Crom’s Fav Albums of 2023

Aphex Twin – Blackbox Life Recorder 21f
Fair Use/Fair Dealing

Below I present my five favourite albums of this year. They aren’t necessarily ‘the best’, (whatever that even means), just the ones that I am most likely to revisit over the ensuing years. Of the five bands, two are completely new to me this year so particular hats off to them.

If any of the reviews titillate you enough to be sufficiently inquisitive enough to consider buying a copy, please do – every little helps the artist in today’s streaming-dominated world. I recommend BandCamp as I believe close to if not 100% of costs paid go directly to the artist.

Mock Media – Mock Media II

I had this on preorder after a record shop recommendation (Drift Records – highly recommended) and is the Canadian band’s second album. I had not heard anything of theirs before lowering the needle on to the really rather sexy orange and black swirling-galaxy 180gsm vinyl so had no preconceived ideas.

The opening track, ILL, opens with a gnarly bass line and brushed hi-hats with LCD Sound System-esque vocals over the top. If the Clash ever did 21st century disco it would be probably have sounded like this. The Clash vibe continues throughout the following tracks, with Louis Won’t Break and Rambo having a Lost in the Supermarket jangly sound to it. It’s quality stuff on the whole and both are singles.

The pace never lets up too much for it to become dull and it never feels overdone, overwrought or forced, even during a particularly 60s-inspired soulful crooner (jury’s out for me on that one). Madness throws in some weird breakdown for the bridge which is probably a Marmite-moment too; personally I love it.

Overall, this is a stupendous album, one of quality crafted songs showcasing some real talent. I’ve no doubt it’ll be frequently pulled out of the collection at moments when some energy is needed in an non-overbearing way: think a square of Kendal Mint Cake rather than a Red Bull.

Lankum – False Lankum

Transparent orange vinyls do something to me. But that isn’t enough to make this list, of course. Lankum, an Irish quartet, draw on what is grotesquely called ‘traditional music’ but, in the true folk tradition, travel, collect and record songs and bring them to new listeners. I’m not normally an enormous Rough Trade fan, but credit where credit’s due: they saw something in this and marketed it well and wide, enough ged to get it nominated, and win, the Mercury Prize this year.

The sleeve notes are invaluable in understanding the album provide some background to each song, whether that’s its origin or an insight in to the instruments being played. They range from 17th century ‘floating songs’ of various ballads; 20th century American folk reimaginings and a couple of their own making. The strength is less the individual components though (however excellent) and more the cohesion between them despite spanning 400 years.

There are a few gripes for me, mainly down to the tracklisting, but I can forgive that. If it brings music of a rapidly eroding heritage and culture to more listeners then it gets my thumbs up; the fact it does it so well – well then it gets two thumbs up.

Grian Chatten – Chaos for the Fly

I first became aware of Grian Chatten as frontman of Irish band Fontaine’s DC. Their punky debut, Dogrel from 2019, blew me away and gets very frequent spins in our house. This year saw Mr. Chatten throw into the mix a solo record.

More conventional than the second and third Fontaines albums, Chaos for the Fly highlights the songwriting and crafting of an exceptionally talented young gentleman. The melodies and hooks on songs such as Fairlies and Bob’s Casino demonstrate his ability to make catchy pop songs not lacking in sincerity whilst All the People show a lyrical maturity and self-consciousness unfortunately too lacking in modern music on the whole.

Baxter Dury – I Thought I Was Better Than You

Yup, that’s Baxter, not Ian. He could easily be audibly mistaken for his father mind, although there’s a hoarser graveliness to Dury Jnr’s.

The last song of Baxter’s I remember was 2005’s Cocaine Man, an exceptionally catchy bass-driven number; imagine if Jim White – Static on the Radio was made in Essex and you’ve nailed it.

Since then, BD has released five albums and I haven’t kept up with any of them. Perhaps that’s why, then, this new one impressed me. Opening with the lyrics hey mommy, hey daddy, who am I? spoken inquisitively over various synth chords and news-reader samples, it’s nothing ground breaking but by gosh it works: it’s both calming and isolating, a song for a single bachelor returning home alone from a night out at 02:30 to contemplate the big questions of life.

Perhaps it’s taking the lyrics too much at face value, but the album seems to grapple consistently with the Baxter’s identity in the shadow of Dury Snr. (Why am I condemned, because I’m the son of a musician?). Further compounding the identity issues are class differences which also abound throughout (everyone says ‘yah’; sometimes I say ‘yah’; can I be this way tonight?).

The thing with this album, though, is it doesn’t smack you in the face on first listen. Instead, it plants something under the skin which niggles away after it’s finished over the ensuing days. One’s mind returns to it involuntarily until interest is piqued sufficiently to put it back on.

Aphex Twin – Blackbox Life Recorder 21f / In a Room 7 F760

There are two truths universally acknowledged: one, that nothing will ever be as superb as Drukqs. And secondly is that if I like what is technically a fourteen-minute EP enough to call it an album and have it on my favourites of 2023 list, then I will.

Trying to chart where this EP comes within the official canon of Aphex Twin is more than difficult – try understanding his grey area output and you’ll see what I mean. But let’s assume this is the first proper output in around five years.

This EP is a return to gnarly, punchy percussion-led tracks dusted with icing sugar and desiccated coconut of sweeping synths and titillating cymbals. You have to like this music before you’ll like this, if you catch my drift. The soundscape can be alienating and isolating but dive headfirst with an open mind and you’ll be transported to the peculiar musical mind of Richard D. James.

The genius of it is that in a genre that’s relatively easy to create, it’s phenomenally difficult to do it well. But understand that this is done exceedingly well and it’ll be willing to accompany you on the longest of journeys, moments of reliction, walks in to town, pootling on the bus or just plain ol’ stoned out your face or smacked off your tits in a Renton-esque hovel. The choice, it’s said, is yours.

© Cromwell’s Codpiece 2023