The Best Albums of 2023

Mon Jan 08 2024

Twenty-twenty-three seemed like more of a ‘song’ year for me than an ‘album’ year. I wasn’t sure I’d even be writing about albums this year. Then I got to November or so and life got a tiny bit less hectic and my brain settled down a notch and I realized ‘no actually you just weren’t able to absorb albums for who knows how long’. Music is always there for us; being there for IT is often the challenge. I’m grateful to have had the time to traverse all this music in depth in order to put this piece together. I almost don’t want it to end! But there are always other things.

So, below you’ll find the top 30 albums of 2023, listed in approximate reverse order of greatness, including links to stream and/or purchase at your leisure, plus a handful of other items after the list. I apologize for posting a few spotify links, as spotify is an abominable company no one should support, but even soundcloud has ads now so what’s even the point of soundcloud?

That’s why I’m sticking with bandcamp until the bitter end, so most of the links are bandcamp links. The company went through some upheaval but it still seems like the best option; please inform me if I’m wrong, makers of music! However you choose to listen, I hope you read something here that makes you think ‘hmm I should check that out’ and then you actually check that out! There is something every single person I know would LOVE (or DOES LOVE!) on this list. Remember reading? That pleasurable experience?


There’s an argument to be made that some of the songs on this album are SO derivative as to sound like parodies—as in, the first several times “An Iron + The Sun” came up on a shuffle, my gut reaction was ‘when did I put a Smashing Pumpkins album on my ipod…???’—even though I’m pretty much fluent in the entire 20th century Pumpkins discography. And this would bug me if the songs weren’t so damn good, but they are. (Stop me if you’ve heard that one before!) And the “Pudding” interludes tying the whole thing together, as slight as they may be, are as crucial to my love of INTO THE PUDDING as any of the songs, even. I wouldn’t call it a concept album, it’s just a bunch of great disparate alt-rock songs that needed a little glue to make sure we know they’re all by the same band. I know you’re a busy person, so to make this easy on you, click that bandcamp link and at least check out these songs: “Bad Larry”, “Madison City Parking Ticket Groove”, “K.O.”, and “Jump To It/Jump Through It”. See??? Now that you believe me, listen to the whole album! You’re welcome.


I’ll admit the constant stream of bandcamp emails can be overwhelming and a lot falls through the cracks. This month I finally mustered the courage to unsubscribe from a few labels I bought a single release from years ago that I can’t even recall. Most of the time if the email subject is “New message from…” rather than “New release from…” I don’t even open it, but I’m glad I opened the one from The Rutabega that let me know their lead vocalist Emily Trimboli-Hensley had a new solo album out—her SEVENTH in the span of the past four years? Here’s where normally I’d say something like ‘I look forward to digging into…’ let’s not kid ourselves this time. QUICKENING is not even slightly reminiscent of The Rutabega; it’s driven mostly by electronic beats, some upbeat and dancey and some downtempo, and there are quiet, contemplative moments but overall it’s a fun, off-the-cuff record that plays kind of like a lo-fi Art Of Noise. Mesmerizing, especially in its middle, in a pure, minimalist way and also in the sense that it makes you daydream ‘I bet I could do this…’

Nation of Language, STRANGE DISCIPLE

It took some convincing! As suggested above, music this derivative I tend to gloss over unless someone (in this case multiple people) nags me repeatedly. And I’m tainted by Nation of Language’s live shows, which are such joyous, life-affirming things. The first few times through, STRANGE DISCIPLE just feels like nostalgia to a gen-xer like me, your basic ‘80s synthpop presentation with some ‘90s dynamics thrown in and instantly engaging songs with well-defined bass, just like Twin Shadow’s FORGET from 2010, like LCD Soundsystem before that, the recycling never ends, and Nation of Language on record don’t add a damn thing to evolve the medium. But like those aforementioned artists, you don’t HAVE to reinvent it in order to make great art with it, and sooner or later these songs are likely to reach you if you let ‘em. Admittedly, they have the effect of reminding me what it was like to be young, and the way I totally forgot to have any fun for years on end sometimes. In that sense this band came along at the right time for me; if it had come along when I was their age, I wouldn’t have listened.


Alisa Rodriguez has focused much of her creative time the past half-decade or so on rock bands Sundial Mottos and Operations (the latter has a new album coming soon and I can’t wait), so fans of her ongoing solo project rejoiced this year at the first Apollo Vermouth full-length since her 2017 drone/ambient classic CRASHING INTO NOWHERE. While you might hear some slightly more conventional structural elements on FOREVER BACK THERE, her trademark aesthetic of shimmering walls of guitar and effects remains intact. A terrific immersive listen, not as harrowing as some of her past work but more varied in tone and mood. “After School” by her standards is practically hectic; there’s so much activity packed into its first minute I feel dizzy every time I listen to it. I wonder if the pure minimalism Apollo Vermouth was once known for is something she could ever go back to, or if it would still stand out in today’s musical climate. FOREVER BACK THERE provides the same sense of escape as all of Apollo’s best work; there are just more details to keep discovering within the music this time around.


