Following on from TM Staff Spins: Albums Of The Year 2023 (So Far) we are proud to present our final pick of the amazing music that has kept us happy and content during a very busy year here at Townsend Music HQ. We've compiled our favourite tracks into our Albums Of The Year Spotify Playlist, streaming at the end of this article - remember to let us know your favourites over on our social media accounts!
Callum Blanchfield: Account Manager
Steven Wilson - The Harmony Codex (Buy Here)
I was excited to hear Steven Wilson announce his latest solo album at the end of August - even better that it was going to be released the next month! The Harmony Codex offers a fusion of progressive rock and ambient elements. The album's compositions showcase Wilson's musical prowess while the production allows for a nuanced listening experience, highlighted particularly in the almost 10-minute-long title track and its winding electronica outro. From the ethereal atmospheres to the dynamic instrumentation, this album stands as a testament to Wilson's continued innovation as a solo artist.
Lanterns On The Lake - Versions Of Us
I knew of Lanterns On The Lake, but had never owned one of their albums up until this year. After hearing some of the singles on BBC Radio 6 Music I picked up the album on lush orange vinyl.
The opening track 'The Likes of Us' envelops you with its dreamy melodies, while Hazel Wilde's haunting vocals add a captivating depth. Also featuring on drums for this album is Philip Selway of Radiohead fame - an additional bonus. Versions of Us captures the essence of modern shoegaze, and in my opinion, this is not a bad thing!
Alex Needham: Junior Account Manager
Slowdive - Everything Is Alive (Buy Here)
Slowdive's Everything Is Alive sticks to the band's shoegaze roots but incorporates more electronic elements this time around. This is their fifth album and second since reuniting in 2017. Surprisingly, it has a more upbeat feel compared to their previous works, with a brighter sound.
The press release states: “While there are parts of this record that could sit neatly next to the atmospheric quality of 1995’s Pygmalion; Everything Is Alive also manages to break down the boundaries of what’s come before it" and I couldn't agree more.
Willie J Healey - Bunny (Buy Here)
Willie J Healey's third album ventures into new musical genres as he delves into 70s-style soul, a departure from his previous indie rock sound. This album leans on laidback melody, offering tracks that bring funk elements and slow jams to showcase Healey's range of songwriting skills across 13 cohesive tracks.
The new offering brings styles similar to that of Sly and The Family Stone and George Harrison with stand-out tracks such as ‘Dreams’ bringing back the summer feeling.
Simon Walsh: D2C Campaign Manager
Model/Actriz – Dogsbody
Dogsbody is Brooklyn quartet Model/Actriz’s beautifully menacing debut album and it’s genuinely hard to put into words or describe it. Perhaps something like "LCD Soundsystem and Suicide spend a night at Berghain?..." I dunno.
It’s hard to pigeonhole, which I guess is part of what makes it so brilliant. It’s both urgent and lethargic, it’s brutal and beautiful. You can dance to it, cry to it, smile and be horrified all in one sitting.
Highlight Track: 'Crossing Guard'
Paris Texas – Mid Air
Louie Pastel and Felix finally released their debut album proper this year and it was certainly worth the wait. A highly energetic mix-up of hip hop, punk and trap, which easily draws comparisons to the likes of Odd Future and Death Grips.
While it certainly wears those influences quite proudly, the LA duo also find a way to make it unique, fresh and exciting with plenty of repeat listenability.
Highlight Track: 'Everybody’s Safe Until…'
Lucas Barr: Business Development Manager
Boygenius - The Record (Buy Here)
This one hasn’t been out of rotation since I picked it as my mid-year selection in June. In that time, we’ve also been treated to a brand new EP and the reissue of their debut EP. 2023 belongs to the trio.
The record is a bold and honest exploration of friendship, love, and self-discovery; a testament to what can happen when three talented songwriters allow themselves to be fully seen. The album’s 12 tracks are a well-balanced mix of their writing styles with each song showcasing the unique talents of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus.
An album of beautiful melodies, intricate arrangements and raw emotion from three of the most talented songwriters currently recording, Boygenius have given us one of the albums of the year for sure.
The National - First Two Pages of Frankenstein / Laugh Track (Buy Here)
I’m going to cheat here and treat these two releases as a double album because, for me, musically they sound like they all belong together whether that was intentional or not.
First Two Pages of Frankenstein is a literary odyssey, a musical journey through the echoes of Mary Shelley’s tale. Matt Berninger’s lyrics delve into themes of creation, identity, and just the whole human mess. The melodies are this beautiful blend of haunting and sublime. On Laugh Track, they sprinkle in dark humour that’s both bitter and hilarious as The National’s melancholy takes a detour into playful territory.
Whilst not released as a double album per se, the band effortlessly shift from these soul-searching ballads to massive anthems that hit you in the gut. The instruments blend like a perfect cocktail and the production is so on point, it’s like they bottled up the essence of everything that makes The National, well, The National. The band have given us a pair of albums that are not just a collection of songs but a companion through the ups and downs of life.
P Barney Barnes: Head Of Digital Marketing And Content D2C+
Christopher Bear And Daniel Rosson – Past Lives (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
My favourite film of 2023 was Celine Song's outstanding Past Lives, a moving and bittersweet drama about two childhood friends who become separated, only to reconnect twenty years later. It's an existential journey from South Korea to New York, underpinned by a contemplative and delicate soundtrack by Christopher Bear and Daniel Rosson, formerly of the US rock group Grizzly Bear. Utilising piano, strings and percussion, as well as avant-garde studio techniques and textures, the soundtrack stands up as an exquisite ambient record in its own right - fans of Eiko Ishibashi's celebrated Drive My Car soundtrack will find a lot to love.
The movie is a masterclass in "show and don't tell" film-making; the unspoken beats and longing stares say more than the script ever dares. It's a story that gently probes one's own sense of identity, belonging and fidelity and whispers uncomfortable, unanswerable questions about love and fate that echo in your head long after the movie lands its perfect ending. It's only natural that when one is so moved emotionally by a film, the soundtrack stirs those same feelings as sections and phrases gently agitate half-remembered sights and scenes. The idea that a deep connection with one piece of art can, for better or worse, profoundly affect your appreciation for another mirrors the film's central conceit: were it not for certain decisions and events, things could be very different. So would Past Lives (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) be my favourite album of the year if I hadn't seen - and adored - the film? Almost certainly not. But have I enjoyed listening to the record more than any other for the best part of 2023? Absolutely.
Jack Harlow - Jackman.
2023 has been a relatively quiet time for hip-hop. While previous years have had blockbuster releases from Kanye, J. Cole, Kendrick, Drake and more, here in 2023 only Doja Cat's fun Scarlet and the emergence of Ice Spice have garnered much mainstream attention. With that said, scratch the surface and there have been some great underground records including JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown's inventive Scaring The Hoes and El Michels Affair x Black Thought's luscious Glorious Game, but it's the curates egg of Jack Harlow's Jackman. that has been my favourite - and most surprising - rap release of 2023. The most hyped and heralded great white hope of the last few years, Jack Harlow's laid-back charisma and 2020 single 'What's Poppin' built an industry buzz that landed him features with Drake and Lil Nas X, only to culminate in the disappointing, and critically mauled, second album Come Home The Kids Miss You. With Jackman., Jack goes back to the drawing board and delivers a lean 10 tracks that eschew the swag and pomp of number-one single 'First Class' and deliver an altogether more economic meditation on the nature of fame and authenticity. Choosing smooth soul loops rather than bombastic trap beats and a shirtless cover portrait rather than glamour and drip, Jackman. is the steak without the sizzle. And, like a gourmet chef who returns to his home kitchen to prepare a simple dish from basic ingredients, we hear an artist attempt to reconnect with the raw materials of his art form. It's not a perfect record but it doesn't have to be; it's always purposeful and it's difficult not to respect Harlow's back-to-basics resolve. If nothing else, in a world full of playlist-baiting tracklists and one-hour-plus runtimes, it reminds us that a complete and satisfying musical statement can be delivered in 25 minutes or less.
James Smith: Account Manager
Beach Fossils – Bunny (Buy Here)
The seamless blend of familiarity and experimentation showcases Beach Fossils' musical maturity and makes Bunny my go-to album of 2023, earning its well-deserved spot as my favourite album of the year.
Bunny maintains the band's signature dream-pop sound, characterized by shimmering guitars, ethereal vocals, and a laid-back yet immersive vibe that invites listeners into a contemplative reverie. The production trumps previous albums, with a delicate balance that allows each instrument to shine.
Standout tracks for me are 'Don't Fade Away' and 'Seconds'.
George Douglas: Account Manager
The Chemical Brothers – For That Beautiful Feeling (Buy Here)
In truth, my new album listening habits have descended into checking out releases in the background at my desk each week and letting Spotify repeatedly play them through until either I eventually notice how good they are or need to switch to something mostly instrumental to play loud and focus. This, The Chemical Brothers' tenth album dropped into both categories in recent months, as did Chase & Status and Orbital's 2023 offerings.
It's a no-nonsense electronic music masterclass one would come to expect from the pioneers. Less of the radio singles and guest vocalists of previous 'Chem's albums, but perhaps more direct housey techno akin to their seminal Exit Planet Dust, most evident on 'The Weight' (huge Main Stage field-sized now, rather than just huge warehouse!)
It's probably got understated sonics and layers that I'm not in tune with yet, but that's likely because I'm busy rocking in my chair along to the drum-builds of tracks like the aptly named 'Intro' and 'Magic Wand' or flailing my arms in the air at soaring peaks of tracks like 'Goodbye' and the title track finale.
Queens of the Stone Age – In Times New Roman (Buy Here)
After an awkward arena experience last time around, QOTSA resurfaced at the top of my Favourite Bands List this summer with a brilliant outdoor headline set at The Piece Hall, Halifax - and their eighth album In Times New Roman.
Having gone through some brutal personal stuff in the five years since the last record, including very public divorce issues, a cancer diagnosis and deaths of close friends, Mr. Homme’s now veteran gang have returned darker. They still somehow juxtapose those bleak lyrical themes of “emotional amputees” found on opener ‘Obscenery’ and the dread of oblivion in ‘Straight Jacket Fitting’ with typically jaunty riffs and danceable choons, though. All the sarcastic tongue-in-cheek wordplay and bad puns remain: see ‘What the Peephole Say’. And occasionally, whilst the scars are still raw as the guitar tones, there's some good old-fashioned scathing spite and bitterness: see ‘Paper Machete’.
I’d like to try to choose an exciting debut next year, but just like The Kills, Hives, Rival Sons and Tigercub who returned with new albums that got more than a handful of plays from me in 2023, Queens Of The Stone Age do what they do well and I like it.