The best Kiwi albums of 2011

Last updated 09:43 29/11/2011

Loads of great local releases this year - and as we're getting towards the end of 2011 I thought I'd note a few of the New Zealand albums I've enjoyed this year. Maybe there are some Christmas presents here either for you or for family and friends. I'm also keen to hear about the Kiwi albums you've rated this year. Some of these I've mentioned here before at Blog on the Tracks but I felt it was time for an update.

KiwiBeastwars, Beastwars: - I wrote about the band here. They've had some great shows opening for international acts this year and touring with other Kiwi acts. The sound is ferocious live and the group did a great job of translating this to wax - kudos for the vinyl release too.

Fabulous/Arabia, Unlimited Buffet: Mike Fabulous and Lawrence Arabia created a correspondence-album that is an absolute beaut; it takes me to a place somewhere between Ween and Steely Dan - probably not what they intended but hey, works for me! One of my favourites/most-played of 2011.

Vorn, Down for It: Worthy of inclusion for the song-title, You Don't Have To Hate Yourself To Sleep with Me (But It Helps) - even better, the songs on this album are not one-note comedy ideas. This album is clever, funny, diverse and hopefully it showcases Vorn Colgan as the truly great talent that he is; if you take a chance on one album on this list make it this one.

Liam Finn, FOMO: I was sceptical about the new Liam Finn album - and then I heard it. Classy pop tunes - and the single feels like an instant classic. The tour to promote the album was brilliant - well the Wellington show was anyway. I wasn't sure if Finn could deliver - but he really did with FOMO.

Pajama Club, Pajama Club: Liam wasn't the only Finn I was sceptical of when it came to new releases in 2011. Neil and Sharon Finn released Pajama Club (with Sean James Donnelly's canny knack for crafting a decent tune a big part of the mix too). It's the best thing Neil's done in at least a decade; at its best it reminds you why Neil Finn has the reputation he does. He's earned it from creating indelible melodies and playing with passion. It was good to hear some of the fire once again.

Wild Bill Ricketts, West Wind: The second album from Will Ricketts (Phoenix Foundation and many other projects besides) genre-hops to create a hybrid of spacey jazz and dub textures, taking the sounds to a new place, occupying a new space. It's hypnotic, an album to get lost in - and it features a cast of great players showing plenty of great ideas, creating haunted pop songs. Very much a case of weird and wonderful, equal measures.

Snakedog, Road: Another project featuring the talented David Mulcahy, the songs on this album are nearly a decade old - essentially a lack of money meant a few false-starts. Just as well we finally got to hear it (well, speaking for myself anyway). It's a great record of groove-based rock songs, bringing to mind the 1970s work of Joe Walsh. Something that another Kiwi guitar player, Dylan Storey, does well too. There's also plenty of the Kiwi guitar scribble that comes from Flying Nun.

Rhian Sheehan, Seven Tales of the North Wind: It's a seven-track EP, but clocks in at over half-an-hour so I'm considering it an album. And as much as this continues the fine work that was captured on Standing in Silence, it's a different beast - near enough to a flipside, harking back to the ambient albums of Brian Eno.

God Bows to Math, God Bows to Math: I've only just started to listen to this album - but I'm really digging it so wanted to give it a shout-out. Any band that names themselves after a track on this great album is fine by me. And I really like what I've heard from this noise-rock trio. An album to charge into summer with.

Victoria Girling-Butcher, Summit Drive: The ex-Lucid3 lead singer/songwriter/guitarist releases her debut solo full-lengther and it really hums. Get a load of this track. Sharp stuff. Quality writing. Again, a fairly new one for me but already loving it.

The Unfaithful Ways, Free Rein: There have been a few Kiwi alt-country/folk ensembles in recent years; many of them seem to lack authenticity - understandable given that it is, ultimately, an American idiom. But The Unfaithful Ways have found a way in; there's something utterly believable about this music; that it should come from New Zealand and channel a version of Americana. I couldn't hear it in that band The Vietnam War. But I think The Unfaithful Ways have got it.

