Is it just us or did 2023 sound great? For your listening (and list-trolling) pleasure, Brooklyn Magazine has compiled a catalog of homegrown bands, single acts, albums, songs and experiences that captivated us the most these past 12 months. To peruse the list is to soak in the sonic diversity of this ginormous borough — and the full range of emotions that living here evokes. From discodelia to doom metal — from global grooves to a funky Motörhead cover — this is the best in Brooklyn music for 2023.
A note about how this is (roughly) organized: We’ve listed, in no particular order, the best albums, singles, artists and experiences grouped together.
Best discodelic double album
‘Silver,’ Say She She A trio of classically trained singers, the perfect harmony of Brooklyn’s Say She She is something to behold. On the group’s sophomore LP, “Silver” (Colemine Records), the “discodelic” vocals of Piya Malik, Nya Gazelle Brown and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham are as spellbinding as ever. From the Chic-funk of “C’est Si Bon” and the sensual-goes-political “Echo In The Chamber,” to the dizzying operatics of “Reeling,” “Silver” is as interesting a listen as it is catchy.
Say She She has been touring hard throughout the past year or so, and as the more mellow “Don’t You Dare Stop” suggests, they’re not slowing down any time soon. The group is also a treat to see live, with each of the singers’ distinct vocals on display. — JL
Best R&B album
‘exodus the north star,’ yaya bey
Fresh off the release of her fourth album “Remember Your North Star” in 2022, Brooklyn’s R&B crooner yaya bey is back with a follow-up EP filled to the brim with seductive, sometimes reggae-infused love songs that put her falsetto on full display.
“You up?” is a suave cuffing season anthem about a difficult lover (“We argue all day/you love the hard way/ain’t no making that right/but would you please stay the night”) while “on the pisces moon” questions whether a lover is as serious as she is over a breezy reggae beat. The synths and pseudo-house beat on “ascendant (mother fxcker)” create one of the catchiest tunes she’s released in recent years.
‘HeadSpace,’ H31R The new full-length album from Brooklyn MC maassai and beatmaster collaborator JWords is a stunning follow-up to the duo’s 2021 album, “ve·loc·i·ty,” that takes listeners on an uncompromising ride through the psyche with unpredictable beats and puzzle-like rhymes.
On “HeadSpace” (Big Dada records), maassai’s verses often work as fun-house mirrors, reflecting her most introspective observations and questions onto the listener’s own unique experience. Take “Static” for example: “How you looking for a bandage from the one doing damage?” Or “Shadow Suite”: “It feel like a scene, you don’t feel seen/I don’t feel seen, you don’t feel seen/We don’t feel seen, I don’t feel seen…”
Throughout the record, maassai is backed by JWords’ addictive synth-driven beats, which evolve through an eclectic array of sounds — wonky chimes, bubbling keys, sparkling high-hats, industrial techno — that base her collaborator’s heady quests at the club, both on the dancefloor and in the back room, eyes closed, lights pulsing in the dark, smoke rising slow from every corner. — CK
Best rock album
‘3D Country,’ Geese On Geese’s sophomore album “3D Country,” the post-punk quintet offers a frenetic yet dynamic collection of songs that showcases its graduation from a run of the mill Brooklyn band to a group who has found its sound. That sound, however, isn’t singular — where “3D country” shines is in its diversity.
The standout opening track “2122,” for example, summons various gods of darkness from different religions against a jammy groove. “Cowboy Nudes” and “I See Myself,” on the other hand, are more straight ahead rock songs featuring righteous female backing vocals. There’s no shortage of homage being paid to the band’s classic rock influences either. “Crusades,” “Gravity Blues” and “Domato” conjure David Bowie, Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel, respectively.
