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The Best Music of 2023

includes albums, eps, and compilations

albums linked in each entry

Here we are again. Another year has come and gone, and as it turns out, the musical journey doesn't necessarily improve with age. I decided to cut myself some slack this year, clocking in at around 330 collective projects. While that might sound like a substantial number to the impartial observer, let me assure you it's not even half of what I listened to in 2022. Instead of devouring anything and everything that caught my ear, I opted for selectivity. I made the choice to spare myself from enduring entire albums when I realized I wasn't enjoying them midway through. I also decided to refrain from starting albums I knew wouldn't resonate with me. Ahhhh, it seems so simple to me now: quality over quantity. That's a tough concept... ;-;


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Onto the list...

Armand Hammer

Experimental Hip-Hop

RIYL: Westside Gunn, Injury Reserve, Mach-Hommy


Billy Woods and Elucid showcase their A-game on this record, creating a captivating and dense atmosphere. Interestingly, the production slightly outshines woods' usual limelight performances. The true standout is the exceptional synergy between the two musicians, forming a match made in hip-hop heaven.

Sprain

Post-Rock / Noise Rock

RIYL: Swans, Glenn Branca, Slint


I gotta keep it real with you guys. This thing takes itself sooooooo seriously. You'd think that an hour and a half album (with two 25 minute-long tracks) would be a little more tongue-and-cheek in its ambiance, but alas, it's some random depressed guy's ramblings about the "state of the world" or something, stapled over some of the most transcendent crescendo-core I've heard. Sure, this language only confirms how much of a nerd loser geek I am, but I'm too lazy to look into it or change myself.

Natalie Rose Lebrecht

Spiritual Jazz / Neoclassical New Age

RIYL: Julia Holter, Masakatsu Takagi


Holy Prana Open Game sets the stage with a mysterious landscape, gradually unfolding its essence for the listener. Drawing from personal encounters, I'd describe this record as a journey that imparts a sense of enlightenment and bliss, even when the instrumentation or performance seems opaque. It offers a distinctive experience, weaving its way through the subconscious, only to emerge on the other side, transforming the listener into an entirely new being.

Nat Myers

Acoustic Blues

RIYL: Mississippi John Hurt, Elizabeth Cotton, R.L. Burnside


Had you mentioned to me last year that my year-end list would feature an acoustic blues record, I might have raised an eyebrow and asked, "Really?" It's not a knock on the contemporary blues revival, but rather an expression of my skepticism regarding the genre's recent gentrification. What Myers achieves on Yellow Peril may not be overtly technical, but it is undeniably impressive to elicit such genuine emotion through present day blues music. For a genre that has done so much for the world, I didn't think there would be any more earnestness or vitality in its modern, albeit traditional, renditions. I was dead wrong.

Minhwi Lee

Chamber Folk / Singer-Songwriter

RIYL: Ichiko Aoba, Mid-Air Thief, Skullcrusher


I think peace is an innate state of mind in which we would all like to exist, internally and externally. While its expectations and limitations may cause us to hunger for more, it is nonetheless a driving factor in a lot of the human experience. Hometown to Come reminds me to take a step back and rethink my sometimes cynical tendencies. Personal anxieties seem to disappear when tracks like "Returning" and "Mother's Mother" play, as the mellow, bittersweet arrangements are the biggest subconscious motivators in my music discovering journey.

Hana Stretton

Contemporary Folk / Singer-Songwriter

RIYL: Grouper, Jessica Pratt, Aldous Harding


Beyond the inherent parallelism between humankind and nature, the fusion of what I consider the most human form of music with field recordings always creates a uniquely special blend. Stretton paints vivid landscapes with wide open skies, mossy rock faces, blooming shrubs, and fruitful harvests, putting the listener at ease in this languid and dream-like atmosphere. Soon unfolds as a rich and profound broth, gently warming the body and calming the mind.

otay:onii

Post-Industrial / Art Pop

RIYL: Björk, Arca, Lingua Ignota


I've always interpreted Lane Shi's music as extremely oblique and indecipherable. Concrete song structuring and conventional harmony seem to take the passenger seat on their latest release. Rather than adhering to a conventional approach, these tracks prioritize extracting textures seemingly out of thin air, allowing the runtime to organically evolve. Despite embracing this unconventional workflow, the songs manage to avoid overstaying their welcome. I find myself yearning for extended versions of "You Do / Rub," "Good Fool," and "Ritualware" that could easily stretch to 20 minutes each.

