30 Dec 2023

The Sampler: The best singles of 2023

From The Sampler, 2:00 pm on 30 December 2023
George Riley

Tony Stamp reflects on 10 of his favourite singles from the past year, including London RnB, local folk, African dub, and American indie. Photo: Ninja Tune

George Riley - Elixir

West London singer & producer George Riley released her EP Un/limited Love on Ninja Tune Records, preceded by 'Elixir', a slinky, infectious slice of modern RnB.

Oddisee - How Far

New York MC Oddisee doesn't consider himself a conscious rapper, but to the casual listener he fits the bill. His album To What End addressed plenty of social concerns, but its tracks were marked by affability, particularly 'How Far'.

Overmono - Good Lies

Welsh brothers Overmono make music that draws on pop vocals and processes them into club anthems. Their record Good Lies was a bit less rowdy than previous output, but still infectious, with the title track's reworking of 'No Harm' by Norwegian duo Smerz a marvel of innovative sampling.

Caroline Rose - Stockholm Syndrome

Caroline Rose has made a career of comedic alt-pop, but their new album The Art of Forgetting was made in the wake of a breakup, much more confessional and in crisis than prior outings. The track 'Stockholm Syndrome' was its peak, gentle and melodically rich, with a tinge of wistful psychedelia at its climax.

Tiny Ruins - The Crab / Waterbaby

Tiny Ruins' 'The Crab/ Waterbaby' was richly-deserving of its Silver Scroll nomination, the highpoint of their impeccable album Ceremony. Confronting a personal tragedy suffered by singer Hollie Fullbrook with humour and wisdom, her melodies were gorgeous as always, and complemented by intuitive contributions from her bandmates, particularly bassist Cass Basil's adventures to the top of her fretboard.

Iti Bubbas - Kauta

The Wellington trio of MĀ, Wynona, and Tama came together as Iti Bubbas, with their EP Idiot Check one of the year's breeziest local outings, even as they addressed some serious topics. The track 'Kauta', meaning kitchen, concerns paying attention to your tupuna, or elders, and making the most of their knowledge. 

Nia Archives - So Tell Me…

Nia Archives is an English drum and bass producer, who introduced more of her own singing on her EP Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall, and consequently made one of 2023's most effervescent tracks. 'So Tell Me…' isn't structured like a pop song, but it is eminently hummable.

Fred Again.., Skrillex, Four Tet - Baby Again..

The unlikely trio of Fred Again.., Skrillex, and Four Tet played some very high profile shows, from Coachella to Times Square, and released the superstar single 'Baby Again..' a song it was tempting to be cynical about, but was far too propulsive to resist.

African Head Charge - Microdosing

On-U Sound legends African Head Charge returned with their first new album in twelve years. The project from producer Adrian Sherwood and percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah was this time focused on Noah's current hometown in North Ghana, and subsequently called A Trip to Bolgatanga. It's full of gems, but I couldn't go past the appropriately psychedelic 'Microdosing'.

Deadforest, Church - Blessed

Local rapper Deadforest and producer Dera Meelan have been quietly ticking up massive streaming figures in recent years, their collaborations often merging hip-hop with dance genres like jungle. On 'Blessed' Deadforest addresses that success over a slightly melancholy beat from Meelan, squeezing in a guest verse from another underground superstar, Church.

Jadasea, Laron - Grimey Blimey

The Corner Vol 1 was a hip-hop collaboration with a difference, pairing UK MC Jadasea with America beatmaker Laron. Pleasantly loose and laissez faire throughout, it's best when its creators lean into regionality, as on 'Grimey Blimey'.

Violet Hirst - Your Dreams

Local singer songwriter Violet Hirst released her debut album Donegal this year, a record with a keen sense of place, which fulfils the promise of the musician's long-gestating talent. A personal highlight was her duet with Reuben Scott, from Salt Water Criminals, and Nic and Reuben. Called 'Your Dreams', it's extremely earnest, and melodically rich. 

Babe Martin - Versoix

The debut by Tamaki singer Babe Martin is just three tracks long, but making a big impact on student radio, and earning mentions in Rolling Stone. The songs are minimal and languid but carry huge emotional weight, none more than the title track 'Versoix'. 

Youth Lagoon - Prizefighter

Idaho musician Trevor Powers had declared his Youth Lagoon moniker dead, but made a surprise return in 2023 with Heaven is a Junkyard. He'd suffered a reaction to an over the counter medication that caused him to lose ten kilos, as well as his singing voice, and his joy at being back after a period of recovery is palpable on tracks like 'Prizefighter'.

Mary Lattimore - And Then He Wrapped His Wings Around Me

American harpist Mary Lattimore released her latest album Goodbye Hotel Arkada in October, featuring a collaboration with NZ underground legend Roy Montgomery. My favourite song was its first, which also came with its best story. Drawing on a childhood memory of receiving a hug from a performer dressed as Sesame Street's Big Bird, she named the track 'And Then He Wrapped His Wings Around Me'.