Looking back to look ahead. It’s our Year In Review 2023. As always, our list is unranked and unruly. Let it blurb.
Aquarium Drunkard exists because of the passion of its contributors (learn more about them here) and the support of its generous Patreon community, so consider pledging your support as we ring in the new year. If Aquarium Drunkard improves your listening life, the Patreon is the best way to reciprocate. Only the good shit, now, then, and the unspecified moments in-between.
As we enter 2024, here’s a survey of AD’s recurring cultural offerings: Each Wednesday night on Sirius/XMU channel 35, a new episode of Justin Gage’s long-running Aquarium Drunkard Show. Every third Sunday of the month, our Radio Free Aquarium Drunkard Dublab feature broadcast. For your eyes: Aquarium Drunkard Picture Show; and for your ears: Aquarium Drunkard Transmissions, and the Lagniappe Sessions, featuring your favorite artists covering their favorite songs. And to help you keep track of it all, our weekly Sidecar newsletter.
Yo La Tengo :: This Stupid World: From the fuzzy, seven-minute opener “Sinatra Drive Breakdown” onwards, This Stupid World is vintage Yo La Tengo. Ira, Georgia, and James can still kick out the indie-rock jams like no one else, and their first album in five years is a beacon of hope in our bass-ackwards reality.
The Clientele :: I’m Not There Anymore: Alasdair MacClean has never been entirely sure that the world is real, but that didn’t stop him from constructing a whole universe of alternative realities with this sprawling double lp. Here are the sparkling, chamber-string-drenched pop songs you expect, along with the idiosyncratic beats, experimental interludes and spoken word poetry that maybe you didn’t.
Jesus People Music Vol 2 :: The Reckoning: The Jesus People sought to find psychedelic salvation via Jesus Christ. While some walked the path of professional CCM recordings, folks like those gathered here went the private press route, raw and unfiltered in sound and spirit. Featuring eight tracks from eight different artists, this is a collection a spacey psych-folk and psychedelic blues barn-burners. Assembled by BlackForestry, Aquarium Drunkard, and ORG.
Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, Shahzad Ismaily :: Love in Exile: A spectral meeting of the minds. This haunting and luminous set by Vijay Iyer (piano), Shahzad Ismaily (bass guitar and electronics), and Arooj Aftab (vocals) locates a nexus between ambient, jazz, and classical, all while feeling entirely conjured in the moment—because it was.
Laraaji :: Segue to Infinity: A trove of Laraaji’s earliest recordings that collects his 1978 debut along with six recently unearthed gems that illustrate his intuitively immersive approach to sound and improvisation. A master class in the foundations of ambient and new age music, Segue to Infinity beautifully documents Laraaji’s sonic consciousness when it was first emerging.
Jerry Garcia And David Grisman :: So What: Just issued on vinyl for the first time, and originally released in 1998, So What gathers up selections recorded by frequent collaborators Jerry Garcia and David Grisman between 1990 and 1992. Flanked by Jim Kerwin (bass), Joe Craven (percussion) and Matt Eakle (flute), the album is comprised of eight tracks riffing on Miles Davis/Milt Jackson along with the Grisman original, “16/16”. Improvisational, cohesive, natural and relaxed, the sixty minute conversation highlights three takes of “So What”, two of “Milestones” and two of Jackson’s “Bag’s Groove.” Far from repetitive. All essential.
Anohni and the Johnsons :: My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross: Anohni dives deep into the soul sounds that shaped her youth, a music that turned suffering into vibrant art and offered glimpses of a more authentic life. Inspired by Marvin Gaye, Boy George, and the trans icon Marsha P. Johnson whose photo is on the cover, Anohni sings powerfully about her connection to future generations and a natural world in peril.
Lonnie Holley :: Oh Me Oh My: The outsider artist Lonnie Holley filters harrowing life experiences through a lens of mystical acceptance, fusing jazz, blues, folk and gospel into incantatory visions. Lots of guests here, but Moor Mother’s Camae Ayewa finds an especially fruitful rapport, building feverish, jazz-teeming soundscapes that enlarge and illuminate Holley’s spoken word.
Dexter + Franz :: Flamingo Heights: Flamingo Heights transcends ambient music and becomes a pastiche of psychedelia, cosmic-country, and French lounge, alternating between what you’d hear drifting on the wind while meditating on a Mojave sunset and what would be piped through the PA speakers of a retro-futuristic vestibule while valeting a rocket ship on some distant planet.
Bar Italia :: Tracey Denim: Bar Italia occupies a shifting, shadowy ground between sunny 1960s euro-pop and post-punk, leaning one way or another depending on who is singing. Yet while each member has a distinctive timbre and personality, the song circles nonchalantly around a common theme: what it’s like to watch youth slipping away.
Rogê :: Curyman: Cinematic samba-funk tinged with warm psychedelia and plenty of saudade, Curyman is a beacon of modern Brasiliana and an instant summer session staple. While Rogê would be easily at home alongside contemporaries like Sessa and Tim Bernardes on our Atençao! comp from last year, there’s a lush charm to Curyman that harkens back to the golden era of ’70s MPB.
Cotton Jones Basket Ride :: The River Strumming: Michael Nau’s best record? Maybe. It’s hard to say as he’s got a few. 15 years ago Nau released his band’s debut, The River Strumming, as Cotton Jones Basket Ride. Only 300 copies were pressed that immediately sold out, making it an obscure, rare record. Suicide Squeeze has thankfully remedied this via thier 2023 reissue. This is an atmospheric album that is ready for rediscovery… a southern gothic summer night trip.
Medeski Martin & Wood :: Friday Afternoon In The Universe / Shack-man: In 1996 Medeski Martin & Wood followed up Friday Afternoon In The Universe with an even more deeply heady and dank offering, Shack-man. MMW as a group decamped to a remote section of Hawaii to record the album (via solar power) in a literal plywood shack where they channeled the island’s native spirits. Far out! Anyway, this pair of ’90s LPs finally saw a vinyl reissue this year. And we all say thank ya.
JJ Whitefield :: Ethio Meditations / Drama Al Dente: This first taste from the recently launched Madlib Invazion Music Library Series finds JJ Whitefield at the controls. Created over the course of the pandemic, the series self describes as a nod to “the best ‘Music Library’ releases of the past, on labels like Italy’s Sermi, Germany’s Bruton, France’s MP2000 and the UK’s DeWolfe.” Aesthetic ideals achieved, as Whitefield riffs on Ethiopian jazz and psychedelic funk over the course of the LP’s nineteen tracks.
Rich Ruth :: Live At Third Man Records: Over the past five years Rich Ruth has established himself as one of the most exciting up-and-coming talents in the ever–burgeoning sphere of cosmic music. It’s difficult to pinpoint his work as jazz, ambient, komische, or post-rock, as it employs elements of all those genres and more in a way that feels wholly natural. Is it post-genre? Perhaps. Ruth calls it “instrumental music,” which is true, albeit reductive. One thing is certain, it is not to be missed.
Gabriel da Rosa :: É O Que A Casa Oferece: Gabriel da Rosa’s debut album arrives at an auspicious time as Brazilian music is becoming more ubiquitous, cresting a wave of popularity that has been building over the better part of a century. Now, a new Brazilian tide is rising, building off the previous waves’ continued relevance, and it’s washing ashore along the Southern California coast.
Kahil El’Zabar :: Spirit Gatherer: A Tribute to Don Cherry: With his latest album, Spirit Gatherer: A Tribute to Don Cherry, El’Zabar is once again joined by the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, with vocalist Dwight Trible of the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, and multi-instrumentalist and son of the album’s namesake, David Ornette Cherry. Celebrating jazz luminary Don Cherry, the album is beautiful in its spatial depth, brevity, and intimacy, three attributes clearly set upon with masterful intention.
Mystic 100s :: On A Micro Diet: If a friend were to inform me that a psychedelic band had just held up a convenience store, seized a Fed Ex truck, and were now currently at large and on the lam, my first guess would be that the perpetrators were the members of Mystic 100s. Like their hardcore punk forebears, the group’s music often sounds like the work of unpredictable and dangerous people.
Albert Ayler :: Europe 1966: Europe 1966 is a 4-LP set documenting four of Albert Ayler’s performances with his quintet that took place over a ten-day period in November 1966. The collection includes the band’s appearances in Berlin, Lörrach, Stockholm, and Paris, where the saxophonist and his group took part in a package tour called Newport In Europe, a George Wein-curated program that also included Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, and Dave Brubeck. Ayler’s group on this tour consisted of his brother Donald Ayler on trumpet, Michel Samson on violin, William Folwell on double bass, and Beaver Harris on drums.
Bondo :: Print Selections: LA four-piece Bondo released their first EP 77 in late 2021. A five-song set, it’s a precise and exact document that wears its ’90s post rock influence on its sleeve: elongated phrases, careful dynamics, grayscale tones, very intentional distortion settings. Think Unwound, Spiderland, Acetone. The group returned this year with the release of their first full-length, Print Selections, out via Italian label Quindi Records.
Rubinho E Mauro Assumpção :: Perfeitamente, Justamente Quando Cheguei: In line with the late records of Jovem Guarda, such as Erasmo Carlos’ 1970-1972 trilogy of later-revered proto-indie, as well as with Os Mutantes’ flavorful Brazilian psychedelia, Rubinho & Mauro Assumpção’s only ever release wanders through daring and often humorous experimentations. With bare instrumentation and lo-fi timbres blowing against the grain of the recording, it soon came to be a coveted rarity among collectors. Mr. Bongo’s recent reissue offers a great chance to reexamine this piece of soft-noise MPB.
The Circling Sun :: Spirits: A heady stew name checking Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane, The Circling Sun is a collective murderer’s row of New Zealand jazz luminaries crafting modal/spiritual jazz. Spirits, released earlier this year via Soundway Records, is their debut.
Sonhos Secretos: Brazilian Private Press & Independent MPB 1980-1985): From the rare and obscure to the unknown, producer Tee Cardaci mines eleven genre-spanning gems produced during the waning days of Brazil’s military dictatorship, recorded by a new emerging class of artists operating outside of the major label system. Bonus points: this compilation began as an AD mixtape!
Grateful Dead :: Dick’s Picks Volume One: In celebration of the 30th anniversary of its original CD release, Volume One was reissued as a 4-LP set earlier this year via Real Gone Music. For vinyl pundits this is notable as it marks the first time the set’s contents have been remastered for the format via the original analog tapes. Classic ’73 Dead in vibe (languid, mellow, jazzy), the disc kicks off with a fourteen minute extrapolation of Wake centerpiece “Here Comes Sunshine”. As renditions of the tune go, this reading remains absolutely definitive.
King Tuff :: Smalltown Stardust: King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas got his start in old hippie enclave of Brattleboro, Vermont, a left-leaning, art-obsessed small town, where daily life unfolded in the parking lot near the food co-op, at an independent coffee house that hosted open mics, at swimming holes and on forest trails, everywhere surrounded by nature. Tuff’s latest album, Smalltown Stardust, looks back fondly on the place where Thomas grew up, couching sunny melodies in soft 1960s psychedelia and folk arrangements.
Jonathan Rado :: For Who The Bell Tolls For: The second proper LP from Jonathan Rado as a solo artist. Having come to prominence as one half of the prolific and polarizing Foxygen, one could listen to the education in production he gave himself through that band’s early releases and later through his fortuitous meeting with and tutelage under the late, great Richard Swift. As statements go, For Who The Bell Tolls For is a giant step forward as the captain of his own ship.
Wes Montgomery And The Wynton Kelly Trio :: Maximum Swing: Comprised of three records and six sides of music sourced from radio airchecks and audience tapes, Maximum Swing more than delivers on its promise. And while this group has been documented elsewhere, this is a great opportunity to catch them on their home turf and for an appreciative crowd. It’s another welcome piece to the Montgomery canon, and another example that he didn’t settle down into pop-jazz in the last years of his life.
Moon Bros. :: The Wheel: Moon Bros. returns with an absolutely wonderful five-song mini-LP of lightly fried folk rambles. Fred Schneider recorded The Wheel mostly on his own, but he expertly conjures up a laid-back scene of friends sitting around a cozy living room playing together — sweetly groaning pedal steel, chiming 12-string, stoned harmonica, intimate vocals. (It’s not entirely a solo affair: the great Josephine Foster shows up to sing along on one song.) The result is kind of like a heretofore unimagined collab between Robbie Basho and Michael Hurley. Vivid visions of the country, indeed.
John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy – Evening At The Village Gate: Following up the Love Supreme Live In Seattle discovery from a few years back, another well-nigh miraculous find in the Coltrane archives. And this one has the mighty Eric Dolphy on it! Taped in 1961, it captures an extremely sweet gig at the venerable Village Gate, including the only known live rendition of the classic, then-brand-new “Africa.” It does not disappoint.
Pharoah Sanders :: Pharoah: Everything about Pharoah Sanders’ eponymous 1977 album is a gift, and Luaka Bop’s box set edition is no exception. Steeped in spectral ambience and devotional humility, Pharoah welcomes listeners into aural temple of tone, melody, and grace. Coupling the original 1977 LP with two previously unheard live performances of “Harvest Time” and loads of ephemera, this box set is a tremendous archival achievement that casts new light on a crucial point of transition in Sanders’ music.
The Feelies :: Some Kinda Love: You can hear a lot of Velvet Underground in all the Feelies albums, especially the jangly, nervy debut, and the connections between the two bands go long and deep. This set of covers recorded live at the White Eagle Hall in Jersey City in October 2018 celebrates a lifetime of appreciation and wrings maximum joy out of the Velvets catalogue.
Bill Orcutt :: Jump On It: As the Harry Pussy guitarist transitions into his NPR phase, his techniques continue to blossom. This collection of gently unfolding acoustic compositions finds Orcutt returning to the mode of his 2013 album, A History of Everyone. Using six strings or four, his versatile style becomes more accomplished with each passing year.
Devendra Banhart :: Flying Wig: Leave it to Devendra Banhart to find spiritual epiphany in a song about a lost phone charger or a disco anthem in one about a sci-fi evil twin. Silliness dances with profundity, despair with radiant absurdity, as one of indie music’s most positive forces wrestles with a darker, post-COVID reality.
The Malombo Jazz Makers :: Down Lucky’s Way: Recorded in 1969 but unreleased/unknown until now, Down Lucky’s Way is a little hard to describe — minimal modal folk jazz? Maybe! Guitarist Lucky Ranku called it “healing music,” and that might be the most right on. The gentle but propulsive groove, the free-floating melodies, the comradely interplay…it just makes you feel better.
Vince Guaraldi :: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (Original Soundtrack Recording): The early ’70s found pianist Vince Guaraldi’s music for the animated Peanuts specials embracing the funky progressive tendencies of the day. The result is his grooviest, and headiest music—including his immortal vocal on “Little Bird.”
Lori Vambe – Spacetime Dreamtime: The Four-Dimensional Music of Lori Vambe: 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. Reissued for the first time this year via Strut Records as the merged Space-Time Dreamtime, the lost treasures of this dimension-shifting sonic explorer are absolutely ripe for exploration forty-something years on, the music’s effect absolutely transportive—mesmerizing in its repetitive, mantra-like quality and slyly avant-garde approach.
Arthur Russell :: Picture of Bunny Brown: Another essential treasure trove of unreleased performances, again culled from the Arthur Russell archive by Audika Records. Nine impressionist solo sketches (with Arthur on vocals, cello, keyboards, guitar, harmonica, and echoes) that closely orbit 1986’s monumental World of Echo. Worth the price of admission for “In the Light of a Miracle” alone—a staggering individual version of one of Arthur’s most beloved tracks.
Sonic Youth :: Live In Brooklyn 2011: It’s not exactly the last Sonic Youth performance, but this exhilarating double LP preserves their final show in New York City, acting as a poignant epitaph for a band so closely tied to their hometown. Pristinely recorded and featuring a rich selection of deep cuts spanning their three-decade career, the set is an invigorating blast from start to finish, showcasing seldom-heard chestnuts such as “Inhuman,” “Ghost Bitch,” and “Flower.”
Neil Young & The Ducks – High Flyin’: A necessary addition to Uncle Neil’s ongoing Archival activities. High Flyin’ takes us back to Santa Cruz, CA, in the summer of 1977, when Young joined up with a Moby Grape off-shoot band dubbed The Ducks for a series of small club shows. In some ways, it’s a throwback to the Buffalo Springfield days, with Neil contributing a few originals and playing stinging lead on his compadres’ country rock tunes. Low-key, high-quality, with the stormy electric “Little Wing” taking top prize.
James and the Giants :: S-T: Jimmy Toth’s journey from unstrung freak folk oddball to songwriting craftsman culminates here in ten songs that sound like long-lost classics from a 1970s golden age. “Hall of Mirrors” is especially good, marrying wry Randy Newman-style lyrical aplomb with wheeling, reeling psychedelic string sounds a la ELO. The lines stick, the hooks land, and it all sounds so easy in Toth’s capable hands.
Lewsberg :: Out and About: On their fourth album in five years, Rotterdam’s answer to the Velvet Underground continues to impress. Out and About softens Lewsberg’s minimalist rock sound—deadpan vocals, single note guitar licks, Mo Tucker motorik–without losing any of the potency of their poetry. When will it ever stop?
Bonnie Prince Billy :: Keeping Secrets Will Destroy You: The sage of Louisville, Kentucky serves up skewed folk family style, gathering friends and fellow travelers for the warmest, most organic kind of collaboration. But while this latest Oldham opus has a casual air, it’s still sharp and well-constructed. “Willow, Pine and Oak,” views the human condition through an extended botanical metaphor, while “Bananas” with its shadowy swarms of harmony, is just about the prettiest song you’ll hear this year.
Jana Horn :: The Window is the Dream: A hymn to radical mystery, these oracular songs from short story author Jana Horn haunt and gently point toward other possible words.
Wilco :: Cousin: Produced by Cate LeBon, Cousin feels frisky and woozy. From the shaken up art pop of “Infinite Surprise” to the boogied up shake of “Evicted” to the wiry guitar pile ups of title track, these songs showcase Wilco as an ever adaptable unit, leaning into the deconstructed gnarl of their most experimental work while retaining a resonate sweetness.
Operating Theatre :: Spring Is Coming With a Strawberry In The Mouth: Led by producer, composer, and musical maverick Roger Doyle, Operating Theatre was an Irish synth-pop band and avant-garde theatre troupe. This collection includes the band’s singles for U2’s Motehr Records, alongside other other recordings, and “Rapid Eye Movements,” a series of experimental tape/musique concrète recordings that Doyle created on his own in the late ’70s and a remix by Irish artist Morgan Buckley, which reimagines “Spring Is Coming” as a MIDI-epic, at once playful, evocative, and full of potential, just like the season itself.
Lael Neale :: Star Eaters Delight: Armed with an Omnichord and a phantasmagoric voice, Lael Neale and collaborator Guy Blakeslee conjure loner folk, stripped down rock, and celestial hymns to the unknown.
James Elkington :: Me Neither: 29 instrumental recordings that split the difference between Britfolk traditionalism and hauntological experimentation from the reliably great guitarist James Elkington. Think Nathan Salsburg’s Landwerk series meets Ghost Box and let yourself wander down these rabbit holes.
Jeffrey Silverstein :: Western Sky Music: Jeffrey Silverstein evokes cosmic country vistas and big open skyviews on this latest, which blends charming and lonesome instrumentals with sung songs that bring to mind Jerry Jeff Walker or the Silver Jews. Lowslung, in the pocket, and gently propulsive.
Eddie Chacon :: Sundown: Crafted in collaboration with John Carroll Kirby, future soul singer Eddie Chacon let’s the drum machine play on while crooning with easy, unaffected charm. Think Sly Stone meets Laraaji, or maybe something Pharoah Sanders would have cooked up had he gone electro-soul instead of spiritual jazz.
Psychic Temple :: A Universe Regards Itself: No stranger to conceptual bravado, Chris Schlarb’s latest Psychic Temple outing finds him joined by synthesist Lisa Bella Donna, a full ensemble featuring players like Dave Easley Mike Baggetta, drummers Tabor Allen and Danny Frankel, along with a full choir, for two songs that evoke the wordless epics of prime Pink Floyd and freak out free jazz, which roll out with the profound ease of an Alan Watts rap.
Boxhead Ensemble :: Ancient Music: Joined by a cast of longtime confidants like Tim Rutili of Califone, Wil Hendricks, Jakob Koller, Robin Vining, Keith Kelly on woodwinds, Joshua Hill, and Laraine Kaizer-Viazovtsev, Boxhead Ensemble’s magnum opus finds composer Michael Krassner stitching together sessions recorded between 2001-2021 in Los Angeles and Finland. The result is chamber music meets ambient country, raw and untamed like his desert home.
A Savage :: Several Songs About Fire: Streetwise folk rock that boogies and struts with a confident gravitas. Savage’s word weary observations will be familiar to Parquet Courts fans, but here he adopts a funkily generous tone.
Sexmob :: The Hard Way: The Hard Way is the latest from Steven Bernstein’s longrunning Sexmob combo. Joined by bassist Tony Scherr, saxophonist Briggan Krauss, drummer Kenny Wollensen, and electronics and bass player Scotty Hard, along with guest spots from John Medeski on the Hammond organ and Mellotron, DJ Olive on synths and turntables, and Vijay Iyer on piano, it’s a dense, electronics-augmented jazz-punk excursion.
Alabaster DePlume :: Come With Fierce Grace: Alabaster DePlume brings fragrant sax rips and vulnerable and direct poetry to the table. Bolstered by some of the finest players in the UK alt-jazz scene, he stitches together another expansive set of spiritual jazz epics.
Dorothy Moskowitz and the United States of Alchemy :: Under an Endless Sky/ Dorothy Moskowitz & Retep Folo :: The Afterlife/ Dorothy Moskowitz :: Rising To Eternity: A banner year for the grand doyenne of American psychedelia. Under an Endless Sky finds her confronting apocalyptic visions with Italian electronic composer Francesco Paolo Paladino and composer and writer Luca Chino Ferrari. The Afterlife presents more familiar psych-pop dimensions, and Rising To Eternity, to be released on Christmas Eve, offers droney passages and incantatory poetry about “unlikely dialogues between forces of creation and destruction.”
Four Tet :: “Three Drums”/ Kieran Hebden and William Tyler :: “Darkness, Darkness / No Services”: Rumbling along like a blissed out Pure Moods daydream, “Three Drums” showcases Kieran Hebden at his most beatific. A welcome respite of breakbeat-driven stillness. Meanwhile, his collaboration with guitarist William Tyler (and potent Gloria Loring sample deployment) manages to address the terror and anxiety of the present moment.
Cory Hanson :: Western Cum: The frontman of Wand steps aside to deliver a set of songs that evoke the wide open expanses of endless guitar summers. Part prog epic, part intimate reflection, Hanson locates a zone where Thin Lizzy and Neil Young conspire and craft new ways to burn and fade.
PJ Harvey :: I Inside the Old Year Dying: PJ Harvey comes to each album more or less a different person, playing different instruments, pondering different subjects in her elliptical lyrics. Harvey’s tenth album, I Inside the Old Year Dying, is a 12-song cycle sets Harvey’s 2022 verse novel Orlam to music, folding natural sounds and Dorset dialect into a set of eerie post-industrial folk songs. Harvey makes new sonic and literary worlds every time the tape recorder is on.
Gina Birch :: I Play My Bass Loud: Nearly 20 years on after The Raincoats last album, founding member Gina Birch has made a solo album, I Play My Bass Loud, her first in a multi-decade career. Playful, quick, and carefree, these collaborations with producer Youth boom and thunder with casual grace.
Hiss Golden Messenger :: Jump For Joy: “Words can mean different things, from day to day they change their meaning,” MC Taylor sings at the start of Jump For Joy, his latest under the reliable and stalwart Hiss Golden Messenger banner. Adopting a new character—named “Michael Crow,” with a subtle nod—allows Taylor a little space to move around. And tellingly, he uses much of that wiggle room to indulge in layers of funk, lithe soft-rock, and Dead-indebted shuffles. Hiss Golden Messenger’s best records always balance honeyed charm with existential weight, but here the ratio feels exactly right: words change their meaning, after all, and though Taylor concludes the album confessing he “speaks a dead language,” it’s clear he’s got plenty of new things to say.
William Tyler & The Impossible Truth :: Secret Stratosphere: Some years back, in this very list, William Tyler’s music was described as part of a genre we called new American classical music. And with Secret Stratosphere, Tyler adds definition and shape to it: folk, ambient and country flutter through his electric guitar as his collaborators fill out the space with orch-astral flourish. Amidst this grand performance, it is jarring to hear applause and stage banter and to realize that the precision and dedication demanded of anything even sniffing the “classical” moniker could so easily spring forth one Saturday night at a brewery in Huntsville, Alabama.
Natural Information Society :: Since Time Is Gravity: The NIS continues to churn out an unbelievable stream of hypnotic jazz grooves, centered on the thumping basslines of Joshua Abrams’ guimbri. Recorded live at Chicago’s Electrical Audio, this swirling brew of drone and minimalistic rhythms, never fails to entrance.
Various Artists :: If You Want to Make a Lover: Palm Wine, Akan Blues & Early Guitar Highlife, Pt. 1: Palm wine guitar music may most commonly be associated with S.E. Rogie’s recordings from the ’60s, but heady London-based archival label Death is Not the End shines a light on his predecessors with this collection of early African highlife from the late 20s through the late 50s. Sonically raw but spiritually healing, the music compiled here is delightful—lazily swaying folk and bewitching communal blues. Developing across cultures and emanating from the likes of sailors off the coast of Liberia and laborers in the fields of Ghana, this is endlessly enjoyable roots music in its purest form.
Sven Wunder :: Late Again: The Stockholm-based musical polymath’s fourth long-player is an intoxicating blend of twilight-dappled orchestral jazz and nocturnal funk. The piano takes the forefront here, joined by sample-ready drums and soaring arrangements of flute, brass, and strings—all as immaculately played and recorded as in the film and library music Wunder holds so dear. With seemingly boundless talent and creativity, we can’t wait to hear where he’s headed next.
Dave Harrington :: The Pictures: Harrington can shred – he proves as much just about anywhere and with anyone. However, confining himself to himself, The Pictures is reserved but not staid. Atmospheric and packed with soundbites, Harrington effortlessly glides in and out of exotica, lounge and tropical pastiches, restrained-yet-vibrant textures, and instruments of which he is already a master and those to which he is a novice. The result is somewhere between a Cliff Martinez score, a Harry Hosono concept album, The Books and every project Harrington has ever graced his presence on. Its 27 tracks demand repeated listens for its nuance and beauty.
Califone :: Villagers: On villagers, the eighth album from Tim Rutili’s steadfast Califone project, the Tim Rutili sings of “a Roxy Music cassette dying in the dashboard sun.” That image serves as a fitting description of the sound here: open pop melodies and soulful singing at the mercy of time, nature, and memory. Along with a cast of familiar collaborators and brand new ones, Rutili assembled and pieced together the album over the course of years. The varied sessions adhere together in a collage-like fashion, where discontinuity creates its own kind of dream logic.
Lana Del Rey :: Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd: Lana cuts to the chase, but still manages to take the scenic route. Her latest collection of 16 songs casts a wide net, stitching together call-and-response chants, surf-pop time travel, studio chatter, throbbing trap beats, gospel swells, cosmic Americana, voice memo audio collages, and sweeping orchestration, while Lana opens up about faith, family, and what it means to stitch it all together.
Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol. 17: Fragments – Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996–1997) / The Complete Budokan 1978: More gold from the Dylan vault. Fragments gives us a microscopic view of Bob’s so-called “comeback” album from 1997, offering a somewhat de-murked remix (though you may still prefer Daniel Lanois’ original murk), a host of alternate performances and a disc of live material. The de-Lanois-ed mix of TOOM might give listeners deeper appreciation of the sonic environment that Dan created for the album; all those instruments and players and overtones blending together, not always totally harmoniously but always totally interesting. That environment certainly coaxed some astounding performances from Dylan. And hey — the four-disc expansion of 1978’s At Budokan live album is astounding as well. Do the arrangements occasionally move into utterly cheese-tastic zones? Yeah, of course they do. But what the fuck! It feels as though Dylan and co. are seeing just how durable these songs are, pushing them over into a particular extreme. How far can Bob’s tunes go? Pretty far, obviously.
Jerry David DeCicca :: New Shadows: With a sonic reinvention and a slew of guest players such as Jeff Parker and Rosali, Jerry David DeCicca rolled through with New Shadows like a mic drop. Its release accompanied by a health scare for DeCicca, the album’s songs, both disrupted and beautifully enhanced by fat, slinky synths and drum machine beats, came to feel prophetic. Their alien-like large, outward production reflect DeCicca’s dark, romantic, and existential ruminations in a light no less impactful than when it was mostly he and his guitar, but rather reveal the way we adapt to the unexpected curveballs life while remaining faithful to our truest selves.
Maxine Funke :: River Said: With a hushed voice and delicate fingerpicking illuminating her intimate vignettes, the staggering New Zealand talent continues an unimpeachable run with her latest album. Never one to shy away from experimentation, River Said’s second side offers a gnarled mix of field recordings, cello, and delay—but when things resolve and give way to her clarion voice and searching organ, it reaches truly ecstatic heights. How lucky we are to have a more prolific Funke in recent years.
jaimie branch :: Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)): Following her untimely passing in 2022, this posthumous album from Chicago trumpeter jaimie branch is a fittingly hard-charging elegy. The howled vocals that accentuate “burning grey” and “take over the world” prove that her righteously pissed-off voice was impossible to ignore.
Sleaford Mods :: UK Grim: The poet laureate of post-Brexit decline is back in fine form, spitting blistering, intricate, word-ranging diatribes to eerie post-apocalyptic beats. It’s hard to beat the title track for the sheer rush of dystopic imagery, all Jason Williams and Andrew Fearnie. But the guests are good, too, Florence Shaw from Dry Cleaning putting a scary glamor into “Force 10 from Navarone and Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell cavorting maniacally through “Too Trendy.”
Teenage Fanclub :: Nothing Lasts Forever: Twelve albums deep, Teenage Fanclub continues to be a rare and relentless model of musical consistency. As with their recent albums, a new level of maturity rises to the surface in the lyrics. Perhaps it’s the luxury of having three consummate songwriters in the band (and the addition of Euros Child in place of departing Gerard Love), but the band’s timeless, melodic power pop seemingly knows no bounds.
Cactus Lee :: Caravan: Texas-based troubadour Kevin Dehan has been on a tear in recent years. Like last year’s Perfect Middle Hall, Cactus Lee’s Caravan continues a natural progression since the band began cutting their lo-fi recordings and hunkering down in Austin honky-tonks. This evolution is a musician expanding horizons and grappling remarkable creative highs, all while maintaining the perfect, well-worn country formula.
Hataałii :: Singing Into Darkness/COMPLETELY!!!personal: Just before the release of his Dangerbird Records debut Singing Into Darkness, Window Rock based songwriter Hataaliinez Wheeler dropped a 28-song collection called Completely!!!personal out of nowhere. While the former might be a more concise introduction to his work—think Jim Morrison meets Lou Reed, with a dash of Destroyer in the mix—both show off his slacked, incisive wit and his desert baked consciousness. Heady and ready.
Mark McGuire :: A Pocket Full of Rain: Ryley Walker’s Husky Pants Records did the world a solid with this reissue of the hyper-limited album from Emeralds guitarist Mark McGuire. Originally released on cassette and CD-R in 2009, A Pocket Full of Rain is a sprawling, loop-based odyssey that glistens like the kosmische inventions of Manuel Göttsching.
The Tubs :: Dead Meat: Emerging from the ashes of UK post-punk band Joanna Gruesome, The Tubs move into mature territory on their full-length debut. Owen Williams’ accented voice has earned fitting comparisons to Richard Thompson, while the quartet’s jangle-pop sound will appeal to fans of Cleaners From Venus or The Cowboys.
Robert Forster :: The Candle and the Flame: When Robert Forster’s wife Karin got the worst of news—a cancer diagnosis—the whole family pulled together, making music in the family kitchen between bouts of radiation. The result is one of the year’s best albums, a moving tribute to lifelong love.
En Attendant Ana :: Principia: Principia is sleeker, sexier and a big step up for these Parisian garage rockers, wreathing ye-ye romantic laments in a thick humming shimmer. “Same Old Story” is anything but as it rides a prickly picked bass line through blissed out rainbow clouds.
Meg Baird :: Furling: Meg Baird’s solo discography may be smaller than fans would like, but there’s not a misplaced note amidst her four LPs. Furling is full of the good stuff: Baird’s high, lonesome vocals, her and partner Charlie Saufley’s wondrous guitar work and some of the best songs Meg has ever written. The restless “Will You Follow Me Home” in particular feels like it should be a smash hit in some alternate (and better) universe.
Matana Roberts :: Coin Coin Chapter Five: In The Garden: The latest edition in Roberts’ series untangling African-American history packs a mighty punch. Joined by guests such as alto saxophonist Darius Jones and producer Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio, In The Garden is a dense thicket of free-jazz, electronics, and liberatory lyrics.
Powers / Pulice / Rolin :: Prism: A sublime pairing between the Powers/Rolin Duo (hammered dulcimer and guitars, respectively) and Pulice (saxophones), resulting in thirty-eight minutes of pastoral free jazz. The trio peels away and rebuilds layers and layers of rich atmosphere. Each member contributes a captivating component worth zeroing in on during repeated listens.
Laurel Halo :: Atlas: Much like it’s cover, Atlas is a blur. It is in the other-room quality of “Belleville” and “Sweat, Tears or the Sea,” and in the feeling of looking down from a great height on “Reading the Air” and “Earth Bound.” Whether sparse or stacked, haunting or harmonious, the compositions here are enrapturing. An ambient and spiritual noir that touches upon jazz, Eno, and EDM.
Whitney K :: Vivi! (Live): Whitney K’s records (including last year’s dazzling Hard To Be A God) can be delicate, hypnotic affairs – his easy drawl rarely giving in to the musical highs or lows surrounding it. Live, as here on Vivi! (Live), his voice remains the stoic anchor, but he and his band are able to spread out wide and, particularly in its loudest moments, inflict new emotions into songs already packed with so much. Tracks like “Song For a Friend” and “Maryland” explore their soaring codas, and in the process transform a Canadian punk-folky into a Lou Reed mold rocker.
