An in-depth but in no way comprehensive list of our team's favorite albums released this year
As the arts and culture editor for WJCT Public Media, I make lists. A lotta lists.
On a weekly basis, alone, I send out two e-blasts for the Jacksonville Music Experience – a roundup of concert picks and a new music playlist – and compile recommendations of arts picks for Jacksonville Today. Some conservative, back-of-the-envelope math: that’s roughly 150 lists per year; 400-ish concerts picked, 300 songs suggested, 200-ish art openings and exhibitions previewed. All of those in addition to the semi-regular event and fest-related lists we do at JME – staff picks for Porchfest, Winterland, Jazz Fest, etc.
In media we call this digestible content, which sounds superficial but I do find value in doing it. Three-hundred songs suggested means I’ve had to listen intently to maybe double that many songs. And by constantly keeping my eyes on the concert calendar, I’m hopefully a bit more in the know.
Certainly, reading and editing this list of the JME team’s favorite albums of the year was an engaging and informative experience. The prompt put out to our team – a small-but-mighty group that listens widely – was simple: pick five-to-ten albums you enjoyed this year. No ranking. No #1-60. No best of the year. Contrary to what The Voice and American Idol may teach us, music is not a competition.
What we ended up with was a list of 60 albums, each one was loved by one (or multiple members) of our group of music obsessives. Our favorite albums. It’s our hope that the word favorite invites conversation and sharing, rather than hurt feelings or accusations of ignorance.
And from the indie-pop sensibilities and millennial melancholy of the artists on Carissa Marques’ list to the modern jazz and fusion that caught the ear of Ulysses Owens Jr. to Hurley Winkler’s emphasis on local releases and Daniel A. Brown’s left-of-the-dial shares, it’s certainly a broad collection – one to satisfy the most curious of listeners.
Here are, listed in alphabetical order by artist, the JME team’s 60 favorite albums of 2023.–Matthew Shaw
I don’t know if I’m proud of myself or concerned that I took a liking to hyper pop this year. The American-duo Laura Les and Dylan Brady concocted a rollercoaster of an album that might ignite listeners’ fight-or-flight instinct. Millennials and older Gen-Z will recognize the THX “Deep Note” that opens “Dumbest Girl Alive,” but my favorite track would probably be “The Most Wanted Person In The United States.” 10,000 gecs rowdy and energetic cacophony combines electronic music, rock and a certain overdose of sound effects.–Carissa Marques
O Life, O Light Vol. 2
Tenor saxophonist-flutist Zoh Amba is still in her early twenties but taps into the eternal that puts her in the lineage of spiritual jazz. O Life, O Light Vol. 2 finds her collaborating with bassist William Parker and drummer Francisco Mela, who meet her from moment to moment to investigate, rewire, and discard ideas, themes, and the blurring the ideas of soloist and accompanist.–Daniel A. Brown
New Blue Sun
Ambient drones, digital flutes and not shortage of controversy swirled around this album. But it’s on my list simply because the Outkast co-founder created a work that was true to his own unique artistry. It takes guts to deliver something that runs contrary to expectations. Shout out to André 3000 for being led by inspiration and not capitalism.–Ulysses Owens Jr.
The latest from Italian composer Barbieri is a veritable sonic basilica of electronic glissandos, arpeggios, and canon-like synthesized audio sources that, in spite of their inorganic technology, create a certain humanness. Fans of Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Catherine Christer Hennix and will find certain intrigue in the music of Caterina Barbieri.–Daniel A. Brown
With the Grammy-nominated Phoenix, it’s clear that it’s Lakecia Benjamin’s time to rise. She has been on the scene for years, and finally she has burst through with this incredible and powerful project.–Ulysses Owens Jr.
I Love My Girl, She’s My Boy
This one is a fun indie-pop project from sibling duo Brandon and Savannah Hudson. It’s a bouncy, fresh collection of songs great for fans of ROLE MODEL, Superfan or Børns. The album flows really well listening to it from start to finish, but if I had to choose one track to recommend it’s “Bruise.”–Carissa Marques
Sit Down for Dinner
For Blonde Redhead’s legions of diehards, nine years is certainly too long to wait between albums. But on Sit Down for Dinner, the post-rock-dream-pop trio delivered and then some: imaginative lyrics – some of which were inspired by Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking – and the kind of immersive and complex soundscapes that long ago became the band’s calling card.–Matthew Shaw
Stealing this one from my wonderful editor (thanks for the recommendation, Matt), but Sabrina Mae Teitelbaum is revitalizing the grunge of the ‘90s as she sings of the struggles of addiction, sobriety, stupid men and the journey of love and longing. It’s hard to pick a favorite track, but if you’re going to listen to any I would recommend “Sepsis” or “It Wasn’t Love” from the deluxe album.–Carissa Marques
The indie supergroup composed of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus released their second album after leaving fans waiting for half a decade. In a nutshell, it’s the most earnest collection of platonic love featuring everything from an acapella intro (“Without You Without Them”) to angsty rock (“Satanist”) and the song that soared all the way up to #1 on Billboard’s charts, “Not Strong Enough.” It was life changing to see this album performed live at the momentous sold-out Madison Square Garden show back in October.–Carissa Marques
Lucky For You
Nearly a decade into her career as Bully, Alicia Bognanno hits a new peak with Lucky For You, an irresistible collection of riffs and hooks that feels both ripped from ‘90s alt-rock radio and fresh as a daisy. The record starts and finishes at its strongest, from the killer one-two punch of “All I Do” and “Days Move Slow” to heartbroken ballad “Ms. America” and ferocious protest closer “All This Noise.”–Scott Russell
Cory Fonville is a talented drummer that I have known about for many years. But what has shifted his career is the collaborative V.A. based band Butcher Brown. They used to be a “garage band” of sorts, and now within the last few years have collaborated with Kurt Elling, Tyler, The Creator and Khruangbin.–Ulysses Owens Jr.
Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert
Among several 2023 releases that drew on Bob Dylan’s past work, there were three that caught my attention. And while the icon’s reinterpreting of 14 of his more popular songs in his contemporary gravelly garble on Shadow Kingdom and the expansive, lush deluxe reissue of his 1978 concert album Bob Dylan at Budokan contain gems for Dylan-philes (like me!), Cat Power’s take on Dylan’s 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert (from the goes-electric period), is gorgeous and inarguably the most likely to turn Dylan skeptics into fans.–Matthew Shaw
Blue Note Records is known for establishing the genre of jazz and Joe Chambers is actually one of the “Last of the Mohicans” of original musicians who recorded for the label back in the 1960s. He is a multi-instrumentalist as drummer and vibraphonist coupled with incredible, and he pairs his competency on those instruments with deft compositional skills. This album sounds like a throwback and is certainly an instant classic.–Ulysses Owens Jr.
Pittsburgh-based musician Chromesthetic (aka Gina Kantner) continues with a nuanced approach in her signature electronic drone music via analog synths. This year’s Path acknowledges foundational predecessors like early-kosmische Musik, Terry Riley and peak Popol Vuh— but always loops back to Kantner’s own galaxy of oscillators and tape echo.–Daniel A. Brown
Indie-R&B and soul singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Karpeh, who, since the late-2010s, has been churning out chill-AF and increasingly-lush pop, went back to his roots in 2023, dropping the jazz-forward KARPEH. While there are features from trad-jazz contemporaries like the guitarist Julian Lage and plenty of improvising-on-motifs, KARPEH retains Clay’s singular sonic fingerprint, ear for groove and smooth-vocal delivery.–Matthew Shaw
Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?
