Well here we are at the tail end of 2023, another year of trauma and disconnection, where many of us feel pretty appalled with the state of the world and its decision makers. If you’re a musician in 2023 its pretty dire too, probably the hardest its ever been to make a living wage, with streaming services like Spotify and its ilk proudly exploiting artists and some venues even taking merchandise cuts. We’re not entirely sure where the income is meant to come from. Yet conversely despite the hardships something remarkable has happened – the music is better than ever. Which is lucky, because we need something to get us through.
So welcome again to the madness that is a Cyclic Defrost best of 2023 list. We’ll let you into a little secret, we have no idea what the best music is/was. What we have instead is a collection of rabbit holes each of our writers went down this year. We asked them for 5 of their favourite releases, but as you can see most of them can’t count, and we’re fine with that. We’ve got 1 star Letterboxd reviews of one of our writer’s favourite films of the year, music that was released in the 80’s, 90’s, last week – we don’t care. If our writers discovered it this year that’s enough. Great music doesn’t have an expiration date. We’re all doing this for love. The money (if it ever existed) dried up a long time ago, and now we’re sustained by our stupid intense passionate for music.
Cyclic Defrost is about discovering new sounds and supporting the artists who made it, because we want them to make more. And we want to share it with you. So thank you to all the writers who volunteered their time and wrote about music that moved them this year, thanks to everyone who read a review or interview and shared it with others, thanks to everyone who advertised (you really are keeping us going) and thanks most of all to the artists who in the face of all this adversity blow our freakin minds again and again.
Good times tropical dementia, an hypnotic sun kissed burst of energetic ritualistic abandon featuring a couple of wigged out contributions from Cameron Stallones (Sun Araw). Every time you put it on its a holiday. Kaya North – Myths (Lost Tribe Sound)
Sparse dark ritualistic sonics determined to unsettle, provoke, and tap into something deep and primal. The percussion melds with my heartbeat and makes me feel funny. Fire Toolz – I am upset because I see something that is not there (Hausu Mountain)
It may be the most well produced genre cognisant outsider music that’s ever existed, where an 80’s synthetic sheen not only meets death metal but beats it up and steals it lunch. It’s like if Slayer were given a bunch of hallucinogens and forced to do hard labour inside Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory – back when Willie had a perm. Francesco Fabris & Ben Frost – Vakning (Room40)
I’ve got a thing about volcano field recordings, I love the violence, the crackle, the proximity to destruction. This one comes from Fagradalsfjall, Reykjanes Peninsula Iceland, with Frost and Fabris dropping everything and headed to the eruption site within hours. Neil Gaiman & FourPlay String Quartet – Signs of Life (Instrumental Recordings)
From Australian string quartet FourPlay and renowned author Neil Gaiman, this unique collaboration was playful, dark, ridiculous, and earnest. The way the words and music interacted was just so exploratory and cheeky. It reminds you that music can go places words can’t and vice versa. This album is pretty different to everything that I normally listen to, but maybe that’s why I like it. Vivisections should be detailed in more songs. I’m going ‘on record’ about this.
At some point you get so old that the kids discover the music you were into when you were their age. Except instead of indie record stores and months-late expensive imported copies of NME they get their music recommendations from short snippets on TikTok. Anyway here we are another new album from the re-formed Slowdive – and it’s good and triggers those same nostalgic teenage vibes as they used to. I saw Slowdive play live at the Forum shortly before this album was released and that intergenerational fan base was out in force. And they sounded great. Kisses is a great pop song too. F*ck I am old.
Buck 65 – Super Dope / Punk Rock B-Boy (self-released)
Belbury Poly – The Path (Ghost Box)
I played this album so much this year that I went and bought a book by the spoken word narrator, Justin Hopper. I hadn’t expected it to be so funky either – Ghost Box wasn’t known for that in the early years, preferring to go deep into the nostaligc sound of BBC test patterns and half remembered creepy public service announcements from the 1970s. With Hopper’s words structuring it all, The Path is a rewarding narrative adventure into the folktales of the British Isles.
Ageing Canadian rapper Buck 65 had been quiet for long time until this year he dropped two great old school albums and a bunch of mixtapes and beats on top. Buck’s always been a clever wordsmith and committed to the old crafts of crate digging and witty storytelling. Both these two albums are raucous and fun, the beats are tight, and completely out of sync with the type of hip hop that is fashionable today. DJ Danifox – Ansiedade (Principe Discos)
From Portugal’s finest Principe crew, comes an album of soft edges and unexpectedly gauzy and melancholy sounds – this is the sound of ‘hard softness’. I rinsed Ansiedade a lot this year. Various – Searchlight Moonbeam (Efficient Space)
Melbourne’s Efficient Space has put out some amazing compilations that resemble last century’s best mixtapes – carefully constructed by some fine selectors. This one was compiled by NTS crew Time Is Away, digging deep into some soundtracks and b-sides. Like mixtapes those that have the greatest resonance for me can be measured how much they make me seek out the other songs from the bands contained within. And I did that a lot on this one. Asher Gamedze – Turbulence and Pulse (International Anthem)
I was wandering the Eighty Six Festival this year wearing an International Anthem tee shirt and a guy comes up to me a goes ‘nice tee’. It turned out to be one of the International Anthem crew out on a scoping trip in Melbourne. I could have picked many of the IA releases this year, they’ve all been excellent and I’ve become the kind of label fan who wears the label tee. Turbulence and Pulse is the second album from Cape Town drummer Asher Gamedze and its fully of revolutionary fire and hope. Various – Happy Land (Above Board)
This was definitely the best Taylor Swift album this year. Courtesy of a mishap at the pressing plant a lot of European Swifties got this as their limited edition vinyl and what a treat. A bunch of oddball early 1990s electronic music opening with Cabaret Voltaire’s 1992 track Soul Vine from Plasticity grimly asking ‘70 billion people of Earth, where are they now?’. Its a fine selection of tracks from Ultramarine, Black Dog, Aphex Twin as Strider B, Matthew Herbert and others. Thunderhead’s full length version of True Romance is in there, something I hadn’t heard for maybe 30 years. I did say I was old.
