Some music listeners insist that 2023 is a weak year for music, but with how many quality albums have released in the past fortnight alone, the evidence is stacked against them. Whether it be the vaporwave brilliance of George Clanton’s Ooh Rap I Ya or the concise conscious hip hop of Noname’s Sundial, phenomenal records of every genre have flooded the music landscape in 2023. Of all the recent releases, George Clanton’s latest album is undoubtedly my favourite.
My Favourite Albums This Week
1. George Clanton – Ooh Rap I Ya (2023) [Vaporwave]
Five years after his last solo endeavour, Slide, George Clanton has returned with another modern masterpiece in vaporwave. Every instrumental is rich and textured, with majestic synth passages folding over one another, forming a sea of immersive sounds where waves of ambience clash and combine. The sheer density of each song is commendable, with countless details mixed into every song. The production is almost overwhelming at points, but thanks to Clanton’s dreamy, layered vocals, the album never feels messy, with his mesmerising melodies adding focus and structure to the otherwise free-flowing, expansive soundscape. To list the strongest tracks on Ooh Rap I Ya would be a pointless effort since each song is strengthened by the tracks surrounding it. While they sound gorgeous in isolation, the songs are never greater than when they flow into one another as part of the full experience. From start to finish, Ooh Rap I Ya is a strong contender for album of the year.
2. Noname – Sundial (2023) [Conscious Hip Hop]
While it has some phenomenal highlights, as a full project, I’m left conflicted by Sundial. The album starts strong with the one-two punch of “black mirror” and “hold me down”, two gorgeous cuts where the laidback, jazzy atmosphere of the record is at its most compelling. Noname’s conversational flows don’t always capture me – despite how sharp her pen game may be – but when she’s rapping over lively, groovy production, the MC commands my attention with every word. However, the album quickly loses steam with the unappealing “balloons”. While Eryn Allen Kane offers some beautiful vocals and the sharp percussion gives the track a crisp punch, the abhorrent verse from Jay Electronica drains the quality from the song. Preaching antisemitic ideals and feeding into conspiracy theories, his lyrics are misguided at best and hateful at worst, wasting his technical prowess on the mic to deliver the album’s weakest verse. A few other songs didn’t quite grab me, such as “boomboom” where Noname’s repetitive flows came off as monotonous, and “beauty supply” where the bare, uneventful production leaves the track feeling incomplete. “namesake” is my favourite song on Sundial, where the rapper’s swift, animated flows work well against the prominent bass of the instrumental. “gospel?” and “oblivion” close off the album nicely, with some fantastic guest verses from billy woods and Common. Overall, while Sundial has its moments, it wouldn’t touch my list of favourites this year.
1. Prince – Purple Rain (1984) [Pop Rock]
In Prince’s extensive catalogue, Purple Rain stands out as one of his finest masterpieces. The album kicks off with “Let’s Go Crazy”, a contender for the greatest opener of all time. After a dreamy spoken word passage, the drums kick in, followed by a growl of faint guitar. Then the track erupts into this glamorous explosion of pop rock glory, with sparkling keys and roaring guitar swirling around Prince’s playful vocals. The rest of the album is just as gorgeous, though not always as energetic. “The Beautiful Ones” is a timeless ballad where Prince sings over a serene blend of guitar and piano, rising into a dramatic crescendo where the singer’s vocals reach their most impassioned and soulful. The perfection of “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain” need not be explained, but the tracks surrounding them are just as flawless. Perfectly fusing elements of funk, rock, soul, and pop, Purple Rain is an eclectic masterwork, sewing together different genres to form one of the most dynamic and exciting soundtracks of all time.
2. Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (1985) [Art Pop]
Despite how eccentric her ideas can get, Hounds of Love never feels inaccessible. Kate’s vocals are loud and theatrical, screaming her words at some points and almost whispering them at others. From grand, whimsical moments like “The Big Sky” to downtempo cuts such as “Mother Stands for Comfort”, Bush has the versatility to master both styles, and the passion to make every performance a standout. More straightforward tracks like “Cloudbusting” show off the strength of her voice, evoking so much joy through her elegant high-notes and cheerful melodies. “Waking the Witch” might be the most bizarre moment on the album, where Kate’s haunting vocals offer an eerie contrast against the baritone, borderline satanic vocals calling back at her. Brimming with colourful ideas, Kate Bush has the charm, imagination, and effortless talent to pull off every one.
Something I Love
Todd Edwards – Prima Edizione (1999) [UK Garage]
Todd Edwards has quickly risen to become one of my favourite artists in electronica. While I haven’t heard much UK Garage, Prima Edizione is by far the best I’ve heard so far. Similar to house music, each song is comprised of sample-based grooves, with subtle elements slowly added into the mix until, by the climax, each track is a dense swirl of danceable samples, mushed together into an irresistible beat. On Prima Edizione, the groovy basslines and hypnotic piano loops are complemented by a range of pitched-up vocal samples, giving the whole project a dreamy, ethereal sheen. The sharp, almost mathematically precise percussion adds a clear-cut structure to each song, with the shimmering hi-hats on “Sunrise Sunshine” persisting as the vocal samples switch back and forth. Parts of “Steal U’re Heart” almost sounds like an acid house track, with these pulsing synths driving the song as a whispery chorus fades in and out of earshot. Although each song follows a similar structure, Prima Edizione never gets repetitive since Todd always finds fresh, creative ways to chop up and implement his mesmerising samples.
My Favourite Songs This Week
1. Unruly, Unknown INK & Harvey Gold – “Funny Dog 2” (2023) [Hip Hop]
One of the best rap songs of 2023, “Funny Dog 2” is a must-listen for any hip hop fan. Last year, producer Harvey Gold released “funny dog”, the climactic closer to his album The Gold Vein. On the track, Harvey chopped up scores of samples, cooked them into dozens of beats, then glued them all together into a fifteen-minute instrumental behemoth. On the sequel, the beats are the same, but artists Unruly and Unknown INK seize the mic to rap and sing over the ever-changing instrumental. The result is a testament to the lyrical genius of Unruly and the vocal gifts of INK. The duo rarely pause, shredding up every portion of the humongous track for no other reason than to prove they can. Performing for fifteen minutes straight, “Funny Dog 2” showcases some of the finest rapping of the year.
2. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Western Wind” (2022) [Dance-Pop]
Possibly the most under-appreciated highlight of The Loneliest Time, “Western Wind” is up there with my favourite Carly songs ever. Instead of the bombastic, colourful performance she delivers on cuts like “Surrender My Heart” and “The Loneliest Time”, her approach here is far more understated, adopting an almost whispery tone to match the calm, serene instrumental. The song reaches its apex with a gorgeous guitar solo, cementing “Western Wind” as the most beautiful track in her catalogue.
3. Herbie Hancock – “Rain Dance” (1973) [Jazz-Fusion]
“Rain Dance” is the perfect opener to Sextant, a jazz-fusion masterpiece embracing all the avant-garde flair that made early ‘70s-era Hancock so compelling. The song opens up with an ominous pattern of synths, slowly leading into the heart of the track where an uncompromising barrage of keys, horns, and otherworldly sound effects collide. Among the strangest jazz songs I’ve ever heard, it stands as one of Herbie’s greatest.