Our Albums of the Year 2023

OK there are plenty of other great album of the year lists – there is a great summary appropriately on the Album of the Year site. I like Stephen Erlewine’s approach (one of our favourite music writers – we recommend subscribing) where he recognises the limitations of these lists and looks at them as more of a snapshot. Since we started compiling this list we recognised several obvious omissions, and trying to rank them is just impossible. So here are the ones we’ve enjoyed listening to more than once amidst the onslaught of great music this year. Some have been our “Albums of the Week” but many we’ve enjoyed haven’t been featured just because of ‘too many at once’. We’ll try and feature some of these overlooked gems over the summer – in fact this week’s (Semisonic’s Little Bit of Sun) is an example, released last month.

We started building a top ten most addictive albums but it was impossible – so we’ve opted for alphabetical order!

Listen in @tunein at http://tun.in/sfAtE or on the web player.

Angie McMahon – Light, Dark, Light Again
Exquisite world class indie-pop from the Melbournian artist. “Filled with earnest incantations that sooth like a balm” (The Guardian)
Ava Max – Diamonds & Dancefloors
A superb sophomore effort from Ava. “Two-for-two for Max’s catalog, delivering on the promise of her debut” (AllMusic)
Belle and Sebastian – Late Developers
A late career highlight on their second album in twelve months. “A rewarding return to form” – The Guardian
Ben Harper – Wide Open Light
Harper’s seventeenth album once again he ploughs his own furrow. “A quiet strength and emotional depth in its minimalism” – Folkradio.co.uk
Ben Howard – Is It
After two mini strokes last year, Ben Howard has produced “a beautiful reconciliation, revelling in making something from a place of struggle” – Clash
Birdy – Portraits
A beautiful collection of songs that shows Birdy continues to grow . “Simply her most confident and exploratory project to date” – The Line of Best Fit
blur – The Ballad of Darren
The Britpop band return in fine form and with a fabulous album cover. NPR described it as a “‘Ballad’ to bittersweet midlife.”
boygenius – record
If we had to choose a record of the year at gunpoint, this would probably be it. Shh.
Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want to Turn Into You
A fabulous edgy pop record from an incredibly talented lady. “Caroline Polachek’s best album of her career is a transformative pop experience, a passionate, richly melodic odyssey” – Pitchfork
Caroline Rose – The Art of Forgetting
Another major stylistic swerve, this cathartic album “test[s] the limits of sadness, boredom, and isolation” – Pitchfork
Cold War Kids – Cold War Kids
Their tenth studio album is filled with solid melodic rock – a rewarding listen that deserved much more attention.
Depeche Mode – Memento Mori
A big success and return to form – “their most heartfelt, thoughtful, and moving statement in decades”. – AllMusic
Dylan LeBlanc – Coyote
A superbly executed and tender slice of Americana
Ed Sheeran – –
Perhaps not as commercially successful, this is a tender and honest album about pain and loss. “The album that places him among the greats”. The Telegraph
Grace Potter – Mother Road
“A bold, colorful roots rock record filled with funky rhythms and big hooks”. – AllMusic
Gregory Alan Isakov – Appaloosa Bones
Another exquisite slice of Americana from an incredible songwriter. “It is the work of a very mature, settled and talented artist”. – Spill Magazine
Girl Ray – Prestige
A great dance album from the North London band – “like getting an all-access pass to the most relaxed and inclusive dance party”. – AllMusic
Grian Chatten – Chaos For The Fly
The Fontaines DC frontman produced a great solo album, “unafraid to embrace chaos and complexity in pursuit of his art”. – musicOMH
Gus Dapperton – Henge
The Alt Pop polymath produces a rewarding set of songs
Half Moon Run – Salt
A really rewarding and enjoyable set of songs – “a captivating and unparalleled listening experience, tugging at the heartstrings of its audience”. – Spillmagazine
Hozier – Unreal Unearth
Another fantastic contemporary folk album – “from choir swells to poetic lines that find a way to hit you unexpectedly, the album is a tremendously soulful experience”. – Paste
Jack River – Endless Summer
A dreamy evocation of summer with strong melodies.
Jenny Lewis – Joy’All
This talented country-rocker “balance[s] the far-out wisdom with the reality of life on Earth and her lived experiences” (NPR) in these witty songs.
Jessie Ware – That Feels Great!
Jessie Ware has settled into her dance pop thing – her “sultry and confident vocals demand your attention”. – Medium
Joy Oladokun – Proof of Life
Joy is a huge talent and has produced a fourth album of superb songs, “a very homey version of pop maximalism”. – NPR
Kimbra – A Reckoning
Kimbra’s most confident and experimental album, she is pushing against expectations and her own limits.
Lewis Capaldi – Broken By Desire to be Heavenly Sent
Following tough times after his massive success, somehow Lewis Capaldi has found his muse to deliver another great album endowed with his gritty powerful vocals.
M83 – Fantasy
Another stunning album from the artist who “can turn mundane everyday-life moments into vivid, daleidoscopic movie montages”. – Stereogum
Manchester Orchestra – The Valley of Vision
A beautiful and powerful album, a “cathartic, deeply ruminative vibe”. – AllMusic
Margo Price – Strays
Another great collection of songwriter, the mushroom trip inspired record “bursts with easy confidence and kind, stoic wisdom”. – Pitchfork
Miley Cyrus – Endless Summer
An absolute pop powerhouse, Miley produces one of her best collections of catchy well crafted bangers.
Mimi Webb – Amelia
Mimi’s debut release combines great catchy songs with her honest vocals – “a dependable, invigorating debut”. – DIY Magazine
Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
A move away from 80s electronic to more country sounds, Mitski continues to deliver with “her stories of love, loss and mental hardships in this career highlight”. – Medium
Molly Tuttle – City of Gold
Another excellent album from the Californian picker. THe album “continues the youthful, feminine-but-not-girly bluegrass thread woven by Alison Krauss and Sara Watkin”. –  Shelly Ridenour/Qobuz
Niall Horan – The Show
Niall’s talents as a pop craftsman continues to grow – “his most immediate and engaging set to date, endlessly listenable and full of heart and charm”. – AllMusic
Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds – Council Skies
A really solid album that shows Noel can still do it. “Reaffirming his faith in rock as a transformative thrill, and adding atmospheric detours recalling late-period Weller and Bowie”. – Uncut
A varied collection of pumping memorable anthems – “the bulk of the album [is] more reflective fare that provides a different kind of spiritual nourishment”. – AllMusic
Peter Gabriel – I/O
Gestating for two decades this is a superb collection that stands alongside “So”. “This is some of Gabriel’s most vibrant music since the late ’80s, developing the digital soundscapes of his last proper album “Up” with more immediate melody and a more varied sonic palette”. – Tidal Magazine
Róisín Murphy – Hit Parade
“Hit Parade lurches recklessly between soulful rhapsodies about getting what you want and shadowy techno tracing the allure of self-sabotage”.
Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds
For guys who have been in the business for sixty years to produce an album as listenable and enjoyable as this is incredible. “The Stones’ first album of original material in 18 years crackles with a sense of purpose, with fabulous Keith Richards riffs and Mick Jagger sounding genuinely energised”. – The Guardian
Sam Smith – Gloria
Smith’s most ostensibly pop album, “Smith’s vocals are, of course, beautiful. Creamy and curvaceous,; liquid with emotion”. – The Independent
Semisonic – Little Bit of Sun
The 90s alternative band return with a polished set of tracks that rewards repeated listening.
Stephen Sanchez – Angel Face
The songwriter produces a lush retro set of beautiful songs.
The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein
Despite being in hot demand for other projects, The National produce an outstanding album – “finest album in a decade”. – NME
The Paper Kites – At the Roadhouse
Another Melbournian band, The Paper Kites have produced another solid collection of folk-rock.
The Revivalists – Pour It Out Into The Night
This would certainly make the top ten albums of the year – quintessential anthemic roots rock music that sticks in the mind.
Tom Grennan – What Ifs Maybes
The UK pop artists third album is filled with catchy tracks that you’ll end up putting on repeat.
Winterbourne – Act of Disappearing
Another solid Australian album of contemporary rock, with great songs and melodies.