I feel so alive when I listen to Trhä. We tend to think of trends in art as one-way pendulum swings; we forget the flip sides of things. So let’s say black metal got as EXTREME as it could possibly get at some point (LOL), as OFFENSIVE and downright nasty as anything called ‘music’ could conceivably be. You CANNOT go ANY FURTHER, infinity has been reached. Along comes Trhä. What if instead of shocking them with nastiness, we shock them with cheesiness? Right there IN the black metal. Trhä takes it to a whole new level. To the general reader: not like Cradle Of Filth or Ghost or something, not even like Zeal & Ardor, I’m talking about super lo-fi; the DEGREE and NATURE of cheese in this context, send five dollars for my 90-minute infotapes. I’m talking about high production values would RUIN this music entirely. Admittedly, in the ‘I’m banging my head furiously and suddenly in comes the faerie synth part’ sense, you could get cheesed in a more compact dose with the more recent AV◊ËLAJNT◊Ë£ HINNEM NIHRE (no previous Trhä release prepared me for the brutality of “Danë‡I” as it’s ending!); I give the nod to ALËCE IΩIC mainly because of the fullness of the journey and the occasional batshit insanity. At this point I might have to call it the black metal TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS; there are undeniable Yes touchstones! When they used to talk about “euphoric” or “transcendental” black metal they really had no IDEA. What could BE more blasphemous? So now, how much further THIS WAY can we go…?

John Zorn’s ‘Suite For Piano’ Trio, THE FOURTH WAY

In some ways an arbitrary pick! I was thinking 444 (featuring the Chaos Magick quartet, a somewhat heavier and funkier electric outfit) would be my token Zorn entry on the list, primarily due to its hypnotic closing track “Tayy Al-Ard” which is still probably my favorite single Zorn song of the year (maybe a TINY smidge above “Behold The Night Of Our Solemnities” off FULL FATHOM FIVE) but THE FOURTH WAY overtook it in the waning days of the year, bolstered heavily by the 23-minute opening piece, “Meetings With Remarkable Men”. It’s probably the most evocative performance I’ve heard on record of the experience of seeing this trio live, all the faux-frantic intricacies and insistent grooves and patient interludes strung together in a single adventure. Okay now I’m kinda sad that Zorn isn’t coming back to Big Ears next year; there’ll be plenty of acoustic jazz of course but not quite like Ches Smith, Brian Marsella and Jorge Roeder play it.


This is where I should be doing research. I was so into Cymbals Eat Guitars’ WHY ARE THERE MONSTERS and LENSES ALIEN that I’m almost afraid to listen back because I remember the deep shit they dredged up in me. Somehow I lost touch with them after that, it’s inexplicable. Did I even listen to LOSE or PRETTY YEARS? Now I’m somehow picking back up with Joseph D’Agostino on his second album under the Empty Country moniker and wondering how the heck a decade went by. This is a little less angry-guitar-driven, more theater than rock, reminiscent sometimes of the Veils tour de force NUX VOMICA only even more indulgent. Song structures are loose in poignant and unexpected ways, and D’Agostino’s delivery has never* been this versatile. At one point I had the thought that he’s the Broadway to Kevin Barnes’ Hollywood; looked cute might delete! The album does rock and it has all the melodrama of the Cymbals I recall; it has even MORE stuff though. It still has that Springsteen/Craig Finn youth spirit that D’Agostino’s songs have always* possessed but it feels more like the actual roller coaster of BEING young (IIRC) instead of the increasingly wry/nostalgic take you’d expect. Present and past coexist, and the scary part is I have no idea whether D’Agostino relates to these characters he sings about or is judging them. “Hell is the truth seen too too late”, he sings in “FLA”; is it me or is it getting hot in here. (*taking into consideration I HAVE NO IDEA IF THIS IS ACTUALLY TRUE)


Here is one of the most intricately composed and well-executed releases from the black metal realm that I heard this year. The technical backdrop makes room for harsh as well as atmospheric tones, leading to deathy interludes and plenty of prog elements, never cheesy though. (Well maybe a LITTLE bit in the final raging guitar solo; cheese is a highly subjective quality.) A FATE WORSE THAN HOME is part sci-fi concept album, part veiled confessional; the words are cloaked in typical metal imagery but Iravu’s bandcamp page gives enough of a synopsis to get the message across. It’s five songs in 35 minutes, each piece rife with its own tensions, yet it does feel like a cohesive emotional journey beginning to end.


Shout-outs to billy woods & Kenny Segal, Open Mike Eagle, R.A.P. Ferreira, Armand Hammer, McKinley Dixon, Serengeti, and basically everybody in that rap realm (except Quelle Chris who ‘took the year off’ after dropping his masterpiece last year) for putting out Very Good Albums most of which have had their praises sung this list season. Danny Brown even put out a Very Good solo Album just last month! For me, it was SCARING THE HOES that grabbed me and never let go, a tight 34 minutes, each track bursting with its own quirky freshness. JPEGMAFIA’s delivery continues to grow on me incrementally; him bouncing off Danny Brown doesn’t exactly amount to a Run The Jewels(WHOOPS)-caliber endeavor but it could be argued that these two are both better in smaller doses (except I’ve always loved Danny’s style so I would not personally make this argument). They work well together; JPEG sounds looser in terms of production as well as words, while Danny is extra laid-back and still goofy as hell. Nothing heavy about this record; hope that isn’t a requisite for greatness.


I…can’t even remember the last time I heard a singer/songwriter in a folk-adjacent genre with a distinctive melodic style this fresh. Kara Jackson’s entire debut album only kinda at times reminds me of one artist and that’s Nina Simone. Otherwise it’s this agonizing and funny and haunting and soothing ramble through some universal truths of modern life, mostly via just voice and guitar. Okay, I guess I could say that the title track reminds me of…well in general, all the great U.S. and Canadian ‘70s folk singers. Yes including Dylan, but the more I rack my brain for specifics the more convinced I become that Jackson’s songwriting voice is already that distinctive. And “Curtains”, what is there to compare this type of composition and arrangement to? My brain doesn’t want to accept this condition because it’s so rare. With intention, I rejoice that it’s possible.


They’re getting me into emo god damn it all. OKAY I’m not going into the whole ‘definition of emo’ thing again; I’m sick of seeing the term ‘emo-adjacent’ so from now on anything that could remotely be considered in the emo ballpark or even tailgating without tickets, can be emo, even when it can also be other things. And THE FLYING TOAD CIRCUS is an album of really good songs in a collective genre grey area, mostly guitar-ish and always, well, EMOTIVE. Suffice it to say when you can totally tell the band is taking pages from the Creed guitar-tone manual and yet you still like them? It must be the songs. The interesting thing to me is, bands usually have to get famous and burn out on whatever style they started out in before the ‘controversial reinvention’ and yet Bug Moment put out this awesome indiefolkpop debut EP and then their full-length is…THIS? I’m not saying it’s nu-metal, don’t worry; there’s shoegaze in the mix, there’s folk, there’s indie pop, there’s all kinds o’ stuff. I’m saying I love the no-rules attitude and how it still sounds like Bug Moment and how they could now go in any direction they want, all directions at once, because those core goth-ish melodies and Jasmine Rosenblatt’s voice will still be there.

Social Caterpillar, ALPHABET CROWN

If I were numbering this list, Social Caterpillar and Bug Moment would be ‘tied’, so as to illustrate the grand spectrum of Milwaukee emo between just these two albums. To be clear, I never would’ve referred to this band as ‘emo’ until the new album came out but that may be due to my own ingrained stigma regarding the term; I’m over it and I’m gonna go out on this limb. Social Caterpillar don’t have quite the hype of Bug Moment and their songs are simultaneously more traditional and more esoteric, but ALPHABET CROWN is every bit as good as FLYING TOAD CIRCUS. These songs go for the throat whereas Bug Moment takes the more subversive approach; consequently ALPHABET CROWN is less populist, more like a secret gathering in the woods plotting the overthrow of society or conducting some ritual. With more of a scrappy, folk-rock bedding abetted by bowed strings and occasional horns, the heavy parts are all the more ferocious on this record, befitting Kyle Smith’s righteous anger. Do not sleep.

Velvet Negroni, BULLI

I was a huge fan of Pony Bwoy, Jeremy Nutzman’s previous project; when it dissolved and Velvet Negroni began (2016 or so), I wasn’t feeling it. In fact I still don’t get much out of the first two Negroni albums. BULLI is the first one I’ve connected with; it’s more sensual in terms of production and the flow is smoother. I hate to put this on Nutzman but this one’s more Pony Bwoyish than the first two, pure weirdo R(ap)&B, although certainly distinct sonically and in terms of his vocal delivery. To think of it another way, 2017’s T.C.O.D. did seem like a nuts-and-bolts reinvention, and BULLI while not a ‘return to form’ sounds more like essential aspects of Nutzman’s creativity infusing his latest ongoing iteration. It’s simply better songwriting and arrangements too; as esoteric as his approach is, anything that can get stuck in your head only heightens the experience.


Not counting his dungeon synth work, this has to be the most accessible work Caio Lemos has put out yet. Eschewing the drone and atmospheric elements of Kaatayra and Bríi, this new Vestígio project brings unabashed prog into the overall harsher black metal assault. The result is three twelve-minute songs, each with a different vocalist, and you could divide each of these into distinct sections as well, mini-symphonies each. Sometimes the transitions between motifs can be jarring; count me among the folks who welcome the whiplash. And some of the places the music takes you could not get to these peaks of madness without having traversed the unexpected twists and turns. I experience it more like being beamed onto different planets or mental planes; the thrill is in the mind’s ability to cope. Not that it’s like Mr. Bungle or 1000 gecs; the beats stay relentless and it’s all dark and metal to some degree, just unpredictable and persistently refreshing. Even though now when “Segredo” is fading out I have the tickle of anticipation knowing that “Resquício” is going to rage into my ears any second. I urge you to get to that point.