2023 will no doubt be remembered as Geese’s breakout year. The band — they all grew up in Brooklyn and still live with their folks, for now — hit the road opening for Greta Van Fleet this spring and headlined a 27-date tour in the fall. The band also released a follow-up EP to its album, “4D Country.” They will tour North America with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard next summer. — MK
Best offering for our AI overlords
‘Follow the Cyborg,’ Miss Grit Miss Grit’s debut album “Follow the Cyborg,” released in February, is a stunningly mature set of alternative electronica songs for a 24-year-old. But the record also registers as one of the more relevant in recent memory: It’s about a cybernetic organism’s journey through gaining consciousness and experiencing the “real world.” The story hits different in a year that saw ChatGPT and other AI tools begin to infiltrate our everyday lives.
‘I Am What I’m Waiting For,’ Kendra Morris Soul stalwart Kendra Morris has been on the scene for over a decade, but 2023 saw her take her sound into new territory. With an assist from co-writer and producer Torbitt Schwartz, a.k.a. Little Shalimar (Run The Jewels), Morris leans more into a guitar sound without losing her soul roots — and that powerful voice.
The album’s opener “When I Go to Space” is a liltingly trippy waltz that immediately transports the listener: When I go to space/Will you catch me on the round?/In a satellite or not/Will I come up with a crowd?”
Come up with a crowd she does. On the hard-charging single “What Are You Waiting For,” a guitar chugs over a propulsive beat as she insists “I am what you’re waiting for,” a show stopper at her sweaty live shows. This is a grown-up album — “Dominoes” is a humorous examination of the pitfalls of marriage, “Special” is about learning that we aren’t actually all that special — but the grown-up still has a little dirtbag in her. “Bring it back for one more late night. Wear it out. Go get lost. Don’t have to be right,” she sings on the ‘60s girl-group-esque closer “One Last Joyride.” — BB
“If You Ask Me To: Victor Axelrod Productions for Daptone Records” features tracks with the elusive Leon Dinero, the Frightnrs, the late Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones, and reggae great Sugar Minott. It’s an all-killer-no-filler reggae mix fit for any mood, but if you want a tearjerker, press play on the Frightnrs’ haunting cover of the Etta James classic “I’d Rather Go Blind.”
As an added Brooklyn bonus, much of “If You Ask Me To” was recorded with the same crew of local musicians — often credited as the Inversions — though Queens does well in the pocket, too. — JL
Best compilation with a Motörhead cover
‘Hits and Misses,’ Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed Reed’s remastered collection of a decade of rarities, originals and covers is a nice introduction to the singer-guitarist-songwriter and blue-eyed, Brooklyn-based soul man. Highlights on the album include a funky workout of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” plus covers of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again,” Bob Dylan’s, “To Be Alone with You,” Merle Haggard’s “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can” and more. — BB
Most educational album
‘La Madrugá,’ Yasser Tejeda Among the many beautiful things about New York’s musical community is its breadth of traditions, experiences and cultures that inform its sound. Guitarist, singer and composer Yasser Tejeda has long contributed to that aural milieu with sounds from his native Dominican Republic and the wider Caribbean. His latest album, “La Madrugá,”continues that thread, weaving in bachata, Latin rock, African polyrhythms, funk and more — often in a single song.
Tejeda takes care to dissect some of these elements in his performances, which are further enlivened by the presence of dancer Carmen Joselyn Morillo. During a recent performance at Racket, Morillo interpreted the varied sounds from Tejeda’s guitar (and that of his killer percussionists), and later offered a bachata lesson. Catch Yasser Tejeda and co. at Carnegie Hall and as part of GlobalFEST in January. — JL
Best soundtrack to cuffing season
‘Lotus Glow,’ Adi Oasis A badass bassist and singer of French-Caribbean origin who’s toured with Anderson .Paak and Lee Fields, Adi Oasis brings vibes. Funky vibes. Throwback house vibes. Grown folks vibes. Her March 2023 album, “Lotus Glow,” blends all of the above with smooth R&B vocals and themes of love, desire and sexuality. Invite your boo over and drop the needle while y’all try to keep warm.
But if the messaging in “Multiply” (“I feel it when I’m next to you/Wanna make a baby/Got me going lately”) is too strong for your winter cuff, worry not. Adi released an instrumental version of Lotus Glow. But if that is your goal, the album really works: the musician welcomed a daughter this fall.
‘Last Leap,’ Super Yamba Band Kaleta and Super Yamba Band is one of Brooklyn’s most exciting live acts. During shows frontman Leon Ligan-Maje’s (nom de plume Kaleta) James Brown-esque vocals blend effortlessly with Super Yamba Band’s West African Afrobeat to create a melange of global grooves.
On Super Yamba’s debut EP “Last Leap” (its first sans Kaleta), the band’s Afrobeat takes center stage and transport listeners to the sleekest dance party in town. From the raucous sax solo on “Control Per Capita” to the electro-funk beat of “Xoomba” and the incredibly catchy horns on “Last Leap,” the EP perfectly captures the essence of Super Yamba’s live performances. Even the unfamiliar won’t be able to resist tapping their toes to these tunes. — MK
Best redemption record
‘Destroy All Monsters,’ Joudy After touring throughout their native country of Venezuela and self-releasing two records, heavy-psych trio Joudy (pronounced “Howdy”) have a new album called “Destroy All Monsters” (Trash Casual) full of dissonant grunge guitar, heavy drums and meditative lyrics highlighting the band’s heroic struggle toward freedom.
In 2020, Diego Ramirez, Gabriel Gavidia, and Hulrich Navas reunited in Brooklyn after fleeing political unrest in Venezuela due to a corrupt authoritarian regime. Now the band is resurrecting their once-lost future in music with the first record they’ve made since finding asylum in the U.S.
From album highlights like “Mastery” (“the vines that race from my head/have grown to show me the way”), to “Atlas” (“you will have to fight your fears”), to their apocalyptic rock anthem “Tail End” (“and free myself/to see myself”), “Destroy All Monsters” confronts the pain, destruction and complex emotional arc the band has endured along their journey. — CK
Best hip-hop single
‘GOOD FOOTAGE,’ AKAI SOLO A laidback beat from the Toronto-based production duo Bane Capital featuring a droning jazzy sax with minimal synths and drums serves as the perfect bedrock for Brooklyn rapper AKAI SOLO to flow over. The rapper, who dropped a 15-track full-length album and a six-song EP last year, is poetic in his delivery but doesn’t hesitate to throw in some Brooklyn grit too. “GOOD FOOTAGE” is the type of atmospheric joint that’s perfect for watching the scenery go by. Throw this on while you’re on the subway looking out at the skyline and you’ll feel invincible. — MK
Best pump-up jam
‘B.D.F.Q.,’ 79.5 Before putting out their new self-titled record with Greenpoint-based dance label Razor-N-Tape, neo-soul band 79.5 dropped a single that we all desperately needed, whether we knew it or not. “B.D.F.Q,” or, “Bitch, Don’t Fucking Quit” is the antidote to every anxious run-in, every queasy leap of faith, every unfathomable and unfortunate New York moment.
With a pounding “Eye of The Tiger” backbeat, “B.D.F.Q.” comes in hot and keeps burning through blunt reminders to “feed your need to be!” and soaring trance-like harmonies from Kate Mattison and her bandmate Lola Adanna, who ends up spitting a fierce refrain: “You got it, bitch!” — CK
Best low key self-care anthem
‘Me Time,’ Kota the Friend and Sweet William Prolific Brooklyn-born rapper Avery Marcel Joshua Jones got his stage name from the Disney movie “Brother Bear.” It’s also a nod to the Native American name “Koda,” which translates to “ally,” “friend,” and “little bear.” All of which is fitting for a rapper known for a laid back flow and words of uplift and positivity.
Over Tokyo producer Sweet William’s minimalist blippy beat, “Me Time” sees Kota taking a moment to be present, focused and keep his side of the street clean. Out the gate, he is deliberate: “Wake up, get my hygiene. Then I lace up, do a lil’ run, headphones with the bass up. Nice girl hittin’ my phone and she A1. All I want is peace and a good conversation.” Listen close enough and you too will find “I’ve been living miles from a frown.” — BB
Best for when you want to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and question your choices
‘Dead Lands,’ Punchlove
Inspired by a death in multi-instrumentalist Jillian Olesen’s family, Punchlove’s emotional new single explores the weight of loss and the consequences of ignoring grief. A bright yet melancholy guitar riff is a stark contrast to the reverbed vocals and thrashing drums that give the track its angsty foundation. The result is an instantly-catchy indie track that you can throw on both when you want to numb out in bed or when you’re walking around the city.
The quintet has quietly evolved from a bedroom shoegaze outfit to one of the best live bands in the borough; “Dead Lands” is further proof of the band’s growth. The new single also served as an announcement that the band signed with Kanine Records. An album is forthcoming, expect big things from the group in 2024. — MK
Best song for when you want to save the planet but also get it on
‘Save It! (The Mother Earth Boogie),’ Smoota If there is one person who could make the planet sexy, it’s Smoota. For the uninitiated, Smoota is singlehandedly on a mission to make sensual ‘70s lovemaking music great again. This year the veteran singer and multi-instrumentalist (and Reverend Vince Anderson’s resident trombonist) graced our ears with a diddy so tantalizing it’s sure to make both you and Mother Earth get your rocks off.
The song starts out with a funky bass line and chicken scratch strumming as Smoota gently repeats the phrase “Save it” as if he were whispering directly into your ear. Soon a verse reminiscent of the Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” reminds us that the world is more interwoven that we realize, so let’s take care of it together: “All around the world /every boy and girl/we’re all connected/so we must protect it/we can’t neglect it/if we want to have love.” It climaxes into a Khruangbin-style funk jam fit for Studio 54, transporting listeners back to a sexier (and more environmentally naive) time. — MK
Rapper of the year
Lola Brooke Standing at just 4 feet 9 inches, Lola Brooke is an unexpected yet unstoppable force. If you haven’t heard Brooklyn’s rising star, expect raw, unapologetic verses, fixed confidence, effortless freestyle finesse and bars as catchy and quotable as those of Brooke’s Bed-Stuy predecessors: Biggie, Lil Kim and Foxy Brown.
Brooke entered 2023 in a big way. During Future’s New Year’s Eve set at the Barclays Center, Brooke stomped out onto the stage and asserted her dominance. “Damn, I finally fucking made it!” she yelled at the sold-out crowd. “This is my fucking house right?!”
Indeed, it was As Brooke performed a commanding, high-velocity version of her 2021 smash hit “Don’t Play with It,” her hometown crowd rapped back every word, making it clear that the 29-year-old known as “Big Gator” had officially arrived.
Days later, Brooke signed with Arista Records and has since appeared on an episode of CBS’s “East New York,” rapped on Ciara’s track “Da Girls,” joined XXL’s 2023 Freshman Class and, last month, released her first full-length album, “Dennis Daughter,” a wide-ranging display of the skills Brooke has been cultivating for years. Throughout everything Brooke makes, she doesn’t let her fans forget where she comes from: “I’m bringing Brooklyn vibes, New York energy. I’m from Brooklyn, son.”
Don’t miss Brooke’s next Barclays appearance alongside Meek Mill, Rick Ross and more during Hot 97s Winter Jam at the end of the month. — CK
Best fantasy doom metal band
Castle Rat If you dig Black Sabbath and Dungeons & Dragons, then Castle Rat will blow back your mullet and eviscerate your elf ears. Brand new on the scene, the Brooklyn-based fantasy doom-metal band has gained a reputation for selling out venues across the borough, (including Greenpoint metal haven, Saint Vitus Bar) and forging their own rat-centric universe.
The band — decked-out in costumes complete with antlers, capes and a medieval plague-doctor mask — performs a devilishly fun live show, with lead singer Riley Pinkerton (the self-proclaimed Rat Queen) battling a scantily-clad scythe-bearing Rat Reaperess between songs, typically resulting in a frenzy of chanting and fake blood.
But Castle Rat’s true power is not just in the gimmicks or intricate self-made lore. The band has been praised for their musicality, earth-shaking riffs and Pinkerton’s powerful vocals. With two singles out now — “Feed The Dream” and “Dagger Dragger” — the band’s debut record is set to drop sometime next year with King Volume Records. Stay tuned, and remember, all hail the Rat Queen! — CK
Best trans punk band
Crush Fund Brooklyn’s queer punk scene is booming. It involves more than a genre, though — it’s an ethos centered on being proudly open about identity and focused on cultivating community.
One group of flag bearers in the scene is Crush Fund, a trio of trans women rockers whose tight headbangers range in style from dancey punk to hyperpop like 100 gecs. They regularly headline sold out, sweaty shows in the borough and are poised to release more music in 2024.
“No matter what else is going on in the world, we have this, and we have made this. How far can we take it?” singer and guitarist Wendy Kya told Brooklyn Magazine this fall. — GF
Best new new wave band
Nation of Language Synth rockers Nation of Language burst into all of our Spotify Discover Weekly playlists in 2020 with “On Division St,” a haunting indie hit that sounds like it was written in 1986 by one of their many influences. Their acclaimed third album “Strange Disciple,” released in September, saw them expand their sonic horizons — but just barely. The trio was still the closest thing to a reincarnation of New Order that 2023 had to offer.
Anant Pradhan If the sounds on “If You Asked Me” are up your alley, let the record play and then put on your coat to check out instrumental rocksteady crew Anant Pradhan and friends. Led by tenor saxophonist Pradhan and featuring legendary percussionist Larry McDonald (both of whom perform with the Skatalities), the crew features between six and 10 — maybe more, depending on the size of the venue — of New York’s heaviest reggae musicians.
If you weren’t fortunate enough to catch their pandemic-era residencies at Wild Birds, see them at Natty Garden or at Barbès, trust that each performance is a soul-affirming feast of instrumental rocksteady covers and originals. If you can’t make their New Year’s Eve show at Bar Lunatico in Bed-Stuy, you can grab a slice of their energy via Names You Can Trust records — their reggae take on “Sally’s Song” from “A Nightmare Before Christmas” is fittingly haunting. — JL
Deadest ringers for The Ramones
Mala Vista Ok, they don’t all share a last name and only one member of the band is from Queens (a loud gabba gabba hey to bassist Manuel Labour), but punk quartet Mala Vista play just as hard and catchy as the “brothers” Ramone.
Mala Vista’s meld of power pop, garage and speedy, snotty punk has become a fixture in the TV Eye/Our Wicked Lady/Myrtle-Broadway and beyond scene, while making them one of the go-to openers for legends. The group has shared stages with the Gories, the Kids, the Mummies and others (they also do a convincing take on the Undertones).
While their last album came out in 2022 — the 13-song, less than 30 minute rocker “Rough and Toothless LP” — next year is gearing up to be a big one for Mala Vista. Our sources from Queens say the group has a new record coming in the spring. — JL
Best recommendation from a friend
La Banda Chuska Which of my many talented friends with excellent taste recommended that I see this sextet at the Sultan Room, I can’t remember. Please forgive me and accept my wide grin as a sign that you were totally right on.
With one EP under their belt, La Banda Chuska are already making some serious moves: gigs at the David Rubenstein Auditorium at Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Museum and the Kennedy Center. And it’s no wonder they’re playing big stages; the band’s energetic combination of psychedelia, surf and Peruvian cumbia sounds as if The-B52s had a baby, and put it to sleep to the “Roots Of Chicha” compilations. Bonus points for the freaky babydoll tuning instrument their keyboardist keeps on hand at all times.