Wednesday, December 20, 2023

STN's top 40 albums of 2023

40 The National - Laugh Track
Very comfortably the superior of their two albums this year, partly because there's audible actual drums on it, partly for eschewing its ennui for moments of catharsis

39 Marlody - I'M NOT SURE AT ALL
Sparse, poignant keys-led hymnality of intentional mystery that at times recalls a claustrophobic early Kate Bush

38 Crosslegged - Another Blue
Keba Robinson's chiming, open-hearted take on expansive indie-folk seems keen not to take the easy route with meditative breakdowns, complex rhythmic moments and the odd Bjork-ish flourish

37 SLUG - Thy Socialite!
Field Music sideman Ian Black continues their old attempt to unite every era of XTC in one but this time trying to turn arena rock guitars into glammy, awry art-pop

36 Anna Hillburg - Tired Girls
Self-determination and judging a woman's place in the world wrapped up in widescreen Americana and chamber pop like a lower budget Weyes Blood with hints of Calexico

35 Blur - The Ballad Of Darren
The middle-aged spread of inertia leads to contemplation of what's been lost and what they still have, namely (on the musical side at least) melodic sure-footedness, belief in the unit, the odd Graham explosion

34 Death & Vanilla - Flicker
Refining their meld of Broadcastable retro-futurist electronic waves and unknowable hazy dream-pop into an ambient sphere just out of actual grasp

33 Panic Pocket - Mad Half Hour
Slightly ragged and absolutely singularly determined in the way of the best DIY indiepop, jangles and synth underlines decorated with indelible hooks

32 Neev - Katherine
Intimate acoustic (with considerate augmentations) late night singer-songwriter storytelling telling of trapped emotions, moments of realisation and the odd unreliable narrator

31 bar italia - Tracey Denim
Three untutored voices, a multitude of angles on modern socialising and a series of skeletal constructions owing a debt to the shuffling, fuzz pedalled lo-fi early 90s sound

30 Black Belt Eagle Scout - The Land, The Water, The Sky
Katherine Paul's return to her tribal community inspired a reclamation through-line to a landscape where lush, vulnerable melodies and atmospheric passages grind up against metallic squalls

29 Spearmint - This Candle Is For You
Their best album in a while, scanning across the styles of their career in examining the pushes and pulls of mystery and actuality, creativity and domestication, nostalgia and onwardness, self-criticism and fantasy

28 H Hawkline - Milk For Flowers
Lushly arranged Nilsson/McCartney classicist writing allied to the whimsical slow burning Americana/psych-pop wheelhouse of producer Cate Le Bon as a treatise on personal grief and what comes next

27 Dream Wife - Social Lubrication
The album we knew they had in them all along, big riffs and post-Riot Grrrl anger leavened with aware humour aiming for the dancing feet and state of society brain simultaneously

26 Witching Waves - Streams And Waterways
Concentrated thrusting fuzzbomb energy affixed to indelible melodies and strident eyes-on-the-prize Martha-adjacent choruses

25 SMILE - Price Of Progress
The best talky post-punk album you didn't hear this year comes from a Cologne based with an American "singer" whose anxiety driven angularity updates Throwing Muses or Kim Gordon's Sonic Youth moments

24 Hamish Hawk - Angel Numbers
A flamboyant presence filled with lyrical wordplay acuity against a big music that spans windswept heartland rock to a broadly filled out intimacy

23 Islet - Soft Fascination
Wales' most inscrutable return by finding a path through their dual musical identites, half uneasy and spikily arrythmic, half ambient and almost ritualistic

22 ME REX - Giant Elk
The ideal encapsulation of Myles' soul-baring pop-punk on the emo side, sometimes sounding as enormous as the beasts the songs are named after

21 Angelo De Augustine - Toil And Trouble
The Sufjan collaborator's voice and augmented guitar style may bear a resemblance but his miniature worlds are more concerned with the fantasy in and of little things, trying to find a place in hopelessness

20 Baxter Dury - I Thought I Was Better Than You
Wherein the "budget nepo baby" wrestles with his upbringing, borrows some modish hip-hop production tricks to augment his familiar chanson/East End poet combination and comes to no conclusion except his own untrustworthiness

19 CMAT - Crazymad, For Me
Scathingly witty, pop culturally overaware, knowingly melodramatic, able to reshape pop moves in her own image - Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson is ever more a Rebecca Lucy Taylor with a country lilt

