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Heartcrushingly Beautiful: Favorite Albums 2023 – PART 2

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!


André 3000

New Blue Sun (2023)

Definitely the surprise of the year. An album of meditative, cosmic ambient / spiritual jazz / new age from André 3000 (OutKast) (released on Epic Records?!? the 2020’s is almost as weird as the seventies when Virgin released Turbular Bells…..). Perhaps not the triumph some people would like it to be, but it undeniably contains sections of absolutely mesmerizing beauty.

Label: Epic
Genre: Ambient / Spiritual Jazz / New Age
Fav Tracks: “I Swear, I Really Wanted to make a Rap Album…”, “Dreams Once Buried…”
Rating: 3.5


OZmotic | Fennesz

Senzatempo (2023)

The best I’ve heard from Fennesz since Bécs. Moments of great, great heightened beauty – at certain points reaching the intensity of his best work such as “Venice” or “Endless Summer”. Loud in headphones or on a great sound-system, words are inadequate! Many of Fennesz’ tricks are perhaps known by now, but nothing wrong with a personal signature. Although he may have condensed his expression even more clearly in the past, it’s impressive to maintain this level of artistic urgency 25 years into your career. One just has to be thankful for him continuing to release this deeply therapeutic, soul-massaging sound-art.

Label: Touch
Genre: Ambient / Post-Rock / Glitch
Fav tracks: Senzatempo, Movements I II
Rating: 3.5


Peter Barclay

I’m Not Your Toy (2023) [Compilation]

My God, what a gorgeous, touching and in many ways very special record. Thanks to Numero Group for digging this up.
A kind of lush, passionate lo-fi and new-agey smooth soul / sophisti-pop made by an LGBT+ artist, who according to Numero Groups BandCamp was a “self-taught musical wizard” who “recorded at home and produced two barely-released albums”. He was recognized as a talent in his local community, but few people outside his small circle ever got to listen to his work, and (according to the Numero Group) he was tragically lost in the late-90’s crest of the AIDS epidemic. Nothing really surpasses the unique intimacy found in lo-fi home recordings like this one, a filter has been removed allowing you to directly enter the private world of the artist. Explore the heavily emotive Beverly-Glenn-Copeland-Ish ambient synthpop of “You are Loved”, the sophisti-pop / dreampop experiments of “Echo Lake” or the cool lo-fi smooth soul of “Second Class Citizen”.

Label: Numero Group
Genre: Sophisti Pop, Ambient, New Age, Smooth Soul, Lo-fi
Fav tracks: You Are Loved, Echo Lake, Second Class Citizen, Acceptance is the Key
Rating: 3.5


The New Pornographers

Continue as a Guest (2023)

A surprisingly strong effort from the veteran indie rock band. Contains some of the best indie rock / indie pop tracks of the year. Strong songwriting with great arrangements and beautiful melodies and harmonies, creative and fresh production, varied instrumentation, everything you need…! Songs such as “Cat and Mouse With the Light”, “Last and Beautiful” and “Marie and the Undersea” almost sounds like if Magnetic Fields was truly an indie rock band (and that’s a plus in my book).

Label: Merge
Genre: Indie Rock / Indie Pop
Fav tracks: Cat and Mouse With the Light, Last and Beautiful, Marie and the Undersea
Rating: 3.5


Nabihah Iqbal

DREAMER (2023)

Nabihah Iqbal is truly an interesting figure. Being both a musician, producer, DJ and broadcaster (NTS), previously working as a human rights lawyer (studying at both SOAS and Cambridge), and playing an early role in the formation of hyperpop (by contributing to Sophie releases), she has a varied and a bit unusual background for an indie-musician releasing her second album. There’s perhaps a couple of weaker moments on DREAMER, but tracks such as “This World Couldn’t See Us” and “Sunflower” demonstrates her unique ability to effectively blend post-punk, house and dreampop with staggering results.

