GIITTV: Albums of the Year for 2023, 25-1

GIITTV: Albums of the Year for 2023, 25-1

So we’ve reached the conclusion of our 100 albums of the year as compiled by a poll of our writers and editors. That’s why it will look a little different from other lists, but we like it! Whilst it’s not definitive and is very much subjective, there’s an independent spirit that bubbles throughout this list of records, a light that remains undimmed. Hopefully, you will discover a record to love from the 25 long players below. Or punch the air if one of your favourites made it in! Whatever the case we urge you to support your favourite artists however you can, each of the records on our 100 list deserves a listen wherever it is placed.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for giving God Is In The TV our most-read year yet and here is to 2024!

25. Tape Runs Out – Floodhead

Liam Goodrum-Bell has written a lot of songs. From the bedroom electronic tracks to the excellent recent EPs, and now here we are, Floodhead, made in guitarist Dan Dawson’s Norwich studio. Some bands can lose the ability to harness that early spark. Liam is the exception. He has finessed the art of crafting the song. He says himself that he is a perfectionist when it comes to writing and recording. If it isn’t right then it doesn’t go on the finished product.

Floodhead took a year to record, and you can hear that labour of love in the meticulous detail and concise nature of the album. They chose not to do an LP until they had the right record label, the right backing, and the right formats to make it an official release. In Trapped Animal Records they found the home for it.

Liam has said that he had certain influences in his head when recording and there is an overall atmosphere that lodges itself somewhere in between OK Computer and Kid A, in the epic swells of synth and string, in the distorted vocal effects, in the change of pace that drives through orchestral majesty, keyboard quirk, dulcimer flourishes and guitar roar. There are several suites in individual songs with complex arrangements intertwined that gives the record texture and scope.

Floodhead is when the front of the wall of water hits, but also the overwhelming feeling when there is too much going on in your brain and it becomes all-encompassing. (Jim Auton)

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24. Lael Neale – Star Eaters Delight

Forged in isolation, Star Eaters Delight is a vehicle for returning, not just to civilization, but to celebration. A record concerned with binaries – country vs. city, humanity vs. technology, solitude vs. relationship – the intention is to heal our divisions and realise what matters most.

The album is her second for Sub Pop and sketches wider vistas in her sonic collaboration with producer and accompanist Guy Blakeslee, Neale’s is a voice that has known pain and experienced it but still holds onto self-compassion. The palette is more cinematic, still sparse yet riven with more detail. The trademark omnichord is still there on the excellent opening track. ‘I Am The River’ that’s minimal beat and tremulous guitar notes that splatter patterns across a canvas are like Suicide if they were given a wider palette. Framing Neale’s wonderful vocal, her melodic stream of consciousness reminds one of Patti Smith. It is at once personal and universal with a gifted warmth enhanced by a nagging omnichord, hoisted to new heights on the back of a repeated “ba ba da da da do na um” refrain that flows right through you. It’s bloody fantastic.

With her exquisitely drawn, character-laden songs, and a voice of experience, Lael Neale is opening a fascinating window on her world, a world that craves human touch Li, longs for nature’s beauty and her spiritual quest to hold onto sovereignty over her own mind. Lael still has a flip phone and there were no screens involved in the creation of her new record, Star Eaters Delight. In a time when our devices are constantly flooding us with information. Neale offers “not because I don’t like things, but because I value freedom more.” We are in awe of your power Lael. (Bill Cummings)

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23. Hilary Woods – Acts of Light

Acts of Light is the fourth full album to be released by the Irish musician Hilary Woods. As the former bassist with the Dublin alternative rock band JJ72 she is now a firmly established artist in her very own right as this record firmly attests. Described as “a fugue comprised of nine slow hypnotic dirges” Acts of Light is an expressive, immersive work of art that affirms Woods’ status as a leading sonic innovator who continues to stretch the boundaries of her unquestionable, experimental talent. It is dark, dramatic, intense, and possesses a strange disorientation that constantly lurks just beneath its surface. (Simon Godley)

