the dubstep genre has become somewhat generic, leading to the mind numbing homogenisation of the subgenre for the past decade. It seemed like dubstep was losing its edge. Then came Vylet Pony.

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01.01.24 well_2023: "YES" albums (2/2) 12.31.23 well_2023: "NO" albums (1/2)
12.27.23 (be)rate my LP 'collection'12.03.23 2023 BNM: cringedex
12.01.23 New users :: REVIEWED 11.28.23 Your 5s choices reviewed AGAIN
11.15.23 learn from my WORST REVIEWS 11.13.23 Tory stooge music
11.10.23 Feed me 2023 things11.04.23 4000 Ratings // Top 100 albums*
11.02.23 NO AVATAR CLUB10.20.23 SPUT ROYALE: f i n a l e
10.15.23 SPUT ROYALE: FINAL10.10.23 SPUT ROYALE: Round 6 (½ final)
10.06.23 SPUT ROYALE: Round 5 (¼ final)10.03.23 OCTOBER of d o w n t e m p o // ぼreak
10.02.23 SPUT ROYALE: Round 4.5 (playoff)09.27.23 SEPTEMBER of J a ρ a n (+++)
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well_2023: "YES" albums (2/2)

this is the end happy christmas
129Space Camp
Gold Star

Noise rock

pigfuck goes to the moon

Spotlight: "Violets"
128Dai Dai Dai, Crossnoesis & RAY


Still haven't decided whether this was an iconic landmark in the alt-idol universe or an endearing novelty that I will never return to, but it earns the goodwill it needs for this list from 1) most significant pizzamachine review of the year, and 2) lol it's Dai Dai Dai and Ray on the same disc

Spotlight: "Atmosphere" hurr hurr
127Shuta Hasunuma

Glitch / IDM / ambient

Zany odyssey of bitesize glitch vignettes: limited amount on offer re. highlights or '""substance"" (no, the guitar features do not bridge the distance), but there's something distantly charming to it all the same

Spotlight: "Sando"
Yearning: Promethean Fates Sealed

Progressive death metal

Girthy progressive (death) metal with everything and the classical kitchen sink thrown in. Almost overbearing Unexpect leanings here (which some of the slower folks here have mistaken for Kayo Dot lol), but it packs enough bombast to hold its ground

Spotlight: n/a
125Tkay Maidza
Sweet Justice


Little hit-or-miss and occasionally a little vapid (opener lyrics) or grating ("Free Throws" jfc) for my liking, but when this nails its balance between that attitude and R&B smoothtimes, it's a cosy addition to any yearlist. Flume is such a bad influence here and I honestly love him for it lol, what a cracked feature

Spotlight: "What Ya Know"
Anything Else


Quick twofer from everyone's favourite bedroom noiseboi. Neither of these tracks have quite the same kick as I normally look to Kraus for, but they're at least loud enough to scratch the general region of that itch

Spotlight: "for now"
123Sign Language (USA-OH)
Madison and Floral

Shoegaze / alt rock

Grungegaze done mostly right: absolutely definitely nothing more to say about the default floor and ceiling that immediately apply here in the year of our lord 2023!!

Spotlight: n/a
122James Holden
Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities

Progressive electronic

"V-v-v-v-vibes?" Probably moreso than anything else on the list, this one really does come down to transfers of positive (or at least chillout) energy - it's too mellow to feel like it imposes patience, but its lethargic progressions and warm tones are absolutely useless if you jam them in a hurry (which I have found deeply inconvenient for this catchup jam but shall allow). ITIAHDSOAP asks you to bask in its glow and let its gentle underpulse (there is a generous amount of pulse!) carry you along, and I think James Holden caters pretty generously to those who go along with it even if it's hardly the most immediate record here

Spotlight: "Continuous Revolution"
121Asian Glow and sonhos tomam conta

Emo / screamo / shoegaze / black metal

This will never be as good as I wanted it to be but it sure af does pack enough contorted ethereal angst to tide over the cope

Spotlight: "hangthemall"
120Marilyn Mazur Group


ECM is far from my favourite pocket of jazz and I haven't explored it enough to weigh in as heavily as I'd like to here, but I've always appreciated how much mystique and suspense Marilyn Mazur has brought to play compared to ye olde ultra-consonant coffee table pitter-patter of most other artists I've heard. Flow is, uh, decent enough! It teases a lot of her strong suits - beautiful eerieness, unexpected luminance, disorienting off-kilter dissonance - but shows relatively few to their best. Haven't kept up with jazz much this year (a target for next year), so I guess this makes a reluctant highlight

Spotlight: "New Silence"
After The Magic

Emo / shoegaze / post-rock

Korean bedroom mascot ups his production game considerably and trots out a new set of MIDI-fuelled emo buildups - some great stuff here, but his style on its own is just to bland to deliver the same highs it hit on the Downfall of the Neon Youth comp (the way "Insomnia" lands here compared to that record cements this for me).
Spotlight: tough one. To See the Next Part of the Dream was such a highlight album, but all these songs are pretty much on a plain. Let's be rogue and go with "스케치북 (Sketchbook)"
118Eyes (DK)

Noise rock

FUN noisy bangers with a ton of energy and a few of the vacuum cleaner shit from Daughters' (somehow) enduringly excellent s/t album thrown in -- I should have downloaded this when it dropped and kept it on the go throughout the year, but I was an idiot and did not! Could easily have been higher otherwise

Spotlight: "The City"
117Dorthia Cottrell
Death Folk Country

Gothic country

I, uh, guess this is the country record of the year? For what that's worth (fuck all that Billboard nonsense; this was not a good year for country)? Slept on it to a large degree because I made the idiot move of checking while commuting on foot, but this thing will suck the life and heat out of whatever room you're armchairing in just fine.

Spotlight: "Family Annihilator"
116Ne Obliviscaris

Progressive metal

Disney metal done tbqh actually mostly right? Have had major reservations about this band/style of music in the pass, but will give this kudos as a mighty ol' level up (whether or not I'll ever jam it again is another matter, but)

Spotlight: the one with the guitar solo

Noise rock

Unwieldy, noisy, eclectic, adorable, messy, assorted other goodshit: I'm pretty convinced by this as a step up from Godcaster's shrapnel gun of a debut, and if the consistency and pacing are all over the damn shop, then hey, they make plenty good work out of charming irregularity and I'll take whatever comes with the territory

Spotlight: "Vivian Heck"
114Everything But the Girl

Pop / house

Endearing, if somewhat underwhelming comeback from two pop legends. This record *sounds* like an absolute treat, but you can tell how much rust they had to shake off in the songwriting department - Tracey Thron's take on downtempo soulfulness is still practically a national treasure, so I hope they kick up some momentum from this (would be a shame if it were a one-off at the very end of their discog).

Spotlight: "No One Knows We're Dancing"


melodic crystal-twinkle ambient nu-Oval finally makes an end-to-end good album and, uh, yeah it's pretty good discuss

Spotlight: "Amethyst"
112Megumi Acorda
Silver Fairy

Dream pop / shoegaze

^you already know exactly what this sounds like, and yes it's one of the good ones

Spotlight: "Tomorrow"
Unlock My World


My effort to keep up with K-Pop this year was, erm, even more pathetic_Casul than it is usually is, and the best and most I can say for fromis_9's latest is that it reminded me exactly why I get so easily saturated on this most bubble shower chrome palace of all genres. Good hooks, good stodge mmhm(?)

Spotlight: "#menow"

Avant-black metal

Whoops, almost left out Liturgy! This extended peal of every sound that has ever belonged or not belonged on a metal record is too hideously unwieldy to make it much further up, but it dishes out a minirapture in small doses. Handle with care? Avant-nepo-jank is (still) here to stay

Spotlight: "Caela"
109Alfa Mist



Spotilght: "The Gist"
108Kaizo Slumber
How Are We Feeling Today?

Digital hardcore

A lot of this scrapes by as fun trash, but shit damn on the few occasions where it really pulls its weight ("Reuben's Waltz", "Comic Mischief"), there's some really tight thrills to be had here. A promising step forward - good riddance to this guy's generic gamer breakcore

Spotlight: "Reuben's Waltz"
In My Saddest Dreams, I Am Beside You

Emotional hardcore things

This thing might be a little too keen to double down on hardcore facepounding, but when it keeps its emo instincts maudlin and its melody department nuclear, there's a force to be reckoned with here. Disregard all of this for the lategame stomper "Blighttown Type Beat" which, uh, stomps. Harder than is reasonable for a song with such a pigheaded approach and that fucking title? Cool.

Spotlight: "Good Reasons to Freeze to Death"
Extra Life

Dream pop / trip-hop

Really smooth fusion of the two above genres - bit inconistent in the songwriting and hooks depts, but the opener and *especially* the w o n d e r f u l "Milkweed" are everything I'd want from this and have been lovely recurring jams throughout the year. Cute EP!

Spotlight: "Milkweed"
105Sigur Ros


oh mournful sappy dignified cringe wonderful nostalgic baby music, how foolish i was to imagine anything else could ever mildly disappoint more magically than you

Spotlight: "Skel"
104Tim Hecker
No Highs


Tim Hecker's best effort to prove that his version of bargain bin tedium can still hold its own against *some* other artists' discernibly inspired records is, uh, really not the flex I was hoping it would be. For all my bitching and moaning about practically everything else, this was a really great year for ambient, and it does not spark joy to see a genre kingpin flunk his seat at the table like this. Good album etc. whatever.

Spotlight: "Anxiety"
103Jaimie Branch
Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))

Experimental jazz spiritual jazz jazz

Not at all my preferred ballpark of jazz, but the late Jaimie Branch (RIP) and friends bring easily enough personality to this churning spiritual throwdown to see it through in style

Spotlight: "burning grey"
102Red Velvet
Chill Kill


New Year's Resolution #333: stop meme-hyping K-Pop records that are neither amazing enough to deserve it nor bad enough to gain much from the irony.

Spotlight: "Will I Ever See You Again?"
101Yo La Tengo
This Stupid World


Everyone's favourite snoozy sweater mascots put in some great work punctuating their trademark cosy reveries with jagged bursts of overdrive. This record coasts back without ever really 'rocking out', and it's remarkable how much energy and tension they still manage to suffuse it with. Still has a bit too much down time for my liking, but good stuff here anyhow

Spotlight: "Sinatra Drive Breakdown"
100PJ Harvey
I Inside the Old Year Dying

Singing songwriting

PJ Harvey's first album in X years is enigmatic, meticulously focused, disorienting and more than occasionally a little plain. Parts of it are spellbinding, parts lose or intrigue me depending on listen, and parts have me watching the clock - defs don't think this will be the record anyone remembers her for and I wish I liked it more than I did, but it's a respectable enough comeback anyhow

Spotlight: "I Inside the Old Year Dying"
99Saya Gray

Folk and friends

Saya Gray takes a bold step beyond the zany patchwork of her psych/indie/nu-folk masterwork 19 MASTERS and goes full chaos for one enjoyably shrapnel-ridden EP. More diverting novelty than firm keeper, but it's still an intriguing reminder of why she's one to watch: the breaks and metal riffs she drops here could easily be teasers of whatever everything-is-possible bombshell she drops next. Or maybe it'll be something completely different. Fun release either way

Spotlight: "ANNIE, I SING FOR..."


Bubbly ultra-sanitary K-pop zingers galore(ish) here - middle tracks on this are aces and "Seoul Sonyo Sound" garage/R&B smash is a Good Proper Find. Most of this never rises above an occasional comfort listen, but it puts in good work to that end anyway so shuddup stop complaining

Spotlight: "Seoul Sonyo Sound"
97McKinley Dixon
Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?


I agree with whichever piece of boss said the music on this is the primary attraction over the rap, but damn boi those do be some tasty instrumentals + backing vox (and the main man doesn't exactly drop the ball)

Spotlight: "Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?"


Latest re-templating of the screamo bible: production is a *tad* slick but overall cogent, energy levels are precisely adequate to carry the thing (and rarely anything more), higher skramz are a bit thin (though those growls are a surprise treat!), and spends enough in contorted dynamic shifts to feel a good ten minutes longer than its half-hour runtime. Did I just rattle off an unsparing list of veiled criticisms? Uh, it's good skramz in 2023 -- go, like, get it if that's important to you!

Spotlight: maybe the opener tbh
95DJ Trax
Break from Reality

Drum and bass / jungle

This rather girthy atmo DnB odyssey actually covers a decent amount of ground across its tracklist, but you'll struggle to notice this through how sluggish individual track progressions are. Has a somewhat treacle-like feel in a sense that I'm ambivalent about, but it's solid enough stuff however much it drags its feet

Spotlight: "Soul Fire"
94Ohzora Kimishima
Eitaisuru Kemuri


There has been almost no point at any point in this year where I haven't been underrating this lovely gossamer swoon of an album. Sure, it's a little long and a bit diffuse, but this is the heady summer jam I, uh, forgot to double down on. A sleeper! A cute, dozy sleeper and the best new Lamp record of 2023!

Spotlight: "ぬい"
93Aesop Rock
Integrated Tech Solutions


I ~kinda get why people obsess over this dude's wordplay and smartarsery to the frankly debased extents that they do, but his primary appeal to me has always been his chops as a storyteller -- screw the topical conceptual window-dressing and the skronked-up digishit served up in the production department, this thing is best when it sticks to the anecdotes (of which there are, thankfully, a good many!). It is also far too long, but uh I think I like it enough to abide?

Spotlight: "Aggressive Steven"
92Night Verses
Every Sound Has a Color in the Valley of Night...

Progressive metal

Thank you Night Verses for reminding us all that, once in a blue moon, this kind of progged-out tech metal doesn't have to be the polar opposite of everything worth admiring in music. Still wouldn't say I'm in love with this, but the performances are (mostly) tasteful throughout, the songwriting rarely feels indulgence, the prod is crisp in a way that actually suits this kind of metal (if I hear one more black metal drummer piggybacking this hyperpolished drum prod I stg) and it's possible to tell individual songs apart. Sputnik gets a hell of a lot of things wrong within this album's general catch area, but their respect is broadly warranted I guess cool!

Spotlight: "Rose Wire" or "Love in a Liminal Space"
Rat Saw God

Indie / shoegaze / alt-country

Without question the year's biggest tumbleweed of an album (kinda a good thing?!) and yet it still finds room to scream? Gawd this thing indulges such a disgusting range of the hipster spectrum I cannot hide from it

Spotlight: "Quarry"
Ontological Mysterium

(Melodic) death (progressive) metal

Highly polished, *slightly* corny bitesize grabbag of all the death metal things y'all love (melodic ones included!) - don't think this is exactly mindblowing, but it is remarkably proficient at practically every suit it turns its hand to. Real jack-of-all-trades type thang

Spotlight: "Chrysopoeia (The Archaeology of Dawn)"
89Sangre de Muerdago
O Vento que Lambe as miñas Feridas


Galician folk apparently = ponderous Irish hobbit music, and sure I can feel seen by it

Spotlight: "Eu chorei, chorei"
88George Clanton
Ooh Rap I Ya

Psych wooze synthpop pop retro

Speaking of 100% comfort listens, no album has made me feel like a bigger couch potato this year than this one, and I'm still coming to terms with my feelings on this.

Spotlight: "Everything I Want"
87Avenged Sevenfold
Life Is But a Dream...

Post-commerce metal

tfw your problematic ex enters her Rick and Morty phase, but you're far enough removed that the second-hand cringe can't quite reach you and you honestly(?) love it for her

Spotlight: "Beautiful Mourning"
86Sasaki Kaishin Creation
Soundscapes of Mine

Ambient / jazz

"Jazz guitar sucks" but what if YOU were the suck? These featherweight solo performances are effortlessly palatable and go down exactly the same way as a good piece of folk guitar (classical). Regret how obscure this is, as I haven't been able to find it outside of Spotify and play it more freely throughout the year, but shoutout Manatea for a good spot on this

Spotlight: just play them all lol, it's a breezy listen
85Andre 3000
New Blue Sun

Ambient / New Age / jazz

almost worth the mounds of hyperbolic claims it receives.

Spotlight: "The Slang Word P(*)ssy Rolls Off The Tongue With Far Better Ease Than The Proper Word Vagina . Do You Agree?", or one of the last two

Breakcore / ambient

midxna's second release of the year! Doesn't provide quite the same onslaught as their first, but makes up for this with a stronger melodic emphasis and more robust structural developments. It has a bit too much downtime for my liking (and as you'll see later on, this kind of atmo dnb in full whiteout-mode wasn't an issue to begin with for me), but it's still a cool step forward in its own way and I'll be glad to keep tabs on the project

Spotlight: "ocean pt. 2"
She Only Said


All the nu-gaze things done precisely well enough - nice shit all round, am potentially underrating this

Spotlight: "Adore"
82Carbon Based Lifeforms


This is a little innocuous at points - certainly doesn't have the depth of Hydroponic Garden or World of Sleepers - but these guys are masters of bringing a firm rhythmic bedrock to ponderous ambient wastelands, and it fares handsomely as such

Spotlight: "...And On"
81Jessie Ware
That! Feels Good!

Pop / disco

Jessie Ware's retro revivalism is now straight retroism, and while she still has a magnetic presence I found this album a strictly small-doses deal and occasionally a little too hammy. More tenderstuff like "Hello Love" and "Lightning" and less disco pastiche next time around, please! Solid record anyhow.

Spotlight: "Hello Love"
80Ran Cap Duoi Collective


Lol this album is so fucking cool, and no I don't get it.

Spotlight: "Bugs Life:
Kikuo Miku 7

Art pop / vocaloid

My degeneracy cred coming in kvltch here gimme that cracked out vocaloid meltdown gimme that stupid fucking frog song do not ever play the first 50% of this record to me again AOTY

Spotlight: "きらいきらいきらいって"
78Steve Lehman and Orchestre National De Jazz
Ex Machina


Absolute rhythmic trip-out of a jazz marathon! The beats here feel like having a stroke in swing time, and when the rest of the band takes the chance to lay it down, this prickly fuckin thing goes hard as hell

Spotlight: "Jeux d'Anches"


Not an act I've ever paid much attention to before, but this was a nice surprise! Perfect ratio across the board between cosy:sappy, very easy-going comfort music resting on clearly veteran songwriting impulses. Maybe not too much in the way of memorable tunes, but I'll take those wins where they come

Spotlight: "Soldier Child"
76Kayoko Yoshizawa


If you want to see something that'll make *me* cry, just you try ctrl+F'ing 'J-pop' and seeing how much a ctrl+L this reveals towards the upper half of the list. Not a cool year! Kayoko Yoshizawa's latest EP is an endearing foot in the door more than anything else, buh (ehm) SOMEHOW this was exactly what your boi needed from her.

Spotight: "青春なんて"
75Ana Frango Eletrico
Me Chama de Gato Que Eu Sou Sua

Pop / funk

Vibrant as all hell, bouncier than a ball made out of balls, and slicker than a salmon in bubblebath: no words here, just good times

Spotlight: "Electric Fish"
74Aphex Twin
Blackbox Life Recorder 21f / In A Room7 F760

Breaks / IDM

Aphex Twin's new EPAphex Twin's new EPAphex Twin's new EPAphex Twin's new EPAphex Twin's new EP has two excellent Aphex Twin songs on it, both of which are template stuff for the noirish spook and screwy breaks his sound seems to have settled on since Syro. This is where is he should be?!

Spotlight: "In a Room7 F760"
Everything is Alive


Slowdive drop their most pretty-decent-ish album to date and literally everyone finds a reason to be pretty-decently-happy with it! One of the year's least controversial and most vaguely feel-good arcs: this album is the polar opposite of a plot twist.

Spotlight: "Shanty"
72Doja Cat

Pop / R&B / Hip-hop

Biggest onslaught of swagger I've heard this year by a decent margin, with a solid set of highlights to boot. It's definitely overlong and packs a few unfortunate misses (especially early on), but get over your sickly aversion to strong personalities in pop (or to women ruthlessly lowballing your brittle ideals of aRtIsTrY), and this is a solid pop highlight in a year where such things are a rare currency. Doja Cat wearing your pasty nerd trousers is a good plot development

Spotlight: "Agora Hills"
71Maria BC
Spike Field

Ambient / folk / folktronica

Enormous step up from their piecemeal debut - really lovely blend of ambient folk/glitch on here. Interesting palette at work on at least half the tracks and some l o v e l y chord changes on the early tracks in particular. Will stay tuned for future musixs

Spotlight: "Lacuna"
70John Francis Flynn
Look Over the Wall, See the Sky


Seems to have already gone down in the books as 2023's keynote Irish folk record not made by Lankum, and, uh, yes? Exactly that? Between "Kitty"'s spellbinding drone-folk and the effortlessly slick "Mole In The Ground" and its mercurial whirl of All Sounds That Sound Great For 5 Seconds At A Time In Any Arrangement, this should have been a triumph and one of the year's finest folk records -- I'm less happy that it made it so far up than I am frustrated at how the plainer stretches of the record (backend failings!!!) let it down, but there's easily enough exceptional stuff here to be worth a sniff.

Spotlight: "Kitty"
69Material Girl
Izumi Hazuki End of Days

Experimental hip-hop / breaks

Aaaaaagh the most conflicting/frustrating record of the year for me? Head back to my blurb and/or review for Material Girl's stunning record i85mixx21-22 last year as for why: the production and emotional intensity (however awkward at points) of that record had a profound impact on me, and it still stands as one of my favourite albums of the decade. Izumi Hazuki End of Days, by contrast, is probably the most work I've put into any album this year for the most modest results. This is partly because I sank 2+ hours into the New Age horror film from which it takes its title, which was by no means wasted time, but did very little to open the album, and neither did most of my other research into its cryptic subject matter, be it angelic folklore, Gorbachev's foreign policy, or the dramatisation of John the Baptist referenced throughout "Nazimova Jokanaan".

Material Girl's brainboxed snapshot of the end of the world lacks the same gravity of the grief-suffused subject matter of i85mixx, and the stylistic weave he uses to articulate is *full* of potential (not to mention incredibly well produced) in a way that makes me want to scream when it doesn't come together. "Arkangel Variation" is a case-in-point here -- after 5 minutes of the most compelling breakbeat-augmented build I've heard from anyone this year, MG draws it towards one climax (kickass; breakcore meltdown), only to pivot into a rock instrumental that suits his vocal style not one bit and somehow takes the wind out of the whole track. The idea is probably brilliant, but he can't see it off alone -- give this guy a band, a couple MCs to carry the weight for him cLOUDEAD-style, or just a trusted collaborator with the nerve to push back at points, and he'd be making the best records of our time. As it is, he's *this* close and it hurts my soul not to rank this any higher.

Spotlight: honestly, "Yes to Tensor"

J-Pop / electropop

Powerhouse electropop diva Reol and nutso producer Giga-P (amongst others) are back at it, and while this is probably the least distinctive tracklist I've heard to date from them, it still delivers the goods where it counts: a few missteps (that gamer tie-in English voiceover my g a w d) can't compromise the strength of the many bangers on offer here. Could have used a few huge highlights to match the last few releases, but I'll take it.

Spotlight: "煽げや尊し"
67Neggy Gemmy
CBD Reiki Moonbeam

Synthpop / house

neggy gemmy is to blinkered conversations about "meme artists" what mark hollis is to needy catharic discourse about "background music" -- fuck you and everything you stand for BEEP BEEP

Spotlight: "On the Floor"
66Takashi Kokubo and Andrea Esperti
Music For A Cosmic Garden

New Age / ambient

My quality of life skyrocketed the moment I started sleeping to this and I wholeheartedly suggest you do the same. Very blessed record, would probably be much higher if I regularly made it to the end

Spotlight: "Gaia's Love Theme"
65Perfect Angel at Heaven

Indie ROCK

This was sold to me hard on the ticket of "...BANGS!" and y'know what, it does do exactly that

Spotlight: "Pyramid"
How to Sink Slowly

Shoegaze / emo

An utterly resplendent opener sets up a solid run from (apparently) South Korea's primo shoegaze king? This is a dreamier Parannoul for anyone who can't stand his lab rat production - perhaps less unique, but definitely more satisfying within the genre

Spotlight: "The Sun is Setting"


I absolutely cannot forgive this rusty IQ-ravager of a record for using an entire ONE of its 10 furious minutes to warm itself up, but once you're over this hurdle this is a mildly unforgiving powerviolence beatdown that will scratch the same itch as every other beatdown you've been beat by this year and sound no worse for it.

Spotlight: no
62Endless, Nameless
Living Without

Post-hardcore / math rock / emo

This mathy, janky, post-rockingly cute, heart-on-sleeve throwback to everything 2013 Sputnik lived and (clearly) died for is not quite the end-to-end triumph that I very much wish it were, but it *is* occasionally so heartfully excellent that I forget that I care! Title-track would be way up in my SOTY ranking if I had made one, and there are flashes of brilliance across the board here -- and it's a debut, so cool? They'll get 'em next time!

Spotlight: "Living Without" (SOTY podium runner-up maybe)


Putting untss-untss into your trancey zip-zap - remarkably steady EP that dishes out a dependable dance kick for any set of preferences. This is what lists like this exist for you to salvage - hurry up!

Spotlight: "Pareidolia"
Silhouette Machine

Slowcore / emo

One of the year's bigger (but not quite biggest) sleeper picks? Was thoroughly convinced and occasionally impressed by this from end to end: it does great work making me feel all shades of swampy and nauseous, but those exact qualities have kept me from coming back to it as often as I might have (and either those vox are too distorted or I just don't like the harshes or both, but I *do* like what they go for). Cool album regardless, gimme that rusted-nail emoSlint malaise

Also I have just remembered that I forgot to either rate or nominate Great Falls for this list. Fuck!!!!

Spotlight: "Silver Gilt"

Dream trance

Bookends on this are godly high watermarks for this year's DREAM TRANCE, and even the worst guitar song in all of history landing halfway through can't overturn how accomplished TDJ is at her strengths. Give me those languid vocals and twinkly climaxes mmmm this is the good rush

Spotlight: "Levitate"

UNRELATED, but pour one out for John Zorn - New Masada Quartet, Vol. 2. Some dickhead changed the release date to an erroneous 2022 date so it missed my scalping of my own ratings for this list. Would have placed around here if I'd included it
58Aoki Takamasa

Glitch / techno

Finally an installation project worthy of the title in a not-even-backhanded way. Aoki Takamasa is a longtime glitch imp babe, and this deconstructed techno space-trip is an uncommonly concentrated exhibition of his talents give thanks

Spotlight: "move_1"
57Roselit Bone

Country / Americana

Fuck fuck fuck I sold you all short with Dorthia Cottrell -- this right fucking here is the best country of the year, and all its gothic mariachi bells and whistles are just icing on the cake. Killer songwriting all over this thing and (compared to its fearsome predecessor) an endearing willingness to jus' play it straight. Heavily slept on band!

Spotlight: "Aint No Right Way To Feel"
Fountain Baby

R&B / pop

F u l l of life and good hooks, shit damn does Amaarae turn some of the breathiest inflections on the planet into a proper force of personality

Spotlight: "Co-Star"
control is an illusion

Atmo drum n bass / breakcore

This! Album! Is a cool fuckin case of massive overstimulation in tempo and atmosphere vs. attritional attention starve in the minimal development of each track! It's a cool balance given how short the overall runtime is -- I love how frazzled that breakbeat frenzy has got me and how subtly the intensity is ratcheted up across a full spin. This is the pick for your energy drinks and stupid caffeine levels

Spotlight: "hysteria"
54Lauren Bousfield


Glitch vortex breakcore culprit Lauren Bousfield is back with a beefed-up, (somewhat) more streamlined outing, and uh if she's marginally less chaotic this time around, the violence of Ada Rook's timely feature is as fair as counterbalances come. This tracklist peaks hard and early for me, but it's still a solid showing at its weakest and never overstays its welcome

Spotlight: "Hazer"
53Bell Witch
Future's Shadow I: The Clandestine Gate

Funeral doom

Another hour-and-a-bit of the momentous, mournful soul-scouring Bell Witch perfected on their masterpiece Mirror Reaper? Uh, sure...!?

Spotlight: lol


The amount of patience required for this l o n g ol' journey is just about vindicated by the tranquillity it dishes out to those who stick along. I prefer Tenhi when they cross into darker territory, but this still had plenty to keep me engaged

Spotlight: "Veden elein" or the opener


A somewhat inconsistent tracklist (with HUGE fuckin' peaks!) does little to stall the momentum of this cluster of catchy synth-punk ragers! When this thing hits, it's one of the most likeable things made my anyone this year -- and when it doesn't you'll still be bopping along

Spotlight: "Delete It"
50Laurel Halo


Maybe *the* mercurial artist of our time, Laurel Halo releases her sparest album yet, and for all it's evasive and liminal as anything, there isn't a second here that doesn't carry a subtle contour or feel meticulously considered. Catching this in concert was astounding, but the record itself is slowly making up the distance

Spotlight: absolutely not, do not break these tracks up
49The Necks

Jazz / minimalism

My problem with this 4-track 77-minute record is how easy it is to spin the ghoulish doom-ish jazz of the opener and then miss out on the rest (have definitely napped to this at least twice), but my *other* problem with it is just how much I love that opener! Might be underselling this a bit (especially the sinister "Imprinting") - I love the Necks' gloomier fare a good deal and should maybe have spent more time exploring this on here than I eventually did familiarising myself with their older work. Great sophisticated spook record that deserves better?

Spotlight: "Signal"
48Ayano Kaneko
タオルケットは穏やかな (Towelket wa Odayaka na)

Folk pop

L o v e it when artists I've been casually following for a while abruptly step their game up! Ayano Kaneko's brand of husky, hazey folk pop has always been a worthwhile jam, but she's been edging towards this album for years now - her tightest songwriting is backed up by a really distinct spread of ideas and a comfortable sequencing pattern. I'll hold out for her topping it sometime in future, but this plays to all her strengths and makes for a listen more memorable than I realised she had in her. Nice!

