We seem to say it every December, but this year has gone so quickly. We’ve fit a lot into twelve months, of course. Over the last twelve months, Real Gone has picked up a truckload of new followers and regular visitors; we’ve discovered new bands, reconnected with a couple of familiar faces, and given more column inches to old favourites.
This year, in addition to the usual in-depth album and EP coverage, we launched the Singles Bar. Somewhat unexpectedly, it has become just as much an important part of Real Gone as the more established stuff. In fact, it became one of the site’s most popular features in record time. Although we have followers who come specifically for the detailed reviews, new readers have really connected with the SB’s “quick takes” approach, and that’s allowed us to share a bunch of great music that might have previously fallen by the wayside. When the site launched back in 2009 (the proper launch; Real Gone existed in embryo form for two years previously!) it was felt there wasn’t time to invest in single reviews, but by pulling several great bits together, the Singles Bar has become a great feature in its own right, and our audience has responded in a way we never thought they would. It’s definitely set to continue into 2024 and become a mainstay of the site, assuming the submissions keep rolling in… Hopefully the new year will uncover something as insanely catchy as Shannon Smith’s ‘Dance The Night Away’, which quickly became a Real Gone favourite, and our best single of 2023.
There have been a record number of albums and EPs submitted for review – and a pleasing number of requests from musicians who were previously passing strangers – this year. We’ve enjoyed mixing the new, the unfamiliar and the genuinely cult with several reissue titles, and even one or two archive releases reviewed purely for fun. It’s that variety that’s kept Real Gone ticking for fourteen years, and this year was no exception. We hope you’ve enjoyed it too.
The reason you’re probably right here, right now, of course, is to find out which of the new releases we’ve picked as this year’s champions. So, in the usual tradition, we’ve picked ten favourites and a few honourable mentions that we feel have the staying power in this world of push-button sounds, now that streaming music appears to have made the album format a semi-disposable commodity. As always, the choices are limited to things that actually got reviewed…and we hope that’ll either introduce you to something new, or remind you of a great recording or two you might have forgotten.
THE MATINEE – Change of Scene
There are a lot of people out there who’ll associate Real Gone with solid, detailed rock and metal coverage. That’s been the backbone of the site since the beginning. This year’s best album, though, comes from a style that’s fairly removed from our “perceived typical stock”. Canadian band The Matinee released a near perfect slab of Americana with ‘Change of Scene’. Whether approaching something in the Tom Petty mould, but with more of a country lilt, or sharing something akin to a mellow Black Crowes ballad, the band sound great throughout, and even on the rare occasion they decide to rock out a little more, the album’s material has a real heart. [Full review here.]
GAVIN BOWLES & THE DISTRACTIONS – Phoning It In
On this debut album, Gavin and his band party like it’s 1981 all over again. The record is the ultimate love letter to the early 80s power pop scene, and the songs rival The Romantics and Tommy Tutone in terms of guitar-pop (un)coolness. There’s pretty much no filler here, and although the material is almost a pastiche in its own way, fans of the style shouldn’t miss this! [Full review here.]
THE SHANG HI LOS – Aces, Eights And Heartbreaks
The Shang Hi Los’ debut EP was a power pop/retro pop treat that suggested the band had greatness ahead. This full length proved to be a near perfect showcase for their talents, mixing 60s influences with 80s power pop throughout. Between some top choruses and great vocals from Jen D’Angora, the album would’ve been set for greatness, but with the help of some fine arrangements and great musicianship from all concerned, it’s a pop/rock classic not to be missed. [Full review here.]
THE FIERCE AND THE DEAD – News From The Invisible World
For those keeping a close eye on the underground rock scene in the UK, The Fierce And The Dead were already a familiar name at the beginning of 2023, but this album shared less than a familiar sound. The material is often less heavy than ‘The Euphoric’, sometimes less complex than ‘Spooky Action’, but still featured some of the band’s musical hallmarks. The best songs still showed off great interplay between the two guitarists, and on tracks like ‘Shake The Jar’, you could even find bass work with a clearly link to the band’s past. The arrival of vocals and song based material this time around ensured that everything sounded unlike anything fans were expecting – but in the best possible way. [Full review here.]
KEELEY – Floating Above Everything Else
Following a few excellent EPs, Irish band Keeley took the leap to releasing a full length album this year, and their pop meets shoegaze sound translated well to the long playing listen. Recycling the brilliant ‘The Glitter & The Glue’ ensured the LP came with an essential tune, but other material like ‘Never Here Always There’ showed off a great dream pop vibe, and ‘To A London Sunrise’ captured a hazy alt-pop perfection rarely heard as effectively since the 90s. The extra time also allowed for a spot on cover of Spiritualized’s ‘Shine A Light’ to round things off, tipping the hat to the past, but further cementing Keeley’s shoegaze credentials in the present. [Full review here.]
