It’s always a good year for music, despite what some may say, and 2023 was no different. Even within the tight, somewhat arbitrary confines of Indie Basement, there were no shortage of contenders for Album of the Year including many veteran artists who showed the new guard that they still had a few things to show them. My list this year is a mix of the old and the new and rather heavy on the Brits, though no debut albums cracked my Top 10 this year. (More than one third album did, however.) Dance music plays a huge part but so do loud guitars (quiet guitars too). I didn’t have a clear consensus on a #1, though, at least until I stopped worrying about whether a record had to feel “important,” and just went with my heart…and my feet. Then there could be only one.
As usual, the list order gets especially arbitrary after the Top 20 and I was moving the order around right up until the last minute. More than anything I hope you discover a record or two that you didn’t know about and that’s really what Indie Basement is about as opposed to definitively deciding on 2023’s Best Albums. This list is just one Gen Xer’s favorites.
Check out the BrooklynVegan Top 50 Albums of 2023 list for a much wider range of the year’s best music, and the Indie Basement Best Reissues & Box Sets for some oldies, and browse our Best of 2023 tag for genre lists, artists lists, and more year-end coverage.
I’ve also put together a playlist featuring songs from all 40 albums here, plus songs from the year’s many runner ups, great songs from bands that didn’t make the list, non-LP singles, etc etc etc. Listen to that below.
See you in 2024!
Pamplona, Spain’s finest indie rock band, Melenas came into their own on their third album, refining their mix of sunshine pop melodies. drone and krautrock rhythms. It’s easy and not inaccurate to compare them to Stereolab, but Melenas have their own thing going on: just when you’re getting lost in their hypnotic spell, they hit you with a big hook, and their songs really open up on repeat listens. Ahora finds a sweet spot between Neu! and Kraftwerk that is all their own. What a treat.
Basement banger: The amazing bassline in “K2” doesn’t change but Melenas make magic around it, especially with the harmonies.
Forty-five years into their career, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark aren’t here trying to reinvent the wheel but Bauhaus Staircase is a rare beast, loaded with catchy songs in the band’s signature style that still sound modern, engaged and like they’re not treading water or simply tweaking their greatest hits. Bauhaus Staircase is not just good for a band who formed in 1978, it’s one of OMD’s best-ever albums.
Basement banger: Bauhaus Staircase‘s bubbling, spiraling title track is a call to arms for the importance of art and Cleveland art-punk: “Everyone needs a Bauhaus Staircase / Everyone gets a second chance / All the world needs art and passion / Pere Ubu and the Modern Dance.”
Another of 2023’s welcome surprises, American Analog Set returned with their first album in 18 years and didn’t miss a step. For Forever has all the familiar AmAnSet earmarks — vibraphone, prominent melodic basslines, jazzy drumming — but this is arguably the loudest AmAnSet album, and angriest too. The only thing more you could want is for them to tour.
Basement banger: For pure AmAnSet satisfaction, “Konika & Maliko” hits all the pleasure receptors with bass, guitar, electric piano, and vibes intermingling organically, with a motorik beat propelling everything at a purposeful tempo.
Meg Baird’s featherlight voice and equally delicate guitar style are more than enough to carry albums, and have done so in the past, but on Furling she really lets her abilities as a multi-instrumentalist shine. Working as usual with her partner and Heron Oblivion bandmate Charlie Saufley, Meg plays nearly everything herself, including guitar, drums, vibraphone and a wide array of keyboards — that harp is Mary Lattimore of course — without songs ever feeling busy or crowded. The airy arrangements allow her voice to fly even higher, making for one of the most immediate, varied albums of her two-decade-plus career.
Basement banger: “Will You Follow Me Home” feels like a cross between Vashti Bunyan and Curtis Mayfield and is dying for a Madchester shuffle-beat remix.
Model/Actriz have been around the Brooklyn underground since the mid-2010s and by the end of the decade had gained a reputation as an unmissable live act, with writhing, sweaty shows led by magnetic singer Cole Haden who you can’t take your eyes off. ( Shouldn’t take your eyes off, either, lest you may find him off the stage and in your face.) Dogsbody, their debut album, hits like a panic attack on the dancefloor, an overwhelming rush of anxiety, lust and violence, all hitting and processed as the same intense emotion while Ruben Radlauer’s techno-influenced drumming fires like jackhammers, guitarist Jack Wetmore shears through metal with a white-hot blade, and bassist Aaron Shapiro keeps the groove throbbing. Dogsbody is not exactly “fun” but it is cathartic and unforgettable.
