Albums Of The Year 2023

Looking back at the year's finest full length projects...

And so, another year. For many, 2023 won’t be something they’ll look back on with much fondness – the increasingly unhinged UK government, the appalling suffering in Gaza and the West Bank, the ongoing war in Ukraine, the ominous spectre of Trump, to name just a few factors. At times, the news cycle has been simply overwhelming.

Music, then, has become a place of restoration, an arena that can fulfil our humanity. Looking back on the past 12 months, it’s difficult to decipher over-arching themes – if anything, a form of cultural fragmentation has been pursued. What emerges from this, however, is a renewed fascination across the full CLASH team with the sheer volume of creativity, the overwhelming rush of melody and poise that is being uploaded to streaming platforms every single day. In defiance of a broken system, musicians across the planet are creating profound work, asking new questions, and offering fresh answers. The album, too, remains pivotal. As a form, as a machine for ideas, the album represents the coalescence of the hopes, aspirations, and emotions on its maker. As the old cliché has it, the album truly takes you on a journey.

In the past few weeks the CLASH team have gathered to argue and debate, filtering down our widespread passions into this list of 2023’s very best albums. We hope there’s something here that may be new, or unfamiliar. We’d love for you to spend time with the list, and perhaps uncover something that resonates you.

60. Kaytranada, Aminé – Kaytraminé

‘KAYTRAMINÉ’, was arguably the project of the summer with its sunshine-soaked beats and contagious hooks. Kaytranada’s trademark grooves are matched smoothly by Aminé’s delivery, his impeccable balance of monotone and high energy the exact icing Kaytra’s instrumentals require. The result is a project full to the brim of dancefloor rhythms, a plethora of diverse influences, sounds and some slick bars from Aminé and the other artists recruited for the record. James MellenREVIEW

59. Ice Spice – Like..? (Deluxe)

Bronx Baddie and viral sensation Ice Spice’s electrifying project ‘Like…?’ blazed the trail for much of this past year. The rapper and fashion iconoclast set the internet on fire with viral soundbites and infectious quotables, releasing a string of emphatic singles, ‘Munch (Feeling U)’, ‘Bikini Bottom’ and ‘In Ha Mood’. Replete with tightly-woven, crisp beats courtesy of RIOTUSA, Ice Spice emerged as 2023’s Gen Z digital prophetess. Robin MurrayNEWS

58. Jessie Ware – That! Feels Good!

A relentless explosion of joyous euphoria, Ware’s fifth full-length ‘That! Feels Good!’ revolves like a disco ball in all its glory with heavy funk, soul and disco flavour; a triumphant celebration of self-acceptance, sex appeal and self-love. Once again produced by James Ford, and written alongside Zimbabwean-American writer Shungudzo and Danny Parker, ‘That! Feels Good!’ rests in the same crisp, glossy production as ‘What’s Your Pleasure’, only this time arguably with more depth and vibrancy.

A party for the senses, Ware sets herself free of any inhibitions and demands her listeners follow suit. Ware’s vocals show the breadth and strength of their ability; dancing across ranges and depth, from delicate, whispered notes to soaring falsetto. Friends, family and pop icon Kylie deliver spoken-word versions of “that”, “feels” and “good”. Madeline SmithREVIEW

57. Jonah Yano – portrait of a dog

Jonah Yano’s pandemic-era album ‘Souvenir’ comprised stylistically ambiguous songs within songs; the wounds of distant parentage and wider social alienation the threads the Hiroshima-born, Montreal-based musician pulled on. On follow-up, ‘Portrait Of A Dog’, broader generational healing runs parallel to the reminiscence of a waning romantic relationship.

Much of the album overflows with a sense of freedom, a showcase of Yano’s growth not just as a lyrical storyteller but a conductor comfortably guiding the composite parts of his trusted band. ‘Portrait Of A Dog’ offers up a compelling glimpse into Yano’s chimerical interior world – deftly and sincerely, unfurling memory after memory without devolving into, and getting lost in, syrupy sentimentality. Shahzaib HussainREVIEW

56. Potter Payper – Real Back In Style 

There aren’t many able to maintain a fierce buzz the way Potter Payper has; his career progression halted several times but his cult following locked in as ever anticipating his next move. Following on from Top 10 charting mixtapes ‘Training Day 3’ and ‘Thanks For Waiting’, his debut full-length ‘Real Back In Style’ encompasses both those eras and more. 

‘Real Back In Style’ cements Jamel Bousbaa aka Potter Payper’s status as a soulful UK rap storyteller. Never afraid to show both sides of the coin, his long-gestating LP is powerful and potent, as he spits about hardships, politics, love and more. Constantly referring to the title, he proves that not only is real rap back in style but so is realness. Shanté Collier-McDermottREVIEW

55. Asake – Work Of Art

Ridiculously entertaining from start to finish, ‘Work Of Art’ begins at top speed then hits the accelerator. Peppered with fantastic hooks, previous singles ‘2.30’ and ‘Yoga’ take their rightful place here, while ‘Amapiano’ is a fantastic salute to South Africa’s iconic export from a modern Nigerian icon.

Packed with light, ‘Work Of Art’ races past in a blur of auto-tune and brag-a-licious lyricism. Virtually every luxury brand gets a shout out, while the likes of ‘Mogbe’ and ‘I Believe’ are punchy statements of intent. ‘Sunshine’ has a neat line in 80s chorus-drenched guitar, but ‘Lonely At The Top’ points to some darker emotions, the isolating impact of fame separating Asake from his man-of-the-people stance. Robin Murray – REVIEW

54. Ralphie Choo – SUPERNOVA

Madrileño polymath Juan Casado Fisac aka Ralphie Choo is a vocal chameleon on debut album ‘SUPERNOVA’. Flitting between symphony, bossa, Latin trap, flamenco, syncopated breakbeats and a whole lot more, Ralphie Choo vivisects his perennially-online influences into a skewed suite of songs. There’s a hauntological feel throughout; classical reprises, interludes and allusions to Spanish mythology; folklore and fables elevating moments of bristling self-examination. Among the lacerating grooves and dizzying detours, Ralphie Choo comes to terms with his fast-ascending trajectory; that of a forlorn dreamer, and reverent provocateur, moving in the same genre-agnostic circles as compatriots Rosalía and C. Tangana. Shahzaib HussainINTERVIEW

53. Paramore – This Is Why 

Paramore have rebuilt their house again, and they’ve settled in right away. Standing taller than ever, on ‘This Is Why’, they’ve taken the same raw materials that have informed their songwriting and added some new building blocks: adapted the sound of Paramore to suit where they are now with grace. 

From the opening throes of ‘This Is Why’, they catapult themselves to the heights of the new wave as if they were always there. It’s testament to the years of influences they’ve spent years immersed in but not chosen to embody, that they feel so immediately at home. ‘This Is Why’s’ muted guitar noodles dreamily, hitting flawless dissonances near-accidentally; ‘C’est Comme Ça’ is the record’s first Talking Heads moment, on ‘Running Out Of Time’, guitarist Taylor York’s glitchy anacrusis pushes the verses along through a 1980s hall of mirrors before falling right into the familiar, and ‘Caught In The Middle’-esque bop of a chorus: classic Paramore meets cutting edge. Ims Taylor – REVIEW

52. ML Buch – Suntub 

Entirely self-composed, ‘Suntub’, the second full-length from ML Buch, is a dazzling cross-stitch of chamber pop, shoegaze, avant-classical and downtempo ambient trips. The Danish artist lifted ‘Suntub’ from pasturelands, coastlines and industrial sites, recording, processing, re-amping and reworking it over the course of five years. Holistically-realised, ‘Suntab’ feels familiar and chimerical, intimate yet refreshingly unreachable. It’s awash with the jangle and twang of chiming guitars, and vocal lines that rove between lucid phrasing, new age rapture and midnight-on-the-moors mysticism. Shahzaib Hussain 

51. Speakers Corner Quartet – Further Out Than The Edge

Since their formation in 2006, Speakers Corner Quartet members Biscuit, Kwake Bass, Raven Bush and Peter Bennie have formed the backbone of what feels closer to a community of musicians, an incubator for long-term collaborative relationships and creative exploration. 

Debut album ‘Further Out Than The Edge’ could’ve only come together with time – a rebuke against virality or, quite frankly, anything that diverts one’s attention away from the creative process. Across thirteen tracks, Speakers Corner Quartet tackle each creation from a different angle and perspective: nothing sounds quite the same. Melding together the freeing elements of jazz with subtle electronics and spoken word, the group’s instrumentation ties everything together into one, cohesive body of work. Ana LamondREVIEW

50. Nation Of Language – Strange Disciple

All three albums produced by Nation of Language have been impacted by the pandemic. So it’s intriguing to learn that all three are touched by the theory of motion, each relating to a different mode of transportation. ‘Strange Disciple’ is informed by walks of various cities while on tour or within their home city of New York, which seems fitting as the world has opened up again, and we want to feel that reconnection. 

