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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Belt

Cultural review of 2023

The year is nearly over, but what stood out for our panellists? We find out here



'Rizz' triumphing as Oxford University Press's word of the year, the recent Rugby World Cup and the sad passing of Matthew Perry are just some of the more recent notable events which will define 2023, but what of the rest of the year? We called together an accomplished batch of music writers (and 5-9 editor, Andrew Belt) to share their reflections on the year (nearly) just gone and pick out a few cultural highlights which, as ever, have lifted us from the doom and gloom of world events. Enjoy!



'One of the best years I can remember'


Karl Blakesley has been writing about music in various forms for over 10 years now, and today can be found running his own website, New Music Weekly, as well as contributing articles to music publications such as Gigwise and Headstuff. You can follow him on socials for regular album and song recommendations, which pull from a wide variety of genres and cater for all tastes.






How will you look back at 2023?


Extremely fondly, I honestly think 2023 has been one of the best years I can remember from a personal point of view. Had some great travel opportunities with my day job at the start of the year which meant I was able to see Stevie Nicks perform in Las Vegas, which is mad to think about looking back. Also went to Best Kept Secret festival in the Netherlands over the summer which is one of the best European festivals I've experienced to date. And just generally consumed more live music than I think I ever have done in a calendar year, which for me is what I live for! So yeah great year.


Who did the year belong to? / Best artists?



Young Fathers - a band who defined 2023 for Karl (photo credit: Stephen Roe)


From a music point of view, I'll say Young Fathers. From the huge acclaim for Heavy Heavy back in February, their incredible head-turning live performances over the summer festival season and then their latest Mercury Prize nomination, think they're a band that have really defined 2023 for me.


Which films grabbed you this year?



Oppenheimer: One of the best films Karl has ever seen


Not gone to the cinema as much as I would've liked in 2023, but I did get caught up in the Barbenheimer craze! Both films were great but coming out of the cinema from Oppenheimer I did say it was one of the best films I'd ever seen, and I stand by it. Fast-paced dialogue, phenomenal performances across the board and exquisite direction as ever from the master, Christopher Nolan. Already can't wait to watch it again!


Which podcasts stood out for you?


I hear 5-9's Album of the Month podcast is a good way to discover great new music.... but seriously, The View From The Afternoon by TPD TV is a regular in our house. If you're not familiar with them, they're a group of friends from Leeds who go around the world reviewing festivals and have an amazing YouTube channel which I use for deciding which festivals to check out next. But their podcast The View From The Afternoon is them discussing the festivals in more detail and occasionally just chatting shit about anything and everything with each other. 


What TV show/s did you enjoy?


So much amazing TV this year, I don't know where to start. Couple of standalone series first - Bad Sisters which is an Apple TV show about a group of sisters who try to kill their evil brother-in-law. Then Beef which is on Netflix, about two strangers who get into a road rage incident with each other to steadily escalating consequences. Both fantastically written with satisfying endings and will have you gripped all the way through. Then of course two longtime favourites had their final seasons in 2023 - Barry, which is about a hitman who decides he wants to become an actor and then Succession which is about a media mogul and his family who all want to take over the empire. Both finished their run on absolute highs, with Succession in particular an all-timer, particularly the Connor's Wedding episode - just powerful, flawlessly crafted TV. Outside of that, The Last of Us and season 2 of The Bear were both fantastic too - really is the golden age of TV right now!


What were your sporting highlights?


It may not have been the senior men's team, but England winning the U21's European Championship in dramatic fashion was definitely a highlight. Didn't realise it was on then stumbled into a pub and ended up watching the drama and subsequent elation unfold.


Who was your best new artist/s?



'A breakout year' for CMAT (Photo: Sarah Doyle)


She may have released her second album this year and already be a superstar over in Ireland, but I think 2023 was a breakout year for Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson AKA CMAT. If you've not seen her performance of 'Stay For Something' (which I think is my Song of the Year for 2023) on the Graham Norton Show then definitely check it out. A star-making, goosebump-inducing performance that firmly put her on everyone's radar. Other than her, I will also shout out Bleach Lab, Blondshell and SIPHO who produced some of my favourite debut records of 2023. 