Scratch 22, Distance from View: I interviewed Rodi Kirk (aka Scratch 22) earlier in the year - click here for a refresher. Definitely one of my albums of the year, from NZ and abroad. This is a DJ/producer/beatmaker/musician with a heap of talent. And Distance from View sparkles every time I play it.

Head Like a Hole, Blood Will Out: The first new album in over a decade gave fans exactly what they want on the back of sporadic reunion shows across the last two years. I walked you through the album track by track when it was released (see here) and I thought the new material absolutely killed live.

The Checks, Deadly Summer Sway: I think this video (for the band's single, Candyman Shimmer) is excellent. But the whole album is strong; another I'm still working my way into - but enjoying the journey so far.

Rosy Tin Teacaddy, All Mountains Are Men: I like that this album is something of a big ask; it sees the cutesy-folksy duo stepping up and away from the kitsch elements they played with (albeit skilfully) on their previous recordings. Here they have created gothic tales that come from a part of New Zealand's history - mixing bubbling electronica pulses in with the folk songs and country ballads. Brave of them to do it - and I'm glad they did.

The Bats, Free All the Monsters: An utterly charming set of songs from these Flying Nun stalwarts, released this month in time for the 30-year label celebrations. Fantastic stuff and shows Robert Scott on a roll given his solo album from last year was an absolute cracker.

There are others I could mention - I'm sure you'll be lining up to tell me there are others I should mention. And that's your job now: what do you think are the best Kiwi albums of 2011? These are some of the ones I instantly think of - that I've heard - when I think of great albums from local artists this year. What great Kiwi albums made it on to your iPod or into your stereo or stuttered out from your computer speakers this year? What are your favourites? And do you see any here on my list that you agree with or that you are tempted to try? What ones have I missed? Maybe you've heard something that you love that I didn't get to hear. So I'm very interested in your recommendations.

What do you think of my list of the best Kiwi albums of 2011? And what's on your list?

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61 comments
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James   #1   09:47 am Nov 29 2011

Does Cairo Knife Fight's latest count as an album?

Danny   #2   09:50 am Nov 29 2011

Stuff, why can't you find someone who can write and doesn't hate music. What is Sweetman's problem that he especially hates NZ music? haha. This is what you people sound like who don't get it!

Tony   #3   09:53 am Nov 29 2011

Oi Simon you need to have a listen to Lindon Puffins new release too...

Fergus Barrowman   #4   09:58 am Nov 29 2011

Making Baby Float is the best NZ album of the year. Gorgeous singing and great songs. Good liner notes too.

Penny   #5   10:00 am Nov 29 2011

seriosly? ladi 6? katchafire? six60?

shame on u! how embarrasing

maz   #6   10:18 am Nov 29 2011

@ Danny #2 - did we read the same blog? Simon said some pretty awesome things about some of the NZ releases this year. I'm definitely going to check some of the above out.

Josh   #7   10:33 am Nov 29 2011

@ Danny - You are so right mate. How Sweetman still has a job is an absolute JOKE.

P.S. Annabel Fay - 'Show Me The Right Way' for the win? Not in Sweetman's list.

What a joke.

Callum   #8   10:34 am Nov 29 2011

Great list, Simon. On a jazz front, Tom Dennison's album "Zoo" is a world class cut.

Cam   #9   10:38 am Nov 29 2011

'Free All The Monsters' hands down. This album is amazing and really showcases how brilliant The Bats are - its a shame they are (somewhat) underappreciated. Robert Scott should be heralded in the same league as Neil Finn.

Robbo   #10   10:45 am Nov 29 2011

I haven't really kept pace with local music this year but I saw The Vietnam War for the first time on Saturday night and was massively impressed. Bought the CD yesterday so i can't speak for the album yet. Hope that helps.


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