Anyone else feeling equally anxious and excited that it’s officially the halfway point of 2023? Anyway, let’s avoid the feelings of existential dread for a bit and check out our picks for the best albums of 2023 (so far).
In chronological order:
Permanent Damage, Joesef
Release Date – January 13
Scotland’s neo-soul artist Joesef is having his breakout year, following the release of his debut album Permanent Damage earlier this year. Despite still playing small venues in The US (but still very much selling them out), Joesef has been releasing music for several years at this point, has the support of Elton John, and has played shows with Paolo Nutini and Rina Sawayama.
Permanent Damage is a beautiful collection of 13 songs that tell the story of heartbreak and the revelations that come with healing. “East End Coast” sounds like a song by The 1975 in an alternate universe: “Borderline” sounds like a gut-wrenching conversation between two lovers who are on the verge of ending their relationship. Despite the moments that are viscerally emotional throughout Permanent Damage, some of my favorite moments come from the lighter tracks on the album: “It’s Been a Little Heavy Lately” and “Didn’t Know How (to Love You)” sound like songs that deserve to be heard under the shimmer of a disco ball in a dive bar. Permanent Damage is a solid showing of Joesef’s genre blending that can convince major pop music fans (aka me) to listen. – Kristin
Health, Medium Build
Release Date – January 25
Nick Carpenter, better known as Medium Build, has had the biggest year of his career after the release of his resonant and deeply honest EP, Health. Medium Build has been working towards a sound that captures the many influences of his upbringing for the past four albums. Health is the sound of Georgia and Alaska and Nashville and LA and the church and atheism and shame and chosen family and addiction and renewal and regret and acceptance and I could go on but you’re better off listening for yourself and finding what you need out of it.
I was lucky enough to hear Nick play this EP a few times this year, and each time moved me in ways that resurrected my love of live music. It’s a religious experience. This past month, he signed to Island Records and slowplay, so watch out because the world is about to be built a whole lot mediumer. – Meleah
Release Date – January 27
For an album called “Honey,” the contents of it certainly live up to the title. Samia’s sophomore effort has songs that are full of pain, but are sweetened by the singer’s effortlessly breezy voice. The album kicks off with one of its best tracks, “Kill Her Freak Out,” a haunting, Most of all, “Honey” highlights Samia’s impressive vocal skill and range, especially on tracks like the belting “Breathing Song” and the quieter, more stirring “To Me It Was.”
Between the singer’s comfortably beautiful voice, her honest lyrics and some fantastic songs, “Honey” is an extremely impressive release and one that I’ve kept listening to over and over throughout the year. – Erin
My 21st Century Blues, RAYE
Release Date – February 3
I was first introduced to Raye when I heard her song “Escapism,” at least, the sped up version, popping up all over my For You Page. This led me to take the time to listen to Raye’s debut album My 21st Century Blues, an album that became a quick favorite of mine after just a few listens.
It hasn’t been an easy road for Raye to release this project: despite being signed to Polydor at age 17 and being credited as a songwriter to many EDM songs, including songs for Charli XCX and Beyoncé, Raye was still not getting funding from her label for her own project. Thanks to a Tweet from June 2021, Raye departed from Polydor, and was finally able to start working on her own music.
What I appreciate about My 21st Century Blues is its attempt at covering a wide range of topics that aren’t commonly heard from a singular artist. Thanks to Raye’s swift ability to juggle songs about drugs, alcoholism, eating disorders, climate change, and sexual assault (“Hard Out Here,” “Ice Cream Man,” “Body Dysmorphia,”“Environmental Anxiety”) with others that are more commonly heard in a pop song: partying, sex, and love (“Escapism,”“The Thrill Is Gone,”“Worth It”). – Kristin
This Is Why, Paramore
Release Date – February 10
Paramore could have easily gone down the path that many other pop punk bands from the aughts went down, churning out the same sort of album time and time again until fans ultimately kind of forget about them. Thankfully, they did the exact opposite of that. Every new album the band has released since 2007’s “Riot!” has felt new and refreshing, and that’s why Paramore is still on top of the game, nearly 20 years after first forming.
