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Saturday 23 December 2023

2023: My Year In Music

2023 has been a year of 23s for me in many ways. I've written before about the number and its occurrence, its relationship to us since Isaac died and the tattoos the three of us got done in October. This is my end of year post, a list pulling together what has been the best of 2023 for me. Inevitably there are 23 entries (but much more than 23 artists, singles and albums) and as I was writing it I realised that today is 23rd December (I planned to post this today before thinking about what date it would be). I have heard so much new music this year and so much of it has been really good- my long list of albums of the year came to thirty albums without much thought, a new album for every ten days of the year. And while much of this year has been a real struggle with grief and the long aftermath of Isaac's death, I've had some great nights out at events that were (almost) entirely about the music- the grief never goes away, it sits inside me or hovers above me but music- recorded music, live music- often has the power to transport me in a way nothing else does. 

This is a list of my favourite musical things of this year. It's not objective. I haven't heard everything I should have done and I'm sure there are records that I'd love if I had more time and more money. Usually I find something early into the new year that instantly screams 'best of last year' to me. Also, ranking art and declaring one album 'better' than another is inherently subjective but end of year lists are fun and looking back and putting it all into one place is a good way to mark the end of the year. The year of 23. 

Twenty Three: Venue Of The Year

No contest here- The Golden Lion in Todmorden and a fitting place to start the list. I've enjoyed several superb nights out at The Lion this year with the honour of DJing on a few occasions. ALFOS in June was very hot and memorable, David Holmes' album launch party in November was a 2023 highlight, Dan Donovan’s Casbah Club in August (sadly Paul Simonon was unable to attend), our Sabresonic celebration and Q&A with Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns and Jagz’s DJ set (videos of the Q&A to follow shortly), the Tici Taci Party in August with Sean JOhnston and Duncan Gray DJing downstairs after a blistering set from Sons Of Slough upstairs, Red Snapper rattling the fittings in November and the legendary, untouchable AW60 in April with a beautiful cast of artists and revellers and a huge headlining set from Justin Robertson. 

Twenty Two: Label Of The Year

There are lots of independent labels putting out loads of good music, keeping things in house and small scale- not that there's anything small scale about the music- with digital and physical releases. These three have kept me busy all year with singles, EPs and albums, one offs and compilations- a three way tie for first place. Leeds based label Paisley Dark has put out releases by Warriors of The Dysthoteque, Jay- Son, The Machine Soul, Hogt I Tak and James Rod, all top notch electronic psychedelia. Duncan Gray's Tici Taci has had a year long celebration of ten years in the business with a tenth birthday party at the Golden Lion, a series of compilations, Decades Volumes 1 to 4 with outstanding new releases from The Long Champs' 'Nostalgia For The Future', Jack Butters' ‘Shake It Off’ and singles and EPs from Mystic Thug, Uj Pa Gaz, Viper Patrol and Mr BC. Along with those two is Exeter's Mighty Force, the label that back in the early 90s put out Aphex Twin's first 12" single, reborn for the digital age. Mighty Force have sent all of these into the ether and all are excellent electronic music- Yorkshire Machines ‘Firing Up’, ‘Fluffy Inside’ by Nylon Corners, M- Paths' ‘Hope’ AP Organism's EP ‘Space Docks And Moon Rocks’ David Harrow's ‘Jitter’ and ‘Described Spaces’ by KAMS. Long may all three labels continue.

Twenty One: Gig Of The Year

I had the pleasure to see some great gigs this year, several of which lived long in the memory. Spiritualized at Manchester's New Century Hall were genuinely breathtaking. Red Snapper at the Golden Lion kicked up a storm of cosmic jazz, trip hop and downtempo. Eyes Of Others at The Castle on Oldham Street were great, another great Heavenly Records artist. Chris Rotter and Andy Bell's two man set on Saturday afternoon at AW60 playing songs from Andrew Weatherall's A Pox On The Pioneers was a gem. 

