Saturday, December 9, 2023

My 20 Favorite (Non-Black Metal) Albums of 2023


2023 was the year that I realized that my tastes have become hopelessly out of touch with relevancy. I did like some of this year's more hyped records -- Caroline Polachek and Boygenius spring to mind -- but all of my favorites have absolutely nothing to do with the cultural conversation. And I'm starting to suspect that everyone else is wrong and I'm the only one who's right. So yes, I will be bringing that Principal Skinner energy to this list.

P.S. I didn't feel that the album as a whole was super-strong, but Diners made a bittersweet, timeless, perfect power pop song called "Someday I'll Go Surfing" that instantly became an all-time favorite of mine, and I feel like I have to mention it here.

trajedesaliva + Maud the Moth
Bordando el manto terrestre

Ethereal darkwave in the lineage of some of the best of the genre -- Dead Can Dance/Lisa Gerrard and black tape for a blue girl in particular. Droning synths, cello, classically-inspired vocals, and various noise/SFX sources. Beautiful and haunting.

Fire! Orchestra

Slow-burning, big band psych-jazz in two sprawling halves. Explores too much sonic territory for me to effectively cover in a half-assed writeup such as this.

Second Death

A best-case scenario for Candlemass-style doom metal in 2023. Crushing riffs, layered male and female vocals, and Christian horror.

Greg Foat & Gig Masin

One of my favorite jazz musicians and one of my favorite ambient/new age musicians come together to make gorgeous, tranquil sounds that hover in the sweet, sweet liminal space between jazz and ambient/new age. It's like an answered prayer.

Sense Fracture
Landscape of Thorns

Dystopian industrial/power electronics/EBM. Throbbing rhythms, warped samples, distorted screams, fragmented synths, and an overwhelming sense of anxiety.

Boris & Uniform
Bright New Disease

Y'all know I love Boris, and Bright New Disease plays mostly like a continuation of the thrash-y hardcore Boris was making on No, but with denser industrial production. Of course, there's some phenomenal art-sludge in there ("The Look Is a Flame"), plus there's a total curveball of synth-driven darkwave.

Boris - The Thing Which Solomon Overlooked (2004)


80s-style sophisti-pop deconstructed. Dated synths and whimsical twists-and-turns provide the backdrop to some surprisingly open-hearted, wistfully beautiful songs -- see "Underneath My Toe" or "Begin Again".

Tujiko Noriko
Crépuscule I & II

Lulling, nocturnal ambient synth pieces with vocals occasionally interspersed throughout. Evocative of a massive, dimly lit, heavenly space that I'd like to live in. It really says something that this album made me tear up despite a near-complete lack of knowledge of its lyrical content.

Love in the Void

I had been almost completely disengaged from the world of post-rock for over a decade. Sometime around when Explosions in the Sky started making soundtracks, it was over for me. That all changed when I sunk into a horrible depression at the beginning of 2023 (see also: me crying to Tujiko Noriko.) A random on the internet recommended Love in the Void, I gave it a spin, and it was so beautiful, it broke my goddamn heart. Guess there's still some life left in the ol' crescendo-core tank.

Agonal Hymns

Non-stop wall-of-sound brutal death. It all happens so quickly and relentlessly, it's easy to miss that it's also tech-y as fuck. Reminds me of Last Days of Humanity -- not so much in sound, but in its dizzying, brain-annihilating impact.

O Monolith

Hey, look! I'm with it! I'm hip! Daka-daka-daka-daka! Pretty sure the youths like this one -- at least the Fantano/RYM youths. Post-punk/art rock for your anxiety, ennui, overstimulation, and modern malaise.

Nourished by Time
Erotic Probiotic 2

My dad had a really shitty year. Cancer scares, major surgery, and debilitating back and leg pain really took it out of him, both physically and otherwise. (He's doing way, way better now.) I'm pretty sure this is his AOTY; he said it was like a balm for him. One of my favorite musical moments of the year is sitting with him in his computer room, listening to "Quantum Suicide" really loud, just being completely absorbed in the sound.

To Be Cruel

The opposite of a musical balm. Drone-doom deconstructionists Khanate are back and possibly even more spiritually disturbing than ever! For instance, "It Wants to Fly" is a 21-minute long nightmare in which our narrator slowly takes a person apart piece by piece, instructing them not to look away as the light leaves their body. Musically, it's almost like free jazz in its aversion to rhythm or structural predictability -- an absolute masterclass in sustained, skin-crawling tension. I'm only ranking it this low because I really can't see myself listening to this more than a few times per year.

Jonah Yano
portrait of a dog

Heartfelt songs about love, family, and love and family lost over an impossibly pleasant instrumental bed of chilled-out but dynamic, gently psychedelic jazz, courtesy of BADBADNOTGOOD. It feels kinda funny sandwiching Khanate between these two very nice, chill records, but that's the way the cards were dealt.


Hardcore minus guitars, plus synths that hit way harder than you'd ever think they would, plus a vocalist who rides the line between shouting and rapping. "Titan of Hope" is a banger's banger among bangers -- a fucking sledgehammer to the noggin of complacency.

