Indie Basement is a weekly column on BrooklynVegan focusing on classic indie and alternative artists, "college rock," and new and current acts who follow a similar path. There are reviews of new albums, reissues, box sets, books and sometimes movies and television shows.
We've reached the midpoint of 2023 and you know what that means -- lists! This has been a good year for music already and I could put together a Top 40 Albums list that I'd be good with for representing the whole year, at least in that they're all excellent. Thank goodness we don't have to do that because there are a few things still to come I have high hopes for. We'll get to that in December but for now here's a Top 30 of what are my favorite records of the year to date. We've got seasoned vets making some of their best music in ages, newcomers delivering amazing debuts, and for regular Indie Basement readers a few familiar faces. We've got music from France, Sweden, the UK, Canada and, yes, even the good ole U.S.A.
Stay tuned for the BrooklynVegan collective list, and head below for my 30 favorites of 2023 so far in alphabetical order, plus a Spotify/TIDAL playlist featuring a song from each, below...
You can also check out the
Indie Basement archives for lots more great stuff from this year. attachment-best-of-2023-so-far-mid-year2
attachment-alison goldfrapp the love invention
Alison Goldfrapp: (Skint) The Love Invention
Since 2000, Alison Goldfrapp has mostly been synonymous with the duo that bears her name and you'd be forgiven for thinking they were one and the same. (They kinda are, too, but also not.) What would a Goldfrapp solo album sound like? Not super different, no surprise, as her debut
The Love Invention shows. Part of that comes down to her voice and harmony style which automatically pulls everything into her orbit, and the album isn't a massive departure musically from the glammy electropop they've been known for since 2003's Black Cherry. Alison also brings her impeccable taste and a murderers row of electronic music collaborators, making for an album of sleek, sophisticated electronic disco. bar-italia
bar italia - (Matador) Tracey Denim
Much like their visual cues, bar italia's music doesn't follow normal conventions. Nina Cristante, Jezmi Tarik Fehmi and Sam Fenton are all equal players, trading off vocals with almost no interest in things like verses or choruses. Songs feel constructed using the Exquisite Corpse: one member starts with a riff and melody and then hands it off to another who does with it as they please, and so on. Sometimes it snakes back around with weaving vocal interplay, while other times, like on "Punkt!," it's three distinct vignettes using the same setting in one song. None of these obscurist tendencies keep bar italia from making great, easily enjoyable music though. There is no shortage of hooks, and Cristante, Jezmi and Sam are distinct vocalists who sound great together.
Baxter Dury - I Thought I Was Better Than You
Baxter Dury - (Heavenly) I Thought I Was Better Than You
While he's still working within his self-described style of "narrative-based, blokey, indie type talk music" -- including his mastery of casual, flowery British slang and creative swearing --
I Thought I Was Better Than You is a much more focused, inspired, and better record than 2020's Night Chancers. Part of that is the subject matter but it's also the melodies and music; the album was produced by Paul White who has previously worked with Danny Brown, Charli XCX, and Sudan Archives. Bringing a hip hop sensibility on songs like "Celebrate Me," "Crowded Room," and "Aylesbury Boy" is like a missing piece from Baxter's wardrobe that now completes the look. There are still elements of dub, "indie guitar," and drippy strings, along with the invaluable work of vocalists Madeline Heart, Eska and JGrrey who serve as counterpoint narrators to these vivid tales of schoolyard fights, petty larceny and a famous dad who was on tour a lot. Baxter may never fully escape the shadow of his father -- or get arrested in America -- but 20 years into his career, Baxter Dury has developed a sound that may echo of the past but is entirely his own. Belle and Sebastian - Late Developers
Belle & Sebastian - (Matador) Late Developers
Belle & Sebastian recorded 2022’s
at their Glasgow HQ – the first time they’d made a record entirely in their hometown in ages – writing tons of material and whittling it down to 12 songs. Instead of relegating the unused songs to b-side status (not that that would be a bad thing, as comp A Bit of Previous shows), the band decided to release them as a second album that was only announced a few days prior to being released. In addition to songs written during the Push Barman to Open Old Wounds Previous sessions, Late Developers also features songs by Stuart Murdoch that have been kicking around for decades. Yet Late Developers plays not like a leftovers comp but a career retrospective sent from an alternate universe. bill nomates cacti
Billy Nomates - (Invada) CACTI
As Billy Nomates, Tor Maries made one of 2020's most
striking debuts, transforming herself from folk-pop artist into a brash original who wasn't afraid to speak her mind and defied easy pigeonholing. It helped that she found mentors in Sleaford Mods and Geoff Barrow (Portishead, Beak>) who encouraged her to find her own voice. It's been tough, though, relaunching a career just as the world shuts down, and all the fears, self-doubt and anger that have come with the last three years play into her excellent second album. She still sounds like no one else. With her warm voice and way with melody and harmony, these songs sound like they could've been twangy new wave hits for Juice Newton or Kim Carnes in 1980, or pop-country chart-toppers in the '90s -- except Tor's DIY production and arrangements, full of weird synthesizers and post-punk touchstones, pull them in other directions. constant smiles kenneth anger album
Constant Smiles - (Sacred Bones) Kenneth Anger
As Constant Smiles, Ben Jones makes swirling, hooky minor chord pop that is pleasingly mopey, but tends to switch up the methodology from album to album.
