The top 30 albums of 2023, some sound memories, and many special concerts.
Yesterday, I went to my favorite Sonar Record Store, which in December marks three years since it has been operating in Gdańsk-Wrzeszcz. Przemek and I discussed what record was essential for us in the past year like no other. The discussion didn’t come out of nowhere – Alabaster DePlume’s ‘Come With Fierce Grace’ was in the speakers, and we immediately commented on its endless possibilities of playing. I can’t remember how many times I unconsciously changed the record sides when I listened to it on vinyl.
The second such album was John Francis Flynn’s ‘Look Over the Wall, See the Sky’ – just when I thought that after the staggering success of Lankum, their brilliant concert at the Supersonic (for which I waited under the railing and during the Big|Brave concert, equally significant, for almost 3 hours, feeling like I was in 2003), nothing would surprise me in terms of a contemporary view of folk and ancestral heritage, the Irish musician had blown me away. If I had to pick a soundtrack of 2023, it would be his “Mole in the Ground” or “Kitty” – both diametrically different and poignant.
But there were many memorable albums – many of them were reissues or compilations, as the summary in The Quietus, which I had the pleasure of taking part in for the second year in a row, made me realize.
The fact that The Quietus exists and that I’ve been writing there for two years now is still a remarkable thing for me in general – it’s gratifying to know that there’s a place where you don’t have to explain what music came from where, and the only obstacle is whether there’s room for an album review amidst a calendar of loads of brilliant and non-obvious music. Please support and subscribe because the world is changing, and The Quietus is the best place to learn about non-obvious music.
And speaking of changes in the world – the war in Ukraine is in its second year, and in recent months (sadly), it has somewhat overshadowed by what is happening in Palestine. Despite the enormity of the tragedy, in the context of music, it is warming me up to see that many musicians I know, but also bands I listen to or follow, not only post on social media but make real support for these countries. It is not a question of politics but of both countries’ rights to freedom, independence, and self-determination.
My crucial musical memories are of situations. At the Spokój Festival at 5 a.m., I played a DJ set full of music flowing slowly, sluggishly, following the idea of deep listening. In a foggy field at sunrise, people were listening to tracks stretched out in time, which have a completely different effect on perception at that hour. So much so that under my turntables, a few survivors were raving about stimulants, drifting off into a trance to ‘Love And Led Sounds’ by Marta Forsberg and ‘Daylights’ by The Necks, which sounded highly dubby. I played them at the confluence of day and night – as DJ Jasno Prawie Dzień (Eng. it’s bright, almost a day).
Another memory is also one that borders on night and day – in Sokołowsko at The Sanatorium of Sound Festival, Edka Jarząb led a sound walk from 4:33 a.m., talking about how to ‘listen with your feet’ to merge with nature not only on visual but also on audio level. It gave me so much energy that after that, in the early morning, I went to the Andrzejówka Hostel, an hour away, for breakfast.
Other sonic surprises were accidental: when I landed on Lesbos Island before midnight in June, on a small street in the town once a year, traffic died down, and an evening festival was held: tables were set up in the street, and a local band was playing a mix of electronica and folk music to dance to. Walking down a random path from the Acropolis a few days earlier, I encountered an improvised brass band practicing in the heat among the shrubbery.
After receiving the Warsaw Artistic Scholarship, I am collecting material for a book about Lado ABC and the Warsaw music scene. We usually start to talk about playing and listening to music, but so many topics come up in the many hours of conversations that each time, I leave grateful that I am talking to people who have such history, passion, and knowledge behind them (if it weren’t for Lado, this website probably wouldn’t have been founded). A foretaste of collecting such conversations and building a narrative form occurred in Dwutygodnik, where I published the text about the Slupsk music scene.
Concerts I will remember: Supersonic, where everything I went to was brilliant and reminded me of how music can be the most important thing, but how talking about important things is also essential; the Sea You Music Showcase, which was great musically and socially; countless sessions at Lawendowa 8 (the best being the not-so-obvious ones like the Kisiel/Tsudzila/Bąk/Skorczewski quartet without drums); Malina Madera’s sonic journey into the Sargasso Sea at Staw Wróbla; the Klawo concerts, which I love; Marek Pospieszalski’s solo concert, which sounded metal; Hubert Zemler’s The Roadhouse Band, who played music from Twin Peaks at the Muzyka Kinowa series I curated at the City Culture Centre; Trupa Trupa, who finally played at the Forest Theatre and they sound monumental; the Tentno band at Café Absinthe; HAŁVVA and Timothée Quost; Marcel Balinski’s trio at the second edition of the Jazz na Wyspie festival we organised and Sneaky Jesus, who I saw both ath that event as well at a session at the Sonar Record Store.
30 best albums 2023
SUSAN ALCORN SEPTETO DEL SUR – Canto, Relative Pitch | review
Susan Alcorn Septeto del Sur combines Chilean folk and nueva cancion with improvisation. Steel guitar meets queen and zampoña brass, cuatro, and charango guitars, offering melancholic but rich music.
MARTYNA BASTA – Slowly Remembering, Barely Forgetting, Warm Winters Ltd | review
Martyna Basta’s music sounds electronic, although she used no synthesizers but field recordings and electric guitar. It is like time encapsulated as sound: sometimes dark, mysterious, or frightening.
NATALIA BAYLIS – Mermaids, Touch Sensitive | review
Natalia Beylis reaches into the depths of memory, recalling facts and events through field recordings, CRB Elettronica organ, traveling, and constructing sound landscapes that link time, place, and memory grids.
BIG|BRAVE – Nature Morte, Thrill Jockey
The album contains mesmerizing metal references: ecstatic walls of sound and percussive cascades through moments of darkness and tranquillity, complemented by Robin Wattie’s exceptional vocals.
ALABASTER DEPLUME – Come With Fierce Grace, International Anthem
Brytyjski saksofonista gra muzykę, która przynosi ukojenie. Instrumentalne utwory, czasami zabarwione wokalem, The British saxophonist plays music that brings solace. The instrumental tracks sometimes tinged with vocals, have an uplifting, sonic warmth resulting from the interaction between the exceptional musicians.
E/I – Extension/Immersion, Instant Classic
A case study of acoustics and the incredible potential of a (primarily) brass ensemble recorded in a water tower. The 40-second reverb complements Gąsiorek’s compositional sense and the ensemble’s improvisational skills.
JOHN FRANCIS FLYNN – Look Over The Wall, See The Sky, River Lea | review
John Francis Flynn focuses on different Irish songs, giving him a unique character. Showing their timelessness and the graceful potential of folk to gain in a new light, he sounds overpowering and moving.
GENTLE STRANGER – Inner Winter, PRAH Recordings/Double Dare
Gentle Stranger plays personal musical anthems – intimate stories using drone music, tender piano, subtle beats, or field recordings to create an intimate and poignant tale of everyone’s inner winter.
PETRA HERMANOVA – In Death’s Eyes, Unguarded
Petra Hermanova’s majestic compositions mix the heaviness of organs and the lightness of folk. She juxtaposes vocals with funeral sounds, maneuvering between song lyricism and dark themes of transience.
ANDRZEJ KORZYŃSKI – Diabeł, Finders Keepers | review
Korzyński uses experimental compositional techniques. There is a space harsh guitar sound, melancholic organ, and a sparing rhythm section – music sometimes reminds me of Jimi Hendrix and Amon Düül.
MAGDA KURAŚ QUINTET – Tryptyk Biłgorajski, Alpaka | review
A young jazz ensemble starts with improvised music and uses ‘folk’ to draw on tradition, weaving an emotionally poignant, contemporary tale of failed love with excellent arrangements and vocals full of passion.
PIOTR KUREK – Smartwoods, Unsound | recenzja
There is nothing catchy here, no pop melodies or chords, and the music flows smoothly but linearly. However, it has a magnetism with each listening of this combination of folk, chamber, and artificial ensemble.
LA TÈNE – Ecorcha/Taillée, Bongo Joe | review
The French-Swiss septet explores the sound of traditional instruments in the form of minimalist trance repetitions, creating a heavy, endless sonic procession. A trance in which beauty and detail are hidden.
LANKUM – False Lankum, Rough Trade | review
Lankum interprets the Irish tradition with instrumental heaviness, sometimes mixing romanticism with drones and trance. They veer into the realms of Swans or Earth and can bring tears, scares, or a dance.
