Words by Sean Victory
When Sean Victory isn’t listening to music and writing about it, he’s probably just listening to music. He is a lifelong artist, and his current projects are Nightmare Frontier and World Hum. He’s also contributed to the groups, Famished Ghosts, Future Toys, and Owl & Swan. Here are his top ten records of 2023 in no particular order.
The sentiment behind the album’s title track is one that I share when it comes to music in the age of the internet. There are enough cookie-cutter songs in the world, please bring on the weird shit. The tracks were made exclusively using the venerable Roland SP-404 sampler. JPEGMAFIA has always excelled at crafting maniacally twitchy sample-heavy beats, and his ADHD production style (complete with an iPhone text message alert interrupting a chorus) perfectly fits the addition of Danny Brown’s irreverent lyricism. The samples, lyrical delivery, and instrumentation are so layered that it might take several listens to catch the humor that both artists bring to the album. Even if some of the bars fly by too fast to grok, the music is so full of personality that it feels like being in the room while they put it all together. You will nod your head and you will laugh.
Rick Maguire continues to push his music further into weirder territory. Yet, Pile still manages to sound like Pile—just listen to them drums! However, the music on All Fiction leans more heavily on the dynamics of the compositions, and finds the band creating a greater sense of space, where they can spin out, conjuring environments suited for song dissolving and textural embellishments. It is indicative of the band’s growth, as they’ve expertly folded in the best elements of their previous work. The ambient elements of In the Corners of Sphere-Filled Room are present. The strangely abstract intimacy that Maguire achieves in his lyrics on Green and Gray can also be found here. Lastly, pick any Pile record, the drums still drive the songs with their locked-in sense of rhythm seeping into all the instrumentation. I wouldn’t call any of the songs jubilant even at their most energetic. All Fiction manages to feel exactly like the times we are living through.
I wasn’t particularly impressed by their proper release, 2222 AND AIRPORT this year. It’s a bit too Shit and Shine by numbers. That said, if I was looking to capture the essence of the band—errr, solo project, whatever it is now— Live in Milano (a digital only, Bandcamp release) is the album I would share with the curious ear. All elements are present: vocal samples looping to the point of exasperation; drums thumping, keeping time; fuzzed out bass warbling a fresh hole in your speakers; songs that carry on and on as they drop pieces on the road, until ultimately, the wheels fall off and the whole ordeal is left steaming and leaking in a field. The presentation is the difference-maker here. Simply Side A and Side B, material from the last few records is here, but it just lands better in this format. The songs can weave together—or not. The whole set just sounds raw and huge. Even though crowd noise doesn’t ever overpower the music on its own, it’s pretty clear people are hearing this and losing their minds. If nothing else, Shit and Shine continue to prove just how far-out listeners are willing to go as long as there is a solid drum beat holding the madness all together.
Certainly not winning a place on my list for the album title. Although, the cover art is kind of cute. Cory Hanson of Wand takes another stab at a solo record, and this time out it is to great success. His guitar work here shines as much as on any Wand album, maybe even moreso. There is a willingness to take familiar song structures and a sort of California classic rock vibe and stretch them out enough that Hanson can wriggle in and comment on this banality from inside the songs. Whether it’s a song about being made crazy by an evasive fly or an exercise ruminating on loss, there’s a lot less band here for Hanson to worry about coordinating with, and the songs don’t sound any smaller for it. His knack for crafting an earworm melody is as good as it’s ever been, and his confidence in this realm leaves plenty of room for him to take an ax to the surrounding structures. I’ve always been moved by Wand at their best (see Plum or Perfume) and I’m happy to finally have that same depth from Hanson’s solo work.
Oozing Wound don’t make bad records, and they’re on my list simply because they released one this year. They continue to be the South Park of heavy music. They spare no one as they eviscerate every aspect of modern life. We Cater to Cowards is packed full of anxiety and tension, but in typical fashion it manages to be a fine antidote to those very things. There’s much fun to be had here. The planet is totally ruined, prospects for a better future are quickly fading, and instead of any realization or resolution, everyone is addicted to nostalgia instead. So, pass the bong and have a rip while the billionaires blast off, and the rest of us go down with the ship. Kevin Cribbin on bass and Kyle Reynolds on drums are somehow a rock solid rhythm section while simultaneously finding time to whip up a god-awful racket between notes. Zack Weil’s guitar fits so well in this mix—not taking center stage or show-boating, but contributing another squealing facet to the raucous joy of these end-times thumps.
There’s nothing about this album that Rrose hasn’t already explored on previous releases, but the familiar elements combine to create an album that sounds haunted. Masterfully assembled minimalist electronic compositions equipped with kick drums so heavily side-chained that they swallow up the surrounding notes. There’s almost always a sea-sick wobble, an LFO slowly modulating, amplitude swelling and receding, slowly panning across the stereo field. Synths sizzle in the upper atmosphere or hum low, folding in harmonics. Rrose doesn’t need much to create a tense atmosphere, and given the title, Please Touch, sounds like a desperate plea to escape the alienated spaces contained within.
I feel fortunate enough to have seen Sonic Youth many times before they disbanded, and this album made me even more grateful to have had those experiences. Their last proper show, and in their hometown no less, they bring a bucket full of deep cuts and let loose. They are a band best enjoyed live, and this record delivers a close approximation to that experience. They sound bigger here than they do on their studio releases. The bass hits harder and is more central to the mix. They weave the songs together with walls of feedback, and break through them with pounding rhythms. The onslaught of the first five or so tracks should be enough to hook any listener into hanging around for the rest of the set. I hope you’re not listening to this on your laptop speakers.
I caught a whiff of what this record was about prior to its release and just said “whatever, that’s cool.” It’s much more than that. Mr. 3000 conjures some real magic here. Somewhere between a Laraaji record and the less abrasive, more percussive, circuital explorations by Sun Ra, New Blue Sun offers a mesmerizing combination of jazz and ambient. Though this is a fully instrumental affair, Andre can’t resist getting his lyrical wit involved via long-winded song titles. I won’t reproduce any here as they will lay waste to the minimal word count I’m allotted, but they typically stand in juxtaposition to the actual mood of the songs that I can’t help but see him scratching an itch. There’s a bit of Albert Ayler in the exuberance Andre breathes into his songs, slanted little ditties that only make sense in this context. Nothing feels forced or contrived. His cool is timeless, and it’s great to see where his mind goes when he’s not trying to fit it into a hip hop context. We may never get another OutKast record, but I would love to hear where Andre and his wind instruments go next.
I think the algorithms floated this album into the feeding area, and I hung onto it because I wasn’t able to easily categorize their work. It’s as bombastic as any rock record, yet the strumming and drumming feel rooted in something like a pagan ceremony. The melodic movement along with the circuital phrasing feel like a devil’s wheel shaking off its passengers. The songs find a way forward, twirling along in repetition. The band is happy to vamp and stomp on the same spot until knee-deep in the muddy ditch they’ve retraced into creation, and I can’t help but see a roaring fire at the center of this trodden ellipse. The repetitive nature of the songs doesn’t dull them into something easily understood as the band eagerly changes pace, or trades the furious motion for some whispers or jarring arhythmic interruptions. I don’t know this genre! I think the band name—and album title, are a fair description of what to expect. An entity is summoned, perhaps out of ignorance, but once let loose there’s no telling what it will do.
I’m so very grateful for Temporal Drift endeavoring to properly issue/reissue the work of this mythological band. Fans of Les Rallizes Dénudés had to deal with garbage bootleg recordings for far too long. Sure—the most circulated, Heavier Than a Death in the Family stood heads and shoulders above the other available material. Damn good on its own, but Temporal Drift has tidied up and packaged some truly remarkable performances from the group. For the uninitiated, CITTA’ ‘93 offers up a fantastic late-career performance from the band. Standard blues progressions and generic rock n’ roll drums ultimately yield to the fuzzed-out chaos of Takashi Mizutani’s guitar. CITTA’ ‘93 is by far one of the cleanest recordings of the band, and when Mizutani decides to stomp on his pedal board, the songs alight. To hear the ecstatic guitar work he plows into well-established progressions is still as powerful today as it was back then. The feedback crackles over a dull-as-dishwater walking bassline, breathing a new life into something that the listener perceived as musical carpet. If you need something from the band that is dirtier or more washed out, it’s out there in some capacity. However, Temporal Drift has done well with the five albums they’ve tweaked for release, and CITTA’ ‘93 may be the best performance they’ve put their capable hands to.