GIITTV: Albums of the Year for 2023, 50-26

GIITTV: Albums of the Year for 2023, 50-26

Compiled via a poll of our staff and editors, after our 100- 50 albums last week, below we present to you the first half of our top fifty albums of 2023!

By no means definitive but containing some extraordinary records from new comers and returning artists. Delve deep. We hope you discover a record to light up these dark days. Now more than ever it’s important to support the artists you love!

50. Sweet Baboo – The Wreckage

With Sweet Baboo albums we’re accustomed to a view of the world both childlike and weary, wistful and focused, comedic and tragic, happy and sad, and it’s with further relief to find that self-doubt in the run-up to The Wreckage‘s creation hasn’t soured Sweet Baboo’s sweetness, for the want of a better word. Within the songs on the record, he searches for and muses on the positives, exploring notions of self-care and self-help. Not in a new age snake oil guru sort of way – although that might be an interesting listen – but pulling on his experiences of the everyday and domesticity instead. On ‘Horticulture’ he bemoans his lack of green fingers yet values the time and care taken for himself. ‘Feed, watch and I wait, water, watch and I wait, watching my plants come alive…’ he sings as we imagine Steve relax into the nourishing rhythms of digging and tending.  Read our interview here (Cath Holland)

49. Bleach Lab – Lost In A Rush Of Emptiness

Jenna Kyle’s vocals are the perfect balance between the breathy, hushed variant that can be so thin that it’s almost not there, and the over-the-top vocal gymnastics some attempt as if to show they’re the star of every song. Nowhere is this better illustrated than on ‘Smile For Me’ where she stunningly articulates the ridiculous comments and behaviour she has to put up with from the arrogant and predatory entitlement of the men she encounters.

They’ve taken their time, found their feet, found their sound, and found the right way of recording the strongest collection they’ve written so far. This is an accomplished debut LP that sounds like it was created as a whole, from the stunning blurred photographs on the Bakerloo Underground line for the artwork to the cohesive and expansive eleven songs that make for a compelling and immersive listen. (Jim Auton)

48. Mace the Great – SplottWorld

The superstar qualities of Mace the Great shine once again with the release of SplottWorld. Production was a huge selling point for me on its predecessor ‘My Side of the Bridge’ and it’s comfortably topped here. Mace is on top form throughout also with several cuts showing a maturity and sincerity that I’m always going to appreciate in anyone’s songwriting. (Dave Acton)

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47. Raveloe – Exit Light

As Raveloe, Glasgow-based songwriter Kim Grant masterfully weaves together folk, dream pop, and poignant storytelling in her latest album, Exit Light. Collaborating with a talented ensemble of local musicians, including Jill O’Sullivan (of Jill Lorean), Paul Kelly on bass, Peter Kelly on drums, Susan Bear on synths (known from Tuff Love/The Pastels), Simon Liddell on guitar and harmonium (from Frightened Rabbit and Poster Paints), and Jason Riddell lending vocals and piano, Grant embarks not alone on an enchanting journey of genuine self-discovery. (Trev Elkin).

46. Water From Your Eyes – Everyone’s Crushed

On Everyone’s Crushed, Brooklyn duo Water From Your Eyes continues to carve out a distinctive path with a refreshingly original album that feels much more like a storming debut than their sixth full-length.

Nate Amos and Rachel Brown started writing music together in Chicago, 2016, over a conversation about Power, Corruption & Lies. Since then, Water From Your Eyes’ evolution has amassed a back catalogue which capably covers a ridiculously broad range of genres, from electronic dance, folk, jazz, beat poetry, indie rock and more. Their breakthrough album, 2021’s Structure, hinted at great things to come with a killer combination of silliness and fatalism intertwined with left-field pulsating rhythms and deadpan lyrics. Everyone’s Crushed feels much more than the culmination of these past releases though, with confident strides toward a sound that is uniquely their own: an electrifying bricolage of industrial polyrhythms, chunky bass lines, ambient drones, synth strings and neat microtonal mini-riffs, all sliced, diced and repurposed into unconventional song structures. In short, Everyone’s Crushed swells and swoons with an experimental sound that is both beautiful and violent, and like nothing else you will hear this year. (Trev Elkin)

45. Fever Ray – Radical Romantics

In parts it’s also the nearest-sounding thing to The Knife in almost a decade. However, while Dreijer’s brother and fellow The Knife member, Olof Dreijer co-wrote and co-produced the first four tracks, Radical Romantics is most definitely a Fever Ray affair, despite all its familiar beats and nostalgic synth shimmy. Here, Fever Ray also pitches in with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Portuguese DJ Nídia, Bristol’s Vessel, and Pär Grindvik and Peder Mannerfelt’s faustian techno-pop project Aasthma, who also featured on 2017’s Plunge.

