The Music We Discovered in 2023
At Wildsam, we’re keen on the idea that things both new and old hold equal beauty. An earworm from the past can hit you just as hard as a new record. This is why we tuned into classic country from trailblazers, grunge and hip-hop pioneers, Mexi-Cuban instrumentals, graphic designing maestros, stars in the making and new releases from household names alike. The contemporary, classic, cult-like, and nearly unknown. The one thing they all have in common is we discovered these treasures this year.
Color Me Country - Linda Martell (1970)
Sometimes the story is just as important as the music. Linda Martell began a career in the ‘60s as an R&B singer, but in 1970 she became a star with her soulful take on the Nashville sound. Color Me Country hit the airwaves, and Martell became the first Black woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, which she would go on to do about a dozen times. Then she just faded away, playing at clubs here and there out west and in New York City, before moving back home to South Carolina for a simple life as a bus driver. Martell may have gotten blackballed out of country music, but the impact of her only album cannot be ignored, it should be savored.
“Simple Imagination” - Young Gun Silver Fox (2022)Every now and again there’s a song that stops you dead in your tracks and makes the hair raise on your neck. You feel like a teenager again, that moment when it clicked why the Beatles or Wu-Tang are so iconic. “Simple Imagination,” was that for me. I probably haven’t played a song more–it’s just so deliciously good and nostalgic. If you want to know what it’d sound like if a boomer and a millennial got together to make a song that sounds like Steely Dan and Marvin Gaye prying open the gates of heaven, look no further.
De La Soul’s oeuvre
Not so much a discovery, but a rediscovery. The majority of De La Soul’s catalog had been out of print for some years before a lengthy legal battle and acquisition process allowed for the group’s influential albums to hit record store shelves and streaming services in March. It’s a testament to the fact that in this digital age, maybe we should commit to buying more physical media. At a whim, the rich tapestry of art can be snatched away from us, unless we truly own it.
- H. Drew Blackburn, Digital Editor
Angels Point b/w Figueroa - LA LOM (2023)
First, consider what a great full band name this is: The Los Angeles League of Musicians. Then, drift down the groove of these stylishly retro Mexi-Cuban instrumentals, dig the amazing fashion on display in every Instagram video, and hope these cool cats drop the cocktail party soundtrack of 2024.
Unwound: live (2023) and Repetition (1996)
This vintage Olympia, Washington post-punk outfit made high art in its time, usually in grubby rooms for zero money. Hailing from the scene and era that gave us both Sleater-Kinney and Nirvana, Unwound ended up a wistful if-you-know-you-know story. Until this spring! A 21st century Unwound reappeared to social-media rejoicing and sold-out tour dates that showed what their cult-classic albums feel like live with a real sound system and mind-opening light show. (In the catalog, start with Repetition.)
- Zach Dundas, Editorial Director
Rhythms - Tonio Rubio (1973/2023 Reissue)
If you’re not a sample hound or a crate-diving vinyl nerd, you might know little about library music: a sweet retro catalog of stock tracks, mostly recorded across the pond, for licensing in film, radio and TV projects in the ’60s and ’70s. That funky wah-wah number during the chase scene in the B-movie Bond knockoff? That’s library music, and some of it as virtuosically groovy as any prestige Blue Note release. French bassist Tonio Rubio cut Rhythms, a slick gem of orchestral jazz fusion, for the cult-renowned Tele Music label in 1973, and collectors have come to covet it. This year’s reissue from British archive label Be With Records kicked off a whole series (Aquarium Drunkard has a sweet mixtape). Worth it for the opening track, “Latin Leitmotiv,” a funked-up montuno you’re playing at your next house party.
Boston Garden 5/7/1977 - Grateful Dead (2023)
The Dead’s limited-edition Record Store Day release this spring happened to be the first show an old head gifted me, on a pair of hissy Maxells, as teenager in the ’90s. So yeah, sentimental bias. But the Boston Garden show from the spring of ’77–the band’s best year, fight me –is a stone-cold scorcher and as solid an entry point into the Dead as the following night’s gig: 5/8/77 at Cornell University, the band’s most circulated show. But don’t sleep on Boston: the harmonies are drum-tight, Garcia is in his mellifluous prime, the set-closing “Music Never Stopped” is a raucous bop, and the soulful, nearly 15-minute “Wharf Rat” is legendary –changed my whole musical trajectory.
"Niñx" - Ana Tijoux (2023)
It’s just good to hear new tracks from Tijoux, the Chilean multi-hyphenate maestra who spent the year teasing Vida, her yet-unreleased first new record since 2014. “Niñx” is an earworm with a trancy club beat, a haunting hook, and Tijoux spitting flowy and poetic about creativity and courage, la pluma y el puma. More than 25 years into an epic career, she’s still one of the best Spanish-language emcees to hold a mic.
- Brian Kevin, Deputy Editor
Problems - Matt Corby (2023)
After Australian Idol catapulted singer/songwriter Matt Corby into stardom, an equally thoughtful and distinctive blend of indie/alternative sounds emerged. Following a 5-year hiatus from releasing new music, super-fans like myself cried happy tears as Corby finally released his third studio album this year, and rest assured, it’s a banger. His latest album Everything’s Fine is a refreshing evolution of his previously slower, grab-the-tissues type of sound. If you know, you know. From the eclectic synths, to the effortlessly cool vocals, you can’t help but bop your head to “Problems.” Corby’s music reminds us to slow down, tune into what’s inside, and not take life too seriously–lessons we all should probably prioritize more.
- Jenna Kahn, Social Media Manager
Joy’All - Jenny Lewis (2023)
"My 40s were kicking my ass / and handing ‘em to me in a margarita glass." That's how Jenny Lewis opens the third track Joy'All. And boy do I feel seen. But the song is hardly a middle-aged downer. By the chorus she offers an antidote: "...get a puppy and a truck,” which sounds to me like an independent woman finding her joy. I've been a Lewis fan since Rilo Kiley in the early 2000s, and I aspire to the free, folky, cosmic country ways of this solo music. It’s also a reminder that growing and changing alongside someone is a true treat of sticking with an artist for the long ride.
The Returner - Allison Russell (2023)
By the time a clarinet –and then drums –drop in about the 2 minute mark of “Springtime,” the first track on Russell’s record The Returner, it feels like the kind of party I’d like to be invited to. Not a wild throwdown. But something more soulful, welcoming, creative and loving. Russell’s personal story involves traumatic abuse, and her work does not shy away from pain but feels like a powerful reclaiming, a triumph. She sings: “And my reward, my recompense? (My reward, my recompense?) / Springtime of my present tense (Springtime of my present tense).” Russell has created something that sounds like joy found in healing, which feels vital in this fractured world.
Weathervanes - Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (2023)
A line in “Cast Iron Skillet” tells of a gentle friend who ended up dying in a prison fight: “How did he get so low? / Seems like just a week ago / We were ten and twelve years old.” There’s something achingly familiar in this story to people I’ve known and the place where I grew up in Southern Appalachia. I’m certainly not alone as one of Isbell’s gifts is helping many of us – from all regions and backgrounds –see and empathize with another. Indeed, a highlight of the year was seeing him perform it on my first visit to Red Rocks –to hear so many of us singing along to the same tune under Colorado stars.
- Jennifer Justus, Editor
Sandhills - Toro Y Moi (2023)
Just a moment into the lap steel drawl of “Back Then” and you’re in your hometown, back to the bedroom haunts and their attendant hope, ennui, lushness. “My old highway exit looks so much different / But the water tower still looks the same” –this is entry point to the tenderest evocation of homeplace and returning to where you’re from. It’s a redolent coming-of-age capsule: your local mall hang, the sidelines of a Friday football game, late-night six string-picking. Chaz Bear’s Columbia, South Carolina is a composite for where I’m from, where you’re from –and a real MOOD for all nostalgists.
World Without Tears - Lucinda Williams (2003)
Lucinda Williams is my Patron Saint of Leavings; her gravel-voiced anthems have scored cross-country moves and relationship dissolutions from the first time I heard “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.” The album of the same name earned her the title of Road Jam Queen –her songs are just meant to be played at full blast with the windows down –but it’s World Without Tears that I come back to for its emotional range, its specific rendering of the ways we can feel heartbreak, grit, and freedom, sometimes all at once. A quick aside: I named my dog (passenger seat companion of dreams!) after her.