So what can we expect from music in 2023? Well, I’ve long given up predicting just who is going to make it huge and who’s going to remain criminally underrated, but as with every January, I have made my pick of bands who I’m looking to hearing from in the year ahead. So say hello to my 23 For 2023, not acts who’ll necessarily be headlining Glastonbury or winning Brit Awards, but are well worth keeping your ears open to if you’re looking for something new to fall in love with in the coming year.
The musical alias of Brooklynite Madelyn Strutz, Bobbie Lovesong took a decidedly DIY affair into making On The Wind, her debut album out later this month via Woodsist. The album was recorded in Taos, New Mexico, Madelyn living communally with a small group of musicians as she produced, performed, recorded, and mixed the album herself.
The album is a delightfully experimental affair taking in everything from psych-pop to jazz standards and dreamy Americana. The record was recently previewed by Bobbie Lovesong’s latest track, Watching From A Window, a song about supportive long-term friendship set to a backing of loungy rhythms, twitchy guitars and smooth reverberating vocals. While the previous single Inner Sea, was a song about “the tide of water within our own bodies“, resplendent with the processed tick of the drum machines and tremulous guitars mimicking the thematic tides, the whole thing wouldn’t sound out of place on the Life Aquatic soundtrack, or something equally watery and stylish. Bobbie Lovesongs is exactly what you want a new artist to be: creative, genreless and entirely ready to shape her own path, her love letter to Taos might just be the reason a lot of people fall for Bobbie Lovesong in the year ahead.
Falling squarely in the new-to-me rather than actually new category comes Nashville-based singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso Sunny War. She first picked up a guitar as a child, taking lessons and trying to replicate the bands she loved at the time from AC/DC and Motley Crue through to Crass and Daniel Johnston. She formed a punk band, got into playing acoustic music and married roots, punk and the blues. Then she began drinking heavily at shows, dropped out of school, and got into heroin and meth. She would busk her way down Venice beach, selling CDs to get by, and then after a series of seizures ended up in a sober living facility in Compton. Through her darkest hours music remained a solace, a place to go when everything else felt out of control. Recording in Hen House Studios, Sunny made a series of albums and EPs, and unlike many of her friends, Sunny found a way to put her life back together. Now signed to New West Records, at the start of next month Sunny will release her first album for the label, Anarchist Gospel.
While there’s a triumph to the simple fact it exists at all, Anarchist Gospel, like its creator, is a little more complicated than that. The record came for a moment where Sunny felt things were back on track only to see them crumble again, a painful breakup, a bout of depression and drinking and coming down with Covid-19 took her to a new low, “I didn’t have the energy to do anything. It felt like the world was ending”. As the old dark thoughts crept back in, Sunny turned once more to music and wrote I Got No Fight, she found herself repeating the title like a mantra, a reminder of a place she didn’t want to get back to. Sunny moved back to Nashville, booked in with producer Andrija Tokic and got to work making a new record. The result is a record that’s both a break-up diary and a celebration of life. From the bluesy heartache of New Day to the urgent strut of No Reason, it is a record that celebrates perseverance above breakthroughs, revels in feeling everything, good and bad, and finding a way to make sense of life whatever comes your way.
One song might not be a lot to go on, but for the members of Former Champ, I’m willing to make an exception. A Glaswegian supergroup of sorts, the band features members of Savage Mansion and Catholic Action, alongside the vocal talents of the fabulously talented Martha Ffion. Back in August, the band appeared from nowhere with their suitably explosive debut single, Grenade. While no firm plans for new music have yet been announced, the band took a big step last month with their debut live shows, and there are reasons to expect more news sooner rather than later.
As well as the fact I’d be excited by anything that involved Martha Ffion and Savage Mansion, Grenade was a single so deliriously thrilling it was bound to pique anyone’s interest. It bounds in on the sort of guitar swagger that had the world swooning over The Strokes back in the early noughties, before the vocals saunter into earshot, a potent melting pot of nonchalant indifference and intensity, “there’s nothing you can say to change what I believe, take me in your arms once again with feeling”. Throughout, the lyrics seem to touch on the idea of holding something back, waiting for the right moment to blow everything apart, “I keep it all in the back of my mind, a hand grenade to throw when the time is right”. So yes, they might only just have pulled the pin, but as 2023 rolls around, Former Champ might just explode into life with something truly thrilling.
The latest product of the musical cross-pollination that has given the world the likes of Joanna Gruesome, Porridge Radio and Garden Centre, SUEP are a super-group of sorts fronted by the twin pillars of Georgie Stott and Josh Harvey. With their recent single, In Good Health, currently tearing up the airwaves on the 6Music playlist, it’s fair to say there’s a bit of buzz around the band and their attempts to create, “oddball car-boot-sale pop songs”. Later this month they’ll look to come good on all that promise with their debut EP, Shop.
Shop is perhaps less an EP and more a complilation of the band’s collected works to date, going all the way back to their brilliant debut single, Domesticated Dream, a technicolour blur of tropicalia rhythms and buzzing synths, it’s a strutting banger, all howl along yippy-yay-ay choruses and cowbells, coming across like the middle ground of The Go! Team and Talking Heads. Elsewhere Misery could be an almost entirely different band, sounding like the soundtrack to an 80s cop show, while Just A Job is, “an ode to outsiders, late-risers and lost souls”, which meanders atop a drum machine and choppy keyboard line. The song that seems set to propel the band to new heights however is In Good Health, a track that comes across like a gothic version of Sparks, all post-punk intensity and cabaret flamboyance as it celebrates the importance of having good people around you when you hit your lowest ebbs. With their winning brand of kitchen-sink disco, SUEP look all set to make a huge breakthrough this year, and they’re going to sound good doing it, just don’t ask me how on earth you pronounce their name.
