Top 10 Albums Of 2023
By ‘Uncool Dad’ Greg Allan
It’s that time again, where I look at my year in music and list my favourites. Starting in 2009, this has been an annual thing for me and whilst the response can be mixed, it’s something that I’ll probably keep up. This year’s list has coincided with my second bout of covid… It’s funny how these lists of late always have a covid tale to tell. This year is no different, after being invincible throughout the school year with kids who have clearly got it coughing and sneezing all over me, it’s now struck again. I’m barely sick this time, just a bit headachey and tired. Like being slightly hungover without the drinking.
Still, I now have no excuse not to write while my family tries its best to ‘stop the spread’ as I’m partly isolated up in our top room here. Occasionally I make daring trips downstairs in my old Rabbitohs mask, something I was hoping not to use again. So far it has made a difference as I’m the only one achieving a double line, I wonder if this will still be the case after this thing is done? (For those interested, I started testing negative 2 days before Christmas. Good result for all, especially me. Being away from everyone was fun for about 6 hours.)
So here I am, having a break from arty horror films and the Big Bash and compiling my list. I feel like Nick Cave, locking myself away in my ‘writing office’ (My daughter’s bedroom, complete with pink sheets and puppy poster) constructing another thoughtful and heartfelt piece with the world’s anticipation snapping at my heels.
Work, Souths & Podcasts
In what has been a bit of a trend over the last few years, I’m not getting through anywhere near the volume of releases I used to. This is normal. Most people gave up years ago after all and are content with the albums they listened to in their 20’s and high school. I’m still listening to new music but it’s all pretty limited these days. Life in general, a revolting year of work, Souths obsession, gambling and the curse of podcasts stop me from listening. There is however, still enough there and I always enjoy revisiting it all. I’ll try to keep things concise – “Your writing is good Greg but it’s too long…”
As usual, let’s start with the lesser lights followed by my Top Ten.
*Belle And Sebastian – Late Developers
After reviewing last year’s “A Bit Of Previous” fairly positively this one popped up immediately after. I don’t know for sure but this seems like a bit of an off-cuts album but maybe not? Released so soon after the last one you have to wonder. Anyway, it’s decent but it was probably a bit too much B & S for me in too short a time these days.
Peak Belle and Sebastian for me is their first few albums. I liked to pretend I lived out the desperate stories of the characters of those songs from my bedroom in Carlingford. Of course I didn’t, I just read the form guide and drank beer. This current release is a fair distance from that style but it’s still the same band. It does have that cutesy B & S feel which I’m not in love with as it lacks a bit of edge. You could do worse though and worth checking out if you’re a fan.
*Katatonia – Sky Void Of Stars
I still enjoy a metal album but my days of listening to the genre constantly seem long gone. Katatonia are one of my faves from my ‘metal period’ so I’ll always find time to listen to their releases.
They’re not particularly heavy but have a nice dark quality that appeals to me. As a band, they probably suffer from not being heavy enough for the metal fans and being too heavy for the goth fans. This was an ok listen and nice to hear from them again. It didn’t grab me like their older stuff used to.
*Robert Forster – The Candle And The Flame
Being a long-time fan of The Go-Betweens, a new Forster album is always an exciting event. Brisbane’s Go-Betweens were a band that have been a major part of my life so to hear Robert’s voice again is a comfort even if there’s no Grant. This latest album coincided with Forster’s wife Karin’s fight with cancer. Unsurprisingly, this is a definite theme which is actually a bit of a departure from how one of his albums would usually work. Regardless, I think the fight has been a good one and Karin’s health is ok…
Despite the subject matter, the album has an upbeat feel – Robert Forster has always been a positive dude with plenty of tracks about the past and getting older. It’s quite stripped back with most songs having only an acoustic guitar, female backing vocals and not much else. The songwriting is still first class but I probably enjoyed his last couple of releases more. This misses the top 10 by a small margin but I’ll never be one to knock back a new album by a true Australian music icon.
*The Waeve – The Waeve
This was an interesting release I came across early in 2023. The Waeve feature Blur’s Graham Coxon and Rose Elinor Dougall (who I’m not familiar with). Even though you can hear the Coxon influence, this is nothing like Blur.
What you can expect is a bunch of rich, interesting songs with lots of instrumentation and plenty going on. Whilst both artists are obviously trying to do something a bit diverse, the songs are still good and catchy with both vocalists really suiting the style they’ve come up with. Essentially a pop album but a deep one and quite enjoyable, particularly the first half.
*Gorillaz – Cracker Island
Continuing on with the Blur related theme, the newest Blur album inspired me to give Gorillaz a listen again. I’ve had a bit of a strange relationship with Damon’s other big project in that I’ve loved a lot of the bigger albums but haven’t been too interested overall. I find the volume of releases combined with the endless collaborations (often with people who I don’t really know) a bit overwhelming. Style over substance etc. Still, they’re always about with their yearly album and I made an effort to actually listen to one properly.
I have to say I enjoyed this. Again, it’s a collaboration-a-thon with Stevie Nicks, Tame Impala and Beck appearing amongst others, but that’s Gorillaz. The songs are still good with Albarn’s poppy brilliance featuring throughout all of the tracks. It’s not overly dancey or rap-heavy with the crafting of the songs taking precedence this time around. Not a classic and no “Plastic Beach” but still a fun listen.
*Enslaved – Heimdal
Another one of my metal bands that I haven’t given up on, Enslaved keep pumping out albums and there’s always a spot for them in my write-ups. They’re part of a small group of metal bands I still find the time to listen to even if I’ve fallen out of love with the genre in most cases. Not much has changed in the world of Enslaved with their proggy but extreme style of metal coupled with the Nordic imagery.
I didn’t give this the time it deserved but I still liked it. Just the familiar sound of Enslaved is enough and like everyone else, I will have bands that I always enjoy. That being said, this release was a nice listen but didn’t grab me too much and I don’t have too much to say about it. If I listened more, I’d find more to like I’m sure. These Enslaved reviews are more or less the same every year. Still one of the best metal acts.
*Squid – O Monolith
Squid were one of my new favourite bands from a couple of years ago. Squid, along with bands like Protomartyr, Shame, Idles, Black Country, New Road and a few others had me genuinely excited that I’d found a bunch of bands that I could truly get excited about. So it was with much anticipation that I played “O Monolith” for the first time, expecting to hear the progress from 2021’s fantastic “Bright Green Field”.
It never really worked out that way though. Whilst this is an ok follow-up, it really lacks the punch that their debut had. Squid are a pretty involved band, post-punk in nature but a lot going on otherwise with a fair bit of intricacy in their songs. This is still true but I found the songs on this album to be simply not as good. The tracks are slower in nature and seem to lack the power that the songs off “Field” had. They don’t seem to build into those shouty instrumental epics that featured a lot previously. They still have that sly, nasty feel which is nice but overall I found it a slightly disappointing album despite many listens.
*Fen – Monuments of Absence
Fen are another of the metal bands that I loved back in the day that I’m still happy to give the time to. This trend is probably becoming quite boring for most. Fen are an English atmospheric proggy Death metal type band. I imagine it is quite extreme for the average listener. They’ve had some great moments over the years and have had a few different incarnations that are similar in style.
The first track is a really strong metal track, having that aggressive sting that I like. Following that, we have the quieter parts mixed with extreme parts that Fen are well known for. Sounds good enough but once again didn’t grab me like their older stuff used to. I can’t help but think that there might have been a better album here if they’d cut 15- 20 minutes out. Still, decent enough and feels like home to me as far as metal is concerned.
*Cable Ties – All Her Plans
Melbourne’s Cable Ties were back with another good punk release and it’s got to be said that they’re building a solid body of work – I imagine seeing them live would be pretty cool. Not much has changed in their world with chordy, riffy, Aussie based punk, left wing themes and the awesome Jenny McKechnie mixing it up on vocals.
I’m not sure if this is a ground-breaking album but it’s certainly very easy to like. They’re quite punky and loud in nature but there’s enough melody and catchiness to appeal to the average music fan. Another good release from a band whose career I’ve been on board with from the start. In a parallel universe they could easily be as big as Amyl And The Sniffers, I guess they’re just missing the Amy Taylor factor.
*The National – Laugh Track
The National apparently released two albums in 2023. I don’t remember the first but I may have listened to it briefly. I lost interest in The National years ago. Like many, I couldn’t get enough of them during their initial wave of success but of recent times I’ve found their music to be a bit pretentious and boring. Recent albums seemed to feature many collaborations which seemed to serve no purpose except to say “Look who we’re doing a song with!”. Indie darlings and pop princesses featured in weird duets with Matt Berninger that were awkward for all involved. …
Despite my rant, I gave this a listen during a bit of a music drought and didn’t mind it. I thought it was the most “National” album for a while so if you’re an old fan it might be worth listening. Far from a classic but quite agreeable to have on in the background.