MV & EE – Green Ark (Ramble Records)
This one kinda snuck up on me and kicked me right in the Psychedelic Groove Receptors completely out of left field. I’ve enjoyed MV&EE for a number of years, their fuzzed out pastoral country lowdown vibe has always pleased me, so when I saw this for sale at the Ramble Records stall at the 86 Festival Independent Music Fair thing, I grabbed it. Didn’t even know they had a new record. Wasn’t planning on buying it. Slipped it on when I got home and I was instantly transported to another dimension. Starting out with a ragga drone vibe was expected enough but then the mushrooms kicked in and MV&EE took off to places unknown. Long wigged out drum machine backed dubby funk psychedelia that sits somewhere between Ash Ra Tempel & Timothy Leary’s Seven Up and Nurse With Wound & Stereolab’s Simple Headphone Mind, for a ballpark. Features the best rendition of ‘Dancin’ In The Streets’ since this one.
Blood Incantation – Timewave Zero (Century Media)
You might have discovered Denver-based death metal troupe Blood Incantation through Inzane Johnny’s Instagram Meme Page, but you might be surprised to learn that in 2022 Blood Incantation released one of the best minimal atmospehric synth records this side of Phaedra by Tangerine Dream. Blood Incantation’s Timewave Zero is a journey through space and sound in the most excellent way. Juicy arpeggios drip with analogue goodness and bong resin, taking you through the event horizon, bypassing the Sam Neill satanic space orgy, and blissfully delivering you safe and sound to the other side. A truly mesmerising listen that I don’t think I will ever tire of, despite the many dozens of listens. For some reason there is no music on their Bandcamp page, but check out their What’s In My Bag episode to see them discuss Morbid Angel, Dave Brubeck and Steve Hillage or go check out this live video of them performing Timewave Zero, which is very good so just do it. It’s excellent.
Devo – Art Devo (Futurismo)
This was expensive but I really wanted it and I am so glad I got it. A limited edition box set with art cards and scratch and a scratch and sniff print of a tyre from Akron, Ohio, features three LP plus a 7” of mostly unheard early Devo recordings from 1973-1977– versions of songs, new songs, and some completely demented stuff. A few new baroque solo synth tunes akin to Booji Boy’s Funeral, totally deranged versions of well known tunes (Race of Doom) and so much new strangeness. Jumping off from the incredible Hardcore Devo sets, Art Devo is an essential addition for any Spud. By the time you read this I would have seen their 50th Anniversary show and I’m sure it will be amazing. Art Devo seems to be sold out on vinyl, but a 2CD edition has just been released, so grab it if you can! Again, not on Bandcamp or streaming, but a helpful person has uploaded the whole thing to Youtube. You’re welcome
Natural Snow Buildings – Night Coercion Into The Company Of Witches (Ba Da Bing)
Occasionally you catch a whiff of a musical artists that grabs your imagination, and when you manage to dig into their music it’s even better than you imagined. Natural Snow Buildings is one of those artists, and this 4LP box is a remarkable listen. Bridging drone, naïve folk, occult soundscapes, early music, ambient noise and ritual with very, very long songs (many of their releases span multiple CDs). Anyway, I don’t think they are playing anymore, but I managed to scoop up this box for a good price, maybe because not many people want 4LP box sets of very strange music, but I do. This sounds like stumbling upon an occult ritual in the woods at midnight and realising you are the one that is about to be sacrificed – yes, it’s very good. Music for the dark nights of the soul, which is every night for me really.
Water Damage – 2 Songs (12XU)
Similarly to Natural Snow Buildings, I read a description of Water Damage’s previous record (Repeater, 2022) and knew I had to check them out. Seven people, including Thor Harris (Swans), converge on sonic mayhem in a singularly intense way. I think there are two drummers and two bassists, who knows what else there is going on there but it sounds like if a leafblower was jamming with a bandsaw directly under the flightpath of an airport but somehow it also has a groove. Sounds impossible, but it’s incredible. My understanding is that they hit record and when the tape runs out that is the end of the song – that is absolutely my way of making music, and it really does sound like a tornado of sound. Oddly enough, 2 Songs features two songs, Fuck This and Fuck That, subtitled Reel 11 and Reel 13. Writing this up I just discovered that there are a bunch of live recordings on their Bandcamp page so go there and bliss out, like I am right now.
The KLF in 2023
After un-retiring from cultural production a few years ago 2023 has been a busy year for Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond, as you might have expected from their book 2023, which was released in 2017. This year the BFI have released 23 Seconds To Eternity, a video compilation of KLF clips and films, The KLF have announced a 2323 World Tour, and they have also expanded their undertaking branch of Mumufication to incorporate KLF-Kare, a multinational franchise that provides branding solutions for independently owned care homes, which includes the first semi-official KLF/JAMs release since coming out of retirement – a version of Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me. This isn’t even everything JAMs related that has happened this year. It’s a lot to keep up with. https://klfkare.com/trak.php
Best Films Released This Year, with bonus 1 Star reviews to contrast and compare
Beau Is Afraid
Ari Aster’s three hour journey into the mouth of madness starring Joaquin Phoenix really isn’t for everyone, but it’s hilarious and dark and strange and that is all I really want from a film. So I guess it’s for me.
“When do we stop pretending that Ari Aster is a talented director? When do we stop pretending that A24 films are good? Asking honestly. I’m just baffled how anyone can come out of this “film” and not want those wasted hours back. Just dip a flaccid wang in some ink, slop it on a piece of paper, and turn it in to A24 and they’ll make it a film that a bunch of nitwits will give a standing ovation. This is the summation of everything wrong with modern cinema.” 1 Star – J.R. Hawkins
Talk To Me
Made by a couple of Youtubers from Adelaide, Talk To Me was a high energy rollercoaster of teenage boredom, but with the occasional glimpse into the Sam Neill satanic space orgy from Event Horizon. Or something. Fantastic stuff.
“This was the worst movie I have seen to date. I had pretty high expectations because I heard great things about it. SPOILER; there’s a scene where a dog is licking the INSIDE OF A GUYS MOUTH???? It didn’t have any jump scares/ real scare factor. I am a horror movie fanatic, and tried to have an open mind. As the movie progressed I found it harder to stay in the theater. Save your money, if you want to watch wait until it’s free on streaming.” 1 Star – Gina LaMarca
Brandon Cronenberg just wants you to feel bad, and this time he wants rich people to feel worse, so that all works out really. If you don’t like really icky stuff then this isn’t the list for you. The goo budget was high on this one.
