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 album cover

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.

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