Amplifier's Top Twenty Albums of 2009
For the 4th year Amplifier staff have sat down, thrown aside their personal preferences and picked our Top 20 kiwi releases of the year.
On a balmy summers evening we gathered in a local eatery armed with plenty of refreshments... the quest for the best was on.
After much debate, bickering, fighting and temper tantrums the following 20 releases were selected to be Amplifier's Top 20 Albums for 2009.
Chant Darling features the musical contributions of James Dansey and Daniel Ward (The Sneaks), Matt Eccles (Betchadupa), Liam Finn, Luke Buda and Sam Scott (The Phoenix Foundation), Tom Watson (Cassette), Andy Watts (Hot Grits), John White (Mestar) and various other friends. It was recorded between Nov 2007 and Jan 2009, in Stockholm, London, Auckland, Wellington and Port Chalmers, and was produced by Milne himself.
The songs for the album were penned half and half between NZ and London, where Lawrence has been based for the past two years. The subject matter varies from the NZ space programme to naughty liaisons on Quay Street, from laziness and drinking problems amongst the shy, to sexually frustrated hipsters, drug-induced death visions, lust for teacher and a theme-in-waiting for the National Government's soon to be announced war on drugs.
Amplifier says: From the moment Chant Darling arrived in the Amplifier offices we knew we had a solid contender for album of the year... ten months later and after countless listens we're convinced this album is simply brilliant.
Listen to: The Beautiful Young Crew
"Hello, my name is Tourettes. I like rapping, poetry and playing the drums. I write about politics, love and diseases. I'm in a crew called Breakin Wreckwordz. We're pretty good. At the moment I'm waiting to release my new album Who Said You Can't Dance To Misery, in an effort to get the voices out of my head and into yours."
Who Said You Can't Dance To Misery was mixed by Karl Steven (Supergroove) and mastered by Angus McNaughton.
Amplifier says: Tourettes has a way with words. As he should, being a poet. But if you approached this album thinking you were going to get poetry of the Wordsworth "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" type then you're going to be in for a rude shock. Who Said You Can't Dance to Misery is a challenge. It has an edge that's so sharp you could shave with it. It gives voice to the inner-city streets of Auckland rather than trying to sound like it came from Compton. This is vital listening and more people need to hear it.
Listen to: Almost Out Of Water feat. Anna Coddington
In early 2008, Annabel Alpers, aka Bachelorette, funded her first, and ultimately groundbreaking, US tour. Along the way, she sold some records to an eager Ryan Adams at a small club in New York City and made fans out of execs from Chicago's Drag City Records. Between shows, she camped out in Portland, Oregon: 'Inspired' by that region's infamous and constant rain, she found herself intently working on songs for her new album.
Soundly back in NZ, Annabel secluded herself in Otaki Beach, where much of the tracking for My Electric Family took place. Intent and focused on realising her musical vision, Annabel enlisted MAINZ' Roy Martin (The Nothing, Trans Am) and trekked up to Whenuapai to record the Royal NZ Air Force Brass Band for backing instrumentals on one track. Finally, after over a year of hard work, Annabel was approached enthusiastically by Chicago's legendary Drag City Records to put out her new album, My Electric Family. The catch was that she hadn't finished mixing it.
After a muddled attempt at mixing via phone to the USA, Annabel flew down to Dunedin to work with Dale Cotton (HDU, Die!Die!Die!) before jetting off to work as a massage therapist at a gambling tournament in Melbourne.
My Electric Family features a broader instrumentation than Bachelorette's previous releases. The electronic pulses, synthesizers and gorgeous vocal harmonies that characterise Bachelorette's sound remain, but are enhanced by extensive live drumming as well as brass, guitar, bass and pedal steel (played by Dino Karlis, Tom Watson, Craig Terris, Andrew Bain and Lee Prebble). This album flows seamlessly from psychedelic pop to dance grooves to the sci-folk lullaby you thought you could only dream of.
Amplifier says: Bachelorette concocts a deeply layered landscape of looping, pulsing rhythms. Arpeggio's abound, synthesizers bounce and respond to her every touch. She weaves this machine with many colours. This is the work of a confident and assured artist.
Listen to: Where To Begin
Will Ricketts, percussion player and award winning songwriter (Hitchcock) with his band The Phoenix Foundation, releases his first solo album, John Dryden, under the Wild Bill Ricketts moniker.
Written, arranged, recorded and produced by the man himself, John Dryden takes its name after Will's ancestor the 17th century poet.
The album features strong vocal performances from Mara TK (Billy TK's son), Connan Mockasin, Rio Hemopo and Ben Fulton.
Riki Gooch aka Eru Dangerspiel from Trinty Roots plays the drums as well as Julien Dyne and Dave Norris. Joe Lindsey and Toby Laing from Fat Freddy's Drop add horns on many of the tracks and Mike Fabulous from The Black Seeds helped with the final mix.
John Dryden was mastered by Kelly Hibbert in LA.
Amplifier says: If Coconut Tree isn't one of the madest and best opening song of any album in 2009 then I'll eat my NZ Music Month t-shirt. Siamese Dream, with Connan Mockason on vocals is both fruity and loopy all at the same time. Mara TK brings some hot Marvin Gaye styles to the shuffling Mangi Mangi. Stop reading about this album and go and buy it. Simple.
Listen to: Coconut Tree
The Mint Chicks are back with their follow up to the award winning Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!
Ecstatic hooks and melodies are interwoven with the band's signature sonic adventurousness, while The Mint Chicks' rather unique world view characterises the tone of Screens.
First single, I Can't Stop Being Foolish, captures the very essence of the group's troublegum sensibilities: the infectious charm of their pop spirit aligned with oblique lyrical content hinting at an existential darkness.
With a refined musical approach and creative escalation of songwriting ideas, Screens is a new phase Mint Chicks album and another milestone in a consistently-surprising journey.
"We made this record for creepy teenaged girls with one glass eye..." - Ruban Nielson
Amplifier says: Simply the catchiest and most challenging collection of pop songs to come out of NZ this year. Nuff said.
Listen to: Hot On Your Heels
After a debut to die for, Miriam now looks ready to dazzle the rest of the known universe with a constellation of truly magnetic new songs that can't help but stick to even the most repellent heart. Yes, Miriam's got some stories to tell.
Along for the ride into the stratosphere, Magnetic has drawn together the stellar talents of members of Supergroove, SJD, Opensouls, Trinity Roots and more. All gravitating around one of the best songwriters this planet has seen in light years. Miriam Clancy will have you tangled in mystery, and at the same time, draw you in with lyrics you'll think were written just for you. But whomever she is singing about on one of the 13 songs on Magnetic, should find it possible to feel even luckier than on her debut Lucky One.
If there's any one thing wrong with Magnetic, it's the possibility that it may render Miriam an Accolade-aholic. And if there's any one thing Magnetic lacks, it's a genre. That's because even after just one listen, any member of the human race will agree that Miriam Clancy may have just invented a new one.
Amplifier says: Mature second album from this exceptional songwriter.
Listen to: You Ain't The Worst Mistake I've Made
Something Awesome is NZ rapper David Dallas' debut solo album, released on Dirty Records. From his prodigious first appearance on the anthemic Not Many Remix to penning the award winning
Frontline album Borrowed Time, its apparent David has a knack for making this rapping stuff look easy.
Effortless even - because David Dallas is a natural and Something Awesome sees the return of NZ's smoothest rapper, with a soundtrack for anyone who has aspired to be something more. Put simply: If "awesome" was a sound, and you looped it up, then put bangin' drums behind it - the result would be this.
In a time when popular hip hop records sound less and less like the songs that attracted David to the genre, Something Awesome is unashamedly vintage in its approach - overflowing with soulful samples, raw drums, organic instrumentation, cuts and hooks that don't sound like they were sung by robots. These are 12 sincere
songs from an artist whose life experiences probably mirror your own.
From not knowing what we want to do with our lives, to feeling invincible. From trying to look cool in the face of a break up, to the first time smoking weed.
With producers Forty One and Fire and Ice providing the backdrop, guests PNC, Devolo, Aaradhna, Young Sid and newcomers Jordache and Niko round out the experience that is Something Awesome. Armed with an outstanding new album and an international career about to take flight, David Dallas' desire to be Something Awesome will soon come to fruition.
