Best Rock Albums of 2023
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The 30 Best Rock Albums of 2023

As always, rock was a guitar-led extravaganza in 2023 with artists drawing from an ever-widening musical well. These are the 25 best rock albums of the year.

10. Ratboys – The Window (Topshelf)

Between the raw, introspective songwriting and potent firmness of guitar-driven music, The Window is an engaging listen all the way through, top to bottom. Though the shifting between folk strumming, scuzzy garage rock distortion, and country twang may feel like an identity crisis, it has come to be Ratboys’ trademark. The malleable nature that Ratboys conduct themselves with makes them such a spectacle to behold, and for this, they never bore listeners. A throughline in the commotion–Steiner’s pinched and pointed vocals, which sound similar to Big Thief‘s Adrianne Lenker–keeps everything together. Without it, Ratboys would not be able to make a cohesive record. 

On The Window, Ratboys reach their fullest potential, expanding and stretching their collaboration, continuing to explore their multi-faceted musical face. They have produced one of their best and most rewarding efforts thus far, and the catchiness of their songs will make listeners return gleefully if the tracks don’t stick to them during intermission. – Brandon Miller

9. King Krule – Space Heavy (XL / Matador)

King Krule belongs to a provisional genealogy of highly individual guitar auteurs who have channeled a difficult-to-categorize eccentricity. Krule’s new album Space Heavy is characteristically a wild listening experience. This LP is arguably more muted and introspective than past outings, seemingly reflecting our pandemic moment. It is definitely more rock and blues-oriented, dispensing with many of the electronic and hip-hop leanings in his past work. This intention is announced in the mournful opening track “Flimsier”, which begins with an antiquated synth chord that sounds like it’s either from a French New Wave sci-fi film or a TV public service announcement circa 1975. Like his past work, the record wanders musically, exploring multiple avenues to test and work out different ideas, which sometimes approaches a stream-of-consciousness format. – Christopher J. Lee

8. Water From Your Eyes – Everyone’s Crushed (Matador)

Young bands can do anything, so why not try everything? It’s a waste of a career position to do otherwise. Rachel Brown and Nate Amos understand this opportunity intuitively or self-consciously (it’s hard to say), but the result is a compelling set of compositional experiments on Everyone’s Crushed, their debut on Matador. The unpredictable range on this LP will not be to everyone’s taste. The lovely slow jam of “Remember Not My Name” and the melancholia of “14” sharply contrast with the stressful electronica of “Barley” and the anxiety-driven title track “Everyone’s Crushed”.

Somehow, it all works. There is an element of “low theory” – a concept that privileges “failure” as a means of resisting mainstream forms of “success” – to the proceedings. Regardless, it’s inspiring to hear a duo embrace a bricolage ethos with abandon to create neo-Dadaist collages of sound and attitude. Everyone’s Crushed reflects our frenzied times. It feels singular. – Christopher J. Lee

7. Gorillaz – Cracker Island (Parlophone / Warner)

Part of the genius of Gorillaz has always been how they can effortlessly mesh a wide variety of guest artists into their sophisticated pop milieu. On their eighth studio album, these guests include rock luminary Stevie Nicks, punk veteran Thundercat, Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, and indie stalwart Beck. Cracker Island also finds the band pairing with producer Greg Kurstin for the first time, and this results in a warmer-sounding album that reins in some of their wilder tendencies while retaining their essential feel-good vibe. The cameos are great, but it is the more introspective tracks featuring only the core quartet that are the most impressive. Cracker Island may be “just another Gorillaz album”, but as their unflagging quality and energy have demonstrated over the years, that is actually saying a lot. – John Berrgstrom

6. 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

5. Squid – O Monolith (Warp)

When compared to the frantic Grimm Brothers’ extrapolations of Black Midi and the razor-sharp interpersonal drama of Black Country, New RoadSquid‘s vibe is kitchen-sink progressive rock decorated with lyrical abstraction. Their newest, O Monolith, is a tighter, leaner, more refined version of what predecessor Bright Green Field brought to the table. Like their debut LP, O Monolith has a discernible topography, with quiet parts building into loud parts that then drop back into gulfs of atmosphere.

The five-piece remains a mercurial sonic collective, cramming in textures and colors as if Voltron were a Michelin-star chef. Many of them are breathtaking, like the poignant twinkle of synths over “After the Flash” or the angst-ridden guitar strums breaking down “Swing (Inside a Dream)”, and they reiterate how good Squid is at using these textures in ways unique to their music. – Rob Moura

4. Wednesday – Rat Saw God (Dead Oceans)

On Wednesday’s new record, Rat Saw God, hell is a place on Earth. It’s magical and terrifying, animate and anesthetizing. Every corner bends toward the dark of the night like the edges of a burnt photograph. The air reeks like a sunbaked lawn that’s been pissed on. The LP is Wednesday, as you could only imagine back in their nascency: fully aware of their capabilities and firing on every cylinder.

Wednesday’s eight-minute, three-part masterpiece, ”Bull Believer”, must be heard to be believed. Its length, complexity, and the cosmic power of its closing minutes threaten to overshadow the rest of Rat Saw God, and it almost does. Blessedly, Wednesday don’t reattempt its energy, and instead, we get the unabashed country twang of “Chosen to Deserve” and the lumbering lament of “Formula One”, the catchy tableau vivant of “Quarry”, and the listless slowcore of “What’s So Funny”. True to Wednesday’s growth, each track turns the corner onto another avenue of rock transformed in their peculiar alchemy. – Rob Moura

3. Altın Gün – Aşk (ATO)

When Netherlands-based group Altın Gün released Aşk this year, it marked a kind of sonic homecoming. While their last few albums have moved the group into 1980s and 1990s synth and dub territory, Aşk returns the group to its plugged-in Anatolian rock beginnings as they adapt Turkish folk and pop songs for more contemporary concert halls. This is music meant to move audiences both literally and emotionally, with hefty basslines, killer guitar, bağlama solos, and impassioned vocals from Erdinç Ecevit Yıldız and Merve Daşdemir all swirling together, simmering until they inevitably burst.

Though they’re emulating 1970s legends like Moğollar and Erkin Koray, Altın Gün never stays mired in place. Clear crowdpleasers like bouncy “Leylim Ley” and “Çit Çit Çedene” flow smoothly into the moodier urgency of “Rakıya Su Katamam” and “Canım Oy”. Pedal steel brings melancholy to a dreamy rendition of Aşık Veysel’s poem “Güzelliğin On Para Etmez”, immediately followed by campy disco closer “Doktor Civanım”.

At any given Altın Gün show, you’ll likely find multiple generations of Turkish diaspora families dancing alongside your hippest local record store owners. On Aşk, the appeal is obvious. This is music with deep roots in culturally specific scenes, but it’s also exciting sound, pure and simple, a whole kaleidoscope of different styles to get you up on your feet. – Adriane Pontecorvo

2. Boygenius – The Record (Interscope)

The Record, the debut full-length collaboration between Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, is a much-needed blast of softness in a hard, hard world. When Bridgers sings, “I just want to find out/who broke your nose / So I can kick their teeth in” over a delicate “Landslide”-esque acoustic guitar line, it sounds as soft as moth wings. Instead of the usual blunt, brute force and anger, Boygenius linger in the stillness and the vulnerability, letting the full weight of moments sink in and shake you to your core.

It’s not all eiderdown, though. Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus can rock with the best of them when they feel like it. “Satanist” pairs a steely, strobing rhythm guitar with a spacious breakbeat and some wonderfully snarky lyrics. “$20” is catchy indie pop, complete with a hooky keyboard line. “Anti-Curse” blends modern pop with a wide-open Bruce Springsteen vibe.

On “Leonard Cohen”, Dacus sings, “there’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” On The Record, Boygenius make you as soft and porous as possible to truly let the world in and feel. – J Simpson

1. Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy (Ninja Tune)

Scottish trio Young Fathers are a frequently indescribable prospect. Their music (Heavy Heavy is their fourth studio album) dissolves hip-hop’s boundaries, encompassing art pop and experimental electronica as much as traditional rap music. It overflows with ecstatic vocals and percussive rhythms as if channeling the earliest 20th-century black vocal music or further back still. The record is hip-hop-adjacent, with “Drum” featuring rapid-fire rapping and “Shoot Me Down” boasting moody, bass-heavy beats. It’s a unique collection that music fans of all persuasions need to hear. – Tom Morgan