What were your favourite album/s of 2023?


I would say check out 5-9's AOTY podcast episode and New Music Weekly to find this out.


What was the worst/most disappointing album?



First Two Pages of Frankenstein - a band 'going through the motions'


If you listened to the 5-9 Album of the Month podcast back in April, you'll know The National's First Two Pages of Frankenstein was a huge disappointment for me. One of my most-anticipated albums of 2023 from one of my favourite bands, and whilst not awful it just sounded like a band completely out of ideas and just going through the motions - which is in some ways worse! Thankfully, they rectified things with their second album of 2023, Laugh Track. Much more sonically adventurous and much closer to the standard I expect from them.


What were your top 3 songs of 2023?


'Stay For Something' by CMAT, 'Sole Obsession' by Nation of Language and 'Diving (Acoustic)' by Bombay Bicycle Club & Holly Humberstone.


(All tracks selected here have been added to the 5-9's monthly best songs: 2023 playlist)




Best live performance?


In terms of gigs attended, Creeper at Rock City here in Nottingham was definitely up there. A faultless setlist, an exhilarating performance and a live show full of theatrical nuance. Also saw Manchester indie legends and one of my all-time favourites James twice in the space of a couple of months - once outdoors over the summer where they ran through their greatest hits and then once with a choir and Orchestra towards the end of October, where the set featured more deep cuts and some of my personal favourite songs of theirs, some of which I had never heard live before. Two completely different performances, but both utterly sensational - they may be 40 years in, but they're still one of our best live acts.


What’s exciting you about 2024?



Everything Everything's upcoming album is just one of Karl's picks for 2024


More new music! We already have albums from the likes of Everything Everything, MGMT, Bob Vylan and more expected next year, so I'm looking forward to those being released. In terms of live shows, I am going to see The 1975 in Brussels in March and then have a massive double bill of The National and Bloc Party booked for July next summer. Cannot wait!



'Fairly happy with the 2023 culture year'


Kiley Larsen is a music writer constantly searching for the next great sandwich and indie album. When he's not digging through record crates, you can find him running Check This Out!, a twice-weekly music newsletter, and founding Mama Mañana Records in Santa Fe, New Mexico.












How will you look back at 2023?


I'm fairly happy with the 2023 culture year. Music-wise, things are as strong as ever with so many great new talents (especially in the lady world), and I'm licking my chops at the downfall of the superhero 'film' genre!


Who was your hero of 2023?



'A true punk presence': Jeff Rosenstock (Photo: Christine Mackie)


Jeff Rosenstock, who continues to be a true punk presence in the music industry, broke down the unfair practice of venues (mostly owned by Ticketmaster/LiveNation) taking percentages of merch sales. "The argument for the cut is 'well, fucko, we give you a place to sell your merchandise.' By that logic, we should also be getting a cut of the bar for bringing hundreds to thousands of people and their cash to the venue that night. For the record, we’re 100% down to give a merch cut any night we get a cut of the bar."


And your villain?


Elon Musk. Always, forever, 'nuff said.


Who did the year belong to?


I guess Taylor Swift. Sigh.


What was the best book you read this year?


Not from this year, but the recent updated version of God Only Knows: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys, and the California Myth by David Leaf was my favorite book I read this year (all 400+ pages of it).


What were your favourite films?



Kiley's 'biggest surprise of the year', Godzilla Minus One


Godzilla Minus One is my biggest surprise of the year, with its very real look at PTSD and looks fantastic for a $13 million budget. I also really loved Celine Song's Past Lives, which incorporates the Buddhist idea of in-yeon to turn the western idea of a love story on its head. In a just world, this would be an Oscar nominee. Also, an obvious shoutout to Barbie and being a commercial film that tears down the patriarchy.


What podcast did you enjoy listening to this year?


I don't listen to many podcasts these days, but will always give How Did This Get Made? a shoutout. Making fun of terrible movies is the perfect way to spend long road trips.


What TV shows did you enjoy?



Not much of a television person, but The Bear continues to make you laugh while absolutely crushing you.