That Chicago-based, Richmond-born artist McKinley Dixon has a way with words is something of a given – he’s a rapper, after all. And while his rhymes on his latest album are a cut above the rest, what’s unique and consistently engaging about Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!? is Dixon’s clear knack for characters, setting, plot and narrative arc (not to mention the tasty grooves that pervade the record). He’s a gifted a storyteller.–Matthew Shaw
El Michels Affair & Black Thought
The Glorious Game
Black Thought flexed his hip-hop-elder-statesman title this year. A year after his album with Danger Mouse, he started 2022 delivering an ode to hip hop on its 50th anniversary. He wrote a memoir. And dropped Glorious Game, a joint album with producer group El Michels Affair. It’s a fusion of great lyrics, lofi, jazz chords, soft percussion and an easy aura of reflection.–Mr. Al Pete
feeble little horse
Girl with Fish
At 11 tracks and just 26 minutes, the major-indie-label (or is that an oxymoron?) debut from Pittsburgh four-piece feeble little horse (out on Saddle Creek) practically demands repeat listens. Between the band’s wild blown-out guitars and Lydia Slocum’s fluttering vocal melodies, Girl With Fish is challenging on paper but undeniable in practice, with otherworldly hooks and textures you’ll return to again and again.–Scott Russell
My late mentor Mulgrew Miller told me years ago that Sullivan Fortner was going to be a force to be reckoned with. His new solo piano album serves notice to all jazz pianists that this is the future of the jazz piano.–Ulysses Owens Jr.
Milford Graves, Arthur Doyle, Hugh Glover
Children of the Forest
Previously unreleased, this summit of drummer Milford Graves with reeds players Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover is free jazz at its zenith. Recorded in 1976 in Graves’ Queens, NY basement studio, Children of the Forest is a holy and rolling document of three proficient improvisors unfurling sound to the level of the mystic.–Daniel A. Brown
While the shoegaze soundscape has become commonplace in indie-rock production, it’s rare for a band to embrace the genre’s washy, wall-of-dissonance to the extent – and enjoyable results – that NYC musician Will Anderson has on Cartwheel, his latest album as Hotline TNT.–Matthew Shaw
What’s a top ten list without the wondrous work of the prince of Irish folk, Andrew Hozier-Byrne? This album is a beautiful rendition of Dante’s “Inferno,” yes, as in the 14th-century Italian epic poem. I had the pleasure of hearing him sing “Eat Your Young,” at Shaky Knees in Atlanta this May before the whole album was released. Hozier does a phenomenal job at melding gospel roots with burning roots and rock chords. My favorite track from the album would have to be “Francesca.”–Carissa Marques
Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?
With her full-length debut Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?, Chicago singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and former National Youth Poet Laureate Kara Jackson announces herself as a vital new musical voice. Her sound is stark, yet expansive, evoking the likes of Joni Mitchell and Aimee Mann, and her lyricism will make itself at home in your mind long after the album’s end.–Scott Russell
JPEGMAFIA x Danny Brown
SCARING THE HOES
Between this buzzy full-length collab with JPEGMAFIA and his own long-awaited solo album Quaranta, it’s been a big year for Danny Brown. An explosively unpredictable patchwork of samples and Brown and Peggy’s ever-idiosyncratic mic work, SCARING THE HOES never sits still long enough for you to get a bead on it—it’s electric from start to finish.–Scott Russell
A tip: Next time you have guests in your home, put on this album by UK producers Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, and be prepared to bask in the compliments on your playlist curation. Jungle’s Volcano is not a playlist. But with its deft mix of funk, R&B, hip hop, soul and dance music, it sure makes for a good one.–Matthew Shaw
Kaytraminé (KAYTRANADA & Amine)
On Kaytraminé, the duo of rapper-singer Amine and super-cool producer KAYTRANADA offer a an electric and vibey collection of songs covering every summer feel. The track “4EVA,” which features Pharell singing the hook, invites listeners to the dance floor. “Rebuke” and “Sossaup” harken back to the summer of love (whenever that might have been for the listener). Guest spots from Big Sean and Snoop Dogg add to the sunny feel.–Mr. Al Pete
Killer Mike started the year with the gospel sermons of his single, “RUN,” then got sentimental with the heartfelt “MOTHERLESS.” From there, the church doors were open and his sixth album MICHAEL invited the full choir, the diversity of Atlanta’s music influence and scriptures that gave the listener the deepest look yet into Mike’s life and mental thinking. Hands down the best hip-hop album of 2023.–Mr. Al Pete
Garage-psych-folk bard Kyle Thomas, known professionally as King Tuff, returned to the fore in 2023 with the enjoyably weird and oft-rockin’ Smalltown Stardust. From primal, turn-your-brain-off-and-enjoy ditties like “Rock River” and downtempo groovers like “How I Love,” it might be Tuff’s most-muscular album to date.–Matthew Shaw
Cunning folk music unpolluted by anachronistic coyness, the eponymous release from Stella Kola, a supergroup of northeastern psych-filtering musicians, is a 14-song collection propelled by acoustic instruments, has the effect of ending much too quickly. When the damp tendrils of tracks like “Rosa,” “Set Out Too Soon” and “Being is a Beggar’s Blessing” pull you into the cryptic fold, you will gladly submit.–Daniel A. Brown
Music for the Future
I’ve been eager for LANNDS to release a full-length record ever since I first heard frontwoman Rania Woodard play a solo set seven years ago, and this was finally the year for an 11-track release from the Jacksonville-founded duo. With an unlimited supply of angelic vocals and complex beats, this record was well worth the wait.–Hurley Winkler
Bayard Rustin was one of the foremost activists during the Civil Rights era and single-handedly engineered the March on Washington. This soundtrack composed by Branford Marsalis, chronicles the recently released Netflix film of the same name. Marsalis has been writing music for film for years now, and what I enjoy the most about his compositions is how he keeps the score suited for his quartet and acoustic music.–Ulysses Owens Jr.
Terrace Martin & Alex Isley
I Left My Heart In Ladera
Super-producer, musician, rapper and singer Terrace Martin had a busy year. But his joint album with Alex Isley, I Left My Heart In Ladera is extra special. Through soulful musicianship guides Isley’s sensual vocals over light, groovy production.–Mr. Al Pete
The Southern Suite
Sean Mason is one of my former students at Juilliard, and his debut album showcases his compositional ability. Mason’s a young artist revealing a truly unique voice.–Ulysses Owens Jr.
This one is my deep cut of the year for anyone looking for an eerie yet ethereal sound. Friend of Ethel Cain – my favorite musician to come out of the Sunshine State – Vyva Melinkolya’s latest album incorporates fuzzy guitars with darker lyrics. It’s brooding, honest, tender and staticy. When a long song is good, I think that’s an accomplishment to applaud, go check out all eight minutes and ten seconds of “Stars Don’t Fall.”–Carissa Marques
The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We
Mitski’s NPR-core-4-lyfe, but the “poet laureate of outsized emotions” has found a wider audience on TikTok, where her legions of fans connected with the cinematic adventurism of her 2023 album, with users inserting tracks from the record into their videos often enough to push it to the top of the Billboard charts.–Matthew Shaw
The Age of Pleasure
Singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe’s The Age of Pleasure is an album about liberation. Monáe’s been dubbed an innovator among several artists currently tapping into Afrofuturism, and on Pleasure she speaks to Black- and LGBTQIA-pride and brings the listener to an idyllic setting, filling the album with island vibes, with features from Grace Jones, Sister Nancy, Doechii and more.–Mr. Al Pete
I need everyone to stop what they’re doing and dive into the symphonic world of Emile Mosseri immediately. The composer previously worked on the scores for movies like The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Kajillionaire and Minari. Heaven Hunters is his first solo album featuring his heartstring pulling lyricism with celestial orchestral movements. Here’s a verse from “Oklahoma Baby,” that just gets me everytime – “There was a time that I thought I could use your heart / as a warm and empty room / there was a time that I thought I didn’t need you at all / there was never a time that I didn’t love you.”–Carissa Marques
Magic 3 is the final installment of hip-hop king Nas and super producer Hit Boy’s six-album run. Released on Nas’ 50th birthday (on hip hop’s 50th year anniversary…how fitting), Nas graces all walks of the hip-hop world with elevated rhymes and the kind of king talk that long ago earned him the honorific: the God emcee. From 2020 to 2023, Nas has released six stellar albums and to end with this project shows consistency in elevating the culture while staying relevant.–Mr. Al Pete
My fave rapper working right now, Noname’s use of melody and rhythm is unique – very different from much of mainstream hip hop right now.–Ulysses Owens Jr.
