The 100 Best Recordings of 2023 (Part 1 of 2)
All styles, all genres
Extraordinary new music is still happening. It’s just harder to find.
Many of the most creative musicians today receive almost no coverage in the media. They get little airplay on radio. And you will almost never see them on TV.
My goal is to give visibility to this amazing music—and I try to operate without limitations or boundaries. I include all genres, all styles. I consistently cover a wider geographic range than other music critics. And I don’t worry about chasing trends or promoting superstar SEO-friendly names that might generate ‘clicks’ for me.
It’s all about the music, mates.
Today I’m sharing the first half of my best-of year list (in alphabetical order). Click here for part two.
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Before launching on Substack, I released a top 100 list each year for more than a decade without any pay or sponsorship. From an economic standpoint, this made no sense. The project that took up most of my time every year generated no income for me.
But I did this because it needed to be done. And it needs to be done even more nowadays.
There’s so much noise in the culture, it’s almost impossible to hear the music.
I may not be the perfect guide. But if I have biases, they’re legit ones. I don’t care about sales or popularity, but I pay close attention to musicianship, creativity, and craft. I’m drawn to works of emotional depth and intelligence. I applaud a willingness to operate outside of stale formulas. Above all, I believe music should be enjoyed.
I assume that my readers share these values.
I know that many of you are skilled musicians yourselves. And even readers here who are non-musicians have big ears and discerning tastes. I create this list specifically for these people.
So let’s plunge in. I need to publish my annual guide in two installments (because otherwise it crashes the email servers). Today I’m covering 50 albums, from A to K in my alphabetical listing.
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First, three albums I wanted to include, but couldn’t.
Before launching into the list, let me mention some recordings that I wanted to include, but couldn’t for nit-picking chronology reasons.
These include the following:
Chinese Football’s Win and Lose was released on the last day of 2022, and thus missed the cutoff for the 2023 list by a few hours. But it deserves to be heard, so here’s a link.
I previously featured Fred Hersch and Esperanza Spalding’s live album at the Village Vanguard on my best-of-year list for 2020, when the recording was sold for a brief period as a fundraiser for the Jazz Foundation of America (a worthy charity). The album disappeared soon after (to my disappointment) but was released commercially this year. It would show up on my 2023 best-of-year list, if I hadn’t already honored it previously.
I planned to include Howard Hersh’s Angels and Watermarks on this list, but I learned that the recent self-released album from the composer was a reissue of a 2014 recording. Here, too, I had to remove it from consideration for 2023. But it’s the most exciting genre-crossing piano concerto I heard this year, so I want you to have a chance to listen too. You can find it at this link.
Now let’s proceed on to the top 100 for 2023.
The 100 Best Recordings of 2023
(Part 1 of 2)
In alphabetical order:
Indie Rock Brass Band from Brooklyn
Landscape Traces: New Music for Khaen, Vol. 2
New Music for Khaen (Mouth Organ from Northeast Thailand and Laos)
Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad Ismaily
Love in Exile
Urdu Vocalist Collaborates with Jazz Pianist and Pakistani Multi-instrumentalist
Beauty is Enough
Unaccompanied Trumpet Melodies
Soulful Electropop Sung in the Baasa Language of Cameroon
Les Cailloux: Weissenborn Studies, Vol. 1
Melancholy Lap Steel Guitar Music for a Puppet Show
Betty Benedeadly & Brand Guess
At the Institute of Mentalphysics
Cinematic Psychedelic Folk Instrumentals
The Sound of the Soul
Hindustani Slide Guitar
Solo Acoustic Guitar Vignettes
Contemporary Folk from Nova Scotia
Boy Band Without the Boys
Moody Nick Drake-ish Singer-Songwriter from Leeds