The Best Albums of 2023
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The 80 Best Albums of 2023

The best albums of 2023 challenged orthodoxies, blended and created new genres, and spanned a vast range of musical styles and traditions, while looking forward.

20. Slowdive – Everything Is Alive (Dead Oceans)

Following Slowdive’s triumphant return in 2017 after a 22-year absence, no one would have blamed them if they had quit while they were ahead or retired from the studio and become a legacy act. That’s almost what happened; Everything Is Alive began life as a solo project by songwriter Neil Halstead. Instead, Halstead ended up seeking his bandmates’ input, and the resulting lightning strike is even more impressive than the first. If Slowdive was a victory lap, Everything Is Alive is the morning after—sober, delicate, and haunting, with stark electronics counterbalancing the band’s regal guitarscapes. It features Halstead’s most emotional writing to date, yet it sacrifices none of the confidence and songcraft that made its predecessor so compelling. Everything Is Alive firmly establishes Slowdive as one of the most important bands of this decade. As good as the comeback story is, the music is even better. – John Bergstrom

19. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin (Asthmatic Kitty)

Over 20 years and a dozen or so albums, songwriter Sufjan Stevens has explored an array of sounds, usually stemming from his indie-folk center but traveling into electronica, baroque pop influences, and more. For Javelin, he draws on this wealth of experience for an album that uses every necessary tool over its short course without ever sounding overstuffed. The certainty of the music allows Stevens to follow a sort of quest, even if he avoids the sort of concept album he’s so often written. He looks for transcendence in a variety of places, knowing the hurt that comes in the search without relinquishing hope, a point brought home by his excellent cover of Neil Young’s “There’s a World”.

Part of the journey comes directly through asking questions, as in the beautiful and mature “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” That song combines the hope and hurt that builds the album, but the tension appears almost immediately with “Goodbye Evergreen” as Stevens says farewell without relinquishing the love he holds. The song itself blends delicacy with abrasion, somewhat to mirror its emotional content but also to build the expansive platform the album requires. Javelin can be both uplifting and demanding, often simultaneously, but it never stumbles regardless of where it looks. – Justin Cober-Lake

18. Margo Price – Strays (Loma Vista)

Margo Price‘s Strays is her most adventurous album yet. This is not surprising, considering how she made it. Price and her husband (Jeremy Ivey) went to the South Carolina beach in the summer and took a six-day mushroom-filled trip looking for insights and inspirations. She also gave up drinking alcohol. The ‘shrooms must have inspired Price’s creativity. Or maybe it was giving up the booze. Or perhaps it was both of them or neither, but what these behaviors indicate about Price is her willingness to try new things and seek new ways of experiencing the world. She takes risks. The songs and instrumentalizations vary in topics and style. There’s no dominant theme as much as a central intellect and a heart. The world will make you crazy if you look at it too long, she sings, but she can’t look away. – Steve Horowitz

17. Molly Tuttle – City of Gold (Nonesuch)

Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway are a crack ensemble of bluegrass players, and City of Gold is their second great album in two years to show off their chops. The band is equally adept at a high-speed barnburner like “San Joaquin” as they are at a languid, easygoing track like “More Like a River”. It’s the woman whose name is on the group that’s the star, though. Tuttle is a top-notch vocalist with just enough twang to fit easily into the bluegrass and roots genre. 2022’s Crooked Tree let her blend and harmonize with some genre stalwarts, but City of Gold brings “Yosemite”, a duet with Dave Matthews. Even in 2023, that’s enough to give her name a boost. 

It’s Tuttle’s songwriting that really stands out on City of Gold, however. Opener “El Dorado” is a wonder, a quick, minor key bluegrass song that recounts the entire California gold rush story from the perspective of a woman who saw it all in just over four minutes. “Yosemite” is a pleasant-sounding song about a doomed attempt to save a failing relationship, while “Goodbye Mary” is a dark ballad about a pregnant woman who dies after failing to get an abortion. Contrast this with “Next Rodeo”, a rollicking country love ’em and leave ’em track. Then, “Alice in the Bluegrass” cleverly reinterprets Lewis Carroll’s story in a down-home way. “Evergreen, OK” and “The First Time I Fell in Love” are female empowerment songs separated by two centuries and half a continent. Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway are trying a lot of things in City of Gold, and they succeed at all of them. – Chris Conaton

16. Kylie Minogue – Tension (Darenote / BMG)

Pop legend Kylie Minogue yet again proves her longevity with her brilliant new album Tension. The album’s first single, “Padam Padam”, brought the pop diva back into the UK top 10 and gave her yet another gay anthem. The song is just the kind of ear-worm pop that Minogue pioneered – it works its way and lodges itself into the brains of its listeners with the hypnotic refrain, which mimics a heartbeat. 

Tension finds inspiration in the gleaming audio landscape of the 1980s. The best moments on the record have the singer embrace the decade in which she first found success, yet her music on this album is far better than anything she recorded in the 1980s. Though Minogue is most comfortable in neo-synthpop, her forays into house are also fantastic. The title track is reminiscent of the piano-laden house-pop hits of the early 1990s. The album also incorporates Minogue’s relationship with DJ culture, which resulted in several EPs and collaborations with some of the industry’s most popular DJs. Though nowhere near underground or alternative, “10 Out of 10”, a collaboration with Oliver Heldens, points to the more club-centric side of Minogue’s work. 

The best track is saved for the end. “Story” is a beautiful way to end the album. It’s Kylie Minogue at her best. It’s a moving and loving return to Minogue’s specific genius for 1980s synth-driven power pop. On the fist-pumping chorus, Minogue chirps with conviction and passion. The lyrics captured the kind of chaotic hopelessness of 1980s synthpop. The throbbing beat conjures spinning with abandon on the dance floor. – Peter Piatkowski

15. Beach Fossils – Bunny (Bayonet)

Summer and pop music go hand in hand. Released in June, Beach FossilsBunny seemed timed to hit the seasonal circuit of evening deck parties in Montauk and hot July nights in Brooklyn. There is nothing especially complicated about this album. In our age of experimentation and endless reinvention, Dustin Payseur intuitively understands that effective songcraft can be about restraint and keeping things simple. His reference points are jangle pop guitarists like Tom Verlaine, Johnny Marr, and Peter Buck, with atmospherics that recall the Church and Mojave 3. The attitude is one of intentional nonchalance, reflecting the fine art of hanging out. “Nothing feels better than wasting time”, Payseur sings in “Dare Me”. Other standout tracks include “Don’t Fade Away”, “Run to the Moon”, and the opener, “Sleeping on My Own”. This is also decidedly a New York album. It ranks with Luna’s Penthouse (1995) as a love letter to the city. – Christopher J. Lee

14. Noname – Sundial (Independent)

A rapper needs a name. How else will we know who is saying all the fly shit? Yet, the newest album, Sundial, by Chicago’s very own nameless rapper, Noname, speaks for itself. With just 11 tracks and a length of under 32 minutes, it contains multitudes. Sundial is as much a work of catharsis as it is a proclamation and a celebration of black joy.

On Sundial, Noname raps like her voice is holding the sky from falling. Love of oneself and one’s community, no matter their failings, is a struggle front and center in Sundial. Noname and the guest artists let the listener know they will fight for what they believe. The LP embraces a community working for a better future. Listen to Sundial if you want to know what time it is and if you want to have a good time. No exploiters of the community are allowed. – Luis Aguasvivas

13. Loraine James – Gentle Confrontation (Hyperdub)

On Gentle Confrontation, her most intimate album to date, producer Loraine James makes her finely-honed electropop something truly personal. She reflects on life, loss, love, and family against sharp dance beats, moody glitches, and thoughtful keys, sometimes taking turns and sometimes all woven together, a starlit universe of innovative and understated synths. The abstract patterns of uptempo tracks like “Glitch the System (Glitch Bitch 2)” and “I DM U” sit bright against the poignant vulnerability of “2003” and “I’m Trying to Love Myself”, both pieces that occupy different spaces within journeys between sorrow and healing.

Even the most straight-ahead pop moments, like lowkey RiTchie collaboration “Déjà Vu” and R&B ballad “Speechless” with singer George Riley, are more fascinating for the shapes they take in James’s hands and the frames she makes to hold them. Whether the sounds she makes are stuttering, lilting, or slamming, James tends carefully to each individual moment while she builds an immersive world. Gentle Confrontation is something both small and tremendous, operating on levels both immediate and immersive. Loraine James takes us to profound depths, and the plunge itself is as wonderous as its eventual destination – Adriane Pontecorvo

12. Sofia Kourtesis – Madres (Ninja Tune)

Berlin-based DJ Sofia Kourtesis has spent almost a decade releasing EPs of funky bricolage, building eclectic scenes out of stylish samples and high-octane beats for worldly dance floors. Her full-length debut, Madres, is a little different. Dedicated in part to existentially important figures in her life–her mother, as the title suggests, as well as neurosurgeon Peter Vajkoczy, who helped save Kourtesis’s mother’s life during a battle with cancer–Madres glows, the edges and kicks that are so prominent in Kourtesis’ catalog to date fitting more tightly amid blissful electronic grooves. It’s an unexpected turn toward pathos and warmth, a move that serves her well. Madres is Sofia Kourtesis elevated, a contemporary work of EDM powerful on sonic and emotional levels alike.

Madres illuminates issues close to Kourtesis’ heart with tremendous empathy, grace, and skill. It is a clear culmination of everything she has released thus far and yet sees her continue to rise. Kourtesis pieces together all the samples, sounds, and roots she has brought us before in a tighter and more incandescent package than past EPs. Certainly, it’s a debut worth the wait. – Adriane Pontecorvo

11. 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’re likely to find multiple generations of Turkish diaspora families dancing right 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