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All Of This Is To Chance Lisa O Neil
Staff picks 2023

Best Fit editors and writers reveal their lesser-known personal favourite records of the year, from Sol Chylyd to Pure Adult and more.

Unbecoming by Vyva Melinkolya

Some albums come into your life that alter the way you think about the year in music Unbecoming by Vyva Melinkolya is slowly creeping its way up to the top of my list.

Since becoming acquainted with similarly gloom-inclined artist Ethel Cain earlier this year, I have been enamoured with the sub-genre of doom-gaze. Cain introduced me to bleak fuzzy rockers: Wulven, Midwife, Blood Estate; however, Vyva Melinkolya has become a favourite discovery. Unbecoming, Melinkolya’s sophomore solo record, blends ethereal ambience, soaked in reverb, with crushingly devastating shoe-gaze, saturated in noisy distortion. It is a spectacular listen. Melinkolya’s voice whispers through the record, pulling together every glacial implementation of the heaviest funeral procession, creating a wonderfully tactile experience.

Favourite tracks include, “Stars Don’t Fall” – a song that feels like the younger sibling of Duster’s 1997 iconic cut “Stars Will Fall”. A brutal anguish lays over both tracks, but where the latter is a mere one minute fifty-eight seconds long, the former is a gorgeously drowsy eight minutes and nine seconds. More than half the tracks on the album pass the six-minute mark, affording the listener a dreamy sense of being at sea, bobbing around within the eye of a storm.

Because of the length of this project, I will be uncovering things about Unbecoming for months to come – and Vyva Melinkolya cements herself as an artist to watch out for in the coming years. CALLUM FOULDS

Listen to/buy Unbecoming on Bandcamp

Unbecoming Vyva Melinkolya

Birthdays at Solo Pasta by The Finks

“My love, she lights a candle – it’s 1989.” Birthdays at Solo Pasta feels like the culmination of all the experiments of The Finks since their first release ten years ago, tied together by songs that take the form of fictional memories from the marriage of our two central characters. Signed to Courtney Barnett’s Milk! label from its inception, The Finks’ lyrics, written by the central member Oliver Mestitz, carry that same conversational effortlessness. They are transposed, however, onto gentler arrangements, executed with a masterful instinct for the minimal.

The Finks have always told short stories within songs but Birthdays is the first instance of their creating an album-wide narrative. Its storytelling is as lucid and elusive as memory, appropriate for a record filtered through an imagined past, which begins in a honeymoon summer in 1989.

Across the album, evocations of the fragile beauty of love and memory are further established by Mestitz’s vocal interplay with Sarah Farquharson, the other consistent member of the band across almost all releases. In tender harmony or exchange of lead vocals, their unaffected delivery creates the feeling that the whole thing exists on the point of falling apart.

Taken as a whole, this extended twin-character study crowns a discography littered with song-scale fictions. It completes the unfinished sentences and tangential rabbit holes of The Finks’ output up to this point, each loose end coalescing into this complete, novelistic collection. It makes for an immensely satisfying listen for long-time fans and an outstanding work on its own terms, gaining well-deserved attention from a wider audience and the endorsement of the Australian Music Prize, who longlisted the record in November. LLOYD BOLTON

Listen to/buy Birthdays at Solo Pasta on Bandcamp

Birthdays at Solo Pasta The Finks

Black Classical Music by Yussef Dayes

80 years after Duke Ellington composed his landmark symphony honouring Black history, Black, Brown and Beige suite, south London drummer Yussef Dayes’ debut solo record signifies another juncture in the definition of Black classical music. Inspired by and dedicated to the overwhelmingly rich influence of Black musicians who came before him, the album was described by Dayes as putting out “vibes and sounds from the UK, rooted in the gumbo pot of the Caribbean, South American culture and African rituals.”

A paragon of a modern big band album, Black Classical Music is a product of Dayes’ career-long ethos of collaboration, teaming up with Shabaka Hutchings, Chronixx, Masego, Rocco Palladino and a welcome reunion with Tom Misch. Venna and Charlie Stacey feature on the explosive title track, which evokes the scrupulously-executed chaos of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ “Drum Thunder Suite”.