Label: Ninja Tune
Genre: Post-Punk, Outsider House, Dream Pop
Fav tracks: This World Couldn’t See Us, Sunflower, Gentle Heart
Rating: 3.5


Hannah Diamond

Perfect Picture (2023)

I know what I want this to be: I want this to be the crown-jewel of the PC Music movement (as many has already named the record), the most mature and focused manifestation of its visions and ideals for contemporary pop music (not necessarily the most erratically creative, though), perfectly encapsulating the 10 years (!) that have passed since her and A.G. Cook’s debut releases. I also want this – and now we’re turning up our expectations – to be the “Cupid and Psyche 85” of the 2020s, and I’ve wanted this ever since I learned that David Gamson (Scritti Politti) is co-writer and producer on the record. I think this is one of the best and most amazing collaborations ever. It makes perfect sense, almost too good to be true. Two pop innovators making revolutions in intelligent popular music in their own respective decades are now joining forces. If this record is what I want it to be, it speaks both about the pop history of the past, the present and the future. But uuuuhh, this is a lot to hope for. I will have to listen again. And again. So far it’s a 3.5

Label: PC Music
Genre: Hyper Pop, Bubblegum Bass, Synthpop
Fav tracks: Affirmations, No FX, Lip Sync
Rating: 3.5



Due in Color (2023)

Released on the mighty Ilian Tapes (known for the Zenker brothers, Skee Mask, etc.). There’s not a word to be said about the atmosphere here. I really appreciated a bunch of tracks on the previous record too. Beautiful, atmospheric night-like sonic pictures. I also love the production, the lush reverbed synths, the deep subbass, the (often) fairly organic drum n bass / breakbeat drums. “Remote Working” is one of my favorite electronic tracks from 2023. The whole aesthetic is right down my alley, makes me think of Bark Psychosis and Graham Sutton’s drum n bass solo-project, Boymerang. Unfortunately, though, a bunch of these tracks arrangement-wise and compositionally seems… Well, not under-developed, but I’d wished that he’d be willing to take some of his ideas even further, incorporate more layers, take some more melodic/harmonic twists and turns and let the tracks wander off to slightly different and new places. But this criticism is only because he’s SO close to making my favorite electronic music.

Label: Ilian Tapes
Genre: Drum n Bass, Breakbeat, Ambient
Fav tracks: Remote working, Audieze, Silent Now
Rating: 3.5


bar italia

Tracey Denim (2023)

Bar Italia is a hopelessly cool project. This combination of Young Marble Giants post-punk with some Stereolab with some Royal Trux and Blonde Redhead…… It’s a winning combination! Definitely one of the best indie rock records from ’23.

Label: Matador
Genre: Post-Punk / Indie-Rock / Lo-fi
Fav tracks: Maddington Friends, Missus Morality, Clark
Rating: 3.5



An Inbuilt Fault (2023)

I think Westerman has more potential than we’ve seen so far. To my ears, he has the potential of making a masterpiece perhaps presenting some sort of combination of Arthur Russell, Jens Lekman and John Cale (with his own touch). He’s moving closer and closer, but he’s not quite there yet. When this record works, it’s art-pop at its best.

Label: Partisan
Genre: Art Pop / Chamber-Pop
Fav tracks: Give, CSI: Petralona, A Lens Turning
Rating: 3.5



Neo Seven (2023)

One of the most heartcrushingly beautiful records of 2023! Just a touch less minimalistic, a bit more variation / a couple more layers, and this could have been a masterpiece to my ears. Turn this up loud and you will have the opportunity of experiencing some heavily intense bodily sensations and emotional responses. This is music for solitude and nightwalks in the metropol.

Label: Blank Form Editions
Genre: Ambient, Drone, Noise
Fav tracks: Winded, Perfect Night
Rating: 3.5


Blonde Redhead

Sit Down for Dinner (2023)

So “Snowman” might be the best track of ’23 (and this was the first single). Where to go from here? While the rest of the record might not maintain this towering artistic level consistently, this is a very solid effort and a welcome return to form for Blonde Redhead. I wasn’t very pleased with either “Penny Sparkle” or “23”, so for me this is actually their best record since “Misery is a Butterfly” (which I consider an underrated masterpiece in modern rock). Sensual, melancholic and effortlessly elegant music.

