Best of 2023: Josh’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 Josh’s favorite albums, songs and shows of 2023. We hope you’ll find something you like or maybe something new to check out. Onward!
Unranked, but mostly in order
Bill Orcutt – Jump On It
A legend walking among us mortals, Bill Orcutt continues knocking it out of the park on the second phase of his musical life. Jump On It is surprisingly normie-leaning primitive americana from a guy who is used to smashing listeners in the face, but it’s a welcome balm in this upside down world.
Billy Woods & Kenny Segal – Maps + Armand Hammer – We Buy Diabetic Test Strips
Is there a better MC alive than Billy Woods? Of course not. He is on a decade-long run of crafting deeply layered rhymes over skeletal beats from some of the best outsider producers. On Maps he gets back with Kenny Segal for a head spinning, dark adventure through our broken world. On We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, he gets back with E L U C I D to trade raps over a slightly more frentic tapesty. Both find him on the top of his game and bringing out the best in his partners. We’re lucky to be alive in same timeline as Billy Woods.
Bobby Lee – Endless Skyways
Lots of band try to capture the late 60s to mid 70s koschmie sound, but few match the sound of the German legends like Neu!, Can, Cluster, etc. Bobby Lee, an English band who dabble in Choogle with a hint of Krautrock, hit about as close as I have heard in recent years to that beuatiful mixture of space-y and mechincal on Endless Skyways, a record I’ve listened to incessently since I first heard it, finding different corners to get lost in every time I hit play.
Andre 3000 – New Blue Sun
I know many people were disappointed when the initial news of an Andre 3000 album came out and it wasn’t a rap/hip-hop album, but I was part of a proud super minority (there are dozens of us, DOZENS!) whose excitement stayed at the same level when I heard he made an ambient flute album with Carlos Nino, an artist I love. The album is an exercise in both minimalism (music wise) and maximalism (it last, approximately, 72 hours), but it’s a beautiful record I’ve found myself coming back to frequently for it’s lush soundscapes and childlike wonder. Sorry to the hip hop heads who were bummed, but I love this record.
Mandy, Indiana – I’ve seen a way
A charging, slashing album that showcased a band driving 120 mph down the freeway but never losing traction. At many points the record devoles into bombastic chaos (in a good way) while maintaining an ambient charm that soothes between the flare ups, it’s firecracker of an album that rightfully got lots of love this year.
Kalia Vandever – We Fell in Turn
A somber, reflective set of special ambient music created by *checks note* trombone? Yep. And it works like a charm.
Water Damage – 2 Songs
This is the second album from the noisy Texas outfit Water Damage, and they somehow cranked things to another level from their ear-splitting debut. As the title implies, this is two long, guitar driven songs (think Endless Boogie wrapped in barbed wire) that they have charminly titeld “Fuck This” and “Fuck That.” One side is more of a slow growl, while the other is a bit more adrenaline spiked into your bloodstream. Both are powerful as a rocket launching into space on a cold Texas morning.
Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective – *1
A musical collective from Saigon who create music that is deeply unclassifiable in the very best way. At times tender and serene, with chirping birds and lush synths, only to take harsh left turns down alleys of noise. A fascinating ride if you can handle it.
North Americans – Long Cool World
I’ve loved watching this band progress from a cold, sharped edged instrumental band into a warm, almost americana group that produces some of the richest ambient music around. You can tell the vibe shift from the bands album covers (which now basically look like if the Grateful Dead doubled their acid intake and created cartoon art) and the music delivers on the tender promise offered on the album cover.
Sofia Kourtesis – Madres
Been a big fan of her work since 2021’s stunning Fresia Megdalena, and Kourtesis’s debut LP Madres expands on all the great stuff of her previous work and also is a sweet ode to her mother, which makes the songs already rich in sonic texture feel even more profound. The kind of music you can cry, dance or lose yourself in thought to, or maybe all three.
Omni Gardens – Pear + Noah Klein – Zion
First cheat of the list, but one I feel very justified in as these were my two favorite Moon Glyph tapes of the year (another great year for the label, mind you). Pear is label head Steve’s latest batch of bubbling synths adventures, while Zion is flutist Klein’s ode to the national park, two long tracks that are as enchanting as the landscape it is dedicated to, and less tourists to boot!
