EOY17: NZ Alternative and Experimental Music

EOY17 Dec 01, 2017

NIIThe strangest album from New Zealand's "deep noise underground" that I wanted to review this year was Witcyst’s Real Folk: Lathe Cut Singles 1993-1997. Unfortunately, that 4-CD compilation was out of reach of my blogger's budget, but you should grab one of the last remaining copies from label End of the Alphabet Records if you possibly can. I still managed to wrap my ears around plenty of other offbeat NZ music in 2017 though. Including a slew of fascinating works, a few mind-melting gems, and a couple of absolutely enthralling triumphs.

Some of the alternative and experimental releases collected below are a lot weirder than others. And some of them really aren't that weird at all. Most of the music below resides outside the NZ music mainstream. Although, a number of bands clearly have all the potential for crossover success. In fact, the final entry on the list did just that in 2017, while remaining as eccentric as ever.

One thing that affected my NZ alternative and experimental list-making was that Six Noises was out of action being refurbished for a few months this year. I missed covering a bunch of unorthodox music at that time - like William Henry Meung's head-scratching eccentricities on Rotten Rainbows - but I had to move on knowing I couldn't hope to ever catch up.

At the end of every EOY17 post is a note explaining why I'm not ranking my lists or playing favourites this year. But, that said, if you asked me to recommend a single album from the list below, I'd immediately point to NIISO, the debut album from "dank, dark, doom drone" band NIISA.

I found it somewhat inexplicable that NIISO wasn't more widely hailed in the NZ music media this year. I get that NIISO features fringe music and not easy-peasy award-friendly pop. Obviously, a lot of the NZ music media is a bit ... whateves ... about covering imaginative, outsider music too. But NIISO was a truly stunning album filled with dramatic drones and amp-melting soundscapes that took in sunlit and stormy passages. NIISO deserved a hell of a lot more coverage than it got. I really couldn't recommend it highly enough.

There's plenty of other music I'd recommend below as well. I've included a fairly broad range of music, from harsh noise to far gentler domains, and most points inbetween. Fingers crossed you'll find some new music to spend your hard-earned pennies on.

Thanks a bunch for supporting Six Noises this year. Have a fantastic festive break.

Ave Santa.

FYI: I know there's a fuck ton of unranked music here. Read the rationale behind my EOY17 list mayhem

