Words by Quillen
Quillen is a friend, husband, and dog dad. He is a lover of music, horror films, television, and JRPGs from the 90s and early aughts. He is a self-described new music junky. He has played drums for more than 25 years, most recently in bands called Congress, Lawnmower, and Natural Monuments. He is a co-host of the Tell Me All Your Thoughts on Pod podcast, where he gets to wax nostalgic about the music he grew up listening to with two of his absolute greatest buds. Here are his top ten albums in descending order.
I love when a record comes out of nowhere to knock you on your ass. I can’t quite remember who tipped me off to this (Post-Trash maybe), which is Sarah Morrison’s sophomore album as far as I can tell. Attachment Figure is a collection of 10 jazzy, mysterious, otherworldly works of art that at times rise to Lynch/Badalamenti levels of surrealist wonder. Morrison’s incredible voice is strange and fits perfectly the vibe going on here.
My intro to Sampha was not his 2017 debut full length, Process, or his collaborative work with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Solange, etc. It was him being featured on “D 4 N” from this year’s Laura Groves album, Radio Red (more on that album later, perhaps?). When Lahai released in October, I hadn’t planned on checking it out, but I am so glad I eventually did, as I was enthralled by the jazzy piano chord progressions and intricate looped beats. The songs cover a lot of ground with many hidden details to discover. Lahai is a complex, immersive album that continues to get better with each listen.
Another year, another MIKE album in my top 10. Beware of the Monkey was actually released at the very end of 2022, missed the cut-off for my list then, and still was a constant presence in my 2023. It’s yet another showcase of MIKE’s laid back yet meaningful rhymes paired with his kaleidoscopic, psychedelic, R&B and soul-based production. And this is just the start of his huge year: MIKE also was part of a collab album with Wiki which was produced by The Alchemist, and then he released the near double LP, Burning Desire, in October (which, with more time, I’d probably consider it the better album, but for now, it will settle outside of my top ten).
Yaeji has such a skill for melody and arrangement in a predominantly synth pop leaning setting. I’m truly at a loss for what else to say about With a Hammer, her follow up to the also excellent What We Drew from 2020. This is a smart, colorful, incredibly fun record that’s hard not to immediately start over upon completion. It also happens to open with one of the best 1-2 punches I can think of in recent memory.
6. Dari Bay – Longest Day of the Year (self-released)
Gotta love an algorithm discovery that hits this hard. I know next to nothing about Vermont’s Dari Bay, and I’m not even sure if they are a person or a band, but I’m pretty sure “Circle of Birds” randomly kicked on after finishing listening to the Wednesday record or something, and the rest is history. Of all the bands and artists doing the countrified 90s indie rock thing right now, no one has done it better than Dari Bay on Longest Day of the Year.
After releasing the already fantastic Light Split Sparkle EP back in March, Double Wish released an extended version of it in August with three more somehow even better songs plus a remix and immediately became one of the most exciting new bands around. The original EP was six songs of propulsive, somewhat angular dream pop. The added songs have more of a California sun feel that bring me back to a time when alternative rock radio was unpredictable and actually fun (ie the mid-to-late 90s).
As good as Weed, his previous project, was, Will Anderson has leveled up big time with Hotline TNT. I was late to the game and still have some catching up to do (like digging into 2021’s Nineteen in Love more), but am glad to be here. This is straight up shoegaze, yes, but these are also deceivingly well written pop songs with melodies for days. It’s hard not to get lost in the all the fuzz while happily humming along.
This begins a trilogy of records that have such beauty that I have a hard time not crying when listening to them. There was a short time late in the summer where I thought Radio Red might be my #2, but this is its rightful place. Laura Groves has such an amazing voice, and when paired with her airy synth or keyboard ballads and soft rock exercises, it is hard to top.
After six long years, we finally got another Julie Byrne record, and it is a destroyer of worlds. The Greater Wings is so emotionally devastating that it is almost difficult to listen to, but then Byrne’s circular finger picking and the gorgeous, haunting arrangements help to keep your head above water. This has been an extremely emotional year of growth for me, and no record has made me cry while listening than this one, and in a weird way, that is one of its major draws.
I never would have thought in any given year that my top three records would all be by singer-songwriters. Well, 2023 was special in that way, I guess, and here we are. As fucking incredible as the Laura Groves and Julie Byrne albums are, Andy Shauf takes the cake with this equal parts stunning and creepy concept record about a stalker and also… God’s love? The production is spot on 70s folk rock (those deadened drums sound impeccable), and I am obsessed with the musical arrangements (put all of that acoustic-guitar-plus-layers-of-woodwinds straight into my veins). Shauf’s voice is so delicate and thus perfectly suited for said arrangements and the subject matter. It’s so rare when this happens, but I had a hunch on first listen that Norm would end up as my favorite album of the year. Turns out, it also unseats Blue Rev as my favorite so far this decade.