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Heartcrushingly Beautiful: Favorite Albums 2023 – PART 1

This year, we are presenting a list of hauntingly beautiful albums, all from a diverse perspective of genres and styles. Curated by our very own Nikolaj Bruus, the list represents a year’s worth of exploration and discovery of new records. The list will be presented in three parts, concluding on New Year’s Day with the unveiling of the top 10 albums. 

Happy New Year from PCC!”


James Ivy
Everything Perfect (2023) [EP]

If only the rest of the album were as good as “L-Trip”. Life-affirming, sprawling indie rock meets pop-punk meets Fantasma-Era-Cornelius weirdness, very 2023 in the best thinkable way. An artist to watch.

Label: FADER
Genre: Pop-punk, indie-rock, alternative dance
Fav tracks: L Trip, The Last Place You’d Ever Look
Rating: 2.5


Tujiko Noriko

Crépuscule I & II (2023)

“Crépuscule I & II” is an atmospheric, warm, dream-like and experimental ambient album from the Japanese singer, composer and film-maker, Tujiko Noriko. Noriko has an angelic voice, the production/sound-design is strong and the album reaches occasional heights of immense melancholic beauty (especially “Golden Dusk”. However, at times, the album seems to lack compositional direction, becoming somewhat stale. Perhaps it could have benefited from being slightly shorter?

Genre: Electronic, experimental, ambient
Fav tracks: Opening Night, Golden Dusk
Rating: 2.5


Evian Christ

Revanchist (2023)

While the first two tracks are (to my ears) somewhat annoying, the peaks on this album are so great that I have to include it on my list. A contemporary progressive trance / deconstructed club release on Warp Records, “Revanchist” is maximalist electronic music, over-the-top in every possible way, and sometimes this is just the best thing in the world (think of Rustie or Hudson Mohawke, for instance), and sometimes it’s, yes, hugely annoying (it’s a fine balance, and also really depends on mood!). The more ambient-like tracks on this record are out-of-this-world beautiful (Silence, The Beach).

Label: Warp
Genre: Progressive Trance / Deconstructed Club
Fav tracks: Silence, The Beach
Rating: 2.5


Daniel O’Sullivan

Rosarium (2023)

Ok, so I absolutely love Daniel O’Sullivan. I think he’s such a fascinating musical figure, and I don’t know why I keep thinking he’s from Scotland, he’s from Manchester. A true uncompromising eccentric aficionado doing everything on his own premises (and doing lots and lots of crazy different things). He also released another album this year, “The Psychic Garden”, a sort of love declaration to library music, if one even REALLY knows what this term implies. Who else dedicates themselves to thoroughly constructing a meticulously perfect-sounding 18-track record of library music seemingly just out of curiosity? My favorite album of his, Veld (2017), is an odd contemporary artpop masterwork. This record, Rosarium, is more like modern classical / post-rock with moments of art rock (strings performed by the Echo collective), and while some of these compositions, to be perfectly honest, falls into the rather serious pitfall of neoclassical cheesiness / boredom (a seemingly unstopable contemporary epidemic of nauseatingly sweet harmonic timbres that ravages and infects through Spotify playlists with images of lakes and sunsets, where no listener ever, as in ever, clicked on a specific artist and checked the rest of the respective artist’s discography) – the otherwordly beauty of a piece such as “Dora and Azalia” truly makes it worth the while.

Label: Self-Released?
Genre: Modern Classical, Post Rock, Art Rock
Fav tracks: Dora and Azalia, Waterbearer, Argentile
Rating: 2.5


Meagre Martin

Gut Punch (2023)

The debut-album from a Berlin-based indierock/indie-folk band (though the singer, Sarah Martin, is originally from the US). There’s some Big Thief vibes here, but what I perhaps like the most is the obvious Fleetwood Mac inspiration. Hints of dreampop (Throwing Muses, Sundays?) and alt-country, too. Martin has a beautiful rusty, fragile and expressive voice. Wonderful vocal harmonies, a dynamic live-feel, a warm analog-sounding production. A few filler-tracks, though. Recommended!

