For calendar purists, best albums lists have become an irritant. Year-end lists go up by early December, weeks before the actual end of the year. And mid-year lists get posted in early June, which again is weeks before the year’s actual mid-point. I recognize this. If you are a calendar purist, I apologize. But to quote Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part II, this is the business we have chosen. And I must conform to the conditions of our various list seasons.
Besides, do we really want to wait another few weeks to talk about our favorite music of the year so far? Surveying the first half of 2023, I came up with 15 albums that I really like. Here they are, listed in alphabetical order. Hopefully you will find something you haven’t already heard and maybe even discover a new favorite along the way.
100 Gecs, 10,000 Gecs
The first three times I played this album, it made me suspicious of people under the age of 25. The fourth time I played it, a strange thought popped in my head: “This is growing on me.” By the fifth time, I started to suspect that 10,000 Gecs might be my favorite record of 2023 so far. Just as the Ramones surveyed the trash culture of their youth and paid homage to it over genius-idiot music, 100 Gecs take everything that is annoying about the internet and elevate it by leaning into every guilty pleasure of our very, very insipid modern culture. On this album, death metal riffs collide with autotune R&B and “Loudness War” era alt-rock in the space of a single chorus, and you could not sandblast the dumbfounded smile off of my semi-melted face as I marvel at the audacity of it all.
Bar Italia, Tracey Denim
The wave of post-punk bands that have poured out of the U.K. in the past several years have tended to lean on the most guttural, talk-y, and dissonant aspects of the music, like Mark E. Smith himself took a massive piss in their cereal bowls every morning. Fortunately, this London band takes an alternate route, favoring the sleek and sexy side of esoteric art rock. On Tracey Denim, I hear echoes of The Cure, early aughts Radiohead, and the underrated Baltimore indie outfit Lower Dens. A very cool record.
Bully, Lucky For You
On the previous Bully records, Alicia Bognanno made music that evoked the sludgiest alt-rock of the SST and Sub Pop bands of the 1980s. On Lucky For You, she’s moves into her “major label grunge” phase. The guitars are shinier, the rhythms are more sinewy, and the melodies are sharper and more inviting than ever. But while Bognanno has made her poppiest record yet, she hasn’t sacrificed any of her gnarly attitude. Instead, she’s achieved an ideal mix of sweet and sour.
Feeble Little Horse, Girl With Fish
Pittsburgh has been an active hive of indie rock activity lately, and one of the more promising bands to emerge from Steeltown is this hooky noise-pop outfit. Like the North Carolina band Wednesday, Feeble Little Horse draw on the dynamics of shoegaze — distorted guitars, deliberate drums, slightly stoned-sounding vocals — in the service of creating a new kind of heartland rock that blends surreal, tragicomic lyrics with bubble-grunge melodies. If you ever wondered what Daydream Nation would sound like if it were written by Rivers Cuomo, you’ll relish Girl With Fish.
Foo Fighters, But Here We Are
A comeback record in more ways than one. After the death of Taylor Hawkins, it was briefly uncertain whether Dave Grohl would continue the band that originated as a one-man side project in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s sudden passing. But not only have Foo Fighters carried on, they have re-emerged with their strongest album in nearly 25 years. While Grohl has attempted to shake up his sound on recent records with mixed results, But Here We Are evokes the classic alt-rock sound of late ’90s albums like The Colour And The Shape and There Is Nothing Left To Lose. Lyrically, this must be counted as the most emotionally candid release of Grohl’s career. Throughout the album, you feel him grieving in real time, in a way that feels relatable even for us non-rock stars.
Jason Isbell, Weathervanes
After 2020’s fraught Reunions, there’s an appreciably looser and jammier vibe this time around, with several songs on Weathervanes knowingly evoking the southern-rock style of Isbell’s old band, Drive-By Truckers. (He refers to three songs in this vein — which rank among the album’s strongest — as “The Old Assignment” suite.) Throughout the record, he writes perceptively about the struggles of adult relationships as well as canny character studies about school shootings, forgotten bar-band musicians, racist patriarchs, and runaways who find love on the road while hiding out at a KOA campground.
Kara Jackson, What Does The Earth Give Us People To Love?
This Chicago-based singer-songwriter has a legitimate literary pedigree — she was the National Youth Poet Laureate back in the late 2010s. That was before the release of her full-length debut, What Does The Earth Give Us People To Love?, a beguiling collection of jazz-folk fantasias that melds Leonard Cohen with Alice Coltrane. Throughout the record, the combination of the music’s languid pacing and the dreamy, poetic ruminating of the lyrics creates a disorienting effect, like the songs might drift off like a mist and dissipate in the ether. But Jackson’s husky, expressive voice ultimately grounds the album. A truly one-of-a-kind experience that feels like a world unto itself.
Lankum, False Lankum
Can I interest you in a traditional Irish folk record put through a post-rock filter? False Lankum basically is like if the Pogues sounded more like Sunn 0))). I don’t know how to explain it but there’s something metal about this record even though it’s not metal at all. Maybe it’s because of the album cover, which makes them look like a Profound Lore band. But the songs themselves emit a sort of centuries-old doom. This is especially true of their rendition of the traditional folk song “Go Dig My Grave,” which floats like an ancient, evil spirit that crawled out of an unmarked cemetery plot to stalk present-day sinners and punish them accordingly.
Liv.e, Girl In The Half Pearl
Broadly described as “avant R&B,” Liv.e’s music is actually next to impossible to categorize without creating a word salad of references. It’s Sade as produced by Trent Reznor! It’s Brian Eno remaking Joni Mitchell’s Blue! A song cycle about a failed romantic relationship, Girl In The Half Pearl is really good at evoking a mix of desire, despair, wonder, and anger musically as it is unpacking those feelings lyrically. Each time I put it on, I pick up something new.
Superviolet, Infinite Spring
Following the dissolution of the Ohio emo band The Sidekicks, lead singer Steve Ciolek has rebooted as a canny singer-songwriter with a mastery of power pop and heartland rock styles. His first album as Superviolet has echoes of Big Star, Summerteeth-era Wilco, Figure 8-era Elliott Smith, all eras of Sloan, and scores of other lesser-known practitioners of melancholic guitar music with whip-smart minds and sad-sack hearts. As sad as it was to see the Sidekicks depart — check out 2012’s Awkward Breeds if you haven’t already — it appears that Ciolek might be onto something even better as Superviolet.
The Tubs, Dead Meat
This British band plays strummy and zippy jangle rock that’s immediately reminiscent of bands like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, though Owen “O” Williams’ vocals add another texture to the mix. Because he sounds a bit like Richard Thompson — or like Bob Mould doing his Richard Thompson impersonation on Workbook — Dead Meat has a pleasing British folk flavor. While the tunes deliver a jolt with their rapid BPMs, the melodies would shine just as brightly if played at half the pace.
Wednesday, Rat Saw God
This band sounds like it was produced in a lab by scientists who were determined to cater to a person with my tastes. Do you also love Southern Rock Opera, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, and Siamese Dream so much that you wish you could listen to all three albums at the same time? Are you thrilled by the prospect of pedal steel guitar put through a distortion pedal? Are you intrigued by the premise of a band that’s so good it doesn’t need MJ Lenderman to contribute any songs? Shouldn’t more country tunes be eight and a half minutes long and conclude with a woman screaming about Mortal Kombat? This record answers every question in the affirmative, as would I.
Westerman, An Inbuilt Fault
The British soft-rock singer-songwriter Will Westerman has been putting out hooky, haunting singles since the late 2010s. But it took until 2020 for him to finally release his debut full-length album, Your Hero Is Not Dead. While I like that record, he really turned a corner with this month’s An Inbuilt Fault, which takes the central idea of his project — “What if Sting made a Bon Iver record?” — and makes it sound as smooth and strange as that description suggests. I would love for somebody to give this guy $2 million and access to the studio cats who made Gaucho so we can see what he really can do.
Yo La Tengo, This Stupid World
When you compare them to their contemporaries from the ’90s indie world, it’s hard to argue that anyone did it better than Yo La Tengo. And they just keep going! This Stupid World is their 17th record, and I think it’s my favorite since at least 2006’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. Whereas their recent work leans more on the spacier side, This Stupid World brings back the “song-y” elements of classics like Painful and I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. If you’re new to Yo La Tengo, this record might actually be a perfect introduction.
Yves Tumor, Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
It’s not quite radical enough to qualify as “experimental” and not quite catchy enough to work as a full-on pop move. But sonically it’s one of the best-sounding indie albums of early 2023. With the assistance of Noah Goldstein, an engineer who worked on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Alan Moulder, who’s one of the great architects of ’90s alt-rock, Praise A Lord invites you to get lost in its grooves. Possibly the best headphone record of 2023 so far.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.