Album of the Week: Semisonic – Little Bit of Sun

New Zealand Net Radio plays a song from our irregularly updated #albumoftheweek every hour from 9am to 12pm. Listen in @tunein at http://tun.in/sfAtE or on the web player.

Semisonic returned to the scene in 2020 with EP You’re Not Alone which we enjoyed. In November their renaissance continued with the release of the excellent Little Bit of Sun, a warm and melodic album with touches of Indie and Americana. We look forward to checking it out this week.

Album of the Week: Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We

New Zealand Net Radio plays a song from our irregularly updated #albumoftheweek every hour from 9am to 12pm. Listen in @tunein at http://tun.in/sfAtE or on the web player.

Mitski had burnt out on the demands of the music business and the demands of ‘representation’, in her case pigeonholed due her Asian American heritage. The break led to this album, her “most American album … This land, which already feels inhospitable to so many of its inhabitants, is about to feel hopelessly torn and tossed again – at times, devoid of love. This album offers the anodyne”.

With an interesting range of influences this is a rich album – less synth pop than its predecessor Laurel Hell and more settled, although still with a rich soundscape. Alexis Petridis in The Guardian described it perfectly as “Playing country-inflected orchestral pop with sardonic wit and deep feeling, Mitski underlines why she’s one of the very best singer-songwriters working today”.

Album of the Week: Peter Gabriel – I/O

New Zealand Net Radio plays a song from our irregularly updated #albumoftheweek every hour from 9am to 12pm. Listen in @tunein at http://tun.in/sfAtE or on the web player.

Peter Gabriel last released an album of new material over 20 years ago, back in the days when there were CD shops. For this long gestating effort he has embraced an innovative release strategy, with a series of singles at each full moon over the past year along with an accompanying video. We’ve really loved his monthly treats and his insights.

Finally the finished product has arrived. Another innovation has been the multiple mixes of each song – bright side mixes (mixed by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent) and dark side mixes (from Tchad Blake) along with Inside Mixes which are immersive mixes in Dolby Atmos by Hans-Martin Buff. Its been a pleasure hearing the different characters of each of these numbers.

The album seems to have been well received thus far, The Guardian describing it as a “late career masterpiece”, The Telegraph as a “gentle sweeping epic”. We look forward to a wonderful week enjoying tracks from this album each morning.

Background on the making of the album (American Songwriter)

Atmos mixes (Peter Gabriel website)

Album of the Week: Winterbourne – Act of Disappearing

New Zealand Net Radio plays a song from our irregularly updated #albumoftheweek every hour from 9am to 12pm. Listen in @tunein at http://tun.in/sfAtE or on the web player.

This band from Sydney came across our radar via the iTunes store this week. Its actually their second original album (they put out an acoustic version of their first album Echo of Youth in 2020 as well) and is a really polished set of performances with well written, melodic pop (that would probably be labelled as Indie or Alternative). These Beatlesque songs are memorable and indicative of a talented band. Mixdown mag describes it as “a musical journey replete with opulent synths and rousing, crowd-pleasing choruses reminiscent of the golden era of bands like The Verve and The Strokes”.

Album of the Week: Cold War Kids – Cold War Kids

New Zealand Net Radio plays a song from our irregularly updated #albumoftheweek every hour from 9am to 12pm. Listen in @tunein at http://tun.in/sfAtE or on the web player.

Veteran Indie artists Cold War Kids have produced their 10th album. It doesn’t seem to have generated much buzz amongst the reviewers but its a solid set of alternative rock tracks from the Californian band, including a few toe tappers like “Run Away With Me”. Enjoy!

