Here we go again, with the personally not cherished year-end list. Just repeating myself, a 2023, more than any other, flooded by a sea of ongoing releases, perhaps too many, and distracted by external factors, in which I struggled to keep the right pace of listening and insights in order to have a clear and detailed mental map of what happened in music for the last twelve months, besides being too lazy to take note. Consequently here is the usual imperfect list of what I listened to the most, without distinction of merit, with a lot of holes that will always come to mind in the next few days, avoiding the most established names which I leave to much more important and followed sites, with the absolute peak of the new Slowdive LP, another classic in the making without sounding classic Slowdive at all. I wish you a Happy New Year everyone, even if there wouldn’t be much to celebrate with the ongoing West-fueled genocide. Anyway, again, all the best for the new year!
- SOFT COVERS “Soft Serves” [Hidden Bay Records/ Little Lunch Records]
Traveling on sparkling and emotional-ridden mid-80s sonic domains dear to The Go-Betweens, C86, and Flying Nun and Sarah Records alumni, the Naarm/Melbourne-based trio blend notable pop culture phenomena with their own realities, to churn out playful, lively, slightly offbeat invigorating warm breezes of garagey jangle guitar pop ornated by emotive organ flourishes to add a subtly tantalizing gleaming psychedelic flair, infused with heartfelt male-female vocals, catchy singalong choruses, and sunkissed strummy and energetic sparkling guitar melodies to evoke an apparent comforting feeling of wistful nostalgia, yet a lingering deep sense of angst and despair. A compelling specimen of timeless guitar pop.
- GENEVA DRIVE “Soft Like Fire” [Wayside & Woodland Recordings]
Personally enjoyed at the end of the 90s, as one half of the West Midlands duo Avrocar, from which still retains some electronic leanings, whilst drawing to Flying Saucer Attack, Labradford, Windy & Carl, Galaxie 500, and, why not, early Pink Floyd, Geneva Drive is the new solo project of Perry McDonagh, whose debut album floats in a contemplative and rarefied transcended space, where hazy oneiric psychedelia, shimmery shoegaze echoes, folkish acoustic inlays, smooth electronica, krautish mesmerism, and bedazzling post-rock, meet and harmonize, all shrouded in a dreamlike lo-fi essence. Wandering between repetitive scraping chords, reflective crystalline arpeggios, sparkling reverb, moody restrained distortions, softly crisp synthetic percussions, and suffused shadowy and nostalgic bittersweet melodies, rich and dreamy, at times haunting, intimate vocals lead us through late-night twilight magic to slowly dim for an adventurous mind-freeing immersion under the beautifully inspirational star-filled sky, to reconcile ourselves with the hidden quiet of our most profound being.
- SEABLITE “Lemon Lights” [Mt St Mtn.]
Started in 2016 as a duo, and with a brilliant 2019 debut LP, just reissued on vinyl via Dandy Boy Records, under their belt, the San Francisco four-piece jangle-gaze collective brings finally to fulfillment a balanced and organic coalesce of the distinctive personalities and styles of each member, overflowing with a vibrant, energetic, and groovy kaleidoscopic pop sound, by deftly spinning distorted Shoegaze textures layered with the best bits of Noise-Dream-Brit-Baggy-Jangle, even Post-punk inflections, through a relentless sunkissed rollercoaster ride of loud, fuzzy and sparkling seductive guitar riffs, urgent drums, and sinuously pulsing basslines, around high seemingly carefree layered vocals, falling angsty and estranged through kaleidoscopic snapshots of lucid dreams.
- OCEANS “Dreamers In Dark Cities” LP [Shelflife Records]
After a long and meticulous challenging recording process, the long-anticipated debut album from the Australian Shoegazers has finally become a compelling reality, replete with a 90s-infused striking combination of introspective ethereal melodies and swirling guitar-driven energy, at times scattered with darker 80s nuances. The ten-track opus explores the loneliness and disconnection that occurs during long periods of isolation from loved ones, where feelings of longing and dread sink into doom-laden, unsettling landscapes weaved by a winding sway and surge of rushing feedback-heavy riffs, sparkling rippling strains, veiling synth sweeps, chugging basslines and punchy drumming, interspersed with atmospheric twinkly piano key wistful interludes, to match naturally with Mayzie Lee and Thomas Lee sinuous ghostly vocalizations, which intertwine or overlap in outlining melancholic harmonies and solemn haunted broods on the backdrop of the sad and angsty alienation of dark city nights.