The Murder Capital
Gigi's Recovery

It's very tempting to make this little writeup extremely reductive, and say something like "The Murder Capital sound like the post-punk version of Radiohead" but that's dumb because 1) that's kinda what The Smile is, and b) they're much more than that. And ultimately what's great about them isn't just that they make cerebral, knotty, guitar-driven art rock sound accessible -- even anthemic -- but that they write truly great songs about the ways dreams die and values corrode in the thrum of day-to-day survival. My favorites are "Ethel", which mourns the loss of a never-conceived child, and "The Lie Becomes the Self", whose bleak portrayal of self-conception unexpectedly falls into a wistful, heartbreakingly tender coda.

Devendra Banhart
Flying Wig

My favorite Banhart record by a comfortable margin, Flying Wig finds him channeling the enveloping, synthesized darkness of Julee Cruise. One of those records that makes me think I must have bad taste because everyone else's take on it goes something like, "huh, sounds pretty cool, have you heard Cripple Crow?" But me? I love the subtle doo-wop rhythm on the title track, I love the off-kilter groove of "Nun", and I positively adore the beautiful simplicity of the lyrics. "You can love someone wrong / But you can't love by mistake"? "When I said I didn't need it / That's when I knew that I would need it"? "I go to the party / But it don't go to me"? My heart.

An Inbuilt Fault

Artful, impressionistic songs that recall Joni Mitchell circa Night Ride Home, sung in a honeyed voice that recalls Arthur Russell. But as sweet as he sounds, the gnarled arrangements and sudden blasts of synth are signposts for the anger and alienation lurking just below the surface. The brilliant animated music video for "A Lens Turning" is a handy visual representation for this whole album's vibe -- an abstract figure dances while its form and reality relentlessly distorts and shifts.

Lisa O'Neill
All of This Is Chance

"Feathered friend, dig up and resurrect me / I long to live among the song of birdies / A lawless league of lonesome, lonesome beauty / Skies and skies and skies above duty."

Lisa O'Neill is one of those artists that make me half-believe in some form of divinity or reincarnation. There are moments and songs on here that truly sound like she's channeling memories of the afterlife or something. Or, as a friend put it (in reference to "Coast to Coast" by Elliott Smith"): it's "cosmic knowledge." Like, I don't always get it, but goddamn do I feel it. This is perhaps best exemplified by "Old Note", a song that I'm not sure I fully understand but -- and I say this without a single hint of irony -- I want to be played at my funeral when I die. And to close it all out is "Goodnight World", which functions as both an ode to lost loved ones and a simple, sweet lullaby that you could sing to a newborn.

Hamish Hawk
Angel Numbers

"I'll starve / I will not stifle my appetite."

I forget how I stumbled across Hamish Hawk, but I know that my first exposure was the music video for "Money", and that I was immediately reminded of Jarvis Cocker/Pulp and Morrissey. I am not alone in this. However, here in 2023, he's outpacing them both. There's a certain melancholy to Angel Numbers, but there's no self-pity -- one key lyrics goes "I was ill-shapen clay / And suffering didn't fit me." Money is a recurring theme -- it's mentioned directly in "Bill" and, well, "Money", and it's in the peripherals of a handful of other tracks -- and there are many references to careerism, the grim absurdity of modernity, and fumbling romances. But to me, Angel Numbers is, above all else, a collection of sharp, often humorous songs by way of warm, muscular indie rock, courtesy of a crooner that has a much bigger heart than he might like to admit, and that's all it has to be.


  1. Thanks for the recommendations - plenty to delve into, and thanks for the years posts. Have a Fine & Happy next day, week, month, year. (Spot on abt Lisa O'Neill.)

  2. many thanks for the recommendations! there's a little typo in the trajedesaliva+Maud the Moth title: it's "bordando el manto terrestre" (weaving the terrestrial mantle)

  3. Thanks for taking the time to do this. A lot of stuff I hadn't got round to and am now enjoying immensely. However, without my glasses on, the last sentence read as "...courtesy of a coroner that has a much bigger heart...", which was oddly thrilling. Thanks again. Have a happy hogmanay and I hope the job works out good.

  4. thanks mate, you made my Sunday, enqueuing most of these for a listen.

  5. Many thanks!!! I love your recommendations, I always find something to start loving. All the best and greetings from Argentina!

  6. I do love these year end lists. I've only heard 3 of these and am very excited to check out the rest!!

  7. Yes! Lisa O'Neill ruled my musical year. My hair still stands on end when I listen to "Whisht, The Wild Workings Of My Mind" -- a singular talent. Looking forward to sampling some of your other choices. Thanks for sharing! (Returning the favour, check out French TV's "A Ghastly State of Affairs", The Necks' "Travel", Infinite River's "Prequel", all three 2023 releases by John Zorn's Incerto and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's "Les Jardins Mystiques Vol.1.", mavericks, free spirits and outliers all)

  8. Excellent stuff! Many thanks for this and all the fab postings. ANGEL NUMBERS is a wonderful album. Looking forward to checking out the others. Ho, ho, do

  9. That Nithing album is like a portal to hell

  10. Thanks for the recommendations. I recommend mr lil one - once in a lifetime and mr shadow - till i die. Would be good to upload too

  11. I recommend lil Mr one - once in a lifetime would be good to reup

  12. Thanks for Your list (actually lists), really enjoying and looking forward for next year!

  13. Amazing stuff as always! Thank you!!

  14. Thanks for this fantastic list. Always a pleasure to find someone with such admirably broad tastes!

  15. Sobbed at 'Goodnight World' by Lisa O'Neill, thank you