best albums of 2023 so far

The 50 Best Albums of 2023 So Far

The 50 best albums of 2023 offer sublime music as major artists return with albums and brilliant new sounds bubble up from the underground and worldwide.

Acid Arab – ٣ (Trois) (Crammed Discs)

The music of the Franco-Algerian Acid Arab, now a quintet working in collaboration with many guests, feels like music made by people who come by their geographic explorations naturally. Blending Algerian Raï and Gasba, Syrian Dabke, Turkish dance, and floor-shaking Chicago Acid moves, they make music that targets hips with surgical precision. Nothing they do feels appropriated; instead, Acid Arab weave sand-blown Korg synth filigrees in ways that would make Dabke keyboard titan Razen Said proud. On ٣ (Trois), their third album (of course), the pulses quake, inviting us all to the post-pandemic party.

Earlier 20th-century sounds demonstrate allegiances to pulse, such as the radical Oram, Algeria-based Cheikha Rimitti, Moroccan Gnawa, and Amazigh to pre-synth-based Dabke. Acid Arab and their many North African and Middle Eastern contemporaries have brought the tradition to the club. — Bruce Miller

Algiers – Shook (Matador)

Algiers‘ Shook shares much of Young Fathers’ Heavy Heavy‘s focus on the black voice and vocal music’s radical, transcendental qualities. Shook is as much a soul and post-punk album as a rap album. It awkwardly but thrillingly shifts gears with wilful abandon, ranging from the EBM beats of “Irreversible Damage”to the caustic synth-punk of “A Good Man” to the dark, abstract rap of the billy woods and Backxwash-featuring “Bite Back”. It’s not as focused or singular as Heavy Heavy, but it makes up half of a double bill showcasing how hip-hop can be deconstructed and reimagined. — Tom Morgan

Altın Gün – Aşk (ATO)

Altın Gün’s Aşk begins with a burst of drums and electricity that make it clear where the band is headed: back to their retro roots, bringing forth the sounds of classic 1970s Anatolian rock as they so often do. It’s a refreshing return to form for the Amsterdam-based group, whose renditions of Turkish folk songs and golden oldies have seen them dabble in many different styles and decades over the last several years. As irresistible as their more synthpop-inspired outings have been, Aşk is viscerally satisfying, a collection of plugged-in rock and dance music that makes the whole body want to move. —  Adriane Pontecorvo

Avelino – GOD SAVE THE STREETS (More Music/OddChild Music)

Avelino has remarkably never released an official debut album. However, his latest mixtape is an absolute stunner. The Londoner’s voice is laden with pathos, reeling off powerful street tales that are almost novelistic in their character-driven detail – check out his and Wretch 32’s observations on “VICIOUS CYCLE / A WORD FROM WRETCH 32”. He and his production team never succumb to the bleak misery of many similar UK rappers, however, and balance out the harsh lyrics with colorful, American-influenced production (“TWIN FLAME”, “SIN CITY”). A brilliant, if slight, release that showcases the best of contemporary UK rap. — Tom Morgan

Beach Fossils – Bunny (Bayonet)

Beach FossilsBunny crafts a perfect pop sound. Similar to Clash the Truth, the points of reference this time firmly draw from the 1980s and early 1990s, with the jangle pop and dream pop of those periods forming the predominant modes across the album. The excellent opener “Sleeping on My Own” announces this approach, with Payseur and Co. employing a guitar-and-vocal harmonic structure that, to my ear, harks back to the early albums of the Church like Of Skins and Heart (1981), The Blurred Crusade (1982), and Heyday(1985). Tracks like “Run to the Moon” and “(Just Like The) Setting Sun” further recall the acoustic dream pop of bands like Cocteau Twins and Mojave 3. “Anything Is Anything” conjures the atmospheric sound of Luna’s early albums. Lush and Pale Saints also drop in on later tracks. — Christopher J. Lee

Black Belt Eagle Scout – The Land, the Water, the Sky (Saddle Creek)

With her third album, The Land, the Water, the Sky, Katherine Paul, aka Black Belt Eagle Scout, elaborates on the songcraft displayed throughout 2017’s Mother of My Children and the explorative sonics employed on 2019’s At the Party with My Brown Friends. On her latest 12-track sequence, she delves more ambitiously into various playbooks, basking in hypnotic instrumentation, stellar hooks, and engaging lyrics. If Mother underscored Paul’s gift for melody, and At the Party accentuated her musicianship, The Land immediately spotlights her as a consummate composer, her pop sense, knack for audial dynamics, and affinity for rich atmospherics seamlessly fused. – John Amen

Boygenius – The Record (Interscope)

Building on the momentum of their recent solo forays, Julien BakerPhoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, aka Boygenius, release their debut LP, The Record, a stellar follow-up to 2018’s self-titled EP. Throughout the sequence, the trio prioritize each member’s songwriting and vocal stylistics while engaging in supportive collaborations. The result is a set brimming with hooks, harmonies, and lyrics that address existential crises, relational dynamics, and the paradoxes of love. They strike a fertile balance between adhering to their respective styles and collaborating so that The Record unfurls as a bona fide group effort. Democratically curated and effusing a palpable enthusiasm, the project stands as a testimony to the power of aesthetic commonality, enduring friendship, and the magic of teamwork, something we could use more of these days. – John Amen

The Church – The Hypnogogue (Communicating Vessels)

After many recordings, re-recording, and setting aside time for side-projects, side-gigging, and general international travel, the revamped Church unleashed The Hypnogogue, probably one of the strangest releases to bear their name since the 1990s. It also sounds like a Church album through and through. If the Soft Machine were able to release an album with almost no original members just eight years after their debut, surely Kilbey can take his place as the Chris Squire of Space Rock and lead the charge known as the Church into the 2020s. There are also rumblings of how the Church have finally embraced their “prog” side with The Hypnogogue. No one is going to confuse any era of the Church for Selling England By the Pound, but there are progressive elements here that have never been part of their equation until now. – John Garratt

Rodney Crowell – The Chicago Sessions (New West)

Rodney Crowell is the rare artist that was able to transition from progressive country singer-songwriter to commercial radio hit-maker to critically acclaimed father figure of roots music and Americana. The Chicago Sessions was produced by Jeff Tweedy, engineered by Tom Schick, and recorded at the Loft, a 5,000 square-foot third-floor warehouse studio Wilco have used since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. As with those and other artists whose albums he’s produced, Tweedy’s method is not to impose his sonic imprint but to allow the artist the space and tools to create their vision. As such, Crowell sounds comfortable, confident, and at ease throughout The Chicago Sessions while gifting us some of his best material in years. Crowell proves in The Chicago Sessions that both his pen and voice are still as vital as ever. – Michael Elliott

The Dare – The Sex EP (Freakquencies/Republic)

In the average American normie club in 2023, it seems like fun – the kind of fun that people melt down and fall out of windows over – isn’t much of a priority. So how do you bring it back? One way is to make a song that sounds untouched by all those rotten years, a track that exploits human biology and forces people to spend $100 on shots, call off work the next day, and scream every word in their friends’ faces. For the Dare – the new electronic venture from NYC’s Harrison Patrick Smith – “Girls” is that song, a raucous and debauched banger that’s come to define a singular and vital party scene poised to spread far beyond the New York dance clubs that already love it. Smith’s mission is urgent, as simple as breathing. Have a good time – a stupid good time – like your life depends on it. Because it literally does. – Nick Malone