Every year I forget how much time and work it takes to put this list together. In an ideal world this list would have been out earlier, but what’s the rush really?
This list comes late because every year we sift through every other list we can get our hands on before finishing ours. This list is a result of that deep digging, that I love, but don’t expect out of anyone else. Our goal is to lift up the most interesting and engaging music from the year across every genre. It’s also a result of some selective culling, there’s no need to reiterate albums on every other year end list. This list is also lacking in electronic releases because put together a separate list to present the club wizardry of the year.
100 is an arbitrary number and this list should be thought of, at best, as loosely ordered. There isn’t an album on this list that will be a waste of your time if you have at least a passing interest in the genre. I’ve discovered many albums highlighted here in just the last month and its impossible to know an albums staying power with just 1-2 listens.
Over the last 6 years Natural Music has been an incredible project that’s connected me with some amazing people but the times have changed and newsletters are back in style (thanks Substack). The site will live on as a resource full of music across every genre but in 2023 I want to experiment with landing straight in email inboxes to cut out the struggle of distribution.
My goal is to post monthly highlighting some of my favorite new finds from the past month or the past 50 years in addition to other artistic highlights I encounter like art, films, books, and live performances. If that sounds like something that might interest you subscribe here!
I'm also looking to expand on our output as a project next year and am looking for people interested in helping. Brooklyn based collaborators would be ideal but regardless of where you are if you wanted to contribute in any capacity (writing, design, dev, etc) then we'd be more than happy to have you. If interested, email me here!
We’ve selected a favorite track from each album in this list (of those available on Spotify). This format inherently hurts most of these albums because they’re pieces of art meant to be consumed in full. Regardless, our recommendation is to just let it play through and discover some new favorites you may have missed last year. We also created a Buy Music Club page linking to everything available on Bandcamp.
Selected Bandcamp reviews:
The Jealous Cactus - "Horse Lords keep delivering. You can tell they drink from the fountains of Can and free jazz, but they are so refreshingly unique like few bands are nowadays.
UniqueUserName - "Is there any currently active rock band that is more exciting, more experimental, and yet also unqualifiedly joyful to listen to than Horse Lords? Not that I've heard!"
BenPujara - "A jangled euphoric jam like shaking an etch-a-sketch and making Matisse. Masterful."
There is a way a voice can cut through the fascia of reality, cleaving through habit into the raw nerve of experience. Nika Roza Danilova, who since 2009 has released music as Zola Jesus, wields a voice that does that. When you hear it, it is like you are being summoned -- not to somewhere new, but to a place that's already wrapped inside you, somewhere previously obscured from conscious experience.
For their first album as Gilla Band, (formerly Girl Band) the foursome has redrawn their own paradigm. Most Normal is like little you’ve heard before, a kaleidoscopic spectrum of noise put in service of broken pop songs, FX-strafed Avant-punk rollercoaster rides and passages of futurist dancefloor nihilism.
Hyaline was recorded in the rooms of an untreated Brooklyn apartment; shaped by the confines of life in New York City, the album melds bleary samples recorded in Prospect Park with stripped-back guitar playing and gauzy vocal arrangements. The end result sounds calls to mind Grouper, Sibylle Baier, and Lomelda.
The word “hyaline” means transparent, and while the tracks on Maria BC’s first full length are often more overcast than azure, they are tied together by an ethereal, heavenly quality.
Samora Pinderhughes is a composer, pianist, vocalist, filmmaker, and multidisciplinary artist known for striking intimacy and carefully crafted, radically honest lyrics alongside high-level musicianship. He uses his music to examine sociopolitical issues and fight for change and works in the tradition of the black surrealists, those who bend word, sound, and image towards the causes of revolution. Essential listening for fans of Moses Sumney, SAULT, Makaya McCraven, and really for any jazz fans.
Shivering with tension, Trouble the Water is an exciting and urgent call to come together and kick off – at once a reflection of, and a cathartic release from, volatile times. The New York hardcore band populates a swamp of chugs with weird creatures of electronica and sudden clearings of melodic, galloping punk.
The expansive spirit of Mike Hadreas’ terrific new album conjures and reimagines a mode of experimental pop music that is ecstatic, healing, modern, and queer. The album is one of the most challenging and rewarding releases Perfume Genius has ever attempted .... The compositional risks and oblique poetry from Hadreas never waver throughout the album’s methodical pacing, with his voice bringing urgency to every subtle change as the songs progress.
The Toronto band’s third album is a triumph of power pop, a densely layered, witty, and beautiful record that sets a new benchmark for their vein of jangly, dreamy rock music.
Combining surreal humor with a globalized sound palette, Slovenian "imaginary folk" trio Širom fashion maximalist avant-garde soundscapes from antique acoustic instruments like the balafon and hurdy gurdy. Often powered by handmade instruments, these expansive compositions echo the borderless, collective spirit of groups like Don Cherry's Organic Music Society and Art Ensemble of Chicago. "Episodic, dreamlike voyages" - The Guardian
A joyous selection that melds together its alt-rock influences to locate a distinctive voice, pitting intricate instrumentation against killer pop hooks.
Horsegirl expertly play with texture, shape, and shade across the record, showcasing their fondness for improvisation and experimentation. Opener “Anti-glory” is elastic and bright post-punk (and one of the best rock songs of the year), while the guitars in instrumental interlude “Bog Bog 1” smear across the song’s canvas like watercolors
Anonymous artist Brainwaltzera balances futuristic technical vision with emotive melodies across sixteen spiraling tracks. ITSAME skirts all genre boundaries opening with jittery breaks before settling into emotional idm ,some post-rock, foreboding electronica, and even fingerpicked acoustic guitar interludes.
Norway's very own Honningbarna are an electrifying indie punk outlet who bring their very best to the table on Animorphs. This sun-kissed brand of punk rock is truly highlighting the band's chemistry, making them feel like the well-oiled machine they ought to be by now. This could very well end up being what European punk fans consume for the summer.
Pop in your earpiece, close your eyes and embrace the wonders (and horrors) of augmented reality and prepare to travel 500 years into the future as Richard Dawson returns with…The Ruby Cord. These seven tracks plunge us into an unreal, fantastical and at times sinister future where social mores have mutated, ethical and physical boundaries have evaporated; a place where you no longer need to engage with anyone but yourself and your own imagination. It’s a leap into a future that is well within reach, in some cases already here.
Called “the poet laureate of the apocalypse” by Pitchfork, Moor Mother's Jazz Codes uses poetry as a starting point, but the collection moves toward more melody, more singing voices, more choruses and more complexity. In its warm, densely layered course through jazz, blues, soul, hip-hop, ’Jazz Codes’ sets the ear blissfully adrift and unhitches the mind from habit.
barun432 - "its pointless to genre define a genteel album like this, it's a sonic experience which is to be felt, folks will come back to this as more time passes by."
The debut full length album by former PC Music enigma 'QT' under this new alias. The Clearing is an elemental journey through relationships and identity where every emotion feels like a tectonic shift. Texture-rich sound design and really beautiful lyrics accompanied by an fascinating concept that ties it all together. The album features contributions from the late Sophie, as well as A. G. Cook, Jónsi, and Caroline Polachek, among others.
Pre Pleasure is a delight to listen to. It is Julia Jacklin at her best: raw yet intricate characteristically exquisite indie rock.
The album presents Jacklin as an uncompromising and masterful lyricist, always willing to mine the depths of her own life experience, and singular in translating it into deeply personal, timeless songs.
At every turn, this remarkable record reconfigures and stretches the ideas and ambition of a rock band, and turns a year of lockdown and personal struggles into a breathtaking artistic statement. Heart Under serves as the next stage of this development, with every instrument brilliantly pushed to its limit and every boundary of the band stretched.
Brooklyn-based composer Rachika Nayer injects the serene ambience of her past work with flashes of the club music’s emotionality - amen breaks, M1 piano stabs, warehouse rave synthesizers and more make for an experience that is utterly euphoric and incredibly emotive without a single word.
