Hifi Sean and David McAlmont connect Bollywood and 1989 Manchester on their brilliant, trippy album Happy Ending.
Sean Dickson and David McAlmont have a history
“Hifi” Sean Dickson comes directly from the Madchester era, a founder of 90’s fan favorite The Soup Dragons. If Scottish, Hifi Sean brings Manchester’s baggy sensibility to the songwriting, which he delicately marries to McAlmont’s textured, smoky vocals.
Hifi Sean may look more like an angry logger than musician! Just call it smoldering intensity — he’s an in-demand DJ and producer with a catalogue of his own solo material. He originally collaborated with McAlmont on Dickson’s 2016 solo debut Ft. McAlmont sang on “Like Josephine Baker.”
Hifi Sean and McAlmont kill on Happy Ending
Happy Ending opens with the title track’s soulful psychedelia on “Happy Ending.” Most of the songs stay in this smoother funk channel. Cuts like “The Fever” and Bollywood strings on “Beautiful” and “Diamond Dust” are better suited for Thursday night Threekend cocktails than the dancefloor.
Later comes “All in the World,” which is purer hot disco adrenalin.
Now check out the marriage of those disco beats with the swooning and outrageous “Real Thoughts in Real Time,” more Hot Chip than Manchester.
McAlmont and Dickson (McHifi?) promise more tunes to come
Even better news than this year’s sparkling collaboration is the assertion that more is to come. You get a nice background on Hifi Sean’s journey and his connection to McAlmont in this profile in The Scotsman.
McAlmont has worked with a lot of talented musicians over the years. But he goes out of his way to say that he intends to make more records with Hifi Sean.
“…I want to reassure the audience that invest in Happy Ending that there’s more of us, that we’re not just gonna do this and then suddenly there I am next to somebody else – that’s not what this is and so the only way to prove that is to do the next album as soon as possible.”
The Scotsman Sessions #350
THAT is some good news!
The long road of Hifi Sean
We can’t possibly wrap this sparkling review without a quick flashback to The Soup Dragons‘ 1992 smash, “Divine Thing.” I spun this bubblegum power pop 1,000 times back in college at U92.
It’s been a challenge to assemble the best indie albums 2023 has produced so far. But I’ve got nine exceptional records for you here.
I’ve dug deep, listened long and sampled wide. In the process, I’ve heard a lot of dull songs, some pretty weird stuff and found the very best indie rock albums 2023 has available for your rock dollar. In some ways, the standouts seem fewer this year. Maybe 2022 was so epic, it has been hard to compare; maybe I’m setting the bar too high.
Best indie albums 2023: A few ground rules
Some notes about the 9 bands listed here, the dozen or so honorable mentions and 128,000 bands with albums this year who aren’t listed.
First, I think you can goof a little with a mid-year list, but not a lot. These are nine bands I’m serious as a heart attack about. I don’t posture as cooler-than-thou.
Second, I’m notoriously 2-4 weeks behind in my listening. This list should be good to about the first of June; I have ten or twelve records on my phone I either haven’t listened to or bought yet.
Third, your favorite nine albums are probably just as good as mine. Individual mileage may vary.
Finally, I became attached to the number 9 somewhat arbitrarily. Fifteen might have been a better number.
So read a little about these 9 albums and listen to a song from each record. If you dig it, listen to a few moe songs. Link to the release and buy it.
All on one indispensable website, because I love you.
Best alternative albums 2023, to rank or not to rank?
This list of the best indie albums 2023 has produced isn’t listed in order of preference – it’s way too early for ranking! But each album is fantastic and should already be in your collection.
They all stand a fair chance of making many Top 10 lists at the end of the year.
Shana Cleveland (Manzanita)
The lead singer for La Luz, Shana Cleveland‘s solo albums are distinctly removed from her Seattle band’s surfy good times. Manzanita is a bewitching concoction of dream pop, slithering psych folk and pedal steel. A few of the longer pieces are ornamented with more acoustic passages and discreet melodic side channels.
Of the fourteen songs on Manzanita, eleven are fuller compositions and two or three are a bit more like transition elements, including the 12-second “Bloom.” Haunting arrangments like “Quick Winter Sun,” “Bonanza Freeze” and “Gold Winter” feel like Syd Barrett’s 1960’s Pink Floyd.
But you can imagine Cleveland opening for Beach House on songs like “Mystic Mine.”
Hollywood Dog was a spring favorite of mine. Fixtures layers a terrific horn section over power pop. They make you wonder what Bob Mould would have sounded like with these kind of expansive brass arrangements.
Hollywood Dog opens with the driving “21/1” and closes with the “21/1 Reprise.” And “21/1” is a great example of the way each song on Hollywood Dog takes on added drama from Riley Cooke’s done-but-not-overdone trumpet. The brass creates a mystic quality on songs like “Ghost Relays,” which if K. Liakos decided to push his vocals to a scream would sound not unlike a lost Pixies classic.
I’ve decided I will travel up to 400 miles to see Brooklyn’s Fixtures live. Here is the 2:26 blast of title track “Hollywood Dog,” which would rip in person!
The WAEVE was the first album in 2023 to really knock me over.
I didn’t expect to love Graham Coxon and Rose Elinor Dougall’s album as much as I did. Obviously the Blur founder can turn almost anything to gold. But this is the year 2023 and my expectations were…modest. What a terrific surprise!
Everything about The WAEVE is emotive and stirring. The sequencing of the album from rocker “Kill Me Again” to the jazz-infused “Over and Over” is perfection. “Over and Over” also illustrates how exquisite Coxon and Dougall sound together. A bit of an April-September musical and literal romance, Coxon’s saxophone, guitar progressions and Dougall’s smoky vocal style just couldn’t be better suited together.
The WAEVE is an album of endless surprises, and is probably still my favorite this year.
THE SONGS ARE LONG — and really deserve the time to gradually reveal themselves. The motorik rhythm of “Drowning” is an example of an arrangement you just need to stay with. It turns into this mini-epic of strings and sax perfect for a chilled, rainy night.
At two minutes in, “Drowning” is just getting started. Give it the time it deserves.
To hear Food for Worm is to be reminded of the seminal London Calling.
Shame swings for the fences again, turning post-punk into something fresh and important. Instead of The Clash’s experiments with ska and world beats, Shame alternately drops skronky guitars and spikey rhythms into Food for Worms.
I’m anxious for Shame to play America this year. However the planned tour dates so far venture no further west than Dallas. They have to announce some West Coast dates – there is still hope to hear one of the best indie albums 2023 has produced so far!
Not surprising, Food for Worms is best played at ear-crushing decibels. Bump that VU on the arena-worthy chorus of album highlight “Adderall.”
Star Eaters Delight is an early dark horse for my favorite album of 2023.
Lael Neale retreated to her parents home in Virginia during the Corona, and the rural expanse is a felt co-producer on Star Eaters Delight. Neale’s propulsive melodies burst with a sense of clarity from those pastoral months, an extension and sort of reconnection to her previous life in LA.
As consuming as the songs are, they are spacious arrangements. I thought the comment of her producer, Guy Blakeslee, was amusing: “Lael is always telling me to play fewer notes.” Boy, can you hear it in the cavernous arrangements, which don’t seem spare but instead spotlight Neale’s perfect vibrato.
It’s hard not to see and hear a bit of Natalie Mering in Neale, though Neale is more baroque. SED is an album full of singles from one of the best indie albums 2023 has seen so far. But I can only choose one song.
Rather than the epic and enigmatic “In Verona,” here is “Faster Than the Medicine,” which I think is representative of the full recording.
Coombes’ band Supergrass was not part of my musical journey. You can’t listen to all the music. But Gaz is part of my story now. His voice sounds incredible, the compositions are rich, complex, just impeccable.
By point of comparison, many songs on Turn the Car Around are a perfect stylistic mashup of Elbow and Radiohead. “Long Live the Strange” could equally be a takeout from Leaders of the Free World or Kid A.
I believe I’ve sampled more alt country than any other genre in 2023 besides your broadly defined post punk. I mean…I’VE HEARD A LOT of alt country, and not much has hit hard. I’ve listed a few honorable mentions below, and I’ll find more for my year end list.
But The Murlocs – wow! A band doing something new under the sun!
Calm Ya Farm is a swampy, scuzzy proggy country thing that is an absolute joy. If Geddy Lee formed a bayou jam band and held drunken Friday night hootenannies for friends in low places, it would approximate half the creative energy wrapped up in the 7th album by Melbourne’s The Murlocs.
A sort of second-cousin to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, members of The Murlocs have labored a bit in King Gizzard’s shadow. The Murlocs’ singer Ambrose Kenny-Smith and bassist Cook Craig also play in King Gizzard. Also, the bands tour together and share a ton of DNA.
Here is The Murlocs’ smoking, roiling “Russian Roulette,” a cut from one of the best indie albums 2023 has seen so far — across any genre!
A song like this begs the question, does Calm Ya Farm devolve into camp? I hear an honest tribute to the genre, not goofing on alt country. And it’s new, different…it is NEEDED.
Dignan Porch is the retro DIY project of Joe Walsh, and it is amaze.
Melodies are slightly off kilter and psychedelic at times. The lofi songs are wonderfully poppy at their core but warped just enough to sound like lost cassette tracks from Marquee Moon. You can hear the late, revered Tom Verlaine in the mournful harmonized guitar of songs like “Ancestral Trail.”
Walsh moved from London to Manchester shortly before the pandemic. Other than a bit of help from his brother, Walsh wrote, performed and recorded most of Electric Threads on his own.
The music of Brooklyn’s Ashwin Prasanna has been circulating for awhile, now landing as the debut of his jangly soft 70’s band The Angles. I basically fell in love with Prasanna’s self-titled debut The Angles — an old romantic’s comforting melodic jangle with shades of 70’s soft rock.
Prasanna is a meticulous manager of his sound, playing most instruments and self-producing. His gorgeous indie pop debut is a grower! Here are 3 reasons you need to download The Angles.
The band The Angles: Indie pop perfection
How could there be a more delicate rendering of indie pop than “Moon,” the leadoff cut from the band The Angles? The guitar line’s blissful jangle introduces Prasanna’s deft vocals, sweet as Stuart Murdoch. On the chorus, he sings, “I wish you the mooooon,” followed by Tree Palmedo’s exquisite, too-short trumpet line to bring the song home with a bit of chamber pop flourish.
I’m hypnotized by the look in your eye. I got no appetite. I’m gonna get my teenage kicks tomorrow.
When I realized With all my might, Contorting everything, I’m gonna leave behind that shtick tomorrow.
I see your face outta nowhere. I’m an angry guy. I go outside and call friends. I wanna take you underground tomorrow.
The band The Angles: The soft 70’s beckon!
The intimacy of songs like “Emulsion” capture Prasanna’s gentle vocals enveloped in his bedroom pop arrangements. We also get to hear how the band The Angles capture that 70’s aesthetic, opening with organ, Prasanna’s falsetto and a tender guitar. Instead of an overbaked solo, we get a walkway worthy of Steely Dan.
The organ, guitar and cooing background vocals lend the melody a spacy soft 70’s lilt.
The Angles’ Prasanna does it all
Prasanna plays nearly every instrument on an album that easily drifts between Teenage Fanclub and Bread’s softly crooning David Gates.
Here is “Knitting Without Needles,” a melody which also reflects Television quite sweetly.
You need to hear more to appreciate The Angles! Even if you haven’t heard of The Angles before reading this today, I highly recommend you buy Prasanna’s debut at his Bandcamp page!
