Sunday, December 31, 2023

My Favorite Albums of 2023

I feel like I didn't get to spend as much time with my favorite albums in 2023 as I have in years past. Is time speeding up or slowing down? Does it matter? Ultimately, no. We're all locked into this journey for as long or as little as it takes. Or to put it another way by quoting a famous physicist/rockstar/brain surgeon - "No matter where you go, there you are." So here we are, and what follows is the list of my ten favorite albums released in 2023.

Top Ten Albums 2023:

10) Fever Ray - Radical Romantics

Nothing else sounds like this. Fever Ray excels at burying catchy, almost poppish sensibilities inside an absurd musical architecture that transcends most of the musical tropes, instrumentation and methodologies of our lifetime. Also, it impresses the hell out of me that Karin Elisabeth Dreijer is able to use the sound of artificial Jamaican steel drums - a sound that I dislike to the very core of my being  - and evoke a positive response from me.

Buy Here.

9) Baroness - Stone

Stone is the first record Baroness has released that hit me this hard as a whole. I always dig what this band does, however, usually their albums feel somewhat uneven to me. Not Stone. This has a lot to do with Lead Guitarist Gina Gleason's expanding presence on backup vocals, but it also, I think, has to do with this lineup coming into its own after big changes in the middle of the 2010s. Also, John Dyer Baizley continues to experiment with the parameters of his songwriting, and the rewards are plentiful, to say the least (see "Beneath the Rose" and "Choir.")

Buy Here.

8) Bunsenburner - Rituals

This record is a gorgeous combination of everything I love, from Metal to Jazz to Twin Peaks to experimental. Founding member/principle songwriter Ben Krahl surrounds himself with musicians who help bring this ambitious project to life in a way that transcends genre expectations, something I don't stumble upon very often these days. 

Buy Here.

7) Nabihah Iqbal - Dreamer

Just like Iqbal's previous record, 2017's The Weighing of the Heart, Dreamer is beautiful, ethereal and uncompromisingly optimistic. There is so much love and wonder in these songs, they make me feel hope in an age where that has become a nearly herculean effort. Appropriate album title, too, as I believe these ten tracks are indicative of the music one would expect from a gentle soul with the heart of a dreamer. 

Buy Here.

6) Spotlights - Seance E.P.

Ghostly, haunting and at times, crushing, Spotlights followed this with an album that was slightly spoiled for me by the perfection of this E.P. 

Buy Here.

5) ††† - Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete.

The follow-up to †††'s debut came nearly ten years after its release, and I think we're all the better for it. This album is such a perfect amalgam of the last ten years of music, with elements from every strain of electronic, rock, and even hip-hop spun together to make something new and nostalgic at the same time. What started as an, ahem, Witch House side project for Deftones frontman Chino Moreno has come to deserve a lot more consideration than is often granted to such a large band's 'side projects.' 

Buy Here.

4) Fvnerals - Let the Earth Be Silent

Jet black nightmare fuel that helped me get to a certain mental place and stay there while crafting some fairly dark scenes in my current writing project. I know nothing of Fvunerals, but I'm here for whatever they do from here out. With this one, the cover really says it all.

Buy Here.

3) Yawning Balch - Volumes 1 & 2

Cracking their debut into two separate volumes doesn't change the fact that, when I play all six tracks Yawning Balch released this year in chronological order, I hear one of the most imaginative, expressive instrumental statements I've heard in some time. I hear the desert and the inner SciFi landscape visiting it always excites in me. I hear the cosmic weirdness of pulp writers from one hundred years ago, and that feeling is rigorously supported by John McGill's cover art. I hear the Universe and everything light and dark contained therein. 

Reading into the band a bit, I found there is good reason for this seemingly chaotic list of associations. Yawning Balch is a collaborative project between ex-Fu Manchu guitarist Bob Balch and the desert prog band Yawning Man. I also found that these two volumes are taken from a single five-hour jam. That formula almost never works for me, but in this case, Yawning Balch take me somewhere usually only accessible by reading Clark Ashton Smith or eating mushrooms in Joshua Tree.

Buy Here.

2) Blackbraid - Blackbraid II

An exquisitely crafted Black Metal album that follows its own internal logic as it moves from one track to the next, creating one long moment imbued with Native American ideologies, instrumental flavors and imagery. There is such power in this record, that it tends to pull me in for multiple successive listens at a time. Also, after Fvnerals, this was the album that helped me write the most in 2023.

Buy Here.

1) Screaming Females - Desire Pathway

How perfect that Screaming Female's greatest album should be their last. Not to say I was glad to hear of the breakup, but really, talk about going out on top. Desire Pathway played a big part in my year as one of the albums that anchored me on my trips back to L.A., when I would walk around with this on my headphones. Some songs have super hooks (Ornament, Brass Bell), and some grow on you, but the entire thing combines to make the most perfect start-to-finish record of my 2023.

Buy Here.

Honorable Mention:

Metallica's 72 Seasons. I still can't believe how much I like that record. 

1 comment:

Tommy said...

Great list Shawn. I haven't heard of half of these and will be rectifying that immediately.