25: Kristin Hayter – SAVED!
Kristin Hayter (formerly Lingua Ignota) has moved into her acoustic Swans-esque middle era after only three albums. New-age gospel Americana with only a sliver of static resemblance to her former works, but a bigger dose of the feels carried over.
24: CRT – Winter’s Lament
In a time when even vaporwave feels dated, Winter’s Lament gives us a reminder of why the genre has been one of the driving forces behind underground music for over a decade, but without the use of cliche commercialist imagery. Each track presents a cold and rigid atmosphere, looming ever so clearly across our consciousness. If there’s one emotion that comes across more vivid than the rest, it’s a blatant feeling of loneliness. A feeling that vaporwave carries across so well. For fans of ambient and drone music, much solace can be found in the audible visions of CRT.
23: zakè – Orchestral Tape Studies
This album was covered by myself earlier this year, an absolute gem of a release from an artist who is constantly refining the execution of their sound. Pensive Hiss Ridden Orchestral Drone done on a truly awe inspiring scale.
Check out our interview with zakè from earlier this year.
22: Merzbow – CATalysis 猫媒
MEOW! If an album could scratch, this would be it. 4 black cats, each with their own track. Let’s just hope this thing doesn’t kill any birds.
21: Asleep Country – Fake Opulent
I will be the first to admit, Fake Opulent is not an album for everyone. This is a three hour avant garde fest of overly long experimental compositions. But for those who stay along for the mindless trip held within Fake Opulent, you’ll find an out of body journey that would make Yoko Ono envious. There’s an adventurous spirit to this one, as if the sounds themselves are having a conversation between each other. Despite the erratic nature of the overlaying sample sounds, there’s still musicality held within. Percussion in particular is given a spotlight, with a unique timbre everytime. Moreso than any release this year, Fake Opulent surely stands as the most “out-there” in regards to its ability to make our imaginations run wild.
20: Wolf Eyes – Dreams In Splattered Lines
Wolf Eyes now have 25 years under their belt of creating DiY noise with the spirit of an absurd metal band. 2023 was especially fruitful – they released their wayward compilation Difficult Messages, released a follow-up named More Difficult Messages, released a 3CD box set named Box of Drolls, and of course graced us with Dreams In Splattered Lines. Where noise can utilise excess as a statement of overindulgence, Wolf Eyes missed that memo over the course of their hundreds of releases, compelled by unabated creativity and quirky horror.
19: TDK – Nemesta
For my only heavy metal based entry, no doubt it would go to Nemesta by TDK. An album that is surprisingly original and fresh. Metal itself is a genre which has relied too much on formula, a trend broken in instrumentation, presentation, and pure sonic force by TDK. Traces of hardcore punk, shoegaze and even vaporwave appear in sporadic moments as each track shifts in varying emotions, all aggressive. Even the avant-garde album artwork is a breath of fresh air, odd yet not out of place. Out of any instrument, the drums take the spotlight as the most heavy hitting, pummeling and produced beautifully. If you’re a fan of John Zorn or post-punk, Nemesta is the best of both worlds.
18: Jason Calhoun – Small Circle
This will be reviewed for Discipline soon but Small Circle was an absolute standout release of the year. Scattered grating electronics and hazy drones come together in the most enjoyable way possible on this latest release from Dronemaker Jason Calhoun.
17: Lunt – A Veil for Unfrozen Lust
My most abrasive listen of 2023 has been “A Veil for Unveiled Lust”. An album that is essentially one giant track with interludes in between different sonic textures. The emotional threshold covers typical hyper ambient as well as drone and doom metal. There’s a whole lot of variety to be seen from this minimalist release, all which flow seamlessly. However the highlights on Unveiled Lust remain in the album’s beautiful opening moments. Like a brickwall of illuminating power.
16: Vatican Shadow – Destroy Chemical Weapons
‘Destroy Chemical Weapons’, ‘No Blood For Oil’; these are two of three track titles on Vatican Shadow’s most recent album. The tongue-in-cheek nature of VS’s hyper-politicised oeuvre appears in retreat for what could instead be genuine social commentary. Thankfully, ‘Saddam’s Central Park Torture Chamber’ harken back to the good old days of Middle Eastern war conspiracies of the most grandiose order.
15: Internazionale – They Taught Us To Count The Days
Internazionale returned this year with this mammoth double release. This album marks a return to form for the artist after their beats driven release ‘Avatar in Life”. Rarely does a long form album with multiple tracks hold your attention so closely from start to finish.
14: Liturgy – 93696
With 93696, Liturgy returned once again to actualise the insane musical and esoteric concepts they presented to us almost ten years ago with Aesthethica. Picking up where its conceptual predecessor left off, 93696 is a triumphant release from start to finish and one of the standout releases of 2023.
13: Boris + Uniform – Bright New Disease
Strange bedfellows Boris and Uniform teamed up for their first ever collaborative effort. Born out of their double-billed US tour, the pair thrash, doom and drone their way through a short and generally satisfying exhibition of sometimes familiar and sometimes experimental sounds.
12: Romance + Dean Hurley – River Of Dreams
An earlier release from this year and the 2nd collaborative release from these 2 artists sees them return to deliver more melodramatic Soap Opera inspired drones. This is easily one of the most forward thinking, nuanced and frankly, bleak releases to come out this year that absolutely warrants multiple listens.
Check out our review of River Of Dreams from earlier this year.
11: JK Flesh – No Exits
Noisy techno and messy drum ‘n’ bass of the grittiest order. Music for those with an industrial mindset, and those who got shit to do (seriously – this bad boy played soundtrack to much of the creation of this article). Techno for people who don’t do techno.
10: The Brian Jonestown Massacre – The Future Is Your Past
Is this album number 20? I’ve lost count. But what I can count on is Mr Anton Newcombe continuing to release stellar music. It’s hard to find a more consistent artist operating on this side of the millennium. And that holds true even in relation to The Future Is Your Past, one of the more low-key releases thus far.
After witnessing the ill-fated show + brawl in Melbourne in November, here’s to hoping Anton gets back on track and doesn’t let the set-back of a public incident dent his creative streak.
9: Xiu Xiu – Ignore Grief
Xiu Xiu is too eclectic to really summarise in a few short sentences. Though some friendlier (albeit, tortured) tunes have penetrated beyond their (growing) fan base over the years. It’s hard to really know where they will land with each release, but here on Ignore Grief, Jamie Stewart and co skew to the more unhinged side of things. Great!
There is actually a lot more happening here than simply confronting outbursts. Angela Seo sings on half of the tracks, and a mix of industrialised and classical sounds ensue. If early Xiu Xiu and albums like Girl with Basket of Fruit excited you, then Ignore Grief will keep you coming back for more.
8: Whalesong – Leaving a Dream
The most expansive release by Whalesong yet. The tracks are longer, the instrumentation is more diverse, and the ambition on display is unmatched. Crushing heaviness merges with moments of tenderness to encapsulate everything Whalesong have stood for up to this point, and more. Avant, post-metal, industrial, drone and pure long-form neurosis.
Check out our interview with Michal Kielbasa of Whalesong from earlier this year.
7: Yves Tumor – Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
Yves Tumor has been a favorite of mine since their streak of excellent releases beginning in 2020. 2023’s Praise A Lord… is certainly no exception. As with every Tumor release, the production is impeccable, clear, with a massive kick ringing through. With the short track lengths, it’s as if we’re listening to something more akin to a punk album, a quality I wholeheartedly appreciate. The entire journey is fun and futuristic, and not to be missed.
6: Tim Hecker – No Highs
The welcomed return of one of the greatest Drone artists of our era sees Hecker deliver a well deserved fuck you to the world of meandering ambient made solely to generate listens on a spotify playlist. The result as you would expect from this person is flawless from start to finish. If I had to pick a favourite album this year, it’s this one hands down.
5: Prurient + Genocide Organ – Carte Blanche
Dominic Fernow continues his run of collaborations with his early influences. On this here Prurient + Genocide Organ release, their union makes a lot of sense, but basically came out of nowhere. Evenly weighted between either party, harsh static onslaughts and themes of war, slaughter and subjugation prevail on this welcome addition to either artists back catalogue.
Catch both Prurient and Genocide Organ at Hospital Fest in Osaka, Japan on April 7, 2024. Tickets for this very rare performance can be found HERE.
4: John Cale – Mercy
From the man who was fired from the Velvet Underground by Lou Reed for trying to record an album underwater, John Cale and his 6 decade strong legacy has released his first new album in a decade. Like basically all of his accomplices in the Velvet Underground, Cale enjoyed many decades of solo success, but collaborations aplenty litter Mercy – Fat White Family, Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Laurel Halo and more. A dreamy and distinctive outing from one of the forefathers of musical risk-taking.
3: Lankum – False Lankum
I know this band not as Lankum, but as Lynched. They had an album named Where Did We Go Wrong?! released in the noughties that a good friend had acquired on CD after seeing them perform around 2009 or 10 in an alleyway in the Sydney neighbourhood of Marrickville. That album then accompanied that friend and myself through a number of months in India. Its eloquent tales of destitution, drinking, signing on for the dole, and a mysterious character named Tommy Ryan to a simplistic folk punk soundtrack seemed to resonate with us in our subcontinental environment. That environment being a breeding ground for enigmatic characters and endless trials and tribulations that were best navigated with a cheerful naivety.
As for the hardships expressed on Where Did We Go Wrong?!, their alleyway performance sounded like destitution manifest. Slinging cheaply produced CDs to the audience being more a desperate attempt at charity than a calculated business idea, which spoke to the times. Europe was hard hit by the Global Financial Crisis, and Ireland became particularly vulnerable. Austerity became commonplace and the country’s social safety net struggled under a surge in dole recipients. I thought I’d never hear another peep from Lynched ever again.
Fast-forward to 2023 and Ireland now has the world’s second-highest GDP per capita and Dublin is a tech hub/European headquarters for the world’s biggest multinationals. Now named Lankum, luck eventually caught up to the persevering group, too.
Lynched changed their name to Lankum and introduced heavy drones to their Irish folk ballads, earning them comparisons to the likes of Swans, Sunn O))) and My Bloody Valentine. 2023 saw the band headline Supersonic Festival in Birmingham, UK alongside Godflesh, Big Brave, Oxbow and a wide range of ear splitting and boundary pushing artists. False Lankum was also awarded album of the year by The Guardian.
Truth be told, I’m a little floored by the success of this group and feel it important to acknowledge the grit behind their 20 odd year journey. And nevertheless, very proud to have their most accomplished release yet at position 3 in our best albums of the year list.
2: Swans – The Beggar
Last time Swans made our end of year list it was the best of 2019 review and the album in question was Leaving Meaning. Comparing LM to the unmatchable standards Swans have set for themselves, we described it as “hover[ing] … around very good” by regular standards, and “average to good” by the enlarged scale Swans have set with their phenomenal back catalogue.
To carry on from here, The Beggar feels like a significant step up from its predecessor. More accomplished. More impactful. More expansive. And a more formidable place within a catalogue that makes contemporary artists squirm. Let’s just hope The Beggar isn’t the swansong that fans have speculated or that tracks like ‘Michael is Done’ have hinted.
1: Godflesh – Purge
And at the very top of the list is none other than album number 9 from Justin K. Broadrick and BC Green’s Godflesh. 9 albums down after being conceived in the lats 80s, the fact Godflesh continues to produce music in this capacity is a gift of sonic delights.
The sounds here are not without precedent. Reference points include the similarly titled Pure from 1992, and the Slavestate EP from the year before. Hip-hop beats and EBM energy underpin blistering guitars and looped percussion.
Compared to the other albums of Godflesh’s post-reunion – the devastatingly heavy A World Lit Only by Fire and the dark industrial Post Self – Purge is a warmer, more inviting affair with an infectious uplifting energy, all amidst a backdrop of lyrical subjugation. Hailz!
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