18 Youth Lagoon - Heaven Is A Junkyard
One of the surprises of the year as Trevor Powers relaunches his old identity for a collection of close-miked, vulnerable explorations of the dirty underside of suburban Americana to stately piano and electronic beats

17 Jen Cloher - I Am The River, The River Is Me
Inspired by Cloher's Maori heritage, a layered warmth expands their distorted indie-folk horizons into haka chants, soul and electro and similarly lyrically, not just ancestrally but politically but sexually

16 The Tubs - Dead Meat
Felt meets Richard Thompson meets Sugar meets the Smiths meets the Feelies... you could go on like this for some time but the ex-Joanna Gruesome-driven power-pop merchants sound fully formed already

15 Grian Chatten - Chaos For The Fly
Isn't it embarrassing when a band frontman's solo project turns out to be stronger - enveloping, swooning, capable of sounding both down and out and amid the rainbows, richly poetic in detail - than the parent?

14 boygenius - the record
DISCOURSE DISCOURSE DISCOURSE. But ultimately it's just a coming together of three self-assured harmonising singer-songwriters beloved of their own union, upliftingly rich in detail musically and lyrically

13 Muriel - Muriel
Zak Thomas' songs expand the moments where bruised narrative singer-songwriting blossoms into evocatively abundant coastal-reminiscent soundscapes, painting out to the edges in resonant colours

12 Mitski - The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
A step back, as much as someone with those kind of fans can take, into a spectral country-pop setting open to arid plains, epic showstealer mode in its biggest arrangements and small-room intimate at others

11 Algiers - Shook
Having started as righteously furious and not found much to let up about since, their industrial gospel hires a collection of like-minded collaborators to come on like a modern radical R&B take on the Bomb Squad

10 Anna B Savage - in|FLUX
Rich in voice, lyrical detail and shifting backing colour, Savage harbours a continued refusal to give in, dissecting and compartmentalising emotional toxicity

9 CHROMA - Ask For Angela
Rhondda Cynon Taf's finest, propulsive post-punk moves laced within thunderous rolling intensity about mental health, harassment, feminist infighting and so forth through the enormous voice of Katie Hall

The best album Graham Coxon was involved in this year, bringing a cinematic drama and glue to Rose Elinor Dougall's Broadcast-pastoralisms and Coxon's antsy prog-punk breakdowns

7 Kara Jackson - Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love?
The year's best debut album, elegantly poetic treatises on love and loss in an uncaring world, delivered with equal unerringness and humour, lifted by its subtle surroundings without losing the central threads.

6 Corinne Bailey Rae - Black Rainbows
The year's biggest surprise by some distance, inspired by archives of Black art into raw treatises mining psychedelic soul, Afrojazz, electronics, torch song and Riot Grrl as if alike

5 Wednesday - Rat Saw God
Small town USA in its no-hoper, grimy fine detail, expressed in a fretful place where pedal steel laden Americana, revivalist college rock of a Soccer Mommy stripe and noisy explosions co-habit

4 ANONHI & the Johnsons - My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross
Styled after What's Going On?, ANONHI gets the band back together for a blue-eyed soul and gospel examination of the self, of what death leaves behind and her continuing anguish at climate change inaction

3 PJ Harvey - I Inside The Old Year Dying
Adapted from last year's Dorset dialect poetry book Orlam, this one finds Harvey in the spectral clifftop falsetto mode of White Chalk adapted into a drifting near-dreamscape to absolutely lose yourself in

2 Young Fathers - Heavy Heavy
The year's most intense live experience was born from an act of joyful resistance and liberation, funnelling looped gospel spirituals, primal blues-rock and electronically aided breakdowns into overwhelming communality

1 Sufjan Stevens - Javelin
A second attempt by Sufjan to come to musical terms with grief, need for deliverance and picking over the detail (and this is all before his being struck down by Guillain-Barré syndrome) by blossoming intimate, intricate songs into kaleidoscopic life that take from his remarkable previous range of styles and still find themselves as a singular, remarkable whole

Monday, December 18, 2023

STN's 60 tracks of 2023

IT'S LIIIIIISTMAAAAAS! Our top forty albums of the year will follow on Wednesday, but in the meantime here's our sixty best songs of the year, not ordered like some do because that would be madness, and all having to be on Spotify means we can't acknowledge Mclusky but such is life.