Amplifier says: The Rebirth of Smooth. My wife thinks David Dallas flows like Lupe Fiasco. I can't go past the beats. Something Awesome - bringing marital harmony.
Listen to: Indulge Me feat. Devolo
From infectious warped pop genius, led by the singles, Cupboards Bare and My New Flumes, to spacebound shoeglaze on the hypnotic, Everyone Around You and the Radioscope Alt Chart #1, Don't Close Your Eyes, Hello-Fi heralds the arrival of a major songwriting talent, who has his own individual style, complemented by years of collaboration with two of New Zealand's best ever in Donelly and Carter.
Fans of the more eclectic and introverted flavours of Mirror Minor will not be disappointed with cuts like A-Obvious (reworked from its initial appearance on Kingsland Vinyl Appreciation Society's vinyl release A Flip And Two Twisters) and the sultry Tortoise-esque, Get Blanket. Further treats are to be found on the bonus mp3 component of the disc (not available on iTunes or elsewhere), with a fistful of tracks that didn't creatively fit into the grand svelte scheme of Hello-Fi proper, but were simply too compulsively gorgeous not to get a fully fledged release.
Amplifier says: Mr Duncan has designed an album that is full of substance and innovation. A shy and woozy, shimmering beast, melodies and lyrics hidden in the dense and at times, menacing soundscape. Or to put it another way, like being drunk in a smelter.
Listen to: Colours
Marvellous Year is the first full release under the name Don McGlashan and The Seven Sisters - reflecting a more "band" effort than his first solo album Warm Hand.
The band - made up of Chris O'Connor, Maree Thom, John Segovia and Dominic Blaazer - give the songs real energy, atmosphere and depth, while Don's songwriting and ability to capture melody and the everyday moment is as strong - or perhaps stronger - than ever.
Don and the band have been on a real musical roll for the last couple of years, playing numerous shows, such as to thousands at the Auckland Domain, WOMAD and various theatres, clubs and pubs up and down the country.
Marvellous Year was produced by Don and Sean Donnelly (SJD), recorded at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios, mixed by Jordan Stone and features backing vocals from Neil Finn and string arrangements by Victoria Kelly.
So, does the title Marvellous Year refer to the culmination of the last few marvellous years of music? In fact, no. Yes, they have been marvellous, but the title is borrowed from the Allen Curnow poem The Skeleton of the Great Moa in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch and is also the title of one of the album's key tracks, a very unique song where you'll hear about many things, including the Briscoes Lady and the Fire of Hades.
Amplifier says: Okay, let's just face it, a Don McGlashan album, that was produced by Don and Sean "SJD" Donnely, that features a band, The Seven Sisters, that includes SJD's Dom Blaazer (keys) and Chris O'Connor (drums), John Segovia (guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Maree Thom, that was recorded at the Finn's Roundhead studio, and has guest appearances from Neil Finn, the aforementioned Sean Donnely and for good measure even my flatmate, was always going to make it into our top 20 albums of 2009. And no surprise, here it is. And hearing Don sing his own version of Bathe In the River (previously sang by Hollie Smith and the Mt Raskil Preservation Society) is worth the price of admission on its own.
Listen To: Bathe In The River
"Anticipated" would be an understatement. It's been 4 years since Based on a True Story tore up the NZ album chart eventually going 8 times platinum. Now after 2 years in the making Fat Freddy's Drop are back with Dr Boondigga And The Big BW.
The new album has 9 big Freddy's tracks (see the track listing below) and artwork by Mr Otis Frizzell.
Amplifier says: The much anticipated follow up to BOATS shows us again why Fat Freddy's Drop are so popular here and abroad... it's all about the groove.
Listen to: The Raft
Optimus Gryme (aka Charlie B) has spent two years creating his debut album entitled Eclipse.
The album showcases 11 original works and features remixes and collaborations with Billy Fluid, Truth, Organikismness, Fiona Soe Paing and Maraku Rewiti.
Charlie fondly refers to the album as, "2 years of heart and soul morphed into 60 minutes of audio for your listening pleasure". It was Charlie's focus to create an album that people of all musical tastes could enjoy, whether it is relaxing at home on a Sunday afternoon or rocking it out in a club.
Amplifier says: Dubstep from Aotearoa... inconceivable one might think, yet Charlie B aka Optimus Gryme has shown that our affinity with all things bass isn't confined to reggae and its offshoots. Not just for bass heads.
Listen to: Deep Song feat. Fiona Soe Paing
Wellington band Good Laika return with their eagerly awaited second album, Followed By A Trail Of Sparks.
Recorded live at Nic McGowan's Island Bay Studios, Followed By A Trail Of Sparks blends indie rock, soul and folk influences into an aural adventure that is equal parts edgy, stirring and haunted.
Amplifier says: A band that mostly goes under the radar, Good Laika's latest work continues a trend of brilliantly crafted music. The playing is fragile and emotive and the lyrics offer an intelligence and sense of humour that is lacking in many local acts.
Listen to: Twelve O'Something
The Clean need little introduction to most local music fans, however, while they are well known & well loved at home, as the below biography illustrates, they are equally appreciated from afar...
Brian Turner, Music Director for New York's WFMU radio, writes about The Clean.
"What can be said about The Clean? In 1978, they were the seeds of NZ punk & the reason for the founding of Flying Nun, one of the greatest record labels that ever existed. They carved out a big sandbox for everyone to play in, & their influence resonated not only in NZ but around the world.
Not only do bands like Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, Pavement & their ilk owe a debt to The Clean, but many of today's young upstarts such as Times New Viking, Eat Skull & even a band from China called Carsick Cars have the Dunedin godfathers deeply etched into their DNA.
What's the sound? It's completely theirs but draws on everything from the psychedelic paste of Barrett/early Floyd to vintage Velvets propulsiveness to almost everything else under the sun.
Their jubilance at times makes the Banana Splits sound like Bauhaus while simultaneously exhibiting dark undercurrents, making Bauhaus sound like the Banana Splits. They created both full studio sound & lo-fi recordings before, during & after the various waves of the 4-track revolution, making both recording modes work with no loss of the band's identity.
Though hardly as prolific as The Fall, another maverick group of originality, The Clean have endured for almost as long while maintaining a completely unique, quality stamp that's often replicated but never quite mastered by anyone but themselves.
They're also one of the best (& sometimes loudest) live bands I've had the pleasure of seeing."
Amplifier says: To still be churning out albums of quality after so many years is testament to the ethic that underlies The Clean and their music. Simple, clever, well crafted pop songs with that understated charm that one associates with The Clean.
Listen to: In The Dream Life U Need A Rubber Soul
After jigglin' hips in Berlin and beyond, Minuit, the Kiwi indie-electronic three-piece with the French name, are home to release their utterly brilliant third album, Find Me Before I Die A Lonely Death.com.
Minuit teamed up with UK producer Andy Chatterley (Kanye West, remixes for Blondie, Muse, Peter, Bjorn & John) to hone first single and album opener Wayho. Studded with delightful buzz and hum, this tune "mixes chirpy with apocalyptic" and proved an overdue Minuit-fix for fans who sent the track directly to #1 on the Alt charts.
From here, the album weaves a path through the vibrant underbelly of a world you'd usually have to apply for a visa for...Through the twisted synthpop of second single 25 Bucks and even tripping into stripped back, Minuit-styled, dark folk (yes, folks, folk!) of Vampires.
Front woman Ruth Carr is as enigmatic and unmistakable as ever, while band mates Ryan Beehre and Paul Dodge again deliver an inventive indie arsenal which never loses sight of the desire to create fantastic songs.
Find Me Before I Die A Lonely Death.com has the eclecticism of Minuit's gold-selling debut, The 88, polished by the experience earned over three ribcage rattling OEs playing alongside The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Adam Freeland, Stanton Warriors, Plump DJs. This is Minuit at their absolute best.
Amplifier says: Delightfully eclectic third album.
Listen to: Wayho
Developing their own twist on modern hip hop and psychedelic soul, Electric Wire Hustle introduces a new combination of prodigiously talented NZ musicians and their fresh new sound.
