Best Albums of 2018
selected by Martyn Pepperell

Avantdale Bowling Club <BR> “Avantdale Bowling Club”

Avantdale Bowling Club
“Avantdale Bowling Club”

After capturing Aotearoa New Zealand’s imagination in the late 2000s as part of breakout rap group Homebrew, pushing the boundaries with the psychedelic hip-hop soul of @Peace, and bringing back the bounce with boogie ensemble Average Rap Band, Auckland rapper/musician Tom Scott went deep and internal. The result was “Avantdale Bowling Club,” an album, band and concept he dreamt up with a who’s who of elite New Zealand jazz, soul, funk, rap and beats musicians and vocalists.

Turning a lifetime of experiences and perspectives into songs, he rapped his ass off with earnest, honest vigour, while the band played their asses off as well, utterly scorching the groove.

Despite the niche position it occupies outside of Aotearoa New Zealand, “Avantdale Bowling Club” deserved a place alongside the numerous US and UK jazz revivalists who’ve made their mark on the global underground in recent years.

♪♫ Listen: “Years Gone By” + album stream

Avantdale Bowling Club on Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Christoph El Truento <BR> “LWMP18”

Christoph El Truento

This year, after a period of relative silence, Aotearoa New Zealand-born sound explorer, producer and DJ Christoph El Truento released his new album “LWMP18” through Berlin-based record label/artist collective C O S M I C | C O M P O S I T I O N S.

Clocking in at a staggering 21 songs, plus two remixes from DJ Manny and Borrowed CS, “LWMP18” is an equally astonishing investigation of the power and potential of juke and footwork music, as re-imagined through the lens of an antipodean artist looking at the world both online and from a significant geographical distance. Interlacing footwork song structures and rhythms with elements of jazz, soul, baile funk, and R&B, it’s a unique take that could only really come from the ends of the Earth.

You can purchase “LWMP18” in digital and 2XLP vinyl formats. Paired up with artwork created by Bráulio Amado, it’s one of those packages you’re going to want to have and hold.

♪♫ Listen: “hooha” + album stream

Christoph El Truento on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www.

Coco Solid <BR> “Cokes”

Coco Solid

Released in February on Waitangi Day, a contentious national holiday that commemorates The Treaty of Waitangi, Aotearoa New Zealand’s even more contentious founding document, Māori German Samoan creative Jess Hansell aka Coco Solid’s “Cokes” project is a singular statement.

With the instrumentals blending elements of traditional hip-hop, UK grime, bass music, new wave, and boogie-funk, Hansell and a cast of collaborators rap and sing their way through an investigation of identity, community, history, and a rejection of the frameworks that continue as colonialism’s living legacy. Internationally aware, but locally focused, “Cokes” also introduced us to Fanau Spa, the remarkable arts and music collective Hansell has been working with between here and Australia.

Outside of music, Hansell is also active as a scriptwriter, actor, visual artist, journalist, and creative writer. She’s the real definition of multidisciplinary.

♪♫ Listen: “Polar Bih ft. Hamishi & Big Fat Raro” + album stream

Coco Solid on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, www.

Dudley Benson <BR> “Zealandia”

Dudley Benson

Conceptually rooted in the geological discovery that Aotearoa New Zealand sits on the huge submerged continent of Zealandia, and the fresh possibilities for thinking this could afford the country, Zealandia saw Dunedin-based avant-pop artist Dudley Benson bringing together the lessons he’d learned from the chamber pop of his debut “The Awakening” and the Te Reo Māori language acapella interpretations of “Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne.” Eight years on down the artistic path less travelled, he synthesized those lessons with his love of drum machines, keyboards and electronica, placing them within a series of self-produced futuristic beatscapes.

I interviewed Dudley Benson for The 405 here, where in question and answer format, he opens up about the sacrifices he made to create Zealandia, his process, and the political elements of the album.

♪♫ Listen: “Cook Beleaguered” + album stream

Dudley Benson on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www.

Emily Fairlight <BR> “Mother of Gloom”

Emily Fairlight
“Mother of Gloom”

The twelve songs on Aotearoa New Zealand singer/songwriter Emily Fairlight’s “Mother of Gloom” album draw on the experiences and emotions she collected on a journey from brain injury to recovery, memories and metaphors pulled from an earlier life and the reality that recovery can sometimes mean establishing a new normal for yourself. In that normal, some things might never be the same again, and that’s okay.

Set against accordions, mariachi horns, banjo, violins, and folk-rock instrumentation Emily’s voice ranges from a whisper to a howl. Traditional folk music, and Texan-Mexican Americana motifs sitting as part and parcel of songs that are often closer to battle cries than the enchanted woodland dreamscape tropes often imposed on folk singers.

You can read my profile of her for The 405 here.

♪♫ Listen: “The Escape” + album stream

Emily Fairlight on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Instagram, www.

