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The 25 Best New Zealand Albums of 2023

The exciting and innovative Aotearoa albums Rolling Stone AU/NZ writers couldn’t get enough of in 2023

Best New Zealand albums of 2023

L-R: Erny Belle, Pickle Darling, Jujulipps

As 2023 came to its end, discussion in New Zealand music circles was, regrettably, disheartening. Emerging from the online echo chambers of Twitter and Substack, the discussion centred around the dearth – or even death – of music journalism in this country. “The sound is off for New Zealand music,” The Spinoff‘s doom-laden headline read, just above a picture of Auckland artist Erny Belle.

Why is music coverage struggling in other New Zealand publications? That’s not for this writer to say, but what the following list shows is that the music and the artists are, as ever, there to be written about.

When Rolling Stone New Zealand‘s writers started compiling our shortlist of the best New Zealand albums of the year, we found ourselves spoiled for choice: multiple rising stars released second albums that confirmed their talent and ambition; the current strength of the hip hop scene spawned several exceptional releases; a seasoned heavy music band challenged themselves with a sprawling historical covers collection; a longtime Bandcamp favourite finally got his due with a record deal and an album; we could go on.

Erny Belle also features prominently on this list (read our in-depth interview with the singer-songwriter here), but if you were to go to the official New Zealand Albums Chart at any point in 2023, local artists such as her would have been conspicuous by their absence.

The Top 20 New Zealand Albums Chart was dominated this year by L.A.B, who had four albums in the countdown, while the top spot was taken out by Six60 for a 10th Anniversary Edition. (The Dunedin favourites also had another four albums on the chart for good measure.)

As RNZ‘s Tony Stamp noted, it was “disappointing to see the local end of year charts so thoroughly dominated by the same names that top them every year, with the same albums.”

So, if this list could achieve one thing, it would be to encourage New Zealanders to recognise the wealth of talent currently making music in this country. Buy their vinyls; stream their singles; go to their gigs. They need the support more than the global pop star who’s releasing a deluxe version of an old album does.

Below, check out Rolling Stone AU/NZ‘s Top 25 New Zealand albums and EPs of 2023.


Erny Belle, ‘Not Your Cupid’

New Zealand music’s best kept secret. 

Aimee Renata seemed to arrive fully formed as the artist Erny Belle when her independently released debut album, Venus Is Home, so impressed listeners in her home country that it was picked up for a repress by Flying Nun. Everything about her appeared to be perfectly aligned for stardom: the poetic storytelling, the idiosyncratic style, the mysterious allure.

In an interview with Rolling Stone AU/NZ a few months ago, Renata spoke of a manifestation list she had written bringing forth her building career – the existence of Erny Belle, the subsequent albums, awards and adulation – but believing that was all there is to it ignores the years of hard work and self-discovery that have gone into who she is as an artist today.

Hailing from an artistic family – her father is a renowned cinematographer, her mother a trainee opera singer – Renata first found a career in costume before deciding to chase her true dream of being an artist, taking up the mantle, whether a conscious decision or not, of her mother, whose promising career was tragically cut short due to terrible stage fright.

Her second album, Not Your Cupid, is equal parts elusive and invasive, melodies evading capture before planting at the forefront of one’s mind for minutes, hours, even days. The arrangements are grander and more pristine here than on her debut album, which is what all good sophomore collections should achieve.

There’s also something elementally Kiwi about Erny Belle. Venus Is Home was highly personal, a loving tribute to her late grandmother both in title and story, but the tracks were also deeply rooted in rural Aotearoa, specifically her family’s hometown of Maungaturoto. While the Ngāpuhi singer-songwriter’s follow-up album is notable for its relative lack of specificity, the swaying alt-country cuts (with Pacific-pop, 60s doo wop, and tender folk flourishes enhancing the sound when needed) evoke images of rolling North Island hills and quiet regional towns happily lost to the modern world. Her live shows so far have been held at unexpected but proudly local venues, from Point Chevalier RSA to The Civic Wintergarden.

One manifestation list has been completed and another, as Renata revealed to us, is on the way. If a second consecutive Taite nomination is on her second list, that will almost certainly be one thing ticked off; if she’s been so bold as to put a Taite Music Prize win on the list, it would be entirely unsurprising if she pulls that off too. New Zealand music’s best kept secret deserves to find wider renown; or as she sings in the haunting closing title track, “I want to see the world someday / That’s where I’m going.”