What was your sporting highlight?



Nikola Jokic taking the Denver Nuggets to new heights (Photo credit: All-Pro Reels)


My Denver Nuggets ending the longtime suffering and winning their first NBA Finals championship. Joker will be the best NBA player of all time within five seasons, and both Denver and his home country of Serbia worship him.


Who were the year's best artists?


I'll keep it short and go with The Lemon Twigs, Barry Can't Swim, Strange Ranger and Julie Byrne.


Best new artists?


Blondshell, Josephine Network, Freeman DeJongh, and Duane Betts.


What were the best albums of 2023?



The Lemon Twigs - Endless Harmony, Julie Byrne - The Greater Wings, and LIES - Lies.


What were the worst/most disappointing albums?


boygenius - the album (their EP is one of my fav short-players in recent years and the debut album is snoozeworthy), Crystal Fighters - LIFE+, Circa Waves - Never Going Under, Tanlines - The Big Mess (an aptly named record for what once was a great indie pop act).


Top 3 songs of 2023?


'Mates' by John Carroll Kirby, 'Summer Glass' by Julie Byrne, 'Short Shorts, Deep Pockets' by Josephine Network.


What was the best show you caught in 2023?



The view from Cervantes Ballroom for Flamingosis


No doubt, it was Flamingosis's debut with a live band at Cervantes Ballroom in Denver.


What’s exciting you about 2024?


Continuing to celebrate the New Mexico music scene through my record label and booking residency in Santa Fe.




'A pretty eventful year'


Matthew McLister is a freelance writer and music fan based in Glasgow with a degree in History (University of Glasgow). Passionate about new guitar music and indie bands, he writes features for Gigwise and HeadStuff Media. During lockdown he launched the Blinded by the Floodlights indie website and has even produced his own podcast. By day, he works in Corporate Communications.








How will you look back at 2023?


Personally, it’s been a pretty eventful year - I got engaged and bought my first house! Plenty of stresses associated with the later but all worth it in the end.


Culturally, it’s been solid enough. A lot of great music and live music to enjoy.


Who was your hero of the year?


Scott McTominay for his efforts in helping Scotland quality for Euro 2024.


And your villain?



Taylor Swift - 'too much'! (Photo: iHeartRadioCA)


Taylor Swift - her and her music are just everywhere, it’s too much! 


Who did the year belong to?


This is a trick question to say Taylor Swift, right? 


Phoebe Bridgers has been really productive so we’ll go with her! 


What's the best book you've read this year?


I’ve read 10 books this year, my favourite being David Hepworth’s Uncommon People: The rise and fall of rockstars 1955-1994.


What's the best film you saw?



Tough one, I’ve definitely watched less films this year than any other and have maybe managed two cinema trips. I really enjoyed David Fincher’s new film, The Killer. Michael Fassbender plays this cold as ice hitman who lives by the motto 'empathy is weakness'. Lots of songs by The Smiths thrown in for good measure too!


What were your top podcasts of 2023?


I’m very much a big football podcast fan, so Heart and Hand - The Rangers podcast, the Football Ramble and Football Weekly are all regular listens and kept us going each week.


I do watch a lot of the TPD TV YouTube content (a group of friends from Leeds who travel around and document their experiences at different music festivals) so the accompanying View From The Afternoon podcast is always a funny listen as well to mix it up. 


What were the best TV shows?


Very tough again to pick just one. The Bear and the final season of Succession would up there. Squid Game: The Challenge was also a very addictive watch!


What were your sporting highlights?


Being a Rangers fan, there weren’t too many highlights to shout home about as we’re seemingly stuck in a rut of losing our manager a third into the season and then spend the rest of the season playing catch up. So I’d have to say Scotland beating Spain then later qualifying automatically for the Euros next summer was fantastic - first time we’d qualified through the group in 26 years! 


Who were your artists of the year?


Young Fathers delivered again with Heavy Heavy, their best record yet and was loving new albums this year from The Hives, Slowdive and Grian Chatten.


Who were your favourite new artists?


Bleach Lab, Grian Chatten (we can call him ‘new’, right?), and Chappaqua Wrestling.


