Our music reviewers reflect on their favourite albums of
the year ...
Mr Lanegan might be a cantankerous character probably best
known for his collaborations with Queens of the Stone Age,
but for those initiated into his world of brooding seediness,
his solo albums rarely disappoint.
There simply is no-one better at channelling the dark side of
the human psyche via a voice that sounds as if he guzzles
gravel for breakfast.
Blues Funeral is an intense portrait of gothic
Americana and Lanegan's finest album.
Death Rattle Boogie
Cambridge's finest four roared back into local consciousness
with their best album since they lit up sweaty pubs in the
Death Rattle Boogie is a behemoth. Weighing in at just
over 50 minutes, the album swings from the furious guitar of
garage band stompers Gods are Bored and Gold
Halo to the funky energy of Skull Full of Bone and
on to the semi-cinematic grandeur of Wander the Night.
Light years from where they began as musicians, The Datsuns
fortunately don't stray too far from the recipe that has
served them (and us) so well.
Port of Morrow
Freed from almost all of his old band-mates, frontman James
Mercer has crafted one of the most infectious sets of tunes
Mercer's melodic lyricism supplanted with his occasional
falsetto flourishes, is writ large all over Port of
In collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin,
Mercer delivers a set brimming with pop catchiness and
sophistication that shares little linearity with The Shins'
previous albums. It might frustrate dyed-in-the-wool lo-fi
fans, but give it a chance.
This is one album that requires a good few listens before the
intricate hooks take hold.
Nice surprise: The
Choice of Weapon
Nearly a quarter of a century since Messrs Astbury and Duffy
conquered the New Zealand charts with Firewoman, they
explode back into relevance with a career-defining album. No
spring chicken, Ian Astbury's muscular baritone is as
commanding as it has ever been and with Billy Duffy rifling
through his never-ending bag of tasty riffs, Choice of
Weapon is one great rock album. With Astbury's steely
social conscience littered all over the lyric sheet there is
not a whiff of the '90s excesses that once derailed them. A
fine thing indeed.
It wasn't a bad year for the elder statesmen, with Dr John
(Locked Down), Leonard Cohen (Old Ideas) and Bruce
Springsteen (Wrecking Ball) each turning in decent albums.
But 64-year-old reggae master Jimmy Cliff pipped them all
with this rejuvenating release, aided and abetted by
ultra-present production from Rancid's Tim Armstrong. Cliff's
naturally mellifluous singing has always led him away from
the more abrasive message songs but here he commands respect
simply by being an old dog wearing the wisdom that comes with
five decades in the industry. Bouncing ska and rocksteady
beats lift a dozen great numbers, with Cliff in great voice.
Melody's Echo Chamber
Tame Impala's Kevin Parker produced a top album of his own
with Lonerism, but this project delivered a stunning
dream-pop release for his girlfriend, classically trained
Parisian Melody Prochet.
There are echoes (funnily enough) of Cocteau Twins, Mazzy
Star and Slowdive, and even a nod in the direction of Serge
Gainsbourg's more lush works, but the overriding feel is
contemporary and adventurous.
Nimble bass lines pull in and out of focus over trip-hop
beats, while samples and studio effects add plenty to the
sense of wonder without detracting from Prochet's mesmerising
vocals on this impressive 11-track debut.
Portishead prime mover Geoff Barrow likes to keep busy in the
long stretches between his main band's releases, and Beak is
the vehicle that allows him to explore his krautrock
This second Beak album most closely resembles something Can
might have pulled out of the vault, with half a dozen tracks
riding a motorik beat and hypnotic, Holger Czukay-inspired
bass riffs, but Barrow's world is a colder, darker place than
Mournful, barely discernible vocals act more as an instrument
than a vehicle for narrative, which all goes to add to the
sense that these tracks are forming spontaneously, in the way
that good jams do.
Nice surprises: On a local
level, Dunedin's Shifting Sands delivered accomplished
full-length release Feel, with songwriter/singer Mike McLeod
finding his feet as a purveyor of dreamy psych-pop that
drifts between the light and dark.
Elsewhere, Lyttelton Records' debut release saw Marlon
Williams, of the Unfaithful Ways, team up with Delaney
Davidson for the excellent Sad But True: The Secret History
of Country Music Songwriting Volume 1, and this is one
listener who would like to see Williams deliver a solo
release that further explores his penchant for the plaintive
Aligned with hip-hop collective Odd Future, Frank Ocean's
gorgeous major label debut ignored cartoon violence and
toilet humour in favour of spaced-out soul and an eerie
intimacy, exposing a major leftfield R&B talent who
tenderly crooned about fatherless childhoods, rich kids, and,
er, Cleopatra of Egypt in the astounding Pyramids.
Although they acted the goat at this year's New Zealand music
awards, the debut LP from West Auckland hip-hoppers Homebrew
was anything but obnoxious.
Or maybe it was, and perhaps that's the point.
Quite simply unlike any local release in terms of its subject
matter, candour, and lush organic textures.
The 2nd Law
Muse continues to push the pomp-rock envelope with each
When Survival - with its epic scope and ludicrous
falsetto - was chosen to soundtrack this year's Olympics, it
made us all believe in pomposity and paranoia, as well as a
band embracing ridicule while breathlessly expanding their
The Bravest Man in the Universe
Over a decade since his last studio album, the wizened soul
veteran joined forces with Damon Albarn and Richard Russell,
who buttressed Womack's honeyed, lived-in voice with dazzling
skeletal electronic arrangements, resulting in an album at
once deeply soulful and brimming with uplifting warmth.
A continuation of the back-to-basics approach a revitalised
Dylan brought to 1997's Time Out of Mind, 2001's
Love and Theft and 2006's Modern Times, the
71-year-old's latest effort introduces another interesting
cast of characters while also taking aim at an increasingly
dangerous world and ruing lost connections.
Words aside, Tempest's soul can be found in a band whose
exceptional abilities turn nuances into understated hooks.
The Civil Wars.
John Paul White and Joy Williams' Grammy Award-winning
release (best folk album, best country duo/group) is both
gentle and brooding as flash production touches are ignored
in favour of fine songwriting and strong performance.
Finger-picked acoustic guitar (occasionally augmented by
slide guitar and/or sparse piano) serves as a base from which
the voices of White and Williams coil and rise through
various love ballads (I've Got This Friend, 20
Years), while also touching on more ragged, blues-infused
Led by former New Jersey songsmith Wesley Schultz, whose
lyrical grasp reflects past trials as well as youthful
optimism, Denver outfit The Lumineers clap hands, stomp feet,
bang drums and holler to melodies that beg to be repeated,
time and again.
On the evidence of this clever, well-crafted and honest debut
album, the current roots-folk revival (buoyed by a diverse
range of acts, from Of Monsters And Men to the
Felice Brothers) is in good hands.
Nice surprise: Father John
Josh Tillman, who last year left Fleet Foxes having
playing drums for the Seattle baroque-folk-rock act since
2008, has found both a new voice and identity as Father John
Though he's been releasing solo albums since 2003, on Fear
Fun he achieves a rare mix of cynical focus and, as the
title suggests, frivolity.
This album was born out of a process of rediscovery (from
near-crippling depression to relocation in Los Angeles hippy
enclave Laurel Canyon) and it shows as, in his warm baritone,
Tillman offers a darkly exuberant meditation on various
aspects of the human condition.