- GRAND DRIFTER “Paradise Window” LP [Subjungle / La Contorsionista]
My Piedmontese fellow countryman multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Andrea Calvo explores sunkissed, gentle, invigorating and easy-listening fringes of pop in the third album of his Grand Drifter project, expanding his familiar Sarah Records, Belle And Sebastian, The Go-Betweens and Kings Of Convenience rooted musical imaginary, with Burt Bacharach and The High Llamas tinged subtle orchestral tones and rhythmical Bossanova suggestions. Sparkling, transparent, fruity and refreshing like a good bottle of our Monferrato’s Malvasia wine, seven sublime bright tunes, for little more than twenty minutes, infused with vivid and warm emotional layers of atmospheric vocals with intimate confidential flair, that linger over a swaying wandering of light and airy guitar strumming and glistening arpeggios, lilted by steady nimble percussions, along with sinuously rubbery bass pulses, ceaselessly punctuated by mercurial twinkly piano keys, topped by stirring enveloping strings, to arouse feelings of comforting nostalgia and melancholic angst amid the shifting seasons of love. An endearing precious record as brief as a sweet laid-back summer day, yet as precious as its memory that will stay with us for a long time.
- FLYYING COLOURS “You Never Know” LP [Club AC30]
Hanging around the underground rock scene since 2013, Melbourne-based shoegazers Flyying Colours despite their sparseness of releases, have the knack to hone a distinctive sound by exploring and incorporating a heap of different tones and nuances with a dynamic back and forth from cold and warm, shadow and light and loud and quiet. The quartet’s third album emphasizes and brings to full effect the band’s innate pop sensibility of their songwriting without smoothing down the invigorating layers of shoegazing guitar’s reverb and distortion, and the vibrant ripping rhythms section, that shape its spine, incorporating a wide range of sonic suggestions from Noise-Rock, Jangle, Indie Rock, to Manchester-sound, Spacey Psychedelia and Dream-Pop, deftly spinning all together in an irresistible multi-faced spin-dryer with insanely infectious results, whilst the distinctive drowsy and spectral male/female vocal unison floats and expands into vibrant hazy introspections about self, love, and dreams, a perfect bittersweet escapist companion.
- THE REDS, PINKS AND PURPLES “The Town That Cursed Your Name” LP [Tough Love / Slumberland Records]
Following the ‘enveloping ennui’ infused by the emotional dreamy indie music of The Reds, Pinks & Purples, more or less from its early homespun spellcaster cries, it is getting difficult to find further words of praise to describe the seamless quality of the prolific thriving, by now main project led by veteran songwriter Glenn Donaldson, his subtle magical penchant to churn out insanely catchy, heart-warming, immaculate melodies of poignant and immersive melancholic beauty. Donaldson‘s songwriting state of grace continues in this year’s album as a band, as well as in the following three EPs to be precise, more than usual stained and corroborated by sparse fuzzed-out shoegazing distortion, while, as we are accustomed, urgent swaying through lilting shimmery strumming guitars, rippling jangly melodies and high-pitched emotive wailing leads, layered by evocative fluid keyboards, to surround poetic, introspective, and genuine emotional vocals, conjuring up the longing, doubt, and angst of a musician’s life amid friendship, disappointment, and change. The thoughtful threads come to a heart-rending atmospheric end with the coup de théâtre of a piano-laden tragic dramatic finale “Break Up The Band”, offering also possible suggestions for further sonic nuances, piano and strings, by the way, replicate later in the equally saddening “Late to the Party.”
- WE MELT CHOCOLATE “Holy Gaze” LP [Miracle Waves / No Me Escucho Records]
Somehow like Flying Colours, the Florentine group, with personality and freshness, distances itself, while shaping it to its liking, from the easily recognizable classic Shoegaze wall of sound, to give free rein to a refined, lush and overflowing melodic sensibility, bursting in a vibrant and chaotic swirl of shimmering guitars, that resonate and ricochet, under kaleidoscopic curtains of fuzzed-out distortions and sparkling reverbs, in a vortex of the senses, both sonically immersive and emotionally euphoric, seamlessly blossom with dreamy piercing ethereal cries, dropping slice of life lyrics about travel, social angst, and spirituality into surreal and blissful visions.
- THE SUNCHARMS “Things Lost” LP [Sunday Records]
The “second life” of the Sheffield Indie-Pop group, briefly active between the ’80s and ’90s, personally known through the want-lists from Indie record collectors at the beginning of the 00s, dropped breezily their second LP, after the excellent 2021 debut, finely metabolizing years of listening into an increasingly profound, concise and intensely emotional enthralling guitar-laden rock sound, equally bittersweet and rough-edged, set in an ideal middle ground between Indie Rock, Shoegaze, Jangle Pop, with nods to Motown in “Satanic Rites”, whilst Marcus Palmer’s soft intimate vocals, at times layered with ethereal female whispers, deliver suffering words of abandon and nostalgia with disarming heartfelt sincerity. Through a meandering expanse rich in nostalgic ringing guitar riffs, gently scratchy feedback, and poignant reverbs, colored by wistful ghostly keyboard overlays, a sad angsty soul longs and reflects over a twinkling river of lost dreams, where romantic memories fade, ever so slowly, through a mesmeric eddy of regret and melancholy.
- TOMORROW SYNDICATE “Higher Resolution” LP [Feral Child]
Glasgow-based 3-piece space travellers Tomorrow Syndicate follows up the 2019 sophomore album, “Citizen Input”, via the renowned Polytechnic Youth label, with five retro-futuristic long-form sweeping jams, distinctive of the band’s heady mix of analog synthesizers with organic instrumentation, hovering on the free-gravity fringes of Tangerine Dream/Vangelis infused kosmische psychedelic grooves, and emotive Space-Age-Synth-Poptronica, set in entrancing sci-fi cinematic atmospherics, to takes the listener on an immersive and visionary transformational journey propelled forward by the hypnotic energetic drive of motorik rhythms shrouded in bright and pulsing arpeggiated synths spiralling with a resonant melancholic heft, into metaphysical vertigo, layered with molten dreamy guitar riffs, gliding along the edges of a deep sense of sadness, hope and euphoria at the same time, whilst warm alluring vocals cast positive mind-freeing suggestions about how to leave your worries behind on the way to endless transcendent horizons.
- FORTUNATO DURUTTI MARINETTI “Eight Waves In Search Of An Ocean” LP [Soft Abuse / Quindi Records]
Toronto-based, Italian multi-instrumentalist, composer, and sophisticated storyteller Daniel Colussi, the man behind Eight Waves In Search Of An Ocean, drops his third album, the tenth of a two-decade-long career, under his latest “poetic jazz rock” nom de plume Fortunato Durutti Marinetti. As is usual, the Turin-native songwriter painstakingly shapes his peculiar sound material with a detailed and measured touch as well as a disarming naturalness, while adding new electronic nuances with the use of drum machines and synthesizers in a couple of episodes, drawing a series of captivating vivid and depth-defying microcosms of imaginative expressive intensity and intimate intricacy, that vibrate and radiate amid liquid electric piano keys, crystalline guitar chords, enriched by a heady gamut of intoxicating resonances and spirals of flutes, violins and sax, wafting over sinuous warm fretless bass ripples and soft shuffling percussions, to create entrancing lush, tactile and clear backdrops for evocative spoken word vocals to deliver confidential thought-provoking poetry laced with pensive suffused melancholy.
- CINDY “Why Not Now?” LP [Tough Love Records // Mt.St.Mtn.]
