The year 2023 will always be remembered for music, at least for me. I’ve had personal stakes in many of the albums that have come out this year. The prodigal boys, i.e. boygenius, reunited after five years and put out the film, directed by none other than Kristen Stewart, and Lana saved lives and served (at Waffle House). If these past few years have proven the solid foundation of artists, 2023 is about those artists taking a sledgehammer on that base and reemerging brand new.
Artists this year have proven that they have what it takes to remain relevant in the industry, staying in our collective cultural consciousness. To stay the same is to die, and this year’s surge in truly brilliant—dare I say, revolutionary—music is largely due to artists' reclamation of their creative work and transformation of it into something new. From Lil Yachty’s Let’s Start Here. to Mitski’s The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We to several of the strongest debuts of late, Street’s best albums of the year delve into the biblical, the grotesque, and frankly, the beautiful, all with the pop culture moments of the music videos, tours, and the drama (oh, the drama) that we’ve sorely been missing.
–Hannah Sung, Music Editor
Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, Lana Del Rey
Top Tracks: “A&W,” “Kintsugi,” “Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep–sea fishing,” “Let The Light In (feat. Father John Misty)”
There’s a place Lana Del Rey has been trying to show us for more than a decade. It has gone by many names: “The Men in Music Business Conference,” “The Mariners Apartment Complex,” “Old Paul’s.” Other aliases include just about every city in Southern California and most of the neighborhoods in Los Angeles. This place has been called Friday night, as in “I feel so alone on a…” but also “We get down every…” Many times it has been called America. Hers is a lyrical lexicon so well–traveled as to spawn entire Wiki pages and Reddit posts dedicated to mapping it.
Del Rey’s ninth studio album adds at least one new destination to the scrapbook. Only this time, she’s asking you to follow her. Did You Know That There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd? Lana Del Rey is real—a synthesis of so much allusion and allegory that somewhere along the way, she became flesh and blood. Early on it was easy to assume that she was some protective shell for the real Lizzy Grant, but Tunnel does away with that notion once and for all. This is a family album, with all the attendant mess and profundity. It begins with “The Grants,” a song about death, and reaches its peak with a scene of birth on “Kintsugi.”
The tunnel is Lana, right? So is the complex and the conference and the state of California. She’s not mapping a country anymore—she’s mapping herself. Maybe she always has been.
–Walden Green, editor–in–chief
10,000 gecs, 100 gecs
Top Tracks: "Dumbest Girl Alive," "Hollywood Baby," "757"
It sickens me on some level to call 10,000 gecs one of the best albums of 2023. But to bestow that label based solely on artistic merit feels needlessly myopic. On their newest record, 100 gecs displays all the virtues of the modern era. In an age where our attention spans rarely last longer than 30 seconds, gecs hops wildly between a vast array of genres—from the ska influence in "Frog On The Floor," the pop rock of "Doritos & Fritos," and the classic hyperpop in songs like "757" and “mememe.” In a post–ironic media landscape, where it can be hard to tell what sincerity is, 10,000 gecs represents this constant semi–detachment by blending honest, emotionally raw vocals with over–the–top electronic instrumentation.
The culture pull of 100 gecs simply cannot be overstated. Ever since blasting to the forefront of hyperpop with 1000 gecs in 2019, 100 gecs has been the voice of a generation. But their cultural pull is no longer limited to just Gen Z—even the arch–conservative pundits of Fox News can’t resist such bangers as "Dumbest Girl Alive." The album 10,000 gecs foretells what the future holds for the music industry—a vast spiral of chaos and madness waiting to be explored. This is the age of the gec, and we’re just living in it.
–Nishanth Bhargava, Music beat
Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, Caroline Polachek
Top Tracks: "Billions," "Butterfly Net," "Welcome To My Island"
Welcome to Caroline’s island. It’s bizarre and futuristically feudal, existing in a liminal space between our world and somewhere only Caroline Polachek herself knows. Grimes and Dido on the same track, bagpipes, and volcanic motifs alongside sexting could only exist here. Desire, I Want To Turn Into You also exists in this limbo between the grandiose, visionary production and downright primal, mythological themes. In true Odyssean, Shutter Island fashion, Polachek mothers themes of seduction, desperation, and intensity, enrapturing all who enter.
But Polachek doesn’t forget her roots. The ritualistic "hey"s that beckon the weary traveler to enter the island in the first track, getting lost in the tempting spiral of desire, are none other than a sample from "Look At Me Now," from her seminal 2019 album Pang. Her tried and true otherworldly vocals only further enhance the imagery of the album. No man is an island, and neither are Polachek’s esoteric lyrics, alluding to the likes of Shakespeare and herself.
Desire, and all that it encompasses, includes death. "I Believe" pays tribute to legendary artist SOPHIE, and the first track reveals Polachek's "manic as fuck" relationship with her father. She shows the dark side of desire, as escapism and yearning are major themes of the orgiastic album. Desire is violent and grotesque, and should be the eighth deadly sin; and yet to desire is to live and love to the fullest extent.
–Hannah Sung, Music editor
the record, boygenius
Top Tracks: "Leonard Cohen," "$20," "Cool About It"
I think it’s funny how boygenius humbly titled this album the record, because really, it’s so much more. The resulting tour launched a supergroup of queer women to the top of a male–dominated scene, a middle finger to those who believe only men can be rockstars. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus prove that anyone can shred on guitar and rip their shirts off to crowds of screaming fans. Plus, three best friends on stage singing about their own friendship while kissing one another is, essentially, lesbian bootcamp.
But let’s not forget what a heartful record it is in its own right, with its callbacks to their self–titled EP that show how much one can grow in five years time. My best friend and I will halt any conversation to sing along to "Leonard Cohen." Screaming with Phoebe to the end of "$20" is more cathartic than any therapy session. "Cool About It" stings in the way that it feels a little too real at times, but that’s the beauty of it: boygenius sings about something we’ve all felt. It’s attainable, it’s real, and it’s the human experience.
–Arielle Stanger, Print editor
I've IVE, IVE
Top Tracks: "I AM," "Kitsch," "섬찟 (Hypnosis),” “Blue Blood”
K–pop once again experienced a year of female–group domination: (G)I–DLE, NewJeans, LE SSERAFIM, aespa, and many, many more helped create memorable sing–along hits. However, there's no doubt that 2023 is IVE’s year, and their full-length LP I’ve IVE may arguably be one of the best K–pop debut albums in recent memory. Title track "I AM" leads the charge with its larger–than–life chorus proudly showcasing the group’s confidence, combined with their trademark elegance. Album opener "Blue Blood" is a thumping display of self–assuredness and self–love, while pre–release single "Kitsch" juxtaposes "I AM"'s loudness with subdued individuality, proudly displaying their kitschy artistry.
In an industry filled with constant expectations to be perfect, I’ve IVE occupies a middle ground of embodying perfection and standing up to scrutiny. If the album’s front half displays self courage, the rest of the album, then, balances that with vulnerability. Members Wonyoung and Yujin contributed songwriting to "Mine" and "Heroine," respectively, and showcased their girls’ inner desires while under the spotlight. But the emotional centerpiece of the project is album closer "Shine With Me," which was also co–penned by Wonyoung. Doubling as both an autobiographical and a fan song, the girls chronicle their journey from the beginning to the upper echelons of the K–pop world and all their struggles throughout. It’s a sweet, borderline cheesy way to close out a mission statement of an album, but IVE is driven in rewriting the rules of the game.
–Derek Wong, Music beat
Let's Start Here., Lil Yachty
Top Tracks: "the BLACK seminole.," "sAy sOMETHINg"
Is Let’s Start Here. the coolest album of the year? No. In fact, if you told me that a twilight career trap star released an album influenced by Tame Impala with an AI portrait on its cover, I probably would have thrown up in my mouth a little. But Lil Yachty successfully expands upon the increasingly bland 21st century psych template with imaginative themes, extraplanetary vocals, and tasteful incorporation of hip hop production. If only for being one of the most genuinely trippy mainstream releases of the past 50 years, Let’s Start Here. is worth a listen.
