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Quietus Charts

Quietus Albums Of The Year 2023 (In Association With Norman Records)
The Quietus , January 4th, 2024 08:12

These are our favourite albums of the last 12 months, as voted for by tQ staff, columnists and core writers

Illustration by Lisa Cradduck

I'm writing this on the 07:30am train from Euston to Lancaster, en route to do a gig with my pal Rob St John at Morecambe's Jewellers, a venue in an empty shop in the Arndale shopping centre that hosts experimental music and film nights, as well as accessible arts education. 2023 has been a tough, strange year, but venues like Jewellers and what they represent give me a glimmer of positivity. Again and again I've heard that the cultural geography of the UK is shifting, not just from the Capital, but out of the bigger cities and established venues too.

Driven by our shameful national rent crisis and housing shortage, this has been in train for some time now, as my tQ co-pilot John Doran discussed in his New Weird Britain series on BBC Radio 4 back in 2019. COVID-19 undoubtedly put the brakes on for a while, but this year it feels as if things are moving forward again, with places like the aforementioned Jewellers, The Victory in Hereford, Yeovil Art Space, Eastville Project Space, Glastonbury's King Arthur, Nottingham's JT Soar, Rhyader's The Lost ARC, Preston's The Ferret, Birkenhead's Future Yard, and The Ramsgate Music Hall all going strong, while the Sowerby Bridge Puzzle Hall Inn has joined our old favourites of the Trans-Pennine Underground – Hebden's The Trades Club, Todmorden's The Golden Lion, The White Hotel and the various haunts of Fat Out in Salford. That's not to say the cities are failing – against it all, Industrial Coast have been using all sorts of venues across Middlesbrough, there's the Quarry in Liverpool, Newcastle's The Lubber Fiend, plus Walthamstow Trades Hall: are all providing a haven for the unusual. Of course, this isn't just about buildings, but the people who are investing their time, energy and hard-earned coin to make this work, a disparate and devoted community of the sonically adventurous.

On a wider level, I feel this is further evidence that the fragmentation that has been the defining aspect of our culture over the 15 years since tQ was founded continues apace. Indeed, intelligence reaches us that end-of-year album charts in other publications have been far less predictable than usual, with no consensus and a bewildering array of records in contention. We are happy to see our comrades joining us in chaos and disorder. Contacts over there in the mainstream of the music industry tell us that the days of hoping for the next Ed Sheeran or Adele are over, and that working hard in a niche and labels persevering with artists across a few albums is starting to bring reward. It's going to be fascinating to see how this continues to evolve in coming years.

Back to 2023, and for me it has been a tough and strange year to get deep into albums. What with a toddler rampaging around, serious illness in my immediate family and extreme financial stress, my relationship with music has shifted. I can barely get to gigs now, and I've found myself less immersed in records unless they've had an intense personal emotional heft, such as PJ Harvey's I Inside The Old Year Dying or The Inward Circles' Before We Lie Down In Darknesse. What has kept me going, though, is the excitement that all those people putting on gigs and festivals around the country clearly share – that the thrill of hearing umpteen new releases every month never fades. I always told myself that if I became jaded I would stop writing about music. Whatever else is going on in my life, I'm happy to say this enthusiasm shows no sign of flagging, which is why this 15th year of The Quietus' operation is going to be far from its last, even though it nearly was.

As many of you will be aware, back in April, we had to fire distress rockets to say that tQ was in rough waters financially and ask our readers to help us out by becoming subscribers. All of us were bowled over when the response broke all our targets and put the site on a secure footing for the rest of the year. Of course, we still need more subscribers to help us thrive rather than merely survive, so if you've ever previously thought of signing up, now's the time to do so – remember the Low Culture tier gets exclusive essays, podcasts, playlists and newsletters every month, while the Sound & Vision top tier also includes exclusive music. Indeed, if you sign up as a Low Culture or Sound & Vision subscriber today, you can instantly get stuck in to over nine hours of music in our albums of the year chart playlists, available here. If you can afford it, we'd be very grateful for your support, as would all the artists on our chart – if you're into what you're hearing below, please do consider buying the releases from our pals at Norman Records.

We love our subscribers, and we love hearing from them. At Teeth Of The Sea's recent album launch gig at Walthamstow Trades Hall, one of the venues that's increasingly supporting music from our realm, a handsome fellow came up to me and said, "You don't know me but I'm a Quietus subscriber and I just wanted to thank you for saving me from being a desiccated husk of a man." It's one of the nicest things anyone has said to me all year, so thank you, dear subscriber, whoever you were, and the same to all of you out there who have kept us keeping on through difficult times. The Quietus – moisturiser of the wheels of culture. We'll take that.
Luke Turner

This chart was voted for by core tQ staff, columnists and writers. It was compiled by John Doran, and built by Patrick Clarke and Christian Eede.

100. Call Super –
Eulo Cramps
(Can You Feel The Sun)
There's always been something very personal, introspective and intimate, almost in a singer-songwriter way, about Call Super's albums, be it due to the airy nature and intricately minimalistic arrangements of their productions, the inclusion of their father's clarinet-playing, or the use of their own poetry. With Eulo Cramps, they delve even deeper into the alleys of their mind. An effervescent dialogue between ambient tones, leftfield house beats, pop flirtations, contemporary jazz techniques, spoken word excursions and experimental music trends, it might just be the producer's most compelling artistic achievement to date.
Jaša Bužinel

99. Niecy Blues –
Exit Simulation
The debut full-length release from South Carolina's Niecy Blues, born Janise Robinson, draws elements of gospel, R&B, ambient and trip hop into its smoky expanse across 13 spellbinding tracks. Robinson's time spent growing up in a deeply religious Oklahoma household – they say their "first experience with ambient music was church" via "slow songs of worship" – runs right through the record, from the sample of devotional church performance that rounds out the hazy trip hop cut 'U Care' to the gospel-jazz climax that comes on like a warm hug in 'Soma', which was the product of Robinson inviting various friends (including KeiyaA, drummer William Alexander and flautist Aisha Mars) to a studio session armed with whatever they felt they wanted and needed. Across Exit Simulation, gospel music finds natural bedfellows with experimental music in its various non-conservative strands (industrial clangs and drones on 'Lament', a stumbling drum machine on 'The Architect'), and the combination – all tied together by Robinson's frequently restrained but always captivating vocals – is sublime.
Christian Eede

98. Oozing Wound –
We Cater To Cowards
(Thrill Jockey)
If this is the end of the road for Oozing Wound, then that is an enormous shame, particularly because We Cater To Cowards is another triumph as well as an Olive Oyl-legged step forward. For starters, the influence of the mighty and massively underrated band TAD is heftier than ever. Also with a waft of The Jesus Lizard to its sinister swing and feedback-ridden noise-rockiness, 'Total Existence Failure' provides further evidence that this lot are fully aware there are plenty of rival varieties of music that can often outstrip the heaviness of heavy metal.
JR Moores

97. ANOHNI And The Johnsons –
My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross
(Secretly Canadian)
Prefacing My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross, ANOHNI stated that she wanted these songs to "be useful, to help others move with dignity and resilience through these conversations we are now facing." Certainly, she has delivered a body of work where she has given herself the space to be resilient, vulnerable and inspiring. This crystallises atop the languid guitar melody of closing track 'You Be Free', where ANOHNI describes dancing in "violent times" and the difficulty of living day-to-day. She continues, "Done my work / My back was broke," before urging the listener to be free, "be free for me." It's one of the more sparse and simple compositions on the album, yet its message triumphs.
Zara Hedderman

96. John Zorn –
Homenaje A Remedios Varo
One of 14 releases in 2023 from surely the most prolific composer of his generation, John Zorn's tribute to the great Spanish surrealist painter Remedios Varo is the fourth release from his Incerto group. Over the course of nine tracks, Julian Lage (guitar), Brian Marsella (piano), Jorge Roeder (bass) and Ches Smith (drums) construct a beguiling and beautiful soundscape of accessible tunes suffused with a chimerical sense of the mysterious that serves its subject well. Opener 'Blue Equinox', one of several album standouts, rolls in slowly initially, the interplay between Lage's magnificent, classical-inflected guitar and Marsella's jazzy piano becoming a little more frenetic as the track progresses, yet without ever losing its sunny and melodic disposition. This is a gorgeous release, simultaneously familiar and strange, like finding oneself on an elaborate and ornate cruise ship in a dream with the band playing the finest cocktail jazz to ever grace the seas.
Sean Kitching

95. Rezzett –
Meant Like This
(The Trilogy Tapes)
Rezzett's uncanny timbres haunt me on an unconscious level, evoking a sense of a future of infinite possibilities, the Black Secret Technology type of futurism. In the same breath, an aura of Fisherian lost futures informs Meant Like This, making it a succession of elusive autobiographical flashbacks and flashforwards. Tracks like 'Hevvy' and 'The Defiance' pass you by like ghostly apparitions of early UK house and Detroit techno, sonic palimpsests built on the foundations that are slowly disintegrating into nothingness. The spectral monochrome aura of atmospheric jungle tunes like 'Vivz Portal', meanwhile, function as gateways to nostalgic musings on half-forgotten lovers.
Jaša Bužinel

94. The Stargazer's Assistant –
Fire Worshipper
(House Of Mythology)
The Stargazer's Assistant have been circulating since the late 00s and thread the needle, both in membership and music, between the crypto-industrial immensity of Coil and the brutal prog enormity of Guapo. Fire Worshipper's ten tracks are variously bite-sized but never more intense than 14-minute centrepiece 'Shalman'. File the record away under real gone occult folkscapes for torchlit cave rituals from three cats who all profess to have the middle initial J.
Noel Gardner

93. Dodo Resurrection II –
A Treatise On Ceremonial Magic
(Shack In The Barley Productions)
Four wordless wigouts, each between eight and ten minutes long, offer an eye-of-providence triangulation between vintage Afrofunk, Canterbury scene turtleneck rock and Atomic Rooster-type moustache thud on A Treatise On Ceremonial Magic. When the percussion is at its least 'rock', as per that first part of the equation, the album is maybe at its zenith – skip to about 1:40 of the severely-titled 'Rosicrucian Grimoires (Paris, 1620)' for that – but I love the squeaky-clean keys (Mellotron?) on 'Nostradamus' Requiem' and the doomy Crimson vibe that emerges in 'A Burial Of Dodo Bones'.
Noel Gardner

92. Maxo –
Even God Has A Sense Of Humor
(Def Jam)
Described by Maxo as an assembly of "feelings that I need to leave behind," Even God Has A Sense Of Humor is, in-between flashes of jokey wordplay, imbued with the Los Angeles rapper's characteristically heart-on-the-sleeve reflections on anxiety, trauma and racial injustice. Signs of a growing sense of worldliness as he approaches his thirties, though, run right through the record, from the talk of "redefining my meaning" on the reflective second verse of 'Nuri' to the self-confrontational bars found on 'Face Of Stone', which sees Maxo call himself out over his own emotional coldness. It's all brought together wonderfully by a carefully cultivated collection of beats that flits between sample-based drum machine loops and live, jazz-inflected instrumentation, with production by beatmakers lastnamedavid and Graymatter flowing effortlessly into the arrangements of drummer Karriem Riggins and jazz multi-instrumentalist Melanie Charles, among others.
Christian Eede