On paper, Ghanaian-Australian musician Genesis Owusu’s blend of post-punk, prog, hip hop, pop and EDM sounds like an inharmonious mixture. The results though, while insane, are insanely good.–Matthew Shaw
The latest from NYC violist-composer Pavone is written for string ensemble, utilizing and exploring the timbral aspects of harmonic and enharmonic tones, and shimmering overtones. Using the idea of “women’s work” as unified conceptual theme, the four pieces comprising Clamor are a notable experience of early 21st-century music.–Daniel A. Brown
Everyone loves a feel-good Christmas Album, and whether its holiday-flavored or something spicier, Gregory Porter can do no wrong. This album gives you that nice, warm, fuzzy feeling, and runs deep with holiday classics and incredible orchestration and production from UK producer and drummer, Troy Miller.–Ulysses Owens Jr.
As one-half of the neo-soul project Black Pumas, producer Adrian Quesada was party to two great albums in 2023. His solo-instrumental record (actually released in late 2022), Jaguar Sound, is a deeply groove-y mix of surfy guitar, funky-as-hell beats and brass, elastic bass and some of the coolest flute leads of this, or any, year.
Flowers At Your Feet
I came to this album by way of Beck, an artist I’ve loved for decades, who collaborated with multidisciplinary artist Rahill on her single “Fables.” As a whole, Rahill’s debut full-length album is an engaging blend of trip-hop and folk styles paired with earwormy lyrics that are coated in longing and cheeky charm.–Hurley Winkler
The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess
This album has me gushing. I can’t say enough good things about it. And if you’re an avid JME reader, you might remember I got to interview the Midwest Princess, Chappell Roan, this fall before she came to Florida. The songs are thematic, dramatic and glamorous, with call-and-response hooks, sensational synths and dancefloor worthy beats. If I had to pick just one song to start with, it would be “Naked In Manhattan.”–Carissa Marques
Kendrick Scott is one of my favorite modern drummers and I love Corridors, his trio album featuring Reuben Rogers, and Walter Smith III, and it highlights his textural abilities as a drummer and even soundscape artists.–Ulysses Owens Jr.
Akira Sakata & Entasis
Live in Europe 2022
A spearhead of the Japanese free jazz community, since the 1970s the now 78-year-old saxophonist Akira Sakata has performed with musicians as diverse as metallic-jazz-supergroup Last Exit, Bill Laswell, Pete Cosey, DJ Krush and Chikamorachi. This live recording finds him aided and abetted by a supporting band of eager youngbloods, who match Sakata pound for pound, with four intense performances culled from a recent European tour.–Daniel A. Brown
The Intrinsic Nature of Shipp
Recorded in a single session in March of this year, the aptly named The Intrinsic Nature of Shipp is a 10-song set that features the NYC pianist operating at peak level: contemplative, brooding, exploratory but always pushing the instrument further. For nearly forty years and through dozens of live and ensemble releases, Shipp remains the rightful emblem of American improvised musicians.–Daniel A. Brown
Skyzoo & The Other Guys
The Mind of a Saint
At its best, hip hop is about the the art of storytelling. Prolific writer Skyzoo takes on the persona of Franklin Saint – the main character from the acclaimed TV series Snowfall – for a concept album that works whether you follow the story or not. Production team the Other Guys lend the boom-bap feels, allowing Skyzoo to bring vivid details to Saint’s environment.–Mr. Al Pete
I’m a longtime Sufjan fan, and I’m both shocked and thrilled to report that this record might be my new favorite. This mad scientist of a songwriter took the best elements of all his previous records and put them into this one. The soft harmonies and wintry musical accents of his early acoustic indie catalog are amplified by the techno whirlwind of his 2010 Age of Adz synth explosion.–Hurley Winkler