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22. Modern Nature – No Fixed Point In Space

Finding a sense of order within chaos has been an ongoing pursuit for Jack Cooper‘s Modern Nature since the band’s conception some four years ago. The new album No Fixed Point In Space picks up the theme but pushes further, exploring life’s complexities, challenges, dramas, pleasures, and inevitable conclusion. Beginnings, endings and everything in between. It beckons us to focus on the big questions by heading into the sparser, more reflective world introduced by 2021’s aural world-building experience Island of Noise. More minimalist than previous works, with No Fixed Point In Space we float in a sound bath of understated beauty, the light and dark and shade explored. But this is not a passive experience or akin to one previously trod; the unsettling undertones, underlying tensions and anxieties see to that.

Notation-based arrangements and orchestration but with improvisational freedoms was the methodology of its jazz-inflected creation, and the woodwind, percussion, strings, and voice generously share time and give way to clean air and each other. The resulting album is free from clutter or distractions, with rare and precious space to breathe and think.  Read our interview here. (Cath Holland)

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21. bar italia – Tracey Denim

There is something unshakably cool about bar italia. Maybe it’s in the name. Is it coined from the Pulp song? Will we ever find out? Maybe it’s their aloofness and air of mystery that attracts me so. The moniker does conjure thoughts of European cool, opening track ‘guard’ has the atmosphere of a French cafe, café au lait, cigarillo, sunglasses and insolence.

‘Nurse!’ is just lo-fi perfection, with its scuzzy, fuzzy guitar, melodic bass, simplistic but utterly ideal drums and dueling vocals. ‘punkt’ comes on like Justine Frischman has murdered Julian Casablancas and replaced him in The Strokes and then roped in Charlie Steen to add co-lead vocals. ‘changer’ is a moody masterpiece with echoes of The XX at their best.

Tracey Denim sounds like the best case of insomnia you’ve ever had. When you’ve had a few drinks to take the edge off, you’ve had one too many cigarettes, your voice is a bit hoarse, your head is a touch woozy and you think you should be ready to fall asleep but something is keeping you conscious. For just one more song. (Jim Auton)

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20. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit -Weathervanes

If ever an album was a slow-burner, then it’s Weathervanes. I’ll even admit that, as a huge Isbell fan going right back to his early Drive-By Truckers days, I was somewhat underwhelmed on first listen, given how immediate the likes of Southeastern and The Nashville Sound were. How wrong I was though. These songs really do reveal themselves more and more on subsequent listens, with an irresistible warmth and beauty whose brilliance are initially shrouded due to the fairly one-paced nature of the track listing.

Middle Of The Morning‘ is a mesmerising modern soul classic whose chorus is reminiscent of Tom Petty‘s ‘Free Fallin‘, while, conversely, ‘Volunteer‘ is melodically pretty but contains some devastating lyrical blows (“No I never belonged in this place / Wish I could disappear of the edge of the earth / Take me away from here.”)

The gritty realism of Weathervanes hits hard, but perseverance is key here, as the music absorbs itself into your soul and eventually you realise that the word ‘genius’ is an understatement. (Loz Etheridge)

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19. JOHN – A Life Diagrammatic

JOHN – comprised of John Newton (drums, lead vocals) and Johnny Healey (guitar, backing vocals) their album A Life Diagrammatic finds them at the peak of their powers.  The utterly ground-shaking ‘Riddley Scott Walker’ which features a guest turn from former Bad Seed and Magazine man Barry Adamson. The title is from the Russell Hoban novel Riddley Walker, which imagines a post-nuclear war future in which society has regressed and history has been obliterated to such an extent it’s open to widespread misinterpretation. It’s a thunderous track, even by JOHN’s high standards. The speed of the drumming is simply phenomenal and it’s accompanied by the most ferocious guitar.

