If one thread connects the best albums from this year, it’s honesty: No matter their genre, artists confronting the world head-on and telling the truth about what they saw made the most satisfying music of 2023. The best albums of the year range from a late jazz trumpeter’s final work to a pop newcomer’s self-assured declaration of her arrival on the scene, an album eked out at the tail end of last year that leads the 2024 Grammy nominations to a lush R&B exploration of love.
Here are the best albums of 2023.
10. Paramore, This Is Why
Paramore’s follow-up to 2017’s After Laughter takes the spikier impulses lurking under that album’s confections and combines them with the last six years’ worth of global upheavals to fuel jagged jams. When Paramore looks within, the results are especially lacerating: “Intentions only get you so far… a harsh reality to discover,” Hayley Williams wails on the twitchy “Running Out Of Time,” punctuating that realization with a yelp. But at This Is Why’s best moments, the band pairs those harsh observations with hip-shaking music that turn existential crises into a party, like on the drolly world-weary “C’est Comme Ca.”
Read more: Paramore Revisits Its Expansive Discography
9.. Miss Grit, Follow the Cyborg
The debut full-length from Margaret Sohn is an in-depth exploration of the human and the machine—and the way modern culture might be dissolving differences between the two—that combines the gnarled, grime-dipped guitars of pre-gold-rush indie rock with electronic flourishes. From poked-at keyboards on “Nothing’s Wrong” to sparkling sunbursts on the propulsive “Like You,” Sohn, in their cottony alto, grapples with heady concepts like free will and performed selves on catchy songs that transport the synthpop ideal into the post-human age.
8. Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))
Jaimie Branch was well -known as one of jazz’s leading trumpeters and improvisers when she passed away unexpectedly at 39, in the summer of 2022. Her final album (with her quartet Fly or Die) is a dizzying showcase of her singular talent and her vision, which used the exploratory spirit of jazz as a launching point for travels all over the musical spectrum. Branch’s trumpet lines are full of daring as they venture into the musical unknown, whether they’re leading jubilant parties like they do on the first half of “Baba Louie” or summoning a maelstrom to fight the world on the scrappy “Burning Grey.”
7. Noname, Sundial
MC and poet Noname combines harsh truths with sumptuous sounds on her second album, matter-of-factly dismantling assumptions and engaging in tough-love self-reflection. She does this over beats that flip classic soul sides and crate-dug jazz cuts into blissful, stretched-out launching points for her pointed observations. Noname’s slippery delivery makes the sharp-eyed commentary she drops into her rhymes sink in more deeply, rendering Sundial a collection of songs that stick with the listener long after the last track has come to a close.
6. En Attendant Ana, Principia
French indie-pop collective En Attendant Ana sharpen their focus on their second album, adding dizzying left turns and delightful ornamental touches (a swooping string part here, a trumpet peal there) to their jangling guitars, pointed lyrics, and sticky hooks. The steely-eyed rebuke to tradition “Same Old Story” spins out of a sinuous bass groove into space, with synth flutters and sax skronks revealing the benefits of venturing outside one’s comfort zone, while the questioning “Wonder” pairs its modern-ethical-conundrum lyrics with increasingly frenetic music that eventually gives out, the aural equivalent of a frustrated “Well, I guess.”
5. Jamila Woods, Water Made Us
Chicagoan Jamila Woods takes a scalpel to the institution of romance on her third album, pairing gorgeously rendered songs like the modern hymn “Wreckage Room” and the shimmering “Boomerang” alongside snippets of dialogue and monologue that more fully flesh out her breathtakingly honest lyrics. Woods’ honeyed voice gives urgency to her pleas, like the “Won’t you stay with me?” she intones on “Backburner,” and buoys her more hopeful moments, like on the glittery album closer “Headfirst.”
4. Chappell Roan, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess
Los Angeles-via-Missouri pop firecracker Chappell Roan’s journey to self-actualization is chronicled on her debut album, and while that sentence might seem a bit pretentious, the music on The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess is the sort of unbridled pop fun that sounds as wild and chaotic as the headfirst dive into big feelings it’s describing. On “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl,” Roan kicks “hyper mega bummer boys” to the curb as she harnesses her power; “My Kink Is Karma” is a slow-burning chronicle of finding pleasure in someone else’s (well-deserved) pain. Roan—who’s touring with Olivia Rodrigo in 2024—is the pop heroine America needs.
3. SZA, SOS
The long-awaited second album from the no-holds-barred singer-songwriter SZA came out at the tail end of 2022, but SOS was massive in 2023, with songs like the casually vengeful “Kill Bill” and the heartbroken neo-power ballad “Nobody Gets Me” being perpetually included on radio and personal playlists. With good reason: SZA’s appeal lies not only in her ability to distill romantic relationships’ emotional peaks and valleys into biting, succinct lyrics, but in the way she pairs those reflections with wildly creative vocal melodies and music that’s too dynamic to pin itself down to one particular genre.
2. Zach Bryan, Zach Bryan
"I don't need a music machine telling me what a good story is, and matter of fact I've never asked nothing from nobody,” Oklahoma-born singer-songwriter Zach Bryan declares on the opening track of his fourth album, and the songs that follow show why he should ignore any corporate edicts: His songwriting instincts are among the finest in modern popular music. Bryan’s vision of Americana—which encompasses heartland rock’s brawny realism, Nashville’s slice-of-life storytelling, and soul’s emotionalism, to name-check just a few of its reference points—is singularly his own while also appealing to a big tent.
1. Kali Uchis, Red Moon In Venus
A dreamy meditation on the overarching concept of love, Kali Uchis’ Red Moon In Venus unfolds in splendid fashion, channeling R&B’s most sonically lush moments from the past five decades even as the singer-songwriter examines her scars up close. “I Wish You Roses” is a gently generous examination of the inner peace one finds when letting go, while the pulsing “Fantasy,” which brings Uchis’ boyfriend Don Toliver to the club, relishes its tension, letting its eroticism and sweetness slowly feed off each other.
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