Aldous, Nadia or Grayson? Who ya got?
2017 was one of the best years for New Zealand music in recent memory, with some amazing albums taking both the local and international scene by storm. The quality of releases spanning the full musical spectrum stylistically, from alternative to folk to rock, was remarkable, and with that, a collection of these albums will be celebrated at the annual Taite Music Prize taking place on Tuesday in Auckland.
Named after legendary New Zealand music journalist Dylan Taite and dedicated to his memory, the Taites began in 2010 and aim to recognise outstanding creativity for a collection of music on one recording.
The Taites are run by Independent Music New Zealand and this year’s eight finalists came from an enormous list of 92 artists. They are Aldous Harding, Fazerdaze, Grayson Gilmour, Kane Strang, Mermaidens, Nadia Reid, TEEKS, and The Bads.
The winner will be decided by a 10-person judging panel who assess the music, packaging, and even the album art. The albums are judged on originality, creativity, innovation, and excellence. With such a diverse group of albums, ranging from soul to folk to rock, don’t ask me how to compare and contrast albums based on creativity or originality when all the finalists are so different.
I am not about to assess the artistic merits of each of these albums. I'll leave that to the judges.
However, I have taken up the challenge of ranking the eight finalists in terms of their chances of coming away victorious, based on past winners, the history of the Taite and the current musical environment:
8. MERMAIDENS - PERFECT BODY
Wellington trio Mermaidens are one of the hottest alternative rock bands going around New Zealand at the moment. Their 2017 record Perfect Body is a nice mix of no holds barred rock and spacey electro ballads, and in many respects is a throwback to the early 2000s rock scene. Rock has not traditionally done well at the Taites. Given this, and the competition of this year’s field in terms of guitar music, I don’t fancy Mermaidens’ chances this time around.
7. THE BADS - LOSING HEROES
Alternative duo The Bads are comprised of Brett Adams and Dianne Swann. Their 2017 album Losing Heroes is a melody-infused album of carefully crafted mature pop songs, which helped it rise into the top four of the New Zealand album charts. The Taites have acknowledged songwriters of Adams and Swann’s kind in the past, with the likes of SJD and Lawrence Arabia, however they will be up against some quality songwriters in this field, meaning their chances of winning are probably on the low side.
6. GRAYSON GILMOUR - OTHERNESS
This record was a dreamy affair full of heavily layered, electronic-infused tracks. I guess this was down to his film score background coming to the fore. This album was released by legendary indie label Flying Nun Records as are three of the other finalists. However, this may or may not count against Gilmour’s chances as no Flying Nun album has ever won the Taite Prize. [EDIT: Actually last year's Tait winning album, Hauora by Street Chant was a Flying Nun / Arch Hill joint release.] Maybe Otherness will be the first although there will be competition with four other Flying Nun records vying for the top prize.
5. KANE STRANG - TWO HEARTS AND NO BRAIN
Dunedin indie rocker Kane Strang delivered his strongest album yet in 2017 with Two Hearts and No Brain. This is an album that harks back to the glory days of the Dunedin sound with monotone vocals, jangly guitars and moody lyrics. The problem for Strang is he is up against three other guitar-based albums - Morningside, Perfect Body, and The Losing Heroes, meaning competition is fierce. Definitely an outside chance but his time might come later.
4. TEEKS - THE GRAPEFRUIT SKIES
If there was a wildcard for the Taite Prize this year it would have to be TEEKS. The soul man released his debut EP last year with his silky-smooth vocals and retro sound winning over many people. The Grapefruit Skies earned him a New Zealand Music Award nomination for breakthrough artist, while he claimed the best Māori artist Tui. If he does win, he will no doubt be a popular choice.
3. NADIA REID - PRESERVATION
Nadia Reid forms part of what could be described as a New Zealand folk invasion that is taking place at the moment. Artists like Reid, Harding and Marlon Williams are doing terrifically well, both here and overseas, and it is albums like Preservation that are turning heads. Like Fazerdaze, Reid also lost out in two Tui categories last year to Aldous Harding, whose album is no doubt what the judges will be comparing Preservation with. I would hate to be in the judges' shoes. How can you differentiate what are two truly extraordinary albums?
2. FAZERDAZE - MORNINGSIDE
Indie pop artist Fazerdaze had an excellent 2017 with her debut album Morningside impressing everyone who heard it. The album picked up two New Zealand Music Award nominations, losing out to Aldous Harding in both the breakthrough artist and alternative album categories. Indie pop has done well at the Taites with the likes of Lawrence Arabia and Street Chant winning previously, however, with the latter taking out the award last year, it might be another genre’s turn to shine.
1. ALDOUS HARDING - PARTY
Singer/songwriter Aldous Harding must be the favourite, you would think, for her album Party. This album took the music world by storm last year, appearing in many best of the year lists and gaining two New Zealand Music Awards. Her unique and highly dramatic vocal style within the mellow singer/songwriter genre should appeal to the judges, and the fact no female singer/songwriter has ever won this award must also count in her favour.