My top 10 albums of the year so far
2023's best in no particular order
I love lists. Every year, I try compiling 'best of the year' lists in various categories for my own entertainment but, seeing as I now have this outlet with 5-9, I can now share such lists and, with six months down in 2023, now is the perfect time for a stock check. So, in alphabetical order, here are the 10 albums I've enjoyed most this year so far...
Arlo Parks - My Soft Machine
A fan of Arlo's debut, Collapsed in Sunbeams, I wasn't blown away and was surprised when she took home the Mercury Prize in 2021 for it. Following up such a widely praised first effort is no easy task, but with My Soft Machine not only brushes aside 'difficult second album' fears but finds another gear and greater variety across the 12 tracks. The standard stays high across each track, with only 'Pegasus' veering into middle-of-the-road territory. Parks shows that Collapsed in Sunbeams was no fluke and it will be fascinating to see where she goes next - a recently announced book tour notwithstanding!
My Soft Machine was one of the five albums reviewed by myself and music bloggers, Karl Blakesley and Kiley Larsen, for the May episode of our Album of the Month podcast which you can listen to here.
BC Camplight - The Last Rotation of Earth
Another entry from May's Album of the Month podcast, the sixth studio album by Brian Christinzio in the guise of BC Camplight retained the original charm of the project, whilst delivering some of the most accessible songs of his career, such as the title track, 'Kicking Up a Fuss' and 'I'm Ugly'. The UK culture references were many and with UK citizenship acquired, the New Jersey-born singer-songwriter recently shared how he's now eligible for the Mercury Prize. He would stand to have a good chance on what, unlike the press accompanying the record suggests, is hopefully not his final LP.
Billy Nomates - CACTI
Another artist, like Arlo Parks, to majorly impress on their 'difficult second album' was Tor Maries - AKA Billy Nomates - who built on the punk stylings of her 2020 self-titled debut with a less abrasive and more contemplative sophomore record. This mellower second helping of Billy Nomates revealed a greater depth to her songwriting and musicianship than her impressive debut suggested without completely throwing away the punk aesthetic which brought her to my attention in the first place, with songs like 'spite' showing her playful penchant for biting lyrics over simple rock compositions. Not only did it impress me, but it impressed fellow Album of the Month podcasters, Karl Blakesley and Kiley Larsen, that CACTI took home the inaugural title in January.
You can listen to January's Album of the Month podcast, featuring our glowing praise for CACTI, here.
Caroline Polachek - Desire, I Want to Turn Into You
Consider the 'difficult second album' theory well and truly debunked by this stage with my third second album entry on the list so early in the countdown! Polachek's second album as a solo artist showed that pop music can be danceable, but also diverse and imaginative. Not a regular listener of the genre, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You showed what's possible in this space and an album that I initially thought was going to be trying to get into as part of the research into February's Album of the Month podcast became one I wanted to dive into again and again, and ended up being my top pick for the podcast. With this album, Polachek has truly arrived.
To listen to what Karl, Kiley and I had to say about the album, listen to the February Album of the Month podcast here.
Gaz Coombes - Turn the Car Around
Supergrass are one of those bands whose singles and any other song I have heard of theirs, I absolutely love but, despite this, I've not truly ventured into their discography. Little did I know that frontman, Gaz Coombes, also has been writing music as a solo artist for over a decade and having come across one of the songs off Turn the Car Around - his fourth LP - on BBC 6 Music's new music playlist and then heard fellow Album of the Month podcasters, Karl and Kiley, praise the album, this was a chance to dive in. And what an album it is. While only nine songs long, there is no filler and no little depth in the subject matter, illuminated by an array of different and compelling arrangements. Further exploration of his and his band's is a must!
Gorillaz - Cracker Island
For whatever reason, my leaning into the musical output of Gorillaz since 2005's superb Demon Days has been minimal. Six albums later, on their eighth studio album, Cracker Island, the genre-agnostic cartoon band were creating a buzz which was impossible to ignore so I decided to give it a shot and it was as if there had been no time at all between the two albums. Featuring a who's who of guest artists, such as Stevie Nicks, Tame Impala and Thundercat, the album's 10 songs fly by taking you in multiple different directions. It certainly augurs well for Damon Albarn's second big release this year, arriving later this month with Blur.
Grian Chatten - Chaos for the Fly
One of the five albums soon to be discussed in the June episode of the Album of the Month podcast, I broke my own rule to not review albums we discuss in the podcast for 5-9. The album stream unexpectedly arrived in my inbox and I just couldn't let the opportunity pass me by to get an early handle on the Fontaines D.C. frontman's debut solo album. Eschewing the rock of his admired band for folk and chamber pop, the freshness of Chaos for the Fly gave me a similar feeling to that I experienced when Fontaines's debut, Dogrel, came out in 2019. The Fontaines upwards trajectory shows no sign of abating, but with his solo vehicle, Grian can tone things down and yet evoke similar awe in his confessional and biographical vignettes.
You can read my review of Chaos for the Fly for 5-9 here.
Jadu Heart - Derealised
Enigmatic English electro-shoegaze duo, Jadu Heart, were not known to me until Spotify's algorithm put me onto them earlier this year. Derealised is their third album and had me hooked as shoegaze or prog-rock can do when it hits right. An album to get lost in despite the minimalism of the lyrics and the less-than-clear direction of the project.
The Murder Capital - Gigi's Recovery
An unsurprising addition to the list for anyone who listened to the inaugural Album of the Month podcast episode or my subsequent tales on Twitter and in later episodes of the podcast where I shared my frustrations at not being allowed into the Kentish Town Forum for their February show due to overly officious bag restrictions. The Dublin post-punk band followed up their superb debut album, When I Have Fears, with a similarly themed sophomore effort which provides a narrative arc which points to a hopeful future. Bookended by initial dark thoughts and subsequent light at the end of the tunnel, Gigi's Recovery features no-holds barred rock tracks and heartfelt anthems and odes to those they love. Two albums in, The Murder Capital compliment the higher-profile exploits of Fontaines D.C. to firmly put Dublin on the map as the current heartbeat of top-tier indie-rock.
Listen to what we had to say about the album in the January Album of the Month podcast episode here.
Yves Tumor - Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
Yves Tumor - the recording alias of Miami-born Sean Bowie - first came to my attention when researching the line-up of one of the End of the Road Festivals I was attending. I was intrigued enough to attempt to watch their set, only to leave early to stop my ears bleeding with the volume at such ludicrous levels that you could feel the bass from the arena from the campsite where my friends and I sought solace. Since that fleeting experience, music critics have hailed Tumor's album output, yet I hadn't devoted time to check the four prior releases out myself. Seeing their fifth album coming up in March, I selected it for that month's Album of the Month podcast and the decision more than paid off, being treated to a carefully crafted sonic and existential journey on Praise a Lord... Blending many genres into one thoughtful LP, I was wowed and the view was broadly shared on the podcast too.
Listen in to what we had to say on the March episode of the Album of the Month podcast here.
So, a strong start to the year so far and I can't wait to see what the second half of the year has to bring and how this will shape my overall end-of-year list.