‘Service Stationed‘ features guest vocals from Leona Farrugia of the ever-rising Anglo-Maltese quartet ĠENN.  Building an inescapable atmospheric presence from undulating guitar riffs, pounding drums and Newton’s distinct guttural bark, all packaged in a neat three-minute, shining exterior. (Julia Mason)

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18. Geese – 3D Country

Geese follow up 2021’s Projector with 3D Country, an album that erupts into life from the get-go. Vocalist Winter is joined in the band by guitarist Gus Green, guitarist Foster Hudson, bassist Dom DiGesu, and drummer Max Bassin. They have produced an album that takes a giant leap forward from their debut. At times complex and chaotic and at others calm and soulful. Geese are influenced by life and all its conundrums thus they reflect their creatively more in the abstract rather than the glaringly obvious.

Opening track ‘2122′ grabs you by the scruff of the neck. Difficult second album syndrome? Geese brush this aside as they begin 3D Country with a full-on assault on the senses. Frenzied guitars, thunderous drums and a thoroughly pumped vocal from Cameron Winter. With mythological references to the likes of Jörmungandr, Ragnarok and Kali Yuga, Geese have arrived with album number two.

3D Country is an unashamedly ambitious album in its scale and scope. From the twangy honky-tonk tinged ‘Cowboy Nudes’ to the seven-minute thrilling maelstrom of ‘Undoer‘ it’s an unpredictable journey and therein lies its delight. The latter begins with a splash of jazz but as it progresses becomes more and more outrageous with heavy rock guitar riffs before closing out on an unhinged blast of psychedelia accompanied by thrashing drums and screeching guitars. This is followed by the shortest track on the album, ‘Crusades‘. There is a hint of Bowie‘s ‘Heroes‘ here but of course, once the vocal kicks in it can only be Geese.

Drummer Bassin summarises 3D Country beautifully: It feels like going to the circus and instead of having a good time, everyone is trying to kill you.” (Julia Mason)

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17. Mozart Estate – Pop-Up! Kerching! And The Possibilities of Modern Shopping

It sounds like the soundtrack to fucking Oliver! on crack cocaine. I want to hurl it out of the car window. But then after half a mile, I feel like I want to drive back, retrieve said cd, put it back on and sing along. I want to track Lawrence down and shout “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?” at him while simultaneously shaking his hand and congratulating him on making a record that is mind-bogglingly awful yet truly brilliant at the same time.

Let me explain – ‘Vanilla Gorilla‘ sounds like a Bucks Fizz Eurovision entry for fuck’s sake. Overly joyful, irritatingly catchy, ridiculous lyrics – it has all the ingredients that really should lead me to hate it, yet I don’t. Somewhat implausibly, I find it charming and delightful. Same with ‘The Purple And The Pink‘ which is like a cross between a Beatles novelty song, The Scaffold and Willy fucking Wonka. (Loz Etheridge)

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16. Andy Shauf – Norm

The story of Norm is told from the perspective of three beings that could be seen as embodying selfishness: 1) a creepy stalker called Norm, 2) the self-interested ex-boyfriend of the victim and 3) the omnipresent yet half-interested God. Listen to the album chronologically from start to finish because the story has revealing twists and turns, which are helped by the fact that the unifying nature of Andy Shauf’s serene folk makes the album feel like one singular piece of art. The leisurely pace of Norm’s songs also portrays the realistic cautious approach that the stalker may have when tip-toeing planning an attack over time, as well as the realistic it-could-happen-to-anyone scenario, as opposed to over-dramatical music that usually accompanies a movie thriller. Add to the fact that the victim is never named or given a perspective as if she is just another forgotten missing person, gone but the daily winds of life continue to breeze.

