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MUSIC 2023: top 23 albums

Albums which I play in the car all the time. Albums which are way too long to listen to every day. Albums which I already listened to too much. Albums which I unjustifiably neglected. Albums with a profound message. Albums which are just pure fucking fun. Albums from bands I've been a fan of for ages. Albums I only just got in the last couple of weeks. And so on and so forth...

So many different albums with so many criteria coming into play. So many different moods and styles. What is more valuable? An album which calms me down? And album which makes me think? An album which puts me into a cathartic rage?

I feel that it's getting harder to come to a satisfying result when putting together my favorite studio releases of the year every time I'm doing this. My usual practice of only considering studio albums which I own as physical copies narrows the list down a little (obviously not always in a way that's fair), but the task still remains impossible. At some not too far point in the future I will inevatibly look back on some choices I made or missed and shake my head in disbelief.
How couldn't I with all those varied great releases that just didn't fit in anymore? When I had settled on 22 (or really 24, because I bent the rules twice) I still had a competition of names like Årabrot, CrawlEdena Gardens, FleshvesselJegong, John ZornLes NadieOnkos, Sulphur Aeon and more battling for that last spot. And that's good! As long as it's a pain the ass to put together a ranking like this it means that I've been exposed to an abundance of great music.

In this spirit: Here are - cast in stone for all eternity, or at least until tomorrow morning - my personal...

TOP 23 albums of 2023:

  1. BELL WITCH - Future's Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate

    Even though the one eighty-three-minutes song album (their second in that specific format after "Mirror Reaper"!) cannot even be conclusively judged yet, because it is only the first part of a trilogy, I already predicted back in July that I would probably crown this glacially moving Funeral Doom behemoth as album of the year. And how could I not? Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman have even improved their songwriting and arrangement skills and expanded their sound palette to appeareantly score the sorrowful fading of existence as a whole. Stillstand beyond the laws of time has never felt as crushing as floating here, in the void behind the Clandestine Gate.

  2. LAIBACH - Sketches of the Red Districts

    Yes, the Slovenian collective has made it into top positions of four different MUSIC 2023 lists now! One answer to how they can pull this off lies in several writing teams. "Sketches of the Red Districts", an Industrial / Ambient / Electronic historical recontextualization of Laibach's birth myth in 1980 in connection with a bloody conflict between Yugoslav fascists and the local labour movement of Trbovlje in 1924, saw the current drummer and guitar player step forward to create an atmospheric masterpiece, which is one of the most classic sounding Laibach releases post the 1980's, but still presents a fresh new take on their aesthetics.

  3. POIL UEDA - PoiL Ueda / Yoshitsune

    Bending the list rules, part one: This spot inevitably had to be shared by two equally brilliant albums, on which traditional Japanese vocalist and satsuma-biwa player Junko Ueda tells epic stories from the Far Eastern Middle Ages with the aid of the absolutely bonkers Magma- and King Crimson-inspired French Avantgarde Prog Rock group PoiL. Both albums of their joint cross-cultural project PoiL Ueda burst with boundless creativity in stunningly intense virtuosic performances. Undoubtly one - err, two - of the wildest and most exciting musical adventures of the year!

  4. BIG|BRAVE - Nature Morte

    Once again the Canadian Noise Rock trio crushes our hearts, souls and bodies with the deeply satisfying Drone of monolithic guitars and the honest rawest emotion in Ronin Wattie's piercing heartfelt vocal  performance. In a discography that has never shown any sign of weakness "Nature Morte" sees Big|Brave broadening their compositional toolset by drawing lessons from the previous collaboration with The Body without sacrifing their principles of maximalist minimalism.

  5. HEALTHYLIVING - Songs of Abundance, Psalms of Grief

    While it's impossible to pin this band down on one specific reference like (old) Gggolddd, Brutus, Dool or Chelsea Wolfe, because every track shows a different side of their Post Rock/Punk/Hardcore/Doom/Noise/etc. mix and showcases another facet of Amaya López Carromero's amazing voice, which you might also know from her solo project Maud the Moth, one thing is for sure: Their amazing debut album is filled to the bursting point with strong songs which won't leave your head anytime soon.

  6. THE KEENING - Little Bird

    After the rest of Salt Lake City's sadly disbanded Doom Metal giants SubRosa have already released an album as The Otolith in 2022, it was now time for front woman and main songwriter Rebecca Vernon to also step into the light again. And be it as singer and lyricist or as a composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist - she has so much to say on this genre-transcending full-length of wonderful Alternative Gothic Doom Folk greatness! The epic closer "The Truth" alone in truth is one of the greatest songs of the year. Gorgeous!   

  7. ESBEN AND THE WITCH - Hold Sacred

    "I am down here, in my chapel, where I'm safe from the evils of the world." Esben And The Witch's goodbye before an undetermined long break due to living far apart from each other now, is a magically intimate beauty I cannot stop listening to. Never has the trio's music been so stripped-down Ambient, so centered around Rachel Davies' mesmerizing voice and words. "Hold Sacred" goes right to the soul. This album is a soothing, consouling embrace in the darkness.

  8. DYMNA LOTVA - Зямля Пад Чорнымі Крыламі: Кроў (The Land Under The Black Wings: Blood)

    A Belarusian Post Black Metal band fleeing from the regime - right into Ukraine before Putin's  invasion - releases an anti-war album based on both the horrors of WWII in their home country and their personal experiences. Even after that serious premise you're hardly prepared for the gut-wrenching storytelling and adamant earnest stance of "Land Under The Black Wings: Blood". Musically Dymna Lotva's Black Metal incorporates Doom as much as influences from Folk, Classical music and even Jazz in a similar way artists like Dordeduh or White Ward are doing it. Very haunting and unfortunately so significant!

  9. GILDED FORM - Gilded Form

    Hardly even moving synths, the halting heartbeat of minimal drums and a guitar slowing down the Blues to tectonic lentitude pay homage to Dylan Carlson's Earth with a coat of bohrenish Doomjazz. Besides Bell Witch no album here will let you hover in a world-withdrawing state of timelessness like Dead Neanderthals (Otto Kokke, Rene Aquarius) and Nick Millevoi are achieving it on their joint project, debut release and forty-minute track "Gilded Form". Even though this is as conceptually reduced as ever it ranks among the most  powerful things the prolific Dutch duo has done so far.

  10. THE END - Why Do You Mourn

    Is it the chaotic baritone guitar and drums rhythm section of Anders Hana and Børge Fjordheim? Is it the double saxophone force of Mats Gustafsson and Kjetil Møster? Or is it the mind-boggling vocal craziness of Sofia Jernberg? Each of these elements alone would already make the dynamic experimental Heavy Jazz Fusion on "Why Do You Mourn" special. Together however The End are capable of anything - even super-slowing down the Sudan Archives Trip Hop track "Black Vivaldi Sonata" to thrice of its original length. 

  11. SWANS - The Beggar

    How to summarize two hours of Swans in just one paragraph? Yes, Michael isn't done yet at all, so here's another ginormous, existential offering, which combines the recent sound and wordiness of "Leaving Meaning" with the reverb aesthetics of "The Great Annihilator". This huge meditation on decline, decay, dissolution and Death even contains an album within the album with the forty+ minutes of the studio collage "The Beggar Lover (Three)". With all those larger than life works of the past it's unlikely that many Swans fans will crown "The Beggar" as their all-time-favorite. Yet of course the usual scale of operation alone still lets "The Beggar" tower far above most other music releases out there easily.

  12. AUTOPSY - Ashes. Organs, Blood and Crypts

    Fuck yeah! No deep analytical thoughts necessary for this one - it's a bloody gory new Autopsy album. Starting with the title it's a completely accurate what you see is what you get situation - that goes literally for the sick album cover and just as much for its rotten content. Last year's first album with new bassist Greg Wilkinson "Morbidity Triumphant" was already old school rancid Death Metal bliss at its best like only Chris Reifert and Co. can deliver it. But somehow the legends got even darker and filthier now. Gut-splashing, grave-desecrating Autopsy - they just always know how to throw the greatest parties.

  13. GODFLESH - Purge

    JK Broadrick and BC Green added only one letter to the title of their 1991 classic, and indeed the new Godflesh album is an open throwback to the sound and mindset of "Pure". While the guitar sound is fuller and sludgier now, the sawing riffs and screeching leads complimenting Broadrick's nihilist vocals are as similar as the rumbling bass sound and the Hip Hop inspired programmed and sampled drums. Due to its referential nature "Purge" isn't Godflesh's most experimental or original album by far, but with this execution - damn, it's a monstrously grooving cold and heavy Industrial Metal beast.

  14. SARMAT - Determined to Strike

    Recorded before, but released after their "Dubious Disk", which already made it into my TOP 7 non-album releases 2023, the album debut of Sarmat starts more on the Technical Dissonant Death side, before spreading wider into all kinds of Exreme Metal / Avantgarde Jazz Fusion insanity. "Determined to Strike" brings together brutality and classy brass with natural ease. This short but highly entertaining brainmelter for sure is a peak exemplary I, Voidhanger Records release and definitely one of the finest works in the current wave of Jazz Metal!

