2022 was another tough year for the New Zealand music industry, but the country’s artists didn’t stop producing the goods.
As we all tentatively emerged from live music hibernation, wondering if the worst was behind us, it was a joy to witness the wealth of albums that soundtracked the year.
Some acclaimed singer-songwriters got piercingly introspective, while several artists released what felt like reputation-enhancing records.
Below are Rolling Stone AU/NZ‘s 10 best New Zealand albums of 2022, placed in alphabetical order, but these were just the tip of the iceberg.
Aldous Harding – Warm Chris
When you begin your album with a song called “Ennui”, the tone is really set. On her fourth record, Warm Chris, Harding somehow improves on 2019’s acclaimed Designer, producing a set of beautifully introspective songs.
Like her peers Jessica Pratt and Julia Jacklin, the folk singer-songwriter possesses the rare ability to imbue even the most innocuous of lines with profundity. Mostly pitched at mid-tempo, the songs on Warm Chris allow Harding’s idiosyncratic lyricism to shine.
Listen to Warm Chris
Ben Woods – Dispeller
Ben Woods is an artists’ artist, which is something that’s becoming more and more of a rarity these days. On the beautifully crafted Dispeller, he sounds wholly within himself, in a positive sense, eschewing mass appeal in favour of being exploratively esoteric.
To listen to Dispeller is to enter Woods’ rustic Lyttelton world, searching through the shrouded abstraction for little delights, moments of light, curious details to devour and discover. Like a cross between Phil Elverum and Bradford Cox, his voice is like a plaintive sigh into the void; Dispeller really is a wondrous little beauty of a record.
Listen to Dispeller
The Beths – Expert in a Dying Field
Power-pop has had quite the banner year thanks to excellent US artists like Cheekface and Mo Troper, but no one came close to performing it better than The Beths. The songs on Expert in a Dying Field burn with an infectious immediacy, particularly the stunning opening title track, and they locate irresistible melodies at a remarkable rate.
Underneath the uptempo energy, lead singer Liz Stokes’ sharply scrutinises modern relationships and post-breakup malaise better than most contemporary lyricists. Expert in a Dying Field is the album that cements Stokes and her tight-knit cohorts’ reputation as one of the best New Zealand bands of their generation.
Listen to Experts in a Dying Field
Erny Belle – Venus Is Home
When your independently-released debut album is re-pressed by Flying Nun, you’re definitely doing something right. Retreating to her Northland hometown to make Venus Is Home, Erny Belle, otherwise known as singer-songwriter Aimee Renata, found artistic renewal away from the big city.
The album contains delicately poetic observations of rural Aotearoa, with Belle’s loving nostalgia for where she’s from melting into the songs. An artist equally comfortable with folk and alt-country arrangements, Belle’s follow-up to Venus Is Home will make for a fascinating listen, wherever it’s recorded.
Listen to Venus Is Home
Fazerdaze – Break!
The unexpected return of Fazerdaze was one of the most wonderful things in New Zealand music this year. Experiencing artistic burnout following the mammoth success of her 2017 debut Morningside, Amelia Murray removed herself from the public spotlight, and she sounds much better for it on Break!.
Recorded during a three-month lockdown while she was living alone for the first time following the dissolution of a lengthy relationship, the EP crackles with renewed ambition and forthright energy.
The classic Fazerdaze bedroom pop style is also enhanced with grungier tones and fuzzier flourishes, with the short but sweet length of the EP – just five tracks – acting as the ideal reintroduction to fans after such a lengthy absence. Bring on the second full-length album.
Listen to Break!
Hans Pucket – No Drama
Is there a more-well liked band in New Zealand right now than Hans Pucket? Following in the footsteps of touring mates The Beths, the Wellington band produce earnest indie-pop that really shines on No Drama.
Led by twins Callum and Oliver Devlin, the songs on their second full-length album capture all the anxiety and elation of being twenty-something and trying to make it in the big, bad world.
No Drama overflows with slippery grooves and thoughtful lyrics, amplified by stirring strings and horns. The engaging sweetness of the four-piece should be well-received by US audiences when they tour there with The Beths next year.
Listen to No Drama
Marlon Williams – My Boy
Williams’ new album probably establishes him as the most commandingly stylish male singer-songwriter since the gruffer Father John Misty. My Boy is a heartening record, composed of glossy pop numbers and curious lyrical assessments of masculinity.
Williams consistently channels good vibes on My Boy, sounding so at peace as an artist and a person. Warm production and forensic songwriting are always a winning combination.
Listen to My Boy
Melodownz – LONE WOLF
The headline of Rolling Stone AU/NZ’s recent interview with the Auckland rapper and poet really says it all: “Melodownz has always been a local legend. The rest of the world is finding out why.”
The Avondale favourite got huge US names like Denzel Curry and Maxo Kream to spit on his long-awaited debut album, but it’s Melodownz who steals the show on LONE WOLF. Through introspective freestyles, soulful slow jams, and even trap cuts, he raps about things big and small, including God and wealth.
There’s a reason Melodownz is at the pinnacle of New Zealand hip-hop, and LONE WOLF feels like his grand statement.
Listen to LONE WOLF
Princess Chelsea – Everything Is Going to Be Alright
The enchanting and enigmatic Princess Chelsea still feels like a cult artist, which is baffling to consider. Over her first four albums, Chelsea Nikkel conjured glistening pop gems and her fifth release as Princess Chelsea, Everything Is Going to Be Alright, is no different.
She explores the length and breadth of the genre on the album, brandishing baroque touches when she feels like it, performing as ethereally as Kate Bush if the moment calls for it; there hasn’t been a catchier pop song than “Forever Is a Charm” all year. In a just world, Princess Chelsea would be as renowned as Charli XCX.
Listen to Everything Is Going to Be Alright
TE KAAHU – Te Kaahu O Rangi
The moniker of Em-Haley Walker, TE KAAHU produced one of the most beautiful debut albums in recent memory with Te Kaahu O Rangi.
Drawing from a deep well of personal meaning, the singer-songwriter’s beautiful te reo Māori compositions is the work of an artist creating with pure purpose.
The collection of powerful waiata are vulnerable, open-hearted and tender, and seeing TE KAAHU perform them inside Auckland’s Pitt Street Church at The Others Way was a cathartic experience.
Listen to Te Kaahu O Rangi