Label: Section1
Fav tracks. Snowman, Not for Me, Before
Genre: Indie Rock / Dream Pop / Chamber-Pop
Rating: 3.5


John Cale

Mercy (2023)

This album should have gotten a lot more praise and recognition. John Cale is 81 years old, and he is experimenting with cutting-edge electronic music, ambient, experimental rock, embracing various avant-garde flavors. While he has always been playful and experimental in his approach to pop/rock music, it is truly impressive (almost unfathomable, actually) that he oftentimes manages to sound even more contemporary and innovative than most of his young peers. Just look at the list of collaborators on this album; that reflects the spirit of someone who is staying alert, open-minded, and relevant. There’s no experimentation for experimentation’s sake, though: These are good songs based on solid songwriting with something to say, even if that something might be vague and abstract. Some songs reaches the level of his best work from his early years. While this record is not perfect, it’s a heartwarming experience and certainly a late-career peak for Cale.

Label: Domino
Genre: Art Rock
Fav tracks: Mercy, Moonstruck (Nico’s Song)
Rating: 3.5



DJ E (2023)

Highly emotive, maximalist, fragmented and joyful release. A manic, frenzy popculture blender, Crampton deconstructs, re-contextualises, merges all kinds of “high and low” in a big spicy bowl of chaotic, saturated or overtly-distorted harmonic bliss. Very ’23 in both sound and visual aesthetic – with the truly fresh-sounding addition of inspiration from indigenous andean music – but I don’t mind records potentially sounding rigidly (almost conservatively?) “now” when there’s this much at stake.

Label: Self-released?
Genre: Epic Collage / Latin Electronic / Deconstructed Club
Rating: 3.5


Grian Chatten

Chaos for the Fly (2023)

A stylish, charming and elegant debut solo-effort from Grian Chatten (Fontaines D.C.). I believe Fontaines D.C. to be the best popular post-punk band around these days – “Skinty Fia” was a massive statement following the more than promising “A Hero’s Death” – so I was naturally excited to hear this record by the Dublin baryton. It soon becomes clear when listening that this is not merely a uniform extension of the Fontaines project. Conversely, Chatten experiments with new territories, including stripped-down folk (“The Score,” “Salt Throwers of a Truck”) and 60’s French Chanson or Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra vibes (“Last Time Every Time Forever,” “Bob’s Casino”); all while drawing from the untamed spirit of The Pogues, the sombre baryton tales of Nick Cave and Cohen, and the velvet melancholy of Tindersticks. While this record may not convey the same emotional urgency or innovative spirit as “Skinty Fia,” it showcases a more playful yet mature Chatten. Skillfully and confidently, he navigates through different corners of recent popular music history, combining and subtly recontextualizing a diverse array of personal influences while maintaining his own voice.

Label: Partisan
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Chamber Pop, Indie Folk
Fav tracks: Last Time Every Time Forever, Fairlies, Bob’s Casino
Rating: 3.5


Quatuor Bozzini

Occam Delta XV (2023)

According to Quatuor Bozzini’s Bandcamp, Radigue’s work is a body “in which, from long sustained tones, microbeats between frequencies emerge” and it’s “akin to water: always in movement, yet always somehow the same”. Quatuor Bozzini is a string quartet specializing in new and experimental music based in Montreal, Canada, and Radigue perhaps requires no introduction. A French composer at 91 (began working in the 50’s), composing for magnetic tape and synthesizer, but also for acoustic instruments (such as this release). Inspirered by Tibetan buddhism, Occam Delta XV (and much of Radigue’s other work) is deep and slowly changing marked by an acute physicality – an “investigation of the physical properties of resonating bodies”, as Forced Exposure describes her work – with a psychoacoustic activity of dense shifting timbres and myriads of overtones. Perhaps, as FE puts it, it’s a meditation “on the condition of instability” or “a metaphysics of chaos and uncertainty.” Occam Delta XV is created through an oral composition proces, and draws you into an elevated listening mode, according to Quatuor Bozzini, somewhere “between meditation and hyperconsciousness.” Highly recommended.

