2023 got away from me, but I’m not surprised. Time itself has gone wobbly. We’re deep into the 21st century, yet I still find myself waiting for the future to begin. Music-wise, I’ve always enjoyed cobbling together a yearly list of my favorite new albums to mark the passage of time and cement some memories. Perhaps it’s a side effect of age, but each new release these days reminds me of something I’ve heard before. Whether this is a curse or blessing, I’m not sure, but I’d like to listen to a song that immediately gives me a splitting headache or, better yet, leaves me covering my ears while screaming that’s not music.

I tortured my parents with Plastikman and Boogie Down Productions. They assaulted their folks with Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds, and my grandparents probably did the same with The Glen Miller Orchestra and The Andrews Sisters. Youth should frighten middle age. This is the sign of a healthy culture.

My sense of losing touch is compounded by today’s condition of all-at-once, in which images and sounds hit our devices stripped of context and location and time, leading to a strange dual sensation of liberation and stasis. So this year, release dates be damned. Here’s the music I played most often or rediscovered or that delivered an unexpected thrill while motoring through the desert.

Scatterwound – 0.0 / MN / CB

Midira Records, 2017/2019/2021 | 00 | MN | CB

Ambient drone of the highest order. Each track ranges between fifteen and forty minutes, giving it plenty of room to slowly unfurl from the faint whir of an appliance into a monumental pulse that feels absolutely life-giving.

Scatterwound – 110512

Robert Görl – “Mit Dir”

Mute, 1983 | More

Everything you need from a pop song: streetlights washing across the hood, a cigarette nodding on the lip, a memory of being cooler than you ever were, and a hook that will worm its way into your dreams because even though you don’t speak the language, you get the drift.

Robert Görl – Mit Dir

Date Palms – The Dusted Sessions

Thrill Jockey, 2013 | Bandcamp

Sun-soaked desert drone like the hum of a distant powerline.

Date Palms – Honey Devash

Kevin Richard Martin – Above the Clouds

Intercranial Recordings, 2023 | Bandcamp

Music for a rain-soaked thriller in a fallen city: steam rises through the grates while trunk-rattling drums echo across windows with the shades drawn.

Kevin Richard Martin – Above the Clouds

Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook – Sleeps With the Fishes

4AD, 1987 | More

Midnight music by turns haunted and reassuring, here is the 1980s ancestor that not only birthed Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s turn of the century gloom but the emotional bombast of early M83. And “Searching” is a stone brooding classic.

Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook – Searching

Reinhard Voigt – “Robson Ponte 2”

Kompakt, 1999 | Bandcamp

Dusted off my Speicher and Kresiel records and rediscovered this unhinged ode to a footballer. Twenty-five years later, it’s still the best thing for running as fast as I can manage, and it still gets stuck in my head for weeks: Robson Ponte. Robson Ponte. Robson Ponte. Te. Te. Te.

Reinhard Voigt – Robson Ponte 2

Heart – “Crazy On You”

Dreamboat Annie (Mushroom, 1975) | More

A magnificent piece of songcraft, here is the plush sound of AM gold alchemized with some guitar shred. On average, I played this song every other day in 2023, each time stunned by the sound of a band doing everything they know how to do. It’s like mainlining the 1970s in five minutes flat.

Heart – Crazy On You

Philus – “Acidophilus”

Kolmio (Sähkö, 1998) | More

Mika Vainio’s dirtiest teeth-grinding moment, and he delivered so many full-bodied moments.

Philus – Acidophilus

Orville Peck – “Kansas (Remembers Me Now)”

Pony (Sub Pop, 2019) | Bandcamp

Woozy Americana that sounds like a half-remembered, rose-tinted fantasy, even if the song is about the murder of the Clutter family. “Come, Las Vegas sunset…”

Orville Peck – Kansas (Remembers Me Now)

Sandra Plays Electronics – Want Need / Sessions

Minimal Wave | Bandcamp

Late 1980s and early 1990s sessions from the muscle behind the indispensable Sandwell District and Downwards imprints. A concoction of new wave and no wave, punk and post-punk, industrial and pre-industrial, and every other genre that produces visions edging toward the sacred.

Sandra Plays Electronics – It Slipped Her Mind

Earth – “Coda Maestoso In F(Flat) Minor (Autechre Remix)”

Legacy of Dissolution (Southern Lord, 2005) | Boomkat

High-grade low-end head-nodding sludge. An essential tool for challenging times.

Earth – Coda Maestoso In F(Flat) Minor (Autechre Remix)

DVA Damas – Nightshade / Wet Vision / Clear Cuts

Downwards, 2014/2015/2016 | Boomkat

Voice, twang, and drums stripped down to raw spikes. Minimalism as a provocation, perhaps an act of seduction. Or aggression.

DVA Damas – Wet Vision

Plastikman – Consumed

Minus, 1998 | Bandcamp

A masterpiece and a monument, a cold hard tower of sound yet malleable like a Rorschach test depending on my mood. Twenty-five years later, this still sounds like the future.

Plastikman – Consumed