6 Dec 2019

Song Crush: 12 favourite NZ songs of 2019

From Song Crush, 2:38 pm on 6 December 2019

It was another strong year for music in Aotearoa, from the internationally acclaimed Aldous Harding and Tiny Ruins, to the grass roots DIY acts just bubbling up. The Song Crush team play some of their favourites.  

Host Kirsten Johnstone is joined by Music 101 host Charlotte Ryan and producer Tony Stamp, as well as RNZ sound engineer and music critic Jana Te Nahu Owen. 

Listen to our Spotify playlist including these tracks and more

1. Tiny Ruins - Olympic Girls

This song begins with an acoustic guitar and the beautiful voice of Hollie Fullbrook. As it moves along, it erupts into a lush, symphonic sound featuring the full band playing wonderful textures, including Tom Healy’s magical guitar playing. Hollie's lyrics for this track were inspired by a journey she took on a Greyhound bus in America, where a group of recently-released felons told her how much they'd enjoyed watching the Olympics, specifically the gymnastics, while they were in jail. - Charlotte Ryan

INTERVIEW: Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins on new album Olympic Girls

2. Aldous Harding - Designer 

While ‘Treasure’ and ‘The Barrel’ were stand-out songs on Aldous Harding’s third album, the title track perfectly sets the tone she was going for: playful, humorous, light - but serious. While it starts with some contemplative Leonard Cohen-esque guitar picking, it quickly slots into an unapologetic groove, shakers and all. - Kirsten Johnstone

INTERVIEW: Aldous Harding on Designer

3. Purple Pilgrims - I’m Not Saying

What prompted the Nixon sisters to put their own spin on this slice of '60s pop by Gordon Lightfoot (later covered by Nico)? After all, this is from the same album that contains a five minute ambient jazz interlude. A lot of Perfumed Earth flirts with traditional songwriting (alongside the drone/ psych trappings), but this one fully commits to it, and the sweetness of Clementine and Valentine's arrangement contrasts brilliantly with lyrics as non-committal as ‘I'm not saying I'll be true but I'll try’. - Tony Stamp

4. SoccerPractise - Kaua E Mate Wheke 

SoccerPractise have carved out their own unique space in Aotearoa’s musical landscape, combining te reo Māori with dark electronics. What stood out for me about this album Te Pō, released in November, is the slick and sophisticated beats and production, all done by Thom Burton aka ‘Moppy’ who has an indie rock band background.

‘Kaua E mate Wheke’ - which comes from the Māori proverb or Whakataukī, “Kaua e mate wheke, mate ururoa” ‘Do not die like an octopus, die like a hammerhead shark’. The progression from traditional waiata opening of the song, into an immersive 90’s trip hop electronica groove makes this a standout for me. - Jana Te Nahu Owen

WATCH: SoccerPractise​'s Geneva Alexaner-Marsters on language diversity in the alternative scene

5. Elroy - Worth the Wait

The debut album from Elroy may have been one that slipped under your radar, but I encourage you to get yourself comfortable and enjoy this lush, relaxed album over the summer. Elroy is the youngest son of Neil Finn, so has grown up in the musical world. ‘Worth the Wait’ is hazy, dreamy and loose, and even features bouzouki, a traditional Greek instrument. CR

LISTEN: Elroy Finn on his debut album

6. Lake South - Holloway Road

This prolific, under-rated all-round musician released an album called Wellington - Te Upoko O Te Ika - named for his hometown. It could have been a terrible idea, but in Lake’s experienced hands, he captures the magic of nostalgia for old times, old friends, old haunts, those little moments that mean so much in retrospect. 

This song is an ode to an area close to the hearts of many Wellingtonians - Aro Valley, and a dark, narrow, old road that leads up into the most glorious, bird-studded bush. KJ

LISTEN: Lake South in session 

7. Fable - Weekend

No other song this year felt so much like a product of Aotearoa, and not just because Fable leans into his kiwi accent. It’s the warm, laidback attitude that’s present in every bar, from the production (courtesy of Church & AP collaborator Dera Meelan), to Fable’s super chill delivery. But when he sings “I really mean it”, I believe him. TS

8. Ben Woods - Romancy 

This track ‘Romancy’ is my favourite off this Christchurch musician’s debut, Put. It’s a sexy, romantic song, and I love that he’s called it ‘Romancy’ which sort of makes a joke out of it, because people often feel awkward around this subject. It grabbed me because of the space in it - And it immediately reminded me of Jesus & Mary Chain’s ‘Just like Honey’ which I consider one of the most romantic songs there is. JTNO

9. Jonathan Bree - Waiting on the Moment

Waiting on a moment is the first single from Jonathan Bree since last year's wonderful album Sleepwalking.

I always enjoy strings in music, and beginning with strong drums, then strings, introduces the song so well. 'Waiting on the Moment' has such a lovely, light, romantic feeling but the lyrics are dark. Jonathan's voice is deep and sultry which contrasts well with the music. CR

10. Tipene - Nanny’s House

Bay-all-day-boy Tipene has had a couple of goes at releasing this album - the first time in 2012 as a fundraiser for his mum’s tangi. He’s picked up many prestigious collaborations over the years - from Scribe, to DLT, and they all appear here on this 2019 version of Tautoko. He’s produced an album that couldn’t have come from anywhere else in the world, and is uniquely Māori. Nanny’s House resonates with my imagined nostalgia, for a place where the pace is slow, the kai is always on the stove, and whānau come first. JTNO

INTERVIEW: Tipene Harmer on Tautoko

11. Shiraz & LSJ - Dwayne

Nurtured by Auckland’s Grow Room collective, this hip hop duo put out two whole albums in 2019. ‘Dwayne’ wasn’t the slickest thing they released this year, but it was the most fun, gliding by on some nimble guitar funk, Sopranos shout-outs, and lots of braggadocio. TS  

12. Mousey - Extreme Highs

Why isn’t this Christchurch indie-pop artist huge already? Sarena Close is clearly a solid songwriter with range, depth, and a great voice to boot. This song made the long-list for the Silver Scrolls, and deservedly so - it’s got hooks, rhymes and great lines like “I'm a faulty elevator that can only land on one or ten”. KJ 

Here's some more 2019 stand-outs from other Song Crushers: 

Waveney Russ: 

Tiny Ruins – Cold Enough to Climb

The final track from Tiny Ruins’ stellar record Olympic Girls, ‘Cold Enough to Climb’ is as spacious and heavy as the title would suggest. Songwriter Hollie Fullbrook’s marriage of the intricacies of miscommunication and unconditional love cement this track as my favourite local release of the year.

Marlon Williams – Is Anything Wrong (live at the Auckland Town Hall)  

A gutwrenching rendition of the standout ballad from the late Lhasa De Sela’s 2009 self-titled album. Both Marlon’s cover and the original will move you in different ways, but fair warning, you will be moved.

Ha the Unclear – Julius Caesar

Though Ha the Unclear’s music is currently hard to come by, this guitar-driven ode to human connection through time is smart, fast-paced and recorded through a wedge of cheese. Bring them back!

Na Noise – Then Who

Na Noise describe ‘Then Who’ as "a track designed for you to simultaneously ugly dance and ugly cry to". What more could you ask for?  

O & the Mo – Supermarket Kings

Kiwi musicians seem to have a preoccupation with singing about supermarkets (Lorde, Tiny Ruins, Ha the Unclear spring immediately to mind), and I never want to see the end of this phenomenon. Check out this recent track from Wellington-based duo O & the Mo, condemning their disconnection from meaningful grocery runs in the face of localised convenience.

Trevor Reekie

Miriam Clancy  - Astronomy

Miriam claims she is a band and she is:  her control of her technology, her vocals , guitar and presentation is assured. So much of her current set reminded me of Shona Laing and her album South. Miriam is is a New Yorker these days and has literally and musically come a very long way.

Reb Fountain - Faster

Reb so deserves to be further up the profile ladder - so it's great to see she’s playing Womad 2020.

Ive never forgotten her performance of Joni Mitchell''s song Coyote when she played The Band Last waltz 40 th anniversary  in 2016 She just totally owned it. - looking forward to her album

Delaney Davidson and Barry Saunders - Word Gets Around

Full disclosure : Baz is a life long friend and I applauded this collaboration from the first time he mentioned it. A loving train wreck of a project performed by two of this country's most sartorial sons. 

Tiny Ruins - School of Design 

Hollie is a true original, informed by the very best of 60's British folk - from Nick Drake to Fairport Convention. Her songs are the product of an articulate and intelligent originality, her music and arrangements are rich, sparse, and make me wonder where she has come from.

Tom Ludvigson and Trevor Reekie - Roto 

This is very uncool of me … but I feel like my musical partner Tom Ludvigson and I made a distinctively different album called Roto. It’s a collection of hours of live improvised tracks - no discussion - just plug in, hit record and play. The beauty of improv is it takes you places that you sometimes couldn't conceive… As Ornette Coleman put it - "the sound is the freedom - the chord doesn't mean a thing".

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