Best of the Best Ofs: Our favorite 2023 year-end lists

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We love the iconic pixel cat on Boomkat’s Charts <3

More discoveries from Aquarium Drunkard, Boomkat, Test Pressing, The Quietus, NPR, and more.

Before we even start discussing the most illuminating “Best of” lists for this year, you should know that around here we have qualms with notion of ranking music as better or worse than other sounds. “Favorite” is the preferable adjective, as it implicitly acknowledges that in this choose-your-own-adventure era we didn’t, nor couldn’t, listen to everything. We just followed where our curious, eager ears took us. It also eliminates judgement.

Throat-clearing out of the way, December’s bounty of curated lists is one of our favorite things about this time of year. It offers a chance for us to reflect on what we’ve listened to and allows us to explore what we’ve missed. Below, so of our favorite year end lists. We’ve included their No. 1 records when applicable.

Aquarium Drunkard

https://aquariumdrunkard.com/2023/12/11/aquarium-drunkard-2023-year-in-review/

“As always, our list is unranked and unruly,” notes Aquarium Drunkard in the brief intro to their essential year-end round-up. Smartly, AD avoids the “best of” dilemma by offering not a ranked, quantified list but by delivering their list as a “Year in Review.”

Essential Aquarium Drunkard pick: Lori Vambe – Spacetime Dreamtime: The Four-Dimensional Music of Lori Vambe




Excerpt: “The Zimbabwe-born, London-raised Lori Vambe, a self-taught drummer, inventor, and sonic experimentalist, released two private-press albums in 1982—Drumgita Solo and Drumland Dreamland—featuring the hypnotic, trance-inducing playing of the drumgita, an instrument of Vambe’s own creation, conceived in a “dream-vision” where he played an unknown instrument that extended from his own umbilical cord.”

Boomkat

https://boomkat.com/charts/boomkat-end-of-year-charts-2023

“here are our EOY charts, including our own lists of some of the albums, reissues and discoveries we’ve loved this year, plus a big bunch of guest lists from friends, colleagues, artists, labels, writers, chancers, dropouts, freaks etc 😚 as usual, love and thanks to each and every contributor, to all the staff here, and to all you lot for reading, listening and buying stuff, and generally for supporting the increasingly fragile ecosystem we’ve been inhabiting for the last 25 years and 5 months. biggup.”

Essential Boomkat pick: Jonnine — Maritz (Idle Press)




Excerpt: “Jonnine Standish of HTRK returns with a divine third solo release of humanist pop and ornate (im)perfection with the down-home strums and gentility of ‘Maritz’ for DJ Sundae’s Idle Press, following cult turns for our Documenting Sound series and Good Morning Tapes. Written and recorded at home in the Dandenong Ranges outside Naarm, Australia, with a spectra of scavenged instruments, ‘Maritz’ takes its title from the maiden name of Jonnine’s mother – “the most haunted word I know” – which signifies the music’s childlike innocence and spiritual provenance, wrapped in supremely blunted azure vapors and ruff, mossy fuzz.”

Boomkat’s No. 1: Laurel Halo – Atlas




Excerpt: “Laurel Halo’s long-in-the-making debut album for her newly minted Awe label is dazzling; a mix of weightless jazz, orchestral and drift energies that’s both elusive and engrossing; just when you think you have the measure of it, it shapeshifts into something else. Made of rarified material; it bends the contemporary “ambient” template into something almost entirely new, featuring contributions from Bendik Giske, James Underwood, Lucy Railton and Coby Sey who together create a blanket of pure atmosphere that wafts over you like a cloud, but which fully comes to life with closer, deep listening.” 

Test Pressing

https://testpressing.org/magazine/its-the-test-pressing-2023-round-up

“It’s the Test Pressing 2023 Round Up! With more records than ever released this year (well digitally at least) it feels more important than ever to reach out to friends, family and respected piers to ask for their records (and TV) of the year. As ever massive thanks to those that took the time to think about the music that mattered to them this year and we hope you find something in here that you didn’t know.”

Essential Single from Dubwise Vinyl: 7FO – Healing Sword




Essential album pick from Brian Not Brian: DJ Cam – Westside Gun Soul

Treblezine

https://www.treblezine.com/50-best-albums-of-2023/

“We’ve listened to countless albums, recommended our favorites, debated the merits, traded playlists and advocated for the underdogs, and then all that was left to do was put it on the record,” write the curatorial experts at Treblezine, who have turned us on to gobs of great music.

Essential pick: Jlin – Perspective




Excerpt: “Guided by Jlin’s intuition and backed by breezy marimbas and singing bowls, these jagged songs flit in and out of digital fissures that feel physical,” writes Casey Burke. “The record prizes body over mind, practice over theory—which makes its second distinction on this list all the more notable: the only record to earn a Pulitzer nomination. The honor is richly deserved.”

Treblezine’s No. 1: Ratboys – The Window, which writer Jeff Terich calls “a career-best set of noise pop, daydream Americana and richly layered indie rock that’s as much a crystallization of their powers as a band as well as a more emotionally resonant showcase for Julia Steiner’s lyricism…”

The Quietus Top 100 reissues

https://thequietus.com/articles/33692-the-quietus-reissues-compilations-mixes-of-the-year-chart-2023

“Spoiler alert, but our favourite reissue of 2023 is a thing of absolute beauty: Dorothy Carter’s 1978 masterpiece Waillee Waillee,” writes the Quietus in their essential list of 2023 reissues. We couldn’t agree more.

Essential pick: Various Artists – Tokyo Riddim 1976-1985




“Though Bob Marley & The Wailers’ enormously successful 1979 tour of Japan is often seen to have skyrocketed reggae’s popularity there (and you can hear his influence strongly here, particularly on Miki Hirayama’s wholesale lifting of ‘Natural Mystic’ for her track ‘Denshi Lenzi’), it also explores the way that even before that, Japanese producers were lifting from British reggae-influenced pop bands like The Police and UB40, and combining those sounds with their native commercial city pop,” writes Patrick Clarke.

The Quietus’s No. 1: Dorothy Carter’s Waillee Waillee. “There is so much to revel in, to be stunned and staggered by in this astonishing record,” writes Jude Rogers, “but when Carter’s sound is indistinguishable from the sound of her instrument, when her vocal chords and her hammering hand become one, tightly and tenderly, the bracing, spiritual sensation is enough to make me believe in anything.”

NPR Music

https://www.npr.org/2023/12/05/1211225533/best-albums-2023

Writes NPR Music in its intro: “2023 may have been short on flashes and booms, but it was rich with smaller fires: no less intensely gorgeous, more approachable and built for heat, not spectacle. And while it might be tempting, as many have argued at many points in the format’s history, to take this lack of consensus as proof of its diminished value as a popular art form, we look at things a different way. In a year short on albums that draw a mob, it’s easier to see what might have otherwise been ignored for the treasure it is.”

Essential pick: Jussef Dayes – Black Classical Music

“Boasting a soundscape as lush and robust as the vegetation behind his childhood visage on the album cover, drummer Yussef Dayes’ debut solo project is a vehicle for his exploration of the vast expansiveness of music that have a foothold in the Black Diaspora,” writes Mitra I. Arthur. “A fixture in the U.K. jazz scene, Dayes ambitiously cycles through jaunts in post-bop, contemporary jazz, Caribbean rhythms, West African grooves, funk, orchestral interludes, neo-soul and more.”

Resident Advisor

https://ra.co/features/4293

“If there’s one common thread through our favourite electronic music albums this year,” writes RA, “it’s dance music producers making pop and R&B, and doing it wonderfully. Whether it was Kelela working with LSDXOXO, DJ Python with Ana Roxane, Caroline Polachek with Danny L. Harle or Fever Ray with Nadía, 2023 was full of albums with incredible songwriting and production.”

Essential pick: Wata Igarashi – Agartha




“The LP fuses Berlin school Krautrock and fourth world ambient with the odd bit of Detroit electro and techno, both unexpected and unbelievably impressive,” writes Henry Ivry. “Igarashi has always been more than ‘just’ a techno producer, but Agartha solidifies his reputation as a true electronic music visionary.”