Label: Collection QB
Genre: Drone, Minimalism, Microtonal Classical
Rating: 3.5


Colin Stetson

When We Were That What Wept for the Sea (2023)

High quality as always with Stetson. Not as good as his golden streak from 2011-2015, but hypnotically mesmerizing, powerful transcendent stuff, anyways.

Label: 52Hz
Genre: Post-Minimalism, Drone
Rating: 3.5



Cruisin’ (2023)

Strange underwater-like, wobbly, synthetic yet warm truly idiosyncratic art-pop from Bernice, a hugely fascinating act I’ve followed through the last couple of years. On the surface, this music perhaps sounds soft and welcoming (tropical elevator-music?), almost naive and childlike, but underneath the sweet melodies, warm production and heavenly sometimes almost whispery voice, there’s rather adventurous shifts in tonality, odd breaks and pauses, sudden eruptions of atonality – not to mention the almost surreal sounding juxtaposition of “cheap” midi instruments and “real” recorded organic instruments – which taken together results in a rather nauseous yet oddly comforting listening experience. Some highly addictive sugary chemical stuff here. Taking elements from hypnagogic pop, new age, modern classical/avant-garde, indie rock, etc., “Cruisin'” is a highly ambitious and impressive feat. Seriously underrated, if you ask me. Among the playfulness, there’s moments of great great beauty, such as “Are You Breathing” and “No Effort to Exist”.

Label: Telephone Explosion
Genre: Art Pop / Hypnagogic Pop
Fav Tracks: Are You Breathing, No Effort to Exist, Barbara It’s Your Tree
Rating: 3.5


Alva Noto

HYbr:ID II (2023)

I’ve followed Alva Noto (Carsten Nikolai) since I was around 13-14 years old – the first record I heard was his collaboration with Sakamoto, “Insen”, this was an absolutely mindblowing introduction to microsound ambient for me – and I’m always eager of anticipation when he releases a new album, especially his non-soundtrack records. Alva Noto is one of the great artists of the twenty-first-century, in music and beyond, always remaining curious, engaging in collaborative projects with equally gifted composers and releasing one great album after another. This work is made in response to Richard Siegal’s 2021 dance performance ‘ECTOPIA’.

There’s a rare depth and precision in his work, an artistic integrity, knowledge and confidence seldom seen, a true master of his craft. It’s evident when listening to Nikolai’s work that he studied architecture and landscape design before pursuing the arts, and that he also works as an visual artist. Truly an architect of sound, Nikolai is designing and building digital audio landscapes with a three-dimensional spatial quality (the dimension of depth rather than just horizontal between left and right). Today, he holds a well-earned professorship in art with focus on digital and time-based media.

Among the likes of Ikeda and Byetone – while drawing inspiration from Chain Reaction ambient dub – Noto works with glitchy metallic percussive elements, spacious chord pads, and immersive soundscapes in a repetitive, minimalistic climate, at times perhaps almost reminiscent of the Soviet DDR-buildings he grew up among in the DDR. If you listen attentively, what may, on the surface, sound like cold, non-emotional, almost non-human music, always reveals a strong emotional core. It’s akin to listening to an emotional language that is precisely not our own, appearing alien, new, and foreign, genuinely futuristic, and yet we somehow recognize ourselves in this “other”.

Label: Noton
Genre: Microsound, ambient dub, ambient
Fav tracks: Ectopia Field 1, Ectopia Environment
Rating: 3.5


Nourished by Time

Erotic Probiotic 2 (2023)

A very praised album of idiosyncratic-sounding lo-fi soul / r&b / hypnagogic pop. Truly some hits on here, such as “Shed that Fear”, “Daddy”, “The Fields” and “Soap Party”. Recommended!