from 2021 was led with acoustic guitar, but for his second album on Sacred Bones, keyboards are at the forefront, giving things a much different feel. Arpeggiated synths dance around his melancholic melodies, while the driving basslines feel right out of Paragons the '80s goth heyday. These arrangements are a more natural fit for Jones' songs and whispery vocals, and Kenneth Anger -- named after the experimental filmmaker -- comes off a bit like The War on Drugs by way of M83, The Church and Disintegration. debby-friday-good-luck
DEBBY FRIDAY - (Sub Pop) GOOD LUCK
After a decade as part of Canada's underground music scene, having spent time in Montreal, Vancouver and now Toronto, the Nigerian-born artist DEBBY FRIDAY comes into her own on her full-length debut. As on her EPs
Bitchpunk and Death Drive, DEBBY defies easy categorization, mixing rap, electro, post-punk, industrial, techno and more into a glitchy, bruising and bitcrushed blend that is fiery, magnetic and all her own. Working with Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh (found below in this same column with Noble Rot), GOOD LUCK is loaded with high drama, light and heat, noise and beauty, not to mention many killer jams. attachment-django django off planet
Django Django - (Because Music) Off Planet
Born out of lockdown, Django Django's sprawling, guest-filled double album Off Planet is easily their most fun album since the first, with forays into house, afrobeats, disco, techno, new wave, reggae, acid jazz, you name it, alongside their signature brand of indie dance. You get a feeling the weren't concerned if it all held together or if they could ever play half of it live, and whether they'd be able to play everything live or not, which brings a freeing energy as well. The album was released not unlike Beach House's
Once Twice Melody, with entire sides dropped in monthly installments, which makes each Planet its own mini-LP, featuring irresistible dancepop songs alongside crate-digger excursions, and that may be the best way to digest the record, by exploring one planet before moving on to the next strange new world. You may not make it through the whole thing at once, but it's all worth exploring and, if you keep this in rotation, you'll continue to make discoveries. en attendant ana - principia
En Attendant Ana - (Trouble in Mind) Principia
With a fondness for jazzy melodies, shimmering guitars, and cheery trumpet, not to mention Margaux Bouchaudon's sunshine glow vocals, Parisian band En Attendant Ana are decidedly winsome. But they're not wimpy. Those jazzy chords are played with confidence, the rhythm section lays down a serious groove, and Margaux is no wallflower and can really belt it out when needed. The band are all serious players, capable of dramatic tone and tempo shifts that are unexpected but never jarring.
Principia is En Attendant Ana's third and best album, their most assured and appealing statement yet. everything but the girl-FUSE-COVER-3000px
Everything But the Girl - (Verve / Buzzin' Fly) FUSE FUSE is Everything But the Girl's first album in 25 years, that is pretty much everything you could want from an EBTG record in 2023. They have covered a lot of musical ground over the last 40 years, from bossa nova to Sophistipop to cutting edge electronic music, but they basically pick up where Temperamental left off. Almost entirely electronic and in line with everything they've done before, the album manages to find new paths to explore without ever falling into "How do you do, fellow kids" territory. facs still life in decay
FACS - (Trouble in Mind) Still Life in Decay
Still Life in Decay, Chicago trio FACS have moved out of the shadows, from behind the clouds. They are still an ominous, gothic monolith; heavy like a white dwarf but now gleaming like obsidian. Brian Case's vocals, partially hidden and mutated by reverb and other effects on the group's four previous albums, emerge from the haze unobscured, presenting a confident, seething frontman. As usual, FACS are powered by the formidable rhythm section: Alianna Kalaba's steely, sky-scraping bass lines that fire like rocket boosters sending their songs ever upward, and Noah Leger's crushing, precise drumming. With Case's highly atmospheric guitarwork, Still Life in Decay is a triangulated attack of post-rock, post-hardcore, and post-punk. It's not demonstrably different than their other records, but everything is refined and noticeably lifted. Fever Ray radical romantics
Fever Ray - (Mute) Radical Romantics
"We don’t come with a manual," Karin Dreijer sings on "Looking for a Ghost" from their third album as
Fever Ray, in a voice mutated by effects overtop ticking percussion, like a wind-up mechanical doll. Love is strange and it takes a lot of work to keep it aflame, a theme that runs through the entirety of Radical Romantics. If 2017's Plunge was Dreijer, newly out and embracing the wonders of the heart, then this is the tough job of keeping it going after passions have cooled and the realities of life seep back in. Reality is a loaded word in Fever Ray's world, full of distorted voices and unsettling characters (even moreso in their videos), but for all the creepy noises, Radical Romantics presents a lot of recognizably human emotions at its core. Love, anger and everything in between, all filtered through Dreijer's distinctive style. gina birch - I PLAY MY BASS LOUD
Gina Birch - (Third Man) I Play My Bass Loud
“The album distills my years of musical, political, and artistic life with these genre-breaking songs,” says The Raincoats' Gina Birch of her first-ever solo album. “It’s a personal diary using sounds and lyrics, full of fun, rage, and storytelling." That about sums it up. Producer Youth has a way of coaxing the best out of artists, creating a comfortable atmosphere that allows them to be themselves, and it's clear that he and Birch hit it off.
I Play My Bass Loud is terrific, funny, whipsmart, angry and never less than entertaining -- a protest album that doesn't forget to dance. Songs play like signboards, but feel more inclusive and defiant than didactic, even on a JAMC-ish, hissing force-of-nature song like "I Am Rage." Jessie Ware that-feels-good
Jessie Ware - (PMR / EMI) That! Feels Good!
Jessie Ware's 2020 album
What's Your Pleasure? was one of the key releases in the current disco / house revival alongside records by Roisin Murphy and Beyonce. She could've easily called its joyous follow-up Pleasure Too, but managed to come up with an even better, cheekier title. That! Feels Good! is a nonstop pleasure cruise -- there's even a song that recalls The Love Boat theme -- and she giddily mixes classic '70s funk, disco and tropicalia with '80s new wave / electro, '90s house, R&B and French Touch, and just about anything else that suits her fancy. Fun is the order of the day and it's served up across 10 effortlessly playful, gorgeously produced dance tracks that are equal parts groove, sweep and melody with nods to everyone from Gloria Gaynor to Madonna (though Ware's British accent is real). If you're not having a good time listening to this wonderful record, check your pulse. mandy indiana -i've seen a way - Album Artwork
Mandy, Indiana - (Fire Talk) I've seen a way
Mandy, Indiana's music feels like a place, too: eerie, alien, magnetic, dangerous, thrilling, elusive. They're a guitar band who don't play chords, an electronic band who only occasionally want you to dance, but they present a vivid, tableau with their music which is often unsettling and confrontational.
I've seen a way, their debut album, soundtracks a post-apocalyptic hellscape dotted with abandoned factories and crumbling government housing. Some songs sound like they're being played at the opposite end of an endless warehouse where industrial noise echos into ambience. Elsewhere, it's all release, with sheets of blistering white noise and singer Valentine Caufield -- who has an opera background -- shrieking, wailing and whispering, all in her native French, but her delivery needs no translation. meg-baird-furling
Meg Baird - (Drag City) Furling
Meg Baird's featherlight voice and equally delicate guitar style is more than enough to carry albums, and has done so in the past, but on
Furling she really lets her abilities as a multi-instrumentalist shine. Working with her longtime collaborator and partner (and Heron Oblivion bandmate) Charlie Saufley, Meg plays a wide range of instruments -- drums, vibraphone, loads of keyboards of all shapes and sizes -- making for one of the most immediate, inviting albums of her rich and varied career. Furling doesn't change the core of what Meg has always done, it just makes it all shine just a little more. Model/Actriz, Dogsbody
Model/Actriz - (True Panther Sounds) Dogsbody
Model/Actriz have actually been part of the NYC fringe for the better part of a decade but sound like they could've actually held their own in 2003, with a fierce strain of arty technopunk that sounds like it was forged in an abandoned flame-cut steel factory. Drums fire like jackhammers, a machine gun of kickdrums, guitars shear off slices of metal like a hot knife through butter, and singer Cole Haden wails lines like "I remember thorns shredding my palms!"
Dogsbody, their debut album, is fueled on twitchy, relentless energy that rarely lets up over its intense, dark and deadly serious 38-minute runtime. the-murder-capital-gigis-recovery
The Murder Capital - (Human Seasons) Gigi's Recovery
Dublin band The Murder Capital have lightened up considerably since their release of their 2019 debut,
When I Had Fears. That album trafficked in dour indie rock not too far removed from Interpol. early Editors and other groups who got compared to Joy Division a lot. While derivative, it had good songs played with conviction, and frontman James McGovern had a magnetism that could be felt even through the cheapest of earbuds. Four years later the band are back, and while it would be wrong to say they seem more comfortable in their skin, Gigi's Recovery feels more the product of a band who have figured out who they are. Songs and performances are more nuanced and showcase a whole range of emotions and colors, not just black and gray. noel gallagher - Council Skies
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - (Sour Mash Records) Council Skies
Noel Gallagher's greatest talent is as a quote machine that always pays out gold, but he remains a pretty great songwriter, and as long as he's making records as terrific as
Council Skies (and still playing some oldies live), I'm totally OK with Oasis never getting back together. He may still be quick with an insult, but musically he has mellowed wonderfully and for the most part he's traded in his Les Paul and Marshall stacks in favor of an acoustic guitar and a string section. He's always had a great voice -- watch Oasis' MTV -- and while his delivery has less attitude and swagger than his brother's, it's prettier and sounds at home in these 12 lush songs. Unplugged orbital_optical Delusion
Orbital - (London Recordings) Optical Delusion
Inspired by the remixes and reworks on last year's Orbital 30 retrospective compilation, Orbital conceived their 10th album with guests on nearly every track. They've had vocalists on previous records -- good (Goldfrapp) and less good (David Gray) -- but
Optical Delusion is their collab-iest record yet. Albums like this often sound good on paper but come off lackluster in the finished product, but Paul and Phil Hartnoll sound genuinely inspired here and, despite the remote nature of the album's creation, neither they or their collaborators (Sleaford Mods and Penelope Isles among them) could be accused of ever phoning it in. Optical Delusion is easily their best record since 1999's The Middle of Nowhere. attachment-Protomartyr - Formal Growth In The Desert - Cover Artwork
Protomartyr - (Domino) Formal Growth in the Desert
For those who listened to Protomartyr's 2020 album
Ultimate Success Today and thought "if this was made before the pandemic, what will a record made during it be like?," the answer is "pretty great." Formal Growth in the Desert is Protomartyr's best record since Under Cover of Official Right. The whole band seems energized and locked-in, and where Success felt unrelenting and bleak (some would say that's Protomartyr's thing on all records), here they are empowering. Casey hasn't lightened up, per se, but he doesn't sound quite as defeated. reds pinks and purples the town that cursed your name
The Reds, Pinks & Purples - The Town That Cursed Your Name (Slumberland)
"Is it too late for an early grave?," Glenn Donaldson asks on the opening track on his latest album as The Reds, Pinks & Purples. It's his wistful, glum spin on the "too old to die young" trope that epitomizes RPPs' feelin' gloomy MO: bitter tales of musicians who dream of escaping heir humdrum town and finding fame but never quite make it, set to ridiculously catchy minor chord melodies delivered in a style that's not so much sung as sighed. It's such a perfectly realized world, right down to the artwork (apartment facades for albums, flowers for singles), that every new dose of strummy disappointment is welcome.
Sleaford Mods - UK GRIM
Sleaford Mods - (Rough Trade) UK GRIM
Somehow, defying all music industry logic and the normal rules of rock and pop, UK duo Sleaford Mods -- Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn, both over 50 and on album #8 --- just keep getting better. Maybe it's their metier; as long as there are idiots in charge to rail against, Williamson will never run out of bile, and Fearn will never run out of beats. Their home country is often the subject of their ire, but this time it's specifically focused on the state of the nation, from the title down. England has been on metaphorical fire since at least Brexit, but so are Sleaford Mods who are at their hilarious, angry and profane best on
UK GRIM. "In England no one can hear you scream," Williamson spews. "You're just fucked, lads." Sleaford Mods seemed like a novelty, a gimmick to some when they started over 10 years ago, but have continued to persevere and evolve through tenacity and exasperation. With the world not running out of idiots in charge, probably ever, don't expect Williamson and Fearn to go away any time soon. Thank fuck. Sparks
Sparks - (Island) The Girl is Crying in Her Latte
Has any group maintained an image, sound and level of quality across 50 years as well as Sparks? Ron and Russell Mael were weirdo geniuses right out of the gate and have seen popular culture ebb and flow around their distinct brand of tongue-in-cheek operatic rock, while never trying to make music based on what was in at the time. The band have been back in the public eye in the last few years, the most spotlight they've seen since the mid-'70s, thanks to two films -- Edgar Wright's wonderful documentary
and The Sparks Brothers , their rock opera collaboration with director Leos Carax -- and have found themselves back on Island Records, the label that released their two 1974 classics, Annette Kimono My House and Propaganda, among others. Their 26th album, The Girl is Crying in Her Latte finds Ron and Russell, who are 77 and 74 respectively, sounding sharp as ever, mixing synthpop, glam and classical elements for tales of modern ennui, filtered through their twisted sense of humor and love of cinema. steve mason - Brothers & Sisters
Steve Mason - (Double Six / Domino) Brothers & Sisters
The Beta Band broke up nearly 20 years ago but bandleader Steve Mason has kept going, plowing much of the same baggy groove as a solo artist, whether under aliases like Black Affair and King Biscuit Time or his own name. And while Mason's music has always been pretty chill, he has not mellowed with age.
