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Bill Cummings’s Albums of the Year 2023 – Part Two

In the second and final part of my albums of 2023, I present to you more records I loved from the last twelve months, there’s always so much great music being released it’s just finding it. Again I urge you to support the acts you love in whatever way you can.

Corinne Bailey Rae – Black Rainbows 

Stony Island Arts Bank is as an art and community space that houses permanent and temporary collections that “honor black excellence and confront the traumas of the past,” Williams’s collection of “negrophilia”: 4,000 objects rooted in stereotypical representations of Blackness. Each track on Black Rainbows is informed by a different discovery that Corinne Bailey Rae made at the Arts Bank archive since first visiting it in 2017.

Eschewing her soul pop fame, Rae explores and stretches her influence into a constantly refreshing and challenging long player that depict the range of her musical palette and delves into the black experience of the world, tackling the prejudice and celebrating its greatness, to produce one of the albums of 2023. From tracks that take influence from her formative punk rock and riot grrl such as the incendiary ‘Erasure’ and the infectious ‘New York Transit Queen’, to subtle compositions that skirt the lines of jazz and pop  like the gorgeous ‘Peach Velvet Sky‘. Imperious.

Caroline Polachek – Desire I wants to Turn into you

Boundary stretching yet crammed with accessible, addictive tunes, Caroline Polachek formerly of Chairlift, produced one of the most refreshing pop experiences of 2023. ‘Welcome to My Island‘ is riotous, body popping with illuminating synths and Polachek’s inventive vocals that bounce off the walls and are riven with self reflective sing alongs that are as deep as the pools she’s swimming in. ‘Bunny is a Rider’ is fantastic, swaying yet sinewy bass line and a clicking beat littered refreshing vocals that come at you from every direction, residing with elements of hip hop and r&b, remolding pop melodies in her image, this is brilliant. ‘Sunset‘ is lit up by Latin guitars, quickfire beats and bewitching vocals that switch between sultry and choral in an instance, it’s utterly entrancing. Imaginative and with magnificent futuristic production that offers constant delights upon every play,  Polachek has consumed the entirety of pop music history and reinterpreted it thrillingly, it sounds like nothing else, this is one of the best records of 2023. 

Chroma – Ask for Angela

Chroma have been one of Wales’s best-kept secrets, this fearsome Welsh three-piece have been producing righteous bilingual noise pop for the last few years, powered by visceral riffing, pummelling drums, and Katie Hall’s powerhouse vocal performances. They signed to Alcopop! Records for their righteously awesome debut album Ask for Angela this year.  Lead single ‘Don’t Mind Me’ laced with chunky fuzzy bar chords, and twitchy drums, it serves as a platform for Katie’s incendiary vocals that chart her struggles with mental health, magnifying her personal experiences and raging at the unfairness of the mental health system, it’s a universal struggle and offers an “I’ve been there too” lifeline to many who have suffered with their mental health, especially since lockdown. “Oh my head is hazardous!” she exclaims repeatedly, over this most explosive chorus, ‘Don’t Mind Me’ hits hard in more ways than one! It also contains their fantastic previous release ‘Girls Talk’  and the explosively rage infused ‘Woman to Woman’ . Chroma should be damn proud of this record.

Echo Ladies – Lilies

Malmo trio Echo Ladies returned in 2023 with the superlative album Lillies, showcasing their intention to, ‘balance the emotions of sorrow and loneliness, with anger, frustration, and the determination to make a change for the better’ gaze rock with a bite and infused with emotional heft. It was heralded with a formidable  single entitled ‘Coming Home,’  a crushing wall of noise, riven with squalling serrated edged riffing with scampering bass lines: barrelling along on the back of powerful drums. Leavened with earworm melodies: it’s like entering a tunnel of noise whilst they are burrowing their way to the freedom of the light. Stunning. “This song is heavily inspired by two of our favourite bands, A Place To Bury Strangers and The Jesus & Mary Chain,” the band said. “Our aim was to make the song feel like a big wave of noise, feedback, and guitars that hits you in the face. We can’t remember how many layers of fuzzed and distorted guitars are on this track, but it’s a lot.”

