The Year in Review
2023 was a brilliant year for new music – come with us for a whirlwind tour of the last 12 months.
There wasn't much going on in terms of album releases in Jan; understandable given that the record industry knows that in this month, more than any other, we’re all skint, hungover, and living off bread and dripping and stale After Eights until the first pay check of the year comes around. In terms of news, January was pretty bleak (shocker); the least depressing thing I could find was the report that Croatia adopted the Euro as its currency, and English darts player Michael Smith hit a nine-dart finish on his way to beating Michael van Gerwen for his first world title. So there’s that.
This is more like it. Unloved, the trio of Jade Vincent, Keefus Ciancia and David Holmes, released the terrific Polychrome, a record that mines some of our favourite artists for inspiration – among them Wanda Jackson, Serge Gainsbourg, Broadcast, Delia Derbyshire, and The Shangri-Las – to brilliant effect; the cheeky Aussie duo of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis casually dropped another masterpiece, in the form of their incredible soundtrack to the film Blonde (starring Ana de Armas); and Warp reissued Autechre's phenomenal 2003 electronica classic, Draft 7.30.
News: Lots of bad stuff – but Rihanna performed at the Super Bowl, which was a nice change from the usual guff they put on.
Everyone's favourite electro-Goths, Boy Harsher, returned with Careful, which offered a resounding ‘You betcha' to the question, 'Can nihilism be sexy?’; LA-based virtuoso (and sometime Thundercat collaborator) Genevieve Artadi blew our minds with the sublime avant-pop of Forever Forever; the Russian electronic producer Kate NV stunned us with the brilliantly out-there Wow, which sounds like Purple Rain if all the musicians, including Prince, were replaced by Laurie Anderson, the Japanese city pop band T-Square, and the Seinfeld synth bass guy; and one of our favourite avant-math-rock bands, Pile, returned with the absolutely topping All Fiction. Imagine Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood teaming up with Swans, and you're half way there.
News: Leicester’s favourite son Gary Lineker was suspended by the BBC for calling out the Tories' immigration policy on Twitter (love you, Gary); and in the US, vinyl records outsold CDs for the first time in nearly four decades. Which is of course to be celebrated, but also begs the question, ‘What is CD?’
The cross-genre composer/producer Anna Meredith, and the Ligeti Quartet, helped usher in the spring with the joyful strings 'n' electronics collaboration Nuc; Queen of the East African rap scene, MC Yallah, destroyed with her sophomore LP Yallah Beibe, a thrilling patchwork of futuristic cyber-rap experiments; and London Brew, a formidable who’s who of UK jazz artists – including Nubya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings (Sons of Kemet; The Comet is Coming), Dave Okumu (The Invisible), and Tom Skinner (Sons of Kemet; The Smile) – released their astounding eponymous debut, a bravura reimagining of Miles Davis’s art-jazz opus, Bitches Brew.
News: Germany closes all it nuclear power plants to focus on renewable energy; and crypto-Nazi ballbag Tucker Carlson is fired from Fox News. You see, it’s not all bad.
Legendary Slayer and Fantômas drummer Dave Lombardo released his primordially heavy debut solo LP, the brilliant Rites of Percussion – a must for beat freaks who listen to a virtuosic Buddy Rich drum solo and think, ‘I wish that was at least 20% more bananas’; Craven Faults dropped Standers, the mysterious UK producer's third album of rhythmically dazzling retro-futurist electronica, and his most accomplished to date; and Lindsay Olsen gifted us her fifth album under her Salami Rose Joe Louis moniker, Akousmatikous, which marries the avant-electronica production chops of Flying Lotus with the pop hooks of Khruangbin and Toro y Moi.
News: After perhaps the longest (and certainly the best-paid) apprenticeship in history, Charlie boy finally takes the throne at Westminster Abbey. Here's just one more example of his beneficence, in case you missed it.
David Christian’s Comet Gain, purveyors of some of the finest jangle-noise pop this side of the Atlantic (with tracks veering from very jangly to extremely punk indeed), released The Misfit Jukebox, a wonderful compilation of rare gems never-before-released on vinyl; Decisive Pink, a team-up of ex-Dirty Projector Angel Deradoorian and the aforementioned Kate NV ushered forth the awesome weirdo electro-pop album Ticket to Fame, indebted to Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and Múm; Impulse! reissued Albert Ayler's classic In Greenwich Village, a landmark statement in free jazz; and New Zealand's Divide and Dissolve gave us top-tier avant-doom metal in the form of Systemic, one of our Albums of the Year.
