Top Albums of 2023

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2023 was another great year for memorable releases, showing that in a streaming and playlist dominated world, there is still room for the art of the album.

A quick disclaimer: At Culture Calling, we reward the new, the brave, the exciting, the original, and there is every chance that you will remark 'how could you not include this or that record?'. The list is not definitive of every single release that came out this year, but instead ones that we found the most memorable and remarkable, the kind of albums that we think will actually be remembered in 20 years time. So, without further ado:

11) Resavoir – Resavoir

Their second self-titled release (I’m sure that won’t get confusing), Resavoir change up the vibes completely despite leaving the artist and album name identical.

Boldly moving from their brand of neo-jazz to a subdued, deep electronic sound, from piercing strings to bulgy synths, Resavoir prove they beat categorisation, too unpredictable to be classified.

At least for the first half of the album or so, before it launches back into their familiar style, in all its wondrous serenity. Even when it sounds like it was recorded in the walls of a bedroom, it's still top rank. 

Spotify | Apple

10) Emile Londonien – Legacy

An export of the Omezis collective, a Strasbourg-based, twenty-man-strong troupe of DJ’s, videographers, musicians, and artists, the three-piece Emile Londonien sound suspiciously borne from London’s jazz scene, hence the name (a take on Emile Parisien, another famous French jazz artist).

It’s interesting hearing a composite sound of all the favourite artists I’ve been listening to for the last 7 years; you can hear Yussef Kamal, The Comet is Coming, KOKOROKO, Shabaka Hutchings, Alfa Mist, all eloquently repackaged.

The big change now is that modern jazz artists aren’t just copying their dad’s or grandads’ generation; now, there’s actually well-known modern jazz music that the kids can draw influence from. A new spirit is growing.

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9) Gigi Masin, Greg Foat - Dolphin

One of 2023's most gorgeous records, Masin and Foat tug at heartstrings wordlessly, flickering through stereoscopic worlds of their own making.

The rushes of pleasure accompany each flourish on 'Viento Calido', the moodiness that runs through the quietly uplifting 'London Nights', the conflicting pacing on 'Love Theme' that mirrors the themes of love; there is too much to talk about on this record, especially impressive as it is entirely instrumental and mostly features just three instruments. 

Keep an eye on Greg Foat, we have a feeling you'll be hearing much more from this particularly talented pianist.

Spotify | Apple

8) Alfa Mist – Variables

A central figure of London’s jazz scene, Alfa Mist comes back to retread some familiar territory, with spotted impulses to explore new ground, never swaying far from the Afrobeat influences that got him where he is.

Sometimes it felt like he never got off the ground on this record, but it’s my mistake for continually comparing him to his earlier work, for even Alfa Mist half-asleep can smoke most other artists in the game.

And there are no dud tracks, nothing that will even approximate boredom. In fact, it’s a constant flame from start to finish. This is just what we have come to expect.

Spotify | Apple

7) Espen Horne – The Anatomy of Serene Eloquence

With his first release under his own name since the 90s, Horne trawls through the back catalogues of world jazz; song titles vary from Portuguese, French, German, and English, and his native Norse, moving from hip-hop, bossa nova, blues, dub, chill-out, and experimental with his outrageously tight jazz orchestration.

To be so wide-ranging without becoming directionless is a mighty thin tightrope to walk, especially on a jazz record, yet Horne sounds comfortable enough to strut the walk, twirling his cane as he strolls.

With no misses, no exhausting, self-indulgent jams, with each offering a transmissible melody able to stand from the crowd, The Anatomy of Serene Eloquence might just be the best European jazz record of the year. BADBADNOTGOOD for those old enough to wash their own sheets.

Spotify | Apple

6) Matthew Halsall – An Ever Changing View

One of the gems in the crown of modern British jazz, Halsall did much to maintain his reputation on An Ever Changing View, betraying his ability to roll with the times and to musically compete in an ever-saturated jazz market.

A record which changes shape each time you look at it, this British brand of astral jazz, drenched in pentatonics, follows the tradition of artists like Portico Quartet and even dance trends a la Four Tet, evolving into a smart capitulation of everything we wanted from today’s jazz.

Lacking lofty airs, and never falling short in promises of infectious melodies and immersive atmospheres, Halsall makes himself relevant once more. 

Spotify | Apple

5) Liv.e – Girl In The Half Pearl

It would be an insult to call her ‘Gen Z’s Erykah Badu’, for the space that Liv.e (pronounced simply as ‘Liv’) occupies is now unique to our time. She’s not just neo-soul, or singy-rap; she’s broken past the barriers which typically contain artists like her.

Indulging into a bit of UK dance on this record, there are a few beats that would be typically classified as ‘jungle’. She doesn’t stoop so as to make a ‘jungle track’, she is simply the reflexive listener that takes in all, far-away influences, and processes them through her quirky, soulful, irreverent lens.

Everything – the humour, the intimacy, the oddness, the beauty – is worn on Liv.e’s sleeve.

Spotify | Apple

4) Yazmin Lacey – Voice Notes

A stunning debut from an artist whose been commanding attention for a while, Voice Notes is a deeply personal, authentically jazzy and soulful trip through the tribulations of love and life

Beginning with a voice note about a Flying Lotus tweet, that went along the old lines of 'conscience makes cowards of us all', the album follows with less literal voice notes: detailed, personal information taking the form of song. 

Cutting her teeth on pop, reggae, spoken word, neo-soul, dub, and jazz with a great confidence, Lacey impressed on all fronts with her debut, offering something for anyone interested in London’s jazz/alternative scenes.

And what a voice on her - probably the best female vocalist in UK jazz at the minute - and she does it all without seeming like she’s trying. 

Spotify | Apple

3) James Blake – Playing Robots Into Heaven

Coming back at the right time, where UK Dub and garage are now scratching the underbelly of the mainstream, Blake’s most recent addition to the indie-soul/UK dance intersection is either his best yet, or he has done so well to reflect the tastes and tendencies of the time.

Take ‘Fall Back’, for example; the overall tone of darkness, muted drums, indistinct, reverberated samples, all hark on the same notes of Burial that Fred Again has recently made himself so popular for invoking.

But it’s his intriguing, dare I say unique melodic impulses, use of empty space, and appropriate yet startling pacing that puts Blake in a world of his own. Fragments of garage, dubstep, gospel, and soul are trickled and bled onto his bespoke carve, which, after over a decade since his first Mercury Prize win, still presses original prints.

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2) Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily - Love in Exile

The musical equivalent of floating on a cloud, weightless in euphoria, through a holy summer paradise.

With just keys, bass, and vocals, this impromptu trio pooled together to craft the best ambient jams of the year. Lacking the usual indistinct and isolating tendencies of ambient music, Love In Exile actually has tempo, melody, and a heart within it, crafting a new space in Eastern music that really felt inevitable.

The cloud of sounds can be hard to approach compared to conventionally metred music, but when focusing on one instrument alone, the rest of the picture fills in almost instinctively. The record feels like a key that unlocks what was already in your mind.

Spotify | Apple

1) Yussef Dayes – Black Classical Music

The long-long-awaited debut album from the prodigal drummer Yussef Dayes does two dazzling things at once: it meets our expectations and leaps well over the bar he has set for himself, offering exactly the kind of mature yet accessible modern jazz we want, whilst also offering us something new, exciting, and delightfully unexpected in his sound.

Black Classical Music - a nod toward redirecting the canon of classical music to rightfully include the musical innovations of Africa and the diaspora - artfully trawls the Black Atlantic, old and new, for insight and inspiration.

A ‘Portrait of Tracey’-esque Tom Misch feature, a dive into Afro-Cuban soul-jazz, dancehall, Western classical symphony, 70s-style Afrobeat, a gorgeous ambient track, a feature from Leon Thomas (?!), as well as that softly pretentious fast-paced New York stuff, Yussef feeds the five-hundred with his simple kit, impossibly quick limbs, and a compositional knack on par with any top performer of our day.

We had this pegged as our Album of the Year when it came out, and here it is. It was inevitable.

Spotify | Apple