Label: Self-Released?
Genre: Indie-Rock/Indie-Folk/Alt-Country/Dream-Pop
Fav tracks: TBD (The Big Death), Undercover
Rating: 2.5


Genius of Time

Stream (2023) [EP]

The first two tracks on this EP is the best house music I’ve heard this year. Deep, emotional, groovy, infective. Unfortunately, the last two tracks doesn’t really resonate with me.

Label: Aniara
Genre: House, Deep House
Fav Tracks: CS70 House, Stream
Rating: 2.5


Freak Heat Waves

Mondo Tempo (2023)

“In A Moment Divine” is one of the best tracks of ’23, a perfect tearful late-night italo-disco / balearic pop track and dancefloor banger. “Endless” is also really cool, sounds like something the hippest art school students would dance to in New York in the early 80s (bit of an ESG/Liquid Liquid vibe). The rest of the album is just pure smooth atmosphere / audio wellness though without any significant peaks.

Label: Aniara
Genre: House, Deep House
Fav Tracks: CS70 House, Stream
Rating: 2.5



a.s.o. (2023)

This is the debut-album from Berlin-based a.s.o., singer/songwriter Alia Seror-O’Neill and producer Lewie Day. A strong, unique and contemporary blend of trip hop, dreampop, ambient dub and even occasionally italo-disco, this was guaranteed to be interesting! And mostly, a.s.o. doesn’t disappoint. Tracks like “Rain Down”, “Love in the Darkness” and “Falling Under” already sound like modern (lost?) classics. The album has a few weak points, but the peaks are sooooo good. Very promising group.

Label: Low Lying Records
Genre: Trip Hop, Dream Pop, Ambient Dub, Italo Disco
Fav Tracks: Rain Down, Love in the Darkness, Falling Under
Rating: 3.0


Rắn Cạp Đuôi

*1 (2023)

One of the great surprises of ’23. Out-of-this-world epic collage/glitch from a Vietnamese electronic group that took the experimental electronic music community by storm. Chaotic, emotive and abstract yet tightly composed – with a strong clear production – 1* is one of the electronic high points of the year (even though the record contains a bunch of weaker / more unfocused tracks). The shoegaze/IDM/breakbeat of “Pressure” and “Bugs Life” is absolutely stunning.

Label: Nhac Gay
Genre: Epic Collage, Glitch, IDM, shoegaze
Fav Tracks: “Pressure”, “Bugs Life”
Rating: 3.0


Eddie Chacon

Sundown (2023)

“Sundown” is a smooth soul / sophisti-pop record – sounding like a lost 80’s cult release – and the follow up to Chacon’s comeback album, “Pleasure, Joy and Happiness” (2020). Chacon was part of the 90’s soul duo Charles and Eddie (famous for the hit “Would I Lie To You”). Without knowing for sure, this (and his last record) could perhaps have been somewhat horrid without the production of John Caroll Kirby, but the analog-sounding mix and ingredients such as tape machine, slap-back delay, tape echo, warm ‘verbs and choruses gives the material a sort of interesting obscure twist and secures a truly charming, organic listening experience.

Label: Stones Throw
Genre: Smooth Soul, Sophisti-Pop
Fav tracks: Step by Step, Far Away
Rating: 3.0


Manchester Collective

Neon (2023)

I especially appreciate the Manchester Collective’s performance and interpretation of Reichs “Double Sextet”.

Label: Bedroom Community
Genre: Modern Classical, minimalism
Fav tracks: Double Sextet I-III
Rating: 3.0


Alberto Lizarralde

Haizetxe (2023)

Recorded mid 80’s and 90’s in Zaldibia, Basque Country, Lizarradle is apparently a well-known figure among Basque musicians, but until recently mostly unknown outside of the territory. This is some strange and fascinating analog-sounding electronic classical minimalism characterised by an irresistible warmth, mystery and playfulness. Consisting of sampling, midi-sequencing and field recordings – recorded on a four track reel to reel tape – some of these pieces almost sounds like James Ferraro or some other semi-contemporary hypnagogic pop with an analog vibe. My absolute favorite piece is “Jokuak”, how I would absolutely love if anyone did a four-in-the-floor remix of this one! This little piece craves to be sampled. It goes this certain naive, innocent and life-affirming positive quality that only some modern classical minimalist music seems to carry (for example Nymans “Wheelbarrow Walk”), truly quite addictive.

