Artwork by Michael Christy
Ranked For The First Time Ever
For the past four years, the Impose Top 50 Albums of the Year list has gone unranked. Instead of a countdown, the albums featured have been listed in alphabetical order. This has slightly irked some of our readers, and we hear you. I mean, if you’re gonna do year-end best-of pieces like these, you might as well commit to deciding which featured albums are better than others, right? And yet, over these past few years, we’ve stuck to our guns…until now.
Due to popular demand, this will be our first ranked albums list ever. And after pouring through the final results, a few observations stand out. Namely, that the gap in quality between number 50 and number 1 is actually very small. You can go even further than that. In fact, there are easily 200 other albums released in 2023 that could have arguably competed for the Album Of The Year crown, let alone cracked our Top 50. It’s never fun omitting deserving albums, but the fact remains that 2023 was fantastic year for new music, and collective tastes are subjective. Ultimately, the margins in 2023 were incredibly thin. For the albums that did make the cut, the process of then ranking them was excruciating. But we tried our best!
Another takeway is that these albums all contain a forward-thinking approach. Whether it’s pop, rock, hip-hop, electronic, or anything in between, the albums here all shared a sense of rugged experimentalism, and a desire to explore uncharted sonic waters. Some albums took bits and pieces of the past and reinvented them for a futuristic setting. Others straight-up invented new styles. Even amongs the most popular releases on this list, there’s a kindred DIY spirit coursing through them that also radiates in the more underground, less mainstream offerings. In 2023, artists continued to reshape their sound and break ground in imaginative ways. While the rest of the world burns around us, we can at least take solace in an amazing soundtrack. As is tradition with any ranked music list, dig in and let the nit-picking begin!
50. Slowdive – everything is alive
This year, Slowdive returned with their first album in six years, everything is alive. Boasting only eight tracks, the album showcases a score-like production, characterized by sweeping and layered compositions. Throughout the majority of the album, Slowdive continues their moody shoegaze sound. The project took shape during the COVID-19 pandemic, a challenging period during which two band members lost their parents. Frontman Neil Halstead, who wrote all the tracks on the latest project, expressed his expectation of taking a darker approach due to the heavy nature of the world around them, but found the music served as an escape from the grief and sorrow.
The album’s lead single “Kisses” stands out as one of Slowdive’s poppier tracks. Driven by a jaunty guitar riff and adorned with romantic lyrics, it delivers a refreshing and hopeful feel. This track offers a diverse listening experience when compared to the synth-heavy productions found elsewhere on the record. everything unveils a compact yet powerful collection of new music. The release marks a triumphant return and showcases Slowdive’s ability to navigate both the shadows and the light within their musical journey. -Makaila Heifner
49. Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We
There’s a quote currently making the rounds on TikTok: “To be loved is to be changed.” It’s often paired with before-and-afters of a stuffed toy, tattered after years of play – or a young pet, now old and gray. The bittersweet sentiment is a reflection of love and the imprints love leaves over time. It’s fitting that Mitski’s “My Love Mine All Mine” soundtracks several of these videos. That song, and all of The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, is an ode to how love exists and endures – explored through a Southern gothic lens.
The album is rich with rustic scenes, gospel and resonant vocals, and an Americana twang as Mitski grapples with longing and self-love. On “Heaven” and “Star,” she holds onto a past love fondly by looking to find the cosmos. In moments of grief, “When Memories Snow” and “The Frost” use wintry imagery to show the passage of time. “Bug Like An Angel” and “I’m Your Man” confront self-destructive tendencies. Wild-and-free motifs in “Buffalo Replaced” and “I Love Me After You” depict someone’s self-love at an all-time high. While Mitski’s music has never been a stranger to the above, what makes The Land different from previous releases is its reconciliation of such emotions. It’s not about the absence of love, but how that love can live on. -Chloe Catajan
48. Rezzett – Meant Like This
London duo Jackson Bailey and Lukid, known collectively as Rezzett, have been lighting up the outsider house sphere for years now, and their latest album is another groundbreaking excursion into their singular style of electronica. Meant Like This traverses the blurry corners of lo-fi house, techno, glitch, ambient and new age, forging a raw and psychedelic path that defies categorization.
The album is like an auditory kaleidoscope, shifting and blending styles with an experimental finesse. On “Chirrup,” slashes of reverb reminiscent of a dial-up internet connection intersect with sweeping orchestral strings, creating a mesmerizing blend of lo-fi, ambient, and new age. The result is a breathtaking soundscape that captures the essence of a hazy dreamworld. On “Hevvy,” slithery, echoey notes from celestial synths undulate, resulting in an amorphous sonic palette that feels both eerie and enchanting. “The Defiance” further underscores the duo’s static-soaked prowess, weaving together jagged elements of jungle, industrial, and IDM under a cloak of reverb. Rezzett conjures a truly immersive experience, akin to the unsettling calm before a storm. It’s the distant rumble of approaching thunder, the wind shaking your shelter, the ominous beauty of a squall on the horizon. Ultimately, Meant Like This is a masterpiece that defies tradition and invites listeners to embrace the unconventional. -Jeff Cubbison
47. Home Is Where – The Whaler
There are a lot of pieces of media and art that grapple with the end of the world, and more often than not, they tend to be fairly dramatic, with people across the world banding together just in time to avert impending doom. The Whaler, on the other hand, focuses on the banality of being someone who is experiencing, and in many ways unconsciously complicit in, the slow degradation of the world.
Home Is Where captures the maddening feeling of watching the façade of the reality that society has made for itself chip away and reveal the rotting structure behind it and have everyone continue with the mundane myopathy of everyday life. They delve into the anxiety of living in a world that seems to be addicted to inflicting tragedy upon itself and completely incapable of solving it. Through bright, knotty guitars and a rhythm section that propels each song forward, the nuance begins to unfold of what it means to be a powerless individual in truly overwhelming circumstances, equipped with only an inability to blind oneself to the slow, ever-repeating deterioration of life on earth. For a concept album, it’s surprisingly relatable. Not sure why, though. “I always end up startin’ over again/ The end of the world is taking forever.” -Seena Ratcliffe
46. GEL – Only Constant
I only have one hard and fast rule in music: if you’re a band, you need to be good live. If you aren’t good live, you shouldn’t be a band. Hardcore bands especially so. It’s a genre that exists mainly in a live setting. Their albums, in order to be successful, need to in some way encapsulate that experience. GEL fits into that rule so comfortably that they’ve become the example of why I’ve loved going to hardcore shows for the last 20 years. If you need proof of how dynamic they are as performers, just go watch any clip of them playing live and you’ll see how they can whip up a crowd into a frothing, roiling sea of bodies.
Only Constant has an indefatigable energy that distills that live experience to a record. It’s 17 minutes of aggression that will transform you into a homunculus constructed of concrete and repressed aggression. It just makes you want to move. GEL doesn’t aim to color outside the lines of the genre, but what they do is create a distillation of everything that is good in a hardcore album, making it accessible yet uncompromising. They understand the task at hand and execute it flawlessly. “Hardcore is for freaks. That’s it.” -Seena Ratcliffe
45. Zulu – A New Tomorrow
A creeping symphony settles in – pensive violin and piano keys crying into a swell of crashing cymbals – before segueing into corrosive metal chords that plunge you into a world of chaos, defiance, struggle, and beauty. From there, Zulu takes you on a careening sonic ride that’s impossible to jump off of. A New Tomorrow, the debut album from the rising Los Angeles band, is more than its chugging riffs, snarling vocals, and explosive blast beats. It’s a visionary artistic statement, and a vital look at all facets of black identity.
