The DJ Sessions



Said the Gramophone | December 9, 2023

The tick-tock of time trips on and here we are again, old friends. Said the Gramophone. Best songs. By now I hope you know the drill. This world needs some kindnesses–it wants more peace, liberation, and music shared between strangers. So here’s a pistachio, a ripe pear. Here are my 100 favourite songs of the year 2023; songs I love much more than doomed submarines (or basketball).

Earlier this year, I published by third novel–a book called Do You Remember Being Born? It follows the story of a fictional 75-year-old poet, Marian Ffarmer, who is hired by a Big Tech company to collaborate with their new poetry AI, Charlotte. The New York Times called it “timely and lovely,” and there were also nice reviews in The Walrus, the Winnipeg Free Press and the Montreal Review of Books. I hope you’ll order it, or take it out of the library; there’s lots more information at my author website.

Said the Gramophone is an old blog (20 years!). We publish rarely. But there’s still some value, I think, from hanging-in.

What you’ll find below is my 19th annual list of the best songs in a given 12-month period. See previously: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no primary artist may appear twice.

The best way to browse the proceeding is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.

You can also download the complete 100 songs in three parts:

songs 1-33 (268mb)

songs 34-66 (206mb)

songs 67-100 (265mb)

(mirror: part 1 2 3 / 1 2 3 / please share any others)
If you have problems with pop-up ads I recommend installing uBlock Origin.

I have also created a Spotify playlist for these tunes (#43 is unavailable there). Remember: pay for the music you enjoy, which is to say: buy albums on bandcamp, on vinyl, purchase merch at shows. Now more than ever, giving money to Spotify or Apple is insufficient. #

This list is my work—me, Sean, and not any of Said the Gramophone’s other past contributors. Don’t blame them for my evanescing taste.

If this is your first time at Said the Gramophone, please don’t hesitate to page through the archives. Papercuts await! You can also follow me on Twitter or read my books.

Among the artists below, roughly 40 are American, 23 are Canadian, 16 are British, and there are three Spanish artists, three Australians, two each from New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria and Ireland, and one from each of France, South Korea, Mexico, Pakistan and newcomers Togo, Peru and the Netherlands. 35 of the frontpeople/bandleaders are men (the lowest ever), 58 identify as women, and there are 7 mixed duos. This is the way it worked out; it certainly ain’t perfect. Here are some charts of this and past lists’ demographics.

My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. Songs and LPs are really different, and this year was a particualrly good year for long-players.

My favourite albums of 2022 were:

Ben Howard – Is It? (sun-dazed, sea-sick indie pop / buy);

John Francis Flynn – Look Over the Wall, See the Sky (daring & prismatic Irish folk / buy);

Asher Gamedze – Turbulence and Pulse (wild and rustling jazz / buy);

Lankum – False Lankum (more folk from Ireland, heavy as a meteor / buy);

Philippe Brach – Les gens qu’on aime (a hilarious, audacious Québecois Sgt Pepper / buy);

La Force – XO Skeleton (supple, hot-blooded indie-R&B / buy); and

Daniel Villarreal – Lados B (more jazz, animated and warm / buy)

I promise: each of these is a treasure-chest, go get yr spade.

And now, without any more throat-clearing, a downtown car-chase of proudly mixed metaphors. And sentence fragments:

Feist – “Borrow Trouble” [buy] Pummelling and gorgeous, as if Lou Reed’s Street Hassle had been transformed into battle-grade munitions. “Borrow Trouble”‘s greatness rests on its 8-bar hook: a hoarse voice, that tambourine, and sawing, sawing, sawing violins. It builds nearly too much, slamming and sawing well after the apex of David Ralicke’s sax solo, but nearly every time it ends I slam my spacebar to set it off again, those drums and those fiddles, Leslie Feist casting a net, a wish, to try to catch up some poor souls’ woe.

Jorja Smith – “Little Things” [buy]
A high-pace seduction, nearly breathless, except that Jorja Smith knows how to organize her respiration, she knows every trick: how to measure time, how to skip a beat, how to draw strength from dancehall, from jungle. And how to take an exit.

Mk.gee and Two Star – “Candy” [website]
I like to imagine that New Jersey’s Michael Todd Gordon grew up in a house where mum & dad played Jai Paul and Unknown Mortal Orchestra on Sunday mornings; that to him this was classic rock, alongside Prince and Peter Gabriel and Tom Petty; that he’s not trying to make a future-music but some ode to an untrue past, where Sparks played the Super Bowl and opium got ate at the White House.

La Force – “XO Skeleton” [buy]
“XO Skeleton” is the deeply addicting title track on La Force’s second album–a tune about mortality and care that flexes, shimmers, iridescent as a beetle. I found myself returning to it over and over again–for the guitar’s dissolving sound, for the plainsung short-story in its lyrics, for the step-by-step surprise of its chorus chords. Like true love, like a life, it never feels long enough. (Full disclosure: Earlier this year, I was paid by Secret City Records to write some promo materials.)

