I first got into music in a weird way when I was about 12. Before then, I was pirating N*Sync songs on my tape deck and jamming out to whatever my sister was listening to (Avril Lavigne). But the first time I heard Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, it set me on a course that landed me where I am now: writing a column about music for a magazine of a university I don’t even go to.
I’m definitely missing some of my favourites—Bic Runga’s Beautiful Collision, Blindspott’s self-titled album, Goodshirt’s Good, The Chase’s Something More—but here’s a bunch of albums that changed my life, for better or for worse.
1. The Mint Chicks – Octagon, Octagon, Octagon EP (2003): As a little ginger turd in my first year of high school, I used to wag to go check out the local music stores—Upsett Records, The CD and DVD Store, Defy, Marbecks—you know when CDs were something to get excited about, and not just worthless plastic garbage. I bought a copy of The Mint Chick’s first EP based on the cover art alone; Ruban Nielson’s now-signature colourful trippy mess that captured their sound better than my words ever can.
But the music inside was what really messed me up. I had never heard anything like it in my life. It was as if bouncy, hook-driven pop music was pressed on 45rpm and bashed over my head repeatedly. Before this record, I thought NZ music only meant whatever Dave Dobbyn song was playing on Classic Hits. The Mint Chicks rolled that idea over to show me our local scene’s seedy, sweaty, chainsaw-wielding underbelly.
2. Aether – Falling Tree EP (2006): I was obsessed with Hamilton alternative band Aether in an embarrassing way. I made a Geocities fan site. I screen-printed my own shirts with their logo. My username on the Htown music forums was ‘AetherAreMyGods’. I don’t really want to go into it. You get the idea.
3. Brick vs Face – In Your Face! (2006): After realising I’d never make it in the indie/pop/art scene (my Doc Martens gave me an ingrown toenail and I had to have an operation), I was drawn to hardcore through Hamilton’s seminal festival, Hamtown Smakdown. I was obsessed with the DIY ethic that came with the music. Here was a bunch of people that decided: fuck NZ On Air, fuck chasing radio airplay, fuck a record label (and also, fuck this little ginger turd that keeps coming to our shows) – let’s record our own CDs, print our own merch, book our own shows. In Your Face! captured that DIY ethic perfectly, with tracks about consumerism, skating, fish and chips, and unity in the hardcore scene. This was punk music that wasn’t afraid to not take itself too seriously. I mean, what other album declares “I NEED A TOFU CHEESECAKE RECIPE!”
4. Strangers – Weight (2007): I always thought hardcore was just bar chords and yelling—which it kind of is—but I never thought hardcore could be quite like this. From the very first drum fill on the opening track, Weight is the perfect soundtrack of soul-crushing hardcore to have a panic attack to. This was a sound I hadn’t come across before; equal parts heavy and melodic, confrontational and atmospheric, filled with frantically screamed lyrics that feel more like prose than the usual rhetoric that comes with the genre. Everything about this release still inspires me to this day; the massive recording, song structure, lyrical themes, even down to the actual layout of the CD. Weight showed me that hardcore could have depth, desperation, darkness, and an aesthetic I hadn’t seen before.
5. This City Sunrise – This City Sunrise EP (2007): I caught This City Sunrise supporting Horse The Band at Yellow Submarine, a now defunct underground venue on Ward Street. I never actually got to see Horse The Band (Mum picked me up before they started because it was a school night) but it was worth it just to see This City Sunrise (now called Gatherer and based in Melbourne). I still don’t really understand what’s happening on this release. All I know is that is that it fucking rules. Dual vocalists scream and sing over the top of each other, some sort of jazzy punk whatever-the-fuck music plays underneath, and you can really feel their frustration when they sing about how impossible that Sonic The Hedgehog level is. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that they’re embarrassed by this EP now or something.
6. Aldous Harding – Party (2017): I’ve never been a fan of folk music, or acoustic music, or really any music that doesn’t scream loudly and aggressively at me. That is until I took Aldous Harding’s Party on a trip to France at the beginning of the year. I don’t know why it affected me so much, but the album feels like a sort of dark, desperate yearning for something you can’t quite place. The first few seasons of this year brought a lot of shitty times for me, and every time I went back to Party, the songs took on a new, deeper meaning when I listened to them. I think this is one of my favourite albums of all time, period. We went to see her play a few months ago and it was simultaneously the best and weirdest performance I’ve ever seen. I still can’t listen to the title track without tearing up.Check out the full playlist here: