Another year flew by, leaving us with a bitter taste, scrolling through devastating realities in real-time, watching how the world is begging for a bit of humanity. Music – the unique and universal balm – helps weave the stories of our communities and immortalizes the here-and-now of collective feeling. Let's then take music as a reason to celebrate this unforgettable 2023.
In the realm of alternative Latin music, it was a more than vast territory for creation, with countless essential albums from fundamental artists that served as solid airbags to soften the year. Aware that my KEXP Top 10 wasn't enough to cover part of El Sonido's musical year, we decided to create this list of 50 key releases from the year. You'll find albums, EPs, compilations, and definitive soundtracks of 2023, along with some thoughts.
You won't find Karol G, Bad Bunny, Peso Pluma, or Tainy on this list. On the one hand, because I had already included them in my personal Top 10, and on the other hand, because El Sonido – both the weekly show we have with Dj Chilly and the podcast we launched this year – have been the fundamental homes of all these albums that make up the complete songbook of alternative music, which integrates experimental scenes, fusions with tradition and memory, and essential visions for the future.
Revisit your year by navigating the waters of these 50 albums and complement it with this playlist.
Brazil | Before Sunrise Records/ Quadrado Magico
Arte Bruta by the Brazilian psychedelic band Bike is an enthralling musical voyage that highlights the band's growth and their fusion of psych-rock, tropicalia, and stoner rock influences. The album offers a wide spectrum of sounds, ranging from dreamy melodies to powerful guitar riffs. While some may desire lengthier improvisations, Bike's skill in seamlessly merging various styles and crafting vibrant, introspective music is unmistakable. Arte Bruta embodies Bike's distinctive Brazilian roots and experimental spirit. Bike presented this album during their Live on KEXP session hosted by Cheryl Waters.
Argentina | Shika Shika Records
Campo de Cielo is Shika Shika’s collaboration between Coro Qom Chelaalapi and producer Lagartijeando. This release commemorates the 60th anniversary of the indigenous choir from Northwest Argentina, making them the longest-running, continuously active musical group in Latin America. This EP, the second collaboration between the choir and producer Matias Zundel, features three tracks produced by Lagartijeando that experiment with Qom traditional sounds in the context of organic electronic downtempo. Additionally, Campo del Cielo includes three original unedited recordings of Coro Qom Chelaalapi, captured by Lagartijeando in Resistencia, Chaco.
Dominican Republic | GRAN VAINA
Dominican artist Diego Raposo confirms with this album that the past, present, and future of Latin music is being forged in the Caribbean. Case in point, Raposo’s latest album YO NO ERA ASÍ PERO DE AHORA EN ADELANTE, SÍ. It was the land of merengue, dembow, and son that created the conditions for the producer and DJ to begin constructing the twelve songs that make up the successor to 2018's Caribe Express. His avant-garde, electro-experimental vision, full of dynamite, is solidly palpable in his earlier works, but it is in this new album where he takes a significant leap forward. He does so by summoning his Dominican counterpart Mediopicky (who released an excellent self-titled album in 2022), the Mexican American artist Blue Rojo, AKRIILA from Chile, and various exponents of the Latin American electronic music of tomorrow.
Argentina | Caraza Records
Evlay, one of the masterminds behind Argentina's new urban-experimental scene and the producer crafting beats for artists like Wos, Acru, Nicki Nicole, and more, unveils his debut LP, 333. This album is a testament to his versatility and evolution as an artist, producer, and DJ. Each track represents a unique collaboration with the finest talents in the Argentine music scene, as well as representatives from various genres. We encounter Santiago Motorizado, frontman of the indie rock band El Mató a un Policía Motorizado (whose Live on KEXP session surpassed one million views); the influential figure of the new Argentine rap, WOS; a surprising appearance from the Argentine indie folk scene with Lisandro Aristimuño; the emerging international neo-trap stars like Taichu, and the legendary figures like Neo Pistea, among many others. 333 promises an auditory experience that transcends genres, revealing the sonic landscape of Argentina's new scene.
Spain | Sony Music
Rising Spanish star María José Llergo delivers her debut album ULTRABELLEZA. With her profound musical training and innovative approach, María represents a new wave of flamenco artists making a significant impact in the industry. Lead single “SUPERPODER" is a celebration of female empowerment, with the song's lyrics reflecting her working-class family roots, emphasizing the strength of independent women and the power of self-worth.
Spain | Trouble In Mind
Without a doubt, it has been the year for the Spanish indie pop quartet from Pamplona. Melenas brought us in 2023 the successor to Días Raros, an album that had coincided with the 2020 pandemic and which captured the spirit of that era quite well. With Ahora, they do it again but adding more instrumentation, atmospheres, and musical experimentation, resulting from a much more refined work in production and lyrics. If in their previous album the power of simplicity reigned, in this one it is governed by multicolored textures. The incorporation of synthesizers, enveloping melodies, and some pop structures are the additives that give it a more electro Neu indie mark, allowing them to conquer the global list as one of the year's highlights.
Haiti, France | Ma Case
Nothing can go wrong if they call you The Caribbean Patti Smith or The Punky Voodoo Queen. This musical priestess was born in Haiti, where she began to create music that took the roots of her land and her religion and mixed them with rock and blues. These components made it possible for her to release Wayo, a new album in 2023, adding even more mystery and experimentation to the music of Moonlight, her real name. Singing in French and Kreyol, she manages to encapsulate in eleven songs the message of the album, which is to provide spiritual and melodic guidance for “suffering people”.
Pink Pablo's EP, road 2 neverland, signals a refreshing shift in Puerto Rico's music landscape, where artists like him are redefining the boundaries of genre. His musical journey, from church performances to LA, mirrors the island's evolving music scene. The EP's eclectic mix of electropop, rock, reggaetón, and disco, coupled with Pink Pablo's vulnerable lyrics, creates a deeply emotional and cohesive listening experience. As he gains momentum and connects with his audience through live shows, Pink Pablo's authenticity and commitment to his craft are undeniable, solidifying his position as a rising star in the Latin music world.
Mexico | Unheard of hope
Vidrio, the debut album by the collaboration of I la Cat6Iica (Hector Tosta) and Mabe Fratti, is a jazz-infused masterpiece that blurs the lines between genres. With classical structures and a touch of postmodern flair, it evokes a sense of longing and exploration. The deliberate saxophone raucousness and rhythmic percussion create a captivating sonic landscape that pays homage to classical opera while nodding to influences like Terry Riley and bebop. Fratti and Tosta's close collaboration has led them to a state of artistic grace, resulting in a breathtaking musical journey that deserves to be cherished.
China, Latin America | bié Records & Shika Shika
This collaboration showcases talents from bié Records in China and Shika Shika in Latin America, merging the distinct sounds of electronica, ambient, and folk music, all while stepping away from conventional trends. The goal was to have artists from each label remix each other's work, leading to an inventive and varied array of tracks. The project features standout producers like DaYe, Lim Giong; Hualun, Sun Dawei, and Rainsoft from bié Records, alongside DJ Raff, Terror-Cactus, Numa Gama, Barrio Lindo, and El Búho from Shika Shika, bringing a unique blend of creativity and cultural fusion.
Chile | Sony Music
Mexico | Discos Piramide
Mexico | 777 music
Brazil | Mr Bongo
Chile | Discos Fisura
Argentina | Goza Records
Mexico | UMM
Chile | Disco Fisura
Mexico | Devil in the woods
Chile | Universal Music
Ecuador | AYA Records
Colombia/ USA | Geffen Records
Mexico | ZZK Records
Puerto Rico | Futuro Records
Mexico | Sonic Cathedral
Bolivia | ZZK RECORDS
Chile | Universal Music
Colombia/France | ZZK Records
Seattle/Dominican Republic/ Costa Rica
Peru | Six Degrees Records
Argentina | Bohemian Groove
Argentina | Casa del Puente Discos / Buen Día Records
Argentina | Sony Music Entertainment
Mexico | Warner
Canada/ Latam | New Label
Chile/ Seattle | LeRock Psicophonique
Cuba | ZZK Records
Argentina | Sin Tierra Discos
Ecuador | Buh Records
Peru, Germany | Ninja Tune
Mexico | ZZK Records
Mexico/United States | Tender Loving Empire Records
2023 is behind us, but we're still reeling from all the great music the year gave us. We've already seen top albums from our DJs and our listeners in the Best of 2023 countdown, but what about the rest of the KEXP staff?
El Sonido DJs Albina Cabrera and DJ Chilly returned to Mexico after three years to experience the Latin American music festival Vive Latino. In addition, KEXP's Latin alternative music show was broadcast live from Mexico for the first time, thanks to CDMX's radio Aire Libre. Here we’ll review our f…