The dance punk inspired “This Is Why” is another example of the band branching out from their previous work. It falters a bit in comparison to their 2017 release, the actually perfect LP After Laughter, but it’s still a solid listen, and another stellar effort from a band who’s never been afraid to experiment and has rewarded fans with their continuous creativity. – Erin
Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming, Pearla
Release Date – February 10
One of the songs on Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Pearla’s debut album, Ming the Clam, is named for the oldest individual animal ever discovered. The reference is paired with lyrics about the tiny pains and pleasures of being in a partnership, which leads Pearla to conclude: “I’m not certain about much, but I’m certain how we touch is compelled by some great force other than us.”
In the Oh Glistening Onion universe, the natural world is rife with meaning; animals and plants give us playful hints that help us unravel the mysteries of human life. Even though there’s a lot of confusion at the heart of this album, it has a calming, campfire-song effect. Armed with a melodic confidence reminiscent of Americana legends like Lucinda Williams, Pearla evokes wistfulness and curiosity on a debut album destined to feel timeless. -Emma
Rolling Up The Welcome Mat, Kelsea Ballerini
Release Date – February 14
Just five months after the release of her fourth album SUBJECT TO CHANGE, country-pop star Kelsea Ballerini dropped a surprise EP on Valentine’s Day. The unconventional release strategy signified two things about the new music: it was emotionally urgent and it was determined by some group of decision-makers to be destined for success. Rolling Up the Welcome Mat, a quick but weighty EP about her public divorce from fellow country artist Morgan Evans, certainly made waves in the tabloid-y corners of the internet. But it would be a crime to stop the story there—Kelsea’s writing has never been tighter or more honest.
Even as she sings over moody electro-pop, she adheres to the holy laws of country songwriting, her turns-of-phrases heartbreaking as they are witty (“First it was love, and then it was just…married,” “Were you blindsided or were you just blind,” “I guess wrong can look alright when you’re playing home in a penthouse”). After years of playing the Nashville game, Kelsea is stepping into her own brand of stardom after this release- one that feels both authentic and destined for momentum. – Emma
Desire I Want To Turn Into You, Caroline Polachek
Release Date – February 14
In my eyes, Desire, I Want to Turn into You is what pop music was created to represent – those feelings that make the body vibrate, that press against the mind and heart and hands and demand a cathartic, colorful release. Caroline Polachek is a particularly powerful conductor of those emotions- her musical toolbox includes everything from trip-hop beats to flamenco guitar and bagpipes.
With these sonic colors, she paints a portrait of her glistening, complex, and powerful interior world (literally- “Welcome to My Island). Desire, I Want to Turn into You is colorful and rich, playful and honest, cerebral and considered- pop music pushed to its limits. – Emma
Cuts & Bruises, Inhaler
Release Date – February 14
Yes, this album was released on my birthday, and yes, my dad used to blast U2 throughout the house during my childhood. With these (and the other litany of) associations my brain has connected aside, Inhaler absolutely crushed their sophomore outing on Cuts & Bruises. While Elijah Hewson draws inspiration from his father Bono from U2, especially during the first few tracks, there is a moment of self-emergence and confidence that flares as early as the fourth track—”These Are The Days.”
Elijah lets go of his father’s hand and storms forward into the spotlight along with his crew, marking a fundamentally unique and experimental departure from the comfortable and familiar. Listeners will learn a great deal about Elijah’s strengths and what makes him tick on the back end of this album. Notable standouts include “Dublin in Ecstasy”, “When I Have Her On My Mind” and “The Things I Do.” This project is the maturation and self-assuredness these young artists needed; I’ll be anxiously awaiting their third album. – Sean
Good Riddance, Gracie Abrams
Release Date – February 24
Good Riddance was one of my most anticipated albums of the year. Gracie Abrams broke out of her homogenous sound on this project, and I credit Aaron Dessner’s production as part of this departure from her norm. Before this album, I had doubts about Gracie’s abilities to push herself out of the pocket she sounded perfect in. Good Riddance brought a new life to Gracie’s evergreen devastation. It’s sonically heavier than her previous work, stretching her vocal abilities to meet the production.
While the themes feel familiar – talk of losing herself in love, spiteful regrets, and self soothing – it feels like the through-line of this album is thicker than what we’ve come to expect from Gracie. I have hopes that she’ll keep evolving, keep experimenting, and keep finding ways to guide me through heartbreak. – Meleah
scaredy cat, Young Friend
Release Date – February 24
Drew Tarves’s newest EP ranges from soft, almost folky music to hyper-pop indie rock by the hands of the stupidly talented Marinelli (spill tab, Wallice, Aidan Bissett,) giving old and new fans a taste of all the genres young friend can thrive on. Mostly focusing on themes of coming-of-age, “scaredy cat” is casual enough to feel like a nice breath of fresh air, while also making you feel all the feels as Drew sings of overwhelmingly relatable situations we’ve all been through.
I think this EP won me over with the lyric “girl you’re so September, and I’m so obsessive,” because I am literally both, and the whole project feels like we could either be the one singing or the one being sung at. Or maybe even both if you love making everything about yourself like I do. I was supposed to see young friend live this year but ended up not being able to, which was one of my biggest disappointments of the year, so I really hope I get to see him on tour while I’m on this high of “scaredy cat” love. – Javi
It’s Never Fair, Always True, JAWNY
Release date – March 3
Knowing that JAWNY (forever known as Johnny Utah in my brain) went through a musical crisis right after going viral with “Honeypie,” it actually makes me so happy to hear an album that feels very much like the person he is on stage. I’ve had the chance to see him perform a few times already and it’s always been such an effortless fun time just because of who he is and how he presents his music.
“It’s Never Fair, Always True” carries that same lively, unapologetic spirit that JAWNY delivers live, in the form of thirteen tracks that go perfectly together and create a just as perfectly cohesive project. Which again, is so nice and inspiring to see when knowing he was so lost at some point in time. His career is just now blooming into a legacy, and I really hope people can appreciate it so it can stay that way. – Javi
10,000 gecs, 100 Gecs
Release Date – March 10
10,000 gecs wasn’t supposed to be one of my favorite albums of 2023, mostly because 100 gecs fans have been waiting for this album to be released since 2021 when the hyperpop band announced the 10,000 gecs Tour, the album art and the fact that it would be released in early 2022. I had it on my list of albums to listen to all of last year and nearly forgot about it by the time it was released in March 2023. I’m so glad it was finally released because “10,000 gecs,” which finds some way to cohesively combine nu metal, hyperpop, ska and punk influences, is hands down the most fun, surprising and one of the most sonically solid albums of the year, so far. “10,000 gecs” is the one album I haven’t been able to stop listening to this year, and I’m sure I’ll still have it playing on repeat in the months to come. – Erin
V, Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Release Date – March 17
Ruban Nielson takes a trip down memory lane with his latest release, V, exploring all of the influences that drew him to the industry twelve years ago. However, even though this album acts as a love letter to artists past, it feels uniquely Nielson. V is packed to the brim with wavy transitions, grungy basslines and lofty vocals–all of which blend effortlessly together. “The Garden” acts as a segway between what U.M.O has crafted previously, yet launches listeners on a brand new journey that oozes freshness and vibrance.
As mentioned, the transitions in this project string each of the lengthy tracks together, paving the way for one effortless hour-long playback. You’ll get swept up in its infectious melodies in no time at all.Groovy and methodica, this album can add inspiring ambiance to any situation. Particular standouts include the aforementioned “The Garden” as well as “That Life”, “Weekend Run” and “Meshuggah.” – Sean
Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, Lana Del Rey
Release Date – March 24
Clocking in at 87 minutes, Did you know that there’s a tunnel… is as sprawling and reflective as its title. It contains some of Lana del Rey’s wordiest songs to date (“Kintsugi, Fingertips”), in which she delicately unpacks generational curses and trauma responses as if they’re in dust-covered chests in the attic. The entire album is a gentle exploration of Lana’s self-mythology, including the corners of Southern California she’s expanded into full albums and long-standing critiques of her place in culture.
But there’s nothing spiteful about Did you know, no desire to prove anyone wrong. There’s simply a reverence for her musical and familial lineage—and most importantly, a reverence for the craft of songwriting. Even though Norman Fucking Rockwell is almost-universally considered her magnum opus, I’d make a case for Did you know. It’s anchored on an honesty that her previous work has only aspired to. – Emma
The Record, boygenius
Release Date – March 31
I think it’s going to be difficult to write about the album that I’m assuming everyone who’s reading this post has already listened to…but I’ll give it a go, regardless!
boygenius’ debut LP The Record has been anticipated for a very long time: their debut EP as a supergroup was released back in 2018 (which truly feels like eons ago). While I am a huge fan of that EP, it was only scratching the surface of what Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers could create together. The Record is an ode to relationships: the platonic ones, the romantic ones, and the way that the lines can so often blur between the two. It’s an inside look on the members’ complicated relationships with each other and how they’ve been able to strengthen their bond with each other through shared experiences.
The Record showcases each members’ ability to write about something so specific to themselves and each other at a grander scale. The opening song “Without You, Without Them” represents how our personalities are intrinsically developed because of where we come from: “True Blue” showcases the truest form of loving someone, “Letter To An Old Poet” is the song that makes us think about that one person who has caused us an unfair amount of trauma. What more could you ask for from one project? – Kristin
Jesus At The Gay Bar, Cub Sport
Release Date – April 7
The Australian, electronic-pop band, Cub Sport, released Jesus At The Gay Bar earlier this year and I’ve been calling it ‘the album of the summer’ ever since. It’s a predominantly bright and poppy album with hazy moments of melancholic nostalgia. Two of the band members, Tim Nelson and Sam Netterfield, have been married for nearly 5 years and this album recounts their love story through the lenses of celebration and security.
It’s rare to hear of a happy ending in the bandmates-turned-lovers arc so this album feels like a story that we should recognize as special. It’s a very danceable sound and I recently got to listen to it while driving, which was another game changer. – Meleah
How To Catch a Falling Knife, Gigi Perez
Release Date – April 28
It’s not every day that an EP, let alone a debut from an artist, lands on my list for best of the year (so far), but I am such an avid believer in Gigi Perez’ potential that it was a no-brainer to include it on my list. How To Catch A Falling Knife is a beautiful collection of eight heartbreaking, fiercely intense songs that brilliantly showcase Perez’ vocal abilities. The full, raspy, and deep qualities of her voice takes her indie songwriting to a new height: making her sound incredibly wise beyond her years.
Speaking in a press release ahead of the EP, Perez talks about the inspiration behind the project: “Following the loss of my oldest sister and the ending o f my first love, I grasp to understand yearning, anguish, ruminating, sleeplessness, malaise, yearning, rinse repeat. Where did I go wrong? And how can I never make that mistake again?” – Kristin
That! Feels Good!, Jessie Ware
Release Date – April 28
Though pleasure-focused disco albums feel rampant these days, Jessie Ware’s fourth album has a certain old-school air that gives it some different legs to stand on. The message of her campy battle cry “Pleasure! Is! A! Right!” permeates the album, which captures the sweaty euphoria that only comes from feeling blissfully at home in your own body on a dance floor. The impeccably produced That! Feels! Good! is Jessie Ware’s long-awaited diva moment. – Emma
Calico, Ryan Beatty
Release Date – April 28
At the risk of sounding dramatic and potentially being wrong, I will say that I think “Calico” is one of the most beautiful albums of this decade so far. It’s so delicate and musically mindful, that every time I hear one of the songs I’m once again left in awe. Ryan’s voice has always been so angelic and soothing, and the candor and vulnerability in his lyrics feel like a perfect match for it, something he had already started to show on his last two albums, “Boy In Jeans” and “Dreaming of David.”
I’ve been a fan of Ryan for a stupid amount of time (literally from when he had two very pop songs and a label that was pushing the Bieber agenda on my poor boy,) and his artistic evolution has been one of my favorite things to witness as a music fan. The openness he’s capable of conveying while keeping a sense of intimacy through his music is so incredible and not something everyone can do, which I think makes “Calico” particularly unique and absolutely worth the praise. -Javi
KAYTRAMINÉ, Aminé & KAYTRANADA
Release Date – May 19
Something that I don’t think is surprising but that does surprise some of the people around me, is that I LOVE rap music (one of my top 3 most streamed artists of all time is actually a rap artist but I am not telling who.) KAYTRAMINÉ feels like an elevated version of the music that I already love though, as KAYTRANADA’s production makes my brain absolutely implode when paired with Aminé’s smooth vocals.
There isn’t one single track that feels unnecessary, and the guest appearances of Freddie Gibbs, Pharell, Big Sean, Amaaree, and even Snoop Dogg only add to the immaculate collection of songs. Although this album just came out, I’m already hoping and praying that the alliance between these two gifted minds is longer than just one LP, and I think it’s fair to say that it would make sense for them to keep the dynamic duo going. – Javi
Campanita, Summer Salt
Release Date – May 19
When I reviewed this album earlier this year, I was not expecting to feel as many things about it as I did, and it was a nice surprise to love it so much. The album mostly touches on grief and the unconditional love that lives on even after the loved one is no longer on this earth. It’s such an impressive project because it was able to turn such a delicate topic into an approachable, almost simple thing, as it normalizes something that we already all eventually go through, but that is naturally hard to talk about.
“Campanita” is like listening to a friend tell you how they’ve dealt with one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to go through and realizing that, even though they still hurt, they are also going to be okay. It’s an ode to family love, a compilation of memories and moments, and a celebration of what it means to share life with others, and it will hold a special place in my heart forever. -Javi
The Good Witch, Maisie Peters
Release Date – June 23
While I was only a casual listener of 22-year-old Maisie Peters in the past, I have to say that I’m now a full-fledged fan of hers after the release of sophomore album The Good Witch. Described as Peters’ version of “a twisted breakup album,” she takes pen to paper from the perspective of women figures in Greek mythology.
It’s hard to ignore the songwriting characteristics that Maisie has picked up along her career (she’s a self-described “massive” fan of Taylor Swift). Peters glides through grandiose metaphors of having and losing love (“History of Man”), then effortlessly shifts to describing the most universal feelings of not being good enough in the simplest, yet poignant ways (listen to “Body Better” and you’ll know what I mean).
As a lifelong Taylor Swift fan, it makes perfect sense why I’ve been able to connect so deeply to The Good Witch. The album is almost like a Gen Z version of Swifts’ earlier works (Speak Now and Red come to mind)—Peters describes the whirlwind of touring the world on “The Band and I,” much like Swift did on “Long Live” (which is now a fan favorite), she alludes to being ’the man’ comparatively to the song of the same name off of Swifts’ Lover.
But where Swift struggles is where Peters feels the most authentic. Swift is still very much a young person, but at 33-years-old, her ability to connect to a younger generation is quite different than Peters’ approach, which makes sense. With that being said, I’m anticipating a similar longevity for Peters’ career, and I think The Good Witch is the project that will catapult her to the next level. – Kristin
In The End It Always Does, The Japanese House
Release Date – June 30
I actually added this album to our list of best albums before it even came out because I just knew I was going to love it. You can read my very specific thoughts on our album review that came out literally a week ago, but here is a little summary too: This album is a perfect depiction of human relationships, the circularity and eternity of life, and all the feelings in between places.
Produced by The 1975’s George Daniel and Chloe Kraemer (Glass Animals, Clean Bandit, Rex Orange County,) Amber Bain’s sophomore album is charmingly fun musically, and perfectly intimate lyrically. Just be prepared to feel overwhelmed by the accuracy of the feelings and situations depicted, and then feel free to dance around your room. – Javi