The Year’s Most Impactful Musical Selections.
It’s that time of the year again: the time of sleigh bells, Christmas trees, reindeer sweaters and promises about becoming healthier fitter better that usually crash down in flames by the end of January – above all, it’s time to dust off the favourite hobby of every self-respecting record buff: compiling another best-of-year album list. It’s useless but it is also fun.
2023, generally speaking, has been an awful year and (let’s be frank) 2024 will be quite probably worse, not in an apocalyptic/end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it way but bad enough to leave an extra bitter taste in our collective mouth. Still, we’ll have to endure these times of tragedy and utter ridicule for another while. Every generation loathes the idea to be lost and forgotten in space and time and not so secretly hopes and operates to be the last, but I regret inform you that 2024 (even if the Ancient Orange One gets elected) won’t be our last gasp on this forsaken ball of stone we call Earth.
Good for us music maniacs, though, because despite its overall suckiness 2023 has been a pretty good musical year: lots of excellent stuff have been released and re-released. So, being one of the aforementioned list enthusiasts, I’d like to offer you, in no particular order, some not requested shoutouts:
DOROTHY CARTER Waillee Waillee
Not a new release, but the reissue of the only album Dorothy Carter, a traveling musician with a rather fascinating life, recorded and self-released back in 1978. A truly astounding collection of old, often ancient songs belonging to different traditions and played with an array of dulcimers, zithers and flutes to a totally ecstatic effect. A great find and a transfixing experience.
PJ HARVEY I inside the old year dying
Her first album in seven years and inspired by her own book-long poem titled Orlam, I inside the old year dying is another little triumph for PJ Harvey. Gone are the yelps and the youthful garage rock fury, replaced by disquieting reveries and childhood fantasies. A magical description of her own upbringing in Dorset, the album feels like some kind of incantatory spell populated by ghostly characters out of Arthur Machen’s stories and Elvis Presley’s mythology. Toy electronics, acoustic instruments distorted beyond recognition and her quietly unsettling voice make for a hallucinatory aural experience. It’s like being gently dragged into the woods to discover what kind of horror hides there.
CREATION REBEL Hostile Environment
The return of this beloved UK futuristic reggae trio after how many years only God knows is as beautiful and provoking as their previous releases. Produced as always by Adrian Sherwood, the album is chock-full of tight performances, dub heaviness and soulful performances, more often than not enhanced by Sherwood’s seemingly infinite bag of sonic tricks. A great release, to be enjoyed together with the equally good new album by African Head Charge.
THANTIFAXATH Hive Mind Necrosis
Second album (third, if we count the Void Masquerading As Matter ep) for these purposefully obscure Canadian black metallers – and a truly warped effort. Mixing their brand of blackened scuzz with elements of death metal, prog and psychedelia, the result is a giant leap forward and an album worth of careful attention: every song develops over meticulously built, boldly complex structures that run the gamut from almost ambient passages to sheer brutality. In between you can find every kind of sonic and compositional surprise. Just listen to opener “Solar Witch”, a big black bang complete with angular guitar solos that sound uncannily like Henry Cow.
THE CHURCH The Hypnagogue
One for all those 80’s orphans out there. Steve Kilbey may be considered by most a totally unhip codger but oi polloi are always wrong: at 68, he’s still great at what his doing. While many of his peers are content to slowly slide into retirement, Kilbey is still at the top of his game. Shimmering psychedelia, clever pop and that cold cold cold detached look on human miseries that made great many Church albums are in full display on The Hypnagogue, a concept album of sorts that paradoxically works because of its unintelligibility. Kilbey never became the rockstar he could have been but maybe this has been a blessing in disguise, since he can still write songs that do not sound like cheap covers of his past.
LANKUM False Lankum + ØXN Cyrm
This year has been the year of Radie Peat. Both the bands she sings with released stunning albums. “False Lankum” is a definite statement for the Irish group, an lp full of future classics like Newcastle and incredible opener Go Dig My Grave. Their mix of traditional folk and mantric evocations sounds at the same time ultramodern and centuries old: eerie, haunting, ominous, their music grabs the listener and keeps growing in almost intolerable intensity. On the other hand, Cyrm by ØXN (Peat’s other project) is slightly different but equally successful: a mysterious blend of deep synths, heavily reverbed drums and genuine folk horror, ballsy enough to cover a difficult song like Farmer In The City (Scott Walker’s tribute to the life and death of Pier Paolo Pasolini). Almost metal in its cold power, Cyrm is truly great (check also the Love Henry video, a little film as frightening as one of those good Ben Wheatley movies).