Lumière Music Editor BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reminds us of a stellar year in music, both locally and abroad, followed by his ten best albums for 2007.

*   *   *

THE ONLY thing I might hate more than people saying “New Zealand has shit music” are people who rant and rave about the 60s and claim “there’s no good music nowadays”. Bullshit. Those people are just ignorant. There’s no better time to be alive when it comes to music. Fuck the 60s, if you were able to escape the segregated bullshit that kept some of the best black music away from the listening ears of most people, you were lucky. There was little chance of hearing things from all over the world given the Anglophonic bias that’s dominated music since then and unfortunately still in a position of total dominance (something which I definitely can’t say I’ve escaped from). But now there’s as good a chance as any to explore, to hear the bands people ought to have been listening decades ago, music from all around the world. Now unless you can’t afford the internet, then you’ve got no excuse to say ignorant things like “there’s no good rap” or electronic music is shit – you’re just looking in the wrong places. In fact, I might go as far as saying 2007 is one of the best years of music we’ve had for a long time. It might be because I just got an internet connection.

But there’s been some amazing stuff released this year. For all the stuff that was on my Top 10, there was plenty that could have made it – Cornelius, Modest Mouse, Jens Lekman, Fabienne DelSol, Feist, the Clientele, Pharaohe Monche, LCD Soundsystem, Kanye West, Iron & Wine, The National, !!!, Menomena, Pop Levi, shit I could go on. I still ashamedly haven’t used the internet to its full potential to truly see what’s going on in the world, but as an audience we are starting to see music that’s was created as a result of this possibility (e.g. M.I.A., Beirut)

It was also a stellar year for local music, and I’m not talking in a token “yeah-let’s-like-New-Zealand-music-because-it’s-from-New Zealand” sense, I’m talking in a “let’s-like-New-Zealand-music-because-it’s-good”. There have been great releases by the likes of Otis Mace, Delaney Davidson, Disasteradio, Phoenix Foundation, the Brunettes, Grayson Gilmour, SJD, The Enright House, the Puddle, Liam Finn, again, I could go on. And the up-and-coming talent is simply astonishing. Of course none of this stuff would be represented in the mainstream Music Awards (maybe SJD or Liam Finn grudgingly) but don’t be fooled that this absence (and the lionisation of shit like Brooke Fraser or Hayley Westernra) into thinking we don’t have one of the most fertile music scenes in the world. Of course though, we are a country that spawned and rejected The Flight of the Conchords for years in terms of funding and audiences, but then boy did we jump on that bandwagon. Is there nothing more embarrassing than seeing TV3 and TV1 ask foreign stars on their thoughts on Flight of the Conchords given that they rejected them for years for not being funny? I digress, they were just an example to show that we have so much good stuff here that we don’t need to wait for someone else overseas to tell us that it’s good first before we can start liking it.

The biggest disappointment of the year were the pop singles charts. Arguably for the first time in musical history “black” artists are the actual mainstream (instead of toned-down “white” equivalents), yet it’s a shitty “black” stereotype that plays on a ridiculously, dare I say it “white” created, images. The whole gangsta’ bit with the hos and the pimps is becoming more and more ubiquitous (including scarily in New Zealand music) on the pop charts. And it’s not doing hip-hop any favours either. In terms of the straight up pop, of course, you had to look at the fringes, the major labels haven’t released much of worth this year. I don’t care if you’re trying to be indie-ironic, but Rhianna’s ‘Umbrella’ is a shit song, and Timbaland needs to stop singing about himself. If record companies are whining about what’s happening to their profits, stop blaming the internet, and take some more risks with the music you actually choose. There’s plenty of good stuff out there that people are listening to, and wanting to buy.

We were treated well in terms of live music, though higher costs etc. have made it harder to see some of the bigger Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin etc. bands down here in Wellington. It’s the same in those centres too. Without the efforts of people like Blink (whose Camp a Low Hum was an absolute highlight) and others, then our local touring scene would probably be a lot lighter. Internationally though, some wonderful work is being done by a new breed of promoters – Galesburg, Velvet Tiger, and mysterygirl have started to come to the fore and bringing some excellent stuff from overseas. The next few months (especially January to April are looking incredible). My concert highlight for the year (outside of Camp a Low Hum) was the mesmerising performance by Joanna Newsom, closely followed by the wonderful Camera Obscura.

*   *   *

1. Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective
There will be a time when Animal Collective will be viewed with the same reverence as Radiohead. Their crazy prog blend of basically anything musical is probably going to be anathema to most conservative listeners, but Strawberry Jam is potentially a wee bit more accessible. Featuring pop melodies built around shards of noise and hypnotic samples, Strawberry Jam gyrates like one giant piece. It’s also the album where fans realise that the band write interesting lyrics. It’s a brilliant album, oscillating between childlike wonderment and world-weary cynicism, and with music that’s thrilling in its scope.

