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The Best New Zealand Albums of 2024 So Far

Surprise EPs, star-making debut albums, stunning solo turns, and much more

We’re at the halfway point of 2024, which means it’s time to assess the music that has impressed us the most in the first six months of the year.

But we’re ignoring the likes of Charli XCX‘s zeitgeist-grabbing Brat and Beyoncé’s country turn for now to focus on New Zealand.

From an award-winning musician releasing a surprise EP to pop and country singer-songwriters confirming their star status, the past six months has presented us with a high volume of excellent Aotearoa releases.

Here is Rolling Stone AU/NZ‘s rundown of our favourite New Zealand albums and EPs of 2024 so far, unranked and in alphabetical order.

Casual Healing – Driftwood

Casual Healing is the solo project of Nikau Te Huki, whose debut album, Driftwood, was an easy listening delight when it landed in April. Te Huki is a true genre hopper, flitting silkily between soulful crooning sections, smooth R&B jams, tender indie-folk, and rap and reggae moments.

There’s also a strong sense of home and family in these songs, and they capture the journey of a young man finding his place in life: “I’m coming home / I’m coming home,” he softly sings in standout track “Aotearoa”. “Land of the long white cloud / I want to feel your mist / In this empty space,” the Wellington-based artist yearns.

Te Huki’s just reward for his sublime debut is the chance to showcase his Casual Healing project at the next One NZ and Live Nation Ones to Watch on July 11th.

Christoph El Truento – Dubs From the Neighbourhood

The local super producer makes his second appearance in one of our yearly lists, after the highly collaborative Circle of Friends made it to #18 on our Best New Zealand Albums of 2023 countdown.

El Truento – aka Christopher Martin James – continues his exploration of dub music on his latest album, a welcome companion piece to his 2019 release, Peace Maker Dub.

The tracks on Dubs From the Neighbourhood are filled with a genuine warmth that can only be felt when their creator is both a scholar and a superfan of the genre he’s honouring. You’ll be wanting to visit El Truento’s neighbourhood for some wonderfully wobbly dub music again and again.

Church & AP – POSTAL

They’re great going solo, doing their own thing, but nothing beats Church & AP together. On their third album, the pair team up with some trusted collaborators to craft a collaboration filled with alluring beats and seasoned flows.

It’s little wonder that Church & AP went so hard on the album from the outset. “POSTAL is our representation of anxiety and feeling stir crazy after years of confinement. It was one of the first songs created post-pandemic, so we aimed for a massive sound that could shake any sound system,” they said about their opening track, and it only gets better from there. POSTAL is defiant hip hop made by two artists at the top of their game.

DARTZ – Dangerous Day to Be a Cold One

New Zealand’s new folk heroes deliver a punk-rock album that will have you scrambling to crack open a cold one, just as its title predicted.

In our March-May issue, we gave DARTZ’s second album a four-star review: “It’s always a dangerous day to be a cold one when The Band From Wellington are around, but it’s also a dangerous day to be a ramshackle Kiwi pub-slash-music venue when DARTZ are kicking about: their raucous punk rock songs are made for the live setting, to be performed wildly in front of a packed pit of ecstatic revellers.

“Opener ‘Earn the Thirst’ celebrates the importance of putting in the hard yards before having a beer, and it sums up DARTZ right now: they’re enjoying themselves immensely after finding their hard-earned place in the New Zealand music scene,” we wrote.

This really feels like DARTZ’s breakout year, with a UK and European tour now behind them and a BIGSOUND 2024 showcase to come. Oh, to be in the crowd of stuffy industry figures as DARTZ bring out a random man in an inflatable Lion Red outfit.

Earth Tongue – Great Haunting

Musical duos are a precarious venture – for every Simon and Garfunkel and White Stripes, there’s a Royal Blood and Black Keys –  but Earth Tongue’s Gussie Larkin and Ezra Simons, partners in music and in life, are of the former vintage.

The fuzz-rock duo create an unrelenting racket from start to finish on their second album, a record that perfectly announces their arrival on the LA-based label In the Red Records.

Larkin and Simons are unafraid to get theatrical in these songs, and they sound energised having taken their time between albums. (Their previous record, Floating Being, came out in 2019.) Blistering proper rock ‘n’ roll that has unsurprisingly won Earth Tongue key support slots for Ty Segall and Queens of the Stone Age.

Georgia Lines – The Rose of Jericho

It was fitting that Georgia Lines supported one of her musical heroes, Brooke Fraser, in Auckland last weekend, because everything is primed for her to have just as stellar a career.

In our June-August issue, we praised Lines’ debut album for sounding “so raw and delicate that you immediately feel the heartache which had to be overcome to make it.”

With songs about the dichotomy of a life well lived (‘Grand Illusion’), mourning what could have been (‘Not by Your Side’ ft. Teeks), and all the wished-for-words left unsaid (‘The Letter’), it’s any wonder she is one of the most exciting songwriters to come out of Aotearoa in recent memory.

Make no mistake, the record leans into piano-driven R&B and indie-pop, but with so much imagery and truth in each song, it sits in a room of its own. The Rose of Jericho captures the internal struggle we all feel at some point — that’s the magic of Georgia Lines,” we wrote.

Ha the Unclear – A Kingdom in a Cul-De-Sac

A pop-rock album that’s as fun as it is clever. Ha the Unclear follow the Crowded House playbook (not a bad example to follow) on their new album, which impresses with witty lyricism and seductive hooks.