Saul Adamczewski

Chamber Folk / Singer-Songwriter

RIYL: Matt Elliott, Fleet Foxes, The Microphones


The inevitable "sad old man making sad music" choice for the year. I may not have a clue about this bloke's age, but the mature songwriting and meticulous composition on Adventures in Limbo transcend age considerations. Whether he's 35 or 65 becomes inconsequential because what we've got here is an old soul, no doubt. It's the kind of music that inspires you to grab a classical guitar, even if you don't know how to play, and start posing questions to the stars. You can be an artist too!

JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown

Experimental Hip-Hop

RIYL: Wu-Tang Clan, Death Grips, Freddie Gibbs


A truly surreal yet fitting hip-hop AOTY for 2023, Scaring the Hoes will surely age like milk, at least in regards to its title. But why start negative? It's difficult to parse the problems I have with this record. Peggy's bombastic production and off-kilter flows are operating on a different plane. Danny Brown is here too! Can you hear him?

Wild Up

Chamber Music / Minimalism

RIYL: Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Arnold Schoenberg


I'm extremely glad Wild Up are allowing Eastman's music to both gain a wider audience and be interpreted in different ways. With the fluidity and nuance that minimalism entails, these pieces not only convey profound messages with minimum elements but also continue the legacy of one of the greatest composers of all time. They are marked by a unique exclusion of the self, presenting a collection of works that are boldly self-effacing and daring.

Maria BC

Psychedelic Folk / Singer-Songwriter

RIYL: Silvana Estrada, Grouper, Melody's Echo Chamber


The integration of AI into our daily language and toolkit is genuinely unsettling to me. Maybe a lingering fear of something larger than myself occasionally taints my psyche, but regardless, it's an additional entry in my collection of concerns. I stumbled upon this record through Spotify's daylist feature, and now, I find myself surrendering to whatever algorithm is sifting through my play history. The album itself is haunting and resolute, gracefully navigating beyond the boundaries of convention and orthodoxy.

TDK

Avant-Prog / Avant-Garde Metal

RIYL: Black Midi, Magma, PoiL


Without a doubt, I'm fully on board with this avant-prog wave that's currently sweeping through, but there are moments when a genre with seemingly limitless possibilities can succumb to superficial embellishments and become meaningless drivel. However, TDK is forging a fresh trail marked by erratic time signatures, tumultuous dissonances, and bubbling monologues. They instill in me a sense of hope for a new perspective on prog, and that's always a welcome prospect. Sometimes, it's refreshing to break free from the self-indulgence that often leaves little room for genuine emotion (prominent emotion presented on Nemesta: biting into a pizza roll and forgetting that its fresh out of the oven, subsequently spewing molten hot cheese "product" and ketchup-like tomato sauce all over your face).

Tara Clerkin Trio

Art Pop / Downtempo

RIYL: Portishead, Jenny Hval, Jockstrap


The latest addition to this list, On The Turning Ground, blends sample manipulation with nuanced jazz instrumentation, all enveloped in a layer of twee and indie aesthetics. The sound is undeniably cool, reminiscent of something you'd find in a lost David Lynch film. Despite its intricacies being more discernible to the ear, I still find myself needing to spend some time with this one, and that's not a detriment! I'll keep coming back to this, most definitely.

a.s.o.

Trip Hop / Ethereal Wave

RIYL: Massive Attack, Cocteau Twins, Bowery Electric


Sometimes pastiche comes with a cost. You either exhibit extreme corniness or become swallowed in your cliches, forever a caricature of a yearned simpler time. However, Berlin-based duo a.s.o. skillfully sidestep these exaggerated pitfalls with a vibrant and exhilarating debut. The soft, whispery vocals complement the dark ambient-influenced, '90s trip-hop atmosphere seamlessly. It's akin to waking up at 2 am, uncertain of your surroundings, and witnessing once unruly strangers gradually recede into the night after an evening of heavy drinking and surface-level conversations.

Ayami Suzuki

Ambient / Drone

RIYL: Elaine Radigue, Yellow Swans, Brian Eno


As I craft these excerpts, I often let the album in question set the mood. Occasionally, it sparks an interesting anecdote, and then, armed with preconceived thoughts about the album, I let my fingers do the talking. However, revisiting Passages, I found myself utterly captivated by the subtleties within its compositions. It was the track "Mugenkaidan" that initiated this writing session, and the swirling vocal melodies had an unexpected effect. They seemingly lifted my hands away from the keyboard, suspending them in mid-air, before gently guiding them down onto the bed. Eyes closed, nearly six minutes slipped by before I started writing.

Pharoah Sanders Quartet

Spiritual Jazz

RIYL: John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Matana Roberts


Every year, there's gotta be at least one recently released jazz recording from the 20th century. This time around, it emerges from one of the avant-garde's most cohesive and forward-thinking jazz quartets. While some hail Pharoah Sanders as a god, the intriguing conundrum arises when you find yourself accompanied by Hicks, Lundy, and Muhammad. It's as if you're unlocking new dimensions while playing, engaging in a metaphysical conversation and forging connections with fellow musicians on an otherworldly level.

Lana Del Rey

Singer-Songwriter / Art Pop

RIYL: Joni Mitchell, Lorde, St. Vincent


In the midst of this list-filled season, it's remarkable to see this record garnering significant praise and attention. Absent are the radio hits or easily digestible pop song runtimes, yet the acclaim speaks volumes about Lana Del Rey's songwriting prowess—a testament to its enduring impact, irrespective of the record's density or magnitude. I really do think this solidifies her as one of the greatest modern songwriters, and Chris Pratt should play her cop ex-boyfriend in the movie.

Ben Vida

Poetry / Chamber Pop

RIYL: Léo Ferré, Prefab Sprout, Philip Glass


Charlie Kaufman had to have had a hand in creating this. The prose is starkly direct yet oddly elusive, creating a parasitic vagueness that compels the listener to reconcile everyday categorical language with meandering philosophical musings. What initially appears to be music crafted for active listening morphs into an interactive audiobook, where deciphering the puzzle of what's being conveyed becomes an almost futile endeavor.

Buck Meek

Alt-Country

RIYL: Big Thief, Neil Young, Bob Dylan


I had the pleasure of seeing Meek and his band in 2022 at Club Congress. While I had been obsessed with Two Saviors that year, we hadn't been treated to any new material from him since that record. To my delight, the majority of the setlist that night comprised prototypes from Haunted Mountain. Not only did these studio versions elevate the tracks, but they also enriched his already incredibly robust discography. "Cyclades," "Didn't Know You Then," and "Where You're Coming From" are instant Buck Meek classics, and I foresee many memories being made to this music.

Joanne Robertson

Contemporary Folk / Singer-Songwriter

RIYL: Connie Converse, Cat Power, Sibylle Baier


On the whole, Joanne Robertson's art exudes a sense of distance, fog, and alienation. The guitar chords act as closed windows, featuring divergent voicings that create a distinctive off-kilter quality. The vocals, occasionally indecipherable, persist in a dense chamber reverb and wet echo. Blue Car gives the impression of being recorded in a colossal cathedral, as if a single mic at the end of the hall captured the amalgamation of both guitar and voice.

