Dave Scaddan’s Top 20 Albums of 2023

Editor’s Note: For many years, we at The Feedback Society would publish our year end lists of the best in music and film. The task of best albums of the year always went to my friend Dave Scaddan, a man with impeccable taste and an encyclopedic knowledge of music. In 2023, we decommissioned and mostly ceased publishing on The Feedback Society site, but I still wanted to do these year end lists for Craig Silliphant dot com. (Read the last 10 years of these music lists here).

Dave and I would like to dedicate this year’s music list to our friend Jason ‘JB’ Barker, who passed away in 2023. Our group of friends has spent many nights hanging out, listening to records and talking about music (and other media), bringing each other the latest albums that have moved us in some way. JB was another guiding star of recommendations and good taste. Our Saturday night record parties aren’t the same without him.

Here is Dave Scaddan’s Top 20 Albums of the Year, as compiled for Craig Silliphant dot com. Take a look — there’s a lot of different genres here so there’s no doubt some great new recommendations that may not fly in your usual orbit.

Thanks Dave! Over to you!

It was a great year for album releases with lots of artists making their collaborations work in everyone’s favor.  Hope you find some gems in here as we review the year in music.

20)  Overmono – Good Lies

With a little of the same knocking, eerie sound we’ve heard from Burial these last ten years, this Welsh duo put out an impressive debut LP in 2023.  In a year where electronic LPs didn’t make a huge mark for me, ‘Good Lies’ was an exception.

19)  The Ironsides – Changing Light

One of several great groups culled from the ‘Soul Slabs’ series of compilations from Colemine Records, The Ironsides caught my attention by sounding like Ennio Morricone, but ended up reminding me more of my favorite Isaac Hayes records when I got to ‘Changing Light’.  This is a beautiful record that always seems like it’s scoring something, but needs no film to validate listening to it.

18) – Lavarr the Starr – Illusions Ago

There is a really cool set of musicians circling around Ishmael Butler in 2023.  He reunited with Digable Planets this year for a few appearances, which was cool enough on its own, but their performing lineup sometimes featured Kassa Overall and Carlos Overall, which made me feel like a whole bunch of my favorite songs from years ago were now being played by people I’d only known about for a short time.  The whole year kicked off with a mysterious release from Lavarr the Starr, who is probably – but not provably – Ish himself.  When I first heard it, I thought it seemed like a tossed-off side project, but since it’s been around since January, it’s casually-delivered style has had time to grow on me.  ‘Illusions Ago’ is a good example of how great indie hip-hop can be when it’s obviously not concerned with sticking to anyone else’s program. 

17)  Aaron Frazer – Live From Easy Eye Sound

There’s a saccharine quality to Aaron Frazer that has to be either accepted or spat out, and in 2023, I decided to accept it.  The sweetness of his voice shows how much Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson he’s ingested; even a little dash of the young Michael Jackson can be heard here.  Frazer is focusing mostly on soulful ballads, though there are some snappy drum beats (which Frazer also plays himself) that keep the performance from slipping completely into mushy Hallmark territory.

16)  Sascha Funke & Niklas Wandt – RM12023

This four-track mix will reward the patient listener.  I don’t know about this Niklas Wandt character, but I always trust Sascha Funke to deliver an EDM style that’s never fully house, jungle, or disco, but always jams.  That’s what you get here, in an EP that pushes the pulse a little more with each track.

15)  OMD – Bauhaus Staircase

I can’t be the only one who’s jazzed about the recent resurgence of great work by Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark, ‘cause they’re touring Europe like it’s 1987 and they still had enough clout to record and release a Royal Albert Hall live album last year.  So why don’t I ever notice anyone else reviewing, playing or noticing anything they’re up to?

I know that if you’ve never heard of them before, you aren’t going to show sudden interest in a band called Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark, but if you have ever loved the music of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphries and then let it pass you by, (as I once did) then it is time to get back on the trolley.  

14)  King Krule – Space Heavy

Archy Marshall keeps developing and staying true to his signature style.  ‘Space Heavy’ is loaded with confidence, and finds Archy using his band a little more, even though he’s never been an artist in need of a band.  I’ve written before that his is a “tough sell” style that can push an audience away as easily as draw one in, but who needs accessibility in a world driven by access?  Give me Archy’s off-kilter, unpredictable, scowling sensibility over some other artist’s predictable signature any day.  When Tom Waits and Joe Strummer are being channeled through your musical style, you’ll always have a devoted, interested core of fans to rely on.

13)  Danava – Nothing But Nothing

As the landscape of metal continues to move toward more and more heaviness, this Portland four-piece just focuses on keeping their music hard.  Been a while since we’ve heard from these guys, and ‘Nothing But Nothing’ steps away from the prog roots of the band’s first three records to deliver a hard-rocking Priestly set of songs.  Danava are devoted metalheads who play here like they have nothing to prove to anyone, and really, at this point, they absolutely don’t.