Norm climaxes with ‘Don’t Let It Get To You’ and ‘All Of My Love’. Two tracks show the non-plussed care of God, his twisted view of love and how the cyclical nature of the whole incident will happen again. As ‘All Of My Love’ sounds like the album opener, the album could be played in a loop, conceptualizing that there will be other normal-appearing Norms, other selfish ex-partners and other helpless murder victims. And yet the café’s radio could play the album endlessly with listeners none the wiser to the record’s true meaning. (Matt Hobbs)

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15. Janelle Monae – The Age Of Pleasure

Before the release of the sensual and un dappled  The Age of Pleasure’ Janelle Monáe told Zane Lowe, that the songs “were written from such an honest space” and how Monae “had an opportunity to evolve and grow and to tap into the things that bring [them] pleasure”. From future afrobeats, to disco, and reggae-flecked pop songs stamped with Janelle’s experiences as a pansexual woman, The Age of Pleasure is Monae at her most liberated and personal. ‘Float’ has been stuck on my playlist for months, there’s a confidence and fun about this brassy groove and her effortless switch between confident boasting bars and an alluring chorus, that was clearly forged at house parties. ‘Lipstick Lover’ bounces on a reggae and dubby tip that heralds the carnal pleasures of summer. ‘Waterslide’ is perhaps the best song here, its easy sway radiates with an exultant melody self love pouring through every bar.  By exploring her pleasure she has gifted us a window into her world, it’s exciting where she will journey next. (Bill Cummings)

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14. The Hold Steady – The Price of Progress

Back in 2008, I was already a fan of The Hold Steady, but Stay Positive absolutely floored me, to the extent that I had to stop driving, pull over and just listen to the whole album without any distractions. Subsequent albums have all been worthwhile additions to their mighty canon, but this year’s The Price Of Progress is the closest they’ve come to the jaw-dropping awesomeness of 2008. Craig Finn is at the peak of his lyrical prowess here, sometimes reminiscent of old school Hold Steady, such as the rampant ‘Sideways Skull‘ (“She ordered me a Newcastle and handed me a Marlborough and stuck a Dove in my right hand“), the superb ‘Carlos Is Crying‘ which is arguably one of the best songs the band has ever written, the ominous-sounding ‘Understudies‘, which begins “In the window of the storefront, there’s a mugshot for a manhunt, and there’s cakes all decorated with cartoons/Piñatas shaped like parrots, secrets leaking from the gas tanks, in the back while they were twisting up balloons” (this song has some incredible discords in it, which against all the odds make perfect sense), and the typical Finn magic of ‘The Birdwatchers‘ where you start by thinking “but where’s the tune?” and then it slowly but surely reveals itself over your next umpteen plays until it ingratiates itself in your brain as one of the best tracks on the album. I could go on, though I doubt my words could do it the justice it deserves. Every track is stunning in its own way. It was barely off my car stereo this year. They really upped their game with this one! (Loz Etheridge)

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13. Lankum – False Lankum

False Lankum feels like it has been dug up like a hidden treasure, gleaming beneath the earth like a Celtic axe, cutting to the core of the human condition. Ancient yet trailblazing, it will take you on a Shamanic journey so intense that you will come out the other side feeling like your soul has been washed. The first track ‘Go Dig My Grave’ is so visceral that it will shake you to the core. A reworking of an old folk song with several incarnations Lankum have constructed the piece so cleverly that it grips the listener with its haunting narrative, swelling like a Celtic demon, draped over a dark bed of drones and dulcimers. Breathing space comes in the lush swell and sway of ‘Clear Away In the Morning’ followed by the first of three ambient Fugues. In ‘Master Crowley‘s’ trad instrumental you can hear every wheeze of the living and breathing concertinas, leading to an unexpected demonic siren swirling and pulling the listener slowly underwater. Just when you start to feel comfortable, they take the listener down another spiral, creating a purposeful sense of disorientation, but trust the journey and you will soon arrive at the beautiful  ‘Netta Perseus’ with unexpected shadows in the soundscapes.

