Moeraki Skyline

‘Tis the season for gratuitous, infuriating, pointless, reductive “Best of the Year” lists. So here’s PopLib’s list contribution.

It’s not a “best of…” but just a most-played/ favourites list. Mostly stuff you may not have heard (unless you check this blog regularly) but worth a few minutes of your time to check out over the “festive” season. “PopLib Recommends…” might be a better description.

  1. Day Ravies – “Liminal Zones” (Strange Pursuits/ Sonic Masala)

“Liminal Zones” has been thrashed around here this year; at home and in the car for months on end. I know every song intimately and still get a thrill when it’s playing. Keyboards and synths duel with swooping, restless guitar lines on this wondrous mix of honest, gritty self-recorded contemporary Australian post-punk/ New Wave.

2. Leaf Library – “Daylight Versions” (WIAIWYA)

Just bloody beautiful: an album of melodic, meditative anthems to the sea and natural world from a London band using hypnotic repetition, a few chords and drones to remarkable effect through the ebb and flow of song dynamics and instrumental and noise arrangements. I hear echoes of Broadcast, Stereolab and Tortoise in their sound and unconventional approach but the end result is a distinctive Leaf Library soundworld.

3. Death And The Maiden – “Death And The Maiden”  (Fishrider)

I’ve broken my own golden rule of not posting stuff here I release on the label I run, but I can’t ignore this album because it has been one of my 3 most-played albums in 2015. It’s part electronica – slow dance/ trance arpeggio synth lines and clattering percussion – and part futuristic post-punk guitars and bass. But it’s the human heart of the voices which bind it all together into something special and unique. It helped me through a dark time in the first half of the year and I’m eternally grateful to the songs and the people involved for creating a world in which it is possible to lose yourself for 40 minutes in music that is dark and melancholy but also mysterious, coolly beautiful and, ultimately, positive and uplifting.

4. Sam Hunt with David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights – “The 9th” 

“The 9th” is legendary New Zealand poet Sam Hunt orating his – and others – poetry, set to a backing of atmospheric psychedelic guitar music. The album gives David Kilgour (The Clean) and his band The Heavy Eights freedom to explore free of song structure, although some songs do have a chorus of sorts. The atmosphere of the music is a perfect combination for Sam’s words and voice, providing more than just background.

5. Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus – “beauty will save the world” (Occultation Recordings)

An extraordinary album of lush, sometimes unsettling and ghostly “apocalyptic folk” mixed with arcane religious/ spiritual laments and incantations, some industrial electronic sounds, and spoken word samples. It’s a haunting, misty and compellingly beautiful album listened to in its entirety, a soundtrack to an imaginary European art film.  This Liverpool collective have been creating occasional intriguing multi-media performances and a handful of album since the 1980s. This is their best yet.

6. Knife Pleats – “Hat Bark Beach” (WIAIWYA)

There’s an easy familiarity about the frantic-paced pop on “Hat Bark Beach” – all 12 songs are in the 2 minute to 2 & 1/2 minute range. Sometimes Knife Pleats channel the kind of primal 80s indie-pop frenzy of The Shop Assistants, other times perhaps the pulsing sophistication of early Stereoloab. The upbeat/downbeat songs here are bursting with fuzz & jangle pop, propelled by insistent simple drumming and topped with glorious pop melodies and engaging vocals.

7. Shunkan – “The Pink Noise” (Art is Hard)

Los Angeles musician Marina Sakimoto, with a full band version of Shunkan, recorded The Pink Noise in Lyttelton during two years in NZ, most of that time based in Invercargill.  The album is a fully-formed fuzzy pop masterclass that moves away from the DIY bedroom recordings of her 2014 “Honey, Milk & Blood” EP. The songwriting, vocals and all-round performance by the band is sensational. Even though Marina has recently relocated back to LA, there’s a case for continuing to claim Shunkan – and certainly The Pink Noise album – as a product of NZ’s lower South Island for a while longer.

8. Totally Mild – “Down Time” (Bedroom Suck Records)

Queensland label “Bedroom Suck Records” continues its hot run of form, releasing a heap of gems over recent years. “Down Time” was my pick of their 2015 releases. It’s a beautifully constructed collection of wryly wistful pop featuring twangy guitars and soaring vocals.  There’s nothing ‘slacker’ about Totally Mild’s Aussie guitar pop. It’s bright and airy, sharply focused, deliciously melodic and its simple perfection will take your breath away.

9. Heather Woods Broderick – “Glider” (Western Vinyl)

Heather Woods Broderick accompanied Sharon van Etten on her March 2015 tour of NZ on keyboards and vocals. SVE mentioned Heather – a multi-instrumenatlist and regular contributor to others’ recordings and tours – had her own album coming out, so I tracked down “Glider” from her US label. It’s another album to lose yourself in. These woozy, drifting soundscapes of lush and dreamy reverb and delay-drenched atmospheric dream-pop sit somewhere between Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star.

10. Wormstar – “Turning Red”

Wormstar is an Auckland based DIY artist/ band and “Turning Red” channels the spirit of so many of my favourite bands – notably The Pastels (Scotland), Pavement (US), The Stevens (Australia) and The Clean (NZ) – so it’s no surprise it’s wormed it’s way into a starring role on this list. Fuzz and jangle guitar pop with heartache melodies and plenty of fresh and weird excursions for good measure.

Honourable mentions – Nadia Reid – “Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs”, Ela Orleans –  “Upper Hell”, The Shifting Sands – “Cosmic Radio Station” “Cosmic Radio Station”, The Granite Shore – “Once More From The Top” , Jay Som – “Untitled” “Untitled”, Anthonie Tonnon “Successor”, Chastity Belt – “Time To Go Home” Salad Boys – “Metalmania”, Space Bats, Attack! – “Space Bats, Attack!”, Govrmint – “Pipe DRM”

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