I love lists. Give me a Top Ten or a Twenty Best Whatevers of All Time and I’m away. Usually, I absolutely love putting together my Top Ten for The Shaman; Choosing the albums and EPs, shuffling the order around, trying to edit my ramblings to the required wordage, hours of fun for all the family. For this quinquagenarian, 2023 has felt like a bit of a katabasis and, frankly, I don’t want to spend too much time looking back, it’s all a bit much, y’know.
However… I don’t want to bring the vibes down, usually at this time of year I’m like a four year old on E numbers, excited at the thought of festivities to come, spending time with people I love, drinking waaay too much, getting some new books and tunes. And it’s the tunes we’re all here for, the brilliant, brilliant stuff that so many artists have bestowed on us this year.
Looking at my list, there’s only two artists who appeared last year. In fact, this is the third year in a row for both of them. As always, my list comprises a range of genres, and with the exception of the Number One spot, could’ve been in any order. The Honourable Mentions group might not have made the top ten purely because their work wasn’t an album or an EP, not because the quality is off the mark.
Finally, a big shout out to cassette labels and the artists who use them. This is a vibrant ‘scene’ that provides a smörgåsbord of styles in a format that is second only to vinyl in the Treasured Artefacts stakes. Long may they deliver beautifully packaged sounds to our doors and our ears. Right, let’s dig in…
10. Bastard Noise ‘Incineration Prayer/Self Righteous Suicide’
This is painful stuff, and I think it’s meant to be in order to communicate a depth of despair that just isn’t possible with melody and lyrics, or any typically structured ‘music’. When I was a child and we’d go to the beach, my dad would insist on towelling the sand from between my brother and I’s toes. It was horrible, scouring the skin between our young tootsies. The result, of course, and what our dad was aiming for, was discomfort-free walking for the rest of the day, with shoes and socks on. And that’s what Bastard Noise Incineration Prayer/Self Righteous Suicide is for. To scour the brain. A form of cleansing caustic soda for the mind with which to clear the clinging detritus deposited by everyday life. Something, if I may be so bold, we all need from time to time.
Label: Armageddon Label
9. Maiden Hair ‘The Adder Witch’
What strange alchemical conjuration is this? I have, I think, all of Maiden Hair’s releases and I still don’t know into which category they fall. Is this ambient? Dungeon synth? What about the ‘found sound’ element? Is it, perhaps, a kind of modern folk music, telling the listener a tale, or even taking them into a confidence in which sacred truths are mixed with ancient mischiefs? Or maybe, just maybe, I’m overthinking it and I should stop being so pretentious and just enjoy it. I took a recent trip on a dark wintery day to rural, out of the way Derbyshire and this was the perfect accompaniment.
Label: WereGnome Records
8. The Telescopes ‘Experimental Health’
According to the Cold Spring Records blurb, this latest sonic missive from The Telescopes ‘combines hallucinatory ballads with transcendent melodies, clanging, and lo-fi buzzes, with a substantial amount of crushing and sound degradation’, and from the off this proves to be true. The whole album is a glorious trudge through an aural codeine soup that sounds like the hypnopompic dream of a man deep in a narcotic slumber, as he tries to rear up into consciousness. This is psychedelic lofi drone krautrock at its finest. Grab yourself a spoon and dig in.
Label: Cold Spring Records
7. Iceman Junglist Kru ‘You’re Like A Scalpel, I’m Like A Flick Knife’
Press play, enjoy seven plus minutes of tense build up, and wait for the drop. If Iceman Junglist Kru don’t move you, I’m afraid I can’t help you. The Degradation Surgical Dub version takes deconstruction to a new level, then adds chaos, noise, and madness for good measure. Industrial grade brain floss.
Label: Brachliegen Tapes
6. Swordwielder ‘Wielding Metal Massacre’
Swordwielder deliver crust punk from Gothenburg, Sweden, very much in the vein of Instinct of Survival, or possibly even shades of the mighty Amebix? Yes please! This is how I like my punk; mid-paced, metallic, moody, with quasi-esoteric lyricalism, and how can you not love titles like Weapons Of The Dark Ages, Beneath A Blood Red Sky, and Envy The Dead? There’s even some piano and synth in there for extra atmos. As a kid I was a punk, it’s stuff like this that keeps me coming back to the genre thirty-odd years later.
5. False Fed ‘Let Them Eat Fake’
I was looking forward to the release of this slab of dark, metallic post-punk and I wasn’t disappointed. One of the things that intrigued me was whether False Fed would prove to be equal to, or more than, the sum of their parts – Discharge, Amebix, Nausea. I needn’t have worried. The nuanced yet powerful guitar work, tribal drumming, rock solid low end, and barking vocals combine to take False Fed beyond their roots. And, while there are hints of Amebix’s Sonic Mass in there, and Killing Joke’s later canon also makes a good reference point, Let Them Eat Fake is its own beast. I hope for (nay, expect!), a sophomore release in the near future, surpassing even this blinding beginning.
Label: Neurot Recordings
4. Lucy Valentine ‘Vault Of Heaven’
I love the idea that creativity can be birthed when artists self-impose conditions under which they must work. The Telescopes album was made almost entirely with broken toys and cheap synths and is all the better for it. In a similar – yet not in the least similar – fashion, Lucy Valentine created the music for this multimedia piece using only the Mellotron. At times, this lends the pieces comprising Vault Of Heaven a spooky, dare I say hauntological vibe. Take the title track, I can easily imagine this as a soundtrack to one of those ‘surely they don’t expect children to watch this?’ TV programmes from my childhood. Each piece is beautiful in its own way and benefits from being listened to as a whole, along with its siblings. Vault Of Heaven also gets extra points for being such a beautiful physical artefact (cassette and booklet), one that I had to have upon its release.
Label: The Crystal Cabinet
3. Gnarl ‘The King Must Die’
Gnarl is a one man band creating an ethereal brand of drone-doom-noise inspired by the landscape and folklore of Britain. This hits the marks for me on so many levels, and the inclusion of the old folk standard John Barleycorn, given the Gnarl treatment of swirling, droning guitar, and a funereal, lonesome drum, just cemented The King Must Die in my top ten. For a more ‘festive’ hit of Gnarl, check out Wassailing Songs, released last year in time for Solstice. Awesome stuff.
2. John Moss & John Swanke ‘Moss & Swanke’
2023 was the year that I discovered the genre of drone folk and found that I like a lot of it. John Moss & John Swanke’s Moss & Swanke combines some fine guitar playing with synth generated drone, field recordings, and other sounds that, for me, evoke life in a cabin on the shore or a remote northern lake – don’t ask me how or why, it just does, OK? Some things in life should remain a mystery if you ask me. The delicate combination of the natural, organic sound of the acoustic guitar with the textural synth drone is perfect. There’s just something about the timbre of both instruments that consolidates and gives voice to the soul of the music so, so ably. At its best, music can take you to a new and different place. Moss & Swanke does just that.
1. Blood Moon Wedding ‘Blood Moon Wedding: An American Nightmare’
I admit I only checked out Blood Moon Wedding as I wanted to see what Steve Lake (formerly of 80’s anarcho-punk band Zounds) was up to. I’m not sure what I expected but I fell in love with this slice of American Gothic, rock ‘n’ roll storytelling on first listen, helped by the fact that the opening number Spell is an earworm, of the best variety, that lived in my head for a week. Their bio calls Blood Moon Wedding ‘Trans-Atlantic Art-Punk-Noir’ which seems as good a description as I could come up with, though it also has a whiff of the operatic in the narrative thread that weaves its way through the album, laying out a vision of a doomed, dysfunctional, and obsessive love against a guitar-driven soundtrack. It’s not my usual thing. I shouldn’t like it. I love it.
Label: Mobilization Recordings
Broads ‘B Roads Vol. 3’
Landscape inspired electronica/drone folk from the east and I’m looking forward to what they create in 2024.
If it wasn’t a single it’d be in my top five and I can honestly say that Thalassophile is his finest work.
Stephen Roddy ‘Leviathan’
Roddy’s response to the climate crisis, dark, brooding, experimental electronica.
The Breedling ‘Irukanji’
Chris Spalton brings the menace of the fens to an aural dimension.
Scribed by: George Green