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The 27 Best Albums of 2023

They tell us new music is dying. From Lana to Olivia to a few dozen others, these great releases from the past 12 months tell us otherwise.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In case you didn’t hear, the riff is dying. So is rap music. In fact, maybe it’s just new music altogether. No matter where you turn, someone is prognosticating the death of music, with the exception of whatever the robots are churning out and, uh, hyper-partisan country.

We can explore the reasons for these trends for the umpteenth time (TL;DR: There’s too much static for anyone to cut through), or we can acknowledge the actual truth: There’s plenty of very good music out there, just very few albums that unify us in 2023. Reality is, unless you’re Taylor Swift—whom you won’t find below—your album is probably a niche concern. (If 2023 proved anything, it’s that that’s the case even for the likes of Travis Scott and Drake, whose albums had monthslong rollouts and very little staying power.)

All of this makes it difficult to put together a year-end list. Still, we did our best. What follows is our ranking of the 27 best albums of 2023. Some were massive, others small. We found the new music we loved, plus a few rap albums—and yes, even a few riffs. Together, they tell the story of a great year in new music, which, despite what the headlines will tell you, isn’t going anywhere. —Justin Sayles

27. Blondshell, Blondshell

There are a lot of bands doing “grunge” these days (and thank God), but Sabrina Teitelbaum, a.k.a. Blondshell, is one of the only artists both respecting the source material and dragging it into the present day with modern sonic touches and generationally referential lyrics. Her lyrics are maybe the best part: They’re unflinching, surprising, and vulnerable, and she maneuvers between devastating and hilarious like a little Gen Z Liz Phair. —Yasi Salek

26. Yallah Beibe, MC Yallah

Ironically, there is an old-school boom bap heart beating within MC Yallah, a Kenyan Ugandan rap chameleon who has adapted her craft to grow alongside the dizzyingly futurist sound of East Africa’s experimental electronic scene. She doesn’t ride beats; she internalizes them. She attacks in double time, she bobs and weaves, she summons demons. Flow and wordplay matter. So much so that Yallah raps in four different languages: Luganda, Kiswahili, Dholuo, and English. With a broader linguistic palette, she can match the specific tones and syllabic output of a dialect to the particular challenges of a beat.

And Yallah Beibe, her sophomore album, is full of challenging steel-on-steel soundscapes—by producers from lands as disparate as France, Japan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yallah swaggers over the Japanese producer Scotch Rolex’s blood-churning beat on “Moss,” which, spiritually, sounds as if Migos’s 2014 hit “Fight Night” were sped up, inverted, and reconfigured to fit the acoustics of a 2073 cybernetic underground fight club. On “No One Seems to Bother,” the album’s crown jewel and multilingual sociopolitical interrogation, Yallah’s menacing flow shares space with the shredded wails of Lord Spikeheart, the vocalist in the Kenyan Ugandan grindcore band Duma. Yallah Beibe traipses the extreme outer fringes of a global rap paradigm and crosses over to the other side—beyond the borders of language and sonic orthodoxy. It’s a sound worth following to those ends, if only for a glimpse of what the future holds. —Danny Chau

25. LIFE AFTER NEPH, RXKNephew and Harry Fraud

Virtuoso, Valee and Harry Fraud

The common denominator here is producer Harry Fraud, who made his bones providing a new strain of New York boom bap for French Montana and his Coke Boys clique in the early 2010s. Since then, Fraud has produced full-lengths for legends including Jim Jones and Curren$y and upstarts like Larry June and Benny the Butcher (and even a posthumous EP for Lil Peep). On his two best projects of 2023—both released by our friends over at Fake Shore Drive—Fraud wrangles two of the more original stylists operating in rap today: one-time G.O.O.D. Music signee Valee and Rochester’s favorite outsider, RXKNephew. Despite having little in common aesthetically, both turn in some of their strongest recent performances. (Particularly Neph, who sounds unleashed on tracks like “Hunnid on the Dresser,” where he extols the virtues of his, uh, culinary skills.) It’s a testament to Fraud’s versatility—and the universal appeal of his sound. The Alchemist—another sample flipper in the midst of a legendary run—gets most of the headlines these days, but Fraud is putting together his own Hall of Fame career, like a batter who quietly claws his way to 3,000 hits. —Sayles

24. Softscars, yeule

After their sweeping electro-pop project Glitch Princess broke through with critics last year, yeule managed to both double down and adapt on their follow-up, Softscars. The Singaporean artist is still fascinated by the intersection of technology and romance, and they’ve carried over some pitched-up vocals and cyber-pop flourishes, but on their third album, they largely incorporate ’90s alt-rock and shoegaze touchstones. By looking to both the future and the past, yeule explores the timelessness of feelings brought about by online life—now they just exist in a new context. On the gorgeous “Software Update,” they tell a partner to “download [their] mind” after they die, “San Junipero” style: “Pick out the pretty parts for you / ‘I love you, baby’ / ‘I love you, too’ / But you said it like you were programmed to,” they sing over sparse electric guitar. Feeling a disconnect from a partner saying all the right things is not a new concept, but maybe it hits a little harder when that partner was specifically curated for you by an algorithm.

The ’90s sonic palette also fits seamlessly into yeule’s repertoire. Lead single “Sulky Baby” sounds like the kind of song that would’ve soundtracked a key montage in a coming-of-age dramedy. That’s not to dismiss the craft of the song or reduce it to cliché. “Your family’s disgrace / the dreams that you chase / turns into meaningless space” goes an all-too-real turn of phrase on the track. While working within more familiar sounds, yeule doesn’t abandon the distinct perspective that made Glitch Princess special and still manages to sound like no one else. Softscars is proof that yeule’s uncompromising vision makes them one of the most exciting new voices in pop music. —Julianna Ress

23. Zach Bryan, Zach Bryan

You can be forgiven for jumping to some conclusions when it comes to 2023’s breakout country star, a veteran of the Navy from a town in Oklahoma called Oologah. You can be forgiven for having some orange-beard-tinged flashbacks. But the second you hit play on Zach Bryan’s self-titled 2023 album, you can also feel pretty stupid for having all those preconceived notions. Less than halfway through Zach Bryan’s true opening track, “Overtime,” it’s obvious that “country” might be too restrictive a term for Bryan, a prolific writer whose songs evoke Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and Beirut; whose lyrics evoke George Strait and Johnny Cash in their raw specificity and mix of old-timey folksiness and modern weariness (“Hey Driver” stirs lines about Klonopin with the refrain “Take me down a road that’s a little bit winding / To a place they still put sugar in their iced tea”); whose offstage behavior evokes Merle Haggard more than Luke Bryan. In 2023, it’s hard to find new music that feels genuinely organic; it’s even harder to find music keeping the indie dream of the early 2010s alive. The last place I expected to discover it was in Oologah. —Andrew Gruttadaro

22. Heaven Is a Junkyard, Youth Lagoon

In 2016, Trevor Powers announced that his project Youth Lagoon was coming to an end. He went on to release music under his own name, but Youth Lagoon had supposedly run its course. Well, here we are in 2023 with an outstanding new Youth Lagoon album. The project is back with plenty to say after a health scare that at one point left Powers without the ability to speak, let alone sing. On Heaven Is a Junkyard, Powers’s hauntingly intimate voice ruminates on loneliness, perseverance, trauma, religion, and the meaning of “home.” The delicate songs of Heaven Is a Junkyard are a warped but ornate, experimental form of Americana. Sometimes they’re dressed with an earwormy pop flair. They can sound like whispers in a small town or vast Idaho skies. Powers’s preternaturally expressive voice is so transportive, you can’t help but lean in closer to better hear the details of your surroundings. Heaven Is a Junkyard is a must-listen for anyone who could use a guiding light through tough times. —Matt James

21. The Record, boygenius

Hey, this has all been a blast, hasn’t it? The maybe-kinda-joking supergroup that became an actual no-bullshit supergroup that plays Madison Square Garden, and charms the hell out of Saturday Night Live, and echoes Nirvana on the cover of Rolling Stone, and scores six Grammy nominations, including a much-deserved shot at Album of the Year? Boygenius is a modern-day Crosby, Stills, and Nash, which means calling the real David Crosby a bitch on Twitter, and spending the summer as the best and most reliably provocative live act in America, and delivering a long-awaited debut album that perfectly balances hushed master-songwriter intimacy and roaring festival-headlining universality. “Not Strong Enough” is the ecstatic high point, but “Cool About It”—on which Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers trade off seething and impossibly tender verses—is where you hear the best from all three of them as individuals, but also how much better they somehow sound combined. Nobody scored a cleaner victory in 2023, or a more richly deserved one. —Rob Harvilla

20. Sundial, Noname

Noname seemed fed up. Over the past seven years, the Chicago poet turned critically acclaimed rapper had become more symbol than human. Like Vince Staples before her, the force of Noname’s personality (along with her outspoken anti-capitalist ideals) threatened to overtake the music. She’d send books to the incarcerated one moment and beef with J. Cole the next. Whether you were a hotep missing the “conscious rap” of yore or simply a white music editor looking for a salve in a post-BLM society, Noname was the easy answer even if she never presented herself as such. Or in her own words, she was the “shadow walker, moon stalker, Black author / Librarian, contrarian” of our dreams.

