Bree and the Phoenix Foundation, but I still keep coming back to this. It's a wonderfully paced album.
Laura Mvula - Sing to the Moon (Sony Music)
Sing to the Moon is equally gospel, pop, jazz and rock. Laura Mvula has a strong voice but it's not the most powerful, nor necessarily what holds the album together. What makes Sing to the Moon so impressive is her songcraft and production.
Nataly Dawn - How I Knew Her (Warner Music)
This is an exquisite album, pure and simple. I've been playing it often and haven't tired of it yet. Dawn's sound is a mix of country, folk, indie and pop and it continually charms.
Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady (Warner Music)
I loved Janelle Monae's The Archandroid, one of the best albums of 2010. To be able to repeat it with The Electric Lady is simply amazing.
Elvis Costello and The Roots - Wise Up Ghost (Universal)
This is the best thing Elvis Costello has done in years - although it's because of The Roots. Costello doesn't rap, but The Roots, themselves an unpredictable and eclectic hip-hop collective and a great live act, are the best band he's had since The Attractions.
Tricky - False Idols (Border Music)
Tricky, aka Adrian Thaws, has continued to be a talented but erratic musician and producer, and has never really achieved an album with the same overall punch of his much-praised Maxinquaye - until now.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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