We’re halfway through the year and sharing our favorite albums of 2023 thus far! Here’s Chad‘s list of current favs, plus a few words about each pick.
Yo La Tengo – This Stupid World
I’ve been a fan dating back to the late ’90s, and This Stupid World is easily my favorite Yo La Tengo album since 2003’s Summer Sun. That’s the subjective listener in me talking, but even the objective listener wouldn’t hesitate to say it’s also their best album of the past 20 years. Opener “Sinatra Drive Breakdown” is YLT in indie rock jamband mode, riding a mid-tempo Krautrock groove for 7 1/2 minutes and overlaying it with colorful guitar squall. The autumnal jingle-jangle of “Fallout” recalls fan favorites from Electr-O-Pura and I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. The country-folk ballad “Aselestine” is a gorgeous slice of cosmic American music and a showcase for the understated beauty of Georgia Hubley’s Gilberto-esque vocals. If you have a chance to see them on tour, don’t pass it up. They’re celebrating 40 years as a band in 2023, and their shows masterfully blend the past and present while allowing space for whimsy, humor and at least one epic display of Ira Kaplan’s guitar heroics.
Constant Smiles – Kenneth Anger
I’ve gravitated toward synth-pop in my 30s and 40s far more than I did in my younger days, in particular emotional synth-pop laced with post-punk or goth influences. Kenneth Anger hits me in the same indiscernible melancholic way that Nation of Language’s A Way Forward did following their incredible 2022 Treefort set. It’s a yearning album built for soundtracking private moments of desolation or the dance floor of your mind – and sometimes both.
Winter – What Kind of Blue Are You?
Released digitally in October 2022, What Kind of Blue Are You? hit The Record Exchange shelves in January on vinyl and CD. Samira Winter describes her sound as “star-projecting music,” a much better term than “dream-pop,” “shoegaze” or any other well-worn signifier applied to her first two albums. That said, signifiers are useful entryways for discovery, and Winter herself has cited influences ranging from My Bloody Valentine to The Sundays. In addition to Winter’s touchpoints, there are echoes of Juliana Hatfield, Belly and early Smashing Pumpkins throughout this shimmering beauty of an album, which should resonate deeply with fans of ’90s underground guitar rock. I’m even more bummed I missed her 2023 Treefort set after immersing myself in this album over the summer. Hopefully Boise will host her again soon.
Everything But the Girl – Fuse
In 2017, Slowdive released their first album since 1995’s Pygamalion, and fans and critics alike were stunned by how well it complemented the first three records – they picked up right where they left off after 22 years, a bona fide miracle in a world of fossilized (and failed) comeback attempts. The most remarkable thing about the self-titled album was it sounded like vintage Slowdive yet effortlessly contemporary, and lo and behold, there’s a follow-up record coming in September. All of which is to say, Everything But the Girl’s Fuse, released 24 years after their last album (1999’s Temperamental), is an equal triumph. From 1994 to 1999, Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn redefined electronic pop music with a stunning string of albums infused with house music, trip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass textures, then they put EBTG on extended hiatus to explore other projects. It seems especially difficult in the electronic realm to stay true to a sound while staying current, but on Fuse, Everything But the Girl contemporize without compromise, and Thorn’s voice, further colored by the passage of time, is even more arresting than it was on all those ’90s club hits. And of course the Fuse remixes, particularly those of lead single “Nothing Left to Lose,” are incredible.
Marshall Watson – Foothills
This five-track EP from one-half of Boise synthwave pop duo Causeway (Italians Do It Better) occupies a different corner of the electronic music universe, exploring (mostly) instrumental terrain that fans of metaphysical downtempo from the likes of Tycho and Bonobo will savor. True to the EP’s title, this short-but-sweet release evokes a polychromatic summer sunset descending behind the sage-scented hills. The limited vinyl pressing, released through Spanish label NuNorthern Soul, is nearly sold out everywhere, but we still have a couple left (for now).