Then Sundial arrived in all its prickly glory to puncture any and all preconceived notions. Across her second LP, Noname tries to reclaim herself from the maw of the discourse. On “Balloons,” she questions the voyeurism of white fans demanding that artists like Kendrick Lamar (and, by extension, her) sing about their trauma for critical and commercial validation. Two songs later she doubles down, delivering heartbreaking lyrics in the form of a tossed-off joke:

If you were just a little bit more pretty
Wrote a little bit like Kenny
You would have a life worth livin’.
—“Potentially the Interlude”

On Sundial, Noname gives more of herself. She dabbles in stretching outside the confines of her usual monotone delivery. Instead of giving us sanctimony, Noname often paints herself as just as problematic as the people who uphold her as something more real than her peers. On “Toxic,” she details a relationship so messy and knotted it’d make Drake blush. Of course there are shots at Jay-Z’s and Rihanna’s problematic entanglements with the NFL and at trickle-down economics. The less we say about the inclusion of a Jay Electronica verse and subsequent social media dustup, the better.

Still, Sundial offers a path forward. It’s a project that breaks away from the belief that our most political artists need to function as perfect vessels of unimpeachable morality. —Charles Holmes

19. The Great Escape, Larry June and the Alchemist

One of my homies recently moved to the West Coast, which made sense when I realized he’s the homie who put me on to Cardo, Jay Worthy, and Larry June. As the legend of Larry June grew, you knew it was only a matter of time before he would link with the Alchemist, and when word of The Great Escape hit, you knew how it would sound. There’s a Cadillac cool that goes with Larry June’s motivational material; collect a batch of hypnotic grooves, and you’re off to a great start.

The beauty of this project is that it highlights the path ALC has chosen over the latter portion of his career. Instead of chasing easy checks for placements with artists he may not vibe with, ALC channels his creativity into material tailor-made for the people he’s working with. (He may also be an anomaly; not too many producers can seamlessly go from collaborating with Lunice to collaborating with Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs to collaborating with Action Bronson.) Again, you knew what this album would sound like before you opened the shrink-wrap pressed play on the app; the way ALC stuck the landing for Larry June’s brand of waxing poetic has been the gift that keeps on giving this year. —khal

18. Jaguar II, Victoria Monét

Pop music is cooked.

It’s as if the sheer gravitational pull of Taylor Swift’s and Beyoncé’s dominance—two artists multiple decades into their careers—sucked the air out of the genre, leaving nothing behind except a lot of silver Shein and some bimonthly remakes. Doja Cat went to war with her fans over the “cash grabs” of “mediocre pop” they consumed to make her into a star. Olivia Rodrigo’s Guts was a solid, commercial hit, beloved by critics even if it lacked the all-consuming cultural weight of her debut. There’s that one Miley Cyrus song my editor had to tell me was a hit.

Enter: Victoria Monét.

The first time I heard “On My Mama,” I was dressed as Spider-Man on Halloween, tipsy off the type of overpriced liquor L.A. clubs should be smited for peddling. At first, I thought someone was playing a Jazze Pha–produced Ciara B-side from 2004. The beat felt warped from a time when R&B and Black singers could still rule the charts. There’s no mush-mouthed delivery masking weak vocals or narcotized lyrics about modern dating. Everything from the way the Chalie Boy sample hits to the mesmerizing hook felt designed for mass appeal.

In short, “On My Mama” wasn’t embarrassed by its ambitions. Every ounce of the three-minute song feels as if Victoria Monét and Co. are willing a hit into existence.

Intrinsic to the Monét myth is her perpetual level of effort. Always the pop bridesmaid and never the bride, she’s written hits for Ariana Grande, Blackpink, and Chloe x Halle. She was allegedly told that it was “too early” to perform at the MTV VMAs, only to nab seven nominations at the 66th Grammys. In a landscape where 99 percent of musicians can barely two-step, Monét dances as if she’s one move away from dethroning everyone in her path. Jaguar II may never live up to the immediate ecstasy of “On My Mama,” but it’s the rare project that hasn’t given up on the idea that R&B can still battle on the Hot 100. And that’s more than enough reason to dance on the VMAs’ grave. —Holmes

17. Javelin, Sufjan Stevens

From the affectionate album cover collage to the 48 pages of art and essays in the liner notes to the heartbreaking context Sufjan Stevens himself provided on Instagram, there is no shortage of raw-in-all-senses material to consider when grappling with the almost unbearable beauty of his 10th album, in which hushed solitary whispers repeatedly explode into lush orchestral galaxies that flourish under song titles like “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” and “So You Are Tired” and (somehow this is the most heartbreaking one) “Shit Talk.” Though only 42 minutes long, Javelin is dense with tenderness and maximalist delicacy: It’s the soft army of voices that lift him up when he sings, “Jesus lift me up to a higher plane” on “Everything That Rises,” or the way “Shit Talk” turns “I don’t want to fight at all” into a group mantra of exquisite melancholy. Hearing Stevens sing, “Rise, my love, show me paradise / Nothing seems so simple anymore” is somehow as life-affirming as it is agonizing; this is a hard listen but an endlessly rewarding one. —Harvilla

16. Time Ain’t Accidental, Jess Williamson

Jess Williamson’s music can feel like a secret only you’re in on. I fell in love with her music in the early days of the pandemic, starting with “Wind on Tin” on her excellent 2020 album, Sorceress, and then her beautiful stand-alone single with Hand Habits, “Pictures of Flowers.” The L.A.-via-Texas singer makes the kind of breezy, country-tinged folk that feels like it’s at the equidistance between Laurel Canyon and Echo Park. It’s aching and elegant and infectious—in other words, perfect music for the end-times. But my infatuation with her songs has extended far past those dark pandemic days. Last year’s collaboration with Waxahatchee under the name Plains was a no-brainer collaboration that pushed both artists to new heights. And now, with her fifth and best solo LP, Time Ain’t Accidental, Williamson has asserted herself as one of the best working songwriters today. The arrangements are sparse—often just a gentle guitar, a saxophone, and a drum machine—and she’s crafted an album’s worth of songs as welcome on a road trip as during a quiet night in. The best of them, “Topanga Two Step,” is gorgeous and wistfully nostalgic without being saccharine—a balance many try for and few achieve. “Topanga” is built around the line “Is it a one-time dream or a country queen that you take me for?” Speaking for myself, she’s proved to be more the latter. Maybe now that you’re in on the secret, you’ll feel the same way. —Sayles

15. Rat Saw God, Wednesday

“Every daughter of God has a little bad luck sometimes,” goes the refrain on “Bath County,” a standout from Wednesday’s fifth (and breakout) LP, Rat Saw God. It doubles neatly as the album’s POV. RSG paints a rural-suburban world where someone dies in the Planet Fitness parking lot, the sex shops have biblical names, and the teens take so much Benadryl they start hallucinating. These are townie spirituals (or, as we put it in a headline this past April, “Teenage Dirtbag Hymnals”). They’re largely biographical, too: As she told Ian Cohen in that aforementioned piece, frontperson Karly Hartzman is talking about her uncle when she sings on “Quarry,” “The kid from the Jewish family got the preacher’s kid pregnant / but they sent her off and we never heard too much more about it.” But mostly, these songs rock, really hard: a little bit Drive-By Truckers, a little bit Sonic Youth, a lotta bit distortion. Sure, everyone experiences a little bad luck sometimes, but after Rat Saw God—and with the ascendant solo career of guitarist MJ Lenderman—it’s hard to imagine much of it visiting Wednesday in the near future. —Sayles

14. Raven, Kelela

There was a five-year gap between the release of Kelela’s Raven and that of her previous LP, Take Me Apart. The Kelela we’ve reconnected with in 2023 is more confident and radiant than ever. Raven is an album you can cozy up to whether you’re dancing in your bedroom like it’s the club or you’re in your feels in the club like it’s your bedroom. If her beautiful music videos didn’t prove otherwise, one might assume Kelela exists only in dimly lit, smoky rooms or on dark dance floors. Sensual ballads elegantly weave in and out of breakbeat bliss. Bodies sway back and forth while a lover’s affections pull closer and then recede. There’s a constant give and take to Raven. Kelela’s prodigious ability to gracefully glide between various sounds and energies is a superpower that feels effortless. This is a lovingly crafted, nuanced album that is inspirationally uncompromising in its deftly refined vision. —James

13. Scaring the Hoes, Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA

At the 21-second mark on “Lean Beef Patty”—the opening track to JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown’s collaborative album, Scaring the Hoes—JPEGMAFIA loudly exclaims, “This ain’t what you want!” For a second, I thought he’d be right. I wouldn’t call myself a JPEGMAFIA fan, but I understood why he’d mesh with Danny Brown, as the Detroit-born rapper has experimented over everything from Darq E Freaker’s heavyweight grime rhythms to Paul White’s sampledelica. A few lines later, JPEGMAFIA referred to All Elite Wrestling owner/CEO/GM Tony Khan, and I knew this was more in my wheelhouse than I expected.