But the win goes to A Certain Ratio who I saw live three times this year. They toured twice, released a superb new album, 1982, and an EP, celebrating 45 years of making music and they're still forging ahead with new music and ideas. Their gig at New Century Hall earlier on this year, the free one outdoors at Factory International in June and the two set 45th anniversary celebration at Band On The Wall at the start of this month were all brilliant, a dance floor blend of youth and experience, post- punk/ punk funk/ jazz funk, the old and the new. 

Twenty: Compilation Of The Year

I've already mentioned Tici Raci's four volumes of Decade, several hours of chuggy sci fi, nu disco, house, techno sparkle. Aficionado's 25 Of Aficionado is a celebration of a Manchester institution, the anything goes, genre free spirit of Jason Boardman and Moonboots pressed onto four sides of vinyl is right up there with Colleen Murphy's Balearic Breakfast Volume 2 not far behind. But the stand out compilation of the year was Richard Sen's Dream The Dream: UK Techno, House And Breakbeat 1990- 1994, a perfectly pulled together and superbly sequenced set of tracks from the early 90s that show what a fertile period that was and how much was going on in the underground. 

Dream Frequency: Dream The Dream

Nineteen: Edits Of The Year

Some of my favourite tracks of this year have been edits- do edits count as new music? Or old music? New versions of old music, rejigged for the dancefloor. Jezebell's Jezebalearic Beats Vol 1 is a masterclass in this area and will appear further on in this list. Jezebell's Diavol Edits Vol 7 as a four track joy. Beyonder's Present Case Edits Vol 1 was a stunner, not least Hardway Bros edit of Sleaford Mods' Mork And Mindy, the M&M Acid Edit. Peza's Rock The Spectre, a layering of Joe Strummer's vocal from Rock the Casbah over Mystic Thug also hit the spot for me. But just pipping all of these for me were the pair of edits on the A- side of a recent vinyl only 12" by Coyote, their reworking of Monsoon's Ever So Lonely as Lonely and Gil Scott Heron as Western Revolution lighting up December for me.  

Eighteen: Andy Bell

Pretty soon from here there will be some proper lists and less wittering from me but first Andy Bell who at first glance seemed to have had a quiet year after all his solo albums and GLOK activity in 2020- 2022. Even so he put in a tour, released a lovely ambient/ free jazz mini- album with Masal, Tidal Love Numbers, and a ten minute live cover version of Neu!'s Hallogallo (also with Masal), a live in session album for Electronic Sound called Gateway Mechanics wearing his GLOK hat, two sides of soaring kosmische electronics and guitars, a bunch of remixes for other artists and put out a fanzine, Volume, Fuzz And Delay (which contained my review of his gig at Gulliver's in April 2022. Which, as the man on The Fast Show used to say, was nice). The fanzine came with a download code for three hours of live recordings from Andy's Space Station gigs, live versions of songs from his solo albums and as GLOK, all of which are stunning. 

Seventeen: EPs Of The Year

All of these were essential listening for me at various points this year, all of them somewhere between the single and the album, with Sons Of Slough's chug and cosmic wallop recorded live at Convenanza in September,  Jezebell's messy day and night out in the sun with Siouxsie on Trading Places, the three remixes of Unloved's Polychrome album, Justin Robertson's rocking dub especially, and at the top the wondrous Magic Hour EP by Wigan's Mark Peters, resplendent on 10" yellow vinyl.

  • 11. Whitelands ‘Remixes’ 
  • 10: Steve Queralt and Michael Smith ‘Sun Moon Town Versions’
  • 9: Yorkshire Machines ‘Firing Up’
  • 8: Woodleigh Research Facility: Apparently Solo 4 Borderlands
  • 7: Sons Of Slough ‘Live at The Castle’
  • 6: Chug Norris ‘Dark and Sweaty’
  • 5: Richard Sen ‘Dream the Dream’ remixes
  • 4: Andy Bell and Masal ‘Tidal Love Numbers’
  • 3: Jezebell ‘Trading Places’
  • 2: Unloved ‘Polychrome’ Remixes
  • 1: Mark Peters ‘The Magic Hour’ EP