Lankum are pure punk, pushing the genre to its limit, amalgamating the best of folk with elements of metal, krautrock, punk and psychedelia, creating a new genre of its own, transcending cultural boundaries using Indian harmoniums, echoing the drones of the uilleann pipes and vocals perfectly and bringing a depth and harmony to the tracks, reflecting the universal human condition and reverbing to the core. It’s as twisted and stunning as a Celtic Knot. As the legendary Irish singer Frank Harte said, “Those in power write the history while those who suffer write the songs.” (Carmel Walsh)

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12. bdrmm – I Don’t Know

bdrmm’s superb second album I Don’t Know is a lush, expansive LP, awash with post-shoegaze, reverb, ethereal harmonies, sharp meditative lyrics, motorik grooves and dark hypnotic riffs. Building on the guitar-heavy roots of their celebrated debut album, their second offering expands the scope of the soundscape, blending dream pop with fragile ambient pieces, weaving the delicacy of piano twinkles with dreamy harmonies, strings and pulverising guitar chords, encompassing shadows of electronica and dance beats in tracks like  ‘Alps,’ written when the Hull quartet were travelling around the French Alps “Listening to Thom Yorke’s electronic stuff.” Each track is expertly crafted- gleaming with cohesive complexity with each sonic layer raising the track to another level.

Tracks like ‘Be Careful of Yourself’ are perfect post-pandemic pep talks, rippling with rhythmic depth and glints of hope glittering through the smoky darkness, while ‘Pulling Stitches’ is a slanted slice of widescreen shoegaze heaven. ‘Advertisement One’ floats in ambient glory before being lightly grazed with industrial percussion. bdrmm are worthy descendants of My Bloody Valentine, DIIV, Radiohead and Ride. The band stuck to their guns and refused to relinquish creative control to major labels who were trying to sign and change the band after the success of their debut. Instead, they stood firm and kept faith in their own craft, talent and vision and this has certainly paid off. Their latest masterpiece is released via Mogwai’s label Rock Action.  Together they have set the bar sky high and created one of the albums of the year. (Carmel Walsh)

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11. BC Camplight – The Last Rotation of Earth

The Manchester-adopted American-born 43-year-old Brian Christinzio – known under his project name BC Camplight – has the knee-jerk knack of turning adverse situations and documenting from both a grim and jocular perspective. He has done this in the past when coping with his alcoholism and self-deprecation fuelled mental health issues (on predecessor Shortly After Take Off), as well as UK Visa issues (2018’s Deportation Blues) and his pop-culture-enriched tragicomedy style is present again on sixth record The Last Rotation on Earth. This time Christinzio projects the emotions he felt after the unforeseen end of his long-term relationship with his girlfriend who seemingly also got custody of their family dog. At just over 36 minutes long, it’s a fun-size break-up album that adds fresh, exciting new ideas to a worn-out genre.

Surprisingly, the title track is at the beginning of the record rather than the end, but that doesn’t mean the finale is less apocalyptic, as ‘The Mourning’ is a haunting mostly instrumental piece, that’s only words are from an audio clip borrowed from an ABC News report. On April 22nd, 1970, the world had its first Earth Day, and the host says, “At stake now, is every man’s fate”. It’s a call to humans to treat the planet better. Although unclear, perhaps Brian Christinzio uses this clip on his latest haunting, beautiful and hilarious BC Camplight album to send an existential message to his listeners. (Matt Hobbs)

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10. Billy Nomates – CACTI

For an album to be released in mid-January and to hold its place in an ‘albums of the year list’ through to December is a mark of proper quality. CACTI by Billy Nomates seemed to make its intentions clear from the title: it’s fundamentally spiky and makes no apologies whatsoever for being so.

You just need a blast of ‘Spite’ or ‘Balance Is Gone’ to get the measure of CACTI and to feel suitably pricked into an energetic frenzy, as Billy Nomates becomes when on stage. Watch any crowd as ‘Balance Is Gone’ strikes up (indoors or out) and however hammered, sun-baked or drenched they may be, limbs become immediately loose. The mental balance tips in the right direction. Listening intensely at home, you can really get value from concentrating on the introspective quality of the lyrical content, but the rhythms of the album ensure you won’t be doing that sitting still.

