Albums of the Year 2023

Objectivity is for fools and cowards – at least when it comes to music - what follows is a list of my twenty favourite albums of the year. It’s a list I’ve compiled every year from 2008 onwards as a way to reflect on the previous 12 months, and that this year I have the opportunity to write up. I hope that in the below I can direct you to something that you may not have heard before or encourage you to see something in a new light.

Although an eclectic list, I’ve come to a lot of these records both because fewer of my long-term favourites have made returns this year and because I’ve been following an impulse to connect my listening to the seasons and become more connected the world around me. This has lead me as much to the avant-folk of Lankm as to the metal of Fires In The Distance or the doom of FVNERALS. But I strive to be as honest with myself as I can be on these lists, even if it means that it somehow features both Taylor Swift and Brìghde Chaimbeul.

One last point before we I countdown - I find that I’ve struggled to find much DIY/indiepop that’s clicked with me over the last 12 months. It’s a genre that I’ve loved for a number of years, but there’s just doesn’t seem to be that much currently about. As always I’d love to be proved wrong, and happy to take any suggestions for what I may have missed.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Indignation Meeting – Trouble In The Shed
20: Indignation Meeting – Trouble In The Shed (Deputation Records)
Lik me, do you miss Indietracks Festival? Do you require that fix of a perfect mixture of DIY pop music and trains? Well, I have some good news for you – the spirit is alive and well in Leeds train punk band Indignation Meeting.
Written and sung by teenage drummer Peter Hirst this is a collection of 14 instant earworms that transcend any novelty value thanks to the sheer fun it sounds as though the band are having in playing them.

Esben And The Witch – Hold Sacred<
19: Esben & The Witch – Hold Sacred (Nostromo Records)
It appears that Hold Sacred is going to be the last we’ll hear from Esben & The Witch for the foreseeable future. A shame, as they’re a band that have just come back into my life after I lost track of them for a number of years. Obviously I’ve rectified that by investing in their discography in time for this, their seventh album.
Whilst Hold Sacred doesn’t reinvent their own particular doom-laden wheel, it is a consolidation of their strengths, closest in sound perhaps to 2013’s career highlight Was The Sins Not Only The Face. If you’re new to Esben & The Witch, or looking to revisit their stellar career then this is a great place to start.

Fires In The Distance – Air Not Meant For Us
18: Fires In The Distance – Air Not Meant For Us (Prosthetic Records)
If you know me, or have read any of my music writing in the past then you’ll know that metal is hardly my forte, although there’s always been a smattering of bands that I’ve been into. With more time on my hands this year I’ve been able to explore a bit more and find a new metal album that I’ve been able to get really into.
Fires In The Distance seem to be described as Melodic Doom / Death Metal. Now, idk what that means, but maybe you do? The important thing is that on Air Not Meant For Us they combine thrashing guitars, with complex song structures and orchestral ornamentation that never strays into overblown territory. It’s a real edge-of-the-seat listen.

Brìghde Chaimbeul – Carry Them With Us
17: Brìghde Chaimbeul – Carry Them With Us (Tak:til / Glitterbeat)
In honesty, I’d never heard of the Scottish smallpipes before I heard Brìghde Chaimbeul’s music. For the uninitiated they’re a bellows-blown bagpipe and produce an otherworldly, spellbinding sound that’ll pin you to the spot. Carry Them With Us is a mostly instrumental album that’s a perfect showcase for the instrument and sees Chaimbeul backed by Canadian saxophonist Colin Stetson. That blurb may make it seem somewhat out-there, but that it’s a record that broken out from beyond the folk world, released on Glitterbeat Records and seeing Brìghde playing at Sea Power’s Krankenhaus festival. Definitely an album for anyone out there after something new.

FVNERALS – Let The Earth Be Silent
16: FVNERALS – Let The Earth Be Silent (Prophecy Productions)
Arriving all the way back in Feburary, Let The Earth Be Silent is the perfect companion to the cold, dark winters of Northern Europe. Self-described as being on the fringes of doom, post-rock, shoegaze and ambience it’s certainly a record for the hinterlands. Whilst at times it’s hard to say what exactly is going on, or what instrument is making any one sound, it’s an album that stealthily builds up a wall of sound that makes the silence all the more deafening once it goes away.

Death Valley Girls – Islands In The Sky
15: Death Valley Girls – Islands In The Sky (Suicide Squeeze Records)
In the past I’ve had something of an aversion to psychedelic music, but something happened to me over the years of the pandemic, where some gradual epiphany came upon me. It’s following this impulse that lead me onto some of the other more left-field records on this list, whilst also cementing groups such as Death Valley Girls into my consciousness. Islands In The Sky is witchy and bewitching, with swirling organs, propulsive drums and shimmering guitars. Where a lot of the albums on this list dwell in the winter, this is a full blow, summer trip.

Spencer Cullum – Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection - 2
14: Spencer Cullum – Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection - 2 (Full Time Hobby)
I had not heard of Spencer Cullum until Catilin Rose (who guests here on ‘That Same Day Departure’) made mention of him during her show at the Leeds Brudenell Social Club back in April. I’m very glad that she did, for otherwise I may have missed out on this brief, but delightful collection of folksy country. Cullum at times sounds uncannily like Robert Wyatt, which is never a bad thing, and has amassed a collection of collaborators to allow this album to come across as an expertly crafted compilation. Endlessly playable.

Pale Blue Eyes – This House
13: Pale Blue Eyes – This House (Full Time Hobby)
One of my absolute highlights of 2023 was a trip with my wife and daughter to Deer Shed festival, and whilst the line-up included many acts I was excited to see and who I thoroughly enjoyed, very few were quite as euphoric as Pale Blue Eyes.
Their second album, This House was released in September, only a year after their debut Souvenirs, and is full of understated brilliance. It shimmers with the textures of shoegaze over driven motorik rhythms, but above all feels so abundantly human. Whilst sonically this isn’t rooted to any particular time, it’s not hard to discern the nostalgia that infuses the songs. It’s the pain of age that makes us want to retreat to where we felt safe and at home and in we hear that reflected back at us in this reassuring record. You can take comfort in This House.

Hamish Hawk – Angel Numbers
12: Hamish Hawk – Angel Numbers (Post Electric)
There’s very little classic sounding indie on my list this year, but that’s because there’s no-one who can really pull it off with the elegance and elan of Hamish Hawk.
There’s obvious comparisons to be had to The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, but to my ears there’s also hints of Jarvis Cocker in opening salvo ‘Once Upon an Acid Glance’s lyrics. It’s said lyrics where Hawk is particularly skilled; always wordy without excessive verbosity and with quotable, unique turns of phrase frequently making themselves heard. Musically this is a classic guitar/bass/drums/keys line up, augmented by strings and has a timelessness that mean it could have been recorded at any point since the early ‘80s. All in all, it’s made Angel Numbers one of most listened to albums of the year.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Land Of Sleeper
11: Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Land Of Sleeper (Rocket Recordings)
I’m quite surprised that, as yet, I’ve not seen Land Of Sleeper feature on many end of year lists. It’s a terrific album that gained a fair bit of exposure when it was released and that I’m more than happy to rave about. Sitting comfortably on both 6Music playlists and in the pages of metal magazines, this is excellent stoner rock with more riffs than you can shake a stick at and a prompt (for me at least) to go back and investigate the rest of their catalogue.

We Are Scientists – Lobes
10: We Are Scientists – Lobes (100% Records)
Somehow, of all the bands from the mid-00’s indie boom, it’s We Are Scientists that are putting out great albums with the most consistency. Less than 18 months after their previous (incredible) album Huffy, Lobes came packed with new-wave style pop gems. It’s 10 songs and 35 minutes – the ideal album length in my book.
In any previous decade WAS would have clocked up a number of chart hit singles with ‘Less Than You’, ‘Dispense With Sentiment’ and ‘Human Resources’. In a better world this would be the sound of indie discos, instead I’m cranking the volume up on commutes and pretending I’m there.

Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
09: Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We (Dead Oceans)
I’m sure that I am not the only one that found Mitski’s 2021 Laurel Hell somewhat overproduced and disappointing. Thankfully, The Land Is Inhospitable… returns to the more acoustic territory of her early material, with orchestration of choral arrangements bringing an incredible range of dynamics. When I first heard ‘Bug Like an Angel’ I didn’t immediately clock that it was Mitski, but I was instantly taken with it.
As I’m fond of telling people, I was at one of Mitski’s very earliest (and perhaps her actual first) UK show, where she was alone on the stage with an acoustic guitar and few were in the audience. At that point I could not have guessed that she’d become one of the most vital names in alternative music and would grace both the upper reaches of the charts and become so critically lauded. But that’s what I love about music, despite being immersed in it for so many years – there is always something to surprise.

Lankum – False Lankum
08: Lankum – False Lankum (Rough Trade)
What can I say about False Lankum, more that was has been said already? If you’ve not seen an End of Year List that’s topped by this superlative record then you’ve probably not seen many End of Year lists. For the uninitiated: Lankum are folk music indebted to avant-garde doom, they take traditional tunes and imbue them with a sense of dread, over drones and hurdy gurdys until they’re transformed into something entirely new. It’s beautiful and incomparable to anything you’ve heard before. And what’s more they’re the tip of an iceberg of wonderful, current Irish sounds. Your new favourite band.

Be Your Own Pet – Mommy
07: Be Your Own Pet – Mommy (Third Man Records)
One of the most insane moments of the year has got to be the fact that after 15 years we got a new album from the one and only Be Your Own Pet. Bands reuniting is always tricky, are they just gonna retread old glories? For BYOP there was extra trepidation; this was a band who were always traded (not by the band themselves, I should add) on their youth – are they still any good as grown-ups? Thankfully, this album is excellent; a real sledgehammer to my suburban malaise from the dominating punk of ‘Worship The Whip’ to the death-disc sounds of ‘Teenage Heaven’. Unreservedly this is the reunion that we didn’t know that we needed. I absolutely need to see them live asap.

Dream Wife – Social Lubrication
06: Dream Wife – Social Lubrication (Lucky Number)
Three albums into their career Dream Wife seem, to me at least, to have helped lay down the groundwork for the numerous feminist punk bands that we’re lucky to have on the live circuits at this point. Loose Articles, Problem Patterns and Panic Shack would probably have all formed if not for Dream Wife, but would we have all been so primed for them?
Either way, Social Lubrication is a very welcome return to form with ‘Kick In The Teeth’, ‘Hot (Don’t Date A Musician)’ and ‘Social Lubrication’ all standing toe-to-toe with the hits off their very very fine debut. Live there’s very few acts that can match Dream Wife, they’re an incredibly vital and brilliant band.

Ash – Race The Night
05: Ash – Race The Night (Fierce Panda)
Ash are, of course, one of my all-time favourite bands, so I’m particularly thrilled that not only are they back after five years away with their eighth studio album, but that it ranks as one of their best.
The title track kicks off proceedings with Ash at their most power-pop. It sounds exactly like you’d expect Ash to on a song called ‘Race The Night’ and is all the more better for it. In ‘Crashed Out Wasted’ they’ve got a new prog-pop piece that can take the place of ‘Twilight Of The Innocents’ in live sets, and the riff-tastic ‘Like A God’ is a headbanging companion to the best of Meltdown. Sure, Ash aren’t breaking new ground here, but they’re a terrific group playing at their best, and who’d be churlish enough to deny that?

Taylor Swift – 1989 (Taylor’s Version)
04: Taylor Swift – 1989 (Taylor’s Version) (Republic)
In a world where 2023 was the year I first heard 1989 this release is easily my number one album of the year. As it stands it was my number one back on it’s original release in 2014 (and my second favourite of the decade) and the songs have lost none of their brilliance on re-recording. But these are (mostly) re-recordings so points are deducted accordingly.
So, why the still high position? Well, the songs are all-time classics and there’s a bunch of new tracks. Foolishly I skipped on the Deluxe Edition on it’s initial release, so ‘Wonderland, ‘You Are In Love’ and ‘New Romantics’ are all new to me. And there’s the five From The Vault. Bangers all.
If you were there first time this is an essential re-visit, if you weren’t then what are you waiting for? Dive in.

Black Country, New Road – Live At Bush Hall
03: Black Country, New Road – Live At Bush Hall (Ninja Tune)
The list of bands that got better after losing their lead singer is a short one and I’m not sure any fans of Black Country, New Road could have expected that they’d end up on such an inventory, but here we are now with a live recording, made during a tour that the band had to fulfil after being left without a frontman.
Now blessed with multiple singers and songwriters BC,NR have unlocked new strengths, and although some may miss the intensity that Isaac Wood bought to the group, there’s an eclecticism here that means the group can often sound like different bands from song to song, all whilst retaining the same core feel. ‘Dancer’s is my personal highlight, whilst ‘Turbines/Pigs’ is simply draw dropping with it’s multiple sections. Is it prog? I don’t know, but I’m here for it.
That this was recorded live is all the more astounding and shows Black Country, New Road to be a very special band indeed. They can go anywhere from here.

Harp – Albion
02: Harp – Albion (Bella Union)
A record landing at the right time can mean everything, so it is with Albion the first album from former Midlake singer Tim Smith since 2010’s The Courage Of Others. This is folk gently blanketed in wintery synths and arrived only a couple of weeks before I write this, at the very start of December.
Obviously, I’ve not spent a great deal of time with this album yet, so can understand why eyebrows may be raised at such a high position on my ranking for it. There’s little I can say, other than it just feels like a very special record. There’s moments on Albion that literally made me yelp with joy when I first heard it; I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to say that about many albums. And whilst I’m sure there’s many of you out there that hate the term, this feels very much like an instant classic.

Squid – O Monolith
01: Squid – O Monolith (Warp Records)
I think I knew from quite early on that Squid would take my Album of the Year slot for 2023 which is somewhat strange as, although I liked some of their early singles, their first album did not do as much for me as I’d have hoped. Bright Green Field felt like it was trying to be too much at once, and had some great moments, but just felt a little unfocused. O Monolith by contrast brings everything under control, drawing you into a rabbit hole of urban psychedelia and progressive post-punk.
Even now as I sit down to try and explain myself, I find that what draws me to the album slips from my grasp. Like The Piper At The Gates of Dawn (Grahame, not Barrett) it’s a trip that becomes hazy as soon as it’s over; as if you’re guided through a labyrinth to come out the other side with no knowledge of how you got there. It’s a trip that takes in Rocco art, witch trials and the suffocating anxiety that’s the day-to-day by-product of late stage capitalism.
O Monolith is a riveting, transporting listen and my favourite album of 2023.

Albums of the year 2023


Clarence said…
Grateful forr sharing this