  15. KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD - PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation /
    The Silver Cord (Extended Mix)

    Of course! With Joey Walker instead of Stu Mackenzie wearing the main composer's helmet this time, the hyper-prolific Australians released an unlikey pair of twin albums based on related song ideas - and who am I to seperate them? "PetroDragonic Apocalypse" is King Gizzard's longer, more refined and more relentless second Thrash Metal album after "Infest The Rats' Nest", which also calls back to the Psychedelic Prog greatness of "Polygondwanaland".

    "The Silver Cord" on the other hand is their first completely (vintage) electronic work, which bounces between Klaus Schultze Synth Kraut, 90's Euro Dance, Beastie Boys raps and many more influences. Both albums can easily look eye to eye with the top tiers in the band's always growing discography - at least if you don't count the regular twenty-six minutes version of "The Silver Cord" and go for the vastly superior hypnotic one-and-a-half hour Extended Mix instead!


    This album was the hardest to place in this ranking. It's just so hard to decide whether this incredibly fervent exploration of worship songs by the artist formerly known as Lingua Ignota is creepy, barely listenable - or an addictive, completely transfixing experience. How can these old and new blatantly religious hymns be so eerily alienating yet comforting, so ambivalently non-judgemental and still so powerful? Presented more detached from personal experiences than her previous work, with an analogue low-fi production simulating the decayed quality of unearthed, worn out historic recordings "Saved!" lays open the ecstatic core of congregational songs and deliberately leaves it up to us what to make of it. I guess I'm still in that process.

  17. COLD DEW - Yuyu 欲欲

    Released in early February the debut record of Cold Dew starts out so sugary and schmaltzy that I almost dismissed it immediately. And now look where we are eleven months later! "Yuyu 欲欲" still remains my favorite Krautrock album of the year - if the term is even sufficient enough for the boundlessly creative journey through East, West, mind and cosmos these Taiwanese Psychedelic Rockers allow us to share with them, as they confidently step into the space between the void which the departure of Kikagaku Moyo has left and Acid Mothers Temple, without trying to copy either of them.

  18. Best Harsh Electronics is a subcategory I probably wouldn't even have been able to fill every year since I've been doing these annual rankings. The double album of exile Russians Anton Ponomarev and Anton Obrazeena - featuring collaborative longtracks with Swiss experimental musician Alex Buess and Japanese Noise legend Merzbow - however must be included here. Made of Electronic Noise, guitar, saxophone and trumpet P/O Massacre is fighting fire with fire, as this unsparing "Anti-War" music sounds just like propaganda, invasion, occupation... war! Someone should melt the wannabe-czar's face with this!

  19. DIVIDE & DISSOLVE - Systemic

    Black Native American and Maori girls unite against the state of the world! A ridiculously over-amplified duo playing instrumental Sludge / Doom / Noise Rock with interludes of looped Jazz saxophones and keys against the white supremacist system. It's a good sign that a band with this specific niché premise can even exist in today's Metal environment. The actual execution of Divide and Dissolve's raw and real fourth album however is even better. Crushing!

  20. NI - Fol Naïs

    Is Benoit Lecomte the MVP of this TOP 23? The bass player did not only play the acoustic four strings on both PoiL Ueda albums, but is also plugged-in member of the absolutely loony Avantgarde Math Noise Metal band Ni. Their delightfully heavy new coo-coo complex instrumental album sounds pretty much like its hilarious cover looks and totally fits its Old French title, which translates to "Born Mad".

  21. THE NECKS - Travel

    The great mysterious question lingering on my mind when listening to The Necks is whether the Australian trio even needs to prepare or concentrate on a certain mood before they press record, or if this kind of almost spiritually hypnotic Post Jazz just comes out naturally in up to over twenty minutes long jams when you put these seasoned players into one room. Piano/organ, upright bass and drums - plus some overdubs and post production - forming transcendent signals and imprinting it into your bloodstream. (Look how I snuck all song titles into that sentence!)

  22. My number one exclusively uplifting feel-good studio release of the year hails from Texas. The self-titled debut album of drummer Forest Cazayoux'  big band is grooving with a many-layered, rich and smoothly produced amalgam of infectiously funky instrumental Psychedelic Latin Afro-Beat Jazz Rock Fusion. This sweet and spicy record bursts with amazing individual performances from innumerable instruments, yet noone steals the spotlight too much from the ensemble as a whole, which is the sparlking star of the show.

  23. HENRIK LINDSTRAND - Klangland

    Need a score to turn any everyday situation into emotionally complex, melancholically longing arthouse cinema? Swedish composer Henrik Lindstrand's sat down at his piano and composed a roundel of achingly beautiful melodic pieces, which accompanied by a sixteen-piece string ensemble will give you exactly that. Contempory Classical music which captures the fugitiveness of the moment in genuine purity.

    favorite MUSIC 2023 - all my lists:

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