Label: Hegoa
Genre: Post-Minimalism, Electronic, Avant-Garde
Fav Tracks: Shhh… Klakk, Mr. Josef’s House?, Jokuak
Rating: 3.0


Avalon Emerson

& the Charm (2023)

I hadn’t heard about Emerson before this record, but apparently she’s been a prolific DJ and electronic musician for several years (looking forward to check out the rest of her discography). According to her BandCamp, this record was created during an extended break from the hectic DJ tour-life. The label describes the album as “the first time that Emerson has put herself, her emotions and, most notably, her voice fully into the spotlight”. And one cannot reasonably accuse Avalon Emerson of having forgotten “the charm” on this release (I’m sorry, ha ha). This soft, strange indiepop/club music is indeed incredibly charming and heartwarm, especially “Entombed in Ice”, “Astrology Poisoning” and “Karaoke Song”.

Label: Another Dove
Genre: Indietronica, Ambient Pop, Indie Pop, Electronic
Fav tracks: Entombed in Ice, Astrology Poisoning and Karaoke Song
Rating: 3.0


First Flush

Årene (2023)

A new wonderful album from the Danish indie veterans known for their absolutely brilliant poetic lyrics and strong melodic sensibility. Never disappoint.

Label: Konkylie
Genre: Indie Rock / Pop / Indie-Folk
Fav tracks: Ildfluer, Tilbage for at Bli, Det Blå, I Din Bil
Rating: 3.0


Wye Oak

Every Day Like the Last (2023) [Compilation]

Wye Oak and Jenn Wasner’s sideproject Flock of Dimes has long been favorites of mine, especially from “Tween” (Wye Oak) and “If You See Me, Say Yes” and everything she/they have released thereafter. This is a nice little compilation of singles released between 2019-2023 with three new tracks. Much appreciated.

Label: Merge
Genre: Artpop / Indie Rock
Fav tracks: Walk Soft, Repeat (If You Remind Me)
Rating: 3.0


Tough Age

Waiting Here (2023)

A pretty strong jangle rock / kiwi-rock record (kiwi-rock from Vancouver, Canada, that is….). Strong The Bats / The Chills / Verlaines vibes. Definitely recommended.

Label: Self-Released
Genre: Jangle Rock / Kiwi-Rock-in-Canada
Fav tracks: Give it a Day, Getting Closer
Rating: 3.0


Lisa O’Neill

All of This Is Chance (2023)

A delicate, warm yet somehow raw subtly orchestrated folk record from the Irish singer – banjo, fiddle and piano alongside strings, harmonium, dulcimer, saw and glockenspiel, for instance – with themes of nature (imagery particular drawn from the bird kingdom) and mortality. A very mature, consistent and thought-through piece of work.

Label: Rough Trade
Genre: Folk, Singer-Songwriter
Fav Tracks: Old Note, Whisht…
Rating: 3.0


The Woods

So Long Before Now (2023)

This is an archival release that according to the label (Sundazed Music / Modern Harmonic) mainly comprises of “songs written for a full length album that never was”. The Woods was a New York band in the 80’s among other acts such as Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, etc., but their sixties folk-influenced and Byrds/VU inspired jangle pop more sounds like something out of 1980’s Athens, Georgia. According to the labels Bandcamp, the group never really felt “they were part of New York or anything that could be defined as a New York scene”. A track like “Love Me Again This Summer” really sounds quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Such a weird and wonderful large lo-fi cathedral-like sound! What really sets the band apart, according to the label, are “the complexity of their harmonies and penchant for melody”. I can only agree. Besides the weird and wonderful cathedral-like sound, of course.

