My 2023 in Music

eric boam
11 min readDec 31, 2023

This was the year that everything was back. The 90s were back. Live music was back in a big way. My discovery of new music returned full force. Nostalgia tours and re-releases were back. Here is an accounting of my favorite music from the year. And a playlist to listen to as you read.

Slow Pulp at The Parish in Austin on 10/26/2023

My Ten Favorite Albums of 2023

  1. Yard by Slow Pulp — On Wednesday, July 10, 2023 at 10:37 AM, I dialed up my Release Radar playlist and saw a new Sampha song, Spirit 2.0, sitting atop the playlist. I hit play and sat back. Up next was Come Around And Love Me by Jalen Ngonda at 10:41 AM. And then at 10:44 AM, Slugs by Slow Pulp came on. I listened to it 2 more times before 10:51 AM and then 4 more times before the day ended. The next day I listened to the song again followed by 7 more times on Friday. 15 plays within 48 hours of hearing it the first time. In all, I listened to the song 43 times in the year, more than any other song. I dug through my listening history and found that I have never before heard a Slow Pulp song. My Release Radar tried previously to get me to listen to Slow Pulp one time (Cramps in March 2023) but nothing before that going back 7 years of Release Radar history.
    Enough with the data, here’s some indulging in what I love about the song. It’s got such a simple groove with the bass propelling it ahead and the fuzzy throwback indie rock guitar slowly melting on top. The vocals are Mazzy Star-level sleepy with some weird effect showing up briefly at :40 and then again much more pronounced at 1:30. There’s little sonic quirks scattered throughout — a shaker, some piano pecking, guitar feedback, the layered vocals in the last 20 seconds or so. I think it is a perfect song. (Songs on the album that I like: Slugs, Doubt, Cramps, MUD, Broadview)
  2. The Window by Ratboys — Another band that came from out of nowhere, but this time from online music buzz rather than a recommendation algorithm. The album starts off with a perfect album opener, Making Noise for the Ones You Love — loud, pounding drums, guitars feeding back, anticipation building for when the singing might actually start before “Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii geeeeeeeeeet stooooooooooned” finally breaks the tension. Two verses in before the song finally breaks into a recognizable pop-rock song. The gem of the album is the sixth track, The Window. The vocal melody in the pre-chorus has these great high notes accentuating every other note or so makes it feel so personal and vulnerable. The song just keeps getting better as it goes along, ending with a double chorus and an outro that escalates until finally relenting. (Songs on the album that I like: Making Noise for the Ones You Love, It’s Alive!, The Window, Morning Zoo)
  3. First Two Pages of Frankenstein / Laugh Track by The National — A perennial top ten list artist, with two albums dropping this year. I feel permission to lump them together into one entry because Matt Berninger told David Letterman that he thinks of them as two sides of the same album. I have conveniently compiled them into a double album playlist, focused on my favorite songs across the two records. I haven’t been able to get many of these songs out of my head, as evidenced by Once Upon a Poolside getting 38 plays and Weird Goodbyes getting 35 plays this year (59 total since it came out last summer). The song that has really been stuck on repeat the last few months is Hornets. The lyrics feel like Google searches strung together but somehow you can see a story and a moment and a life peeking through these tiny openings. (Songs on the album that I like: Once Upon a Poolside, Weird Goodbyes, Hornets, Space Invader, Send For Me)
  4. Heavy Heavy by Young Fathers —Another perennial entrant in my top ten lists. This album dropped early in 2023 (Feb 3rd to be exact) and stayed relevant throughout the year. Rice is the song I listened to the most from the album (18 plays) but Ululation is the song I’ve really been into the last couple of weeks. Performed in another language (the Zimbabwean language of Shona) it is the embodiment of the Young Fathers’ “coupling of the hard with the sweet” — it’s a song about grieving yet it feels joyous and rejuvenating. They describe this song as the moment of pause in the record, “your moment to reflect on where you’ve been to and where you are now. It’s time to acknowledge and reconcile, before proceeding to move forward.” And maybe that’s why I’ve been drawn to it as the year comes to a close. (Songs on the album that I like: Rice, I Saw, Geronimo, Drum, Ululation, Be Your Lady)
  5. Maps by billy woods and Kenny Segal — I love the feel of this album. It’s got a pace that isn’t hurried and there’s a ton of instrumental and melodic samples throughout. I’m generally not a huge jazz fan, but what the way they bring the jazz vibe to this record works for me. The song I love the most is FaceTime, featuring Future Islands’ own Samuel T. Herring. I love his choruses — “Continental breakfast, stick and weave, tuck and roll, I can’t take you with me, but I be on your phone” (Songs on the album that I like: Soft Landing, Soundcheck, FaceTime, Waiting Around, NYC Tapwater)
  6. Rat Saw God by Wednesday — This album has both the music and the lyrics. In the music department, there’s no part better than the country fried guitar on Chosen To Deserve(played by my 2022 most favorite album artist MJ Lenderman) And in the lyric department, the opening verse of Quarry comes out swinging “The rain-rotted house on the dead end of Baytree, old bitter lady. Sits caddy corner to the aftershock from the quarry. She says “America’s a spoiled child that’s ignorant of grief”. But then she gives out full-sized candy bars on Halloween.” (Songs on the album that I like: Hot Rotten Grass Smell, Got Shocked, Chosen To Deserve, Quarry, Turkey Vultures)
  7. GUTS by Olivia Rodrigo —A teenage popstar makes pop-punk songs now with power ballads interspersed? Sounds weird. But whatever genre-laden descriptions exist for this album, one thing is for certain — these songs are all earworms. Her delivery of the verses in get him back! makes it feel like a conversation between friends in a car. And then the gang vocals in the chorus take the song and elevate it to an anthem. The bass lines throughout bad idea right? just don’t stop giving and neither does “I should probably probably not” in the lead up to the chorus. The last minute of teenage dream, when the drums come in, is the best closing minute on any album this year. (Songs on the album that I like: all-american b*tch, bad idea right?, get him back!, pretty isn’t pretty, teenage dream)
  8. We Buy Diabetic Test Strips by Armand Hammer —Armand Hammer is billy woods and E L U C I D. So for those keeping score, that’s two billy woods albums on this list after never really ever listening to billy woods. The crown jewel of this album is The Gods Must Be Crazy (produced by none other than El-P). “White women with pepper spray in they purse interpolating Beyoncé (Illegal formations)” (Songs on the album that I like: Landlines, I Keep A Mirror In My Pocket, The Gods Must Be Crazy)
  9. Let’s Start Here. by Lil Yachty — This album starts with the weird AI generated cover and opens the first song with some synthsized bleeps and bloops before giving way to a soul-laden groove. The standout song to me is Running Out Of Time. It’s poppy, funky, bright. The influence of pop and electronica producers is clear. It all comes together ina fun, funky song that feels like it was written for the summer time. (Songs on the album that I like: the BLACK seminole., Running Out Of Time, pRETTy, :(failure(:, )
  10. Zach Bryan by Zach Bryan — This was the year of Zach Bryan featuring anyone and everyone, while also being featured by anyone and everyone. He’s got sturdy songs that hold up under the weight of all the collaboration. As much as I love the song with Kacey Musgraves or Justin Vernon, it’s the songs by himself that really stuck with me — most of all the song El Dorado. The way he phrases it as“El Dor-ay-doh” is so endearing to me (and apparently the way they pronounce the town in Kansas that gives the song its name). The fiddle and electric guitar give this song some depth while the tin-strumming acoustic guitar keeps the song feeling like a simple demo. The last verse gets me though. It starts up like it’s going to be another full verse but only gives us two lines — “And I called last week to talk to my favorite old devil dog, They told me he had finally headed home.” The line brings a sad ending to him wondering about one of his military friends, bringing awareness to the worst outcome of serving. But it’s part of who he is and why the Navy honorably discharged him to keep singing songs about military service. (Songs on the album that I like: I Remember Everything, El Dorado, Tourniquet)