Dayes has crafted a suite that captures the significance and dynamism of UK jazz in 2023, centred around his finessed drumming and improvisation influenced by diasporic musicianship and classic jazz principles.

Wynton Marsalis once remarked that Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige “sits alone in the history of jazz.” Black Classical Music is borne of its ancestry, but it’s flourishing because of community, embodying a shining optimism for the Black jazz landscape. OLIVIA SWASH

Listen to/buy Black Classical Music on Bandcamp

Yussef Dayes Black Classical Music cover

Something Came To Me by Sol Chylyd

Not since Little Simz's breakout album Grey Area have I heard a female MC sound so exciting. On “Something Came To Me”, 24-year-old Sol ChYld sounds as poised as a rapper twice her age. Hailing from Camden, New Jersey, she has managed to craft one of the strongest hip-hop projects of the year.

The lively instrumentation of the record sets the tone for Sol ChYld's relaxed delivery and introspective lyricism. With each song, we are treated to lush piano chords and saxophone riffs dancing around Sol's captivating vocals. On the track “Miss Me”, for instance, we see Sol grappling with her desire for fame and importance and the need to stay down to earth buoyed by stellar instrumentation and an exhilarating beat switch.

The record is at its strongest when it gets its most intimate, like in the buttery rap-duet “Come Down” or the closer “11” and its deeply affecting lyrics about her relationship with her father and her aspirations for a better life. Weaving together challenging meditations on dreaming and sleepwalking, Sol hits at the heart of what can make jazz rap so great.

Something Came To Me is, without a doubt, one of the most emotional and introspective hip-hop records of the year. From the relaxing jazzy grooves and top-notch bars, Sol ChYld puts on a show from start to finish. Drawing inspiration from legendary rappers like Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne as well as contemporaries like JID and Saba, Sol ChYld has effectively combined her influences into a sum greater than its parts. Only after the record concludes are we able to truly appreciate the introductory sounds of a ticking clock, as it’s only a matter of time before Sol's greatest dreams come true. ARYEH GEGNER

Listen to/buy Something Came To Me on Bandcamp

Something Came To Me Sol Chylyd

Western Cum by Cory Hanson

Ignore the bonkers title and the gross cover art (a sperm traversing the desert at dusk, naturally). Cory Hanson’s latest collection of wild, classic rocking Americana is the most joyous album of 2023. Psychedelia, twin guitar freakouts, monster riffs and solos, the movie TwinsWestern Cum has it all, sounding like a sunbaked Thin Lizzy if they were into weed and dick jokes rather than opioids and Celtic mythology.

Lead single “Housefly” boasts a truly blistering hook, Hanson’s twangy guitars rolling around a chewy riff before dropping out for mellow verses about man’s eternal battle with insects. Similarly quotidian is the aforementioned “Twins”, Western Cum’s stab at pure country. It’s one of the prettiest songs ever written about a late 80s Danny DeVito movie, all pedal steel and cooed backing vocals.

Things get better still when the record hits the open road. The highlight is the penultimate track “Driving Through Heaven”. The song’s about a murderous hitchhiker, but Hanson doesn’t dwell on that for too long, instead getting the “story” out of the way so that he can spend a solid nine or so minutes shredding. It’s a song of such wild ambition and indulgence as to immediately mythologise the artist, the last guitar gunslinger out there in the desert piling track upon track, solo upon solo. It’s showy, retrograde, and it rips like absolutely nothing else you’ll hear this year. JOSH MILLS

Listen to/buy Western Cum on Bandcamp

Cory Hanson Western Cum

Romantic Piano by Gia Margaret

In September, Gia Margaret sat in front of a grand piano at St. Matthias Church in Stoke Newington, and spilt her sleepy arrangements all over the pews. The setting – grand and spacious and demanding silence – felt apt for Margaret’s serene sounds. Her music has always carried a soft, nostalgic quality, but this third outing is trancing.

Romantic Piano is a 25-minute meditation, transforming our bedrooms into deep forests. Margaret recreates that very natural congruence we feel when we take a moment, surrounded by trees or water or grass, and let ourselves breathe. These largely piano-led tracks are layered with field recordings, horns, and distant twinkles: "Cicadas" harmonises its gentle melody with a chorus of actual cicadas, while "2017" finds peace in interlocking samples and electronic snippets. The mixing is delicate and avoids any chaos – it is wall-to-wall euphony.