–Cole Knight, Music beat
The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, Mitski
Top Tracks: "Star," "I'm Your Man,” “The Deal”
There was a time, following the breakout of her 2018 record Be the Cowboy and the release of Laurel Hell in 2022, when it seemed like Mitski might never release another album. In a sign that we’re not in fact in the darkest timeline, she’s returned with what might be one of her best works yet, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We. Described by Mitski as her most "American" album, it’s a pastoral and reverent guide to the wilderness, to loneliness, and finally, to looking outward. Mitski has a gift for, well, everything, but especially finding the divine in the mundane, in bugs on the bottom of glass or the sound of cicadas. Backed by a 17–piece choir and lush, orchestral soundscapes, she transforms her own loneliness and pain into shimmering, lovely devotions to the world around her and, in turn, to herself. This is an album where Mitski discourses with angels, dogs, and the odd prophesying bird, and never loses sight of the wider landscape (pun intended). While this is not an album that immediately reveals itself to a listener, reader: It may be the best thing you hear all year.
–Catherine Sorrentino, Assignments editor
Top Tracks: “boomboom (feat. Ayoni)," "namesake," "potentially the interlude"
It’s been five years. We’ve waited through Twitter deactivations. We've waited through feuds with J. Cole. We’ve waited through teasers and performances and uncertainty. The album was canceled and scrapped and begun anew in a seemingly never–ending cycle. But finally, we have been rewarded this year with Noname’s third album, Sundial.
The album revives Noname’s signature melodic raps and syncopated rhythms. While Telefone and Room 25 were rooted in reality and a critique of modern society, Sundial transcends this world to create its own utopia, from the cover of the album to the very song titled "afro futurism." The project imagines a world where sex and politics are inseparable and love, radical and indispensable. "boomboom (feat. Ayoni)" integrates reggaeton into Noname’s repertoire, compelling any listener to swing their hips to the iconic phrase “W.E.B. stay with the boys.” A song that may start off about sex soon transitions to a societal critique, and Noname doesn’t shy away from saying “airstrikes” and “pussy” in the same track. The song "namesake" begins by calling the Itty Bitty Titty Committee to arms to fight against the normalization of violence and maybe pull up with some weed to the south of Sudan.
Sundial has been well worth the wait. Perhaps, in fact, it was timed perfectly, arriving as we, as a society, contend with what it means to be human in the midst of inhumanity. Noname offers an answer.
–Norah Rami, Ego editor
Lucky, Megan Moroney
Top Tracks: “God Plays a Gibson," "Nothin' Crazy (feat. Mackenzie Carpenter)," "Sleep on My Side"
Megan Moroney’s Lucky, released early this summer, is a gem among country music debut albums. The album’s strengths are numerous, but one of the clearest is its sonic diversity. The title track is a twangy, upbeat country anthem for nights out and hookups, while the slow "Girl in the Mirror" is a melancholy ballad about heartbreak and self–worth, different still from the flippant "Sleep on My Side," written for an unfaithful ex. Though the album is able to maintain overarching cohesion, each song feels distinct and persuasive, something country radio desperately needs. Indeed, Moroney’s voice as a writer truly comes out in this project, reflecting her youth, her southern roots, and her personality. Songs like "Tennessee Orange" and "Georgia Girl" are direct references to her home, alma mater, University of Georgia, and its rivalries. "Nothin’ Crazy (feat. Mackenzie Carpenter)" off of the deluxe edition is a song about "moving too fast" and the love–sick obsession that has consumed almost every college–aged girl at some point. Despite the album’s modern themes, Lucky represents the core of country music: simple experiences and emotions painted in rich detail.
–Ananya Varshneya, Music beat