“This movie blows. If you’re someone who goes into a long breakdown of this garbage, you’re just like the movie in that you are trying way to hard and are wasting everyone’s time. Don’t waste your time. I get what they were trying to do but it was stupid and over the top just for the sake of being over the top. I’d give it 0 stars if I could and 5 trash cans 🗑🗑🗑🗑🗑.” 1 Star – Norman Benzeleski
Netflix were clever when they greenlit Nicolas Winding Refn’s next serialised project – they had a script editor involved. Or so it seems, I really don’t know. All I know is, while this is still amazing, it doesn’t reach the expanded cinema highs of the rambling and wildly uncontrolled Too Old To Die Young. You really should watch this though cos it’s excellent.
“Who wants to watch a camera go around a room 4 times for no apparent reason? Or the main actress have barely any dialogue at all? I’ve never given a series a thumbs down but this series deserved it. Nothing else to say except don’t waste your time. You’ll never get it back and wish you could.” 1 Star – Nancy Metz
Soft and Quiet
Maybe this was 2022 but has it even really been released here? I don’t know, but I do know that this is one seriously heavy bad time that keeps on delivering unpleasantness after unpleasantness. It’s fucking amazing. Did I mention it’s a real bad time?
“An hour and 32 minutes of my life I will never get back. I don’t know why I continued to watch it, as it just got more and more vile as it went on. I suppose if you’re of a certain mindset, you’ll probably enjoy it. I won’t say what that mindset is as it would give away much of the horrifying premise, but I hope it’s a very small percentage of the population. This movie should have been rated U. Unsuitable for any age and most humans.” 1 Star – Tracey Hunt
Well 2023 was yet another bumper year for great new music and some much appreciated reissues. Currently travelling has made it easier to narrow down to 5 this year, for a change, no over thinking…
Various Artists – If There’s Hell Below (Numero Group)
Pharoah Sanders – Pharoah (Luaka Bop)
Absolutely stunning reissue on Luaka Bop, in a lush embossed box, with the original LP reissue, plus an LP with two live recordings of Harvest Time, and a bunch of photos, posters, sheet music, ticket stubs… Wonderful.
Numero Group pull out all the stops for those craving a vinyl issue of the seminal classic psych soul compilation Chains And Black Exhaust. If There’s Hell Below has a few of the tracks from that comp, and a bunch more. If that’s your thing, you know you’ll need this. Rival Self – Rival Self (Soundweight Records)
I seriously have not been so excited about an instrumental hip hop release since DJ Shadows Endtroducing! Full of joy and wonder, classy beats with lashings of weirdness and spoken word samples. The artwork is something else, magically conveying the audio journey of the year. Pay close attention, as Rival Self has been messing around with weird scratch tracks over blunted cassette tape loops, I’m so hoping some of that gets released in the future. When you think instrumental hip hop can’t get any better, this album takes it to the next level. Piano Magic – Part Monster (Second Language)
Originally released in 2007 on CD, Part Monster finally issued on vinyl. I’m a completist when it comes to Piano Magic, everything shines, and this is no exception. Truly quirky experimental pop/indie, with this reissue sounding warmer for being pressed to vinyl. If Piano Magic are new to you, immerse yourself in their catalogue, their sounds have constantly evolved over the years, in many wonderful directions. Scotch Rolex And Shackleton – Death By Tickling (Silver Triplet)
These two monsters of electronic music have been sharing a studio in Berlin, and this collaboration combines left field club cuts and an intense tribalism bringing forth a new kind of psychedelia. Shackleton has been so prolific this year, but this is my pick, with outstanding artwork by Zeke Clough.
2023 seemed more like a year for returning to the past, filling in gaps rather than blowing my mind on so many new things. This was as much part of a certain obligation as much as serendipity (there is never much preplanned design going on). Preparing for a radio show, a small gig and overall a party middle of the year, I was mostly immersed in old funky, disco, soul and the dancey fringes of psychedelic for an extended period to get ready a long set list (note to self: if you don’t know how to DJ don’t start with a four-hour set). Many of the other highlights of the year also seemed to come from reeditions or backwards looking, often inspired by books.
Anti Time – Dream Baby
Perhaps the anthem of the year belongs to Anti Time’s extended mix of Dream Baby. The track was originally released in 1990 as the second 12” on the short-lived Frankfurt label Delkom Club Control run by former D.A.F. member Gabi Delgado who also forms one half of Anti Time with Saba Komossa. This track is classic early piano house full of Balearic or Italo vibes and a brilliant drop just as Komossa unhurls the words “do it!”·for the first time. The main refrain “Dream baby dream” of course brings up memories of Suicide’s track of the same name that was famously covered by Bruce Springsteen. I stumbled across this 12” almost quite literally. Not far from my flat is a small run-down mall that is basically an L-shaped shadowy tunnel under a building. A sign purports to point to a lawyer’s office, but it doesn’t look like the kind of lawyer you’d want to hire. The tunnel is also often used by homeless. Despite outward appearance it is home to three vinyl record stores living by the skin of their teeth. I had gone in looking for one shop which was closed and found another new one. It was a tiny place of no more than three metres squared with the usual piles of records in every possible space. Most of them were electronic of one form with a mix of new and second hand. There was one serious digger grinding through rack after rack, one by one, seemingly with plenty of time to do it. The guy behind the counter was playing this 12” when I walked in and it was immediately catchy and interesting so I asked him what it was. The track was rereleased in 2023 on Berlin label Sound Metaphors Records specialising in bringing such forgotten tracks back into the light.
Rrose – Please Touch
Rrose’s pre-pandemic Hymn to Moisture and the 2023 release Please Touch feel somehow connected, with their titles and cover art suggesting flesh and physical presence. Whereas the former was perhaps outwardly more patient and smooth, Please Touch is angular and filled out, coming forward off a more dominant techno chassis. There is also a lot of metamorphosis in each of the longish tracks, a Rrose trademark, as each track unfurls around a tight rhythmic axis. This is clearly not an album of peak time beats, except for those that are more cerebrally inclined. This is instead a kind of mind funk that continues a long and prestigious line from Porter Ricks, Monolake and Sandwell District.
