In 2023, I embarked on a sonic journey that pushed the boundaries of my musical universe. Unveiling hidden gems right under my nose and venturing into uncharted territories, I dove deep into the psychedelic scene—discovering mind-bending sounds from Poland, soaking up the grooves of Jamaica, riding the waves of Australia, and feeling the rhythms of Colombia.
Amidst this kaleidoscopic exploration, I found solace in the laid-back vibes of a fantastic lo-fi hip-hop joint, got lost in the intricate melodies of free jazz, immersed myself in the nuances of neo-soul, and surrendered to the magnetic pull of a couple of jamband-adjacent LPs. It's been a year of musical revelation, where the beats resonate with the pulse of the global underground, and my top 9 is a testament to the eclectic symphony that is my 2023 sound journey.
Spokojnych snów - Dreamless Night
"Spokojnych snów" takes listeners on a captivating journey through the realms of psychedelic and progressive rock. The album showcases a seamless blend of mind-bending sonic explorations and intricate instrumental passages, creating an immersive experience that transcends traditional musical boundaries. With three tracks clocking in at almost an hour, Polish psychedelic vanguards Dreamless Night have plenty of space to explore. Side one's 30-minute opus Soma is a sprawling epic that unfolds over multiple movements. The progressive structure allows for extended instrumental passages, showcasing the band's improvisational skills. Side 2 is made up of Córa lasu and Czarna otchłań. Córa takes a darker turn, incorporating heavy rock elements with complex drum patterns and shifting dynamics, while Czarna otchłań serves as a cosmic outro resolving into a pseudo-bliss exploration to bring us home. "Spokojnych snów" demonstrates a remarkable ability to balance technical proficiency with emotional depth, creating a sonic journey that lingers in the mind long after the music stops.
A Trip To Bolgatanga - African Head Charge
"A Trip To Bolgatanga" by African Head Charge is a psychedelic and soulful journey into the heart of Dub Reggae, where traditional rhythms and modern production techniques intertwine. The album skillfully captures the essence of the Caribbean, blending traditional rhythms with modern production techniques. With infectious grooves, laid-back melodies, and socially conscious lyrics, master Jamaican percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah and English dub producer Adrian Sherwood, with various guest players, deliver an authentic and uplifting listening experience. Their first LP in 12 years skillfully navigates the diverse landscapes of reggae and dub, delivering a new but familiar take. "A Trip To Bolgatanga" is a testament to the enduring power of what they call ‘polyrhythmic outernational sounds’ to uplift the soul and inspire positive change.
Fronzoli - Psychedelic Porn Crumpets
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets take us on another captivating musical voyage with their latest "Fronzoli." Their kaleidoscopic sound becomes a force to be reckoned with in the realm of contemporary psychedelic rock as their sonic palette is pushed forward in an exhilarating fusion of mind-bending guitar riffs, pulsating rhythms, and cosmic lyrics. This is highlighted by Jack McEwan's enigmatic vocals delivering lyrics that are a blend of introspection and existential contemplation, adding depth to the overall experience. But at the core of Psychedelic Porn Crumpets's allure is their ability to balance experimentalism with accessibility. Their melodies, while complex and layered, remain remarkably catchy, ensuring that the listener is not merely a passive observer but an active participant in the journey. The result is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant.
Third Vibration - BALTHVS
Balthvs, a genre-blending trio from Bogota Columbia, continue their mesmerizing sonic journey across cultural boundaries on Third Vibration. The band's signature sound is a melting pot of diverse influences, seamlessly merging American psychedelic rock and the rhythmic intricacies of Colombian music with the hypnotic scales and modalities of the Middle East. The result is a hypnotic fusion that evokes a sense of cultural synergy, a harmonious meeting point for musical traditions that might seem worlds apart. The psychedelic elements are evident in Balthazar Aguirre's guitar reverberations and evocative textures, while his vocals add an additional layer to the ethereal atmosphere. All the while, these elements are skillfully interwoven with Santiago Lizcano's pulsating beats oscillating between rock and the evocative Cumbia rhythm of Colombia, and Johanna Mercuriana's fluid bass moving from psychedelic mindscapes to rhythmic dances in a heartbeat. "Third Vibration" is a breath of fresh air in the psychedelic music landscape. By seamlessly blending Colombian and Middle Eastern musical traditions with the mind-expanding elements of psychedelia, they create a unique sonic tapestry that celebrates diversity and cultural interconnectedness. For listeners seeking a transformative musical experience that transcends borders and genres, Balthvs offers a captivating and otherworldly journey through the global soundscape.
Gold - Cleo Sol
As part of Sault, the anonymous genre-blending U.K. R&B collective, Cleo Sol worked with producer Inflo, and they are together again on her 4th solo release, the masterful "Gold." Cleo's vocal prowess takes center stage on "Gold," a voice that is a delicate yet powerful instrument, effortlessly maneuvering through a range of emotions, delivering soul-stirring performances that linger in your ear. The nuances in her delivery showcase a level of maturity and control that sets her apart in the crowded landscape of modern R&B. The production on "Gold" is a testament to her relationship with Inflo and a commitment to pushing the boundaries of Neo-R&B. They weave together a tapestry of old-school soundscapes that draw inspiration from both classic R&B and contemporary influences. The result is a collection of tracks that feel both timeless and refreshingly modern. But, at the end of the day, Cleo is not only a vocal powerhouse but also a storyteller with lyrics that delve into themes of hope and perseverance, offering a glimpse into her personal and emotional landscape. The authenticity in her expression brings a layer of sincerity to the entire album that is comforting, soulful, and innovative.