Basement banger: “Amaranth” takes its cues from early LCD Soundsystem but with Cole wailing “I remember thorns shredding my palms” this is a very different kind of party.
Formed over a decade ago by Mike Bingham and Mike Fenton, who were both in Creative Adult and a bunch of hardcore bands before that, Spiritual Cramp feel like an excuse to have fun and explore areas of music they love outside (but adjacent to) the punk scene. Specifically: early-’00s rock like The Hives, The Strokes and Electric Six. The band’s self-titled debut is pretty obvious in its thievery but these songs, calculated as they are, deliver killer riffs, abundant attitude and are too much of a good time to nitpick. Turn it up!
Basement banger: “Talkin’ on the Internet” is very Hives-y and very very fun.
Detroit’s mighty Protomartyr nearly broke up during the pandemic but made it through as a stronger band. This time Joe Casey takes aim at soulless corporations and wages war against nostalgia, while guitarist Greg Ahee widens the band’s musical scope. Despite all the heavy moments, this album also makes room for a little happiness (just a little), which is definitely new territory for Protomartyr and it seems to have unlocked new creative avenues. A touch of sunshine has done them good: Formal Growth in the Desert is Protomartyr’s best record since Under Cover of Official Right.
Basement banger: On “3800 Tigers,” Joe Casey notes that while Tigers are an endangered species, fools are replicating like bunny rabbits, all while working in a few references to Detroit’s pro baseball team as well.
Verity Susman and Matthew Simms have known each other since the mid-’00s when their respective bands, Electrelane and It Hugs Back, traveled in similar motorik psych circles, and now make music together as MEMORIALS. They released two albums this year, both soundtracks for films and each a mix of score and actual songs that will instantly appeal to fans of their other groups. As good as both of these albums are, you can take all the songs with vocals from both and make one really great album.
Basement banger: The swirling “It’s in Our Hands” is a wonderful slice of jangly baroque psych that recalls The Monochrome Set, Felt, and Belle & Sebastian.
Arty, danceable new-wave post punk from the heart of the fertile Montreal underground. Stay Safe! is equal parts hooks and attitude with an enticing batch of party-friendly jams shouted in sneering Franglais that recall everything from Le Tigre to Neu! to Kleenex/Liliput (also Montreal’s Duchess Says). It’s been done before but never quite like this and rarely with so much snazzy zeal.
Basement banger: “Anyways” is a synthpunk ripper whose chorus will be lodged in your noggin for weeks.
Ten years after breaking up, Abe Vigoda members Michael Vidal and Juan Velasquez have reteamed for this similar-but-different group. Now with even more synths and a heightened appreciation for melody, Cupid & Psyche marry ’80s Sophistipop with ’90s shoegaze which makes Romantic Music one hell of a wedding reception. Vidal and Velasquez are not shy about their influences but these songs are so good that Romantic Music transcends pastiche and creates its own wonderful twist on them.
Basement banger: The soaring “Angels on the Phone” sounds like a lost collaboration between The Psychedelic Furs and The Blue Nile.
Kazu Makino, Simone Pace and Amedeo Pace return with their first Blonde Redhead album in nearly 10 years which is also their best in nearly 20. There’s long been a sweeping, wistful vibe to the trio’s music and that more than ever blows throughout Sit Down to Dinner, a particularly gentle-sounding album, which makes the many shivers-down-your-spine moments all the more pronounced.
Basement banger: Sung primarily by Amadeo, opening track “Snowman” is utterly beguiling and an instant Blonde Redhead classic.
Mandy, Indiana are the kind of band that sound how their Manchester, UK hometown used to sound — dark, desolate and danceable, forged in the fires of an abandoned steel mill. That’s partially because it was recorded in shuttered warehouses, a cave, and other unusual places, and the natural acoustics add a lot to the near-industrial vibes. There’s also the novel approach they take to their instruments: guitarist Scott Fair is more likely to scream through his instruments than play a chord, and drummer Alex Macdougall has the precision and speed of a drum machine. The songs are great too — angry, loud, bleak yet fun — and singer Valentine Caulfield keeps things focused with an undeniable magnetism and French delivery that adds much to this record’s mystique and cool.
Basement banger: “Pinking Shears” is a literal banger with percussion that sounds created at a car factory, giving things serious bam-thwok energy.
