XS Noize Albums of the Year 2023

XS Noize Albums of 2023

In a year brimming with musical innovation and emotional resonance, the XS Noize 2023 Albums of the Year list reflects the diverse tapestry of sounds that have left an indelible mark on the music landscape.

This year's selection embodies the spirit of artistic exploration and creative daring, from genre-defying masterpieces to deeply introspective offerings. These albums are more than just a collection of songs; they are sonic journeys that captivate the listener, pushing boundaries and challenging preconceptions. Each entry on the list represents a triumph of artistic vision and a testament to the power of music to transcend boundaries and connect us all. As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary music, these albums stand as beacons of inspiration, guiding us toward new horizons in sound and expression.

 

50. Hot Mulligan - Why Would I Watch


49. The Lottery Winners - Anxiety Replacement Therapy

Listen to this album a few times from start to finish. Don't stick it on random (CD/Streaming version), stylus skip (Vinyl version) or hit fast forward (Cassette version). Let it absorb into your mind. Allow yourself to walk alongside Rylance's experiences, connecting with the story arc that unveils itself to you.

You will gain a greater appreciation of the album this way. You will better understand anxiety, how it manifests, and how tough it is to fight against it. You will also have listened to a thoroughly good album with far too many earworms than is strictly good for you – certainly more than the recommended daily amount.

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48. Half Moon Run - Salt


47. Duran Duran - Danse Macabre

Duran Duran are no strangers to cover versions, though – "Femme Fatale", "Fame", etc.- of course, they recorded the highly divisive Thank You album in 1995. They also reinterpreted their own music on that record with an offbeat and loose take on "The Chauffeur", which became "Drive By." However, I feel the covers on this album will be more universally accepted. They sound novel and more off the cuff. That's what recording at the speed of sound will do to a band. Danse Macabre as a whole is an exciting and very interesting listen, but above all… this album is fun.

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46. Conor Miley - Thousand Yard Stare


45. Bleach Lab - Lost In A Rush Of Emptiness


44. Teenage Fanclub - Nothing Lasts Forever

Nothing Lasts Forever is lyrically impressive and concise without being verbose. Teenage Fanclub addresses impermanence, anxieties and mental health issues with grace and maturity by avoiding unnecessary dramatization and descriptions. On Nothing Lasts Forever Teenage Fanclub, we have mastered when not to add too much of something but, at the same time, miss opportunities to innovate and draw listeners in. Nonetheless, "Fannies" curiosity about what else Teenage Fanclub has to offer remains.

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43. Shonen Knife - Our Best Place

This Japanese trio kept me hooked throughout with catchy melodies, quirky lyrics and a barrelful of fun. I now have earworms aplenty and want to listen to it all again. Maybe there’s some subliminal messaging hidden in the recording, creating an addiction? I don’t care. I’m okay with being fixated on happy, fun-time music sounds. Try it. You might get hooked, too.

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42. Rival Sons - Lightbringer

Rival Sons have a habit of producing outstanding albums, and with Lightbringer, they’ve managed to add another notch to their belt. There’s so much depth in terms of the music and the story told by each song. Buchanan’s voice is ever-powerful and delivers emotion by the truckload. Scott Holiday also deserves a lot of praise, as he plays lead guitar masterfully throughout. Ultimately, fans of the Rival Sons sound will feel spoiled this year with the band’s two latest releases that fuse magnificently to create the feeling of a double album. Lightbringer is able to retain the thematic feel of Darkfighter, yet there’s enough progression to keep things interesting in a most positive way.

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41. Broken Records - The Dreamless Sleep Of The 1990s


40. Wilco - Cousin


39. Wozniak - Memory Disorder


38. Scowl - Psychic Dance Routine


37. Polaris - Fatalism


36. Tesseract - War of Being


35. Billy Nomates - CACTI

Billy Nomates has produced a very confident and polished album that has shown her to be much more than her first album ever alluded to. Whilst her post-punk minimalism worked well, sticking to that style would have been limiting. In CACTI, Tor Maries shows she is much more. Opening herself up, showing her humanity and vulnerabilities, expanding her musical styles and instrumentation, and demonstrating her singing abilities have led to an excellent album you will want to go back to in its entirety or select tracks depending on your own mood.

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Tor Maries, AKA Billy Nomates, talks about CACTI on episode #115 of The XS Noize Podcast. Listen here.


34. The Pink Spiders - Freakazoid


33. Ratboys - The Window


32. Susanne Sundfør - Blómi


31. BC Camplight - The Last Rotation Of Earth


30. Vince Clarke - Songs of Silence

This is not an album you will play every day. You won't pop it on the turntable when you've come home from work after a crappy day and want to be cheered up with some upbeat pop or rock. It will be something you turn to from time to time and hear something new or feel different emotions compared to when you last listened. Playing it through headphones or speakers also makes a difference. Speakers made me feel as if the soundscape draped over me like a large high thread count bed sheet – silky, delicate and almost womb-like. Headphones placed me in the centre of this sonic universe where I was a central character – immersive, vast and sometimes unsettling. I await its debut as an art piece in the future.

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29. The Hives - The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons

The Hives are back! The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons sees the band returning to what they do best – pumping out primal oomph!

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28. Alabama 3 - Cold War Classics Vol. 2

Alabama 3's Rob Spragg, AKA Larry Love, discusses 'Cold War Classics Vol.2' on episode #153 of The XS Noize Podcast. Listen here.


27. Madness - Theatre of the Absurd presents C’est La Vie

This may well be the last-ever studio album by Madness. They have not intimated this, but they are not getting any younger. The Rolling Stones are still at it, so there may be plenty more life in these nutty boys. They can still make great songs and continue to be a great live band. I believe there is at least one more album in Messrs. McPherson, Thompson, Barson, Bedford, Foreman and Woodgate based on this offering… but Don't Quote Me On That.

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26. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Council Skies

While there may be a lack of swaggering anthemic songs, many of the tracks have a genuine emotional depth that makes them easy to relate to. As a result, Council Skies offers a compelling case to be put forward as Noel Gallagher's best solo work yet, although there remains the feeling that the album could be a springboard to better things for the band.

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25. The Rolling Stones - Hackney Diamonds



24. Spanish Love Songs - No Joy


23. Fever Ray - Radical Romantics

As a whole, this album is a dark, intriguingly sweet electro-pop success. It’s an unexpected but triumphant change in pace from the crowning jewel that was Plunge back in 2017. It's an area we wouldn’t have thought to find Karin Dreijer – the simple love song – however they serve it up in their naturally nonconformist way. They challenge preconceptions, they nurse our need for rhythm and offer up a new unfiltered and unapologetically honest version of the love story, revelling in its splendour and reviling in its flaws.

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22. Hozier - Unreal Unearth


21. Slowdive - Everything Is Alive


20. Mitski - The Land is Inhospitable, And So Are We


19. Corinne Bailey Rae - Black Rainbows


18. Lana Del Rey - Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd


17. The National - First Two Pages of Frankenstein

First Two Pages of Frankenstein is a collection of songs not made to revolutionise the band's sound. It's not made to shock or challenge whatever definition fans or media moguls have labelled them; instead, it feels like a band at home. It's a collection of songs that perfectly encapsulates all the fans have come to love about them.

It's beautifully composed from start to finish, bringing more of that familiar cathartic indie-rock melodrama to the stage, being driven home with brutally honest, emotionally direct and self-reflective themes that make listening to the album feel like you've stumbled across someone's diary.

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16. Grian Chatten - Chaos For The Fly

Chaos For The Fly is a hugely positive start for Grian Chatten's solo career. If he can find such inspiration for so many stories from a small coastal town, how many stories he can find in his now-permanent base of London remains to be seen. The raw power of his band may not have been displayed, but Chatten has created an intimate, honest, commanding debut, which leaves the impression that there can be so much more to come from him as a solo artist.

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15. Gorillaz - Cracker Island


14. Inhaler - Cuts & Bruises

Cuts & Bruises displays a band that is bringing all the potential displayed on their debut to fruition. The hope after the debut was that the band would develop their estimable talents, and they have delivered. The lyrics and orchestration are heartfelt and straight-shooting on this relationship album, including examining romantic love and friendship. Substantial growth is found as the band trades in tales of reckless youth for more mature, tighter songs steeped in friendship, introspection and romance. The verdict is Inhaler is coming along quite nicely.

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13. Skinny Lister - Shanty Punk

With its balladic feel, the folksy “Broken, Bruised & Battered” showcases the power of Loran Thomas’ vocals, soaring over the crunching rhythm and glittering banjo surfaces. Once again, luscious vocal harmonies give the song a ringing dimension and depth. Drenched in Celtic folk punk tangs, Shanty Punk sees Skinny Lister returning to what they excel at – vibrant sing-along shanty music.

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12. Steven Wilson - The Harmony Codex

Steven Wilson discusses THE HARMONY CODEX on episode #145 of The XS Noize Podcast. Watch the interview here.


11. Public Image Limited - End of World

End of World contains some great tracks with very different merits. "Penge', 'Car Chase', 'Dirty Murky Delight' and 'Hawaii' stand out positively for a plethora of reasons. However, there are parts of the album that feel out of place. Some songs lack finesse as if they are works in progress rather than completed tracks. That may sound harsh, but I know what PiL can produce – there are examples of this on this album.

This album is a collection of parts that do not coalesce into a whole. It is said that Nora loved it. Maybe that's reason enough for you to give it a spin. I can't help but feel the album would have been a tighter, leaner offering with fewer tracks. But as Lydon once said, "I'm not here for your amusement. You're here for mine."

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John Lydon discusses 'End of World' on episode #142 of The XS Noize Podcast. Watch the interview here.


10. Blink 182 - One More Time...

The album is joyous and proves plenty remains in the tank. Listening to the album, it's hard to believe that with a career as illustrious as theirs, this could be them now only reaching the peak of their powers. They sound bigger, better and more capable than ever without forgetting who they are and what Blink 182 means to their fans. The pop-punk roots remain as clear as day with fun-filled, catchy lyrics and punchy melodies in abundance while now adding a harder-hitting human element to make it sound all the more relatable and gut-wrenching when needed.

The production of the songs sounds better than ever, undoubtedly benefitting from Travis Barker fine-tuning his skills in this department over the years working with other artists. Most importantly, to Blink 182 fans, they sound more united than ever. Having faced their traumas and found their way back together, we can all settle in for what will prove to be a defining and long-lasting period in the band's story.

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9. Young Fathers - Heavy Heavy


8. Queens of the Stoneage - Times New Roman 


7. Sleaford Mods - UK Grim

Sleaford Mods have seen growing commercial success over recent years. Their last album, Spare Ribs, gained a critical response and a Top 5 chart place. I fully expect UK GRIM to equal or better that. It is a very strong album comparable to a high-quality sausage – all meat and no filler. I can see several of these becoming live performance staples. In a world filled with chaos, nonsense, division and unfairness, it is good to know there is a man who will snarl at it like an angry German Shepherd, taking a few healthy chunks of flesh for good measure, while another chap lays down proper mad musical compositions that attack your internal organs. We need Sleaford Mods. The voice of sanity and reason is alive and well and living in Nottingham. Viva le East Midlands!

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Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods discusses UK GRIM on episode #122 of The XS Noize Podcast. Listen to the interview here.


6. Lankum - False Lankum

Lankum has certainly created a unique experience with False Lankum. They demonstrate a deft touch in the art of storytelling. They reveal how they can successfully inject emotion into their music, regardless of the emotion. They exhibit a new way to tackle traditional folk songs using modern production techniques, creating sonic masterpieces instead of just songs. They prove the future of folk music in Ireland is in good hands. It appears patience is indeed a virtue. Long may Lankum take their time. I look forward to their next album in 2026/27.

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5. Sufjan Stevens - Javelin

The album's release also comes with an unwanted dose of poignancy after Stevens' recent diagnosis of the rare autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Sharing his experience on social media, he revealed that he "woke up one morning and couldn't walk" with the serious illness leading to time in hospital. Successful treatment has halted his deteriorating condition, and he is now undergoing physical therapy to learn to walk again. He explained that it's "one of the reasons why I haven't been able to participate in the press and promotion leading up to the release of 'Javelin'".

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4. Boygenius - The Record


3. Depeche Mode - Memento Mori

Until May last year, it seemed inconceivable that any Depeche Mode product would be released without Andy being involved, but here have just that. I’m confident Andy would have loved this album. That is perhaps the best compliment anyone can pay it. No other band could have recorded an album like this. No other band is like Depeche Mode.

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2. PJ Harvey - I Inside the Old Year Dying

Although the Dorset dialect is used, do not be put off by this. It does not detract from the album but enhances the feel throughout. It makes for a fabulous, if not quirky, record. And surely, we should applaud anyone who takes risks and does something a little different. There's enough banality out there.

So, enter the liminal world of I Inside the Old Year Dying. Take a walk around. Listen to the goocoo's call. Write your name in the wilder-mist. Listen to your footsteps as you walk through fallen tree tears. Take evasive action if you encounter the Ooser's Rod. But most of all, allow yourself to be carried along through Harvey's poetic story.

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1. Blur - The Ballad of Darren

The strongest songs on The Ballad of Darren are "The Narcissist", "Avalon", and "The Everglades". "The Narcissist", the leading song from this LP, possesses the emotive feel-good teen rock of the late nineties. "Avalon", like "The Ballad", has Bacharach-inspired arrangements but goes further by fusing RnB with urban funk. Unexpected rock opera guitars make "Avalon" the quirkiest and most innovative song of this LP. "The Everglades" is the only song to blend late sixties folk with the tranquil beauty of the material featured on Damon Albarn's second solo album, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows. The Ballad of Darren has impressive material that will add to an already remarkable legacy spanning over three decades.

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XS Noize Albums of 2023

XS Noize: Albums of the year 2023 compiled by Iam Burn from lists by Mark Millar, Michael Barron,  Lori Gava, Randall Radic, Stuart Evans, Alina Salihbekova, David McElroy, Julie Blore-Bizot, Niall Donnelly, Jesse Yarbrough, Chris Mullan, Sam Williams, Aaron Kavanagh.

 

Xsnoize Author
Mark Millar is the founder of XS Noize and looks after the daily running of the website as well as hosting interviews for the weekly XS Noize Podcast. Mark's favourite album is Achtung Baby by U2.

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