News: A UK government committee finds that Boris Johnson, looking more and more like the offspring of a corpulent Labrador and Vileda SuperMop, lied to parliament about 'Partygate' Covid-19 breaches. No shit.
Polly Jean Harvey made a glorious return with I Inside the Old Year Dying, a phenomenal record that invokes the ghosts of old England’s collective subconscious to summon a heat check on our nation’s psychic condition; Chicago’s post-metal masters Russian Circles reissued their 2008 opus Station, perhaps best described as Slint by way of Explosions in the Sky; and Sam Prekop, best known for his jazz-leaning avant-pop tropicalismo with The Sea And Cake, wowed us with his remarkable modular synth LP The Sparrow.
News: NASA transmits across the universe a recording of Ringo Starr wishing everyone 'peace and love'. Which is not only lovely, but might have the added bonus of acting as a deterrent against alien invasion.
The cult 2021 LP Truly, by Manchester’s Caoilfhionn Rose (pronounced ‘Keelin’), finally got the wider release that fans (like us) of her brilliant mix of folk/psych/electronica were clamouring for; John Dwyer’s mighty Osees returned with their most hi-fi punk album yet, Intercepted Message; and Sigur Rós gave us the sublime ÁTTA,(on vinyl, finally, following a surprise digital release), the first Sigur Rós album proper since 2013’s Kveikur – and thank Freyja, Odin and Thor for that.
News: Greta Gerwig became the first solo female filmmaker to have a movie pass $1 billion at the global box office, with Barbie. 💅🏼💅🏼💅🏼
Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts, a compilation of unabashedly queer, life-affirming indie pop songs by the wonderful 90s second-wave emo group Everyone Asked About You, melted our cynical hearts; the preternaturally gifted UK electronic producer Loraine James's third Hyperdub album, Gentle Confrontation, astounded with its mix of fluid ambience and polyrhythmical intensity, inspired by the math rock and emo-electronic bands she listened to in her youth; and The Breeders finally gave us the reissue of the classic The Last Splash that we so desperately wanted, to celebrate its 30th anniversary. ‘Want You! Cuckoo! Cannonball!'
News: 'The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring' by Van Gogh, stolen from a museum in 2020, is returned in an Ikea bag. But why an Ikea bag? That's the real mystery.
Vanishing Twin returned with the superb Afternoon X, another one of our Albums of the year: a must for fans of Broadcast and Stereolab; Glaswegian trio Chvrches' 10th-Anniverary edition of The Bones of What You Believe made us fall in love with their ecstatic emo hyper-pop all over again; and London’s Flamingods gave us a much-needed dose of their virtuosic West-Asia-meets-the-Occident new-wave/psych, with EP Head of Pomegranate.
News: Shit show at the fuck factory.
The always excellent Serafina Steer-led Bas Jan gave us Back to the Swamp, an infectious mix of post-punk and leftfield French pop (think The Waitresses by way of the off-kilter art-funk and no wave of Lizzy Mercier Descloux); Senegal's already legendary collective Assiko Golden Band de Grand Yoff finally gave us their debut album, Magg Tekki, a phenomenal mix of Count Ossie, Fela Kuti and Tony Allen; and rapper Smoke DZA and Flying Lotus teamed up for the astounding sonic vision quest that is debut release Flying Objects.
News: The 38th Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees included: Kate Bush, Missy Elliott, Willie Nelson and Link Wray. Ridiculous accolade, great artists all.
And to round out a great year for music, Stereolab gave us a remastered edition of Aluminium Tunes, an excellent compilation of singles and rarities, first issued in 1998; New Zealand's indie-folk superstar Aldous Harding gifted us the first repressing in years of her brilliant self-titled debut; and we were treated to a reissue of Second Time Around, the splendid sophomore album by Cymande (pronounced Sah-mahn-day), the legendary funk group formed in 1971 in London by musicians from Guyana, Jamaica and Saint Vincent.
News: Taylor Swift is named Person of the Year by Time magazine. Other recipients include Joseph Stalin, Richard Nixon and Elon Musk, so congratulations, I guess?