We Buy Diabetic Test Strips - Armand Hammer
Armand Hammer has been a dynamic force in the New York indie hip-hop scene for a decade. billy woods and Elucid push hip-hop in so many disparate directions, showcasing a unique blend of disorienting beats and captivating lyricism. Their latest work, "We Buy Diabetic Test Strips," takes listeners on a journey through fearless exploration and experimentation, unraveling a tapestry of sound and storytelling showcasing their artistic evolution. The production is nothing short of a low-fi masterpiece. Armand Hammer has a knack for crafting beats that seamlessly fuse into an immersive sonic experience. From the opener Landlines, the duo establishes a captivating atmosphere that persists throughout the album. "We Buy Diabetic Test Strips" is more than just a collection of tracks; it's a thematic journey and a testament to Armand Hammer's ability to curate a complementary cast of artists. Each feature feels purposeful, enhancing the overall musical landscape without overshadowing the duo's distinct presence.
Protect Your Light - Irreversible Entanglements
"Protect Your Light" unveils a daring sonic exploration by Irreversible Entanglements, a quintet that fearlessly navigates the uncharted realms of free jazz. Led by the enigmatic vocals of Camae Ayewa (also known as Moor Mother), this LP transcends conventional boundaries, offering an avant-garde journey into the heart of improvisation and musical spontaneity. Moor Mother serves as the sonic guide throughout the album, utilizing their voice as an instrument to convey a myriad of emotions. The vocal expressions range from ethereal and haunting to explosive and unrestrained, seamlessly intertwining with the instrumental improvisations while adding an extra layer of intrigue to the overall composition. The instrumental prowess is nothing short of mesmerizing. Each member of the ensemble contributes to the sonic landscape with virtuosity and an unwavering commitment to collective improvisation. The interplay between the instruments—be it the dissonant wails of the saxophone, the unpredictable bass patterns, or the experimental flourishes of the trumpet—creates a dynamic and ever-shifting sonic tapestry resting on drummer Tcheser Holmes symphony of chaos and cacophony. "Protect Your Light'' is a bold and uncompromising statement from Irreversible Entanglements. It transcends the boundaries of conventional jazz, offering an avant-garde masterpiece. This LP solidifies the quintet's place at the forefront of experimental jazz, inviting listeners to embark on a transformative musical journey.
Inflorescence - Mike Dillon & Punkadelick
Known for pushing the boundaries of vibraphone and marimba, Mike Dillon aligns himself with a musical philosophy valuing artistic freedom. Punkadelick, featuring Brian Haas on keyboards and Nikki Glaspie on drums and vocals, brings this idea of freedom to the forefront with a punk-rock mindset on "Inflorescence." Punkadelick lets loose, creating one of Dillon's most unrestrained and dynamic records. The marriage of keyboards, vibraphone, and drums creates a sound that is both nostalgic and forward-thinking. It defies convention with the tight and propulsive drumming navigating the unique instrumentation, maintaining a balance that grounds the songs while allowing the keyboards and vibraphone to explore uncharted territories. Dillon, Haas, and Glaspie are masters of their instruments, but technical proficiency or pushing boundaries is only half the story here. The rest is found when you become lost, smiling, tapping your foot and reveling outside preconceptions in the unique world of Punkadelick's "Inflorescence."This Stupid World - Yo La Tengo
This Stupid World - Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo continues to showcase their versatility and musical exploration in "This Stupid World." Handling production duties themselves, they move away from the more folk-oriented albums of the last few years, instead harkening back to their early days - loud, urgent, chaotic. One of Yo La Tengo's strengths lies in their ability to seamlessly navigate through different musical landscapes. This is a cohesive album and highlights the band's ability to craft meaningful and poetic songs that construct a mood through an album-length song cycle. Fans of the band will appreciate the familiar elements that define their sound, while newcomers will find the album to be an engaging introduction to the band's extensive discography.
Wild & Precious Life - Duane Betts
Duane Betts, the seasoned guitarist and singer-songwriter, takes listeners on a captivating musical journey with his debut full-length, "Wild & Precious Life." From the opening notes, a tone is set that is both nostalgic and fresh. Betts effortlessly weaves together intricate guitar work, reminiscent of his Southern rock heritage, with a modern sound that reflects his evolving musical identity. It is a rich tapestry of sound where Betts' heartfelt lyrics and masterful guitar work invite listeners to join him on a journey through the wild and precious moments of life. The result is a collection of tracks that pays homage to the past while firmly establishing Betts as a force to be reckoned with now and well into the future.
Leisure Suit - Organ Fairchild
Skill, soul, and synergy are the hallmarks of Buffalo, NY's Organ Fairchild, and their second album, "Leisure Suit," offers a captivating journey through the realms of instrumental exploration. The seamless interplay between the keyboard, guitar, and drums shines from the opening track to the last note, augmented by the thoughtful production that allows each instrument to shine without overshadowing the others. "Leisure Suit" is a testament to the enduring appeal of the classic organ trio format, but it is the band's ability to blend the timeless elements of jazz with contemporary influences that results in a musical experience that challenges while providing a comfortable space. This LP is not just a collection of tracks; it's a sonic journey that invites the listener to immerse themselves in magic grooves.