Purelink – Signs
Purelink is the Chicago-based trio of Concave Reflection, kindtree, Millia Rage and Signs is their debut album for on-fire label Peak Oil that are making a habit of specializing in downtempo dubby ambient. Signs doesn’t really break any new ground if you are in to that sort of thing, but it doesn’t need to when it is that good. Beautiful sound design and plenty of detail and dreamy textures to satisfy plenty of repeat listens.
Voices from the Lake – Voices from the Lake
The 2023 reissue of Voices from the Lake’s essential and eponymous 2012 album was a great invitation to revisit this classic. Whereas techno was once burdened with the perceived difficulty of existing in the album format, it had seemed to resolve this in a number of ways. One was to add token ambient tracks called Intro and Outro and then go for the bangers in the middle as a way of creating narrative and flow. Another was to change the order and track list for different formats, often ordering tracks to optimize the sonic qualities of the vinyl where the tracks appear rather than adhering to any narrative order. Intro and Outro tracks were often ditched from vinyl releases anyway to cater for DJs. For many dancefloor releases, the question becomes not if it is a real album, but which is the real album? Voices from the Lake’s album likewise exists in a number of formats. Ideally the originally mixed CD version containing 11 tracks (including one previously released) is what many consider the album since it has the perfect pacing flow and sequence that will keep you pinned from the beginning to end. The original triple vinyl version released on Prologue contained only six of the original tracks, but unmixed and in full form. This year a new version of the album restores all 11 CD tracks in their longer, unmixed forms plus 01.12 N on quadruple vinyl. Although not a new album in 2023, it’s not one I had heard for awhile and I was drawn into it again and became besotted by the closing duet of Mika and HGS, an outstandingly deep late night ambient masterpiece.
Amp – ECHOESFROMTHEHOLOCENE
Amp are the long running British/French duo of Richard Walker and Karine Charff who have been active since the mid 90s. The group came out of the same Bristol nexus that gave us Flying Saucer Attack, Third Eye Foundation, Movietone. The band have slowly morphed through several lineups to settle on the current duo. ECHOESFROMTHEHOLOCENE is self-released and the CD is beautifully packaged with prints and a photo booklet designed by the band. All the tracks were recorded live for a NTS radio session and find the pair exploring a bitter-sweet collection of synth ambient and drift works embellished with live instruments and Charff’s vocals. Charff’s voice is both abstract and narrative, the words being crooned or spoken dreamlike and binding everything together with an environmental message.
Lush – Re-releases
Miki Berenyi’s book Fingers crossed: How music saved me from success was released in 2022 to great acclaim and rightly so. I did not get around to reading it until August holidays and was captivated by it. A truly harrowing story in parts, such as the tragic suicide of drummer Chris Accland, and of Berenyi’s traumatic childhood upbringing that you could argue was extended to the upbringing of Lush. Berenyi confesses herself that the band might have been rushed onto a label and then later through a few career choices rather than just left to develop naturally. A couple of key aspects from the book that struck me was the dysfunctional relationship between Berenyi and her other co-lead Emma Anderson which meant that most song writing was done apart and thus without resorting to much jamming and interplay which arguably affects a few of the lesser known tracks. Berenyi however highlights the lack of recognition the two women received as song writers, a rare at the time and also part of the root cause of so many other problems since the misogynistic treatment of the group and the lack of familiarity with women’s voices in Indie meant that they were always being pushed and cajoled into doing things differently to their instincts. Its hard to get a gauge on the full extent of this since many shoegaze bands featured women prominently (a fact often highlighted to have ended when Britpop came along and which also happened to bookend Lush’s career), although many have limited song writing credits. Certainly, there wasn’t a lot made of the contribution of women to the scene at the time which is hardly surprising given the way history has been written by men. Ultimately, however, no matter how iconic Lush were, they were never the perfect band, but they were great band nonetheless, with tons of fantastic songs. Often it wasn’t the singles that were the best (although these were invariably the most radio friendly with only the downtempo Desire Lines being an exception), but some of the other album tracks and B-sides that hinted at more interesting things and leave you wonder what might have been if they could have had a bit more time and space. By coincidence, 4AD released all three albums just as I finished the book allowing something of a binge. Spooky is an unquestionable classic, whereas Split stands up much better than expected and is uncharacteristically ruled by the second side, rather than the first. 1996’s swansong Lovelife was essentially a new 2023 release for me since I had never previously heard it and really stands out for the string and direct feminist writing. It still blows my mind that many of this was already 30 years ago or more. More recent however is the arrival of Anderson’s debut solo album Pearlies on Sonic Cathedral.
As a brief coda, some of the best discoveries for the party were these tracks:
Chairmen of the board – Party all night
Edwin Starr – Funky music sho nuff turns me on
Vernon Burch – Get Up
Lizzy Mercier Descloux – Funky stuff
Dean Seabrook AKA Meen “Chips” Seabrick.Darius – Oasis (Roche Musique)
If people want massive doses of good vibes, down tempo grooves and subtle deep house euphoria, then Oasis by French producer Darius is your prescribed cure for wellbeing. Its teases you into unrelinquished smiling, ubiquitous bodily functions and visions of grooving on a rooftop with a sunset overlooking the kinder fragments of Paris. Darius knows how to make a person feel good with the many changes the pieces of music go through on Oasis. Moments like “Feels Right”, the ultra-seductive “Cherie “and my personal favourite, and main single off the album, “Equilibrium”. The instrumental “Grande Large” sounds like it could have come off the soundtrack to “Spring Breakers” tipping his hat a little to Cliff Martinez. I would love so much more space to talk about how incredible this album is, but I hope some of these words will inspire intrigue. Enjoy! Mndsgn – Rare Pleasure (Stones Throw)
Mndsgn or Mind Design is the brainchild of Ringgo Ancheta. Of Filipino descent, based out of LA, his 2021 album Rare Pleasure came onto my radar this year through another artist named DJ Harrison. This album, like Darius’ Oasis has a vibe like no other. Moments of Beach Boys Pet Sounds era, hence why I liked it. It kind of reminded me of the High Llama’s a little, but more left of centre. Kind of like, if Money Mark made elevator music for Harrods, and someone who was just coming out of coma was asked to describe what they heard. Weird Joy! Yeah, that’s it. A new genre all of its own. Weird Joy! My favourite temptation from this album is “Slowdance”. A song that I’ve purposely taken a lot of time to get to know better. The kind of song you could let play on repeat all night, whilst indulging in some of your favourite vices. Beautiful vibraphones echo out as if being played in a deep large cannon filled with organ pipes. “Rare Pleasure” is an album of just that. Pleasurable vibes throughout. Especially on the songs like “Masque”, and Abundance. This is an album like no other. I promise. Dave Lee – Produced with Love (ZRecords)
Dave Lee was once Joey Negro just in case you didn’t know and retired this name in 2020 following the George Floyd protest. Dave Lee is a world-wide renowned vintage disco, House, Funk and Soul DJ. This album as another excursion into massive good vibes territory. And prompted a huge rebirth of my love of all things vintage disco and funk. Rod Temperton! Anyone remember him? So, I call him “That Guy”. Others call him the invisible man. His behind-the-scenes song writing, arranging and production can be heard across artists like, Brothers Johnson, Michael Jackson, Heatwave, George Benson, Rufus and Chuka and Herbie Hancock. Anyway, Dave Lee put a band together and recorded Heatwaves “Raise a Blaze” on this album Produced with Love. A song Temperton wrote back in 1979, and Dave Lee has turned it into a moden day disco inferno. And it just makes you wanna lay down on this groove and Dance. This song has been the cornerstone of joy to my wonderful year. And everyone I play it too thinks the same damn thing. The rest of this triple album is also filled with Groovy and Funky Jams. Songs like “Sunlight “with special guest vocals by Omar, “Look at the Stars” with Maurissa Rose on sultry vocals and “Taste of Love”. This album was Produced with Love, is filled with Love and gives off a love vibe like no other. Put it on and Dance like an Idiot.