Brooklyn band Activity further refined their dark, alien sound on Album #2 which betters their excellent debut in every way. The band also add more electronics and samples this time, expanding their sonic arsenal into cinematic territory — shades of Bristol trip-hop — that really works with what they were already doing. Addictively creepy, Spirit in the Room sets a mood from the start but it’s not all atmosphere, with tightly crafted songs that keep you coming back to their surreal noir world.
Basement banger: “Careful Let’s Sleepwalk” is as unsettling as it is compelling — a waking nightmare that you don’t want to shake off.
Nashville’s Snõõper began as a covid lockdown cure for boredom between members Blair Tramel and Connor Cummins before transforming into a full band, and their debut album sounds like three years of pent-up energy released in one 25-minute blast. Super Snõõper bounces off the walls, the ceiling, the furniture, through the window with each hyperactive mutant punk blast. Dizzy as they may be, Snõõper don’t sound like they’re slowing down anytime soon.
Basement banger: “Bed Bugs” sounds like someone poured pop rocks and pixie stix into their rice krispies.
This was a great year for ’90s dance music icons. While The Chemical Brothers put out their best album in ages (it appears just a little higher on this list), actual brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll did the same with their most invigorating, engaging and fun Orbital album in recent memory. Part of that comes from a great group of collaborators including Penelope Isles and Sleaford Mods who are part of the album’s two best songs, “Are You Alive” and “Dirty Rat,” but the Hartnolls’ enduring skills and good taste are the real stars here.
Basement banger: “Dirty Rat” is a true collaboration, beginning like a Sleaford Mods Mods’ song with dirty bass and dirty delivery from Jason Williamson before the Orbital-isms and four-on-the-floor beat kick in. Do a whole album together, please!
After a decade as part of Canada’s underground music scene, having spent time in Montreal, Vancouver and now Toronto, the Nigerian-born artist DEBBY FRIDAY comes into her own on her full-length debut. GOOD LUCK willfully defies pigeonholing as techno, R&B, house, hip hop, industrial, you name it, are sliced, diced and pureed into a bespoke blend. Let’s hope the second album doesn’t take as long.
Basement banger: “I GOT IT,” featuring Unas, is terrific late-’90s style electronica worthy of a Blade movie.
Chicago trio FACS continue to evolve, tweaking their post-everything brand of pummelling rock on their fifth album. Their jagged edges have never been sharper, with Noah Ledger trying to knock his drums through the floor, while Alianna Kalaba rips a hole open in the sky with her vaulting basslines and singer-guitarist Brian Case barks and growls at anyone nearby. Still Life in Decay is gothy, heavy and often pretty groovy, with the band’s catchiest batch of songs yet which still hang onto FACS’ signature menace.
Basement banger: “When You Say” is the closest FACS have ever come to “pop,” which to say still not very, but the rhythm section delivers big hooks.
Robert Pollard releases so many albums with his various bands you’d be forgiven for losing touch with Guided by Voices’ voluminous output, but there’s never been a better time to check back in with these indie rock lifers. The current group ranks up against any of their “classic lineups” and the production these days embraces high fidelity and brings out the arena rock band that’s always been there under the tape hiss. All of that is evident on Nowhere to Go But Up, the most ambitious GVB album in years that connects on almost every big swing. It’s also one of three albums they released in 2023 and the first of those, La La Land, is nearly as good. Next up will be the band’s 40th album and I can’t wait to find out what Bob has in store.
Basement banger: “For the Home” fools you with its bluesy intro before opening wide into anthemic GBV glory.
Yo La Tengo have been such a constant presence in Indie Rock for the last 40 years, especially in NYC what with all their albums and Hanukkah shows and WFMU benefits, that it’s easy to take them for granted. This Stupid World is a good reminder of what an amazing, creative, forward-thinking, and tuneful group of amazing musicians Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew are. The album also works as an entry point for the uninitiated, offering up a little of Yo La Tengo’s many sides, from shoegazey drones to tranquil beauty, ragged guitar-noise workouts, Brill-building inspired pop and even a little electronic-tinged post-rock. Long live Yo La Tengo, and may all bands aspire to be this consistently great four decades into their career.
Basement banger: Sung by Georgia, “Aselestine” is pure magic hour beauty.
Bless This Mess was made while U.S. Girls leader Meg Remy was pregnant with twins as well as the months after giving birth, and motherhood informs every inch of the album, from the lyrics, to the album art to her inspired idea to sample her breast pump for a song. Featuring the widest range of producers and collaborators in some time, this is also the funkiest U.S. Girls with banger after banger and Meg’s spirit, feisty as ever, holds the whole thing together. Dancing may not solve the world’s many problems, but it doesn’t hurt either. Bless this Mess, and U.S. Girls too.
Basement banger: Produced by Holy Ghost!, “So Typically Now” pokes fun at urban flight over an irresistible beat.
Britpop icons Blur’s first album in eight years was born of unique circumstances: offered to play two nights at Wembley Arena, frontman Damon Albarn wanted those shows to have more purpose, so they decided to make a single which turned into a whole record. Unlike 2015’s off-the-cuff, piecemeal The Magic Whip, The Ballad of Darren was made with all four members in the studio together and it’s clear they knew they were onto something special. This is the band’s finest batch of songs since 1999’s 13 and a few — “Barbaric,” “The Narcissist,” “Avalon,” “St. Charles Square” — are instant classics. You might think this would signal the band’s full-on return, but Albarn recently said that after a summer’s worth of touring for the album, Blur are back on hiatus. There is an air of finality on songs like “Goodbye Albert,” “Faraway Islands,” and “The Heights” that give this album serious Swan Song feels, but The Ballad of Darren shows there’s still distance left to run. This would make a great end, but let’s hope it’s not.
Basement banger: “St Charles Square” has the cheeky attitude of peak Blur, while “Avalon” is sunset perfection.
Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug dropped their fantastic debut album as Sweeping Promises at the height of the 2020 pandemic which, despite little fanfare found an audience while still flying under the radar. Their second album has made a lot more noise, thanks in part to being released via Sub Pop everywhere except North America, and to being just as good as their first. Good Living is Coming For You is packed to the brim with urgent, danceable post-punk earworms that get extra mileage out of its purposeful lo-fi production, giving it a lost classic feel that also sounds very now.
Basement banger: “Petit Four” is the whole album in a song: funky, anxious, angry, and fun, with Mondal delivering guttural screams and heavenly harmonies over a tight rhythm section groove and wonderful little guitar parts.
London trio bar italia prefer to let the music do the talking. Nina Cristante, Sam Fenton and Jezmi Fehmi entered 2023 in a shroud of mystery — blurry press photos, no bio — but their slinky post-punk sound was fully established on their first album for Matador, Tracey Denim, with the three members trading off lead vocals on each song, each bringing a different style and melodic sense to an unchanging riff for an appealing musical game of Exquisite Corpse. By the time they surprise released their second excellent album of the year, The Twits, bar italia’s enigmatic haze was lifting — interviews, proper pics, smiling on stage — and they were inching towards “proper” song structure and are all the better for it.
Basement banger: “jelsy” from The Twits is dusty indie rock noir and the perfect conduit for Cristante, Fenton and Fehmi’s unique alchemy.
Dance music is a young person’s game but Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons prove they still have the magic touch on their 10th long-player. It’s got everything you’d want in a Chemical Brothers album: classic Big Beat bangers, flights of fancy, inspired samples, and a few choice guests including Beck, and rising French artist Halo Maud who appears on four tracks. Plus: the whole album plays seamlessly like a DJ set. For That Beautiful Feeling is a great example of what The Chemical Brothers do, what you want them to do, how they continue to expand their sound, and how they do it better than almost anyone else.
Basement banger: “Live Again,” featuring Halo Maud, is the perfect combination of shoegaze and techno the early ’90s never quite achieved (apologies to Curve). But this album is basically ALL bangers.
When Mark Linkous left us in 2010 he had nearly finished completion on a new album… which went untouched for the next decade as his brother and sister-in-law weren’t ready to deal with it. When they finally did, they found an abundance of wonderful Sparklhorse tracks in various states of doneness, spread across hard drives, reel-to-reel tapes, and cassettes. To help make sense of it, they enlisted Steve Albini, Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle and other past collaborators to help bring it to the finish line. Full of the rainbow-and-stormclouds orch pop Linkous was a master of, Bird Machine was worth the wait (and the weight), and makes for a wonderful coda to a life and talent that ended too soon.
Basement bangerr: It would’ve been a real shame if the world never got to hear “Evening Star Supercharger,” an instant entry in Best Sparklehorse Songs.
