These are our favourite releases of 2023 – mostly albums with a smattering of EPs and singles too, from folk to electronica. The most moving album of the year is the emotional Slowdive release Everything is Alive. There are a few albums we didn’t have time to include, one being False Lankum: those drone sounds eerily soaring over the mountains at Green Man Festival were a reminder of the power music has on our senses. Mother Sky are another folk outfit we hope to hear more from in 2024.
Pale Blue Eyes This House The Devon/Sheffield band’s second album is an ode to the house in Totnes where both their albums were recorded and where singer Matt’s parents both had lived until their recent passing. The album is jammed full of more of PBEs infectious, chunky and joyful tracks with their signature Krautrock-ey pop vibe and Matt’s plaintive vocals. Hang Out is a standout track – it’s got a Django-Djangoesque quality about the vocal phrasing and a deliriously ecstatic chorus that will have you bouncing.
Slowdive Everything is Alive Emotions run deep in this spectacular album from Slowdive from the first, doom-laden crackly notes of Shanty before it blasts wide open into a shimmering wash of euphoria. This is the second album since their reunion and it’s a triumph: absorbing with incredible warmth. Don’t just dip into this album, listen to Everything Is Alive in its entirety.
The Orb Prism The creative gene of Alex Paterson and crew has been in overdrive mode this year and Prism stands out. Reggae and ambient dreaminess make perfect bedfellows on this well-edited shining gem of an album. Start by floating down into the comforting vocals of mystical H.O.M.E with its gorgeous bassy drop, through the breezy reggae of A Ghetto Love Story and through to the conclusion with Living In Recycled Times.
Magnetic Skies Empire Falling The debut album from the four-member band is a synth-drenched, darkwave, retro affair that doesn’t do things by halves. Magnetic Skies’ Simon Kent’s vocals rise over the dense orchestrations in a series of dramatic numbers that pull out all the stops. You Shine On is an anthemic beauty and Suffocate has an edge of menace that is enthralling.
Grian Chatten Chaos For the Fly Fontaines D.C. front man Grian Chatten launched his solo album in June and, as expected, it is a melancholic and introspective affair, yet also beautiful and elevating. On this solo work, Chatten’s expressive vocals break free, guiding and shaping the compositions. Two highlights are the opening track The Score with its Leonard Cohen-esque finger picking style and Fairlies.
Mother Sky Pull Me Under There is always a release that just sneaks in as we draw the curtain on the year in question. And this year the beautiful track Pull Me Under takes that accolade. Mother Sky are an alt-folk ‘supergroup’ with founding members Jon Thorne and Luke Flowers. The stark opening section, the vocals that pull the listener back through the centuries and the gathering maelstrom of instrumentation that builds to a shivering closure.
Antony Szmierek Seasoning This latest EP Seasoning includes many of our favourite tracks by Manchester’s bard. Dry, witty, personal, at times funny, Antony Szmierek’s poetic lyrics lay bare his vulnerabilities and work through everyday dilemmas. All set to dancey beats which bring a positive vibe – try to sit still to How Did You Get Here?
Vanishing Twin Afternoon X Vocalist Cathy Lucas is an absolute force on stage, lead representative of Vanishing Twin’s dreamy, off-kilter psychedelic world. Latest album Afternoon X heralds a shift to one slightly weirder and more surreal with this collection of mystical tracks which can veer off in unexpected directions. Title track Afternoon X wafts along with its burbling layers of beguiling vocals, playful keyboard and insistent bass.
Elephant Stone Lost in a Dream / The Imajinary, Nameless Everybody in the World Two great new tracks from the Canadian psych rockers. Lost in a Dream marks a shift in direction for Elephant Stone, showing what can happen when they sharpened their trademark sound on this sunny garagey track. The Imajinary, Nameless Everybody in the World is classic psych Elephant Stone, glorious George Harrison style lyrics – and there’s even a bit of Yes in there too.
uh Humanus uh are a duo comprising brother and sister Dominic and Fionnuala Kennedy. Humanus – their debut album is a curious medley of clubby rhythms fizzing with synths mixed with Fionnuala’s spacey vocal delivery, as on trippy title track Humanus, plus spoken-word tracks. Over a backwash of pulsing and popping synths, Fionnuala’s vocals soar on Comfortable.
David Holmes Blind on a Galloping Horse The steadying vocals of Raven Violet (David Holmes’ god-daughter) provide a cohesive thread running through this towering album by David Holmes. From the opening track When People are Occupied Resistance is Justified, Belfast-born Holmes casts his eye over the world’s injustices and those suffering through conflict, to bring to life this panoramic work. There is unease and there is euphoria; we may be galloping blind but hopefully towards a brighter future.
Firestations Thick Terrain Dream pop at its most potent. This latest album by Firestations features their signature mix of thoughtful and melodic compositions combined with personal sometimes quirky lyrics. God & The Ghosts with its euphoric chorus and melancholic feel sets the scene. Travel Trouble and the haunting Swim Under the Winter are also standout tracks.
Young Fathers Heavy Heavy The tracks on this album can barely be contained by mere sound waves; instead this is a multi-sensory feast which jumps out at you in its jumble of full, joyous glory. Textural and rich, Heavy Heavy thrums with life from the anticipatory thrill of opening track Rice to Holy Moly which reminds me of Alabama 3 with its driving gospel feel and emotional drive. Pity a live performance can’t be included with every album sale for full effect.