[sic] Magazine

Neil Meehan’s Albums of 2023

1. Bar ItaliaTracey Denim

“Everything that’s written about us is caveated with the word ‘mysterious’,” Jezmi Tarik Fehmi, singer/guitarist bemoaned to The Guardian earlier this year. Yet with little info on their sites, no text on the album cover, and zero words spoken onstage (not a single one!), it is unsurprising. What we do know, is the Londoners released TWO excellent long-players in 2023 (The Twits followed in October), full of lo-fi indie. Vocals alternate between the three official members (two more appeared live on stage, on drums and bass), as though each had written a separate song, but then placed their parts together, somehow fitting perfectly; ‘Nurse!’ the finest example of three great songs-in-one.

2. Gaz CoombesTurn the Car Around

An excellent January release is always welcome, and adding some colour and light to last winter was Gaz Coombes – 30 years on from forming Supergrass. His fourth solo record, Turn the Car Around has all the melody we’ve come to expect, and in closing track ‘Dance On’ some epic melancholia with Coombes reflecting ‘Don’t ask yourself why / you’d never believe it / there’s not much time”. Glorious.

3. Ulrika SpacekCompact Trauma

It was part-way through their Manchester Psych Fest set, that I finally put my finger on why the five-piece are so encapsulating; their music mirrors life itself. Well, mine at least. Three separate guitars individually chime feedback, noise or psychedelia, off-kilter and unconventional drums beats, just-about-audible vocals, and a bass acting the brain – desperately trying to make sense of all around it, and keep things together. And when Ulrika Spacek, with impeccable timing, choose to converge their parts, as at 4 mins 52 seconds into “The Sheer Drop”, everything makes perfect sense.

4. DAIISTARGood Time

Is there a baggy-shoegaze genre? Baggaze? Shooey? Who cares, as Austin band DAIISTAR combine Roses’ rhythms, (MB) Valentine vocals, a flurry of fuzz and add a splurge of sunshine, to bring the early nineties right up to date.

5. Arlo ParksMy Soft Machine

Parks’ debut album topped my 2021 list, with My Soft Machine proving it was no one-off. Songwriting, instrumentation and authenticity, which appear way beyond her years, 23-year-old Londoner Parks can bring hope, warmth and a lightness to the darkest themes (“I know somethings don’t get easier / I know some things hurt forever”).

6. Hifi Sean & David McAlmontHappy Ending

If Happy Ending were to be described as House, it would more-specifically be the kitchen, the morning after the party, just as the sunshine, memories and positivity all start seeping through. David McAlmont provides the soulful, reflective vocal (as opposed to “Yes”-esque showstoppers), with ex-Soup Dragon Hifi Sean the beats and loops. Also resurrected are the Bollywood strings previously used in The High Fidelity’s Demonstration, as they collaborate on an album it is hoped is just a happy beginning.

7. A. SavageSeveral Songs About Fire

The second solo album from A(ndrew) Savage, Several Songs About Fire, lowers the pace from parent band Parquet Courts, whilst relocating the soundscape from Brooklyn to Memphis. Instrumentation is stripped back, vocals are turned up (including a guest from Cate le Bon), and Savage is raw, honest and heartfelt (“Saying a prayеr for rock ‘n’ roll / Is it gone? Do they miss me?”)

8. CindyWhy Not Now?

San Francisco’s Cindy strip back all the noise and the chaos, right down to an organ, gentle guitars, and Karina Gill’s soft Mazzy Star-like vocal. There are brief up-tempo moments, “Earthly Belongings” clocking in at one-and-a-half minutes, but Why Not Now’s triumph is its steady sense of reflection.

9. Dutch UnclesTrue Entertainment

The Manchester band’s sixth album comes six years after its predecessor – their first proper break, having released and toured regularly since forming at college. They didn’t go away completely, the excellent “Chips of Chorlton” podcast found them interviewing fellow musicians, as well as revealing fascinating insight into their past, and inner-workings of the band. Yet they sound fully refreshed here – their signature array of rhythms, guitar, piano, joined by an extra depth to Duncan Wallis’s voice.

10. Spirit AwardThe Fear

Describing the album as “an exploration of the supernatural, love, dreaming/waking, and most of all facing the things that scare you or you think you can’t do”, Dan Lyon, AKA Spirit Award, takes us on a psych-rock journey. Riffs and reverb, distortion and dog barks, recorded in various Washington locations – including on a flight – it’s time to embrace The Fear.