Winter Highlights 2022-23

I’ve not been short of albums to review since I last posted. The last couple months of 2022 and the first few weeks of 2023 have seen some of the albums I’ve been anticipating for months, even years, released to great acclaim and excitement. But what I have been short of is time. And so I’ve, once again, put together a short round-up of some of my favourite records of the past season.

Weyes Blood – And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow

A glittering, mystical opus, spilling over with molten beauty

In terms of its shimmering production, velvet arrangements and vintage sensibilities, this sublime LP differs little from Weyes Blood’s 2019 album Titanic Rising. Melodically, however, its beauty takes a little longer to fully unfold but, when it does, it reveals a record steeped in sumptuous harmony. Songs like ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’ and the sleepy ‘God Turn Me Into A Flower’ are languorous slow-burners, soft murmurs of light in the darkness, while ‘Hearts Aglow’ and ‘The Worst Is Done’ are richer, a halo of incandescence clinging round the nostalgic chord changes. 

Listen to And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow on Bandcamp or Tidal

Little Simz – NO THANK YOU

An intimate, confessional and understated artwork from a rapper in her prime

A far cry from the grand, orchestral architecture supporting 2021’s masterpiece Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Little Simz opens her surprise 2022 follow-up with the gentle waves of synth and lush gospel choruses of ‘Angel’. The brass intro to ‘Gorilla’ is more bombastic, but Simz’ loose bars and the cool, bouncing bass-line sustains the album’s effortless flow. ‘Broken’ is a gorgeous, heart-warming centrepiece, whose sweeping orchestration and children’s choir, gracefully woven in by producer Inflo, hint at the theatricality of its predecessor SIMBI. While it doesn’t soar to the same lofty highs, NO THANK YOU undulates, ripples and swells with liquid grooves and soulful hooks, and in its subtlety throws Simz’ stark lyricism into the spotlight.

Listen to NO THANK YOU on Tidal

Margo Price – Strays

Making rock music the old-fashioned way: hallucinogenic drugs

With the crunching guitars and swirling organs of The Doors and Grateful Dead, the lofty, poetic wisdom of Patti Smith and the spirituality and elastic guitar lines of George Harrison, Margo Price’s Strays is a churning kaleidoscope of 70s rock, country and psychedelia. ‘Been to the Mountain’ is a mighty powerhouse of an opener. Asserting Price’s ‘shroom-fuelled revelations with a fiery fervour matching its Biblical allusions, it has the feeling of a wake-up call, conjuring up the raw, blistering power of the album’s retro musical influences.

And the record makes good on its promises. ‘Change of Heart’ is a smoky blues-rock piece, punctuated by staccato pulses of organ, while ‘Hell in the Heartland’ is a brooding country ballad, the skulking guitar and cool, lonely piano whipped up into a dizzying tornado by the end of the track. A gospel chorus backs the nostalgic melody of ‘Anytime You Call’, contrasting the lonely strings of ‘Lydia’, which centres on a woman attending an abortion clinic. The only weak link on the album is ‘Time Machine’ whose twee, nursery-rhyme kitsch contrasts with the raw vulnerability of the rest of the LP. But the album closes poetically, on the misty slide guitars and tentative reassurance of ‘Landfill’.

Listen to Strays on Bandcamp or Tidal

Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy

An untamed jungle of unnameable sounds

The music of acclaimed Scottish trio Young Fathers is impossible to describe aptly. Throwing together snatches of rock, R&B, hip-hop and electronica, the group’s lo-fi concoction ends up sounding nothing like any of those genres. Their latest record Heavy Heavy is another feral jumble of colours and textures that cohere, almost miraculously, into vivid, catchy melodies. Opener ‘Rice’ is a percussive, celebratory tangle which gives way into the aggressively garbled vocals and elephantine bass-line of ‘I Saw’. ‘Tell Somebody’ has a soft hymnal warmth to it, while ‘Shoot Me Down’ begins a tempestuous friction of agitated beats and chopped-up vocals before subsiding into a dreamy sweep of soulful voices. This leads us to one of the album’s most exciting tracks ‘Ululation’, a song whose elated hollers and bright, jubilant piano exude a life-affirming optimism, quintessential to the record as a whole.

Listen to Heavy Heavy on Bandcamp or Tidal

Paramore – This Is Why

College pop punks are all grown-up

‘In a single year, I’ve aged 100. My social life, a chiropractic appointment,’ sings Paramore’s Hailey Williams on ‘C’est Comme Ça’, the punchy third single released prior to the band’s much-anticipated comeback This Is Why. These opening lines serve as a hook into the album’s humdrum, adult world, rendered no less vividly than the stinging, teenage angst that coloured the band’s early emo days. After transforming their gritty pop punk into a more artsy, vibrant pop collage on 2017’s After Laughter, This Is Why sees the band strip things back to a lean, guitar-driven post-punk, a precisely-crafted sound suited to the grounded reality of the lyrics.

A decade ago, Paramore warned us, ‘don’t go crying to your mamma, ‘cause you’re on your own in the real world.’ That was when adulthood and independence were coming crashing down on them and their millennial audience. Now in 2023, it’s time to explore what happens when the real world is something you have to walk around in every day.

Listen to This Is Why on Tidal.

Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want to Turn into You

Bagpipes, belting vocals and butterflies

From the soaring siren call that opens the album, Caroline Polachek has you hooked. Much like her 2019 debut Pang, 2023’s Desire, I Want to Turn into You is a collection of passionate, hooky and immaculately-produced experiments in pop music. But where Pang was glossy and slick throughout, Polachek’s follow-up album is a more eclectic tapestry. There’s the tingling flamenco guitar of ‘Sunset’, the bagpipe solo on ‘Blood and Butter’, the staccato minimalism of Polachek’s 2021 single ‘Bunny Is A Rider’, the whimsical, glittering ‘Butterfly Net’ and the 90s-flavoured dance-pop of ‘I Believe’, all before Polachek closes with the soft, choral cinematics of ‘Billions’. While it lacks the frictionless glide of her debut, Desire is an album of volatile creativity and wild, ecstatic passion.

Listen to Desire, I Want to Turn into You on Bandcamp or Tidal

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