What was your favourite album of 2023?



'A breathtaking listen': Bleach Lab's Lost in a Rush of Emptiness


Bleach Lab’s debut Lost in a rush of emptiness is my album of the year. I saw them supporting We Are Scientists back in February and I haven’t been able to stop listening to them since. The September released debut is a breathtaking listen.


What was the worst/most disappointing album?



'A slog': Blur's The Ballad of Darren


Hmmm there’s still parts I like, but Blur’s latest was pretty underwhelming for me. I’ve revisited it a few times since release and it felt like a slog come the end. Also the two albums released this year by The National, particularly The First Two Pages of Frankenstein. ‘Tropic Morning News’ and ‘New Order T Shirt’ are two of the best songs they’ve produced, but there’s far too much average stuff on both. They should’ve combined the best parts of both albums into one album and you’d have had a solid 8/10 album.


Top 3 songs of 2023?


'Tropic Morning News' by The National, 'Kisses' by Slowdive and 'All Night' by Bleach Lab.


What were the best live performances you saw?


Pulp at Trnsmt was so much fun as was Friendly Fires 15th anniversary tour in November for their debut album. Also The Lathums at the 02 Academy in Glasgow in February - my mate was a cynic going into the gig (he couldn’t say no to a free gig ticket, though!) but was completely won over by them.


What’s exciting you about 2024?


Too much. I was one of the lucky few to get tickets for The Libertines’ Albion Tour and also have tickets to see Bombay Bicycle Club in the same week in February. New albums by Idles, Yard Act, The Vaccines, NewDad, The Smile and a host of others. Maybe we’ll get a new Radiohead album, and aren’t The Strokes due something new next year? Excited to for all the prospects to reveal themselves.



'A massive year'


Adam Reeve is an editor/writer + other things-er for various places over many years. Currently for Dead Good Music - a music blog that pairs music and oranges together like you wouldn't believe.














How will you look back at 2023?


2023 was a massive year. I turned 30 and didn’t suffer too much of an existential crisis over it, and my other half and I bought our first house. It was the final box left to complete on the 'become an adult' mental checklist I had, so that was quite special. Although I still need someone else to come and remove spiders for me!


There were some cool moments on the music editor side too. I interviewed Michael Shuman about his new side-project GLU and got to (uncoolly) tell him about my love for QOTSA, and I also went to more gigs this year than ever.


Who was your hero of the year?



'Bringing a banging soundtrack to the masses': Greta Gerwig


Greta Gerwig deserves a shoutout for bringing toxic masculinity, feminism, empathy, character development, good storytelling, and a banging soundtrack to the masses. Barbie was fantastic, and a film that appealed to everybody, while also bringing attention and buzz back to the cinemas. Good stuff.


And your villain?


Always and forever, the Tories.


Who did the year belong to?


Probably Taylor Swift. It seems no matter which direction you looked, she was there. I appreciate why she’s rereleasing her music and root for anyone who sticks it to the man, but this was overexposure on a whole new level. It has been crazy.


Best books you've read this year?


I’m currently on the last chapter of David Goggins’ Can’t Hurt Me, and it’s been a great read. This dude decides he wants to become a Navy Seal but needs to lose over a hundred pounds in three months and he just…does it. He then talks about enduring Hell Week three times, running ultra marathons and again, he just does it. It’s incredible. Hearing how he talks about his mind as something he needs to battle against is pretty inspiring and has certainly helped me through moments of doubt and insecurity throughout the year.


Another book I loved is The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters. It dives into how the mind is so influential in what we do, and how susceptible it is to be forming bad habits that we create sub-consciously. It is fascinating and has helped me learn to understand about why I am wired in particular ways.


What was your favourite film?


It wasn’t a big year for watching new films other than Barbie, but it would probably take the top spot anyway. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone has been on regular rotation for essentially every weekend this year, but not sure if that counts?


What podcast did you enjoy most listening to?



Off Menu: Bringing joy to Adam's commute


Off Menu as it brings joy to my commute every week, as well as good recommendations for restaurants and bars in and around London.


What were your favourite TV shows?


Things haven’t really felt the same since Succession ended, but I did enjoy The Last Of Us, The Bear and Bodies. But yeah, Succession’s final season solidified it as one of the best TV shows in recent years.


What were your sporting highlights?



The good times are returning to St Mary's in the Championship (Photo: Solent Creatives)


As a Southampton fan there aren’t many good ones. Relegation hurt but seeing James Ward-Prowse leave for West Ham hurt deeper. But at least we’re doing well in the Championship at the moment.


Who were your favourite artists in 2023?


There’s a little subsection of punk bands that have dominated my playlists this year. They are Dream Nails, PEACH, Coach Party, Penny Rich and M(h)aol. It’s good to see the genre continuing to have a resurgence!


And your favourite new artists?



A 'pretty unique' sound: The Last Dinner Party (photo: Raph_PH)


The Last Dinner Party have been receiving all sorts of plaudits this year and rightly so. Whether or not their growth is organic, their sound is pretty unique. More power to them. FIZZ have also been responsible for providing much-needed hits of dopamine too.


What have been some of your favourite albums?



Queens of the Stone Age's In Times New Roman… - 'Up there' for Adam


I’m currently in the midst of writing the final drafts of the end of year lists so albums have been the only thing on my mind lately. QOTSA’s In Times New Roman… is definitely up there – biased opinion or not – but I’ve also been really enjoying Paramore’s and Foo Fighters’ newest albums too.


What was the worst/most disappointing album?


Blur’s new album didn’t really do it for me. I wasn’t really sure to expect from them in 2023, but it wasn’t what we got. A lot of people seemed to enjoy it though, so fair play.


Top 3 songs of 2023?


Queens of the Stone Age – 'Paper Machete', Jessie Ware – 'Free Yourself' and Lauran Hibberd – 'I suck at grieving'.


Best live performance?


QOTSA at London’s O2 Arena will never be topped. Ever. Although seeing Black Honey crush it at Southend’s Chinnerys will always be a special highlight of the year too. Something about seeing a relatively big band perform at a local venue feels even cooler.


What’s exciting you about 2024?


Now that a lot of the moving out process has settled down, I’m looking forward to dedicating more time to music and Dead Good Music again. It was a largely inconsistent year that involved a lot of keeping the wheels spinning, but next year I’m hoping to embrace the orange more than ever!



'Musically, with thankfulness'


Phil Taylor (aka Music Observer) lives in the East Midlands and spends a disproportionate amount of his time listening to music, attending gigs and wearing band T-shirts.


Phil is obsessed with music of all genres, with a leaning towards alt-pop, folk, indie rock and post-punk. He started his blog in 2021 as a way of sharing his feelings about good music; it quickly grew into a fully fledged venture with a focus on new releases as well as live reviews and interviews. He now writes for other publications including LeftLion, The Songbird and Music in Leicester.



How will you look back at 2023?


With dismay in terms of world events, and politics, but let's not reflect on that. Musically, with thankfulness for all the artists working so hard, and honouring us by sharing their work - which is often a deeply personal expression - with us. 


Who did the year belong to?



Holly Humberstone: One of a clutch of female artists who 'smashed it' in 2023 (Photo: Justin Higuchi)


For me, this year definitely belonged to female artists, particularly younger ones. Hannah Grae, Holly Humberstone, Dylan, Tate McRae, Olivia Rodrigo, Baby Queen, Lizzie Esau … they all utterly smashed it in 2023, as did many female-led bands (Swim School, Coach Party, She's in Parties, Bleach Lab, The Big Moon, The Last Dinner Party ...) I could go on. They have all produced - in their own contexts - relatable, unashamed works. They have written great songs, and albums, which are lyrically creative at the same time as being unpretentious; and their live shows have been popular and critically acclaimed. I know there is still lots to do (including in terms of festival headline line-ups) but I do hope that this year marks a proper breaking down of old-fashioned and frankly repugnant prejudices.


(And let’s not forget Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey, in particular, providing inspiration).


Who was your favourite new artist?


FIZZ. A genius collaboration; the super group we probably didn’t realised we desperately needed, but who it would seem hard to live without now.