Herbie Hancock – Lite Me Up 1982 (Columbia Records)
I Friggen Love this album. I’ve been a massive fan of Herbie Hancock for many, many years. But have left his sleazy early 80’s pre-Rocket era, until now. Why is the time right now? One Name. Rod Temperton. This man wrote most of the songs on this album with Herbie. And the guest musicians are of the highest calibre. Louis Johnson on Bass from Brothers Johnson, Steve Lukather on guitar and Jeff Porcaro on drums from Toto just to name a few. The songs have that Temperton trademark groove and can I say VIBE. Yes, Temperton has an awesome vibe about his songs. Each of his songs have another 3 amazing songs within them. Herbie on this album sends out some super lame vocoder vocals on “Getting to the Good Part”, but my favourite Herbie vocals on this album, is the super groovy and jive laden “Can’t Hide your Love”. It oozes early 80’s sleaze, and I love it. With Fresh Horns, cool arrangements and sweet backing vocals, this album is an absolute hidden Gem. “Motor Mouth” has some of Herbies best keyboard action going. And I can just imagine Herbie playing it on a Keytar. The album is littered with many nuances and Herbie, with the help of Rod Temperton has made an incredibly unique and loyal album to the vibe of 1982. Can’t get enough of this album. And was incredibly hard to find on Vinyl.
Rufus & Chaka – MasterJam (MCA Records distributed by ASTOR Records)
If ever there was an album that was made to put on at parties, Masterjam is that album. And yes, I love what I feel. As asked in the albums first track “Do you love what you feel”. Although Quincy Jones produced this album, again Rod Temperton had his mark all over it. Songs like “Masterjam” and “Live in Me” were made for Mirrorball’s and checkered light dancefloors Temperton thought. Chaka Khan’s voice is a force of nature, and even to this day at 70, she still belts out her tunes like she was in her late 20’s. I saw her at the MIJF 2023 at the Myer music Bowl and she was unstoppable. Playing the Rufas and Chaka songs “Do you Love what you Feel” and “Stay”. But let’s get back to this album. I’m sure most Groove merchants in their right mind will have heard this album. I recently got the illustrated history of Soul Train, and there was a massive article on Rufus and Chaka’s various performances on the show. And this was before Masterjam even came out. But they were at the top of their game on this album. Songs like “Heaven Bound” and my Favourite “” I’m Dancing for your Love”, which again has that incredible Temperton vibe to it. But without a doubt “Do you love what you feel” could be played on repeat at any 70’s Discothèque. And I love that for that song. Again, I was super blessed to find a mint condition copy of this album at Greville Records. Thanks guys.
To some extent this is a guilt top 5, music that I unfortunately never got around to writing about that really deserves to be heard.Claire Deak – Sotto Voice (Lost Tribe Sound)
Many of the pieces on this album take so long to appear. It slows you down and attunes your ear to many of the subtle blissful moments contained within. It’s music that feels so out of step with everything else around it. I guess you’d call it gentle modern classical? MLK-Ultra – Candidates to the Mysteries (Bad Laser)
I first discovered Melbourne’s MLK-Ultra via Trentacles, a weird mysterious juvenile outsider project on Bad Laser Records. Well it turns out that Bad Laser also houses MLK-Ultra, who produces these weird plodding shoegazing textural electrical jams, with modular synth and a guitar that interacts with the synths. He seems to record live and put it up almost immediately – which is pretty refreshing. At 15-20 minutes, this is music that you can totally get lost in. Matt Rösner – Empty, Expanding, Collapsing (Room40)
Perth based artist Matt Rösner conjures this feeling in you that no other artist can, there’s a stillness, a tranquillity, but its earthy and feels connected to the natural environment. This is remarkable music, subtle powerful, beautiful. I can listen to this for hours. Time just disappears. Loscil and Lawrence English – Colours of Air (Kranky)
What an unexpected collaboration. Just pure gentle ambient drone, originally gathered from a pipe organ and then manipulated. It’s just a joy to drift off to. Esz Kodesz – Cut The Sky (Aion Records)
So this incredible improv set came out a few weeks ago, and I can already feel the impact. clarinettist Wacław Zimpel, percussionist Hubert Zemler, and bandleader/guitarist Alex Roth existing in a curious very atmospheric almost improvised post rock. One track doesn’t do it justice the diversity and creativity of the album as a whole is awe inspiring.
Top 5 tracks from 2023 featuring billy woods
NY underground hip-hop master billy woods runs the immaculate Backwoodz Studioz, and alongside his brilliant solo career he’s one half of Armand Hammer with ELUCID. Pretty much every year you could make a selection of top-tier woods appearances without even touching his own projects, so here we go:
Algiers feat. billy woods & Backxwash (Matador)
This single came out in 2022, but it’s on Algiers‘ Shook album that came out early in 2023. The whole album is great – peak Algiers – but nothing quite topped this track, with woods’ laconic rhymes and Backxwash‘s drama.