91. MXLX –
(The state51 Conspiracy)
It's safe to say that at this stage in his career Matt Loveridge is a bit of a cult hero. He has released a staggering amount of music since the mid-2000s under the monikers MXLX, Fairhorns, Knife Liibrary, Gnar Hest, WON'T and Team Brick. On the surface, Saint, his 63rd record, might seem like a step back, but under the surface lurks something as complex and mind-melting as anything else he's released to date.
Nick Roseblade

90. DeVon Russell Gray / Nathan Hanson / Davu Seru –
We Sick
'Letters' opens We Sick with a series of Nathan Hanson's hesitant phrases, clicks and short breaths circling around Davu Seru's echoing cymbal hits. Soon, a sustained, wailing saxophone tone rises from these fragments, creating a space for DeVon Russell Gray to unfurl a disjointed piano walk, while their exchange evolves into a nervous thriller and heated argument, mimicking the slowly sinking realisation of a grim situation. Through the years, the inherent revolutionary energy of free jazz was often pacified, riding along the usual narrative of leaving politics out of music. While not as literal as the art of some of their contemporaries – Matana Roberts reads out the names of Black people murdered by police during their concerts – Gray, Hanson and Seru channel the same sensation of revolt and fire through each of their musical expressions.
Antonio Poscic

89. Moussa Tchingou –
(Sahel Sounds)
Moussa Tchingou is a 29-year-old guitarist from Niger, one of the most in-demand musicians for celebrations in Agadez and influenced by Bollywood music. On the original Music From Saharan Cellphones compilation – a release that essentially cracked open and built an American and European audience for a whole region's music – the standout track was Mdou Mcotar's 'Tahoultine'. It was already massive in the mp3 sharing scene around Niger, but it had a totally different energy to his raucous debut Afelan. Tchingou picks up where 'Tahoultine' left off, continuing a lineage of Tuareg electric guitar, propulsive percussion and autotuned vocals that bring a distinctive shimmer to Tchingou's style of desert blues. The four tracks have a torque-like perpetual motion; they move steadily towards a destination you never want to reach and, with those gossamer refractions in the voice and electronics it is sited in, the distorted air between horizon and sky.
Jennifer Lucy Allan

88. Anjimile –
The King
At the outset of Anjimile's first full-length album since signing to 4AD, we are treated to dense and mobile vocal harmonies sat within a warm hiss. Indeed, almost violent saturation is something of a bedrock for the album. All things seem pushed towards a threshold of harmonic distortion that reeks of simmering anger and threat. This suits Anjimile's voice extremely well. I could listen to this rich singing indefinitely. Musically, they draw from some interesting places, notably importing the pattern-based composition that Philip Glass and the like borrowed from the African continent. It produces a glorious mix of American folk and diasporic investigation, which connect seamlessly to Anjimile's Malawian heritage.
Johnny Lamb

87. Godflesh –
After 2017's psychedelic and abstract Post Self found industrial metal pioneers Godflesh looking to the future, Purge instead looks back to the band's past – it's probably no coincidence that there's only a letter's difference between this and 1992's Pure, as both draw heavily from the robust boom-bap rhythms of hip hop whilst creating a gloomy, riff-centric mood, especially on opener 'Nero' or the aggressively repetitious sampling of 'Army Of Non'. This is no mere throwback, however, as there's a darkness to Purge that is entirely its own; there's something suffocatingly seductive about this record's atmosphere, with hypnotic cuts like 'Lazarus Leper' and the absolutely seething 'Land Lord' slowly coiling themselves around you like the snake on the album sleeve, closing in ever tighter until there's no room to breathe.
Kez Whelan

86. KASAI –
Recorded alongside the twin pressures of raising a child and running a farm, on J/P/N, KASAI, AKA Daisuke Iijima, merges footwork and juke with minyo – a form of traditional Japanese folk singing which spread through the country, evolving into different forms as it landed in different regions. The result is something far more integrated than simply sticking some samples on a groove. Footwork's presence in these nine tracks isn't so much sheer velocity as how KASAI expands a beat, his compositions rolling out in shape-shifting lattices of rhythmic and tonal colour. It's a joyous tape, Iijima's soaring vocal melodies weaving through pounding drums and a vibrant palette of synthetic and acoustic instrumentation. Wrong-footing shifts in rhythm or flashes of tender triumph in the vocals keep this music in a state of constant flux without dropping for a second the pulse and rich melodicism that makes it so compelling.
Daryl Worthington

85. Spirit Possession –
Of The Sign…
(Profound Lore)
Peer through the cathedral of reverb and multitudinous taps of delay and it becomes clear Portland's Spirit Possession are both a thrilling proposition – skipping deftly between Celtic Frost-like passages of avant thrash, Goblin-indebted giallo prog, hellish South Of Heaven bombast, and a clear love for Bathory – and great fun. Drummer A. Spungin spices up the stew with a battery of homemade synths which briefly summons the spirit of Deathprod – it would be cool to see her steer them on a short detour through lesser travelled roads of Krautrock-leaning ambient like Blood Incantation did recently. Guitarist S. Peacock, meanwhile, clearly has more riff ideas than he knows what to do with, which, let's face it, is a fine problem to have.
John Doran

84. Stephen O'Malley & Anthony Pateras –
Sept duos pour guitare acoustique & piano préparé
(Shelter Press)
This collaborative record from Stephen O'Malley and Anthony Pateras is entirely acoustic and contains duets performed on prepared piano and guitar, but listening to it feels close to sitting in the resonance boxes of these instruments. While O'Malley is commonly associated with the dense, bass-heavy drones of Sunn O))), here he swaps that sound for a steel string just-intoned acoustic guitar. He plays sparingly, and you can hear the strings resonate with a short, dry sound, stretched out in time, metallically fading into silence. Pateras, on the other hand, plays the prepared piano, treating it primarily as a percussion instrument, occasionally making it sound like a selection of gongs. Subtle strokes, interventions and preparations build this music's complex, appealing structure. Both instruments generate minimalist sounds in a suspended mood, a calm dialogue – single gestures are reduced, and the lack of reverberation builds a study in patience with a maximally sacred spirit.
Jakub Knera

83. Zhao Cong –
Beijing-based Zhao Cong makes something moving from the typically ignorable on 55355, herding the noisy excesses of the quotidian into delicate soundscapes. She mics up everyday objects to create gentle assemblages of buzzes, hums, whirs and clicks; the four pieces collected on this tape cut from sessions without any overdubbing. What's most remarkable about Cong's work is that a collection of sounds which could be maddening becomes serene and soothing. The way she selects, controls and sculpts makes you want to dive in and explore each texture intimately. She shows that what might be irritating background noise can be immensely fascinating if it's shifted to the foreground.
Daryl Worthington

82. Yossari Baby –
Inferiority Complex
Inferiority Complex has been made with the dance floor firmly in mind, beats to the fore. The title track is an electropop highlight, while 'The Wheel' quite possibly wants to spin you round like Dead Or Alive in their hi-NRG pomp. For all that, there are more reflective moments too, notably as the album plays out with gentler electronica on the delightfully po-faced 'Je Suis Mort'. On the contrary, by turns funny, angry and arch, Yossari Baby sound vibrantly alive.
Jonathan Wright

81. Kevin Richard Martin –
Kevin Martin himself wasn't a fan of Amy Winehouse per se, but on Black, he recalls his initial shock at her death, and a later realisation of the true extent of her artistic worth triggered by watching Asif Kapadia's documentary Amy, plus subsequent immersion in her work. While the hallmarks of past Martin releases are present and correct – immersive bass, luxurious delay, expensive reverb – anyone making the assumption that this is just ambient music would be wrong. Black is clearly a response to Winehouse's music itself (including the way her untimely death has changed how we hear her back catalogue); and elements of funk, ska, hip hop and dub push many of these tracks into the arena of soul. But this is soul music in the sense that many other British outliers such as Massive Attack, Burial and Portishead have also made the kind of soul music that embraces Black American artistry, while contemplating uncomfortable existential questions dredged up by also considering the deeper etymology of the word.
John Doran

80. Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter –
(Perpetual Flame Ministries)
SAVED! is manifestly a record of death-like unmooring and majestic rebirths: first and foremost, it is the album that marks the shedding of the LINGUA IGNOTA moniker, with which Reverend Hayter had carved a name for herself in the fucked-up music underground. This new record is evidently a watershed moment for Hayter, who has managed to slither out of herself and unburden her artistic persona of the lore and weight that had grown attached to LINGUA IGNOTA. But, most importantly, SAVED! is held together by a grand secessionist spirit, both on a thematic and sonic level. The impetus to just leave everything behind for good cuts through the whole thing.
Enrico Monacelli

79. Jellyskin –
In Brine
(Wrong Speed)
Jellyskin's debut album is an electro-experimental, futurist elegy for all things aquatic. Across nine tracks, it flits between glacial goth pop ('Marmalade') and abrasive techno ('Bringer Of Brine'), much like the variable nature of the ocean itself. Coastal imagery pervades, but not quite in the balmy, sunlit way you'd expect. Instead, it's sullen blue-black and abyssal. Imagine, if you will, Broadcast doing a techno banger about a solitary whale and you're halfway there.
Hayley Scott

78. Nicky Wire –
A sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes bolshy, sometimes beaten-down expression of realisation about ageing – an acceptance that your life has reached its terminal velocity – informs, infects, amuses and salves at various junctures on Intimism, Nicky Wire's "low-key" solo album which follows up on 2006's I Killed The Zeitgeist. The irony being that this is clearly a very well-executed, 12 years in the planning strategy against melancholy. Or, to be more precise, a strategy to integrate and accept melancholy afresh, to embrace it, as if it were an old friend, while writing and singing ruefully about how it intrudes remorselessly into every nook of his life like a blinding headache.
John Doran

77. Colin Stetson –
When We Were That What Wept For The Sea
Colin Stetson leads us on a voyage of reminiscence and grief on When We Were That What Wept For The Sea, much like a marine adventure, full of suspended moments, foggy hazy shores, and battles against the stormy sea. Dark abysses open after airy and dilated moments; breathes, touches, and mechanical sounds counterpart abstract movements. The spoken lyrics of 'The Lighthouse V', which put the musical images into words and inspired the album's title, follow a crescendo that rises until 'The Lighthouse IV''s explosion, where all the tension and misery find their desperate shout.
Guia Cortassa

76. One More Grain –
Modern Music
A fever-dream slice of very British avant-rock from the recently reinvigorated One More Grain, Modern Music is a scattered, joyous affair of weirdo tropes and colloquial, stern monologues. Strange in the same way lots of similar things are strange, the album throws up the classic 'British man has a bit of a rant' against a backdrop of jousting brass and off-kilter percussion, short trills of a clarinet, or other wind instrument adding colour if not structure. It's a fairly beguiling sound world, borrowing from the songbook of madness, with the jazz-lite instrumentation sitting in contrast to the plethora of samples and drum machines that float around beside them.
Daniel Hignell

75. House Of All –
House Of All
(Tiny Global Productions)
With just three days in the studio and no prior material to hand, House Of All – who, it must be noted, had never actually played together before – dug deep into lessons learned from the late Mark E. Smith to deliver under pressure. The result is an album that doesn't sound like The Fall, but instead is quite obviously made from former members of that venerable institution. It's there in Steve Hanley's growling and rock solid bass-playing, as well as the double drumming and guitars that serrate while avoiding predictability. And of course Martin Bramah is no stranger to fronting bands, having led Blue Orchids for over 40 years, another band to rival The Fall's own revolving door policy when it comes to band members.
Julian Marszalek

74. Nihiloxica –
Source Of Denial
(Crammed Discs)
With rising costs and precarious travel options, touring life has gotten tougher for all. It's harder for people from countries like Uganda who work as part of a global outfit. Slow and intentionally convoluted immigration practices make it near-impossible for musicians to work freely across borders. Nihiloxica had a whole UK tour cancelled in 2022 because of visa issues, overseen by a profit-driven 'service centre' which manages queries for a growing number of countries. The process was debilitating for the band, and dehumanising for its members. In response, they made Source Of Denial, a tense and compelling suite of tracks which challenges the detached and evil immigration systems of Britain and beyond.
Skye Butchard


73. Synthfreq –
Vol. 1
(Orange Milk)
Synthfreq are Danielle and Crystal Morales, twins who are both severely hearing and visually impaired. Using techniques such as adding braille to the interfaces of their synths and honing in on sounds that they can either feel, or hear via listening aids, they create astounding synthesiser music. As they make clear, their music is heavily influenced by the 80s, but from that starting point they launch into vivid dream worlds rather than pastiche, from the pounding squelch funk of 'Industrial World' to the frosty moonwalk arpeggios of 'Power Of Two'. Sitting somewhere between Jan Hammer, Patrick Cowley and Exit-era Tangerine Dream, Synthfreq's magic comes from how close their squealing synth guitar solos and noodly electronic saxes get to being kitsch, and how elegantly they always evade that trap. They re-enchant the 80s prog-synth-disco tangent before your ears, opening it as a space for euphoria away from cinematic cliché and cheesiness.
Daryl Worthington

72. Mozart Estate –
Pop-Up! Ker-Ching! And The Possibilities Of Modern Shopping
(Cherry Red)
Kudos to Lawrence for making a record that manages to take in almost every musical style ever to grace the charts in the 1970s, with a healthy amount of faux slap bass to boot. In case there's any confusion, Mozart Estate is simply the updated name of Go-Kart Mozart, and if you were a fan of the latter, you'll find much to appreciate here. Opener 'I'm Gonna Wiggle' comes on strong, as if the ghost of disco-era Marc Bolan joined pre-Britpop Pulp, gyrating through various London locales and complete with perfect Joey Ramone 'oh yeah's, while lead single 'Relative Poverty' begins as an overwrought piano ballad before bursting into a full-on jubilant showtune.
Aug Stone

71. Yfory –
(Static Age)
Based in Berlin, Yfory's members are from Australia, Germany, Spain and Wales, and for vocalist Bryony Beynon (previously of Good Throb, Sceptres and several others) this is the first band where she sings in her birth language. Specifically, these four sharp, rattling post punk songs dart between Welsh and English, often within the same line and with unbothered linguistic impurity. Certainly, the niceties of Welsh serve a distinct lyrical purpose. 'Ailgylchu', the last and shortest track on the record, is a 'list song' of sorts which advocates or imagines various things being burnt, melted or drowned: "Llosgi … toddi … boddi." 'Baled Y Dolmen', the longest, relates a road trip across Wales and mulls neolithic burial chambers: pensive and speak-singy, it reminds me a little of The Van Pelt.
Noel Gardner

70. Sparks –
The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte
The 26th Sparks album is a sleeker and less cabaret-florid beast than many of their late-career efforts. It might be the best one they've released this side of the millennium, but the median quality of these records has been so high that it hardly seems worth taxing one's grey matter over. Suffice to say that The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte moves from minimal electronics to orchestral maximalism, and elsewhere, with implausible levels of élan.
Noel Gardner

69. Årabrot –
Of Darkness And Light
Of Darkness And Light closes with the one-two of 'Swan Killer' and 'Love Under Will'. The former is a slinky, swampy, organ-led number complete with fried, reverb-soaked guitar. Of all the songs on the album, it most successfully merges the band’s grotty past with its present. The latter also leans heavily on electronic organ, but to more romantic ends. Were this album a Rocky Horror-style musical, 'Love Under Will' would be the show-stopper. Similarly, one gets the impression that the driving, symphonic, pop-industrial chug of 'Madness' might stand an outside chance at Eurovision. It feels almost perverse to write, but when this album is firing on all cylinders, it might be Årabrot at peak performance – the aural equivalent of biting into a chocolate skull full of strawberry goo.
Bernie Brooks

68. TORPOR –
(Human Worth)
Recorded in rural Wales during a period of heavy personal turmoil, you can really feel the sense of isolation seeping out of TORPOR's third album, certainly their starkest, darkest and most haunting to date. Their signature crushing grooves are sounding weightier than ever (captured expertly by Pet Brick's Wayne Adams), but Abscission also pushes the post metal trio's sound into both more aggressive, abrasive territory and eerie, ethereal ambience.
Kez Whelan

67. Flesh & The Dream –
Choose Mortality
(Music Information Centre Lithuania)
The potency of this pairing of Shackleton and Heather Leigh was first displayed on 2019's 'The World Is A Stage / Reach The Endless Sea' from Shackleton's Tunes Of Negation project, but is signed, sealed and delivered on Choose Mortality, a woozy, sticky psychedelia that blooms with percussion and the snap of marching band drums. On 'Ecstasy Before The Altar', a slow, liquid pulse and stoned repetitions move like ink in water, sunk in a cloud of smoke that clears for a regimented snare to cut through. Effervescent and heady, every time I listen to this album I notice new layers: another vocal track sunk in the ooze; repeated words emerging from the syrup; the rat-tat-tat of a woodblock; a chime to collar you in the peak moments. After half a year with this record, I find its greatest success is in how it manages to be wholly located in esoteric psychedelia, without a single trace of old structures or vintage sounds. I have adored Shackleton and Heather Leigh for years and feel this collaboration was dreamed up for my pleasure by whatever doomsday simulation we're in right now, so please send my thanks to whoever is at the controls.
Jennifer Lucy Allan

66. Sourdurent –
L'Herbe De Détourne
(Murailles Music)
Sourdurent is an extension, in both name and personnel, of Ernest Bergez's Sourdure project – itself one of the finest of France's thriving alternative folk scene. Growing organically out of live performances, Sourdurent calls on the talents of Bégayer's Loup Uberto, singer and multi-instrumentalist Elisa Trébouville, and bagpipe player and La Nòvia member Jacque Puech. As they strike up on opener 'Franc De Bruch', the initial impression is of a more streamlined – even trad – sound, relative to the wild invention and mood swings of 2021's De Mòrt Viva, until you notice the chugging electronic rhythm underpinning the instrumental curlicues and rousing mass of voices. And, as with the Sourdure releases, the band throw a variety of sources into the pot, blending traditional music from Afghanistan, Tunisia and the Averyron department of southern France with original compositions in Occitan (a language not only particular to that region but also parts of Italy, Monaco and Catalonia), and judicious use of electronics.
David McKenna

65. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs –
Land Of Sleeper
(Rocket Recordings)
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are a band unafraid to dip into the sizeable pool of rock music tropes, crafting a scuzzy, psych-infused sound that touches upon Sabbath and Motörhead with giddy abandonment. For the most part, Land Of Sleeper is a simple affair – brazenly, charmingly simple – with the holy triptych of guitar, bass and drums playing in near unison, oscillating between breakneck chugging riffs and half-speed, euphoric breakdowns. Yet beneath a well-executed sea of distortion lies perhaps a little more. The entire album seems to be rendered through a visceral wall of nostalgia, as if we are peering into a rock & roll fever dream – its parts borrowed, though familiar, strange, and abstract. The effect is no doubt caused in part by the production – much of the high-frequency clarity has been rolled off, leaving the instruments to merge together in a broad swamp that dampens the macho party vibes such Big Riffs often invoke.
Daniel Hignell

64. Cassandra Miller –
Traveller Song / Thanksong
(Black Truffle)
It tells you something about the regard different formats are held in across different genres to learn that Traveller Song / Thanksong is Cassandra Miller's first release on vinyl. This is a composer whose works have been ranked amongst the 20 greatest pieces of classical music this century, whose music has been performed and recorded by the Quator Bozzini and Apartment House, whose been commissioned by the Oslo Philharmonic and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, yet nary a note on wax until Oren Ambarchi's peerless Black Truffle label put this one out in September. For some years now, Miller's practice has frequently involved the very close transcription and re-orchestration of found materials: the cracked voice of Kurt Cobain on For Mira (2012), Italian folksinger Maria Carta on the spellbinding Duet For Cello And Orchestra (2015). Here we find Miller's own voice, singing along to old Alan Lomax recordings or bits of Beethoven, then isolated and beautifully re-contextualised by piano, acoustic guitar and some keening string glissandi. It's brittle and tender, and utterly bewitching.
Robert Barry

63. Natalia Beylis –
(Touch Sensitive)
On Mermaids, Natalia Beylis once again probes the sound of memories and the ephemera that keep them alive. The record came to fruition after Beylis discovered a CRB Elettronica Ancona – Model: Diamond 708 E electric keyboard while digging through the Leitrim recycling centre, and found an old image of her mother sitting with a couple of friends at the beach. The bubbling sound of the instrument and the watery landscape of the photograph led her to look underwater for sonic inspiration, but much of the album feels grounded on land, made of chirping birds, gravelly footsteps and dew-like glistening twinkles.
Vanessa Ague

62. a.P.A.t.T. –
(Nine X Nine)
a.P.A.t.T. are perhaps most spiritually akin to the kind of diverse genre collaging that John Zorn, Mr. Bungle or Secret Chiefs 3 engage in, without really sounding, apart from the odd occasion, like any of them. This is not so much attention deficit music as attention intensive music which rewards time spent with it, particularly for listeners whose taste remains relatively fluid. The recently departed Mark Stewart once said: "Taste is a form of censorship," something a.P.A.t.T. appreciate and toy with the listener's expectations accordingly. This can sometimes lead to a startling realisation that something potentially unpalatable has appeared on one's plate, but can also result in eventual appreciation of new flavour combinations.
Sean Kitching

61. Noname –
Noname, the witty and adventurous Chicago rapper who emerged last decade alongside contemporaries such as Chance The Rapper and Saba, sets her sights on various targets on Sundial. Placed alongside call-outs of what she feels are the worst elements of modern-day identity politics across the record, the track 'Namesake' sees her cast aspersions on Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna for performing the Super Bowl Halftime Show (an event that she feels glorifies the US military), while 'Hold Me Down' pokes at Barack Obama ("First Black president, and he the one who bombed us"). In the wrong hands, these words could come off as mere attention-seeking hectoring, but Noname isn't afraid to confront her own failings at frequent turns either. On 'Namesake', she criticises her decision to play the industry game by appearing at the "sanitised" Coachella festival earlier this year, while 'Beauty Supply' explores the ways in which she's been indoctrinated into societal perceptions of Black beauty. Set against jazz and soul-inflected hip hop beats, Noname's lyrics on Sundial capture the artist at her sharp and breezy best.
Christian Eede

60. Billy Woods & Kenny Segal –
(Backwoodz Studioz)
Although Billy Woods, with a jeremiadic boom to his tenor, has often been portrayed as an end times preacher, he sounds almost playful on Maps, making the most of the hotel life, and trading verses with Quelle Chris about the pleasures of showing up late to one's own show. What might have in lesser hands been a self-indulgent cry-athon about having to travel for work, a hip hopera version of old hair metal tour bus videos, is instead a series of bopping meditations on ineffable destinations, as performed by a relentlessly nomadic thinker at his charismatic peak.
Zachary Lipez

59. James Holden –
Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities
(Border Community)
While no less worthy or beautiful in its way than James Holden's previous records The Inheritors and The Animal Spirits, Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities is perhaps more obviously beholden to linear timelines and histories, however personal. Holden has called it both "a dream of a rave" and "a dialogue with [his] teenage self," which I think says a lot, maybe all you need. There's an element of nostalgia at play here, but no corresponding retrograde thinking. Each track is inevitably a wild combination of memories, ideas, and influences – MIDI-fied sacred harp singers clash with squiggly synthesis, fiddle collides with the most absurd funk bass. Meanwhile, the spectre of prog is everywhere and the club is never far away. Amazingly, it all works.
Bernie Brooks

58. Fever Ray –
Radical Romantics
On Radical Romantics, Karin Dreijer's third album as Fever Ray, they have chosen the right language to convey meanings dimmed by clichés such as gender binaries, social units, religious interpretation, etc. The alien-sounding electronic texture is pervaded by androgynous vocals that express Dreijer's gender-fluid identity. Although generally under the umbrella of electronic music, the album draws from several different wells: dizzying pop on 'Carbon Dioxide', sinister Duran Duran-meets-Magazine type new wave on 'Even It Out', and ambient ebbing-flowing vibes on closer 'Bottom Of The Ocean'. Compared to 2017 album Plunge, this new record is more adventurous, perhaps, attempting to summon the diverse and emotionally challenging experiences of a relationship.
Irina Shtreis

57. Mendoza Hoff Revels –
(AUM Fidelity)
Speaking of the intention behind his late 90s band The Monsoon Bassoon, Kavus Torabi (later of Cardiacs, Guapo, Knifeworld, The Utopia Strong and Gong) once said that they were aiming for "a union of Henry Cow and Sonic Youth." That statement stuck in my mind, partly because it was such an obviously great idea, but also because not many bands, before or since, have successfully attempted such a melding of guitar-based power, with the swing of jazz, the detail of prog and the intricacies of chamber music. The same phrase immediately came to mind the first time I listened to Echolocation, although more specifically along the lines of Sonny Sharrock's final album Ask The Ages colliding with Sonic Youth, or even at times jamming with the raw power of The Stooges. Music journalists, an excitable lot, are often rightly accused of the overuse of hyperbole. Sometimes, however, the hyperbole is justified.
Sean Kitching

56. KMRU –
Dissolution Grip
Before I went to this year's Présences Électroniques festival in Paris, I had never even heard of KMRU, but by the end of the weekend I was an instant convert. His piece 'Dissolution Grip' was my highlight of the festival, so when I found out there was a vinyl release on the way via the artist's own OFNOT imprint, I had to get it. On record, the piece is just as warm and enveloping as it was live at Maison de la Radio, full of warm, heady swells and fizzing energies. If you were to ask me what kind of music a band of electricity pylons might come up with, were they so inclined, I might well guess something a bit like this. The flipside has 'Till Hurricane Bisect', a less immediately dramatic track but still as lush as all hell. It makes me feel very much like a man standing alone by the docks shortly before dawn while all around me everything is on fire. Someone should hire this guy to score a film. You could shoot a black screen for 90 minutes and win best cinematography.
Robert Barry

55. Ruth Anderson & Annea Lockwood –
Tête-à-tête is a deeply intimate collection of three works by two composers, together forming the most moving tribute to a life-changing relationship I have ever encountered. It opens with 'Resolutions' from 1984, Ruth Anderson's last completed electronic work before she died in 2019. It was restored by Maggi Payne, and there is a comparison to be drawn between Anderson's play with pure waveforms here and Payne's music on collections like Ahh-Ahh. It is a tight playing with the shape of sound. 'Conversations' was Anderson's gift to Lockwood. Three days after meeting in 1973 they became "joyously entangled" but for nine months afterwards lived apart – Lockwood at Hunter College, NYC and Anderson in Hancock, New Hampshire. They called each other twice a day, and Anderson surreptitiously recorded their calls, later collaging them together with blousy bar tunes and jangling piano and giving them to Lockwood in 1974 as a private piece nobody else was meant to hear.
Jennifer Lucy Allan

54. O Yama O –
On Galo, O Yama O, the quartet of Rie Nakajima, Keiko Yamamoto, Marie Roux and Billy Steiger, embrace an improbable array of sound sources. Whistles and whirling rubber tubes meet percussion that could have been taken from a kitchen. Through it all, violin, piano and drums effortlessly switch from stumbling to soaring. Vocals teeter between tender and rabble rousing. But this motley collection of instrumentation isn't a gimmick. From 'Hakushon's stomp through to the title track's joyful fervour, O Yama O sift compelling and remarkably catchy music from unconventional sources. Galo is an invitation to a place where tradition and convention are twisted in a manner that is warmly welcoming rather than alienating.
Daryl Worthington

53. Algiers –
This collective of musical and political energy simply seem to have a whole lot of fun seeing what is possible within the Algiers sonic framework. 'Everybody Shatter' (featuring veteran Atlanta rapper Big Rube) is whip-sharp industrial funk, while 'A Good Man', for instance, starts like a thrashy nephew of The Damned's 'New Rose' before it falls apart under a migraine drone and sparkling synth melody. 'I Can't Stand It!' begins with modernist soul, brings in grand and even slightly histrionic vocals from Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands, doomy synths, then strings, and finally breaks down into digital noise with spoken word from Jae Matthews of Boy Harsher. All that in just under three-and-a-half minutes. Strewth! I'm not sure there are many groups that could make that work, and that also goes for 'Bite Back', a fusion of slowed-down EBM, rap and a big old rock chorus.
Luke Turner

52. Bell Witch –
Future's Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate
(Profound Lore)
Bell Witch's fourth full-length album, The Clandestine Gate, is the follow-up to 2017's acclaimed 83-minute epic Mirror Reaper and the beginning of the most ambitious project the duo have embarked on yet. Not only does The Clandestine Gate equal Mirror Reaper in length, outdoing it by just a single second, but it's also the first part of a forthcoming triptych entitled Future's Shadow, consisting of two more lengthy pieces with the third looping back to the first, creating a musical representation of the eternal return.
Kez Whelan

51. Matana Roberts –
Coin Coin Chapter Five: In The Garden
Matana Roberts' Coin Coin series, now in its fifth chapter, illuminates the long tail of African-American history. In the multi-disciplinary artist, composer and musician's works, sounds and stories collapse into each other, blurring lines between past and present, genres and disciplines. Age-old folk songs transform into abstract, expressionistic melodies and stories that hail from years past feel like they could have happened yesterday. The success of the Coin Coin series has been in its ability to blend its elements, letting the fiery rise and fall of soundwaves tell a story as much as Roberts' words. With Coin Coin Chapter Five: In The Garden, they take on the theme of reproductive rights, chronicling the anxiety, frustration and tragedy that reverberates from an ancestor’s story into the current moment.
Vanessa Ague

50. Enola Gay –
(Modern Sky)
On Enola Gay's latest release, Casement, they refuse to take their foot off the gas. 'Leeches' eviscerates the apathy of right-wing politicians who suck money out of underprivileged areas. Guitarist Joe McVeigh's own electricity meter started running out as the band were recording, its beeping sound perfectly in key with the song. It is 'PTS.DUP' which is the most confrontational track of them all. A nuanced reflection on the frustrations of coexisting in modern Belfast society, it's inspired by McVeigh's own personal experience with sectarian violence.
Alex Rigotti

49. Polobi & The Gwo Ka Masters –
Abri Cyclonique
(Real World)
The most effective tracks on Abri Cyclonique are 'Bouladjel' and 'Levé Yo Mano'. Both open with the sound of the rainforest, and the Gwo ka drums Polobi was first influenced by. Producer Doctor L's superb arrangement is soupy and pungent, sounding as if it's playing on a dusty turntable. The bristling sound carpet seems organic and natural. At its best, the constituent parts of Abri Cyclonique approach the loose grooves of Gil Scott Heron or African Head Charge. 'Levé Yo Mano' was recorded where Polobi was discovered, at Kiavué's house. Do I detect more confidence? That muscular bleat is a smidgen more dynamic than on the other tracks recorded in a studio, those melodies launched a little higher.
Will Ainsley

48. Raphael Rogiński –
(Instant Classic)
In an ecstatic world where music likes to overpower a wall of sound, Raphael Rogiński stands on the extreme opposite side. He has played Jewish surf rock, nigunim, Bach and Coltrane on guitar for the last two decades. Far from a noise or psychedelic rock aesthetic, he is closer to American blues tradition or Sahel Tuareg bands. He sounds raw, and sometimes his instrument reminds me of a lute. Inspired by visits to the Black Sea, Talàn is suffused with melancholy and an undercurrent of sadness. Rogiński plays only his compositions and does it with unusual patience. The music smolders and resonates for the sake of silence, whether he departs for improvisation after a previously outlined motif ('Carpathian Transit'), weaves lyrical melodies ('Electron'), or harnesses reverb ('Cliffs And Sea'). He tugs at the strings and, at the same time, plays meditatively. Rogiński has this remarkable ability that the emptiness he generates with music carries an extraordinary message full of meaning.
Jakub Knera

47. Skull Practitioners –
Negative Stars
(In The Red)
All three members of Skull Practitioners sing but none considers himself a singer. The trio's sound is rooted in post punk, with much of the experimental edge that the term originally inferred, before its more recent application for any guitar band from BRIT School with a shouty singer. Without sounding erratic, the band slyly weave elements of shoegaze, garage, art rock, surf rock, space rock and other texture-heavy subgenres into their radgie mélange. Perhaps this is what Gang Of Four or Fugazi might've sounded like, if they'd been more partial to board-upon-board of multiple guitar pedals.
JR Moores

46. JAAW –
Considering the sonic territory that they're navigating, JAAW will inevitably draw comparisons with fellow discordant supergroup Holy Scum. Sticking with the cinematic correlation, they are like the older sibling who would let you stay up late with them watching films such as The Toxic Avenger and Street Trash, whereas Holy Scum would more likely inflict Salò or Irreversible upon you. Both supergroups have their merits. If you're looking for a deep exploration of the dark night of the soul, you might not find what you're looking for with Supercluster but, if a rollicking good time, formed from sheet metal guitars, a powerhouse drummer gone spasmodic, and barrelling bass lines strapped to the overclocked engine of a runaway rollercoaster sounds like your sort of thing, JAAW are an army of four willing to go to war for you.
Jon Buckland

45. Sleaford Mods –
(Rough Trade)
Musically, UK GRIM is stark and austere and without embellishment, but combines the melodic reach of Sleaford Mods' last album with the pulsing minimalism of the Austerity Dogs era. It angrily counters the corporate pop that forces us to be joyful, but it's not without its own brand of optimism. Sleaford Mods paint a bleak picture of post-COVID Britain via poetic protest, but their outrage is underscored by love for the people and places around them, making it as much a celebration of individuals and idealists as it is an attack on ruling classes. UK GRIM is darker and broader than past releases, but the Mods' usual melodic prowess is sadly lacking for the most part, allowing for more focus on the ingenuity of Williamson's vocal tirades. In the context of now, Sleaford Mods might sound like just another angry voice – but it's an improbably hopeful one, that tells us it's OK to feel fucked off. Why wouldn't you be?
Hayley Scott

44. ØXN –
Three months after Lankum strengthened their status as visionary disrupters on False Lankum, the band's Radie Peat and the group of which she is also a member, ØXN, arrived with their take on 18th century murder ballad 'Love Henry' (also known by variations like 'Henry Lee'). A devastating meld of accordion, mellotron, synths, bass, drums and vocals, its enchantment stemmed from uniting four constituent parts that are both intensely history-heeding and forward-looking. On the group's debut full-length record, CYRM, they sublimate a deep folk vernacular via buckled ballads and dark, oil slick-heavy psychedelia that summons Richard Dawson and Sunn O))) every bit as much as it does giallo and Ghost Box.
Brian Coney

43. EP/64-63 –
(Permanent Draft)
EP/64-63 is a crucial document of a luminous show from last May at New River Studios in London with a venerable all-star line-up who are all on my list of 'who's good now' in experimental music. It was a first meeting between Valentina Magaletti, Dali De Saint Paul, Agathe Max, Yoshino Shigihara and Laura Phillips, and the penultimate show in Dali's 64-show improvisational series. The combination of Magaletti's chug and rattle slathered with Agathe's violin as Dali's vocals cut across the spaceways curling from Yoshino's synths, made it one of the best shows I saw all year. Once they fell into the zone, I was fully and completely sunk for the whole journey – not one single outside thought entered my mind (which almost never happens). Relistening has confirmed it was as good as I remember: There's a section where Magaletti gets a groove going on the toms, and in a rushing of synths De Saint Paul calls from the fog, then Max's violin breaks out, soaring like searchlights in the night. It crushed me then and it crushes me now.
Jennifer Lucy Allan

42. Babau –
Flatland Explorations Vol. 2
(Sucata Tapes)
Flatland Explorations Vol.2 is a peculiar beast. Dewy soundscapes and heavily manipulated vocal utterances mix through rhythms that feel equally informed by video games and non-European music traditions. It resonates with Jon Hassell's concept of amalgamating music from cultures outside the global north with electronic production as a way of firing the imagination, but there's a significant nuance with Babau. They don’t seem interested in sampling and tracing from source so much as the diverse sonic imprint global connectivity has downloaded into our minds through soundtracks and YouTube videos. They play with the already corrupted, a fourth world music picked up through the interface.
Daryl Worthington

41. Kelela –
Recorded over a fortnight-long period in Berlin, Raven is rich with invention, a deeply immersive experience that skips between 2-step UK garage, jungle, breakbeats and more; ultimately paying tribute to dance music's Black, queer roots. Across the record, Kelela transports her enticing part-electronic, part-R&B sound to new spaces, opening with the glittering, reverb-drenched pads and soaring vocals of lead single 'Washed Away' and moving through a number of dance floor-indebted cuts, such as the mellow, dancehall-tinged rhythms of 'On The Run' and breakbeat-fuelled 'Happy Ending'. Combining dense, synth-filled R&B melodies and the funky components of tech-tinged, breaks-heavy dance beats, the connecting thread that binds Raven is the visceral feeling of a night out, expressed beautifully through the glossy, soaring soprano vocals that have become Kelela's hallmark.
Fred Garratt-Stanley

40. Nuovo Testamento –
Love Lines
(Discoteca Italia)
Love Lines spans eight songs of absolutely nailed-on mid-80s electronic dance-pop, folding in elements of Italo disco and hi-NRG with the influence of Madonna. Crowned by the vocals of Chelsey Crowley, Nuovo Testamento recorded the album between Italy and the USA. That the group's three members did this in-between playing in various, extremely different-sounding punk and hardcore groups is remarkable, though only as relevant as you desire it to be.
Noel Gardner

39. Benefits –
Nails' Britain is grotesquely detailed. These isles become "industrial wastelands" ('Empire') strewn with "stinking, broken relics" ('Warhorse'): flags, crowns, kebab boxes and lager cans. Vocalist Kingsley Hall enhances this picture through repetition. Tattered, soiled flags appear in most tracks. Several references are made to a fetid smell, with 'Flag' declaring "this place stinks of old wars." Entire lines from 'Shit Britain' are repurposed in 'Traitors', albeit with colourful tweaks: the former's "red arrows screaming past" reappear on the latter as "spitfires." The echo of John Cooper Clarke's 'Evidently Chickentown' in Hall's "clown-town" ('Shit Britain') points to a wider effect of this repetition: like Clarke's world, Hall's becomes crushingly, hopelessly immovable.
Alistair Shuttleworth

38. Aho Ssan –
(Other People)
Rhizomes is unlike most records. It can be experienced as a standard 10-track release or there's the option to descend further into the undergrowth and discover recordings otherwise unavailable. Hidden tracks, extended editions and solo pieces await the inquisitive and you can even participate in the creative process yourself through the provided sample pack. The focus of this release is community. Growing and strengthening it. Like its title, Rhizomes is the underground stalk from which roots and shoots grow. ​​What Aho Ssan and his accomplices (and they are legion – we also get Valentina Magaletti, Nicolás Jaar, Angel Bat Dawid, Nyokabi Kariũki, Lafawndah, KMRU, Richie Culver, and that's barely the iceberg's tip) have achieved here is a global community interacting, inspiring and collaborating across borders, across timezones, across cultural divides. And why should it stop once the fruits of their labour have passed out into the world? Rhizomes provides like-minded creators with the tools to expand upon its foundations.
Jon Buckland

37. Yaeji –
With A Hammer
(Ninja Tune)
Yaeji's on the move. With A Hammer sees the Korean-American producer leave her house roots behind for an incredibly satisfying blend of pop and R&B. The titular Thor-grade smiting tool of the cover – complete with cheeky graffiti face! – preemptively smirks at anyone preparing to call her voice diminutive. Her singing tones are as light as a breeze, and perfect besides, yet this music is heavy as all hell, an innovative rendering of anger transformed into perfect dance pop which, variously, brushes up against funk, ambient, acid house, jazz, drum & bass and synthpop. The hammer blow makes contact when the words hit home and woe betide those not fully braced.
John Doran

36. Alexander Tucker & Keith Collins –
Fifth Continent
Fifth Continent (and the accompanying anthology, Fifth Quarter) is a vast, encompassing work grown out of grief and missed opportunities. It ties Alexander Tucker's sonic language to Keith Collins' carefully spoken words and also to the pens, prose and imagery of so many other collaborators, admirers and tQ regulars, including Jennifer Lucy Allen, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Stephen O’Malley, Simon Fisher Turner, Dan Fox, Barry Adamson and our own Luke Turner. But there's another character that features heavily on this recording – that broad, pebbled cape on Kent's headland, Dungeness: a place as inseparable from Derek Jarman as he was from Collins and whose shadow looms large over this sprawling package.
Jon Buckland

35. Hey Colossus –
In Blood
(Wrong Speed)
In Blood's dreamlike opener 'My Name In Blood' hits us right off the bat with the image of "a halfway house, a figure on all fours," and already we're in sinister territory. What is this figure? A person? An animal? Something else? How did it end up there? The eldritch creep of the song's crawling guitar riff gradually builds as Paul Sykes' inimitable vocal soars effortlessly to an aching crescendo. Juxtaposition is clearly a prized weapon in the Hey Colossus arsenal and 'I Could Almost Care' moves us swiftly into driving, anthemic rock terrain. In Blood brings the ghostly and the haunted into uncannily modern relief, and never loses its sense of the physical. For Hey Colossus, it seems that the otherworldly provides a framework with which to navigate the ever-bloody mess of human living.
Oliver Cookson

34. UKAEA –
Birds Catching Fire In The Sky
(The state51 Conspiracy)
Like its predecessor, Energy Is Forever, Birds Catching Fire In The Sky is a noisy, heavily percussive, collaborative affair, enlisting six lyricist-vocalists and another six studio players in addition to UKAEA's Dan Jones. But unlike its predecessor, which occasionally reached for the disassociated bliss of the rave, it never seeks to transcend the material reality of our world. Instead, "this one is slamming the present pretty hard in your face as we ratchet up the insane acceleration of everything on Earth," says Jones. The title clues us in to the overall vibe.
Bernie Brooks

33. Lisa O'Neill –
All Of This Is Chance
(Rough Trade)
Tradition and modernity, history and stories playing out in the restless now, the yearning for freedom and righteous anger at repression, are in constant dialogue with each other on All Of This Is Chance. It's an expansive, widescreen record. While the title track creates a mood that gently percolates through the rest of the album, O'Neill never lets the bleakness win. Her songs have always told stories and been rich in detail, but this time around there's more space in the arrangements.
Jonathan Wright

32. Nabihah Iqbal –
(Ninja Tune)
Dreamer is a surrender to wide, blurry, technicolour horizons, as unreal and otherworldly as its name suggests. At its basic level, the elements are simple – indie pop, a little more shoegaze, a lot more trance – but extra waves of electronic wash and vocals so multi-tracked they're choral, make it labyrinthine enough to get lost in. The lush near-seven-minute intro 'In Light' – its 4AD guitars shimmering with reverb, Iqbal's "in light, you wake" mantra ever-circling – pulls you in and keeps you enveloped. Within, the benign tension is between sugar-sweet noise pop and trance house. The title track twinkles and swings, all gauzy and surfy, and the juddering 'This World Couldn't See Us' is a delicate take on The Cure's 'A Forest' (a song Iqbal's covered live), but she's frequently drawn to the rave. Remember Sunscreem? You can almost see the fractals and feel the whip of trustafarian dreads as 'Sunflower' wriggles along.
Matthew Horton

31. Lunch Money Life –
The God Phone
(Wolf Tone)
A number of things about Lunch Money Life are indicative of a group that don't take themselves too seriously. The name, for one, remains a bit lost on me. Their endless fusions and fissions of genres are incredibly mischievous, and every single release is supplemented by its own puckish lore – i.e. The God Phone soundtracks a lost film of the same name, and 2022's 'Jimmy J Sunset' was inspired by a cease and desist letter from Nicolas Cage's entourage. Beneath this facade though, Lunch Money Life are as serious as your life – the breakdowns, the riffs, the grooves, are so potent and so masterful. They scratch every itch so well. The God Phone is their most complete work to date. It simply sounds big whilst capturing the catharsis of their live shows and portraying a wildly inventive band reaching their absolute prime.
Cal Cashin

30. James Ellis Ford –
The Hum
On The Hum, the bass lurches and swaggers from one bar to the next, carving out the character of the record beneath the veneer of modular atmospherics and ethereal Frippertropnics. Tape loops are just as integral, with the title track and 'Tape Loop #7' like palimpsests surreptitiously left there to provide clues. There's a persuasive uncanniness to this album, and you suspect it's James Ellis Ford's ability to shapeshift that makes him such a sought-after producer. He manages to imbue a sonic fluidity that invariably brings a touch of class to the projects he's working on, though he's not one for imposing recognised motifs or rebuilding from the bottom up. Such subtlety and nuance is atypical where superproducers are concerned, and even labelling him with such an epithet feels slightly daft.
Jeremy Allen

29. MC Yallah –
Yallah Beibe
(Nyege Nyege Tapes)
MC Yallah's ability to fluidly switch from one superb flow to another is unparalleled. All the evidence you need is in Yallah Beibe's first track, 'Sikwebela'. Upon the call of a whimpering mallophone, she lures you in with a simple, standard flow – and promptly eviscerates the beat by rapping in double time. A pioneer of 'Lugaflow', or hip hop in the language of Luganda, Yallah is able to flourish her delivery with a nasal sneer unique to Luganda, or roll her tongue over a chugging industrial beat on 'Moss'. There are flashes of other styles to dig into across the album too, from dancehall ('Big Bung' with Ratigan Era) to grime flows ('Sunday') and even a verse that briefly echoes Nicki Minaj ('Yallah Beibe'). She never indulges too deeply in one genre – always resurfacing with her own personality and steady confidence.
Alex Rigotti

28. Apostille –
Prisoners Of Love And Hate
(Night School)
Michael Kasparis is clearly no stranger to the charms of electronic pop music but the references on his third album under the Apostille moniker are increasingly more mainstream and diverse than on previous releases. Vestiges of pop songs ring consistently throughout Prisoners Of Love And Hate. Melodies and vocal lines dangle the carrot of recognition only to whip it away before any accusations of plagiarism have the chance to rear up. 'Natural Angel', for instance, with its striding 80s synth reimagining of Springsteen in 'Born To Run'-mode contains the lyrics, "I'll never forget the way you're looking at me right now," echoing both Chris De Burgh and Meat Loaf alongside a palm-muted throb. And Kasparis even has his own take on 'Summer Of '69', looking back 20 years to halcyon days of being "free and forever" whilst riding a Eurodance bounce.
Jon Buckland

27. Moundabout –
An Cnoc Mór
(Rocket Recordings)
On Moundabout's second album proper, the setup of Paddy Shine on acoustic guitar, Phil Masterson on electric guitar, both on vocals, and sparse electronic accompaniment from an antique Hammond drum machine Shine found in his auntie's attic, plus old analogue synth and field recordings, remains the same. This time however the pair push further out on tracks such as 'Step In Out Of That', which calls to mind Egypt-based free psych trio The Dwarfs Of East Agouza and reaches its apogee on the glorious, sunburst of New Weird Éirana, 'Instinct, Eye And Mind', which brings to mind Michael Chapman at his most ragged, as well as the borderless fourth world guitar peregrinations of Mike Cooper.
John Doran

26. Gazelle Twin –
Black Dog
On Black Dog's title track, Elizabeth Bernholz urgently repeats the lines, "I tell you this dream, this dream I had," as if rummaging through old memories to unsuccessfully locate the exact experience. The measured clangs that walk you through the piece seem to be Bernholz herself, pacing in slow motion. There's no big reveal – despite its momentary build up around the three-minute mark – the track structurally has us walking in circles. Phantoms serve as a black hole in the centre of the work, around which the album's dread surrounds. It's like she’s retracing and recording the atmosphere of her childhood house, the way that the dimensions of a space can create horror. Alfred Hitchcock did this by using camera perspectives that no human being would look out from, Bernholz does this, for example, on 'The Long Room' by using samples that sound like people talking, but from a distance or through walls – barely perceptible.
Lottie Brazier

25. Annelies Monseré –
(Horn Of Plenty)
Mares ​​exists in a hinterland somewhere between La Nòvia in France and Discreet in Gothenburg, and I don't just mean because it's from Belgium, which is literally in-between those two places. Sonically it draws on traditional folk styles, with occasional medieval-sounding melodies, but does it from a sometimes miserable, sometimes hopeful, but always fog-filled landscape where layers upon layers of haar-dense atmospherics are built from various drone-ish sources. It's got a cover of folk standard 'Sally Free And Easy', which I guess is a manifesto for where it’s coming from, but its best moments are in the densest, most eerie sections, which come from a combination of keyboards, accordion and harmonium. 'Shells' is a macabre standout.
Jennifer Lucy Allan

24. Lost Girls –
(Smalltown Supersound)
I suppose it's wrong of me to include Lost Girls in the same continuum as Jenny Hval's solo work. It is a distinct project after all. At the same time, separating the two feels like insisting that Grinderman and the Bad Seeds be discussed in isolation from one another. Although, I have always thought of Hval as a Cave-ian / no-wave-ian figure, and in that sense, fellow Lost Girls member Håvard Volden is not that unlike her Warren Ellis. Regular collaborators since Hval's Rune Grammofon days, the two routinely bring out the best in each other, pushing one another deeper into new territory. With Selvutsletter, Lost Girls' new territory is the pop nugget. With this record, the duo are proactively inserting themselves into a particular pop-music lineage, telling their own story, telling us where they fit. And like everything else they've done, it doesn't sound limiting or calculated or agonised over – it just sounds vibrant and magical.
Bernie Brooks

23. Shirley Collins –
Archangel Hill
Shirley Collins' soaring soprano always had the quality of unexpected music, like singing heard through an open window. It flew overhead: gorgeous and strange and necessarily borne away from us. To discover it on Archangel Hill, framed between recordings made over 40 years later, heightens the impact. It also accentuates the new contours her voice has taken on since that time. It now sits closer to the gravelly earth and closer to our ears, more intimate-feeling. With this third album for Domino, Collins continues to deliver on the title of that extraordinary record, Folk Roots, New Routes: finding old ways to look forward and new ways to look back.
Jim Hilton

22. L'Rain –
I Killed Your Dog
(Mexican Summer)
Described by Taja Cheek, AKA L'Rain, as something of an "anti-break-up" record, I Killed Your Dog sounds like it is more for things, than against. Explorations of different kinds of love, as well as different musical influences, are at the root of the record, as Cheek occasionally imagines conversations with her younger self (particularly on 'Knead Bee', which re-envisions Fatigue's 'Need Be'), playing the role of a witty, wiser, older sister. Duality abounds and contradictions reign, with the artist managing to create a world where all of this makes sense and sensuality. Part of the beauty of the record is that it resembles a sonic, thematic and emotional collage, a celebration of compelling sounds and sensibilities.
Siobhan Kane

21. Philip Jeck & Chris Watson –
Oxmardyke came to fruition just before Philip Jeck's untimely passing in 2022, during moments in which his pain subsided enough that he could work on his laptop. The music he makes here reflects his classic textural sound and collaborations like 2021's Stardust, in which he distorted recordings made by Faith Coloccia that revolved around motherhood. To make Oxmardyke, he took the sounds Chris Watson captured – different bird calls and metallic screeches of passing freight trains – and toyed with them, ultimately creating eerie music. Jeck's penchant for vivid sound bolsters Watson's keen ear for the most affecting sounds of nature, unearthing the emotions hidden inside of them.
Vanessa Ague

20. Babybaby_explores –
Food Near Me, Weather Tomorrow
(No Gold)
Each of the ten tracks on Food Near Me, Weather Tomorrow seems to be guided by a magpie principle. The lyrics zoom in on the surrounding environment. There is a lot of observation caused either by boredom ("I left it there two hours ago and the gum is still sticky" on the opening track 'Gum') or mild frustration ("You talk so much" and "Now my best friend's tongue is in my mouth / I twiddle my best friend's tongue around my mouth / And you still talk way too much" on 'Twiddle'). Musically, the album triggers contrasting associations. While the first seconds of the opening track misleadingly hint at the dream pop world of Maria Minerva, the rest of the track (and the album) is a bit harder to pin down. The most haunted parts allude to The Slits, X-Ray Spex and, more distantly, to Cath Carroll's England Made Me.
Irina Shtreis

19. Surgeon –
Crash Recoil
Anthony Child forged Crash Recoil from the improvisational approach of live performances. The record frequently mimics the flow of a Surgeon DJ set, structured around measured builds, momentum and surprise. The eight six-minute tracks of the record contain all the hallmarks of Surgeon’s classic releases for Berlin's Tresor label: the discipline and precision his alias suggests, amid a relentless skitter of programmed drums. He labours under the usual adjectives — industrial, brutalist — but that fails to acknowledge his ability to coax lightness out from percussive pummel. Opener 'Oak Bank' is typically fleet-footed, moving from tinny bounce to sweaty-room techno. Equally satisfying is the tactile clatter of 'Metal Pig'.
Kate French-Morris

18. La Tène –
Ecorcha / Taillée
(Les Disques Bongo Joe)
Ecorcha / Taillée is La Tène's most engaging album to date. When I spoke to the group's Alexis Degrenier for a past interview, he was keen to point out that La Tène's music isn't fundamentally about improvisation – rather the focus is on incremental change within a strict framework. You can hear this immediately on 'Ecorcha', which starts as a wheezy waltz, like a dusty clockwork mechanism springing to life, draped with ribbons of drone and with Guilhem Lacroux's 12-string (I think) picking out an endlessly cycling eight-note motif. New elements drop in as the piece progresses, the rhythm is filled in and cabrettes (bagpipes) start to lead the dance. New territory is opened up by 'Taillée, it's Rosalía-inspired reggaeton beat gelling perfectly with plangent folk instrumentation. At under 15 minutes, it's as close to 'pop' as La Tène have got so far, and it's also a stroke of genius.
David McKenna

17. Bill Orcutt –
The Anxiety Of Symmetry
(Fake Estates)
The Anxiety Of Symmetry could scarcely be more different to the ragged guitar music for which Bill Orcutt is best known. On the face of it, there's almost nothing to it – just programmed voices counting: "One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four..." and so on ad infinitum. But as the piece progresses, it gets more and more complex, with different times and tempos overlapping with and counterpointing against each other, finally reaching this almost unbearable harmonic richness that would make Thomas Tallis blush. There are similarities with some of Tom Johnson's Predictables or the 'Knee Plays' from Einstein On The Beach, but it's also not quite like either of those things, possessing a strange beauty that is all its own. It is, by some distance, the thing I have spent most time listening to this year and I can't see myself getting sick of it any time soon.
Robert Barry

16. PoiL Ueda –
PoiL Ueda
(Durt Et Doux)
PoiL's latest adventure finds them teaming up with Japanese singer and satsuma-biwa (a type of Japanese lute) player Junko Ueda to form PoiL Ueda. Born in Tokyo but based in Europe as far as I can tell, Ueda is steeped in the epic storytelling style associated with the instrument, and this debut collaboration with the French band is based on the 13th-century text The Tale Of The Heike (or Heike-Monogatari), about rival clans vying for power. No such struggles are apparent in the music though; this new pairing seems like a marriage made in heaven. PoiL's usual jazzy heaviness anchors the music but there are many moments of delicious disorientation, as you lose your bearings in the whooshing and rattling transition from 'Kujô Shakujô – Part 1' to 'Part 2', or the passage in 'Kujô Shakujô – Part 3' when the tricky-but-lithe groove and reptilian riffs suddenly give way to a blizzard of bleeps and wubs and rattling percussion, before the track ascends to a Magma-like climax of massed vocals.
David McKenna

15. Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective –
(Nhạc Gãy)
*1 is a free-flowing, freewheeling listening experience, almost like a four-deck ambient DJ set where textures are layered scrupulously, coming in and out of the mix – a kaleidoscopic collage of fantastical aural events. In 'What Cherubs', cascades of shimmering pads and birds chirping give way to acoustic guitar-tuning which then bursts into clanging deconstructed club beats and Skrillex-esque sound design brushes, concluding with mellow IDM beats and angelic vocals. 'Pressure' is a nostalgia booster that takes me back to my time obsessing over post-rock outfits like 65daysofstatic. At the core of their blend of psychotropic electronic deconstructions, celestial soundscapes, cherubic choruses, experimental rock and free improv digressions, is the drive for unpretentious experimentation. *1 is a venturesome affair, and like a transformative mushroom trip, it's impossible to guess where it will take you next.
Jaša Bužinel

14. Slauson Malone 1 –
On Excelsior, Slauson Malone 1's debut for Warp Records, layers of knowledge on genre and form are combined with an openness that offers an unexpected level of intimacy. It's an album made up of varying sketches; a collection of personal essays that provide an insight into specific lived experiences. The title of the record itself is a reference to continuous growth, Slauson Malone 1 turning the lens on himself to allow a rare look into an ever-changing and mutating exploration of self. It's purposely chaotic and skeletal in places, but when the disjointed pieces are viewed as one, you get an album that is a fascinating and hypnotic listen.
Arusa Qureshi

13. Brìghde Chaimbeul –
Carry Them With Us
Carry Them With Us is mostly instrumental, but its tracks tell stories. 'Banish The Giant Of Doubt And Despair', for example, is a reel that starts quick and spins out of control, reflecting the tale of the princess of an underwater kingdom and the giant of the Western Isles who cannot stop dancing to her song, faster and faster until he falls into the sea and drowns. Melodic cascades flow from Brìghde Chaimbeul's pipes as though she can barely restrain them, while a bass drone and subtle, breathy saxophone, courtesy of Colin Stetson, combine seamlessly to set the scene. Despite the unconventional pairing of instruments, they often seem to make a single sound.
Tom Bolton

12. The Inward Circles –
Before We Lie Down In Darknesse
(Corbel Stone Press)
Richard Skelton built the sprawling, slow-motion soundscapes of Before We Lie Down In Darknesse from one six-second note that rings into the run-out groove. There are no two ways about it: this is a ghostly album. Rolling waves of sound ring out through misty white noise like foghorns, hanging sluggishly then fading, as if they only have the capacity for two or three notes before collapsing under the strain. The frequent use of glissando suggests a kind of grand, swooning emotional release – it's one of the reasons why the record seems forever sinking or rising.
Will Ainsley

11. Shit And Shine –
2222 And Airport
(The state51 Conspiracy)
To fresh-faced Shiners, this might sound scuzzy, rough and ready but, if you’ve already acclimatised to Craig Clouse's maximal, clipping-as-a-way-of-life approach, 2222 And Airport will appear relatively buffed, chamois-ed and gleaming. Previous works have run the gamut from grindcore treachery to kosmische techno equipped with gently fuzzed edges like the soft eyes of a hung-over lush. Clouse's releases from the past few years can usually be split between one of these states: those of a more metal bent, and those drifting towards the dance/electronic spectrum, whilst never settling comfortably in either the mosh pit or on the dance floor. This one definitely leans towards the latter, dripping layers of funk, techno, acid house, big beat, electro, and all manner of intentions, references and happy accidents into the overflowing cauldron.
Jon Buckland

10. Mariam Rezaei –
(Heat Crimes)
Mariam Rezaei's music is simultaneously funny and poignant, furious and calm, capable of breaking out from atmospheric drones into blistering jazz-punk attacks, and often bridging delirious humour with the emptiness felt after engaging in futile battles again and again. In the words of Rezaei herself, all of these inputs shape an "almost completely absurd artistic vision", but one that makes total sense in its absurdity. In their essence, and despite the ambiguity of titles like 'It COULD Be Jazz', the nine cuts on her latest record are informed by a structure, flow and aleatoric framework reminiscent of free jazz and improvisation.

BOWN is the final part of a triptych, so it might be tempting to frame it as some sort of culmination or expected conclusion. In reality, each of Rezaei's work is marked by perpetuity, left to be rejigged and resequenced as needed, much like the act and philosophy of turntablism itself. Regardless in which order you listen to them, they feel as if they are flowing from and into one another, conveying the same sense of anger, elation, spite and optimistic acceptance. On BOWN, these practices and emotions alternately take the form of boiling attacks, near ambient meditations, and moments of avant awe.
Antonio Poscic

9. Danny Brown –
"This rap shit done saved my life, and fucked it up at the same time," Danny Brown begins somberly on the title track of his sixth studio album. As far as opening lines go, it's a perfect encapsulation of what lies at the emotional core of Quaranta – honesty, remorse and unfettered reflection.

Translated to '40' in Italian, the album's title refers to Brown's 40 years but is also a nod to the experience of quarantine and the isolation of that period that forced so many of us to come face to face with our demons. For Brown, there have forever been personal demons bubbling directly below the surface that have long threatened to emerge and fully eclipse the audaciousness and comedic cheek commonly associated with his character. But as we hear on this album, it was lockdown that provided the ideal breeding ground for such an internal battle. Without a doubt Brown's most personal work to date, it's equal parts confessional and curative in its mission statement.
Arusa Qureshi

8. Abstract Concrete –
Abstract Concrete
(The state51 Conspiracy)
The prospect of Charles Hayward forming a new band, after deciding that the impetus to do more (This is Not) This Heat shows was waning and his desire to record new material becoming too difficult to ignore, was enormously exciting when I first encountered it. That the new band was intended to be a continuation from the song-based but still experimental worlds he first conjured as a member of This Heat and Camberwell Now, was enough to set up high expectations. Seeing the band come together at their first shows, with Agathe Max on viola, Roberto Sassi on guitar, Yoni Silver on keyboards and bass clarinet, and Otto Willberg on bass and double bass, did not disappoint either. Neither, when I finally got to hear it, did the recording.

There are a lot of different elements in the mix on the group's debut album – prog, reggae, folk, loungecore, even a little disco – and perhaps some listeners may initially feel a little inclined towards indigestion. However, the vision behind it all is singular and persuasive and balances its more unconventional aspects with strong harmonies and vivid lyricism. These are memorable songs with irresistible hooks, wonderfully heartfelt vocals expressing a deep empathy and humanity that nevertheless maintain a disarming sense of humour (as in their slightly groan-worthy but apt avant-garde musician joke of a name), as well as thrilling, improvisation-derived passages during which the band take off into outer space.
Sean Kitching

7. Khanate –
To Be Cruel
(Sacred Bones)
When Khanate convened with producer Randall Dunn at Strange Weather Studios in Brooklyn to mix To Be Cruel, it was the first time the four of them had been in the same room at the same time for at least 15 years, and the suggestion seems to be that socialising perhaps got in the way of the mix. Whatever the reason, the band weren't happy, but the process was then further interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The final mix was undertaken by Dunn, Stephen O'Malley and James Plotkin in summer 2021, and the band were blown away by the results.

To Be Cruel is an incredible record, with three tracks of 20 minutes each pushing the Khanate template outwards in weird and affecting new ways. The production is exquisite. Having had the luxury of living with it for several weeks, I realised that I came to subconsciously appreciate it much in the same way I appreciate a dub album recorded at the Black Ark such is its depth and spatiality. It is a record of fractal depth that bristles with detail at the very borders of perception. But most importantly it achieves all of this without short-changing listeners on caustic vitriol, despondent awe and unquenchable agitation.
John Doran

6. Musta Huone –
Valosaasteen sekaan
(Paa Jotaki / This Is Not A Dog)
Valosaasteen sekaan, in many ways, is the quintessence of a record that does not sound OK. It is off-kilter, messed up, wrong. Like one of those extreme haunted houses, it catches you off guard again and again, jumping straight at your ears and throwing all sorts of curveballs right at you. The record starts with a nifty little intro, 'Peremmälle sisään', which is a piece of 1960s mall muzak all mangled up and distorted. And when I first read it in the press sheet I was like: 'In a post-vaporwave world? Banal…'. Boy, was I wrong. From the very get-go, it is pure evil. The intro evokes this clown-ish atmosphere that made me so uneasy I had to wonder what the fuck was going to go down next. In a sense, even this rather slim piece of music is black metal frostbitten coldness by other means, something that Musta Huone achieve throughout this album. It is demented and dark and disheartening. And I loved it from the very moment I heard it.

From there, it's all downhill. Or, to put it in more pointed terms: it is a downfall from there on, a descent that keeps getting weirder and weirder. The highlights in this thing are many. The second track, 'Heijasteet', is a dirge-y kosmische cavalcade. Minimal, tense, loud – it keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole seven-minutes through with squawking noises assaulting you from all directions. And, just when you think that things couldn't get any more tense, 'Aika Valuu Sormien Läpi' comes on with its ghostly demeanour and out-of-the-blue explosions.
Enrico Monacelli

5. John Francis Flynn –
Look Over The Wall, See The Sky
(River Lea)
The arrangements on Look Over The Wall, See The Sky are at the heart of the album's unmistakable sound. John Francis Flynn worked on all the tracks with Brendan Jenkinson, who also plays guitar, bass and clarinet. Seven other musicians also perform on the record, which sounds like the expression of a sonic world. The recording is Flynn's vision and represents the way he plays music, but it is clear that collaboration is its rationale. When Flynn launches into an ecstatic whistle solo on 'Within A Mile Of Dublin', he does so on the back of a mighty noise laid down by a band performing as one, tuned to the same station. The track collapses into a black hole of feedback as a looped voice repeats "a Dublin mile, a Dublin mile." It is a glorious release of energy, pent up through tightly wound tracks that achieve their effect through restraint – a track that will make listeners book tickets to wherever they can hear Flynn and his band performing this music.

The album also includes a version of 'Dirty Old Town', probably the best known folk revival track of them all, where everyone from The Dubliners to The Pogues have staked their claim. Flynn, true to the traditional milieu where he draws his music, returns to the simplicity of Ewan MacColl's original version. There is soft brass in the background, French horn and trombone, and a quietly distorted finger-picked guitar. It is beautiful and hallucinatory, transformed from social realism – an account of an actual walk, a real kiss by the factory gates – to a dream in which the past arrives as a visitation.
Tom Bolton

4. La Baracande –
La Baracande
(La Nòvia)
The ever-essential La Nòvia collective this year brought us the latest eponymous release from the doomiest of their formations, La Baracande, who focus on songs collected from lacemaker Virginie Granouillet (born 1878 in the Haut-Loire department), who was nicknamed 'La Baracande'. Its first and final tracks are particularly stunning: 'Ce Sont Trois Jeunes Garçons' hoves into view on the back of Guilhem Lacroux's deliciously twangy rock riff and ringing percussion, ushering in Basile Brémaud's sonorous vocals and the keening and sawing of violin, hurdy-gurdy and the musette Béchonnet (a bellows-blown bagpipe).

At the record's other end, 'Qui Veut Entendre L'Histoire' is a vortex of controlled noise that reaches a furious pitch, Bremaud's vocals delivered in a 'Tomorrow Never Knows', chanting-from-a-mountain-top style. Brémaud's more appeased solo album – called Basile Brémaud Solo, in case there was any doubt – makes for a lovely companion piece.
David McKenna

3. Teeth Of The Sea –
(Rocket Recordings)
​​Hive takes its name from Frank Herbert's novel Hellstrom's Hive and is also inspired by 70s sci-fi horror Phase IV, both disturbing tales of the rise of insect-human hybrids. It's all very 'I for one welcome our new insect overlords'-type stuff; not that Hive is really a concept album or indulges any kind of narrative. The subterranean bug people vibes are mixed up with other elements. Teeth Of The Sea tend to keep things in flux, their experiments producing music that is exploratory and surprising rather than simply difficult. Even if the big surprise this time turns out to be a couple of tracks with vocals. Amid all the images of fluttering, flickering, wings in 'Butterfly House', there's also room for a nod to the infinite with the line, "Been so long since you launched into space".

Following their last album, Wraith, the band were invited to live soundtrack the Apollo's Moon Shot documentary at London's Science Museum. It would not have been unusual for them to then turn that work into a full album release, but typically the band seem to have considered it too obvious a move. So they've just reworked some of it, editing down from longer pieces. Three tracks ('Artemis', 'Æther' and 'Apollo') mark the beginning, middle and end of Hive, offering appropriately spacious and tranquil atmospheres that are easy to imagine drifting on far longer. 'Artemis' opens the album with the feeling of heading out into the endless, Sam Barton's trumpet winding outwards above the clicks and bleeps of launching machines. At the midway point, 'Æther' glides weightlessly into a cloud of dubbed-out trumpet, punctured by a distant voice which, distorted beyond comprehension, emphasises a sense of isolation. Finally, 'Apollo' closes the album with a melodic and melancholic vision of the earth from the moon.
Jared Dix

2. PJ Harvey –
I Inside The Old Year Dying
Although PJ Harvey's discography is too unruly to be fully anatomised by this framework, I Inside The Old Year Dying still embodies many qualities of late style. Lacking the propulsive confidence found in Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, the charged, war film quality of Let England Shake, or even the keening, strident quality of White Chalk (the closest thing it sonically resembles), this tenth LP finds its stimulus not in broad concepts or thrusting power but – much like Beethoven after 1812 – their antitheses: quiet reflection, fragmentation and mystery.

It's a loose, nimble work of neo folk that pokes its head into desert blues, experimental rock and country, then has a good nose around. It manages to sound both mediaeval and futuristic, with big hollow kick drums booming underneath queasy loops and staticky textures, the tales of "milchi seeps heady in the meadows" ringing over boinging, squelching electronics. At a push, we might term this intelligent folk dance music. Or acid alehouse. Or… breakwheat? Field recordings (courtesy of Adam Bartlett) and strange, blustery frequencies also contribute to the mulch and oomska of the music (helped in no small part by Harvey's creative partnership with Flood and John Parish, who provided production and additional instrumentation). The lived-in sogginess of this music seems to be a way of accessing hitherto-siloed wells of emotion and intensity. Thrumming thickets of rhythm in 'I Inside The Old I Dying' evoke perfectly the movement through the forest described in the lyrics, while on 'Prayer At The Gate', the audible rushes of breath are of equal importance to the accompanying pained vocalisations.
Will Ainsley

1. Lankum –
False Lankum
(Rough Trade)
There has been much talk over the last year or two of a 'revival' in modern folk music. This ignores the fact that boundary-pushing, experimental, avant-garde approaches to traditional songs have been present under the surface for as long as the songs themselves. Experimentalism, in fact, is integral to them. It is what has kept them alive through the centuries. Exciting as it is, the current scene is undergoing less of a 'revival', more a moment of attention from the music world at large; a lifting of a rock to reveal the life that has long been thriving underneath.

The astonishing False Lankum has received a hitherto-unseen amount of mainstream acclaim, but it is also the result of many decades that the band's members have spent exploring the outer limits of folk and trad music, whether as a foursome or in their individual practises. Its vast swings of emotion have always been present in their work to some degree, the juxtapositions more and more pronounced with each record (not least thanks to the influence of producer John "Spud" Murphy). Here – from the overwhelming gothic horror of 'Go Dig My Grave' and the tempestuous melodrama of 'The New York Trader', to the swooning romance of 'Newcastle' and the gorgeous melancholia of 'Lord Abore And Mary Flynn' – they supercharge that aspect, taking their music to unparalleled levels of extremity.

The risk, of course, is that extreme mood swings often come at the expense of consistency across an LP. Lankum, however, avoid that pitfall. Recorded in a Martello Tower off the coast of Ireland, they're tied together by a running theme of the ocean that emerged subconsciously in that location, as well as by a number of abstract instrumental 'Fugue' pieces dotted throughout. Cut from the same lengthy experimental jam session, instruments clatter and float around as if suspended in mid-air, providing a binding agent as they gradually arrange themselves into the shape of whatever song comes next. The immediate experience of listening to False Lankum is intense; one minute you're barraged like a raft in a tempest, and the next floating along serenely in a stretch of calm, warm water. Zoom out, however, and you'll find a record that captures the sublimity and scale of an entire ocean.
Patrick Clarke

The Quietus Albums Of The Year 2023

  • 1: Lankum – False Lankum
  • 2: PJ Harvey – I Inside The Old Year Dying
  • 3: Teeth Of The Sea ­– Hive
  • 4: La Nòvia – La Baracande
  • 5: John Francis Flynn – Look Over The Wall, See The Sky
  • 6: Musta Huone – Valosaasteen sekaan
  • 7: Khanate – To Be Cruel
  • 8: Abstract Concrete – Abstract Concrete
  • 9: Danny Brown – Quaranta
  • 10: Mariam Rezaei – BOWN
  • 11: Shit And Shine – 2222 And Airport
  • 12: The Inward Circles – Before We Lie Down In Darknesse
  • 13: Brìghde Chaimbuel – Carry Them With Us
  • 14: Slauson Malone 1 – Excelsior
  • 15: Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective – *1
  • 16: PoiL Ueda – PoiL Ueda
  • 17: Bill Orcutt – The Anxiety Of Symmetry
  • 18: La Tène – Ecorcha / Taillée
  • 19: Surgeon – Crash Recoil
  • 20: Babybaby_explores – Food Near Me, Weather Tomorrow
  • 21: Philip Jeck & Chris Watson – Oxmardyke
  • 22: L'Rain – I Killed Your Dog
  • 23: Shirley Collins – Archangel Hill
  • 24: Lost Girls – Selvutsletter
  • 25: Annelies Monseré – Mares
  • 26: Gazelle Twin – Black Dog
  • 27: Moundabout – An Cnor Mór
  • 28: Apostille – Prisoners Of Love And Hate
  • 29: MC Yallah – Yallah Beibe
  • 30: James Ellis Ford – The Hum
  • 31: Lunch Money Life – The God Phone
  • 32: Nabihah Iqbal – Dreamer
  • 33: Lisa O'Neill – All Of This Is Chance
  • 34: UKAEA – Birds Catching Fire In The Sky
  • 35: Hey Colossus – In Blood
  • 36: Alexander Tucker & Keith Collins – Fifth Continent
  • 37: Yaeji – With A Hammer
  • 38: Aho Ssan – Rhizomes
  • 39: Benefits – Nails
  • 40: Nuovo Testamento – Love Lines
  • 41: Kelela – Raven
  • 42: Babau – Flatland Explorations Vol. 2
  • 43: EP/64-63 – EP/64-63
  • 44: ØXN – CYRM
  • 45: Sleaford Mods – UK GRIM
  • 46: JAAW – Supercluster
  • 47: Skull Practitioners – Negative Stars
  • 48: Raphael Rogiński – Tálan
  • 49: Polobi & The Gwo Ka Masters – Abri Cyclonique
  • 50: Enola Gay – Casement
  • 51: Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter Five: In The Garden
  • 52: Bell Witch – Future's Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate
  • 53: Algiers – Shook
  • 54: O Yama O – Galo
  • 55: Ruth Anderson & Annea Lockwood – Tête-à-tête
  • 56: KMRU – Dissolution Grip
  • 57: Mendoza Hoff Revels – Echolocation
  • 58: Fever Ray – Radical Romantics
  • 59: James Holden – Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities
  • 60: Billy Woods & Kenny Segal – Maps
  • 61: Noname – Sundial
  • 62: a.P.A.t.T. – We
  • 63: Natalia Beylis – Mermaids
  • 64: Cassandra Miller – Traveller Song / Thanksong
  • 65: Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Land Of Sleeper
  • 66: Sourdurent – L'Herbe De Détourne
  • 67: Flesh & The Dream – Choose Mortality
  • 68: TORPOR – Abscission
  • 69: Årabrot – Of Darkness And Light
  • 70: Sparks – The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte
  • 71: Yfory – Yfory
  • 72: Mozart Estate – Pop-Up! Kerching! And The Possibilities Of Modern Shopping
  • 73: Synthfreq – Vol. 1
  • 74: Nihiloxica – Source Of Denial
  • 75: House Of All – House Of All
  • 76: One More Grain – Modern Music
  • 77: Colin Stetson – When We Were That What Wept For The Sea
  • 78: Nicky Wire – Intimism
  • 79: Jellyskin – In Brine
  • 80: Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter – SAVED!
  • 81: Kevin Richard Martin – Black
  • 82: Yossari Baby – Inferiority Complex
  • 83: Zhao Cong – 55355
  • 84: Stephen O'Malley & Anthony Pateras – Sept duos pour guitare acoustique & piano préparé
  • 85: Spirit Possession – Of The Sign…
  • 86: KASAI – J/P/N
  • 87: Godflesh – Purge
  • 88: Anjimile – The King
  • 89: Moussa Tchingou – Tamiditine
  • 90: DeVon Russell Gray / Nathan Hanson / Davu Seru – We Sick
  • 91: MXLX – Saint
  • 92: Maxo – Even God Has A Sense Of Humor
  • 93: Dodo Resurrection II – A Treatise On Ceremonial Magic
  • 94: The Stargazer's Assistant – Fire Worshipper
  • 95: Rezzett – Meant Like This
  • 96: John Zorn – Homenaje A Remedios Varo
  • 97: ANOHNI And The Johnsons – My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross
  • 98: Oozing Wound – We Cater To Cowards
  • 99: Niecy Blues – Exit Simulation
  • 100: Call Super – Eulo Cramps