2023 will most likely be remembered as the year of war in Ukraine, a revolving door of prime ministers in the UK, the cost of living crisis and the death of the Queen and cultural icons like Pelé, Vivienne Westwood and Terry Hall.
But it was also the year of a tentative return to normality post-lockdown and with live music back on the agenda there were plenty of fantastic gigs to celebrate (although I caught covid for the first time at my second gig back) at venues that had struggled to survive the pandemic, the return of the festival season and an absolute barrel load of superb new music, film, TV, books and art to explore as the world opened up again.
Earlier this week the Joyzine writing team shared their favourites of the past 12 months, today it’s the turn of our editors.
There has been plenty to be angry about in recent years, and many of my favourite LPs of 2022 mined this rich seam of righteous fury. Deux Furieuses bent it into sloganeering post-punk and moments of raw, delicate emotion on Songs from Planet Earth, Scrounge sharpened it into angular discordant treatises on the effects of the cost of living crisis on Sugar, Daddy and Otoboke Beaver splattered it across a canvas of hyperactive stop-start artpunk on Super Champon.
For those who wanted some escape from the endless churn of bad news, Perhaps Contraption‘s Nearly Human gave a glimpse of the wonders of life, following a single atom through the formation of the universe to the present. Featuring moments of orchestral beauty, humour and a great mix of science and wide-eyed wonder, it was the aural equivalent of the stunning photographs returned by the James Webb Telescope.
A personal highlight was recording some group backing vocals (and playing a bit of percussive wooden frog) on The Fades‘ new album Night Terrors along with proper musicians from bands including Hurtling, Hot Sauce Pony, Dead Patrons and a guest appearance by Les ‘Fruitbat’ Carter of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. Regardless of (and perhaps despite) my participation it’s a fantastic album, mixing searing garage punk with lighter reggae elements to stunning effect.
In addition to these long-standing favourites, there were plenty of new discoveries to be made, and amongst my favourites (though I was woefully late to the party) was Bob Vylan, whose nazi-punching, Thatcher-exhuming and, perhaps most unexpectedly, five a day eating LP The Price of Life made him a deserving winner of the MOBOs first ever Best Alternative Act, despite strong competition from the also excellent Nova Twins and Big Joanie.
But if you twisted my arm behind my back and forced me to pick a favourite album of 2022, it would be Cassels‘ A Gut Feeling – a writhing, churning collection of perfectly observed character songs that picks at the scabs of modern society and then dances in the dark goop that seeps from the wounds.
Perhaps unsurprisingly one my favourite tracks of the year came from the LP I’ve just named as my pick of the year – the opening track of the Cassels LP, ‘Your Humble Narrator’, is an eight minute spoken word motorik epic, a masterclass in tension and release that I could easily envisage being pogoed along to by a field of thousands at a summer festival if it were ever given the chance.
(Warning: video contains flashing images)
Away from bands that I’ve already mentioned, longstanding Joyzine favourite Piney Gir‘s Alchemy Hand EP was a haunting brew of dark psychedelia and technicolour guitar pop, with ‘The Seventh Dial‘ my highlight of the consistently splendid four tracks within. Piney is almost 20 years into a musical career that has spanned more genres than your Spotify Wrapped infographic conjured up at the end of the year, but at the other end of the scale are Dead Patrons, who released their first music this year – my pick would be the gut-churning bassy rumble of ‘Nothing‘ and I’m looking forward to hearing more soon.
Another new (to me at least) discovery were Dama Scout, whose single ‘Emails from Suzanne‘ clanged and skidded into my affections with its perfect take on the loud-quiet-loud-louder structure that still gets me every time after 20 years of writing about music, along with a cheeky major scale hook that sealed the deal.
And there’s also space on this list for a moment of fragile beauty, provided by Black Country, New Road with ‘Snow Globes’, a slow-building lament that starts with gently chiming guitars, adds wistful strings and climaxes with drums exploding like fireworks. Exquisite.
Due to a lot of life happening over the course of the year (almost all of it good, thankfully), I’ve not got out to as many gigs as usual this year, but I’m glad I emerged long enough to catch Jason Lytle perform Grandaddy‘s The Sophtware Slump backed by The Lost Machine Orchestra at The London Palladium and Art Brut‘s triumphant live rendition of their debut LP Bang Bang Rock & Roll at Heaven. Bugeye‘s set at LOUD WOMEN Fest was a disco-punk delight, and we even found the time to put on a couple of shows of our own, in partnership with Sonic Tonic which saw first Firestations, The Leaf Library and Alizee Leriche and then Shattercones, Maggie The Cat and Naomi In Blue take to the stage at Paper Dress Vintage.
But my favourite live show was something of a nostalgic indulgence as Rhesus, who were a big part of our early years, reformed for one night only at The Windmill and absolutely tore through a set of songs that I was surprised to find were still etched into my memory. Music as time travel.
As is often the case most of the books I’ve read this year were from previous years, with a particular highlight having been finally getting around to reading Ernest Cline’s wonderful sci-fi novel Ready Player One, which creates a richly layered reality in which escape to the utopian metaverse of the OASIS contrasts starkly with the dying world the characters inhabit offline, while a heavy nostalgia for 1980s pop culture is juxtaposed with the futuristic setting to great effect.
I did manage to read one book published this year though, and continuing on the nostalgic theme can heartily recommend Britpop from the Decades series of music books for a musical trip down memory lane. Written by Peter Richard Adams (who occasionally contributes to these pages) and Matt Pooler, it runs through key albums in the birth, rise and fall of the genre from each year of the 1990s, with Pete and Matt’s observations adding some interesting facts and the occasional amusing aside.
TV & Radio
The BBC’s Then Barbara Met Alan was an important real life story, unknown to many (including myself) told with a cheeky sense of mischief, a strong political backbone and moments of stark realism. It follows disabled punk cabaret artists Barbara Lisicki (Ruth Madeley) and Alan Holdsworth (Arthur Hughes) as they rage against the establishment, crash the ITV Telethon, described by Lisicki as “28 hours of well-intentioned do-gooders dangling us poor crips in front of the nation’s bleeding hearts” and form the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, campaigning against systemic discrimination in a series of situationist protests. It was a timely and brilliantly executed drama with plenty of humour thrown in at a time when direct action is back in the news and the fight for disability rights goes on.
I’ve also been listening to radio documentaries a lot more this year, and two in particular stood out, with plenty of overlapping themes between them. Jon Ronson’s Things Fell Apart looks into the origins of different strands of the culture wars, from trans rights to abortion to cancel culture, shedding terrifying light on how one seemingly insignificant incident – a practical joke, an ambitious young director’s first film, a book brought home by a child from school, can lead eventually to tears in the fabric of society.
Gabriel Gatehouse’s The Coming Storm follows many similar threads in his investigations into the Capitol Riots, QAnon and does a great job of weaving together the many conspiracy theories and subcultures into an clear, nuanced and at times surprisingly sympathetic narrative.
I’ve been fortunate to be living in London’s 2022 Borough of Culture, Lewisham so there have been plenty of opportunities to envelop myself in art this year. My favourites have all taken place at Lewisham Shopping Centre (also home to the excellent Migration Museum – check it out if you’ve not yet been) – it’s been great to see art brought to where people are rather than hidden away in gallery spaces that can sometimes seem unwelcoming to the uninitiated. These included a series of murals celebrating local volunteers, a playlist of music by influential local artists being piped throughout the centre (I took great joy in buying my vegetables to the sound of Carter USM’s ‘The Only Living Boy In New Cross’) and an interactive art piece by Mary Corey March titled Identity Tapestry, which asked the viewer to wrap a single strand of coloured wool around a series of statements related to their identity to create a huge tapestry representing the people of Lewisham.
My stand-out albums of the year, along with some snippets of my reviews of them, are:
Karl Vento – Rainbow Lights
“a beautiful, sweeping, heartfelt delight with both micro and macro songs that get better with every listen”
“an abundance of humanity”
“Hope spills out of every musical pore and though his lyrics never preach you can feel the yearning for a better world, something that feels genuine and free from sentimentality”
Read Paul’s review of the album
Ree-Vo – All Welcome On Planet Ree-Vo
“It has enough bounce to shame a trampoline and make a Space Hopper hang up its horns. It’s full of fun and fear, firmly rooted in reality but also giving out dopamine hits of escapism.”
“It holds a mirror up to a broken society but also mines for optimism and this glorious alchemy that happens when Andy Spaceland and T. Relly get together must be making this planet spin a little faster.”
Read Paul’s review of the album
Adwaith – Bato Mato
“Adwaith are proving to be one of the strongest indie bands around at the moment. They can construct a wall of sound that could withstand hurricanes, and handle the heavy and the poetic with equal ease. They also have more hooks than the cloakroom of the Millennium Stadium. Bato Mato is immense and exciting and just because I don’t understand the words doesn’t mean I can’t be moved by the sentiment and uplifted by the sheer optimistic power of their sound. Diolch!”
Read Paul’s review of the album
NOBRO – Live Your Truth Shred Some Gnar
“a flat-out masterpiece of full-tilt pop/punk-rock that somehow manages to smile and sneer at the same time it embraces life while also giving it the finger.”