Ian Richard Devaney, Aidan Noell, and Alex MacKay, have produced an album exploring the challenges of the human condition.  Life is a journey of self-discovery, with all its highs and lows. Experiences are both positive and negative but it’s these very experiences that allow us to grow. Wrapping these themes in the beauty of the synth-laden world of Nation of Language allow us to break free and bask in their soundscapes. Julia Mason – REVIEW

49. Yaeji – With A Hammer

Few artists are truly smashing genre boundaries quite like Yaeji, and with her debut album she’s doing that smashing with a hammer. Instrumentally, ‘With A Hammer’ has jagged edges, a fine thread of pop shimmer carefully woven through the track listing. ‘Done (Let’s Get It)’ boasts swirling synthesizers – the sound design nostalgic to the 90s IDM movement – yet it also maintains a contemporary club feel. Despite the moodier club moments ‘With A Hammer’ holds an aura of complete fun, Yaeji’s joy of experimentation shining through effortlessly on the project. The smattering of features on the album are tasteful and self-assured, most notably Enayet’s contribution to the ridiculously driving ‘Michin’ being a very much welcomed one. James Mellen – REVIEW

48. Romy – Mid Air

Romy has built a singular aesthetic with her solo endeavors away from the nocturnal melancholy of her work as part of The xx. Matching highly-personal lyricism against club tropes, she’s found a new way of working, aligned to euphoric and eclectic production. Debut solo album ‘Mid Air’, featuring credits from Stuart Price and Fred again…, tackles “celebration, sanctuary and salvation on the dance floor” and the community of queer clubs. Robin Murray – NEWS

47. Victoria Monét – Jaguar II

On debut album ‘Jaguar II’, Victoria Monét is no longer an underground prospect but one embracing the accessibility that a major label system affords. Thankfully Monét and longtime collaborator D’Mile’s winning formula continues, as the pair sidestep verboseness in favour of restraint and gauzy nostalgia.

In an era that rewards direct-to-consumer optics in music – Monét herself has embraced the permeable nature of social media – ‘Jaguar II’ preserves an almost anti-algorithmic approach in sound; it draws on musical touchstones but is a poetically a modern enterprise. ‘Jaguar II’ is a compressed listen with only eleven tracks but still packs in dimensionality and texture. It marks a new pinnacle and a denouement of an era for a once clandestine figure now dancing under the prismatic light of a disco ball. Shahzaib Hussain – REVIEW

46. Barry Can’t Swim – When Will We Land?

Right from the opening track of his debut album, Joshua Mainnie firmly ensconces himself at the warmest, most organic end of the electronic music spectrum. ‘Deadbeat Gospel’ follows: a blend of stuttering house and spoken word, literally (though definitely not figuratively) phoned in from Northern Irish poet somedeadbeat. It’s very reminiscent of For Those I Love’s 2021 debut, but rather than grief it trades in effusive rhapsody, comparing the joys of dance music to a religion. The remaining tracks keep this playfulness dialled up to max, until ‘Define Dancing’ closes the album with a wild tapestry of tinkling bells, looped vocals, a clave beat, and tempo-shifting synths that flutter in and out of the mix.

The attention to detail here is astonishing, and it’s what makes ‘When Will We Land?’ such a successful album. Far from being cluttered, it’s a record that makes every element work in its favour, however small – brewing them up into something quite magical. Tom Kingsley White – REVIEW

45. Noname – Sundial

‘Sundial’, the Chicago rapper’s first album in five years, is a daring, complex feast of ideas that merges political concerns with the personal; a record capable of moving from direct statements of socialist commitment to crude lust in the space of a single song. Ultimately, ‘Sundial’ is a record of incredible soundbites, but no easy answers. Refusing to take the easy route, ‘Sundial’ can at times be daunting, and the task of following the profound success of her earlier work isn’t an easy one. On repeated listens, however, the project breaks open as a singular work of Black American artistry. Robin Murray – REVIEW

44. blur – The Ballad Of Darren

While 2003’s ‘Think Tank’ emerged despite Graham Coxon and, twelve years later, ‘The Magic Whip’ was completed because of him, it’s tempting to assert that in 2023 it’s Damon Albarn who might need his bandmates around him more than at any point this century. He’s called ‘The Ballad of Darren’ an “aftershock record,” following in the wake of the pandemic, losses like Tony Allen and Bobby Womack and, closest to home, the deaths of long-term tour manager Craig Duffy and his wife.

The desire to reflect on those most important to the band is immediately evident. Closer ‘The Heights’ appears to nod to the faithful, treasuring the connection that exists between band and audience. Tense, manic strings chop away at the languid celebration, presaging a gathering storm of noise that reaches its peak only to be plunged abruptly into silence. No neat resolutions here, folks. Onward. Gareth James – REVIEW

43. Eartheater – Powders

The nine-track ‘Powders’ aggregates the antithetical forces Eartheater has traversed in her decade-long career: entropy, mutation, a study of the arcane, a study of form, a subversion of outmoded narratives on femininity, a distortion of the rigid rules of classical compositions. Bringing together the baroque arrangements of her debut project ‘Metalepsis’ with ‘Trinity’s’ programmed permutations within the dance music biosphere, ‘Powders’ is a work of exquisite alchemy between past variant versions of Eartheater; a mesmeric mix of stillness and desolation that could score a time-lapse of a seedling’s bloom and eventual death. Shahzaib Hussain – INTERVIEW

42. Troye Sivan – Something To Give Each Other

Hypnotising hits intertwined with vulnerable, catchy tracks catapult Troye Sivan’s third album, ‘Something to Give Each Other’, to new heights of dance-pop perfection. The Australian YouTuber-turned-pop-star finds his footing on a record that balances the deep richness of his baritone vocals with a delicate sweetness and vulnerability through his soft lyricism.

A wave of bubbling emotion and challenging energy is palpable throughout ‘Something to Give Each Other’, but somehow each transition goes over smoothly and not a single track feels out of place. Instead, it sounds more like a perfectly curated playlist that can guide you through each emotional headspace. Lauren Dehollogne – REVIEW

41. bar italia – Tracey Denim

On the 15-track ‘Tracey Denim’, a project more than double the run time of first two LPs, ‘Quarrel’ and ‘Bedhead’, the British post-punk band unravels the sprawling and playful, yet concerted, development of their sound. Largely abandoning the sketchy, diaristic transitions and abrupt ends so characteristic of their previous sound—and World Music acts, generally—’Tracey Denim’ progresses with relative sonic coherence. However, fitting to form, the album cover still retains the opaque quality of the Microsoft Paint stick figure on ‘Quarrel’ and the graphite bug on ‘Bedhead’ despite portraying the three band members sitting outside a café. The high-contrast, noisy black-and-white image sets the punk-inspired tone for an album that explores genres ranging from British dream pop and post-punk to shoegaze and trip-hop. Phillip Pyle – REVIEW

40. CMAT – Crazymad, For Me

There’s nothing understated or lowkey about ‘Crazymad, For Me’, the showstopping second album from Ireland’s country-pop sensation CMAT. With a maximalist sound and vocals that exceed the already sky-high expectations we had from her debut album, Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson has once again knocked it out of the park. For anyone bored of the lo-fi musical landscape, ‘Crazymad, For Me’ is a thrilling reminder of just how ambitious and exciting pop music can be. Vicky Greer – REVIEW

39. Navy Blue – Ways Of Knowing 

After independently releasing six albums over the past three years (and producing Wiki’s excellent 2021 album ‘Half God’) prolific multi-hyphenate Sage Elsesser released his major label debut under his rap moniker, Navy Blue, via Def Jam back in March. Entirely produced by Los Angeles-via-London beat-smith Budgie, Sage puts relationships – familial, ancestral and romantic – at the forefront as he meditates on how the wisdom of those around us, make us who we are. ‘Ways of Knowing’ tells his own story through writing so meticulous and specific that the emotional resonance is universal. Grant Brydon 

38. Doja Cat – Scarlet

Overall, ‘Scarlet’ is a sonically and thematically more mature offering from Doja; tracks feel fuller and more adventurous than her previous work. There’s a healthy dose of self-mocking and self-aware lyricism which never falters to brand her sound with trademark wit and character: Doja nods to her notorious red carpet vaping altercation and references “selling out” in her career – of her own volition. ‘Scarlet’ is an absorbing exploration into the world of ego trips, the trappings of fame, escapism and novelty, a welcome deviation with a heightened sense of maturity and finesse. Madeline Smith – REVIEW

37. Overmono – Good Lies

Overmono’s debut album ‘Good Lies’, released via legendary impritn XL Recordings, is a twelve-track electronic ensemble that provides a reflective look back on the brother duo’s history. Many of the tracks are sampled from the depths of Bandcamp, weaving through each song seamlessly, accompanied by breaks and heavy drums. New tracks ‘Area Fearn’ and ‘Skulled’ are standouts with deep subs acting as a solid accompaniment to the choral vocals. This album is an experience built upon legacy, brought to us through a symbiotic partnership like no other; displaying the strength of brotherhood, and solidifying their position within the scene by cherishing childhood’s sweetness. Isabel Armitage – REVIEW