Label: Sundazed Music / Modern Harmonic
Genre: Jangle Pop / Post-Punk
Fav Tracks: Any Second, Love Me Again This Summer
Rating: 3.0


Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids

Afro Futuristic Dreams (2023)

Not the best recent album by the old spiritual jazz master Ackamoor and his Pyramids (Shaman! and An Angel Fell were probably stronger), but the perfect uplifting vibe, the incredible experienced musicians, the lively organic production – and not to mention the track “Thank You God” that’s close to some of the most grandious music Sun Ra could have created in his time – make this more than worth your time. Grand, melancholic, cosmic longing with excellent interplay and life-affirming erratic energy outbursts. Btw, is there anything better than strings in spiritual jazz…? I don’t think so. Pure sonic love.

Label: Strut Records
Genre: Spiritual Jazz
Fav tracks: Thank You God, Nice it Up
Rating: 3.0



Burning Desire (2023)

Abstract hiphop / cloud rap from MIKE, an artist I’ve followed for some years, and this is his strongest production to date. Atmospheric, poetic and hypnotic hiphop with cool occasional vaporwave influences. There’s some really strong tracks and here, though also (to my ears) a bunch of filler tracks. Strong lyrics.

Label: 10k
Genre: Abstract Hiphop / Cloud Rap
Fav tracks: African Sex Freak Fantasy, plz don’t cut my wings, Ho-Rizin, Mussel Beach, Sixteens
Rating: 3.0


The Embassy

E-Numbers (2023)

Swedish The Embassy perhaps doesn’t sound as fresh as they did once (“Tacking” from 2005, for instance, is a masterpiece in alternative dance music), but naturally they’ve gotten older and the whole scene they once helped initiate (sort of proto baleriac beat ca mid-2000’s) isn’t really around anymore – so I guess they’re working in sort of a vacuum (with only themselves as genre-similar competitors?). I know I’m biased, though, I was 14 years old in 2008 and absolutely loved Studio, Boat Club and Air France, and I still unashamedly love this sort of Electronic/New-Order inspirered indie-dance music. Yes, sometimes the sound can perhaps be a bit too “indie” and seem a bit noughties-nostalgic, but The Embassy does it SO well – they’re like the founding fathers – and in perfect silence, I cross my fingers for a revival. There are some really strong intelligent, dancy and emotional tracks on this record, especially “Amnesia” and “Not Here”.

Label: Dream On
Genre: Alternative Dance, Balearic Beat
Fav Tracks: Amnesia, Not Here
Rating: 3.0


Rolin / Pulice / Powers

Prism (2023)

An album of cosmic american primitivism improvisation. A nice, warm embracing atmosphere, a couple of transcendental moments, especially in the last track “Wind Whirl”.

Label: Self-released?
Genre: American Primitivism, Spiritual Jazz, Ambient
Fav tracks: Wind Whirl
Rating: 3.0


Laura Veirs

Phone Orphans (2023)

If this truly is to be the last album from Laura Veirs (as she’s stated), it’s a musical tragedy in the world of songwriting. Releasing some of the most consistently great albums of towering quality if you look at any singer-songwriter in the last twenty years or so, she’s a true treasure, I will dare to say a modern legend, one of the younger true greats of folk and indie rock music. This is a sparse, intimate collection of songs, and while not her best, it contains some touching guitar parts and splendid lyrics (as always). The mood and atmosphere of the album, sort of direct, raw, fragile and honest, is priceless. Please continue making music, Veirs.

Label: Raven Marching Band
Genre: Folk, Indie-Folk
Fav tracks: Rocks of Time, Smoke Song
Rating: 3.0


GoGo Penguin

Everything Is Going to Be OK (2023)

GoGo Penguin has found a recipe by now (with the bonus that their sound is entirely their own, though), and it’s probably tonally/harmonically pleasing enough to work only as background music, BUT – all their records are growers, and if you listen attentively – that is, get beneath the splendid but polished production, the warm embrace of the harmonic progressions and really get to know the compositions – the intention becomes much sharper, all the layers seems to lock perfectly, the melodies most often suddenly couldn’t be any different (that’s the mark of a great melody!), you suddenly notice all the perfectly measured details in the composition and arrangements, and not at least, the actual intensity of the performances (a bit too much comp and soothing in the mix process, I’m afraid). Then there’s the genre crossovers which have characterized GoGo Penguin from the beginning, but which still stand just as strong, their mixture of ECM jazz with post-rock with techno/IDM influences. Many traditional jazz-heads doesn’t get this, calling Go Go Penguin sort of like a family friendly fusion-jazz group. That’s really a shame. There are also lots of positive things to say about the production here, such as the crunchy bite and deep warmth of the upright bass and the round midrange and sparkling clarity/air of the piano. Gorgeous beyond words. Of course, all of this stands for the strongest tracks, but unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of filler on “Everything is Going to be OK”. I too still dream of a GoGo Penguin that retains a bit more of the untamed live-feel, since it would make it a bit less “safe” and bring that extra 10 percent.

Label: XXIM
Genre: Post-Minimalism, Nu-Jazz
Fav tracks: Glimmerings, Saturnine
Rating: 3.0



Selected Songs 1997-2003 (2023) [Compilation]

A very soothing, melancholic archival release sort of similar to a combination of Galaxie 500, Tarnation and Portishead. This is an interesting listen and definitely recommended.

Label: World of Echo
Genre: Dream Pop / Lo-fi / Triphop
Fav track: We Crossed the Atlantic
Rating: 3.0


Blue Lake

Sun Arcs (2023)

Melding ambient, post-rock, american primitivism and Takoma/Windham Hill style new age – and made with a series of self-built zither instruments, as well as woodwinds, guitar, strings and percussion – “Sun Arcs” was (for me) a wonderful little surprise. I wasn’t aware that Jason Dungan (originally from Texas) was living and working in Copenhagen where I reside. Praised on Pitchfork, making it on several influential year end lists etc and still playing our tiny local undergrund venues for experimental music! Though CPH is a large city in Scandinavian terms, this is news, fresh news, actually. The album has a beautiful bright, open and vibrant production, a strong organic quality like you can almost touch the instruments, making it a true pleasure for the audiophile. An understated, sort of minimalist experience, “Sun Arcs” is a calm and meditative yet curious and explorative record. Though as a whole, it’s perhaps (to my ears) a bit too major-focused, harmonically pleasing and soothing to really (as in really) pull at my heartstrings (the same way as, for instance, Gastr Del Sol, Blackshaw or Basho, to name some vaguely resemblant acts), I think this could also be a stylistic/aesthetic choice, part of the minimalism/new age framework, perhaps. These same properties, too, can namely be appreciated for endowing the music with a sort of airy, drifting quality, allowing the listener to wander off, the music becoming a “space” for pure continuing existence (somewhat along Eno’s and Feldman’s notions). A huge enjoyment, a great surprise, highly recommended.

Label: Total Union
Genre: Ambient, american primitivism, new age, experimental, post-rock
Fav Tracks: Wavelenght, Dallas, Sun Arcs
Rating: 3.0


Asleep Country

Fake Opulent (2023)

This is massive, all-encompassing, brutal, (not in any traditional sense) beautiful music, chaotic and abstract, like discovering an unknown life-form or a new language. Truly radical, subversive stuff, this is music for getting lost, for imagining strange new realities or societal utopias, confronting the nauseousness of existence, awakening new senses or discovering previously unknown parts of your body, uncomfortable oddities of being. This is not “nice”, this is not “pleasurable”, this is more like reading Finnegans Wake backwards or climbing a mountain, but it’s immensely stimulating and rewarding in a way that’s difficult to conceptualize. Perhaps this work greatly epitomizes Lyotards thinking about the aesthetic sublime: Something that’s too vast, too strange, too new to be conceptually grasped, and therefore prompting new concepts, a new language, new experience, and ultimately suggesting a new model for thinking about reality, indirectly questioning the eternal validity of our entrenched beliefs. Recommended in small doses in order to stay sane and avoid complete mental collapse.

“If everything is beautiful, and everything is made in His image, this music made of the creative efforts of His sons and daughters, and all of his children, without anything but Luck assured by our Creator, this music should come even a step closer to imitating the Endlessness, the beauty of God’s love” (quote from Asleep Country’s BandCamp)

Label: New Motion
Genre: Epic Collage, Plunderphonics, Experimental
Fav tracks: Impossible task

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