On "City Song" – the album’s only non-instrumental piece – Margaret’s misty voice traces memories in the outlines of shadows; "I stay up all night/And with one arm reaching out, I can almost feel you". The same nocturnal yearning echoes in the woozy, muffled piano riff on "April to April". And on "A Stretch", where a saxophone lingers over tumbling keys. It’s an undemanding melancholy that invites us to reflect on things we’d normally be too scared to.

The best music, I think, helps us to see ourselves a little clearer. In between its abstractions, Romantic Piano leaves room for us to imagine ourselves. There was a confident simplicity to Gia Margaret’s folky debut and her soothing follow-up. It lives on here, in an album that will outlast the year, stay on repeat, and become a mainstay for long walks and never-ending evenings spent staring out of windows. BEN FAULKER

Listen to/buy Romantic Piano on Bandcamp

Romantic Piano Gia Margaret

II by Pure Adult

From its attention-demanding opening avalanche to every shrill, mechanically off-putting moment in the dogpile, Pure Adult seem more intent on crafting a no-wave production of a Hitchcock film than a typically appealing record. Every play is met with the opening track wailing in apocalyptic lingo before breaking down and reforming, a blueprint for your immediate future. Few aspects of Pure Adult are typical, and ditto for the world on fire it was born in; dual lead vocals from the utmost caricatured extremes of melodic smugness to riot girl wailing from the rafters.

Jeremy Snyder and Bianca Abarca flip tracks from abject noise to cartoonish mystery with sincerity and spontaneity, not a moment of time to waste in the forest fire. Their contrasting personas may be fundamental tension of the record, as “what will happen next?” so easily shifts into “who is next up to bat?” They knock down doors to your mind ("Hot Crusade"), let the dystopia fester ("The Rope"), and as the record waltzes its way out the back, as conspicuously as humanly manageable, it receives top honours at the Attention Awards: “Who was that?” NOAH THOMAS

Listen to/buy II on Bandcamp

II Pure Adult

Welcome Home by Gareth Donkin

After the disco fiasco of 2020 where artists pulled from a sound older than them, it's become normal for musicians to make a quick throwaway throwback of a song, usually from the 80s or 90s, as a way to capitalize on the trend and make a quick buck on a viral moment (think no farther than that insidious "Lil Boo Thang" that appears on nearly every Instagram reel now). Often these feel fake and contrived, any pop star is likely to have a track on their newest album with some disco strings and then calls it a day.

On the complete opposite side is Gareth Donkin, whose debut album Welcome Home sounds like it's pulled from the spacey soundscapes and vocal stylings of Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince, and even some Michael Jackson at some points. Meticulously written and carefully studied, each song is a layered project that Donkin was in complete control over – soulful, wide-eyed singing, fun ad-libs, and a constant volt of energy runs through the project. It's consistently shocking he's a twenty-three-year-old from Britain.

Songs like "Something Different" and "Whenever" are groovy, upbeat tunes, "Falling for You" sees him head-over-heels, and "Nothing We Can't Get Through" is a classic, slow ballad about making the most of someone. "'Til the End of Time (Night Sky)" is a thickly layered, silky opener, a little dark, a little moody that makes way for the oncoming joy. It's an album full of highlights, with one new detail to pick out each time, and the joy of music-making in each sound. SAM FRANZINI

Listen to/buy Welcome Home on Bandcamp

Gareth Donkin Welcome Home

Love You, Drink Water by Awir Leon

At first glance Love You, Drink Water seems like a rippling pool of soothingly cool synth pads that are dying to impress. But beneath its phosphorescent depths comes a collage of French producer and songwriter Awir Leon’s TLC tendencies.

On his third full-length, Leon sings with a hip-hop fervour, his accent wrapping around English pronounced proclamations of life, embracing your innermost thoughts and fears, and generally creating befitting sentiments for his sweeping choruses and eruditely complex instrumentation. “Anthem Grey” – a track I've had on repeat a ludicrous amount since seeing him support French composer Woodkid in 2022 – is a second-half centrepiece. Its solar bursts erupt elegantly in the chorus where Leon insists “We don’t want grey", and the whole thing just oozes cool.

Leon can write hooks, sing Melodie’s and – as per his live performances and videos – dance. He's a triple-threat that deserves a spotlight, and Love You, Drink Water ties it all into a package that offers as much heart as it does repeatability. STEVEN LOFTIN

Listen to Love You, Drink Water on Spotify

Love You Drink Water Awir Leon

III by Fieh

Three albums in and Fieh are showing no sign of faltering. The eight-piece Scandi-soul marvels led by Sophie Tollefsbøl continue to weave an irresistible web of funk, jazz and hip-hop-inflected soul that should be getting more attention outside their homeland and its immediate geographical neighbours.

This year’s III is a dazzlingly technicolour trip that soundwise is more cohesive than its
excellent predecessor, 2022’s In the Sun In the Rain. Still, it’s not a case of one is better than the other, but rather different but equally great.

What seals the deal with Fieh is the addition of genuinely witty lyrics that poke and prod at the precarity of life in the neo-capitalist food chain. Whether that’s the tale of the pressures involved in keeping a band together in this income-starved modern age, as told in the ruefully titled “Full Time (Part Time Allthetime)", or the daydreaming wish fulfilment of “Judy Law”. A key lyric in the former; “People ask me if I work full-time and wonder how I’m able to survive”, and they don’t just do funky-as-hell hip-shakers but can also deliver luscious slo-mo stuff like “Daylight” with its woozy mid-afternoon weekday melancholy.

It’s not too late to jump on board the bandwagon and help ease Fieh’s existential challenges, they’re too good to ignore. SIMON HEAVISIDES

Listen to/buy III on Bandcamp

Iii Fieh

Wabi Sabi by The Moving Stills

When you think of the Central Coast of Australia you picture golden sand beaches, turquoise lagoons and its overall mesmerising beauty. Bustling away amidst this beautiful coastal location are the four members of the alt/indie pop band The Moving Stills, and just like the location they live in, their new album, Wabi Sabi, is certain to hypnotise you with its sunshiney, feel-good sound. The 10 track release debuts some of their strongest work to date, with the guys opening up about their own personal experiences. Covering everything from love and heartbreak to flourishing friendships and life on the road in their tour van, Wabi Sabi is a relatable, cheerful and loveable release, all wrapped up in bright, groovy melodies, laid-back, honest vocals and toe-tapping percussion.

A personal favourite from the album is “Best Friend”, where jangly guitars collide with a throbbing bass line and animated synths. The upbeat track is demonstrative of their lighthearted, danceworthy sound, resulting in the ideal soundtrack for when you need a quick pick-me-up. The vibrant “Volcano” brings the album to a close, and allows us to see just how far this band has come from their 2022 album Sunshine Corner. The Moving Stills have perfected their sonic recipe in Wabi Sabi and you’re going to want to keep coming back for another bite. JOE BEER

Listen to/buy Wabi Sabi on Bandcamp


All Of This Is To Chance by Lisa O'Neil

It's a rare occurrence to be taken aback by a song in such a powerful way that everything happening at that very moment must be paused. The song, "Old Note", is rich in the enveloping power of an old standard such as "Jesus Blood Didn't Fail me Yet", a song of delicate beauty while being sprinkled simultaneously with grief, both captivating and unassuming. Lisa O'Neil's vocals, heavily accented by her upbringing in Cavan, Ulster, are totally unique and perfectly matched by a song desolate and genuinely startling.

The other seven songs that reside on All This is Chance – her fifth album – are equally as sublime. Informed by Irish folk music, she twists away from the traditional by applying stylistic references to Scott Walker at his most art-pop, while the dark drone channels the desolation of the early solo material of Nico, or Anna Von-Hauswolff, the storytelling nature of her lyrics evoking all-time Irish folk great Christy Moore at his most lucid.

Sketchings of nature, birds, bees and blood, or referring 1940s Irish poetry (Patrick Kavanagh's The Great Hunger), the music ensures O'Neil is firmly front of centre while being awash with unfussy intricate detail, whether it's the flourishes of minimal orchestral atmospherics, or stripped right back to banjo, double bass and the white noise of the outdoors.

While death songs masked as lullabies (Goodnight World) contain such powerful lines as "Everyone I love lies under you tonight" delivered with the kind of world-weariness of someone who has experienced the finality of death within her circle way more times than she cares for. CHRIS TODD

Listen to/buy All Of This Is Chance on Bandcamp

All Of This Is To Chance Lisa O Neil

All Done by GRAYtheband

GRAYtheband’s eight-track album, All Done, has been on repeat since its release in November this year and I don’t see myself getting bored of it anytime soon. Packed full of intoxicating R&B beats, warm piano melodies that send shivers down your spine and lead singer Gray Ford’s powerful, soul-soaked vocals, All Done is truly a work of art. Hailing from Edmonton, Canada, Ford demonstrates his ability to craft emotion-driven anthems that reverberate throughout your entire body.

With the addition of brass embellishments and featuring guest artists such as rap artist K-Riz, each track provides you with something different, making it a totally unique listening experience. One thing however remains consistent throughout, and that is the theme of love and disparity. Ford narrates issues surrounding the society and world we live in, providing something that we can find comfort in as we collectively ride this rollercoaster of life. For a debut album, All Done is an awe-inspiring release and leaves us thinking what else GRAYtheband are capable of producing in the future that could possibly top this. ALEXANDER WILLIAMS

Listen to/buy All Done on Bandcamp

All Done GRA Ytheband

Mar del Sur by Sexores

Mar del Sur, the latest set from Ecuadorian band Sexores, brims with serrated guitars, alluring beats, otherworldly atmospherics, and Emilia Bahamonde Noriega’s mercurial vocals. Over the course of six songs and 27 minutes, a listener is alternately plunged into uncomfortable anxiety and prompted to acknowledge the sacredness of life, even if we’re doing so in what feels like a war zone, the world burning around us.

“Magallanes” launches with shimmery guitars and David Yépez Valencia’s contrastingly crisp drum part. Noriega’s vocal bobs in a foreboding mix. The dark-wave, shoegaze, and dreampop allusions are undeniable, yet there’s also an understated drone element, a narcotization that points to weariness, fatigue – The Great Overwhelm. Romulo Gallegos’s trombone gives the piece a night-club noir vibe. This is the party before the end.

The beat on “Aequorea” conjures something like steampunk disco, Noriega purring and lamenting as bodies move in the acidic air (and synth-flourishes singe and sputter). “Biolumínica”, meanwhile, features guitar lines dangling in the distance, crunchy welters spreading like a bittersweet corrosive. “Lago de Lirios” is more metronomic beat-wise, Noriega’s vocals particularly melancholic and eerily subdued. If the first four songs show the band bemoaning the expiration of the planet, albeit defiantly, energetically, this track shows them prepping for the funeral.

Closer “Albatross” is an ethereal coda. The beat is languid, draggy – synths and guitars are delicate gossamer. Perhaps it’s the aftermath. Death is behind us, a strange beauty emerges. There’s much to regret, but maybe we don’t have to carry that with us. Is it possible for an individual, a species, a universe to get a second chance?

Sexores, like Heartworms and Mandy, Indiana, draw from the dystopian canon – how the dire conditions of the planet reflect the dire conditions of the psyche: inner and outer mirror one another. But Sexores’ lush melds of wonder and urgency, their stinging recognition of impermanence, make for a distinct listen. This is an elegant band with a unique take on their sources and humanity’s place in the big picture. JOHN AMEN

Listen to/buy Mar del Sur on Bandcamp

Mar de Sur Sexores

hortelã by Maro

Clarity is a buzzword for me when describing MARO’s hortelã, in the sense that all parts musically are consistently upheld and striking. Finger-picked guitars are lush and propelling, keeping rhythm and melody in check seamlessly. Portuguese Eurovision star Mariana Brito da Cruz Forjaz Secca’s hushed vocal commands each line, MARO as she is known professionally saunters between English and Portuguese, language just another tool for expression. There's also the clarity worth noting of someone expressing their own version of heartbreak or misguided love, be that on the two steps forward, eight steps back "há-de sarar" or the free fall of "just wanna forget you", MARO manages to reinvent the done-to-death and oversaturated, covering loss and grief on an even deeper level due in part to bilingual narration, but also through unexpected builds and tangents, and pleasing structures that leave you falling over your own feet. EMMA WAY

Listen to/buy hortelã on Bandcamp

Hortela Maro

World Domination by Blood Command

Blood Command's fifth full-length outing isn't short of ambition - it’s not short of anything, really. It's a bombastic 20-track deathpop opera worthy of its title, with injections of extreme metal, Mariachi brass, trap, electronica, and practically everything in between bubbling through its veins. There are moments of Robyn and Beastie Boys, which are quickly tempered by visceral bursts of hardcore; the flares of doom-riddled punk are infested with earworms you’ll have rattling around your brain for weeks.

World Domination arrived just over a year after predecessor Praise Armageddonism - the band’s first record with new vocalist Nikki Brumen (formerly of Australian alt. metal crew Pagan). 2023’s offering takes some of the ideas teased in that collection and elevates them to new heights with renewed focus - the sizzling melodrama of mastermind Yngve Anderson’s music is woven with some serious depth. “Forever Soldiers Of Esther”, a highlight of the album, is a prime example of the gravity on display - for all its grit, it’s a tender number dedicated to the memory of Anderson’s mother which explores themes of family and grief.

World Domination is unhinged and deliciously silly in places, but gut-wrenchingly affecting in others - Blood Command have always worn their hearts on their sleeves, and this album is certainly no different - and this kind of flippant sincerity is what keeps the feral genre flipping making sense. Trying to spell out what World Domination is like on paper probably makes it seem like a mess, but the way that the Norwegian-Australian fivesome combine their carnage with tenacity, authenticity, and sheer fun makes every moment an adrenaline-packed pleasure. LARRY DAY

Listen to/buy World Domination on Bandcamp

World Domination Blood Command

Calico by Ryan Beatty

On his third full-length album LA-based singer/songwriter Ryan Beatty has refined his craft and stripped his art right back to its core. A masterful storyteller, this album is simply gorgeous, from the string arrangements to Beatty’s skillful use of metaphor; Calico is flawless. Beatty and his collaborators’ impressive adoption of a minimalist and analogue approach to the album’s production really allows Beatty’s voice to shine through. His honey-like vocal on album standout “White Teeth” is deeply affecting, personal details like mentioning the names of his sister and friends could easily feel alienating, but instead welcome us further into Beatty’s world and the sentiment of a cosy weekend with those you love.

The project’s messages of hope and optimism see Beatty assume the role of a flawed but knowledgeable guide passing through life, ceasing the day. Vivid imagery and evocative sensory descriptions span the whole album. A sticky hot night of paranoid yearning is captured perfectly on “Andromeda” whereas “Bright Red” muses on existentialism via a detour down a California coastal highway. “Hunter” takes up over 20% of the album’s runtime, its lyrics span an entire year, journeying season by season with vivid images painted by Beatty’s hushed tones. Whether taken as a standalone moment, or as part of the collection as a whole, “Hunter” centres on the healing power of just existing. Sometimes it’s enough to just float and allow yourself to grow with the passing of time. MATTHEW KENT

Listen to Calico on Spotify

Calico Ryan Beatty

Miramar by Júlia Colom

Two of my favourite artists this year from Spain put out some incredible debut collections. There were two strong EPs from Bb trickz – a name that’ll be on everyone’s lips this time next year – and a fantastic album from Mallorca-born Júlia Colom. Like a lot of artists from Spain, Colom is creating a new sound by paying tribute to her region; Miramar explores the culture of Mallorca through Colom’s interpretations of the traditional oral folk songs – "tonadas" – of her home island, which she found through her grandfather. The tonadas were acapellas, sung by peasants as they worked the land. The record’s opener ‘Que M’abrasava’ actually came to Colom via Alan Lomax, who recorded it on his visit to Mallorca in the early 1950s.

Miramar espouses resonant folk and electronic hums but it’s an album driven by the rhythm and beat of Colom’s vocal, which dances and hits in the same way as Caroline Polachek or Lorde. The old and the new co-exist in perfect harmony, all tied together through the Spanish guitar and beautifully warm production. If you only listen to one song from the record, hit play on the slick, chic “Estròfica” and marvel at where Colom might take her sound next. PAUL BRIDGEWATER

Listen to/buy Miramar on Bandcamp

Miramar JC
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