Spotlight: "Konna Hi ni Kagitte"
Black Medium Current

Avant-black metal

Thinking back to Ulver and Arcturus, I've never found glossy Norwegian avant-garde metal as difficult or inaccessible as the label suggests, and sure enough Dodheimsgard fare very nicely in that legacy of one twisted fantastical rollercoaster after enough. Murky and theatrical to a tee, these twisted pieces titillate and thrill without ever needing to be outright disturbing -- it's a suspension-of-disbelief package, but so creatively imagined that I don't mind giving up a decent portion of my attention to it

Spotlight: "Abyss Perihelion Transit"
46Hotline TNT

Shoegaze / indie rock

Probably *the* #indiesleaze record of the year, but mmmbaby if it doesn't have fuzzywuzzy bangers aplenty to blunt the edge of that claim

Spotlight: "BMX"
45Mary Lattimore
Goodbye, Hotel Arkada

New Age / ambient

Harp lady makes beautiful sounds, conjures mystique, soothes frayed nerves. One of the only albums this year that's blissed me out enough to write a halfway coherent thinkpiece on just about anything and, uh, the music ain't half bad either! Need to explore her discog some more.

Spotlight: "Horses, Glossy on the Hill"
44Spangle call Lilli line

Indie pop / dream pop

COMFORT LISTEN OF THE YEAR! Come back to these dreamy loungey COMFORTS again and again: girlfriend likes it, I like it, runtime is slender enough to be squeezed into any moment, highlights are effortlessly slick, arrangements are full of interesting contour and the production is perfect (nice one, Salon Music man!). That about 50% of the tracks are C-tier shrapnel is, uh, much easier to overlook than it should be: this thing is light enough that the highlight 12-15 minutes carries it without issue

Spotlight: "Suddenly"
43Marnie Stern
The Comeback Kid

Math rock

Zany math-pop luminaire quits the Seth Meyers band and drops her first album in a decade! This thing is tighter than a seal's arsehole and so charged with great hooks that it promptly fried my attention span and rendered me entirely incapable of reviewing it (a shame, given how heavy my rotation was for a good week or two). One of the more slept-on records by this site, and a masterclass in how to deploy keen songwriting sensibilities throughout a BUSY guitar record

Spotlight: "Oh Are They"
夢​之​駭​客 Dream Hacker


Mmmyeah Otay:onii steps beyond her post-industrial calling card Ming Ming and focuses on the most synthetic, delirious parts of her sound. Love this palette for her, even if it misses quite the same scale of dramatic release as Ming Ming - there's something more restrained and sinsister at play here. Dream Hacker does take a while to kick off (the ideas in the first half are strong, but a tad underdeveloped for me), but the final three is an irresistably great run and has been a mainstay throughout the year

Spotlight: "Good Fool"
Love's Holiday

Experimental rock kinda uh

Oxbow's sordid romantic plod is a weird record within their discography and a disarmingly straightforward one without it. It's a lot less about raucous noise and a lot more about the murk around the bedstead, which is fantastic when the instrumentals step up to round this off (the last three tracks here are a firm power-combo!), but there are certainly points where it tries to do too little too little and lands somewhat, hmm, flatly for this most idiosyncratic of all rock bands ("The Night the Room Started Burning" is the prime offender, and I found it troublesomely difficult to refute Doof's Soundgarden comparisons across the board). A solid record at any rate, but by Oxbow's standards its intrigue has worn a little thin on me and it's far from my favourite of their releases.

Spotlight: "Million Dollar Weekend"
40DJ +1

IDM / Ambient

Really slick album with a whole load of fun textures and emotional overtones built in. Not many words for this one, but take my endorsement for it being a heavily overlooked gem

Spotlight: "Menta"
馬 (Uma)

Jazz rock / noise rock / alt rock

Max horse(!)power, max melodrama, minimal attention span, breathless runtime -- this is the betcover!! record I never thought we'd get! Noisy prog and alt-rock neuroticism all over the shop here, Uma is straight bangers and then a dash of melancholy for the few seconds after it clears the cliff-edge.

Spotlight: "炎天の日"
38Jeromes Dream
The Gray In Between


Too succinct and too violent to be anything but one-dimensional, [something token about being violent enough to wear this well], [ravagaging screams], [throttling], [...] but the guitars on this thing sound like they're shattering pavement slabs so all is good! This one peaked on first impact and I honestly doubt it'll have much longevity beyond the year's close (my own slowly waning interest in skramz notwithstanding), but it's no less brutally focused and accomplished for its style as such.

Spotlight: "AAEEAA"
37Cicada (Taiwan)
Seeking the Sources of Streams

Chamber / neoclassical New Age

Ah yes, I remember when this was the obligatory first highlight of the year back in January. I hadn't come back to it much since and the strength of my impression had slipped to the point that I *almost* wrote it off with a cynical "any other year and this would have been chaff" -type comment. A mistake! Coming back to it now, it's as blissful and delicate as ever, love the tranquility here and how easily it upholds the nature/hiking expedition theme. Really lovely album to get lost in, and now's a good a time to get on board with it as ever

Spotlight: "Foggy Rain"
36Minwhee Lee
미​래​의 고향 (Hometown to Come)

Chamber folk

Elusive and engaging as ever, Minwhee Lee proves her worth once again as one of Korean folk's apparent it-figures. Hometown to Come's melancholy chamber pieces are lightyears removed from the volatile freak folk that launched her onto the map around a decade ago, and it may just be the most refined thing I've heard from her. It's less immediate than her last record Borrowed Tongue, however many years ago, but somehow no less compelling for it

Spotlight: "무대륙 Lost Land"
Due In Color

Breaks / ambient

"kinda ambient breakbeat" meme comments aside, this is by far one of the best chillouts I've heard this year - the beats are pronounced enough to add vibrancy but never overbearing (the 'heaviest' this gets is all on the bass end) and always original enough in their programming to dodge the semblance of NPC youtube ratrun that all breaks fans know so well by now, whereas the fucking *ambient* --oh boi. The pure ambient tracks steal the show here, love how organic and blissed out this thing is. Great record!

Spotlight: "Am Der"
34The HIRS Collective
We're Still Here


Grindcore superguestlist, and *everyone* is invited! This thing is almost as inclusive as it is supremely fucking angry, and if the Collective statement of its mass energy is slightly eschewed by the homogeneity of its songwriting approach and aesthetic, then the worst that can be said is that you're in for banger after banger.

Spotlight: "Sweet Like Candy"
33Yune Pinku

Breaks / garage / dream pop

Was this Yune Pinku's year or will it be next year? Hmm. She is dreamy and digital now, and guess who's a buyer in that market -- gimme those breaks, gimme that garage, gimme those lackadaisical choruses of b l i s s

Spotlight: "Night Light"
32The Veils
...And Out of the Void Came Love


Finn Andrews is as adorably unassuming and earnest as ever, as is nicely reflected in this 'double' album (a modest 50 minutes!) of luminous lovesongs. It's a little mild, a little highlight-shy to have racked up the same acclaim its macabre predecessor Total Depravity found so easily, but for anyone who can content themselves with a more even-keeled experience from this kind of heart-on-sleeve [s]fedora[/s] indie, this record is thoughtful lyricism and expert songwriting galore. Always a joy to return to.

