Ah, 2023! A stormy year that blew change through politics and entertainment, forcing quite a few chickens of truth home to roost. It all started in January with Thor the Walrus gracing (as only a 2000kg pinniped can) the North Yorkshire coast. Could it be a coincidence that an animal, revered by Shaman for its transformative wisdom, chose to visit a region famous for its straight-talkers…? Shame Thor didn’t stick around longer. We could have used some help dealing with the endless stream of outrageous political bile served up in the media, intent on diverting us from the grim reality of 2023: poverty, genocide, war, and climate collapse. It’s like we’ve all been in a Brexit-induced honesty coma for the last seven years. To top it off, Cameron, perhaps inspired by the Beatles’ poignant comeback, seized his moment to return to Parliament where even he can shine among a Cabinet of effluents. Goo goo goo joob.
Anyhoo, here’s my tracks of 2023. A ragtag, rebellious, chaotic and bittersweet mix of songs that sum up the last eleven months (writing this in November, so if everything’s sorted by December just ignore the pre-ramble above). There’s a longer playlist at the bottom if you still use Spotify.
Here’s to 2024. Things will get better. There is meaning in the universe, if you look for it. Just don’t rely on ChatGPT for the answers. Or a politician. Chin chin.
GOAT – Join The Resistance
From an album firmly in my top ten of the year, is GOAT‘s awesome take on a track by Gås (sidenote: Swedish for Goose, what is it with animal imagery this year?). It’s an underground, psychedelic, anti-war, climate warrior protest song that sounds like 1969 all over again.
Water From Your Eyes – Barley
Nate and Rachel, love you guys. Keep being weird.
Canty – Follower
The debut single from an artist to keep in your sights in 2024. On Full Time Hobby records, Canty is East London’s answer to Prince. A self-taught musician by their early teens, Canty creates imaginative and original music that crosses the worlds of urban alternative pop and indie weirdness.
Mandy, Indiana – Drag (Crashed)
Mandy, Indiana – a band that made my jaw drop on hearing the first track and it just kept getting lower until I was a drooling, raving mess by the end. I missed their album, I’ve Seen A Way on its release. I am SO GLAD I listened to it before settling my albums of the year list. Original, incisive dark electronic dance with a French twist, ‘Drag [Crashed]’ builds and builds, calling out misogyny with monstrous strobic flashes; “Souris, souris, souris, souris / C’est plus joli une fille qui sourit”
Ghost Woman – Juan
Another Full Time Hobby release (they’ve had a strong year), Ghost Woman are dialling up the intensity and drive on new album Hindsight is 50/50. I saw the duo play most of the new songs at an unofficial Great Escape show, and Ille van Dessel’s drumming on Juan stayed with me for days – feverish, yet precise beats that match Evan John Uschenko’s squalling bluesy riffs.
Fever Ray – Even it Out
Don’t be a bully, or Karin Dreijer is coming for you.
Deeper – Sub
‘Sub’ was Chicago band Deeper‘s first release on new label Sub Pop. Like the accompanying video, their more refined sound has opened all kinds of doors to new audiences and led to some spotlight festival slots along the way.
Borough Council – Prescribed
‘Prescribed’ is the enigmatic debut single from Borough Council, a Hastings trio that fuses straightforward expression and atmospheric, dark-wave style guitars. It all hints at being something quite deep and fierce live. Another one to watch for 2024, I’m excited to see what comes next.
Meagre Martin – Please Clap
The chorus of Meagre Martin‘s ‘Please Clap‘ is still stuck in my head months after first hearing it. If that’s not the sign of a track of the year, I give up. Play at your own risk.
Mitski – Bug Like an Angel
Ooof. Inner demons laid bare in the way only Mitski knows how – with poetry, empathy and compassion.
Harp – I am the Seed
Tim Smith left Midlake over a decade ago and by my reckoning they’ve never really been the same since. There’s something about the nostalgic timelessness in his voice, and the lyrical richness that creates and destroys worlds, which sets him apart from contemporaries in this genre. Smith returned from the hiatus this year with his first new music, recording as Harp with wife Kathi Zung. ‘I Am The Seed’ is a tale of waiting out the darkness, living in hope for the healing rain and rebirth.
Oliver Coates – One Without
From the awesome Aftersun soundtrack released by Invada in January. If you’ve seen this emotional gut-punch of film by Charlotte Wells, then you will understand the impact that this song has. As Coates says, it’s meant to invoke the “vivid glow of memory” and, in the context of the film’s ending, its power is unquestionable. Audiences are said to have sat through the end credits in silent reflection. With all the violence and human blustering of 2023, it feels right to round off with music whose simplicity cuts through all the noise.
Here’s a longer playlist of music I’ve loved this year. Includes Raveloe, Someone, Frog, The New Eves, Cheekface, Nicole Dollanganger, Annie Hart, and Wombo. Dig in!