Party Dozen – Earthly Times (billy woods rework) (Temporary Residence)
A WTF? moment for 2023, in which Sydney’s greatest sax-and-drums duo Party Dozen wrote to billy woods, you know, just in case he’d say yes to a remix – and they get back something utterly brilliant (reworking an already-rad track mind you).
Shapednoise – Family (feat. Armand Hammer) (Weight Looming)
Italian producer Nino Pedone’s Shapednoise goes back to 2010, and has always had one foot in the noise/industrial world and one in the bass world. On Absurd Matter he enlisted a bunch of interesting guests battle their way through his slabs of overdriven beats, and here we have not just woods but Armand Hammer.
Aesop Rock – Living Curfew (feat. billy woods) (Rhymesayers)
Aside from woods, Aesop Rock has to be my favourite rapper of all time (decision is not final). They go way back too, and Aes appears on woods’ album with Kenny Segal from earlier this year. Aes’ Integrated Tech Solutions is another masterpiece; self-produced, with dizzying rhymes about climate apocalypse and hermit-tendencies. I can relate.
Richie Culver – Swollen ft. billy woods (Participant)
Conceptual artist/poet Richie Culver had a big year, releasing a great remix album early on, and a harrowing piece about sleep paralysis mid-year. December brought his second full-length, Scream If You Don’t Exist, and he invited Moor Mother as well as billy woods to join him in his struggle against nihilism, with grinding post-industrial soundscapes and poetry. woods’ verse here is perfect: “computer broke but it still works for now / that’s the best you can say for most of us anyhow”.
///BUT WAIT! A BONUS LIST?!
Top 5 tracks from 2023 featuring amen breaks when you wouldn’t expect them
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a junglist 4eva, and so the all-consuming jungle revival of the last quite-a-few years now has me happy as a pig in shit.
I particularly appreciate how the sounds of jungle have crept into everything from pop (see PinkPantheress) to… well, let me show you:
Poppy – Spit (Sumerian Records)
On this cover of Canadian all-female indie/metal band Kittie, the bemusingly brilliant Poppy‘s back in full-on metal mode – in fact there’s less clean vocals here than on the original. But hey, check it – there’s amen breaks clattering there between the riffs (something that Kittie weren’t averse to!)
fromjoy – seraph (feat. iRis.EXE) (fromjoy)
Texans fromjoy released a stunning self-titled album this year that combined industrial metal, hardcore and breakcore – as well as hyperpop and vapourwave. Love those twisted breaks sliding into double-kick metal drumming.
Glamour Lakes – The Extinct Volcano Does Not Dominate The Town (Glamour Lakes)
Adelaide musician Glamour Lakes was recently found creating disquieting ambient, but on his new album Native Coils he headed into electro-pop territory, and on a couple of tracks the songs are underpinned by amen breaks. Because, why not!
Teether & Kuya Neil – RENO (Chapter Music)
Naarm/Melbourne underground rapper Teether and producer Kuya Neil put out a killer mixtape this year, Stressor, through Chapter Music. Neil’s beats reference the distorted, time-out-of-joint club musics of the moment, and the amen breaks skittering around “RENO” are the icing on the cake.
Machinefabriek – + Christine Ott (Machinefabriek)
Wait, what? Of all the places you might expect to find amen breaks, a work from Dutch drone/sound-art master Rutger “Machinefabriek” Zuydervelt would be pretty low on the list! Although I happen to know Rutger is a drum’n’bass fan from way back. OK, sure, but where did he sneak them in? From his first album of 2023, +, in which he invited a mere 52 musical friends to contribute sounds which he crafted into vignettes each more or less a minute long… this dark piece features Ondes Martenot specialist Christine Ott, and buried in the murk, the distinctive sound of jungle’s favourite drumbreak.
What’s that you say? You always expect me to cheat? By golly, you’re right!
Here are a couple of tracks that might be considered “dance music”, but still find amens being used unexpectedly:
BLKM3TA – Drklight (raghoul)
An absolute highlight from 2023 was the compilation Crocodile Tears In A Reptilian World from Moroccan label raghoul. The label positions itself as a non-hierarchical space for musicians from North Africa and the Middle East to explore, in particular, bass music – indeed “raghoul” is a word from the language of the Amazigh (sometimes known as Berber, the indigenous people of the Maghreb) that roughly translates as “bass”. BLKM3TA are a trio of members from Barcelona-based collective Jokkoo, whose “Drklight” is a slow crescendo into tumbling amen breaks, massive sub-bass and what sounds like looping Arabic samples used Public Enemy-style. For anyone with any interest in where electronic music (beats, sound-art, noise) is at the moment, this is an absolutely vital collection of music.
Architectural– Clothed In Light (R&S Records)
Juan Rico, from Asturias in Spain, is not a name you’d usually associate with jungle or breakcore, whether as Reeko or Architectural – his background is in beautifully immersive minimal techno, and heavier industrial techno. But for his second EP on R&S Records the 4/4 beats are spattered with amen breaks in an almost breakcore fashion. It’s worth noting though that in June Reeko released an EP with Samurai Music that’s somewhere between 170bpm techno and Samurai-style tribal d’n’b, and in late November he remixed Samurai stalwarts Last Life in proper hypnotic d’n’b fashion, breaks and all.
OK it’s from 2022 but possibly my most played album of the year. WULFFLUW XCIV – Ngoma Injection (Hakuna Kulala)
bit late to the party on this one but so much fun.
The ending title is our pick from Holden’s glorious ‘Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities’ Amor Muere – Violeta Y Malva (Scrawl)
Experimental collective Amor Muere (Mabe Fratti, Gibrana Cervantes, Concepción Huerta, and Camille Mandoki) released their debut EP ‘A time to love, a time to die’, and ‘Violeta Y Malva’ has been constantly in our playlists since it came out. An extended chamber session with an esoteric touch. Klara Lewis & Nik Colk Void – I’ll Always (Alter)
Taken from Full-On, ‘I’ll Always’ processes vocals until it reaches a strangely emotional climax.
Actress – ‘Hit That Spdiff ( b 8 )’ (Ninja Tune)
Alva Noto Feat. Martin L. Gore & William Basinski – Subterraneans (Noton)
One of our favourites from David Bowie’s Low era. The joint effort of Alva Noto, Martin L.Gore and William Basinski definitely works. We don’t need anything else.