Another artist that’s not entirely new out of the box, Scottish songwriter Hamish Hawk made something of a ripple back in 2021 with his excellent album, Heavy Elevator. So why exactly is he on this list? Well despite already being excellent, with Hamish Hawk there’s still a sense of an artist very much on the rise. The first few singles from his upcoming album, Angel Numbers, have all been excellent, while a trip to the US for SXSW and his biggest UK tour to date all give the feeling of a musician about to soar.
Due out via the Post-Electric label, Angel Numbers was recorded with Hamish’s live band, as well as producer, and long-term collaborate Rod Jones of Idlewild. It was one of Hamish’s clear influences, Leonard Cohen who once claimed, “I was born with the gift of a golden voice”, and that could equally be said of Hamish himself, he possesses a beautifully rich tone, his crisp diction and soaring flamboyance bring his words clearly into view in a similar vein to Neil Hannon or Scott Walker. The equal of his vocal cords is the dark humour that seems to run through his lyrics, whether it’s recent single Money’s cynical dissection of being short on cash, which Hamish describes as “a list of cheap shots and petty grievances“, or the sublime rock track Think Of Us Kissing, “about the pitfalls of success, the perils of fame and the curse of ambition”. Perhaps the best of the thrilling bunch is Angel Numbers, “an ode to the life less traditional“, that questions everything from mortgages to marriages atop a squalling backing that sounds somewhere between Field Music and the anthemic side of Frightened Rabbit. A remarkably gifted songwriter Hamish Hawk is growing with each release and with Angel Numbers don’t be surprised if he goes soaring off to new heights.
A self-styled, “grit-pop” trio based out of Brighton, snake eyes formed back in 2020, and have emerged from those understandably difficult first few years with a hunger to take everything in their stride, hitting the road hard with a string of tours culminating in a sold-out hometown show marking the release of their record, the lovehate mixtape. Topping off a breakout year for the band, December saw snake eyes announce their signature to the legendary Alcopop! Records a sign of just how much the band have got planned for the year ahead, kicking off with a headline tour this March.
Nodding to the likes of Blood Red Shoes or Dinosaur Pileup, snake eyes’ trademark grit-pop style is a supercharged behemoth of a sound, all crunching grungy riffs and belt-along choruses, somewhere between early 90’s nostalgia and the here and now. Take their breakout single, Skeletons, it starts with a muted guitar riff before suddenly roaring into life, slapping you around the chops, only in a really nice, positive way, “can’t you just be kind? Beneath it all we’re all just skeletons”. That mix of ferocity and kindness is key to the bands swagger, they might sound a little scary, but they’re all about freedom of expression, about finding your place in the world and letting others find theirs. The Lovehate Mixtape showed the band off as a rough diamond, a band dripping with potential and don’t be surprised if 2023 is the year they come good on all that promise.
They may be signed to the Los Angeles DIY artist-run label Spirit Goth Records, yet Atmos Bloom are actually from the other side of the Atlantic. The duo of Curtis Paterson and Tilda Gratton, Atmos Bloom initially formed as a way to while away the hours with some much-needed escapism in a locked-down world, yet quickly blossomed into something more. Last Summer saw the band share their debut mini-album, Flora, a seven-strong collection of dreamy, gazy wonderfulness. With a newly formed live band, Atmos Bloom have earmarked 2023 as a year for getting out on the road and sharing their music with the world.
Listening to Flora it’s hard not to be transported back to the dawn of the 1990s, their fusion of dream-pop and shoegaze is like some lost middle ground of The Sundays and Lush. Across the record they showcase the vast scope of their sound, one second they’re bopping along in a summer haze on the pop-perfection of Daisy, the next they’re dipping into darker recesses of Something Other Than You, a track resplendent with pounding drums, that rattle around the low-in-the-mix vocals, reminiscent of the moody perfection of The Joy Formidable or Lanterns On The Lake. Perhaps their best moments come when they manage to combine their shimmering pop qualities with a sprinkling of the darker tones alongside, take the brilliant Picnic In The Rain, the guitar riff is a hooky earworm Allo Darlin’ would be proud of, yet Tilda’s vocals belie a certain sadness lurking beneath, a sense that not every day can be sunshine and sometimes you have to live through dark skies, “even if the sky is grey, I’d give it all to stay, for a picnic in the rain”. While plans for the year ahead are still in the to-be-confirmed stage currently, Atmos Bloom seem like a band well worth keeping an ear out for, there’s something really special here just waiting for the world to notice.
A quintet based out of the centre of the musical world, Brooklyn, Foyer Red formed as a trio back in 2021, they initially sent ideas via email before finally getting to play in the same room and quickly sharing the superbly named, Zigzag Wombat EP. After that record became something of a word-of-mouth success story, the band decided to double-down, reemerging as a five-strong live monster and spent last year sharing stages with the likes of Why Bonnie, Babehoven and Lawn. Somewhere along the way, they caught the ear of Carpark Records, who in December announced the band had joined the label, alongside sharing their excellent single, Etc.
Etc seemed to quickly pick up where Zigzag Wombat left off, as playful guitar lines trade ideas and vocals swell and dive combining the Dadaist creativity of Drinks and the wonky playfulness of Weaves. The lyrics play out like a conversation, matched in the instrumental flourishes that seem to overlap as if talking over one another like two people attempting communication on completely different pages. The track followed previous standouts from the band like Pickles, their attempt to recreate the feeling of pressure growing before bursting into a torrent of wiry guitars and clattering drums, and Pollen City, a smooth and serene celebration of the joys of Spring and emerging into a world full of possibilities. The band are starting the year with a string of dates that will take them down to Austin just in time for SXSW, suggesting the start of a busy year for a band who feel like they’re just getting started.
Click HERE for the second instalment of my 23 For 2023