YAWNING BALCH – Volume One
Bringing together the members of Yawning Man with Fu Manchu guitarist Bob Balch, this debut features three lengthy desert rock jams that are almost hypnotic. Improvised layers of sound pull in the listener, and the wavering sounds are almost timeless. Always concerned with atmospheres rather than obvious hooks, it’s a record best suited to late night listening, but its easy style more than proves that good desert rock and deep psych will never get old. [Full review here.]
JUSTINE AND THE UNCLEAN – The Signal Light
On their early records, Justine And The Unclean served up a perfect punky power pop sound. On their 2023 swan song, they branched out, showing an equal talent for jangly indie, nods to 50s rock via a massive guitar twang, and even a hint of country in some of the more sedate vocals. Following Justine’s passing earlier in the year, the album has taken on a bitter sweet quality, but even in happier circumstances, it would’ve been one of the year’s essentials. [Full review here.]
ELECTRIC SIX – Turquoise
Up until the pandemic hit, Electric Six were releasing the equivalent of an album a year. Only true fans realised this. 2023’s ‘Turquoise’ is the best E6 album in many a year, and its chorus driven jams and high octane moods deserve to put the band back at the top, rather than merely clinging onto a cult audience. ‘Turquoise’ isn’t just strong – it’s also the band’s most varied record to date, proving that Dick Valentine and his band can turn their collective hand to everything with ease. [Full review here.]
THE SUMMERTIMES – The Summertimes
This second piece of Aussie power pop in our top ten is a very different animal to the Gavin Bowles album. The Summertimes favour a more melodic kind of retro pop, and the album explores sounds that could be likened to The Flamin’ Groovies in a few places, to Gigolo Aunts and even Neil Finn in others, but wherever you drop into the record, its feel-good vibes shine through, and The Summertimes’ knack for penning a chorus speaks for itself. [Full review here.]
JOBY FOX – I Used To Be A Hawk Now I’m A Dove
Although we’ve always taken pride in musical variety at Real Gone, this second album from singer songwriter Joby Fox was a little further out of our comfort zone than usual. Joby’s core sound pitched itself towards the distinctly late night listen, and the album’s songs – although never clearly in one genre – gravitated towards mellow jazz. However, it was clear within a few bars of the opening track that the record had a great sound, and after a couple of listens, the material’s maturity and the confidence in which the performer delivered it, completely won us over. Although only fleetingly similar, ‘I Used To Be A Hawk…’ should be heard by anyone who’s ever enjoyed Van Morrison’s similarly laid back ‘What’s Wrong With This Picture?’, and has all the makings of a record that has the same kind of longevity. [Full review here.]
In addition to those ten, we’d like to give honourable shout-outs to the following: Mozzy Dee, whose ‘Orale!’ LP shared some brilliant rockabilly sounds and other retro cuts, Darkness Is My Canvas, the Scandinavian metal band who reminded us there was far more to prog metal than cut price Dream Theater inspired boredom on ‘White Noise’, and Asymmetric Universe, a band that took things even further, mixing prog metal with jazz to create a brilliant mind-bending listen with ‘The Sun Would Disappear As I Imagined All The Stars’. Pollyanna Blue also shared a great goth metal sound on their debut EP, 20 Watt Tombstone’s long overdue return with ‘The Chosen Few’ proved that a stoner rock/heavy blues crossover sound could still have plenty of mileage, Evoletah ventured further into jazz on ‘Calliope Dreaming’, sharing a slightly more experimental sound, and Dead Feathers perfected a late 60s influenced, fuzzy blues/heavy psych sound that made ‘Full Circle’ really stand out. At another time, any combination of these could’ve made our top ten… [Full reviews of each release can be found by clicking on the band names.]
That was a great 2023, but we hope that 2024 will bring just as much great new music. That’s pretty much it for this year, but finally – and most importantly – we’d like to thank each and every one of you for visiting. Daily, weekly, whenever…it’s always appreciated. Without you, Real Gone wouldn’t be here. Your spreading the word brings in more visitors; your championing of us on social media brings us to the attention of new musicians, and they hit us up for coverage. The ongoing cycle keeps the wheels greased, and going into 2024, we’re optimistic that this will continue. Thank you. ALL of you. …And, obviously, if you like what we do, please show extra support if you can by buying us a coffee here. The small change goes towards the running costs of the site for the following year. We’re hoping that next year will be just as interesting!
Here’s wishing everyone all the best for 2024. We hope you’ll stick with us.
Lee Realgone – December 2023