Meanwhile ‘Awake‘ another stone cold standout crushes in with thudding drum machines and bass lines, simmering guitars that flash like shiny knives, and vocals that menace and bristling with intensity, before this collision of gaze rock and post punk propels into an unmissable space. Don’t sleep on this record, it’s ace! Art School Girlfriend – Soft Landing

Art School Girlfriend is Polly Mackey, and her second album Soft Landing released in 2023. is superb; a record of poetically drawn euphorias, capturing small moments of joy. It also has an immersive and meditative quality, each song possesses the beguiling depths of dream pop but there’s also the major influence of electronica and dance music, with illuminating synth-textures, dappling trance and breakbeat-inspired elements, that combine into an engrossing, detailed tapestry. Mackey’s songwriting craft and depth is matched by a voice of knowing, longing and experience, yet it has a comfort of a Tracey Thorn, but it is her own voice that wraps itself around you like a warm duvet as she’s dealing with emotional peaks and lows. 

Aesop Rock – Integrated Tech Solutions

Legendary MC Aesop Rock delivers an awesomely inventive stomp of future hip hop of the present tense/tension with new single Mindful Solutionism, the opening track from the awesomely prescient ‘Integrated Tech Solutions’ LP. Enlivened by electronic crunch and funky beats ‘Mindful Solutions’ sounds as urgent as a the wordplay of a Run the Jewels’ joint grooving with the electronic samples of Afrika Bambata. Rock thrillingly and playfully weighs up the pros and cons of technology, delivered by the underground hip-hop mainstay in typically unique fashion. Like Killer Mike becoming a nutty professor, this is superbly prescient as AI threatens creativity and humanity itself, Rock pushes back with a laser-focused cut riven with detail, wit, and hooks. Other highlights include the bouncing ‘Infinity Goose Down’ that tries to make sense of a increasingly insane world with a musical nod to Jurassic Five, or ‘Salt and Pepper Squid’ that’s tumbling lysergic bars alight on the absurdity and futility of modern life. Malenas -Ahora 

Spanish quartet Malenas reassembled and offered a wonderful palette of songs on their refreshing third record Ahora. Like a soundtrack to some never produced 70s sci fi programme, this tapestry of vintage synths like the Korg Delta or the Yamaha PSR-36 stretch their sonic orbit, with bubbling melodies and harmonies offering beguiling mystery around each corner, the title track is a symbolic. While the psych flecked 60s pop of ‘1986’ tip toes through the melodic tulips into a joyous space, to have a little boogie hand in hand, quite awesome.

Gradually introducing itself with addictive organ motifs, popping beats and a wonderous vocal in the Spanish language,  the single ‘Dos Parajeros’ (Two Passengers) is a wonderful delight, a pick me up in uncertain times. They say it’s about “people that travel with you, that you carry in your thoughts wherever you go, that somehow illuminate your path in life and accompany you in every moment.” An infectious track that slides somewhere between early Stereolab and Melody’s Echo Chamber, yet has it’s own thing. It’s the sound of growth and finding strength in community and those whose presence you bring with you on your next adventures, two hearts connected as they travel, the entwined vocals have a entrancing quality that wraps itself hopefully around your heart and gives you a warm glow. ill peach – THIS IS NOT AN EXIT

Los Angeles duo ill peach release their debut full-length, THIS IS NOT AN EXIT, via Hardly Art. Abrasive ebullient pop songs, with a gritty electro and punky underbelly. ‘BLAH BLAH BLAH’ is one of the standouts, a rushing cut up of distorted pop redolent of PEACHES and the rushing indie pop speaky/sung sounds of Wet Leg. Yet much better than sounds, Jess Corazza’s vocals drip with irony and attitude amidst a tapestry of cut up abrasive punk riffs, acoustics and distorted hammer, stand well back this is highly addictive. The seed of ill peach was first planted in the recording studios of New York City, where Pat Morrissey and Jess Corazza were working together as professional songwriters. Since then, they’ve collaborated with artists like SZAWeezerPharrellSaint JHnIcona Popaespa, and Genisis Owusu. The duo needed an outlet for their more left-of-centre, personal compositions, and ill peach was born. CLAIRE M SINGER – Saor

CLAIRE M SINGER announced details of the first release in a triptych of albums, inspired by escapes to the peaks of her homeland of Scotland. The first of these releases, Saor [pronounced Sood: meaning “free” in Scottish Gaelic] is out on the 3rd of November. ‘Cairn Toul’ is really special piece swelling with the vastness and foreboding of the Scottish landscapes that she’s inspired by and the slate grey darkness of the clouds above head.

Singer’s use of the pipe organ, explores rich harmonic textures and crafts a cinematic atmosphere that’s both enveloping and awe inspiring. “Saor follows two narratives: my trekking across the Cairngorm mountains in Aberdeenshire through the granite plateaux, corries, glens and straths, and my exploration of the 1872 organ built by Peter Conacher & Coy, Huddersfield in Forgue Kirk Aberdeenshire where many of my ancestors lie.”

H Hawkline – Milk For Flowers

With Milk For Flowers, released last spring via Heavenly Recordings, H.Hawkline (Huw Evans) delivered his best record yet. Produced and features musical contributions from long-time collaborator and solo artist in her own right Cate Le Bon. Recorded at Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire, the album features a host of musical collaborators – Davey Newington [Boy Azooga] on drums, Paul Jones [Group Listening] on piano, Tim Presley [White Fence, DRINKS, The Fall] on guitar, Stephen Black [Sweet Baboo] and Euan Hinshelwood [Younghusband, Cate Le Bon] on sax. 

This suite of luxurious piano led songs houses his heartfelt words, highlights including the bounding opener and title track, that’s horn burnished bouncy melodies are laced with Evan’s tender vocals, the moments when the tempo is taken down offer a melancholic counterpoint. ‘Plastic Man’ is fantastic, a jiving guitar riff spins on top of a stately piano motif that delights, garnished with Evan’s playful vocals, there’s elements of everyone from The Beatles, Bowie to Roxy Music here, a drum fill ushers ‘love’s too tight to mention/I can’t take the tension’, it’s utterly catchy, and one of the tracks of the year indeed. 

Ladytron  – Time’s Arrow


Ladytron‘s seventh studio album Time’s Arrow, is a trip inside their glacial and evocative world full of wonder and disquiet of dystopia. Opener City of Angels was their first new music released since 2019. Underpinned by Ladytron’s trademark ice cold analogue backing, the songs shot of melody inverts sensuous imagery into a vision of a near future with a collapse of cultural memory. “It’s about forgetting,” says Daniel Hunt “…how fragile it is,” “…not about one particular place or other, but a merging of them.”

Beauty, disposability and fragility of the culture that surrounds us, and the exhilaration of freeing yourself from those structures… these are themes Ladytron return to on Time’s Arrow.  The mood of Time’s Arrow is strangely optimistic, freeing – utopian, even. Have they left dystopia behind? “We’re already there,” Helen Marnie points out. The elliptical and strident 80s synths of the magisterial ‘Faces’ are both futuristic and yet delve into the memories of the past, ghostly bittersweet melodies travel above pulsing beat and illuminating synths. Ladytron craft worlds we have yet to imagine in our dreams, and it sounds exhilarating.