Resident Advisor’s No. 1: Kelela – Raven. Whitney Wei on Berlin’s effect on Kelela: “There’s a sorrow and solemnity woven into the city’s monochromatic corners that echo through Raven, like a pebble rattling in an empty aluminum can. Even the title track is underpinned by a spacious yearning, as if on the brink of a breaking point …”

CLASH

https://www.clashmusic.com/features/albums-of-the-year-2023/

“In defiance of a broken system,” notes Clash, “ musicians across the planet are creating profound work, asking new questions, and offering fresh answers. The album, too, remains pivotal. As a form, as a machine for ideas, the album represents the coalescence of the hopes, aspirations, and emotions on its maker. As the old cliché has it, the album truly takes you on a journey.”

Essential pick: L’Rain – I Killed Your Dog




“Beyond the loose narrative of relational mishaps, breakdowns and the wounds we inflict on those closest to us, ‘I Killed Your Dog’ is an album about modern decay,” observes writer Shahzaib Hussain. “ Playing like a pressure cooker across its sixteen tracks, the album is skittish to the point of neurosis, brimming with unease and foreboding.”

Clash’s No. 1: Sampha – Lahai

Flood

https://floodmagazine.com/150765/the-best-albums-of-2023/

“In a year marked by a subtle shift from rap and pop high watermarks to the return of rock, baby, it’s become abundantly clear that the constantly morphing shape of viral culture has democratized what gets listened to, when it gets listened to, and by whom it gets listened to,” writes Flood’s Will Schube in its intro. “Music is the best now and forever, and our only hope is that by reading this list it becomes a little bit more clear why.”

Essential pick: billy woods and Kenny Segal – Maps




“Produced entirely by Kenny Segal, one of indie rap’s best beatmakers, woods crafts an album of delightfully quotable one-liners and knottily narrated tales of bumping Tupac while sipping on green smoothies before therapy,” writes Schube.

Flood’s No. 1: boygenius – the record

Crack Magazine

https://crackmagazine.net/article/list-article/best-albums-2023/

Essential pick: Luzmila Carpio – Inti Watana: El Retorno del Sol

Roughly translating to ‘the sun year’ from Quechua, Inti Watana is a winding musical journey through Andean mysticism, closing the gap between the traditional and the futurist, the synthetic and the organic,” writes Rachel Grace Almeida. “Carpio’s warm folk vocals, delivered in both Spanish and Quechua, are entwined with layers of charango, crystal organ and quena flutes, as well as flutters of birdsong and rushing water.”


No. 1: Jim Legxacy – Homeless N**** Pop Music. Writer Mike Vinti describes an artist who’s “creating a universe where Soul for Real’s Candy Rain is an understated Afrobeat anthem, and pop-punk ballads play host to repurposed grime vocals. One moment, he’s deep in his American Football bag, the next, he’s a heartbroken Frank Ocean. Throughout it all, his productions are scattered with samples that recall the cultural ephemera of his youth – Miley Cyrus, Dizzee Rascal and a promotional tag for Nigerian digital radio station Iroking.com all make appearances.”

Bandcamp Daily

https://daily.bandcamp.com/best-of-2023/the-best-albums-of-2023-essential-releases

Essential pick: Aselefech Ashine & Getenesh Kebret – ሸ​ገ​ኔ​ዎ​ች (Beauties)




“Aselefech Ashine and Getenesh Kebret’s Beauties walks a tightrope between order and chaos. The dusty grooves seem almost electrically overloaded, bustling away while Ashine and Kebret scale the complex vocal parts in complete unison. There are moments of calm (“Kenawtte” is a wistful highlight), but songs such as “Amerewal Shegennu” and “Tenafakiwou Tersseh” deal in brass stabs and low-slung bass, maintaining the tension masterfully.

Slant

https://www.slantmagazine.com/lists/the-50-best-albums-of-2023/

Slant’s Jeremy Winograd: “Many of the artists who appear on this list, though, no longer seem content to just break down old barriers, as they also seek to shatter interpersonal and emotional ones as well. The oft-cited isolation of modern living, heavily exacerbated by the pandemic, has compelled some to turn inward and scrape out the depths of their psyches.”

Essential pick: Anohni and the Johnsons, My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross.

“The 10 songs here feature some of Anohni’s most laidback and unfussy arrangements to date,” writes Charles Lyons-Burt. “Anohni’s lyrical complexity enriches and elevates the overly refined instrumental choices on My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross. She weaves a narrative about grief, self-disintegration, relationships dissolving, and environmental degradation that’s never solely about one of those things.”

No. 1: Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd?


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