Top 10 Albums of 2023 – Indra Raj’s Picks

I spend a lot of my time tracking new music, both in my position as Music Director at KGNU, but also as a regular old music-lover. This year, I kept my eye on over 900 albums as “good things to listen to”, so whittling that down to just 10 options feels nearly impossible. That said, this list represents things that repeatedly rose to the top of things I wanted to hear.

This year, I’ve found myself gravitating towards instrumental music more and more, maybe just because I’ve always cared about “the music” more than “the lyrics”, or maybe because there’s more space for creativity within a more instrumental-based writing format these days than before. This list reflects that inclination (though many instrumental releases I loved had to be left behind), and what’s better is that some of my favorites came from women composers.

Hania Rani, Sofia Kourtesis, and Hanakiv all created some of the most beautiful, thought-provoking, and complex instrumental music I’ve heard in a long time. I think back to earlier parts of my life, when all my favorite music was written by white men, and not because women couldn’t create the music I was interested in, but more because women weren’t really allowed in those spaces. For as long as I can remember, women in music have had a place as vocalists, and not much else. These days, it feels good to legitimately say that my favorite music this year was composed, played, and produced by women — not something that felt possible for me even a decade ago.

I would also like to give shoutouts to local favorites Kiltro for putting out an even more stunning LP than their first, Laura Veirs for an unapologetically quiet folk album that’s the best she’s ever made (IMO), David Walters for a perfect marriage of Carribbean vibes and Afrobeat, El Michels Affair and Black Thought for the hip-hop collab I didn’t know I needed, the impressive instrumental melange of many global music traditions from the Aga Khan Master Musicians, that London style that I cannot get enough of from Dave Okumu & The 7 Generations, and a charming folky collection from the ever-eclectic Matthew Tavares. It was a good year for music, and I expect 2024 will be even better.

Artist Album Label
1 Hania Rani Ghosts Gondwana
2 Laura Veirs Phone Orphans Raven Marching Band
3 Kiltro Underbelly Self
4 Sofia Kourtesis Madres Ninja Tune
5 David Walters SOUL TROPICAL Heavenly Sweetness
6 Hanakiv Goodbyes Gondwana
7 El Michels Affair & Black Thought Glorious Game Big Crown
8 Aga Khan Master Musicians Nowruz Smithsonian Folkways
9 Dave Okumu & The 7 Generations I Came From Love Transgressive
10 Matty K​.​I​.​S​.​S Self
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