Spotlight: "No Limit of Stars"
31The Exit Bags
Our Sun Will Clean Its Holy Wounds


sitting on my hands / thinking words to type / my feet are cold / my cat is dead / album plays -type beat. excellent.

Spotlight: "Missile Gap Year"
30Sofia Kourtesis


this one sounds like sunset on my back, a drink in my hand and moving bodies all around me. such a vibrant record, such excellent highlights, such breadth of field, such evident passion and so slick. think I just convinced myself to bump my rating and stick this several places higher -- now it's your turn

Spotlight: "Si Te Portas Bonito"

Minimal techno

Stimming's fuckoff attention starve beat odyssey is, uh, more than a little buyer-beware if you don't usually fw this kinda thang, but for the rest of us, the sound of this thing hammering away is all manner of resonant delight.

Spotlight: "Dfam on the Field"
灯りたち (Lights)


Lovely Japanese vaguely-psych folk, incredibly gentle sounds all round. The arrangements here are pared right back and centred on simple melodies and delicate vocals, both of which exude enough bliss to warrant their spotlight. The album pacing is just right for the straightforward approach to hold its appeal: 30 minutes is perfect for this, whether you're holding into the end or using it as a gracious nap catalyst (would recommend).

Spotlight: "弔いの日〜貝殻を拾う少女のお話〜"
27Fever Ray
Radical Romantics

Art pop / synthpop

Karin Dreijer is back with a ferociously solid set of bangers (and a pretty serviceable set of padding to see them off) - their hooks stretch and contort themselves like plasticine across a dazzling set of highlights ("Shiver", "Kandy", "New Utensils", "Carbon Dioxide") and their more downbeat material is almost as strong ("North" obviously, but that abstracted closer has done great work growing on me). Kick "Even It Out"'s angsty babygoth nadir off this tracklist and you're looking at a hard 4 and comfortable year highlight.

Spotlight: "Shiver"
Dawn of the Final Hour

Footwork jungle / breaks

hahaha another album I love for how it absolutely c r a c k e d my ability to form coherent sentences back when I heard it - love this claustro take on footwork jungle and absurd vocal samples, love how clear the track progressions are, l o v e that there's a new record out in 4 days. blessed artist!

Spotlight: "The Whisper (And You, I Know, Make It: The Final Act)"
Yön mustia kukkia


This feverish, waif-like, ghost-folk headtrip flaunts its style over its substance so readily that it's hard to tell what or where the substance is (I LOVE this ambiguity lol), is frequently disarmingly beautiful, gives me all manner of eerie shivers, and absolutely never comes into focus. A rare record that thoroughly earns the descriptor 'magical', this is definitely one to prioritise if you're a poor sod still running a catch-up.

Spotlight: "Haihtuu"
Green LP

Emo / math rock

Thank ye, gods of Sputnik Music League for this unexpected flashback to the glory days of 2013, when hyperactive emo bands screamed sweet sloppy nothings over the most gratuitous math rock heartbreak and everything was perfect in a million ways that we have only spent the last decade slowly starting to appreciate. Moshimoshi are a blessed ticket to Sputcore past.

Spotlight: opener's as good as any
23Ryuichi Sakamoto

Ambient / minimalism

Nope nope, still looking for the words for this one. Hardest of RIPs

Spotlight: stays on


Pain, joy and shitposts: everything you never needed in 5 minutes of what the fuck. The most singular thing to come out of this year. I am still coming to terms with the full-length they have since dropped. Nobody should enjoy this as much as I do. Amazing EP.

Spotlight: "川くたばる死ぬ消える川で"
21Hinako Omori
stillness, softness​.​.​.

Ambient pop / New Age

Aww! Hinako Omori's twinkly analog synths sound their best yet on here, and her bolder vocal presence grounds these ambient nuggets in actual pop territory that, yes please! Would love to hear a little more of the New Age expanse she charted so well at points on her debut in future outings, but otherwise this is a really focused step forwards for her and I feel adequately blissed by it

Spotlight: "cyanotype memories"
20Crisis Sigil
God Cum Poltergeist


For all my qualms with the erratic pacing throughout the first half of this thing, it's the fiercest semi-digitised meltdown of the year and I am supremely glad to have given it extra changes to ravage my nerves and claw its way up this list.

Spotlight: "Halo Generator Breaking Down"
19Skee Mask

Breaks / garage / techno etc.

Skee Mask takes the liminal crashpad of his 2021 triumph Pool and condenses it into a lean set of (relatively) hard bangers. Bookends on this are a particular treat, but the whole thing covers pretty much any techno/house/garage itch you need scratched in remarkably concise form

Spotlight: "Bandprobe Dub"

Ambient dub

Utterly sublime case-in-point of why this style has rocketed up my preferences over the last year and a bit. I honestly have very little to say on this album beyond ~vibes~ (as if my rev didn't make that clear enough), so this spot goes out to dub techno and glitch in general -- I got glitchpilled pretty hard back in 2020, but that was mainly through indie or pop tie-ins or through maximalist chaos (i.e. breakcore-adjacent). From the genre series I ran over the year, I think Ambient, Glitch and Techno were up with the most important months of the lot, perhaps because I felt so ready to explore them? The supremacy of dub techno as probably my favourite single link between the three has only skyrocketed since I got into Vladislav Delay just over a year ago: between his stuff, Pole, Pola, Yagya, Jan Jelinek, Oval and now this, that extended clicks n cuts universe has become a huge go-to and one of my main targets to hit up throughout 2024. Purelink was a worthy pin-up throughout the last year, big kudos and yay for future jams

Spotlight: "Pinned"
Coronet Juniper

Tech grind

Literally exactly what GridLink's comeback should have been: bombastic as all hell, melodic (duh), tighter than a flea's arsehole, sensational enough to rival Longhena while not quite comprehensively realised enough to shake that record's supremacy -- part of this thing's thrill has been returning to Longhena and appreciating what a triumph that record was. I will say that the hypermelody here is a pinch above my comfort level for a kick this fierce, which would have sat more comfortably if it had more unhinged barnburners like the demented "Octave Serpent" to balance it out, but beyond that it's just a marvel to hear these guys back and (somehow) at the top of their game still. Goes harder than just about anything

Spotlight: "Octave Serpent"
16Blonde Redhead
Sit Down for Dinner


First up, these three are all legends and played probably the best show I caught all year (at which almost all the songs from this record translated magnificently), but more than that, I l o v e how understated and refined this ~comeback record is! These tracks are so graceful and assured - the way "Snowman"'s melodies build into its chorus, the shift in pace between the two halves of the title-track, the gravity of Amedeo Pace's performance on "If", the vocal performances across the whole thing really -- maybe it's now a "wow" record (not that it ever sets itself up to be), but the expertise and heartfulness underpinning the bulk of these tracks is no less special in its own way. I would not be at all surprised if this ends up the record from this year I end up coming back to the most in the long run.

Spotlight: "Snowman"
15JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown
Scaring the Hoes


Aight, this one was a journey for me, so gather ye round: my starting impressions were directed at the hype rather than the record, unsurprisingly enough. This thing had a gross whiff of the most insufferable rymers all over it, plus I strongly disliked what I'd heard from JPEG solo and hated Danny Brown's voice. Not a promising start. I gave it a once-through in Pret en route to uni, figured it actually wasn't so awful but was still too obnoxious to keep on rotation or even download out of courtesy, and left it at that. The reviews rolled in, and most were a little embarassing to read (though I was impressed as ever with how well Milo's piece eventually played to its character without debasing himself) - cringe album? Maybe.

Flashforward a lot of months, and the discourse surrounding it has done little to improve things for me. I think Shemson stuck "Fentanyl Tester" in a Music League round and it most bounced off me? Indifference was the order of the day!