Onipa – Off The Grid 
Onipa‘s 2023 album Off The Grid came out on Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records this October, featuring an impressive cast of collaborators including Moonchild Sanelly, David Walters, Dele Sosimi and Theon Cross. To preview it they shared the riotous single ‘No Commando’ featuring David Walters, with funky desert blues, and deep heady Afro- grooves, this foot stomping track is rife with African folklore, reminiscent of that Congotronics (Konono No.1 / Mbongwana Star), the chanted refrains amidst a tapestry of found sounds, bashed pots and pans, recycled metals, are an absolute hoot, as they explain: ” A musical interpretation of the concept; One person’s rubbish is another’s treasure.” 
This is the soundtrack to dancing across the continent and reconnecting with the roots. They say: “No Commando is about peace. A call for ‘oneness’ and a look at where ‘sources originate’. Seeing how the power of community can dispel fear and help us to express ourselves with ‘calm’ and ‘ease.” From Accra Market cassette tapes to London pirate radio stations, Malian blues to UK jazz, the twin creative forces behind Onipa. The twin creative forces behind Onipa — Tom Excell (Nubiyan Twist) and Kweku Sackey (K.O.G. & the Zongo Brigade) – together with Finn Booth on drums and Dwayne Kilvington (a.k.a. Wonky Logic) on synths.

4Dee- Shots Fired 
One of the founding fathers of Welsh Hip hop, Cardiff rapper 4Dee has been a part of hip hop since the ‘breakdance’ and ‘electro’ waves of 1983, and he has remained at its heart throughout. Picking up the mic around 85-86 he joined DJ Jaffa, MC Eric who would later go on to front the chart topping Technotronic, and acclaimed songwriter and musician Dike Okoh. Since then he has been a member of many other groups such as: rock rap outfit Under The Gun (which gave him his first publishing deal with EMI); Undecorated Veteranz with Joe Blow and the late great DJ Stagga (who went on to become a favourite producer of both the Dubstep and LA Beat scene); and Sionis, with members of youth group Underdogs.
His third album Shots Fired, self produced apart from one track with Acko, was recently released on his own label Veteran Records. And it’s a really impressive record, riven with the anxiety of our times, the prejudice and frustrations of the last few years, woven a military theme: whilst it has an appreciation of an appreciation of classic “Britcore” sounds, it’s modern hip-hop with a message: an inventive, set layered with film and news samples and 4DEE and co’s vital bars burn with highly prescient themes. Particular standouts include the confident ‘Unstoppable’ featuring   Joe Blow.  The low bass rumble of the nightmarish visions of ‘Versed and Cursed’ with guest Chew, ripe with smart beats, horror samples, fantastic witty and fiery wordplay and a brooding deep groove, and the fired up verses of the title track. The prescient and heart-breaking ‘Broken Britain’ is a centre piece late on, a memorable looped acoustic line provides a platform for righteous delivery that tells of injustice, gang violence and forced adoption.

Carla J Easton – SUGAR HONEY
Glasgow’s pop auteur Carla J. Easton returns with a ace, refreshing shot of joyous, sugar rushing pop, it’s the the title track from her upcoming fourth studio album SUGAR HONEY, released through Olive Grove Records. Carla says: “SUGAR HONEY is my celebration of pop in all its many forms and sub genres. A love of my record collection shining through in new writing. I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m just giving it a good, hard spin. These songs are me being me – exploring my obsession with all things pop.” 
On the brilliant title track, Carla expertly balances, bittersweet earworm wordplay that pulls and pushes against chiming guitars and an addictive melody that bursts into the outro on a carousel of infectious percussion. There’s a tantalising quality here that echoes the feeling when you are in love with the one you can’t have. Another highlight is in the insidious ‘One Week’ this delicious bedroom pop track, is addictive and enlivened by punchy beats and glittery synths. Carla found herself listening to Kylie’s Impossible Princess album, plus records by Aimee Mann, Taylor Swift and WET. “It’s the sound of Kylie making weird alt pop that is still so undeniably Kylie,” she says. “To me it’s incredibly inspiring – the pure guitar pop of ‘Some Kind Of Bliss’ juxtaposed with the synth bliss of ‘Breathe’. All these albums probably fed into my writing subconsciously. Lyrically I wanted to balance out finer details with utter nonsense. Sparkling light with dark emotions. I’m really interested in how we recall memories and relay them back to ourselves, reflect on the past to push forward, and I wanted to explore improvisation as a means of songwriting – shaking off everything you know and all the rules and going with what ‘feels’ right…”

