Yet again we faced another unpredictable year. So many tours were cancelled, rebooked and postponed. But creative people need outlets and despite the effects of covid, the music community still pushed to keep the arts alive.
Here are some of my favourite releases of the year:
Ranges – Cardinal Winds.
Obviously any Ranges release is going to get a mention. I consider myself an unofficial member of the band. It’s a real shame that postage issues have prevented me from receiving the record I ordered because I know that they always put a lot of effort into the packaging and design. But the music is great.
Lakes – Start Again.
Lakes released the best album of 2019 and now they’ve signed to Big Scary Monsters and given us another brilliant album.
Claemus – Daydream.
Local prog-rockers Claemus have always set a very high standard but seriously, do not sleep on this album. I’ve been playing it on repeat and I’m not even remotely sick of it. I’m excited to see them play again over the next few months.
Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
I reviewed Halsey’s debut album Badlands years ago and was a bit dismissive, categorising it as music for edgy teenagers who wanted to feel rebellious. But I did genuinely like most of the music, even if a whole album’s worth was too much. This past year Halsey teamed up with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails to create If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. And it is fantastic. You can really hear the NIN touches and Halsey is obviously a great singer. I haven’t watched the film, but I have had the album on regular rotation.
I’ve been a Julien Baker fan since her first album. She has risen in fame a lot since then, especially after taking part in the group boygenius (also featuring Phoebe Bridgers, who was one of the hottest artists of 2020). This latest album is Baker’s most musically fleshed out, with a full band and wonderful intriguing soundscapes and tones.
Amy Shark – Cry Forever
I’m a huge Amy Shark fan, and thrash her last album Love Monster all the time. This latest release sees her ascending further into the pop stratosphere. There’s a few big bangers as well as some intimate ballads. Will she manage to collab with Tom DeLonge on her next record to complete her Blink 182 hat-trick?
Fucked Up – Year of the Horse
Fucked Up drip-fed the four parts of their EP over four Bandcamp Fridays, each a month apart. I’m not sure if that is smart marketing or not but it had my hyped for the full release. At almost an hour and a half long, it takes the listener on a wildly varied journey, but I love it. You need to be committed to get past some of the weirdness, but I think that was already a given if you’re a Fucked Up fan.
Gojira – Fortitude
I can’t believe that I never listened to Gojira before this album. Simultaneously heavy and accessible, technical and groovy, it’s a great metal release. Thanks to Mark Levy for recommending this one.
Planet of the Dead – Pilgrims
I’ll admit that I’m not usually into doom metal but I’ve got to give Planet of the Dead some love. They did exceptionally well, with plenty of media attention around the globe, and a lot of demand for their latest record. It’s a real shame that most of their tour was cancelled due to covid, but I managed to see them play a few times and they’re an outstanding live act.
No surprises that all my favourite gigs of 2021 were NZ artists. The local music scene seems super strong and venues are booked out well in advance.
David Dallas is one of my favourite artists, so there was no way I was missing him play his classic album The Rose Tint in full, especially with a live band. I know that album so well and had the best time seeing Dallas and his band The Daylight Robbery bringing it back to life.
I did photography at Peachy Keen festival at Easter time and it was super fun. I don’t usually listen to much pop music but I had a great day and discovered some new acts. I’d love to see Peachy Keen become a regular event.
Newtown Festival and Cubadupa are also perennial highlights in the calendar that make me super grateful to live in Wellington. It was a wonderful period where New Zealand felt “normal” and “safe” and we could have events that involved thousands of people coming together to celebrate the arts while the rest of the world was shutting down over a pandemic. Cubadupa especially felt like a revival of sorts, having been affected by covid and Christchurch terrorist attacks the past few years. Sadly, those times of normalcy were fleeting, and Newtown Festival 2022 has already been cancelled.
You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged as much this year. It is just harder to find the time these days, and I’m more involved in other creative pursuits like my photography and playing in a few bands.
One of my photos of Sam Leamy from Opium Eater was included in the From The Pit exhibition that took part in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. I’m already good friends with many of the local music photographers but it felt really nice to be included in something that celebrates the talents of the wonderful photographers around the country.
My old band Secrets of the Sun released their debut album Obon. I no longer play with them, but I did record the drums that featured on the album.
My new band Aegir & Ran played four shows, all which were loads of fun. We’ve got some video footage that I’ll get around to editing and sharing at some point. Nothing better than playing great music with some of your best friends.
I also joined another band, Dressed in Wax. We’ve only played one show so far, but are excited to play more in the future. You can hear some of our songs from frontman Ilja Gray’s solo EPs.
Who knows what the future will bring? Much of the population are vaccinated now, but I still think that the pandemic will continue to affect things for a while to come.
I have tickets to see The Beths and Shihad early next year, both events that were supposed to happen months ago but were postponed. I’ll be stoked if the concerts happen, but won’t be surprised if they don’t.
Karnivool just dropped a new single so may have an album on the way. I’m super keen to get to Australia to see them play with amazing prog and post acts like Cog, sleepmakeswaves and Plini, but I don’t think it’s likely at this stage. The chances of getting stranded in Australia are extremely high, with New Zealand’s MIQ system proving inadequate to meet demand time and time again.
I’m excited about future releases from bands who have been in the studio such as Youth League, Tides of Man and Shipwreck Karpathos.
On a local level, Adoneye may finally release their debut album next year. Planet Hunter have been doing some work in the studio. And I was super excited to help record backing vocals for an upcoming Wellington Sea Shanty Society EP recently (bring on the tiktok fame!)
All words and photos by Joseph James