Spook the Horses: People Used to Live Here
Spook the Horses explored riskier artistic territory on People Used to Live Here, but their creative courage was amply rewarded with an album that blended beauty, darkness, and desolation in truly poetic ways. NIISA: NIISO
Transfixing drones from hypnotic depths pulsing with dark organic energy: NIISO feels alive and acutely expressive.
Motte: Strange Dreams
Beautiful, heart-gripping music that reflects a lot of contemporary classical influences. Utterly, utterly gorgeous.
Seht: I Follow the Moon
If you’re seeking a glimpse of the void or the divine, that’s all here. I Follow the Moon is custom-made for introverts, just like me.
Stephen Gallagher: Human Traces
Gallagher's stark and beautiful soundtrack to NZ psychological thriller Human Traces: icy, isolated, desolate, evocatively reflecting the film's subantarctic setting.
Ounce: Satan II/Dead Mirror
Raw, skittery, and psych-fuelled krautrock/afrobeat. Genius lo-fi fuzz-rock.
The Trendees: We Are Sonic Art
Less-than-zero-fi garage/noise/indie pop with songs "drawn from the small frustrations and curiosities of genteel provincial life" channelled "forcefully through the kind of rigidly enclosed sonic atonality we all want to see the boring and genteel parts of our lives forced through."
Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing: Songs of Sodomy & the Compost of Aethyr
A monstrously realised vision. Deeply unsettling and wildly creative. Musical sorcery, for sure, but also fan-fucking-tastically unhinged.
Fis & Rob Thorne: Clear Stones
"Māori sound artist Rob Thorne (Ngāti Tumutumu) and Berlin-based electronic composer Fis dismantle boundaries in space, time, and genre, juxtaposing Thorne’s living, breathing practice with the weight of modern sound systems."
Noel Meek with Richard Youngs, Neil Campbell and Lasse Marhaug
Three different cassette releases that saw sound explorer (and End of the Alphabet Records founder) Noel Meek collaborating with experimental music luminaries. Diverse musical magick abounds. (FYI: if you can only grab one, Marhaug and Meek is a winner.)
Huge Mutant: S/T
No-wave, minimalist synth and unnerving electronics are hurled at the listener over six lo-fi and demented/dissonant tracks. Beautifully ugly.
Bruce Russell: Metallic OK
More brain-scrambling music from founding member and guitarist of the seminal noise trio The Dead C: "Guitars tuned to occult settings ... massively deformed electronics ... swarms of static, that sound like the needle eating the vinyl; radio interference; broke down piano; sledgehammer fuzz..."
Omit: Negative Pulse Logic
A strong sense of solitariness and desolation runs throughout. Highly recommended for fans of minimalist sound experiments and stark ambient music.
Antony Milton: Off-White
Offbeat and off-kilter, with fractured vocals and a synth-heavy framework.
Woozy atmospherics, mind-melting drone, and immersive/mesmerising tracks.
Our Love Will Destroy the World: Temptress Factory Chapels and Kiki's Jiji
Brain-twising, psych-fuelled drones from the mind of much-respected noise-maker Campbell Kneale.
Mermaidens: Perfect Body
"A vibrant post-punk album that explores the co-existence of pleasure and pressure through warm natural metaphor and gritty riffs."
Ov Pain: S/T
Gothic post-synth-punk that "lays waste to that imbecilic notion that new possibilities within rock and roll are destined to be staid bloated rituals engineered in pursuit of a cheap buck or a quick fuck."
Élan Vital: Shadow Self
"A dense claustrophobic swirl of dark dance-tempo synth-pop. Feedback-strafed soundtrack instrumentals for imaginary dystopian Sci-Fi films bloom into upliftingly gloomy melodic dream-pop catharsis about memory, longing, and obsession."
Church of Goya: EP
"Taking sonic cues from the likes of The Gordons, Skeptics and Gang of Four, the five-song EP is an abrasive lo-fi offering to behold."
i.e. crazy: Non Compos Mentis
"Eight songs that lean on the enduring folk tradition of storytelling to draw lines between visions of sanity and civility, and then deconstructs them."
Dreams Are Like Water: A Sea-Spell
Delicate and ethereal 80s pop and post-punk mixed in a sublime, swirling and darkly romantic haze.
Hiboux: Command the Earth to Swallow Me Up
The best music takes us places: Hiboux provide a highly animated journey via always evocative and often heart-gripping music.
Into Orbit: Unearthing
More confident and creative than Into Orbit’s debut. The band expand their musical boundaries, paint more vivid scenes, and deliver an album that showcases an artistically thrilling future.
Rhian Sheehan: Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses (Original Score)
"Showcasing a more classical side to a musician who might have been wired for sound initially but is developing into a composer who stands alongside the likes of Max Richter, Nils Frahm and Johan Johannsson."
Ancient Tapes: Demo
Ancient Tapes’ woozy demo is hugely promising. It certainly references shoegaze's past, but the music therein retains a timeless quality that speaks directly to the heart, whatever era it’s created in.
Echo OHs: Hot Pockets
"Dusty spaghetti-surf. Steeped in lurid garage and post punk influences ... a lurching and writhing cauldron of cowboy psych and/or beach zombie."
Acclimate: Dreams of a Mad Titan
Ominous electronics and atmospheric drones exploring dark hypnotic depths. Recommended for those seeking inner space chills whilst enjoying outer space thrills.
Bent Folk: Why / Liar / Gone
Why / Liar / Gone unnerves as much as it soothes... if you’re searching for mesmeric music that marries desolation to melancholy, then the heartbroken plains of Why / Liar / Gone await.
Noel Meek: Southern Bleach and We Contain Multitudes
Two more entries from Noel Meek? Why not: if the shoe fits, etc. Meek's excellent solo releases Southern Bleach and We Contain Multitudes offered yin and yang improvisations: the former was fuzzed-out and grim, while the latter featured some of the most psychedelically giddying and even downright accessible music that Meek has ever made.
Fuckault: I Spent So Long Trying to Kill My Self but Now It's Time for Something New
Fuckault released half-a-dozen works this year. Every one of them is well worth checking out if you're a fan of microtonal unease delivered via subtle sound manipulations. Expect bliss mixed with subliminal anxiety. Expect a glimpse of hope through a dirty, cracked window.
Sol Mortvvs: SOL I, II, III
A dentist’s drill, an air-raid siren, and a giant wall of concussive noise combined. Broad spectrum, spine-chilling noise — sometimes isolated and linear, other times chaotic and abrasive.
Nadia Reid: Preservation
"Preservation hits the hardest when there are zero or few added ingredients to divert attention from the voice, the melodies and the words."
Aldous Harding: Party
"Sinister torch songs, gentle laments and eerie odes delivered with a charismatic combination of hubris, shrewd wit and quiet horror."

I haven't sorted any of my EOY picks into a specific order. That’s because I’m not really interested in who’s better or who's the best these days. I don't feel any compulsion to studiously rank the music that matters to me. And the last thing that music needs is to be pinned to a board and scrupulously arranged like a soon-to-be-forgotten museum exhibit.

That's just me though. If you’re interested in debating who deserves the most critical applause or underground acclaim, then have at it. And have fun while you're at it. I just don't have a dog in that fight anymore. I'm more interested in simply sharing all the thundering noise I adored in 2017. You can pick the winners or losers. Trust me, you'll do a better job than me.

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