Buffalo Nichols, THE FATALIST

Remember in the intro when I said there was something on this list that everyone I knew would love? I might’ve just meant this album, who knows. Carl Nichols first caught my ear as an electric guitar shredder; this is not that kind of album. Nichols took a penchant for writing insightful, sometimes devastating lyrics into a folk/blues direction and on THE FATALIST has merged those influences with sparse modern elements to create a raw yet smooth sound. We’re not talking dance beats; Nichols opens the album with simple acoustic blues in the form of “Cold Black Stare”, his voice and slide guitar almost unaccompanied aside from a tambourine and a stomping foot. Then he opens us up to his wider world with the genre-defying advance single “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond”, easily one of the top tunes of 2023. Throughout the album he draws from various rootsy styles, his voice a timeless deep gravelly croon tying everything together. “The rules they have been written but they’re hard to understand”, he sings in “Love Is All”; I think that applies across the board for Nichols and he’s hell-bent on tearing ‘em down, at least where it comes to musical genres.


The other night I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Milwaukee Public Museum taking slugs of Bacardi 151 with Johan from Amon Amarth. I blinked my eyes and two decades flew by; nowadays that band is headlining Red Rocks, with Cannibal Corpse opening for them!? Amazing. Wayfarer’s AMERICAN GOTHIC reminds me frequently of old Amon Amarth, back when it was some of the heaviest shit I’d ever heard LOL! If they can headline Red Rocks then we as a community have to get Wayfarer to that level; that’s their home base fer chrissakes. Not to mention they do more interesting things with banjos than any bluegrass picker in Colorado! This record has all the pastoral dynamics of a great Across Tundras album sunk into primarily a blackdeathdoom mode. They create such beautiful and immersive music across the whole spectrum from delicate to violent, with a bit more emphasis on the delicate than we’re maybe used to. As to their subject matter, do song titles like “The Thousand Tombs Of Western Promise” or “Reaper On The Oilfields” give you any indication? Yes, angry music can be beautiful.

Wednesday, RAT SAW GOD

Everyone is right about this band too, they are the best. This is their most Wilco-ish album to me, a blunt compliment from me as Wilco put out a damn good album this year too and even they would hopefully agree, RAT SAW GOD blows it away. I don’t know if it’s better than TWIN PLAGUES! That was more like a Quasi album but thankfully now we have Quasi back too. I’m not sure if it’s still a faux pas to keep comparing the band to other bands, or if it matters that they’re bands I love; isn’t the point to lure people into listening? After I saw Wednesday open for/blow away Jason Isbell in September I was sure they were the new Nirvana. It’s the overall vibe from their records too; I just didn’t catch this particular thread until seeing them live. It’s that feeling of growing up poor in a small town and codifying those feelings of futility and love in poetry and a snarling guitar. Lots of people do it but once you’ve spent your formative years drowning in that vibe, most of what comes after that doesn’t hit the same. I suppose that’s less a note of praise than familiarity, unless you concede that my taste is superior to yours.


Metal bands turning into non-metal bands: it’s a time-honored tradition going back to, I dunno, Metallica? On average, such a transition elicits jeers from long-standing fans. Often it’s a desperation move, and the band never makes decent music again. Occasionally, though, it fits right in with the natural flow of events, as with the dark, industrial-leaning post-punk of this new Iskandr offering. As icy and desolate as any black metal, SPIRITUS SYLVESTRIS hearkens to classic Godflesh and the least-poppy side of The Cure with a variety of unsavory modern sounds; the aesthetic ventures close to primitive death-doom but also dungeon synth at times (in particular the early goings of “Hof der Valken”, a plodding beast of a song). Then there’s a true sense of hope in the final track, “Nachtvorst”. Did not see that coming.

Astral Hand, LORDS OF DATA

Why does it seem like this album came out years ago? Is it because King Gizzard have already put out four albums since its release? No, it’s because Astral Hand have been playing these songs live for quite a while, finally getting them pressed to glorious varieties of wax and out to the world in March, and it was worth the wait. If I had to guess why it took so long, I’d say it’s because these guys put EVERYTHING into every one of these songs. They don’t believe in filler. Each song on LORDS OF DATA feels like the final statement on the meaning of life; King Gizzard, as much as I love them, sound like kids messing around compared to Astral Hand. That goes for the vast majority of psych/stoner bands, dicking around, plodding along, while Astral Hand craft these impeccable monuments of sound, befitting their Frank Herbert-inspired lyrics to a T. Part of it is that most psych bands don’t have a vocalist anywhere near Al Kraemer’s caliber; combined with the overall epicness of the songs and the muscle of the band behind him, the group is always a force to be reckoned with live, and producer Shane Hochstettler captured them in all their might on this record. The only reason you don’t see more rock and roll on critics’ year-end lists is nobody’s paying attention to Milwaukee.


My heart goes out to all the people who’ve been injured by St. Patrick’s Day, a whole country’s traditional music ruined by drunk American college kids. Just don’t let these curmudgeons try to tell you that Lankum are on some whole new plane of brilliance compared to what has come before them. You could’ve stumbled in on sessions not all that dissimilar to FALSE LANKUM in the ‘90s somewhere in Ireland I promise, although Lankum do an incredible job of blending the various antecedents. (I hate to say it, but decades ago, Milwaukee’s Irish Fest used to bring in experimental Celtic music that would blow your mind; I’m not sure why they always book the same boring stuff (a lot of which I love!) year after year nowadays.) It’s never too late to make new associations with things you think you hate, keep that in mind. (The trad heads from what I gather are even MORE jazzed about the new Lankum side project called ØXN, whose just-released debut album CYRM is also fucking incredible but could I really put them BOTH on this list? No, but you should check that one out too!)


Here is the rare group whose name creatively reflects its musical intent. With this debut album, Pidgins have created an incredible and fiercely tongue-in-cheek (or else devastatingly meta?) hybrid of archaic and modern elements. Most of the songs emerge via the otherworldly drumming of Milo Tamez. I’m completely in awe of this man. Sometimes he boils up a cauldron of sound all on his own that makes you forget where you are; I couldn’t tell you for sure, maybe there’s overdubbing, it’s such a haze. There’s singing on most of the tracks but it’s tough to make out the words; trust me, it’s okay. The press release makes note of its “wide range of antique and rare instruments”; add in found sounds and I think “who knows what else” covers the instrumentation. Best to just relax and let it wash over you. I think depending on mood, different people will find this album soothing, irritating, relaxing, creepy, stimulating; the list goes on. I lean towards soothing but there are stimulating stretches for sure. You should at least give it a try and see what the first spin does for you; it could definitely open a whole new door. I don’t have much to compare it to myself—Exuma, maybe at times? That’s a shot in the dark. “Fourth world”, you say…?


Listening to this album brings me back to 2005, first discovering this band with I AM A BIRD NOW, in a massive rush of fresh weird music that completely changed my tastes forever. I wasn’t really paying attention to the concept of ‘gender identity’ in those days; then again I clearly wasn’t paying much attention to ANOHNI’s lyrics, either. How therapeutic that album must be for a growing number of people discovering it, how visionary it seems now! Yet to me it was just a cool freaky ‘indie rock’ album I lumped in with Xiu Xiu and Animal Collective and Yeasayer and Akron & Family and Dirty Projectors and such. Whereas MY BACK WAS A BRIDGE FOR YOU TO CROSS strikes me primarily as a stripped-down rhythm-and-blues album, and I don’t know if ‘indie rock’ has any meaning any more. Sure there are a few noisier outbursts, and the catharses of songs like “Scapegoat” and “Why Am I Alive Now?” traditionally fall under the rock domain, yet the label doesn’t fit in my head. Stark, dynamic mood music carried by powerful lyrics and a voice like none other, that’s the genre. It’s my favorite thing ANOHNI has done since IAABN, aside from everything she’s done and said to try and drag the world a little closer to the full spectrum of reality.


Wait, shit!! I already called something the TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS of black metal; how could anything be BETTER than that? Well, let’s say you strip away all vestiges of cheese, keeping just the hugeness and expansiveness and grand dynamics. Building on their more uniformly oppressive 2018 release THE UNBEKNOWNST TYRANT, the duo of instrumentalist Ardwisur and vocalist Astwihad have created a monumental two-track album totaling 48 minutes, rewarding the patient listener with massive payoffs out of lengthy atmospheric phases that sometimes stretch into pure cosmic ambience—very reminiscent of Bríi in this sense. Although its narrative is rooted in classical mythology, it plays like a futuristic retelling; I can’t think of another album offhand whose music evokes the feeling of traveling between worlds and galaxies as palpably as this one. Had it come out five years ago I would’ve said something like ‘pushing the boundaries of black metal further outward’; by now it’s clear that black metal HAS no boundaries, merely a handful of traditional sonic signifiers. With TRAGEDY OF CEPHEIS, Enscelados continue to enhance and embellish those loose parameters in new and inspired ways.


Gauss was once my lifeblood. A transfusion of undeniable and unique greatness. Dare I say the closest thing to Sweep The Leg Johnny any millennial was ever likely to experience, only possessed of subtlety and grace way beyond the bounds of math-rock. And in the manner of any traditional troupe, not available on demand. I missed the band’s farewell show. It’s been a year of farewells. It’s going to be a remainder-of-lifetime of farewells. You start to wonder what good it is, saying goodbye. Just vanish. Leave a perfect album and be done. It’s kind of a classic Milwaukee move; I think about Call Me Lightning, The Delphines, here it is but um we’re already broken up. Back then I was like ‘…what YOU BASTARDS!!’ and look what amazing shit those folks have done since then. So, a toast, to treasuring this amazing final album, memorizing its intricacies EVEN THOUGH you won’t have the chance to match your moves with them at a show.

Medicine, SILENCES

Ahhh to submerge into the Brad Laner world again, the sensory overload to drown out all other input. Over time these sonic assaults become hymns, I’m telling you. Like at the end of the first song on SILENCES, “That’s Alright, Friend”; the harmonized “That’s alllllriiiiiiight”, this is a spiritual moment. Within “Dismay” are treatises that cut right to the soul no matter how you interpret them—it’s one of the most soothing tracks on the album AND possibly the most blatantly Beefheartian in terms of its music. Once upon a time I really thought Animal Collective were going to evolve into making music along the lines of SILENCES; I’m glad at least SOMEBODY is. I’m convinced that every reformation of Medicine is due to Laner having been listening to modern music again and going ‘no no no THIS is how you do this’. Come up with a simple idea you want to express, then squish together every possible sound you can think of that reminds you of that idea. You know, the exact OPPOSITE of how you would make a statue of an elephant.

Video Dave X Controller 7, ARTICULATEDTEXTILES

“Even though I know my flow is genius/Nobody could ever tell me that it’s unbelievable” raps Video Dave in a song called “PardonInterruptions”, one of several standouts on ARTICULATEDTEXTILES. Dave has a way with self-referential bits that takes some sinking in to make you realize how relatable they are. You don’t need to be a writer (I’m pretty sure) to grasp the fullness of the chorus of “ImprovementWords” nor any of the rest of it. Or do you feel that the thing you happened to discover a talent for is currently saving the world? If so this may not be the album for you. You might balk at “YouTellMe”, pure self-effacement and stifling grins and full-on advice that everyone should take. And, I mean, “TortugasAndPapillons” obviously. How about the blissy FIB love song “PassingLane”?? (I KID, I KID!) And “BeesKnees”, I could go on. Yes it’s the George Costanza quote, yes it’s MC Paul Barman popping in, it’s a lot of things, but mostly it IS Dave’s flow and the subtle emotional contours that grow to shake you after a while, words and music. And you realize how hard everybody else is trying.

Chuquimamani-Condori, DJ E

So dense at first it’s almost impenetrable, competing digital layers approaching pure noise. The more you listen to DJ E, though, the more you realize it’s like a stereogram image; the shapes are definitely there the whole time. Especially if you have your eyes closed and enough bass for it to be thudding through your body. Eventually even shambolic interludes like “Engine” and “Forastero Edit” will reveal their inner grooves, pulsing outward from analog hearts, from a depth admittedly past my comprehension at this point. I have to let some of the feelings this music stirs in me go undefined for now; the songs are like spirituals from a future I can’t yet believe in. Punishing and celebratory, cathartic in the span of only 28 minutes, it leaves me still hungry every time.


One of my most anticipated albums of the year and holy shit did Rat Bath deliver. It killed me to miss the “Murder Country Rock Opera” release party; I hope it was packed and I hope a video of the whole performance sees the light of day eventually. This album is a dizzying trip through what Rat Bath have embraced as “y’allternative”; not bad but I think their previous “spooky countrycore” is still a more apt descriptor. Sure, Fred Kenyon has overground vocal capabilities, but this band swings between gutter country and vitriolic hardcore like Hank III on acid. “Y’allternative” sounds so laid-back; there’s SOME of that on CALL ME A MONSTER, buuuut not a ton. This is heart-wrenching stuff after all, cinematic; as much as I lovvved last year’s RAT FROM HELL, MONSTER is extra in all the right ways.


I don’t wanna write about this album. I love listening to it; I hate THINKING about it. I hate when it gets to the end of side A and jaimie sings that Meat Puppets song and once again this anger boils up in me, because it never gets any easier hearing her sing “If the climb becomes too much, I can always turn around”. I want to SEE her sing it. I want it to be TRUE. I know I have to keep pushing through; it’s just that branch’s passing has been harder for me to shake than I would’ve guessed, a combination of feeling deeply connected to what she sang and played about and knowing that she had so much more to give the world. By some miracle she left this beautiful record basically finished in her wake, and it showcases everything about her, as a songwriter, a bandleader, a vocalist, a player, that made her great. It kills me that the vibrations she put out into the world are stoppered up forever, but some day I’ll get mostly back to just being grateful that we still have her records. The FLY OR DIE trilogy should go down in history as a towering pinnacle of ‘20s groove jazz, and I’d put several of the songs on this swan-song album up with anything in her catalog. Especially “take over the world”, which if I had to pick a song of the year, would be it. Dammit jaimie.

Meshell Ndegeocello, THE OMNICHORD REAL BOOK

Twenty-Twenty-Three, the year I finally listened to a whole Meshell Ndegeocello album. The chasm of decades yawns behind me. The beginning of 2024, always a trip into the past; I’ll do some catching up on her catalog, I REALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME. In my defense, she DID do a VAN MORRISON cover with JOHN MELLENCAMP; most artists I’d abandon on principle at that point. Then she drops this OMNICHORD REAL BOOK album, which immediately comes off as unnecessarily bold/mildly sacrilegious like when Refused put out THE SHAPE OF PUNK TO COME, like oh ho HO. What song did I hear first? Who could’ve possibly turned me onto this album and why can’t I remember? It was probably something to do with the fact that Jeff Parker from Tortoise is on it; maybe I only read about it. It would’ve only taken one song, though. Any song on this album, hearing it in the wild, I would turn my head and say ‘what is THIS…???’ Every word, every groove, speaks not just to the person I am now but people I have been. Listening to some of these songs I’ve spent quality time with 14-year-old me and 25-year-old me. I feel like they understand me a little better now. The album was a salve early on for me; I have been in need of soothing this year. The more I listened to it, the more I felt it was about the way I wanted to be, the songs coming at me backwards from the future, meeting up with echoes from my past. It’s a fullness-of-humanity album, and what’s most incredible to me is how Ndegeocello packs all the grandeur and oddness into something that’s right there for absolutely anyone. I would dare anyone to dislike this music.


Cathedral Becomes Tomb, STEP FOUR

As Barry Paul Clark has shifted his musical identity away from adoptahighway and into Cathedral Becomes Tomb, the project has evolved quickly. I’m not sure how closely together these four STEP EPs were created; they are all engaging in their own way, my favorite being the most recent, STEP FOUR. It’s not an easy listen; as Clark puts it in his bandcamp description: “The catalyst is an attempt to sonically manifest living with anxiety and major depressive disorders.” And once I read that, I started feeling Caretaker vibes, even though little about Clark’s process or musical results are similar. It’s the desolation, mainly. Clark utilizes primarily double bass in a wide variety of ways ranging from the atmospheric to the guttural and one way or another if you listen to the three songs on this EP you will be shook.

Kia Rap Princess, 4 TWENTIES

Over the summer there was some debate in Milwaukee about the ‘song of the summer’. I’m glad now in hindsight we can all agree that it was Kia Rap Princess’s “Iyaya”. If it didn’t get stuck in your head just by reading the name of the song, you obviously haven’t heard it yet. In that case you missed out; it can be the song of NEXT summer for you though. Or in the deepest coldest moment of winter when it uh gets below freezing for a few days or something, you can put on “Iyaya” and get warmed up, or daydream about a time when the climate apocalypse wasn’t glaring at you so directly in the face.


They’re getting me into screamo god damn it all. As you all know by now, I was never much of an emo guy, so the idea of screamo, the very WORD, get OFF my lawn. Not that I never tried, but it was snag. who finally proved undeniable even to my most curmudgeonly sensibilities, specifically their song “Jar Spell”. (And feel free to point me in the direction of other snag.-esque bands to cure me forever of my screamo disdain ‘cause their song “Invasive Species (Cop City)” was one of the best songs of 2023 and their split with Coma Regalia also killed!) Riotnine took it a step further for me, into a sound so eclectic and dynamic I can’t even imagine songs like these being conceived of five years ago. See, I’ve been all about genre-fluidity most of my life; young people seem to embrace it more generally as a positive, so like, please come back ONTO my lawn. DEATH BEFORE DETRANSITION can be a harrowing listen; it’s caustic in all the right places and also sparse when it needs to be and sometimes those two qualities do coincide. That’s the beauty of art, the way disparate qualities like this can coexist in a single expression, like the agony and triumph of both the title track and the epic “Skramzgender”. Yessss…let the skramz into your heart.

Kae Tempest, NICE IDEA

While I PATIENTLY wait for the opportunity to catch Kae at a live performance, this EP was the sort of thing Record Store Day Inc loves to hear about—at all costs I had to have it. They’re still the best lyricist around, just focused more on books and poetry and loads of other stuff; meanwhile this is a bloody perfect EP. It has the title track as the first song on side B, just like The Cure’s “The Walk”, another perfect EP. Like all of Tempest’s work, NICE IDEA demands pondering; some of it is just fun but most of it you want to reflect back off yourself ‘cause there’s bound to be stuff that resonates if you’re the self-reflecting type.

Tinashe, BB/ANG3L

Listen, I did love the Caroline Polachek album! She and Jessie Ware and Yo La Tengo were last to be whittled off the list, essentially because they already GOT their accolades. DESIRE, I WANT TO TURN INTO YOU is like the KALA or MASSEDUCTION of 2023, only upon my most recent spin, I couldn’t shake the feeling that its quirks had worn a tiny bit thin. Maybe I wore it out early…or maybe it’s simply a capture of its specific moment in time, and with the speed of post-pandemic time, it already sounds a tiny bit dated. Meanwhile Tinashe’s songs are right there for me any time, taking me out of my situation. They’re alluring even when they’re dark, not as eclectic as some of the more touted pop releases of the year but not boxed in by genre boundaries or anything. And maybe it’s just because songs like “Talk To Me Nice” and “Uh Huh” and “Tightrope” are the most Janet-esque music going these days; I can live with that. I just can already tell I’ll keep coming back to BB/ANG3L like I do her previous two albums, whereas it would probably take some convincing for me to want to revisit DESIRE. I had my fun with it; I don’t seem to tire of Tinashe.


André 3000, NEW BLUE SUN

Unnecessarily singling out André 3000 because of the hilarity of people’s responses to this album both before and after they listened to it made it almost unavoidable. Yes, there is an element of audacity that factors into the artistic merit of NEW BLUE SKIN—i.e., a famous rapper making ambient/new age music. “A flute album”, the internet tried incredulously to tell us. There was the preemptive scoffery, the precious memes, still a common mode of parlance amongst older folks. Then came the accolades. I wonder if Pharoah Sanders and Floating Points paved the way for André, opening minds just enough with a whirl of obligatory listens to PROMISES. Not that they’re precisely similar, just that PROMISES was a breakthrough masterpiece of out-there minimalism that may have helped make NEW BLUE SUN more palatable to more people than it otherwise would’ve been. Personally I really enjoy listening to this album, especially on weekday mornings. It’s good reading and writing music. It’s not JUST background music, either, but it’s definitely music that no major music publication would’ve paid any attention to if a non-famous person had made it. I say that because non-famous people have been making music like it in stacks for decades but it’s been beneath the sensibilities of critics, whom music must quickly grab in some sense in order for it to be worth revisiting. The nice thing is, this softens my frustration somewhat regarding the sheer volume of available new releases these days, because the world at large has ALWAYS ignored this kind of music, so the very idea that André can put this out and get normies to give it a chance is inspiring. I suspect it’ll be an anomaly and won’t pull a ton of rap fans or music critics into the world of experimental music, but the event horizon is a LITTLE more in focus now.


