1703950145 Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 2023

Rob Sheffield's Top 20 Albums of 2023

From mega pop sensations to underground gems

Nobody likes you in 2023, as Blink 182 warned us. But it's a fact: years ending in “3” are always great years for music, even if they might suck for everything else. These were the albums (and songs) that kept me moving forward and moving forward throughout the year. Some of them continued to reveal new twists and surprises over time; others fell into a permanent pleasure groove. Some are mega-pop sensations; others are underground jewels. Pop divas, rap poets, punk rockers, storytellers, tearjerkers, trunk shakers – this year your next favorite song was where you found it. So good night, the year She's Still '23 is Inside Her Fantasy. We’re looking forward to some “24K Magic for 2024 Hour Party People.”

  • Sexxy Red, “Hottest Hood Princess”

    Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 2023Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 2023

    This is Sexxy Red's Pound Town, we just live in it. The St. Louis rap queen's groundbreaking mixtape is the least subtle “been that bitch since I was in first grade” manifesto of this or any year. Throughout “Hotest Hood Princess,” the “Female Gucci Mane” comments on cars (fast), asses (big), money (more), her pet peeves (“I hate a lame bitch with class”), her favorite wig (“30 Inch with Chinese Bang”) while honoring the Dirty South rap legacy from Three Six Mafia to No Limit. Top hit: “Born By The River,” where she serves Sukihana a cocktail made with Plan B and Hennessy.

  • Terrace, “Collection”

    Terrace, “Collection” Terrace, “Collection”

    “Desire comes for free, but action comes at a price,” warns Patio here, and these three intellectual New York women detail the high price of modern boredom in their collection. It's a concept album about nervous twenty-somethings trying to rekindle all the feelings that died during the pandemic. Using the simplest means – post-punk guitar tones, moody beats and witty stream-of-consciousness poetry – Patio restore a little vitality to what's left of their (or your) hearts. Inspirational verse from “Epiphany”: “Desperate for affection / Unworn black clothes / Empty rooms too expensive to fill / I'm too expensive to fill.”

  • The Hold Steady, “The Price of Progress”

    The Hold Steady, “The Price of Progress”The Hold Steady, “The Price of Progress”

    The Brooklyn rockers are celebrating their 20th anniversary as one of the greatest New York bands of all time. On “The Price of Progress” they tell bad luck stories of gamblers, drifters, junkie actors and down-and-out musicians. These characters feel like their whole life is a gig where no one shows up – as Craig Finn puts it: “The pesky problem of tepid turnout.” The highlight: “Sideways Skull” about a recovering metalhead in a halfway house, who keeps his dreams alive by singing “We Are The Champions” with “a hairbrush microphone and a fantasy band.”

  • Kelela, “Raven”


    Kelela unleashes her avant-garde imagination throughout Raven – six years after her otherworldly debut, Take Me Apart, she plunges back from the stratosphere as if she never even missed this planet. But she sounds on time. Even when she hits the dance floor, the club beats of “Contact” make Kelela sound filled with hallucinatory bliss, lost in the cosmos and guided only by her most pressing desires.

  • Mutual Benefit, “Growing At the Edges”

    Mutual Benefit, “Growing At The Edges”Mutual Benefit, “Growing At The Edges”

    A beautiful song cycle about loss and renewal, from Mutual Benefit songwriter Jordan Lee. “Growing at the Edges” is full of intricately orchestrated meditations on new beginnings after various types of disasters, both personal and global. With its stand-up bass and dusted drums, “Growing” has the introspective late-night vibe of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” (an album Lee swears he’s never heard) or “For the Roses” by Joni Mitchell. In ballads like “Wasteland Companions,” “Little Ways,” and “Untying a Knot,” he sings about painful transitions. But he spends the entire album looking for signs of life, as in the title ballad: “Growing at the edges / Peeking from a seed / Where there once was a wasteland, something new.”

  • En Attendant Ana, “Principia”

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    Sleek Parisian indie-pop with saxophone or trumpet accents over the glossy Gallic motorik beat as Margaux Bouchaudon performs her endearingly jaded coo. Not an album that requires or even wants your full attention – just one that you can put on in the morning and let the afternoon fade away. There must be some kind of emotional content here, but after months of intense rotation it has escaped me, and if you mind, Marcel Marceau said to Mel Brooks in Non, the silent film.

  • Chappell Roan, “The Rise and Fall of a Midwestern Princess”

    1703950117 340 Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 20231703950117 340 Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 2023

    Chappell Roan is the trash-talking big sister you've always wanted, spilling salty wisdom about modern romance. (“Don't you ever waste a Friday night on a first date”? Now tell me.) A one-woman “femininomenom” in search of “super-graphic, ultra-modern girls” who despises “hyper-mega-bad boys” and flexible when it comes to stoners, when they're hot, they explode with childish theater-kid sass, and Dan Nigro provides the pop sound she deserves. True, there's the obligatory lesson about karma, but hey, I believe in a future without “pop stars thinking deeply about karma,” and the future starts today.