Joanna Sternberg :: I’ve Got Me: Amongst the ways Joanna Sternberg’s I’ve Got Me may be described, catchy ought to be at the forefront. Every chorus, every undulation in annunciation, every drum beaten, piano plucked and string strummed is an earworm. Listening beyond the subdued production and any genre qualifiers (anti-folk, etc.), this is foot-tapping, sing-along music.
Krano :: Lentius Profundius Suavius: Lackadaisical and rollicking all at once, Krano’s second LP tumbles and collapses his version of cosmic folk, punk and soul. It is hypnotic, dizzying, and captivating – in no small part due to its Krano’s drawl in the Veneto dialect. It’s Jeff Buckley-meets-Black-Lips-at-a-winery. I’d like to know what he’s saying.
Jess Williamson :: Time Ain’t Accidental: It seemed like on 2020’s Sorceress everything finally clicked for Williamson, but her fifth album is another gear, a revelation. She can conjure the feel of fellow Texans like Nanci Griffith or Kacey Musgraves; would fit on the bill at Big Ears Festival; and could (should?) open for Taylor Swift. Time… stuns and could be considered the best “Western” album of the year.
Acetone :: i’m still waiting: i’m still waiting collects LA band Acetone’s entire discography. It reveals the trajectory of a band too stubborn to fit in with the alternative mainstream, preferring instead to conjure a spacious world out of borrowed soul licks, dizzied up country, Velvets’ churn, and burned out rock grandeur. A one band subculture.
Modern Nature :: No Fixed Point in Space: Joined by members of The Necks, This Is Not This Heat, and Julie Tipppets (FKA Driscoll), Jack Cooper guides his band into deep, contemplative stillness and intent. It’s a powerful statement that showcases him moving into a zone between improv and minimalist songcraft.
Blind Dead Timmy + Lee Baggett :: Strings Across the Water: This collaboration between Japanese guitar ace Blind Dead Timmy and Philippines-born, West Coast wanderer Lee Baggett feels like a furtive blood oath made on a mystical swamp, a sharing of songs too strange, rare, and precious for the masses, but a blessing for the trees, frogs, birds, and lily pads. With credits including dobro, harmonica, jaw harp, talking steel guitar, Hawaiian lap steel guitar, whistle, and space echo, Blind Dead Timmy’s raw, sonic wizardry proves the perfect foil for Baggett’s woeful, meandering blues—the two coalescing into a vague mist.
Maybel :: Gloam: The sophomore album from Canada’s Maybel—Fez Gielen, Ali Hendra, Loris Kecaj and Lauren Spear—casts a dreamlike splendor, the band’s incandescent harmonies, woodland folk, and gentle, intimate embrace converging with a seamless grace, a patience and trust in the beauty of their own collaboration. These songs, like the rolling and ruminative “Matters,” the chambered, glowing “Rebloom,” and the mournful, woolen, country-tinted “Passing Through” creep inside you like the warmth from a campfire. They’re comforting and feel like old friends, but there’s a sadness behind them, a knowing, old-soul grief for the transience of what’s right in front of them. As flames reduce to flickers, the beauty of Gloam comes and goes like a melancholy you might strangely come to miss. A cottage blanketed in snow, a memory of something beautiful.
Arnold Dreyblatt :: Resolve: Arnold Dreyblatt’s collaboration with the Orchestra of Excited Strings is a long-awaited sequel to his 1982 album, Nodal Excitation. Accompanied by avant-garde heroes Oren Ambarchi, Konrad Sprenger, and Joachim Schütz, Dreyblatt assembles towering pillars of sound with microtonal chords and relentless rhythms.
André 3000 :: New Blue Sun: Ignore the pre-release hype and the post-release backlash and you’ll hear New Blue Sun for what it is: a gorgeous attunement into the world of spiritual jazz from one of hip-hop’s most indelible voices. Throughout eight songs that last nearly 90 minutes, André 3000 coaxes his longtime fans to slow down and listen.
Thandi Ntuli with Carlos Niño :: Rainbow Revisited: Recorded in the summer of 2019 over two sessions in Venice Beach, Rainbow Revisited has a kind of earthy, off-the-cuff magic that immediately declares its singularity. Inspired by Niño’s hearing Ntuli’s “Rainbow,” off her 2018 album Exiled, and encouraging the South African pianist, composer, and singer to experiment with different variations on it, the album leaps with bright, expressive piano and vocal scats, and submerges with vast, aquatic synths and glistening cymbals. “Nomayoyo,” a song written by Ntuli’s grandfather and sung at family gatherings, also played here with a tender gratitude and timeless warmth, fits perfectly next to the spontaneous autumnal jazz of “Piano EDIT” as does the spare, mesmerizing “Voice and Tongo Experiment” to the spry and buoyant “The One (first part).” Keep this one close to the turntable.
Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection 2: Exceeding all expectations, Spencer Cullum’s anticipated sophomore effort brings another wealth of breezy folk gems. Here, the Nashville-via-UK pedal steel maestro is joined by another all-star cast of collaborators, from Music City comrade Sean Thompson to Yuma Abe. Like the first time around, Cullum’s gems range from somber folk ballads and synthesizer epics to pop songs with the whimsy of Kevin Ayers.
Omni Gardens :: Golden Pear: While not busy releasing exploratory music as the head honcho of Moon Glyph Records, Steve Rosborough makes his own tranquil electronic dispatches as Omni Gardens. Broadening the analog synth palette from 2020’s excellent Moss King with the addition of field recordings, Mellotron flutes, vibraphones, and marimbas, Golden Pear is an inviting and unhurried home-recorded masterwork. Effortless listening.
Tocacco City :: America b/w Motorcade” As drenched in honky tonk as they are warmed by the rays of Cosmic American Music, Chicago’s Tobacco City, led by the harmonizing vocals and guitars of Lexi Goddard and Chris Coleslaw, has quickly become something of the Greek Chorus for our modern American shit-show.
Bex Burch :: There Is Only Love and Fear: The truth in the title of Bex Burch’s solo debut is made apparent by her mind massaging xylophone. Joined by collaborators like Tortoise drummer Dan Bitney and Ben LaMar Gay, she cuts a wide swath from gentle field recordings to jazzy shuffles and meditative “messy minimalism.”
Colleen :: Le Jour Et La Nuit Du Reel: Cécile Schott’s latest under the Colleen banner, Le Jour Et La Nuit Du Réel—the day and night of reality—was tracked using a minimalistic setup, a Moog Grandmother and two delays: a Roland RE-201 Space Echo and a Moogerfooger Analog Delay. But it evokes a world between day and night, cloaked in bright shadows and unlit vastness, a reflection on loss and new discovery all at once.
Okonski :: Magnolia: Part of Magnolia’s magic is that it, one of the finest jazz-related releases of the year, did not set out to be the record it is. Intending more bombast, Steve Okonski, Aaron Frazer, and Michael Isvara “Ish” Montgomery instead went with the flow, and the result is a sublime half-hour that gives more than enough to leave one begging for more. It doesn’t swing or sway, instead packing more emotion into its tight and immaculately constrained confines than most could summon with words.
Water From Your Eyes :: Everyone’s Crushed: There’s something Wire-esque going on in Water From Your Eyes’ music. Not in the sense of it sounding like the post-punk titans, but because their challenging examination and compacting vision of modern music is simultaneously weird and engaging. Music that is in turns atonal, slinky and erratic, Everyone’s Crushed is a distant cousin to 154 – the kind of album that makes repeated listens radiate with an ache of uncertain necessity.
John Carroll Kirby :: Blowout: The Angeleno jazz maestro’s dizzy recent output is a treasure to behold. Blowout is the latest in the all killer trajectory of six solo records since his move to the Stones Throw label a few years back. Inspired by the regionality and local scenery of Puerto Rico (where the record was written), the keyboardist composes his singular medley of jazz, funk and beyond in a lively joyous affair. Be sure to stay for the dub variations of gems like “So So So” on side two.
The Belbury Poly :: The Path: Joined by a full band and poet Justin Hopper, electronic composer Jim Jupp utilized the ’70s soundtrack work of Roy Budd and Roger Webb as a starting point for his latest Belbury joint—but from there it’s off into outer zones, flute-led jazz passages, delay-soaked kosmische soundscapes, and bombastic bursts of wah-wah and fuzz guitar and funk drums, all while Hopper intones about the fae folk like an occult Ken Nordine.
Famous Mammals :: Instant Pop Expressionism Now!: Across 18 short songs, Famous Mammals paste together a splotchy collage of sound effects, noise makers, and tape loops. Lurching bummer-rock tunes and warped instrumentals are punctuated by hooky jams that pop up like a jack-in-the box at a junk shop.
The Drin :: Today My Friend You Drunk the Venom: Dystopian bangers skitter on the edge of catastrophe, grooving all the way over the edge. One-man post-punk phenom Dylan McCartney shrouds his voice in echo so that it resonates in your head, both while it’s playing and long, long afterwards.
Grails :: Anches en Maat / Ilyas Ahmed :: A Dream Of Another: Here, Grails dive headlong into a sleek, neon-lit zone, one you can imagine providing the awesome soundtrack for a prime-era Michael Mann flick, with a welcome dose of David Axelrod drama tossed in for good measure. Ominous, luminous and downright beautiful. Also downright beautiful — though in a completely different way — is latter-day Grails guitarist Ilyas Ahmed’s new solo LP. A Dream Of Another’s seven instrumentals are spectral and uncanny, offering listeners a strangely luminous world to wander amidst.
Adeline Hotel :: Hot Fruit: The previous folk guitar and piano work of Dan Knishkowy’s Adeline Hotel has eerily recalled works like Jim O’Rourke’s canonical fingerpicking records. On Hot Fruit, Knishkowy’s acoustic guitar is elevated with jazz flourishes and full blown orchestral elements. As evidenced on opening track “Beksul”, it’s a stunning collection of songs that maintain an understated beauty, recalling relics like Arthur Russell’s instrumentals collection.
Allah-Las :: ZUMA 85: Touching on seventies art pop, komische rhythms and post-Velvets Reed/Cale, ZUMA 85 finds Allah-Las at their most experimental and off the cuff. Like the Tropicalia-inspired cuts of their last record, this fresh sonic swagger is balanced with the band’s signature knack for catchy hooks and airy instrumentals. Perhaps it was the pandemic mini-hiatus, but this exciting direction breathes new depths into the group’s sun-soaked repertoire.
PAINT :: Loss for Words: For his third album, Paint’s Pedrum Siadatian makes a smart left turn from gauzy, garage-pop to dub-inflected music kosmische. Populated by drum machines, synths, xylophones, field recordings, and voice, Loss for Words is a noirish, at times almost disorienting, trip through Siadatian’s new sonic expressions. Across eleven tracks, it pushes an unnerving edge against more soothing, sensory baths of sound, maintaining an even-keeled cacophony to express psychic impressions flooded with more information than our modern language feels able to grasp.
L’Empire des Sons :: S/T: Details are scarce on this mysterious French art-pop record, a private press gem resurrected by Mexican Summer’s reissue imprint Anthology. A loose knit collective of musician friends, the ensemble managed proper studio recordings to create a bouncing, ethereal sound full of all kinds of percussion: xylophones, marimbas, congos and much more. Recorded in Saint-Etienne in the mid-eighties, L’Empire des Sons is a fascinating listen, touching on everything from chamber pop to jazz-funk, all with no apparent influence or clear intention in mind.
Graves – Gary Owens :: I Have Some Thoughts: Veteran indie songwriter Greg Olin goes country on Gary Owens: I have Some Thoughts, and the results are glorious. From psych-folk singalongs to the type of clever wordplay that recalls the likes of Ween’s 12 Golden Country Greats, the record is a showcase in the songwriting talents of Graves. Equal parts David Berman and Lee Hazlewood, it’s a clear-eyed work that brings together all of the charm that Olin’s songwriting has to offer, an accurately coined “moonstruck sweetness” per label Perpetual Doom.
Woods :: Perennial: The 11th album from Woods has a title that is pretty apt: the ever-returning flower, the plant that flourishes every year. While the three years between Perennial and its most immediate predecessor is the longest gap in the Woods discography in more than a decade, the result is a wealth of new blooms that feel like something bursting forth after an especially long winter. The album has a number of fully instrumental songs or even long passages that build a warm spring atmosphere around the album, and it makes Perennial a glowing addition to the ongoing Woods collection.
John Andrews & The Yawns :: Love for the Underdog: A glistening cinematic theme permeates Love for the Underdog, John Andrews’s most decorated album to date. At times stark and autobiographical lyrically, the record is full of catchy, AM golden pop songs as well as longer format pieces that capture a distinct, introspective mood. Like the essence of the classic moviegoing experience, kick back in a comfortable seat and enjoy.
The Mountain Goats :: Jenny From Thebes: The Mountain Goats parlor games are fun ones (ex.: “Would Darnielle have led la-la-la’d the distinctive, piano-led into to album opener ‘Clean Slate’ were he recording this record 20 years ago? In this paper . . .”). That Jenny… is ostensibly a sequel speaks to the wonderful duality of tMG: Darnielle’s writing has always been incredible and evocative, yet he continues to push his voice and (now full) band to do even more with those words. Throughout, Jenny… is enriched by a timbre and confidence that lifts and harmonizes all Darnielle pours into these songs.
Wednesday :: Rat Saw God: Asheville, North Carolina’s Wednesday has been on a tear over the past few years. This album’s crowded roar builds from moment one beneath Karly Hartzman’s tales of Appalachian ennui, but then out swim moments like “Chosen to Deserve,” a song about sharing the worst moments of your past with someone you trust. It’s one of a handful of songs that light up the darker moments – like a TV in a gas pump at night; like a rodent seeing the glory.
Kevin Morby :: More Photographs (A Continuum): A re-examination, a sequel, a continuation: all of these describe Kevin Morby’s More Photographs. More than just a companion piece to 2022’s This is a Photograph, the album works like a story continued. Themes are revisited through the re-recording and rearranging of a handful of songs from last year’s album situated alongside new songs, and the end results are what feel like a grand conclusion to one of Morby’s best moments in a career full of them.
The Replacements :: Tim (Let It Bleed Edition): The ongoing project of documenting and preserving the legacy of one of the great American rock and roll bands has hit a new peak. Having Ed Stasium, long-time engineering partner with original Tim producer Tommy Erdelyi, come in to give the album a new mix results in the album Replacements fans were meant to hear. Round that out with the Alex Chilton-lead sessions recorded before the album, and a complete live show from the late Bob Stinson-era of the band, and you’ve got a masterpiece of historical preservation and revisionism all in one. If you’ve lived with Tim for most of your life, it’s impossible to overstate how revelatory this new mix really is.
Nico Paulo :: Nico Paulo: On Nico Paulo’s self-titled debut, the St. John’s-based, Portuguese-Canadian artist makes bright, sweeping Tropicália-inflected jazz-folk & dream-pop. The album’s warm palette reveals a joyful idiosyncrasy, with baroque, choral leanings and occasional electric launches following Paulo through existential, lovelorn odysseys and contemplative walks through the elements. Always in motion, but patient and deliberate, Paulo dances despite her demons, in no fear of losing track of time.
The Free Music :: Habibi Funk 021: Free Music (Part 1): Compiling tracks off two 1976 albums from Libyan composer & producer Najib Alhoush’s band, The Free Music, this new installment from the always-winning Habibi Funk series absolutely smokes with a dizzying blend of soul, funk, disco, and reggae. Sincere to their name, The Free Music goes out on cosmic trips, letting their boogie-based sound get loose and weird. Alhoush carries a suave bravado on vocals, singing with a smooth assurance, and rips things to pieces on guitar, shredding with a fierce desperation, while the band stays armed and dangerous with hypnotic spells of boogie—bolting out smoldering dancefloor funk with jazzy, romanticist flute solos, spaced-out dungeon synths, and a dizzying rhythm section.
monde ufo :: Vandalized Statue to Be Replaced With Shrine: The second lp from cosmic LA weirdos monde ufo feels like a lost transmission caught on a fleeting, radio signal—Ray Monde and Kris Chau’s lysergic pop and bossa nova-laced psychedelia ghostly in its chimerical nonchalance. Like the house band of a long shuttered lounge, they play on, telling tales of childhood escapades, Marian apparitions, and Gilliam-esque bureaucratic surrealism. On occasion, they let their instruments do the storytelling, Monde’s sax and Chau’s signature singing bowl encompassing the spectacular and the mundane in equal, eerie measure.
Thomas Almqvist :: Nyanser: Swedish composer and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Almqvist’s 1979 debut, Nyanser, reissued this year via Be With Records, is a Nordic masterpiece of folk, fusion, and world music. A guitarist first and foremost, Almqvist plays the record largely himself, his patient and winding passages often leading the sojourn across the album’s majestic thirty-eight minutes. He also lends his hand at Rhodes, flute, synthesizer, tabla, bass drum, Amadinda, and all manners of percussion, the virtuosity of his playing spiritedly matched with the fervent erasure of genre—flowing freely between folk, jazz fusion, synth-pop, new age guitar, and heady dives into percussive, tribal chants.
Joseph Shabason :: Welcome To Hell: The Toronto saxophonist’s latest album is a passion project dating back to his formative years on a skateboard. Fluidly reinterpreting the score for Toy Machine’s classic 1996 video Welcome To Hell, Shabason both elevates and contrasts the action on screen with lush jazz-fusion songs performed by a nine-piece band.
Markus Floats :: Fourth Album: Until now, Montreal electronic artist Markus Floats has worked alone. On Fourth Album, he welcomes contributions from fellow members of the free-improv ensemble Egyptian Cotton Arkestra. Lacing their instrumentation into delicate, textural works, he concludes with the sampled voice of powerhouse thinker Fred Moten.
Chad VanGaalen/Astral Swans :: Split: Home-recording psychonauts Chad VanGaalen and Astral Swans share the sides of this beguiling split EP. Both artists welcome guest performances—from guitarist Alex Edkins (METZ/Weird Nightmare) and alto saxophonist Jairus Sharif, respectively. Tucked under blankets of hiss, these tunes burst with hooks.
Ryan Bourne :: Plant City: On his sophomore solo excursion, Chad VanGaalen’s longtime bassist discovers a world beyond ours. The bearded weirdo’s take on baroque psych-pop features hooks for days and mesmerizing instrumental interludes. Take a stroll through Plant City and you’ll never want to come home.
Danny Paul Grody :: Arc of Day: Just a perfect Day. These six gorgeous instrumentals take us from sunrise to sunset, their steadily unfolding grooves somehow acknowledging the inevitable passage of time and stopping it entirely. Ace guitarist Danny Paul Grody never rushes things — his tunes breathe deep, even when the tempo picks up, offering a sudden, refreshing breeze.
Hayden Pedigo :: The Happiest Times I Ever Ignored: The hype sticker on this stellar collection from Texas guitarist Hayden Pedigo proclaims it the “best guitar album of the last 100 years” and even if that over the top proclamation is intended as a jest, Pedigo nonetheless delivers his finest, most deeply polishes collection of songs yet. Like John Fahey before him, he doesn’t need lyrics to tell deep stories.
Daniel Bachman :: When The Roses Come Again: Equal measures creak and glitch, When The Roses Come Again deconstructs time, space, lineage, and landscape, into strain of guitar soli. Collaging guitar, banjo, field recordings, and salvaged bits of free improvisation, Bachman delivers a new musical artifact that serves as both a reminder of the past and harbinger of the future.
Elkhorn :: On the Whole Universe in All Directions: Back to basics as a duo, Elkhorn investigate the psychedelic hinterlands of jazz and folk, where strains of Drew Gardner’s vibraphone and percussion waft like a warm and welcome breeze through the multi-hued expanse of Jesse Sheppard’s 12-sting excursions.
Fortunato Durutti Marinetti :: Eight Waves in Search of An Ocean: Toronto-via-Turin songwriter Daniel Colussi surrounds himself with a murderer’s row of collaborators, including members of Elrichman, Motorists, and Energy Slime. As always, Colussi’s languid voice is placed at the forefront of his arrangements for a sound he describes as “poetic jazz rock.”
Maria Elena Silva :: Dulce: Maria Elena Silva sings in two languages (English/Spanish) but with one vibrant heart. Joined by Stephen Hodges and Marc Ribot (reunited for the first time since Rain Dogs), she leans into cascading rock moves and spooky folk. An enveloping listen through and through,
Ben Chasny and Rick Tomlinson :: Waves: Two master psych pickers unleash some transcendental acoustic interplay in Waves. Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance hazards lucid, lovely phrases, while Rick Tomlinson of Voices of the Seven Woods weaves in and around them. Though mostly gently lyrical, the music takes an unearthly turn in “Paths of Ocean Currents and Wind Belts,” with long, flickering drones that vibrate like mirages in the far distance.
Rose City Band :: Garden Party: A summer album that delivers powerful hits of sunshine even in the darkest days of winter, Garden Party is Rose City Band’s fourth LP in as many years. Ripley Johnson and friends just seem to be getting better and better with every passing note — plenty of Dead-adjacent vibes, sure, but plenty more rainbows to chase, too.
Kuku Sebsibe :: Kuku Sebsibe: Sourced from early cassette material, this is a beautiful slice of Ethiopian pop via the early works of singer Kuku Sebside. Backed by the country’s legendary Roha Band, the set moves between funky and sweet without missing a beat. The set comes via Portland’s Little Axe Records, who has recently been doing prolific work unearthing a dizzying number of eclectic African sounds.
Searchlight Moonbeam (Various Artists): Curated by London-based duo Time is Away (sound purveyors Jack Rollo and Elaine Tierney), Searchlight Moonbeam is a compilation so eclectic that it defies conventional categorization. A self proclaimed “narrative compilation”, Searchlight Moonbeam includes the lost soundtrack work of John Cassavetes film composer Bo Harwood, dusty avant-proq instrumentals, Slap Happy deep cuts, and that’s just scratching the surface. A meticulously crafted symposium of ethereal yet comforting sounds.
Hollie Cook :: Happy Hour In Dub: Formerly of British post-punk band The Slits, singer/keyboardist Holly Cook has had a glorious second act with her self-proclaimed “tropical pop” solo works. Touching on all of the elements of canonical exotica, this is a dub reworking of last year’s Happy Hour album, inspired by lovers’ rock reggae. Highlighting the drum and bass foundation with new vocal parts, these dub variations are a bouncing genre-bending experiment that is pure ear candy.
Never Young Beach :: Arigato: The title a tribute to folk musician Chu Kosaka’s 1971 album, Arigato is the most mature work of Tokyo-based Never Young Beach. The band takes inspiration from the foundational Japanese folk rock like Kosaka and the legendary Happy End, with their own blend of upbeat and youthful energy. Despite the more widespread solo work of their singer Yuma Abe, the band has yet to see a stateside admiration of their work, one that is sure to change in the near future.
Dire Wolves :: Easy Portals: Gathering for the first time since their 2019 European tour, the fall 2022 Dire Wolves sessions in Oakland apparently yielded a bounty of new material, the first taste of which was on full display with the engrossing Easy Portals. Across four tracks ranging from just under five minutes to just over seventeen, Jeffrey Alexander & co. journey through earthy, sprawling psychedelic rock and brooding, experimental freak folk. Marina Lazzara’s warped, nocturnal vocals haunt the grooves while Ajrun Mendiratta’s violin, Taralie Peterson’s saxophone, J. Lee’s farfisa organ, Sheila Bosco’s percussion, Brian Lucas’ bass, and Alexander’s guitar meld into an ever-shifting prism of chugging, weeping, and, yes, howling improvisation.
Langendorf United :: Yeahno Yowouw Land: The seeds for Langendorf United—a new quintet led by Swedish composer & saxophonist Lina Langendorf—took root in 2013 when she traveled to Addis Ababa, practicing Ethiopian scales and tonalities while studying the music of Mulatu Astatke, Getatchew Mekuria and Hailu Mergia. Ten years later, she emerged with Yeahno Yowouw Land, a smoldering mind-meld of free, spiritual, ethio-jazz recorded over two days with players from Sweden and Norway. A sprawling double album with space enough to venture into the outer realms of prog-rock fusion jammers and screeching, sludgy free-jazz dissonance, it crackles with spontaneity and boundless motion—viola, keys, and bass experience a psychedelic coalescence while Langendorf searches frantically and fearlessly on her horn.
Takeshi Terauchi :: Eleki Bushi 1966-1974: Guitar wizard Takeshi Terauchi’s outings with his bands The Bunnys and The Blue Jeans are at the forefront of Japanese electric surf rock. The man’s manic and hypnotic approach to the guitar waltzes with woozy psychedelic rhythms, fuzzy garage vistas, and traditional minimalist modes alike, bending his strings with a sparkling fervor that sends these songs out into the stratosphere. The sounds on this collection are explosive, strange, and occasionally winking, but always thrilling, and often funky as hell. Essential stuff.
Various Artists :: Tokyo Riddim 1976-1985: Surveying the late 70s through mid 80s reggae craze in Japan, Tokyo Riddim 1976-1985 is one of the year’s more instantly enjoyable archival compilations. With slinky grooves and sturdy backbeats, tracks like Miki Hirayama’s “Denshi Lenzi” and Lily’s “Tenkini Naare” exude a slyly intoxicating and playful, offbeat funk. Elsewhere, Chu Kosaka’s forlorn, elliptical “Music,” Junko Yagami anti-apartheid rally “Johannesburg,” and Izumi “Mimi” Kobayashi’s sultry, longing “Lazy Love” bridge cross-cultural pleas for healing, peace, freedom, and casual sex with slithering synth bass, bluesy saxophone, woozy organ, and city-pop sheen. A certified good time.
Setting :: Shone a Rainbow Light: Like Fripp and Eno holed up in a mountain cabin looking for UFOs, Setting’s debut is a luminous slice of kosmische Appalachia that’s like scanning the horizon until you lose all separation between earth and sky.
The Royal Arctic Institute :: From Coma to Catharsis: The music you hear at the cocktail lounge co-owned by David Lynch and Les Baxter in the deepest recesses of your subconscious.
Nucleus :: Elastic Rock: In the early ‘70s, Ian Carr’s ever-evolving UK jazz-rock ensemble Nucleus divined the elusive midpoint between the spacey fuzz jams of Canterbury Scene prog and the heady funk of Miles’ early electric era. Long treasured by heads and diggers alike, the first three Nucleus slabs are finally back in circulation courtesy of the good folks at Be With Records. While they’re each essential in their own right, it all begins with Elastic Rock.
MV & EE :: Green Ark: Everyone’s favorite wooly, woodland wielders of the vibe eternal keep it coming with this dubbed out free folk jammer. Listening to Green Ark is like navigating the bardo chambers of MV & EE’s musical consciousness, each one with its own pull and flow to the far flung reaches of their Spectrasound universe. Get gone!
Dan Melchior Band :: Welcome to Redacted City: Twenty-one vignettes brace Dan Melchior’s biting sarcasm and obscure cultural references with banging beats and fuzz. Each is a skewed, frayed, feedback-blasted world unto itself, whether the giddy threat of “Going Outside,” the b-movie sci-fi wallop of “The Man with the X-Ray Brain” or the thumping, pounding anti-intellectual pose of “No Culture.” You have to work a little to find Dan’s records, but as always, it’s worth it.
Blues Ambush :: Blues Ambush: Blues Ambush waves a tattered freak flag in the gnarly, beatific winds of the band’s smoked-out scuzz-bucket boogie. Turn on, turn up, and space out, but heed warning: this stuff will turn your speakers to puddles of molten goo.
Ratboys :: The Window: This Chris Walla-produced album feels like a natural culmination of the first eight years of Ratboys’ career. While there are moments on The Window that feel new to the band – the eight-plus minute “Black Earth, WI” is their longest album song ever and channels something between the Tragically Hip and Whiskeytown – the album is also just an immaculate band hitting its stride. The leap from 2017’s “Elvis in the Freezer” to this album’s “Morning Zoo” feels relatively short, but the differences are astounding.
Shame :: Food for Worms: Shame’s third full-length burns with the kind of angry empathy that feels more and more at large in the world. Its songs find the universal in the specific, whether it’s Adderall, Napoleon, or the friend who buys “blacker shoes, cut shorter hair, use[s] bigger words like ‘debonair.’” By the time “Orchid” finishes its mid-album stroll and singer Charlie Steen is hypnotically chanting that he knows “you hide behind yourself,” the album has already woven together a chaotic and modern fabric that fits your every contour.
Sylvester :: Private Recordings: August 1970: One summer afternoon, Sylvester and pianist Peter Mintun sat down with a collection of sheet music from their favorite jazz, blues, and gospel tunes. With his signature falsetto already fully formed, the 22-year-old Sylvester’s earliest known recordings illuminate how he became a queer disco superstar.
Charif Megarbane :: Marzipan: On Habibi Funk’s first contemporary full-length release, producer Charif Megarbane introduces a genre that he calls “Lebrary Music,” drawing on the bustling sounds of Lebanon. As a musical travelog to the Mediterranean, these jazzy mood pieces fulfill the desires of exotic wanderlust.
Jim O’Rourke :: Hands That Bind OST: O’Rourke’s score for director Kyle Armstrong’s “prairie gothic” horror film captures the vastness of its setting in the farmlands of Alberta. Layering synths, strings, and isolated elements from his Steamroom series, the bucket hatted one shows his prowess at composing poignant songs for the big screen.
Prairiewolf :: Prairiewolf: Whether you call them cosmic country or ambient Americana, Prairiewolf are masters of the form. Using the Mellotron, lap steel guitar, and a sputtering rhythm box, the trio featuring Aquarium Drunkard writer Tyler Wilcox have hitched onto a sound both rustic and otherworldly.
Cian Nugent :: She Brings Me Back To The Land Of The Living: Cian Nugent takes a measured approach on his first release in seven years, offering eight subtly crafted songs that draw their considerable strength from understatement. And while the album doesn’t feature grand, blown-out epics, don’t worry—Cian’s sharp, Richard Thompson-esque guitar skills shine through in every track.
M. Sage :: Paradise Crick: Paradise Crick feels like a breakthrough for the Colorado-based musician M. Sage. It’s not so much an album as it is an enveloping landscape, teeming with ever-shifting textures and vibrant colors. Granola ambient music with a sense of humor and warmth — hop on in, the water’s just fine.
Daniel Villarreal :: Lados B: Stripped down but wide open, drummer Daniel Villarreal’s latest is a trio session featuring Jeff Parker (the guitarist’s winning streak remains unbroken) and bassist extraordinaire Anna Butterss. Together, they move as one, conjuring up some truly organic music that shimmers and sparkles with both precision and abandon.
Golden Brown :: Wide Ranging Rider: Wide Ranging Rider is Stefan Beck’s most guitar soli effort yet — there’s just a light sprinkling of overdubbed fairy dust on the album’s 10 absorbing tracks. The dialed-back tones/zones suit him well, bringing his winsome/Windham melodies and expert fingerpicking to the fore. Casually dazzling, always uplifting.
Matthew Halsall :: An Ever Changing View: Manchester trumpeter Matthew Halsall has harnessed one of the year’s most mind-mellowing collections of music. Harps, thumb pianos, and understated electronics make his shifting perspective full of surprises. The flute line from “Water Street” will linger long after the album is done.
Stella Kola :: S-T: One of the year’s best surprises came from these Western Mass freak-folk all stars, whose members include Beverly Ketch from Bunwinkies and Rob Thomas from Sunburned, aided by P.G. Six, Wednesday Knudson, Willy Lane and sundry others. It’s a Pentangle /Fairport/ Incredible String band vibe but touched with glitter dust—and absolute magic live.
Beirut :: Hadsel: Imagine going to far northern Norway in January and coming back, not with a bad case of seasonal affective disorder, but this gorgeous album. Zach Condon transmuted the storms around him into thrilling timbres from pipe organ, layered choral vocals and decidedly modern, electronic beats. Let it snow.
Melanas :: Ahora: Ahora rattles through a cloud of buzz, its bright all-female energy sheathed in shadowy, ominous drone. This all-female four-person fuzz rock band from Pamplona, Spain raised the stakes significantly in this third full-length, enlarging a garage rock palette with darker, more mysterious sounds.
Mudhoney :: Plastic Eternity: Wild, spiraling psychedelia, sharp-toothed political commentary, potty humor, dogs—this 11th album from Mudhoney has it all. Dive into the third-eye opening “Almost Everything,” with its unhinged squall, chuckle grimly to word-playing “Cry Me an Atmospheric River” or enjoy a full-on belly laugh to sardonic but meaning it, “Little Dogs.” These punk grunge founding fathers aren’t done yet.
Anna St. Louis :: In The Air: Imagine Hope Sandoval making an Emmylou Harris-inspired country rock LP and you’re on the right path with Anna St. Louis’ latest — her best effort yet. St. Louis isn’t quite as gloomy as Sandoval, though; underneath her hushed tones, there’s plenty of wit and humor.
Ryan Davis & The Roadhouse Band :: Dancing On The Edge: An extraordinary effort from Ryan Davis. This is the Louisville songwriter’s first record under his own name, but you may have heard his excellent work with State Champion previously. With talented pals like Joan Shelley and Freakwater’s Catherine Irwin along for the ride, the long, winding tunes on Dancing On The Edge are marvelously intricate creations, bringing to mind David Berman at his best.
Dave Easley :: Ballads: Pedal steel maestro Dave Easley returns with another beguilingly beautiful collection, wherein he tackles standards by Ornette Coleman, Sonny Sharrock, Duke Ellington and more. Aided and abetted by an all-star band including Jeff Parker, Jay Bellerose and Dave Tranchina, Ballads is pure stardust through and through.
Lemon Quartet :: ArtsFest: The so-called “ambient jazz” world is well-populated at this point — but it’s hard to think of anyone doing this kind of thing as well as the Lemon Quartet. There’s a pleasing looseness and free-flow to the compositions on ArtsFest, a sense of discovery and curiosity. Far from hermetically sealed, this is an inviting sonic environment for the listener, melodies blossoming, interplay unfurling.
Dream Syndicate :: History Kinda Pales When It And You Are Aligned: The Dream Syndicate’s feedback-soaked 1982 debut, The Days of Wine and Roses, has been reissued plenty over the years. This terrific four-disc set should be the final word on it, gathering an abundance of live material, rehearsal tapes, outtakes and various other ephemera into a thoroughly satisfying whole. You just can’t beat two guitars, bass and drums.