36. Wednesday – Rat Saw God

There is an almost overwhelming vividness to ‘Rat Saw God’. Be it in vocalist Karly Hartzmans country twang that can curdle to a scream at any stage, the piercing squalls of distortion and feedback, or even the sumptuous sway of bass and lap steel. It is a vividness that Hartzman also infuses in her words, trying to recreate for herself the meaning in micro moments that others have found before her. Craig Howieson – INTERVIEW

35. Yussef Dayes – Black Classical Music

‘Black Classical Music’ is Dayes’ debut album as a solo artist and band leader, an attempt to forge the vast array of influences that run through his sound into a unified experience. It’s a hopelessly complex task – pan-diasporic inspiration that moves from post-bop and fusion through to reggae, highlife, and beyond – but the breadth of vision here is jaw-dropping. That Yussef Dayes comes tantalisingly close to puling off something coherent from this endlessly broad parade of sonic colours and textures is apt testament to his crucial artistry. Robin Murray – REVIEW

34. Fever Ray – Radical Romantics

‘Radical Romantics’ traverses the duality of the secretive nature of desire and intimacy, and the staggeringly interconnected nature of modern society. We are all more in touch with one another than ever before, yet we are often left feeling like moments of genuine connection are just out of reach. From the opening lines of the album, “first I’d like to say that I’m sorry, I’ve done everything that I can”, Kari Dreijer begins an odyssey through the precarious nature of modern relationships, pausing to trace moments of emotional intimacy, and dwelling on the fear that comes with vulnerability. Eve Boothroyd – REVIEW

33. Lankum – False Lankum

An obsession with the past can alter and crush the brightest of futures. Yet an appreciation and understanding of what has come before can expand our knowledge of the world we fling ourselves forward into. Irish four-piece Lankum are well attuned to this distinction, and on ‘False Lankum’ they continue to mine some of the finest – and criminally overlooked – songs of folk musics past and tailor them to the zeitgeist.

The record swells and retreats at will as the group flex their musical dexterity. The lurching sludge of the titanic, and at times terrifying ‘Go Dig My Grave’ is a formidable eight minute opener. It welcomes you into the quartet’s unique world where gutted mines are as likely to glisten with blood as they are to sparkle with gold. Craig Howieson – REVIEW

32. Actress – LXXXVIII

‘Push Power (a1)’, and the album from which it emanates, ‘LXXXVIII’, aims to mimic the intricacy of chess, the intense complexity coupled to a sense of playfulness. There’s a sharp inner logic to Actress’ work, aligned to a mathematical sense of beauty that resolves in an unexpected manner. Robin Murray – NEWS

31. Liv.e – Girl In The Half Pearl

On second album ‘Girl In A Half Pearl’, Liv.e surrenders to the maelstrom of her romantic attachments. A loose companion piece to 2020’s ‘Couldn’t Wait To Tell Ya…’, ‘Girl In The Half Pearl’ preserves the heritage of the black musical continuum, whilst pushing Liv.e’s brand of skittering soul into avant-garde territory.

Throughout, Liv.e manufactures distance and discord in songs that takes the listener deep into her unravelling psyche. Detuned in and out of frequency, ‘Pearl’ is an acid-dipped crusade from an evolved artist eager to breach convention: the album times out at 41 minutes – sprawling yet brisk, interspersed with interludes and motifs, ‘Pearl’ is frenetic and deceptive, gliding between references yet somehow all threaded together into a sweeping woozy ambiance. Shahzaib Hussain – REVIEW

30. Jessy Lanza – Love Hallucination 

Ontario’s Jessy Lanza has near-enough perfected the art of aqueous electro-pop over the course of the last decade, creating a sound that’s as instantly recognisable as it is inimitable. That means new inspiration is required to keep her sound fresh and on ‘Love Hallucination’, her fourth album proper, she finds it…of a fashion. ‘Love Hallucination’ is pretty much Jessy Lanza doing what she’s always done. Her beats are as clean and sharp as cut glass, her vocals beam in from an unknown astral plane, and her synths hover somewhere between this world and the next. Joe Rivers – REVIEW

29. Christine And The Queens – PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE

A lengthy 20 track experience, ‘PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE’ was prompted by a revelatory reading of Tony Kushner’s play, Angels In America. As such, the album is drawn into three distinct acts, moving through moods of desire and loss in the process. A record composed of experimental dissonance and slick pop bravery, ‘PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE’ ranks as the boldest aspect of his career to date. A project that searches for honesty, it places Christine and the Queens in a quite singular lane of alt-pop abstraction. Robin Murray – REVIEW 