On “From Tha Gods To Earth,” drums and guitars rip at breakneck speeds before peeling back, with tag-team vocals unleashing bloodcurdling yells: “I won’t forget there’s still scars from another world/ Clouds part and hope seeps through/ A New Tomorrow for me and you!” Zulu channels black ancestry through hardcore, examining the generational trauma of black people while also embracing hope and cultural heritage as a weapon of protest. The album’s myriad of vintage samples give it nuance, texture, and flavor. Beyond just being a fantastic powerviolence record, A New Tomorrow features gentle injections of reggae, R&B, and classic soul: Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, etc. Really cool way to build a universe. IYKYK. -Kaya Haskins
44. boygenius – the record
Five years ago, Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus dropped an acclaimed EP that introduced boygenius to the world. The indie holy trinity made their long-awaited return this year with a full-length album, aptly titled the record.
the record follows a similar format to the self-titled EP; each member leads a song, and the others follow with supporting vocals and verses. But while the EP would feel like a split album at times, the LP is more cohesive in delivery. On opening track “Without You Without Them,” an understated three-part a’cappella sets up the rest of the record effectively. Closing track “Letter To An Old Poet” is also a thoughtful send-off, rounding things out with a callback to 2018’s “Me & My Dog.” Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus each shine in their respective parts, but their distinct styles never sound out of place. On “$20” and “Satanist,” Baker’s heavy-hitting riffs and punchy vocals are met with the same energy from Dacus and Bridgers. Bridgers’ soft-spokenness on “Emily, I’m Sorry” is also echoed by her bandmates. Then tracks like “True Blue” and “Leonard Cohen” have Baker and Bridgers adding harmonies that tightly outline Dacus on the melody. Deliberate, dynamic and devastating, the record sees boygenius finding perfect harmony across their combined artistry. -Chloe Catajan
43. Feeble Little Horse – Girl With Fish
The spirit of indie sleaze is back and deeply felt with Feeble Little Horse. That colorfully transgressive era – bright, forward-thinking, but still rough around the edges – comes through in full force on their excellent sophomore LP Girl With Fish. Here, the Pittsburgh band levels up with a beautiful cacophony of shoegaze, emo, alternative, indie folk, and psychedelic that’ll have fans lining their nearest hole-in-the-wall venue – DIY hearts on sleeves.
Girl With Fish sounds like it’s treading water – swimming placidly amongst catchy hooks and melodies while also sinking into an abyss of jagged experimentalism. Singer-bassist Lidia Slocum anchors the ship with her cooing twee vocals, while Sebastian Kindler and Ryan Walchonski offer a whirlwind range of guitar sounds – from shredding, feedback-laced power chords to spindly arpeggios. The band goes full MBV on “Steamroller” as surging shoegaze layers intertwine with nostalgic hooks and infectious melodies. “Slide” explores folk textures via plucky acoustic chords and squeaking synths flowing in tandem with Slocum’s verses, before launching into a wall-of-noise-backed chorus that’s both psychedelic and anthemic. On Girl With Fish, Feeble Little Horse rewrite nostalgia with intentionally messy precision and loads of gravitas – the dawning of a new age for noise pop. -JC
42. crimeboys – very dark past
The debut collaborative album from DJ-producers Special Guest DJ and Pontiac Streator presents an evolution of ambient club music into a thrilling new realm. The future is actually very bright on very dark past, as crimeboys wrangle a foggy, foreboding elixir of sounds that’ll leave listeners transfixed in a state of sleep paralysis.
The journey begins with “holodeck blue,” which immerses us with squiggly synths and hollowed-out beats that merge industrial and tribal rhythms, ultimately transitioning into a stuttering blender of jungle grooves. On “trippin,” subtle drums cut through a mist of flickers and clangs, like drizzling rain at dawn on a foggy morning. From there, crimeboys dial up the tension on the rippling illbient lullaby “deja entandu (dub),” whose ominous bass synths lavish languidly amidst haunting vocal echoes and crackling dub beats. A gloomy haze consumes “haunted tattoo” as faint shimmers, pitched vocals, and pulsating breakbeats ebb, flow, and swell to the surface. Between luminescent synth tones, trip-hop detours, and eerie shoegaze atmospherics, very dark past is ambient’s jaunt into a ravey, mystical future. It’s a lucid dream you won’t want to wake up from. -JC
41. Fever Ray – Radical Romantics
Fever Ray’s Radical Romantics is a bleeding heart record that embraces the grief and mourning that comes with romantic loss. But to reduce it to just a sad or cathartic listen wouldn’t do the album justice. There’s a touching reverence for the smaller moments in a relationship or romance; everlasting intimacy, inside jokes, nicknames, a recalled look from across the room at a potential partner, tracing the contours of their body, and how they feel at the tip of your fingers. It’s a stunning recognition of the moments that fill the cracks in a relationship, and an album that respects and celebrates these moments in retrospect even if the foundation ultimately breaks.
“Let me know/ If this is the last day/ We run our bodies as we go to sleep/ Tapping fingers as a way to speak,” sings Karin Dreijer on “Tapping Fingers.” Songs like emotional center “North” and “Carbon Dioxide” showcase the spectrum that Dreijer captures here. The former is a stripped back stirring that isolates Dreijer’s voice in ample space, the latter is a quasi-orchestral EDM banger fit for the dancefloor. There’s elements that fans will recognize from previous Fever Ray albums, as well as approaches reminiscent of their work with brother and The Knife cohort Olof, making Radical Romantics Dreijer’s most palatable album in their solo discography. -Chris Cubbison
40. Hysterical Love Project – Lashes
Gloriously moody and full of uncomfortable desires to soul search, New Zealand’s Hysterical Love Project own their DIY aesthetic with Lashes only being available on Bandcamp. It’s truly a well-bodied welcoming into that feeling of aching yearning. What that yearning is lies solely on the listener as they progress down the path that HLP has paved for them.
Fans will be challenged with tough truths that give way to more shining opportunities. Lashes succeeds in holding the hand of the listener and asking them to take a moment. Each song provides new thoughts to flourish, to swirl about freely. There is no wall, no prison here; everything is offered and provided. HLP soothes the ears with otherworldly escapes that beg for an acceptance to be emotional while at the same time learning from it. Why is sorrow popping up again and again so easily? It’s not necessarily a terrible thing, and may allow for more genuine broadening of the mind. Most of the tracks are short bursts, as if listeners are stepping into a confessional to bellow it all out. Even the tracks with groovier vibes, fueled by EDM elements, are still held in a somber place alongside dreamy vocals. With a meditative downtempo energy, Lashes proposes a way for fans to reconcile with 2023 and prepare for whatever may come. There is no shame lingering in the feelings, as that is what music always does best. Listen and learn. -Myles Hunt
39. TURQUOISEDEATH – Se Bueno
As the drum and bass, jungle, and breakbeat resurgence rolls on, we’re witnessing a fascinating injection of diverse and experimental elements. TURQUOISEDEATH, a young DIY artist at just 16 years old, is a prime example. On their latest LP Se Bueno, the London producer seamlessly combines atmospheric breaks with shoegaze, dream pop, post-rock, and more. This fusion breathes new life into the genre, setting the stage for an exciting futuristic renaissance.
On Se Bueno, a lush sonic tapestry evokes the sensation of venturing through a neon forest at night. Bleary guitars and synths blur into rapid-fire amen breaks on “The Sky Fell,” a stunning blend of jungle and post-rock. Each track embarks on an epic journey akin to side quests in an open-world RPG – exploring peaks, valleys, and momentum-shifting detours. “Sinking Into You” strips away the electronic elements, igniting into a swooning dream pop ballad, with chirpy processed vocals launching the listener into a towering climax. “Starfields” morphs from sleek drum and bass banger into a gauzy post-rock spectacle, like a midpoint between Sigur Rós and Sewerslvt. With guest appearances from BrokenTeeth, Asian Glow, Parannoul, 2 0 2 1, and Astrophysics, Se Bueno catapults drum and bass into stratospheric new realms, anointing TURQUOISEDEATH as the future. -JC
38. RXKNephew – Till I’m Dead
Less is more, unless you’re RXKNephew. Over the past few years, the rapper from Rochester, NY has galvanized the internet’s hip-hop underground with his Lil B-type stream-of-consciousness flow and prolific output. In 2023, he’s already cranked out eight full-length projects (and counting). Till I’m Dead, the first (and best) of those releases, is his most dynamic distillation of his off-kilter style.
The album runs long but never gets boring, thanks to Neph’s unique delivery and beats that straddle melodic trap, drill, and dance music. His scatterbrained, absurdist humor remains intact, but for a rapper whose music leans heavily on drug content, there’s also a clarity and vulnerability to his rhymes now that he’s committed to a sober lifestyle. On “1000MPH,” he confronts his vices over sleek synths and stuttering hi-hats. He leans into his dance impulses on the jungle track “Frames,” which paints a picture of hedonism in rapid, bender-like fashion. “Critical,” a tropical house-laced anthem and the record’s high point, showcases Neph’s singular flow in which his rhymes repeatedly fall off beat only to catch up milliseconds later in dizzying fashion. Till I’m Dead is a culmination of RXKNephew’s insane work ethic, and his most crowd-pleasing release yet. -JC
37. Tzusing – 绿帽 Green Hat
When an album kicks off by sampling Daniel Plainview’s “I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE” monologue from There Will Be Blood, you know you’re in for a wild ride. Tzusing, the Malaysian-born, Taipei-based producer known for his dauntless exploits on experimental label PAN, has leveled up mightily on Green Hat, dialing the pent-up anxiety and aggression to hypertension levels.
The album chokeholds the listener into submission with a bombastic blend of techno and electro-industrial madness. Slicing trance synths meet puncturing tribal beats on tracks like “Idol Baggage” and “Muscular Theology,” which also possess an unsettling array of dissonant vocal and screaming samples – as if channeling the soundtrack to a macabre body horror flick. On “Filial Endure Ruthless,” pummeling EBM grooves coalesce around nail gun-like beats and crashing percussion akin to plates of metal rattling against each other. Tsuzing uses Green Hat to surgically dissect notions of toxic masculinity and gender conventions, whether through symbolism, sampling, or simply personifying feelings of mounting stress, confusion, and rage. From start-to-finish, that anxiety only intensifies. With Green Hat, Tzusing deconstructs cultural standards through deconstructed club music, and you can feel that tension rise as your blood pulsates loudly to each and every beat. -JC
36. Oneohtrix Point Never – Again
Daniel Lopatin is never not evolving. One of the best producers of the modern era, Oneohtrix Point Never’s latest album is a static-sewn technicolor dream of progressive electronic, and a true amalgamation of the past decade of his recording career. Again is not the best album Lopatin has made (that’s an extremely high bar), but it’s a refreshing sign that he’s still willing to grow and reinvent himself in imaginative ways.
The recurring sonic motif of Again is the near-constant interplay between electronic and orchestral-acoustic elements. The record sounds like a collision of various 0PN eras – especially his recent work as a film composer. On the title track, a classical string section clashes with gnawing synths, knotting into a beautifully tangled mess. “World Outside” combines glitch and neo-psychedelia as Lopatin’s robot-pitched vocals hover over skittering drum machines, violins, and shattering VHS-like static. On the ever unpredictable finale “A Barely Lit Path,” glitching vocals and new age-y melodies conjure a state of nirvana before zig-zagging through a dazzling rush of angular synths and galactic chamber pop balladry. With Oneohtrix Point Never, you can never tell what comes next. But as we’ve seen, time and time again, the result is always awesome. -JC
35. Lana Del Rey – Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.
Lana Del Ray’s Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd maintains her signature blend of classic and contemporary styles while also tapping into her more experimental side. Unlike her previous projects, this one delves into her personal experiences rather than adopting a specific persona for the album. She grapples with themes like fame, love, and religion, showcasing a deeper exploration of her thoughts.
In the creation of this album, Lana adopted a conversational approach, which she coined as “automatic singing.” She would record random lyrics and melodies on her phone and then send them to composer Drew Erickson to craft the music, thereby minimizing the amount of premeditated writing for each piece. Did you know features contributions from Lana’s longtime collaborators, including production by Del Rey, Mike Hermosa, Jack Antonoff (Bleachers), Zach Dawes (The Last Shadow Puppets and Mini Mansions), and Benji. Additionally, Lana included features from a diverse range of artists, including Jon Batiste, Father John Misty, SYML, and others. The result is an expansive album that maintains an experimental edge while staying rooted in Lana’s classic aesthetics. It stands as Lana’s most mature work to date – a project that’s both introspective and beautiful. -Makaila Heifner
34. Jesus Piece – …So Unknown
If it were up to me, the entirety of this write up would read: “Listen to this album. It’s heavy as fuck. It fuckin’ rules.” I don’t like intellectualizing heavy music a lot of the time because that completely misses the point of it. The point is to feel it as a physical presence, not an intellectual one. But the esteemed Editor at our monument of artistic journalism has informed me that if I were allowed to do that, this list would have no business existing.
Every second of Jesus Piece’s …So Unknown is heavy – even the scant moments of quiet. Every inch is drenched in noise. Every riff is pointing towards destruction. There are no gimmicks begging for your attention, no pop influences hooking you, no tricky production techniques masking bad songwriting, no quiet moments to ensure you that everything will be alright. Jesus Piece grabs you by the throat, drags you to the edge of a screaming void, screams right back at it, then throws you in. Listen to this album. It’s heavy as fuck. It fuckin’ rules. Have you listened to it yet? If you have, then listen to it again, but louder. If you didn’t like it, then keep it to yourself. I don’t want to discuss it. -Seena Ratcliffe
33. ICECOLDBISHOP – Generational Curse
Sometimes a rapper’s name just fits. The battle-worn Los Angeles MC ICECOLDBISHOP is indeed quite cold, and calculated, on his intense debut LP Generational Curse. Through grizzled bars, harrowing imagery, and depressive trap beats, BISHOP lasers in on the issues affecting his community; gang crime, addiction, poverty, systemic oppression, and institutional rot are put under a microscope, conjuring a storytelling finesse that no other recent rap album can top.
The cold truths displayed on Generational Curse are hard-won. Violence lies at the center of “CANDLELIGHT”; over gothic chimes and stuttering hi-hats, BISHOP uses the symbolism of a candlelight vigil to make no-so-veiled threats against his enemies, ultimately depicting tragedy in a rinse-wash-repeat cycle. In his scratchy, pitch-shifting delivery, BISHOP plays the part of preacher, eulogizing the state of disarray within south central L.A. On the delirious closing track “CURSED,” BISHOP’s slightly unhinged, confessional rhymes paint a picture of cyclical trauma, landing on the sobering conclusion that history is doomed to repeat itself. Infused with macabre humor and matter-of-fact missives, Generational Curse is an album whose themes will be felt for, sadly, generations. In this case, ICECOLDBISHOP is the one telling it like it is. Just don’t shoot the messenger. -Kaya Haskins
32. Hotline TNT – Cartwheel
“Someone the other day asked me what the keyboard sound is during the intro for [“Beauty Filter”]… it’s simple, guys: just turn up the distortion,” Hotline TNT’s Will Anderson told Brooklyn Vegan shortly before dropping the band’s Third Man Records debut Cartwheel. “I’m not a studio wizard, there’s no smoke and mirrors I’m just messing around in GarageBand until it sounds cool…that goes for the whole record.”
While cranking up the distortion surely elicits every (appropriate) descriptor for a shoegaze record of this caliber, it’s not a cheat code that works with lesser songwriting or uninspired performances. The noise elevates what’s already calcified in the bedrock of these songs. There’s a succinctness and beauty to Cartwheel’s songwriting that is emboldened by Anderson and company turning the knob to 11. A freewheeling earnestness runs through the album’s 33 minutes, with early highlights like “I Thought You’d Change” and “Protocol” tapping into a dreamy wistfulness through reflection and earworm guitar wizardry. “Baby girl, where’s the sign that you’re not around?/ Hit the roundabout, now I’m in the ground,” sings Anderson on the soaring “Out of Town.” Go round and round with Cartwheel and see new shapes and colors when you close your eyes. -Chris Cubbison
31. Frankie and the Witch Fingers – Data Doom
It’s not every day that a band can keep you on the edge of your seat as though you’re watching an apocalyptic sci-fi thriller. Los Angeles’ Frankie and the Witch Fingers have done just that on their newest album Data Doom, a veritable tour de force that propels them to the forefront of the modern psych-rock scene.
Data Doom opens with the electrifying “Empire,” an explosion of Sabbath-y madness that sets the tone for an album brimming with hypnotic riffs and mind-altering rhythms. Singer-guitarist Dylan Sizemore’s mesmerizing vocals steer the ship, while Josh Menashe’s titanic riffs evoke dystopian battles. Bassist Nicole “Pickle” Smith and drummer Nick Aguilar pummel listeners with a relentless, shape-shifting rhythmic energy. The album’s themes are as potent as its sonic landscape. Frankie confronts the digital apocalypse with exhilarating dexterity, plunging listeners into a world where fantasy and reality blur. From avant-jazz to psych-punk, Data Doom is a call to arms in a dystopian future. Each track is a musical weapon, sharp and revolutionary. With every chord and lyric, they beckon us to join their battle against the impending chaos. In the face of AI-generated doom, we’re all brothers and sisters in arms, and Data Doom is the rallying cry we’ve been waiting for. -JC
30. Kelela – Raven
From R&B to electro and layers in between, Kelela best exemplifies the expanding watershed of the medium as a whole with no specific genre ever taking hold again. She honors it well while holding true to her genuine sound throughout Raven. The Washington D.C. artist offers listeners a trip that is not meant to be forgotten. Her hauntingly pleasurable vocals lead them in and hold them there to set a foundation.