Challenging genre boundaries and preconceptions, the future soul music of Wellington-based Electric Wire Hustle reaches forward while referencing key points of music's past.
The grittiness of hip hop is contrasted with the sensibilities of soul music - forging a new relationship between urban music and the singersongwriter idiom. Thick drums and percussion layered with synth lines, hints of Fender Rhodes and nylonstringed
guitars have your neck snapping while you drink in the evocative vocals of Mara TK.
Their self-titled debut album also features some exciting collaborations with US recording artists Dr Shruman
aka Dudley Perkins and Georgia Anne Muldrow. Atlanta-based newcomer Stacey Epps features, as does Billy TK.
Electric Wire Hustle's live/studio engineer and producer is the highly regarded Benny Tones (Iva Lamkum, Pacific Heights).
Amplifier says: It's been a great decade for producers and beatheads of Aotearoa and with this debut, EWH have given us the most fully realised and sophisticated "future soul" record of the lot. The production is slick, the vocals are stunning and the message is pure.
Listen to: Tom Boy
Hip Hop, for all its anti-establishment rhetoric, can be a very traditionalist form, and the same way rock musicians revere the guitar, NZ producers have long worshipped at the altar of the sampler. For PNC, the country's devotion to '90s East Coast-style boom bap rap was becoming a straitjacket and for his music be reflective of his own tastes, it was one he needed to break.
This meant unleashing the synthesiser in the most boundary-obliterating way...
Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the brand new album from PNC, the highly anticipated Bazooka Kid.
Bazooka Kid sees PNC using synth-based beats with a more retro '80s feel and writing hooks and melodies with the music as opposed to straight rapping. The single Take Me Home signalled the change for PNC - with a bouncing, addictive drum sound coupled with over-driven guitars and a spectacular, filtered vocoder hook. The lyrics were typically smart and precise, detailing a messy affair which turns dangerous and delivered in his trademark barrelling, momentous flow.
PNC has made an album which doesn't so much rewrite the NZ hip hop rule book as turn a blowtorch on it.
Amplifier says: Hip Hop with it's tongue planted firmly in its cheek. From the Eddie Money sampling Take Me Home featuring Julie Ta'ale (aka Mz J), through the industry slamming slow jam of It Doesn't Matter ("And I'm about to lose it, giving my music to these distributors, who don't give a shit about it" - Hmmm? Actually we distribute this album and we definitely do give a shit about it Mr Hanson, it wouldn't be in this list otherwise....), and on to what must be one of the most lyrically loaded tracks of the year Tonight (Brooke Fraser, Millie Holmes, The Edge, ZM FM, boy racers, Tony Veitch, Miranda Kerr and utimately God all come in for a mention). But for all of the humour and chest beating bravado it's the final track 1/2 Kast (with Te Awanui Reeder from Nesian Mystik), about being mixed race in New Zealand that shows that Bazooka Kid is more than just a party album, it has soul and intelligence too.
Listen To: 1/2 Kast
The System Is A Vampire captures the essence, energy and vitality of one of our most exciting groups across eleven killer tracks, each highlighting Shapeshifter's unique blend of heavy soul with drum & bass.
Amplifier says: Over their career Shapeshifter have forged their own style of DnB/breakbeat and in System Is A Vampire they have stayed true to their breakbeat roots whilst incorporating some of the bands various musical influences. In a word; Epic.
Listen To: Lifetime
Shayne Carter has been in the studio for over a year working on the follow-up to Dimmer's acclaimed third album There My Dear and the result is one of the most potent recordings of his remarkable career.
Amplifier says: Dimmer have been hailed by critics since day one and in Degrees Of Existence they justify all that praise with what we feel is their best effort to date.
Listen to: Nowhere I Want
The follow up to 2005's Moves On was recorded over the last three and a half years at Red Bull Studios and The Lab, with mixing duties performed at bandleader Andrew Spraggon's home studio in Pt. Chevalier, Auckland.
Picking up where the performance-based Moves On album left off in 2005, there's a sweating, smoking
live band at the heart of the new record, made up of long-term members of the Rosa roster, Will Scott (drums), Matt Short (bass) and Ben White (guitar).
The songs on their fourth album have then been swathed in Spraggon studio sorcery, tooled-up for maximum dancefloor impact and bolstered by a roll-call of vocalists and musicians running headlong into Sola Rosa's sonic stirrings at full force - with vocal cuts from Spikey Tee (best known for his work with Jah Wobble, Bomb The Bass, Mark Rae and on some of Sola Rosa's finest moments), German globetrotter Bajka, UK MC Serocee and emerging Wellingtonian songstress Iva Lamkum.
Underpinning these outstanding vocalists you'll find an eclectic batch of collaborators that includes Victoria Kelly, Julien Dyne, Juse, Scratch 22, Haydn Godfrey, John Highsted, James Duncan and Miguel Fuentes.
On Get It Together the band fuse diverse genres, with skewed soundtracks rubbing shoulders with elements of dub, hip hop, lounge and jazz along the way. Taking in a wide swathe of genres and walking an ever-erratic line between organic and electronic elements, the songs continue to pull off Spraggon's patented trick of bewitching and beguiling ears in equal proportion and is further proof of the solid sonic sorcery that is Sola Rosa.
Amplifier says: Loaded with collaborators and effortlessly crossing back and forth between musical styles... Get It Together is the sound of an artist at the top of their game. Perfect for those summer road trips.
Listen To: Lady Love feat. Bajka
Vorn's Modern Classics is the work of an artist at the very peak of his game, a blind fury of creation that takes pop music as we know it, pulls its ironic T-shirt over its head, batters it with a sock full of dollar coins and leaves it stunned, bruised and strangely grateful.
Besides being a clutch of mature, perfectly crafted pop songs, rich in texture and unceasingly varying in tone, the Modern Classics are a work of musical revisionism - an alternative history of rock and/or roll.
Listening to this album, you step into a world where Abbey Road and Teen Pan Valley are midgets, overshadowed by the bedrooms and garages of Dunedin and Wellington. Where hip-hop starts with The Great Unwashed and Phil Spector waves his revolver at a young Don McGlashan in Chris Knox' garage - a concept album written for an age of iShuffling single-worshippers.
All the hallmarks of previous Vorn albums are there in spades - barbed-wire-sharp lyrics, stylistic U-turns, insanely catchy melodies - but here they are joined by lush horns, soaring strings and a sense of the big studio production of the 60's jammed into a damp basement in Johnsonville.
Amplifier says: Twisted leftfield pop with a large slice of kiwi humour throughout. Not one for chin strokers.
Listen To: Small Worlds
* Honourable Mention - Stroke (Songs for Chris Knox)
Too many Johnny Foreigners to make our top 20 but a much loved release at Amplifier Towers.
An all-star local and international lineup perform songs from Chris Knox' back catalogue, including his solo work and songs by his groups The Enemy, Toy Love and The Tall Dwarfs.
Chris Knox is one of the founding fathers of NZ's alternative music scene. From his early work with The Enemy, Toy Love and his partnership with Alec Bathgate in Tall Dwarfs to his legendary solo work and new group The Nothing, Chris Knox is recognised as one of the leading lights of indie music and became a figurehead for the famed Flying Nun label.
Chris' music has touched many around the world, with artists from Stephen Malkmus (Pavement) to Bonnie 'Prince' Billy citing his music as influential.
Earlier this year Chris suffered a severe stroke which has left him in a long-term rehab situation. Stroke: Songs For Chris Knox, is a tribute to the man and his music - from across his catalogue - performed by friends, past bandmates and admirers of Chris.
Some of the biggest names in indie music in NZ and around the world have given their time and energies in an effort to help Chris and his family at this difficult time. All proceeds from the sales of Stroke are being donated to Chris and his family.
Past Years Amplifier Picks
- Chant Darling
- My Electric Family
- John Dryden
- Something Awesome
- Marvellous Year
- Dr Boondigga And The Big BW
- Eclipse LP
- Followed By A Trail Of Sparks
- Mister Pop
- Find Me Before I Die A Lonely Death dot com
- Electric Wire Hustle
- Bazooka Kid
- The System Is A Vampire
- Degrees of Existence
- Get It Together
- Modern Classics
- Stroke - Songs For Chris Knox