28. PJ Harvey – I Inside The Old Year Dying

‘I Inside The Old Year Dying’s’ twelve tracks veer between the spectral and smoothing, producer Flood utilising field recordings and instrument manipulation to create fascinating background textures the likes of which they’ve never attempted before. Harvey herself meshes the intimate and experimental to create something thrillingly unique. Pastoral and poetic, naturally, but with moments of unease and explosive outbursts. ‘I Inside the Old Year Dying’ is Harvey at her most sonically daring yet most relaxed. It’s another intriguing addition to her back catalogue that deserves repeat visits to unpack properly. While one of her least immediate records, it stands as one of her most rewarding. Sam Walker-Smart – REVIEW

27. Yves Tumor – Praise A Lord Who Chews, But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)

On their fifth studio album, Yves Tumor made one statement: scaling up. Every fleeting beat, every numinous production nuance, every dark, sprawling beat announces itself with confidence, and lives up to the energy it promises. Throughout the album’s runtime, they insistently chew away at their thoughts, masticating and transforming the starting point. ‘Praise…’ feels like a completed maze, a finite and full creation, and cements Tumor as an extraordinary explorer. Ims Taylor – REVIEW

26. Slowdive – everything is alive 

Taking time out to focus on solo projects and side hustles, Slowdive coalesced once more to forge ‘everything is alive’. It’s an album with a real push-and-pull effect – it can move from crunching guitar tones to spacious, electronic-hewn landscapes the next, all while achieving a fundamental unity. Refusing to simply echo the success of their 2017 self-titled effort, Slowdive have instead burst forwards for pastures new. At times experimental, it forever returns to their core values, with this tension supplying some of the album’s finest moments. Enchanting and illuminating, ‘everything is alive’ proves that Slowdive’s pulse is still beating strong. Robin Murray – REVIEW

25. Sofia Kourtesis – Madres

Sofia Kourtesis has an incredible gift for world-building. Each new song from the Berlin based, Peruvian artist seems to consist of an entire realm, her opaque electronics touching on club tropes while making full use of her painterly touch. ‘Madres’ is a toast to femme energy, an airy, refreshing audio journey that blends lysergic layers of sound with heady vocal snippets. Gently overpowering, it seems to enrapture you, caught in stasis with a flood of sound rushing underneath. Robin Murray – TRACK OF THE DAY

24. Armand Hammer – We Buy Diabetic Test Strips

NYC rap duo Armand Hammer explore by making; immersing themselves in the work and allowing connections between songs to emerge. They are comfortable allowing an idea to lead them,  even if this means ending up in unexpected territory. Despite their tendency to write and record their lyrics separately, it’s not surprising – given the process began with ‘Landlines’ and ‘Woke Up And Asked Siri How I’m Gonna Die’ – that themes of phones and communication appear throughout ‘We Buy Diabetic Test Strips’.

Never ones to stagnate, their latest LP ‘We Buy Diabetic Test Strips’ sees Armand Hammer taking an ambitious new approach to music-making, resulting in their most expansive, mind-bending record yet. “There’s a direct contrast to ‘Haram’”, explains core collaborator Elucid. “Produced by The Alchemist, a singular hand, it’s like one of those t-shirts with one seam that cost $1000. And then here we are with ‘We Buy Diabetic Test Strips’, and this patchwork of sounds and ears and hands all over this album.” Grant Brydon INTERVIEW

23. Yazmin Lacey – Voice Notes

Boasting a full hour of music, ‘Voice Notes’ is packed with inspiration. ‘Bad Company’ and ‘Late Night People’ are impeccable neo-soul bumpers, dipping into those twilight hours in the process. ‘From A Lover’ takes on a more vintage feel, it’s soulful vision rooted more in Aretha, say, than Erykah. It’s far from an R&B record, though – Yazmin touches on jazz, while ‘Tomorrow’s Child’ feels like a love letter to system culture. ‘Closer Dubbed “a collection of my life” at times ‘Voice Notes’ takes on the feeling of visiting an art gallery – you pause for a moment at one work, absorbing it fully, before moving to the next. Yazmin Lacey’s curatorial skill sits alongside her painterly-like vocals, resulting in a bold, and emphatic album project. Robin Murray – REVIEW

22. King Krule – Space Heavy

Archy Marshall has once again proven that King Krule’s auteurism and relentless, and seemingly effortless, search for brilliance is consistently possible. ‘Space Heavy’ feels like an amalgamation of everything Marshall has toyed with during his career so far, flecks of sounds and lyrical moments feeling like a homage to specific elements and aspects of his discography. He also writes with a newfound lens, new experience, with his fascination of the space between cities coming through in technicolour on this record. The also never-ending sonic exploration is continually excellent, ‘Space Heavy’ being just as eclectic as it is cohesive. James Mellen – REVIEW