Actress new album LXXXVIII reaches new heights on his already interesting trajectory. ‘Hit That Spdiff ( b 8 )’ being one of our favourites. Elandro – ‘Anémonas’ (CAS Records)
Blissful and soothing ambient jam that reminds us of some of the 90’s gems released on em:t or FAX.
Five albums that I first heard this year and Seem To Be Pretty Good, Actually.Khanate: To Be Cruel (Sacred Bones Records)
Yes, it was worth the wait and no, I don’t feel at all well now. Like watching dissection footage where you hear everything and think that something just moved. Bill Orcutt: Music for Four Guitars (Palilalia)
Potentially the logical extension of taking Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists thing and stealing a couple of their guitar strings. How Orcutt et al sound so good on four strings while I suck with six is a mystery. (Not really. He’s just that good and I’m that bad.)
Illusion of Safety: Organ Drone Choir (NO PART OF IT)
Blood Incantation: Timewave Zero (Century Media Records)
Ah, the must-buy-physical-to-obtain bug strikes again. In which a chickenscratch-logotype deeply metal band shuck their horns and release the best fuckin’ Klaus Schulze album I’ve heard in a long time.
After 40 years of doing their thing, IoS release something that’s kind of like hell on tape. It’s blackened noise, it’s drone, it’s modular synth and tape chops. It’s a recording of some kind of weird bass in a badly-earthed room. It’s pretty great. Meitei: Kwaidan – 5th Anniversary edition (KITCHEN. LABEL)
Japanese hauntology? You better believe the answer is fuck yes. 78 crackle and the sound of shamisen float over an ambient bed. Uncanny action.
Five things to read that I read and think you should read.
(perhaps while listening to the five preceding albums? I’m not your mum, do what you like.)
I tend to be oddly detailed about tracking my reading. I never read as much as I’d like (which is the eternal curse of the English Lit degree-survivor: the only useful skill it equips you with is the ability to never forget that you’ll die before you read everything you want to) but I have of late had more crackers than slackers, so… have some words, I guess? I know I’m probably coming late to some of these, but too bad.
James Morrison: Gibbons, or One Bloody Thing After Another (Orbis Tertius Press)
I must admit that I know James, if by “know” you mean “follow on that Musk-addled hellsite, upon which we talk about books and other random shit”. He generously sent me a copy of this, his first publication, in a book swap situation. And lo! I read Dubliners around the same time and liked this a lot more, partially because it features the destruction of the Sydney Opera House in retribution for climactic hubris, but also because it features murders that can be verified in Trove. A collection of short stories telling the story of a couple of generations of the same family, it features glass eyes, false mermaids, and a distinctly Carey-esque (Peter, not Mariah) level of worldbuilding.
Olga Tokarczuk (tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones) Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (Text Publishing)
This Booker Prize-winner has been on my radar for a while, but I’d’ve bumped her a bit further up the list if I’d known that her book, a mixture of crime novel, farce and philosophical treatise – though admittedly less “fuck no” than that may sound – was as good as it turned out being. It’s the tale of a woman in a small village, surrounded by unexpected deaths, but it ends up addressing enormous human (and animal) concerns over the course of its pages. Janina, the narrator, gives others in her town less-than-flattering nicknames and her life becomes slightly more complex as the body count … possibly being brought about by animals? increases.
Alan Moore: Jerusalem (Knockabout)
A book that is kind of infuriating in an “Alan, where the fuck is your editor?” kind of way until you eventually have come kind of head-desking breakthrough/Stockholm Syndrome moment and it all just clicks. That’s this thing. It’s an absolute unit of a book written by comics genius/snake-worshipping wizard Moore in honour of his home town. (Seriously, you could put someone in a coma if you hit them with even the paperback edition. It’s at once a meditation on free will, an adventure story, a finely considered historical epic, a psychogeographical lark and the finest bit of celestial snooker reportage you’re likely to come across. It’s ridiculous that something this large-scale exists, let alone was published, and the fact that it is completely engrossing once you click into its rhythm is still something I find remarkable months later.
Michael Winkler: Grimmish (Puncher & Wattmann)
I came to this off the back of some longer reading, and the author-described exploded non-fiction novel about a real-life Italian boxer named Joe Grim (and his travels and travails around Australia in the 1900s) was the perfect brain reset. Winkler’s book tells Joe’s story but it’s much more than that. There’s the frame: the author hearing these tales from an old sot uncle, and occasionally musing about the worth(lessness?) of writing. But the real focus of the book is violence and pain, and it’s written in such an exposed-nerve kind of way that it’s hard to ignore, poking around into the obscure excitement felt by pugilistic enthusiasts and onlookers. It’s hard stuff.
Oh, did I mention there’s a talking goat with a fine line of profanity in here? There’s a talking goat with a fine line of profanity in here, and he’s fucken great.
B. R. Yeager: Negative Space (Apocalypse Party)
So is a little bit like Stranger Things if that show involved a bunch of teenagers who inhabit a world that exhibits a magnetic pull on them to, er, commit suicide in apocalyptic, DMT-fuelled shoals. Reading it feels like watching a documentary cut between subjects, but with a distinct feeling of connection. I felt part of the small-town setting (with shades of the darker side of Twin Peaks) and enjoyed the not-cringe application of forum culture to the book. There’s unhealthiness breathing off this thing, with the feeling that something bad is at the core of the town (perhaps influenced by a local writer’s attempt to weigh a soul?) that grips inhabitants, who aren’t dissuaded from the town’s call to grief even as they chuck themselves into WHORL, a gateway drug in the most literal kind of way. This is teenage despair in a black metal vacuum and it is merciless.