A key example is the track “On The Run,” a soulful bop supported by an ethereal rapture. Her gift of sound exploration is welcoming to all fans of seemingly endless genres. Listeners will take a dip and wade thoroughly. Kelela’s core thrives in emotion; fans are never not feeling something with her. Often, the sounds that ooze through are weird samples of the conscious turmoil of her world. Just to perk the ears with a sample is enough to empathize. Not all is devoid of fun, as the title track ends with a dance-infused initiation releasing the tension. Raven lifts and drifts for an ideal soundscape, ever traversing unknown territory. Even through repeat listens, more discoveries are made. Intellectual artistic development is clearly at work. For musicians in the space, Raven could eventually be a standard to reach for, with its eclectic songs bearing fascinating fruit. Fans will hope for more from Kelela in the coming years with relish. -Myles Hunt
29. Ratboys – The Window
Jump in the car. Roll the windows down. Queue up The Window. Fearlessly forward you go, occupying the different chambers of the heart just as Ratboys intend. In their 2023 offering, one of Chicago’s most exciting and inviting indie rock bands makes space for a listener to reckon with whatever weight they’re carrying. There’s a lightness in these tunes that could be confused with a breeze slowly shifting behind you. It feels healthy to address all of the same emotions along with frontwoman Julia Steiner, and it leaves one feeling a momentum towards satisfaction. Love. Anger. Confusion. Peace. You might be able to call it Americana therapy.
“Making Noise for the Ones You Love” is the rowdy tune to get you hooked by the aggressive percussion and fuzzy guitar. “Morning Zoo” is a standout chock-full of sweet fiddle and excited self-doubt. Get aggressive with the most popular ripper “Crossed that Line.” Consider your boundaries to the sway of “No Way.” The title track could blow you over if your feet weren’t set: “I walked across the green grass to where I knew you laid, the way the sun was shining down, I only saw your shape.” The closer “Bad Reaction” feels like a cliffhanger; it’s pure and it’s cute and it begs “What’s the one thing you love?” You won’t skip a single song on this one. Thank you for the ride, Ratboys. -Jacob McAdams
28. Geese – 3D Country
For Brooklyn’s Geese, heaven is real and the idea of its existence is the only thing that can save them from the impending doom of reality and adulthood. Their sophomore album 3D Country is un-seriously serious. Beyond swanky guitar riffs and Cameron Winter’s drunken vocals, Geese are primitive storytellers. With historical and religious references such as the Roman Empire, Crusades and Kali Yuga, the band is wiser than they let on. 3D Country follows a cowboy’s sojourn search for purpose in the 21st century – losing faith, haunted by troubled spirits of leaving the world, grasping for home.
Geese radiate the frivolous glamor of their early 20s while dedicating themselves to their creativity. The evolution of their craft is made clear on 3D Country. Some of the greatest lyrical moments are sweetly accented through Winter’s crooning vocals. On “3D Country,” he loses breath with each decree: “The day the cowboy cried/ And I gave up on love and you gave up on light/ And so began my second life.” 3D Country is a glorious ode to ’60s and ‘70s rock: Skynyrd riffs, McCartney-esque ballads, and Dylan-inspired narratives. It’s a genuinely interesting fusion of jam music and Geese’s classic grunge sound. “Gravity Blues” is a Shakespearean Wild West tale of a cowboy on a lonesome journey, toggling between being in love and feeling isolated without it: “You know I feel you, but I can’t feel your pain/ The kind of hurt only the years can take away/ Are you real? Is it torture/ Do they stay forever, all the motionless days.” 3D Country is not the most riveting or poetic detail of history. But in all its subtle, secretive, frivolous glory, it’s a stadium ballad, it’s a tall tale, it’s life on the saddle. -Kelly Kerrigan
27. For Tracy Hyde – Hotel Insomnia
The hardest part is letting go. Shortly after Japanese band For Tracy Hyde dropped Hotel Insomnia in December of last year, they announced their breakup. Fans experienced the fleeting joy of having new music from them, but were soon forced to reconcile with their dissolution. That feeling of bittersweet melancholy lies at the heart of Hotel Insomnia, but thankfully, For Tracy Hyde saved their best for last.
Frontwoman Azusa Suga steers the ship with her cooing vocals, expressing a gamut of emotions from hopeful longing to childlike wonder. A widescreen blend of shoegaze and dream pop takes shape on “The First Time (Is The Last Time),” with hazy guitars breezing alongside Suga’s cathartic lyrics. With Hotel Insomnia being their final album, For Tracy Hyde drain the tank of everything they’ve got. Like a rallying cry, Suga sings to the rafters a parting missive for fans: “May the jangles and the chimes forever ring out.” The band’s heart-stopping riffs snowball the rest of the way, carrying hints of grunge and psychedelia on “Kodiak,” while ’90s-style breakbeat drums and squelching guitar noise buoy the album’s explosive final goodbye, the appropriately titled “Leave This Planet.” With Hotel Insomnia, For Tracy Hyde demonstrated that’s it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Doesn’t mean we won’t miss them any less. -JC
26. Sprain – The Lamb As Effigy
As unfortunate as it may be, you have to love a band playing out an Icarus scenario. After establishing themselves as shrewd acolytes of Slint and Unwound with their 2020 debut As Told Through Collision, L.A.’s Sprain dial up their ambition, intensity, and personality tenfold with The Lamb As Effigy. It’s an album of rapidly cycling left turns; on any given song, you might suddenly find yourself immersed in beautiful strings, Les Claypool-esque bass freakouts, funereal ambience, epic guitar builds, harsh digital noise, disturbingly intimate confessionals, or pure silence. This broad new sound doesn’t eschew the group’s noisy post-hardcore influences, but adds a sense of scale and drama that brings to mind Swans or Kayo Dot, albeit with its own singular, self-flagellating baggage.
Notwithstanding the album’s unmistakably dark demeanor, there’s a palpable grandness to its labor. TLAE is a record that is striking in how fully it justifies its own pretension, readily revealing its universe rather than hinting at it. It’s so complete that it’s hard to think of a mood, genre, or instrument that isn’t at least briefly approached in its 90-plus minutes. But there’s a reason it’s rare to see a band evolve so dramatically so quickly, and with the band’s dissolution over the summer as evidence, perhaps making a grandiose statement like TLAE was always going to be untenable for Sprain. What we’re left with is a complex, difficult record that will test the patience of many, but undoubtedly be known as a masterpiece to adventurous listeners for years to come. -John Warlick
25. Overmono – Good Lies
The systemic approach of the electronic music industry can’t deter UK duo Overmono. Their debut album, Good Lies, is an exploration of music’s utilitarian path, where algorithms and brand “activations” reign. However, Overmono doesn’t just follow the functional trend; they add surprise and emotion to their tracks. The brothers, Tom and Ed Russell, create music that bridges the gap between functional and transcendent. Their clean sound – rooted in globular basslines, glassy percussion, and disembodied vocals – brings precision to their work, but it’s the interplay between rough edges and machine-tooled elements that adds depth.
Tracks like “So U Kno,” “Walk Thru Water,” and “Calon” balance energy and grounding, offering a well-rounded listening experience. Overmono’s ability to sample and manipulate vocals sets them apart. They take vocal samples, distort and pitch them, and infuse them into a myriad of electronic styles, resulting in a compelling mix. Drawing from garage, techno, and pop influences, the album’s sound is a fusion of dark, foreboding melodicism akin to Burial. Songs like “Is U,” “Calling Out,” and “Good Lies” showcase their mastery of vocal manipulation and 2-step beats, and their approach to sampling demonstrates their unique vision. Overmono’s willingness to embrace pop-leaning moments is a notable trait. Tracks like “So U Kno” and “Feelings Plain” are accessible to a wide audience while maintaining underground roots. Good Lies is a promising debut that combines function and emotion, setting the stage for Overmono to take the electronic scene by storm. -AG
24. James Holden – Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space of All Possibilities
It sounds like a cliche, but it’s not wrong to call James Holden something like an enlightened elder of electronic music. Having spent the last decade re-positioning himself from his 2000s work as a tech house DJ into a producer of weirder and weirder strains of IDM and electronica, Holden remains a true artist’s artist – following his muse to the ends of the aesthetic spectrum. On Imagine This Is a High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities, Holden takes a half step back from the jazzy, jam-like style he waded into on 2017’s The Animal Spirits, plugs in some of his dustier synthesizers, and lands on perhaps the best seamless hour of original electronic music you can find this year.
If you couldn’t tell from the title, the album is very much a psychedelic strain of electronic music, but it’s also relatively ambient-leaning, taking its time to morph between tribal beats or Latin piano into modern house and more esoteric neo-psychedelia. Similarities can be drawn between Imagine and Pantha Du Prince, Holden’s past collaborator Nathan Fake, and the more adventurous parts of Caribou’s seminal 2010 effort Swim. But on the whole, there aren’t a lot of great reference points for Holden’s melodic, boundary-pushing collision of styles here. It’s the kind of music that makes perfect sense being prominently featured in Thom Yorke guest mixes, and it’s essential listening this year for any fan of left-field electronic music. -John Warlick
23. MSPAINT – Post-American
Some of the best hardcore music in 2023 didn’t even have a fucking guitar. Post-American by Mississippi synth-punks MSPAINT is nonstop downhill acceleration, with ample fists thrown through genre, sound, and approach. The four piece’s conceptual basis, with each member taking on an instrument they themselves wouldn’t consider their primaries, yields incredibly catchy and colorful results.
Songs like “S3” and title track “Post American” inject an appreciated political bend, accompanied by heavy synth tones and momentous drumming. “Burn all the flags and the symbols of man,” belts singer Deedee, imagining the colors draining from the flag’s draped hues. Elsewhere, songs like “Free From The Sun” and the crescendoing “Titan of Hope” are portraits of a band that cannot be contained by expectations, packed with dueling melodic leads with massive riffs and empowering vocals. Kindred spirits Militarie Gun join the group on “Delete It,” a pleading for life that reaches towering highs during the song’s bridge. The band excels at creating these charged moments just when you think the songs have hit their sweet spot, with plenty of nuance in the questions they ask of their audience. It’s a rare duality between high octane theatrics and the smaller moments that builds out MSPAINT’s sound. -Chris Cubbison
22. yeule – softscars
The driving force of yeule’s music is their ability to personify the ever-changing intersection of technology and humanity, and the shrinking line that separates them. On their latest album softscars, the London artist embraces a lush fusion of shoegaze and dream pop, navigating the landscape of their past traumas with an aim towards healing. The album’s title references the lingering self-harm scars from yeule’s past, serving as a poignant motif throughout the record. Trading in the off-kilter glitch pop of their previous work for fuzzed-out ’90s alternative, softscars becomes a cathartic exploration of longing and yearning, akin to the Pinocchio-like drive of an AI to be human.
“Dazies” captivates with grungy power chords and confessional lyrics – like a cyborg’s rendition of Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” – as yeule confronts the depths of their depression. “White lines on diamond plates/ Die for someone too late/ Fixing myself with a broken software update,” they croon on the lulling dream pop ballad “Software Update,” which serves as a thematic nucleus that unravels yeule’s identity crisis, drug abuse, and attempts at self-care against the disorienting backdrop of the digital age. Towering lo-fi riffs, searing lyricism, and moments of sparse meditation accentuate the track’s emotional fiber. The album concludes with the ethereal “Aphex Twin Flame,” a gentle departing missive that perhaps offers a glimpse into a more hopeful future. softscars navigates heavy emotional terrain with grace and innovation – a testament to the power of yeule’s transformative journey as both an artist and human. -JC
21. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation
Listening to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard is like playing chess with the wind. Every piece of head-spinning musical prowess is in perpetual motion. Every move is calculated and unforeseen. King Gizzard is intangible and constantly shifting – the sonic embodiment of unpredictability. On PetroDragonic Apocalypse, their first of two LPs released in 2023 (and their 24th overall), the heady Australian psych marauders light their entire sonic matchbox on fire, resulting in their heaviest and most explosive album to date.
Kicking off with the titanic “Motor Spirit,” the band casts a thrash metal spell via crunching riffage, throat-shattering growls, and throttling rhythms that spin on a dime from one split second to the next. The chameleonic, fire-breathing banger “Dragon” switches up time signatures with dizzying aplomb, chugging underneath slithery guitar noodling and frontman Stu Pope’s gurgling, demonic vocal howl. Like Doc Ellis pitching a no-hitter on LSD, PetroDragonic Apocalypse is dosed-out but surgically precise. There’s just such an unexplainable, mystical quality to this album that allows it to cast its dark magic so effectively. On the incendiary final track “Flamethrower,” King Gizzard sound like they’re summoning demons as Pope robotically repeats the phrase “mooootor spiiiiirit,” leaving a trail of evil destruction in their wake. As the album finally fades into silence, we are left forever changed – touched by their spellbinding hands, and speaking in cursed tongues. MOOOOOTOR…SPIIIIIIIRIT. -JC
20. Jane Remover – Census Designated
In an era where we’re constantly splitting hairs over genre tags, Jane Remover is insisting that it’s all more simple than we think. Shoegaze? Emo? Bedroom pop? Slowcore? Forget all that noise. The visionary artist’s latest album Census Designated is first and foremost ROCK music, plain and simple. The rest is up to your imagination.
Whereas her DIY breakthrough Frailty built itself around glitchy, bitcrushed layers of EDM and indietronica, Census builds on an array of corrosive guitar tones that are simply to die for. The riffs on “Fling” definitely wouldn’t feel out of place on an early Deftones record, while those on “Backseat Girl” recall the wafting sound of Parannoul’s crescendo-chasing. But like Frailty, Census is another stunning showcase of Jane’s prowess as a confessional storyteller. “Chew me up, spit me out before you can swallow,” she croons on opener “Cage Girl/Camgirl,” which opens up on themes of objectification and power dynamics in toxic relationships. Throughout the record, her gorgeous auto-tuned vocals provide a dreamy sheen that teleports you right into her psyche. Grungy bass notes and echoey guitars form the backbone of her sparse, avant take on singer-songwriter rock. On the self-titled single, squelching riffage accompanies a haunting tale of love, betrayal, and identity crisis. The track is an elixir of styles, but there’s no need to overthink things. More than anything, Census Designated is a beacon of vulnerability, and Jane Remover wants us to feel exactly what she’s feeling – whatever genre it is. -JC
19. ANOHNI and the Johnsons – My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross
Last we’d checked, venerated NYC-based vocalist and songwriter Anohni’s long-running musical collective the Johnsons – named after trans rights activist Marsha P. Johnson and known for subdued, somber chamber pop – had disbanded in 2015, with Anohni turning her focus to decidedly more political and contemporary music. The unexpected return of The Johnsons this year with the “blue-eyed soul” of My Back Was a Bridge for You To Cross is a brilliant aesthetic about-face for the singer; it flips the script on the synth-driven intensity of her 2016 solo effort HOPELESSNESS, trading its icy tones for the warmest, most approachable music of her career.
Although My Back‘s sound clearly harkens back to early-‘70s soul – imbued with shades of Marvin Gaye, Al Green and GIl Scott-Heron – it’s also a fluid, omnivorous record, with tracks like “Scapegoat” stretching out into majestic slowcore and the spare “There Wasn’t Enough” leaning into chamber folk. In some ways, it’s not too far off from what The Johnsons were putting out a decade or two ago, but there’s an immediacy and open-heartedness to this record that feels new for the group. To that, you have to credit Anohni’s songwriting, which is more grounded, purposeful and direct here than it’s ever been, delivered with the same superhuman empathy and conviction she’s displayed her whole career. For an artist with the power to make any piece of art a devastating emotional experience, there’s a true altruism to making such a forgiving, message-forward record that can reach anybody. We’re very lucky she chose to do so. -John Warlick
18. Yves Tumor – Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
Sean Lee Bowie, aka Yves Tumor, trades in their punk-ish attitude and sound from Heaven to a Tortured Mind for anthemic glam-rock splendor on Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds). Songs like “Meteora Blues” and “Heaven Surrounds Us Like A Hood” firmly demonstrate Bowie’s ever-evolving (and deepening) songwriting chops and flair for the poetic. ‘70s and ‘80s glam-rock, as well as a dash of ‘90s alternative inspiration, take center stage throughout the album, with Bowie’s delicate and romantic falsetto pushing these songs into dreamy territories.
“I looked into his eyes, you know he was so pure at heart/ For a moment we became each other/ We found a love that made us slowly fall apart,” sings Bowie on “Heaven.” These stripped back moments imbue a glassy-eyed intimacy, laying the foundation for high-flying crescendos to build out Yves Tumor’s world, with gorgeous guitar licks and deep grooves highlighting the album’s lyrical flair. There are clear through lines from the artist’s previous albums as well, with album closer “Ebony Eye” echoing a pseudo-sampled sound (a violin melody from Kansas’ “Curtain of Iron”) with seismic drum fills and triumphant horn and string sections to underscore Bowie’s soaring emotional core. Praise A Lord is a resounding victory lap in another impressive addition to Yves Tumor’s decorated and equally varied discography. -Chris Cubbison
17. Chuquimamani-Condori – DJ E
Chuquimamani-Condori’s DJ E is like a chemistry experiment in action. A whirlwind of ecstatic sounds fling, collide, and bounce off one another like electromagnetic particles. Percussive glitches clash with fluttery woodwinds. Majestic drone synths swell to off-kilter bass drums. Acoustic chords sputter alongside heady processed vocal samples. A kinetic energy builds, and in kaleidoscopic fashion, noise and harmony become one.
Chuquimamani-Condori, also known affectionally by fans as E, is an artist and musician from Northern California belonging to the Pakajaqi nation of Aymara – an indigenous people based in the Andes and Altiplano regions. E wears their heritage proudly, and that’s reflected through DJ E, an epic sound collage bursting with euphoric emotions and cultural fabric. For those less familiar with the styles on display, the album is as enlightening as it is uplifting. As with their past work, E explores and blends many different South American folk and Latin Electronic subgenres, from Indigenous Andean Music to Bolivian Huayño and caporal – a neo-folk dance style driven by double-beat bass drum patterns. The result is brave and inspirational – outsider music woven through warped pieces of deconstructed club. As the album notes read, it’s also a total DIY conception: “no label support, no agencies, no management, no distributors, no mastering.” As such, DJ E is the most personal, cathartic, and down-to-earth album of 2023. It touches your spirit, expands your mind, pulls your heart strings, and will inspire you to hug the closest person next to you. If that isn’t a DIY miracle, then what is? -Kaya Haskins
16. HiTech – DÉTWAT
Sometimes all you need to do is give the people exactly what they want. HiTech clearly understand the assignment as they follow a foolproof formula in their spirited quest to drive Detroit’s electronic scene to greener pastures, and injecting their sound with enough freshness and nuance to stand out amongst a crowded pack of peers. On DÉTWAT, the rambunctious producer-rapper trio of Milf Melly, King Milo, and 47Chops follows up last year’s breakthrough debut LP with another wavy, cranked-up volume of infectious ghettotech ready-made for late night dance floor shuffling.
At 28 minutes long, DÉTWAT is a breezy record whose relatively short running time inspires countless repeat listens. The unit leads off with “NU MUNNI,” a raucous jit banger packed with 150-plus BPMs and motorized bass that radiate rough-and-tumble Jersey-Detroit club vibes. The simple but catchy house gem “MONEY PHONE” builds around a jazzy piano melody looping vibrantly alongside a processed vocal refrain. And then there’s the druggy, off-kilter anthem “ZOOTED,” whose clanging juke energy and alien-like vocals repeating the line “from the front to the back” feel tailored for mass festival singalongs. Guest starring fellow Detroit luminaries Fullbodydurag, QuiKKash, Link Sinatra, Dastardly Kids, and more, HiTech’s DÉTWAT is another raw, rugged entry in the storied lineage of Detroit techno. Driven by three rowdy personalities, HiTech are bringing unrestrained fun, flavor, and reckless abandon to the Motor City. We can’t wait for the next party they soundtrack. -JC
15. leroy – Grave Robbing
A blazing metronome punctures like a jackhammer hundreds of times over. Syrupy synths soon emerge, followed by majestic walls of noise giving way to a chirpy Mike Posner vocal sample: “Baby please don’t GOOOOOOOO, if I wake up tomorrow will you still be here?” A sugar rush of sounds swells to an electrifying peak before dropping like a guillotine – sharp, piercing synths ringing out like a blade plunging into one’s neck over and over. Before you know it, the mix coalesces into a heady mash-up built around a processed vocal sample from alt-pop carnivore Slayyyter: “We’ve been smokin’ all day, we walked around the city and I think we ran into your ex…” Mere minutes into leroy’s brilliantly unhinged new album Grave Robbing, I’m already holding on for dear life.
The artist also known as Jane Remover has had a prolific couple of years, lighting up the internet’s musical underground in many polar opposite directions. Her DJ-producer side hustle, leroy, has garnered her a unique swath of cult fandom, beginning with her Dariacore series – a boundary-pushing collection of digicore-EDM spliced with a brain-splitting flurry of niche pop culture samples. With Grave Robbing, she’s taken the concept of a mashup-remix-plunderphonics album to its “happy hardcore” breaking point. The result is pure, whiplash-inducing glory. Saccharine “bubblegum bass” wrapped into Nia Archives’ “Heads Will Roll” DnB remix on “Her head is so0o0o0o0 rolling.” Vapory hyperpop-trance kitsch on “Jack’d My Swag.” Carly Rae Jepsen, Caroline Polachek, aespa, Afrojack, and Whitney Houston bitcrushed into oblivion through hardstyle, speed house, jersey club, and any other adrenalized EDM sub-sphere out there. If you like your music to have zero chill, then strap in tight. Grave Robbing is just for you. -JC
14. Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
Caroline Polachek’s Desire, I Want To Turn Into You feels like a classic batch of modern hits delivered from the future. She may be the only legitimate reason for anyone to use the word “ethereal” without feeling fraudulent. The record is an odyssey winding through moments of sweet intimacy, palpable strength, and most vitally, urgent yearning for intensity itself.
The type of creativity displayed on Desire makes her loving grip on art pop seem effortless and her open heart seem unchallengeable. It feels unabashedly Caroline Polachek. “Welcome To My Island,” is the massive opening tune – a healthy mix of cool hip hop and ‘80s-style anthems – and its delivery is indisputable. Her experimentation is somehow both so fresh and still comfortable, from the adventurous vocal runs of empowering “I Believe” to the genre-bending styles of Spanish dream “Sunset.” The tough “Bunny Is A Rider” feeds the confident side of independence. “Look at you, all mythological and Wikipediated/ Look how I forget who I was before I was the way I am with you” is a lyrical standout in the aggressively cute lover “Blood and Butter.” I personally use “Hopedrunk Everasking” as a kind of sexy, guided meditation. Polachek proves she is an irresistible force with this album. It should be noted that these songs are only part of the phenomenon; Polachek should be seen as well as heard. The mystique of her stage performance of this music confirms that she is an ancient, eternal spirit dressed around her midriff. -Jacob McAdams
13. Tainy – DATA
Even diehard reggaeton fans would probably concede that the genre is mostly the musical equivalent of comfort food; a hearty Sunday brunch, late night McDonalds drive-thru, mom’s spaghetti. But whenever Tainy is involved, the result is more akin to fine dining. And Tainy, the prolific Puerto Rican producer who has led the explosion of Latin music for well over a decade, is like a Michelin star chef on his solo debut Data.
Data finds Tainy taking charge of his own narrative, demonstrating a vision and versatility that goes well beyond his productions for other artists. On “MOJABI GHOST,” featuring his most celebrated collaborator Bad Bunny, he expertly shape-shifts EDM, R&B, and trap into a symbiotic fusion. When it comes to evolution and innovation, Tainy remains undefeated. The album often steps well beyond the confines of reggaeton and Latin trap, venturing into an oasis of towering, futuristic pop that transcends cultural fabric. “FANTASMA AVC” rolls shuffle-step rhythms into glistening sci-fi synths and robotic bass, punctuating guest Jaycho’s bravura vocals. As the album’s extravagant production takes center stage, Tainy and his collaborators parse themes of success, struggle, technology, and destiny. The guest list is an All-Star lineup of Latin power players; fantastic vocal contributions from the likes of Arcangel, Rauw Alejandro, Ozuna, Kany García, Daddy Yankee, and more round out this smashing sonic spectacle. Molded entirely to Tainy’s impeccable vision, Data is a lush sonic utopia and a bold step into Latin pop’s future. -JC
12. Jeromes Dream – The Gray In Between
The Gray In Between is like a meal by a Michelin star-level chef making seven-courses out of three ingredients that manage to take you to exciting new places you previously couldn’t imagine being able to go with such a pared down list of components. On The Gray In Between, Jeromes Dream uses their decades-long experience to take complete chaos and shape it into an experiment in rhythm and dynamics that constantly wrong-foots the listener.
Even though the guitars are constantly on the verge of spiraling into an uncontrollable morass of feedback, and the drums rarely leave space for reflection, there seems to be a constantly evolving flow of energy throughout every part of every song. They masterfully weave chaos, exemplified by their use of feedback, into coherent compositions that convey a developing emotional narrative throughout. There is a kind of intuitive understanding of how far to push the listener and when and how far to pull back in order to keep them engaged. The production is just as masterfully stripped back as the songs themselves, never making itself the centerpiece, but positioning every component to shine through the furious, screeching soundscape. On The Gray In Between, every constituent part works together to lift each other and lead the listener to a place where noise is no longer the enemy of music, but the medium from which it is made. -Seena Ratcliffe
11. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin
Javelin returns Sufjan Stevens to his roots, presenting a departure from the expansive productions of his recent projects. The album embraces a more acoustic and scaled-down sound, reminiscent of 2015’s Carrie and Lowell. Here, Stevens adopts a direct lyrical approach, allowing listeners an intimate glimpse into his vulnerability. On top of his masterful production, Stevens wrote and crafted the album almost entirely on his own. Collaborations with Bryce Dessner, Adrienne Maree Brown, Hannah Cohen, Pauline Delassus, Megan Lui, and Nedelle Torrisi add harmonies and additional guitar work, showcasing Stevens’ singular artistic vision and hands-on involvement in the creative process.