21. L’Rain – I Killed Your Dog

L’Rain’s third full-length, ‘I Killed Your Dog’, amps up the vertiginous psychodrama – a deviation from the brooding, funereal feel of breakthrough project, ‘Fatigue’. Beyond the loose narrative of relational mishaps, breakdowns and the wounds we inflict on those closest to us, ‘I Killed Your Dog’ is an album about modern decay. Playing like a pressure cooker across its sixteen tracks, the album is skittish to the point of neurosis, brimming with unease and foreboding. It isn’t monotonal, however. Just as a calvacade of squealing noise, reverb and distortion threatens to engulf the listener, L’Rain perforates the moment with whimsy and warmth – with a suite of songs foregrounding the soul-searching clarity in her voice. Shahzaib Hussain – INTERVIEW

20. Boygenius – The Record 

In the moments where one of the three voices commands centre stage on ‘the record’, there are career highlights to be found. Julien Baker’s knack for building a song to emotional crescendo, for example – defined by that glorious vocal leap from confession box hush to congregational sermon – is on full display on ‘Anti-Curse’, while Phoebe Bridgers’ paeans to being both tired of ex-lovers’ bullshit and tired hits the mark on ‘Revolution 0’ and ‘Letter To An Old Poet’. 

For all the tedious discourse surrounding the notion of sad girl indie music, there are almost as many mischievous winks at the listener here as there are melancholy scenes. ‘Leonard Cohen’ offers it in spades, dropping lines about the late songwriter’s “horny poetry” alongside the more plaintive lyricism of “I never thought you’d happen to me”, repeated at the song’s close. Elsewhere, ‘Satanist’ is neither sad nor particularly indie, instead proving to be a riotous journey through quests for “off-brand ecstasy” and an irresistible rock hook. It’s a lot of fun. Matthew Neale REVIEW

19. Cleo Sol – Heaven 

If you’re Going Through It in 2023 there are a few options for spiritual respite: You can scour TikTok for soul-reviving remedies, hunting for shreds of meaning in digital psychic readings and convoluted affirmations that you are, in fact, ‘that girl’. Or, you can listen to Cleo Sol. 

Sol’s first of two releases in late 2023, ‘Heaven’, sees a gorgeous extension to the golden thread woven throughout a distinctively meditative musical output. Through dreamy neo-soul sprinkled with jazz inflections, Sol imparts simple shreds of wisdom that often manifest as gentle nudges towards healing, strength and joy. It’s why ‘Heaven’ exists as the audible equivalent of the first rich tastes of warmth after a particularly gruelling winter – fitting for an artist whose namesake is the sun. Laura Molloy

18. CASISDEAD – Famous Last Words

Not many rap-centric records fully immerse you, swallow you up and spit you out, but ‘Famous Last Words’, the long-gestating debut album from Tottenham iconoclast CASISDEAD, does so without mercy. ‘Famous Last Words’ is a rap record but also a motion picture soundtrack with forays into prog-rock, synth-pop and UK street soul – a feat of epic proportions that manages to retain CASISDEAD’s vanguard appeal across a sprawl of 23 tracks.

CASISDEAD holds up a mirror image of our putrescent world through filmic suites and skits, integrating a curated roster of collaborators including Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, Connie Constance, Kamio, Desire. Stranger Things composer Kyle Dixon and Italians Do It Better label founder Johnny Jewel. Beyond the doomsday, pulp-fiction feel of the album, it’s CASISDEAD’s expression through soulful laments and skin-and-bones wordplay that grounds this ambitious counter-cultural experiment. It’s time to give CASISDEAD his flowers. Shahzaib Hussain 

17. ANOHNI and the Johnsons – My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross

Back in 2016, singer, songwriter and all-round visionary Anohni Hegarty impressed us all with her powerful solo debut, ‘Hopelessness’. With its cutting political commentary and experimental synth-pop melodies, it was an album that stood out in a stacked year for new music. Whilst thematically ‘My Back Was a Bridge…’ picks up partly where ‘Hopelessness’ left off – looking in despair at humanity and the current state of the world but with personal tales scattered in there too – the instrumentation couldn’t be more different. This is because ANOHNI is reunited with her band once again, resulting in this collection of songs being beautifully backdropped by bluesy guitars and sweeping orchestral strings at every turn.