Other albums / songs / music I loved from 2023:

With A Hammer by Yaeji — let’s get weird.
Heaven Is A Junkyard by Youth Lagoon —
I listened to Prizefighter 23 times, almost all of them during the summer most memorably one day walking across the Jubilee Bridges in London on my way into work.
10,000 gecs by 100 gecs —
Maximalist pop, characterized by the music video to Hollywood Baby.
SCARING THE HOES by JPEGMAFIA — Maximalist hip hop.
the record / the rest EP by boygenius — I love $20 from the record and Afraid of Heights from the rest EP.
Multitudes by Feist —
I listened to Borrow Trouble 28 times.
Cousin by WilcoInfinite Surprise is one of the best album openers this year. The album pushes a great band into uncomfortable places and I’m grateful for that.
Jelly Road by Blake Mills — He produced the awesome Feist album and also made a record of his own. I really dig Skeleton Is Walking.
Lahai by Sampha — He really knows how to use his amazing voice. Spirit 2.0 is a shining example of that.
Javelin by Sufjan Stevens — When the full band kicks in during Goodbye Evergreen. Perfect.
Knockin — Single Version by MJ Lenderman — This song is a single but it’s got an album’s worth of awesomeness. “Lonliness is simple, not much else is.”
The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We by MitskiBug Like An Angel is Mitski at her best. If I had listened to the album more, it probably would have made the top ten.
The Price Of Progress by The Hold SteadyGrand Junction is classic Hold Steady. “In Grand Junction, it seemed all the mountains were mocking our own little pitiful lives. On the side of the road with her arms in the air, amazed by the size of the sky.”
Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd by Lana Del Ray Let The Light In is a great duet with Father John Misty. It was only a matter of time before they collaborated.
Everything Is Free Now by Paul Jacobsen w/ Mai Bloomfield — Covering a song is hard and covering a Gillian Welch song is even harder. Paul is able to maintain the original, reverent soul of the song while turning it into something new.
No Ordinary Crown by Will Johnson — A full band, rock album for the first time in a while. Sinker, Sinking is one of my favorite songs on there.
All That Was East Is West Of Me Now by Glen Hansard — Glen was everywhere this year, lending his unique soul to whomever needed it. Singing with U2, playing Fairy Tale Of New York at Shane MacGowan’s funeral, and making an awesome new album. I love the song The Feast Of St. John.