The title track talks of examining “the bare bones of truth.” There’s definitely something about CACTI that gets under the skin of what it is to be human, peeling back layer after layer with forensic curiosity until Billy Nomates finds what she needs. (Jon Kean)

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9. Blondshell – Blondshell

Los Angeles singer/songwriter Blondshell (aka Sabrina Teitelbaum) self-titled debut album, produced by Yves Rothman, is a testament to growing, empowerment in the face of inustice, heartbreak, and a yearning to escape. It’s unique for an album in this era in that every track is a winner.
Labelled grunge by some, that does this record an disservice, this intricate tapestry of guitars, pianos and shifting percussion plays with dynamics of production. Pulling back then hitting you full force with crushing anthems forged with candid lyrics that are honest, brutally so. See the fantastic lead single ‘Joiner‘, which encapsulates the feeling of lying in the gutter and staring at the stars. From chugging verses and bittersweet vocals of the verses colliding into a galloping hook-laden chorus, “You’ve been running around with trash, sleeping in bars with a gun in your back/asking can I be someone else?” Teitelbaum sings as a couple join hands and cling on for dear life hoping for more than another day of descent. A rollicking tune with elements of Sharon Van Etten or The Replacements, but has an infectious sound all of its own and gives a peek into her world.

‘Kiss City’ pairs bruised vocals with tender instrumentals, before launching into a spiralling sing-along, yet its themes are screamed by Teitelbaum as she exposes her vulnerability (‘I think my kink is when you tell me that you think I’m pretty”) as she vocalises her fear of not being seen at all and being compared to other women – all the things that come up when you don’t trust the person you’re with. Or the stunning and simmering revenge fantasy ‘Salad’ that crashes into a thunderous moment of self-empowerment. Like a chapter ripped from her scorched diary, Blondshell’s debut is littered with superlative anthems that show the scope of her songwriting and sound, turning trauma into a triumph, Blondshell is an artist to be reckoned with. (Bill Cummings)

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8. Say She She – Silver

The addictive and multi-chaptered ‘C’est Si Bon’ and the psychedelic-rock ‘Bleeding Heart’ feature the group singing in non-English languages, which could unite even more fans who are not already hooked by their powerful messages and cultural differences. The latter sounds like Jefferson Airplane performing in the Middle East before the three-minute mark when the language changes to Punjabi. The former features French but even without this it would be an enthrallingly eccentric ride; a tour de force of sparkling funk that is cheeky one moment and hauntingly spiritual the next.

On that track, the American-British band advise: “Tell them what you want! The time will soon be gone. When all is said and done, the world keeps spinning on…” With their choice to record Silver live to tape, in an effort to capture the three-piece’s raw synchronicity, along with the infectious energy and impulsive songwriting, Say She She teaches us lessons on how to live and embrace the then and now. (Matt Hobbs)

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7. Boygenius – The Record

“Always an angel, never a god,” goes the bridge of “Not Strong Enough”, the second single from the record. Following on from 2018’s self-titled EP, the debut album from “sad girl” supergroup boygenius catapulted Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers from angels of intimate indie to arena-filling gods of anthemic pop.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest and best albums of the year, the record is full of the kind of raw, heart-on-sleeve songwriting that each member is known for in their solo work. However, here, produced to perfection by the band and Catherine Marks, they prove that three heads are better than one. From the acapella ode to knowing and being known that is ‘Without You Without Them’ to the simply absolutely massive ‘$20′, the record might traverse dark themes, but, ultimately, always returns to the great love that is the relationship between the three songwriters.