Brothers & Sisters is a protest record, but done in an "all are welcome" good-vibes way, with warm, anthemic choruses, and swaying beats. It's one of his best ever albums, solo or otherwise. SweepingPromises_good living is coming for you
Sweeping Promises - (Feel It / Sub Pop) Hunger for a Way Out
Signing to a Big Indie like Sub Pop doesn't seem to have changed Sweeping Promises one bit.
Good Living Is Coming For You sounds like it was recorded on cassette and redubbed a few times, with a hissy compressed sound that is clearly a stylistic choice and doesn't detract from another wonderful back of razor-sharp earworms. The density of the hooks on these 10 songs, most under three minutes, is staggering, with basslines worthy of early Cure, slash-and-burn riffage, bleating sax, weirdo keyboards, drums that wallop without being showy, and Mondal's voice which just seems to have gotten better over the last three years. Across punky burners ("Eraser," "You Shatter"), nervy skronk ( "Connoisseur of Salt,") and dancy new wave pop ("Throw the Dice," "Walk in Place"), Sweeping Promises deliver the goods with confidence and swagger. the-tubs-dead-meat
The Tubs - (Trouble in Mind) Dead Meat
Terrific debut album from former Joanna Gruesome members Owen Williams and George Nichols with vocal assistance on much of the album from former bandmate Alanna McArdle. Williams and Nicholls have not lost their touch one bit writing thrilling two-minute guitar earworms that mash together a few different simpatico genres: punk, post punk, power-pop and British folk. There's a lot of snarl and angst here -- mental health and its burdens / complications are recurring lyrical themes -- but never without an emphasis on hooks and melody.
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Ulrika Spacek - (Tough Love) Compact Trauma
In London band Ulrika Spacek's hands, guitars swoop and soar, sneak and creep, caress and roar. Frontman Rhys Edwards and bandmates Adam Beach and Joseph Stone are cut from the same cloth as Doug Martsch, Bradford Cox, Thurston Moore/Lee Ranaldo, and the Radiohead of your choice, working within rock and pop boundaries but still finding new things to do with their instrument and excited by the possibilities.
Compact Trauma, the band's first album in six years, plays off the promise of their 2018 Suggested Listening EP and is a glorious guitar record where even the two-minute songs feel epic, loaded with inventive riffs and clever filigrees.
U.S. Girls bless this mess album art
U.S. Girls - (4AD) Bless This Mess
This may be the funkiest U.S. Girls record to date, and is absolutely packed with bangers, from the electro-fueled tale of urban flight, "So Typically Now," to the loping, cockeyed strut of "Just Space for Light," the '80s lite Greek mythos groove of "Daedelus," the pure disco of "Tux (Your Body Fills Me, Boo)," and album closer, "Pump," that uses a sample of
Remy's breast pump for its bassline. While Meg remains a razor-sharp lyricist, motherhood and the pandemic has shaped her outlook here, with a strong undercurrent of fatalism. "Nothing is wrong, everything is fine," Remy sings on the album's Springsteen-eque centerpiece "Future's Bet," before adding, "This is just life."
yo la tengo this stupid world
Yo La Tengo - (Matador) This Stupid World
Yo La Tengo doesn't throw any curveballs on
This Stupid World, but they don't need to. This is nine examples of a band still in control of their sound, still within its bounds, but still finding new inspiration and corners to explore. It's a refinement of everything that's come before, but it also plays like a calling card. What does Yo La Tengo sound like? This Stupid World. There are the jagged, fuzzy pop numbers, krautrock inspired one-chord groovers, feedback-laden slow-burn rippers, hazy shoegaze, and especially pretty songs sung by Georgia. Lyrically, as usual, they mix thoughtful ruminations on life, peppered with pop culture non sequiturs. This Stupid World may not offer any big swing innovations, but it's top tier Yo La Tengo. The real revelation is considering just how consistently great they've remained over four decades.
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