[sic] Magazine

2023: Half-Term Report

Perhaps it’s just our advancing years, but there now seems to be a new, distinct youth movement underway. It began post-lockdown when older teenagers and young twenty-somethings crept outside, blinking and back – in some rusty cases – into a cautious form of social life, and – in other cases – into a world of bars, clubs and gigs that they hadn’t been old enough to experience before. They arrived en masse, three years’ worth of debutantes in a single wave and they came with pent-up creative energy, which first manifested itself in outrageous, uncaringly clashing fashion ideas, progressive opinions and later, of course, in the music they made and the scenes they would create. With little to do but research and experiment during many months at home, this new wave is more widely and deeply influenced than any before it and, often, more resourceful too.

Just as inventive as their predecessors too, DIY culture flourishes as brightly as it ever has, but it’s no longer limited to punk or indie. Underground pop is bursting with off-kilter enthusiasm and unusual adornments. The rhythmic tendrils of jazz now spawn hybrid genres almost weekly. Forgotten pockets of post-punk, largely overlooked in recent revivals now resurface with studious attention to detail, to name but a few examples. Rejecting much of the established structure, this movement has found its own spaces, its own promoters, its own sound engineers etc. and – crucially – also its own voice. Go to one of these nights as an outsider and you’ll recognise no-one and, the world shifting beneath your feet, and as much as that horrifies the elder statesman (it’ll happen to them too, you reassure yourself), you’re inwardly happy, uncontrollably so. The kids are alright, and the future is in safe hands.

It was inevitable and the handover feels right. Consistency will follow and many moments of brilliance will soon cohere into brilliant albums (as much as listening habits and attention spans have changed, the format remains a statement for most). Some are already here; many will follow. While we wait, the old guard plays their part, offering up career highs and reference points for generations to come. It feels like we’re on the cusp of something great and hopes are high for the remainder of the year’s releases given the quality already on offer, 2023 already on a rolling boil and still building pressure. You’ll undoubtedly have had your favourites. Mine are below.

Starting with three different takes on the broad post-punk church, London-based Swedes FEWS are the most straightforward, their lean third LP stacked with hooks and melodies, smart guitars reverberating off all the right angles. Eight years after their first, Cardiff’s Chain Of Flowers are still in thrall to the dreamiest parts of The Cure’s catalogue however and still making a very good stab of replicating them without ripping the sound off entirely. Altogether nastier, Brooklyn-based Model/Actriz incorporate snarling, stop-start noise-rock into the tight coil of post-punk with thrilling effect, even more impressive as the only debut album to make this half-term list.

Keeping things loud, the new hard-rocking Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs long-player is arguably the Geordie porcine septet’s best to date, their Sabbath worship now amped up to truly massive proportions. Equally huge, modern thrash pioneers Uniform are no strangers to a collaboration, doing wonders this year for NYC-Tokyo relations alongside heavy specialists Boris, the ferociously crusty result pure corrosion.

Easing us back into the comforting honesty of indie-rock ‘n’ roll, The Men’s love-letter to hometown New York City is a career high, blown-out garage punk-rock with no more complicated an aim than to put a smile on your face. And no less important a statement from the Big Apple, Washer’s perfect third is just as scrappy as you’d hope for, tense post-hardcore unspooled into slack storytelling – there’s a reason Washer are often called your favourite band’s favourite band, you know. Swimming around Saddle Creek for six years now, Katherine Paul’s latest as Black Belt Eagle Scout digs deep into her First Nation upbringing, the indie singer-songwriter landing a strikingly elemental collection on which every track seems to outdo the last.

As trad a singer-songwriter as they come, Jeff Tweedy is in turn an alt-country institution who needs little introduction, his latest masterful work as Wilco a blueprint for artists like Kevin Morby and – no doubt – many others for generations to come. Completing this round-up, and another veteran leaving a legacy, Tim Hecker may be working with a more contemporary musical palette, but his Avant-classical drones are no less evocative, new album No Highs ironically as forceful, standout and memorable as the Canadian and his greyscales have been in some time.

While few stinkers are yet to cross our path this year, the less said about Hotel Lux’s inadvisable foray into laddish Britpop the better, while U.S. Girls earnest disco-funk and Yves Tumor’s experimental pop did very little for these ears too. Nevertheless, with plenty more releases to come during the second half of the year, 2023 is looking a lot more hit than it is miss so far.

That list in full (no particular order):

The MenNew York City (Garage/Punk-Rock) [Fuzz Club]
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs PigsLand Of Sleeper (Hard-Rock/Doom) [Rocket Recordings]
Tim HeckerNo Highs (Drone/Avant Classical) [Kranky]
WilcoCruel Country (Singer-Songwriter/Alt-Country) [dBpm Records]
Model/ActrizDogsbody (Noise-Rock/Post-Punk) [True Panther]
Black Belt Eagle ScoutThe Land, The Water, The Sky (Indie/Alt-Rock) [Saddle Creek]
FEWSGlass City (Post-Punk) [Welfare Sounds]
WasherImproved Means To Deteriorated Ends (Indie/Post-Hardcore) [Exploding In Sound]
Boris & UniformBright New Disease (Thrash/Industrial) [Sacred Bones]
Chain Of Flowers Never Ending Space (Post-Punk/Goth) [Alter]

Not a fan of the album format? Hear some of our tracks of the year so far too: