2023: Top 20 Albums of the Year

It's time to dig out the superlatives again, as I'm counting down and reviewing my 20 favourite albums of 2023.

20. "The Greater Wings" – Julie Byrne

The Greater Wings might be amongst the most tragic records of the year.

On her third studio album, American singer-songwriter Julie Byrne peacefully processes the death of her collaborator and producer, friend and romantic partner Eric Littmann through heart-wrenching Ambient Pop. The beautifully produced soundscapes vary between simple guitar plucking, most notably on the opening title track, or piano chords and somewhat psychedelic electronics and strings. Despite missing explosions or any mindblowing instrumentals, the album has moments of quiet intensity, especially on the track Summer Glass. The heavy subject matter might lead you to expect a dark exploration of grief, but instead The Greater Wings manages to perfectly mix the hopelessness or rather finality of loss with hope and even resolve. Thus, the album feels like a summer breeze of angelic reflection. It won't blow your mind, but it might give you a good cry.

  1. The Greater Wings | 9 ★
  2. Portrait of a Clear Day | 7
  3. Moonless | 8
  4. Summer Glass | 9 ★
  5. Summer's End | 7
  6. Lightning Comes Up From... | 8
  7. Flare | 7
  8. Conversation Is a Flowstate | 7
  9. Hope's Return | 8
  10. Death Is the Diamond | 9 ★

Score: 7.9

19. "GUTS" – Olivia Rodrigo

On GUTS, Olivia Rodrigo doubles down and improves on everything she's done on her debut album – the album that made her one of Gen Z's musical icons – and more. That her songwriting has gotten sharper can be proven easily by doing some 1-on-1 comparisons between conceptually similar old and new songs, like jealousy, jealousy and pretty isn't pretty, or driver's license and vampire, or brutal and all-american bitch.
If all-american bitch is the one defining Rodrigo song, with its sarcastic social commentary and the stark contrast between verses and choruses, Singer-Songwriter and Pop Punk, then bad idea right? is her magnus opum; the new good 4 u, just more mature and way weirder – simply the best mainstream Rock single since forever. But, as you can tell, the songs aren't the only thing that has improved, the production is way more sophisticated and multifacetted as well, looking at the synthesizers on vampire, the Shoegaze-y instrumental of making the bed and the '80s guitars on pretty isn't prettyGUTS clearly isn't the end of Rodrigo's evolution though. The album still has some minor faults, namely the derivative and predictable ballad logical and the Singer-Songwriter track lacy, which feels like the most inauthentic and weakly texted work of the bunch. So, while these lowlights are undeniable, they are luckily made up for by the triumphant collection of songs that is the rest of the track list. 

  1. all-american bitch | 8
  2. bad idea right? | 10 ★
  3. vampire | 9 ★
  4. lacy | 6
  5. ballad of a homeschooled girl | 8
  6. making the bed | 7
  7. logical | 6
  8. get him back | 9
  9. love is embarrassing | 8
  10. the grudge | 7
  11. pretty isn't pretty | 8
  12. teenage dream | 9 ★

Score: 7.9

18. "The Loveliest Time" – Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen is the pop darling of all music nerds and she once again lived up to that title on her newest record, The Loveliest Time; the sister album to 2022's The Loneliest Time. To be precise, as is tradition in Jepsen's discography, The Loveliest Time contains the leftovers from its predecessor. This time however, the leftovers are infinitely better than what landed on the main album. The Loveliest Time delivers one Synthpop banger after another and rarely ever misses. The album already starts in a bizarre way with sprinkles of horns and funky guitars as well as choppy drums on the underappreciated Anything to Be Witch You. Then Kamikaze hits you with a monstrous chorus, which is a dramatic commentary on the digital era of dating. On the next track, After Last Night, Jepsen combines dreamy vocals and synthesizers with a fast-paced breakbeats. The following Aeroplanes is the only miss on the whole album – and immediately recovered by two of the album's biggest highlights, the dancey lead single Shy Boy and the Tame Impala-esque psychedelic pop of Kollage. Now that we've already been moving track by track, there's one last song that cannot go without mention: Psychedelic Switch – one of Jepsen's best songs and one of the biggest jams this summer. The album's title describes things the best: The Loveliest Time is just a lovely time. It's not the deepest or most accomplished album of 2023, but it's one of the year's most fun, exciting and consistent pop records

  1. Anything to Be With You | 8
  2. Kamikaze | 8
  3. After Last Night | 8
  4. Aeroplanes | 6
  5. Shy Boy | 9 ★
  6. Kollage | 9 ★
  7. Shadow | 7
  8. Psychedelic Switch | 10 ★
  9. So Right | 8
  10. Come Over | 8
  11. Put It to Rest | 8
  12. Stadium Love | 8

Score: 8.1

17. "Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)" – Yves Tumor

THE Glam Rock star of the 2020s, Yves Tumor, consolidated their position with a new album in 2023. It is dissolutely titled Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds). As always, apart from extravagant Glam aesthetic, the artist doesn't let themselves be strictly placed into any genre. Praise A Lordcovers everything from Neo-Psychedelia to Dance-Punk and Art Rock. It's a very unique and sophisticated sound with a lot of punch, a dark and cynical but also kind of sexy edge to it and very memorable songs to back the style up with substance. 

  1. God Is A Circle | 9 ★
  2. Lovely Sewer | 9 ★
  3. Meteora Blues | 8
  4. Interlude | NR
  5. Parody | 8
  6. Heaven Surrounds Us Like A Hood | 9 ★
  7. Operator | 7
  8. In Spite of War | 7
  9. Echolalia | 8
  10. Fear Evil Like Fire | 8
  11. Purified By The Fire | 8
  12. Ebony Eyes | 9

Score: 8.2

16. "Raven" – Kelela

2023 was the year of Kelela Mizanekristos' 40th birthday. The Ethiopian-American singer-songwriter also released her sophomore record this year, titled Raven. It's not a typical career, that's for sure, especially for an artist so renowned as Kelela. Her debut album, Take Me Apart, was an Alternative R&B sensation in 2018 – and while she still sticks with the genre pioneered by Janet Jackson, Raven moves away quite a bit from Take Me Apart's UK Bass and more into the direction of, let's say, the second half of Janet's The Velvet RopeRaven is one of these albums you can dive into or, like depicted on the cover, drown in. It surrounds and encloses you with a strong vibe, amazing production and dark electronic Ambient Pop instrumentals. It's not all mellow though and that's very necessary when you have an album with over an hour of runtime. So, Kelela breaks things up with some fantastic Breakbeat and UK Bass on songs like Happy Ending, Missed Call, Contact, the title-track and BruisesRaven is still a little on the longer side of things though, as some of the more ambient songs can get redundant, especially if they are grouped with each other, like is the case in two passages of the album's second half. Luckily, the album's sound makes this far less of a problem than it would be with records in other genres because every song still contributes to the dense atmosphere.

  1. Washed Away | 8
  2. Happy Ending | 9
  3. Let It Go | 8
  4. On the Run | 9
  5. Missed Call | 8
  6. Closure | 7
  7. Contact | 10 ★
  8. Fooley | 8
  9. Holier | 7
  10. Raven | 9 ★
  11. Bruises | 9
  12. Sorbet | 8
  13. Divorce | 7
  14. Enough for Love | 9 ★
  15. Far Away | 7

Score: 8.2

15. "The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We" – Mitski

Truthfully, I have never been a huge fan of Mitski's albums, although I recognized her great lyrical abilities. Consequently, I wasn't prepared to get so excited for her new album when the first single, Bug Like an Angel, instantly intrigued me with its beautiful choral arrangements and heartbreakingly honest lines like "As I got older, I learned I'm a drinker". The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We is another stylistic shift after Mitski's early Indie- and Slacker Rock period, the more Art Pop-ydirection of Be The Cowboy and the Synthpop on Laurel Hell. Now she goes into an Americana direction, which includes orchestral arrangements, jazzy (When Memories Snow) and bluesy (Buffalo Replaced) elements as well as very interesting production, resulting in excursions into Shoegaze (I Love Me After Youand Experimental Rock (The Deal) ­– and so it turns out that I only didn't really care for her music because I wasn't loving it musically. Now that I'm into the musical direction, I finally get the buzz around Mitski. It's needless to say that I think this is her best album so far.

  1. Bug Like an Angel | 10 ★
  2. Buffalo Replaced | 8
  3. Heaven | 9 ★
  4. I Don't Like My Mind | 8
  5. The Deal | 8
  6. When Memories Snow | 8
  7. My Love Mine All Mine | 8
  8. The Frost | 7
  9. Star | 9 ★
  10. I'm Your Man | 8
  11. I Love Me After You | 8

Score: 8.3

14. "Ooh Rap I Ya" – George Clanton

When it comes to Psychedelia, George Clanton's Ooh Rap I Ya is the go-to album of the year for me. Clanton is one of the most renowned Chillwave musicians and, like a true independent artist, he releases his music on his very own label 100 % Electronicasince the release of his debut record and handles production, mixing, mastering and even the vinyl masters of his albums all by himself. Ooh Rap I Ya's lead single I Been Young is a song I instantly loved and one of the best singles of the year. Over and buried in an instrumental consisting of striking House-y keys, Disco-y bongos and hazey psychedelic synth layers, Clanton sings about how growing up and aging are never easy and how he feels like he wasted years of his life. The song perfectly introduces and contrasts a feeling of nostalgia as one of the key motifs of Ooh Rap I Ya's lyrics and sound. This is further contextualised across the track listing, ultimately resulting in one of the most powerful messages in any album this year. Despite having everything you want (Everything I Want), sometimes you feel like you're fucking up and wasting your life (F.U.M.L.), that you have to justify your life (Justify Your Life), that there is something more to life you should own up to (title-track). Clanton's philosophy concering these feelings is that this is not how we are meant to live, that it's questionable if we should even care about some greater meaning and that it's okay (to feel like you) fuck up your life or essentially to do what brings you joy as long as you are satisfied with what you're doing. In my opinion, these feelings of doubt and satisfaction are depicted as cyclical, which means that doubt is necessary as some kind of test you have to pass once in a while, to verify or, in case of failure, falsify the way you're approaching and living life. These overarching themes and messages, and how perfectly they're represented by the instrumentals, make Ooh Rap I Ya such great album despite some inconsistencies in the track listing.

  1. Everything I Want | 8
  2. Justify Your Life | 10 ★
  3. Punching Down | 8
  4. I Been Young | 9 ★
  5. You Hold the Key and I Found It | 8
  6. Vapor King / Subreal | 7
  7. F.U.M.L. (feat. Neggy Gemmy) | 8
  8. Ooh Rap I Ya | 9 ★
  9. For You I Will (feat. Hatchie) | 8

Score: 8.3

13. "Food for Worms" – shame

Recorded with legendary producer Flood, it's a shame (pun intended) that the biggest weakness of shame's new album Food for Worms is its sound. It's Lo-fi, but not in the good way you might expect with a Post-Punk record. Instead the album looses bits of its impact because of a muffled sound that lacks in bass and dynamics. Enough of the negatives though; you are here for the best albums of the year and Food for Worms surely is one of them after all. Not only has this album – as is to be expected from an Art Punk album – passionate, tight performances and jammed-out, sometimes even abrasive instrumentals, but also some amazing melodies, anthemic choruses and all in all poignant songwriting about friendship. Especially the album's centerpiece Adderall and the closing track All the People are heart-rending ­– and at the same time kind of uplifting. On first listen, Food for Worms might seem like just another solid Post-Punk album to you, and we had many of these the past years, but if you listen closely, there's a lot of thoughtfulness, heart and soul here – and some damn fine instrumentals as well, experimental and simply rocking alike.

  1. Fingers of Steel | 8
  2. Six-Pack | 8
  3. Yankees | 8
  4. Alibis | 8
  5. Adderall | 9 ★
  6. Orchid | 9 ★
  7. The Fall of Paul | 8
  8. Burning By Design | 8
  9. Different Person | 8
  10. All the People | 9 ★

Score: 8.3

12. "In Times New Roman..." – Queens of the Stone Age

On their 2023 comeback album, 6 years after the Mark Ronson-produced Villains, Queens of the Stone Age finish their trilogy of albums about sickness, depression, love, family and ending relationships. Fittingly, In Times New Roman... is all about Josh Homme's divorce from Brody Dalleand also sees him referencing his battle with cancer. Like was already the case with the album trilogy's first entry, the phenomenal ...Like Clockwork, In Times New Roman... is the most personal and honest we've ever heard Homme on a QOTSA record. Thus, we experience the very best and worst of the frontman over the course of this album. On songs like Obscenery, Paper Machete and Sicily, Homme bitterly reports on the toxicity in his relationship with Dalle and even goes as far as defaming her, only to then mourn for their love on Negative Space, lay out his philosophy on life in Carnavoyeur and find closure in Emotion Sickness. These very personal topics are combined with some more or less political or rather social commentary on Made to Parade and What the Peephole Say. While both songs have their moments, they are easily amongst the lesser tracks here. All of these themes cohesively run together on the album's final track, the 9-minute epic Straight Jacket Fitting, which also ties up the album's musical ideas: back-to-the-roots, heavier riffs (Made to Parade), badass grooves (Time & Place), robotic guitar interplay (Obscenery), big choruses (Negative Space) and experimental interlude sections featuring strings (Obscenery). In Times New Roman... is not the most surprising or consistent record in QOTSA's discography, but it's undeniable that the band once again found some new, rather unexplored sonic niches in their repertoire and delivered on them with great songs and intriguing lyrics.

  1. Obscenery | 9 ★
  2. Paper Machete | 9
  3. Negative Space | 8
  4. Time & Place | 8
  5. Made to Parade | 8
  6. Carnavoyeur | 9 ★
  7. What the Peephole Say | 7
  8. Sicily | 7
  9. Emotion Sickness | 9
  10. Straight Jacket Fitting | 9 ★

Score: 8.3

11. "blómi" – Susanne Sundfør

Norwegian singer-songwriter Susanne Sundfør turns away from Indietronica on her newest record and towards experimental Folk music. This was evident from the get-go listening to the first two singles. Leikara Ljóð is nothing short of the best all a Capella track I’ve ever heard, featuring birds chirping, claps and stunning vocal layering, and Alyosha starts with a cello solo and then evolves into a beautiful piece of Ambient Pop. The first half of the album is no worse and consists of more jazzy Art Pop songs. The only thing holding blómi back, is its most out there number Ṣānnu Yārru Lī, where Sundfør goofily performs a sexual German text over a tribal percussive arrangement. It’s bizarre and frankly off-putting and qualifies as the worst song on any of the albums on this list, so that’s a skip. Other than that, the album’s other two weirder numbers perfectly bookend the incredible bunch of tracks in between, which I highly recommend, if you’re a fan of Art Pop, Ambient Pop, Folk or Singer-Songwriter music.

  1. Orð Vǫlu | 7
  2. Ashera’s Song | 8
  3. Blómi | 9 ★
  4. Rūnā | 10 ★
  5. Fare Thee Well | 9
  6. Leikara Ljóð | 10 ★
  7. Alyosha | 9
  8. Ṣānnu Yārru Lī | 6
  9. Náttsǫngr | 8
  10. Orð Hjartans | 7

Score: 8.3

  • "Chaos for the Fly" – Grian Chatten
  • "Dogsbody" – Model/Actriz
  • "everything is alive" – Slowdive
  • "Formal Growth in the Desert" – Protomartyr
  • "JAGUAR II" – Victoria Monet
  • "Javelin" – Sufjan Stevens
  • "Madres" – Sofia Kourtesis
  • "Space Heavy" – King Krule

10. "Holy Waters" – Puma Blue

Puma Blue is one of these artists especially known to a specific milieu, namely artsy, mostly white, alternative and probably ever so slightly depressed young people – and his music oozes this. His voice sounds angelic, almost female on first listen, and his music combines Jazz, Alternative R&B, Downtempo, Lo-Fi and, analog to his biggest influence, Jeff Buckley, Alternative Rock. The result is a sound that can only be described as night music. The production is always kind of muffled, the tempi are mostly low and the moods range from romantically melancholic to depressing to straight-up dark. Thus, it is not unreasonable to say that his music depends ­– or rather depended – a lot on a certain vibe and aesthetic. Not to say that, in the past, there was never substance to his music, quite the opposite is the case, it's just that his newest work, Holy Waters, is easily his strongest so far, leaning a lot more into an Art Rock direction, as the grandiose Trip Hop-ish lead single Hounds already teased earlier this year. It is still undoubtedly an album best experienced in the dark with eyes closed and in a contemplative mood (to say the least), but the songs on Holy Waters are easily strong enough to put you in such a mood just by themselves. Plus, they are so expansive that you can't help getting lost in them. The prime examples are the progressive ballad Pretty, which is about body issues and how they relate to romantic relationships, and the long epic Too Much, Too Much; a song that features one of the greatest build-ups all year. Jacob Allen's growth as a songwriter shows the most on the album's penultimate track Mirage, which tells a tragic story about death and what could've been. 

Let me finish this review with a little anecdote. This year, I was at a concert of Puma Blue after the release of Holy Waters, and when Jacob Allen asked the audience, whether they should play a song from the new album or an older track, people almost universally responded with the latter. So, while Puma Blue is still an artist that is known to the specific group of people I unscientifically tried to describe above, in my opinion, he has far exceeded his audience's longing for cozy and jazzy Alternative R&B with Holy Waters.

  1. Falling Down | 8
  2. Pretty | 8
  3. O, The Blood! | 8
  4. Hounds | 10 ★
  5. Too Much, Too Much | 9 ★
  6. Epitaph | 7
  7. Gates (Wait For Me) | 9
  8. Dream of You | 8
  9. Holy Waters | 9
  10. Mirage | 9 ★
  11. Light Is Gone | 8

Score: 8.4

9. "O Monolith" – Squid

A huge step-up from their quite bloated Post-Punk debut Bright Green Field, which made them one of the biggest bands from London's Windmill Scene to begin with, O Monolith sees Squid expanding their sound by incorporating more Electronic and Jazz elements as well as choral arrangements and experimental production, like the Vocoder effect on the lead vocal of Siphon Song. Lead singer Ollie Judge operates in a more restrained way on O Monolith than before. There's less shouting and extravaganza, but still enough character, quirkiness and intensity to his performances. On the lyrical end, O Monolith tackles various themes. The two clear standouts in this and every other way are the two longer tracks in the middle of the album, Undergrowth and The BladesUndergrowth is about a concept called animism, according to which human spirits can be reborn within inanimate objects. So, Judge sings from the perspective of a bedside table. The song is lead by a nasty bassline and horn leads, goes through explosive choruses and in the end dissolves into Synthesizer madness. Then the melancholic, Radiohead-esque lead guitar of The Blades comes in. The lyrics of this song are about police brutality at peaceful demonstrations, presented from a bird's eye view and from the perspective of the perpetrators. Towards the middle, the song gains a lot of intensity and hits one of the most powerful climaxes this year – and then, for the rest of the runtime, just stays calm and reflective. Now despite these two masterpieces, the rest of the album holds up. Each track has some fresh elements and they're all written very well. If there's one weakness to O Monolith, it's how the album is structured. Nearly all of the transitions are beautiful, but the sequencing doesn't make for the most satisfying listen. For example, the album ends unresolved and abruptly at the most intense point of its bizarre closing track If You Had Seen the Bull's Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away. I think this is part of O Monolith's concept though. The band themselves said that they were experimenting with song structures and -writing, especially by giving the most satisfying and climactic moments of their songs as little room as possible, which is especially noticeable on Green Light. If you extend this concept, it makes sense that the album itself is structured like is the case – and when this realisation hits you, the album gets all the more fantastic.

  1. Swing (In a Dream) | 9 ★
  2. Devil's Den | 8
  3. Siphon Song | 8
  4. Undergrowth | 9 ★
  5. The Blades | 9 ★
  6. After the Flash | 8
  7. Green Light | 8
  8. If You Had Seen the Bull's Swimming Attempts... | 9

Score: 8.6

8. "PetroDragonic Apocalypse, or Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation" – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

There's no year without an album by these madmen. Since they broke out in 2012, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have released a total of 25 albums at this point. In 2023, their concepts were centered around themes of apocalypse. The music however couldn't be more different between the two albums that they put out. Where studio album number 25, The Silver Chord, is a Progressive Electronic record, and one of the worst projects in the band's discography, PetroDragonic Apocalypse is a sublime forray into Technical Thrash Metal, which means: the songs are long, the concepts big and the instrumentals complex. PetroDragonic Apocalypse is reminiscent of both Tool and Metallica, but with that unique King Gizzard spin on it. It's fun and psychedelic, but also epic and deterministically dark, as a story of witches, dragons and cults is used as an analogy for Earth's destruction by man-made climate change. If you're a fan of Metal, you should not miss out on this album. It's one of the best releases in heavy rock music from 2023, trust me.

  1. Motor Spirit | 9 ★
  2. Supercell | 9 ★
  3. Converge | 8
  4. Witchcraft | 8
  5. Gila Monster | 8
  6. Dragon | 9 ★
  7. Flamethrower | 9

Score: 8.6

7. "My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross" – ANOHNI and the Johnsons

The cover of Anohni's second album under her new name shows a photograph of LGBTQ rights activist Marsha P. Johnson, after whom Anohni's band The Johnsons is named. Anohni met Marsha P. Johnson 6 days before her mysterious death in 1992. Ever since then, Marsha was a spiritual guide, a muse and a rolemodel for her. Now that Marsha is appearing on the cover art of an Anohni album, it's fitting that the respective album is the best she has ever released. My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross sees her bringing The Johnsons back together in a new cast, which results in a stylistic shift. The new sound is a lot more guitar-driven and while the album mostly sticks to an atmospheric backdrop of Chamber Pop instrumentals to support Anohni's breathtaking and unique vocals, it also lives from some very explosive instrumental moments on some of the album's highlights, Can't, Scapegoat and Rest. Consequentially, My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross is the most intense and warm album in Anohni's catalogue and probably the most touching record I've heard all year
Anohni's lyrics are as thoughtful as ever, mostly tackling societal issues. The centerpiece of the album is Scapegoat, an incredibly sad, bonechilling and angering song about the situation of people from the LGBTQ+ community. It's about how vulnerable their position is, how they can only be scapegoats for conservative and right-wing voters and politicians. The song is written from both the perpetrator's and victim's point of view at the same time. In one line it says: "In this society, a scapegoat is all I can be",and in another: "You're my scapegoat / It's not personal". Despite this anxiety inducing analysis of political developments all around the globe, Anohni tries to offer a more or less optimistic outlook on the album's final song, You Be Free, where she pretty much tells the listener to be free for her after her hard work on Earth is done. If this were Anohni's final album, this song would make for the perfect, a heartbreaking but wonderful epilogue to her work. 

  1. It Must Change | 9
  2. Go Ahead| 7
  3. Sliver of Ice| 9 ★
  4. Can't| 8
  5. Scapegoat| 9
  6. It's My Fault| 8
  7. Rest| 9
  8. There Wasn't Enough| 9
  9. Why Am I Alive Now?| 9 ★
  10. You Be Free| 10 ★

Score: 8.7

6. "3D Country" – Geese

Now often running under the monicker of Dad Rock, this five-piece band came fresh out of high school, when they released their debut album, Projector, in 2021. As is to be expected from a Dan Carey produced album by a newcomer band, Projector is a Post-Punk record. Contrary to all the other projects in this lane Carey has helped create, Projector didn't instantly break the band through though – and it's understandable why. While it was a promising debut, it can't quite compete with what other bands put out at the time. Luckily, Geese completely shifted gears for their sophomore LP, 3D Country, and instantly catapulted themselves into the spotlight, when it comes to exciting new Rock music. How did they do it? Well, they decided to become a jam band that makes tearjerkers about cowboys tripping on LSD during the apocalypse (more or less). In the process, 3D Country became quite the revivalist record. That's why it's labeled Dad Rock by some after all. But it's, as Anthony Fantano from The Needle Drop put it, revivalism done right. The album is immaculately produced, fuses a variety of familiar styles and adds unique flavours to them. The instrumentals are loose and jammy. They can be quite chaotic in fact, but they can also be beautiful and serene. Likewise, the singer can go crazy, but he can also deliver some very introspective lyricsin a heart-wrenching way. And the songs? Every single one of them has some catchy hookline or an emotional climax. This album would be perfect, if it weren't for the final track, St. Elmo – and even that song has a right to exist because of the goofy vocal delivery and meta-commentary on the album. So, if you want to have fun, if you want to rock out, if you want to cry and if you want to take drugs, or everything at the same time, 3D Country is your album. 

  1. 2122 | 9 ★
  2. 3D Country | 10 ★
  3. Cowboy Nudes | 10 ★
  4. I See Myself | 9
  5. Undoer | 9
  6. Crusades | 8
  7. Gravity Blues | 8
  8. Mysterious Love | 9
  9. Domoto | 9
  10. Tomorrow's Crusades | 8
  11. St. Elmo | 7

Score: 8.7

5. "Live at Bush Hall" – Black Country, New Road

After recording their magnus opum, the first and so far only 10-out-of-10 album of the 2020s, Black Country, New Road hit rock bottom. Their lead singer and main songwriter Isaac Wood left the band four days prior to the release of said album, Ants From Up There, because of mental health issues, which led the band to cancel their upcoming tour dates. Nonetheless, the band didn't split up and even announced that they were working on new material without Wood. The bulk of this material was released on this year's Live at Bush Hall, which is effectively the band's third album as the songs probably won't be recorded in the studio. This is also why I'm taking Live at Bush Hall as a live-album into account for this list. 
Now what can I say, other than: They did it again! Black Country, New Road seem to have become a staple in these year-end lists, no matter how many obstacles they have to overcome. Live at Bush Hall shows just how amazing this band is. They play these incredibly complex Art Rock and Chamber Pop songs to perfection. Each member has a distinctive persona on stage and in terms of their songs. Bassist Tyler Hyde is writing jazzy and tragical love songs, saxophonist Lewis Evans has the aura of a nerdy and funny guy who likes Folk, and pianist May Kershaw sounds a bit like Björk, but has the whimsy and storytelling of a Kate Bush.
Despite all the praise I have for Live at Bush Hall, I don't think it can match the two preceeding studio albums, which were absolute masterpieces. Live at Bush Hall leans a lot more into the myth of Black Country, New Road. It's more theatrical and sees the band stepping up to the challenge of overcoming the loss of Isaac Wood, who's unique songwriting and vocal approach was one of the key factors for Black Country, New Road's success. However, when you have such a brilliant bunch of musicians and friends, it is hard to miss musically – and miss they didn't.

  1. Up Song | 9
  2. The Boy | 9
  3. I Won't Always Love You | 9
  4. Across The Pond Friend | 9
  5. Laughing Song | 9 ★
  6. The Wrong Trousers | 8
  7. Turbines/Pigs | 9 ★
  8. Dancers | 9 ★
  9. Up Song (Reprise) | 8

Score: 8.8

4. "The Worm" – HMLTD

"Prog is back!", was the first thing I thought listening to this album. HMLTD's The Worm is one of the best Rock operas I've ever heard and one of the most successful concept albums of the last couple years. The multifacetted metaphor of a worm swallowing England is a narrative that reveals new layers every time I revisit the album. It refers to capitalism and climate change, the human nature, relationships and heartache, psychological trauma as well as high-fantasy folklore all at once. The music is just as varied. Wyrmlands is a black midi-esque piece of jazz-induced avant-prog, Days and Saddest Worm Ever sound like something from Radiohead's In Rainbows era, and from there on out, the second half of the album dives deep into theatrical Art Rock a la The Wall, including spoken word passages, organstring orchestration, choirs and piano samples. Along the way, the band deliver some of the most catchy hooks of the year on The End Is Now, Saddest Worm Ever and the title-track. While the album might seem a bit messy in its first half, it's all worth it by the end, when the triumphant Lay Me Down ties everything together. The Worm is one of the most satisfying, creative, memorable and meaningful albums of 2023 and a huge left-turn from the Post-Punk of HMLTD's already brilliant debut, West of Eden.

  1. Worm's Dream | NR
  2. Wyrmlands | 8
  3. The End Is Now | 9 ★
  4. Days | 8
  5. Saddest Worm Ever | 9 ★
  6. Liverpool Street | 9
  7. The Worm | 9
  8. Past Life (Sinnerman's Song) | 9 ★
  9. Lay Me Down | 9

Score: 8.8

3. "That! Feels Good!" – Jessie Ware

For Jessie Ware, the 2010s almost concluded with the end of her musical career. The three Sophisti Pop records she had released up to that point had been gaining less and less attention and critical acclaim. If she would continue her career, it was time for a musical switch-up and so, in 2020, Ware released her fourth studio album What's Your Pleasure?, a massively successful Nu-Discoodyssey and one of my favorite albums of that year. In an interview with Anthony Fantano, she was able to pinpoint exactly, where this stilistic shift came from. It was the last show of her current tour, where Ware looked at the crowd and realized that they desperately needed, maybe even wanted something to dance to. What's Your Pleasure? was the result and as we know now, it was neither a singular detour, nor a lucky punch. On my third favorite album of the year, Ware dives even deeper into the roots of Disco and club music as she embraces a more colourful, natural and bombastic production finished with group vocals, brass, live drums and funky guitars. Where What's Your Pleasure? was mellow and sensual, That! Feels Good! is celebratory and horny resulting in some of Ware's best songs yet such as the rhythmical title-track, the playful single Pearls or the theatrical epic Begin Again. Over the course of the album's ten tracks, Ware fuses her Dance Pop formula with various different styles such as French House (Freak Me Now), Funk (title-track), R&B (Lightning), Big Band (Begin Again) and House (Free Yourself). None of these fusions ever go wrong in the slightest and consequentially, That! Feels Good! feels (more than) good and fresh from front to back. 

  1. That! Feels Good! | 9
  2. Free Yourself | 10 ★
  3. Pearls | 9 ★
  4. Hello Love | 8
  5. Begin Again | 10 ★
  6. Beautiful People | 8
  7. Freak Me Now | 9
  8. Shake the Bottle | 8
  9. Lightning | 9
  10. These Lips | 9

Score: 8.9

2. "Desire, I Want To Turn Into You" – Caroline Polachek

Produced by Danny L Harle (who is on production duties on Dua Lipa's upcoming third LP and also worked on albums by Pink Pantheress, Rina Sawayama, yeule, shygirl, Charli XCX, Elton John and Liam Gallagher) and Dan Nigro (producer and partner-in-crime of Olivia Rodrigo), Desire, I Want To Turn Into You might've just advanced Caroline Polachek to Art Pop's biggest name. If you're on TikTok, you might know her song So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings – or you might know her because she was accused to fake her singing abilities by extensively using auto tune, when she's in fact just one of the most talented pop singers out there. Polachek is much more than just ordinary pop or vocal chops though. While proclaiming her the Kate Bush of Gen Z might be a bit too much, her music and artistry certainly is comparable to Bush's in various ways – and this is one of the highest compliments I am able give to any Art Pop musician. But if Polachek was just the new Kate Bush, she would be far more boring or at least derivative, which she is not. Where Kate Bush is otherworldy and whimsical, Caroline Polachek is alien, surrealist and horny. Not only is she a totally different vocalist, her music is also inspired by Glitch-, Ambient-, Electro- and Hyperpop. On Desire, I Want To Turn Into You you'll also find Flamenco guitars (Sunset), a bagpipe solo (Blood and Butter) and experimental production choices like the whistling and crying of a baby on the album's lead single (and Pitchfork's Song of the Year 2022), Bunny Is A Rider. If there is one drawback to this album, it is that the tunes might not instantaneously catch you, which might be why Polachek isn't getting a lot of airplay. Sometimes, the songs seem very abstract or too "light" to really sink your teeth into. The album is a grower though – and a fast one at that.

  1. Welcome To My Island | 10 ★
  2. Pretty In Possible | 9
  3. Bunny Is a Rider | 9
  4. Sunset | 9
  5. Crude Drawing Of An Angel | 8
  6. I Believe | 9
  7. Fly To You (feat. Grimes & Dido) | 8
  8. Blood and Butter | 10 ★
  9. Hopedrunk Everasking | 8
  10. Butterfly Net | 9
  11. Smoke | 8
  12. Billions | 10 ★

Score: 8.9

1. "Lahai" – Sampha

Apart from his feature on the last Kendrick Lamar project, which I ranked as the 12th best album of 2022, I hadn't heard of Sampha until he released Spirit 2.0, the lead single for Lahai and one of the best singles of the year, this June. On my second listen, I fell in love with the song, its thought-provoking and encouraging lyrics, the Kid A-esque synths, the busy drum machines. These descriptives basically apply to most of the album (not to say that its overly repetitive or anything). They are also quite misleading when it comes to the genres Lahai is mostly associated with, Neo-Soul and Alternative R&B. It's fair to say that Sampha really has carved out his own sound and identity on Lahai, which effectively – at least in my head – brings together fans of Trap, Pop Rap and other modern forms of Hip-Hop (I say this as a total Hip-Hop layman) with fans of genres such as Art Pop, Neo-Soul and even Alternative- and Piano Rock. From the complex, jazzy and harmonically unusual opening track, Stereo Colour Cloud (Shaman's Dream), it is clear that Lahai is not your average album. It is meticulously planned, structured, written and produced and shows Sampha as a true musical perfectionist. The album also features guest appearances from Yaeji, who does the Korean outro of Spirit 2.0, Ibeyi, who are responsible for the French spoken word interlude Time Piece (reoccuring on the following song Can't Go Back), and Morgan Simpson, the drummer of black midi and one of the best drummers in the world. He plays the drums on one particular song, dare I say, the centerpiece of the album, Jonathan L. Seagull. This is not only my favorite and the most musically accomplished track here, but it also directly refers to the most important external influence on this album's lyrical content, the novel of the same name, weaving together the narrative about time, mortality, loss, love, growing up and fatherhood
Originally, I wanted to note that the album's first half is much stronger than its second half, but I don't think that is detrimental to the album's overall reception, nor that the gap is even that big. There is only one song on this record not living up to the rest: the closing track Rose Tint. The simple fix would be to install the bonus track Re-Entry as the finale. Sadly, the song is only available via the sold-out deluxe vinyl release. You might find it on YouTube though. Apart from this, Lahai is pretty close to a perfect album. Yes, it is really calm, airy and peaceful most of the time and Sampha often does that trick, where he brings in the drums late in the song for a short passage when you don't expect it anymore, but all these supposed criticisms ultimately contribute to how wonderful it feels to listen to the album. So, what are you waiting for?

  1. Stereo Colour Cloud (Shaman’s Dream) | 9
  2. Spirit 2.0 | 10 ★
  3. Dancing Circles | 9
  4. Suspended | 9 ★
  5. Satellite Business | NR
  6. Jonathan L. Seagull | 10 ★
  7. Inclination Compass (Tenderness) | 8
  8. Only | 9
  9. Time Piece | NR
  10. Can't Go Back | 9
  11. Evidence | 8
  12. Wave Therapy | NR
  13. What If You Hypnotise Me? (feat. Léa Sen) | 9
  14. Rose Tint | 8

Score: 8.9