February 18, 2024
At the end of each year, I compile a list of my favorite music albums, mainly to document what I enjoyed listening to but also to share with others.
Just like 2022, 2023 was a huge year for music releases, and just like last year, I had a difficult time cutting down my list to just 10 albums. My process for hunting for new music remains mostly unchanged, except for one addition. I still use Marcos Tanaka’s wonderful Music Harbor and Adam Linder’s Albums app to find new music releases each week.
The one change I made to my listening process was the addition of MusicBox, another app by Marcos Tanaka. MusicBox lets me save albums to a list for listening to at a later time. It also allows me to organize albums with tags. I love this app because it gives me a way to keep track of albums that I want to listen to without adding them to my Apple Music catalog. In this way, MusicBox has become my “potential music to listen to” list. When I’m ready to listen to an album, I select it in MusicBox, and it opens the album directly in Apple Music. If I really enjoy an album, I can add it to my Apple Music catalog. If I decide that an album isn’t for me, I simply remove it from MusicBox. The app also has the ability to add tags to albums, which made it really easy to keep track of what I listened to during the year without adding it to my Apple Music catalog.
However, MusicBox can be a double-edged sword. Although I save a lot of music into the app, it takes a lot of time to actually go through all of the music I save. On the plus side, I do find a lot of new artists this way.
The following are the albums and artists that I’ve spent the most time with and/or connected with over the past year. There are more than a few albums that didn’t make the cut, but I’ve added them as either Honorable Mentions or into the Moar Music sections.
Also, I’ve compiled these albums on the Album Whale service to make it easier to get to other streaming and purchasing services.
Full disclosure: Purchasing any of the music using some of the links below will give a small percentage of the sale to my wife.
10. Mayer Hawthorne - For All Time
Mayer Hawthorne (aka Andrew Cohen) is back with his sixth album, For All Time. For All Time soaks the sound of the 70’s into the grooves, and the vibe is perfection. Try not to take Hawthorne’s swanky tunes too seriously, because it’s obvious that Cohen doesn’t. I mean, with tracks like “The Pool,” a soulful tribute to getting your skin fried in the sun, it’s just Hawthorne grooving and having fun! If you’re looking for smokey, funky, horn-filled R&B grooves, check this out.
Hot Tracks: Physical Touch, For All Time, The Pool
9. Metallica - 72 Seasons
It’s been 8 years since their last studio release, so when new Metallica is unleashed into the world, it’s time to celebrate! I don’t mind waiting if it means we get an album like 72 Seasons. Just when I thought they’d done everything possible in the metal genre, they changed it up and came out with something inventive and new. Frontman James Hetfield got the title from a book he was reading: 72 seasons is the first 18 years of your life. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait 72 seasons for more music!
Hot Tracks: All of it.
8. Tommy Guerrero and Mark Barrott both had new releases this year, and it was really difficult to choose between these two ambient albums as they’re quite different from each other. I listened to both quite a bit and enjoyed each of them for different reasons.
Mark Barrott - Jōhatsu (蒸発)
Barrott mentioned on his Bandcamp page that Jōhatsu (蒸発) was originally commissioned as a soundtrack for a documentary. The documentary was never finished, but at least Barrott was able to release the music. From the pulsating opening of Kyoto that leads into the stillness of the singular piano in Shinrin-Yoku (森林浴), Jōhatsu feels like a sonic journey through different phases of life.
Hot Tracks: Kyoto (京都), Shinrin - Yoku (森林浴), Icarus (イカロス)
Tommy Guerrero - Amber of Memory
Guerrero wrote Amber of Memory during the COVID lockdown of 2020—2021. He says the music is a departure from his normal style, and I would agree. The chilled-out ambient sounds created with just guitar, a little delay, vibrato, and drum machines sometimes feel endless.
Hot Tracks: Holding the Ocean, Floating in Shadows
7. Alan Paloma - World of Hassle
I gave World of Hassle a listen after hearing an interview Alan Paloma did on NPR, and I’m glad I did. Paloma’s use of classic 80’s synths, drums, and sax gives the album the feel of city pop nostalgia that drew me in, but it’s the finely crafted hooks and songwriting that really won me over. Even though some of the tracks have lyrics in French or Spanish, they transcended the language barrier and had me bouncing my head and groovin’ along.
Hot tracks: Meutrière, La Madrileña, Stay-At-Home DJ
6. Cory Wong - The Lucky One
Can Wong do no wrong? Cory Wong has been on a tear, putting out an album (sometimes more than one) a year. I’ve always known that he can groove and funk it, but I was never sure if he could do the ripping guitar hero solo thing that so many of his peers do. I’ve always seen him as a funky rhythm guitarist. So, can this cat solo? He finally answers that with a resounding “Hell yes, he can” on the tracks The Grid Generation with a burning hot end solo and the melodic Separado. If you’ve never experienced the Cory Wong sound of funk and pop, this is a great introduction.
Hot tracks: The Grid Generation, Seperado, Anonymous, Brooklyn Bop
5. Depeche Mode - Memento Mori
Similar to Metallica, Depeche Mode’s release schedule has become quite rare, so when they finally have a new release, I pay attention. Arriving six years after their last release, Spirit, I was very curious if anything musically would change since co-founder and keyboardist Andy Fletcher passed away in 2022. Thankfully, as Martin Gore has always been the principal songwriter and David Gahan is the voice of the band, Memento Mori is still a solid Depeche Mode album. Written mostly during the pandemic, the collection is moody and at times melancholy, but ultimately life-affirming.
Hot tracks: My Cosmos Is Mine, Ghosts Again, Don’t Say You Love Me
4. ATARASHII GAKKO!, my favorite Japanese group, hasn’t released a full-length album in a while, but it’s probably because they were busy taking over Japan as one of the hottest groups of 2023! This year, they released two separate EPs with new tracks along with tie-ins to TV shows and singles that were never in a collection. In just the first two months of 2024, ATARASHII GAKKO! has already released two singles. If this is any indication, I hope a full-length album will arrive sometime later in the year.
ATARASHII GAKKO! - Ichijikikoku
Hot tracks: All of it.
ATARASHII GAKKO! - Maningen - EP
Hot tracks: All of it.
3. Metic - Thoughts on Home and Symmetry
Metic (aka Jonny Ma), who is no stranger to this list, started releasing tracks from Thoughts on Home and Symmetry as singles in June 2023 and released the entire album in October 2023. Each tune drop was wonderful, but it always left me wanting more. But the wait was worth it. Using live instrumentation, self-made loops, and various types of samples, Metic weaves together the sonic duality of living in New York and traveling to his home town of Hong Kong. Tunes flow from funky grooves into meditative loops; others showcase his knack for sprinkling tasty guitar licks between those grooves and placing solos where they can soar. The use of subtle vocal and background samples expertly interlaced into many tunes (check out the tracks Beef Brisket, Hometown Calls, and Dirty Horchata) gives the tracks a feeling of place and shows Metic’s production prowess. I highly suggest listening with headphones for the best experience.
Hot tracks: Bodega Minute, We Outside, Prunella Tea, Dirty Horchata
2. Kurena Ishikawa - Kurena
Finding Kurena Ishikawa’s music was a revelation! I’m not even sure how this album got onto my playlist, but I’m so glad it did. Kurena is a collection of originals and covers in a jazz setting, with Ishikawa’s double bass and vocals as the highlights of each track. The arrangements are sparse, but they give all of the instruments room to breathe. The guitar solo on the track Sea Wasp was so Metheny-esque, I had to look up who was playing (it was performed by Taka Nawashiro). Her cover of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, featuring just double bass and solo vocals, was another surprise and something you just have to experience. I have a fond memory of playing Kurena on the hotel room sound system while I was staying in Karuizawa, Japan. Every time I listen to this album, it brings back that special moment for me.
Hot tracks: Sea Wasp, Olea, Off The Wall
1. Steve Lukather - Bridges
As I get older, I’m realizing that the amount of new music from my musical heroes is slowing down, and soon the music might come to a stop. So when Steve Lukather (of Toto fame) releases new music, I celebrate! His latest album, Bridges, follows up on 2021’s I Found the Sun Again, with eight all-original tunes. David Paich and Joseph Williams are featured as writers and musicians throughout, so this feels sort of like a Toto album, but with Lukather doing all the vocals. When it comes to staying in the music game, maybe the closest we’ll get to an answer from Lukather is in the opening track, Far from Over:
“I’m not giving it up, even though I’m getting older.
Far from over,
Don’t count me out until I’m six feet underground.”
Hot tracks: Far from Over, Not My Kind of People, When I See You Again
Yoko Kuzuya - MIDNIGHT DRIVIN’ - KUZUYA YOKO MUSIC GREETINGS 1999-2021
This was released as a hit collection back in 2021, but I only discovered it in 2023. MIDNIGHT DRIVIN’ is such a great collection of songs with a city pop feel. I can imagine putting this on and taking a long, late-night cruise.
Kuna Maze - Night Shift
This is producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Kuna Maze’s first album. The collection of electronic dance tunes evokes the feeling of venturing into the nightlife of the club scene.
Brandee Younger - Brand New Life
Harpist extraordinaire Brandee Younger pays tribute to pioneering harpist Dorothy Ashby and throws in a contemporary twist. I didn’t think I’d be into harp at all, but this album kicks ass.
Hot tracks: You’re A Girl For One Man Only, Brand New Life (feat. Mumu Fresh), Livin’ And Lovin’ In My Own Way (feat. Pete Rock)
Cornelius - Dream in Dream
I look forward to every new album that Cornelius (aka Keigo Oyamada) releases. Dream in Dream seems to bookend his previous release, 2017’s Mellow Waves, and sounds very much like a continuation of the music. While his earlier releases were quite ground-breaking and at times avant-garde, Cornelius seems to enjoy a more minimalistic focus and has become (dare I say) more pop on his recent albums. Sound design is still a huge part of his music, and I really enjoy the soundscapes he creates. Listening with headphones is a must.
Hot tracks: Sparks, Out of Time, Night Heron
Anemoia - A Muser!
This Miami trio combines funk, rock riffs, and fusion to create a collection of tunes that will keep you grooving.
Hot tracks: Curiosity, Ghost Town, Flow
Kahoru Kohiruimaki - Call My Name
Although Call My Name came out in 1985, I only found it recently while digging through Apple Music’s 80’s J-Pop recommendations. I love the sound of those 80’s synths, electronic drums, guitars, and, of course, sax! The collection features many of L.A.’s top studio musicians, as so many of Japan’s top artists produced their albums overseas. I was surprised to hear a cover of the Carole King and Gerry Goffin tune, Keep Your Hands Off My Baby.
Nicolas Britell and Robert Glasper - The Winning Time Sessions: Season One (Soundtrack from the HBO® Original Series)
While I haven’t seen this series, I enjoyed Robert Glasper’s funk, hip hop, R&B, and soundtrack soundscape work on both albums.
Jeff Beal and Robert Glasper - The Winning Time Sessions: Season 2 (Soundtrack from the HBO® Original Series)
Ryuichi Sakamoto - 12
Released two months before Ryuichi Sakamoto’s passing, 12 is his fifteenth and final studio album. Sakamoto chose 12 of his favorite tracks for this collection, each named after the date of its creation. The minimalistic piano, synthesizers, and other electronic soundscapes are calming and comforting.
Even Moar Music
These are other albums I spent time with during 2023 that you might also enjoy.
Rock and Blues
ryusenkei - City Music -Remastering-
Listen: Apple Music
Sugiyama Kiyotaka - FREEDOM
Listen: Apple Music
House / Dance
Jazz / Fusion
See my Favorite albums of 2022 here.