The 20 best Compilations of the year 2023

Compilations, a discipline in itself. Is the selection right? Is the sequencing right? Is this collection even necessary? We listened to the whole thing and said yes 20 times.

The world now seems to be suffering from anthologisation fatigue, and understandably so. Among the best 20 records from the compilation segment, this year at least, our selection contains notably fewer compilations of songs from some short-lived Japanese subgenre that were recorded between this or that year. Instead, compilations documenting the work of individual artists and groups have come to dominate. And every now and then between all these records documenting the past, the sounds of fresh talents are even bundled together.

Because of course, trips to the studios of Bollywood in the 1980s or the first Goa raves a stone’s throw away are just as essential as a new edition of the »Spiritual Jazz« series and a massive box set collecting the first ten releases on Brian Eno’s Obscure label. But it also wouldn’t hurt to take a deeper look at the work of Akira Umeda, Arthur Russell, Les Abranis or Workshop either. A compilation of highlights from the exuberant output of Voice Actor and a record showcasing the bizarre worlds Brannten Schnüre-affiliated artists in the meanwhile provide the breath of fresh air that we will need more of in the future. Kristoffer Cornils

Ahl Nana
L'orchestre National Mauritanien
Radio Martiko • 2022 • from 34.99€

There are planets where life would be worse. One without the music of Ali Farka Touré, for example. The fact that it exists on Earth is partly thanks to Ahl Nana. The »Orchestre National Mauritanien« is regarded as a pioneer of »modern« music from the Sahel, and in 1971 it recorded the music that Radio Martiko has compiled and released here for the first time. This is a belated tribute to the music of these pioneers and their historically significant desert trance.

Pippo Kuhzart
Akira Umeda
1988 2018
Lugar Alto • 2023 • from 36.99€

The crazy work of a collector's mind, a rabbit hole of an album: Akira Umeda's »1988 2018« is an out-of-body experience. These 42 recordings can hardly be described as songs. Instead, the album is a wild juxtaposition of ambient, cartoon flickers, one beat, backyard kitchens, arcade hall, porn, and random ass voice recordings. The best book of the last six months. 

Pippo Kuhzart
Arthur Russell
Picture Of Bunny Rabbit (Code Only Faster: Crossing The Line From Vocal To Instrumental And Back)
Audika • 2023 • from 35.99€

More music from the era of Arthur Russell's classic »World of Echo!« The cellist and avant-garde disco pioneer is at home with his instrument, voice and echo. When necessary, he adds guitar or barely recognisable keyboards. Once again he invites us into his very personal world, which can be delicate, desperate and raw. He doesn't sing on every song, and he doesn't have to. The recordings are less an experiment in the sense of trying things out than an open search. Everything about them is in motion.

Tim Caspar Boehme
Dream Dolphin
Gaia: Selected Ambient & Downtempo Works 1996-2003
Music From Memory • 2023 • from 31.99€

Eight years, 20 albums: these are the dimensions that Music From Memory's biggest release in 2023 has to master. The 18 tracks by Japanese artist Dream Dolphin aka Noriko do an excellent job. Like few other compilations, this one tells a consistent story, which is to say: it is excellent listening, as long as you have two hours to spare. Whether ambient, new age, trip-hop or cautious techno, the fragility that Noriko brings to her music is present in every track.

Maximilian Fritz
Selected Songs 1997-2003
World Of Echo • 2023 • from 39.99€

Has anyone ever been to Melbourne? Ever since Carla Dal Forno moved back to the area and started broadcasting the best music from her homeland on NTS, I got the impression that perhaps Melbourne is the most pleasant city in the world. All that seems to be coming out of there is jaded indie pop; completely de-muscled material; music that you can just slurp through the day, and yet the greatest, most wistful emotions are still there. Hydroplane are an example of that. Doctors prescribe »Selected Songs 1997-2003« as a cure for high blood pressure.

Pippo Kuhzart
Kevin Drumm
Battering Rams
A Sunken Mall • 2023 • from 24.99€

Kevin Drumm ist ein vollkommen undurchschaubarer Typ. Wer ihn auf Bandcamp abonniert hat, bekommt manchmal regelrechte Fluten neuer Releases in kurzen Intervallen serviert und muss dann wieder ein halbes Jahr bis zum nächsten warten. Es ist sehr chaotisch, weshalb gelegentliche Dokumentation inmitten dieses Release-Strategie-Durcheinanders bitter nötig ist. »Battering Rams« versammelt vier Stücke aus 22 Jahren Schaffenszeit, im Duktus handelt es sich – Labelheimat ist mit A Sunken Mall schließlich ein VAAGNER-Offshoot – eher um Ambient-Musik statt kreischigen Noise. Weitgehend ominös und düster im Ton, endet es doch auf wohligen und hoffnungsvollen Sounds.

Kristoffer Cornils
Les Abranis
Amazigh Freedom Rock 1973-1983
Bongo Joe • 2023 • from 27.99€

Es war eine Sensation, als Bongo Joe 2018 zwei Stücke von Les Abranis neu auflegte. Damit ließ sich die Geschichte dieser Band jedoch noch nicht adäquat vermitteln. Sie setzt sich aus Mitgliedern der Berber-Ethnie der Kabylen zusammen, nach der Unabhängigkeitserklärung des algerischen Staates wurde sie ausgerechnet in Frankreich gegründet. »Amazigh Freedom Rock 1973-1983« dokumentiert die erste Iteration der hocheklektischen Gruppe. Die leichtfüßigen Grooves von Les Abranis sind gleichzeitig selbstbewusstes Statement einer unterdrückten Minderheit, wie sie von einer Zukunft zu erzählen scheinen, in der sich auf dem Dancefloor versöhnt wird.

Kristoffer Cornils
Najib Alhoush & The Free Music
Free Music Part 1
Habibi Funk • 2023 • from 25.99€

The title is intimidating, but the cover dispels it in an instant: For »Free Music Part 1«, Habibi Funk has compiled what is probably the first instalment of favourite songs from the extensive discography of Najib Alhoush & The Free Music: Lebanese disco, driving bass lines, funky licks, and vocals that create expansiveness. The shirt unbuttons itself; it’s certified dance music for the best bar in town. 

Pippo Kuhzart
Sonig • 2023 • from 34.99€

Much has been written about Workshop. But they are still not listen to enough. »1987-2004« is another opportunity to change that. Immerse yourself in the musical world of the Cologne band. Starting with the 15-minute jam »Fabienne« from around 1992, a programmatic piece because the name Workshop is also a programme, Christoph Rath, Kai Althoff, Stefan Mohr and Stephan Abry explore music where virtuosity meets amateurism, curiosity and irony always triumph over doubt.

Sebastian Hinz
Voice Actor
Fake Sleep
STROOM 〰 • 2023 • from 28.99€

A certain underlying nervousness creeps into the blandness of Voice Actor that gives this insane digital collection of what feels like 900 songs a peg that makes it almost impossible to have the same uncanny experience in traditional recording format. Nevertheless: even when trimmed down to 16 tracks, »Fake Sleep« is one of the albums of the year.  

Florian Aigner
Various Artists
Music From Memory • 2023 • from 32.29€

Jamie Tiller starb am 15. Oktober, knapp zwei Monate vor Erscheinen dieser Compilation auf dem von ihm vor zehn Jahren mitbegründeten Label Music From Memory. Kaum ein anderes Label diggte dermaßen tief. Es holte mit Dip In The Pool, Gigi Masin und Suzo Sáiz alte Held*innen wieder ins Rampenlicht und bot genauso aber einen jungen Generation – Philipp Otterbach, RAMZi und Yu Su – Raum zur Entfaltung an den Grenzen von Ambient, Fourth-Welt-Fantasien und dem Dancefloor. »10« bietet Beiträge von Label-Freund:innen, wunderbar überraschend ist ein Klassiker der Ströer-Brüder mit Howard Fine. Alle Abschiede fühlen sich ungenügend an, dieser hier war aber nie so gemeint.

Kristoffer Cornils
Various Artists
A Todas Las Imágenes Del Mundo: Antología Del Canto A Lo Divino
Mississippi • 2023 • from 32.99€

After a day's work, the men and women farmers of Chile's central valley, the Valle Longitudinal, gather in crowded rooms to sing the »Canto A Lo Divino«. They sing about the apocalypse, the divine, the supernatural, but also about family, animals and bad harvests. The guitar, or 25-string guitarrón, plays hypnotic loops. And the farmers, both men and women, sing and sing. It has always been this way. »A Todas Las Imágenes Del Mundo: Antología Del Canto A Lo Divino« collects ten of these pieces. None of them will leave you untouched.

Sebastian Hinz
Various Artists
Awaaz: Original Soundtracks Recordings From The Archives Of CBS Gramophone Records & Tapes India 1982-1986
Naya Beat • 2023 • from 38.99€

Lange Zeit war Bollywood die führende indische Filmindustrie – ja, es gibt mehrere, und ja, sie alle heißen irgendwas mit »-wood« am Ende – und damit auch immer der treibende Motor indischer Musikkultur. »​​Awaaz Series 1: Original Soundtracks Recordings From The Archives Of Cbs Gramophone Records & Tapes India 1982-1986« dokumentiert die irrsinnige stilistische Bandbreite der Musik für Filme aus Mumbai. Wunderbar schlonziger Funk, psychedelischer Disco, ein fucking »Rockit«-Cover und roughe Drummachine-Workouts – alles hier ist komplett surrealistisch, überfordernd, innovativ. Bollywood halt.

Kristoffer Cornils
Various Artists
Bleeps, Breaks + Bass
Musique Pour La Danse • 2023 • from 34.99€

Musique Pour La Danse brings history to life on this 18 track compilation. If you want to find out which sound established rave as the defining youth movement in the UK in the early 1990s, listen to »Bleeps, Breaks + Bass«. It features not only familiar names such as A Certain Ratio and Unique 3, but also acts that have since faded from dance music memory, illustrating the breadth of British rave.

Maximilian Fritz
Various Artists
Bureau B • 2023 • from 27.99€

Weird and contemporary from Germany, that alone is enough to pile on the excitement and put it on your best-of list: Finally, you don't have to go to Belgium or Sweden to enjoy a new musical experience. Finally, something new is coming out of this cold country again... Bureau B has dedicated a compilation to a new German scene—which naturally doesn't want to be one. »Gespensterland« smells of health food shops from the very first beat, »Pfisters Mühle« greets darkly on the horizon. Germanness is used here as a cipher, exaggerated and integrated into a hard-to-classify wave-folk ambient.

Pippo Kuhzart
Various Artists
Gonzo Goa: Party Music 87-94
Sound Migration • 2023 • from 30.99€

There are planets where life would be worse. One without the music of Ali Farka Touré, for example. The fact that it exists on Earth is partly thanks to Ahl Nana. The »Orchestre National Mauritanien« is regarded as a pioneer of »modern« music from the Sahel, and in 1971 it recorded the music that Radio Martiko has compiled and released here for the first time. This is a belated tribute to the music of these pioneers and their historically significant desert trance.

Ania Gleich
Various Artists
Jura Soundsystem Presents Transmission Three
Isle Of Jura • 2023 • from 34.99€

Kevin Griffiths still puts together compilations as DJ tools, with ambient textures and sound effects at the end. At least that's the case on the third edition of his »Transmission« series on the Isle of Jura label, which he runs under his pseudonym Jura Soundsystem. The first track alone—»Lotus Position« by The Irresistible Force, a.k.a. Mixmaster Morris—is worth it all and followed by a lot of dub music in different shades, the obligatory Café del Mar vibes, panpipe noodling, airy breaks and ... the sounds of bleating sheep. If all of this doesn’t make sense to you, you have to make sense of it yourself. Kristoffer Cornils

Kristoffer Cornils
Various Artists
Searchlight Moonbeam
Efficient Space • 2023 • from 23.99€

Elaine Tierney and Jack Rollo's »Ballads« mix tape is legendary. »Searchlight Moonbeam« is not only a successor to that compilation, but also follows in the footsteps of the excellent »Sky Girl« compilation, which also appeared on Efficient Space. Big shoes to fill. And they have been filled. In no uncertain terms. One revelation after another, folk, post-punk, classical, all immersed in that special time-is-away atmosphere, that full-on sentimentality. It gets better every time listen you listen to it, so much so, you may never ever need another record.

Pippo Kuhzart
Various Artists
Spiritual Jazz Volume 14: Private
Jazzman • 2023 • from 32.99€

The music in the »Spiritual Jazz« series has always been good – and more recently new. The Jazzman label made a name for itself with this series of reissues and compilations of old spiritual jazz, and has now turned its attention to the present day. After two years in the same vein, they've had enough and are going back. The pieces compiled here all come from the USA; the performers recorded them between 1964 and 1987, and then released them on their own, without a label. This makes »Spiritual Jazz 14: PRIVATE« a collection of the rarest pieces of modal and spiritual jazz.

Pippo Kuhzart
Various Artists
The Complete Obscure Records Collection 75/78
Dialogo • 2023 • from 342.94€

Sorry, but someone’s gotta say it: Brian Eno hasn't had a good artistic idea for years, if not decades, but at least he still has a few business visions. The massive box-set »The Complete Obscure Records Collection« takes us back to a time when it was exactly the opposite: the first ten catalogue numbers on Obscure—including Eno's »Discreet Music« and Harold Budd's »Pavilion of Dreams«—are all more or less masterpieces, but he probably didn’t make a fortune with them. Releasing a box set like this in the run-up to Christmas is simply evil, but this music is also completely essential. And worth the price tag for the first Gavin Bryars LP alone

Kristoffer Cornils