Well, that was a pretty quick half year! We’re somehow already at the midway point through 2023 so that can mean only one thing – it’s list time.
It’s already been a fantastic year for Irish music, thanks to the artists below and too many more to name – so we asked our writers to whittle their favourites down to a select few and tell us why they were so outstanding.
Here are HeadStuff’s Best Irish Albums Of 2023 – for now…
Ailbhe Reddy | Endless Affair
Anyone who knows Ailbhe Reddy’s music knows that she is particularly good at two things: rocking and soothing the listener. On Endless Affair, Ailbhe is on top of her game in both regards.
Some tracks, such as ‘Shitshow’ and ‘I’m Losing, You’re Winning’, are imbued with a punky edge reminiscent of the early 2000s; a simpler time, when Avril Lavigne ruled the charts.
On the likes of ‘Pray for Me’ and ‘Motherhood’, the singer-songwriter is softer; no edges. And then you have tracks like ‘Last to Leave’, which marry the two.
This album, which ruminates on themes of motherhood, grief, love and heartbreak, is assured, even when the singer/speaker is feeling like a mess.
Arborist | An Endless Sequence Of Dead Zeros
Mark McCambridge hit new heights on his incredible third album earlier this year, with An Endless Sequence of Dead Zeros seeing the Belfast-based musician deliver a dazzling record that blurred the lines between the experimental and the traditional.
With touches of Americana, folk and even the odd classical arrangement, McCambridge channels the likes of John Cale, Bob Dylan and Wilco, but also brings shades of more contemporary acts like Fleet Foxes and Midlake too.
With the musical element richly textured, so too is the record’s thematic content.
Across this collection of songs, McCambridge harnesses the fugue state of the early 20s to explore dreams, religion and family, crafting ambitious soundscapes around the words to help paint his picture to the listener. Boasting poignant themes and intricate arrangements, this is one fever dream from which you won’t want to wake up.
Best Tracks: ‘Dewdrop Cherryoak’, ‘Matisse’, ‘O Margaret’
The Bonk | Greater Than Or Equal To The Bonk
“I find the most enjoyment in making sounds when it lends strangeness to the experience of being. When you listen to another person or another thing, you’re initiated into another world, churned around in another belly.”
These are the words of The Bonk’s frontman Phil Christie, writing for Cassandra Voices Magazine back in 2019 about his creative process with the band.
Earlier this year, Christie and his bandmates released Greater Than Or Equal To The Bonk, giving listeners the chance to spend just over 30 minutes being whipped around in the belly of The Bonk, an oracular experience that is frequently groovy, occasionally jarring and unlike anything else on the Irish release radar this year so far.
Bell X1 | Merciful Hour
After 25 years in the game, Bell X1 remain a force to be reckoned with in the Irish music scene.
Following on from their numerous side projects (Join Me in the Pines, HousePlants), the Kildare group have teamed back up to offer Merciful Hour, probably the most intriguing album of their career.
There’s a definite sense of growth and maturity from Merciful Hour, taking the bounce and playfulness that defines Bell X1 and adding in some sprinkles of the new avenues explored in the aforementioned side projects. Ever-reliable but unafraid of growth, Bell X1 have done what they’ve done best in crafting something both sharply intelligent and unabashedly fun.
Best Tracks: ‘The Lobster’, ‘Bridge and Tunnel’, ‘Whisper In The Night’
David Kitt | Idiot Check
David Kitt is standing near the water. Behind him, the Skellig Islands are looming in all their austere glory. His face is peaceful and his eyes are closed. He’s wearing a homemade tricorn hat. It might be made of tinfoil. This image is the cover of Kitt’s ninth studio album Idiot Check, and it’s where our journey begins.
Just out of shot there is a vessel. A mode of transportation. That’s why Kitt is wearing his captain’s hat. In recent interviews, Kitt has referenced the “Breaking Bad mobile studio set-up” in which the album was recorded. But I’m not picturing a camper van. It’s more like a spaceship.
We get on board with Kitt and the vessel brings us east, flying over Dublin and heading further into the atmosphere. Fortunately even getting lost in space sounds great when Kitt is at the helm, in the luxurious ambience of ‘Till The End’. ‘Balances’ brings us back to earth. We recognize the drums and the folky vibe.
We have returned and in case we were in any doubt that it’s good to be back, ‘Waves Of Peace’ brings our voyage to a close with a slice of surf-pop that feels like home. Those are real drums and guitars and we’ve left the synths behind, for now. The door of the vessel whooshes open.
Kitt steps out, back onto the stony shore of Dingle. The Skelligs greet him. He closes his eyes and breathes in. He is satisfied with the journey, and you will be too.
Lankum | False Lankum
Words fail to do justice to the indescribable and sometimes terrible beauty contained within False Lankum, the fourth and greatest work to date from the extraordinary Irish folk quartet.
To press play is to be transported to lands far and wide, from eerie fever dreams in the misty Dublin mountains (‘Go Dig My Grave’) to treacherous pirate ships on the high seas (‘Master Crowley’s’, ‘The New York Trader’), as all the while hidden layers and depths to the band’s sound are unveiled through the terrifying walls of ambient noise introduced to the traditional standards that Lankum have become renowned for.
With a couple of their most epic original compositions to date (‘Netta Perseus’, ‘The Turn’) into the bargain as well, there’s no doubting that False Lankum is a monumental landmark achievement not only for its creators but for the entire Irish folk scene in 2023.
Lisa O’Neill | All Of This Is Chance
Regular Headstuff readers will already know I’ve talked at length about All Of This Is Chance, Lisa O’Neill’s masterful album from early in the year. I’m back again baby, ready to rehash like it’s going out of style.
Cavan storyteller Lisa O’Neill created something incredibly special with All Of This Is Chance, distilling love, nature and family into an eight-track masterwork.
What defines this album is a powerful command of lyricism and a reverence for traditional folk, blending into something both new and ancient. For anyone with even a passing interest in Irish traditional, story craft or poetry, you’ll not regret giving this your time.
Best Tracks: ‘Silver Seed’, ‘Old Note’, ‘Whisht, The Wild Workings Of The Mind’
M(h)aol | Attachment Styles
Was there a better debut in 2023 than the ferocious, uncompromising assault on the senses that Attachment Styles unleashed upon us back in February?
I think not, and I’ll eat my hat if there’s one better to be found in the next six months.
With a furious yet funky wall of distorted guitars and pulsating bass backing Roisín Nic Ghearailt’s delirious sermons on challenging topics from toxic masculinity (‘Asking For It’) to sex positivity (‘Period Sex’), Attachment Styles announces M(h)aol as an undeniably arresting, delightfully provocative presence in the Irish rock landscape.
The Murder Capital | Gigi’s Recovery
On Gigi’s Recovery, The Murder Capital step beyond the gloomy confines of their brilliantly dark 2019 debut When I Have Fears. Here, the gothic post-punk is expanded and enriched with new sonic textures, with a knowing nod to stadium-sized ambitions without compromising the youthful exuberance that made their previous work so arresting.
Frontman James McGovern’s anguished croon is given ample space to roam in the album’s quieter moments, while the band’s musicality shows signs of a newfound maturity, building to stunning crescendos and displaying road-tested interplay and ambitiousness.
In equal parts scant and dramatic in all the right places, Gigi’s Recovery is a document of a band truly coming into their own.
That’s it for now, but who knows what awaits us over the next six months before we complete our countdown in December.
Stick with HeadStuff to guide you through the rest of 2023 and for the moment, enjoy all of our best tracks below in our Best Irish Albums Of 2023 So Far Playlist!