Various Artists :: Canto A Lo Divino: Culled from an archive of hundreds of hours of intimate field recordings of sacred music from cantors of Chile’s Central Valley, Mississippi Record’s Canto A Lo Divino (I Sing To The Divine) is one of the more intimate and soul-stirring collections of music to be released this year. Prominently featuring the 25-stringed guitarrón and voices that are mysterious, fragile, and pained, but never without a torrent of devotion, the sounds here are absolutely spellbinding. One need not be religious, nor necessarily believe in the visions of saints or angels, to enjoy this enchanting music. Just press play, and let your cup runneth over with the poetry of life.
maya ongaku :: Approach to Anima: On their debut album, this trio of childhood friends—Tsutomu Sonoda on guitar and vocals, Ryota Takano on bass, and Shoei Ikeda on percussion and synth—feels fully at peace with itself as a band, emitting smoky, alchemic jazz-folk. Fitting right alongside the psychedelic folk and experimental kosmiche of local Guruguru Brain label mates Kikaguaku Moyo and Minami Deutsch, maya ongaku slyly creeps up on you with its meditative, earthy approach, employing additional instrumentation such as rain stick, vibraslap, flexatone, bug shaker, and “sei water” to their warm and spontaneously mystical sounds.
Leo Takami :: Next Door: On Next Door, the Tokyo-based composer and guitarist Leo Takami continues to craft his own fantastical vision of jazz-fusion, augmented with elements of minimalism, classical music, Japanese gagaku, and ambience. Crystalline piano fantasias and meditative, cozy guitar knots fall across the album like snowflakes, Takami’s nutmeg-flavored fusion—with its serene Windham Hall/ECM influences on full display—arriving right on time for the holidays.
Andy Shauf :: Norm: Shauf’s seventh album is the kind of art that lyrical critics should pore over for years. His continued refinement and exploration of a softer, more breezy style of pop rock leads to Norm and its polyphonic story of a stalker, a lover, and a god who seems frustrated with the actions of all involved. It’s the kind of discomfiting album that reads like a revelation; a self-aware travelogue with a triptych of all the ways we can go wrong.
Eyelids :: A Colossal Waste of Light: The indie-rock pedigree of all the members of Eyelids is kind of overwhelming, and the music on this album – their first since 2020 and entirely composed remotely during lockdown – is a vibrant mix of the kind of swirling, psychedelic power-pop that so many of the members’ other projects evoke. In plumbing the depths of the last 50 years of rock and roll, it manages to make everything sound warmly new again.
Youth Lagoon :: Heaven is a Junkyard: The deeply personal songs that run across Heaven is a Junkyard find Trevor Powers exploring things that feel like soft pop, flourishes of country, and even minimalist piano explorations, sometimes all woven together at once. Much like a junkyard, the beauty lies in the temporary arrangement of all of these pieces – move any one of them, and the spell might feel broken.
Fabiano do Nascimento :: Mundo Solo: Fabiano do Nascimento seems weary of the “Brazilian music” label, at least when it ties him to particular artistic expectations. He prefers to aim for an impossible universality than to ever be pigeonholed to an ideal of national sound. His new solo material, out via Brazilian music aficionados Far Out, complicates this ambivalence. The recordings highlight Nascimento’s virtuoso playing, reminiscent of the best Pat Metheny, while the production layers conjure oozy, glistening textures that bind the transcendental folk innuendos of the guitars to mind-bending, synthetic ornaments.
Stephen Steinbrink :: Disappearing Coin: There’s a delightful theme about missing money that runs through the latest from Stephen Steinbrink. Whether it’s a metaphor of a magical coin illusion (a place that exists between “their ears and nowhere real”) or dropping a coin between the seats of a car where it undoubtedly remains lost, there’s a wistful reflection at work among the album’s soft folk and structured, airy pop. It feels like a perfect album for reflecting on just what the sudden disappearances mean in our lives.
Edsel Axle :: Variable Happiness: Rosali Middleman’s melodic lines of feedback laden guitar beam through a warm haze of fuzz like shards of crysaline light, illuminating new possibilites for electric guitar that are all at one homey and disorienting.
BCMC :: Foreign Smokes: Bill MacKay and Cooper Crain set sail through the outer reaches of Floydian space into the shimmering beyond with Foreign Smokes. These vaporous fantasias for guitar and keys are a dream you don’t want to wake from. If you’re lucky, you won’t.
Hiroshi Yoshimura :: Surround: A warm, spacious respite from the noise of the world, Surround envelops listeners and sets them adrift on gentle currents of synth toward new spaces between sound and music. An absolute masterpiece from one of the pioneering maestros of environmental music.
Fran :: Leaving: On Leaving, the second album from Fran (aka Maria Jacobson), the Chicago-based singer-songwriter delivers a hushed masterstroke of chamber folk and scorched indie-rock. Inspired by philosopher Alan Watts’ Wisdom of Insecurity, which seeks not to escape reality, but to accept it with full awareness and find peace in doing so, the songs here tackles heavy, existential concerns—grief, isolation, heartbreak, the simple act of existing on a world that seems less habitable with each passing day. Jacobson and her band play with a quiet confidence, a joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. This record was a true constant companion this year, and while we can’t wait to hear what she does next, this’ll hold for as long as that takes.
Mike Cooper :: Life and Death In Paradise: Recorded in 1974 with with a trio of free jazz luminaires,I was Mike Cooper’s world-weary would-be swansong. Full of faded grandeur and the slipstream poeticism, Cooper’s majestically surreal travelogues through burnt-out glam wastelands still leave you wondering whether the last stop is doom or redemption.
The Air Music International :: Pass the Santa-Lucia Gate in Manila: Reissued by Slovakian label Music That Shapes, this 1984 mutated, experimental pop juggernaut was originally self-pressed in Osaka at 100 copies. The brainchild of horn-player, vocalist, and sound manipulator Tetsuji Kakuni, whose saxophone, suona, distorted vocals, and tape operation lurk across the record mischievously, the sounds on Pass the Santa-Lucia Gate in Manila are stylistically sprawling, thrashing across borders and splattering the tape with an unholy concoction of reggae, no-wave, psychedelic rock, and audio experimentation.
Girma Yifrashewa :: My Strong Will: The follow up to his gorgeous 2014 solo record, Love and Peace, Ethiopian pianist Girma Yifrashewa’s My Strong Will finds him chambering up, joining Bulgarian musicians and the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra for stunningly precise and emotive pieces that marry the styles of Ethiopian music with Western classical sensibilities to almost pristine effect. The music dances between light flutters of piano and stern dashes of violins, cascading keys and romantic swells of strings. It’s a gorgeous record that can feel transcendently healing and sternly demanding of your attention at the same time, not unlike the most precious moments of life.
Equipment Pointed Ankh :: From Inside the House / Downtown! / Live at Torn Light: The mutated and industrial avant-pop of Louisville’s Equipment Pointed Ankh was one of our favorite discoveries this year, and while the band has been at it for at least six years, their four releases in 2023—two studio albums, a collection of outtakes, and a live recording—more than helped us make up for being late to the party. Like some sort of forbidden love child of The B-52’s, Neu!, and the thornier side of Penguin Café Orchestra, the band’s music is arresting and surprising—an envelope-pushing statement of sonic adventure with a kitchen sink approach that bridges no-wave rock and industrial drone with chamber-jazz and ambient kosmische, Some truly sacred, weirdo work at play here.
Various Artists – Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos: A veritable treasure trove of remarkable demo recordings that celebrate and bring into the light the unsung songwriters of Stax’s golden age. Seven discs, 146 tracks, 140 of them previously unreleased. Some songs here went on to become beloved standards, others fell by the wayside. Each one is a little gem.
Gram Parsons & The Fallen Angels – The Last Roundup: Gram Freaks Unite! The Last Roundup offers a newly unearthed soundboard tape of Parsons and his short-lived Fallen Angels band playing Philadelphia in the spring of 1973. The main draw, of course, is hearing more of Gram and Emmylou Harris’ immaculate blend. Their perfect vocal harmony still stands as one of the great wonders of modern music, whether the pair are plumbing the depths of “Love Hurts” or rollicking through Merle Haggard’s “California Cottonfields.”
Brendan Eder Ensemble :: Therapy: “I tried not to over complicate the compositions, the power that ambient music has comes from subtlety and repetitiveness”, Brendan Eder says on the mentality of his latest work Therapy. Those compositions, including woodwind arrangements, alto sax and plenty of organ, were recorded in a church sanctuary in Arcadia, California. The jazz composer’s chamber ensemble weaves soundscapes that draw inspirations from Aphex Twin, including the atmospheric cover of “20 (Lichen)”. A fascinating, meditative listen from beginning to end.
Shizuka :: Heavenly Persona: The only studio album from Shizuka, which was released on CD back in 1994, gets a lavish vinyl reissue from the Black Editions label. Heavenly Persona opens with shards of raw, piercing feedback, initially tricking the listener into thinking this is a heady Japanese noise band. Once Shizuka Miura enters on ghostly vocals, however, we’re transported somewhere else entirely.
Cornelius :: Dream in Dream: Partially inspired by Haruomi Hosono and Yellow Magic Orchestra, Dream in Dream is quite possibly Cornelius’s strongest collection of songs since 1997’s seminal Fantasma. On lead single “Sparks”, a newfound burst of catchy songcraft is a microcosm to the full palette to come. With lush, ambient instrumentals and lyrical collaboration with Shintaro Sakamoto, Dream in Dream everything you’d hope for in a signature return to form.
Peter One :: Come Back To Me: Come Back To Me might just be the year’s best comeback story. Now in his late sixties and based in Nashville, Ivorian folk musician Peter One was once a sensation in West Africa upon releasing the 1985 album Our Garden Needs Its Flowers with partner Jess Sah Bi. Come Back To Me is the musician’s first solo offering after such an extended hiatus, a beautiful work touching on the most charming foundations of acoustic folk and African pop music.
Yuma Abe :: Surprisingly Alright: “Keep dancing until I’m dead”, Yuma Abe sings on translated lyrics from “Igaito Nanka Heiki”. In addition to his band Never Young Beach’s new record and providing guest vocals on Spencer Cullum’s record, Abe found time to release an EP follow up to 2022’s promising solo debut Fantasia. Recalling Hosono’s tropical album trilogy in the seventies, this five song collection is like a dose of fresh warmth: airy, playful pop songs that simply move.
Puzzle Pulsion :: Pygmalistique: Funk-driven Caribbean grooves encapsulate Pygmalistique, the lone record from mysterious duo Puzzle Pulsion (French groovers Patrick Valey and and Jean Arcon), quietly reissued by Anthology this year. Best described as proto-zouk (an early eighties musical movement based in the French West Indies), these are deep, danceable grooves with a distinct flair of the overlapping vocals.
Mega Bog :: End of Everything: Riding through abstract waves of eighties style production, End of Everything is a languid, synth-pop tour de force. The dark, experimental pop of Mega Bog (the ensemble led by Los Angeles musician Erin Birgy) is accurately described as “nightmarish” on this sixth album, and a better synonym for these murky vibes is not likely to be found.
Som Imaginário :: Banda du Capital: This exciting archival discovery gives us a glimpse of the electric live prowess of legendary Brazilian outfit Som Imaginário. Fuzz guitar and jazz rhythms flow freely throughout this recording (a 1976 concert at a Brazilian art museum), from improvisational jams to the band’s material backing Milton Nascimento. At times recalling the psychedelia of early Soft Machine, Banda Du Capital captures what made the band among the very best of the MPB movement.
Pauline Anna Strom :: Echoes, Spaces, Lines: A generous collection that compiles the first three albums (as well as a bonus, unreleased album) released in the early eighties by the late Bay Area composer, healer, and medium. Home-recorded exploratory synthesizer music of the highest degree. Twinkling, towering, and incredibly moving.
Aaron Dooley :: The International Dissociation Of: Possibilities abound in Aaron Dooley’s heady brew of jazz and cosmic psych rising like Rocky Mountain mists from the tunes here. International Dissociation Of: is the soundtrack of the spiritual acid Western projected on your eyelids while you dream.
Tony Williams Lifetime :: Emergency! : By melding virtuosity to sheer sonic might, The Tony Williams Lifetime catalyzed fusion with their incendiary debut, forever altering the landscape of jazz and rock. More than 50 years on, Emergency! remains volatile as ever, capable of melting minds and faces in the ecstatic throes of amplified bliss.
Matt Lajoie :: On Garudan Wing: The culmination of Matt Lajoie’s sequence of solo guitar works exploring the five elements of nature, the spontaneously composed mediations of On Garudan Wing winds steadily upward from earthly realms to seraphic heights. If Laraaji, Popol Vuh, and Terry Riley are mainstays of your personal listening sessions, this one’s for you.
Orions Belte :: Women: Old friends Orions Belte return with a welcome dose of their groove-laced instrumental pop on their third studio album. This time around, strings and echo washed vocals nod lovingly toward maestros like Vannier and Verocai, while the group’s sense of time and space remain uniquely and unalterably their own
Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru :: Jerusalem: A sublime archival release of “unreleased or virtually inaccessible” piano pieces from the Ethiopian nun who passed away in March of 2023. Idiosyncratic and extraordinary, falling somewhere between Erik Satie playing barrelhouse piano and transcendental liturgical music. Life-affirming music for believers or nonbelievers alike.
Vanille :: La clairière: The second full-length from Montreal-based songwriter Rachel Leblanc is a glimmering affair that unassumingly blends pastoral British folk with the mellower end of the sixties yé-yé explosion—imagine a Françoise Hardy album produced by Joe Boyd. Leblanc’s tranquil voice and fingerpicked guitar is delicately adorned with sparkling arrangements of woodwinds, harpsichord and autoharp, and the result is as magical as the album cover depicts.
Woo :: Into the Heart of Love: A gorgeous, unabridged reissue of the Ives brothers’ magnum opus, originally self-released on cassette in 1988. With an unbelievably consistent and rewarding discography numbering dozens of releases, it remains their most expansive work—a gentle, homespun blend of idyllic guitars, vocoded clarinets, lullaby vocals and mesmerizing electronics. New Age, cosmic, spiritual, healing—these descriptors get dropped daily, but the truly special music of Woo truly exemplifies them and more. Sui generis.
Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs :: New Folk Songs for Children: Children’s music is a genre that is unfortunately divided off from the rest of modern music, but Cass McCombs teamed up with an old friend, Mr. Greg, a current preschool teacher, to take a stab at creating a modern version of folk music for kids. The songs are goofy, lovely, jump around genres and follow in the ecological footsteps of Raffi. It’s a record that, even as an adult, is worth listening to just to remind yourself of the bright way kids do and should be encouraged to see the world.
Bonny Doon :: Let There Be Music: Do not be fooled – sure, Let There Be Music is full of gentle whimsy, folksy fun, and sincere emotions. But damn if this thing doesn’t rip. “Crooked Creek” is a rocker, the same is true for “Roxanne” – both ending with bombastic flourishes of fuzzed-out guitars. Elsewhere, the music swings, bops, taking jaunty, fun asides. The throughline – from the gentle to the jagged – is yet another LP of stellar songwriting begging for a wider audience.
Natural Child :: Be M’Guest: The album-by-album transition of Natural Child from no-fuck giving rockers who wrote great songs with catchy tunes to a smoother, funkier, and softer version of the same has been a sight to behear. Out is being a dick at 8AM; in is sipping margheritas in the moonlight. Where once its dual lead vocalists snarled, they now serenade. Shreds still abound and the attitude remains – but Natural Child is more welcoming than ever.
Taper’s Choice :: History of Taper’s Choice Vol. 1 (Taper’s Choice): They can claim to be a capital-J Jam band, but on their first full-length “studio” record, Taper’s Choice shows much more than that. From prog to freaky folk to music concrete to, yes, Phish and the Dead, “History of . . .” is more adventurous and rewarding than what one usually expects from bands with live-first (or only) reputations, and stands on its own as a rock-adjacent LP. Tenorio-Miller is a revelation on keys; Bleeker an adept and versatile bassist, and the vocal contrast between him and drummer Chris Tomson – whose skills translate seamlessly into this jam-hybrid setting – play excellently against and with each other; Harrington’s contributions – as both a virtuosic guitarist and producer/splicer – are the glue that binds and elevates the stew.
Julie Byrne :: The Greater Wings: Between sweeping, fine-China delicate arrangements and her own delicate fingerpicking, Julie Byrne’s voice carries a gravity that brings the substantial grief and sorrow permeating throughout into a gentle orbit. While The Greater Wings is a fantastic record, channeling pain and love and loss into something so cohesive, beautiful and well-articulated is a stunning accomplishment and testament to seeing through the things we love even when those we love are no longer there to relish in it with us.
North Americans :: Long Cool World: Patrick McDermott and Barry Walker Jr. unfold Long Cool World slowly, remaining steadfast in their dharma of “simple music” as North Americans. Peals of pedal steel entwine with gentle fingerpicked guitar, revealing the harmonious nature of the duo’s diamond mind. There are depths and distances that make the music easy to get lost in, but you find yourself right at home before long.
Bobby Lee :: Endless Skyways: Bobby Lee soars the friendly skies on zephyrs of pure celestial boogie with his third long player. Fueled by Lee’s patented homebrew of twang and choogle, Endless Skyways is a woozy, acid-washed trip straight into the ozone, where it’s more than just the altitude that gets your head feeling lighter.
Emergency Group :: Inspection of Cruelty: Inspection of Cruelty careens toward the heart of deep space, powered by the internal combustion of Emergency Group’s fearless and freewheeling improvisational prowess. If you’ve ever pondered what it might sound like if Can took a stab at “Dark Star,” this one’s for you. And doon’t sleep on the follow-up, Venal Twin, either.
Byard Lancaster :: It’s Not Up To Us: Originally released in 1968, It’s Not Up To Us is Byard Lancaster’s undersung gem of spiritual fire music. Melding free jazz, gutbucket R&B, and folk traditions with support from Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Lancaster turns standards like “Misty” and “Over the Rainbow” into prayers, while “John’s Children” is a post-Coltrane rallying cry that would find another incarnation as “Many Mansions” on Sharrock’s Ask The Ages decades later.
Damien Jurado :: Motorcycle Madness: Damien Jurado was on an ultra productive tear in 2023, dropping three albums, Sometimes You Hurt the Ones You Hate, Passing the Giraffes, and the best of the bunch, Motorcycle Madness, a noisy, saxophone and lo-fi funk odyssey. Jurado is walking his own path and following it into the far off zone.
Asake :: Work of Art: If you’re not well (or at all) steeped in modern African pop, Asake’s music is a fantastic introduction. The Nigerian megastar fuses genres – from afropop to R&B to house and its many subgenres within Africa – with enviable ease and croons as easily as he spits. While Work of Art doesn’t reinvent the wheel created with the earlier Mr. Money with the Vibe, the heightened elements here – namely group sing and the occasional strings – elevate the sophomore effort to a place where Asake’s crossover appeal can only continue to rise.
Kara Jackson :: Why Does the Earth Give Us People To Love: It’s not just a past accolade: Kara Jackson is a poet. The lyrics stand out on Why Does the Earth…, an album so full of emotion and attitude that it could, standing on only Jackson’s incredible vocal performance, be enjoyed without any of the music that accompanies it. Luckily, however, Jackson paints a fuller picture with the selective inclusion of instrumental accompaniment, placed perfectly-just-so as to paint a picture so full it remains a revelation to listen back and realize how much canvas remains. Even when completely filled in – such as on “pawnshop” – Jackson has an otherworldly ability for when to stretch her voice and accompanists to meet the demands of her words.
Deeper :: Careful! : Deeper doesn’t break new ground, doesn’t reinvent any wheel – it’s every buzzword and comparison thrown at it. Instead, the Chicago group put their heads down (and sure, gaze at their shoes a bit) and do damn good work. Their latest is an album full of rigid and pounding sounds with one foot planted firmly in its post-punk roots and one striding forward at a clipped pace.
Misha Panfilov :: Atlântico: Estonian composer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Misha Panfilov continues to operate in his own diaphanous waters where waves of funk, jazz, and exotica crash upon mystic sands of psychedelic rock and kosmische music. Recorded in the archipelago of Madeira, his latest album, Atlântico, shifts tectonic plates of space and sound, leaving a decidedly more spiritual and serene landscape in its wake.
Alex Sadnik :: Flight: One of this year’s best straight-ahead jazz sessions…though maybe most straight-ahead jazz sessions don’t prominently feature pedal steel guitar. Alex Sadnik’s Flight takes on the work of Charlie Parker—every alto saxophonist’s white whale—and manages to make it all sound fresh again. No mean feat when we’re talking about standards that have been covered endlessly over the years…
Pachyman :: Switched On Pachyman: Brain soothing dub, synth funk, and Latin swoon. From the easy listening pulse of the title track (offset by dubby burbles of sound) to the smooth glide of “Toyota Nuevo,” Pachyman never fails to float.
Sqürl :: Silver Haze: Silver Haze finds Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan in their collaborative setting yet, welcoming in Charlotte Gainsbourg for the dreamlike recitation “John Ashbery Takes a Walk,” post-punk mystic Anika, who joins Jarmusch on vocals on the Sonic Youth-recalling “She Don’t Wanna Talk About It,” and guitarist Marc Ribot, who adds his tangled, snarled guitar work to “Garden of Glass” and “Il Deserto Rosso.” The result is SQÜRL’s most expansive outing to date, a long form listen that evokes the patient, meditative drifts of Jarmusch’s best films.
Sufjan Stevens :: Javelin: Javelin’s sound is singularly Stevens: from his hushed-tone singing to the brash pomp and swirling choruses, he continues to operate in a lane all his own. Javelin treads on familiar themes at new depths, exploring with a deep intimacy the contours of difficult emotions. Throughout, Stevens weaves his words and music into an intertwined symphony, resulting in perhaps his greatest effort to date.
Buck Curran: The Long Distance: Buck Curran may be best known for his displays of acoustic guitar prowess, but this outing finds him adding engaging swells of cosmic synthesizer to the mix. Sounding like soundtrack music for an unseen Werner Herzog film, the long distance is a reminder that Curran is a multi-faceted creator.
Sam Burton :: Dear Departed: Los Angeles singer/songwriter Sam Burton isn’t trying to “reinvent the wheel” with his sophomore album, Dear Departed. Crafted in collaboration with Jonathan Wilson (Margo Price, Angel Olsen, Father John Misty) in Laurel Canyon, it incorporates familiar and trusted elements—think Nick Drake at his most windswept, Leonard Cohen in a slightly sweeter mood, or a less rhinestoned Glen Campbell—but Burton presents his own vision, an unhurried and gentle sight at that. “I took the long way around,” he sings on the beautiful “Long Way Around,” a soulful, George Harrison-styled ballad that served as the record’s North Star.
Contributors: Justin Gage, Jason P. Woodbury, Tyler Wilcox, Chad DePasquale, Jennifer Kelly, Jesse Locke, Kaley Evans, Jarrod Annis, Mark Neeley, Josh Neas, and Ben Kramer