  • Lewsberg, “On the Road”

    Lewsberg, “On the Road”Lewsberg, “On the Road”

    Four literal Dutch aesthetes from Rotterdam, with the essence of postpunk rhythm guitar zone-out, like a dream line-up of the Velvet Underground with Mo Tucker playing every instrument. Lewsberg have a number of 7-inch LPs and cassettes featuring dry wit and deadpan male/female vocals in high-speed grooves like “Left Turn” and “Six Hills,” but “Out and About” is their most playful, spectral music . An album that will give you goosebumps even on rainy nights when it's not raining at all.

  • Lil Yachty, “Let’s start here.”

    Lil YachtyLil Yachty

    Lil Yachty loves to make people ask, “WTF is he thinking?”, but he really outdoes himself with the druggy-psychedelic rock trip of “Let's Start Here,” which scores points between “Broccoli” and ” Astronomy Domine” connects. It's a standout piece from Yachty's craziest year, a hackneyed detour that tempts you to dismiss it as a Tales from Trapographic Oceans blooper, and yet it plunges into the craziest Pink Floyd void. Somewhere Marc Bolan is smiling on “Reach The Sunshine”.

  • Bar Italia, “Tracey Denim”

    Bar Italia, “Tracey Denim”Bar Italia, “Tracey Denim”

    Bar Italia rises from the London rock underground with an enigmatic guitar sound, with wry, deadpan boy/girl chants through a haze of Gauloise smoke – sometimes sleepy, sometimes eerie, always with a sexy sense of doom. They're definitely not afraid of their atmospheric influences from the 90s – a bit of Slowdive here, a pinch of Flying Saucer Attack there, a touch of Drugstore everywhere and the no longer 90s cult of Serge and Jane. (Not to mention naming themselves after a pulp classic?) Still, there's not a lackluster moment on Tracey Denim, with particular respect for the heavy lust of “My Kiss Era,” where Nina Cristante coos, “I wonder , what will happen if I just let go?”

  • Victoria Monét, “Jaguar II”

    Victoria Monet, “Jaguar II”Victoria Monet, “Jaguar II”

    A flawless journey through the glamorous world of Victoria Monét, the plush R&B lushness, comfort-focused soul, dub-zoom, 1970s mink coat flavor, 1990s velvet rope, Earth, Wind and Fire horns and the music an experienced pop historian combines an ear for the details. In “On My Mama,” Monét sums up her mood as “permanent ecstasy,” and that says it all.

  • Sufjan Stevens, “Javelin”

    1703950126 43 Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 20231703950126 43 Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 2023

    I have connected with all of Sufjan's albums, a little or a lot, but Javelin is on a whole other level, just a total emotional punch to the heart. He dedicates Javelin to the memory of his late partner Evan Richardson, who passed away in April. Sufjan mourns the dead, but the nearly 9-minute silent film “Shit Talk” is a monument to the agony of trying to find peace among the living.

  • Wednesday, “Rat Saw God”


    “Every daughter of God has a little bit of bad luck sometimes,” growls Karly Hartzman on Wednesday’s “Bath County,” and she drops that “sometimes” on every song on Asheville punks’ twang-and-slam gem Rat Saw God. stop. Hartzman looks back on her teenage angst in a small Southern town with a body count, without any rosy illusions about the future. You can hear that Wednesday are fans of Roger Miller, the country storyteller (they covered his “Lock, Stock, and Teardrops”), as well as Roger Miller, who played guitar in Mission of Burma. “Be my baby until my body is in the ground” is a line that another singer might take as a romantic promise – but she screams it like a curse.

  • Noname, “sundial”

    noname by Frank Dorreynoname by Frank Dorrey

    The Chicago rapper/activist put her music career on hold after her 2018 album Room 25. But Fatimah Nyeema Warner comes back strong with Sundial and is ready to make noise and cause trouble. In “Namesake,” she takes aim at Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar, slamming artists for their association with the NFL and declaring, “I don't give a fuck about the Super Bowl or Jay-Z / Propaganda for the military,” she says : “Come on, Beyoncé, come on! / Watch the fighter jet fly up!” Sundial has guests like Billy Woods, Ayoni and Common. But Noname sounds like her own radical self.

  • Pardoners, “peace-loving people”

    Pardoners, “peace-loving people”Pardoners, “peace-loving people”

    “Nice belief system, man. Did your mama make it for you?” With these gentle words, West Coast rock boys Pardoner encapsulate the spirit of Peace Loving People, with more clever jokes per song than I can count. They win this year's You Think It's Easy, But You're Wrong Award for effortlessly perfect guitar bangers. Pardoner spends the album dragging their sophisticated hipster friends along, assuming the outside world isn't worth the effort. Best Song: “Get Inside!”, in which they attempt to sort out their miserable lives through an obsession with indie rock. Actual lyrics: “She turns on her stereo to try out her records / But Isabel says Die Kreuzen is out and now Stereolab is in / Just last week she threw World of Echo in the trash can.” (Her nugget “Fuck You!” from 2021 had the lines “Malkmus, Springsteen, McCartney, MacKaye / Getting all my wisdom from a stupid old guy.”) They even get away with offering life lessons in a ditty called “Love Yourself and Others.” learn “Look at all the little artists / Listen to the pretty songs / Even when David played his secret chord / It came out somehow wrong.” Obviously genius.

  • Palehound, “Eye on the Bat”

    Palehound eye on the batPalehound eye on the bat

    For every moment of my life there is a Palehound song. El Kempner is exactly the kind of singer/poet/guitar hero whose music is the soundtrack to everyday life. (I can't even shop at the produce aisle without thinking about “Feeling Fruit” and don't ask about “Sneakers.”) “Eye on the Bat” is her cathartic breakup album, but still much more exhilarating than sad Kempner sings about bad times in the car (“The Clutch”), in the living room (“Good Sex”) or at the lake watching the sunset (“Right About You”). But the title track celebrates the joy of being a rock band on tour in the van, screaming, “We're the only people for miles / And we're headbanging to Paranoid!”

  • Billy Woods and Kenny Segal, “Maps”

    1703950134 991 Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 20231703950134 991 Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 2023

    A hip-hop concept travelogue about a rapper's world tour where the past is a black Rubik's cube that no one can solve. Underground virtuoso Woods meets beatmaster Segal four years after their Hiding Places collaboration and wanders the world without finding a place to feel at home. Woods is obsessed with hiding in codes, from the trippy poetics of “Rapper Weed” (“Colorful packages, pack 'em in, fly on gold like Africans, cover my tracks with backronyms”) to the way as he thwarts the FBI wiretapping traps “Blue Smoke.” The beats shroom, with killer cameos from Euclid, Danny Brown and Aesop Rock, but Woods never lets up, right down to the heartbreaking final lines on the playground.

  • Cross-legged, “Another Blue”

    sitting cross-leggedsitting cross-legged

    New York songwriter Keba Robinson has her own style of experimental DIY rock cool. She began “Crosslegged” in an indie-folk style with a gentle acoustic sound, but on her breakthrough “Another Blue” she expands her sound with synth waves and electro percussion. Her guitar is full of post-punk flair and takes inspiration from songs like Joy Division and Television, but she lets her powerful, soulful voice play, which can range from Björk to Stevie Wonder in the same song. She achieves a gospel-like fervor with the irresistibly approachable groove “Only In The,” especially in the final minute where she chants “Get up, get up, get up” as her guitar gives her a reason to get up. One of those ecstatic moments where you say, “Damn, music can do that?”

  • Olivia Rodrigo, “Guts”

    1703950138 907 Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 20231703950138 907 Rob Sheffield39s Top 20 Albums of 2023

    O-Rod reigns supreme with a pop masterpiece full of perfect flourishes, from “Look at you, cool dude” to “Dude, nice try,” from “Maybe I can fix it” to “When will I stop being a pretty boy?” be?”. Thing?” to “Fuck it, it's fine.” She rocks in tense ballads like “Logical” – “I was too young, I was too soft, can't take a joke, can't get rid of you” – and cheap ones too Teen Kicks in “All-American Bitch.” and “Get Him Back!” When Olivia sings, “I wanna meet his mother just to tell her her son sucks,” that's some Zoomer shit -Joni level. (On “Blue,” Joni Mitchell has this conversation with Leonard Cohen's mother, albeit with slightly different words.) Still, she avoids all the usual sophomore pitfalls. And Olivia's refusal to sing about karma anywhere on this album, is a great victory for humanity.

  • Boygenius, “The Record”


    Can a hugely popular band like Boygenius still be underestimated? Exhibit A: The Record. Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers write their own rockstar fanfic story, three completely different songwriters joining forces with a pass the mic spirit. I love how they showcase their charisma and cunning as they are willing to go to great lengths to make this band truly fun to be a fan of. There are so many great songs about being young and hot-hearted and angry and heartbroken and obsessed with music. It's difficult to even choose a favorite. (Just kidding – “We're In Love”, not even close.) When Lucy Dacus broke hearts with her classic “Night Shift” in 2017, she sang: “In five years I hope the songs feel like covers / Dedicated.” to new lovers.” Strange or not, that's basically what happened, more or less for a year. Boygenius spent 2023 conquering an entire planet full of new lovers. And The Record is something you can take with you into the future.