Label: Scenic Route
Genre: Alt. R&B / Hypnagogic Pop
Fav tracks: Shed that Fear, Daddy, The Fields, Soap Party
Rating: 3.5


Another Michael

Wishes to Fulfill (2023)

Another Michael is some of the softest, sweetest, welcoming music one could possible imagine. If it wasn’t for their obviously intelligent songwriting (complex harmonies, great lyrics, layered arrangements, ABBA/Merritt perfect and stringent melodies) and dynamic performances/great musicianship, “the sound” on a surface level could perhaps be a bit too much – and it might be for some! But I love it. I think I love Another Michael even more than I love Big Thief. AM stimulates my craving for sugary pop perfection as much as my hunger for “intectually” crafted top-notch songwriting, so it’s an obvious win.

To mention some of the highlights:
The opener “Guitars” has the most beautiful, shimmering, layered, yeah, acoustic guitars (different acoustic guitars, perhaps also a 12-string, in a SERIOUSLY wide stereo spread), what sounds like a softly plucked arpeggio-violin, larger-than-life electric chorus guitar pads, occasional subtle synth, piano and string touches – but most importantly, the chorus goes “guitars get acoustic sometimes, guitars get electric sometimes”. Who dares to do this?! “Angel” is an amazing slow-burning Fleetwood Mac-like ballad, “Research” could be an Alex G interlude on one of his recent records. “Waterpressure” is another true high-point perhaps containing my favorite verse-melody of ’23, serious bliss. “Common Ground” is a charming alt. country rocker and “Piano Lessons” is the mellow almost alt. r&B-inspirered beautiful dark closer.

Label: Run for Cover
Genre: Indie Pop / Indie-Folk
Fav Tracks: Guitars, Angel, Waterpressure, Piano Lessons
Rating: 3.5



Distorted Rooms (2023)

When Radian releases a record, you know it’s going to be high quality. Legends of minimalistic experimental / electronically-infused post-rock (no of the sweeping broad strokes you’ve come to expect of this term, this is NOT sentimental music), they only release an album every 5 year or so, but they’re always impeccably worked-through. Their music sounded like the future in the early 2000’s and it still does. Dark, geometric / angular music relying heavily on chopped up percussion, metallic fragmented beats from digitally processed real drum recordings, and distorted dense timbres and textures from analog synths. From the more organic realm, we have electric bass (sort of similar to To Rococo Rot and Kreidler), electric guitars with effects and occassionally vibraphone. Perhaps imagine a contemporary soundtrack to a Tarkovsky movie.

Label: Thrill Jockey
Genre: Post-Rock / Glitch / Experimental Rock
Rating: 3.5



Vidrio (2023)

How I adore Mabe Fratti, everything she touches turns to gold. This is an album of atmospheric, organic modern classical/avant-rock/slowcore (with touches of other genres). Breathtaking melodies, strong composing skills, expressive recording and production (that spacious yet close Laughing Stock sound), emotionally urgent performances, a perfect balance of atonal/disharmonic and tonal/harmonic stuff…. Strongly recommended!

Label: Unheard of Hope
Genre: Modern Classical/Avant-Rock/Slowcore/Post-Rock
Rating: 4.0


Locate S,1

Wicked Jaw (2023)

This was a surprise to me! Still waiting for The Weather Station’s comeback to “Ignorance”, this was more than welcome. I don’t know much about NYC-based Locate S,1 (AKA Christina Schneider), but this a seriously strong sixties-influenced folk-rock record. Actually, there’s not a single unnecessary filler-track on here. Of course, I’m a sucker for the occasional serious Fleetwood Mac vibes, and when she suddenly goes full-blown synth new-wave, I’m also on board (“Heart Attack”).

Label: Captured Tracks
Genre: Folk-Rock, Indie Pop
Fav Tracks: Heart Attack, Blue Meaniez, You Were Right About One Thing
Rating: 4.0



Stereo Mind Game (2023)

I’m very emotionally connected to this record. One of the records I’ve heard the most in 2023 and which helped me on difficult days. I’m not much of a fan of Daughter’s previous work – too much YouTube-postrock / dreampop vibes, if that makes any sense to anyone but me – but suddenly here they are with a much larger, incredibly detailed and more emotionally nuanced work. Basically, this is dark, dreamy, emotive indie rock with electronic touches and hints of dream pop, post-rock and slowcore. The production is at masterclass-level, carries a similar warmth, depth and level of detail to Bark Psychosis’ “Code-Name Dustsucker”, for instance. Very interestingly, combined with and sort of contrasting the ethereal elements, there’s also a sort of particularly English social realist dimension to some of these tracks (this sort of English spoken word thing also exemplified by Broadcast, Saint Etienne and Dry Cleaning) that perhaps brings you to the rainy, grey streets of Birmingham or similar places.

This gives me flashbacks to the last golden indie-rock decade from 2002-2012 where seriously urgent, creative, emotive indie rock records we’re seemingly released twice a week. For some reason, for the last ten years or so, it has generally seemed difficult for alternative rock musicians to find anything important to express. The old favorites such as The National and Arcade Fire now honestly seems like Rolling Stones or Neil Young in the 1980’s. There’s been tons of other great music coming hereamong from other previously under-recognized genres (and a bit less white hetero-sexual male stuff), so it’s nothing I would cry about. But when everything’s said, I love indie rock, I’ve grown up on that shit, so “Stereo Mind Game” makes me happy.

Label: 4AD
Genre: Indie Rock, Dreampop
Fav Tracks: Party, Junk Mail, Future Lover
Rating: 4.0



False Lankum (2023)

It’s been wonderful to see that an equally traditional and innovative slowcore/folk album could top so many year end lists this year. Deserved, I would say. This is truly an exceptional blend of traditional Irish folk and all kinds of experimental music such as modern classical, post-rock, noise, etc. At times, they almost manage to sound like Swans at their most fierce! So much has already been said about this record, so suffice it to say that Ireland is really experiencing a musical blossoming these years. Check out John Francis Flynn too.

Label: Rough Trade
Genre: Irish Folk Music, Avant-Folk
Fav tracks: Newcastle, Go Dig My Grave
Rating: 4.0


The Tubs

Dead Meat (2023)

Definitely the best jangle rock record of the year (perhaps of the last five years or so, even). This is so fresh. I love jangle rock, but I have low-to-zero expectations when I listen to new jangle records…. No matter how critically appraised they are, they almost always sounds like a bloodless derivative version of their old heroes (such as The Bats, Go Betweens, etc.). These guys are certainly also inspirered by the before-mentioned bands, but there’s also a healthy dose of 70’s English folk-rock (Richard Thompson-kinda) and even some aspects of pub-rock, which really takes it somewhere else. Most importantly, though, they sound like themselves! The singer has a very idiosyncratic and very non-indie voice, the chords and melodies, and the general harmonic space have a strong personal touch. All in all, this can’t just be boxed, labeled, and consumed in one bite as generic jangle rock; they’re The Tubs, that’s it!

Label: Trouble in Mind
Genre: Jangle Rock / Folk-Rock
Fav tracks: Sniveller, Wretched Lie, I Don’t Know How It Works
Rating: 4.0



Yay! (2023)

I admire Motorpsycho so much. They’ve been going since 1989, they’ve released so many fantastic records, and they’re constantly reinventing themselves and staying fresh. They present such as unique, diverse blend of genres and makes it sound like it requires no effort at all, they’re INCREDIBLE musicians with immense technical skills and heightened emotional musical sensibilities, and most important they’re amazing songwriters/composers. I think this is their best record in a long time, but that’s only a matter of personal taste. I like that they’re venturing a bit back to their indie rock roots.

So how does this sound like? It’s sort of a blend of a late 90’s indie rock vibe, uplifting jazzy late-60’s folk rock (think Tim Buckley or Astral Weeks-era Morrison) with bongo-drums and shakers, early 70’s Grateful Dead jam spirit, a bit of progressive rock, dreampop / shoegaze / neo-psychedelica….

The production on this album is absolutely fabulous, warm, slightly satured and analog-sounding with the most airy, sparkling acoustic guitars, crunchy overdriven bass and beefy 70’s drums. Truly life-affirming stuff brimming with creativity.

Label: Det Nordenfjeldske Grammofonselskab
Genre: Indie Rock / Folk
Fav tracks: Patterns, The Rapture, Hotel Daedalus
Rating: 4.0

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