Every year between Christmas and New Year's I seek out what new music came out that year. It takes a little work but between year-end lists everywhere and music discovery sites like Spotify and Pandora, it's easy to find suggestions before trying them out for yourself.
As I say every year, there are a bunch of songs that will ultimately be some of my favorites from 2023 but I just haven't heard them yet. But here's what I've got so far, hopefully this is a useful grab-bag for you to explore.
This Year's Trends For Me
Oddly enough, I haven't found that much hip-hop from the past year that I really like. On off year for me on rap.
When it comes to Miley Cyrus, I could only hold out in resistance for many years. But "Flowers" really got me this year.
Also, not a lot of straight up rock bands in play here with 2023 releases.
We've got the playlist embedded below but it's only snippets if you're not logged into Spotify and your browser allows it. Meanwhile, we've included a link:
Albums vs. songs are a different animal. In a list like these I feel like songs need to be catchy, whereas a full album can be full of mood (see Polyphonic Spree and Andrew Bird).
1 - Gorillaz - Cracker Island
As soon as I heard the song "Cracker Island" late last year and went online to preview what was coming in 2023, I already knew I had a favorite album coming for the year. I was not wrong. It's modern, but unlike a lot of 2020's new releases, also has some balls and energy to it.
2 - Ben Folds - What Matters Most
I've only had this record for a month or so in rotation, but the ballads are knocking me out. Normally, I love both high energy and low energy Ben songs. I have every confidence in this record being my favorite of his since "Way To Normal"
3 - Olivia Rodrigo - GUTS
This might be the only one in the album list from an artist that hasn't been around for 20 years. A lot of variety, still hooky yet fits into the current music scene.
4 - Andrew Bird - Outside Problems
I've loved Andrew Bird's "quirky" blend of indie violin and jangly, no-drums pop for a couple of decades now. But I just saw him play at Largo with Madison Cunningham a week or so ago and holy fuck it knocked me out. See him play wherever you can. Meanwhile, please check this out when you're in the right frame of mind.
5 - Nellie McKay - Hey Guys, Watch This
Her 2004 album "Get Away From Me" might be my favorite record of this century. On the new one, it's got a little less of her angrier piano virtuoso edge and a little more of her fun chanteuse Doris Day side. But every record can't be THE best. I'm loving getting to know this one.
6 - Peter Gabriel - i/o
Any Peter Gabriel album is a no-brainer for me. I'm going to be with this one for a long time and only a couple months into listening to this. None of them are quite as innovative rhythms as I've gotten used to. That said, I'll take Peter Gabriel's sixth best album over just about anybody's best album.
7 - Rufus Wainwright - Folkocracy
As the title implies, it's more folk than his normal piano self. But he is from modern pop-folk royalty and the guy knows how to write and record songs that only get better on a tenth listen.
8 - Mountain Goats - Jenny From Thebes
My favorite band that I might still call "precious". This album really has more exciting moments than most of their indie-folk, lo-fi contemporaries. If you don't know them, try this out for size.
9 - String Cheese Incident - Lend Me A Hand
I think most of you know that I'm in a jam band (The Water Spots) outside of my Bigfellas and solo shtick. In that world, Goose has taken over. But here's a bold statement: I think String Cheese Incident actually records their songs in studio better than just about any other jam band since early Phish.
10 - Polyphonic Spree - Salvage Enterprise
Just like the Andrew Bird album from this year, you probably aren't always in the mood to put this record on. Nonetheless, when you're in the frame of mind to stop dancing and listen to something novel and amazing, dig it.
Bob Dylan - Live At Budokan
This is a confounding for most live album from Dylan. It's from 1978 and most people hate it for how much flute and violin there is and how willing Bob Dylan was to blow up his popular arrangements of all of his hits for something new. Aha! That's exactly what I love about it. This is a 2023 reissue with lots of additional tracks and I still fucking love it.
Spud Davenport - Songs From The Cynical
Full disclosure: I co-produced this record and Spud is a good friend of mine. Don't let that bias you about my opinion. If you're tired of drum-less modern music and low-fi-indie-folk and just want clever rock songs, I'm begging you to check out Spud's record. You can thank me later.