NYLON’s Top Albums Of 2023
The best records of the year stuck out upon release, like cream naturally floating to the top.
I’ve always hated putting together end-of-year album lists. What a Sisyphean task it is to try and blankly rank and evaluate hundreds of releases when they’re all so inherently different. But this year’s list fell together surprisingly easy: In 2023, the best records of the year stuck out upon release like cream naturally floating to the top — a side effect, perhaps, to how an exponential torrent of new music over the last few years has lead to an increasing field of middling players. For me, these 11 albums below (the customary 10 plus an extra for fun) are all feats of excellence in their own way, either as career-defyining works or as exemplifying something novel or exceptional in the boundaries of the genre they’re working in. This list isn’t meant to be rigid or definitive but a suggestion of where to turn your ear next — if you’re looking for something to excite, push forward, or can reveal something previously unknown to you about an artform that already feels fully explored.
11. Strange Ranger, Pure Music
Strange Ranger was the project of NYC musicians and Portland transplants Isaac Eiger and Fiona Woodman before they disbanded this year. As their third and last record, Pure Music is also their best: 10 beating, indie rock and rave-influenced songs that have been kneaded into sensational and cathartic shapes. Lyrically, they linger on the in-between — of sunset and sunrise, the start and end destination, the beginning and end of a relationship, gripping onto the flashes of euphoria along the way. My longtime housemate whom I’ve shared the last five years of my life with actually introduced me to Pure Music before we’re set to stop living together in the new year, and it feels fitting. It’s a record about honoring all experiences before they inevitably end.
10. Sofia Kourtesis, Madres
You don’t need to know the full story behind Peruvian DJ and song-maker Sofia Kourtesis’ Madres to intuit what it’s about, but it does heighten the experience. Written in the wake of nearly losing her mother to a rare brain tumor that was ultimately removed by a German brain surgeon named Vajkoczy, Madres seeps joy, channeling life through jubilant tangles of house and dance music mixing with strains of sounds from her homeland, with dedications to her mother, Vajkoczy, and the healing role of music itself. For being part of a genre that can so often obscure autobiographical storytelling, Madres is an ecstatic outlier, one that cherishes its precious emotional wrinkles on its sleeve.
9. NewJeans, NewJeans The 2nd EP ‘Get Up’
How many people did NewJeans convert into K-pop fans this year? Probably millions. In my many years of listening to K-pop there’s never been a group that’s so readily traversed the “crossover” machine as NewJeans. Their second EP helps explain why: small but mighty, it’s filled with youthful-sounding pop that folds in edgier influences with surprising finesse. The few duds are overshadowed by its towering, gargantuan hits — “Super Shy” and “ETA,” songs that are exceedingly cute, masterful, and almost annoyingly irresistible.
8. Chappell Roan, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess
The funnest (and maybe most umapologetically horny) album of the year goes to Chappell Roan, whose exceptional debut album is a reminder of how delightful so-called “uncomplicated” and “trivial” music can be. There are schoolish, cheerleader chants, silly sex puns (“You said you like magic?/ Well I got a wand and a rabbit!”), and big, yell-along theatrical pop hooks just for the heck of it. It celebrates queer awakenings and messy nights and over-the-top excess with so much joy. And her voice(!) — it’s a soon-to-be national treasure.
7. Noname, Sundial
Noname was clear that Sundial only exists as a financial obligation but that doesn’t mean she didn’t still put her whole p*ssy in the album — literally. Her signature nursery rhyme-like observations — on politics, America’s war machine, capitalism, celebrity worship, the state of rap, selling out, wack men, sex, relationships — are keener and more scathing than ever, sparing no one, not even herself and her own complicities. The way pop culture consumes and metabolizes so-called “woke rap” has changed drastically since 2016 when Noname came up, but somehow everything she says remains relevant and fresh.
6. Boygenius, the record
In 2023, boygenius proved the potent power of friendship: that three unparalleled song-makers writing in earnest about companionship, love, and trust, could mobilize an entire country. The best songs on their long-awaited debut LP, the record, revolve around and highlight their bond, either through the harmonic arrangement of their voices or subject matter. Lucy Dacus especially, with “True Blue,” gave us one of the most poignant reflections on platonic resonance: “I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself/ I remember who I am when I’m with you/ Your love is tough, your love is tried and true blue.” It stirs an aching warmth that stays long after the record’s over.
5. Victoria Monét, Jaguar II
Victoria Monét’s Jaguar album series is so named after her years of silently prowling behind-the-scenes of the music industry as the secret songwriting weapon to everyone from Normani to Ariana Grande. With Jaguar II, however, Monét is fully beyond the foliage and she’s resplendent. Its luxurious songs, dabbling in dancehall, smoked-out r&b and molasses-sticky grooves, reveal her as the formidable composer she is but also a star with genuine charisma and personality. With a host of new Grammy noms — this time all for her own solo work — Monét’s flowers are well deserved.
4. Troye Sivan, Something To Give Each Other
Troye Sivan has always been a slick, forward-leaning pop tinkerer (think “My, My, My” and “Dance To This”) but Something To Give Each Other is perhaps the most realized album he’s ever released. The 10-track record is a triumph, a detailed sonic expression of the lifespan of a party, with peaks and valleys and cozy tangents, executed with sophistication and with a surprising degree of finesse. He proves himself to have a studied curatorial ear by flipping samples by Bag Raiders and Jessica Pratt in a way that feels substantial and smart, and he taps into deep wells of feelings: yearning, lust, whimsy, and red hot carnal desire. Add to that cohesive and striking visual components, and you have one of the year’s most successful pop projects.
3. Kelela, Raven
Raven, her first full-length since 2017, is Kelela’s most subtle album but it’s in its subtleties where its brilliance lies: the sinewing, rippling synths, the echoing dance beats, her own stream-like voice silkily and unhurriedly streaking across the record. For a club album, excepting its most immediate hitters, like “Contact” and “Missed Call,” it is surprisingly understated, an exercise in patience and letting its beats slowly pry you open. What’s impressive is how trance-inducing the record becomes once you let it happen. Even better is the space Kelela left for other DJs to remix them up — which means next year’s deluxe album should be even more of a treat.
2. Mitski, The Land Is Inhopsitable And So Are We
I’ll be honest: I struggled with Mitski’s last album. But her newest one won me back over. The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We is nothing like anything Mitski’s made before, a midnight gothic americana epic that’s also been touched by wisps of the supernatural. Some of Mitski’s darkest songs (about selling her soul to a bird and gorging on cake until she vomits) live on this record, but they are all also her at her most beautiful. Backed by a full live orchestra, she sounds stronger and more mystifying than ever. If anything, the record is evidence that over half a decade down the line her artistry remains unmatched and unpredictable.
1. Lana Del Rey, Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd
This album being No. 1 on this list probably isn’t much of a surprise at this point, but take that as just how unparalleled it is in this year’s sea of releases. Some may say it’s not as great as Norman F*cking Rockwell!, but I’d argue Did You Know is Lana working, creating, alchemizing in a completely different lane. Her songwriting is looser than ever, off the cuff and deliriously intimate; she broaches topics that would’ve felt impossible before, like marriage, having kids, familial legacies, and death. These songs feel like they weren’t made for the world, but for herself, her friends and family, for the quiet moments of self reflection, and perhaps that’s why they feel so uninhibited, easy, and ultimately breaching moments of true transcendence. And the bops — oh, the bops. Songs like “A&W” and “Taco truck x vb” will be studied in universities for years to come.