Short, sharp, weird and wonderful, bursting with colour and vitality comparable to the cartoonish punky synth fusions of early Devo, The Screamers and Plastics. You Never Know by Flying Colours (Poison City Records)
From start to finish a sublime (and beautifully recorded) album from Melbourne’s shoegaze stylists – who expand their palette to include more 80’s inspired poppy hooks, a suite of strong songs and layers of engaging sonic detail. Run God Run by Artificial Limb (Feral Media)
The evolution of Melbourne-based producer Marc Eiden continues. Six years in the making, Run God Run’s cinematic tracks “are like scenes – they take you on a journey”, says Marc. “There’s me at the start, and then by the end I’ve had all these new experiences, and I’m different as a result.” Inspired by the legend of “The Running God” ultramarathon runner Yiannis Kouros, the album was triumphantly launched by Marc and his Moog Sub 37 at Feral Media’s new X-Ray City space in Carlton in November. Harry Howard presents Smile, Starry Night (Cranes Records, France)
An addendum to his 2022 album Slight Pavilions – an album Howard (brother of Roland. S. Howard) says “references the 1980’s including music I was involved in, music I was a fan of and music that passed me by at the time.” Smile and Starry Night were recorded during the Slight Pavilions sessions, “but they seemed to come from a different place to the other tracks.” Recorded in Melbourne and mixed in Paris, the songwriting, dramatically noir-ish atmospheres and performances are top class and ooze a dark, sophisticated cosmopolitanism.
Bob Dylan – Renaldo & Clara (1978) Dylan’s lost “painter’s film.
Inspired after reading Paul Williams’s excellent trilogy of critical studies about Bob Dylan as a performing artist – especially the first; ‘Performing Artist, 1960-1973 : the Early Years’ – I reengaged with Dylan’s work in 2023. As time rolls on and the obituaries of cultural icons flicker and fade with alarming regularity I took some time to sit with the master awhile. An interesting starting point was Dylan’s 1977 film, Renaldo & Clara, which was filmed around the time he was recording Blood On The Tracks in 1975. Williams asserts that the film “achieved an extraordinary breakthrough in terms of communication and self-expression”, but for a variety of reasons (matters of inter-generational cultural alignment/zeitgeist, a very limited theatrical release) the filmed failed to connect with his audience.
Dylan saw himself while he was working on Renaldo & Clara as a painter (or an alchemist) handling the footage as one would the elements of a musical performance. His freeform approach to film-making also relied heavily on improvisation – with both the actors and writers – and his in-the-moment intuitions while shooting and editing.
During 1974, leading up to his decision to make Renaldo & Clara, Dylan undertook three months of full time painting instruction with art teacher, Norman Raeben, and credits him with teaching him “ … how to see.” Dylan says, “he put my mind and my hand and my eye together in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt.”
Dylan, in conversation with Karen Hughes about his intensive time with Norman Raeben. He says, “It locked me into the present time more than anything else I ever did. More than any experiences I’ve ever had, any enlightenment I’ve ever had. Because I was constantly being intermingled with myself, and all the different selves that were in there, until this one left, then that one left, and I finally got down to the one that I was familiar with.”
With this breakthrough, Dylan wanted to explore his ideas of timelessness – an evocation of the past as a universal, omni-present now. With his 1975 album Blood On The Tracks, Dylan says, “I guess I was just trying to make it like a painting, where you can see the different parts, but then you also see the whole of it.” This idea carried over to the film also. In 1978, Dylan said that [Renaldo & Clara] “creates and holds the time. That’s what it should do – it should hold that time, breathe in that time and stop time in doing that.”
Poet Allen Ginsberg (who also appears in Renaldo & Clara) visited Dylan while he was editing the film, saw an early cut, and discussed the film with Dylan at some length. In November 1978 Ginsberg described how Dylan edited Renaldo & Clara:
“It’s built in a very interesting way. You would have to study it like Finnegan’s Wake, or Cezanne, to discern the texture, to discern the composition of the tapestry. It’s like a tapestry. What he did was, he shot about 110 hours of film, or more, and he looked at it all. Then he put it all on index cards, according to some preconceptions he had when he was directing the shooting. Namely, themes: God, rock ‘n’ roll, art, poetry, marriage, women, sex, Bob Dylan, poets, death – maybe 18 or 20 thematic preoccupations. Then he also put on index cards all the different characters, all the scenes. He also marked on index cards the dominant color – blue or red -and certain other images that go through the movie, like the rose and the hat, and American Indians so that he finally had an index of all of that. And then he went through it all again and began composing it, thematically, weaving in and out those specific compositional references. So it’s compositional, and the idea was not to have a plot, but to have a composition of those themes.
According to Williams, what was driving Dylan throughout the time of shooting was his vague but passionate desire to have enough of the right materials at hand at that future moment when he would be at work in the editing room. The editing process cut across film and sound. As Dylan wasn’t concerned about the linear story drama he had the freedom to superimpose film with out-of-time-and-place music, dialogue and other sounds, creating a timeless dream-logic that can’t be explained.
Dylan’s most frequent references in his descriptions of the film just after it was finished are to Cezanne. Ginsberg says, “It’s a painter’s film, and was composed like that. I’ve seen it about four times, and each time I see it, it becomes more and more logical – not rational, but logical. The logic in the composition is more and more explicit.”
Much of Renaldo & Clara appeared in the 2019 Netflix production Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.
Lola Scott – Last One Standing (Chugg Music)
If you hear the word ethereal in the context of describing a song then we generally think of angelic and enveloping and that’s what you have with the talented Sydney songstress: Lola Scott. New song, out today, case in point!
Fred Again &… Jozzy – Ten (Universal Music Publishing)
He captivates live and for good reason this damn Fred Again, understands the awakening of a dance era he probably wasn’t born for. This track is one of those growers. I love it cos he collab’d with a US artist Jozzy and it has easter egg nostalgic moments (as many of Fred’s tracks do) with a Los Angeles bent. Ahh can’t wait to see him live – come back to Australia, Fred Again, Please!!
Ukiyo – Ula- ctrl alt delete (Island Records/Universal)
Out of Perth and planted in Inner West Sydney, Tim aka Ukiyo has the vibes of his moniker. Living in the Moment is the translation of this Japanese originating word. Expect big things to come from this dreamy producer.
Gauci – Brat (Twntythree Management)
See these retro 90s synth pop maestros when you can! I caught them at SXSW Sydney and was bowled over by the harmony-amaziement of this trio and Antonia Gauci who is their frontwoman is a breath of fresh air vocally for the current stable of female artists! Ones to watch for sure!
Connie Constance – Miss Power (PIAS)
A little bit Bloc Party and a little bit wicked, Miss Connie Constance is out of the UK and as her song and album title indicate, she and her band pack a powerful punch! Her live shows are energetic and for this onlooker, reminiscent of a great night out at a London gig!