13 Songs We (Nearly) Missed in 2023


A well-timed holiday remix that doubles as shameless Oscar campaigning? Yes, they Ken! Ryan Gosling and Mark Ronson’s “Barbie” showstopper “I’m Just Ken” is reimagined in three different formats — acoustic lament, club banger and Christmas novelty — on the newly released “I’m Just Ken” EP. “I’m Just Ken (Merry Kristmas Barbie)” reworks the arrangement into a stately, vaguely festive bit of chamber-pop; Gosling doesn’t fill the lyrics with Christmas puns, thankfully, but merely mutters in conclusion a wistful, “Merry Christmas, Barbie … wherever you are.” LINDSAY ZOLADZ

“We put the trap in entrapreneur,” the British drill rapper Central Cee spits on his first solo single of the year, following high-profile collaborations with Dave, Drake and PinkPantheress. In his signature knottily conversational flow, Cee boasts about his hustler mentality and sudden success, never forgetting from where he came: “Went from a Toyota Yaris to Urus,” he raps. “I still got the same work rate as before.” ZOLADZ

Flagboy Giz grew up on hip-hop, but he’s also a proud carrier of New Orleans tradition as a member, since 2015, of the Wild Tchoupitoulas tribe of Mardi Gras Indians. The title of his 2023 album “Disgrace to the Culture” points to the way his music determinedly mixes hip-hop with New Orleans lore. Twitchy trap programming and a low-slung piano riff join hints of brass-band sousaphone and Mardi Gras tambourine to carry “Fell in Love at the Secondline,” a flirtation mapped onto the city’s streets. JON PARELES

A fierce beat, relentless but changeable — with percussion, voices and programming — drives “Survivor,” a knowing vow of defiance in the face of every obstacle. “I am the lawless, formless, thoughtless, flawless chaos of the sun/I am the seed of life and love, you see the blaze, you better run” chants Genesis Owusu, born in Ghana and living in Australia. The track is brutal, full of paradoxical wordplay — and fully confrontational. PARELES

Iza, a Brazilian singer and rapper, isn’t just breaking up in “Que Se Vá” (“Let It Go”); she’s also canceling the ex’s credit card. Her gleeful good riddance, with verses that build toward laughter, is propelled by Afro-Brazilian rhythms, programmed handclaps and a harmony chorus that exults in its spite. PARELES

Kesha set aside her pop and rock reflexes for the somber “Eat the Acid” from her 2023 album, “Gag Order.” She sings about indelible drug revelations and warns, “You don’t wanna be changed/like it changed me.” With stark keyboard drones, a cappella moments, processed vocals and distant, ethereal harmonies, Kesha pushes toward the experimental realms of songwriters like Julia Holter and Björk. PARELES

Medicine, the indie-rock band Brad Laner has led since 1990, thrives on overload, placing poppy tunes within a pile-on of instruments, voices, electronics and distortion. “That’s Alright, Friend” — the opening track on its 2023 album, “Silences” — bashes out a six-beat stomp behind Julia Monreal’s cheerful voice while bells ping, electronics chatter and layered guitars pick up her melody. Then the track starts lurching into new territory, swerving through a few episodes before ending up somewhere like a psychedelic sea chantey, while Monreal repeats the title as reassurance amid the din. PARELES

A vocalist sits on a stool in a dark-lit subterranean jazz club, topped with a beret, she-bopping through standards. Even if that’s more or less what you think of when you hear the word “jazz,” it’s probably not what the name “Esperanza Spalding” calls to mind. But back in 2018, Spalding took a detour into the old songbook, at the elbow of the piano maestro Fred Hersch, during a weeklong stand at the Village Vanguard. A few tracks from those dates were released as an album earlier this year.

Yes, she wore a beret and sat on a stool, and the lights were low. (She also left her bass at home.) Still, Spalding created healthy distance between herself and the old material. On “But Not for Me,” even as she delights in banter with Hersch’s piano, Spalding seems certain this Gershwin tune was not written “for” her. “They say that Russian plays do boast of many gray skies,” she sings, before tapping out on the next line. “And then some words I don’t really understand, ’cause it’s like Old English: ‘hi-ho, alas and lackaday?’” she says. “That’s how I feel — confused about the whole situation.” The audience laughs easily, agreeing that the old material shines best when thrown open to the light of the present day. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO

Darcy James Argue and his airtight big band, Secret Society, have long made a cottage industry out of dynamic torque, and Argue rarely wastes a note. “All In,” from their aptly named album “Dynamic Maximum Tension,” starts with a tenuous and crooked drum beat, then a procession of rich harmonies — packed with just enough dissonance to tighten up the energy — before a heavier beat kicks in. The horns swell atop a percussive, string-muted piano part from Adam Birnbaum. Even as the sound grows triumphant, that catalytic dissonance never goes away. RUSSONELLO

“From the Dancehall to the Battlefield” is the culmination of a long project for the pianist and multivalent artist Jason Moran, who has spent years exploring and elevating the legacy of James Reese Europe, a pioneering bandleader who was also the first Black American to lead U.S. troops into combat, as a lieutenant in the 369th Infantry Regiment (the renowned “Harlem Hellfighters”) during World War I. Europe also helmed the regiment’s orchestra, which made waves in France and helped pave the way for the Jazz Age’s big-band boom.

On “From the Dancehall,” Moran leads a 10-piece ensemble through a swirl of material, placing Europe into conversation with the 100 years of jazz history that have followed in his wake. One highlight comes on “Flee as a Bird to Your Mountain/Ghosts,” as Moran pairs a dirge-like Europe composition — which Europe’s band used to play whenever an infantryman had died on the battlefield — with Albert Ayler’s spiritualist free-jazz classic “Ghosts.” Brian Settles, a prominent tenor saxophonist on the jazz scene in Washington (Europe’s hometown), carries the melody to “Ghosts,” smearing and savoring his notes, then shifts into a shivery, heart-spilling solo. RUSSONELLO

A thunderstorm rumbles through “Anestesia” (“Anesthesia”) by Conexión Divina, a three-woman band based in Los Angeles that plays the regional Mexican style called sierreño, which features melancholy love songs. In “Anestesia,” Liz Trujillo sings about a longing so intense she needs to numb herself. Whether it’s a blinding infatuation or post-breakup regret, the desperation is palpable. PARELES

In “El Que” (“He That”), Angélica Garcia wrestles with an inner demon who “chills, robs energy, controls and bewitches,” preying on her own self-doubt. A throbbing electronic pulse underlines her vulnerability; she fights back with booming drums and a choral chant, achieving a tense standoff. PARELES

On her 2023 album, “Goodbye, Hotel Arkada,” the harpist Mary Lattimore welcomed electronics and processing while keeping the plucked, resonant tones of her instrument at the center of her music. “Music for Applying Shimmering Eye Shadow” is minimalistic and meditative with little exact repetition. Basking in the slow alternation of two echoey chords topped with ever-changing fragments of melody, it does, indeed, shimmer. PARELES



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