What year are we in again , or decade or century?
As airtime for releases this year seemed to be "hogged" by The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan (to a lesser extent) and Paul Simon (all will be referenced in some way below). It's useful to note that 2023 to 1963 is the same as 1963 to 1913...hmm
Despite this there was album listening treasure to be found and this year it was a mixture of old and new to make the top 10. Have also added some BrickBats to go along with these Ten Bouquets.
Cut Worms - Cut Worms - the most ridiculous band name in popular music , this self -titled (!) effort is the third by New York native Max Clarke.
Initially drawn in via the Spotify algorithm with "Ballad of the Texas King" which echoes classic Jeff Tweedy all descending bassline , pedal steel and general pop overtones , the full album reveals Beach Boys "Caroline No" type production ("Take it and Smile "complete with chromatic harmonicas ) , early Lennon/McCartney ("Let's Go Out on the Town")and even the Velvets Loaded ("Too Bad). My album of the year. Might be the "kiss of death" but Norah Jones was taken in and Clarke guested on her podcast here.
The Hypnogogue -The Church . The Church in 2023 without either guitar "god" Marty Willson Piper or Peter Koppes should not work but somehow Steve Kilbey has managed to present the classic Church sound paired with his signature, oblique, lyrics across 12 wonderful tracks .No stranger to citing glam rock as an influence (as opposed to psychedelic Floyd-like sonics that are frequently paired with this band ) what is apparent is how much David Bowie/Mick Ronson is infused in the tracks .The surprise return of 2023.
Spectral Lines-Josh Ritter .
Wouldn't have crossed the radar if not for being championed by the WERS college station out of Boston, which I listen to A LOT.
The lead single "For Your Soul" channels Jeff Lynne & ELO but dont let that out you off. There is a depth of mature song writing and layered production across vocals that at times embody Leonard Cohen spoken word “ Sawgrass”, “Whatever Burns Will Burn” through to Neil Young type yearning “Horse No Rider”. “Honey I Do” is the most played song in my world this year according to Spotify.
Flying Wig - Devendra Banhart
Alerted by a review in "The Times" , gather this has the same producer as the latest Wilco album (Welsh native Cate Le Bon) but sonically this is a very different proposition .
Hailing from Venezuala , and his eleventh album to date , this was the dreamy hit in my world this year. Think late period Roxy Music & Avalon, in fact the outstanding 'Fireflies" is the great Bryan Ferry vs Beach House lost track., all lush & layered swampy guitars, fretless bass, ethereral keyboards with understated vocals..
i/o-Peter Gabriel -
Remember the saying "Form is temporary, class is permanent"?. May have been a sporting reference but could easily apply to Peter Gabriel. A mere 21 years after his last album of original material but even closer to the iconic 1992 Us, no one writes songs with a mixture of mood and groove, has a remotely similar vocal style and delivers this consistent quality (albeit 4 x original albums since So in 1986).
He even tours before the album is released then puts it out it with 2 x very distinct versions/mixes (Spike Stent and Tchad Blake (known for his work in tandem with Mitchell Froom)) Now aged 74 but looking even older this album is astonishing, just requires a Kate Bush style reference in a Gen Z streaming service and will open up a whole new geration of fans .
Everything Harmony -The Lemon Twigs
These surfer looking dudes (brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario) present the most 60's influenced Bacharach meets Brian Wilson effort this year. In danger of committing the full kitchen sink at times the strength of the vocal harmonies and melodies carry this through. Opening track “When Winter Comes Around” has spare nylon string guitar and exquisite harmonies , suggesting these guys could sing an old-style telephone book and still hold your attention .Apparently the most accessible release by these guys which is really saying something but when you read that Todd Rungren is a huge influence then it all makes sense. Worth repeated listening.
Natural Disaster -Bethany Cosentino -
An apt title from one half of the former LA duo Best Coast . On this debut solo album (apparently Best Coast is no longer a “thing”), this Los Angeles native contributes pop hooks a mix of personal vs world view lyrics courtesy of legendary Nashville producer Butch Walker. The title track has one of the great lyric couplets for 2023 ..
"This is the hottest summer I can every remember,
'Cause the world is on fire
And, hey, if we're all dying, then what does it matter?
We're a natural disaster"
Seven Psalms - Paul Simon - To hear Paul Simon go back to the 60's with delicately finger picked acoustic based accompaniment was another surprise this year . Arriving as one 33 minute piece, broken up in distinct "movements' Seven Psalms is an extremely personal rumination on life (what on earth is it about?) and what God is or represents . Expertly done as you would expect , the guy is still extremely serious and has been shaken by losing his hearing in one ear. Aged 81 but he looks 100 , then again so does Bob Dylan. We are fortunate they are still around.
Paint My Bedroom Black – Holly Humberstone . With a Brit award already prior to releasing her first album there was likely some serious anticipation regarding the debut release. There are reminders of fellow young Brit star Sam Fender in the earnest lyrics ( see “Ghost Me – “ I’ve been crying all night , but too scared to Google the symptoms “) but sonically there is a depth with electronica, layered vocals amongst the acoustic and electric guitars. A star is born indeed.
Filling the 10th slot is the Reissue of the year..
The Complete Budokan 1978- Bob Dylan - Not an official Bob Bootleg series release, nonetheless this gets a welcome reissue with the original 1979 release "Live at Budokan" fleshed out by entire sets over 2 x nights at the iconic Japan venue (think Beatles to Cheap Trick) Those who screamed "Bob's gone Vegas" at the time should be silenced as, in retrospect, always with an enquiring mind, you can hear Bob veering towards gospel , changing chord structures of his well known songs ( “Like A Rolling Stone” ) altering lyrics (“ Simple Twist of Fate’" presented from an entirely new perspective) , basically seeking inspiration . Superb musicians and great to hear Bob leading this with his electric, complete with in-between song noodling. With his “Never Ending” touring this year , picking up the guitar live again and varying setlists according to where he is on each date, the man continues as the most vital amongst of his contemporaries mentioned already.
Have to list a few disappointments :
Jenny Lewis (Joy'all) was let down by a dip in songwriting and unimaginative Nashville production by Dave Cobb (supposedly the "go to" guy) while ,
The Rolling Stones Inc ("Hackney Diamonds") , has become Mick n Ronnie which is a terrible place to be ,
Ben Howard ,"Is It" whom I have listened to a lot over the years continues to veer off into the margins and abandon his virtuoso based guitar playing and just go plain weird.
Lloyd Cole , "On Pain" continues with exploring electonica, not bad but not as great as the previous effort "Guesswork" and never crossed my mind to go and see him live (the most boring performer ever).
And a final note (perhaps the subject of a future post/rant)
Now & Then – The Beatles – so much “spin” being put on this last Beatles release, ("George really didn't hate it !) Paul McCartney has gone from a staunch “You can’t reheat a souffle” response in the ‘70s to repeated questions about the Beatles reconvening to spending the last 30 years doing just that. The facts of this song were it wasn’t even a proper demo but a stream of conscious sketch by John (complete with a TV on in the background) that was taken no further …go figure but sound of barrel being scraped is all that can be heard to these ears.
Final mention of some giants the music world lost in 2023;