Lana Del Rey
Photo: Interscope Records
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The 50 Best Albums of 2023

The best albums of the year sought to shatter interpersonal and emotional barriers.

Postmodern attempts at genre defiance have become de rigueur for pop artists today. In a streaming-dominated world where we can type away on our laptops to ambient hip-hop in the morning, sing along to old yacht-rock hits on our afternoon commute, and dance to EDM at night, what other way is there to keep our attention than to try to give us everything everywhere all at once? We’ve gotten a few attempts to do just that in 2023, from Kara Jackson’s quietly rebellious blending of folk and R&B, to Yves Tumor’s kitchen-sink instrumentation, to 100 gecs’s audacious and absurd hyperpop assaults.

Many of the artists who appear on this list, though, no longer seem content to just break down old barriers, as they also seek to shatter interpersonal and emotional ones as well. The oft-cited isolation of modern living, heavily exacerbated by the pandemic, has compelled some to turn inward and scrape out the depths of their psyches. From Ryuichi Sakamoto’s painstaking, abstract documentation of his treatment for the cancer that ultimately took his life, to the women of Boygenius baring their souls to each other as if no one else was listening, to Wednesday’s Karly Hartzman daring to reveal the “worst” of her past—we’ll be unpacking these dense and rewarding albums far beyond 2023. Jeremy Winograd

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Girl in the Half Pearl

50. Liv.e, Girl in the Half Pearl

Olivia Williams specializes in deconstructing the sounds and genre conventions of R&B and mashing them together with whatever strikes her fancy. Everything from woozy psychedelia, spaced-out ambient, frenetic drum ‘n’ bass, and fragmented song structures a la L’Rain or Blood Orange all find their way onto the artist’s sophomore effort, Girl in the Half Pearl. But eclectic influences alone don’t make an album worthwhile, and Williams fills hers with gorgeous, occasionally haunting melodies that are as infectious as they are ephemeral. Thomas Bedenbaugh


One Day

49. Fucked Up, One Day

In spite, or perhaps because of, their first-thought-best-thought process, Fucked Up manages to fit a surprising amount of stylistic variety into One Day, their shortest album to date. “I Think I Might Be Weird” bounces with noodly glam-rock guitars and extravagant string staccatos, while “Broken Little Boys” blares like the artsy indie punk of Titus Andronicus. One Day is rife with the pain of moving on, its thunderous refrains often carrying somber undertones. “Cicada” is a particularly sorrowful look at loss: Sung by lead guitarist Mike Haliechuk, the track marks both the album’s most melancholic and melodic moment, with Haliechuk’s contemplative, Low Barlow-esque vocals offering a welcome contrast to Abraham’s raucous hardcore yelps. The album amalgamates its disparate lyrical and musical ideas, as well as the confidence of its performances and compositions, into a novel, thrilling 40 minutes. Fred Barrett

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Hit Parade

48. Róisín Murphy, Hit Parade

Even by the consistently high standard of Róisín Murphy’s past work, Hit Parade represents a new creative peak. The album contains some of the singer’s most infectious melodies to date, but as with so much of Hit Parade, there’s far more to songs like “Fader” than just pop hooks. Murphy delivers an enduring message of vitality with the urgency of an artist ready to prove wrong those who cast off female artists of a certain age: “They won’t choke the life out my vain jokes.” If Hit Parade isn’t Murphy’s best album, it’s certainly her wildest and weirdest. Nowhere else is the scale of her ambition more evident than on the percussive and atmospheric “Free Will.” Murphy says she doesn’t believe in free will but that you should “just make believe that you can write the play” anyway. It’s yet another indelible statement that couldn’t come from anyone else. Tom Williams


Maps

47. Billy Woods and Kenny Segal, Maps

Throughout Maps, Billy Woods’s lyrics are dense and cryptic without succumbing to word salad. The rapper and indie label head has something in mind every time he speaks, even if it takes a few listens to figure out just what that is. The album captures a life spent mostly on the road, as Woods admits, “I actually took a $300 Uber to a show,” atop producer Kenny Segal’s chopped-up jazz samples. He feels the pressure to please his fans, worrying that he might forget his own lyrics. On “NYC Tapwater,” Woods returns home to an increasingly gentrified New York and doesn’t quite find the solace he seeks. The hip-hop equivalent of TV shows like Atlanta and Reservation Dogs, Maps is disorienting and surreal, presenting an artist who’s at once relatable and enigmatic. Steve Erickson

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Red Moon in Venus

46. Kali Uchis, Red Moon in Venus

On Red Moon in Venus, Kali Uchis feels it all. Like a song cycle of love and heartbreak in fast-forward, the album finds the Colombian singer moving fluidly from track to track, a chronicler of the human heart. She whips up lush word paintings set to a sexy mix of Latin pop, R&B, and psychedelic soul. Beneath the luscious veneer, though, she’s more mercurial. Lyrically, her emotions shape-shift from acceptance to revenge on the tracks like the haunting “I Wish You Roses,” a serene surrender to the tumultuous throes of a love lost, while on “Deserve Me,” she delivers a raw, defiant sneer: “I like it better when you’re gone.” Uchis writes with surgical precision, demonstrating a textured understanding of the push and pull of love. She possesses an uncanny knowledge of when to allow herself to feel heartbreak, when to retreat into solitude, when to surrender to love’s intoxicating agony, and when to scoff at it with an acerbic, dismissive laugh. Jackson Rickun


Blómi

45. Susanne Sundfør, Blómi

Susanne Sundfør’s Blómi is a spacious, ambient-folk meditation on optimism and purpose with a widescreen perspective of humanity. The album lacks both the drama and catchiness of the Norwegian singer-songwriter’s past efforts, but her goals here are decidedly different. Blómi revolves around inspiration, edification, and comfort, all befitting of the title—which means “to bloom” in Norwegian—and serving as a marked departure from earlier songs such as the urgent “Accelerate” and lovelorn “Undercover.” The album’s overarching theme that love is essential to the human condition is both life-affirming and predictable: “From the ashes of sorrow/We will rise again,” Sundfør sings on the title track. But Blómi’s unflagging optimism and embrace of new age ambience are joyously therapeutic. Eric Mason

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Heavy Heavy

44. Young Fathers, Heavy Heavy

After three albums of soulful, rap-infused art-pop, Young Fathers unleash the full force of their collective passion for music on Heavy Heavy. Informed by experiences of traveling through Africa, the Scottish trio’s fourth album is a spiral of psychedelic pop and Pan-African influences that radiates both rowdy joy and the looseness of a friendly jam session. Opener “Rice” has the foot-stomping fervency of a spiritual, and “Sink or Swim” dials up the intensity even further with guttural grunts and waves of noise. Even the slower-paced cuts, such as the wistful “Geronimo” and cavernous “Shoot Me Down,” are imbued with a sense of urgency by their globally minded instrumentation and lyrics. Mason


Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?

43. Kara Jackson, Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?

Kara Jackson’s debut studio album, Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?, is full of ghosts. The poet and singer-songwriter’s characters struggle with feelings of worthlessness (“Dickhead Blues”), ruminate on lost loves (“No Fun/Party” and “Lily”), or question death’s place in the broader context of their lives (as on the title track). Jackson’s voice is deep and weary, as if the act of singing these songs has drained her of her energy. But the one-time National Youth Poet Laureate imbues her songs with a rawness and sense of pathos that cuts against the more conventional sounds of mainstream popular music. Bedenbaugh

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With a Hammer

42. Yaeji, With a Hammer

At the heart of Yaeji’s debut studio album, With a Hammer, lies an exploration of the link between creation and destruction. Recorded in New York and Seoul during the pandemic, the album finds the Brooklyn-based, Korean-American producer and singer deftly deconstructing white-hot breakbeat, trip-hop, and vocal sampling into a mosaic of unpredictable textures. And as With a Hammer unfolds, it becomes clear that the push and pull of chaos and order, of melody and discord, permeates not just the soundscapes, but also the emotional core of Yaeji’s lyrics. Breaking becomes a radical act of healing, enabling a transformation that paves the way for new beginnings. The chaos of shattered glass, splintered wood, and broken concrete might seem like the result of destruction, but With a Hammer suggests that they’re metaphors for the fragments of the pain we carry. In Yaeji’s world, when life hands you a hammer, you break shit down. Rickun


Paranoïa, Angels, True Love

41. Christine and the Queens, Paranoïa, Angels, True Love

A multifaceted and occasionally unwieldy manifesto for disaffected lovers, Christine and the Queens’s Paranoïa, Angels, True Love is the culmination of the increasingly ambitious approach to pop that the French singer displayed on past releases like 2018’s Chris. The album offers a glut of songs about yearning like “I Met an Angel,” which opens with a Madonna reference—“Open your heart, my love/Don’t let it die”—before the Queen of Pop herself makes an appearance to deliver a spoken-word bridge: “Do you suffer from loneliness?” she asks, already knowing the answer. Paranoïa, Angels, True Love’s apex, “Lick the Light Out,” is rousing not only because of its explosive clatter of drums and electronic guitars, but also because it’s the payoff to a long period of self-examination that we’ve experienced alongside him. Chris leaves us by affirming that his mourning and desire aren’t simply burdens, but manifestations of his greatest strength: love. Mason

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Softscars

40. Yeule, Softscars

With Softscars, Yeule extends the ideas presented on their emo-pop lullaby “Don’t Be So Hard on Your Own Beauty” to album length, pairing similarly brutal lyrical content with blissfully fuzzy soundscapes. Like Yeule’s past music, particularly 2019’s stellar Serotonin II, the album is awash in noise that sometimes obscures their voice, rendering it as a ghostlike presence calling out from a memory. The singer delves deeper into their established thematic territory, directly addressing their identity on the Y2k pop-rock throwback “Cyber Meat” and unpacking their persistent sense of invisibility on “Ghosts,” a hypnotic but vividly sketched dream-pop song. Even with such diverse influences and ideas as these, the album’s consistent layer of distortion and commitment to brooding unify the songs and solidify Yeule’s unique, and grim, musical style. With Softscars, Yeule expands, refines, and masters their creative vision. Mason


Water Made Us

39. Jamila Woods, Water Made Us

With Water Made Us, Jamila Woods takes us on a radically honest journey through the complexities of love. The album is interspersed with interludes like “Let the Cards Fall,” which is more of a conversation than a song, as Woods and guests Indya Moore and Krista Franklin discuss the intricacies of romantic relationships. Elsewhere, the spoken-word “I Miss All My Exes” shifts the album’s narrative to focus more on how Woods herself receives love, as she recites a list of simple things that her previous partners have done for her to make her feel loved, from opening the car door to telling her that she’s beautiful. Water Made Us is an undeniably human album, authentic and sincere in its navigation and preservation of love, all told through the lens of Woods’s own experience. Dana Poland

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This Stupid World

38. Yo La Tengo, This Stupid World

Yo La Tengo’s 17th studio album, This Stupid World, is as atmospheric as it is noisy. While it settles into a dark solitude—think of it as the night to I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One’s day—the album drips with life, pulling out moments of tranquility even among the grim on songs like “Sinatra Drive Breakdown,” “Tonight’s Episode,” and “Until It Happens.” “This stupid world, it’s killing me,” singer-guitarist Ira Kaplan contends on the shoegaze-y title track, eventually embracing a message that summarizes This Stupid World as a whole: “This stupid world, it’s all we have.” Poland


Space Heavy

37. King Krule, Space Heavy

Describing music “cinematic” has, by now, become a cliché, but King Krule’s Space Heavy conjures very specific visual images to mind, specifically of a solitary day by the sea. The album’s songs are carefully grounded with concrete details like the trains he’s spent the last few years riding as he splits his time between London and the coast. And while the 28-year-old singer-songwriter is now a father in a long-term relationship, his fifth studio album emanates from a lonelier-sounding space than past his releases. On Space Heavy, King Krule proves that power sometimes comes with restraint. Erickson

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Perfect Picture

36. Hannah Diamond, Perfect Picture

Hannah Diamond is a meta-pop star for the 21st century, a visual artist whose heavily retouched images dovetail with the content of her music. She’s certainly committed to the bit, creating club-friendly bangers with unpredictable melodies and vocals that are chopped up into a robotic stutter that suggests the imperfection of humanity. Lyrically, the songs on Perfect Picture find her in a constant state of anxiety about her looks and public perception. Beneath the seemingly positive tone of tracks like “Affirmations” and “Unbreakable” is a woman struggling to meet the current moment of hustle culture. Of course, Diamond’s critique of online culture and its effects on our self-perception aren’t new. The crucial difference here is that she locates herself inside the machine, without claiming she can escape the traps she sings about. Diamond constructs a world of exaggerated femininity without drowning in irony. As a result, Perfect Picture suggests that hope remains a possibility. Erickson


False Lankum

35. Lankum, False Lankum

On False Lankum, Lankum reworks Irish folk as avant-garde drone, using harmonium, concertina, and hurdy-gurdy as distortion and fuzz pedals. The songs are long and slow (“The Turn” grinds away for 13 minutes), displaying a command of mood and color. Many of them suddenly increase the intensity halfway through, where a rock band might place a guitar solo, by adding layers of noise. Comparisons to the Pogues might be lazy, but they’re also understandable. Both bands perform rock-informed versions of Irish folk music, but Lankum’s music is actually closer to the gothic mystery of Nico’s The Marble Index and Desertshore. False Lankum does wonders with a weary mood, but the album includes just enough lightness to make its anxiety feel exciting. Erickson

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We Buy Diabetic Test Strips

34. Armand Hammer, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips

Armand Hammer’s We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is one of the few albums in recent memory that accurately conveys, to a viscerally tactile degree, the emotional instability and economic precariousness of contemporary living. The ever-rare rap album that’s as sonically ambitious as it is lyrically impressive, wordsmiths-in-arms Billy Woods and Elucid have crafted a work that hits like a fist to the face. The duo writes poetic fever dreams and abstract slabs of gritty realism, name-dropping the likes of James Baldwin and SpongeBob Squarepants. And the 15 tracks that comprise the album are truly sonic patchwork at its finest, equal parts brooding, confrontational, knotty, heady, tragic, hilarious, and, above all else, discordantly frightening. Paul Attard


Wallsocket

33. Underscores, Wallsocket

April Harper Grey, a.k.a. Underscores, puts a bratty, intentionally jarring spin on hyperpop, with funk basslines, dubstep wobbles, and trap beats that at times feel like eclecticism for its own sake. On her second studio album, Wallsocket, the San Francisco-based singer, songwriter, and producer’s sound has noticeably matured. The songs are still youthful—“Locals (Girls Like Us)” and “Johnny Johnny Johnny” feature sing-along choruses that echo pep-rally cheers—but she sings from a comparably wizened POV. Wallsocket is the musical equivalent of films like Emma Seligman’s Bottoms or Jennifer Reeder’s high-school horror fantasias, as each relates ordinary characters’ lives while subverting genre tropes—in this case, Springsteen-style tales of escaping small towns, in the process lending the songs a similar mythic grandeur. Erickson

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The Ones Ahead

32. Beverly Glenn-Copeland, The Ones Ahead

Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s legacy lives where folk music expands beyond the limitations of generic conventions. On his latest album, The Ones Ahead, the singer-songwriter alternates between gorgeous, heartfelt ballads and African-influenced calls to action that are so theatrical that they could have been plucked from a Broadway musical. In every song, Glenn-Copeland’s voice shines and stuns. This is perhaps truest of “Harbour (Song for Elizabeth),” a love song dedicated to his wife. He turns his attention outward on “Stand Anthem,” making a global plea for unity over rowdy percussion, and his more fanciful ideas are just as gripping. The C.S. Lewis-inspired “Prince Caspian’s Dream” is a soothing lullaby with hazy, dreamy lyrics, while “People of the Loon” features the album’s most rousing hook: “Come a little bit closer/Hear us, hear us.” Mason


Something to Give to Each Other

31. Troye Sivan, Something to Give to Each Other

Troye Sivan’s Something to Give Each Other finds the Australian singer older, bolder, and, for a large part of its running time, unrepentantly horny. A hedonistic streak permeates much of the album: “We should experiment even to the detriment of whoever’s on the couch,” Sivan sings on “Got Me Started,” consent police be damned. What Something to Give Each Other lacks in poignancy, though, is made up for by the joy with which it embraces queer pleasure. The album’s title, which is repeated in three different songs, at first seems like a coy double entrendre, but the “something” that’s being given might very well be permission to pursue pleasure. Sal Cinquemani

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Heaven Knows

30. PinkPantheress, Heaven Knows

Though PinkPantheress’s Heaven Knows is dotted with samples across its runtime, the British singer’s debut album nonetheless presents an original, unique vision. A departure from her 2021 mixtape To Hell with It, which is built around succinct, TikTok-ready songs and easily recognizable sonic quotations from various U.K. dance cuts, Heaven Knows is a full-throated pop album with an eye on contemporary trends. The album’s detail-rich production choices, courtesy of co-producers like Greg Kurstin and Mura Masa, achieve a tonal cohesion throughout. Many of the songs feel like 3D versions of PinkPantheress’s previously 2D sound. That her approach to singing is so casual, and her music generally frothy, makes the blithely referenced death and morbidity throughout Heaven Knows seem trivial. Perhaps, though, she’s an embodiment of a youthful, post-postmodern state of mind, where the idea of mortality floats around as inconsequentially as notions of love. Charles Lyons-Burt


I’ve Got Me

29. Joanna Sternberg, I’ve Got Me

Joanna Sternberg’s melodies could have been written anytime in the last 150 years. Even if you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve heard a few of these songs somewhere before (there’s a Stephen Foster-ish twinkle to tunes like “Drifting on a Cloud” and “Mountains High”), the New York-based singer-songwriter delivers them with a singular earnestness. The album’s solitary, homemade quality is appropriate for a work that seems like a means for Sternberg to put pieces of themselves back together. On “I’ll Make You Mine,” a song about the futility of loving someone who doesn’t make you a priority, Sternberg bangs out an unexpectedly bluesy piano solo before totally flubbing the chord leading back into the verse. It serves as a metaphor for the album as a whole: Warts and all, Sternberg is working on it. Winograd

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Perspective

28. Jlin, Perspective

The most acclaimed producer to come out of Chicago’s footwork scene, Jlin creates varied music almost entirely out of percussion. The six songs on Perspective were composed for the Third Coast Percussion ensemble, and while those versions are based around the textures of 25 different acoustic instruments, Jlin’s take introduces an electronic element. There are echoes of Indonesian and Japanese music and ’90s IDM in the Gary, Indiana native’s music. On “Perspective,” she lets in a greater dose of tunefulness than she has in the past: The melodies of “Duality” and “Fourth Perspective” are hummable, while the music-box quality of “Duality” closes Perspective on a calming note. Jlin still uses harsher sounds on the EP’s other half, but it’s evenly split between a tone of open-hearted optimism and the pursuit of aggression. Erickson


Praise a Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume…

27. Yves Tumor, Praise a Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume…

With Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds), Yves Tumor dials back their earlier explorations of rock and soul. All but three of the album’s 12 tracks clock in at around three-and-a-half minutes, with Tumor seeking to find a more tangible balance between the more conventional styles that dominated their recent releases with the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to instrumentation that’s become their hallmark. The final product is an album steeped in emotional anxiety and dejection that finds emotional power in its varied sonic palettes and searching lyricism. Throughout, the atmosphere of fear is punctuated or balanced by catchy, memorable melodies and lyrics that convey a striving for inner peace while struggling with existential dread. Bedenbaugh

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Strays

26. Margo Price, Strays

Margo Price’s fourth studio album, Strays, serves as a companion to her 2022 memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It, which chronicles the musician’s years of poverty and struggle to find an audience. The album continues in the classic rock-inspired direction of 2020’s That’s How Rumors Get Started, breaking from the neo-traditional country music that put Price on the map. Still, tracks like “Lydia” and album closer “Landfill” continue to honor one of country music’s best traditions: telling stories about the lives of the downtrodden. “Lydia” describes a woman sitting in an abortion clinic, struggling to decide whether she wants to go through with the procedure. A violin morphs into a huge, ominous cloud of sound, mirroring Lydia’s increasing ambivalence. Erickson


Weathervanes

25. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Weathervanes

Jason Isbell seems to have intended the self-produced Weathervanes as a long-overdue showcase for the 400 Unit as an ensemble. Freed from the strictures of longtime producer Dave Cobb’s trademark warm-and-mellow style, the band covers more ground than ever on their sixth studio album, from the moody ’80s-style jangle-pop of “Save the World” to the hushed folk of “Cast Iron Skillet” to the Crazy Horse-meets-neo-psychedelia of “Miles.” The musicianship is sparkling throughout, with keyboardist Derry deBorja supplying a dizzying range of background textures while Isbell and guitarist Sadler Vaden similarly flaunt their chops on tracks like “Vestavia Hills.” Winograd

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12

24. Ryuichi Sakamoto, 12

Ryuichi Sakamoto wrote and produced his 15th studio album, 12, during a year-long recovery from cancer treatment. It’s a starkly intimate affair where, on some songs, the Japanese composer and pianist’s heavy breathing can clearly be heard in the mix, a conscious decision that underscores the corporal cost of his current musical efforts. Sakamoto has likened 12 to a diary of sorts, with each of the album’s dozen minimalist tracks named after the day on which they were recorded. Its ever-shifting tenor and timbre mirrors the traditional grieving process, starting with a heightened sense of isolation from the outside world that eventually develops into feelings of frustration, agony, and, finally, acceptance. Attard


Fuse

23. Everything but the Girl, Fuse

A weary malaise permeates Everything but the Girl’s Fuse, and it evokes the same abject feelings of primordial decay and eventual rebirth as fellow U.K. electronic icons Portishead’s Third. Like that album, Fuse finds its creators returning to their craft after an extended hiatus—in this case, nearly 24 years—but not exactly returning to form. Instead, it’s more like a retooling of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt’s previous sound. “Run a Red Light,” which starts and finishes with the faint clangs of static noise that’s paired with an elegant piano melody, finds Thorn in full lounge-singer mode as she huskily begs the listener to break traffic laws in the face of impending doom, all in an effort to “forget the morning.” This sentiment is echoed on tracks like “Caution to the Wind,” which implores us to, well, throw caution to the wind. Attard

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Quest for Fire

22. Skrillex, Quest for Fire

Skrillex’s Quest for Fire is less a proper return to form for the brostep pioneer than a complete rebranding. Although there are still plenty of oscillating basslines to go around on the producer’s second studio album, with a few massive drops to boot, there’s little here that could be considered a direct continuation of 2014’s Recess. The most impressive moment on Quest for Fire comes when Skrillex links up with avant-garde percussionist Eli Keszler on the ephemeral “A Street I Know,” which serves as a perfect encapsulation of not only the album’s eclectic nature, but of Moore’s ever-growing aesthetic ambitions. Again, don’t call it a comeback: Quest for Fire is the work of an artist who’s more than willing and able to prove himself all over again. Attard


Like

21. Ice Spice, Like..?

Ice Spice’s 16-minute EP Like..? is as viable a delivery mechanism for a flurry of new Urban Dictionary terms (“munch,” “passenger princess,” “in ha mood”) as it is a tonally consistent piece of music. The project is more like variations on a theme (drill jams about showing your thong and dismissing your man) than a diverse body of work. But it’s structured cannily, starting and ending on high notes, with two polished features arriving sandwiched between healthy doses of Spice’s supreme aloofness. She’s more deft as a rapper than her reputation would suggest, spitting with impressive syllabic control. Producer RIOTUSA chooses surprisingly soulful samples for “In Ha Mood” and “Actin a Smoochie” that lend the EP a degree of emotional dynamism. Spice is also hilarious for how she effortlessly defeats haters: “Oh, they mad ‘cuz I keep makin’ bops…if I was bitches I’d hate me a lot.” Lyons-Burt

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The Ballad of Darren

20. Blur, The Ballad of Darren

Damon Albarn has characterized Blur’s The Ballad of Darren as “an aftershock record, a reflection and comment on where we find ourselves now.” Indeed, the group’s ninth album embodies just that. At its core, it mourns the heartaches, perils of fame, and drug use that the band has grappled with throughout their illustrious 32-year career. It would be easy, then, for Albarn and company to succumb to creating another typical Blur album that dwells in the past without pushing their music forward in any meaningful way. But The Ballad of Darren affirms that the band isn’t ready to get comfortable quite yet. It’s their first album since 2015’s The Magic Whip, and it proves that absence does make the heart grow fonder—or, at the very least, makes the chords tighter. Poland


All of This Will End

19. Indigo De Souza, All of This Will End

Indigo De Souza makes music engineered to put you, as the kids say, in your feels. Whether she’s cross or crestfallen, cheerful or cranky, sometimes a combination of all four, it’s remarkable how much emotion the singer-songwriter squeezes out of a few decidedly simple phrases. On “Time Back,” the opening track of All of This Will End, she turns a series of plainspoken lyrics—“You’re bad/You suck/You fucked me up”—into a soul-bearing scolding session for a former lover. The album’s greatest asset is its immediacy, with its best songs seemingly allowing De Souza to get things off of her chest after years of holding it all in. Attard

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I Inside the Old Year Dying

18. PJ Harvey, I Inside the Old Year Dying

Despite acting as a delivery system for arresting six-string rockers, PJ Harvey’s I Inside the Old Year Dying isn’t just a nostalgic retread. It’s the singer-songwriter’s first full-throated excursion into prog rock, a concept album written largely in Old English, based around a character named Wyman-Elvis. The music throughout rattles and quakes in stark contrast with Harvey’s studiously composed intellectual exercises. Which is to say, this is an album that gives about as much as it asks in return, even if its medieval trappings and intentional obfuscation do risk letting listeners walk away feeling more bewildered than moved. Lyons-Burt


My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross

17. Anohni and the Johnsons, My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross

My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross, Anohni’s first full-length album in seven years, is another decisive permutation in her musical identity: a swerve into blues rock. The 10 songs here feature some of Anohni’s most laidback and unfussy arrangements to date. Anohni’s lyrical complexity enriches and elevates the overly refined instrumental choices on My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross. She weaves a narrative about grief, self-disintegration, relationships dissolving, and environmental degradation that’s never solely about one of those things. Lyons-Burt

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Gag Order

16. Kesha, Gag Order

Gag Order is, in form and content, a total rebuke of the party-girl image that Kesha presented on albums like Cannibal, and yet it’s somehow even freakier. Its disarming opening tracks, the menacing yet briefly celestial “Something to Believe In” and the dark-wave minimalist “Eat the Acid,” wouldn’t feel out of place on, say, an Anna Meredith album. Save for the vintage soul-sampling “Only Love Can Save Us Now” and the gaudy, Auto-Tune-steeped “Peace & Quiet,” the majority of the material here is more art-pop than anything Kesha has released to date. The album manages to articulate a working thesis for Kesha’s artistry that exists independently from the apparatus of purely commercial exhibitionism. Attard


A Great Chaos

15. Ken Carson, A Great Chaos

Ken Carson is a brat, an asshole, and, at times, totally insufferable—but he’s also one of the most exciting young talents in hip-hop right now. While he hasn’t really improved as a lyricist or rapper, Carson proves himself to be a maestro of pure mayhem. As he bluntly puts it at one point: “The only way I express myself is through my music.” Luckily for us, tracks like “Lose It” and “Me N My Cup” are so anarchic that they sound like they’re about to come apart at the seams. When he teams up with Destroy Lonely, as he does three separate times here, they act like total morons, even as they exude an unflappably beaming bluster. Even through all the noise and noxious character traits, A Great Chaos is, first and foremost, a testament to Carson’s willingness to build off and evolve his sound. Attard

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The Loveliest Time

14. Carly Rae Jepsen, The Loveliest Time

As its title suggests, the more joyful, vibrant songs on The Loveliest Time serve as a sonic and thematic counterpoint to the more downbeat The Loneliest Time. Jepsen’s greatest strength as an artist is making pop music that’s direct without being overly simplistic. She eschews the notion that art needs to be dark or complicated in order to be expressive, and she isn’t afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve or even sound uncool. But while Jepsen’s lyrics may not always be autobiographical, her songs convey a certain vulnerability that feels personal. B-sides albums like The Loveliest Time are deliberately fragmentary, meant to fill in the pieces of her discography, and in that sense, this one is a wild success. Erickson


The Window

13. Ratboys, The Window

On The Window, Ratboys make the most tuneful noise that we heard all year. The album’s 11 songs work simultaneously as crackerjack rock and pleasurable pop confection. Just when you think The Window might tip too much into breezy amiability on “No Way,” Julia Steiner and David Sagan punch things up with ominous, near-grueling guitar tones. The way that the repetition of the lyrics entangle with the free fall of tumbling riffs is indicative of both the breathtaking expressiveness of the guitar playing and the simplicity of the songwriting. Steiner and Sagan’s shredding is far more eloquent than the lyrics, but that’s a feature, not a bug. The words are unpretentious and the metaphors, including the titular one, never feel forced. Songs like “Crossed That Line” and “It’s Alive!” manage to be giant and anthemic without seeming like they’re trying to be. The Window is a top-notch indie effort whose every carefully crafted—but never overly fussy—moment evinces pristine handiwork. Lyons-Burt

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Guts

12. Olivia Rodrigo, Guts

Olivia Rodrigo’s Guts presents a young woman with more wide-reaching concerns than the single-minded scorned lover of 2021’s Sour. On her second studio album, the singer delves further into self-doubt, pirouetting from peer envy (“Lacy”), to the pressure of meeting society’s expectations (“Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl”), to suffocating beauty standards (“Pretty Isn’t Pretty”). Tellingly, the album culminates in an interrogation of Rodrigo’s anxiety about being perceived as a child prodigy and escaping the shackles of age on the shrewd final track, “Teenage Dream.” “When am I gonna stop being great for my age and just start being good?” she wonders. It’s clear that she’s already crossed that threshold. Lyons-Burt


The Record

11. Boygenius, The Record

In many ways, Boygenius represents the antithesis of the male-dominated, ego-driven tradition wherein “supergroup” may as well be a euphemism for “dick-measuring contest.” On their first full-length album as a trio, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Daucus present a collection of intense platonic love songs on which the singer-songwriters seem intent on subsuming, rather than competing with, each other. “It feels good to be known so well/I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself,” Daucus proclaims on “True Blue,” encapsulating why they decided to make The Record in the first place. Musical exploration seems almost secondary, and as complementary as their songwriting is—Baker’s rattling rockers “$20” and “Satanist” are perfect counterpoints for Daucus’s tender and prayerful “Leonard Cohen” and Bridgers’s “Emily I’m Sorry”—only the surprisingly punchy country-pop of “Not Strong Enough” feels like new territory for any of them. Rather, these songs, so personal and so specific, seem as though they were written primarily in pursuit of deepening the band’s friendship. This is an album that the women of Boygenius didn’t make for anyone but themselves, which is why it feels like a privilege for the rest of us. Winograd

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Wow

10. Kate NV, Wow

Kate NV’s Wow is the sonic equivalent of opening a toy box, sticking your hand in, and discovering a new, unexpected trinket each time. At any given moment, you’re just as likely to hear a honking car horn as you are traditional brass, or the twangs of a vibrating xylophone arpeggio right after a series of stray notes from a creaky glockenspiel or violin. But while the album can certainly feel random, it’s a clever bait-and-switch, given how carefully NV has arranged these tracks and how many mightily deceptive melodies she’s able to sneak into what at first sounds like total disorder. There’s also a strong sense of unity in how each song eventually comes together, and the album as a whole cohesively flows from one impressive moment to the next, ebbing and flowing between states of serenity and chaos. Attard


10,000 gecs

9. 100 gecs, 10,000 gecs

Like 1000 gecs before it, 10,000 gecs finds inventive ways to cover a lot of stylistic ground across its concise 27 minutes. This ranges from the likes of Limp Bizkit-inspired nü-metal on “Billy Knows Jamie” to “The Most Wanted Person in the United States,” which suggests Beck’s “Loser” if it were loaded with cartoonish “boing” sound effects and lyrics about Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis “suckin’ on my penis.” But these descriptions hardly convey the impressive amount of micro-idiosyncrasies the songs, which are frequently as disorienting as they are oddly tuneful, are able to slip in. But mischievous masterminds Dylan Brady and Laura Les can still cram in a lot of insanely catchy melodies into these erratic assortments of noises. Tracks such as “Hollywood Baby,” “Doritos & Fritos,” and “MeMeMe” are all euphoric-filled rides that drill deep into the recesses of your subconscious, and rank as some of the best singles the group has released yet. Attard

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Raven

8. Kelela, Raven

Kelela’s Raven finds the genre-fusing artist approaching dance music in a roundabout and deliberately counterintuitive fashion. In fact, the album’s opening song, “Washed Away,” eschews pop structure almost entirely. Most of the remainder of the album is stacked with breakbeats and even some resounding bass hits, with production assistance on five tracks from LSDXOXO. Kelela maintains a conflicted, frictional energy throughout, especially on the more club-minded cuts. Her stunning vocals frequently drag and drift, with sentences drawn out over multiple stanzas, paying no mind to when the verse is technically over. The effect, rather than undercutting the impact or momentum of the music, registers as a statement of purpose. No matter the tempo or setting, Raven is fully aware of how the body can both entrap and liberate. It’s an innovative use of music as a vessel to capture both. Lyons-Burt


The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We

7. Mitski, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We

Throughout The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, there’s a persistent sense that something is lurking around Mitski, and this presence changes shape over the course of the album’s 11 songs. On the triumphant, pedal steel-laden “Heaven,” the embrace of a lover comforts her while “something set free is running through the night/And the dark awaits us all around the corner.” The song sees Mitski at her most romantic in the face of fear, and even as her emotional mode flips from yearning for love to a fleeting sigh of relief that she’s found it, the music is just as cathartic and her voice as pristine and tender as ever. From “Star” to “My Love Mine All Mine,” the album’s numerous emotional peaks are so moving that the listener may also be convinced that love is a light in a dark world, a pillar of fire in the wilderness. Mason

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Rat Saw God

6. Wednesday, Rat Saw God

Wednesday’s vividly expressive Rat Saw God veers almost constantly between extremes: soft and loud, fast and slow, mundane and extraordinary. The Ashville band’s songs can be gentle and melodic at one moment, and aggressive and even violent in the next, cycling through an eclectic range of influences, from grunge to shoegaze to country-style balladry. Singer Karly Hartzman takes a similarly collage-like approach to her lyrics, largely eschewing conventional narrative in favor of quilting together memories and images from her past: “I went to school about three days out of the week/Watered down all the liquor/And then pissed outside in the street,” she confesses on “Chosen to Deserve.” You’ve heard plenty of noisy rock songs about teen angst, and probably even more twangy tunes about life on the road, but rarely do the two mix so freely as they do throughout the album. Winograd


Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

5. Caroline Polachek, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

Caroline Polachek doesn’t just investigate desire, she explores what it means to become it. Plunging headfirst into a dreamlike realm that’s distinctively hers, Desire, I Want to Turn into You is pop music at its most phantasmagorical. Sounds take on synesthetic qualities as Polachek’s voice soars through octaves, yodels with an operatic clarity, and dips into lower registers with a cavernous resonance. Lyrically, the album scrutinizes life’s mundane realities, illuminating their often-overlooked intricacies. On “Pretty in Possible,” Polachek mourns the fleeting lives of mayflies; on “Blood and Butter,” she yearns to melt into her partner like a tattoo; and on “Sunset,” she finds the antidote to her mental spirals in a warm embrace. This intricate dance between the transient and the enduring underpins Polachek’s music. She doesn’t just imagine her creative vision—she becomes it. Rickun

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Fountain Baby

4. Amaarae, Fountain Baby

Amaarae’s second album proves her to be a pop music innovator, one who possesses the imagination and confidence to illustrate through sound what it means to live authentically with cultural and sexual fluidity. On Fountain Baby, the Ghanaian-American artist draws on influences ranging from Afrobeat to Brazilian funk—and even slips in the odd burst of punk rock—to create danceable, infectious bangers about seduction and deception. Viral hit “Angels in Tibet” slinks and morphs between huskily rapped verses and a hypnotizing chorus, while “Co-Star” pairs some hilarious astrology-inspired wordplay (“Maybe you’re a Sag/You nag, you nasty”) with lush harp. Elsewhere, the short and sweet “Disguise” spirals like a whirlpool, demanding repeat listens and creating a dizzying sense of drug-addled temptation. The songs themselves are as cunning and sultry as the trysts Amaarae sings about, and the sense of danger that pervades the album elevates the excitement. Mason


That! Feels Good!

3. Jessie Ware, That! Feels Good!

When U.K. soul singer Jessie Ware reinvented herself as a disco diva for 2020’s euphoric What’s Your Pleasure?, it seemed like it might be a pandemic-induced passing fancy—like baking or Zoom happy hours. That! Feels Good!, though, doubles down on its predecessor’s mission statement, answering the titular query with an enthusiastic exclamation. The album is horn-ier and, if possible, hornier, opening with a moan and a bass groove that leaves no doubt about where things are headed. “Remember, pleasure is a right,” Ware declares on “That! Feels Good!” The album’s emphasis on pleasure is neither ironic nor glib, but rather genuine, if partly aspirational. That! Feels Good! both embraces a past where cellphones don’t exist and a present (and future) where dance floors are wide open and where we can at least indulge in the fantasy of feeling good. Cinquemani

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Javelin

2. Sufjan Stevens, Javelin

Following a foray into electronica with 2020’s The Ascension and 2021’s Convocations, Sufjan Stevens’s Javelin marks a return to his singer-songwriter roots. Nearly every sound on the album sounds meticulously and intimately crafted, harking back to Stevens’s early DIY style. Each track begins solely with soft acoustic guitar and Stevens’s tender vocals, giving the effect that he’s performing these songs for no one else’s ears but his own. The album’s contrasts—between the intimate and the grand, the divine and the natural—dovetails with what Stevens has always done best as a songwriter: bridging the universal and the personal. Javelin doesn’t just feel like a return to form—it feels resurgent. Poland


Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd

1. Lana Del Rey, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd

Lana Del Rey spent the early days of her career folding American iconography into her precisely penned and lavishly orchestrated stories of tortured love. Gradually, she came to embody America’s deep-running contradictions, promise, and troubled history. In recent years, her imagery has become less symbolic and more specific, her songs populated by hidden Southern California locales and vivid discussions of her personal life. Did You Know There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd captures Del Rey’s omnivorous stylistic influences and mixed feelings about family and fame. On what other artist’s album could “Peppers,” a hazy, surf-rock-sampling trap-pop banger, coexist with “Fingertips,” a loosely constructed, deeply devastating slowcore song about mortality and suicide? Ocean Blvd’s centerpiece, “A&W,” can stand in metonymically for the entire album as it morphs from a sullen, self-excoriating folk song investigating rape culture to a sneering playground taunt. The song, like the album, is expansive, internally conflicted, and a testament not only to Del Rey’s multifacetedness, but to her staying power as a visionary pop autobiographer. Mason

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