It takes a lot to surprise me these days but when Boston shoegaze cult heroes Drop Nineteens announced that they were not only reforming but making a new album, it was a real double-take moment. The original lineup is all here, most of whom didn’t continue being in bands after Drop Nineteens broke up in 1995. The biggest shock of all, though, is is that Hard Light is without a doubt the best record they’ve ever made. There may not be anything as instantly grabby as “Winona” off 1992’s Delaware but this is a much more consistent, consistently satisfying album, full of great songs, instrumental prowess, and equal parts haze and hooks. Drop Nineteens are not beholden to the past, either: Hard Light is alive and modern in ways bands half their age who were influenced by them cannot muster.
Basement banger: “Tarantula” is Drop Nineteens’ best song since “Winona” while “The Price Was High” (sung by Paula Kelley) has a slinky cool that Drop Nineteens never attempted during their original run.
Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? was one of the key records in the 2020 Disco Renaissance, and this year upped the ante with its very saucy follow-up. That! Feels Good! keeps the party going with an album of pure disco, lushly produced (by Stuart Price and Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford) with octave-hopping bass, bongos, swoony strings and all the other requisite accouterments. Jessie knows that a little cheese only adds to the fun and giddily gilds the lily on these 10 songs with lots of playful touches. There are modern production elements here too but you could imagine “Free Yourself,” “Pearls,” “Freak Me Now,” and the title track playing at Studio 54 — or on The Love Boat‘s Lido Deck — in 1977 and going over like gangbusters.
Basement banger: “Freak Me Now” throws in just a little French Touch house and is joyously over-the-top.
On his six previous albums, Baxter Dury has sung from the perspective of small time crooks, thugs, cheaters, and other lowlife lotharios but on I Thought I Was Better Than You he explores a new character: himself. A companion piece of sorts to memoir Chaise Longue, about growing up “the son of a famous working class poet” (aka beloved Blockheads leader Ian Dury), Baxter explores his childhood where he got into lots of fights and was partially raised by bodygaurds. He’s still making “narrative-based, blokey, indie type talk music” but the personal touch adds a lot, as does the production by Danny Brown and Charli XCX collaborator Chris White who brings a few modern twists — and some very old ones — to Dury’s signature sound which still includes vocalist Madeline Hart. Baxter may always be Ian’s son but he is his own uniquely talented artist.
Basement banger: Baxter has not lost his touch with marble-mouthed elocution and creative swearing / insults: on “Celebrate Me” he cries “Lick my forehead you white bread-eating cockroach!”; while on “Aylesbury Boy,” he turns “yeah” into a full, filthy sentence.
Former Moloko frontwoman Róisín Murphy has carved out an impressive solo career over the last 15 years, with as remarkable taste in collaborators as she has in clothes. After longform team-ups with Matthew Herbert, Maurice Fulton and DJ Parrot, she may have found her musical soulmate in DJ Koze who brings his crate-digger skills and nose for hooks to the proceedings. Made over a number of years, during which time Murphy released Róisín Machine and those singles with Fulton, Hit Parade is the sound of Murphy and Koze working at the top of their game. This is her most cohesive album to date — light on its feet, joyous, boundlessly creative, fun, funky and often funny. Murphy’s voice, one of the most dexterous in pop, sounds as good as ever, and Koze really knows how to make the most of it with his inspired production. While Murphy had an unexpectedly rocky year in the public eye (featuring a couple disappointing moves on her part), Hit Parade is another high.
Basement banger: “The old magic’s back,” Róisín Murphy coos on “CooCool” and while you could argue it never left in her case, her voice is at its sultry best on this chilled-out, lightly tropical backing powered by a sample of Mike James Kirkland’s 1971 single “Together.”
The world of Fever Ray is populated with aliens, mutants and freaks but Radical Romantics has very relatable human emotions at its core. On 2019’s Plunge, Karin Dreijer was newly out and diving headfirst into the giddy waters of new love; Radical Romantics swims the complex waters of how to keep love alive after the initial rush has tempered. “Love’s carbon dioxide, can’t say it out loud,” Karin sings on “Carbon Dioxide,” the album’s most scintillating banger, “I’m afraid to lose it.” There are other things on their mind — gender, faith, science, parenthood — while navigating with matters of the heart and, as usual, it’s a complex, mesmerizing world Dreijer has created, full of intoxicating soundscapes, memorable melodies, and full-throated performances to match the emotions. Helping this time are Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Vessel, and Dreijer’s brother / former Knife collaborator, Olof, but Radical Romantics is entirely Karin’s singular vision.
Basement banger: “Carbon Dioxide” is Radical Romantics‘ unabashed love song and dancefloor filler that also encapsulates the album and its many emotions in a single track.
It’s been 25 years since The Beta Band incited mass impulse record buying in High Fidelity — and nearly two decades since they called it quits — but bandleader Steve Mason has continued to put the shuffle beat to good use through various solo projects. His fifth album under his own name, Brothers & Sisters, finds Mason as focused, tuned-in and creatively inspired as he’s ever been. It’s also his most defiantly political record, a flying V (or flipped bird in the US) aimed at Brexiters and the far right. You don’t have to be from the UK to get it though, as repeated choruses like “I heard the people say, ‘Where is the beautiful fight today?’” sung over rolling piano, groovy basslines, bluesy guitar and bongo-fueled percussion are as universal as they come. Brothers & Sisters is a danceable, unifying call to arms and the best album Mason has ever made, solo or otherwise, full stop.
Basement banger: “The People Say” is the kind of head-bobbing, post-Madchester jam Mason perfected in Beta Band and here gets added lift with it’s universal message.
Former Joanna Gruesome guitarists Owen Williams and George Nicholls are still flying the power pop flag, together leading The Tubs who, on their fantastic debut album, treat sparkling indiepop, slashing punk / punk-punk, and English folk as one and the same. There’s real snarl here too; mental illness, self loathing and social anxiety are running themes here, but as catchy song after catchy song rip loose, Williams takes his aggressions out on his instrument and through his strident vocals. Dead Meat is as cathartic as it is tuneful and with old bandmate Alana McArdle singing on nearly half the album’s songs, this is as close to a new Joanna Gruesome record as we’re likely to get.
Basement banger: “Round the Bend,” a song worthy of peak Bob Mould, has Williams telling his lover “soon you’re gonna be sick of me” as he dreads “another manic episode” while guitars slash and strum. Self-loathing has rarely been so catchy.
Parisian band En Attendant Ana have been Indie Basement faves from the start but really delivered the goods on their third album. Principia takes jangly cardigan-and-anorak indiepop and and supercharges it with an incredible rhythm section, giving songs like “Black Morning” and “Same Old Story” and the title track a jazzy, muscular groove. In the case of “Wonder,” it propels the whole band into a motorik rush of roaring guitars and a locked-in beat that rocks harder than you’d ever expect from a band this seemingly winsome. Do you miss Electrelane and The Cardigans? On Principia, En Attendant Ana have fused those approaches in dazzling ways but with melodies and an approach all their own.
Basement banger: “Wonder” really is a wonder.
A total surprise when they first announced it nearly a decade ago, Slowdive’s return has become one of the most rewarding second acts in recent memory. Their second album since reuniting is decidedly more understated than its 2017 predecessor — right down to its title and songs, rendered in lowercase — but its many wonders bloom with repeat listens, revealing a moving, melancholic, magisterial work. There is sadness but also joy and wonder in songs like “kisses,” “alife” and “skin in the game” with Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell’s voices and gossamer guitars melding in perfect atmospheric harmony. everything is alive is Slowdive’s most cohesive, emotionally resonant album yet, and is a subtle stunner that is possibly the best record of their career.
Basement banger: On “andalucia plays,” Halstead looks back warmly at an ended relationship, remembering a moment like it was a photograph — a lover’s clothes, the John Cale song on the stereo — but he’s not stuck in the past. “I dream like a butterfly, perfect and temporary,” he sings as cascading guitars fade like a memory.
On her 2020 debut, Montreal’s Helena Deland took an electronic approach to the singer-songwriter genre, but for its follow-up she unplugged and fully embraced her inner folkie. Named for the small town in British Columbia where she was born, Goodnight Summerland is a step sideways and up, a gorgeous tribute to her mother who died in 2021, and the most impressive showcase for her stunning, expressive voice yet. Working with producer Sam Cohen and using mostly acoustic instrumentation, Deland crafts songs as lush and bucolic as her memories of her childhood home — shades of Sufjan Stevens at times — and even if you’re not following her words, the melodies, arrangements and that voice might still make you verklempt. As Helena noted when the album was announced, “Music said it better than words could.”
Basement banger: “Drawbridge” features a mix of falsetto and flutes that could elevate skyscrapers.
No one expected Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt to announce they had made a new Everything But the Girl album, their first in over 20 years, but it was no shock it was this good. Born out the pandemic, FUSE picks up right where 1999’s Temperamental left off, blending elegant electronica and sophisticated ballads, while delivering a few new tricks as well. This may be the ultimate lockdown album, imbued with loss and mourning but embracing a “let’s make the rest count” energy. “Kiss me while the world decays,” Tracey Thorn sings on “Nothing Left to Lose,” her voice still EBTG’s greatest instrument and star attraction. FUSE should be a blueprint for any artist attempting a comeback and everything you could want in an Everything But the Girl album in 2023.
Basement banger: Not technically on the album but Four Tet’s remix of “Nothing Left to Lose” is the dancefloor filler, while closing track “Karaoke” is the most affecting, with Thorn singing “Do you sing to heal the broken hearted? / Oh you know I do / Or do you sing to get the party started? And I love that too” over chilled out, ethereal backing.
A Little Touch of Schleicher in the Night is 2023’s funniest indie rock album, but it’s one that doesn’t let the jokes pull you out of the moment. Katie Von Schleicher wraps her punchlines (and neuroses) in gossamer melodies delivered by her ethereal vocals and backed by cinematic, string-drenched arrangements and Sam Evian’s lush production. It’s all very ’70s sounding but the lyrics couldn’t be more now, as if you fell asleep listening to an AM Gold compilation on headphones and your brain reinterprets Harry Nilsson, Minnie Riperton and Melanie as a witty stress dream, writing new lyrics about all your worries. Katie’s melodies are just as full of wonderful, surprising twists and turns — a key change here, a leftfield chord there — as her words, making for an album that unfurls further with every listen.
Basement banger: “Montagnard People” has the album’s best opening couplet — “When you’re mourning the past / you’ll try to remember your ass” — and heavenliest harmonies.
To misquote Robert Plant, does anybody here remember guitars?!?! London band Ulrika Spacek do and Compact Trauma is a glorious ode to the many sounds many guitars can make, from beautiful to noisy to atmospheric to warm to scary and all points on the rainbow in between. This is also Ulrika Spacek’s first album in six years — they nearly broke up before the pandemic — and you can feel the joy in the playing even when subject matter is grim. There are other instruments here too, including lots of weird old synthesizers, but it’s their use of six and 12-stringed instruments that really dazzles, a mix of ’90s indie, prog, and spacerock that revels in geeking out without ever forgetting about the listener. Ulrika Spacek keep us engaged with great songs and instrumental heroics.
Basement banger: album opener “The Sheer Drop” swings from sultry cool to wild noise and back, all with big hooks and a stick-in-your-head chorus.
Luke Temple alter ego Art Feynman started as an experiment with cassette four-track recording, crafting funky lo-fi jams inspired by Awesome Tapes from Africa and other global grooves. For his third album under the moniker, Temple reimagined Art Feynman as a live band and recorded Be Good the Crazy Boys with them live to tape in glorious high fidelity. Would the magic still be there? Yes and even more so. Temple and his incredible band have created irresistible jams loaded with phenomenal playing and so many great little parts that will make you dance and put a smile on your face. Eno-era Talking Heads are clearly a touchstone — arty funk jams for the urban and uptight — but without ever actually sounding like them, he swirls disco, tropicalia, new wave, skronky jazz and even techno into this giddy, all-inclusive party.
Basement banger: “All I Can Do” is Be Good the Crazy Boys in a nutshell, with a badass groove, lithe arrangement and, most importantly, the entirely integral, utterly delightful backing vocals of keyboardist Rose Droll and guitarist Carly Bond.
London trio Girl Ray went from wistful folk-pop on their first album to R&B-tinged synthpop for its follow-up. On their third, they found the sweet spot in between as well as their sound: breezy, string-laden disco. Prestige channels Chic by way of Bananarama with nimble, funky arrangements, big pop hooks, and Poppy Harington’s wistful charisma and breathy vocals drawing you in with every memorable chorus. I got a very early advance of Prestige, loved it immediately and it became the soundtrack to my year, playing on road trips and flights and when I should’ve been listening to something else. Some might consider this to be too “light” to top an end of the year list but no other record gave me this much joy, had me dancing while doing the dishes, as much as this. And in a year loaded with great disco (Jessie Ware, Jake Shears, Roisin Murphy, Alison Goldfrapp), Girl Ray took the lead with confident, understated charm.
Basement banger: the whole album, honestly, but make me pick one song and on this day I choose “True Love”…no wait, “Everybody’s Saying That” or the George Michael-y “Hold Tight.” Just listen to the whole thing!
And here’s 100 more (yes, 100!) records I really liked which didn’t make the Top 40:
Alison Goldfrapp: The Love Invention
André 3000 – New Blue Sun
Annie Hart – The Weight of a Wave
Aphex Twin – Blackbox Life Recorder 21f / in a room7 F760
Arlo Parks – My Soft Machine
Art School Girlfriend – Soft Landing
Bas Jan – Back to the Swamp
BC Camplight – The Last Rotation Of Earth
bdrmm – I Don’t Know
Belle & Sebastian – Late Developers
Billy Nomates – CACTI
Bonny Doon – Let There Be Music
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – The Future Is Your Past
Bush Tetras – They Live in My Head
CHAI – CHAI
The Church – The Hypnogogue
Cindy – Why Not Now?
The Clientele: I Am Not There Anymore
Co-Pilot – Rotate
Cory Hanson – Western Cum
Constant Smiles – Kenneth Anger
The Coral – Sea Of Mirrors / Holy Joe’s Coral Island Medicine Show
Le Couleur – Comme Dans Un Penthouse
Creep Show – Yawning Abyss
Cut Worms – Cut Worms
Das Koolies – DK.01
David Holmes ft Raven Violet – Blind on a Galloping Horse
Deeper – Careful!
Deerhoof – Miracle-Level
Devendra Banhart – Flying Wig
Django Django – Off Planet
Don Letts – Outta Sync
Dougie Poole – The Rainbow Wheel of Death
The Drums – Jonny
The Embassy – E-Numbers
Emma Anderson – Pearlies
Famous Mammals – Instant Pop Expressionism Now!
Freak Heat Waves – Mondo Tempo
Gaz Coombes – Turn the Car Around
Gina Birch – I Play My Bass Loud
Goat – Medicine
Grian Chatten – Chaos For the Fly
H. Hawkline – Milk for Flowers
Hand Habits – Sugar the Bruise
Harp – Albion
The Hives – The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons
Ibex Clone – All Channels Clear
Jake Shears – Last Man Dancing
John Cale – Mercy
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – The Silver Cord
King Krule – Space Heavy
King Tuff – Smalltown Stardust
Korine – Tear
The Lemon Twigs – Everything Harmony
Lewsberg – Out and About
Lloyd Cole – On Pain
Lol Tolhurst x Budgie x Jacknife Lee – Los Angeles
Lorelle Meets the Obsolete – Datura
Madder Rose – No One Gets Hurt Ever
Madness – Theatre of the Absurd presents C’est La Vie
Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog – Connection
Mega Bog – End of Everything
Mint Field – Aprender a Ser
Modern Cosmology – What Will You Grow Now?
Modern Nature – No Fixed Point in Space
Mozart Estate – Pop-Up! Ker-Ching! And The Possibilities Of Modern Shopping
MUNYA – Jardin
The Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery
Nation of Language – Strange Disciple
The New Pornographers – Continue as a Guest
Nicole Yun – Matter
Noble Rot – Heavenly Bodies, Repetition, Control
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Council Skies
ONYON – Last Days on Earth
OSEES – Intercepted Message
Panda Bear, Sonic Boom & Adrian Sherwood – Reset in Dub
Patio – Collection
Public Image Ltd – End Of World
Pynch – Howling at a Concrete Moon
Rahill – Flowers At Your Feet
The Reds, Pinks & Purples – The Town That Cursed Your Name
Robert Forster – The Candle and the Flame
RVG – Brain Worms
Seablite – Lemon Lights
Sextile – Push
shame – Food For Worms
Shana Cleveland – Manzanita
Sleaford Mods – UK GRIM
Sonny & The Sunsets – Self Awareness Through Macrame
Sparks – The Girl is Crying in Her Latte
Teenage Fanclub – Nothing Lasts Forever
King Krule – Space Heavy
Uni Boys – Buy This Now!
Unloved – Polychrome
Vanishing Twin – Afternoon X
Water from Your Eyes – Everyone’s Crushed
Wilco – Cousin
Wimps – City Lights
Woods – Perennial
Zoos of Berlin – Busy With People
And here’s a 130-song Best of 2023 playlist featuring songs from all 40 albums plus 90 more songs for a nearly nine-hour survey of the year via Indie Basement, in both Spotify and TIDAL form: