’Hey, what about us?’ They Ask
They’re always hanging around us anyway. You know, the gang on the other side of our building, those nerdy news people. They keep coming over, trying to talk to chat us up about music. What do they know, right? Turns out – a lot. All we had to do was ask. So this time, for our twice-a-year best-of poll, we decided to extend the invitation beyond the KUTX line of demarcation. These KUT news jockeys have music on their brain as well. What follows are their picks for the best 2023 at the midway point, full of fun and – at times – really surprising picks. So dig in. They’d probably like it if you read them out loud. – Jeff McCord
Mia Abbe, KUT intern
Noah Kahan – “Dial Drunk”
This song is a new addition to Noah Kahan’s 2023 album Stick Season. There’s absolutely no build up in this track, instead, Kahan jumps right in with a quick banjo rhythm. The lyrics also contrast with the upbeat beat in the background making for an interesting listen.
Maude Latour – “Heaven”
Maude Latour is an extremely underrated artist whose music documents what is happening in her life in real time. This song is about the thrills of a new relationship, and the versatile sound in the background ties in perfectly to the angelic theme.
Lana Del Rey, feat. Bleachers – “Margaret”
This is my favorite song off Lana Del Rey’s new album, Did you know that there’s a tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. This is the song with the simplest story on the album, telling the story of Jack Antonoff, a producer on the album and lead singer of Bleachers, and his fiancée Margaret Qualley. Fun pop culture fact—Lana actually reveals their wedding date at the end of the song.
Marisa Charpentier, KUT assistant digital editor
Boygenius – “Cool About It”
It’s a special thing when your three favorite artists put out an album together. It’s an especially special thing when they sing it directly in your face. During SXSW this year, boygenius held a surprise concert next to the baggage claim at Austin’s airport, and I got to watch from just feet away. They sang “Cool About It,” which had not yet been released, and I fell in love with the lyrics as I made eye contact with each one of the boys. I was very cool about it, I promise.
The Arcs – “Heaven is a Place”
I’ve long been a fan of Dan Auerbach — from The Black Keys to his solo work to The Arcs. This song from The Arc’s new album is what my grandma would call “easy listenin’.” It makes me want to go for a drive with the windows down at sunset, this song blaring.
Dijon – “coogie”
I’ve been on a Dijon kick this year. His songs often sound like they were recorded in a garage or coffee shop. His voice is hoarse and raspy, as he moves between states of frustration and vulnerability. It’s hard to make out the words he sings, but that’s kind of the beauty of Dijon; his voice is an instrument of its own.
Wells Dunbar, Texas Standard social media editor
Portrayal of Guilt – “One Last Taste of Heaven”
A real mind-bender from the black metal-adjacent Austin three-piece. It’s the most visceral depiction of their live sonic assault laid down to date, and condenses everything unique about their sound – blastbeats, hair-raising shrieks, and chugging riffs juuuust this side of nu-metal – into a minute and a half of explosive, insidious groove. But then! You flip the platter and there’s a hellish chamber music version of the same track, with Matt King’s despondent pleas and a cello taking center stage. Put it on and bask in the bad vibes.
Ulthar – “Fractional Fortress”
Where to begin with the demonic Lovecraftian entity that is Ulthar? “Fractional Fortress” is a good place to start. Rapid-fire elements of black metal, death metal and grindcore twist and rearrange themselves like a doomed soul unlocking the Lament Configuration from Hellraiser. Fun stuff!
Thantifaxath – “Solar Witch”
I was gonna mix it up with my third pick – something decidedly less fast, scary and noisy – but alas, Thantifaxath beckons. The anonymous Canadian collective plays experimental, non-traditional black metal – but this is nothing like the Sunbather-loving “voidgaze” Spotify slops out. Opener “Solar Witch” fittingly sounds the unholy birth of the cosmos, as frantic blast beats are recurringly interrupted by a haunting, string-bending ascension.
Stephanie Federico, KUT digital editor
Tianna Esperanza – “Terror”
Holy moly, this song is dark. It starts with this lilting voice casually singing about digging a key into a man’s eye. Then she shifts and you can almost hear her grit her teeth as she recounts past traumas. The song needs a trigger warning, but I love the range of Esperanza’s unique voice.
Caroline Rose – “Miami”
Caroline Rose is so raw and vulnerable on this song. It sounds like they’re going to explode at any minute. The buildup at the end makes the hair on my arms stand up.
Miya Folick – “Cockroach”
Her voice is so sweet, which creates a disconnect with the lyrics: “I’m a fucking cockroach and you can’t kill me.” I love the way this song loops and adds these psychedelic layers before the guitar comes crashing in.
Haya Panjwani, Travis County Reporter
KAYTRAMINÉ – “4EVA”
Kaytranada brings the beats and Amine brings the insane lyrics. I’ve always been a fan of them individually, but this song on their latest collaborative album brings the perfect vibe for summer.
Raghav – “Desperado”
I grew up on Bollywood and Raghav paved the way for Indian beats with English lyrics. This song takes a modern twist on a classic Bollywood song I grew up with but makes it more Gen Z (aka me) palatable.
Metro Boomin, Swae Lee, Lil Wayne, Offset – “Annihilate”
Soundtracks from Marvel movies rarely miss. While I prefer the first Spider-Verse album, this album is one of my favorite Metro Boomin works. This opening song sets the tone for the album and the movie so well.
Andrew Weber, Reporter
Dinner Party – “The Lower East Side”
The supergroup’s lineup alone is enough to sell this song. I need not burnish their credentials. It’s a killer instrumental that I consider a public service, a cooling auditory oasis as my eyeballs slowly broil in my skull on bike rides in this heat.
Boldy James – “Trust Issues”
This dude was in an ICU in January after a car crash and still put out, or was featured on, 29 tracks before July. This is my favorite of the tracks he’s put out this year, and he’s playing Antone’s in July – again, after a car crash nearly killed him. The man does not quit.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – “Gila Monster”
I’d wager you’re asking why this would be a go-to summer track for me. I’d argue, a song centered on a societal collapse attributed to a giant, malevolent dragon/lizard demi-god in a smoldering, Thunderdome-adjacent hellscape just makes sense in this weather. Plus, it’s got wacky time signatures, so that’s fun.
Nathan Stevens, KUT host/producer
sadness – “Lowsun in a Glistening”
San Antonio-based sadness (despite the name) has always made anthemic metal. So take away the harshness, and you’ve got “lowsun in a glistening,” full of dance break synth leads, The Edge guitar strums, and an undeniable sense of propulsion. At nearly 14 minutes long, my arms got tired from holding a lighter up for every vital second.
billy woods and Kenny Segal – “Babylon By Bus”
“Babylon By Bus” is on the murky edge of billy woods and Kenny Segal’s vibrant rap trek Maps. Woods runs through self-mythology while hardnosed duo ShrapKnel trade bars like haymakers. Then the sound blossoms into a burst of orchestra beauty and dread as woods unveils his thesis: “I lied down like V.I. Lenin/ People don’t want the truth, they want me to tell ’em grandma went to heaven.”
Forest Spirit, Sun on Your Back – “Out of Season”
“Out of Season” is a deliciously catchy emo bop built from strange, desperate composites. Ping-Ponging guitars, a 5/4 time signature, and visions of ancient Babylon devoured by the sun all come together to make a whole hookier than the sum of its parts.