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  • Writer's pictureLeo Aram-Downs

My 10 Favourite Albums of 2023

10. billy woods & Kenny Segel - Maps

Favourite Songs - FaceTime, Agriculture,

I'm super late to the Billy Woods party, but this album is extraordinary. It's not just great, it feels important somehow, like this is going to be a piece of formative media for me going forward. The lyricism is humbling, the delivery and time-feel is super unique, and it's all set against a production backdrop that is in equal parts sensitive, intelligent and curated. This album is a journey that I encourage everyone to take. If you can spare the time, pull up the lyrics and read along with the tunes, because it's raw poetry. Nothing but good to say about this record, now I need to go back through the discography.

9. Sufjan Stevens - Javelin

Favourite Songs - So You are Tired, Will Anybody Ever Love Me

There's not much I can say about this album that hasn't been said so I'm just going to heap on some extra praise for it. I love the choral production on this album particularly, the singers really feel like friends in a room together making music. Timbre-wise, it feels like a journey through everything that makes Sufjan special, from the close, fingerpicked, intimate moments to the more maximalist electronics laced with wind instruments and yearning vocals. Great album.

8. Ryan Beatty Calico

Favourite Songs - Bruises Off The Peach, Hunter

This man made far and away my favourite album of 2020, so I was excited to see what he followed up with. What we got was a total palette swap, but the same quality songwriting and vocal performances. The different instrumentation and production let Ryan's skills shine in a totally different element. It's not the same kind of production and trickery that I loved Dreaming of David for, but it's better for that. It's different, but it's the same. Much the same as The Japanese House, this is a maturation in a way that holds everything that came before it in a place of respect instead of constantly trying to iterate on the same thing.

7. Blake Mills - Jelly Road

Favourite Songs - Jelly Road, Skeleton Is Walking

It's just, really good. Blake Mills' idiosyncrasy when it comes to the studio makes him inimitable, and that's before we get to the songwriting that he's bringing to life. His choices of aesthetic all feel so analogue, but in a way that feels homemade and bespoke. This is the album equivalent of a really nice desk that's been in the family for generations. The craftsmanship is on full display, and you appreciate it for the experience it took to even bring it into the world, and then you get to sit down and write your memoirs at it.

6. Bombay Bicycle Club - My Big Day

Favourite Songs - Diving, Turn The World On

This is so FUN. I've always been concerned with Bombay Bicycle Club coming back after their hiatus. Their first four albums were formative for me, and when they announced they were calling it quits after So Long, See You Tomorrow, it felt like they were leaving on a high. I'm glad to have been proved wrong by this album. It's catchy, it's well-performed, and it's bringing new life to what feels like a stagnant indie-rock space, if you're willing to call it that. This whole album is full of whimsy.

5. Sampha - Lahai

Favourite Songs - Spirit 2.0, Only

This is the album equivalent of a artisanal chocolate cake. You look the deep colour of it and the big ornaments, and your immediate concern is that it's going to be overpowering, sickly even. Then you find out that the sponge is light, the filling is creamy and evenly spaced, and the icing adds that last extra kick.

This album is ornate, thoroughly considered, and to run with the cake analogy, rich in all the right ways. It's like a choose-your-own-adventure book, you can keep going back and finding new details, new ways to enjoy it. Special mention to the drumming on this entire thing, it's mind-blowing.

4. Caroline Polachek - Desire, I Want To Turn Into You

Favourite Songs - Fly To You, Welcome to my Island

Not one I can add much value or commentary to. It's just great. Listen to it.

3. Knower - Knower Forever

Favourite Songs - Crash The Car, Same Smile, Different Face

Aside from Crash the Car being the best song released this year (and arguably the decade if I'm being real), the thing I like most about this album was the rollout. As an extremely based non-smartphone user, Knower deciding to release the album on bandcamp first was a fantastic move. They made more up-front revenue from people who wanted to hear the music when it was out, and then released it to the wider world once that phase had finished. A great piece of marketing to ensure they got what they deserved what is a stellar piece of work. The production value is what you'd expect from them, the musicianship is off the charts, and as mentioned, Crash the Car is the best song you'll hear all year for my money.

2. Jim Legxacy - HNPM

Favourite Songs - block hug, title track

I know this isn't supposed to go in any order, but this would have been my album of the year if my actual AOTY hadn't come out. This is stunning. It's humbling. It's inventive. There's nothing else like it. If you had the misfortune of speaking to me about music this year, I probably raved about this album. Jim Legxacy has made something that combines so much of his upbringing and music taste and aesthetic sensibilities to make something not only that nobody could have made, but nobody has yet made. This is hip-hop like it's never been done, this is pop music like it's never been done, this is a young man being honest and candid in a way that it's special to see. The acoustic and vibrant instrumentation, the vocal delivery, even the music videos all come together bring a flavour of familiar-yet-reinvented that make this album a special achievement.

Album Of The Year: Nickel Creek - Celebrants

Favourite Songs - The Meadow, To The Airport

This is a masterpiece. This is the culmination of decades of playing together and challenging each-other and growing as individuals, and making the most wonderful album about humanity and togetherness in a time when we need it. This is exceeding your own limitations and making the best art you possibly can. The songwriting is top-tier, the instrumental performances are (obviously) top-tier, the way the studio is used not just as a means of capturing acoustic performances but amplifying and enhancing a traditional style is the icing on the cake. This album feels like I should pay an extra premium on Spotify to hear it, it's just that good. I feel privileged to be able to hear it. This should be the bar by which we measure singer-songwriter-centric music from now on. I'm just that this album exists, and I can't fathom how they're going to top it but I'm very excited to see. This may well be my album of the decade so far. Music is dope.

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