Albums of the Year 2023
Like last year, my listening habits have been constrained by a reduced amount of listening at work and an increased consumption of podcasts and audio plays. Rather than list a top 20. I’ve picked two standout albums and then listed 20 albums that have shaped my listening.
Album of the year: Nails – Benefits
Nails is not an easy listen. It isn’t meant to be. Nails is a reaction to the state of a Tory-ruled post-Brexit Britain where people are punching down rather than up. Don’t expect this album to get a five star review from the Daily Mail.
I was worried this album wouldn’t work. Live, Kingsley spits his poetry with anger and despair over industrial noise and pounding drums. Their performances are visceral. After their gigs, you feel like you’ve gone a few rounds in the ring. On Nails, Benefits have managed to capture much of this anger. No effort has been made to make the noise more musical or tone down the anger. This is why it is my album of the year. Benefits dared to produce an uncompromising album knowing it could be commercial suicide.
Most of the album attacks the notion of patriotism and politicians who sell it to us. On tracks like Traitors, there’s also that strong sense of the alienation and anger you feel if you saw through the lies. There are also swipes at the working class who have bought into these lies. No excuses are being made. As Kingsley puts it, ‘You get the future you deserve’ and it’s clear Benefits think many have been fooled into punching down, rather than up.
The surprise on the album was Council Rust. After all the noise and angst. The final track is almost ambient. Kingsley calmly explores how we sit back while we see the world around us rust away, because most of us as are alright with the life we have. After all the angst and noise. It’s a poignant way to end the album.
Most Listened to album: Star Eaters Delight – Lael Neale
Lael Neale was unknown to me before this album was released. I noticed the album in one of the Apple Music categories and on first listen, it sounded pleasant, but didn’t jump out as anything special. A few weeks later, I noticed I had listened to it more than any other recent release. Something kept drawing me in.
Star Eater’s Delight is the perfect example of how a catchy first song can draw the listener in. The album starts with infectious ‘I am the river’. There’s a familiarity about the song. But the song is breathless. It is like the song is being played at a faster speed. By the end of the song you are hooked. The album then pauses to let you get your breath back. With its church organ and religious imagery, ‘If I had no wings’ is like a familiar church hymn. One sung in an idealised wooden church with a white picket fence that is stuck in the 1950s. This format is repeated across the album. Every song feels familiar and timeless. But there’s also twist that makes them sound fresh, no matter how often you come back to the album.
Other notable albums
- Alabaster Deplume – Salty Road Dogs Victory Anthem
- Anna B Savage – inFLUX
- Baba Ali – Laugh Like A Bomb
- Band of Holy Joy – Fated Beautiful Mistakes
- Bar Italia – The Twits
- David Julyan – Hireth
- Esben and the Witch – Hold Sacred
- Hamish Hawk – Angel Numbers
- HMLTD – The Worm
- James Yorkston, Nina Persson & The Second Hand Orchestra – The Great White Sea Eagle
- John J Presley – Chaos and Calypso
- The Kills – God Games
- Lankum – False Lankum
- M(h)aol – Attachment Styles
- Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery
- Mandy, Indiana – I’ve Seen A Way
- Me Lost Me – PRG
- Model/Actriz – Dogsbody
- Pale Blue Eyes – This House
- Ulrika Spacek – Compact Trauma