Hayden Pedigo

American Primitivism

RIYL: Daniel Bachman, John Fahey, Animal Crossing OSTs


Immersing yourself in super soothing solo guitar feels tailor-made for those extended road trips through the vast expanse of the Midwest or the solitude of camping in remote wilderness. In such settings, where the stars and moon become the sole sources of light, you find yourself enveloped in the embrace of plaintive and nostalgic riffs. It's as if, in another life, you embody the role of a farmhand, diligently tending to crops and livestock, moving purposefully from one daily task to the next. Even in moments when no music is playing, this becomes the inherent soundtrack to that rustic and tranquil lifestyle.

Ichiko Aoba

Singer-Songwriter / Ambient

RIYL: Daniel Rossen, Studio Ghibli movies, Laurel Halo


While Ichiko Aoba unquestionably deserves the entire world, allocating two top 10 spots on this list seemed somewhat unjust. To navigate this, I decided to combine both an official live album and an unofficial ambient EP, securing the number 4 spot. The live record in question, Ichiko Aoba with 12 Ensemble (Live at Milton Court), stands as a masterful collection of live recordings featuring a small string section complementing her solo guitar and vocals. These arrangements are truly heavenly, introducing captivating dynamic builds to songs that might not naturally possess them. On the other hand, Sketch takes a more understated approach. Constructed from ambient improvisations and lo-fi recordings of previously released tracks, it serves as another testament to Aoba's brilliant sense of texture and emotion interplay. Together, these releases reaffirm her status as my current favorite artist.

Arthur Russell

Ambient Pop / Avant-Folk

RIYL: caroline, LEYA, Grouper


This year, we've been fortunate enough to receive another archival gem from one of the greatest artistic minds in contemporary music. Russell's Picture of Bunny Rabbit compiles outtakes and B-sides from the 1987 masterpiece World of Echo. Remaining true to the sound palettes of that seminal record, these tracks artfully navigate through avant-garde compositions, incorporating elements from the "Fuzzbuster" experiments and showcasing fully realized tracks like "In The Light of A Miracle" and "Picture of Bunny Rabbit." Representing some of the finest moments from this era, they establish an atmosphere characterized by minimal folk cello and understated ambient pop jams. As we eagerly await any other unreleased material, if there is any, its a testament to the purity of this music—its simply too precious for us to overlook.

Titanic

Post-Minimalism

RIYL: Colin Stetson, Natalia Lafourcade, Charles Mingus


Sometimes it is really hard to pin down what kind of music is being made. While typically a testament to creativity, this ambiguity can sometimes intensify a musical vagueness that complicates emotional connection. Yet, on Vidrio, this very elusive quality contributes to an already musically technical and dense record. Hector Tosta and Mabe Fratti draw influence from avant-garde jazz and contemporary classical, evident in their off-kilter arrangements and non-traditional song structures. In essence, this music instills a sense of urgency, begging the listener to awaken from the nightmares of their life and perceive the unique authenticity of the surroundings.

L'Rain

Psychedelic Soul

RIYL: Yves Tumor, Animal Collective, Slauson Malone 1


L'Rain, an artist defying genre categorization, seamlessly blends elements from tape music and field recordings to craft eerie songs that seem to transcend the boundaries between life and the ethereal. The production, resembling a descent down a metaphorical drain, envelops the listener, while bold chord changes further contribute to an atmosphere of fragility in songwriting. The titular track, "I Killed Your Dog," perfectly encapsulates this dynamic. In a world teetering on the brink of collapse, this album becomes the haunting soundtrack of unwavering discordance. It is unlike anything I've ever heard, but exudes an eeriely familiar quality.


 

Of course, this list wouldn't be complete without the obligatory topster.

Here's the space where I fill in my excitement for what 2024 has to offer. I really can't speak on it. I've been trying to cut out the creation of expectations in my life as to avoid disappointments (or something like guilt?). Anyway, this year was good for music. Music is good.


My only hope for 2024 is more Jack Harlow!! I love that guy! I think I could sit down and have a club soda with him!

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