Album of the Week: The Beatles 1962-1966 (The Red Album)

New Zealand Net Radio plays a song from our irregularly updated #albumoftheweek every hour from 9am to 12pm. Listen in @tunein at http://tun.in/sfAtE or on the web player.

We don’t usually feature compilation albums, especially one which has been re-released three times in my lifetime (CD in 2003, remaster in 2010 then Giles Martin’s new remix last Friday) however this one is special. I’m sure there must be many Beatles fans who explored the band’s music through this and its companion 1967-1970 album. It might have been allegedly compiled by the band’s arch-villainous manager Allen Klein but it is a superlative collection of the music in their early years. One great complement to the band was always in reviews of this collection which pointed out that despite filling two double albums with ‘greatest hits’ there were still some absolute crackers left off. That has now been rectified in this new release which now justifies two CDs in running time and has added some notable omissions such as “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Twist and Shout”, “Got to Get You Into My Life” and “Here, There and Everywhere”. Some of the others strike me as ‘political’ additions to increase the presence of George Harrison or correct a perceived lack of tracks from the Revolver album – as creative and revolutionary as it was I don’t feel “Tomorrow Never Knows” sits nicely on a greatest hits collection. But those are quibbles.

In any case the interesting thing isn’t the additional tracks, its the remixes. These aren’t just yawnworthy tweaks for uber fans (bringing the bass slightly forward in a song for example) but dramatic reworkings of songs whose stereo mixes suffered from early ideas of what a stereo mix should be. These were more designed to show off the novelty of the technology and featured quirks such as all the vocals being located far off to the right and the drums on the left. Additionally four early songs couldn’t be properly mixed in stereo due to their original multitrack tapes being lost. Giles Martin has now reworked these songs with lovely spacious mixes with much more ‘realistic’ soundstages, locating the vocals and drums near the centre and spreading other sounds around. It is quite a revelation and for me will be the definitive version going forward.

Enjoy these absolute classic songs with us this week and hear this incredible band develop in their early years.

Album of the Week: Angie McMahon – Light, Dark, Light Again

New Zealand Net Radio plays a song from our irregularly updated #albumoftheweek every hour from 9am to 12pm. Listen in @tunein at http://tun.in/sfAtE or on the web player.

Melbournian Angie McMahon stimulated an interesting review by a Guardian author, who began by describing an anxiety attack resolved by a walk and listening to McMahon’s second album “Light, Dark, Light Again”. Although it may have therapeutic qualities the album is undoubtedly a musically accomplished set of contemporary singer-songwriter fare that bears repeated listening. Lyrically accomplished with great melodies and performance, McMahon is a real talent and we look forward to listening this week.

Album of the Week: The Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds

New Zealand Net Radio plays a song from our irregularly updated #albumoftheweek every hour from 9am to 12pm. Listen in @tunein at http://tun.in/sfAtE or on the web player.

Its hard to believe that it is 18 years since the last album of original music from the Stones. What is astonishing is that a band which has been around for sixty years is releasing some of their best music in decades. It sounds like the Stones but also enjoys freshness. It also features a few other greats including Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder and Sir Paul McCartney. We have had a few surprises from legacy artists such as Bob Dylan in the past few years (including Sir Paul) but this album is up there with the best of them. Relevant, eminently re-listenable and incredibly an album which can sit unshirking alongside the rest of their discography. “A bunch of hackneyed duds” – Sorry Pitchfork you’re completely off the mark.

Album of the Week: Ed Sheeran – Autumn Variations

New Zealand Net Radio plays a song from our irregularly updated #albumoftheweek every hour from 9am to 12pm. Listen in @tunein at http://tun.in/sfAtE or on the web player.

This is pretty clearly a between albums clearout of material from an incredibly talented master musician (ala Carly Rae Jepson’s The Loveliest Time or The National’s Laugh Track) so its not bright and bumpy as The Guardian seemed to hope. This is a great selection of contemporary/timeless singer-songwriter material.