And then

Something about the end of year season got me in a different headspace. Removed from my initial suspicion and fanbase disdain, I dipped in on the off-chance that something had changed, and was struck by how viscerally, callously manic the whole thing was -- for all the audience-dunking in his lyrics and postulation, Peggy struck me as a man living out his most unhinged version of hyperreality, and Danny Brown honestly seemed to be having the time of his life stringing along. Suddenly, my attitude to the hype and acclaim softened: those bois were pretty cool doing their own thing; let's leave them at it, I thought for a bit.

And then end of year season intensified, and, uh, your boi got into a tactical headspace looking ahead to the staff AOTY ballot. Specifically, and for the first time, the question of what in the hell could or should qualify as AOTY became important to me. My personal opinion of what constituted AOTY this year had somehow seemed to dissipate in importance ever since I smacked down the claim on Chepang - it wasn't much that I drifted from that stance, but more that I suddenly ceased caring what my AOTY was or what might replace it. The staff AOTY, however, was something that required a bit of thought -- what was possible, what was deserving, what were the optics, and was there anything that might realistically hit the spot that I wanted to throw some weight behind? The defaults seemed to me to be either There Will Be Fireworks (about which I was less than excited, although it did posit a nice Sput-specific hypewave) or Sufjan (which would be about as large a gentrified flop as I could imagine). Suddenly, Scaring the Hoes seemed to have a much more pliable direction with all its clamour. I gave it some thought - this ratty sample-freakout by-and-for-the-internet slice of stir-craziness really did seem to turn a bunch of loose ends into a bizarrely coherent statement of great magnitude in a year where very little had managed to do as much and earn a significant platform for itself. I went over several tracks again, and "Steppa Pig" stuck out to me -- I loved how slick the instrumental was, how huge the brass refrain sounded, and how freely middle fingers were handed out to one and all; I stuck Scaring the Hoes onto my ballot several places higher than it is here (bear in mind that I didn't include no-hopers) and wished it the best.

And then it won the damn thing, I co-dibs'd it with Milo because this seemed like the most natural outcome, and the scale of the blurb we ended up writing under heat (including several since-deleted draft paragraphs and umpteen redrafts) meant that I became far more familiar than I'd ever expected with the record, which was on near-constant rotation. I dunno, Stockholm syndrome aside, I'm really glad this shitpost masterpiece has had such a chance to speak to me; I genuinely like the majority of songs on it, can forgive many of its misses (although the final run bar the closer is more of a gauntlet than it might have been), find its chaos considerably better-natured than I had first presumed, and respect how decisively it *owns* being an album of its time even if it's unlikely to have much longevity over coming years -- who said that ever needed to be on the table. It panders remarkably little despite having ample opportunities to (sure, the "Milkshake" sample toes the line, as does the Yoko Kanno-penned track on "Kingdom Hearts Key", but the lengths to which the former is screwed with and the latter used as a springboard I think vindicate this). Scaring the Hoes felt like one of the most palpably inspired records of the year, one of the most liberated and uncompromising in simply doing its own stupid ol' thing, and if its platonic form is ultimately a goofed up firework, then I'm no less grateful for the good times it's opened up to me and the prejudice it gradually enabled me to erode. Lol.

Cool album?

Spotlight: "Steppa Pig"
14Dream Dolphin
Gaia: Selected Ambient & Downtempo Works (1996​-​2023)

Ambient / New Age / downtempo

Even though I still have 2 or 3 albums left, this comp unofficially marked the end of my Dream Dolphin journey (which has been long and saddled with diminishing returns - refer to her artist page for a peek at why), which on the one hand feels a little mismatched (above all, she was the backup to my breakbeat fever when it hit its peak last year, yet there's not a whiff of rave energy to be found here), but on the other hand has been a happy way to bow out -- I was really glad to see the positive reception that greeted this, all the moreso for the occasional peeps who have taken the time to dig into her wider discog. Though it's a great collection of mostly great tracks, this ambient compilation is more symbolic than essential to me -- there are few songs that I'd prefer to hear here than in the context of their original records (though I imagine my LP copy will gradually change this), but fuck it: Dream Dolphin's New Age healing music is a gorgeous blessing, and I'm glad it's survived the peak decades of cynicism towards such things to boomerang back to us

Spotlight: "Stars" (would have been a SOTY contender, but I'm not counting rereleases)
13Sleepwalker (JPN)

Avant-black metal

What a dark horse! This twisted murky darkthing scratches all my itches for blues/psych-infused avant-black metal (a ballpark I'm usually heavily suspicious of), retains heavy intrigue across repeats, and gets the hell out of there in record time. Unbelievable to think that something could be so good and so succin-

Spotlight: "Mirrors Turned Inward"
12Ling Tosite Sigure
last aurorally


Even more than I'mperfect, this might be the most blockbuster-ready, fast food-happy album Ling Tosite Sigure record to date and, uh, I'm a happy eater. It's a little less techy and a little more chorus-centric than the two records before it, but the bloody arsenal of guitar effects and contorted songwriting would have many raising a justified eyebrow at that claim -- this glorious pyrotechnic power trio have never sounded more bombastic, and they are still unparalleled at what they do.

Spotlight: "self-hacking"

Avant-black metal

Sandpapery microtonal skronky dissoshit oh how we love you. This stood out head-and-shoulders to me above most metal-metal albums this year not so much for its ideas (which, don't get me wrong, are killer) but for its sound and energy - am sick to death of overproduced metal albums that sound like every member was recorded in a separate room and the drums are pitched as a ProTools marketing package: all that clinical, exhibitionary sound does is cement to me that I'm sure as shit not getting anything close to live intensity. Kostnateni may be (iirc) essentially a solo project, but the guy's sound is electric and raw without ever wearing scuzz to its detriment, and the songs in question just so happen to heckin' rip. Good gravy.

Spotlight: "Nevolnost je vše, čím jsem"
10DreamWeaver (JP)
blue garden

Atmospheric drum and bass

blue garden is basic and blissed and I adore most things about it, even its comparatively plain second half.

That is the blurb, goodbye.

Now, let's talk about my year? It has been I think the biggest year for music discovery I've ever had numbers-wise, between this list and its counterpart being a record total (and boi how those blurbs have sapped me) and something like 800+ new ratings? This has on the one hand been awesome - I'm so glad Asleep came up with a killer rec-pooling month-long discovery template just in time for me to shamelessly ape it, and while the windows this has given me into, say, metal (the good ones) and the 1960s have been really cool eye-openers, I think the benefit here has been more of refinement than opening whole new worlds. As per the Purelink blurb, I feel much more confident in what I look for in ambient and electronic music now, and intend to put that awareness to good use in whatever way next year. I've been putting the legwork into opening up jazz, which I think I'll continue to explore outside of the confines of a one-month plunder as I have a lopsided understanding of certain arms of the genre compared to others and would rather even that out at my own pace, but hip-hop and maybe soul could easily snag themselves a month-jam if things square out. Hmm! In terms of significant discoveries this year in general, archival work has trumped new releases so soundly that I feel a little awkward about the rest of the top 10 to come (blessed as all these records are). 2023 has had easily enough ~good records not to outright suck, but the ceiling has been perilously low compared to 2020 and 2022 (and 2021 I think had more overall highlights even if this year matches it for highest highs). Keeping up with new stuff this year has felt like much more of an obligation than usual as such, but the more entrenched that standpoint became, the more determined I got to keep digging and find *something* that would prove me wrong. There are records like that all over this list, and I'm damn grateful to them as much for skin-in-the-game reasons as for individual pleasures, but the whole affair has still been a thoroughly shrapnel experience and I'm going to end this blurb right here before it turns into more of a downer.