Concerts I Attended in 2023

This was the year that live music came all the way back. I probably went to too many concerts but there were so many good ones to see. There were album anniversary shows and 90s artists as well as new discoveries. I saw 31 artists live, which is the most since 2017 when I hit SXSW hard and saw 34 artists live for the year.

Run The Jewels at Terminal 5 in NYC on 9/13/2023

Neil Young Tribute Show 1/17/2023 at The State Room in Salt Lake City (playing Harvest)
Big Thief* w/ Buck Meek 2/15/2023 at Moody Theater
Bruce Springsteen 2/16/2023 at Moody Center
Gwen Stefani w/ Rita Ora and Léon 3/8/2023 at The Roxy in LA (Spotify party)
NNAMDI w/ Luke Titus 4/11/2023 at The Parish
Pedro The Lion w/ Erik Walters 4/15/2023 at Mohawk Outside (playing Hard To Find A Friend and Control)
MUNA 4/25/2023 ACL Taping
100 gecs w/ Machine Girl 5/6/2023 at Stubbs
The Hold Steady w/ The Mountain Goats 6/3/2023 at Stubbs
Craig David 6/15/2023 at Big Penny Social in London (Spotify party)
Jenny Lewis 7/26/2023 ACL Taping
Sudan Archives 8/9/2023 ACL Taping
Less Than Jake w/ The Toasters 8/30/2023 at Mohawk Outside
Run The Jewels 9/13/2023 at Terminal 5 in NYC (playing RTJ 1)
Wilco w/ My Brightest Diamond 9/29/2023 Waterloo Amphitheater
Alanis Morissette 10/6/2023 ACL Taping
Foo Fighters 10/12/2023 ACL Taping
Slow Pulp w/ Babehoven 10/26/2023 at The Parish
Ratboys 11/3/2023 Empire Control Room
The National w/ hand habits 11/17/2023 at Moody Center

*Big Thief provided the moment of the year for me in a live show. Adrianne Lenker started into Not by herself. She was hammering the strings with her left hand and slowly finger picking the strings below the bridge to create a wind chime-like sound. I thought this might be just a short intro before the band kicked in. But about 30 seconds in, the band was looking around trying to figure out what was happening. That’s when I started recording. Lenker ended up playing the entire song solo. And then the band kicked in and they played the song again, start to finish, before wrapping up with a huge outro jam.

I stitched three videos together of different parts of Not.

A few more things that inspired me in 2023:

Bianco Pizza in LA — As good as advertised. Go during lunch and then there’s no wait.
60 Songs That Explain The 90s —
The podcast keeps getting better as we’ve blown past 60 songs on our way to 120 songs.
Hart Bageri —
We ate there every morning for 4 days and it still wasn’t enough. The cheese sandwich. The cardamom bun. All of it.
My oldest son playing football —
He’s in the 7th grade. I didn’t want him to play but I left the choice up to him. He didn’t play the first two games but kept working at it. By the third game he was playing offensive and defensive line. And I was in the stands crying.
Ed Ruscha retrospective —
Everything about it was so inspiring. Made me want to make more things.
The New York Earth Room — An all time favorite. Bill Dilworth, the long time keeper of the installation, is retiring this year. I got to chat with him for about 45 minutes.
Tuba ChristmasIf you play a tuba or low brass instrument, you’re invited to show up and play Christmas songs for an hour or so. It happens all over the world but I saw it here in Austin with a tuba symphony of about 100 or so instruments. The low rumble was so calming and soothing.

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