We asked a whole bunch of people who are involved in music in different ways for their top three albums and songs of the year, both locally and internationally. Here are the results.
We all love a good list. And if you love lists, December is a month like no other. ‘The Best of Everything 2016!’ all the websites shout at you all the time. But rather than make a list ourselves, I wanted to send it out to our local music community, and asked a couple of hundred people to respond. And while less than a quarter of people responded (I imagine surveys often go straight to junk mail, and if they don’t are probably in the ‘I’ll get around to that later’ category. Shit, a few people emailed me saying they just didn’t like enough new music this year, and there’s nothing you can do about that) hopefully it’s still a decent snapshot of music from 2016.
So this is how I decided to do it: five points for a top place, three for a second place, and one for a third place. Total votes received are in parenthesis, just so you know everything’s on the up and up. Oh, and I’ve added a wildcard to each category – a song or album that I voted for that didn’t make the cut. I get to do this because I make the rules and this is one of the rules I made. Cool? Cool.
So here we go, the best music of 2016, according to people who answer their email.
Best song – Local
- Street Chant – ‘Pedestrian Support League’ (30)
- Kings – ‘Don’t Worry Bout It’ (26)
- SWIDT – ‘No More Parties in Stoneyhunga’ (22)
- Aaradhna – ‘Brown Girl’ (21)
- MAALA – ‘Kind of Love’ (18)
Wildcard: October – ‘Cherry Cola’
This year has felt so long that when I started thinking about the best music of the year, I assumed Street Chant’s Hauora was at least a year old, even though it came out in April. Anyway, while Hauora shows the band stretching out into new songwriting styles, ‘Pedestrian Support League’ is Street Chant at their Street Chantiest – a power pop/pop punk slice of life for the under-employed, creative-class.
October’s ‘Cherry Cola’ took me completely by surprise. Mixing noisy/DIY/bedroom production with an untamable pop sensibility, it’s aggressive, cynical, vulnerable, and catchy as anything.
Best song – Global
- Beyonce – ‘Formation’ (19)
- Mitski – ‘Your Best American Girl’ (17)
- Angel Olsen – ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ (15)
- Kanye West – ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1’ (14)
- Ariana Grande – ‘Into You’ (13)
Wildcard: Kanye West – ‘Ultralight Beam’
If one song sums up this year, it’s ‘Formation’. Not because of the content, but because of it’s meaning. If the medium is the message, the message of ‘Formation’ isn’t just a song about black female personal empowerment (though it certainly is that), but a video with police cars sinking and working class revolt, a black power Super Bowl halftime, a tour boycotted by cops across the country. It came out in a pre-Trump world, but continues to accrue meaning as America becomes ‘Great Again’.
I know Kanye has plenty of visibility on this list, but of my three picks in this catagory included two songs off the same album’s of songs that made the top five – Kanye West’s ‘Ultralight Beam’ and Angel Olsen’s ‘Intern’. Both these songs floored me, gave me goosebumps and had me pressing repeat. But ‘Ultralight Beam’ strikes me as something special, an avant-gospel manifesto with one of (if not the best) rap verses of the year. I’m not a spiritual person, but this makes me wish I was.
Best Album – Local
- Aaradhna – Brown Girl (43)
- Street Chant – Hauora (40)
- Lontalius – I’ll Forget 17 (29)
- Lawrence Arabia – Absolute Truth (27)
- MAALA – Composure (19)
Wildcard: Bic Runga – Close Your Eyes
Aaradhna’s Brown Girl was as close as New Zealand music came to Beyonce’s Lemonade, a combination of the ultra-personal and the personal-political. Both her interview with The Spinoff and her VNZMA speech showed the power of her message. And while I think there are some soft points on the album, it’s high points are so high, making a record that is as powerful as anything that came out of local music this year.
Easily dismissed as a ‘covers album’, Close Your Eyes is a cohesive expression of life and love, channeled through other artists from other times. Plus, title-track ‘Close Your Eyes’, one of two originals on the album, was one of my favourite New Zealand songs of the year.
Best Album – Global
- Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (55)
- Beyonce – Lemonade (40)
- David Bowie – ★ (28)
- Frank Ocean – Blonde (26)
- Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (21)
Wildcard: Huerco S – For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
Whether you love him or loathe him, there’s no denying that Kanye West is as relentlessly innovative as anyone working in music today. And The Life of Pablo is no different. An incredible record musically, combining the sacred with the profane, the highest of spiritual aspirations with the most carnal of bodily desires, Pablo is also the first record to use the online-only, streaming release as an opportunity for the record to live as an evolving work of art, with West updating the album for months after it’s release, adding songs, changing mixes, adding parts and lines, tweaking mixes. As a musician, so often you hear things you’d like to change about your work only once it’s been released. Kanye shows it’s never too late.
Huerco S’s For Those Of You Who Have Never is probably the record I listened to the most this year. I listened to it while writing, while napping and while feeding my new son. So, while I was probably asleep for much of the time, there’s no album that just made me feel as good as this did. Or as destroyed by the hopelessness of existence. It’s been a fucking crazy year, and this album can sound as destructive or as optimistic as your mindset at the time.
Best musical moments (in order of number of mentions)
Aaradhna speech at the VNZMA.
Beyonce: Lemonade dropping and “everyone in NZ booting up their torrent client/ trying to get free tidal”.
