Best of 2023: Music
A lot of talk about a lot of music from the past year.
Here we are! The end of 2023! As such, it’s time for a few best of lists to celebrate, unpack, and generally reflect on what we experienced.
First up: music! My favorite list! I may not talk a lot about music but, in an alternate universe, I am more equipped to write about music as I just don’t have the descriptive tools to represent what I hear in this reality. (Or do I…? I guess we’ll see!) Either way: welcome to the best of music 2023!! Note that this is largely a curation of left-field, electronic, and dance music. If that’s not your thing, you may not get a lot out of this.
Find a full “report” of my 2023 listens from Last.fm. Peruse previous music best ofs, even if most of the links are broken: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2017, 2016, 2013, 2012, 2011. If interested, follow along with my favorite songs of the moment in this always updating playlist.
Saddest, worst, most surprising: The fall of Róisín Murphy
I have been a dedicated fan of Róisín Murphy’s, since happening on “Sow Into You” in college. In fact, her album Róisín Machine and her neo-disco tendencies were the subject of the very first Trend Report™ ever. Cut to 2023, where a buzzy new album was on the way only for the artist to make transphobic comments and then double down on them. Disappointing to say the least! Ugly, sad, and just plain backwards. The most bitter music moment of the year which I had to write about at the time. I’m still not over it! It’s just such a shock, a twist one would never have seen coming. Laura Snapes’ Guardian review put it best: “I totally disagree with Murphy’s views and understand why for many fans, particularly queer fans, this album is DOA, yet it would be a reach to frame Hit Parade through those comments – save, perhaps, for how they jar against her lyrical theme of how delirious it feels to be seen for who you truly are, to reveal your truest self to another person, a desire any of her queer and trans listeners would know intimately.” This is exactly why I haven’t listened to Hit Parade nor can I even listen to her old music without thinking about “this.” Once the right wing love fades, she’ll make an apology tour. Sadly, no one will forget this.
Happiest, Best, Most Surprising: The re-rise of Kylie Minogue
If Róisín Murphy’s sunset was dramatic and ugly, the exact counterbalance was another sunrise for Kylie Minogue. Can you think of a more joyous, grateful, and generally warm spirit in pop? Not at all! While “Padam Padam” was (intentionally) cheesy and an unlikely success, it provided a spotlight for old and new fans to look at her and see her for who she is: an ageless pop princess. While I might have liked Disco a bit more (Funny enough, that album was also the subject of the first Trend Report™ ever.), what her album Tension did was provide a venue for her to share cheeky, sexy, fun pop-dance in a 2023 context: songs like “Tension” are as cool as they are stupid, while “Story” is the most heart-warming bop of the year. While Róisín scolded fans, Kylie gave them hug after hug after hug — and the world finally saw her for that. A queen.
Favorite music interview: Daniel Avery for Disco Pogo
I’m not the biggest fan of Disco Pogo but I did enjoy their (late 2022, that I read in 2023) feature on Daniel Avery as it really mapped — and sold — his sound, one of the few music features that forced me to revisit an artist’s work. It made me into an Ultra Truth fan, as I don’t remember loving that album on first listen. Honorable mentions include Disco Pogo’s feature on I. Jordan and The Wire’s feature on Ocen James, both of which had similar effects while elucidating artistic processes that I wasn’t privy to.
Favorite music book: Claire Dederer Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma
While not a perfect book, Dederer’s book inspects how fans of entertainment can reconcile listening to music by problematic stars like Michael Jackson. While the focus was very much on the spectrum of creation (art, movies, writing), it felt most applicable to music as music is the most intimate of art forms. And, as we saw with Róisín’s fall this year, Dederer’s writing felt omnipresent, a constant refrain as taste ran into beliefs. Timely!
Most exhausting: The touring antics of mega-stars
Beyoncé does this, Taylor Swift does that. I am decidedly not a concert person but, sadly, I don’t care if you are going to another country for a show. I don’t care if someone is a billionaire from touring! I don’t care! What I do care about is perhaps the environmental effects of all this, or how indulgent capitalism gets tied up within a fan supporting “a single person.” Come on. These are businesses, people! I most wanted to unsubscribe from this conversation this year but was haunted by Beyoncé and Taylor’s every move.
Bon Voyage: Caroline Polachek
I didn’t like Desire, I Want To Turn Into You. Some cute aspects to it! I really liked “Billions”! It’s aggressively pleasant! But there’s something so performatively cutesy to Polachek’s current era, as if she’s winking at everyone in a way that’s less “Look at my dimples!” and more “Oh, aren’t I clever? I gave a TED Talk for my performance!” I get the same feeling I felt about, say, Holly Herndon and YACHT: a bubble burst from over-saturation, or an awareness of their “genius” turning them sour. (Is that just hubris?) It all feels referential for show and, while I think Polachek is one of the best minds in entertainment, it’s also very annoying. It’s like Kate Bush is trying to be Taylor Swift and that just sucks. This TikTok on why she’s annoying captured my feelings.
More of the same: L’Rain
Look: I liked I Killed Your Dog and the ideas behind it, but it felt like a continuation of Fatigue, which — To me! – was more lush, more robust, and much more memorable, a classic in its own right. This posed an interesting question for me, as a listener: how different — or varied — do I want an artist to be? This felt like I flipped over the Fatigue record and it just continued with songs I didn’t find to be as memorable. Not bad, but it didn’t hit me as hard.
Two years late: Ethel Cain
Don’t at me but “American Teenager” is maybe the greatest song about America of the 2020s, if not the 2000s at large. Bruce Springsteen could perform “American Teenager” but he could never perform “Ptolemaea.” An icon.
Most of another era: Kölsch & Tiga
I loved “Hand In Hand” but something about this collab in general was so 2010.
Interesting (albeit fine) development: Parlour Techno
I’m calling this “Parlour Techno” but there’s been a movement of techno and dance artists making background music. It’s neither good nor bad but is, as if the dancefloor wasn’t serious for them or that they’re aging out of the genre and want to be taken more seriously. I can’t quite tell! I don’t love what’s coming of this (Aggressively pleasant, to the point of forgetfulness.) but participants in this trend include Call Super (“blends electronics with free jazz, improv and vocals”), John Tejada (“a noisier, lofi route”), Moritz van Oswald (“bridges the gap between many extremes—voice and machine, electro and acoustic, classical and electronic”), Laurel Halo (“a sonic tapestry of soothing electroacoustic texture”), and undoubtedly more. This will continue and bleed into the mainstream.
Under the radar: Glasser Crux
In my opinion, Crux is Glasser’s best work, but I feel like literally no one talked about this album. It was hyped, when announced in early June, but it didn’t come out until early October. That may be why? Worth a listen! I liked it more than I thought.
Even more under the radar: Minimal Tears
Electronic demigod Octo Octa dropped a free, remix-as-you-will album in February that literally no one talked about. I felt like I hallucinated it! The album kinda sorta fits into Parlour Techno but takes a more ambient-club vibe that feels like you’re having a rave in a forest. It felt very much of a place — and it was a place I wanted to be in. Certainly 2023’s most overlooked album!
Best 2022 discovery I made in 2023: Dawn To Dawn
Postcards from the Sun to the Moon was easily a top five record I listened to this year. Too bad it came out last year!
Song I heard most at shows: Pangaea “Installation”
Of all the shows and DJ sets I went to this year, of all the mixes I listened to, Pangaea’s “Installation” was the most played song. It felt like the beating heart of the this year’s dancefloor. For good reason too!
Best horror movie soundtrack: Corin Lux Aeterna
This album felt like a more aggressive version of the Annihilation soundtrack, which was a great soundtrack that kneecapped itself by not getting weirder or scarier. Corin really dug into dark, textured moods that felt like you were reaching inside a dark fire. I loved it. Rivaled only by the return of Haxan Cloak!
Techno’s past, present, and future: Rrose Please Touch
I could go on and on and on about Please Touch. It’s a lot of noise and not a lot happens. Those are valid critiques! But, like sitting in a room of Barnett Newman paintings, not much goes on — until the walls start to shift, until the lines in the works start to warble, until you feel yourself going into that small hole in the canvas and coming out on the other side, skin inside-out, looking inward but outward, your flesh touching the air and you feeling feelings that weren’t made to be felt: that is what listening to Please Touch is like. I have long been a techno fan but have felt in the past few years that such “heavy” music made my stomach hurt from too much vibrating. But Rrose brought me back, making me crave the thumps, that there’s something disturbing but necessary in this madness. Let the darkness consume you and you will be healed.
Most surprising live set: Hunee
Bobby and I went to a show were Hunee was playing at the same time as Todd Terje. While Todd’s set was pleasant (if not a bit boring), Hunee’s was a vibrant tour of 1970s disco songs using only 1970s disco songs. No other set this year was so firmly dedicated to create digging that kept you invested despite “knowing nothing.” That’s a feat! It was great and, despite giving Todd a second chance, we returned to Hunee. A must-see.
Everyone’s #1 is good: Lana Del Rey “A&W”
I admit: “A&W” is really good. Storytelling! Acoustic theatrics! A descent into trap hell! It’s very good. It was everyone’s top song of the year for good reason. Not my favorite song of the year, but certainly deserving of respect. It’s what I wish, say, a Taylor or Beyoncé was doing.
