What is the best album of 2023? We don’t know! Nobody does, really. It’s fun to make picks for the best projects of the year, but doing that and coming up with something definitive works only if you’re comparing apples against other apples (and even then, it really doesn’t). The music landscape, though, is full of apples and oranges and bananas and grapes and pomegranates and pears: All fruits, with their different appeals, are tough to pit (fruit joke) against each other, but they’re all worth celebrating for their own distinct, unquantifiable appeals (banana joke).
The produce section that is the music industry was vibrant this year, too. Established icons cemented their legacies, newcomers proved themselves in noteworthy ways, and others made their voices heard in their own parts of the business. Instead of handing out points and faux-authoritatively declaring what’s better than what, we’ve come up with a giant alphabetical list of our favorite albums of the year. So, keep scrolling to revisit just how dynamic and diverse music was in 2023.
And stay tuned to Uproxx in the coming weeks as we unveil a host of other genre lists, as well as our anticipated Uproxx Music Critics Poll.
100 Gecs – 10,000 Gecs
100 Gecs could have so easily had their moment in the meme sun with their 2019 debut album 1000 Gecs and then faded away forever. The songs were both catchy and off-the-wall weird, a delicate balance that’s not easy to pull off on a single album, let alone two. They did it again, though, on 10000 Gecs. How? Songwriting. Throughout the album are compositions that reach out through their alternative, kooky grime and smack you in the face with catchy hooks and memorable lyrics. The inevitable 100,000 Gecs can’t come soon enough. – Derrick Rossignol
Aminé and Kaytranada – Kaytraminé
The term “album of the summer” gets tossed around quite a lot lately, but this joint effort from the Portland rapper and Canadian dance producer earns it with 11 breezy-yet-diverse approaches to the seasonal sound and its related topics. From the glitzy, mellow “Rebuke” to the funk-tinged Pharrell feature “4Eva,” the lively spirit of the warmest months of the year comes through in ways both unexpected and comfortingly familiar. – Aaron Williams
Arlo Parks – My Soft Machine
After first making a name for herself with her poetic lyrics and touching confessions on mental health and queerness, UK artist Arlo Parks returned with her sophomore album My Soft Machine. Living up to the accolades that came along with her debut (which included two Grammy nominations and the Mercury Prize for Album Of The Year) Parks doubles down on her revelations about the realities of relationships and struggling with depression, this time adding synths into the mix. Lush indie earworms like “Purple Phase” and the Phoebe Bridgers-featuring “Pegasus,” Parks’ My Soft Machine continues to prove she’s one of the best indie songwriters of her generation. – Carolyn Droke
Asake – Work Of Art
After establishing himself as one of the best newcomers in afrobeats in 2022, Asake used 2023 to prove that his success is far from a moment, but rather, the starting moments of a long-lasting career. His second album Work Of Art, arrived just nine months after his stellar debut Mr. Money With The Vibe and it exercises the same winning formula that put Asake in the spotlight. The Nigerian star returns as triumphant, spiritual, and grateful as ever, and with Work Of Art, we get a slightly altered painting that is altered enough to be something new worth paying attention to, all while using the same paintbrush and colors. In the end, this formula provided records like the Grammy-nominated “Amapiano” and the fan-favorite “Lonely At The Top” that will go down as one of the best offerings in Asake’s discography. – Wongo Okon
Blxst and Bino – Sixtape 3
Blxst and Bino Rideaux stumbled upon their secret sauce with “Savage” from Sixtape in 2019, and the third installment, Sixtape 3, is the LA rappers’ most complementary offering yet. “Shaq and Kobe, it’s only right if we three-peat,” Blxst poses in “Road Runnin.” Blxst and Bino trade alley-oops, lyrically and thematically. The provocatively lustful “ Doin Yo Stuff” is balanced out by the romantic, slow jam-adjacent “Get Away,” and the groovy “Baccseat” brings the opposing emotions under one roof. The empathic dunk is “Blueprint,” where Blxst and Bino cleverly flex “boss sh*t.” No lies were told. – Megan Armstrong
Boygenius – The Record
When Boygenius — the supergroup comprised of Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers — first appeared with their 2018 self-titled EP, its members were known indie quantities but not quite the stars that they are in 2023. Their steady rise makes their debut LP, The Record, all the more of an event, and has found them on the cover of Rolling Stone, headlining festivals, and even appearing on the massive Taylor Swift stadium tour. But what might get lost in the hype and the friendship-focused narrative is that Boygenius also finds three magnificent songwriters working in their prime, tapping both new and unfamiliar territory in equal measure, and discovering parts of themselves that can only be illuminated through the artistry of others. – Philip Cosores
Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
Caroline Polachek is by no means new to the music world. Despite this, her solo sophomore release, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, finds her experimenting with a range of influences and elevating herself beyond the initial sound that first drew listeners in. Here, she plays with flamenco on “Sunset,” while also not alienating anyone by adding the catchy, electronic early preview of “Bunny Is A Rider.” In her present chameleon fashion, she then flips the script once more for the quiet tension on “Crude Drawing Of An Angel.” Just as the title suggests, Polachek reaches a new peak by being able to play with the concept of transformation and versatility on this album. – Lexi Lane
Chappell Roan – The Rise And Fall Of A Midwest Princess
Chappell Roan has had a wild few years. During the pandemic, she moved back home to Missouri, where she saved up money to resume her music career. The result is her debut album, The Rise And Fall Of A Midwest Princess. Produced by pop music’s new favorite collaborator, Dan Nigro (Olivia Rodrigo, Conan Gray), Roan found herself free and comfortable to express her identity fully. Across the 14 brilliant pop tracks, it has the energy of a merry-go-round at a club or a dancefloor at the county fair. Either way, getting off the ride is hard once you press play. – L.L.
Chika – Samson
Chika’s mental health struggles have been heartbreaking to witness. Instead of retiring from rap, with the guidance of trained professionals, her album, Samson reveals the kinks in her armor. Through the project, listeners learn that Chika is a mystery that even she herself is still figuring out. The unabashed biblical references sprinkled on Samson stress that both Chika’s bars and professional footsteps have been ordered by a higher calling. Samson is Chika emerging from the belly of the beast, ready to stake her claim in the rap scene. – Flisadam Pointer
Chloe – In Pieces
There are many impressive aspects of Chlöe’s debut album In Pieces. First, is the fact that the singer even arrived at a point in her career to release. Her solo career was criticized for more reasons than it wasn’t, but none of that seemed to hinder the body of work that is In Pieces. Actually, it only strengthened it. The critiques and doubts became the backbone of the album which also detailed her recovery from heartbreak. Between the uptempo and bouncy “Body Do” and the captivating “Make It Look Easy,” Chlöe showcased her versatility, her writing, and her evolving vision on her debut album. Though the sky is the limit for her, Chlöe is well on her way to reaching it. – W.O.
Daniel Caesar – Never Enough
If there was any doubt that Daniel Caesar could replicate the glory days of his past, the Toronto singer put them all to rest with his euphoric third album Never Enough. It’s with this album that he took on a bigger producer role as he placed himself in a small town that’s hours outside of Toronto to make the beats that became the landscape of Never Enough. He grapples with wanting love (“Do You Like Me?”) and seeing that it’s run its course (“Let Me Go”) while finding time to shade those who believed they moved on from him to better (“Homiesexual”). Never Enough excellently captures the rollercoaster ride of love and the constant search for perfection, if that even exists. – W.O.
Davido – Timeless
Davido’s absence from the afrobeats world over the past couple of years, though it was respected, was surely felt by fans. So with the arrival of his fourth album Timeless, the expectation was that he would fit right into the genre’s newly-mainstream landscape while showing why he’s on the Mount Rushmore of the genre. To the surprise of no one, that’s exactly what happened. Timeless arrived as Davido’s best album to date and it’s thanks to the singer’s theme of conquering all things in his way on the album. Whether it be those who want to bring him down or unfortunate events in his life, Davido stands tall “over dem” on Timeless. – W.O.
Doja Cat – Scarlet
While Doja Cat and her antics have proven polarizing over the past few months, her ability to make hits is undeniable. On Scarlet, Doja prioritized lyrics and her hip-hop craft overall, showcasing her abilities on the confident and assured “Go Off” and the horrorcore-influenced “Demons.” Though she’s previously denounced her past pop hits, old habits die hard, notably with the infectious “Paint The Town Red.” – Alex Gonzalez
Don Toliver – Love Sick
Travis Scott’s protege takes yet another step into his own on his third studio album, released appropriately just two weeks after Valentine’s Day. “I want people to listen to my music and think it’s timeless,” Toliver said of his latest release and while he’s got a ways to go before he realizes this dream, Love Sick constitutes an impressive step in the right direction in tracks like “Honeymoon” and “Leave This Club.” – A.W.
El Michels Affair & Black Thought – Glorious Game
Listen, you can go ahead and call me a stodgy old crank for continuing to value technically superior exercises in formalism in 2023. That’s fine. Black Thought remains the (read: THEE) finest bar-for-bar, straight-up rapper in hip-hop to this day and it’s worth honoring that — especially when he possesses the awareness to pair his prodigious talents with production worthy of the finest funk-soul excursions into ’70s Classicism this side of Adrian Younge’s Luke Cage soundtrack. – A.W.
Gel – Only Constant
I don’t know if Only Constant, the 10 songs-in-16-minutes debut album by hardcore band Gel, is the shortest album on this list. But I do know it’s the album that will make you say “hell yeah” the most. The feedback opening to “Honed Blade” before the drums kick in and singer Sami Kaiser shouts at us to “sharpen up our voice”? Hell yeah. The pummeling guitar riffs on “Attainable”? Hell yeah. The way “The Way Out” will make you want to rip a phonebook in half? Hell yeah. Is Only Constant one of the year’s best albums? Hell yeah. – Josh Kurp
Gracie Abrams – Good Riddance
“You fell hard / I thought, good riddance,” Abrams twists the knife on the album opener “Best,” while maintaining themes of self-criticism throughout. The new album finds her exploring new horizons by working with Aaron Dessner and putting her biggest fears, worst behaviors, and an expanded level of emotional vulnerability on full display — all while backed by some gentle production. She also provides pauses to lift the energy, like the sweet caught-by-surprise moment on “The Blue.” Yet, staying true to the themes of struggling with the rollercoaster of entering adulthood, the album ends with the darkly contemplative “Right Now,” where Abrams wonders if her “little brother thinks my leaving was wrong,” as she continues growing up, getting out, and saying good riddance. – L.L.
Gunna – A Gift And A Curse
If I told you a year ago that Gunna, after the success of chart-topping success DS4EVER, would be releasing a “comeback” album in 2023, you’d probably call me crazy. However, that was the case for the Atlanta rapper this year. Gunna was one of many indicted in the ongoing YSL RICO, and his image with the public took a turn for the worse when he accepted a plea deal for a release 10 months after his imprisonment. Gunna was called everything from a snitch to a traitor, and while the facts proved otherwise, his fourth album A Gift & A Curse also proved that he wouldn’t let them hinder his career. So with it, Gunna delivered one that silenced his critics, set forth a summer hit with “F*kumean,” and etched itself into the conversation for album of the year. – W.O.
Holly Humberstone – Paint My Bedroom Black
Holly Humberstone’s Paint My Bedroom Black chronicles the ups and downs of being a woman in your early twenties in a way that connects listeners of all backgrounds. “Here’s to new horizons,” she greets listeners in the album’s opening line, almost like a fitting hint of what’s to come. Her electronic production takes larger leaps, notably at the ending of “Into Your Room” and the chilling vocal adjustment on “Baby Blues.” Others, like “Elvis Impersonators” and “Cocoon” serve as powerful lyrical displays. In its entirety, the album is a thrilling next step that has us excited to see where she goes next. – L.L.
Hotline TNT – Cartwheel
A poppy shoegaze outfit that doesn’t skimp on catchy melodies even as the guitars push deep into the red, Hotline TNT attracted lots of hype this year. But the songwriting earns it, especially when singer-songwriter Will Anderson contrasts his surging, ear-splitting music with sensitive-guy musings that elevate Cartwheel to the heights of romantic fuzz-rock bliss. – Steven Hyden
J Hus – Beautiful And Brutal Yard
When most folks think of UK rap (at least here in the US), they primarily think of grime or drill, two categories that are great representations of Black diaspora culture in the island nation. However, that’s also a woefully incomplete and reductive understanding. Fortunately, more people are bound to get hip to J Hus’ unique fusion of Afropop and dancehall sensibilities with hip-hop swagger and flows, thanks in large part to the Drake co-sign he receives on “Who Told You.” But there’s also the cheeky takedown of phony tough guys on “Masculine,” the sly come-ons of “Nice Body” with Jorja Smith, and the overall counter geographical tropical vibe to recommend J Hus’ latest. – A.W.
Jack Harlow – Jackman
Jack Harlow heard the complaints about his last album, Come Home The Kids Miss You, and responded in kind with a 10-song salvo of tracks that saw the Louisville rapper revert to the hungry, intensely-focused artist he was as he freestyled and battle-rapped his way to the top. The highlights: “They Don’t Love It,” “Gang Gang Gang,” and “Blame On Me,” which saw his talent for conceptual songwriting flexed to a degree fans hadn’t seen for nearly two years. – A.W.
Janelle Monáe – The Age Of Pleasure
Janelle Monáe is always worth the wait. The Age Of Pleasure is their fourth album, and their first in five years, and with this record, Monáe is on a higher spiritual plane than ever before. Indulging in hedonistic pleasures, Monáe revels in queer sensuality, embracing intimacy and touch on songs like “Lipstick Lover.” They also celebrate many a win on “Champagne Sh*t,” and embrace their own body as a work of art on the luxurious “Haute.” Through smooth transitions between tracks, The Age Of Pleasure paints a continuous portrait of opulence and sexual liberation within an unapologetically queer, genderfluid world created via Monáe’s multidimensional lens. – A.G.
Jessie Ware – That! Feels Good!
Jessie Ware snuck “Free Yourself” under the wire last July. She’s ahead of the game this year with a disco-pop indulgence inspired by divas like Donna Summer. “Lightning” is ready-made for dog days, oozing romance. “Freak Me Now” is brash lust. “Begin Again” is pure refreshment. Pick one, and you will feel good. – M.A.
Jordan Ward – Forward
Jordan Ward has long had the potential to crack through the underground ceiling and stand a bit closer to the mainstream world since he released “Lalaland” back in 2017. The success of that record pales in comparison to that of “White Crocs,” his breakout hit with Ryan Trey, but it does show how long the St. Louis native has been working on his craft. “White Crocs” would eventually find its home on his fourth project Forward which is by far Ward’s most polished work to date. If “White Crocs” isn’t your jam, then “IDC” with Joony, “311” with Gwenn Bunn,” “Sidekick” with Joyce Wrice, or one of the other 10 records will certainly provide something you like. That’s just how good and versatile Jordan Ward is. – W.O.
Jorja Smith – Falling Or Flying
On her highly-anticipated sophomore album, Falling Or Flying, Jorja Smith soars. Categorically, the body of work is labeled R&B, but the sonics explored on Falling Or Flying are boundless. Singles “Little Things” and the title track are just samplers of how far the branches of the entire tracklist reach. Though the album was written solely as a healing exercise for Smith, somehow, fans come out on the opposite side as a better version of themselves, having experienced life through her eyes. – F.P.
Jung Kook – Golden
BTS’ Jung Kook has shown himself to be a pop sensation both within the group and as a solo act. His debut solo album, Golden, served as a gift to fans, as it arrived weeks before Jung Kook began the process of enlisting in the Korean military. He’ll be away until 2025, but songs like the romantic “Standing Next To You,” the sexy, rhythmic “3D,” and the gut-wrenching ballad “Hate You” will certainly hold as timeless classics. But they also set the stage for him to continue his world takeover upon his return. – A.G.
Kali Uchis – Red Moon In Venus
Kali Uchis’ third album Red Moon In Venus is without question her best album to date. Maybe it’s because she’s more in touch with herself than ever or maybe it’s because she’s more at peace than ever. The result of either, or maybe both of those observations, is a 15-track body of work that captures Uchis majestically and graceful float through elements of R&B and pop, while also tapping into her Spanish roots, to make what sounds like Uchis’ idea of paradise. Whether it’s “Fantasy” with Don Toliver, “Deserve Me” with Summer Walker, or solo efforts like “All Mine” and “Moonlight,” Kali Uchis’ Red Moon In Venus has plenty of music to get lost in and find your own paradise. – W.O.
Karol G – Mañana Será Bonito
After a very public breakup, Karol G chose to heal the way she knows best — through music. The Colombian superstar’s fourth album Mañana Será Bonito proves to be a therapeutic experience, for both Karol and the fans. Over the course of 17 flawless tracks, Karol engages in self-care, debates returning to an ex, falls in love on her travels, and has several good cries. All while repeating the very phrase that got her through it all — “Mañana será bonito.” – A.G.
Kiana Ledé – Grudges
Kiana Ledé returned as a woman frustrated with the recent occurrences in her love life for her second album Grudges. While some write about heartbreak from the perspective of pain, Ledé uses the 17 songs on Grudges as a venting session during the journey of recovery. Whether it singing “I don’t trust you and I don’t trust these hoes” on “Jealous,” grappling with an insufficient lover on “Focus” and “Damage,” or struggling to have hope with love on “Same Type,” Kiana Ledé tackles it all to make an album that every hopeful romantic can relate to thanks to honest songwriting, elegant production, and a voice that stands out in today’s R&B landscape. – W.O.
Killer Mike – Michael
Killer Mike has put out six solo albums and four as a member of Run The Jewels over the past 20 years, yet Michael could very well be his debut album. It’s certainly his most biographical; on songs like “Down By Law,” “Motherless,” and “High & Holy,” he introduces us, for what feels like the first time, to an adolescent Michael Render, detailing the trials, tribulations, and temptations that gave us the controversial, outspoken figure Killer Mike has become. With a Southern Baptist soundscape and show-stealing turns from André 3000, Fabo, Young Thug, and more, Michael gives us our clearest picture of the rapper yet. – A.W.
Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
Lana Del Rey’s career has been defined by a hot and cold reaction from the press, and equally hot and cold moments of self-sabotage and self-mythologizing. But if anything, it speaks volumes that any online spat that might accompany a rollout is generally forgotten by the next album cycle. That’s how continually surprising and sharp Lana is as a songwriter, that mild controversy slides off her. And that talent is underscored on Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. “A&W” is another high point in sonic adventurousness and lyrical insight, while “The Grants” and the title track are so instantly familiar, they might as well be pulled directly from the singer-songwriter canon. We just can’t quit you, Lana. – P.C.
Larry June and The Alchemist – The Great Escape
The Great Escape is a portal to idyllic, immaculate bliss. It’s like the musical version of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations — taste-testing beats and flows — as Larry and Al traveled together while recording. The likes of Action Bronson (“Solid Plan”) and Ty Dolla Sign (“Summer Reign”) sweeten the pot, but the substance is found in June’s straightforward lyricism complementing The Alchemist’s trippy soundscapes. “I get impulsive, if I want it then I go and cop it,” June raps on the hazy “ 60 Days,” unintentionally causing an unshakable impulse for a fresh Larry June and The Alchemist joint album every summer. – M.A.
Laufey – Bewitched
Jazz’s resurgence into the mainstream has made for interesting online music discourse. The 2023 Grammy Award Best New Artist, being a classically trained jazz vocalist, brewed the ideal environment for Laufey to burst onto the scene. The singer’s sophomore album, Bewitched, featuring singles “From The Start” and “Letter To My 13-Year-Old Self,” is an enchanting spell of classical jazz elements with a bubbling elixir of infectious light-hearted bedroom pop sonics. Bewitched is a time-capsuled work perfectly scored for a vintage romance flick. Its light-hearted, airy, and delicately simplistic layerings transport listeners to a world graciously ruled by Laufey. – F.P.
Leon Thomas – Electric Dusk
Leon Thomas III is the mastermind behind some of music’s biggest hits, including SZA’s fan-favorite trackSnooze.” Now that he’s ready for the spotlight, others should be on high alert. On his debut studio album, Electric Dusk, which was inspired by Los Angeles’ longest-running drive-thru movie theater, Thomas puts all of the creative parts of himself that he’s lent out to other artists on full display. When his mentor and label head, Ty Dolla Sign, said that listening made him want to redo his own work, it wasn’t an exaggeration. Across the album, Thomas provides men with an emotionally safe space to display vulnerability, make mistakes, and grow within romantic relationships while trying to find a footing in their careers. Although the project might’ve been snubbed during the 2024 Grammy nominations, its impact will surely ripple throughout the genre for years to come. – F.P.
Lil Uzi Vert – Pink Tape
After almost two years of delays, Lil Uzi Vert’s sprawling Pink Tape finally arrived in July with a disarming array of styles and sounds to choose from, displaying the full range of dimensions the protean Philly rapper has always offered but rarely unleashed all at once. Paring down a list of 1,500 song ideas to the 26 represented here should be considered an accomplishment in itself, but for those songs to also represent such a diverse spectrum of musical influences from alternative and metal to something I can only call techno-rap is an exciting distillation of how much more territory hip-hop can explore. – A.W.
Lil Yachty – Let’s Start Here
Is Lil Yachty’s experiment in psychedelia technically hip-hop? I think the point he makes with Let’s Start Here is: who cares? (We’re including him here because of how Yachty got his start, the mode of the music he primarily makes, and the fact that he spends as much of this rock-inspired effort rapping as he does singing.) Yachty’s always bristled at the thought that he could be limited to just one genre. Here’s the strongest argument in his favor. – A.W.
Luh Tyler – My Vision
Luh Tyler is like the perfect synthesis of predecessors such as Kodak Black and Lil Tecca, with the carefree confidence of pre-graduation youth and the poised, deceptively clever pen game of the frequently incarcerated gangster rapper. By combining his natural gifts with an easygoing, unpracticed charisma and subject matter centered more around teenage fantasies of luxury lifestyles than drug game-produced shootouts, Luh Tyler cleans up the typical Florida approach to hip-hop without losing his cool. – A.W.
L’Rain — I Killed Your Dog
While L’Rain’s Taja Cheek is by no means a newcomer, her third studio LP I Killed Your Dog arrived as an experimental breath of fresh air in the indie world. Whether it’s the wonderfully psych rock track “Pet Rock” or the ethereal “r(EMOTE),” L’Rain takes her heartbreak, contorts it, and transforms it into something new. Oftentimes singing through layers of distortion, Cheek’s voice manages to sound like it lives somewhere beyond this plane of existence. The result is an album that’s like a dream sequence played out, imprinting you with feelings of both comfort and unease. – C.D.
Maisie Peters – The Good Witch
Sometimes, something is so objectively true that it’s worth how cliché it sounds. This is one of those times. The Good Witch is spellbinding — packed with aching anecdotal vulnerability (“There It Goes”) and sharp wit (“Lost The Breakup”) — and in the words of Maisie Peters in the criminally clever “BSC,” you’d be “actually bloody motherf*cking batsh*t crazy” to think otherwise. Not convinced? Peters, Uproxx’s July 2023 cover star, became the youngest British woman to hit No. 1 on the UK’s Official Albums Chart since 2014. – M.A.
Mandy, Indiana – I’ve Seen A Way
I’ve Seen A Way — the debut album from Mandy, Indiana — started its life, in part, in a cave full of smelly cheese (it’s true). A cavern-recorded album might immediately bring to mind atmospheric sounds like early The Verve, and there are doses of that on I’ve Seen A Way. There are also moments, though, where it sounds like somebody had the bold idea to host a rave or an ’80s synth dance party among the stalactites. Either way, I’ve Seen A Way is the sound of a fresh band taking a big swing right out the gate and connecting with a thunderous crack of the bat (cave pun not intended and only caught while re-reading). – D.R.
Masego – Masego
Masego’s magnum opus arrived more than a decade into his career and it’s fitting that it’s for his self-titled sophomore album. The project’s 14 songs are a masterful combination of the elements that make Masego an artist we’ve come to love. The tropical side of his discography comes alive through “Say You Want Me” while his jazz and funk roots are wrapped around records like “You Never Visit Me.” With Masego, the singer proves that the music will never be a concern for himself. Since day one, he’s impressed fans repeatedly with his talents, and now with his second album, Masego perfectly combined those talents for a body of work that couldn’t be more representative of himself. – W.O.
Metro Boomin – Heroes & Villains
Arguably the most dominant producer of the streaming era, Metro Boomin comes close to creating his magnum opus with this late 2022 compilation (which is after Uproxx’s cutoff for Best of 2022 consideration). His full curatorial superpowers go on display in Heroes & Villians as he assembles his own Avengers of rap titans — or a Legion of Doom if you want to see it another way. 21 Savage, Future, Migos, Travis Scott, and more help fill out the roster, but the star here is always his production, skillfully tying them all together. – A.W.
Militarie Gun – Life Under The Gun
The search for “the next Turnstile” has given us a bunch of trendpieces and zero albums that managed a fraction of the critical and commercial impact of GLOW ON. In retrospect, Militarie Gun was actually the band calling the shots for hardcore in 2021; as dozens of their peers started to dabble in power-pop, Buzz Bin fanfic, and Oasis deep cuts, all roads indeed led to the Gun and their bullish major label debut. Many have pointed out that Life Under The Gun is hardcore in vibes only, but the ethics of Ian Shelton’s past work are every bit as crucial as the hooks – each song makes it point, makes it stick, and gets out before it can waste time on anything less than essential, a goal so thoroughly realized that the “next Militarie Gun” can only come from their next LP. – Ian Cohen
Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
Recorded in Nashville and Los Angeles, with a cast of supporting musicians that include country scene stalwarts like pedal-steel guitarist Fats Kaplin and keyboardist Brooke Waggoner, The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We is as still and insular as Mitski’s previous record, 2022’s Laurel Hell, was upwardly mobile and extroverted. The music is stately, dreamy, and extremely pretty, with Mitski’s voice buffeted by a pocket symphony of soft-focus Americana instrumentation, a stirringly cinematic string section, and a ghostly 17-person choir. – S.H.
