Best Library Music Albums of 2023

The 12 Best Library Music Albums of 2023

When it comes to library music, human generosity and creativity have no bounds. There’s always more to discover. This “background music” demands closer attention.

6. Misha Panfilov – In Focus (Jazzaggression)

Jazzaggression Records wisely offered the third installment in their New Library Series to Estonian funkmaster Misha Panfilov (aka Hanz Mambo). He’s only been unleashing cosmic soft synth sounds and funky frippery since 2019. Yet, Panfilov has been highly prolific in his brief time, having churned out a half-dozen solo albums as well as a couple of full-length collaborations with Shawn Lee and scores for Janno Jürgens’ feature drama Rain and the Sander Zoon short film Sierra. He’s clearly at the vanguard of the past.

With drumming and similar noises provided by Rauno Vaher, a delightful smattering of flute, alto sax and melodica from Ilja Gussarov, and a hint of vocals out of Anna Dotsenko, all the other synthesizers, electric piano, Mellotron, acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass, lap steel guitar, percussion, mixing, production and composition heard in the fourteen tracks on In Focus was the impeccable work of Panfilov himself. Vaher’s drumming is understated enough to support without overpowering. Meanwhile, Gussarov’s evocative flute is angelic and mysterious, perfectly complimenting the Brubeck-esque jazzy survey of imagined 1970s horror, sci-fi, western, comedic, and romantic films.

Even at their darkest, these jams radiate an aura as carefree as children skipping across a lush meadow on a sunny afternoon. Panfilov knows how to enrapture audiences with playful melodies and quirky flourishes on that breezy loungecore cosmic jazz tip. In Focus commands attention without even asking for it.

5. Dressel Amorosi – Spectrum (Four Flies)

The Italian duo Federico Amorosi and Valerio Lombardozzi first put out an album under the name of Dressel Amorosi in 2018 called DeathMetha. Released by Giallo Disco Records, it clearly established their admiration for horror disco. Their second album and Four Flies Records debut, Spectrum, operates on a whole different level.

Amorosi has long been a collaborator of Claudio Simonetti, the original keyboardist for Goblin. He played bass with Simonetti in the Italian prog-rock concern Dæmonia, which formed around the millennium in tribute to Dario Argento, the Italian cult classic filmmaker who helped bring together the original line-up for Goblin. Eventually, Dæmonia rolled into what would be called “Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin” after Claudio left the incarnation briefly known as New Goblin along with guitarist Bruno Previtali and drummer Titta Tani in 2013.

A producer by trade and co-founder of the electro collective MinimalRome with a lengthy list of releases under names like V-MR, Heinrich Dressel, and Composite Profuse, Valerio Lombardozzi is such a synth wizard that he was born wearing a cape and sunglasses. Programming drum machines and knobbing synths such as the Roland Juno 106, Korg MS-20, and the kosmiche-classic Farfisa Syntorchestra, Lombardozzi stokes Federico Amorosi’s powerful lust for eccentric effects pedals and Rickenbacker 4003 bass, coloring his warm, uplifting basslines with cinematic, contemplative, driving atmospheres that evoke more complex moods than their usual dread-heavy horror odes.

Written, produced, and arranged by Amorosi and Lombardozzi, the songs on Spectrum are perfect for pairing with scenes of tennis matches, everyday work or leisure situations, romance, apocalyptic action, or detective thrill. It’s the extreme ski video soundtrack that the early 1980s wishes it had as if Jaga Jazzist went vaporwave. Spectrum is a true vision.

4. Dan Ubick –  Magnetic Fields (Madlib Invazion Library Series / Stones Throw)

Following equally list-worthy installments from JJ Whitefield (Karl Hector), J-Zone, and Jake Ferguson with Malcolm Catto (The Heliocentrics), the fourth entry in Madlib and Egon’s kitchen sink Music Library Series was all about Daniel Constantine Ubick. He’s infamously known as the irie guitarist for the Lions and as Constantine “Connie” Price in Connie Price & The Keystones. With an ear towards the kind of canyon funk that Budos Band might make if they came out of Black Sabbath’s shadow, Magnetic Fields credits Julius Augustus with bass and Richard Donovan with keyboards, while dastardly Dan Ubick is down as having played guitars, strings, and tres, with Connie Price playing drums and percussion. 

Fair enough, Ubick might be a musical Moon Knight with multiple personalities that grant him abilities beyond this world, but however the sausage got made, it is tasty on its own or in a bun with grainy mustard and sour kraut. The album was produced, written, and mixed by Ubick, so he gets most of the blame, and he deserves more of it. This collection spans 28 tracks, and all of the sounds are longer than the 90-second length they average due to the impressive depth and variety of each vignette.

Augustus and Donovan make their presence known throughout, adding that Bootsy Collins’ (Parliament) bass rumble and Doug Ingle’s (Iron Butterfly) haunted house organ haze throughout, but this record is all about Dan the man. Ubick’s guitar slings fuzz tones that Norman Greenbaum couldn’t get from the spirit in the sky, given snap by Price’s propulsive boom-bap drums, with the jangly fretting of the tres adding a surfy Latin flare whenever it bubbles up. This is an epic slab full of future classic samples. Just make sure to credit Dan Ubick properly… or Connie Price… Or possibly Moon Knight.

3. La Bibliothèque de la Bergerie – La Bibliothèque de la Bergerie (Freaksville)

Literally translated as The Sheepfold Library, La Bibliothèque de la Bergerie is helmed by the unheralded Emmanuel Mario. It’s about time some non-English music press started to get a taste for the sauce this spectacularly tasteful drummer and producer has been serving. As the driving force behind Astrobal, he put out several albums of dramatic progressive art-rock and synthpop in the 2010s and produced, played all over, and helped mix 2017’s Find Me Finding You, the only album by Stereolab founder Lætitia Sadier’s Source Ensemble (Sadier also appeared on the title track from Astrobal’s 2016 album Australasie).

La Bibliothèque de la Bergerie saw Mario featured on the cover alongside long-time Astrobal collaborators Nina Savary, Vincent “Octopus” Guyot, and Aquasergeco-founder Julien Gasc. Vocalist Nina Savary and Mario have been nesting for years at a former sheepfold in the South of France for years, and this entire album was recorded there in the summer of 2022.

Nina Savary was also part of the Source Ensemble as part of its choir, and Sadier is credited on Savary’s 2021 solo effort Next Level Soap Opera, while Gasc toured with Stereolab as a keyboardist. As such, it is not surprising that there is a similarly retro bubblegum-pop vibe sprinkled throughout their debut album, heavy on Moog synth, Fender Rhodes, and other psychedelic mod sounds, with vocals present through the occasional wordless cooing, whistling, and even a little scat.

With track titles drawn from science fiction, the quartet captures a palpable sense of freedom in the survey of library music on their self-titled album, recalling a time when houses would basically give artists like Janko Nilović a studio pass and let them create any album they wanted, and that’s the sort of freewheeling exploration found here.

2. Matt Berry – Simplicity (Acid Jazz/KPM)

“Being a lifelong fan of KPM Records, it was an honour to be asked to contribute to such a prestigious label with an amazing body of work featuring some of the sharpest composers, arrangers, and players in town. I’m an imposter.” – Matt Berry

Most people in North America probably know Matt Berry best from the incomparable comedic talents he displayed in prominent roles on such gut-busters as The IT CrowdThe Mighty Boosh, and What We Do In The Shadows, but he’s never actually toured as a comedian. After all, his skills as a composer and musician are among his most impressive.

In addition to his onscreen canon, like his work on Toast of London and doing all of the music for Snuff Box, he has consistently produced a string of brilliant albums under his own name since the early 2010s that delightfully traipse through progressive pop, experimental ambient, country-rock, psychedelic funk, and everything in between. While his operatic baritone bombast is usually a key presence in his music –and if you’ve ever seen him steal an entire episode of Portlandia or Community, you know what kind of presence he can command– his voice is entirely absent from Simplicity.

Produced in collaboration with library music behemoth KPM, which has collaborated on stellar new releases from the likes of Frank Maston, Shawn Lee, and Steve Moore in recent years, his tenth studio album lets Berry’s hands to the talking. Holed up at Peach Studios in Bedfordshire with Craig Blundell, whose feverish drums and percussion helped make The Blue Elephant a neo-psych masterpiece and easily one of the best albums of 2021, Berry plays bass, guitars, pianos, xylophone, Mellotron, waterphone, and Solina String Ensemble. The Englishman has countless ways to express his brilliance.

With some tasteful brass and strings flown in from the Village in Los Angeles, Simplicity is everything it needs to be. To call this background music would be a disservice. This is music that enhances any occasion yet is so lush and orchestrated that it demands careful scrutiny. Despite Matt Berry’s false modesty, this is as authentic a library music album as you will find by the genuine article. The guy is literally being broadcasted at all times somewhere on the planet and made an entire album interpreting the themes to TV shows. He isn’t merely cinematic. Berry is cinema.

1. Whatitdo Archive Group – Palace of a Thousand Sounds (Record Kicks)

Led by autodidactic multi-instrumentalist Alexander Korostinsky, the WhatitdoArchive Group traces its genesis to the moment that drummer Aaron Chiazza, who plays Ringo in the Beatles tribute experience RAIN, introduced Alex and guitarist Mark Sexton to Sandro Brugnolini’s UTOPIA. This classic 1972 effort on Bruno Nicolai’s Gemelli Records triggered a passion for the works of great Italian soundtrack maestros like Nicolai, Pierro Umiliani, and Ennio Morricone.

Going mysterious on their 2021 debut, The Black Stone Affair was presented as the rare score to a giallo spaghetti western-noir film that might have changed Italian cinema had it not been lost forever. It made no mystery of its homage to the likes of De Wolfe Music, Alessandro Alessandroni, and I Marc 4, notably in the liner notes from Shawn Lee, who was the impetus behind and narrator of The Library Music Film (2018). Lee followed up his words with an appearance on Palace of a Thousand Sounds, which sees the library music concern venturing hard into exotica.

Recorded, engineered, and mixed in a veritable stream-of-consciousness by Korostinsky in Reno, Nevada, at Studio “A” of the Archive Group Studios on an eight-track reel-to-reel and mixing console, Palace of a Thousand Sounds is packed full of easter eggs for the discerning exotica enthusiast, the style of early 1960s space age bachelor pad retro-futuristic light jazz that many library musicians referenced or, in the case of Les Baxter, actually were one and the same. There are nods to legends like Martin Denny, Eden Ahbez, Juan Garcia Esquivel, and TakShindo, yet there is far more going on in this record than you’d typically find in a charity store record bin.

Korostinsky came to prominence as the bassist in the Sextons, formerly known as the Mark Sexton Band, with Mark Sexton. They also put out an album in 2023 called Love Can’t Be Borrowed, which was produced by Kelly Finnegan of Monophonics and featured other members of that band. Alongside Monophonics, there is a clear Menahan Street Band sensibility in the silky psychedelic soulfulness of this breathtaking Whatitdo Archive Group album, yet the hypnotic seventeen-piece orchestra, with angelic strings and horns orchestrated by maestro Louis King, evokes the spirit of Piero Umiliani. I could go on forever about this wonderful work of art. Palace of a Thousand Sounds is worth a million words.