Best holiday release: Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul’s “HOHO”
Based on their already hilarious “HAHA” from 2021, the surprising “holiday” version of the song that turns the laughs into Santa chortles is just so fucking dumb. It’s genius! I also don’t think enough people make interesting holiday songs — and Charlotte and Bolis delivered on that. 10/10, stepping into the alt-electronic holiday canon next to Nathan Fake’s “Xmas Rush (Dub)” and Axel Boman’s “Holiday Extreme.”
Best rock / Most changed: Yves Tumor
If you were to tell me that the person who put out When Man Fails You, who was subverting Kylie Minogue songs into piano ambient and turning found sounds into reverberant delights, would go on to be the most interesting rock star of our time — I would not believe you. Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) is Yves best work in this genre to date, followed by the classic Safe In The Hands of Love.
Genre of the year: Pop edits
I mentioned this in regards to modern creativity but, with TikTok remixes and Resident Advisor’s top song of the year, it feels like reimagining popular music in your own way is so of the moment, that creating is an act of recreating. It says a lot about capitalism and art, and also to the suffocating amount of “stuff” we have on this dying planet. This subgenre will be studied!
Best pop edit: M.Bootyspoon “Chrome Ice”
Setting Ice Spice’s “No Clarity” to a sped up Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Chrome Country” is…one of the most genius gestures of the year. This song slapped and had something for everyone. Absolutely genius.
Best TikTok remix: Ice Spice puppy remix
I don’t know the technical name to this song (Although I know it’s a Nicki Minaj interpolation, which interpolates The Buggles.) but let me tell you: them dogs dancing to Ice Spice’s “In Ha Mood” always sends me off. Funny! Dramatic! Clever! It’s so good.
TikTok song of the year: PinkPantheress & Ice Spice “Boy’s a liar Pt. 2”
While not my favorite song, I think this is 2023’s song of the year. It captures everything relevant in culture in this moment, which Lana’s “A&W” does not.
Best person I saw live: Peach
Look. I saw a lot of great people this year, arguably the best and most people I’ve seen in my life. Nick Leon? Avalon Emerson?? Soichi Terada??? Aphex Twin???? I was blessed this year. But lil ole Peach was the most charming and most fun of them all. While her performance with 2ManyDJs and Tiga at Sonar was literally legendary, seeing her in a more intimate way at SoundIt was electrifying. She balances house with techno in a way that feels bubbly, music as a form of introduction to each other, as a warm invitation to be. No one else is as fun as her! And her releases this year backed it up. If you want an idea of what her live sound is like, I recommend this MixMag mix.
Best mixes of 2023
Beige at Movement Detroit: Going to church, if the church were queer.
Tiga at Igloofest: A veteran does a victory lap.
Best songs of 2023
Find all songs in this playlist.
Ruth Mascelli “III”
Sign Libra “Le Chat”
Hannah Diamond “Flashback”
Yeule “sulky baby”
Kylie Minogue “Tension”
Kylie Minogue “Story”
Hodge “Synchronized Swimming”
Dawn to Dawn “Seventh Floor”
Dawn to Dawn “Seventh Floor (Maara Remix)”
Carly Rae Jepsen “So Right”
Jessy Lanza “Limbo”
Jessy Lanza “Don’t Leave Me Now”
Angel Rider “when ur gone”
Glume “It’s Good To Be Back”
Ethel Cain “American Teenager”
Yves Tumor “Lovely Sewer”
Yves Tumor “Echolalia”
Bored Lord “feel your love”
Kareem Ali “Reach For The Galaxy (Thank You Frankie)”
ML Buch “Pan Over The Hill”
ML Buch “Flames shards goo”
ML Buch “Somewhere”
ML Buch “Well bucket”
ML Buck “Working it out”
Actress “Push Power”
NewJeans “Super Shy”
Haxan Cloak “N/Y”
BASHKKA “Act Bad”
DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ “Invincible (Something To Hold On To)”
DJ Babtr “Mek3fe (Radio Edit)”
Karenn “Feeling Horizontal”
rRoxymore “Blissed Memories”
M.Bootyspoon “Chrome Spice”
DJ Python “I’m Tired”
Best albums of 2023
Note that these are in no particular order and that these descriptions are not literal.
Yves Tumor Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds): Rock, from the future.
