Feature: Review of 2023

An utterly non-definitive run-through of my favourite records released in 2023.

Feature: Review of 2023

Here's a list of some of my favourite releases in 2023.

There were also 26 episodes of the Crucial Listening podcast, where I talked to a bunch of artists about albums that are important to them (including Colin Stetson, Hyunhye Seo, Bana Haffar and more).

Plus – 33 releases on ATTN's label HARD RETURN, which is dedicated to repetitive/persistent music.

Thanks for all of your support – more in 2024.

Rachel Lyn – Stories Came To Us
Modular synthesiser, antique zither, half-sung utterances. Lyn recorded this album over periods of solitude, which explains why it slips into increasingly surreal evocations of the world outside: weird aquatic forests of rippling trees and smeared birds, physical matter rendered see-through.

Yosuke Tokunaga – 8 Quadrants
Yosuke Tokunaga takes the fundamentals of bass music and launches them into disparate orbits. Sweeping synth chords, kick thuds and percussive junk adopt their own bespoke metric whirl, with each piece on 8 Quadrants manifesting from the aggregate of these multiple modes of time.

Bana Haffar – intimaa' إ ن ت م ا ء
Composed on the tracker sequencer and drawing from research into weaving and textiles, this record shifts from an intricate, beat-driven first half into the slow curves and shimmers of the second. Individual loops and lattices of thread start to blur together, rendering the full picture through luminescent arches of electronics.

Ava Rasti – Ginestra
By sampling major works from Western classical music (Bach, Sibelius, Beethoven, more) and subjecting them to various vigorous treatments, Rasti conjures a collision of splendour and obliteration, like an earthquake carving up a museum's main hall.

Aaron Rosenblaum – State Fair! Vol. 1: The Midway
Recordings of three attraction operators at the Kentucky State Fair, captured by Rosenblaum back in 2013. A whole palette of tactics are deployed to lure in punters, from future-telling braggadocio to crass ridicule. The record's highlight is Bozo the dunking booth clown, who breathlessly taunts contestants as they try desperately to send him into the drink.

aircode – Surface Tension
Spacious and agitated electronics, consisting of shadow-puppet mutations of dub, DnB and the grimier end of mid-00s video game soundtracks. The whole record lurks on the perimeter, hung in dreadful expectancy, with fragmentary beats held on the verge of interlocking into something more.

myst milano. – Beyond The Uncanny Valley
Rapper myst milano. describes this record as a “working anthology of black electronic music across generational, geographical and genre lines”. As the beats mutate between house and footwork and dub, rapper myst milano. always pitches their energy perfectly. Whether screamed hoarse over the jungle clatter of “Pressure” or draped laxly over the deep subs on “Ring Ring”, they find the pulse at the core of each of these styles and lock in.

Vumbi Dekula – Congo Guitar
Joyous solo debut from the veteran guitarist, following four decades honing his craft in collaborative contexts. Vumbi’s intricate melodies are furnished by gentle overdubs and drum machine pulses, pulling on long-beloved rhythms of Congolese Rumba and Soukous, while Vumbi unfurls in freewheeling bliss over the top. You can revel in the intricacies of his playing – the rich descendent runs or punctuative caught frets – or just recline into Vumbi’s overarching ease and confidence.

Lucie Vítková – Cave Acoustics
Enlisting their sisters as collaborators, venturing into cave systems and gothic churches, swirling the “now” of improvisation into familial and geographic history...the “acoustics” within the title here could refer to the literal reflections of the album’s various spaces, or the thick shrouding of history and circumstance.

Sweet Williams – S/T
Dusty grooves haul themselves in circles. This is a repetition of onsetting resignation, motifs like boot heels sinking into the mud. “Glass State” marks the record’s withered emotional nadir, the drums in staggering forfeit, vocalist Thomas House like a lone flower curling into dehydrated retreat.

Hyunhye Seo – Eel
A tremendous collision of metallic and electronic resonances, shot through with splayed cascades of ecstatic piano. Eel is an explosion of focal points, the ears stretching to capture as much as possible, the pupils dilating into black holes. It's beautiful and ghastly – the extremities of sensation collapse into one.

Kalia Vandever – We Fell In Turn
To hear Vandever's trombone melting into emptiness is a truly tremendous thing. Save for the modest augmentations (faint voices, spectral loops), this is duet between instrument and space; the trombone reaches into the void and retrieves contemplations on home, heritage and dreams. Quite possibly my favourite headphone listen of 2023.

Alvin Lucier – One Arm Bandits
Four cellists in Alvin Lucier's dining room, each bowing the same open string for 15 minutes apiece. This record stems from a 2007 conversation between Lucier and cellist Charles Curtis about "the relationship between bow direction changes and shifts in phase", and the listening experience centres on those tiny discrepancies between the players: bow pressure, bow speed, positioning in stereo space, minor divergences in tuning accuracy.

Also great:

PJ Harvey – I Inside The Old Year Dying
Liturgy – 93696
Kali Malone – Does Spring Hide Its Joy?
Laurel Halo – Atlas
Tirzah – trip9love…???
Khanate – To Be Cruel
billy woods & Kenny Segal – Maps
Pink Navel & Kenny Segal – How To Capture Playful
Animal Collective – Isn't It Now?
L'Rain – I Killed Your Dog
Earl Sweatshirt & The Alchemist – VOIR DIRE
MIKE – Burning Desire