*Steven Wilson – The Harmony Codex
Steven Wilson, the ex-frontman of prog metal/rock band Porcupine Tree has featured many times in these lists. I first became a fan during my oft-mentioned metal period with Porcupine Tree. They had metal influences but weren’t heavy really. It was the songwriting that captivated me, with some of their songs being real crackers that stood out amongst the prog rock.
Many years have passed, with most of his albums being written about, with at least one no.1. On this album, things seem to have come full circle after the very poppy “Future Bites” from a few years ago with this one having more of his original prog feel. I haven’t listened as much as I would have liked but I definitely like this more. The prog is evident but not boring (as in last year’s Porcupine Tree album). Wilson is a real disciple of music, always looking to master the art of songwriting. I wouldn’t say there’s anything perfect here but it’s good. His smart songs and his smooth pop vocals with those ever-present Pink Floyd and Beatles influences make this worthwhile.
*Sulphur Aeon – Seven Crowns And Seven Seals
I don’t have too much to say about this album except to say this was my favourite metal release of 2023. There’s probably countless similar albums being churned out daily in the world of metal. However something about this really appealed to me after it was passed to me by long-time metal warrior and friend – Todd. Most of the stuff he sends me disappears into a streaming black hole but for whatever reason this connected.
I wouldn’t have a clue but these German Melodic Death Metallers write about HP Lovecraft’s work. Well there you go, it could have been about the middle aisle at Aldi for all I know. To me it’s just rollicking good metal with the right level of heaviness for my tastes.
*Johnny Marr – Spirit Power – The Best Of Johnny Marr
I’m not really in the habit of writing about ‘best of’ albums on these write-ups but I thought this was worth mentioning for a few reasons. First of all, there’s no Morrissey albums this year so I guess Johnny is the next best option. I think this album is also a worthwhile experience as even though it’s long, it showcases his solo career which is now quite a few albums deep.
I have most of those but not all. Some of the tracks were new to me and all were good. There’s no doubt he’s a great songwriter, nothing has changed. These songs are likeable and I think they would appeal to most. He’s a master at catchiness and producing a top hook. Whilst his work is solid in its own right, I think he needs a strong vocalist/lyricist to bring out the best in the songs and produce a different edge. Whether that is a Morrissey, Bernard Sumner, Isaac Brock, Matt Johnson or whoever.
Being the pathetic obsessee that I am, I spend my days listening to Johnny’s stuff thinking what typically dark Morrissey vocal melodies and lyrics would sound like over his songs. It would sound pretty good I think.
*No.10* The Church – The Hypnogogue
Just like Robert Forster before, another national treasure in The Church released a new album in 2023. “Hypnogogue” appeared mid-year and didn’t disappoint. Their hypnotic, layered music sounding as strong as ever. I can’t really remember a time The Church released a bad album, possibly when Steve Kilbey was in the midst of his addiction. Things got a bit weird at times back then but recently it’s all been really solid. Post Wilson-Piper has also been a particularly good period for The Church in my opinion.
Whilst there may be no absolute killer track on this release and their days of having chart hits are long gone, I think the music holds up really well throughout the course of the album. This is a definite Church album, unmistakable in its style. Songs slowish, vast and atmospheric in nature with the Kilbey vocals but still uplifting in style.
*No.9* PJ Harvey – I Inside The Old Year Dying
PJ Harvey would be up there in my top bracket of artists so it was special to have a new album this year. After all, 2016’s “The Hope Six Demolition Project” was a long time ago. I found that album disappointing, after a stack of classic releases I guess you can’t expect everything to be brilliant but I remember finding it hard to like. I don’t think I’ve listened since then.
But, an artist who has produced albums like “Let England Shake”, “Stories from the City…” you know the quality isn’t just going to disappear. “I Inside The Old Year Dying” is a real return to form in my opinion. Whilst it isn’t as good as her very best it’s a great addition to a super impressive discography. The album has that stripped-back haunting quality with PJ’s unique voice mixing with John Parish’s back-up vocals. I guess it’s not unlike the Church album, in that there’s no standout tracks. No “Good Fortune” for instance but the album is an atmospheric beauty that’s pretty intoxicating.
*No.8* – Jonathan Bree – Precode Hollywood
Jonathan Bree is an artist I’ve been following for a while after the perfect “You’re So Cool” emerged through the speakers as a recommended selection by my streamer. I’ve said it before but sometimes these Spotifys and the like know you better than you know yourself. Jonathan is from New Zealand and is well-known in Indie circles over there but less so here in Oz. He seems to be getting some exposure though, I once heard “You’re So Cool” on the excellent show “Hacks” plus Nile Rogers features on this album so he must be moving up in the music world.
