We’ve already counted down our favourite tracks of the year (Songs 50 -26 and Songs 25 – 1) with the bar set high. Well we can promise the list of 2023 releases from EPs to albums was just as strong. It may be a cliché rolled out year after year, but artists from our small part of the world continue to punch above their weight with new and established artists all represented. Part 1 of our favourite releases can be found here.
It’s never easy to list and rank an artform, but below are our favourites from the past year. From exciting debuts to more established artists putting out some of their finest work, 2023 was a year to be excited about in Northern Irish music.
Words & Selections by Aaron Cunningham, Addison Paterson, Amy Porter, Ben Magee, Jonah Gardner, Martha Greer & Robert Brown.
10 ► Lucy Bell – Emotion Pending
Following a run of promising singles, Lucy Bell’s anticipated Emotion Pending EP coloured the summer in a haunting, melancholic and comforting soundtrack. Saturated in lyrics that simply don’t hold back, there’s a track that everyone can resonate with. Strong points include the integrity within ‘Fire and Smoke’ as well as the speckles of pop qualities in the rhythmic ‘I Wish We Never Met’. The star, however, ‘Love Me The Most’ follows the age old narrative of a unsuccessful love in a classically spiteful way that exerts a forthright sincerity. Amy
9 ► David Holmes – Blind on a Galloping Horse
The latest addition to an iconic artistic legacy, Blind on a Galloping Horse is a triumphant sonic mapping of socio-political landscapes past and ever-present from Belfast heavyweight producer, DJ and artist David Holmes. Electronic krautrock and upbeat psychedelia provide moments of hope under the Broadcast-esque vocals of Raven Violet. Holmes’ calls for solidarity and to resistance – always poignant, but striking chords with staggering precision of late as the voices of Ukranian Afghan refugees, and a Palestinian ambulance driver ring out on ‘When People Are Occupied Resistance is Justified’. Addison
8 ► Ferna – Understudy
Understudy is the most ambitious release of Hannah’s career to date. The decision to shake up her sound with the introduction of synths & drums beats was a leap into the unknown but it has paid off. Littered with interesting perspectives that cross history, literary fiction and naturally her own personal circumstances & relationships, it finds success in the universal nature of these experiences and feelings. When all is said and done, Understudy, is an album full of tender moments, big choruses, lyrical intellect and perhaps most importantly, heart. Robert
7 ► Far Caspian – The Last Remaining Light
The Last Remaining Light is the second album in the last few years from the mind of Northern Irish songwriter Joel Johnston and band. One listen and it feels like an ambitious release that takes Far Caspian’s signature motifs and dreamy atmospherics into new places. The songwriting has resulted in some of Far Caspian’s best work to date, but its the production here that may shine brightest. An incredible sounding record. Aaron
6 ► Joel Harkin – Sham Supermarket
Harkin’s songwriting went nuclear on this EP. Imagined conversations with George Lucas. Melancholic sojourns into the open coffin of an empty cityscape. The death of Thatcher and of friendships. A folk EP in name and form, but so much more than that. A top-tier release from your favourite Donegal musician. Ben
5 ► Problem Patterns – Blouse Club
A mighty debut album, the queer-punk uproar of Blouse Club is a savage destruction of all things patriarchy. Problem Patterns reclaim command with a head-banging accumulation of twelve empowering offerings, each straight-to-the-point and delivered with intense passion. Momentous, joyful, and exhilarating, this album is a force to be reckoned with. Martha
4 ► New Pagans – Making Circles of Our Own
New Pagans’ second album boasts a tracklist of fewer previously-released singles than their debut, giving hungry listeners a bolder, fresher sound that demands to be heard live. Packed with their characteristic pristine-yet-guttural punk grit and right-on stances, New Pagans continue to be a voice with something worth saying. Addison
3 ► Brand New Friend – Grandstand
Brand New Friend’s eagerly anticipated sophomore album Grandstand turns a new leaf for the five-piece as they explore themes of loss, grief, and fleeting childhood. The poignant lyricism delivered by Taylor and Lauren Johnson paints images of youthful North Coast living through a dynamic array of alternative guitar, sweeping ballads, and infectious synths. It is a beautiful ode to the ever-changing occurrences of life. Martha
2 ► Chalk – Conditions
Few Irish artists had a year like Chalk. Building on early promise and a stellar live show, the Conditions EP was released to coincide a UK & Ireland tour that soon rose to festival dates and Europe. A fiery debut full of intensity that channels a medley of influences from post-punk to techno into a beast of the band’s own. The heavier moments shudder and pulse with Ross Cullen’s often angered vocals following in step. Closer ‘Conditions’ offers clarity atop the rest of the EP’s tumultuous landscapes. Aaron
1 ► Arborist – An Endless Sequence of Dead Zeros
Our album of the year thoughts run in parallel with that of the NI Music Prize. McCambridge went to the American heartland and tapped into the heritage found at home and abroad in his best effort yet. Alternative and folk rhythms blend with soul, psychedelia, and Americana melodies and traditions. High points of the album sound both familiar and warm whilst tense and challenging. An album that sounds like a classic, and feels like its been with you your entire life. Ben