Sixteen: Albums Of The Year Numbers 30 to 8

  • 30: Laurel Halo 'Atlas'
  • 29. Red Snapper 'Live At The Moth Club' 
  • 28: Young Fathers 'Young Fathers'
  • 27: Dickie Continental ‘Uh?’
  • 26: House of All 'House Of All'
  • 25: Goat 'Medicine'
  • 24: Boxheater Jackson ‘Indigenous State Of Mind’
  • 23: Konformer ‘Konformer’
  • 22: A Certain Ratio: 1982
  • 21: Slowdive ‘Everything Is Alive’
  • 20: The Coral ‘Sea Of Mirrors’
  • 19: David Harrow ‘Rare Earth Technology’
  • 18: Steve Cobby ‘The New Law Of Righteousness’
  • 17: HiFi Sean and David McAlmont ‘Happy Ending’
  • 16: Woodleigh Research Facility ‘Phonox Nights’
  • 15: Andy Bell ‘Gateway Mechanics’
  • 14: The Thief Of Time ‘Where Do I Belong?’
  • 13: Coyote ‘I Hear A New World’
  • 12. Grian Chatten ‘Chaos For The Fly’
  • 11: Rude Audio and Dan Wainwright ‘Psychedelic Science’
  • 10: Jezebell ‘Jezebellearic Beats Volume 1’
  • 9: Richard Norris ‘Oracle Sound Volume 1’
  • 8: Yo La Tengo ‘This Stupid World’

Fifteen: Singles Of The Year Numbers 23 to 8

  • 23: Four Tet ‘Three Drums’
  • 22: Woodentops ‘Ride A Cloud’ and Coyote remix
  • 21: Hurdy Gurdy and the Local Psycho ‘The Hurdy Gurdy Song’
  • 20: X- Press 2 ‘Phasing You Out’ David Holmes remix
  • 19: Rude Audio ‘The Grinning’
  • 18: Warriors Of The Dysthoteque and Joe Duggan ‘Fitzroy Avenue’
  • 17: Dickie Continental ‘Simon Says’ Congagong Rework’
  • 16: Dot Allison ‘Unchanged’ GLOK Remix
  • 15: JIM ‘Phoenix’ Crooked Man Remixes
  • 14: Flamingods ‘Dreams (On The Strip)’
  • 13: Islandman ‘Godless Ceremony’ plus the Hardway Bros Remix
  • 12: A Man Called Adam ‘The Girl With A Hole In Her Heart’
  • 11: Aphex Twin ‘Black Box Recorder 21f’
  • 10: Psychederek ‘Test Card Girl’
  • 9: Jo Sims ‘Bass- The Final Frontier’ David Holmes remix
  • 8: Katy J Pearson ‘Willow’s Song’ Richard Norris remix

Fourteen: Album Of The Year #7 Eyes Of Others ‘Eyes Of Others’

Eyes Of Others debut album is a heady collage of electronics, synthpop, dub, acid house, early New Order and John Bryden's singular world view.   

Thirteen: Album Of The Year #6  African Head Charge ‘A Trip To Bolgatanga’

Bonjo and Sherwood back on the African Head Charge express, ten songs built over Bonjo's drumming, chanting and dub. 

Twelve: Album Of The Year #5 10:40 ‘Transition Theory’

I first heard Jesse Fahnestock's music a couple of years ago, an edit of Spacemen 3. This album, a complete piece of work, each track containing the seeds of the next one, an eleven song trip through the 10:40 world roaming in the spaces between ambient house, chuggy electronics, indie dance, psychedelia, bleepy dub and atmospherics, floating in inner/ outer space.  

Eleven: Album Of The Year #4 JIM ‘Loves Makes Magic’

Surprise of the year for me, a Balearic song based album that lit up summer- the hot, sunny summer we didn't really get this year. 