DreamWeaver has been one of the most refreshing comfort listens of the whole package and is proving much harder to replace in my rotation than I initially expected -- hooray for drum n gaze!!??

Spotlight: "winter wing"
9Closet Witch


I was not ready for this thing: goes hard as balls, blew my brains etcetc. forced me to write the stupidest review I've ever written *while it was on repeat* and the demands of the review's internal rhyme scheme meant that this was a long fucking night. This is year's the meanest most bitchin' death clout of a record and I do not care to hear competitors. No complications, just a fucking baller.

Spotlight: as if I still have enough braincells to pick a highlight here lol
8Ben Howard
Is It?


Ben Howard's playful and - mysteriously, sublimely - MEGA chilled out exploration of the, uh, aesthetics of recovering from a mini-stroke is one of the most palatable and inspired things I've heard from anyone this year! Was convinced that Collections from the Whiteout had spelled curtains for his creative focus, but this guy has proved masterful at reinventing himself and I respect him a ton for his ever-shifting vision even if some of it caters to me much more than the rest (the spaced-out folktronica on this one is a borderline pander to everything I love, so hooray for that)

Spotlight: "Moonraker" / "Richmond Avenue" / "Days of Lantana" / UGH there are so many great songs here
False Lankum

Folk / drone

If you'd told me a year ago that I'd have a goddamned Irish folk record in my top 10 for the following year, I would have poured my glass of red down the sink and slapped myself in the shower until I judged myself lucid once more -- I'm amazed at how stunningly False Lankum delivers, at first in spite of its traditional qualities, but, the more I've spent time with it, eventually because of them. "Newcastle" and the world-beating "Lord Abore and Mary Flynn" are just timelessly wonderful storytelling, gorgeously underscored and absolutely on-point for every emotional beat they hit. The rest has been a slow journey of (self-?)discovery and I'm convinced that, for me, the 'drone' has been less a source of appeal stylistic and more a convenient plot device that has made me patient enough to get to grips with this magical album

Spotlight: "Lord Abore and Mary Flynn" (SOTY gold)
The Lamb As Effigy

Noise rock / post-harcore / experimental rock

Much like the band themselves, this thing's staying power proved to be (hmm) limited, but the force of its initial impact is still a year event in and of itself. As far as bloated, pretentious, megaambitious please-call-me-opuses go, The Lamb As Effigy ticks every box you can throw at it and eats your dessert. I don't know if anything else this year has commanded such separate extremes of savagery ("Reiterations") and beauty ("The Commercial Nude") so convincingly -- Sprain themselves might be a warning against indulging your inner tortured artiste to the point that they become the defining part of your ego, but shit damn this album has at least a much of a moral for letting everything out in one larger-than-life glut if you've got it in you

Spotlight: "Reiterations"
5Kumo 99


Why have blurbs when you can have BANGERS? Um. Yeah. HeadPlate is the no-nonsense rave zinger I'd been waiting all year for without realising it, and the focus with which it affords all of Kumo 99's already well-evidenced strengths individual moments to shine is almost as impressive as the deceptive breadth of emotional territory this thing covers. Come for the ragers, stay for the sulkers. Late-game treasure!

Spotlight: like, half the record but especially "Solitaire", "Dopamine Chaser" and the closer
4Gezan with Million Wish Collective

Post-hardcore / art rock

I've already articulated every meaningful thought I have on this wonderful, inspirational, absurd record in the Staff list and on a halfway feature I wrote back in June/July, and while that's the case for several records here, Anochi is so precious and vitalisating that it's easily the one where I'd feel worst about rehashing a pitch. Please do see that Staff blurb for [links to] somewhat more informative context, but for I'll just say that this record spoke to me in a way that I very rarely ask or [think I] need music to speak to me anymore, and that I'm deeply grateful for the vitality and presence it's brought me for however long. This is one that absolutely will transcend the year -- I don't know when, or how often I'll return to it, but it's cornered a niche as important as it is practically irreplaceable: consider my life affirmed.

Spotlight: "萃点"

Dream pop / glitch pop / shoegaze

aaaaaand on the topic of life-affirming stormers, Yeule's latest pretty much has it all: technicolour whirl of dreamlike textures and strong melodies, inspirational turnaround from a mental health nadir mapped out in devastating style on last year's AOTY Glitch Princess, and a slew of affirmations all the more moving for how they make no pretence to camoflage the pain and trauma this thing emerged from. Enough discourse has been had about the big singles across the opening half, but the continuity and pinpoint monosyllabic fluency that runs throughout the third quarter is Yeule at their finest for me. Either way, the growth they've shown across their three records (and in such little time!) is astounding, and I don't see anyone else leading the game within ye olde ultra-online ultra-digital pop landscape with nearly the same grip on pathos or songcraft. That niche is itself an understandable turn-off for many, but I'm not even going to pretend to have patience for anyone who can't see the humanity in this record. Meanwhile, Yeule just goes from strength to strength

Spotlight: "Inferno" (SOTY silver)


AOTY is dead, long live AOTY. I promised y'all that Chepang had won the title back in July and, uh, I guess they can have (half of) it now? Swatta is unhinged and ambitious on a level that very little this year can begin to approach -- it sees off the most creative vision for grindcore anyone has seen in X years to such extremes across such a girthy runtime with such absurd peaks and such pinpoint fidelity to everything that made grind a worthwhile prospect to begin with that it both demands and earns its gold medal, however much I've tried to depreciate the concept. It is too exciting and bold a record from too polarising a style to attract the consensus it probably deserves (though #8 on the staff list was hardly a bad showing), but anyone who's been overwhelmed, scorched or perplexed by this thing should take solace in their raised eyebrows being a necessary sacrifice for something ballsier and more significant that, shit damn, 2023 desperately needed. Grind has somehow been the heartbeat of this most tepid of all years, and Chepang have done more than most to make their mark. Do better, 2024.

Spotlight: "Na" (SOTY bronze)
1Tujiko Noriko
Crépuscule I & II


...and on the other hand, shock horror, cop out! There is no single AOTY for 2023, or rather I don't care to dump that title on any single record. As per my blurb with Milo for Scaring the Hoes, I don't think this poxy highlight-shy year has really a seen a record that can rightfully command the whole lot (other than StH itself or perhaps Lankum, though I don't quite have the end-to-end attachment to either to put them at the very top of my own list). Beyond that, personal AOTY is supposed to a simple question of which record you enjoyed the most in Year X, to which I can only respond that I don't know and don't care enough about the answer to hyperanalyse a placeholder. Crépuscule I & II is gorgeous, vast and, however sparse its contents, atmospherically dense, a perfect comeback from a long(ish)time favourite who has earned her fair share of critical acclaim without ever translating it into a serious following; it dropped early enough in the year to prove its considerable staying power, and will doubtless be a record I come back to for the indefinite because I care about both it and Tujiko Noriko more generally far more than I care about what it meant to the year 2023. It takes a school of ambient that I don't typically care too much for (vocally-driven, heavily reverberated, acoustic and electroacoustic, many other things that typically get lumped in with Grouper and the countless cold feet she sustains across the world) and continually engages my imagination with it across a near-2 hr runtime; it's cleansing and intimate in all the right ways, and is so out of space and time that any crown you stick on it is about as trifling and ornamental as such things probably should be. Happy New Year.

Spotlight: "Golden Dusk"? "Fossil Words"? "A Meeting At The Space Station"? Too many good options here
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