Mix of the year: fabric presents Saoirse
What is music, if not a soundtrack? London’s Saoirse knows this but decided to go in another direction with her fabric mix: she was painting. The feeling of the mix, one of constant rhythms and collaged texture, is like being on an assembly line where this part goes here and that part goes there again and again and again before new components are introduced, that build to a place or time through sounds. Each element feels like a color and a pattern, like a Helen Frankenthaler painting being assembled sonically. The catch — which you can hardly tell — is that this isn’t all original music but the precise re-shaping of songs that feel like one complete thought. The closer, the artist’s very own “RM 1,” represents a great law of modern art that seems forgotten on chefs and painters and writers and musicians: the final moment needs to be the strongest. That bowl of dessert, that final painting in the back of the gallery, that last chapter: it needs to rattle someone, rolling around inside of them until you meet again. “RM 1” is easily the strongest song on an already transcendent collection of songs that winds you up again, ready to bounce around in Saoirse’s happy techno. No one had more fun or made it look easier than her.
Song of the year: Hannah Diamond “Affirmations”
Living is hard. In this world of wars and disease and hate and hardship, you have to hype yourself to do anything. It’s easy to turn inward and spit outward! But we have to be there for each other. We have to push forward! Love, above all things, to yourself and to all you meet: that is the message of Hannah Diamond’s aggressively sweet, cheeseball-goodie, exactly-what-you-think-it-is “Affirmations.” On first listen, the song sucks. This is just some girl hyping herself up! Get a life! But, as you chew and chew on the bubblegum, Diamond’s affirmations do their work: The best version of me is myself. I'm the girl who's so much more than you can see. I'm the girl who gives her time and energy. I will always be enough! It’s a triumphant, run-through-the-football-field album closer that starts off her near-perfect album Perfect Picture. As good of a listen while starting your day as it is for working out (???), “Affirmations” is the perfect manifestation of the zeitgeist – Girly pop! — that complicates and plays into everything we’re experiencing now. Haters will call it simplistic. But that’s the thing: they’re haters. You’re better than them. You’re the best version of yourself!
Album of the year: Tirzah triplove…??? & ML Buch’s Suntub
Honorable mentions: Rrose Please Touch and Minimal Tears One.
Certain albums are fraternal twins and require paired listening, either because they came out at the same time, feel sonically similar, and or they inhabit similar intellectual spaces. When I play one, I have to play the other. This doesn’t happen all the time but instead is a special title given to select, exceptional albums. Solange’s When I Get Home, Jenny Hval’s The Practice Of Love, and Bat For Lashes’ Lost Girls do this for me. Fuck Button’s Slow Focus and Ben Frost’s A U R O R A do this too. ANOHNI’s Hopelessness and Planningtorock’s All Love’s Legal as well. These albums are puzzle pieces that fit together, clarifying the zeitgeist. They don’t happen often, they can take years to realize, but when they “click” it feels like you’ve discovered a divine design otherwise unknown. I felt that way after listening to ML Buch’s Suntub after what was weeks (Maybe even months!!) of obsessive listening to Tirzah’s trip9love…???: these are two albums are hazy, woozy, uneven, ugly, beautiful pieces of music that loop up themselves to the point of hysteria. Words are meaningless but also vital here. There are shadows, echoes, hazy, reflections. Time and space is being folded in on itself using the oldest tricks in the books. And yet! Both albums feel so uniquely now, as 2023 was a year of being in fog. Tirzah’s fog was repetition, of doing that grind over and over again, which was part of the album’s charm as it was built around nearly a single piano chord with very similar drum machining thanks to Mica Levi. At this point of the world, of capitalism squeezing us in our jobs as we repeat the same mistakes but long for change, she pushed a button of “now” and poked right through our chest cavities, collapsing a truth of 2023. The songs are somber, but not hopeless, like the most pessimistic joy one can experience. Again: they are yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The album feels like the “end” of something, like the after party to the after party when all you want to do is sleep but you’re too full of thoughts to stop. If Tirzah was closing the final hours of the night, then ML Buch was what happened when the sun started to shine over the hill, when you’re still loopy from lack of sleep, whether waking up or going down. “Wobbliness” is the best way to describe Suntub as everything seems to vibrate with reverb, an otherwise traditional guitar effect that is so strained and off on this album that it feels futuristic. ML Buch removes you from today, from the stresses of life, and places you in a field, holding your face up to stare at the sun and cry until you realize that the sun has always been there for you. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Life is always happening! Good or bad, you are here. Who cares? There is an optimistic apathy, a red-eyed dazedness of grinding on but indulging in a smile. These albums feel like siblings, downers and uppers, smiles and frowns, exchanged through uneven electronic touches based in what was once acoustic. Is this what it’s like to live in the future? Absolutely. But is this also the past? Yes. Such are trip9love…??? and Suntub, albums that capture our present, presenting it back as a present. How lovely is that? Or is that fucked up?