Laura Groves –  Radio Red
Laura Groves‘s Radio Red is a illuminating and gorgeous suite of songs that takes influence from R&B, pop and dream pop, Grove’s striking talent is on display throughout. Written, produced and recorded by Groves in her studio, watched over by two radio transmitting towers. “I became very drawn to them and they became like symbols to me; they were always awake, sending their messages, the red lights always came on at night and watched over whatever was going on in my life.” The album deals with themes of communication – missed and intercepted signals, chance meetings, synchronicities, the channels through which we try to express our true feelings, the outside interference that can get in the way and the joy of letting go and allowing the messages to flow freely. ‘D 4 N’ features backing vocal from Sampha. Sensitively drawn production is topped with Grove’s haunting vocal performance that yearns for escape. ‘The Sky At Night’ is a beguiling song ripe with wonder and trying to unpick the mystery of life between the lines. With illuminating keys and gorgeous dreamy soundscapes, Groves delivers a captivating vocal on this earworm ripe with wonder and longing for connection, that holds onto the comfort and escapism of lights at night. When she reaches that high note, it’s a thing of exquisite grandeur.

Softee – Natural 
The superlative, ‘Molly‘ finds Brooklyn’s Softee in full funky pop mode, ripe with body popping beats, illuminating keys, brass and choppy guitars. She tip toes through end of the night euphoria with a soulful yet mischievous delivery; a celebration of getting high and falling in love. It’s also a damn good earworm. Lifted from the album Natural out on City Slang. Softee explores complex themes of identity and transformation with a light-hearted, self-deprecating touch. Written during the course of a painful break up, and soon after amidst the throes of new love, through a world of spirited characters she tackles heavy emotions and bares her heart with striking honesty. Nina Grollman’s moniker, Softee, isn’t just a sardonic nod to the thrifty, soft-serve giant, it’s an earnest – sometimes painfully so – descriptor of the Brooklyn based artist’s approach to love and music. The pandemic found Softee in and out of love with a pace that could demolish the emotionally unprepared, but the artist found solace in her emotions, and soothed herself with influences of R&B, funk, hip hop, and the pure melodrama of 80s pop. Time. Space. Repeat – Consequence
Time. Space. Repeat. is not just another musical endeavor. It’s a one-man recording project rooted in Southampton, their recent long player Consequence is a excellent record. The enveloping atmospheres of ‘Bossa Nova’ are decorated in gaze guitar arpeggios and celestial synths, it reminds one of elements of Ride or Slowdive, with musical percussion woven with riffing that rings with an engaging melodicism that turns up the fuzz pedals in the second half.
While ‘The End’ wears its more post-rock and ambient tones on its sleeve in its opening bars, chiming bells, synth swathes, elegant pianos, the resonance of zithers, gather like a majestic cloud across the sky, swirling with thudding bass guitars and a sighing tornado of guitar layers, into a storm of majestic crescendos that lashes against the rocks. This is imperious work. James says of Consequence it marks “a departure from previous releases with a darker, guitar-led tone. This transition is especially evident when contrasted with the ethereal vibes of Oneironaut. The auditory journey starts on a bright and optimistic note but skilfully evolves, guiding the listener towards a deeper, more sombre realm.”

Christine and the Queens – PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE
A sprawling, operatic and exhilarating song suite inspired by Kushner’s play, Angels in America, PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE  was written, performed and produced by Christine and the Queens, and co-production by Mike Dean (Lana Del Rey, Beyonce) and guest appearances from 070 Shake and Madonna. Chris explains: “PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE is a key towards heart-opening transformation, a prayer towards the self – the one that breathes through all the loves it is made of. Prior’s real agony in Angels in America is a deep, painful becoming, a shedding of all waters and memories, that then allows angels to immerse deep too, and offer back profound, narrative-altering love – a rest in true love.” 
Soulful pop cuts like ‘Tears can be so soft’ and ‘Marvin Descending’ are exquisitely drawn. While other standouts include the pulsing enveloping alt pop of ‘A day in the water’ that dives deep.  Meanwhile there’s such a haunting and contemplative atmosphere about ‘To be Honest‘ this throbbing and enveloping pop gem is ripe with regret, procrastination and isolation. Christine’s vocal performance is a striking thing of wonder, staring at the night sky and longing for more, emerging fully formed and with strength, from the smoke of the fog and the pulsing 80s echoing beats and rising synths. It’s outstanding.

Geena Rose Bruce – Deep Is The Way 
Geena Rose Bruce‘s second album, Deep Is the Way chronicles her fraught path back into the light, processing death and inner turmoil to emerge with a newfound state of strength and resilience. Squeezing out the catharsis of trauma and self inflicted pain, ‘Destroy Myself’ scythes to the quick with foot-stepping bass and drums, and acerbic guitars and reverberating synths, entwined with Bruce’s anguished vocals “I’ll need your love to survive” she pleads, as she delves into the holes of her darkest compulsions. There are elements of In Utero era Nirvana here, or early PJ Harvey it’s a powerful moment of self reflection, that packs a emotional punch.

Marta Salogni & Tom Rellen – Music For Open Space
On Music For Open Spaces the duo of Marta Salogni & Tom Rellen, produce a masterclass in minimalism and captivating, hollowed out soundscapes, this is a terrain of chiming and rippling sounds that puncture the vastness of the desolate and jagged moving landscapes such as the Joshua Tree desert, the Cornwall coastline or the inward Londoner abode. They say: “it is an adventure into a compelling intellectual landscape that involves the listener while opening unexpected perspectives at every step towards a new beginning. Listening to the tracks induces us to find our own way beyond the consuetudinary geometries through which we decipher our interaction with the ambient, offering us the chance of a true discipline of perception.”
Take the magisterial ‘Desert Glass’ that’s warped sound loops, scattered samples and rumbling atmospheres, give way to a journey into the heart of the time, it could be a soundtrack to an apocalyptical film. Marta Salogni details the context of the recordings “Tom and I started recording Music for Open Spaces during our travels to Joshua Tree, just at the edge of the desert. Other tracks were recorded while on a trip to Cornwall. We loaded the car with tape machines, a couple of synths and Tom’s bass. When we arrived we set up a small studio in the living room of a rented house, facing the ocean. The last pieces were made in our familiar places, in London. All the tracks are mostly spontaneously improvised, influenced and inspired by the landscapes in which we were immersed at the time, those being both physical spaces and metaphysical ones, but always open.”
Katie von Schleicher – A Little Touch of Schleicher In The Night
Brooklyn’s Katie von Schleicher weaves pure aural gold on this gorgeously subtle opener from her album A Little Touch of Schleicher In The Night. ‘Montagnard People‘, trots statefully framed in tender brass and garnished with von Schleicher vocal that’s delicate and vivid imagery offers a warmth and a soothing quality that beguiles. Empathetic and quality, the world needs more of this. Produced by Katie von Schleicher and Sam Griffin Owens (Sam Evian) – A Little Touch of Schleicher in the Night was recorded with a bunch of poker buddies the two accumulated during the pandemic. Lyrically wry and classically lush with strings and horns, in narrowing the gap between her personality and her songwriting, von Schleicher has made her most untroubled and best album yet.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.