In no particular order, here are some vinyl highlights. Usual rules – only new releases this year (not reissues) and I have to have purchased it on vinyl. A pretty good year.
Boygenius – The Record. I am a big fan of all three artists who make up Boygenius, and they manage that feat so rarely achieved with supergroups of retaining their own identities and also becoming something new. They pretty much take it in turns on each track which adds to the sense that “this is a Lucy song” or “this is a Phoebe track” but also that they have each others backs. Not Strong Enough is a classic sing along angsty anthem
Sparklehorse – Bird Machine. Thirteen years after his death, a new release from Mark Linkous’s Sparklehorse threatened to be one for devotees only, perhaps a mix of half recorded ideas and discarded tracks. Completed with meticulous care by his brother and wife, it turned out to be much better than it had any right to be. There was always an other worldly quality to his music and this sounds as if it has been beamed from another dimension where Linkous plays on. Marvellous stuff.
Julia Byrne – The Greater Wings. An achingly beautiful album that commences with celestial harps and is full of swirling synths and ethereal vocals. Byrne’s partner and bandmate, Eric Littmann, died during the making of this album, and the album is an act of grief, what Pitchfork calls “mourning as a form of meditative practice”. That might sound like a grim listen, but it is also uplifting and at times so intimate that you’re not sure you should be intruding.
CVC – Get Real. Hailing from Church Village, just up the road from where I live, this may not be the most innovative sound (the polar opposite of Sparklehorse) but it’s like walking into the best pub rock gig and immediately feeling at home. Vital, energetic and, well, just fun.
Jason Isbell – Weathervanes. Rolling Stone calls this “brutally beautiful” which is a good description of tracks like Strawberry Woman and Cast Iron Skillet. Isbell has been ridiculously consistent over his past four albums, painstakingly crafting exquisite modern Americana classics.
Baby Rose – Through and Through. The obvious influence is Nina Simone on this psychedelic, bluesy album but it doesn’t just sound like Nina, it sounds like Nina’s younger, more fun loving sister who’s been out partying. Stop the Bleeding is the best Bond song you’ve never heard.
Rhiannon Giddens – You’re The One. Giddens’ previous album, Calling Me Home, was recorded during lockdown in Ireland. In the scene in a rom com where the couple fall into a remote Irish bar, soaked from excessive rain, it would be Giddens on that album playing evocative folk. In the 2023 version it would be a road trip movie, with two people on the run from mobsters, who find brief respite in a steamy Louisina bar, where Giddens is belting out “Hen in the Foxhouse”. Covering blues, soul and folk, like Adia Victoria excellent Southern Gothic from last year it’s part of a movement of black women reclaiming that musical heritage.
The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein/Laugh Track. While I, ahem, prefer their earlier stuff, the National released two albums this year with some great songs (such as Laugh Track, and New Order T-shirt). I prefer the second of these, which contains the epic “Smoke Detector” which is as good as anything they’ve ever done. If they’d combined the two, it would have been the best album of the year. Probably.
Also worthy of note:
Jenny Lewis – Joy Y’All. Retro surf country pop, that’s a genre right? Jenny Lewis’ latest was an ode to joy, with the title track and songs like Cherry Baby, Puppy and a Truck are full of verve and bounce.
Sufjan Stevens – Javelin. An achingly beautiful record as Stevens meditates on love
Everything But The Girl – Fuse. Their first album in 24 years continues the electronic/dubstep sound they finished with. You can get cooler as you get older it seems.
Claud – Supermodels. Claud’s debut, Monster was a perfect slice of bedroom pop. Their sophomore offering is more mature, but still pop as artform, in the vein of the upbeat Billie Eilish.
Here is a playlist of vinyl purchased this year: