After April saw some of the best albums dropped so far in 2017, May had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, though it largely did, with solo releases taking centre stage. As per usual, here are my top six releases from the month just gone.
Aldous Harding – “Party”
I went into Aldous Harding’s new critically acclaimed album “Party” not expecting to like it. The thing is, I don’t particularly like 21st century folk/singer-songwriter music, as I find it bland and too samey compared with the great folk of the 60s and 70s. However, I surprised myself and actually enjoyed this record. Harding’s voice is incredibly unique and like nothing else I have heard, while the music has a dark mysterious aspect to it, making the album an intriguing listen overall. Harding has received overwhelmingly positive reviews for the album, aside from one lone dissenter in Wellington, and is attracting international attention for what can only be described as one of the best New Zealand releases so far this year.
Fave Tracks: Imagining My Man, Party, Horizon, What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming
Fazerdaze – “Morningside”
Another New Zealander gaining favourable overseas attention is indie singer-songwriter Fazerdaze, with her new record “Morningside.” After releasing an EP two years ago and playing Laneway in January, Fazerdaze has continued her run of success with this gorgeous indie pop album. “Morningside” is full of beautiful dreamy melodies as seen on songs such as “Jennifer” and “Take it Slow”, and well-crafted indie bangers, namely “Friends” and “Misread.” The talent she displays on this record, particularly in terms of songwriting is freakish to say the least, and at just 24, it is scary to think how much more she could grow as a songwriter. My favorite New Zealand release of the year so far, and given the quality, an album that could become a great New Zealand indie album in time.
Fave Tracks: Last to Sleep, Jennifer, Take It Slow, Bedroom Talks
Harry Styles – “Harry Styles”
Another release that I wasn’t expecting much from was the debut solo album from former One Directioner Harry Styles. In fact, I had no intention of actually listening to this album until several people mentioned that it was actually quite good. So, I took the plunge, and, amazingly, it is rather good. You can definitely hear the influence on the sound of this record is 70s rock, most notably T Rex, Stealers Wheel and Pink Floyd, and as a whole, this is as far away from One Direction as Harry could go. The songs are catchy, the music is interesting and it landed him a number one record in eleven countries. Overall, you get the feeling Styles is happy to be moving in a different direction musically, without being held back by the rigid pop confines of One Direction.
Fave Tracks: Sign of the Times, Carolina, Only Angel, From the Dining Table
Mac DeMarco – “This Old Dog”
Music’s favorite goof ball Mac DeMarco is back with his 4th studio album and first since 2014s “Salad Days,’ and for me, it is his best yet. Musically, on this record, Mac goes down the dad rock/yacht rock path with more synths, less George Harrison-inspired guitar and an overtly LA singer-songwriter feel circa 1973. On past releases, Mac has been guilty at times of having too many tracks that sound the same and releasing albums that lack variety. You get to the fifth track and start to get bored very easily. However, there is no such problem on “This Old Dog” which is more diverse and features great variety with songs such as “On the Level,” “Dreams From Yesterday,” and “My Old Man.” Definitely one of my favorite releases of the year so far.
Fave Tracks: My Old Man, Dreams From Yesterday, On the Level, Watching Him Fade Away
Paul Weller – “A Kind Revolution”
May seems to be the month of the solo artist, with five of my favorite six albums being solo releases. The eldest of these, Mr. Modfather himself Paul Weller is in the middle of a great late-career run of outstanding albums, of which the latest “A Kind Revolution” forms part of. The last ten years has seen Weller release some of his best work in a career that is already forty years deep and which peaked with the Jam and Style Council. However, to be frank, I can’t name many artists from his era that are still making as interesting music as the songs found on “A Kind Revolution,” while wanting to innovate and continue evolving musically as Weller is. “A Kind Revolution” is diverse stylistically, with boogie rock, soul and jazz all featuring, and Weller himself vocally sounding as good as ever. Hopefully Weller has a few more years left in him yet because if the last few albums are anything to go by, you know that the next album will be different from the last one.
Fave Tracks: Woo Se Mama, Long Long Road, She Moves with the Fayre, One Tear
Slowdive – “Slowdive”
2017 is experiencing a shoegaze revival, with both Ride and Slowdive releasing their first albums since the 1990s. Slowdive is first off the block, with their first album in twenty-two years the self-titled Slowdive, appropriately titled I guess because they were worried people might have forgotten about them. They needn’t have worried because the album is a great comeback and sits nicely alongside their classic work. Tracks such as “Star Roving” and “Sugar For The Pill” retain that dreamy distorted shoegaze sound that Slowdive are renowned for, while songs such as “Go Get It” combine the atmospheric prog rock of Pink Floyd with heavy ear-shattering guitar. The album is short with just eight songs, but the fact they managed to even record an album after so long suggests this comeback will continue for some time yet. Here is hoping anyway.
Fave Tracks: Star Roving, Sugar for the Pill, Go Get It, Falling Ashes