Bowie: Lorde’s tribute at the Brits, Jamie xx opening Auckland set with ‘Let’s Dance’ hours after after the announcement of Bowie’s passing.
Kanye: The Life of Pablo rollout, floating stage, ‘Ultralight Beam’ performance on SNL, his mental breakdown.
Kendrick Lamar: At the Grammys and ACL.
Bic Runga: Legacy award performance, performing lead vocals as Silicon, unbeknownst to the audience.
Live: King Brothers in Raglan, Angel Olsen at San Fran Bath House, Suckdog at Whammy Bar, Mac DeMarco at Flying Out, Thundercat at San Fran, Mockasin Arabia Finn at the Crystal Palace, Marlon Williams at Crystal Palace, Paperghost at NOW Festival, The Cure, Prince at Aotea Centre, “Seeing Omar Soleyman perform to a predominantly Syrian audience around 2am in the morning at an outdoor bar in Paris in late June. The calmer he was on stage, the wilder the audience became”.
Mockasin, Arabia and Finn at the Crystal Palace.
All Talk with Anika Moa.
Rae Sremmurd hitting #1 with ‘Black Beatles’: “Hip Hop is BACK baby! So much shitty EDM over the last few years sitting at #1 for weeks on end.”
Frank Ocean: “spending all of my money on an uber to the magazine popup”, the internet going crazy about Blonde.
Britney Spears’ Medley Billboard Performance.
Alanis Morissette ‘Hand In My Pocket’ in the final episode of Transparent Season 3.
Laura Snape’s referencing Neil Roberts and the Wanganui Computer Centre bombing in her review of Trust Punks’ Leaving Room For The Lord.
Adele’s live TV special with Graham Norton.
Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Volume Exhibition.
Spinoff launching NZ Music Content (we didn’t plant this one – Ed)
Lorde smashes it out of the park with her new record as she reinvents herself as an adult in the music industry.
No prominent musicians will pass away.
The Stone Roses drop new album, tour worldwide & lo, there was much rejoicing and air-bongoes!
Lil Wayne will die.
Taylor Swift will release her best album yet, and we won’t want to love it because it’s Taylor, but we won’t be able to fight it.
The timely reprise of the old Kanye.
The collapse of the Western World = an explosion in great music.
Roy Irwin’s new album will be a breakthrough hit.
Drake discovers jumpstyle, tours Central & Eastern Europe w/ Scooter.
So much music out there right now anything could happen.
After the Oakland warehouse fire, thing are going to get a lot tougher for warehouse parties and DIY music spaces. It doesn’t look good. On the plus side, expecting more Japanese boogie album reissues.
More attention and work on issues in the industry eg. racism, mental health issues, known abusers in the scene.
The end of exclusives/windowing (a prediction charged with fervent hope which might be clouding my judgment).
A celeb will die.
Oasis will reform for a one-off, and Noel will go to great pains to explain it’s just for cash and he still hates potato Liam.
“The deserved decline of Cheese on Toast near the beginning of year seemed to presage a year of backlash against white male privilege, whether it was Aaradhna’s speech at the music awards, Anna Coddington writing against her unnecessarily cruel review by Gary Steel in Metro or Emily talking out in her Spinoff interview. A weird flipside to the death of great overseas musical patriarchs like David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen.”
“I would like to see editors and producers seek out a more diverse range of voices in their music coverage. Newspaper editors, magazine editors, online editors, radio and television producers, panel discussion curators… please make more of an effort to include the voices of women and people of colour in the conversations you are trying to create. It’s always the same five white dudes of similar vintage who are called on to comment on or review music and it’s boring and super lazy. It makes you look out of touch too, there are plenty of talented music critics out there who aren’t getting a chance to come through because everyone’s just relying on whoever they’ve already got on speed dial. This is not directed at any one publication btw, as I have seen literally everyone do it.”
“Please support more alternative/underground music on the Spinoff. Multiple hot takes on pop record of the week is kinda played out.”
“I’m not just a brown girl in the ring.”
“Could post-Lorde/post-Broods/post-2013 synth-pop please stop now?”
“Let’s be kind and look after one another.”
of the Spinoff’s first book!Find Out More
“Keep ears open & don’t compromise your own musical voice.”
Alistair Deverick, Amanda Jane Robinson, Anna Loveys, Anonymous, Ben Lawson, Charlotte Ryan, Chris Cudby, Chris Henry, Danielle Street, Dan Woolston, Dave Taylor, Duncan Greive, Dylan C, Dylan Pellett, Eddie Johnston, Ellen Falconer, Emily Edrosa, Emma Smith, Gareth Shute, Gary Steel, Haz’Beats, Henry Oliver, HEX, Ian Henderson, James Dann, Janine, Jen, Joe, Joel Kefali, Justin Warren, Kara Koroivuki, Karl McGuirk, Kate Robertson, Kezia, Leonie Hayden, Lydia Jenkin, Martyn Pepperell, Matthew H McAuley, Matt McPadden, Melody, Miles Buckingham, Mitchell Houlbrooke, Nathaniel, Nick Fulton, Pennie Black, Pete Douglas, Peter McLennan, Reilly Hodson, Richard Symons, Sam, Sam Smith, Sarah Illingworth , Silke Hartung, Simon, Snifters, Yadana Saw, Zac Arnold.
See y’all next year!
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