Ten: Album Of The Year #3 Sonic Boom and Panda Bear ‘Reset In Dub’ by Adrian Sherwood

Sherwood and the On U Sound collective proving they've lost none of their power, sending Sonic Boom and Panda Bear into echo heaven. 

Nine: Album Of The Year #2 James Holden ‘Imagine This Is a High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities’

This album came out in March, an album that is endlessly innovative and entrancing. Holden recorded it partly as a memory of 90s rave and the free party movement but it works way beyond nostalgia, twelve tracks that never become predictable, never settle, always looking to twist and move somewhere else, melodies and squiggles, birdsong and synths. I played it again recently and it sounded as fresh as it did in March. 

Eight: Single Of The Year #7 Cole Odin and Marshall Watson ‘Just A Daydream Away’ versions plus Hardway Bros remix

Shimmering indie dance from the West Coast of the USA, in two versions, both equally great and a wonderful Hardway Bros remix serving up ten minutes of cosmic indie chug (a trick Sean repeated with remixes of Holy Youth Movement and Islandman's Godless Ceremony. 

Seven: Single Of The Year #6 Electric Blue Vision ‘Other Skies’ plus remixes

Jesse Fahnestock has been on fire in 23, a flood of music and ideas (see above, number 13). Other Skies is a song that has that magic, the magic that transports and transcends, Emilia Harmony's vocal about being lost and going home a key part of it. The remixes, all three of them, sent it into new places with the Hardway Bros and Monkton's dub version bringing the bass and melodica front and centre. 

Six: Single Of The Year #5 Khidja ‘Do You Know This Record Marius?

Two weeks ago this wouldn't have been here but it shoved its way in and won't let go- trippy, spinning electronic psychedelia from Romania that has been on a loop at home and in the car. 

Five: Single Of The Year #4 Dirt Bogarde ‘Heavy Blotter’

Dirt has provided several tracks this year that have pushed me forwards but this one has an oomph, an electric charge and a big acid house sound that rattles my speakers and hits me in the chest. 

Four: Single Of The Year #3 Matt Gunn ‘Learning By Loops’ Bedford Falls Players Remix

I wrote about this last week, a remix that has been in my ears since the early summer, and one I'm not remotely tired of hearing. A crunch of drums, long vocal sample about binary systems, time travel, the voice of Jesus and shit like this with a ringing guitar part looped in and out. 

Three: Sinead O'Connor and Single Of The Year #3 David Holmes 'Necessary Genius'

There have been a lot of high profile deaths this year, the losses of David Crosby, Tom Verlaine, Bobby Charlton, Jane Birkin, Steve Mackey, Spot, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Mark Stewart, Andy Rourke and Shane McGowan all moments of sadness. But Sinead's death in July was shocking and brought a wave of heartfelt tributes and genuine bereavement from many, her death, coming a year after the loss of her youngest son Shane. I read her book Rememberings last year and the knowledge that Shane would die after the book was written made reading it very moving. 

Back in July when I posted my own tribute to her I included a link to an edit Rich Lane did of Sinead's song Jackie. A friend sent my blogpost to David Holmes who in response sent me the track he played at his own tribute to Sinead at NTS radio, his remix of Orbital's Belfast with Sinead's vocal from Nothing Compares 2U over the top. David also then got in touch with Rich and asked for a copy of Jackie to play when DJing (which he did and which David played at The Golden Lion in November, a moment that made me smile when it came over the sound system and I thought about how it got there). David also then asked Rich to do a remix for him which should be coming out soon. Sinead's face was on the art for David's Necessary Genius single and a print included with the Blind On A Galloping Horse album. She's been a presence all over the second half of 2023, a beautiful and fearless soul and it seemed right to include her in this list. Hopefully the album she recorded with David Holmes will see the light of day eventually. 

Necessary Genius was close to the top in my list of singles of 2023, a rollcall of talent and inspiration with glorious synths and drum machines. But it missed out to this...

