Musings from my desk

2023 in review: My favorite album releases

2024-01-01 21:07:58 -0600 CST

Hello and welcome! This is the second year I’ve published a list of my favorite album releases from the past year. See my 2022 picks here!

As with last year, these are not ranked, and I hold no ego over these choices. They are simply albums that brought me joy - I do not intend to suggest these are the “best” albums of the year, because I don’t believe such a thing exists. My greatest hope is that you might either find a new album/artist in this list, or be inspired to compile your own list next year!

Favorite Groovy-Jammy Album: King Canyon - King Canyon, Eric Krasno, Otis McDonald

King Canyon album art

King Canyon is a collaboration of three artists: Eric Krasno, Otis McDonald, and Mike Chiavaro. It feels like a jam band playing soulful grooves in a cool basement club, and I love every moment of it. Eric Krasno has been involved in Soulive and Lettuce so it shouldn’t surprise me that I also love this project. If you like groove-oriented jams à la Khruangbin or Surprise Chef, you will love this album. The only bad thing I can say about it is that it is too short! I am not sure what to call the genre: there are elements of rock, blues, soul, and probably many other things that I’m too ignorant to name correctly. This album works well in the background or foreground which is also a plus for me.

Favorite Jazz-Funk Album: Roll The Tape - The Adam Deitch Quartet

Roll The Tape album art

I know Adam Deitch as the drummer for the band Lettuce. You may think I’m a Lettuce fanboy; well, that might be true - I have tickets to see them again in February! To me, Roll The Tape feels very much like a classic, old-school Lettuce album: some tracks are danceable, some tracks groove super hard, and all of it is rich and expertly performed. This album features at least one other member of Lettuce - trumpeter Eric “Benny” Bloom - and I read that this quartet was formed when Lettuce toured with another band a few of the members started jamming together. If you like jazzy-funky pocket grooves, you should love this album.

Runner up: Six - Oli Howe, HOWES3

Six album art

I might describe Six as more of a progressive-jazz-fusion album than jazz-funk, but I imagine the audiences might overlap. I stumbled across these two albums the same week so that was a pretty great week for me. If you like Snarky Puppy, I think you will definitely like Six; it is interesting, complex, and crafted to a very high level. I will definitely be coming back to this one again.

Favorite Rock Album: 72 Seasons - Metallica

72 Seasons album art

Wow, who knew Metallica was still making music??? And what a refreshing surprise! I’ve never considered myself a big Metallica fan, but I stumbled across their new album when watching this entertaining video of Thomas Lang speed-learning one of their new songs on drums. Turns out it is a really fun, classic-sounding rock album! They do a great job of balancing heaviness with approachability, and there’s no point in the album where they veer off course. The whole composition is very strong, and fun! Did I mention it’s fun? The title track “72 Seasons” is a great opener and remarkably catchy. “Lux Æterna” and “Room of Mirrors” are both really strong tracks too. Excellent “pump you up” music for a workout, regular work, or just chillin!

Runner up: In Times New Roman… - Queens of the Stone Age

In Times New Roman album art

Speaking of other rock bands that nobody knew were still in business: Queens of the Stone Age! I did not have high hopes for this album; they kinda lost me a few years back wit Era Vulgaris. But dang I’m really happy I gave this a listen! It doesn’t push the envelope too far, but it has a lot of fun, riff-based rock music. If you have ever liked QOTSA’s music, this deserves a listen.

Favorite Emotive, Cinematic Break-Beat Trio Album: Everything Is Going to Be OK - GoGo Penguin

Everything Is Going To Be OK album art

Alright, I’ll admit that I stole this categorization from GoGo Penguin’s official site (shame on me). But really, what else would you call GoGo Penguin? I think they probably appeal to a lot of jazz lovers, but are they jazz? Their audience probably has a lot of overlap with various types of EDM and electronica, but GoGo Penguin is fundamentally a live performance trio, so not exactly DJ-at-a-turntable either.

Anyway, here’s what you need to know about Everything Is Going To Be OK: it is utterly beautiful. Please do yourself a favor: dim the lights, pour yourself a glass of wine or peppermint tea, find a cozy seat and crank this album. It has depth, it has texture, it has melodies for days, it has rhythms that don’t make sense but are somehow completely natural. There are too many good tracks on this album: “Friday Film Special”, “We May Not Stay”, the title track “Everything Is Going To Be OK”, and “Parasite” are all very strong. Next time you need to be alone and feel in awe of the universe, this is your album.

Favorite Pop Album: That! Feels Good! - Jessie Ware

That Feels Good album art

I was first introduced to Jessie Ware by my partner after the release of her 2020 album What’s Your Pleasure?, which I highly recommend to everybody. “Ooh La La” and “Soul Control” have the two best basslines on a pop song since LaMarquis “ReMarqable” Jefferson laid down the dirtiest bass of the 90s on TLC’s “Waterfalls”.

I digress: That! Feels Good! is a really great follow-up album to What’s Your Pleasure?. The title track is a layered, funky, satisfying, sensual pop jam that sets a great mood for the album. The rest of the album has a mix of high energy bangers and smooth ballads, and is consistently enjoyable throughout. “Free Yourself” feels like a disco-era club hit, and “Shake The Bottle” has another dead-simple-and-dead-perfect bassline that reminds me of Bootsy Collins for some reason. And hey, pleasure activism is pretty hard to argue with, so go get some Jessie Ware in your life.

Favorite Turkish Psychedelic Album: Aşk - Altın Gün

Aşk Album art

In 2023, I learned that I love some music under the “psychedelic” banner, and absolutely hate others. I discovered Altın Gün while listening to “Kikagaku Moyo” radio on TIDAL (which, incidentally, is a really enjoyable artist radio). Aşk is not a perfect album, but there are several tracks that are really fantastic, and the whole album does have a very consistent quality. Also I feel like this album was helpful for me to identify “psychedelic” music as a genre I wanted to listen to. Part of what I appreciate about this album, and international psychedelic music more broadly, is that it feels like such a breath of fresh air compared to other music I listen to. There’s nothing else in my favorites that quite sounds like this, and I really appreciate that I can still find fresh, unusual sounds in 2023 that still groove hard. By far my favorite track is “Su Sızıyor”, which frequently gets stuck in my head days after I listen to it. “Leylim Ley” is another great track too.

Also, what defines “psychedelic” music?

Favorite R&B Album: Lotus Glow - Adi Oasis

Lotus Glow album art

In addition to having a fun, punny name, Adi Oasis is a neo-soul R&B queen! This album is extremely approachable, and it quickly became a go-to for cleaning day music after I discovered it and introduced my partner to it. I will say that this album spoke to me more in early 2023 than late 2023, but I still feel like it is a solid album that deserves a place in my “favorites” list. One thing I really appreciate about this album is that it features really strong vocals from a talented singer, but also has an extremely solid backing band and fun arrangements. In fact, Adi Oasis even released an instrumental version of the album! I do love the original version though; with the vocals it comes together into quite a beautiful package.

Favorite Electro-Soul Album: Volcano - Jungle

Volcano album art

Organic beats, great synths, and cool vocals? Sign me up! I hadn’t heard of Jungle until this year, but I’m glad this album was recommended to me (thanks, The Algorithm 🙄). There’s really nothing I dislike about this album. It is wonderfully listenable and ranges between relaxing and exciting. “Back on 74” is probably my favorite track, but the whole album really works together as a unit. This would be great cooking music, or great driving music, or great game night music.

Favorite House-ish Album: Madres - Sofia Kourtesis

Madres album art

Confusingly, Peruvian DJ Sofia Kourtesis released two albums this year named Madres - one being an EP and one a full length album. The EP was nice, but I prefer the full length album so that is what I’m referring to here. It’s a pretty interesting composition, held down by dance beats and overlaid with soft vocals and acoustic instrumentation. There is a very organic feel to this album and I think that is the driving theme that I got: tapping into the elemental pulse of life without getting lost in artificial or hash sounds. “Cecilia” is possibly my favorite track, though many of them are good.

Reflections on this year of music

I listened to well over 60 full albums this year. Below is the list of all the albums I took notes on, and there were several more that I listened to and wasn’t drawn in enough to take notes. My goal this year was to listen to everything new I could, so I could report my absolute favorite albums. In retrospect, I think I leaned a little too hard into finding new music. I found myself passing on old albums that I loved because I always had a list of new albums to listen to. And, once I found an album that I liked, I didn’t feel as much freedom to give it multiple listens. So next year I’ll probably still collect my faves, but I think I’ll scale it back a little bit. For the extremely curious, here is the list of albums I took notes on this year.