They provide a magical combination of spot on musicianship, focused and professional when needed, but always good fun and producing insanely good harmonies. I’ve seen them live twice this year and they keep getting better. Check out their Radio 1 piano lounge session recently!


Best albums of 2023?



Fizz's The Secret to Life: 'Colourful, innovative and entertaining'


Despite being a bit more organised this year and keeping track of albums as they come out, I've still found myself wrestling with which records are the 'best'. I'm working on my usual top 10 (plus at least 10 "honourable mentions") at the moment, and this will be on my blog sometime before Christmas, all being well. To be honest, I've still got a lot of soul-searching to do before that list is finished, but I can say for sure that these three will be on my main list: 


The Secret to Life by Fizz - so colourful, innovative and entertaining;


Hell Is A Teenage Girl by Hannah Grae - full-on expressions of modern-day angst; some absolute tunes on there, crafted so well but remaining honest;


Paint My Bedroom Black by Holly Humberstone - a long-awaited debut album, displaying her new found confidence and ever-growing maturity.


What was the best live performance you caught?


That has to be Dictator at The Water Rats in London, in September. I've been following this band for a while, and desperate to catch them live, so this was a huge thrill. They really are something special. The set was so full of energy, and the band really connected with the crowd in ways that I haven't seen in a while. Michael's vocals were spot on too - it was just incredible (and lots of other adjectives, all of which I used in the write up I did on my blog).


What’s exciting you about 2024?


Given the trajectory I've seen in new music over the past couple of years, I'm really excited to see what 2024 will hold. I don't know yet what that will be, and that's part of the excitement. The "known unknowns" are that there are going to be new artists emerging and new songs and albums released which will thrill and satisfy our continual urge for music. That all sounds a bit grandiose perhaps ..! Coming back down to Earth, I do know about some planned album releases which I expect to be great. Three of them happen to be in February: Crawlers, who are so creative and always guaranteed to shake things up; the mighty IDLES, who are going to some really interesting places at the moment; and Hurray for the Riff Raff, one of my favourite U.S. artists, always innovative and honest. A bit later in the year, Katherine Priddy has a new album planned, which I know will be another delicately balanced, gem of modern folk.



'A year of great music'


Gemma Cockrell is a journalist based in Nottingham. You can either find her assistant-editing LeftLion Magazine, listening to live music in one of Nottingham’s brilliant music venues or watching motorsport.






How will you look back at 2023?


I will look back on it as a year of great music. I am still discovering a lot of it that I am realising I missed at the time it was released, but there were many great albums this year and the live music scene has truly felt like it’s thriving again which is great to see. 


Who did the year belong to?


It’s got to be Taylor Swift. I don’t think anyone has been spoken about as much as her this year and I have to give her credit for that. She’s been retaking ownership of her music and in the process she’s taken over the world. Fair play to her - it’s empowering to watch. 


What was your favourite film?



I really loved Suzume. I’m a huge fan of everything Makoto Shinkai has ever directed and this was no exception. It’s the perfect film for a solo cinema trip, this is one well worth seeing on the big screen, if you ever get the chance.


What podcast did you enjoy most?


5-9's Album of the Month podcast, of course! But I also have to give a shoutout to Screaming Meals. This is one for the sports fans, particularly fans of motorsport, as it’s hosted by an IndyCar driver, a European Le Mans Series driver and… an insurance broker. I won’t give answers to any more questions. Go check it out if you want to know more.  


What were your favourite TV shows?


Just like my podcasts, my TV shows revolve around sport. Overtake! is an anime series based around Japanese motorsport, but it also has some emotional backstories and heartfelt moments, so anyone can enjoy it. I also loved the tennis docuseries Break Point on Netflix. I like sport as well as music if you couldn’t tell… 


What were your sporting highlights?


Here we go. This question was made for me. Well, definitely nothing from Formula 1, I can promise you that. It wasn’t the most interesting season this year. Perhaps having a NASCAR race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans? That was pretty cool. The Wimbledon final stands out for me, too - watching Djokovic get beaten is always interesting. I’ve also loved IndyCar this year, since it’s filled the void when F1 was being a snooze fest. 