Sunwatchers – Music is Victory Over Time
Sunwatchers make jazz rock that is constantly bobbing and weaving, with horns pulsing over krautrock grooves with a spirit and joy that is impossible to ignore.
Yo La Tengo – This Stupid World
Getting old can be hard, and for artists it can take a cruel toll on both technical and creative abilities, yet here we are with Yo La Tengo churning out amazing albums decades into their career. This Stupid World hits all the YLT notes: gentle and beautiful at times, screeching chaos at others, dipping into more musical genres than a college radio station DJ trying to show off their chops, whatever these three touch turns to gold. Don’t take it for granted.
Oliver Coates – Aftersun (soundtrack)
Cellist and electronic producer Oliver Coates made a soundtrack that captured the haunted sadness and flickering of hope that comes with growing up and realizing how broken the world really is. You don’t have to have seen the movie (but I’d suggest you do) to really enjoy this album, but if you like somber, orchestrated electronic music, look no further.
Luke Schneider – It can be solved by walking
Ambient pedal steel album? Inject it into my veins. I missed Luke Schneider’s debut LP in 2020 but found him when he curated one of the Imagination Anthem XI comp of the musical genre. This 2023 LP caught my attention and stayed in my rotation since I first heard it this summer. This is going to be a staple during the long, cold months of winter.
Jessie Ware That! Feels! Good!
“Pleasure is a right!” This is retro done well, a vintage-hued take on disco, R&B and pop that is a sugar high that never crashes. Fun stuff, which we all deserve.
Steve Gunn & David Moore – Reflections Vol. 1: Let the Moon Be a Planet
A meditative guitar and piano album that floats gently among the clouds, providing a great escape for countless listens over this roller coaster of a year. It is minimal yet substantive, beautiful without being coy. I’m very excited for this new “Reflections” series by the great label RVNG Intl, the creators behind my favorite collaborative series FRKWYS (which Gunn also took part in to great acclaim with Mike Cooper in 2014). If this record is any indication of the quality of releases, we’re in for some amazing music.
Viken Arman – Alone Together
In my book, you can’t go wrong with a soulful, mid-tempo beat tape that is tailor-made for a late night spin, which is what Alone Together does in spades. The kind of album you can lose yourself inside of but also has layers of complexity you can explore if you want to spin it in the harsh light of day.
Emergency Group – Inspection Of Cruelty
Hornless free jazz if it was electrocuted with a car battery, this two song LP is the kind of music that forces you to sit forward in your chair, manic bobbing and throbbing rhythms. At times joyous and also frightening, it’s 45 minutes of gritted teeth euphoria that you want to start back over the second it ends. They also put out the solid Venal Twin later this year, which didn’t quite meat the urgency of Inspection of Cruelty.
Fever Ray – Radical Romantics + Noname – Sundial
My second cheat of the list, this one doesn’t feature label mates but does include two of my favorite artists of the last decade. Their 2023 albums weren’t my favorite from either artist, but both were really great and showcased their unmatched talents at creating tense electronic pop (Fever Ray) and forward-looking rap (Noname). Both albums were long awaited, and I hope the wait for next LPs from both doesn’t take as long.
IE – Junk Body
MMYYKK – The Midst of Things
American Cream Band – Presents
Elskavon – Origins
Cole Pulice – If I Don’t See You in the Future, I’ll See You in The Pasture
Florina – Candy Wrappers
Slow Clarity – Holding Pattern
Paris1919 – Future Archaeology
Miami Dolphins – Melon Baller
Falcon Arrow — Patterns in Noise
Double Grave – Till the Ground
- Totally Gross National Party at Icehouse
- Sun Ra Arkestra + Bill Orcutt at FEaST (Iowa City)
- Brass Band Happy Hour at Music Box Village (New Orleans)
- Armand Hammer at the Dakota
- Etran De L’Aïr at Turf Club
- Yo La Tengo at First Avenue
- Drone Not Drones at Cedar
- WITCH + Metius at Bluebird Theater (Denver)
- Zoh Amba & Chris Corsano – Rhizome DC (Washington D.C)
- Every single Tiny Tuesday I’ve attended at Eagles Club #34
- Every show I saw at Mirror Lab (many)
- Surprise Chef & Akua Naru at Marquis Theater (Denver)
- Hold Steady/Bob Mould/D4 at MN State Fai
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