France, a country that’s knows a thing or two about pop music, has embraced Ha the Unclear and their album, with the Dunedin-born band receiving significant support from French national radio and Rolling Stone France.

For now, they’re back in their home country celebrating A Kingdom in a Cul-De-Sac, with a show at Christchurch’s Space Academy to come on July 19th.

Joe Ghatt – Caper

When the improbably reliable Third Eye Stimuli Records release a new album, you take notice, and Joe Ghatt’s latest is another winner.

Ghatt’s second album is less lo-fi than his 2019 debut album, Banana Sludge, the singer-songwriter embracing new sounds, new influences, and enhanced production. His classically psych-rock palette is also enhanced with hip genre flourishes, from Afrobeat to Tropical to Bossa Nova. Under Ghatt’s groovy spell, you can travel the world in Caper.

Kaylee Bell – Nights Like This

Aotearoa has a country superstar on its hands.

The Canterbury-born singer-songwriter rightly featured in our Future of Music series this year, our pick of Australian and New Zealand artists we think are primed for a global breakout moment, although Bell’s already broke into the US in a major way.

“With a CMA Global Award and US Billboard Country Charts success under her belt, her latest album, Nights Like This, was the cherry on top of her most triumphant career period yet,” we wrote.

“After winning the Toyota Star Maker award in Australia in 2013 (making her the first New Zealand-born artist to win since the one and only Keith Urban in 1990), Bell has taken her time to get to the top. Now she’s here, don’t expect her to leave anytime soon.”

L.A.B – L.A.B VI

They just keep producing the goods, don’t they? The New Zealand chart titans deliver the type of breezy reggae and pop-rock anthems on their sixth album that have made them one of the biggest Kiwi bands of their generation.

“It would have been understandable if L.A.B had grown somewhat complacent — even their album titles are stringently formulaic by now — but their sixth album is full of songs of formidable prowess, even if they rarely sway from the band’s winning sonic recipe,” we wrote in our review of their latest release.

“Consistently releasing popular album after popular album is a difficult thing for any band to do, but L.A.B have found a formula that works for them; don’t bet against L.A.B VI being their third consecutive chart-topping album in their home country, as well as their sixth to go platinum. Remarkable longevity, really.”

Mel Parsons – Sabotage

Raw singer-songwriter albums don’t come much better than Sabotage, Mel Parsons’ sixth album. We had high praise for the Lyttelton artist’s album in our June-August issue:

“At eight tracks, the sixth album from Mel Parsons is a tight, fat-free collection of her trademark alt-country and indie folk, featuring some of her best songwriting to date (see: relationship-in-peril opener ‘Circling the City’ and the winsome ‘Little Sadness’),” we hailed.

Muroki – Timezones EP

The Prince of Raglan showcases his genre-hopping skills in his latest EP. From the breezy “Bad Dreams” to the funk-filled “Tight Rope” to the spacey R&B of “Love Cocoon” (featuring BENEE), Timezones cruises with smoothness. Closing with the title track, “Timezones”, Muroki leaves us longing for more with his expansive production and heartfelt vocals.

Timezones is proof that the maturing Muroki is going from strength to strength in his career. A full studio album from the soulful artist is highly anticipated.

PARK RD – The Novel

Meet Aotearoa’s version of Spacey Jane, and PARK RD’s career ceiling could be just as high as the WA indie rockers.

Our review praised The Novel for doing exactly what a debut album should: “The songs on The Novel are, almost to a fault at some junctures, pristinely polished for commercial viability, but increased experimentation and narrative risks can, for the PARK RD boys, wait until a second album.

“For now, The Novel achieves what any debut collection should: it gathers their most memorable singles together, while also providing just enough moments of sonic intrigue between those standout moments,” we wrote.

Catch PARK RD cementing their growing reputation on their New Zealand album tour next month.

Thomas Powers – A Tyrant Crying in Private

It’s always going to be a daunting adventure when you step into the solo limelight after being in one of New Zealand’s biggest bands of recent times, but The Naked and Famous member achieves great things in A Tyrant Crying in Private, aided by stunning guest turns from the likes of Julien Baker.

Our review of Powers’ debut solo effort featured in our June-August issue: “Millennials will remember The Naked and Famous, who thrived when ‘indietronica’ was cool at the turn of the 2010s. Now, the band’s Thomas Powers has proved his knack for impressive production hasn’t diminished on his debut solo album.

“Here, his minimalist compositions are fused with melancholia and introspection, and one could imagine hearing these songs in a Joachim Trier or Spike Jonze film,” we wrote.

Vera Ellen – heartbreak for jetlag EP

How do you follow winning the Taite Music Prize? If you’re the inimitable Vera Ellen, you release a stunningly intimate EP that returns you to your musical roots.

The Wellington-based singer-songwriter’s surprise EP is a proper DIY affair, completely self-recorded, mixed, and mastered in Ellen’s bedroom.

“For my own sanity I needed to make work like I used to, hunched over my laptop with the sticky keys, sock over a mix, concocted in my bedroom at my most vulnerable, touched by no hands but my own from start to finish,” she said, and we’re grateful she did.

Recalling Karen O’s transition from the raucous indie rock of Yeah Yeah Yeahs to her lovingly acoustic – and under-appreciated – debut solo album Crush Songs, songs she wrote and recorded privately, Ellen is achingly vulnerable on heartbreak for jetlag.

If her Taite Music Prize win wasn’t enough confirmation, Ellen is a special songwriting talent.

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