At its heart Radical Romantics is a love album, but not in any traditional or hetero-normative sense. With Plunge, Dreijer’s urgency to embrace life in all its fully-realised queerness created a rhythm-driven, sensory spectacular. Love and lust was grabbed in fleeting snatches across its experimental and head-spinning tracks. Radical Romantics burns much more slowly. It’s a more vulnerable creature, being both candid and mysterious and scarier for it. The songs lean more on Dreijer’s play on gendered vocals. Their formant voice effects transform them into a multitude of characters whose dramas unfold seductively, or remain abstract and hidden among cryptic lyrics and imagery. In turns we meet a parent vowing violent revenge on their child’s school bully (‘Even It Out’), a survivor holding their feet to the emotional flames of therapy (‘North’), a lover consumed by doubt, yearning for but sabotaging true intimacy (‘Tapping Fingers’). Each weird, beautifully ugly persona Dreijer’s voice inhabits seems at odds with the next, but they share one trait. Implicit in each of their breaths, sighs or screams is the fear of losing everything.

On first bite, Radical Romatics might taste more like their self-titled debut than Plunge. But repeat listens deepen an appreciation of the questions, concerns and insights Dreijer packs into it all. This time Fever Ray is different again and, as ever, they’re not done. (Trev Elkin)

44. PJ Harvey – I Inside The Old Year Dying

It is now more than seven years since PJ Harvey released her last album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, but it’s follow-up I Inside The Old Year Dying has most certainly been worth the wait. The album adapts a dozen of Orlam’s poems for lyrics – a book of poetry that PJ Harvey had written in the interim and from which I had the immense pleasure of hearing her recite at a spoken word event in October last year – and just like that book I Inside The Old Year Dying is a dense, dark, often disturbing work that graphically evokes the oblique imagery of her home county of Dorset. Don’t approach this record expecting the snarling post-punk fury of PJ Harvey’s earlier years. She has evolved once more. Over a dreamlike panoply of sound, her voice is right up front and centre, strident and keening, spilling out of the speakers to join you in the room where you may be sat just listening in awe. (Simon Godley)

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43. Heavy Lungs – All Gas No Brakes

The quartet Heavy Lungs are a band that pack more excitement into 30 minutes than most bands manage in their entire careers, ‘Self Worth‘ is a feedback-laden juggernaut and ‘Stutter‘ lures you in with a slightly goofy guitar piece in the beginning before exploding into a chaotic ending.

Singer Danny Nedelko remains one of the most engaging frontmen in the business, a being in perpetual motion, constantly moving and endlessly expressive. He takes to the pit himself to deliver the ferocious Black Flag hardcore of ‘Descend’, and the crowd revolve around him in a circle like stars around a black hole. Except this black hole is nothing but life-affirming.

The band behind him are powerful too. Garratt and bassist James Minchall are ferocious, and Oliver Southgate is the real secret sauce of this band, a hugely underrated guitarist whose work really gives this band their uniquely heavy sound.(Simon Moyse)

42. Wednesday – Rat Saw God

The great thing about the music Wednesday make, and a lot of alt-rock/grunge, is that it is so evocative of a particular kind and part of America. This just screams East Coast, New Jersey, ‘Clerks’, small town, teenage angst that becomes twenties angst, disenfranchised people and lethargy. Or at least it does to someone over the pond.

A lot of these lyrics are about stifling the boredom, the dull job, the drink, the drugs, the sex, the cars, the vegetation on the couch, the frustration to the point of screaming. This record, this band, seems to be so expansive. The volume and depth is huge, production is rich and velvety which adds to the idea that the subject matter is something to aspire to, something to crave.

Being a band as good as Wednesday is something to aspire to. This LP has been described as the rock album of the year so far, but it’s more than a rock record, it has more depth and textures and aural Easter Eggs. It might look like trouble, but it tastes like chocolate if you want it.(Jim Auton)

41. Tom Rasmussen – Body Building

Author, artist and all-around creative, Tom Rasmussen has become a staple name in the LGBTQ+ community. A couple of weeks after their lengthy tour across the UK with Self Esteem, they released their debut album Body Building via Globe Town Records and it’s as euphoric as their live show. Though the album features an array of tracks that are drowning in punching beats and catchy vocal lines such as ‘Dysphoria’ and ‘Look at Me.’ Tom’s talents don’t end there and the album showcases their versatility, with tracks of a more delicate nature, including ‘Dial 9’ and a moving cover of Arthur Russell’s ‘This is How We Walk on the Moon’. A celebration of self-acceptance and freedom, Body Building is one of the most important albums of the year. (Laura Dean)