12)  Drab Majesty – An Object in Motion

While still keeping a foot in the gothic influences that Deb Demure is known for, ‘An Object in Motion’ moves into a more orchestral, almost acoustic vibe.  Acquisition of a bowl-shaped 12-string guitar was apparently the main inspiration for this shift in sound.  At a tight 33 minutes, this record is a dark, smooth ride with some lengthy instrumental passages and some cool guest appearances to keep the sound of Drab progressing.  ‘The Skin and the Glove’ is the standout track for me – check out Deb’s hypnotic baritone on that one.

11)  Acid King – Beyond Vision

Can’t say what a treat it was to see this band back in action in 2023.  While I may not recommend this as the first Acid King album the uninitiated should hear, it is a fitting addition to the discography of one of my favorite doom metal bands.  Lori S. can still hammer out a throbbing, patient guitar line that buzzes like a wide-open engine, and even though her rhythm section changes like the phases of the moon, she always rounds out her trio with musicians who can deliver that familiar slow, low, doom metal brilliance.

10)  DJ Shadow – Action Adventure

I wouldn’t have cared if DJ Shadow had never evolved his sound and just kept trying to remake ‘Endtroducing’ forever, even if the goal was never reached.  Dude has proved that he has the ear for samples no one else can find and the skill to present them in their best possible way.  That’s not what we get on ‘Action Adventure’ though, where we’ll hear him playing his own loops and tunes on synth tracks that don’t rely on turntablist techniques.  It’s a shame that many of his devotees will find this a departure, and that many who might like the moody intensity on show here will likely go elsewhere to find it, but this is definitely a veteran artist who’s making the music he’s interested in making right now instead of doing what’s expected to appease.  A good ear for samples is not so different than a good ear for a synth melody, which ‘Action Adventure’ aptly proves.

9)   Alogte Oho and his Sounds of Joy – O Yinne!

It won’t take long for anyone trying this group on for size to pick up on their general vibe.  Hailing from Ghana, this group is technically performing gospel music, but that could be a pretty misleading label for a North American sensibility.  As their name suggests, this group is mostly focused on emanating happiness, and doing it well.  What I hear on ‘O Yinne!’ is number after number of funky celebrations of life.  It’s as hard not to smile while hearing this as it is to stay still.

8)   Mandy, Indiana – I’ve seen a Way

This record was one of those odd cases where an album receives piles of praise upon release, and then disappears from critics’ lists at year’s end.  Nothing too complicated going on here really, just some feedback and arpeggiated synth punctuated with tight drums, rain effects and half-spoken French lyrics.  But ‘I’ve Seen a Way’ is a whole that equals much more than the sum of these parts.  Some will find these cave-and-crypt-recorded tracks pretentious and abrasive, but I liked the way these elements went together from first hearing, and still do.

7)   Aesop Rock – Integrated Tech Solutions

As the emcee with the best vocabulary in the world (as proven by pudding.cool) Aesop Rock’s musichas had incredible staying power for me, especially since 2016’s ‘The Impossible Kid’.  The intricacy of his wordplay and imagery outdoes most emcees’ craft with ease, but it’s his storytelling that endears most, and makes deciphering his bars worthwhile.  Other than a few skit moments like the one that jumps off the album, ‘Integrated Tech Solutions’ really has nothing to do with streamlining your workplace platforms; it’s mainly a series of tales and perspectives told by a veteran of the game who has some very intriguing experiences to put to song.  He met Mr. T once.  He arrived home one day to find his apartment taken over by a crazed vagrant.  He has dared himself to try to draw one thousand pigeons (for no reason) but never did it.  This is the stuff no one else consistently raps about, which leaves a nice little corner of the floor for Aes to operate in.  I’m going to continue meeting him there.

Also, for fun — The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop:


6 )  Julian Winding/Peter Peter/Cliff Martinez – Copenhagen Cowboy Soundtrack

Sometimes a soundtrack manages to transcend the film it scores, which is what will eventually happen to this one.  Not that Nicolas Winding Refn’s Netflix series doesn’t do the music here justice – it’s a wild, fun binge – but the 23 tracks on this double LP are a huge part of what makes it so enjoyable.  While your headphones will be an okay way to dig into this, what you really want to do is to play these hair-raising synth tracks on the biggest, loudest set of speakers you can find.

5)   Danny Brown – Quaranta

Big year for Danny!  Started his first calendar year of sobriety, turned forty, released a great album with JPEG Mafia, kept his podcast going strong, and got back to touring.  ‘Quaranta’ finds Danny deeply reflective.  Even the tracks sound like they’re going back to the sounds of older folks’ records, and lyrically, there’s a lot of looking back.  Danny’s delivery is slowed to a pace that really puts a lot of emphasis on each line, and he’s not high-pitching his voice into that uber-nasal “CHECK!” vocal nearly as often.  Instead, we get Danny’s mellow baritone dropping lines like, “when we changed the channel with the pliers / wet clothes on the porch, we ain’t have a dryer.” 

Lyrics like these paint Danny’s most vivid picture of where he’s been, and while it’s mostly bleak, there’s always the reminder (maybe to himself) that he did rise up out of it.  I don’t think it’s an accident that the core of this album (tracks 5, 6 and 7 out of 11) is where things sound the most “adulted”.  This triad begins with the lyric quoted above on ‘Y.B.P.’ (young, black and poor), then goes into ‘Jenn’s Terrific Vacation’ (a treatise on gentrification that pairs Brown with Kassa Overall) and ends with ‘Down Wit It’ (a breakup song where Danny borrows part of the  Scarface verse from the 32-year-old Geto Boys track, ‘Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me’ to express his woes).  Forty doesn’t sound that old to me, but I know it does to Danny, and I think that’s why this nugget at the center of ‘Quaranta’ is so grown.  In a business where age is practically an illness, I love the possibilities represented by a vintage emcee, and that’s what Danny Brown is going to be for as long as he wants to keep doing this shit.  

4)   Brandee Younger – Brand New Life

Brandee Younger sets herself up with a great complement of musicians to lend funk, jazz and hip-hop styles to her hypnotic harp playing.  If you want to hear what an instrument associated with chamber music sounds like when it’s used as a vital part of a groovy jam session, ‘Brand New Life’ is essential listening.  I know, “jazz harpist” might sound odd, (or even pretentious) but check out a live clip of Brandee’s combo playing live.  Having a harp in a mellow, jazzy performance makes a kind of sense that you’ll understand once you’ve heard it.

3)   Tomb Mold – The Enduring Spirit

While I won’t pretend to be any kind of expert when it comes to death metal, I do find myself delving in and out of it from sheer curiosity.  There may not be any other style of music whose boundaries are so rigidly erected and enforced by fans and musicians alike, which seems both silly and admirable at the same time.  Standards matter, and are made to be broken.  This is the dichotomy that helps define what sets Tomb Mold apart from all the other death metal (and indeed, all the music) I’ve ever heard.

This Toronto trio consists of musicians who all work day jobs and play in other bands independent of one another.  Their musicianship is so tight as to make these truths seem impossible, but there you go, that’s the world of death metal for ya.  I can hear some of the cyber-metallic insanity of Voivod’s classic ‘Nothingface’ album here, but with a heaviness and brutality that band could never have imagined.  Despite the obvious dedication and ruthless craftmanship it must take to play this kind of music so well, I swear I can still hear Tomb Mold having (gasp) fun while they play.  “Joy” seems to be somehow “against the rules” in death metal, but ‘The Enduring Spirit’ still has the ability to make the listener smile, even as the sheer sonic assault overwhelms all emotion.  This is not a record that can be listened to while doing other things.  Its presence presses so hard on the psyche that it will supersede any other activity the human brain could undertake. 

2)   Kassa Overall – ANIMALS

With his third full-length album, Kassa stays right on the path of ‘Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz’ and ‘I Think I’m Good’, making music that is informed by jazz and hip-hop, but which can’t really be categorized that easily.  Overall is, in essence, a jazz drummer, but he’s also a talented producer, bandleader, rapper and lyricist.  All these skills can be heard at work on all of his records, as a variety of recording techniques, styles and guest appearances weave their way through his uncategorizable compositions.

Emotionally, ‘ANIMALS’ is a little less sad than his previous recordings, though all his music seems to shift back and forth between hopefulness and desperation, which is perhaps what makes his songs feel so “real”, despite the fact that sonically, they often register as “otherworldly”.  Of all the artists near the start of their recording careers who I hope can keep releasing music for decades to come, Kassa is at the top of that list. 

1)  Yasmin Lacey – Voice Notes

Yazmin Lacey is a soulful jazz singer/songwriter and one of several young London jazz artists connected through groups like Ezra Collective and musicians like Moses Boyd and Shabaka Hutchings.  I’ve pulled plenty of great music from these sources, and ‘Voice Notes’ is one of the finest.  Lacey’s singing style puts me in mind of Sade, mostly because of how relaxed it is, but she’s got some Macy Gray attitude also.  Her vocals sound like she’s having a mellow conversation with the listener, and it’s a chat I want to keep going back to. 

But the vocals and lyrics are only part of the treasure here.  Musically, ‘Voice Notes’ is pulsing with drum work that sounds like Ali Shaheed Muhammad might have laid it down on a Korg, so as mellow as Lacey’s style is, ‘Voice Notes’ never becomes sleepy.  It’s like she’s using an old-school hip-hop track to croon over.  A great way to get into the cache of London artists that led me to Lacey is to give a listen to a compilation from 2018 called We Out Here.  I heard that record for the first time this year as I was digging for tracks I hadn’t heard by saxophonist Nubya Garcia, and it turned out to be a rich vein of modern, upbeat jazz and funk.

Dave Scaddan

Dave Scaddan is a teacher who enjoys writing and talking about movies, music, and books.

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