“Every track packs an all-you-can-eat-buffet into perfect bite-sized tracks that rarely hit 3 minutes.”
Read Paul’s review of the album
Notable mentions to:
Gemma Rogers – No Place Like Home (review)
Matt Donovan – Habit Formation (review)
Transient Visitor – TV2 re-release (review)
Bryson the Alien – The Great Adventures Of… (review)
And my pick of this year’s singles:
7ebra – If I Ask Her
Stockholm-based label PNKSLM have an amazing track record of finding and releasing amazing acts and Malmö’s 7ebra are no exception. “‘If I Ask Her’ is their first release and it’s a small but perfectly formed 2 minute 12 second taste of things to come with the gentle bump of drum machine, a descending guitar line and the trill of an organ all in support of the twins’ preternatural harmonies.”
Read Paul’s review of the track
Sumie – Höga Torn
“This release is inspired by the young people Sandra has met working at Gothenburg’s opera house.”
“It feels like an optimistic prayer for the future her younger colleagues, and song evokes the mood of a morning sunrise with clouds forming and then get burned away by the rising sun allowing the full glory of the view to come into focus.”
Read Paul’s review of the track
Fell – We Could Do Anything
A glorious single from a glorious album released on the glorious Lost Map label. “Given the dreadful things going on in the world at present, Fell’s new single ‘We Could Do Anything’ seems to come from a gentler time when cynicism had yet to be invented and this sunshine-infused pop that could have been taken from a dream sequence in an episode of the Monkees.”
Read Paul’s review of the track
With notable mentions to:
Louien – Second Best (review)
Pull of Autumn with Mark Stewart and Adrian Sherwood – Outlaw Empire (review)
Album: Acid Klaus – Step on My Travelator: The Imagined Career Trajectory of Superstar DJ and Dance Pop Producer, Melvin Harris
Because every era of dance music is in there, along with a narrative thread that’s both entertaining and deeply sad.
Single: Orbital and Sleaford Mods – Dirty Rat
A cracking tune and a much needed message.
Gig: Warmduscher & O. at Float Along Festival
I’ve seen Warmduscher a fair few times but the energy at this particular gig, at the end of a great festival, was something else. Top mosh pit of 22 by far.
Film: Everything Everywhere All At Once
Because Michelle Yeoh + some of the most surprising and creative fight scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing.
Book: Re-Sisters: The Lives and Recordings of Delia Derbyshire, Margery Kempe and Cosey Fanni Tutti
Brilliant and detailed storytelling weaving together the lives of 3 women who fought for their right to be.
TV Show: Wednesday
An ambassador for neurodivergence, Wednesday is played perfectly. No doubt you’re all bored of the dance scene chatter though.
Art Exhibition: Not Without My Ghosts – The Artists As Medium
Trippy and with a surprising amount of commonality in its themes. Jung would have loved it.
Album: Bad Breeding – Human Capital
Blistering 100 mph anarcho punk replete with an essay on the state of mental health provision in the UK. The UK’s best band at the moment. A vital band for these times.
Single: BENEFITS – Thump
Power electronics/harsh noise mixed with straight to the point and immediate spoken word lyrics that cut straight through the bullshit.
Music Video: Girls In Synthesis – Watch With Mother
A claustrophobic and at times uncomfortable video filmed in a conventional 2 up 2 down (including the attic!) house accompanies this throbbing and taut track. Outstanding.
Gig: BENEFITS – Bristol, Strange Brew 22/11/2022
The powerful power electronics, noise, blast beats, etc of the music aside, this gig once again highlighted the power of words, delivery and the (sweat drenched) conviction that lead singer Kingsley conveys. A band on the precipice of greatness. Superb work.
Film: The Feast (Gwledd), 2021 – Dir. Lee Haven Jones
A thoroughly engaging and intriguing Welsh language film that eventually found it’s way to the screens in 2022. Filled with tense minimal dialogue and uncomfortable scenes, this film eventually descends into graphic gore and violence that at times takes one’s breath away. Brilliantly written, filmed and acted folk horror. And the twist is great.
TV: Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
This Netflix series has generated a lot of controversy from both the survivors’ family’s point of view, and the general revulsion and shock that this series has conveyed. That aside, for me, the series opened my eyes, not only to the shocking acts that Dahmer undertook, but what the police chose to ignore, not prosecute and not investigate. With the Reverend Jesse Jackson eventually getting involved, this series becomes more about racism, injustice, and civil unrest, than the killings themselves. Superb story telling.
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