BEST OF 2023 Acid Test’s Best Albums of 2023 By Miles Bowe · December 11, 2023

Acid Test aims to dig through Bandcamp’s unexplored corners, and these past 12 months have given us countless hidden gems, trippy delights, and deep zones. Below you’ll find some favorites that were featured in this column throughout the year. These are albums uninterested in being the best of anything—except our first one, which is unequivocally the best album made with a Saab 900 car this year. The artists in this list gave us the best of themselves.

Amber Meulenijzer
Saab Fanfare

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Saab Fanfare opens with a murmuring of directions, some occasional horn tuning, and the soft engine putter of the car that gives the album its title. The Saab, outfitted with a roof of 12 speakers, belongs to composer Amber Meulenijzer. The horns she’s processing live belong to a local fanfare ensemble—a kind of mini brass band that’s a staple of small Belgian towns like Pelt, where this was recorded. Together they walk and drive, forming an electro-acoustic album as warm as a sunrise and as wondrously ascendent as a hot air balloon.

Recording behind the wheel, Meulenijzer captures this magical moment from two sides: The live “Procession” lets you appreciate the scene as birds sing, footsteps crunch, and onlookers murmur and—in the last moment—cheer. “Isolated Brass, As Played Through Saab Speakers” then focuses on the processed sound from Meulenijzer’s speakers, taking you further into the band’s angelic horns and letting you hear what that crowd was hearing. It’s as if you go from observing this little parade to being transported right there. And with every visit throughout this year, Saab Fanfare only became more rewarding.

Ki Oni
A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life

Los Angeles, California
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Los Angeles, California
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Merch for this release:
Cassette, Hat

On his best album yet, Chuck Soo-Hoo stretched the glimmering soundscapes of his Ki Oni project to truly epic proportions. A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life shifts away from the indoor themes of his earlier releases, planting nature sounds recorded around Los Angeles into these five sprawling synth pieces. Each one felt as vast as a horizon—and only became more moving, beautiful, and detailed the longer you reflected on it.

Theo Burt
Automatics Group Remixes

Theo Burt’s first release in nearly a decade, itself a collection of unreleased material from between 2012 and 2016, felt like being gifted with some newly discovered vein of gold. Though the dozen tracks here are remixes, all of them transcended the term as Burt smashed and compressed big room trance hits (and in some cases entire albums) into dizzying pointillistic arrays. If we wait another decade to hear more, it’d be time well spent—odds are we’ll still be wrapping our heads around these brilliant recordings.

To The Forest To Live A Truer Life

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

To The Forest To Live A Truer Life introduced us to a new YoshimiO, and was one of the most unique-sounding albums of 2023. Armed with her voice and piano, often fed through the modular synth of collaborator Izumi Kiyoshi, Yoshimi crafts modern classical music as psychedelic and explosively alive as her iconic work in Boredoms. Approaching the piano with the same genius as her percussion work, it feels like the start of an entire new chapter.

Imaginary Softwoods
The Notional Pastures of Imaginary Softwoods

John Elliott is ending the year by gearing up for the reunion of the trio Emeralds—wow, I didn’t know how good that sentence would feel to finally write—but the composer and synthesist started 2023 with the defining release of his longtime solo project Imaginary Softwoods. Drifting from sunny pastoral soundscapes to astral kosmische, The Notional Pastures of Imaginary Softwoods touched on everything that made this project so special over this past decade.

Olimpia Splendid

Arriving eight years after their debut, the second album by noise-rock trio Olimpia Splendid creeps up on you like smoke and sticks to you like soot. Heta Bilaletdin, Jonna Karanka, and Katri Sipiläinen fused hellish drum machines, hypnotic bass lines, and spindly guitars that recalled Marc Ribot across six tracks as intense as a seance, and with the slow-moving force of a freight train. Arriving so long after its predecessor, 2 makes a grim and glorious reintroduction to Olimpia Splendid.

Mark Vernon
Call Back Carousel

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Mark Vernon’s ghostly, immensely moving Call Back Carousel invites us to try and grasp something impossible. Starting with found audio tapes offering narration of someone’s vacation slideshow, Vernon uses foley effects and sound treatments to bring these forgotten experiences to life. The occasional rhythmic click of the carousel flings us somewhere new and unpredictable in time and space, but in these voices we always find the familiar—warmth, humor and a faint sadness at the passage of time. It’s somewhere in that space, between the imagined sounds of those lost photos of an experience no one will ever quite know, that Vernon captures a flickering piece of humanity.

Lucy Liyou
Dog Dreams

Merch for this release:
, Vinyl LP

The trio of pieces making up Lucy Liyou’s latest album drift like dreams before erupting into gripping reality. Dog Dreams carries us through glassy ambience, delicately expressive piano, candid field recordings, and intimate spoken word. But its her soaring, expressive vocals that will leave you stunned. That use of space, strung around moments of heartrending catharsis, makes Dog Dreams a remarkable release in Liyou’s career, one seemed to ripple and change with each listen.

Mong Tong 夢東
Tao Fire 道火

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Heavy metal, funk, gamelan, eerie field recordings, fanciful synthesizers, and traditional folk music all collide in Taiwanese outfit Mong Tong’s delirious Tao Fire 道火. Yet for all the sounds they fuse into their psychedelic vision—from the melted guitar riffs and gamelan percussion of “Areca” to the neon pulse of “Naihe Bridge” and eerie emptiness of “Hanoi”—Mong Tong maintain a lean, kinetic pulse that sweeps you along.

Wolf Eyes
Dreams In Splattered Lines / IN SPLATTERED TIME

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Throughout 2023, legendary noise outfit Wolf Eyes unleashed one of the best runs of releases in its 25-year career. Stripped down to the essential pairing of Nate Young and John Olson, the duo’s Bandcamp page overflowed with archival reissues, compilations of rare material, and live recordings, as well as limited CD-Rs and lathe cuts. It all built up to a pair of masterful, menacing full-lengths Dreams In Splattered Lines and IN SPLATTERED TIME—a horror double-feature of cursed PVC horns, mangled electronics, and paranoid murmurs that ranks among the group’s finest work. No matter how large the band’s legacy looms it feels like there has never been a better time to be, or become, a Wolf Eyes fan than right now.

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