Who imagined this remarkable summer of live music would end with a Jockstrap Salt Lake City show!
British students Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye released my favorite album of 2022. Jennifer B, I Love You is a exquisite amalgam of funky electropop, glitchy dance beats, giant esoteric hooks and Ellery’s deliquescent vocals floating throughout.
This is — end of May? Even now, I find myself in random moments singing some loopy bridge from last year’s Jennifer B. What a gift to be able to see the Jockstrap Salt Lake City show just before the weather turns truly cold!
Here are 3 things you need to know about Jockstrap and the upcoming performance.
3 things about the Jockstrap Salt Lake City show
1. When and Where
First, Jockstrap will play the Soundwell venue on September 27. Soundwell is at 149 West on 200 South. Soundwell opened just a couple of years before The Corona and I have never been inside — however the publicity photos are a knockout.
2. How Much?
Second, only in Utah can you see a world class performance like Jockstrap for the low, low price of $22. Of course…with taxes, fees, handling, shipping and international freight, your final out-of-pocket is $32 from Tixr. Still a great value for your indie rock dollar.
3. Why Jockstrap?!
Third, dumb band name aside, Jockstrap beat out some real heavy-hitters to become my #1 album of 2022. Not persuaded? Here is Jockstrap’s “Glasgow” as a sample.
Final note. As it happens, Georgia Ellery will play Soundwell twice in three weeks.
In her spare time outside of school and touring the world with Jockstrap, Ellery plays violin for Black Country, New Road. BCNR is (also) touring the world. After releasing Ants From Up There, singer Isaac Wood departed. As a result, the band wrote and is playing from an entirely new set of music. Ellery and Black Country, New Road play Soundwell on September 8.
I’ve bought my ticket for the Jockstrap Salt Lake City show. September 28 is now on my calendar as a perfectly fitting end to Summer 2023!
Jessie Ware Free Yourself lyrics are easy enough–you can find them anywhere. But where can you learn more about the lyrics, listen to the song and – BONUS – hear the obscure alternative disco song you’ve never heard before?
Right here, so keep on reading and listening.
Jessie Ware Free Yourself Lyrics
Ware returned to her dance roots during the pandemic with the album What’s Your Pleasure? I remember listening to it at the time and reading Ware’s goal with the album, “Will this make people want to have sex?” It didn’t. Good enough tunes but I wasn’t really hooked.
Cut to 2023 and I’m trying to resist the temptation to buy new release That! Feels Good! The songs are ridiculously catchy, they’re just a bit of a sugar rush. My favorite of the album so far is “Free Yourself,” in which Ware once again shoots her shot with sensual lyrics and beats.
Free yourself Keep on moving up that mountaintop Why don’t you please yourself? If it feels so good, then don’t you, baby
At the same time, maybe the song is about climbing an actual mountain and the cardiovascular benefits of regular exercise.
This is probably not the case, as she continues:
Don’t stand there waiting all of your life For the night to come and find you The clock is ticking, baby, now is the time For someone to come and hold you
Jessie Ware Free Yourself lyrics not nearly as cool as the hook
For the year 2023, this is pretty tame stuff. I mean it’s been almost 35 years since The Divinyls and 40 years after Madonna. These days you have to produce more than ribald lyrics, and Ware delivers!
I love how she marries old school disco, the ELO strings and kind of a baggy Primal Scream beat. And her voice has never sounded better. “Free Yourself” honestly churns better than the much-discussed title track. Order Ware’s album from her website.
The bonus disco song you never knew you needed
I’ve been waiting to write about “Mr. Haze” by Scottish band Texas for almost two years.
You’re probably thinking, “nothing says disco like Glasgow, Scotland.” For a moment, suspend disbelief. “Mr. Haze” was the second and criminally neglected single from the 2021 Texas album Hi.
In this case, the venerable Scotts sampled Donna Summer’s 1977 “Love’s Unkind” and transformed it into something completely their own and completely brilliant.