Best Of 2023: Adam’s Picks
Another weird year done! As we always do, we’re using the end of the calendar year to collect the music that we loved from this year. The music that got us dancing, the music that got us through hard times, the music that broke through and resonated even after years of listening to thousands of albums of new music. Below you’ll find Adam’s favorite albums, songs and shows of 2023. We hope you’ll find something you like or maybe something new to check out. Onward!
- Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want to Turn Into You – I marked this one pretty early as the year favorite and nothing ended up topping it. Caroline really topped her last full length with a real pop masterpiece with a lot of interesting twists.
- Wednesday – Rat Saw God – 90s grunge revival with a pedal steel player brings out a great uniqueness in Wednesday and a great set of songs to match.
- Sofia Kourtesis – Madres – My first listen of Madres late in the year gave me a big “did I miss this earlier” panic, but it’s a later-year release. A powerful set of microhousey dance vibes that absolutely captivated me in my end-of-year listening.
- Billy Woods & Kenny Segal – Maps – Most of the time I find myself annoyed to the point of stopping my attention with highly prolific artists (sorry Bob Pollard), but Billy Woods has absolutely been dominating the game with every single album he’s involved in. Kenny Segal’s beats make this a great cohesive album and one of the two Woods projects on this list.
- Jess Williamson – Time Ain’t Accidental – A beautiful country-folk album, “Hunter” absolutely topped my list of favorite songs of the year that I couldn’t take off repeat.
- yeule – Softscars – yeule’s shift from experimental glitchy pop to a guitar record felt natural, keeping the best elements of the past few albums while adding some spacey guitar sounds that wouldn’t sound out of place on Failure or Hum record. How can I resist my two greatest loves right there?
- Bar Italia – Tracey Denim – Bar Italia’s Matador debut burst out earlier this year as an amalgamation of too many things I love, from 80s post-punk to 90s indie rock and a lot more. They put out two albums this year, but this one stands out as something extraordinary.
- Armand Hammer – We Buy Diabetic Test Strips – Billy Woods and Elucid have not made a misstep as absolute masters of the game, both in their solo works and together as Armand Hammer. Both masters of lyrical flow they wrap themselves smoothly around the most jagged of beats better than anyone.
- Yves Tumor – Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) – Yves Tumor’s albums have all had some big moments, but this one clicked pretty big for me after the epic First Avenue show (see below) sold the whole package of futuristic space r&b that stands in a very unique spot.
- Blonde Redhead – Sit Down for Dinner – Blonde Redhead’s music always contains a certain cinematic quality that makes you think of foreign films with an air of mystery around them. Proof you can still put out some of the most vital work of your career a few decades in.
Honorable mentions (aka the next few): Snõõper – Super Snõõper, Zach Bryan – s/t, Everything But The Girl – Fuse, The Armed – Perfect Saviors, Slowdive – Everything Is Alive, Yo La Tengo – This Stupid World.
Songs (Not On Top Albums)
- Everything But The Girl “Nothing Left To Lose”
- Palehound “The Clutch”
- Gretel Hänlyn “Wiggy”
- Arlo Parks “Weightless”
- Ora Cogan “Cowgirl”
- Zach Bryan “Overtime”
- Killer Mike “Don’t Let The Devil (feat. thankugoodsir and El-P)
- Sid Siram “Blue Spaces”
- Snõõper “Running”
- Georgia “Give It Up For Love”
Honorable Mention: Unwound and The Hand at the Metro Chicago – Seeing Unwound was a dream come true personally as a band I love but never got to see the first time around. Despite the local connection of Zak Sally’s The Hand opening (with Alan Sparhawk on bass!) I’ll leave this as an honorable mention because there were so many good shows right in town here to cover.
- Blonde Redhead at Amsterdam (photos) – If I may be superficial for a moment, not only did Blonde Redhead play and incredibly tight and beautiful set at Amsterdam, they also are the best-looking band I can think of. They’ve been at it for 20some years and they delivered a perfect set of the new album and a lot of past favorites.
- Yves Tumor at First Avenue (photos) – As much as I am not a Prince fan, I couldn’t help but watch Yves Tumor’s stage act and not think this is probably what a Prince show in his prime at First Avenue looked like.
- Etran De L’Aïr at the Turf Club (photos) – Sometimes as a team of music bloggers you get a “anyone wanna check this out with me” offer for something you don’t know that ends up being one your favorites of the year. Coming from a long line of bands in the genre that have crossed over to some success, Etran De L’Air played a flawless set of Saharan guitar music on a weeknight
- Totally Gross National Party at Icehouse (photos and live blog) – A great lineup top to bottom. TGNP put together a great day outside at Icehouse. It was great to see a rare Polica performance but there was a lot of great surprises ranging from Yonatan Gat’s apocalyptic guitar, a brief but beautiful Lambchop set, and the an incredible surprise of Sid Sriram’s day stealing set.
- Caterwaul 2023 (photos day 3 and day 4) – While personally I don’t think it’s possible to catch all four days and nights of Caterwaul (thought I know there’s many who did), there is no point in the long weekend that you could go wrong as they’ve put together and delivered the ultimate festival covering a wide spread of noise rock, punk and whatever else you want to call it. Flipper’s set with Shannon Selberg couldn’t have been a better closer, bringing an absolutely mad chaos to the closing. The best small festivals feel like family reunions and Caterwaul brings these vibes.
- Snooper at the Entry (photos) – Speaking of chaos, Snooper’s local debut delivered it’s own share. An incredibly tight band blasting through a rapid-fire series of songs at an incredible pace hit the peak of their longest song “Running” unleashing a giant mosquito-looking character on the audience.
- Armand Hammer at the Dakota (photos) – While not the obvious choice, the Dakota is unexpectedly an excellent place for seeing a rap show, especially one like Armand Hammer’s abstract strain.
- yeule at the Fine Line (photos) – Every year I have a dream list of bands and artists I’m hoping finally make it here and after a number of years we finally got yeule. The band treatment with tour opener Sasami playing guitar really made the new album songs sound great.
- Yo La Tengo at First Avenue (photos) – Two sets, no openers. Yo La Tengo is still as vital as they ever have been and treated us to a great career-spanning pair of sets. Bonus rolling out Sparhawk and NNB’s Mark Freeman for a set of covers to close out the night.
- Dry Cleaning at the Fine Line (photos) – Also on my list of dream bands to finally make it to town, Dry Cleaning’s debut also delivered a very tight set to the Fine Line.
Writer / photographer / Reviler co-founder