2. Kala, M.I.A.
M.I.A. (Maya Arulpragasam) doesn’t care about flow or melody (for the most part) when she makes her hip-hop. Instead, her voice is part of a rhythmic assault, its own instrument to bash you while making your legs shake like Elvis. While Arular was good, this is so much better, so much more diverse – samples from all over the world, blunt political homilies, the dropping of Tamil film music alongside quoting the Pixies and Jonathan Richman. I don’t understand how this year’s charts have been so goddamn awful when a pure pop song like ‘Jimmy’ can come out, and it’s ironic that the worst song by a long way on the album is a Timbaland collaboration. This is a sonic masterpiece, musically adventurous and wildly enjoyable.

3. In Rainbows, Radiohead
Radiohead could probably release an entire album of ‘Fitter Happiers’ and I’d be happy. But I’d be lying if I expected In Rainbows to be as good as it is, but blow-me-down, they’ve just made six albums in a row that are utterly awe-inspiring. Of course, the hype was over how the album got released, but Radiohead, just to impress everyone even more, decided to make a brilliant album you could download for free. Right from the opening track which seamlessly shifts into skanking dub, you could tell Radiohead were going to do something special. The rhythm section in particular is magnificent, drummer Phil Selway in particular relishing the greater freedom Radiohead’s most accessible album since The Bends provided him.

4. From Here We Go Sublime, The Field
Swedish producer Axel Willner makes his full-length debut with From Here We Go Sublime, and it’s the type of album that enters your bloodstream and warms you up back through your veins. Gorgeous ambient music that is complex to listen – half-melodies ratchet up the tension without Willner having to rely on building crescendos, and the lush sounds mix uniquely with the minimalism on show, leading an engaged viewer off into their own world. Breathtaking.

5. The Flying Club Cup, Beirut
I’m an absolute sucker for the trumpet when it’s played right, and boy, does wunderkind Zach Condon know how to use it. Like M.I.A. Condon appears to symbolise the globalised musical listener – he throws in elements from around the world (ok, well Europe at least) into his compelling indie sound. Part Balkan folk, part French dream that makes you feel like you’re walking along the Seine in black and white tones populated by a smoky haze, part Jeff Mangum, this is utterly gorgeous music. Ignore the constant Arcade Fire references by the media – they don’t have a tenth of the emotional feeling or musical experimentation that Condon shows here.

6. You Follow Me, Nina Nastasia
Haunting, spare, dark release from Nina Nastasia. This is lifted from simply being (albeit very good) singer-songwriter material by the work of Dirty 3’s Jim White – his drumming is amazing, and adds a unique colouring to the material. When he cuts looses it’s truly amazing, and drags the moody song into something quite thrilling. It’s a brief album at around thirty minutes, but is so tight in its sound that you don’t need anymore.

7. Songs from a Dictaphone, SJD
New Zealand’s best release of the year continues to get neglected (except for the Buy Kiwi made ads – a sadly ironic use when few seem to buy his stuff) despite making music that’s so easily accessible and so compelling. While not as beautiful or dense - but that’s definitely not suggesting this album isn’t beautiful or dense – as Southern Lights, this has a much more extroverted and poppy feel. Giving hope to all those facing a mid-life crisis, intelligent and stirring music made by a stay-at-home Dad in his forties.

8. The Stage Names, Okkervil River
Rock n roll’s current best lyricist Will Sheff sings for his life until he sails away on Sloop John B. Backed by a furious band, he truly cuts loose, words and images fly out of the stereos and you wonder how he can fit all these thoughts into the constraints of a rock n roll song. Being one of the best lyrical phrasers around probably helps. He’s also a sharp observer too – exploring the fact that we sit around waiting for a good movie to show us the world but ignore the ‘movie’ that’s all around us.

9. The Magic Position, Patrick Wolf
The title track alone is probably worth your money (or at least a look on myspace/youtube/etc.) The Magic Position finds Wolf in a more upbeat mood than before, with joyous pop songs interspersed with moody moments of angst. It’s a wee bit messy, but gloriously so – the album is so fast-moving and captivating, and Wolf has given you the shot-gun position, that you’ve got no choice but to let it take you for a ride.

10. Visions, Disasteradio
Potentially a creaky, jingoistic driven choice of mine to sneak this album into the top 10 (considering especially what I’d left out) but I don’t really care. Wellington’s Disasteradio’s album did what most albums have forgotten to do recently and that is have a good time. In fact I hadn’t had such a good time since I heard Art Brut or The Avalanches for the first time – this isn’t music that’s trying to take itself seriously but still manages to achieve considerable musical credibility. That said, there’s enough complexity here to keep me happy, but enough crazy beats and synth sounds to be the perfect soundtrack to a party.