Austin’s 10 Favorite Albums of 2023

During the month of December, Loyola Libraries staff make lists and check them twice. What are these lists about? Anything! You can look at past years’ lists here and stay tuned for more lists!

Jamie Branch – Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))

This posthumous record by the prolific bandleader and collaborator was recorded before her death in August 2022, lovingly completed over the following year by her band and family, and released on the venerable Chicago label International Anthem in August 2023. Branch is known as an avant-garde Jazz trumpeter, but even these capacious epithets fail to capture the sprawling energy and sheer sense of musical possibilityexhibited on this record. Her prophetic horn vaults over Afro-Carribean polyrhythms, organ grooves, and liquid cello lines, heralding a better world to come. RIYL: the beautiful people of Chicago, IL.  

Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

The most hyped album on this list, and probably the best representation of The Contemporary Pop Sensibility that came out this year. With its bubbly production, digital augmentation, and breakbeats, Polachek’s sound has much in common with that of hyperpop peers like Charli XCX. What sets this record apart is how disparate references and a maximalist ambition are formed into finely wrought songs that sustain repeated listening. RIYL: going clubbing the night before you take the LSAT.

Wednesday – Rat Saw God As the title suggests, the third album from Wednesday is a monument to squalid transcendence, to the desolate beauty of the post-industrial, post-opium epidemic American hinterlands. Everywhere beauty is couched in dissonance, both in Karly Hartzman’s lyrics (“There’s a sex shop off the highway / With a biblical name”), and the delicate mixture of distorted guitar riffs and rustic pedal steel lines. This one is for the Carhartt wearers, new and old. RIYL: gas station hot dogs.  

Titanic – Vidrio

Cello savant Mabe Fratti released one of my favorite records of 2022 with Se Ve Desde Aquí, and on Vidrio she unites with fellow Mexico City musicians Héctor Tosta and Jarrett Gilgore to expand the range of her intuitive, experimental songcraft to new dimensions. While the cello acrobatics are subdued on this release, the collaborative context provides a solid backdrop for Fratti to experiment with longer vocal passages over jazz progressions. I’m particularly taken by this project after having seen Fratti play an intimate show in a Mexico City courtyard last January. RIYL: gallery openings and their afterparties.

Nabihah Iqbal – DREAMER Longtime DJ Nabihah Iqbal returned this year with her second record, which contains as much knowledge of underground music that one would expect from someone associated with NTS radio. “Dreampop” is an accurate descriptor at first glance, but below the reverb there’s an earthier rhythmic presence, imported from electro-pop, cold wave, and house. Iqbal’s haunting lyrical repetition on tracks like “Sunflower” make this a great one to zone into or out to. RIYL: dark academia.

bar italia – Tracey Denim

Pitchfork slandered this one as “record-collector rock,” given its ostensible derivation from 80s and 90s indie rock. But beginning as they did on Dean Blunt’s World Music label, bar italia have a darker, English mystique totally foreign to their supposed Gen X forebears. To me they’re more akin to the Britpop of the 00s channeled through obscure image boards and underground fashion shows. By turns embarrassingly desperate and utterly cheeky, Tracey Denim was the soundtrack to my losses and wins in 2023. RIYL: late night trips to Tesco.

Frog – Grog

Grog begins with a brief sample from Townsends, a favorite YouTube channel of mine dedicated to recreating the recipes, crafts, and outfits of the 18th century. The historical invocations continue throughout the album, as Frog pull in swinging 70s funk riffs, 60s folk melodies, and barn-stomping roots rhythms. Like similar bedroom pop historians R. Stevie Moore and Ariel Pink, though, Frog make sure to intersperse these references with a heavy dose of humor (“Gonna take the bassline out to lunch / Gonna make a bowl of Captain Crunch”). RIYL: house museums

A. Savage – Several Songs About Fire 

Parquet Courts were a favorite band just out of college, but everything they’ve released since Wide Awake in 2018 has left me cold. Thankfully front man Andrew Savage has taken some time away to release another solo album. Abandoning the straitjacket of post-punk revivalism, Savage is now free to compose spiritual ballads (“Hurtin’ or Healed”), whimsical ditties about sun-drenched expat life (“Riding Cobbles”), and ok yeah, a little more post-punk revivalism (“David’s Dead”). Overall, the freedom to explore new ideas and new platforms for his clever crooning is what makes this release so exciting. RIYL: finally leaving New York.

The Clientele – I Am Not There Anymore

From the first note, this was the biggest surprise of the year for me. With 19 tracks clocking in at an hour, it’s almost as long as their 2000 masterpiece Suburban Light. But where its predecessor was all Velvet Underground indie-noir, they’re… um… Not There Anymore! This latest release finds them walking in the sun of a lush pastoral, as suggested by many titles (“Garden Eye Mantra,” “Dying in May,” “Conjuring Summer In,” “My Childhood,” “Chalk Flowers,” Stems of Anise,” and “Through the Roses”). Probably more ornate than can even be appreciated after a half dozen listens, this one will remain a companion for reveries to come. I like to think of The Clientele as “autumn-coded,” but this release has shown me that they’re really a band for all seasons. RIYL: wearing a little scarf, year-round.

Arthur Russell – Picture of Bunny Rabbit

Since his passing in 1992, we’ve been blessed with a slow trickle of archival material that this legendary composer, producer, and cellist was never able to release in his lifetime. After six of these archival albums, it’s become a critical cliché that contemporary music still hasn’t caught up to the genre-defying innovations Arthur brought to such disparate domains as disco, folk, techno, and post-minimalism. Picture of Bunny Rabbit includes material recorded at the same time as the miraculously beautiful World of Echo in 1986 and contains much of the same delicate melodies and haunting cello lines. REQUIRED LISTENING!! RIYL: miracles.

Austin is the Monograph Acquisitions Assistant at University Chicago Libraries. When not acquiring books for Loyola’s library he can be found acquiring books for his own collection, or his friends’, or yes, even yours.

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