Having reached their fourth album, the San Francisco combo, which revolves around the mesmerizing voice and songwriting of Karina Gill, continues to seamlessly evolve its distinctive tambourine-lilted guitar-laden lo-fi and sound, augmented by bygone evocative organ swathes, while relying on the same stripped-down sonic suggestions, without affecting its expressive qualities of heartfelt and poetic intensity. Once again the band seamlessly teeter between slow-down breezes of Indie Pop, reflective Dream-Pop, muffled Slowcore as well as an impromptu yet fluid delicious homage to the ‘chanson française’, laced with a confidential flair that keeps on conquering and seducing, enveloped in an anesthetized haze and tender melodic swoon of a laidback Velvet Underground sheen. Painfully gentle and emotional vocals explore life’s difficulties and contradictions with a sharp eye for detail, amid hypnotizing guitar strumming, chime-edged rippling unfoldings, and sullen keyboards, to evoke deep melancholy and understanding of the universal struggles of humankind. As we are accustomed, Cindy ceaselessly builds an all-encompassing intimate, and vivid imagery in which it is hard not to get cosily enveloped and hypnotized.
- THE DECLINING WINTER “This Heart Beats Black” LP [Shelflife records]
After sixteen years, the project of West Yorkshire‘s multi-instrumentalist, composer and co-founder, along with his brother Chris, of post-rock experimentalist Hood, as well one half of Great Panoptique Winter and one third of Memory Drawings, Richard Vincent Adams, together with a bunch of precious collaborators, has delivered his more cohesive and compelling opus so far, incapsulating sublime echoes of Piano Magic, Talk Talk, Robert Wyatt, as his usual inspired by the familiar atmospheric rural environment of Northern England. Poetic, earthen, intimate, at times ghostly, soundscapes of obsessive crystalline guitar arpeggios, shivering glowing violin strings, warm brass-laden breezes, enveloping synth expanses, and wistful yet vibrant piano melodies, underlied at times by featherlight shuffling jazzy percussions and warm bass palpitations, set a rich timeless backdrop for a sweet whispered vocal array, from natural heartfelt confessions to haunting spectral airs, even comforting ambient chatter, all tinged with indissoluble melancholy, amid grey mists, blurry sunrays, and prismatic reflections, where melancholic memories merge with vibrant horizons, for a little less than an hour of imaginative, at the same time fleeting yet regenerating, windswept shadowed visions,
- YOUTH VALLEY “Lullabies For Adults” [Make Me Happy / Shelflife Records]
Greek five-piece band based in Athens finally reaches their long-awaited full-length debut after having followed them since their inception in 2020, even naively believing for a long time that they were the duo depicted on the single cover. Eight songs dealing with intimate thoughts about love, loneliness, and alienation that pulsate, tinkle and meander with freshness and heartfelt sentiments, certainly with clear nods to the atmospheric, hazy and reflective guitar-pop of the 80s, infused with a refined Johnny Marr style, built on the obsessive layering of penetrating pain filled crystalline guitar arpeggios, that get under the skin, imbued with profound melancholy, always ready to unfold in sudden outbursts of shadowy aching-filled vibrancy, episodically stabbed by distorted fuzzed-out shoegaze riffs, to surround ghostly lost brooding vocals in glistening flows of bleeding passion.
- SISSY SPACE ECHO & THE INVISIBLE COLLABORATORS “From A Land Of Glass Without Mirrors” LP [Old Bad Habits Label / Next Phase : Normal Records]
Born from the ashes of Girl One And The Grease Guns and the Edible Eyes, the elusive Leeds-based electropop outfit Sissy Space Echo & The Invisible Collaborators, featuring ex-members of noise indie outfits The Blanche Hudson Weekend and The Manhattan Love Suicides. Deftly combines with personality 80s New Wave / Synth-pop elements pulled from Human League, New Order, Kraftwerk, Moroder, OMD, Gary Numan, together with tambourine-lilted 60s dreamy inflections and even, when the guitars peep out, endearing C86 tinged jangly Indie Pop or as, in “This Year Approximately”, early Billy Bragg poignancy, the band concocts both electrifying and captivating, highly eclectic debut album, with a heady retrofuturist bent and strong melodic sensitivity, set on mechanical and biting synthetic rhythms, sometimes danceable, and swirling moody sharp-edged 80s keyboards, drawing shadowy yet airy layers floating and stretching with nostalgic penetrating vibrancy around bittersweet emotional observations, pulling the listener into a dystopic sci-fi romance where propaganda, underground meetings, and self-censorship give rise to new creative forces.