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.