Bree’s deep vocals, which sometimes sound like Andrew Eldritch from Sisters Of Mercy, fit perfectly over the top of perfectly crafted dark indie synth. Long time collaborator Princess Chelsea appears also on a few tracks with her sugary sweet voice. This provides the ideal contrast to Jonathan’s baritone and faceless style. This a real Greg Allan album, so many brilliantly poppy, cool and dark tracks.
*No.7* Shame- Food For Worms
Another member of my little post-punk renaissance from a few years ago, Shame, were back in early 2023. Initial impressions of this album weren’t super as even though it was the same band there was a more polished production. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing but when you originally liked a band for its earthy and edgy English sound, it takes a bit of getting used to when things shift.
I was right, it took me almost the whole year but this was a real slow burner and grew to be a fave. There’s definitely a more accessible sound going on here but the songs are still great, maybe even better than before. These guys probably won’t change your life but have a really likeable shouty and guitary sound but it’s smoother and more melodic this time around.
*No.6* Depeche Mode – Memento Mori
If you’ve been following these lists for a while, you’ll know that Depeche Mode are one my favourite bands. They’ve appeared regularly but never hit massive heights in the countdown. They’ve been around forever and have such a stellar body of work. If you don’t know them well, there’s a lot more to them than “Just Can’t Enough”! I suppose as I loved them so much, I was just happy to hear from them when they did release stuff even if it was only ok in quality.
Anyway, on we go to 2023 and original band member Andy Fletcher passes away suddenly, I figured that might be it for the band. In interviews, Depeche Mode thought the same but almost by accident “Memento Mori” appeared early this year. Wow! What a surprise this album turned out to be! Easily their best in ages, probably since “Ultra” which was way back in 1997.
Yes, this is classic Mode with Dave Gahan’s signature vocals sitting expertly over the top of Martin Gore’s vast, dark and melodic soundscapes with a lot of the songs being inspired by their bandmate who was no longer with them. They’re currently on a world tour, which will surely be their last, which promises to come to Australia in 2024. I want to be there even if I go by myself. What a classic band they are and this was a real revelation of a new release for diehards like me.
*No.5* The Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery
I thought I’d discovered my album of the year in the first few months of the year with “Gigi’s Recovery”. I didn’t know a lot about Ireland’s The Murder Capital when they put out this follow-up to 2019’s debut “When I Have Fears”. So I had listened to that one and liked the sound of it but as it was older, I tended to focus on current releases of the time. Anyway, this came along and it immediately struck a chord with me. To start with, it has two absolute Indie banger tracks in “Ethel” and “Only Good Things”. You’ll struggle to find two better tracks than these when you’re looking for top songs from the genre.
As I was late getting into the band, I missed their shift in sound from their debut to this one. Like Shame and plenty of others before them, there’s been a move to a more polished sound from their original rough post-punk roots. As I didn’t know any better this was fine with me but original fans bemoaned their change.. Personally, I think both sounds work, they’re a quality band.
This is one of 2023’s best but I found better albums as the year went on. I think I probably over-listened a bit and became slightly tired of it, gravitating to the debut from a few years ago instead which was also new to me. Still, listening now, “Gigi” holds up really well and is a top release. The band has a real sense for producing that massive dark indie track which captivates all. They have obviously worked hard to deepen their sound musically and move away from the traditional post-punk setup.
They have an awesome frontman in James McGovern who definitely has some cool Morrisseyesque qualities but without the miserablism. The band obviously have heaps of talent too. I’m going to be a fan for a long time and would love to see them live one day. They have a massive future even if they may have trouble finding the right balance musically. This is something that country-mates and similar rockers Fontaines DC seem to have mastered.
*No.4* Slowdive – Everything Is Alive
Another band that has been around for decades but I’ve only discovered reasonably recently. Slowdive were part of the early 90’s wave of ‘Shoegaze’ bands. I remember much cooler people than me liked them in high school, whilst I headbanged away to Metallica and Pantera. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Fast forward to a few years ago. I got right into their comeback self-titled album after giving them a listen after they collaborated with one of my favourite indie/metal crossover acts in Alcest. I really loved that 2017 album, I’m not sure if it was no.1 of that year but possibly should have been due to its lasting quality as I still listen today.
Whilst that clearly had a massive impact on me, this one hasn’t so much but it’s still very good. It possibly lacks the desperate nature and epicness in the songs but overall it works very well. It’s not unlike the Church and PJ albums mentioned previously in that it works perfectly as an experience from start to finish. But I think this one is better than those two, hence its position. It’s very easy to get lost in the ethereal and atmospheric quality of this album. You just put it on and the time passes quickly as you become at one with the musical experience. This is what it’s all about as far as I’m concerned and this release will give you the perfect start or finish to the day.