Dedicated to Stevens’ late partner Evans Richardson, many of the album’s tracks explore the need, the longing for, and the beauty of love. Opening track “Goodbye Evergreen” serves as a personification of losing a loved one, and sonically channels the highs and lows of grief. As Javelin progresses, it explores life’s profound questions and emotions. Closing with a cover of Neil Young’s “There’s a World” from Harvest Moon, Stevens offers a unique interpretation. Accompanied by sparse acoustic riffs, the track takes on a hopeful tone, presenting an alternate perspective to the original. In this final piece, Stevens makes the cover entirely his own, concluding Javelin on a resonant and personal note. The album expands Stevens’ roots in a revolutionary new way, but it also underscores his prowess as a self-sufficient and evocative musical storyteller. Javelin is heartbreaking, but it is also delightful – chock-full of nostalgia, and reminding us to celebrate life despite the pain. -Makaila Heifner
10. Wednesday – Rat Saw God
Wednesday’s sophomore LP Rat Saw God feels evolutionary into its inner-Ashevillian nature. “Quarry” is undoubtedly one of the band’s most poignant tracks ever. Upon first listen, it stumbles into your psyche, leaving you unaware of the fact that soon enough you’ll be craving the opening line “The rain-rotted house on the dead end of Baytree, old bitter lady” when you wake up in the morning. Karly Hartzman’s ability to rhyme together detailed stanzas is nothing short of extraordinary. She subtly points out the undertones of the stickiness of life – religious billboards on endless country roads, TVs at gas pumps, and the nosiness of Southern neighbors; the old lady who denotes American grief but “gives out full-sized candy bars on Halloween,” the Kletz brothers’ parents fighting in the front yard in their underwear, the Jewish kid who got the preacher’s daughter pregnant, and in perhaps the most Wednesday line on the album, the cops being called on Mandy and her boyfriend for their “front for a mob thing.”
“Chosen to Deserve” is the dearest re-collection of Southern Gothic tales. The song encompasses the band’s ethos perfectly: Hartzmann’s songwriting, the band’s easygoing sound, the nearly-pop hooks. Before you know it, you’re singing along about taking too much Benadryl to get high, “doing it” in the back of an SUV in some cul-de-sac, pissing in the street. Rat Saw God is grungy (“Turkey Vultures”), it’s hardcore (“Bull Believer”), it’s gentle (“Formula One”), and in most moments, it’s perfectly all of these at once (“Hot Rotten Grass Smell,” “Bath Country”). Wednesday is more than a band. They’re an aesthetic, a culture, a lifestyle, a genre. They’re friends, lovers, poets, rockstars. But mostly, they’re just kids living off the land, painting the picture of their life in North Carolina. -Kelly Kerrigan
9. bar italia – Tracey Denim
Prior to Tracey Denim, bar italia were best known for being unknowable. With no interviews, no press, and almost no songs over two minutes long, 2020’s Quarrel and 2021’s bedhead delighted and bemused in equal measure – their inscrutable lo-fi pop songs sounding jokingly tossed-off and yet too weird, disembodied, and perfectly imperfect to dismiss. On their Matador debut Tracey Denim, the band are suddenly showing their faces, giving interviews, and writing longer songs, and it’s fascinating to discover that they had nothing to hide. On the contrary, Tracey Denim relishes its moment, candidly capturing a young rock band with a unique style, an inimitable aura of cool, and undeniable songwriting chops.
If there’s a cost to Tracey Denim‘s new approach, it’s that to fully appreciate it, you can’t be unmoved at the concept of an indie rock band in general. Given their more abstract beginnings, it may initially unnerve longtime fans to see bar italia present themselves here so nakedly over alt-rock instrumentation. But it’s exactly what the trio does with it that proves their case; the songs flesh out a delightfully idiosyncratic writing style adaptable to any aesthetic template. The album’s best moments, like “Nurse!,” “punkt,” and “changer,” see the three vocalists leapfrogging and alley-ooping each other, continuing where they last left off – their disparate vocal and writing approaches neatly juxtaposing and informing one another. All the while, the trio seems incapable of not writing hooky, head-nodding guitar riffs and chord progressions. If there’s ever a sense of bar italia resisting showiness on Tracey, there’s always a greater sense that they’re letting the construction and clarity of the songs speak for itself. In doing so, bar italia present a new sincerity on Tracey Denim that’s just as transfixing and beguiling as any of their past work. -John Warlick
8. George Clanton – Ooh Rap I Ya
George Clanton is in his prime. The 100% Electronica label owner (no relation to the P-Funk legend) has been on a steady upward climb for years, and after cementing his status with 2018’s indie breakthrough Slide, the follow-up Ooh Rap I Ya emphatically proves the former’s success was no fluke. To behold, Ooh is a vivid, texturally dazzling pop album from an artist-producer with an auteur’s command of retro-futurist nostalgia. It’s also a shrewdly conceived follow-up, dialing in sonic cues from Slide‘s most upbeat moments and carving out an eye-poppingly gorgeous universe within them.
Many of the nine songs here share a similar list of influences; start with an Enigma drum break, bring in some Moby synths and shoegaze sonics, dress it all in The Orb’s electronic neo-psychedelia, and just add George’s towering vocals to make some deliciously warped alternative pop. In other hands, these signifiers would melt into listless chillwave, but something about Clanton’s touch gives these songs a sense of pedigree. Indeed, Ooh‘s synth-driven songs somehow feel spiritually of the rock canon; you can hear in soaring hooks and sparkling electronics a modern analog to Tears for Fears, and some moments also feel a lot like the slinky alt-electronica of Smashing Pumpkins’ under-appreciated Adore. But in contrast to the occasional aimlessness of its aging counterparts’ genre exploration, Ooh‘s presentation feels self-assured and polished, perfectly nailing Clanton’s eclectic vision. At less than 40 minutes, it also punches well below its weight, practically begging the listener to guess what might come next from George. If Ooh Rap I Ya is any indication, we’ll inevitably be floored. -John Warlick
7. Model/Actriz – Dogsbody
Model/Actriz’s music is like an erotic thriller: sexy, violent, alluring, and full of symbolism and sobering reflection. There’s an air of danger and discovery pulsating through it, an energy teetering perilously on the precipice between pleasure and pain. Through rattling bangers, sparse ballads, and a shattered mosaic of no wave, industrial, and post-punk, the NYC band finds the perfect sweet spot on the jaw-dropping Dogsbody – the best debut LP of 2023.
The band front-loads the album with high-energy rippers like opener “Donkey Show,” with rizzed-up lead singer Cole Haden setting the scene with provocative baritone vocals that sound a lot like lustful moans and groans. “Mosquito” is a sweaty, pulse-pounding noise jam full of sensuality and promiscuity, featuring vibrating drum machines, blasts of synth static, and lyrics packed with carnal sexuality and innuendo: “With a body count, higher than a mosquito,” Haden belts on the chorus, one of many lines that blend violent and sexual imagery. As the album rolls on, Model/Actriz break up the mounting tension with a few subtle, minimal ballads. “Divers” comprises a wandering synth line and a solitary, snowballing snare drum that sounds like a baseball bat hitting a trash can as Haden soul-searches in a soft, sweetly croon. These moments of inner reflection bring the album’s more harrowing moments into clearer focus, offering bouts of self-discovery in between the debauchery. On Dogsbody, Model/Actriz are out to loosen your inhibitions and lure you to their dark side. We highly recommend giving in to temptation. -JC
6. Parannoul – After The Magic
Even without being able to understand the Korean lyrics, Parannoul’s After the Magic still manages to instill a true nostalgia. Not the over commodified baiting of consumers to think of how an ever-whitewashed past is in some way more palatable than the present, but a bittersweet acknowledgement and honoring of the ephemera of our pasts. Something that encapsulates not just the memory, but the entirety of your life in that instant – all the context that could never be recreated that leads you to that moment in time.
Parannoul builds songs that often begin as what sound like quaint bedroom recordings – with delightfully lo-fi synths and acoustic guitars – and shapes them into soaring anthems that feel momentous. The compositional momentum allows for what feels like dozens of tracks to pile on top of one another without ever allowing one to obscure another. It allows for sometimes opposing ideas and tones to coexist without ever fracturing the central idea. Each song creeps up on you as if it’s a daydream on a warm day that soon fully wraps itself around you, letting a wide spectrum of emotions wash over you at once, only to regretfully release too soon, momentarily dropping you back into the real world, only to begin again at the next track. -Seena Ratcliffe
5. Sadness / abriction – Sadness // abriction
A swelling tide of static gives way to pretty guitar melodies. Soft, jangly rhythms keep pace as bleary vocals emerge, soaked in reverb and muffled to beautiful, dreamy perfection. These textures soon break out into a sprint as scorching blackgaze screams ratchet up the aching pain of nostalgia. The track is called “Something in the Summer Rain,” and it kicks off the stunning split LP from scene staples Sadness and relative newcomers abriction. Featuring five behemoth tracks – two by Sadness and three by abriction – Sadness // abriction is an epic jaunt through wistful shoegaze, cathartic emo, and a dose of black metal. For one band it’s a victory lap, for the other, it’s a breakthrough.
Split LPs are rare these days, but both acts are able to make cohesive, fully-formed statements that complement each other. Here, Sadness plays point guard, establishing space and making the skilled assist to abriction, who finishes it off in explosive slam dunk style. The opening one-two punch of “Something in the Summer Rain” and “Please…” bursts at the melancholic seems, setting up a foundation that abriction is able to expand upon with three gargantuan epics of their own. Led by Meredith Salvatori, abriction proves to be an absolute revelation. “Illuminate the Rain” is a noisy post-rock journey full of effervescent layers that ebb and flow between driving punk breakdowns and moments of sparse, ambient meditation. Salvatori’s voice is soothing to the ears even as she hits harsh, gravelly high notes. The glistening 21-minute finale “Her Summer Morning Sky” is a breathtaking emotional cleanser – warm, wide-eyed, therapeutic, and transformative. Like spiritually turning over a new leaf, it closes out Sadness // abriction in transcendent fashion. -JC
4. Armand Hammer – We Buy Diabetic Test Strips
billy woods and Elucid are riding a hot streak that’s almost never been seen before in hip-hop. As Armand Hammer, the duo has dropped one masterpiece after another – from 2013’s Race Music to 2021’s Haram – not to mention their essential solo albums. Their journey of experimental supremacy has seen them wrangle the headiest beats, spit the most rhetorical lyrical bars, and confront the hardest-hitting themes known to underground rap – with all roads leading to their incredible new album We Buy Diabetic Test Strips.
The title alludes to the hoops that uninsured diabetes patients have to jump through to obtain cheaper, non-retailed test strips, a recurring motif of systemic wealth inequality that lies at the crux of the record. Production-wise, the album departs a bit from the soulful, meditative textures that the Alchemist conjured on Haram; several All-Pro beatsmiths – JPEGMAFIA, DJ Haram, El-P, Preservation, and more – explore the dark, psychedelic shadows of electronic hip-hop, underscoring a feeling of mounting tension and anxiety that intensifies with woods and Elucid’s increasingly frenzied bars. “Don’t kill the messenger, Henry Kissinger my album’s only feature,” woods raps on “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” a track that tackles American imperialism and CIA oversight with fiery defiance. On “Y’all Can’t Stand Here,” Elucid imagines an ideal world where “The mangoes was free, but so was the shrinks” before reality sinks in – the sobering truth that delicious fruit and mental assistance are unfortunately a privilege and not a commodity. Through an onslaught of haunting beats and imagery-rich lyrical gold, Armand Hammer re-establish themselves as the most potent and prescient rap unit of our times, and We Buy Diabetic Test Strips proves to be their magnum opus. -Kaya Haskins
3. Liturgy – 93696
I’m not going to try to explain the philosophical underpinnings of Liturgy. I have neither the time, nor intelligence, nor the word limit to decipher and summarize a constantly evolving personal metaphysical study that spans music, video lectures, physical art, and essays. Even within this album there is too much symbolism, numerology, and contextual knowledge for me to even get into. There is so much dissection and analysis freely available if you care to hunt that particular whale.
What draws me to Liturgy is a similar unknowable, transcendental quality to their music. The vast orchestral compositions on 93696 are at once discordant and meditative, overwhelming the ears to the point of transcendence. At times it sounds as if there are more notes being played than the human mind can process properly. There is no telling what it might make you feel; some find it off-putting, some find it revelatory. There is no pinning this album in one place on a musical map. It is the auditory manifestation of being faced with an endless universe, with an endless amount of information being hurled randomly throughout the cosmos, and attempting, however futilely, to acknowledge it, absorb it, and organize it in its entirety. There is an awe-inspiring quality to Haela Hunt-Hendrix’s pursuit, trying to coalesce an infinite universe and communicate how the creator interprets as much detail as possible. She sees sprawling reality and everything behind it, and does everything in her power to tame it and give it a name. -Seena Ratcliffe
2. DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ – Destiny
Showing someone the music of DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ for the first time typically elicits a series of questions. How is she getting away with this name? Is she serious? Upon first listen, harder questions usually follow: Is she worried about getting sued for these samples? Is she actually two people? Is she making any money on these oddly affordable 6-LP releases? The more you listen to DJ Sabrina, the more confused you become. It doesn’t add up, but her music offers so much that any questions become completely irrelevant.
For the uninitiated, DJ Sabrina is an anonymous British electronic producer who has spent the last several years making plunderphonic house music from samples of early-2000s Radio Disney pop and ’90s teen sitcoms. Destiny, Sabrina’s longest project yet, is a four-hour transformation of saccharine source material into something life-saving and sublime, a torrent of inspiration and nostalgia set to glittery synths and pounding drums. At its absurd length, Destiny isn’t an album you can realistically digest in one sitting. Yet, it forgives you for it, segmenting itself into genre movements and thematic suites that might not register until your third or fourth listen. If it seems ridiculous to listen to an album so long that many times, you’re starting to understand the appeal and enduring mystery of DJ Sabrina; any artist releasing this much music this often should be expected to set a low bar for the quality. And yet, Destiny is shockingly detailed for its runtime and functions beautifully as headphone music. On repeat listens, its pointedly dated, early-digital aesthetic feels increasingly homespun, deliberate and artful – like The Avalanches meets the ABC Family fall drama lineup.
Still, Destiny is arguably best when you can take it in somewhat subconsciously, allowing its cinematic world to meld with your awareness and push you somewhere else. This is music that not only gives you permission to relive your most distant, tucked-away nostalgia, but also reaches out to validate your feelings about it all. It’s genuinely healing. Like the best of DJSTTDJ’s music, Destiny references basically everybody and sounds like nobody else, communicating on a truly triumphant level of earnestness. Superficially, you could reduce it to an impersonal mashup exercise by an artist who could very well be AI, yet it manages to impress itself on a much deeper musical and personal level. In going all-in on artifice, Destiny is simply the realest shit ever. -John Warlick
1. JPEGMAFIA x Danny Brown – Scaring The Hoes
Die-hard football fans will remember Vontaze Burfict, widely considered to be the dirtiest player in modern NFL history. Over eight seasons, Burfict racked up 14 separate suspensions for violent conduct – usually from gruesome late hits. He also accumulated over $5.3 million in fines and forfeited salary. The NFL actually had to implement new rules and safety regulations to prevent players from doing what he primarily was doing. He was football’s embodiment of chaos and mayhem. And in a way, he changed the game. So when JPEGMAFIA summons a victory horn that sounds like it was ripped straight from an NFL Films documentary – on a song literally titled “Burfict!” – you know exactly what Scaring The Hoes is trying to convey.
JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown typically dabble in abrasive, tweaked-out sound and thought experiments that scare away the average music listener, hence the album’s title. On Scaring The Hoes, the experimental rap titans combine forces to unleash the year’s best album – a collection of joyously defiant moods, sly social commentaries, and frantic beats designed to blow out speaker systems. On the mission statement-title track, the rappers trade off-kilter verses over distorted guitars and pummeling drums, with Brown excoriating the greedy nature of the corporate music industry: “Say it ain’t about the bars ‘cause it’s all about the brand/ Say it ain’t about the art ‘cause it’s all about them bands/ Give a fuck about a fan put the money in my hand.”
Like a classic Blaxploitation flick, Scaring The Hoes captures an action-packed, tongue-in-cheek zaniness, with dark humor and reckless energy lurking around every sonic corner. “Fentanyl Tester” packs an arsenal of satirical pop culture references – including the shockingly dark line “you can get rocked like Chrisean” – before dropping a truly unhinged “Milkshake” sample. Later, the duo blends sexual and religious imagery on “God Loves You,” with each rapper boasting about their sexual prowess over a rapturous gospel beat that could soundtrack the climax to a Shaft movie.
Some might criticize the album’s blown-out mixing, which sometimes obscures their verses. But more often than not, that approach helps Peggy’s production capture an even more raw and unfiltered vibe, and implores listeners to dig deeper through repeat listens. Ultimately, there’s a dangerous, unpredictable, throttling energy coursing through Scaring The Hoes – like a helmet-to-helmet hit from a certain ex-NFL linebacker. And like Burfict absolutely annihilating Antonio Brown, you might not be the same afterwards. -JC