The vinyl ends with a locked groove that has the band repeat “waiting” until you lift the needle – until the next release, we will be. (Alice Smoth)

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6. Susanne Sundfør – blómi

Five years removed from Music for People In Trouble, Norwegian artist Susanne Sundfør reconnects with the deep roots of her personal mythology on the exquisitely drawn and soul-bearing blómi, “to be in bloom” in Norse. A masterclass in wonderful songwriting, but also a heartfelt love letter to her young daughter, a missive to a precious new life entering an unstable world, that pairs Sundfør ’s glorious voice with a tapestry of soulful, piano-led songs that strips it all back to the source of family, community and the dawn of civilisation. There’s the delicious soul of ‘fare thee well’, the jazzy sway of title track ‘blomi‘ with its flights of brass, that offers a haunting and yet comforting hand in times of distress, she says: “A lot of us are really yearning to have local communities again because everything has become so globalised and digitised. Socialising is through screens, and I think that’s detrimental to our health. We’re a very social species and that’s how we evolved. We’re dependent on each other and I don’t think a screen can replace physical contact with a human being.”

The stunning and timeless melodic peaks of the epic ‘alyosha’ is a standout as it radiates upon the light of hope. Its tenderness is a cry for humanity. It’s another triumph from Sundfør, it’s an extraordinary piece of work. (Bill Cummings)

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5. Paramore – This Is Why

Paramore’s latest album This is Why marks something of a momentous occasion for the band; it’s the first time in the band’s history that their lineup has remained the same since their previous release. So with the unit now more cohesive than ever, it should come as no surprise that the sound follows suit.

The title track ‘This is Why’ was our first glimpse into this Paramore album, and does well to establish what you can come to expect from the rest of the album as a whole. Filled with timely lyrics (“This is why I don’t leave the house!” is a natural favourite given our experiences in the past few years), a stomping drum beat thanks to drummer Zac Farro, an accompaniment from the track’s quirky and feisty guitar riffs, as well as the usual poignant vocals we’ve come to expect from frontwoman Hayley Williams over the years, the track is quintessential Paramore. This is Why is an unfaltering album that not once misses a beat, and it’s clear that as the band’s members have matured; so has the music, rising above the infighting and struggles of the Paramore of the past to create something magical.

The album has been perfectly designed for those who grow up with the Nashville outfit’s pop-punk blaring in their ears for the duration of their school years, who are now dealing with the realities of the real world, and if Riot was an album of teenage angst, then This Is Why is an album for adult aggression. (Josh Allen)

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4. Blur – the Ballad of Darren

This Blur return feels different. This is their first LP in eight years not over twenty of course, but, in retrospect, whilst there were good things on The Magic Whip, this time, they’ve done it the right way. Whereas before, several aborted Hong Kong sessions were nearly scrapped until Graham set about piecing it together and making it the record it was. With The Ballad of Darren, they recorded altogether in London, with James Ford, and produced what they have described as the feeling akin to when they’d finished Modern Life Is Rubbish. This can only be a very good thing.

What you can immediately say is that The Ballad of Darren feels like it was from their peak years. It could slip in between Blur and 13 quite comfortably, proven by how ‘St. Charles Square’ and ‘The Narcissist seamlessly opened the Wembley Stadium shows and was the emotional penultimate gut punch before ‘The Universal’ floored us all.

The two singles possibly pointed towards a different Blur record than the one we have been given, but is this actually the one we should expect? This isn’t 1993 Blur, even if life is rubbish, this is 2023 and we’re all older, a little wiser, a little sadder and maybe less hopeful. But the glass is always partially full to a lesser or greater extent. Depending on where you are. Literally or metaphorically. Blur have been reaching The Heights. Hopefully, they will continue to, in their own time. (Jim Auton)

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3. Grian Chatten – Chaos For The Fly

The impact of a given situation can be very different depending on one’s perspective. Thus acknowledges the title of Grian Chatten‘s debut solo album Chaos For The Fly released via Partisan Records. It provides us with an initial glimpse into the complexities of the human condition as seen through the eyes of the Fontaines D.C. frontman. Co-producing alongside Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey, who produced all three Fontaines D.C. albums, Chatten was inspired to create Chaos for the Fly whilst strolling along the coast 30 miles north of Dublin:

The album opens with the first single ‘The Score‘ and immediately it’s clear this is not Fontaines D.C. It lives in a completely different soundscape. There is a touch of white noise before the guitar kicks in and those glorious distinct vocals of Chatten. The instrumentation with its deft guitar work and the quietly bobbing background electronica are a soundscape all of his own. The vocal demonstrates that Chatten isn’t just shouty post-punk but has a depth and quality which go way beyond. And those harmonies are glorious. Chatten expands: There are individuals who obviously play a very important part in Chatten’s personal story and it’s no surprise that they should seep into his songwriting.