Who were your favourite artists of the year?


This is a tough one. My two albums of the year were from Chappaqua Wrestling and Holly Humberstone so I’ve got to shoutout those. Both albums are brilliant from start to front and they hold up in a live setting, too. But there are too many to mention!


And your favourite new artists?


I’ve got to give a mention to Divorce. They’ve been around since before 2023 but this year feels like the year the momentum was truly behind them. They dropped their EP ‘Heady Metal’ last month and went on a sold out tour. I can only imagine what 2024 holds for them. Other artists I’ve discovered this year include The Royston Club and Lottery Winners. It feels like both of them have gained a lot of new fans with their respective new albums. 


Best albums of 2023?



Whoops, I actually already answered this one! But it’s got to be ‘Plus Ultra’ by Chappaqua Wrestling and ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ by Holly Humberstone. Both very different, but I’ve had both on repeat at different points throughout the year. ‘Plus Ultra’ suits spring and summer, while ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ is perfect for autumn and winter. 


What was the worst/most disappointing album?


I have to admit that the new Paramore one didn’t grow on me unfortunately. I loved the track ‘You First’ but the rest didn’t click. I wouldn’t say it was a bad album at all though, just not my thing. I can’t think of any that I’ve listened to that were straight up bad, though. So, it must have been a decent year! 


Top 3 songs of 2023?


My first pick is ‘silent stranger’ by Against the Current. I could have easily picked any of their three singles from this year but this one is my current favourite so I’ve gone with that. It’s such a powerful song. 


My second pick is ‘shame’ by guccihighwaters. No one can portray emotion like gucci and this is one of his saddest songs to date. It’s a moving piano ballad and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever heard - it’s just captivating. 


My third pick has got to be ‘Nothing Matters’ by The Last Dinner Party. I actually think I might now prefer their most recent single, but the storm this song created on the internet just cements it as an iconic moment from 2023. Since then they’ve proven that they’re the real deal. 


What was the best live performance you caught?



'Incredible': Gemma was blown away by Self Esteem's performance at Rock City (Photo: Raph_PH)


I saw Self Esteem at Rock City and I’ve got to give it to her. I was hungover, went alone, and retired to the balcony for most of the set so I could lean on something… but I think from that view I could truly appreciate the artistry of her staging. She spoke about how difficult it is for artists to put on a full-blown performance on a budget but you would have never known that she hadn’t had unlimited cash to throw at it. Multiple outfit changes, choreographed dance routines complete with backing dancers… it was an all out show. And the fact that she did it on a budget makes it even more impressive. Obviously, without all of that, her music speaks for itself. She’s incredible. 


What’s exciting you about 2024?


The number of artists who I can sense are on the cusp of blowing up. Divorce, who I mentioned earlier, being one of them. There are so many artists who I can sense are just about to break out and I can’t wait to see them do just that. And try and catch them all live in the process!




Andrew Belt is the editor of 5-9. He works in corporate communications and has a background in journalism, social media and marketing. With a broad range of interests, Andrew hopes to find the time to pen articles on music, sport and whatever else pops into his brain. Andrew is especially excited about podcasts and exploring this format via 5-9. Previously, Andrew has written for various rugby league publications, the University of Leeds newspaper and music magazine, Gigwise, and also co-founded football analysis website, The False Nine.












How will you look back at 2023?


Like Phil, not too fondly based on world events, but, personally, it's been a big one with a house move and a first full year in a new job. Fatherhood, as well, continues to evolve, eating up more of my time and energy, but is still the greatest thing.


On the music front, well, one (almost) calendar year of 5-9 and it's been a joy when time allows to collaborate with brilliant writers and podcasters over the last 12 months to highlight the best in new music.


Who was your hero in 2023?


Feeling like The Stranglers, none spring too easily to mind, but kudos to Dave Grohl for keeping the show on the road after the untimely passing of Taylor Hawkins. First Kurt, then Taylor (as well as his mother), he'd have been forgiven for retreating from the limelight, but Foo Fighters came back refreshed and bravely confronted the trauma of the past 12+ months to often stunning effect on But Here We Are.