English Teacher – “Nearly Daffodils” [buy]
An ecstatic, electrifying post-punk/spoken-word jam in the tradition of Life Without Buildings or Dry Cleaning. But sweeter than either of those bands, more candid and more sincere: Lily Fontaine’s got some Emily Dickinson in her, she’s taking her heart out of her pocket while the band around her runs laps, smashes walls, up-ladders and down-ladders with a precision that sounds like abandon. Presque. What a delight.

Dream Sitch – “A Loose Dust” [buy]
Dream Sitch is a two-piece formed by Floating Action’s Seth Kauffman plus Michael Nau, whose project Page France was one of my most treasured discoveries of the early Said the Gramophone days. Here, “A Loose Dust” shakes out its glory in a way that feels dusty and cumulative–bare-hand percussion, thin fiddle, a dialogue of guitars. A perfectly belligerent bassline: proof that good stuff something needs some sticking-to-it, some bare persevere.

Debby Friday – “Hard to Tell” [buy]
The pièce de résistance on Debby Friday’s Polaris Prize-winning Good Luck–part-alarm, part-consolation, Friday’s coo entwined with the tune’s noisy swerves. A soft song that stamps, smashes, its army-boots tied tight as prisoners.

ANOHNI ft. the Johnsons – “It Must Change” [buy]
Fifteen years after releasing “Another World,” my favourite song of 2008, ANOHNI offers a sequel–or perhaps a kind of retort. Back then, she was willing to make her plea feel restive, nearly peaceful. “I need another world,” she sang, “a place where I can go.” That song’s force lay in its irony: the distance between the serenity of its sound and the sorrow of its meaning. A decade and a half (and 0.61°C) later, ANOHNI carries a different name and applies a different approach: “It Must Change” is about necessity, not hope. Action, not dreaming. Working with producer Jimmy Hogarth (Amy Winehouse, Paolo Nutini), ANOHNI builds her argument on the undeniability of a groove. Guitar, drums, strings; there’s no turning your back on any of this, any more than you can resist tapping your toe. We’re not getting out of here, a voice admits, and “that’s why it’s so sad,” ANOHNI answers. Everything’s always transforming. It’s the only thing that could save us.

Helena Deland – “Spring Bug” [buy]
As you will be in the process of learning, 2023 was, for me, a year in which I overenjoyed the fretless bass, and it’s with the introduction of that instrument into this song–at 1:52–that “Spring Bug” raises itself up, like a teenager getting out of the pool, from harmless ditty to something with more portent. Deland’s wise to it: the Montreal songwriter hasn’t just written a song about love’s first bite, but one that acknowledges the thing’s poison, and the 4/4 march of time. Death awaits the swooners, too.

Sufjan Stevens – “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” [buy]
I have an old, deep reverence for a certain kind of Sufjan Stevens song, and here it is through most of “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?”: guitar, voice, and a piano far too gentle for this world. The bombast stuff I can take or leave–I don’t crave the choir, the Sunday-disco crescendo–but “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?”‘s power rests in the noble, painful directness of its ask. “Will anybody ever love me?” he pleads, letting the question sound as thin, as desperate, as it is. Sufjan’s done something amazing with the melody’s overreach (“cast / me / out,” “see / a / cloud,” “anybody ever / love / me”); he can barely sing these lines, they strain just beyond his voice. The want of them (the prayer)–I recognize it. It’s enough to break a stranger’s heart.

Ben Howard – “Days of Lantana” [buy]
Ask me what I like in a song and I’ll answer in any number of ways. Some of those answers I don’t know quite how to explain. Why is it that I so adore first words of this track? What makes them so fine? “Agatha and I / go…” That’s it, sung all in one breath–a phrase that simply feels beautiful, like an opening incantation. Later, stay tuned for the line to return. Stay tuned also for 2023’s best oboe solo. But “Days of Lantana”‘s more than its oboe, its Agathas: like Kate Bush’s “Hello Earth” or Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “When You Know Why You’re Happy,” Ben Howard’s song feels as sensitive as the palm of your hand. He’s telling the story of a perfect day, telling it in tones of magic and mirror-world. Lantana’s a place in Texas; it’s a place in Florida; it’s a flowering plant. It’s all and possibly none of those things–and Howard’s “Days…” sees the English musician flickering in and out of phase, superhuman. The production, by Bullion, feels 80s-tinged and, I don’t know, solar? Light & warmth & a prismatic spectrum, qualities that bathe the gorgeous songwriting on Is It? and make it probably my favourite album of the year.

Noah Kahan and Kacey Musgraves – “She Calls Me Back” [buy]
OK, I’m on board. Kahan’s rootsy rocket-ship has lifted him from the woods of Vermont to the international stage (including Osheaga 2024!), but not without reason. He has a fine ear for melody, and the guy can sing–there’s a rakish appetite to the way he gobbles up a chorus. He sings with a Cary Elwes smile. “She Calls Me Back” is frankly delightful, and I could listen all day to the way Kahan approaches the numerals “82-299-3167.” I’m not alone, either: for this version fo the single, he enlisted satin-y country-pop star Kacey Musgraves. And she sings that number with just as much pleasure, as caught up as me in the thrill of the meter.

Lankum – “Lord Abore and Mary Flynn” [buy]
Lankum’s astonishing new album has made them one of the most important acts in contemporary folk music. It’s a vision of Irish folk-song that’s restless and alive, awake to real stakes–affiliated with old-fashioned harmony, noisy punk rock, and even a strain of doomy metal (for an example of the latter, check out False Lankum’s outstanding opening track; await the howling banshee drop at ~4:00). “Lord Abore and Mary Flynn” is on the pretty end of that spectrum, painted in tones of green and golden harmony. But don’t let looks deceive you: this is an old, grim murder ballad, with tragedy thrumming at its core.

Westerman – “CSI: Petralona” [buy]
William Westerman never really explains the who, what, why, how of whatever crime(s) went down this day, but we know the where: Petralona, in Athens, where the singer had “a close shave,” either literal or figurative, which left him reeling. “CSI: Petralona”‘s dressed in acoustic guitar, sunshine, pattering drums courtesy of Big Thief’s James Krivchenia. It smells of orange zest, sea salt. It dodges close scrutiny and some days I put it on like a shrug, walk around town with its partial reassurance.

Beatings Are In The Body – “Blurry” [buy]
Last year, my friend Erika Angell (of Thus Owls) formed this band with two west-coasters, Peggy Lee and Róisín Adams: the thing I find rarest about their collaboration is the way this pretty music remains unsettled, unresolved, a thrown stone that is forever falling. Erika’s voice searches & searches, and as responsive as Lee’s cello is, it never actually offers an answer. It is merely a companion, a fellow searcher, in a landscape raised and lowered, like sheets, by Adams’ cool piano.

Chris Staples – “Nasty Habit” [buy]
A driving song, a swing-set song–just drums and guitar, Staples’ dry mumble, and a little spritz of strings. Oh, and a mournful synth solo, like a plant that’s learned to talk. Take a Springsteen track and reduce it, simmer it til it’s thick.

Braids – “Evolution” [buy]
I love the sounds of this tune, the layering of textures. Cloudy, clear, mournful, ripe; concise and also awash. A bouncing, climbing synth-pop tribute to love in its opening seasons. Do you really think it’ll fall off? No way, no way, no way.

John Roseboro and Mei Semones – “Waters of March” [buy]
You’ve got to be careful when evaluating a cover like this, of one of the greatest songs of all time. But the richness of Roseboro and Semones’s “Waters of March” isn’t just their careful, creative arrangement–with flutters of flute, the tiniest thread of dissonance–but the alert presence of their vocal performance. Roseboro, who is Haitian-American, and Semones, who is Japanese-American, offer (i think?) a best-ever version of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s own translated lyrics, allowing his lovely rhymes to still feel offhand, instant, inventions arrived at together by two co-conspirators.

The Japanese House – “Boyhood” [buy]
Months ago, I was struck by something Amber Bain said in the press release that accompanied this song: “I never had a boyhood,” she said. “I often wonder how different it would have been if I did.” It’s a startling, thought-provoking question–especially for those, like me, who might have never asked anything like it. But then I also admire the grace with which Bain examines her answer: making it a song full of beauty, possibility, not some heavy, old-fashioned vision of masculinity. Produced by The 1975’s George Daniel, it’s a tune full of tiny handsome details, like the things a child discovers in the garden: ants, snapdragons, slugs.

Jamila Woods ft. Duendita – “Tiny Garden” [buy]
A song about the heart: throbbing, gasping, bloody, life-keeping, living. Growing older every day. Jamila Wood has a way of casting heat–generating it, making warmth and temperature suddenly appear. She sings about butterflies and flowers without making the whole thing feel paper-thin or ephemeral: it’s got playfulness and invention, glee and even a little loving mischief.

V/Z – “Suono Assente” [buy]
The white sun above Bologna. The concrete patio beside a swimming-pool. The feeling of your skin after soaking in a salt bath: cool, dry, smooth as a piece of clay. V/Z make music like LCD Soundsystem in a kiln, their edges starting to brown.

Alex Banin – “Doc Whiler” [video]
A singer singing midnight from inside a giant’s belly, where she’s been swallowed up. Dreaming & remembering; imagining a wish that could move through time like a fire through a book.

John Francis Flynn – “Mole in the Ground” [buy]
Flynn takes on one of the most ridiculous..

Written by Said the Gramophone


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