2023 was a great year for music as they were many standout memorable releases from every genre. I was quite the year for the indie supergroup boygenius, who brought indie back to the forefront while becoming the voice of a new generation. Lana Del Rey came back with her ninth studio album that many considered her best work and Olivia Rodirigo returned with a vengeance and elevated her game in a short amount of time. Meanwhile, there were fantastic debuts from Blondshell, Chappell Roan, Raye and Gracie Abrams that showed just how strong and diverse the talent of women in music. Mix them in with other amazing releases and we’ve collated our list of the top 23 albums that stood out in 2023.
23 The Aces – I’ve Loved You For So Long
The third studio album from The Aces, ‘I’ve Loved You For So Long’ dropped during pride month and sees the band tackling anxiety and the struggles with mental health. Lead singer Cristal Ramirez really opened up on this album with songs related to her anxiety as well as confronting the dire feelings of growing up queer in a conservative town of suburban Utah to craft some timeless gems. Standouts like “Suburban Blues”, “Attention” and the title track will be staples of the band’s live setlist for years to come.
22 Bully – Lucky for You
Guitar driven rock music has been making a bit of a comeback in recent years and the fourth studio album from Bully is filled with bangers. Touching on loss of loved ones to commentary on the decline of life in America, Bully aka Alicia Bognanno created an album that’s raw and raucous at times and incredibly emotional throughout the LP from songs like “Change Your Mind” and “Hard To Love” to “Days Move Slow”.
21 Genesis Owusu – STRUGGLER
Following up a critically acclaimed debut album is a tough task for any artist and Genesis Owusu conquered any doubts of luck with the release of ‘STRUGGLER’. The Australian artist had already begun the writing process, while touring in support of his debut ‘Smiling With No Teeth’ that was universally lauded amongst critics and fans alike. With ‘STRUGGLER’, Owusu created a concept album center to around the the character of a cockroach representing mankind that survives the worst that life can throw, regardless of how bad things can get. Songs about Owusu’s struggles with depression and Sonically, Owusu expands on the funky hip-hop vibes with more rock influences like in “Leaving the Light,” “The Roach” and “Freak Boy”. The album has already won Australia’s ARIA Award for “Album of the Year” and there will certainly be more accolades to come.
20 Arlo Parks – My Soft Machine
Just like Genesis Owusu, another artist who broke out during the pause of live music during the pandemic and delivered the goods with their second effort in 2023 was Arlo Parks. The British artist’s sophomore album ‘My Soft Machine’ proved that all the critical acclaim was worthy and then some. Her smooth vocals are a staple of her music and shine on expertly produced songs against lyrics that find hopefulness when dealing with negative emotions. Standouts like “Blade” is airy and light while “Weightless” sees Parks stretch out sonically as both embody the emotional weight of the album’s themes.
19 Wednesday – Rat Saw God
The fifth studio album from Wednesday is filled with vignettes of the older person’s reflection on their youth. Primarily revolving around real-ilfe experiences of the band’s lead singer Karly Hartzman, the songs centers around the tough moments that Hartzman went through during her teenage years. “Formula One” is a slow-burning love song centered around maturing within a relationship while “Got Shocked” is filled with guitars that captures moments of the unexpected and turmoil. “Bull Believer” is an epic eight minute tale of the struggles with alcoholism and addiction where Hartzman’s screams are both freeing yet filled with pain, a vibe that emanates throughout the album.
18 yeule – Softscars
The third studio album from Yeule was met with much anticipation in the rising artist certainly didn’t disappoint. ‘softscars’ takes the listener on a journey of confronting demons and learning how to not only deal with them but ultimately start loving one’s self. Very much inspired by 00s alternative and their synth-pop leanings, the album is set in a futuristic dystopian city and tells the tales of emotional wound experienced from daily life as well as its healing. “dazies” captures the feelings of despair and self-destruction from being unable to lift themselves out. The emotional “fish in a pool” is a standout track that features yeule simply humming over a piano that captures the sense of reflection with a glimmer of hope, a sentiment that after all that’s endured, resilience of the human spirit prevails- something that yeule demonstrates as their third full-length shows what could result.
17 The Beaches – Blame My Ex
After going independent, The Beaches delivered their sophomore album on their own terms with a collection of catchy melodies and songs about heartbreak and overcoming the loss of a relationship. The Canadian outfit have made their mark on American commercial radio with the lead single “Blame Brett” for it’s bold and strong independent “who needs them” attitude but other songs on the album capture the 00s indie blog-band vibe with songs like “Kismet” and “Shower Beer” while “Cigarette” emanates shades of The Cure. The album serves as a solid foundation for the band’s next evolution.
16 Paris Texas – MID AIR
There are two albums with the same title yet they couldn’t sound any more different. The debut LP by Paris Texas is filled with experimental sounds ranging from hardcore synth and acoustic numbers to match their self-reflection hard-hitting raps. The duo comprised Louie Pastel and Felix gets intense and chaotic as they question “Who wanna rock?/Who wanna roll?” against a loud, catchy electric guitar beat amped up with synths in the opening song “tenTHIRTYseven.” On the flipside, “Closed Caption” reflects on the duo’s flaws and anxieties as the instruments are scaled back to highlight the song’s overarching apology: “Sorry right now, apologize to my seed/Everything I am, you ‘gon be/Genetics is a b*tch I had to learn to accept.” The album’s sonics are the standout as they go from indie rock on “DnD” to energetic percussion and bass on “BULLET MAN” that make the album a highlight of the year.
15 The Japanese House – In The End It Always Does
It’s been three years since The Japanese House released new music and this year’s release ‘In The End It Always Does’ was well worth the wait. The pseudonym of Amber Bain, The Japanese House builds on atmospheric melodies as she details the pain of dealing with heartbreak. The layered vocal arrangement has become a staple of Bain’s music and is expertly utilized notably in songs like “Touching Yourself” and “Sad To Breathe”. The dreamscapes serve as a perfect complement to the pain expressed as well as the optimism but its during songs with sparse production like “One For Sorrow, Two For Joni Jones” where Bain’s vocals shine at her most vulnerable tackling the end of a relationship and it’s this sensibility of befitting the themes of each song that make this album shine.
14 Chappell Roan – The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess
The debut album from Chappell Roan is a fun listen full of strong melodies and queer pop anthems. Songs like “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl” is brash and reminciedt of 00s pop from Lady Gaga, while the bassline in “After Midnight” makes for a funky listen as she sings about embracing one’s wild side. Slower songs like “Coffee” and “Picture of You” puts the spotlight on Roan’s strong vocals that may not necessarily be heard in “HOT TO GO!”, the album’s pinnacle and celebration of self-love.
13 Local Natives – Time Will Wait For No One
As the title suggests, there’s a lot of introspection on the fifth studio album from Local Natives. The indie rock stalwarts are embracing life as they get older and it’s the realistic yet optimistic perspective that makes this album a solid listen. The harmonies for which the band is known for stand out in “Empty Mansions” and “Hourglass”, the latter ruminating on the passage of time and regrets. Slower songs like “Paradise” may capture the dire truths of today’s chaotic world but there’s optimism in the equally pondering “Featherweight” that captures the emotions many have gone through living in the 2020s.
12 Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want to Turn Into You
Ever since going solo, Caroline Polachek has demonstrated her talent for crafting compelling records that explores various sonic inspiration while connecting on a universal level. Her fourth studio album (second under her given name) is her most sonically experimental yet cohesive as she tackles love at its extremes. Right from the opening cries and soprano vocals of “Welcome To My Island” to the flamenco stylings in “Sunset”, bagpipes in “Blood and Butter” and primal primordial percussion that emanates through “Crude drawing of an angel”. Polachek’s crooning and minimal instrumentation that embodies “Billions” before the chorus of voices join her capture the amazing production and emotion.
11 Raye – My 21st Century Blues
Debut albums are generally an artist’s proper introduction to music fans that convey their musical influences and collection of experiences. But the unique case of ‘My 21st Century Blues’ by Raye is more of a discriminate collection of songs that Raye was finally able to cull together after issues with her past record label. The British singer/songwriter has been releasing music since she was 17 years old and scored a major label record deal enabling many features but was held back with help to release her debut for many years. Now free from those obligations, Raye’s proper debut album is not just vindication but an incredible set of songs featuring her strong dynamic vocals and UK hip hop/ pop RnB inspired production. The cinematic production and outstanding vocals open the album in “Oscar Winning Tears” while songs like “Ice Cream Man” and “Flip a Switch” features Raye semi-rapping against sparse percussion showing just how versatile and talented Raye is.
10 Indigo De Souza – All of This Will End
The third studio album ‘All of This Will End’ from Indigo De Souza shows an artist ever evolving. The instrumentation and production is bright and sonically uplifting while she explores the anxiety and frustrations from being let down and mistreated. Many of the songs on the album punctuate these frustrations in a terse manner and do so in a short duration like in “Time Back” where she bluntly “You’re bad, you suck. You f*ked me up I want my time back”. “Wasting Time” is a raw with heavy guitar while she sings of self-doubt. De Souza’s vocals shine throughout the album especially on mid-tempo tracks like “Losing” where she laments the loss of a relationship as gentle instrumentation and percussion play. This is very evident in the album’s final track “Younger and Dumber” where she speaks to her younger self and reflects on her years of living, the perfect song to close an album that is filled with sentiments that are timeless.
9 Lana Del Rey – Did You Know There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd?
Nine albums in and Lana Del Rey continues to push the boundaries of creativity and share the perspective of life from where she is in her life as an older millennial. She doesn’t hold back in her thoughts as she ruminates about her legacy, family and death, while taking her time to let songs breathe as many range from 5-7 minutes. The album clocks in at 77 minutes and sonically embraces orchestral gospels, nostalgic piano ballads, and alluring vocal melodies. The seven minute “A&W” merges the exploration of her innermost thoughts with the wildness of her social image. Removing the veil on her internet persona with “ Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing,” the ballad represents where Del Rey is in life preaching authenticity and specificity to herself despite the critical misinterpretations of her past and the desire to remain visibly hidden. It’s this mature outlook she would only have achieved with more life experience and shows Del Rey in a more confident light that’s filled with hope of reaching the light.
8 Romy – Mid Air
The second album titled ‘Mid Air’ to make our list is the solo project by British artist Romy of the xx. The album is a showcase of Romy’s electronic prowess against her breezy and comforting vocals. The songs are sonically addictive like “The Sea”, an atmospheric pulsing track while she details the longing for a love that was lost. The album’s highlight “Enjoy Your Life” is joyous and uplifting that also sees Romy team up with xx member Jamie xx. When singing about relationships and love, Romy uses gendered pronouns that fit her queer identity and they are central to songs like “Loveher” and “She’s On My Mind”. The whole album is an effortless project that takes the dance-pop sounds of the 90s and 00s into present day and sounds fresh with every listen.
7 Laufey – Bewitched
The buzz behind Laufey over the course of the last couple of years has been growing since she released her debut EP ‘Typical of Me’ in 2021. Fast-forward to the present day and going viral on TikTok with her song “From The Start,” Laufey has brought classic vocal jazz to the forefront. Her second studio album ‘Bewitched’ is filled with hope of an everlasting love and emotionally poignant while her vocals are compelling, especially on tracks like the gentle ballad “While You Were Sleeping” and her version of the Erroll Garner song “Misty”. With its orchestral arrangements, bossanova guitars, woodwinds and gentle piano tones, the sonics fit perfectly with Laufey’s voice, notably on songs like “Letter To My 13 Year Old Self” which was refreshing and empowering.
6 Blondshell – Blondshell
Upon its release early in the year, the debut album from Blondshell was hailed as a touchstone of alternative rock’s return to prominence. Embodying the emotions and sonics of 90s alt rock icons from Hole and Smashing Pumpkins as well as Britpop, the songs explore themes of the highs and lows of relationship dynamics, substance abuse and expressing anger. The latter, heard in the song “Salad” is sonically inspired by Smashing Pumpkins and tells the fantasy of killing an abusive man. While songs like “Kiss City” are intimate and steamy, others really lay into the disappointment and anger over toxic relationships in “Olympus” and “Sepsis”. As a body of work, the entire self-titled debut from Blondshell is tight, compelling and spunky that captures the essence of what made 90s alternative so popular.
5 Gracie Abrams – Good Riddance
The rise of Gracie Abrams has been one that was bubbling under for many years and the pause in live music during the pandemic years were both a benefit and hindrance. Abrams had already been gaining momentum in 2019 leading up to her debut EP ‘minor’ in 2020 and her admiration for Taylor Swift was not only well-known but influential in her own confessional-style way of songwriting. On her debut album ‘Good Riddance’, Abrams tackles the push and pull of giving into change of both the relationships she has with the world around her as well as herself. The album kicks off with a couple of the collection’s best in ““I know it Won’t Work” and “Best” are raw and gut-wrenching as she sings about the end of relationships. The folk-driven “This is what the drugs are for” has the influence of the album’s producer, Aaron Desner written all over it and Abrams’ sadness over losing an ex is evident in her tender vocals. The album captures the closing of a chapter of a life that many can relate to set against the perfect soundscapes that never get old.
4 Vagabon – Sorry I Haven’t Called
Three albums in and Vagabon the moniker of Laetitia Tamko continues to evolve and become more bold with each release. Vagabon’s latest release ‘Sorry I Haven’t Called’ was born out of grief after her best friend passed away in 2021 and instead of a somber approach, Tamko approached it with a different tact and was inspired by dance and effervescent pop, creating music filled with joy, honesty and euphoria. Co-produced with Rostam, the aesthetic of the album is captured right from the start with “Can I Talk My Shit?” which is honest and unapologetic in conveying her readiness for change as she sings “honestly, I’m ready to go, ready to go.” “Lexicon” is probably the pinnacle of the album for its joyous and jubilant upbeat vibe taking the listener onto the dance floor and releasing the feelings that bring one down as Tamko sings “Our lexicon is gone, when we dance all night”. Even in the slower tracks, there’s optimism and forward-looking lyrics like “Who am I, who am I. To want somethin’ better than I’ve ever had before?” in “Nothing To Lose”. Optimism and healing that occurs from the release of the pain and sadness that life can bring is expertly captured on ‘Sorry I Haven’t Called’.
3 Mitski – The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We
In 2019, Mitski shared that she was going to stop making music much the dismay of fans and the music community but it came at a moment where she needed to reset and step away from her growing popularity from the album ‘Be The Cowboy.’ The time away from making music would be a short one and coincided with the pandemic which allowed Mitski to get back to a place of making music without public pressures and hounding fans. ‘Laurel Hell’ dropped in early 2022 to welcoming ears and rave reviews and in just a little over a year later, she released one of the best albums of 2023 with ‘The Land Is Inhospitable.’ The songs on the album are delicate and at times sparse yet are still rich and diverse as the lyrics center around accepting herself for who she is, exploring past and present relationships. “Bug Like An Angel” showcases the dark humor Mitski is known for as she croons about alcohol addiction as an acoustic guitar plays and the juxtaposition of the choir coming in at various points as she sings “Sometimes a drink feels like family” and the chorus of voices emphasize “family”. The slow progression of the feeling of getting rid of internal pain to the point of desperation is sonically evident in “The Deal”. Softly singing “I want someone to take this soul, I can’t bare to keep it,” and as the song crescendos she sings “there’s a deal that I made”. The rawness of the album is felt through the theatrical-like sonics with personal yet relatable lyrics that really make this a standout of the year.
2 Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS
Expectations were high for the sophomore album ‘GUTS’ from Olivia Rodrigo and were exceeded with its late-year release. The music is fresh and takes its 90s alternative inspiration into the present day while the lyrics unapologetically represent who Rodrigo is today, a maturing young adult figuring out how to handle relationships who is both strong in her convictions and one who is still vulnerable and romantic. “bad idea right?” embodies the youthful mistakes that many continue to make later in life when dealing with that romantic partner who is clearly not the most compatible partner but keeps bringing them back in. The song also flexes her affinity for old school references as she sings “I’ve seen hotter men, but I really can’t remember when” which is a tip of the hat to Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash. In “ballad of a homeschooled girl”, shades of Veruca Salt (who Rodrigo has covered during her live shows with “Seether”), are evident in the chorus of “ah ah’s” as she laments about her social awkwardness. Capturing a snapshot of where Rodrigo is with odes to teen angst that she’s living in real-time, ‘GUTS’ is a timeless record that is accessible to everyone regardless of where they are in life.
1 boygenius – The Record
2023 was a banner year for “the boys” of boygenius, the group consisting of indie stalwarts Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julian Baker. “The Record” brings the best qualities of each artist with their unique vocal stylings and approach to songwriting that brings a superb performance captured on a collection of songs that standout like no other. For their first full-length effort, each take a turn at vocals at times while harmonizing together that fit so seamlessly as they hit on various aspects of their friendship, respect and admiration for one another. As Bridgers unmistakable smooth voice is soft and personal in “Emily I’m Sorry” and Baker’s grittiness as she screams “twenty dollars” in “$20” exhibit the diversity and cohesiveness each brings to the song about the uncertainty of growing older. Dacus is prominently featured in “True Blue” and the backing vocals of Bridgers and Baker fit seamlessly as they sing about that loyal love that knows someone better than they know themselves. Perhaps the song that captures the album’s theme the best is “We’re in Love”, a gentle ballad which references the trio’s affection for each other and the line “if you rewrite your life, may i still play a part?” is “genius”.