SZA laid it all out there on SOS. Throughout her career, she’s been clear that love is the centerpoint of her existence. And on SOS she touches on new romance, heartbreak and redemption on a phenomenal, and emo, album that demonstrates how to handle the highs and the lows.–Mr. Al Pete
Stop Making Sense (Deluxe Edition)
The best thing that happened to my musical life in 2023 was the 40th anniversary re-release of the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense. The music from the film was playing everywhere I went, ushered in by this Deluxe Edition version of the soundtrack, which includes a handful of bangers that got left behind on the cutting room floor back in the 80s, such as Cities and Big Business / I Zimbra.–Hurley Winkler
Here’s another debut album from a local band that was well worth the wait. Teal Peel has cracked some sort of charming code with their beachy, buggy mix of driving guitars, fluttery brass, and loud (and I mean loud) drums. Taylor Neal’s lyrics only masquerade as something light and airy—at their core, they’re as earnest and honest as can be. Teal Peel’s songs always end up putting happy tears in my eyes and my bleeding heart in my throat.–Hurley Winkler
Blame My Ex
The title is fitting considering my ex showed me this band, but this album is for the girlies through and through. The Canadian rock quartet’s second full-length album is full of shiny guitars complementing lead singer Jordan Miller’s lower-vocal register. The must-listen-to track would have to be, “Me & Me,” an anthem for lonely, recovering romantics with a killer bassline.–Carissa Marques
The Japanese House
In the End It Always Does
For fans of wistful longing on a lonesome walk, this collection pairs atmospheric synths with poetic lyrics in a capsule of stories from love lost along the way. The album was co-produced by George Daniel (The 1975) and Chloe Kraemer (Wet Leg, MXMTOON), so fans of those bands might enjoy their touch on this album. My favorite track is “Morning Pages,” which features Katie Gavin from MUNA.–Carissa Marques
By Myself (Solo Cello)
Considered by many to be a proverbial holy grail of 1970s free jazz DIY private-press releases, this reissue of Wadud’s 1977 album meets and exceeds the rarity and myth. Six tracks of Wadud exploring theme and technique, and considering the usually-staid cello as his chosen instrument, never diminishing in captivation of one’s spirit.–Daniel A. Brown
On her fourth Studio Album, Nashville-based singer-songwriter and guitar hero, Sunny War speaks to the fleetingness of even the hardest-won stability. With featured guests co-signing the record, including Americana All-Stars David Rawlings, Allison Russell and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Anarchist Gospel is one of 2023’s must-listen-to albums.–Matthew Shaw
Rat Saw God
A fixture near the top of many 2023 best-ofs, the breakout album from Asheville’s Wednesday seemed destined for greatness from the fall 2022 release of its towering first single, “Bull Believer.” The quintet’s combination of shoegaze and Americana, animated by Karly Hartzman’s indelibly detailed songwriting, has established Wednesday as one of the nation’s—let alone South’s—best rock bands.–Scott Russell
Water Made Us
Chicago poet and musician Jamila Woods covers a lot of ground on her adventurous Water Made Us. From throwback R&B to delicate acoustic folk to meditative dreampop, the album overfloweth with recommended additions for any playlist.–Matthew Shaw
Turner Williams Jr.
Briars on a Dewdrop
The latest from this longtime Southern expat now living in Marseille, Briars on a Dewdrop features Williams performing ancient instruments including electric shahi baajas and gaz which he processes through a variety of electronic effects. Fully void of kitsch, exotica and any preening grasps at world music, the three-song collection is a field recording of the otherworldly.–Daniel A. Brown