THIS year started off with a bang of new releases, and this is a trend that's carried into the next week. However, even with this flurry of new activity, we're not yet done celebrating the records released last year. With news of new albums and award season already creeping in, 2023 is setting up for another particularly strong year for Irish musicians.

The biggest news of the week came from the RTÉ sponsored Choice Awards, which announced a number of its shortlists this year. The biggest awards ceremony of its kind on the island, they've taken their committee and their southern bias and announced the finalists for their prestigious Album and Song of the year categories, as well as their newer categories, Breakthrough Artist and Artist Of The Year. Also partnered alongside The Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) and The Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) for these awards, winners receive cash prizes and bragging rights for the year to come.

Adam Fogarty, Head of Music, RTÉ 2FM, said: “It’s been another year of quality music from Irish artists which we’re looking forward to celebrating on 2FM. The new prizes, particularly Irish Artist of the Year and Irish Breakthrough Artist, along with Irish Song of the Year will ensure that we get to put an even bigger spotlight on incredible Irish artists and recognise their achievements over the last twelve months."

The full list for both nominations is available online, but the standouts are as follows; Song Of The Year seems like an easy fight between the scorched earth of Fontaines D.C.'s 'I Love You' and CMAT's pop-country ballad 'Nashville'. However, I'm inclined to favour 'Blue Is The Eye' from folk duo Ye Vagabonds, which is amongst the most beautifully arranged and sung tracks of the last few years. CMAT continues to dominate nominations across the Album, Breakthrough and Artist Of The Year categories and should pick up the honours in the latter. However, my head says that electronic duo Belters Only will snap up breakthrough, whilst Fontaines will be sitting pretty atop the Album Of The Year pile.

However with the awards some way off its time to focus on some of the music you can listen to right now. The first release of the week comes from sunny Downpatrick, where rock band The Answer make their return to the album market with their first release in years, 'Sundowners'. Mixed and produced by rising British rock producer Dan Weller, the band released a video for their new single 'Want You To Love Me'. Having opened for the likes of AC/DC and Thin Lizzy in their career, The Answer's return fills a hole in the hard rock landscape of the north, and I'm personally looking forward to their new album this March.

And for those in need of a live music fix, promoters Singular Artists announced the first round-up for their annual showcase festival Eastbound. Whilst Bristol noise-makers Scalping are at the top of my list for bands to see, joint-first is YinYang. You might remember her from our 'ones to watch' article earlier this year. Her noisy brand of electro-rap/rock is addictive, and you need to check her out as soon as possible.

The spotlight this week shines on our first busy Friday of new releases of the year. To start off with we have Drogheda’s Modernlove. Their turn away from mainstream pop production to a more electronic, emo-influenced sound has been inspired and has sold them tickets all over the world (including in The Deers Head in Belfast, which was secretly one of the better shows of the year). New track 'Ruin Your Night' takes account of the national Irish pastime of self-sabotage in a cacophony of vibrant pop rhythms and janky acoustics. One to watch for this year coming.