Fanau Spa <BR> “Fanau Spa”

Fanau Spa
“Fanau Spa”

As I observed in my “10 under-the-radar releases you may have missed from the last three months” column for Dazed in December:

“If the backbone of Fanau Spa’s self-titled mixtape is the vivid, future-forward beatscapes – equal parts trap, grime, and avant-club – that Melbourne-based producer Yumgod and friends brought to their Auckland studio for a mammoth 24/7 four day recording session, its heart comes from the fearless, progressive, and fun raps of the ensemble. This is music made in, and as, an LGBTQ+ and PoC space, and Fanau Spa’s vocalists – Queen Kapussi, Brown Boy Magik, Coco Solid, Joe Kori, Hamishi, Big Fat Raro, Manu, and TH1R§T3EN – deploy a kaleidoscopic array of vocal styles, sharing stories which, while rooted in a South Pacific experience, resonate globally. 2018 music, for 2018 people.”

Throughout the year, nothing made me more excited about the future and the potential of music from this country than Fanau Spa.

♪♫ Listen: “Feed Me To The Fader” + album stream

Fanau Spa on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Twitter, Instagram.

Girlboss <BR> “Body Con”

“Body Con”

In the same spirit as Girlboss’ first song ‘Miss Doubtfire,’ a low-key SoundCloud cut that popped up on prominent music blog Gorilla Vs. Bear in 2016, the five breezy guitar-pop songs on “Body Con” trade on faded Polaroid nostalgia, understated pop-culture in-jokes, and wistful introspection, all underpinned by the sturdy inner strength of the band’s lead songwriter, frontwoman, and general ship captain Lucy Botting. Subtle, alluring and nonchalant, “Body Con” doesn’t demand attention, but if you give it some, it will work its way into your life in a wonderful fashion.

Back in the days of the Pitchfork affiliated Altered Zones blog network and genre terms like Glo-fi, Hypnagogic pop, and Chillwave, Lucy and her Girlboss bandmate Darian Woods shared Christchurch-based duo named Wet Wings. These days Lucy resides in Wellington, the capital city of Aotearoa New Zealand, but for how much longer?

You can read my Girlboss profile for The Spinoff here.

♪♫ Listen: “Summer Goth” + album stream

Girlboss on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook.

Troy Kingi <BR> “Shake That Skinny Ass All the Way to Zygerton”

Troy Kingi
“Shake That Skinny Ass All the Way to Zygerton”

If Afrofuturism is where science fiction and technology meets popular culture of the African diaspora, could it be happening in Aotearoa New Zealand too? In 2015, Sophie Wilson and Dan Taipua posed this question with their Aotearoa Futurism documentary for Radio New Zealand. You can check it here.

“Shake That Skinny Ass All the Way to Zygerton,” the remarkable second album from Māori musician and actor Troy Kingi answers this question with a resoundingly funky yes; a yes drenched in retrofuturistic psychedelic soul.

Kingi is a singer/guitarist hybrid in the same tradition as Aotearoa New Zealand greats like Billy TK Snr, Teina Benioni, Ruban Nielson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and Connan Mockasin, and as this suggests, he commands attention.

“Shake That Skinny Ass All the Way to Zygerton” was produced by Billy TK Snr’s son Mara TK, best known for his lauded future soul explorations as the frontman of Electric Wire Hustle. You can feel his touch, giving Kingi the space to be his best self in the full flight of song.

♪♫ Listen: “Aztechknowledgey” + album stream

Troy Kingi on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra <BR> “Sex & Food”

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
“Sex & Food”

On “Sex & Food,” Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s lead songwriter and frontman Ruban Nielson’s insights went deeper than any of his past albums and potentially cut deeper as well. But when he flipped into full melodic mode on swinging vintage soul cut ‘Honeybee,’ you couldn’t picture a more exuberant mood.

Similarly, on ’Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays’ and ‘Not In Love We’re Just High’ he took the gritty psychedelic disco stylings he first outed on “Multi-Love,” paired them up with a frighteningly Michael Jackson redolent vocal delivery, and crafted a hallucinatory Interzone that, at the right volume and right time, sounds virtually peerless right now.

‘Honeybee, ‘Not In Love We’re Just High,’ and ‘Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays,’ were just a few of the high watermark moments on an unassuming record that opens up in the most remarkable of ways.

You can read my career overview of Unknown Mortal Orchestra for Sniffers here.

♪♫ Listen: “Not In Love We’re Just High” + album stream

Unknown Mortal Orchestra on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www.

Womb “Like Splitting the Head from the Body”

Womb “Like Splitting the Head from the Body”

“Like Splitting the Head from the Body” was a watershed record for Wellington-based gauzy dream/drone folk trio Womb.

Born of psychic siblinghood, dreamlike logic and a deep-seated love of nature, Womb began as the musical project of singer/songwriter and guitarist Charlotte Forrester. Joined on stage by her twin brother Haz (synths) and her sister Georgette (drums), the trio quickly became known for cosmic live performances transmute the conventions of lo-fi, dream pop, shoegaze and ambient into an ecstatic expression of their intense family connection. That expression and connection are fully on display throughout the fever dream-cum-smoothing nightmare that is “Like Splitting the Head from the Body.”

Womb are operating on their own terms, and perhaps more than just that might be operating in their own adjacent dimension. Won’t you step through the stargate and join them?

♪♫ Listen: “Feeling Like Helium” + album stream

Womb on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook.