BRANDON’S TOP ALBUMS OF 2023
10. Wild Nothing – Hold
Here Jack Tatum emulates the sophisti-pop sounds of artists like Paul Weller’s The Style Council (Weller was formerly in the Jam and also has an excellent solo discography). Put out on Captured Tracks, Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days was perhaps the last time the label released an album of this stature.
9. PJ Harvey – I Inside the Old Year Dying
Harvey’s history of recordings run deep with excellence: for example 1993’s Rid of Me which was produced by Steve Albini and channels punk rawness as well as 2011’s Let England Shake which is formidable and patriotic. This work channels mysticism and is lyrically based on an epic poem by Harvey. Longtime musical partner Flood, who was also on Let England Shake, is present again here.
8. Blur – The Ballad of Darren
Perhaps the greatest brit-pop band next to Radiohead (although Oasis fans may take exception to that statement; Blur and Oasis had a famous rivalry actually). This unit had album after album of genius throughout the 90’s thanks in part to the guitar heroics of Graham Coxon (bassist Alex James is mighty as well). Parklife is generally considered their greatest album although it failed to connect with American audiences. Some have likened Blur as the successor of the Kinks with Blur’s sharp commentary on British life. The band has had drama post the 90’s with singer Damon Albarn forming Gorillaz and the disaster of 2003’s Think Tank which Coxon was absent from. The Ballad of Darren is the first time the group has entered the studio together since the 90’s. Informed by Albarn’s split from his partner, the album is a rich lounge music chill-out. It is produced by Jame Ellis Ford who is notable for his work on Arctic Monkeys’ AM and Favourite Worst Nightmare as well as Florence and the Machine’s Ceremonials. Look for him elsewhere on this list.
7. Feist – Multitudes
What made Feist’s breakthrough debut Let it Die great was not only the strong songwriting but the rich palette of sonic features brought into the fold by Chilly Gonzales. Gonzales, gone from her recordings even since, has left her work missing this characteristic for some time. This year’s Multitudes however has been thoroughly enhanced by a crew of many including none other than prodigious filmmaker Mike Mills (Beginners, 20th Century Women and C’mon C’mon are all amazing movies).
6. Queens of the Stone Age – In Times New Roman…
QOTSA is undeniably one of the greatest American music acts of all time and here they conclude what is speculated to be a trilogy of albums for Matador Records. The trilogy includes 2013’s …Like Clockwork and 2017’s Villains. The gritty nature of the music matches Homme’s internecine divorce that apprises his lyrics.
5. Loscil and Lawrence English – Colours of Air
Based in Vancouver, Loscil is the most talented ambient artist in post-rock. He is signed to Kranky Records which was likely the most influential post-rock label of the 2000’s. Releases from that decade include Deerhunter’s Microcastle/Weird Era Continued, Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, Out Hud’s Let us Never Speak of it Again, Stars of the Lid’s The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, Low’s Things We Lost in the Fire and famously Godspeed You! Black Emporer’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. This is Loscil’s best work since 2016’s Monument Builders.
4. Harold López-Nussa – Timba a la Americana
A virtuosic album of latin, bop and funk from this Cuban born pianist. The use of harmonica brings to mind Stevie Wonder and the compositions recall Buena Vista Social Club. Present here is furious playing that is sure to induce intense head bopping. It’s been a long time since Blue Note put out a jazz release of this merit.
3. Liturgy – 93696
The band, which is the brainchild of Haela Hunt-Hendrix, blends black metal, no wave, math rock, progressive rock, classical and hip hop to create an inspired experimental synthesis that sounds like no one else. Liturgy’s aesthetic is also informed by philosophy and theology. This record is the best since 2011’s Aesthethica which featured the amazing drum feats of Greg Fox who has gone on to leave the band. Fox is also part of a duo with Oneida’s drummer Kid Millions. Since the release of Aesthethica, Hunt-Hendrix, who was assigned male at birth, has come out as transgender. 93696 finds the band touching on all the hallmarks of their previous albums with production by none other than aforementioned Steve Albini (the man in question is likely most famous for having done Nirvana’s In Utero and Pixies’ Surfer Rosa). 93696 was released on Thrill Jockey records and it’s great to see the label continue to thrive as a destination for the avant-garde; they of course put out Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die in 1996.
2. Speedy Ortiz – Rabbit, Rabbit
While it may have seemed like the wave of abrasive female indie acts that started with Courtney Barnett and ended with Mitski died out after the release of Puberty 2 evidence points to the contrary with this release by Speedy Ortiz. The band has been at it for a while so it’s about time they offered something this good. Dupuis’ angelic and well read lyrics are sprawled over a band that sounds like they could open for Fugazi or Pavement.
1. James Ellis Ford – The Hum
This record proves electronica can still sound organic a la its undeniable influence by likely the greatest producer of all time, Brian Eno. Eno has not only produced some of the best albums of all time (such as David Bowie’s Low and Heroes, U2’s The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and More Songs About Buildings and Food) but has a legendary solo discography as well. Some solo albums to check out are: Music for Airports, Another Green World, Before and After Science, Here Come the Warm Jets, Thursday Afternoon, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Fourth World, Volume 1: Possible Musics and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). It goes without saying, Eno is easily in the top ten of most important musicians of the 20th century. Ford’s homage is not only to Eno but also Canterbury scene’s finest Soft Machine too (check out Fourth and Third by them). Building on the sounds of these fabled icons, Ford offers intimate and personal lyrics. It is perhaps the finest Warp release since Aphex Twin’s Syro and proves that the label isn’t solely about otherworldly and alien soundscapes.