Somewhere in the middle of Danny Brown’s verse on “Fentanyl Tester,” the track goes from ’90s video game jungle to fuzzy glitch hop in the span of a few bars. For those who have studied how adventurous Danny Brown’s beat selection has been over the past 12 years, Scaring the Hoes is the grandest evolution of everything Danny Brown has been working on since XXX. And for those paying attention, it’s fitting that Scaring the Hoes was the release Danny worked on before his other 2023 album, Quaranta, the “spiritual bookend” to XXX; there’s a stripped-back feeling to Quaranta that may be due to the fact that Danny crafted a sonic acid trip like Scaring the Hoes in the same year. The yin to Scaring the Hoes’ yang. —khal

12. HELLMODE, Jeff Rosenstock

I did not know true joy, true connection, true catharsis, or true earth-shattering peace until I screamed along (in my head) to punk-rock trickster god Jeff Rosenstock as he screamed (very much out loud) the eternal mantra “YOU GOTTA CHILL OUT WITH THE DOUBT / THE DOUBT / THE DOUBT / YOU GOTTA CHILL OUT WITH THE DOUBT / THE DOUBT / THE DOUBT.” Rosenstock is a perennial Ringer favorite who writes (and screams) absurdly bombastic arena-rock choruses (“I liked you better when you weren’t on my mind!”) powered by raucous basement show exuberance and wrath, and he’s become an indignant bard and an unlikely balm for an unrelentingly bleak era. (Key song title: “FUTURE IS DUMB.” No lies detected. The song rips, though.) But he never gives up and never stops delivering monster pure-pop hooks that soothe you even as they pummel you. “Stay young until you die,” he counsels on the tender but stormy “3 SUMMERS,” and he’ll teach you how, if you’re willing to scream (in your head, if you prefer) along with him. —Harvilla

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

There is Mitski’s voice. Patient and soothing to the point of sounding saintly, she would be right up there with Emmylou Harris on the Mount Rushmore of lullaby singers. Then there are Mitski’s lyrics. Beautifully twisted and tormented, album after album she has further solidified herself as one of the best songwriters of her generation. That juxtaposition is at the heart of Mitski’s allure, which has drawn a fan base as intense as the songs she crafts. Songs of deep longing and quiet desperation—until the quiet takes on a loudness too heavy to bear.

Perhaps that has always been the third element—her sixth sense for climax (or “jump scares,” as she likes to call it)—and how to relay it: thundering walls of guitar, piercing screams, shimmering synths. But her latest album, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, strips many of those familiar devices away. What’s left is a sort of soft cinema, the creation of a new American pastoral. (In that sense, one could argue that her contemporaries include not only Lana Del Rey, but also George Saunders at the turn of the century and the Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao.)

The album’s opener, “Bug Like an Angel,” features a 17-part choir that unexpectedly materializes from the ether, punctuating Mitski’s new recited axioms of loneliness and regret. “Heaven,” with its sweeping orchestral flourishes and outright pretty lyricism, might be the most uncomplicatedly beautiful song she’s ever produced. By the album’s closer, “I Love Me After You,” Mitski stands alone, meandering at 0.75-time speed through a melody right out of a Taiwanese soap opera, slowly taking in her freedom from a bygone relationship. Over the course of half an hour, the weight of love, loss, and memory impresses upon microcosmic observations of the natural world—of insects and a wintry moon—until metaphor compacts and compounds on itself like densely packed snow. The meek shall inherit the earth—OK, but then what? —Chau

10. Life Under the Gun, Militarie Gun

There is something deeply satisfying about the fanged ooh ooh! grunt that Militarie Gun frontman Ian Shelton has turned into a calling card, what could be likened to a producer tag on a rap track. It’s all over the Los Angeles band’s debut album, a tidy 27 minutes of new-millennium pop-rock nostalgia distilled by disciples of the West Coast hardcore scene called to touch grass on the other side. The grunt is a tether to an ethos, if nothing else. One of the main items on the agenda for their promotional junket has been about genre, particularly in a landscape where a contemporary like Turnstile has made a full-scale mainstream breakthrough and altered the shape of hardcore to come. It’d be as misleading to call Life Under the Gun a hardcore record as it would be to obfuscate the sonic roots that undergird Militarie Gun’s branching out. (Let’s borrow a term from the defunct band WU LYF and call it heavy pop.)

Shelton snarls and wails lyrics that would be almost embarrassingly spartan if they weren’t delivered with such catharsis. (I imagine the 17th-century Zen haikuist Matsuo Basho bowled over in heaven reading the chorus to “Very High”: “I’ve been feeling pretty down / So I get / very high.”) Perhaps such is the power of hardcore that still courses through the band’s veins. These are simple, brutalist songs that humbly ask what it takes to be a halfway decent human being—but with the kinds of sticky melodies that embed deeply within that back corner of the mind. Scream them loud enough alongside fellow seekers, and you might just find some answers. —Chau

9. Lahai, Sampha

I thought I was past Sampha. It’d been six years since the reclusive English singer had put out a project and nearly a decade since his aching and wistful croon buoyed tracks by SBTRKT and Drake. In the 2010s, as Sampha emerged from being the guy next to the guys, he proved to be an intensely sturdy musician.

The cracks of his voice and the texture of his falsetto are starkly intimate. His lyrics are often more potent for how unadorned they feel. Listening to Sampha is like trying to decipher a blueprint for a piece of architecture you admire but may never truly comprehend. The beauty is in the deconstruction. (Sidenote: The best musical moment of the year is watching his band huddle around drums as the foursome rebuild his 2013 standout “Without” brick by brick.)

But it wasn’t until “Dancing Circles” that Sampha made sense to me again in 2023. There’s nothing overly ambitious or virtuosic about the four-minute song. The chugging piano melody is simple; so too are the words used to paint lost love in a mad world. By every measure, “Dancing Circles” should feel quaint; instead, by the time Sampha implores his lover to “hold me so much so we both let go,” the release is devastating.

Lahai, Sampha’s second full-length album, finds the 35-year-old more buoyant and settled after the soul-searching and mourning of Process. Fatherhood has given Sampha a bounce and seems to have grounded his music in something lighter than his usual morose musings. On “Only,” he turns a song about the futility of endless ambition—“I been on this grind like it’s gonna break my fall / Careerism pothole, like ‘Where’d my love ones go?’”—into a certifiable groove.

For an artist known to mine the depths of human frailty, Lahai feels like the long-awaited sigh. For once, new parenthood has done an artist some good. —Holmes

8. 10,000 Gecs, 100 gecs

Dylan Brady and Laura Les weren’t supposed to pull off the heist. From the moment 100 gecs arrived with 2019’s obnoxiously undeniable “Money Machine,” they were on the clock.

Their peculiar form of SoundCloud soul (e.g., helium vocals, machine gun BPMs, lyrics dripping with internet irony) helped birth the first microgenre of the new decade. Inevitably, “hyperpop” became played out the moment the streaming and major label cabals arrived, putting Gecs in the unenviable position of being the face of something as nebulous as it was new. They collabed with Fall Out Boy and Charli XCX, signed with Atlantic Records, and did promotional videos for Skullcandy. But if history has proved anything, it’s that what virally goes up tends to crash and burn—and that’s especially true for white musical duos beloved by The New York Times and Pitchfork.

Then 10,000 Gecs arrived with a level of self-assuredness usually stomped out by market forces and the demands of success. Yes, 10,000 Gecs is home to more guitars and live drums—the respectable choice for any genre-bending band looking for legitimacy from aging critics—than its predecessors. But Brady and Les never lose the thread.

At 27 minutes, the Gecs follow-up is as lean as it is unwieldy. A musical burrito of taut, infectious pop smashed with choices that border on indulgently tasteless.

There’s a song about corn chips and another soundtracked by incessant frog croaks. The lyrics of “757” are delivered at such a breakneck pace and unintelligible squeak that they should be outlawed. “Dumbest Girl Alive,” the best song on the album and possibly the year, is pure propulsion and mission statement. Over a cataclysmic riff, Laura roars: “If you think I’m stupid now, you should see me when I’m high / And I’m smarter than I look, I’m the dumbest girl alive.”

On 10,000 Gecs, the duo written off as “meme musicians” have the last laugh. —Holmes

7. We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, Armand Hammer

One of the beautiful things about We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is that it could have been released at any point during Armand Hammer’s 10-year run. I know, I know: “Albums are usually reflective of an artist at that moment,” but hear me out. Tracks like “When It Doesn’t Start With a Kiss” feel like something that could have happened between Elucid and billy woods at any moment. The song’s first half is Elucid speaking directly to me over a Boards of Canada–esque evolving groove that suddenly shifts into a drunken master of a boom-bap track for billy woods to dismantle. Their union has always sparked what feel like happy accidents, so, of course, the genesis of this album is instrumentalists’ jam sessions that turned into the sources for the productions you hear. The key has always been in how woods and Elucid approach each track, and through the dense wall of sound that these two pierce with their pens, you’re left with a running commentary on today, served in the form of quick quips that could be taken from your favorite commercial, the price of your favorite soap, or pharmaceutical ads that litter the streets. —khal

6. Madres, Sofia Kourtesis

A deep and abiding sense of gratitude colors Sofia Kourtesis’s Madres, one of the best full-length electronic album debuts of the past quarter century. The Berlin-based artist traffics in the kind of buoyant, sentimentalist deep house that made the likes of DJ Koze and Axel Boman godheads of the subgenre, coaxed by the wide-eyed romanticism of her Peruvian roots into something wholly her own.

Finding your voice in a crowded field isn’t easy. The storied electronic music scene in Berlin often expresses itself in stark, precise fractals, if only because the environment necessitates it. The throbbing pressure of 140 beats per minute, of the sea of like-minded artists in similar pursuit of propulsive perfection, creates diamonds. Kourtesis presents a softer, warmer picture. The gleaming club stunners on Madres carry with them scenes from her past. Flashbacks, in the form of field recordings from Peru and her travels along Central and South America; in the familiar tone of the polyglot musician Manu Chao, a comforting voice that she’d held close dating back to her childhood; and in the sweet, maternal refrains that Kourtesis sings throughout the album, animating the presence of her own mother, who serves as the album’s guiding light. (“Ven / niño que estas ahí / vuelve a casa,” Kourtesis sings on the album’s titular track—a gentle beckon to come home.)

But keeping that light ablaze required a shot in the dark. Back home in Peru, Kourtesis’s mother was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer not long after Kourtesis’s father had died of leukemia. She needed life-saving surgery, but doctor after doctor refused to operate—it was too risky. Kourtesis had been turned down at consultation after consultation before reading about Peter Vajkoczy, a renowned neurosurgeon in Berlin, who, like Kourtesis, had also borne witness to his own parents’ struggles with cancer. In an Instagram story, with a snippet of “Madres” in the background, Kourtesis launched her Hail Mary: “If anyone can put me in touch with Peter Vajkoczy, I’ll dedicate this song to him,” she wrote. “I just need two minutes to talk to him.” Seemingly through Kourtesis’s sheer magnetism, hope landed where it needed to—she and Vajkoczy arranged a meeting the very next day. The operation was a success. “He’s not human,” Kourtesis told DJ Mag. “He’s like an angel.” His name is immortalized in the standout “Vajkoczy,” but his real-world, life-affirming impact is felt throughout the album—an otherworldly presence that only affirms the magic of Kourtesis’s dance-floor biographies. —Chau

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

Earlier this year, Charli XCX predicted that Caroline Polachek would get nominated for Best New Artist at the 2024 Grammy Awards. It didn’t happen, but the fact it was plausible that a prolific 15-year veteran of the music industry would get a Best New Artist nod isn’t explained by just the nonsensical nature of Grammy nominations. It made sense because Polachek constantly just feels new, reinventing herself several times over—even doing it multiple times within the confines of her excellent record Desire, I Want to Turn Into You. She yearns over Spanish (or Gerudo Valley–ish) guitar on “Sunset,” bridges generations of pop by teaming up with Grimes and Dido on “Fly to You,” and somehow makes bagpipes sound ethereal on “Blood and Butter.” To make it all work, it helps to have one of the most evocative and distinct voices in pop music, which can scream just as easily (and beautifully) as it can soothe. Unsurprisingly, Polachek’s not afraid to experiment with her voice either, contorting it into a cathartic wail to open “Welcome to My Island” and then punctuating it with staccato sing rapping just a few bars later. Through it all, Polachek explores our most intense emotions: grief, awe, passion, and, of course, desire. As these emotions often take us to disparate extremes in life, Polachek lets the music follow, never reining in a single impulse. Her expressive lyrics complete these lush portraits. “Forget the rules, forget your friends / Just you and your reflection / ’Cause nothing’s gonna be the same again,” goes a vivid description of crisis on “Welcome to My Island.” But in Polachek’s hands, as she celebrates being capable of feeling so strongly, even such a crisis feels euphoric. —Ress


SOS is technically a 2022 release (though it came out after AOTY season), but no album towered over the past 12 months quite like SZA’s sophomore record. It produced arguably the biggest song of 2023 (the revenge fantasy “Kill Bill”) and some of its funniest recorded moments (“That ass so fat, it look natural, it’s not,” she raps on the opening title track). SOS is confessional, lustful, and most of all, undeniable. From the lush production to SZA’s overwhelming confidence, it’s a step up in every way from 2017’s (admittedly excellent) Ctrl. The question of what a Kendrick-less TDE would look like has loomed over the label for the better part of 18 months. With SOS, SZA poses a more logical question: Why did anyone ever worry about that? —Sayles

3. Guts, Olivia Rodrigo

Olivia Rodrigo said that if she never endured any heartbreak, she wouldn’t be half the person she is today. Coming out of her record-breaking Sour era, the 20-year-old’s sophomore album, Guts, encapsulates the human experience of heartbreak, exploring her range musically and thematically, offering an edgy Rodrigo with pop-rock jams that tell stories of imperfection.

She wakes up in her ex’s bed but admits she kinda likes it on “Bad Idea Right?,” and she sings about her desire for revenge when she says, “I wanna make him really jealous, wanna make him feel bad” on “Get Him Back!” She sings about social anxiety and credits her therapist father for her desire to “fix” flawed men. She draws attention to the boxes society places women in in her effervescent, angry-ish tune “All-American Bitch.” With a title inspired by Joan Didion, the song calls out many social issues, especially for women in music. It starts slow, opening the album with a sweet display of vocals as she sings, “I pay attention to things most people ignore,” but 51 seconds in, the Guts element kicks in, with a zestful and zippy tempo.

Yet even with these new musical flourishes, Rodrigo’s lyricism and emotive language evoke nostalgia while still perfectly relating to her younger audience. In Guts’ soulful lead single, “Vampire,” she confesses that what she viewed as a genuine romance was just a “fame-fucker” as she alludes to age gaps, manipulation, lies, and pain. “Lacy” showcases her signature silky vocals while playing with themes of worship, as does “The Grudge,” a ballad in which she begs for clarity.

Where Sour tells the story, Guts takes us through the recovery. Rodrigo admits through her new 12 tracks that she doesn’t have it all figured out yet. She’s happier but confused, she makes mistakes then learns. Nearing 21, she’s still navigating adulthood, boys, heartbreak, fame, and friendship. But one thing is clear: She didn’t fall into a sophomore slump. —Lulu Kesin

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

“I’m a different kind of woman / If you want some basic bitch, go to the Beverly Center and find her,” declares Lana Del Rey on “Sweet,” off her latest album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. Apart from being “she’s just like me fr” fodder for those more likely to be seen at the Burbank Airport watching planes take off than at a sleek West Hollywood shopping mall, Lana’s use of a Southern California backdrop on her past few records places her tales of death and doomed romance in a glamorous, sun-soaked paradise exploited for oil and corporate greed. More specifically—forever fascinated by the sinister undercurrent of Americana—Lana found her greatest muse in Long Beach: an abandoned tunnel decaying under one of California’s most vibrant beachside cities. “When’s it gonna be my turn?” Lana asks on the title track, seeing not only sorrow in the beautiful architecture as it’s lost to time, but also fear in one day meeting the same fate. “Don’t forget me.”

Ocean Blvd is an exceptional and intricate portrayal of the existential dread looming over the fleeting nature of just about everything. Throughout the album, Lana reckons with a number of recent familial deaths. “Gave myself two seconds to cry,” she admits on “Fingertips,” after being informed of a loved one’s passing. “It’s a shame that we die.” She ponders pursuing the milestones meant to make life feel more permanent, like marriage and children, but is always met with an echo of doubt. On Ocean Blvd, these decisions can’t quite compete with the prospect of going the way of the tunnel. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s all for nothing: “My pastor told me when you leave all you take is your memory / And I’m gonna take mine of you with me,” Lana sings with a gospel choir on album opener “The Grants,” a heart-wrenching tribute to her family and one of the sweetest songs she’s ever made. If we’ll all be left to rot under the earth’s surface one day, Lana figures showing up equipped with a lifetime of memories with loved ones isn’t such a bad way to go out.

As for that tunnel under Ocean Boulevard? The passageway that once connected Long Beachers from downtown to the Pike waterfront closed to the public in 1967, but in 2027 will be the site of a speakeasy attached to a proposed Hard Rock Hotel location. There’s a girl who sings “Hotel California,” indeed. —Ress

1. Lucky for You, Bully

The most heartbreaking and electrifying love song of 2023 is a eulogy for a shepherd-husky mix named Mezzi. “And days move slow / I’m living in the same black hole,” howls Alicia Bognanno, singer–songwriter–coproducer–mesmerizing focal point of the inconceivably rad Nashville garage-rock band Bully, eulogizing her beloved dog and companion of 13 years amid a barrage of bombastically sugary guitars. Bully’s magnificent fourth album is a teenage-at-heart riot of devastation and rage and cautiously triumphant rebirth, perfecting the sound and fury of vintage alt-rock (it’s no accident the band spent the summer opening for the Pixies) but with a startling immediacy, whether Bognanno’s howling about sobriety (“I’ll never get fucked up again”) or current affairs (“My body is not your choice!”) or her seemingly endless grief (“Time’s just a useless measurement of pain”). But there’s joyful catharsis even amid Bognanno’s devastation and a blueprint for rock ’n’ roll’s future buried within her mastery of its recent past. “It hurts but I’m alive,” she howls even more ferociously on “Change Your Mind,” the best song on the year’s best record. And it clearly does, but she so gloriously is. —Harvilla

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