The honesty of acknowledging such an individual provides an example of Chatten’s recognition of their importance. The dreamy shoegaze soundscape in the chorus is glorious and soaring thus giving a gentler, softer element to the track showing the versatility contained within Chaos For The Fly.

The final track ‘Season For Pain‘ begins quietly and calmly with the plucking of the guitar. Here Chatten appears to be addressing the listener directly, and all we can do is listen. Yet at 90 seconds in, the key change and shift are a surprise. A quiet personal moment, perhaps, to close an astonishing album. (Julia Mason)

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2. Caroline Polachek – Desire I Want To Turn Into You

As soon as you press play on the opening track of Caroline Polachek’s stunning second solo effort, you are greeted by a desperate, drawn-out wail, as she welcomes you to her island, and on a wild, genre-defying ride.

Her versatile voice swoops and saunters across the record, demonstrating a desperation for desire through her incredible vocal range, rather than solely relying on her brilliant lyricism.

Polachek isn’t afraid to reach outside the box for inspiration, and through utilising a plethora of eclectic instrumentation, whether that’s the flamenco guitars on ‘Sunset’, or the epic bagpipe solo on ‘Blood and Butter,’ she creates a sound that is uniquely hers.

There’s an essence of euphoria that envelops Desire, even in its darkest moments. It’s almost as if Polachek has extracted these songs from a higher plane of existence.  And yet, they resonate with us mere mortals in a way many modern pop records fail to do so.

Welcome to the world of Desire, I Want To Turn Into You.  Hope you like it – you ain’t leaving. (Emily Stark)

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1. Corrine Bailey Rae – Black Rainbows

Leeds-born songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae – born to a black shopkeeper father – visited the space in 2017 and became so astounded by her discoveries that this inspired the Brit to write her first album in seven years; the meaningful, kaleidoscopic and enthrallingly artistic Black Rainbows. An album full of vigorous extremes (her most beautiful, most aggressive and most educational work) that showcases the multi-faceted talents of the reinvented 44-year-old artist.7

Each incredibly well-considered track on Corinne Bailey Rae’s fourth album is influenced by an archived object found at the museum. It tackles stereotypes head-on in both the lyrics about black history and also in her choices of musical styles. Famously known for her sunny neo-soul, romantically personal perspective and smooth amiable vocal presence, she introduces more aggressive and hauntingly charged sides to her voice and genre paths, as well as an outward-looking angle that makes her wonderfully unrecognisable at times.

Bailey Rae reintroduces a rock grit that she hasn’t showcased since back in the pre-‘Like A Star‘ days as the lead vocalist of the indie group Helen. ‘New York Transit Queen‘ and ‘Erasure‘ are full-on rock. On undeniably one of the best songs of 2023, ‘Peach Velvet Sky’ – in which Bailey Rae channels artists such as Esperanza Spalding in her patiently building intellectual dinner jazz and scat singing – also describes the horrors of slavery but describes the life of one particular slave. Harriet Jacob courageously escaped her tormentors by hiding in her grandmother’s storeroom for seven years. The fuzzy and powerful indie opener ‘A Spell, A Prayer‘ is rather less ghostly but conveys a similar message of acknowledging and respecting our ancestors of the past and how they impact the present. This line sums up the reason why Corinne Bailey Rae wishes to use the educational Black Rainbow to embrace her discovered black history collection and its rainbow-like diversity: “We long to arc our arm through history/To unpick every thread/To unpick every thread of pain”.  (Matt Hobbs)

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