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40. Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy

Five years since their last album Cocoa Sugar, Young Fathers made a triumphant return in 2023 with Heavy Heavy.  The trio of Alloysious Massaquoi, originally from Liberia, Graham ‘G’ Hastings, from Drylaw in Edinburgh, and Scots-born Kayus Bankole, whose parents are Nigerian have wowed crowds both home and abroad with their live sets which are exhilarating and intoxicating. 

It’s interesting to learn that while recording Heavy Heavy, Hastings picked up a National Geographic Through the Lens photobook from a nearby charity shop. He chopped it up and pinned the cuttings around the group’s Edinburgh studio, conjuring an imaginary audience for the group to sing to and engage in a communal act of music-making. Bankole’s trips to Ghana and Ethiopia during the band’s time off between albums also helped to inform their approach. He witnessed singing as a shared, everyday, and often spontaneous practice.  This seeps throughout the album from the very first track, ‘Rice’ with its beat heavy rhythm and chant-like layers of vocals.  Unbridled momentum and joy is to be found throughout. ‘Holy Moly’’s irresistible hooks are glorious and yet there are quieter moments too.  The soaring emotion of ‘Tell Somebody’ straight into ‘Geronimo’ elicit a gut-wrenching response, such is their power.  ‘Shoot Me Down’ is an intense heart-breaking echoing track. There is a sense that Young Fathers pour everything into their music, and listening to Heavy Heavy is a liberating experience for the listener.  It allows for freedom of expression.

Personally I have seen Young Fathers four times this year, granted I live in Scotland but their out-store performance in the intimate surroundings of Edinburgh’s La Belle Angele felt like something different from a gig, it was more akin to a religious experience.  They provided one of the outstanding performances at Glastonbury and are currently on tour in the US supporting Depeche Mode.  Mercury Music nominated and winners of the SAY Award, for a band who had been way for five years, I repeat it has been a triumphant return. If there was ever a time to lose yourself in this music, its now. (Julia Mason)

39. The Murder Capital- Gigi’s Recovery

Irish quintet, The Murder Capital, have sculpted an intricate alchemy of tender, brooding, fierce, euphoric and edgy soundscapes in their second album, Gigi’s Recovery. Rather than fully re-treading the post punk track, they have honed their craft, letting the ideas naturally ferment into a rich, dark sumptuous multicoloured palette; a tapestry of interwoven sounds echoing the opulence of La Frette Studio in France where they recorded. It is dark, heavy and regal; an oscillating multifaceted album that has the depth of experience and multi-textured riffs and lyrics awash with futuristic electric loops and dark ethereal allusions.

It’s a high class, cinematic album book ended and juxtaposed by short concept tracks ‘Existence’ and ‘Exist’ marking the beginning and end of the record, reflecting the cathartic journey from darkness to light and recovery. (Carmel Walsh)

38. Nabihah Iqbal – DREAMER

The second album under her own name, after previously recording as Throwing Shade, DREAMER continued Nabihah Iqbal’s dream pop journey with her most accomplished work to date. Including thoughtful pieces that could almost be The Durutti Column (opener ‘In Light’ for instance) and propulsive synth pop such as the incredible ‘This World Couldn’t See Us’ (its effective spoken word delivery hinting at Iqbal’s parallel career as a radio broadcaster), DREAMER is an album of many high points. In years to come, it will be hard to date this record as it somehow sounds retro, current and futuristic all at once. It will be interesting to see where Nabihah Iqbal goes next. (Andy Page)

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37. Slowdive – everything is alive

everything is alive (no capitals here) is Slowdive’s fifth album in total, and their first in sixth years. There’s more of an electronic feel to this album than any of their others. This is most evident on album opener ‘shanty‘ and ‘chained to a cloud‘ (like I said earlier, no capitals!) Singer-guitarist Neil Halstead began working on demos at home, experimenting with modular synths and reportedly originally conceived of everything is alive as a more minimal electronic record. Once it came into contact with the guitars that the band are known for it reached its final destination, but a bit of experimenting has enabled Slowdive to have their musical cake and eat it too. It’s recognisably Slowdive, yet moving in new directions too. For those who think that shoegazing music is too impenetrable, this might well be as good a place as any for beginning to explore the genre.  So…same time same place in 2029, then? Given how damn-near perfect this record is, the band should feel free to take as long as they need to. (Ed Jupp)

36. AS Fanning – Mushroom Cloud

What a gorgeous record this is; the third from Berlin-based Irishman Steve Fanning. Emboldened by strings and warm arrangements, the drama and dark romance is aided by his glorious baritone taking us on an emotional journey; one well-travelled. Fanning describes the work as an “anxiety album’” from a personal perspective, but song by song it serves to take us all through the life’s inevitable troughs – and beauties. The title song starts dissonant but turns bloody epic and heroic. ‘Sober’ cleanses the palate, ‘I Feed Bad’ is real and relatable to those who hobble along with an omnipresent emotional stone in their shoe. The record concludes by offering up hope with the pink-tinged beauty of ‘Magic Light‘. (Cath Holland)

Read our interview here. (Cath Holland)

35. Kara Jackson – Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love?

One of the finer debut albums of 2023 came from Chicago’s former Youth Poet Laureate Kara Jackson; a work that combined her intricate use of carefully constructed word play with dreamy folk soundscapes that create an otherworldly feel. Her lyrics are confessional throughout and find their inspiration in the outside world around her as much as her personal experiences.  The myriad of feeling that love inspires – in all it’s complex forms – is the underlying theme that permeates eack track on Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love? Jackson’s depth of understanding belies her youthful appearance; it’s clear from these songs that she’s an old soul, yet that contrasts beautifully with the deliberate naivety of the simple acoustic arrangements.  An astonishing album that launches Jackson’s career with impressive intuitiveness and confidence. (Stephen Birch)

34. Julie Byrne – The Greater Wings

Hailed by many critics as a masterclass in songwriting, Julie Byrne’s stunning third release The Greater Wings swells with grief, hope and resilience. Ending as a poignant tribute to her late collaborator, Eric Littmann, who passed unexpectedly during its production, the album was finished with Byrne processing this unfathomable personal loss. Each track conveys intimate recollections like whispers from the soul.  Committed to record, songs like ‘Lightning Comes Up From the Ground’ and ‘Portrait of a Clear Day’ warmly embrace these cherished memories, piercing the emotional hollowness of absence. The delicate ebb and flow of her guitar frames Byrne’s poignant lyricism with melodic grace as she gently invites listeners to feel with her profound depths of gratitude, and what it means to have love. (Trev Elkin)

33. Hamish Hawk – Angel Numbers

It’s difficult to know where to start with Hamish Hawk, such is the ability of this wordsmith to create an image in one’s mind through his turn of phrase. Since connecting with Rod Jones (of Idlewild) he has transformed his music.  Produced by Rod at his Post Electric Studios in Edinburgh, most of the songs were written during the pandemic and incredibly recorded over a two week period.

‘Grey Seals’ closes out the album, an atmospheric and expansive track full of emotive power and a fitting end to Angel Numbers. Hamish Hawk has produced an album full of the peaks and troughs of the human spirit, full of various sonic landscapes and yet connected by angels throughout. Its an evolution on from Heavy Elevator, and demonstrates the versatility, creativity, imagination and sheer talent of its creator. (Julia Mason)

32. Gena Rose Bruce – Deep Is The Way

Geena Rose Bruce‘s second album, Deep Is the Way chronicles her fraught path back into the light, processing death and inner turmoil to emerge with a newfound state of strength and resilience. Squeezing out the catharsis of trauma and self inflicted pain, ‘Destroy Myself’ scythes to the quick with foot-stepping bass and drums, and acerbic guitars and reverberating synths, entwined with Bruce’s anguished vocals “I’ll need your love to survive” she pleads, as she delves into the holes of her darkest compulsions. There are elements of In Utero era Nirvana here, or early PJ Harvey it’s a powerful moment of self reflection, that packs a emotional punch. (Bill Cummings)

31. Das Koolies – DK.01

Musically and creatively Super Furry Animals offshoot Das Koolies go back even further than 1998. Debut album DK.01., was not decades in the making exactly but instead inspired by their younger selves and their engagement with early 1990s rave culture as teenagers and young men.

