Favorite Records of 2023

1. Lankum, False Lankum

This Dublin band channels old Irish folk music through drones and other alien elements, giving it an unusual power and intensity. I was so enchanted by this album that I haven’t had much time to familiarize myself with Lankum’s three earlier records, so I have some catching up to do. But in a strong year with many noteworthy records, this was the one that cast a spell on me more than any other. https://lankum.bandcamp.com/album/false-lankum

2. Brennen Leigh, Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet

There’s a sparkling wit and spirit in Leigh’s old-fashioned country songs, which are all pretty darn catchy. https://brennenleigh.bandcamp.com/album/aint-through-honky-tonkin-yet

3. PJ Harvey, I Inside the Old Year Dying

Quiet, atmospheric songs with beautiful but sometimes inscrutable lyrics (sometimes using the Dorset dialect). No one else but PJ Harvey could make this music. https://pjharvey.bandcamp.com/album/i-inside-the-old-year-dying

4. Robbie Fulks, Bluegrass Vacation

As the title indicates, Fulks leans toward the bluegrass end of the folk-country spectrum on this album, but really, it’s just another sterling collection of his terrific songwriting. https://robbiefulks.bandcamp.com/album/bluegrass-vacation

5. Asher Gamedze, Turbulence and Pulse

Like most of the jazz I’ve enjoyed lately, this album is strongly rooted in African culture, opening with a fascinating little lecture on time signatures and then vividly demonstrating the power of those rhythms. https://intlanthem.bandcamp.com/album/turbulence-and-pulse

6. Wednesday, Rat Saw God

This record is bracing, with explosive energy, but more than anything, it’s the lyrics by singer Karly Hartzman that stick in my mind. She’s one of the great rock poets of this moment. https://wednesdayband.bandcamp.com/album/rat-saw-god

7. Sparklehorse, Bird Machine

It’s something of a miracle that this album exists. Mark Linkous left behind these recordings when he died in 2010, but it took meticulous effort to piece them together and complete them; the result sounds like an honest-to-goodness true Sparklehorse album, which is a wonderful thing to have in the world. https://sparklehorse.bandcamp.com/album/bird-machine

8. Natural Information Society Community Ensemble,
Since Time Is Gravity

Joshua Abrams’ group has been one of my favorite Chicago musical outfits for the past decade, and this record ranks among its best work. The addition of tenor saxophone Ari Brown steers the music slightly closer to traditional jazz, but it remains focused on endlessly circling patterns and meditative drones. https://eremiterecords.bandcamp.com/album/since-time-is-gravity

9. Arvo Pärt, Tractus

The Estonian composer announced he was retiring in 2021, so this album doesn’t feature new compositions, but it does have new arrangements of some old pieces. It’s a beautiful collection of his serene and soulful music, performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, and Tõnu Kaljuste. https://ecmrecords.com/product/arvo-part-tractus-estonian-philharmonic-chamber-choir-tallinn-chamber-orchestra-tonu-kaljuste/

10. Mike Reed, The Separatist Party

This drummer (and jazz club owner) is a driving force in the Chicago music scene, so it isn’t surprising that his album feels like a collaborative sample of the city’s creativity, stirring together elements like Marvin Tate’s spoken word and Bitchin Bajas’ groovy grooves. It all feels so alive. https://astralseparatistparty.bandcamp.com/album/the-separatist-party

The Next 10

11. The Bad Ends, The Power and the Glory

12. The Necks, Travel

13. Bonnie Prince Billy, Keeping Secrets Will Destroy You

14. Wilco, Cousin

15. Yo La Tengo, This Stupid World

16. The Clientele, I Am Not There Anymore

17. The Handsome Family, Hollow

18. John Luther Adams / Robert Black, Darkness and Scattered Light

19. En Attendant Ana, Principia

20. Melenas, Ahora

More runners-up, in alphabetical order:

Algiers, Shook

Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily, Love in Exile

Bar Italia, The Twits

The Baseball Project, Grand Salami Time!

Belle and Sebastian, Late Developers

Blur, The Ballad of Darren

Bonny Doon, Let There Be Music

Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die (World War)

Bully, Lucky for You

Cat Power, Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert

Connections, Cool Change

Cut Worms, Cut Worms

Iris DeMent, Workin’ on a World

Alabaster DePlume, Come With Fierce Grace

The Exbats, Song Machine

The Feelies, Some Kinda Love: Performing the Music of the Velvet Underground

Robert Forster, The Candle and the Flame

Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru, Jerusalem

Glyders, Maria’s Hunt

Guided by Voices, La La Land

Guided by Voices, Welshpool Frillies

Guided by Voices, Nowhere to Go But Up

Hotline TNT, Cartwheel

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Weathervanes

Will Johnson, No Ordinary Crown

Damon Locks and Rob Mazurek, New Future City Radio

Jack Logan, Endless Demos, Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3

Lydia Loveless, Nothing’s Gonna Stand in My Way Again

Rob Mazurek and Exploding Star Orchestra, Lightning Dreamers

The National, First Two Pages of Frankenstein

The New Pornographers, Continue as a Guest

Algote Oho & His Sounds of Joy, O Yinne!

Osees, Intercepted Message

Polobi & the Gwo Ka Masters, Abri Cyclonique

Margo Price, Strays

The Rain Parade, Last Rays of a Dying Sun

Andy Shauf, Norm

The Small Square, Ours & Others

Sunwatchers, Music Is Victory Over Time

The Tallest Man on Earth, Henry St.

Dudu Tassa and Jonny Greenwood, Jarak Qaribak

Teenage Fanclub, Nothing Lasts Forever

Tele Novella, Poet’s Tooth

Tinariwen, Amatssou

Titanic, Vidrio

The Tubs, Dead Meat

Waco Brothers, The Men That God Forgot

Rufus Wainwright, Folkocracy

M. Ward, Supernatural Thing

Bella White, Among Other Things

Lucinda Williams, Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart