Across the Margin takes stock of the status of music in 2023, stopping at the midway point to offer its picks for the best songs of the year (so far)…
Spoon — “I Can’t Give Everything Away”
We here at Across The Margin have persistently called the Britt Daniel fronted, Austin-based band Spoon the most consistent act in rock. Proving us correct once again, Spoon kicked off the new year by releasing a cover of David Bowie’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” which was recorded live by Britt Daniel and Alex Fischel in 2021. Released in conjunction with what would have been Bowie’s seventy-sixth birthday, Daniel and Fischel’s tribute is sparse in arrangement, but deeply heartfelt and affecting. It is clear this is a song that means a lot to Daniels. “‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ is a tune Alex and I have been playing since we learned it for an acoustic and piano show in Mexico City in 2016,” he states. “It’s just a fantastic song, and as the last song on Bowie’s final album it doesn’t disappoint.”
Gorillaz – “Silent Running” (featuring Adeleye Omotayo)
The British virtual band Gorillaz latest album Cracker Island captivates listeners with its rich production, thought-provoking lyrics, and an unmistakable sound that has made them a global sensation. Cracker Island is an album brimming with radio-friendly hits and powerful collaborations and showcases the band’s signature experimental style. One standout track, “Silent Running,” exemplifies the band’s ability to create immersive sonic landscapes. The haunting melodies and ethereal vocals draw listeners into a mysterious and introspective journey. The song’s production is masterful, with intricate layers of electronic elements and haunting synth textures, creating a mesmerizing sense of otherworldly beauty. “Silent Running” is a powerful testament to Gorillaz’s artistic vision and their ability to craft music that resonates on both an emotional and sonic level. Prepare to be enchanted by this disarming gem from Gorillaz’s latest, Cracker Island.
Depeche Mode – “Ghosts Again”
Over fifteen albums Depeche Mode have solidified their place as pioneers of electronic music. Renowned for their dark, introspective lyrics and synth-driven sound, they have become one of the most influential acts in the genre. Their latest release Memento Mori stands out as an exceptionally captivating album from the past twenty-five years. Despite their forty year presence in the industry, Depeche Mode continues to innovate and evolve their familiar sound, pushing boundaries and exploring new musical territories. The hauntingly beautiful track, “Ghosts Again,” serves as the album’s standout single, capturing the essence of Depeche Mode’s signature sound. With atmospheric synths and mesmerizing vocals by Dave Gahan, the song creates an eerie yet captivating mood. The introspective lyrics delve into nostalgia and the lingering impact of past experiences, making “Ghosts Again” a thought-provoking and infectious introduction to Depeche Mode’s latest album.
Lana Del Rey – “Kitsugi”
Lana Del Rey’s latest album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, is another dreamy and introspective journey showcasing her distinctive style and poetic storytelling. The album is flush with songs that effortlessly blend elements of indie pop, alternative rock, and baroque pop, all serving to create a nostalgic and ethereal sonic landscape. Del Rey is a celebrated visionary artist with an unparalleled ability to create immersive musical experiences, and that is no more apparent than on the song “Kitsugi.” The song’s title references a traditional Japanese art form that involves repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold or silver. The English translation literally means “golden journey” and the art form aims to transform the broken object into a unique piece of art, highlighting its history and imperfections rather than disguising them. On “Kitsugi” the track’s minimalist production allows Del Rey’s evocative storytelling to take center stage, as she reflects on the bittersweet nature of love and the resilience of the human spirit. In the context of Del Rey’s career-long exploration of human nature and emotion, “Kitsugi” is likely used metaphorically to explore themes of resilience, healing, and finding beauty in brokenness, something we here at Across the Margin can certainly get behind.
Yo La Tengo — “Aselestine”
This year indie/psych rock legends Yo La Tengo released their first studio album since 2020’s We Have Amnesia Sometimes. With their seventeenth album entitled This Stupid World, the Hoboken-based trio find a way to sound fresh and well atop their game a stunning thirty-eight years into their career. While the first single released from the album “Fallout,” is a must hear and the sort of driving, pulsating jaunt Yo La Tengo persistently dazzles with, the second offering, “Aselestine,” is gorgeous and elegant Georgia Hubley-led track which is exhibiting of the dynamic range this always enthralling band is gifted with.
Sunny War — “No Reason”
Over the course of her first four albums, and increasingly so with each ensuing album, Sunny War is releasing the sort of soulful, charged folk that is making it resoundingly clear the Los Angeles raised, Nasheville-based musician is one of the most exciting voices in all of Roots music. Her latest album finds Sunny War brazenly baring her soul, as she puts it, “…there’s so much singing on here. I didn’t plan for that, but I really like it. That’s why I thought it would be cool to call the album Anarchist Gospel, because of the choirs on these songs.” The album explores the duality in all of us, “the internal struggle that all people face just trying to be the best version of themselves. And the guilt that you feel when you’re not being the best version of yourself.” There is one song that highlights this heady soul-searching above all else, “No Reason,” a tremendous track where Sunny passionately sings “You’re an angel / you’re a demon / ain’t got no rhyme / ain’t got no reason.”
King Tuff — “Tell Me”
King Tuff’s (Kyle Thomas) latest album, Smalltown Stardust, is, as he puts it, “an album about love and nature and youth.” It’s a tender and ultimately lighthearted record that might come as a surprise to those familiar with the artist’s back catalog. King Tuff believes there could never be such a thing as too many loving songs stating, “almost every song in the world is about love, yet somehow there’s still not enough love songs.” The third single released from the outstanding album, “Tell Me,” terrifically encapsulates this idea. It is a lovely jaunt of a song, as breezy as the perfect summer day, in which Thomas openly and proudly professes a deep love, one where the object of his affection “can make it right / ‘Cause I can’t keep my love from you.”
The Murlocs — “Initiative”
The Melbourne-based psych-rock King Gizzard offshoot The Murlocs released their seventh studio album this year, Calm Ya Farm, and the lead single from the album was quite a departure for the band. “Initiative” draws its inspiration from American country music and finds the group moving “away from all the distortion and dirt and grit, or at least let the grit come off a bit more clean-sounding,” as frontman Kenny-Smith explained in a press release for the album. He further expounds that “Initiative” is about “recognizing the need to start taking responsibility for your life instead of always living in the now and killing all your brain cells along the way.”
The National — “Tropic Morning News”
The National returned this year with their ninth studio offering entitled First Two Pages Of Frankenstein. The record features assists from Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers, and Sufjan Stevens (Swift on the track “The Allcott” and Bridgers contributing on two songs — “This Isn’t Helping” and “Your Mind Is Not Your Friend.”). First Two Pages Of Frankenstein is full of some road tested material, songs debuting on tours over the last few years such as “Grease in Your Hair,” “Ice Machines: ” and the excellent lead single, “Tropic Morning News.” The song is inspired by something far too many of us are guilty parties to — doom scrolling. “The idea of referring to the darkness of the news in such a light way unlocked something in me,” frontman Matt Berninger explained. “It became a song about having a hard time expressing yourself, and trying to connect with someone when the noise of the world is drowning out any potential for conversation.”
Boygenius — “True Blue”
The hype around this year’s reunion of supergroup Boygenius, which included a photoshoot for the cover of the Rolling Stone, is well deserved. The trio featuring Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus has a lovely origin story, wherein each tremendously talented artists have become friends through their appreciation of each other’s work and then they set about making magic together. Their 2018 self-titled EP was a stunning work of art that displayed an unearthly synergy between the three songstresses, and this year they released their first full length studio album entitled The Record, and produced by Boygenius and co-producer Catherine Marks at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La Studios in Malibu. Of the first three singles they released in anticipation of the album, “True Blue” has our entire heart. Featuring gorgeous songwriting by Dascus, “True Blue” tells the story of authentic love, that type that brings out the best of you (“I remember who I am when I’m with you”). It’s a song that makes you believe that true love is possible, and just one of the many alluring tracks found on The Record.
John Andrews & The Yawns — “Never Go Away”
The buoyant, feel-good groove that propels the first single, “Never Go Away,” off John Andrews & The Yawn latest album Love For The Underdog is infectious and an instant daymaker. The soothing organ riffs could contrast the uncertainty and a contemplation of self that “Never Go Away” describes, but optimism pulses through the track both sonically and also lyrically as Andrews ultimately accepts to let things be as they are. And that is just the way we recommend to take in “Never Let Go” and John Andrews & The Yawns music in consummate, just sit back and let the pacifying grooves wash right over you and soothe your soul.
Yves Tumor — “Meteora Blues”
Yves Tumor’s third full-length album, Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds), is an album we did not see coming from an artist most known through the electronic noise underground 2016 album Serpent Music. Their latest album, produced by Noah Goldstein (Frank Ocean, Drake, Rihanna) and mixed by Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails, The Killers), drifts into punk-pop territory without loosing a hint of the power and lyrical depth of the music we have come to know and love from Tumor. A song that exemplifies this profound but welcome pivot to glam rock sensibilities is “Meteora Blus,” a soaring guitar driven track that is both accessible and fiery, brimming with vivid imagery where the gifted artist can be found praying “ to an empty sky / Stare straight into the morning star / With lips just like red flower petals.”
El Michels Affair & Black Thought — “Grateful”
Mere months after releasing one of the most impressive albums of his storied career (Cheat Codes), Roots frontman Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) was back at it. This time, he has teamed up with “cinematic soul” band El Michels Affair for the release of an album aptly titled Glorious Game. As the story goes, Trotter and El Michels Affair lead musician Leon Michels met in the 2000s when Trotter became acquainted with the contemporary soul scene. In 2020, Trotter contacted Michels to collaborate with El Michels Affair, who went to work cutting up samples and crafting boom-bap instrumentals for Trotter to write to. The fruit of that labor is an excellent album which finds Trotter seamlessly flowing over diverse and often intricate soundscapes. The lead single “Grateful” highlights what happens when an emcee who just continually persists at the peak of his talents teams with a freak group of musicians who bequeath Trotter a pocket to spit fire within, and then bless it with dynamic, full soundscapes (for example, the wonderfully haunting flute line that underlies this tremendous opening track).
Tyler, the Creator — “Stuntman” (feat Vince Staples)
Tyler, the Creator’s collaboration with Vince Staples on the track “Stuntman” is a powerful tour de force that grabs the listener’s attention from the very first beat. The song exudes an unapologetic energy and confidence, driven by the dynamic interplay between Tyler’s commanding delivery and Vince Staples’ razor-sharp verses. The pulsating beats and menacing production create a palpable sense of intensity, further elevating the song’s power. “Stuntman” is a track that perfectly showcases the undeniable artistic prowess of both Tyler, the Creator and Vince Staples, leaving a lasting impact with its raw and electrifying sonic experience that there is a lot more professional mayhem to come from two of the best in the game.
Tyler, The Creator — “Dogtooth”
It isn’t often (or ever!) that we select two songs from one album for our mid-year compilation, but Tyler, The Creator gifted us with too much goodness this year. “Dogtooth” was the first surprise drop from the CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST: The Estate Sale expansion pack, released on March 27, 2023. Tyler tweeted that the track was a leftover from his album, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, that was never intended to “see the light of day.” “Dogtooth” finds Tyler waxing poetic about his benevolent sexual offerings and the spoils emanating from his recent successes. It’s a song we cannot get enough of, chock full of Tyler’s unique brand of witticisms and highlighting his captivating and entirely novel delivery.
Cordae (feat. Anderson .Paak) — “Two Tens”
In 2019, six time Grammy Award winner Anderson .Paak and young rapper extraordinaire Cordae collaborated on one of the most exciting hip-hop songs of the year in “RNP,” which coincidentally became certified platinum on the eve of their most recent joint effort, “Two Tens.” In this boisterous yet contemplative track, while .Paak celebrates the delight that comes with success and having beautiful women in your orbit Cordae counters, arguing that the energy required, and money and time spent on these endeavors of delight, might not be worth it. The synergy the two artists have, as exhibited by these two enthusiastic tracks is magnetic, begging for more collabos from these gifted musicians.
IDK — “Pit Stop”
Jason Aaron Mills, aka IDK, the British-American rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer, continues to amaze. Admittedly, when we bump hip-hop we want to hear the rappers rap. But when IDK flips back and forth between spitting fire and soulfully crooning, we are entirely onboard, as his singing is as impressive as his rhyme skills. But on “Pit Stop,” a stand out on his latest album F65, it’s all about foot-all- the-way-on the-gas, in-your-face-rap. “Pit Stop” is story-telling rap at its finest, where we are gifted to a walk down IDK’s memory lane (the ups and the downs), and wonderfully, the song is laced with children joyously singing on the hook, an affecting and fun added touch to a gem of a song.
Killer Mike — “Don’t Let The Devil” (featuring El-P & thankyougoodsir)
Atlanta rapper Killer Mike’s latest album, Michael, swells with gratitude. On it, Killer Mike expounds upon his arduous, improbable rise to stardom and the current moment he is appreciating where he is not only is putting out tremendous solo albums, but garnering acclaim as one-half of the hit hip-hop duo Run The Jewels. Being RTJ fans, a track on Michael that has our whole heart is “Don’t The Devil” which features the other half of RTJ in EL-P. Feeling as if its been ripped straight from one of Killer Mike and El-P’s RTJ albums, “Don’t Let The Devil” is in your face rap that is brash and a triumphant example of the powerful music that Killer Mike and El-P are capable of when they team up.
KATRANIMÉ — “4EVA” (featuring Pharrell Williams)
In a match made in music heaven, producer Kaytranada and rapper Aminé combined their awe-inspiring talents as the duo KATRANIMÉ to release a collaboration album. The two gifted artists have worked together before, when Aminé remixed Kaytranada’s single “At All,” which led to Kaytranada producing three tracks on Aminé’s album, Calling Brio. A must-hear track from their excellent album is “4EVA” which features Pharrell Williams, a song that has a bounce and vibe to it which is intoxicating and when released as the song’s lead single prior to the album’s release, hinted at all the greatness that KATRANIMÉ would be brimming with.
Sexmob — “Banacek”
New York City’s famed jazz outfit Sexmob released an album this year entitled The Hard Way that skews decisively electronic. On it, producer Scotty Hard’s beats and soundscapes provide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, saxophonist Briggan Krauss, bassist Tony Scherr, and acoustic/electric drummer Kenny Wollesen, all the stimulus they need to fearlessly reinvent themselves. With each offering, and certainly with The Hard Way and its rich electro-acoustic groove canvas, Steven and crew reveal a modernizing impulse, but also an equally strong foundation in the roots of jazz and American song. Funky, bluesy, with a tattered dissonance conjured up by Krauss’ throaty saxophone tone, the distinctive wail of Steven’s rare horn, and the swagger of Scherr and Wollesen’s rhythm section grind, throughout The Hard Way Sexmob continues to chart new paths in 21st-century creative music. While we urge you take in the album in consummate, if you want a taste before diving in we recommend giving the enthralling journey of a song that is “Banacek” a go.
Bonny Doon — “Crooked Creek”
If you aren’t familiar with the Detroit, Michigan born indie rock band Bonny Doon, here is a terse history. The trio of Bill Lennox (vocals, guitar), Bobby Colombo (vocals, guitar) and Jake Kmiecik (drums) assembled in 2014 and the following year they released a self titled EP. In 2017, the group announced their debut self-full-length album. Then in 2018, they released their second full-length album, Longwave, which led to them becoming the backing band for Waxahatchee on the tour in support of her outstanding album Saint Cloud. To commence 2023, Bonny Doon gifted fans with the single “Crooked Creek,” a sailing indie rock jaunt. Bobby Colombo explains the free-spirited nature of the track: “We were trying to be more free in our writing and I think this song is a good example. We had a lot of fun with the words, which is sometimes not the fun part. I love writing with Bill’s voice in mind, and he was able to really capture the spirit of this one I think.”
Margo Price — “Country Road”
Margo Price is far from your ordinary country singer. For starters, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter’s soundscapes on her sophomore album Strays are varied and eclectic. From the charged rock n’ roll jaunt that is “Been to the Mountains” that commences the album to the delicate “Landfill” that caps off Strays, there are diverse delights at every turn. Beyond that, Price openly, and admirably, champions psilocybin mushrooms and candidly explains how they opened her mind and helped free her from alcohol’s dastardly grip: “Do you want to be different? Do you want to do something that’s not the chosen path? You can absolutely do that. That’s really what mushrooms have taught me.” We champion this sort of adventurism, particularly when it comes to musicians. “Country Road is our current favorite from the album, a heartfelt song that acts as an affecting ode to a lost friend. “We wrote that song for a friend of ours who was a little bit younger than us,” Maggie recounts. “And we lost him really tragically to colon cancer and to the failing American healthcare system, and especially how we treat artists and musicians in this world.”
Abraham Alexander — “Deja Vu” (featuring Mavis Staples)
This year Fort Worth-based singer-songwriter Abraham Alexander released one of the most impressive debut albums we have come upon in many moons. Featuring assists from such living legends as Mavis Staples and Gary Clarke Jr., Alexander’s first album, SEA/SONS, is a soulful and vulnerable journey that finds the gifted musician inviting listeners into his story, his heartaches, and desires. The cream of the outstanding crop of songs to us is “Deja Vu,” a song featuring the aforementioned Mavis Staples that beautiful and thoughtfully ruminates on the deep inequities of America’s criminal justice system. “Tell the truth, it’ll set you free / Preacher’s words ring loud in me / Blind lady, hear my plea, justice, no heresy / But you’re not listening, modern-day slavery,” Staples croons in a song that is both chill-inducing and gorgeous to behold.