Two: Single Of The Year- Fontaines DC 'Cello Song'

I thought long and hard about this, about whether I really think a cover version should be my single of the year and whether given almost all the music above is electronic, a rock 'n' roll rumble in the top spot is right- but in the end it is the song I've gone back to time and time again. Nick Drake's original is my favourite song of his, a song of acoustic and poetic beauty, and in some ways the words have become associated with Isaac for me in the two years since he died. Fontaines DC take the song and do something new with it, a squeal of feedback, a rockabilly drumbeat, acres of Dublin street swagger and Grian Chatten's deep hit of voice breathing new meaning into Nick's words. Back in July I put together a forty minute mix of Nick Drake songs which opened with Nick's version and closed with Fontaines. Here it is again. 

Forty Minutes Of Nick Drake

One: Album Of The Year- David Holmes 'Blind On A Galloping Horse'

The album I've been waiting for since the first single from it appeared in 2021, Hope Is The Last Thing To Die. Fourteen songs long, seventy minutes of music, a proper album from start to finish with contributions from Keith Tenniswood and Tim Fairplay, the voice of Raven Violet and the spirits of Andrew Weatherall and Sinead O'Connor. Songs that take in the personal and the political, the emotional and the righteous, the psychedelic and the electronic, over four sides of vinyl housed in a beautifully designed sleeve. Everything we wanted and more and as someone said to me, exactly the album we needed at exactly the right time. 

There were a slew of remixes to support the singles, all of them worth hearing and some of them right up there with the best music released this year, a case of more is sometimes more. Shout outs to Sonic Boom and Panda Bear's remix of Yeah x 3 and both Vendetta Suite's versions of the same song, Colleen Murphy's acid disco remixes of Stop Apologising, and the remixes of Necessary Genius by Decius (a riot in a sweaty basement), Lovefingers (a slowed down piano dub groove) and especially Phil Kieran's eight minute electronic kraut hammer remix. 

Necessary Genius (Phil Kieran Remix Vocal)


Ernie Goggins said...

Blimey. Apart from that I'm lost for words.

John Medd said...

Thank you so much for this, Adam. I shall deep dive into your list, sub lists and sub sub lists this weekend, that's for sure. (This one post alone probably surpasses my entire blogging output this year.)

The Fontaines versh of Cello Song ia, as you say, a mighty rock and roll rumble; whilst at the same time being totally respectful to Drake's lyrics which hit me in the feels every time I hear it.

You probably don't realise, Adam, but your writing uplifts me and others, I'm sure, in ways we can't thank you enough for.

Wishing you and yours a peaceful Christamas.


Duncan Stark said...

Your twenty three entires sum up an incredible year, I wholeheartedly agree with your choices! ⚔️💚⚔️

Anonymous said...

A great list Adam thanks so much for including Mighty Force and Boxheater Jackson.

Anonymous said...

That'll take some digesting. I'll open this properly during Christmas. Michael

Swiss Adam said...

Thanks everyone, glad you enjoyed it, even if its possibly too much to take in in one sitting.

John Medd- thank you, if my writing uplifts you (and anyone else) that's more than enough.

Cole Odin said...

I love your writing and taste, so it’s extra pleasing to know that Marshall and my track gave you the smiles. I have a lot of what’s on this list (my man Jesse F did indeed have a banner fucking year!) and rest assured, the others that I don’t have will soon get a listen. Thanks again for the support!

Anonymous said...

Another great pleasure reading this post. There will be lots of music for me to explore. Thanks a lot, Adam and a happy and peaceful time to you and yours.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Man. That was a good read and now for the listening. Swc.

Le Doof said...

Thanks for this Adam, that's really generous of you to share - for all the avenues I've already discovered I whole-heartedly agree - and so much more new music to explore *buckles-up - see you on the other side! - Le Doof

blureu said...

What a list!

thewalker said...

Twenny Free!

An enjoyable read & listen, thanks Adam.

Swiss Adam said...

Thanks to everyone that's still reading this and commenting on it.