LOTTO – Summer/Axolotl, Gusstaff | review
Although different in sound, the two Lotto albums have much in common: darkness and uncertainty, created in a contemplative, striking way. Summer reminds me of Edward Hopper’s, whereas Axolotl of grime music.
ADELA MEDE – Ne Lépj a Virágra, Warm Winters/Mappa
Adela Mede speaks/sings in tongues. She uses her voice to straddle worlds and cultures like a hypnotic shaman, weaving stories from the periphery with the subtle support of electronics and guest speakers
AMBER MEULENIJZER – Saab Fanfare, Edições CN
A unique sound installation prepared as a procession: the brass ensemble improvised in the same tonalities as the continuous chord played through loudspeakers mounted on a slow-moving Saab car.
ŠARŪNAS NAKAS – Ramblings, MIC Lithuania | review
Šarūnas Nakas’ avant-garde ideas are better associated with Dadaism and Merz art. ‘Merz-Machine’ is for 33 electronic and acoustic instruments, and ‘Vox-Machine’ is for 25 electronically modified voices.
SVITLANA NIANIO – Transylvania Smile, 1994, Shukai | recenzja
Nianio creates an unusual trance-like quality by playing accordion and piano and singing. She plays Minimalism with rhythmic, punctuated melodies in the spirit of folk dances with a high, clear-sounding voice.
JACQUELINE NOVA – Creación de la tierra: Ecos palpitantes de Jacqueline Nova (1964-1974), Buh Records | recenzja
Jaqueline Nova tested the boundaries of acoustic instruments, electronic sounds, and human speech. She interacts with vocal recordings of indigenous U’wa peoples, modulating them and adding distortion.
STEPHEN O-MALLEY & ANTHONY PATERAS – Sept duos pour guitare acoustique & piano préparé, Shelter Press | review
The entire acoustic record contains music on prepared piano and guitar. Subtle strokes and interventions build its complex, appealing structure. Single gestures are reduced, a study of patience with a sacred spirit.
JULES REIDY – Trances, Shelter Press
Jules Reidy’s cyclical and mantric music moves between mourning and emotional uplift. With hexatonic electric guitar in Just Intonation and synthesizers, it offers unique sound waves and musical landscapes.
RICHTER BAND – Smetana, Infinite Expanse | review
It is a meditative, subtle work in which musical improvisations develop in the spirit of the American school of Minimalism. Some ambient, fourth-world elements intertwine with new-age and ethno-experimental sounds.
RAPHAEL ROGIŃSKI – Talàn, Instant Classic | review
The album is full of melancholy and an undercurrent of sadness. It smolders and resonates for silence, whether he departs for improvisation, weaves lyrical melodies, or harnesses reverb.
SHACKLETON & WACŁAW ZIMPEL – In the Cell of Dreams, K7 | review
The artists collaborate on an album that evokes Jon Hassell and Talk Talk with a syncretic blend of genres and traditions. Timeless and evocative suites stretch on forever and disappear all at the same time.
JOANNA STERNBERG – I’ve Got Me, Fat Possum Records
Joanna Sternberg’s songwriting is a confrontation with everyday problems, recorded chiefly with guitar and piano. It is full of intimate experiences but universal, as many will find themselves in it.
LUCIE VÍTKOVÁ – Cave Acoustics, Mappa
Recorded in caves in the Czech Republic and a gothic church in Slovakia, Lucie Vítková’s album explores the acoustics, their deep listening of these places, and the inherent personal sources of identity.
OLEKSANDR YURCHENKO – Recordings Vol. 1, 1991-2001, Shukai | review
Ukrainian composer created music on self-made instruments at the intersection of folk, industrial, and drone music, somewhere between the works of Glenn Branca and La Monte Young.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – Viva el sábado: Hits de disco pop peruano (1978-1989), Buh | review
A documentation of disco music, transitioning from a fascination with rock to an interest in tropical music and salsa. Catchy pop music perfectly demonstrates the color of a brilliant scene.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – Synthetic Bird Music, Mappa
The unusual concept brings together artists focused on field recordings and electronic music, who look at birdsong differently – in literal or imaginary form, building a unique sonic universe.