Sourhouse Tunes of the Year 2023

‘Where to?’ for a world without direction?

A word from the editor:

When Bowie titled his 2013 comeback single “Where Are We Now?”, it was easy to see it as an introspective comment on art’s relationship with the passing of time. For everyone who counted themselves a fan of the Starman, the question was omni-directional, both asked of them and one being asked of the world they’d ended up in. Its Berlin setting was especially telling; not just a city intertwined with Bowie’s body of work, but a city that defined the West’s experience of the 20th century. In the present, it has emerged as one of the artistic capitals of the world, on the surface reunified, yet still swirling, divided and wild underneath. 

Ten years on, Berlin is still just as cool. But now, Bowie is gone, and the feeling that the slide into our boring dystopia began with his passing gets stronger by the day. At least for me, that is; everyone’s experience of our present brings its own attempt to understand how the hell we got here, and no two are the same. If you can’t think of one for yourself, there a hundred political commentators with Twitter accounts ready to sell you their book telling you theirs. Perhaps it was Prince’s death in the same year that actually kickstarted things; we’re still asking for a leader, and we still can’t make up our minds.

Music is none the wiser. Following a period where artists tried to pin down just what we were all going through, the inability to comprehend the times has forced most to give up. Instead, records and scenes feel more insular than ever before, and a cohesive landscape of shared tastes seems never to have taken shape this year. Cultural responsibility is being torched in favour of hooks designed for algorithms and marketing campaigns more akin to a smartphone launch. Our world of bubbles sees everything from the music labels to advertisements to Instagram’s search page focused on conquering whatever territory can be influenced, and forcing us to double down on what we already enjoy. 

You’ll be glad to know, however, that none of that has stopped music being good in 2023. Indeed, it’s been one of the most competitive runnings for this list in its history. In a year where I have truly been through the emotional wringer, I have at least been able to find a personal soundtrack to score it. Bowie’s longing call of “Where are we now?” on the aforementioned chorus has never been far from my thoughts, and perhaps in years to come, the songs on this list will have given me an answer to his question.

The following 30 tunes are the ones that defined this particular orbit around the sun, featuring the likes of PinkPantheress, Caroline Polachek, Foo Fighters, Sofia Kourtesis, plus plenty of new and upcoming acts too. Qualification was any song released as a single, as a music video, or which had radio airtime from 1st December 2022 to 30th November 2023. Without further ado, let’s count down the Sourhouse Tunes of 2023.

-Munro Page, writer of Sourhouse Music

Positions #30-#21


Credit: Domino Records

When I’ve just written an intro like that, maybe it’s pertinent to start with a song about the beauty of life. I’m not a parent yet, but that doesn’t stop King Creosote’s lullaby-esque dedication to his children from making me want to bawl my eyes. Not least because it’s delivered with his trill, exquisite Fife dialect and accompanied by a wealth of rejuvinating instrumentation underneath. To say it gets the message across would be an understatement. ‘Blue Marbled Elm Trees’ centres life exclusively through the lens of love, detaching the difficulties and dreggs to focus squarely on the power of human connection.

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Credit: Play It Again Sam

You’ll struggle to find room to listen to ‘GSPOT’ during the festive season. Nor should you mention its name to your more elderly relatives at the Christmas dinner table or those with fragile conservative attitudes. But trust me, when the time’s right, it’ll hit hard. I was first exposed to it in a field in rural Gloucstershire courtesy of a DJ set from Tokky Horror at 2000 Trees, and nothing has been quite the same since. Big Wett flings her sex-positivity at you, delivering her admittedly silly lyrics with a blasé sense of camp. With a track as uncompromisingly loud and flagrant as this, nothing less than the 160-something BPM beat this thing packs will do, and my god has it been a useful distraction from corporate monotony this year.

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Credit: boygenius/Interscope

A comment on the Genius page for ‘Cool About It’ will stick with me forever. “This album will be my last straw” writes user @ribsgettingold, and I have to concur. BoyGenius really are one of the great collaborations of our time (I am still, and maybe always will be, recovering from ‘Salt In The Wound’). The great success of their music, and especially this song, is their ability to be so severe in authenticity yet so witty in execution. I’ll take their serious songs all day long, but when ‘Cool About It’ embraces the horror of love ending with a candid ability to laugh at what a fucking awful experience it is to go through, you bet I’m getting on that damn train. Its guitars border on the mocking, but only in a loving way, whilst the trio’s delicate delivery papers over the harrowing pain within their words.

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Credit: Lucky Number Music

If it sounds like Urbani has a knack for New Wave, that’s probably because she’s employed one of its most cited sources. Rexy only ever released one album back in 1981, but they’ve found regular appraisal in the years since from the likes of Ladytron, Ariel Pink, and now the former lead singer of Friends. ‘Time Keeps Slipping’ is brooding and cool, ruled by that tick-tocking hook and gorgeous melody on the chorus. Urbani’s voice is ideally suited to the lament she lays down for creativity in an industry often antagonistic towards it.

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Credit: Speedy Wunderground

A shining star on my beloved Jankothon playlist, Aspect imbues ‘You’ with a buttery-smooth nostalgia that rings bright across the cut. Those pianos are delectable, instantly conjuring up nineties club fever. But it’s that Future Garage beat that keeps things firmly in 2023, deliriously chilled yet so evocative and emotive as well. With crisp production that gives both depth and airiness, Aspect achieves an outstanding and tasteful quality on the song without any hint of showboating.

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Credit: Central Cee/Warner Records

J Hus has managed to do such a number with Afroswing in the UK that it almost feels remiss not to just listen to him exclusively. ‘Militerian’ follows suit with tremendously controlled swagger, its production bringing out the most minute of details – I cannot get enough of those flutes and those saxes sprinkled throughout. Yet as laid back as it appears on the surface, the ability this has to make you move is astounding. I’m a long way from channeling the energy that the dancers in the video bring, but that doesn’t seem to matter when Marley is bringing unmatched vibes on that chorus.

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(Features continued: Kofi Mole, Twitch 4EVA, Dayonthetrack) 

Perhaps the standout track from Juls’s brilliant Palmwine Diaries Vol. 1, ‘Wossop’ runs on a slinky, nocturnal energy that mixes the effortless cool of Highlife music with that wickedly captivating chorus. And it really is all for that chorus; so deep, so catchy, so unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. An uber-smooth bass line and tasteful synth chords complement it perfectly, practically dimming the lights wherever you’re listening by sheer virtue of how commanding this is. 

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Credit: Kylie Minogue/Darenote

Picture the scene. I’m at Mary’s in Cardiff, out with a mate. As usual, they’re playing music videos on the screens around the bar, and one in particular catches my attention. A woman, head to toe in bright red, is dancing around a scrapyard. “Is that…Kylie?” 

Yes, it was Kylie! I didn’t know it then, but at the ripe age of 55, she’d just dropped the pride anthem of the summer. Padam Padam-mania swept the queer world. Bars were noting when their next scheduled play of the song was due. My friends were using its name as a verb. Which is surprising for something that, at heart, is easy to see as yet another Slap House cash grab. But this is Kylie afterall, and by her very nature, ‘Padam Padam’ is imbued with something that not only makes this so much more bearable than most things the genre shoves out, but which has made it an instant queer classic.

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Credit: One Little Indepedent Records

It’s quite hard to comprehend all of ‘Oral’ in one go. A tremendously beautiful cut, rescued from the archives, riveted with innuendos, featuring Rosalía, produced by Sega Bodega, and all in support of the legal battle to end commercial fishing in Iceland’s fjords. Fuck me. Truly something for everyone, especially if you’re queer or an environmentalist. Worry not if you’re only interested in its musicality, because this is frankly an instant classic in her catalogue. Deft in conveying the excitement and greenness of new love, its emotions twirl around a Dancehall beat that grows like new shoots in spring. Rosalía’s vocals entwine so naturally around both Björk’s parts and that instrumentation, resulting in a truly ageless track.

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Credit: Columbia

If Gossip’s return after over a decade out of action sounds a lot like the mid-noughties Indie that made them so great in the first place, then at least forgive them for not coming up with something new in the meantime. ‘Crazy Again’ doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel when its twee nature is doing so much to get under my skin as is. With a guitar hook sounding as on the verge of tears as that, and a chorus ringing with both vulnerability and anticipation, it’s difficult not to imagine yourself in an episode of Skins/Waterloo Road/My Mad Fat Diary or any other 2000s teen drama when listening to it.

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Munro Page

Munro Page is a music blogger and former student radio host based in Cardiff, Wales. He likes: thrift stores, cooking and parrots. He dislikes: chain restaurants, the M25 and Simply Red.