A lush, surprising new body of work from the producer and songwriter, Harp connects 90s house and rave music with hip-hop, shoegaze, and pop, and which serves as a culmination of years of painful emotional work for Adams brought on by the death of his Father over 10 years prior. Harp recalls the precise but emotionally rich landscapes of Arca or Oneohtrix Point Never, rendered in the watercolors of My Bloody Valentine.
At long last, the debut album proper from Manchester enigma Michael J. Blood arrives. Inside, you’ll find over an hour of the deadliest, trackiest productions this side of Chicago, with a loose-limbed, next-level understanding of the form that we genuinely can’t fully get our heads round. Absolutely essential gear, especially so if you’re into Anthony ’Shake’ Shakir, Actress, Theo Parrish or Omar-S. Spawned from long sessions immured in the studio, ‘As Is’ slices the tape on a 14 track mix of sizzling productions and proper, locked-in sequencer joyrides that juice the groove for all it’s worth. [Boomkat]
Intimate Publics, Osheyack’s second album, is an homage to Shanghai, the city he has called home since 2012. The album expresses a commitment to mining the utopian potential of club music and forging new worlds but is also charged with an unexpected emotional candor and vulnerability, unveiling a personal side Osheyack is only beginning to explore.
The new mixtape from U.K. avant-pop star, FKA Twigs, unfurls to reveal the richest and catchiest melodies she’s written so far with plenty of sonic weirdness in the corners.
Wet Leg’s infectious debut record is a dazzling romp through the chaos of your mid-twenties we’re sure to revisit for long to come.
Bass has sifted the pockets of its sub-genres for decades, perpetually in search of a fresh direction. SCREAMER’ plugs spirited pop melodies and a scorched, glitchy coating to the UK Bass cannon. The production is akin to a Grimes record; it could, in fact, be the more dangerous twin sister of ‘Vision’. This is a wondrous and invigorating release that encapsulates the most lucid of club moments while airing a conflict that asks undemanding questions. - https://100words.uk/
A late addition to this list coming on December 22nd (the winter solstice) instead of the summer solstice as many of his previous projects. The depth of MIKE’s material is like that of an elder statesman, he raps about pain and perseverance like he’s lived a hundred lifetimes already despite being not even 25 years old.
Lorraine James trades her usual, off-kilter club kicks and snares for beatless, dreamy melodies with the debut of her new project and alias ‘Whatever the Weather’.
The British-Chinese musician, Organ Tapes, trades the club tropes of previous albums for unadorned guitars and surreal soundscaping that grows with each listen. “An investigation into avant pop, that sounds like a DIY inversion filtered thru the autotuned hypersonix of Ecco2K or Yves Tumor.
Lost & Found is an ecstatic journey containing music by outsiders, mystics, visionaries, who often have more than one identity and lay claim to various artistic traditions, genres, or audiences. The repertoire ranges from Hildegard von Bingen to Olivier Messiaen, Moondog, Julius Eastman, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Meredith Monk, Shiva Feshareki, Oliver Leith and Daniel Kidane. Stretching ten centuries, these pieces are bound together by Shibe’s unique electric guitar sound and aesthetic. Shibe brings a fresh and innovative approach to the traditional classical guitar, while also exploring contemporary music and repertoire for electric guitar.
A UK producer who’s arguably as well known for his pranksterish (some might say shit-starting) online persona as he is for his music, Kai Whiston has seriously leveled up his craft on new album Quiet As Kept, F.O.G., an autobiographical effort that explores his upbringing in the New Age Traveller community. Coming of age in the UK’s free-party circuit is enough to scramble any child’s circuits, which is perhaps why the LP is such a fractured listen, careening between high-end sound design, intensely hyperactive bangers, morose rap beats, pitch-shifted vocal mayhem and more, often within the span of a single track.
For anyone who’s been feeling suffocated by the sameness that’s been afflicting hip-hop and pop—where a small handful of ideas gets recycled endlessly, and a spin through the big new-release playlists quickly devolves into a blur—They Hate Change’s Jagjaguwar debut, Finally, New lives up to its name. Finally, a record that can satisfy the geeky headphone trainspotters and the hedonistic ass-shakers, too. Finally, producers who refuse to settle for making drag-and-drop beats. Finally, New is what a truly post-genre musical landscape is supposed to be: building deep connections that transcend outdated distinctions between them, spilling over with the joy of exploration and possibility, and daring other artists to think broader, go deeper, take bigger risks.
On his first album for Warp, Wu-lu mixes grunge guitars with drum’n’bass breaks and claustrophobic atmospheres, seeking uneasy catharsis. It’s an apt reflection of our times; an era marred by inequality, division and unrepentant greed that is inspiring art that is equally tumultuous.
Celebrated UK producer Loraine James delivers a breathtaking homage to vital NYC composer Julius Eastman, reinterpreting, reimagining and responding to key works. Loraine employs samples, melodic motifs, themes and imagery, and inspiration from Eastman’s canon, slicing, editing, pulling apart and playing samples like instruments to craft a stunning album that venerates Eastman’s genius while adhering to her own.Speaking in similar tongues as young, gay, Black, independent creatives in a challenging environment, the two musicians are bound closely together, despite a six-year gap between their lives ever intersecting. James includes the original Eastman title in many of her tracks, appending the source material in parentheses to mark the lineage of the work - a clear, traceable thread from the heavenly to the sublime.
Through its all too brief runtime, lucky styles ranges from the crushingly loud to the stunningly serene, and never settles on the easy or expected choice. This record can get real noisy when it wants to, but the band knows exactly when to bring it back down to earth.With its melancholic songwriting, sonic detailing, and unexpected style detours, lucky styles is a peek into the future of shoegaze, and its refreshingly left-field take on the classic sound will both shake you with its intensity and stun you with its beauty. Despite it taking large inspiration from the formative shoegaze bands, this feels like a truly modern album. This isn’t the 90’s anymore. It’s time for shoegaze to go online.
The second album from the London-based avant-pop artist is an album that takes multiple listens to truly appreciate. It's a darkly nuanced look at identity and technology, where personal disasters occur at the same scale as the actual apocalypse. Dripping in error messages, glitching computer code and introspective melodies, yeule guides us through their intense and complex connection to virtual realities and the real world as we know it.
Aethiopes shoved Wood's always outlandish style into territories further afield than ever before. It's an album that require numerous listens and extensive research to fully comprehend, yet even on cursory listens, the album's scope, detail, and creativity are highly impressive. His other 2022 album Church is also worth hearing for fans of this.
On the duo’s debut full-length, DJ Haram’s East Coast club influences meet Moor Mother’s shape-shifting wordplay. Nothing To Declare is peculiar in both sound and concept, but the messages at the core of this album make it worth the effort to get to know it. It’s a noisy, thrillingly confrontational album bursting with genre-bending sounds and heart-wrenching lyrics that perfectly capture the times.
.lacing its faith in the healing power of animals and Auto-Tune, God Save the Animals is Alex G's most sonically consistent record An impeccably crafted record with stand outmoments of sharp lyrical simplicity. Swipe to the end of this post for some live footage from a recent concert we attended with standout tracks.
Hudson Mohawke’s ‘Cry Sugar’ pulls from everywhere, all at once, swimming in the old and ecstatically celebrating the new. This record is unabashedly anthemic even as it is apocalyptic and frayed. A truly wild sonic ride.
Five years in the making, Caroline's debut encourages stillness and contemplation, rewarding deep listening with rhythmic undercurrents that lure you into a meditative state. It’s an unorthodox largely instrumental post-rock album that takes multiple listens to fully grasp.
Black Country, New Road’s second album finds the seven-piece ensemble subtly evolving their experimental post-punk towards a more accessible chamber pop with occasional midwest emo flairs without sacrificing the band's musical wizardry or cathartic climaxes.
Big Thief’s latest album is the work of a great band at a creative peak. A double album spanning 20 songs featuring pristine arrangements, tight performances, urgent emotionality, and a never-ending appetite for experimentation.
On her debut album, Ethel Cain delivers a cathartic, folkloric, refined and highly moving cinematic experience. The sprawling conceptual masterpiece blends together southern gothic, slowcore, and chamber pop among other musical influences to create a potent portrait of youthful raw emotion.
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If you liked this list and are still looking for more check out our lists from 2020 and 2021 for more.