1- Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear” – Big, beautiful, bruised melodies, bursting with joy and self-deprecating wit. And an ‘album’ in the truest sense of the word – every song is a cracker, and it hangs together perfectly as a meditation on growing up, settling down, love and mortality – a classic.
2- Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit” – CB has blazed a trail this year with glorious, intriguing lyrics set to rollicking, grunge-influenced tunes and monster melodies, and all delivered in her refreshingly unadulterated Oz-twang. A multiple Aria winner, Grammy nominee and hey – she even played a packed out instore at Slow Boat!!!
3- SJD “Saint John Divine” – Wherein Sean James Donnelly’s gorgeous, delicate songs are adorned by a glorious, string-festooned, elegant set of arrangements. His strongest, most cohesive and best-realised set to date. And – yet another SB instoree!
4- The Phoenix Foundation “Give Up Your Dreams” – The sixth album from Wellington’s finest sees them raising the stakes, staging a reinvention of sorts. A heavily rhythm-focussed set, it is conspicuously less ‘singer-songwriterly’, showcasing their monster rhythm section, with songs embracing contemporary r’n’b, electronic and weird soundscapes. An album that rewards repeated listens, like all the very best records do.
5- Ryan Adams “1989” – Ryan Adams has enjoyed a bit of a purple patch lately – his last, self-titled album was full of sturdy ‘classic rock’-type songs, his show here this year was brilliant, and this take on Taylor Swift’s 2014 pop colossus cast some excellent songs on a sonic backdrop informed by Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” and Johnny Marr-inspired jangle. Hugely enjoyable.
Bob Dylan “The Cutting Edge – The Bootleg Series, Vol 12” – Documenting one of Dylan’s most fruitful periods, the 1965-66 heyday that produced “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde”, this set gives an amazing ‘behind the scenes’ view of one of music’s greatest talents shaping some of his greatest songs. Different tempos, keys and feels, and, if you shell out for the 6 disc version, a whole disc of versions of “Like A Rolling Stone” (which is a whole lot more fun than it sounds!!)
1- Bob Dylan – “The Cutting Edge – The Bootleg Series, Vol 12” – A fascinating insight into Dylan’s creative process (even more so if you have the patience to sit through the six or eighteen disc version). This is the one that all of the hardcore Dylan fans have been waiting for and even the most casual of Dylan fans will find plenty to obsess over here.
2- Michael Head and the Strands – “The Magical World of the Strands” – A timeless album which conjures the ghosts of Astral Weeks, Forever Changes and Five Leaves Left without being overshadowed. Lovely string-laden arrangements, gentle psychedelia and plenty of jangle on this mystical Mersey gem.
3- Robert Forster – “Songs to Play” – The first solo album from ex Go-Between Robert Forster in years. Casual listeners won’t get much from this, but those who take their time to settle in will find some of his most subtle but insistent hooks, and flashes of razor sharp wit. The more you play this, the more you’ll want to play it.
4- The Shifting Sands – “Cosmic Radio Station” – All of your favourite things about classic Flying un artists put in a blender with a touch of shoegaze and a little psychedelia. Great songs with winsome choruses too, and there are several tracks where Mike Murphy’s fragile vocals are joined by mournful violin in an intimate embrace. Lovely stuff.
5- Wilco – “Star Wars” – Yay! Wilco are having fun again. About time too. This is nothing but a big, dumb rock record, but it’s got great hooks and induces a big, goofy grin everytime I hear it. I’ll take this over the cerebral Wilco anyday.
1- C Duncan – Architect – Ethereal pop record made by Scottish classical musician and composer. Absolutely blooming lovely.
2- Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m going down – The first 3 tracks are so good that you won’t mind the slightly waffly nature of the rest of them.
3- Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again – Spooky folky album. Martha Wainwright sings Vashti Bunyan type stuff.
4- Martin Courtney – Many Moons – Nicely played and produced polite acoustic pop from the singer of Real Estate. Would go for this over anything by the band.
5- Sam Hunt with David Kilgour and The Heavy 8’s – The 9th – Kiwi icons team up and somehow manage to make another cool spoken word/rocking guitar album.