Music is a comfort to many, especially in the hectic chaos of an Oxford term. We’re almost halfway through 2023 already and there have been many great releases since the year began. As testament to that, I present to you five of the best albums released this spring, ordered by release date.
Praise a Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) – Yves Tumor (17 March)
In spite of Lana Del Rey’s inclusion further down this list, I am happy to report that this album has the longest title of the five. Miami-born musician Yves Tumor first came to my attention in 2020 when their fourth album Heaven to a Tortured Mind made it onto countless lists of the year’s best records. This ambitious new LP retains the experimental electronica style of their last album while diving deeper into a kind of futuristic rock that gives Praise a Lord Who Chews a more serrated sonic edge. The result of this enigmatic reinvention is an atmospheric and far-reaching examination of the depths of the human psyche, delivered through a mix of magical and divine metaphors that stick in the mind.
Favourite track: “Echolalia” – the magic of this song lies in its pulsating yet subdued beat, accentuating Tumor’s crooning about the power of an all-encompassing, divine beauty that is worth yearning for: “I see you standing there but you’re all alone / you look so magical”.
Live at Bush Hall – Black Country, New Road (24 March)
“Look at what we did together / BCNR, friends forever” – this lyric from Black Country, New Road’s first live album tells you everything you need to know about the band after the departure of their lead vocalist Isaac Wood last year. They recognise that their lineup may have changed, but they haven’t lost their touch and they are moving on to a new phase of their career. Live at Bush Hall, originally released as a concert film in February, contains all-new material with the duties of lead singer now being rotated between Tyler Hyde, May Kershaw, and Lewis Evans. Though their previous two albums were also recorded mostly live, the polish of a studio recording is intentionally left out here. Awkward introductions from band members, false starts between performances, and the roar of the crowd at the Bush Hall shows in December 2022 are on display for all to see and hear. A year on from Wood’s departure, BCNR’s successful capturing of the same artful experimental rock ambience with these new tracks is proof of each member’s musical ingenuity. Listening to the album all the way through is a simply sublime experience. This is easily one of the best live albums of the decade so far.
Favourite track: “Up Song” – the aforementioned lyric derives from the album’s gloriously chaotic opener. Its existential themes gear the listener up for the poetic complexity you would expect from a BCNR album, before subverting that build-up entirely with a proud statement of unity between members past and present. The ending of the track as Tyler Hyde tells the audience to bear with them throughout the performance highlights the unrefined beauty of this live format.
Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – Lana Del Rey (24 March)
Lana Del Rey has a very eclectic discography. Her previous two albums, both released in 2021, received mixed reviews and the controversies that she always seems to be embroiled in somewhat overshadowed them. Ocean Blvd isn’t much different – you only have to look at the sermon from megachurch priest Judah Smith wedged in the middle of the tracklist to see that – but this record carries a sense of maturity not seen in Lana’s past works. The lyrics are steeped in discussions of family, friendship, and mental health, feeling like an examination of Lana’s tortured life. Her reflections on songs like “Fingertips” are nothing short of heartbreaking, but the album also contains more enigmatic anthems like “Peppers” which feel like a callback to her older music. Ultimately Del Rey’s latest album isn’t dissimilar from her others but the quality of what is being presented is undeniable.
Favourite track: “A&W” – an enticing marriage of the more carefree trip hop tracks on one half of the album and the sombre reflections of the other. In a classic Del Rey move, “A&W” is both a reference to the American root beer brand and what Lana brands herself throughout the song – an “American whore”. The poignant lyrics on the treatment of women as sexual currency in entertainment are marvellously undercut by the psychedelic trap-tinged outro, in which Lana has a big problem with a man called Jimmy. Across seven minutes she covers so much emotional ground that listening to the song feels like a pilgrimage along America’s beer-drinking, weed-smoking, woman-hating roots.
Rat Saw God – Wednesday (7 April)
In an age where oddly-named rock bands with oddly-named albums are a dime a dozen, I wasn’t sure how I would feel going into Wednesday’s fifth studio album, but it turns out that the craziness of Rat Saw God makes it deserving of that weird title. The ten-song collection carries all the hallmarks of an indie rock classic turned up to eleven. Lead singer Karly Hurtzman’s dynamic vocal performances are a highlight throughout but the emphatic creativity displayed in the lyrics and instrumentals is also key. The tracks suck you in with their sonic variety and bombastic songwriting, with lead single “Bull Believer” ending with Hurtzman screaming “finish him” Mortal Kombat style. Despite the record’s attention-grabbingly eccentric elements, the songs seem to carve out a space in the dark for you to wallow in as you listen. It’s an ear-splittingly intimate experience.
Favourite track: “Turkey Vultures” – continuing the oddities of naming, the album’s eighth track is delightfully poetic in its existentialism. The stream-of-consciousness songwriting builds in intensity alongside the instrumentation, the band steadily increasing the pace as the track progresses to reach an emotive climax: “I cannot tell myself apart / at night I don’t count stars, I count the dark”. With the song stretching past four minutes, its short verses are surrounded by pure music on both sides that exemplifies Wednesday’s ability to say so much with so little.
That! Feels Good! – Jessie Ware (28 April)
That! Feels Good! is a career rebirth for Jessie. She was planning to quit music altogether in 2020 but the critical and commercial success of her last album What’s Your Pleasure?, which saw her tap into a new realm of euphoric disco, reeled her back in. The title of her fifth album seems to answer the question posed by her fourth, focusing a lot more on taking control of your sexuality and pleasure on tracks like “Freak Me Now” and “Shake the Bottle”. Jessie crafts her songs with an infectious eye for detail that makes the first listen an almost arresting experience. Though That! Feels Good! treads a lot of the same ground as her prior LP, her lyrics are more grounded in authentic feeling, no doubt a product of the need to reconnect in the wake of the pandemic. This album proves that Ware’s step in disco wasn’t a one-time fluke – instead, her foot is firmly in the door and she’s pulling you onto the dancefloor.
Favourite track: “Begin Again” – even without knowing the story behind it, you can get a sense from listening to “Begin Again” that it was the first song written for the album. It’s a musical marvel, with the bridge building up a vibrant mix of synths and live instrumentation to produce an incredible release as the final chorus kicks in. Ware is also at her best vocally here, her crystalline voice ascending in tandem with the saxophone in the final minute of the track. The songwriting marks a triumphant move from the virtual to the physical, rejecting the inhumanity of isolation and demanding true connection: “give me something good that’s even better than it seems / why does all the purest love get filtered through machines?”.