Sorry! The fact is that with the virtual demise of twitter, my dungeon synth guru has all but abandoned the platform and I’m just not up for instagram; it seems like the biggest time-suck of them all from what I’ve observed. (Plus I think I somehow have two separate instagram accounts and I don’t know which is the real me.) So I’m going to give you five bandcamp links rather than words, because I have no clue what are the BEST ones this year but I can list a few I found and liked, on the off chance that ANYONE who EVER reads these is REMOTELY interested in this genre how would I know:


It’s been four years; I can accept that the current touring lineup of this band IS Mr. Bungle, it’s fine. While we still have no clue whether they’ll do anything beyond the basic RAGING WRATH set ever again, what I saw at Riot Fest this year made it hard to argue that this wasn’t a viable creative force even IF they’re not technically writing anything together. That said, I’m not going to start adding the various doings of Dave Lombardo or Scott Ian into the Bungle Report. I’ll give you the basic lowdown, though: Dave worked on a zillion different projects this year and Scott played a handful of shows with Anthrax, the end.

Mr. Bungle of course did tour, and they have a bunch of dates already lined up for 2024, yay! Mike Patton as far as I know didn’t appear on a single recording released in 2023! Weird? Trey Spruance…same! He has however been commissioned to create a new Secret Chiefs 3 piece for Kronos Quartet in honor of their 50th anniversary, which I expect to hear at Big Ears of course. And if Patton needs all the downtime in order to keep delivering the Bungle, okay by me! Faith No More is fine but have those guys EVER really gotten along?

Trevor Dunn has kept very busy as usual, mostly in the avant-garde and jazz worlds. There was the basic freeform/noise exercise he created mostly long-distance with sometime Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis, entitled…DUNN WITH RUTMANIS. There was DELIRIANT MODIFIER, a cool hyperjazz collaboration with drummer Greg Fox and guitarist/pianist Sally Gates. I enjoyed both of these, especially the latter; I use it as background music on my radio show from time to time.

On to former (possibly future???) members: Eyvind Kang put out his SIXTH album with wife Jessika Kenney this year, AZURE, and while it has its soothing and eerie qualities in equal measure, this type of ultra-minimalism is not something I’ll keep coming back to. Live however is another story; the duo will also be at Big Ears so I’m…cautiously optimistic that Eyvind will pop in with Secret Chiefs…! Bär McKinnon has also kept busy, working in Australian television as well as putting out a wacky solo single called “Every Time” (under his moniker Umlaut), which also featured Danny Heifetz on drums! Like usual it will remind you of CALIFORNIA-era Bungle—in a good way! Bär and Danny are also backing their former SC3 cohort Philip Franklin (who also plays in Sunburned Hand Of The Man) on an upcoming Australian tour under the moniker Franklin’s Mint. So those two guys still work together…but either hate the other guys in Bungle or just don’t wanna leave Australia? Perhaps we’ll find out the truth in March, when Mr. Bungle will be touring Australia! As for Heifetz, he’s contributed to a handful of releases this year but has seemed less and less active overall; that band he was part of a couple years ago, Eunuchs, has a second album coming in April but Danny’s not on any of the three advance tracks released so far.

William Winant lent his percussionary talents to a couple of classical releases this year, as well as participating in John Zorn’s 70th birthday celebration in San Francisco (though NOT at Big Ears); that’s all I’m aware of. You know what’s funny, I never mention Ches Smith in these reports even though technically he was almost as much a member as Winant or Kang for a stint; maybe that’s because I write about Ches all the time anyway? I should also apologize for totally ignoring Jeff Attridge and James Rotondi, both of whom toured with Bungle during the CALIFORNIA era. I hope you’re both still keepin’ it weird! And finally, Theo Lengyel…has been arrested in connection with the murder of his girlfriend Alyx Kamakaokalani, as of just a few days ago. Incredibly sad that this is the first news we’ve had regarding Lengyel since they fired him from the band 28 years ago, but at least long-suffering fans can officially stop pining for a REUNION of the ORIGINAL or CLASSIC or WHATEVER lineup of Mr. Bungle. There are plenty of horn players in the world JUST IN CASE they want to, y’know, be that sort of band again some day.

Cal Roach

Cal Roach is a word whore currently being pimped sporadically by Milwaukee Record and the Journal Sentinel, and giving it away for nothing right here at He also co-hosts the Local/Live program on 91.7 WMSE FM every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and spouts nonsense on twitter as @roachcraft.

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