And a villain?


Too many candidates to mention here! But, living in the UK and being unable to avoid the devolution of brain power and moral fibre of the ruling party since 2016, Suella Braverman takes some beating...


Who did the year belong to?



'Inescapable' in 2023: boygenius (Photo: Harrison Whitford)


Aside from Taylor, Boygenius and Damon Albarn. The former have been inescapable and seem to have amazed a lot of the music community (leaving the three of us reviewing it on March's AOTM episode very much in the minority!), while Albarn brought out two solid albums by Gorillaz and Blur, and was responsible for the most talked-about live show in the UK when Blur took to Wembley Stadium. Honourable mentions to Danny Brown, billy woods and 070 Shake for their reach across various different projects this year.


What were your favourite books?


After a slow start with only Craig Brown's excellent One Two Three Four - The Beatles in Time completed a few months into the year, I got into the groove with a great run of The Rodchenkov Affair, Agent Sonya, Friday Night Lights, Shuggie Bain, Trainspotting, How to be Right and Undoctored: The Story of a Medic Who Ran Out of Patients.



Hard to choose a favourite from the above, but non-fiction usually tends to win out with me and my joint-favourites were Agent Sonya by Ben MacIntyre - a scarcely believable tale of a German-Jewish female Communist who became a spy for the Soviet Union and lived in many countries during some of the most significant historical events of the 20th century, while giving birth to three children from three different fathers - and Friday Night Lights - a bonafide classic documenting American football obsession in a small American town which hinges its hopes on the college team. Written with wit and tenderness for its subjects, the latter lived up to its billing as one of the best sports books ever written, but some of the language and behaviours seemed more applicable to the 1960s than the 1990s when it was written, which gave it an interesting extra appeal in 2023.


What was the best podcast you listened to?


Aside from the obligatory mention of 5-9's Album of the Month project, it has to be Fighting Talk - a favourite of mine for nearly 20 years now! This year's roster of episodes of the podcast, which pits together four people from or interested in the world of sport, and challenges them to come up with the funniest/wittiest answers to questions loosely related to current sports news to win points, was particularly poignant with it being host, Colin Murray's final series. Naturally, you worry about the quality of a show in this circumstance, and considering his inimitable hosting is the only I've ever known, but Rick Edwards has proven an inspired successor.


What were your sporting highlights?



Driving Leeds United forward once again: Daniel Farke (Photo: Loopylu20)


As a Leeds United fan, it's been a year of two halves: the first a familiar tragicomic fall from grace as the bottom fell from the team spectacularly and we were relegated after appearing to be relatively comfortable, but uninspiring, at the end of 2022; and the second a rebirth under Daniel Farke. The highlight has been watching his careful management of a tricky club to manage in the aftermath of relegation and then driving us forward once our owners and signings had caught up with his ambition. Hopefully an exciting 2024 ahead in this sense!


Who were your favourite new artists?


2023 has been ripe with fresh new artists. Among the best have been 7ebra, Blondshell and Olivia Dean.


Best albums of 2023?


TBC. More to follow in the coming weeks...


What was the worst/most disappointing album?


My pick for May's Album of the Month episode, Alison Goldfrapp's first solo record just didn't lift off. As vocalist for the consistently brilliant Goldfrapp, the quality levels of the band have been astonishing at times but this new project and its disco sheen just left me cold.


Top 3 songs of 2023?


At this stage (and subject to change), 'The Stars Will Leave Their Stage' by The Murder Capital, 'Rest' by Foo Fighters and 'Everything I Want' by George Clanton.


Best live performance?



Metallica at Download Festival. The first of their two nights just shades night #2 by a whisker but it was a music wishlist item well and truly ticked off as the band demonstrated why they still command the widespread and acclaim of so many.


What’s exciting you about 2024?


Music-wise, new releases by Ty Segall, Everything Everything, IDLES, serpentwithfeet and Bob Vylan. Elsewhere, hopefully the trips by Leicester and/or Ipswich which will leave Leeds ready to swoop and secure a quick return to the Premier League (and spankings by Man City)!

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