Myke Towers – La Vida Es Una
Puerto Rican artist Myke Towers couldn’t be held in a box while making his third album, La Vida Es Una. On the album, Towers showcases his versatility by way of lightly revisiting his rap roots, but mostly experimenting with a multitude of genres. While 23 tracks may seem saturated for an album in 2023, Towers delivers through reggaeton, dancehall, and ‘80s-synthpop sounds, defying the pigeonholing of the industry. Needless to say, he’s keeping fans fed. – A.G.
The National – First Two Pages Of Frankenstein, Laugh Track
The National didn’t receive a full-scale backlash in 2023, but it’s hard not to think of them as taken for granted at this point. They’ve done nothing but offer up consistently great albums at a regular clip for nearly 20 years, with more casual fans signaling that they’ve had their fill of the smart, nuanced tunes from the band. The National answered with a pair of new albums in 2023, both predictably sturdy, and allowing for many fans to piece together their own tracklist for a combined, even-stronger effort. For my money, there aren’t many songs between the two albums I would cut, and if The National want to release three more albums in 2024, bring it on. – P.C.
Noname – Sundial
Noname isn’t in rap to make friends but to platform important causes. On her latest album, Sundial, Noname uses the project’s brief run time to have an intense communal conversation, as she’s so militantly pointed out during her triumphant NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Nothing and no one is off limits. Sundial is sharply witted banter about politics, classism, racism, and more. Whoever said rap was in its flop era clearly hasn’t listened to Noname’s Sundial because the project is a lyrical masterclass and a brilliant display of what craftsmanship sounds like. – F.P.
Oddisee — To What End
Oddisee, one of the most consistent voices operating in the rap world for the past decade or so, has reached an impasse with himself about why he does what he does. And, in the spirit of true talent, he winds up using that as inspiration on this, his 10th studio album, which questions the nature of aspiration. To What End finds Oddisee wrestling with not just his goals and ambitions but what they might cost and whether it’s all really worth it. For us the listeners, it is. – A.W.
Offset – Set It Off
“I could’ve kept it to myself / They can’t be too upset,” Offset raps on “Blame It On Set.” We can’t blame him for letting three-plus years elapse between his 2019 debut solo album, Father Of 4, and October’s Set It Off after listening to the latter — a conceptual LP soaked in meticulous artistry. Not even tasteful Michael Jackson cosplay on the album’s cover overshadows Offset’s authenticity. He’s at total ease — equal parts playful (“Jealousy” featuring Cardi B) and vulnerable (“Say My Grace” featuring Travis Scott). Be thankful he didn’t keep these bars to himself any longer. – M.A.
Olivia Rodrigo – Guts
Even Olivia Rodrigo herself had worried about facing the sophomore slump, given the massive success she found with her 2021 debut, Sour. Her fears were simply just that. Rodrigo’s record Guts does a masterful job of blending her musical influences, tapping into the power and angst on stadium-ready tracks like “Ballad Of A Homeschooled Girl.” Her growth as a songwriter in just two years is already evident, reeling with the idea of being a famous “tourist attraction” on the vulnerable “Making The Bed,” or digging even deeper into personal hurts on “The Grudge” and “Logical.” – L.L.
Paramore – This Is Why
Paramore’s This Is Why is what it looks like when a band whose been making music for two decades gets back in touch with making music for the fun of it. This Is Why arrived earlier this year on the heels of a six-year hiatus when the band found themselves in the midst of a pandemic and social upheaval, and offers a sardonic commentary on the time period. Throughout their album, Paramore take a more pop-forward approach while holding on to elements of their emo roots. In true Paramore fashion, songs like “The News” offer deadpan takedowns of the powers that be while others like “You First” focus inward. – C.D.
Peso Pluma – Génesis
Mexican hitmaker Peso Pluma’s Génesis certainly isn’t just the beginning. On his third album, Pluma takes inspiration from Mexican corridos music, bringing these regional sounds toward global territory. At only 24, Pluma and his album Génesis delivered the Mexican-influenced musical stylings that had been missing from the global music landscape for years. For Pluma, Génesis serves as both a breakthrough, and a time-capsule of historic and impactful sounds, that will still maintain their freshness in the years to come. – A.G.
Quavo – Rocket Power
It wasn’t the Migos reunion we wanted, but Quavo’s first solo album since 2018’s Quavo Huncho gave us something else we needed: An album of emotional growth from one of rap’s most stoic hitmakers. It’s his most adult music yet, expanding on the emotional fallout from the loss of Takeoff, yes, but also detailing how Quavo became Quavo — and how Migos became Migos. There’s a vulnerability in tracks like “Hold Me” and “Greatness” that deepens his usual boasts and gives dimension to the sharp-sighted trap bangers that have come to define Quavo’s career. – A.W.
Ratboys – The Window
A band can be called “underrated” only for so long before it starts to become a backhanded compliment, a constant reminder of success not yet achieved and a nagging prompt to question whether they’ve gotten a raw deal or just failed to make themselves essential. For over a decade, Ratboys have been a classic “your favorite band’s favorite band,” “sorely overlooked,” and a perennial solid opener but on The Window, they get on their Seth Cohen shit, jumping up on the proverbial coffee cart and refusing to be anyone’s secret anymore. Teaming up with Chris Walla (who knows a thing or two about this kind of move), Ratboys don’t do a whole lot differently, but they do it with a newfound gusto – their throwback alt-rock is hookier, there’s more grit in their rootsy indie, the jams go on for much longer, and their slice-of-life story songs have a greater sense of personal investment. The Window did everything a “level up” could ask for, including the most difficult part for a perennially underrated band, leaping from likable to lovable. – I.C.
Raye – My 21st Century Blues
After years of having her debut album delayed, UK singer/songwriter RAYE took matters into her own hands. Two years ago, RAYE outed her previous label, Polydor, for holding her music hostage. In February, she finally released My 21st Century Blues independently. And in turn, she flipped the industry on its head, with tales of heartache, insecurity, and gaslighting. Having finally earned number one song and album on the UK charts, it’s safe to say RAYE’s big risk paid off. – A.G.
Reneé Rapp – Snow Angel
After already conquering Broadway and television, Reneé Rapp entered her pop girl era in full force this year with her debut album, Snow Angel. Her incredible vocal talent gives her a boost forward to belt on ballads, with many new fans being recruited this year after hearing her show it off. Rapp doesn’t shy away from putting her whole heart on the line, whether she’s dealing with the painful realization of falling too hard that drives “I Hate Boston” or not holding back from the karma she wants on “Tummy Hurts” — which she recently remixed to include the equally-talented Coco Jones. – L.L.
Sampha – Lahai
At long last, 2023 was the year that Sampha emerged from his humble abode to release his sophomore album Lahai, the long-awaited follow-up to 2017’s Process. Where Process was drowned in feelings of loss and grief, Lahai finds Sampha on the other side of the wall, filled with hope, optimism, and acceptance. He grapples with time from start to finish on the album, but the most important takeaway with Sampha’s second album is that the London singer remains as good as ever, and arguably better, in the time that has passed since his debut. Evidence of that lives within “Only,” “Can’t Go Back,” “Spirit 2.0,” and much more. – W.O.
Sexyy Red – Hood Hottest Princess
In this business, one of the dangers of getting too invested in what looks to be a promising young talent based on one compelling single is having that investment bust out when a full project lacks the magnetism of the song that got you invested in the first place. Fortunately, that didn’t happen with Sexyy Red, the sassy St. Louisan who captivated us with the delightfully disaffected “Born By The River,” followed up with the relatable ratchetry of “Pound Town,” and paid off our interest by not retreating a single step on Hood Hottest Princess, which turned out to be every bit as uproariously lascivious as her breakout singles. – A.W.
Skyzoo x The Other Guys – The Mind Of A Saint
A masterfully executed concept album inspired by the characters and events of the drug-game epic Snowfall, The Mind Of A Saint finds Skyzoo putting his feet in the shoes of the show’s principal criminal mastermind. Sky writes through the perspective of an older, wiser Franklin Saint who turned to the pen instead of the bottle — after all, he did finish the project before the final season had aired — but even with two layers of functionalization, the words and themes ring true. – A.W.
Slow Pulp – Yard
This Chicago-by-way-of-Madison indie band made some waves with their 2020 debut Moveys, though their progress was blunted somewhat by the pandemic. Therefore, Yard felt doubly consequential this year, especially since it showed off their impressive range. This album veers from darkly beautiful alt-country to introspective folk to zippy guitar pop numbers. It’s the kind of big-tent indie rock record that used to be a lot more common 20 years ago, and still has the potential to win over scores of fans. – S.H.
Sufjan Stevens – Javelin
If I’m writing this blurb based on my experience with Javelin prior to October 6, reliable critic terms like “return to form” and “masterful” come to mind; means of expressing how Sufjan Stevens did a lot of familiar things on his tenth album and did them remarkably well, even if it doesn’t place him at the center of discussion in 2023 the way that Illinois or Carrie & Lowell did. But when Stevens posted a tribute to his late partner Evans Richardson on the day of Javelin’s release, things like “narrative” and “zeitgeist” and “rankings” ultimately felt trivial. Which, yes, that’s what Stevens’ best work does, whether it’s his maximalist, big-top indie revivals or his skeletal folk or the songs on Javelin which fall somewhere in between. The joy, love, brotherhood, and devastation that Stevens sings about here are overwhelming, but as he’s learned from the passing of his best friend and also his own fragile health, all the more beautiful because they’re ultimately fleeting. This is all the more reason to treasure Javelin as if it were Stevens’ final word. – I.C.
Sun June – Bad Dream Jaguar
After taking pastoral indie rock to new heights with their first two albums, Sun June returned this year with Bad Dream Jaguar. Like the band’s previous efforts, many of the songs center around lead vocalist Laura Colwell’s entrancing, wispy voice. Most are inspired by dreams — or nightmares — and written to sound like a stream-of-consciousness. As such, the album plays out like a gently crooned lullaby. Tracks like “Easy Violence” and “Get Enough” show the band’s ability to craft a rollicking Americana tune, while others like “John Prine” and “Sage” put Sun June’s inhibition on full display. – C.D.
SZA – SOS
Yes, this album came out in 2022, but with most of its success taking place in 2023 and the fact that it came after our 2022 lists, it’s only right that SZA’s SOS makes the cut here. Five years removed from her debut album, SZA returns to a world riddled with troubled waters that people from all over hoped to survive and swim out of. Through the album’s expansive 23 songs, SZA guides us on a journey of surviving life’s elements, the lessons learned along the way, and what it looks like to make it to shore. The ups and downs of life, growing pains, and artistic struggles are all present on this album, and it’s even more impressive that she made its 23 songs not feel like an absolute drag. It was a long time coming for SZA, but boy did she arrive. – W.O.
Teezo Touchdown – How Do You Sleep At Night?
“Maybe they were gonna be a painter until somebody said they couldn’t paint / Maybe thought they was the next Jean-Michel ‘til somebody yelled, ‘No, you ain’t,’” Teezo Touchdown sings on the unorthodox alt-rap “Impossible.” The other 13 tracks on his fiercely authentic and genre-defiant debut album, How Do You Sleep At Night?, confirm (at least) two things: Teezo didn’t listen to anyone who might have told him he couldn’t, and he’s not interested in becoming the “next” anything — unless it pertains to his entrancing individual evolution. – M.A.
That Mexican OT – Lonestar Luchador
Aside from having one of hip-hop’s most luxurious pseudonyms, Texas native That Mexican OT also had one of its most outstanding projects of the year. Although his native Bay City is an hour away from Houston proper, he fits right in alongside its continuum of throaty, laid-back rap stars (which also includes, in some circles, Bun B, despite his hailing from Port Arthur, similarly removed from the city itself). On Lonestar Luchador, the gravely baritone with which OT spits first catches you off-guard, then lures you in with its smoky texture, like the state’s best barbecue. The standout is “Johnny Dang,” but “Cowboy In New York,” “Barrio,” and “Groovin” are all well worth the spin. – A.W.
Travis Scott – Utopia
Five years removed from his last album and returning to the spotlight after a two-year absence, Travis Scott offers a view of Utopia that may run counter to our expectations but certainly illuminates exactly where the Houston rapper sees himself. While he goes back to what’s worked for him on tracks like “Hyaena” and “I Know?” he also blasts his way forward with the fan-favorite “Fe!n” and recaptures his and Drake’s charming chemistry on “Meltdown.” If Utopia doesn’t set the standard for the rap world around it as Astroworld did in 2018, it feeds Travis’ base, laying a sturdy foundation for the future. – A.W.
Various Artists – Barbie: The Album
It’s hard to call anything but Barbie the movie event of 2023 (except for perhaps Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour concert film). One thing those two have in common, though, is music was a major component. So many contemporary greats from across the genre spectrum united to craft an exemplary collection of original, pink-tinted songs: Dua Lipa with “Dance The Night,” Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice with “Barbie World,” and Billie Eilish with “What Was I Made For?,” to name a few. Big-name soundtrack albums are often less than the sum of their parts, but this one comes together in true Barbie Dreamhouse fashion. – D.R.
Victoria Monét – Jaguar II
After years of working behind the scenes as a songwriter of many pop hits, Victoria Monét finally got to shine on her own this year. This past summer saw Monét release her debut album, Jaguar II, on which her hitmaking prowess continues to hold up. While the album maintains its cohesiveness throughout its 11 tracks, nearly all of them can be a single — including the kiss-off “Stop (Askin’ Me 4Sh*t),” the surprisingly pleasant break-up ballad “Good Bye,” and of course, the dirty south tribute, “On My Mama.” – A.G.
Wednesday – Rat Saw God
On the previous Wednesday LP, 2021’s Twin Plagues, singer-songwriter Karly Hartzman wrote evocative story songs set in what I like to call the Gummo South, a partly real and partly made-up region in which dead dogs and burned-down Dairy Queens dot the landscape like Starbucks crowd street corners in big cities. But on Rat Saw God, her songwriting exhibits a level of detail that is practically physical. The title alone of the opening track, “Hot Rotten Grass Smell,” filled my nostrils with the aroma of a humid late July day. – S.H.
Yaeji – With A Hammer
Yaeji simmered relatively under the radar as a beloved figure in the electronic scene for years before impressing with her debut 2020 mixtape What We Drew. Now, it’s debut album time. With A Hammer came out in April and it too is a critical hit. She clearly hasn’t let early success coerce her into taming down her experimental ways in pursuit of a more commercial sound. Singles like “For Granted” and “Passed Me By” are as adventurous as ever while also maintaining an undeniable charm, which can also be said for the rest of one of the year’s most interesting projects. – D.R.
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 this is one of the best-sounding indie albums of 2023’s first half. 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. It’s a very good headphone record. The instrumental tones are on-point. – S.H.
Zach Bryan – Zach Bryan
In country music, there are always artists who claim to bring the music back to its working-class roots; this summer a certain ginger-haired lightning rod became an instant (though perhaps short-lived) star by doing just that. This is not Zach Bryan’s approach. His currency is emotional authenticity, in which he delivers gut-level catharsis in a mainstream pop context that otherwise is placid and plastic. At its best, that’s exactly what his self-titled album delivers. – S.H.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.