Teresa Mull, assistant editor
A Cat in the Rain by the Turnpike Troubadours
The Turnpike Troubadours are back with a new album that sounds a lot like their old ones, which is why I like it so much. A Cat in the Rain has been heralded as “a triumphant comeback,” and indeed, as a fan who’s followed (or tried to, anyway) the Red Dirt band’s ongoing drama, I was surprised and delighted to welcome the return of Evan Felker’s rustic voice singing some fresh, but still familiar-feeling, songs. The lyrics have a gentler, humbler feel to them — overcoming alcoholism by laboring on a cattle ranch and rekindling with the wife you divorced to produce two kids will do that to a man, apparently. But the music is still literary, memorable, sentimental and comforting — all the things we look for when turning on the Turnpike Troubadours.
Alexander Larman, books editor
New singles from the Rolling Stones and the Beatles
Whenever anyone asks what I’ve been listening to lately, I generally just shrug and say “Bowie, the Beatles and the Stones.” Well, the artist formerly known as David Jones hasn’t been releasing any new music since his death in 2016, but having left this earth over forty years ago has not been a hindrance for John Lennon, whose late Seventies demo “Now And Then” has been given the five-star, no-expense-spared treatment by the surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, who have somehow grafted some hitherto unknown George Harrison guitar onto it as well. The result is the final Beatles single, released more than half a century after the brand split up; in the UK, it went straight to the top of the charts. A more authentic return of another seminal band came with the Stones’ first album of new material in nearly two decades, Hackney Diamonds. Yes, it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, and Mick, Keef and Ronnie — RIP Charlie — are probably about as relevant to today’s music buyers as the Declaration of Independence, but some of the songs on it — especially the towering Lady Gaga duet “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” — sound as if they belong on a Stones setlist straight away, and there’s no higher praise than that.
Jacob Heilbrunn, contributing editor
Wynton Marsalis Plays Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives And Hot Sevens by Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis’s live performances of Louis Armstrong’s legendary Hot Five and Hot Seven sides, released in August, is nothing short of masterly.
Matt McDonald, managing editor
In Times New Roman by Queens of the Stone Age
So predictable… I know what you’re thinking. I’ve reached the age where rather than making much of an effort to discover new acts, I lean on new records from the same old favorites. I didn’t get around to listening to The Car by Arctic Monkeys until their barnstorming headlining set at Glastonbury Festival this year, so that merits inclusion as, in Britain, they’re my generation’s defining band. On right before them was Royal Blood, who are from my hometown and released Back to the Water Below in September, a half-hour record of pounding drums, to-die-for bass licks and a new acoustic twist.
But my top release of the year came from the act that unites those two: Queens of the Stone Age. Josh Homme’s desert rockers returned with In Times New Roman in May and I caught them at the Anthem in DC in August, where, despite a conspicuously ill lead singer, they tore it up. Check out “Time & Place.” Honorable mention to “Dance the Night” by Dua Lipa (the real Queen of England) from the Barbie soundtrack, which played constantly in my building’s lobby from the summer until last week. The newly single singer needs all the support she can get in these trying times.
Ben Brantley, former New York Times theater critic
Stereophonic soundtrack, by Will Butler
This is my favorite album of the year, although as far as I know it has never been committed to Spotify or vinyl, and its music exists only in fragments. It’s the work being painstakingly assembled by an equally fractious and harmonious rock group in David Adjmi’s three-hour, acutely absorbing drama, seen this fall at Playwrights Horizons in New York and hands-down the best American play since the pandemic. Directed with a paradoxically precise sense of spontaneity by Daniel Aukin, the show takes place entirely in California recording studios in the mid-1970s, as a five-member Fleetwood Mac-like band turns friction into fire, both creative and destructive. Stereophonic belongs to the very rare breed of theater that summons the painful, ecstatic process of making art without being embarrassing. This is partly down to the fine-tuned ensemble of seven, who give gritty, organic life to the drug-and-alcohol-steeped clashes and convergences of collaboration in an airless setting. Relationships morph throughout by barely perceptible degrees, so that when explosions finally come, they feel inevitable. The real beauty part, though, is that the music you hear, composed by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler, feels inevitable, too, as if it could have been engendered only by these people, in this time, in this place.
Amber Duke, Washington editor
Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) by Noah Kahan
Extended versions of albums might not count but I can’t help myself because this was the bulk my pre-wedding walking playlist. Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) by Noah Kahan deserves all its flowers; it’s a rare re-release that actually improves on the original. The long version of “The View Between Villages” is appropriately soaring and heart-wrenching and quiet soliloquies like “Come Over” and “No Complaints” sound so good while crunching on autumn leaves. Kahan is able to strum the tension between being desperate to leave your hometown and terrified that you won’t find anything better on the other side, a truth that resonates with all of us small town kids. Among all the angst is a ballad of hope, as “You’re Gonna Go Far” expresses hometown pride in the one star that moved on to better things. There’s so much depth to mine here — and you’ll have a wonderful time doing it.
Ross Anderson, life editor
Take Me Back to Eden by Sleep Token
What a great year for music! Noah Kahan’s Stick Season had some of the best songwriting I’ve heard in a recent country album; Killer Mike’s latest solo album was a bombastic blend of old-school hip-hop lyricism and gospel instrumentals; Gautier Capuçon released his best work on Destination Paris and Kesha’s latest was a great return to form, as was V by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Lecrae released the best Christian rap record ever in Church Clothes 4, the Gucci Mane of sluttery, Sexyy Red, knocked it out of the park with an album full of bangers (pun intended), and JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown were the perfect pairing for the best titled album of the year SCARING THE HOES. I also want to shout out the latest albums by Nothing But Thieves, Logic, Noam Wisenberg, Tyler the Creator, Tyler Childers, Mike Dean, Awich, Prospective, Chika, Tate McRae, Sampha, André 3000, Tinashe, The Wilder Blue, Wu Zhuo Ling, Nas, Megan Moroney, Metro Boomin, and the 38 Spesh & Conway the Machine collaboration, Speshal Machinery. (You can listen to everything I loved this year on my “Best of 2023” Apple Music playlist.)
My second favorite was the light mid-century pop of Laufey, but my favorite album has to be Take Me Back to Eden by Sleep Token, which I listened to over thirty times; a fantastic, melodramatic hard rock album that slides between genres and influences, with fun funk guitar, 808s, bright electronic pop and emo rap lyrics effortlessly worked in with incredible drumwork and great screams. It’s an album that hard rock listeners either love or hate; and you know where I stand; and they were even better live. An incredibly creative, fun album, and even if you don’t like hard rock, definitely give it a try.