*No.3* Blur – The Ballad Of Darren
Putting the newest Blur album as my no.3 choice for the year is a rather typical and dull scenario but this is where we are. Is only horseracing or sporting events were this is easy to predict? Even though I’m a huge fan, I don’t follow the band’s movements too closely and for whatever reason Damon and the boys decided 2023 was the year to put out a new one. The brilliant “Magic Whip” was way back in 2015 and was going to be hard to top. How time flies, it doesn’t seem that long ago… I’m not sure they’ve outdone that release but they’ve at least equalled it with “Darren”.
This is truly a Blur album. Despite their many incarnations these days, this one fits in perfectly with one of the best Indie discographies of recent times. Just a bunch of mature rockers getting together to make an album for no other reason except for the enjoyment of it all and absolutely nailing it. 10 cracking songs with all the characteristics you’d expect from an expertly produced Blur album. Tied together with Damon’s masterful songwriting. The experience of listening is nothing but absolutely pleasant. Apparently, the album is influenced highly by Albarn’s break up from his long term partner. I can’t say I noticed, I suppose I don’t spend my life analysing Blur lyrics. Maybe I should? Lots of good songs here with the warmly familiar sounds of Blur. What a bonus…5 stars.
*No.2* RVG – Brain Worms
I never heard or revisited RVG’s debut but I am very familiar with their second album “Feral” which featured highly in 2020’s list which I remember to be quite a strong one. It was a super album which had obvious influences from some of my favourite acts as well as being a superbly crafted indie pop guitar album with a definite Aussie feel. Things have only got better on this release with the production, songs and Romy Vega’s vocals and overall feel progressing beautifully.
The album kicks off with the stunning “Common Ground”. Arresting Aussie rock with a standout chorus. The gears shift back and forth from soft to heavy throughout the album but I don’t think there’s a moment wasted. It’s pretty captivating stuff. RVG are basically a guitar based band with a standard setup but focus on brilliant songwriting. Pieces that build and tell a story with choruses that completely kill.
They’re not just a rock band though. I love Romy’s lyrics too, they’re smart, sad and cutting and make you homesick without leaving your house. My favourite is “Giant Snake” – a song about the massive snake that features in all the pictures you see of Ivan Milat. Lyrically and structurally brilliant. Seriously, if you like Australian popular music give RVG a go, they’re the best.
*No.1* Protomartyr – Formal Growth In The Desert
Protomartyr’s “Ultimate Success Today” was my no.1 back in 2020 and the Detroit rockers have the privilege of their second in 2023 with “Formal Growth In The Desert”. In other related news, I’ve reached no.1 fanboy status with the band also. I remember how excited I was when I heard “Success’. It really had an impact on me with its post punk aggressiveness and realistic themes. There’s always a bit of doubt after something has so much effect but this one was just as good if not better.
Fantastic Smart Songs
I love everything about this band. Their musical intelligence and ‘couldn’t give a rat’s arse’ coolness, their gloomy but ultimately truthful lyrics and their fantastic smart and aggressive songs which haunt you. The unassuming Joe Casey is the supreme Indie frontman. The love child of Mark.E.Smith and actor Bill Murray could just as easily be sinking 15 schooners at the RSL than fronting the best Indie act around these days. His effortless but passionate delivery is always a highlight.
Greg Ahee, the guitarist, is obviously the musical genius in the band. He is most likely responsible for the diverse and ever creative songs. His single guitar does an awful lot in each track. The rhythm section of Scott Davidson and Alex Leonard are very talented musicians also and leave nothing on the table. Ex-Breeder Kelley Deal (Kim’s sister) is now a more permanent member and adds to the awesome dynamic of Protomartyr.
The songs on the album are just as good if not better than the previous album or anything before. It’s punky, it’s nasty but it’s also intelligent, melodic and catchy. They give off the vibe of not caring but a simple search of YouTube will show the arty nature of the band. The videos and short films they make have a sense of black humour which is interesting and classy.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the songs and they’re great on “Desert”. Another band I’d love to see…
All done for another year. The word count always blows out, so well done if you’ve got through it all. For me, it’s a task which is tedious at first but then becomes obsessive and enjoyable, reliving the year in music that was. Although this is becoming a bit of an old man Indie list these days, it still always reminds me of how there’s always something to like in the world of music, usually everything actually. Life may disappoint but music never does and writing about it each year is a great reminder to me.
Top Ten Albums of 2023
By Greg Allan for Bunnies TV.