There is a definite pop sensibility to the album, but the lyrics bleak. Sad and confused. On ‘Nuthin Sandwich‘, we get ‘A town called truth and consequence…I feel music in the air‘ while ‘Best Mind Fuck Yet’ repeated without mercy. The album has some truly lovely elements; take the beautiful acoustic guitar at the start of ‘Shakedown’. There was a focus on joining the tracks up, having mood changes, a soundscape.  On ‘Pain Down The Drain‘,  there’s a charming orchestral introduction, a reinterpretation of the 1958 film ‘The Vikings‘, in which Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis fall out violently over Janet Leigh. Amongst other things. Echoes of the past, again brought into contemporary times. Read our interview here  (Cath Holland)

30. Lisa O’Neill – All Of This Is Chance

Lisa O’Neill’s All Of This Is Chance is the Cavan musician and songwriter’s fifth studio album, one whose lyrical themes are immersed in mortality and nature. She believes modern life is moving too fast, far outstripping the pace set by nature and you feel that the birds in her songs are somehow barometers of these shifting sands. There is a peacock – ‘Birdy From Another World’; gannets and puffins feature in ‘Whisht, The Wild Workings Of The Mind’; and a sparrow found dreaming in ‘Silver Seed’. They all enable us to stop, listen and take proper heed of the natural world before it passes us by. Much as we should do with this warm, organic, ultimately beautiful record. (Simon Godley)

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29. The Gentle Good – Galargan

Many of the songs on Galargan come from the collections and writings of Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney in the National Library of Wales, and solitude is reflected in these simple heartfelt reworkings. Bonello accompanying himself on guitar, piano, cello pushes the point home. There is a healing to be gained in quiet and space, away from distractions and fuss. This record may not perhaps have been welcome earlier on our collective journey from the pandemic but in the here and now, it is pretty much perfect. Here we are reflecting, gently.  Read our review here (Cath Holland)

28. The Lottery Winners – Anxiety replacement therapy

Described by frontman Thom Rylance as a “self-help tape” for those struggling in life, the album tackles a multitude of issues – including austerity, mental health, personal development and anxiety. The band dive straight into these issues with the infectiously catchy – and appropriately titled – ‘Worry’. Driven by drummer Joe Singleton, the furiously energetic track offers an accurate description of what it’s like to suffer from anxiety. Next up is the raucous ‘Burning House’, which sees bassist Katie Lloyd takes the reins as lead vocalist. A live favourite, the animated track showcases the band’s talent of burying honest and often dark messages beneath the noise. (Julia Mason)

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27. Ash – Race The Night

A break seems to have reinvigorated Ash; this is apparent as soon as the opener, (which is also the first single and title track), arrives, ‘Race The Night’ (the song) is a sparklingly classic Ash single, up there with their most pop moments such as ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ or ‘Shining Light’. They have always known their way around a winning chorus, and when the second track ‘Usual Places’ also comes over with another big singalong tune, it’s looking like Race The Night is maybe a natural successor to their Number 1 album Free All Angels (which they celebrated with anniversary shows a couple of years ago). However, there are plenty of surprises on the record – there’s a beautifully melancholic duet between Tim Wheeler and Dutch singer Démira, which has something of the feel of Wheeler’s excellent 2014 solo outing Lost Domain, and there are much heavier songs, harking back to the likes of the band’s Nu-Clear Sounds and/or Meltdown periods; ‘Like A God’ is riff-heavy and shows off Wheeler’s knack of creating effective but time-efficient guitar solos (i.e. they don’t outstay their welcome), and ‘Braindead’ would be easy to imagine with a 1977-vintage Johnny Rotten’s vocals (period name deliberately used!) (Andy Page)

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26. U.S Girls – Bless This Mess

Something that Meghan Remy – who has shown political rage on past albums – has refreshingly learnt during Covid and pregnancy and wants to teach us on Bless This Mess is the idea of calming down and accepting the world’s chaos. The musician shares a phone with her husband in attempt to minimalize internet doom-scrolling. On the rock-edged ‘Futures Bet’, she instructs “breathing in, breathing out” before telling us: “When nothing is wrong, everything is fine. This is just life”. The most wild experimentation of disco music is found on the audacious ‘Pump’. A song that accounts Meghan Remy’s breastfeeding through both of lyrics and its use of, and here is a first, a breast pump. The vibrating suction sound of a breast pump is used as the bass of the track in which the new mother speaks about the experience of feeding her twins.

Title track ‘Bless This Mess’ and ‘St James Way’ also teach us to let go of trying to dictate life’s cycles. The former, which sounds like the theme tune to an American drama from the 1980s, perhaps compares the disorganization of the world with the cleaning chores of a housewife saying to herself “awww, bless this mess.” While the Charlotte Gainsbourg-esque latter ‘St James Way’ imagines what if, one day, you start following a group who are endlessly walking to an unknown location. No questions asked and no more overthinking. There’s something blissful about accepting the unknown and letting life’s cycles do their thing. (Matt Hobbs)

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