ANOHNI’s own inimitable vocals remain the ever-present constant, her voice frequently making the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. She doesn’t waste a moment across the album’s 40-minute runtime either; the gospel-like refrains of ‘Can’t’, the soaring rock riffs of ‘Rest’ and the mesmerising balladry of ‘There Wasn’t Enough’, are just three of the many highlights. An album as sonically astounding as it is lyrically provocative, it’s another towering achievement from a true transgressor. Karl Blakesley

16. JPEGMafia and Danny Brown – Scaring The Hoes

Earlier this year Danny Brown told his podcast listeners that when he first heard JPEGMAFIA’s ‘Baby I’m Bleeding’ he thought his rap career was over. Luckily, it turned out that Peggy was a long-time fan, and the pair forged a creative partnership starting with a pair of tracks on Danny’s 2019’s ‘uknowhatimsayin¿’ By the time Peggy premiered ‘Burfict!’ on NTS last year, a collab album felt like the natural progression.

‘SCARING THE HOES’ is like a race through the mind of its creators while they put each other on to their respective interests. Song titles nod to everything from Disney and Final Fantasy crossover Kingdom Hearts, to fitness influencer Lean Beef Patty. And nothing is too obscure, or well-known, to be sampled – therefore hits from Kelis, Mario Winans and LL Cool J, alongside scraps of fanfare, saxophone, gospel and anime soundtrack, find themselves beaten to a pulp by industrial drums. Utilising a shared enthusiasm for 90s rap ideals, without falling into the trap of paint-by-numbers nostalgia, Peggy and Danny came up with one of the year’s most innovative rap records. Grant Brydon

15. Laurel Halo – Atlas

‘Atlas’, the debut release on the LA-based musician’s new imprint Awe, is a modern classical coda at its most sensorial. Fascinated with topography and transient living, Halo, alongside saxophonist Bendik Giske, violinist James Underwood, and cellist Lucy Railton, breathe life into electro-acoustic nocturnes that vacillate between jazz-tinged sound collages, coruscating cinematics and eerie digital-drone brushstrokes. The one-take piano ballad ‘Belleville’ is the album’s gilded centrepiece – a composition scoring the faint spark of vitality found within still, dusky moments, punctured by an aching Coby Sey harmonic cry. ‘Atlas’ and its embrace of intimate restraint and melodic minimalism is simply transcendent. Shahzaib Hussain 

14. Kelela – Raven

Six years after her critically-acclaimed debut full-length ‘Take Me Apart’, Kelela curated a club night special on second album ‘Raven’; an invite-only space and a self-styled utopia for the marginalised, the hustlers and the survivors. Throughout the album’s 15 tracks Kelela opts for a spacious, subaqueous mix exploring the holistic and regenerative effects of raving. For Kelela and her chosen family, the dancefloor is a veil between earth and a divine power, and salvation is found within the cloistered, revolving rooms of a heaving club where pain is exhumed and healing ensues.

The album’s prevailing theme of survival is exemplified best on the title track. The apotheosis is a Drexciya-inflected bipartite with synths that seethe before building to a filthy crescendo until they evanesce into vapour waves. This is the moment Kelela uses the dimensions of the dancefloor as her place of metamorphosis. Shahzaib Hussain – INTERVIEW

13. Earl Sweatshirt and The Alchemist – Voir Dire

One of the most impressive aspects of ‘Voir Dire’ is how these two illuminating figures allow their light to cross, and never dim. Earl Sweatshirt and The Alchemist retain their unique individualities, using those distinctive aspects to fuse intriguing aspects of their art. The continual use of spoken-word only adds to the unity – specially recorded clips and blurred samples giving the project a unified feel. ‘Voir Dire’ is part of a glorious run from both artists. The Alchemist has already released a solo, multi-MC project this year, alongside his joint album with heavy-hitter Larry June. Earl is Earl, is forever on the horizon, and always on the mainstage. Together, this project might rank as a career high, a work of breathless yet intoxicatingly accessible complexity. Robin Murray

12. Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd? 

‘Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd’ is wordy, verbose; indeed, it shares some parallels with her poetry book (and album) ‘Violet Bent Over Backwards’. Structurally, it’s a lengthy, unwieldy document – it almost feels like two separate albums layered over one another. One, a song-rooted venture laden with country-inflections; the other, shot through with buzzing electronics and unsettling effects. Ricocheting between these poles, Lana Del Rey produces an album that swaps unity for impact, a surfeit of information that lacks clarity, but intensifies its emotional pull.

Framed by twin poles of classicism and experimentation, ‘Did you know…’ never truly succumbs to either. An often unsettling river of song, it finds Lana Del Rey discussing uncomfortable truths, while denying the use of easy answers. What she chooses to reveal is profound, occasionally disquieting, and never dull. Robin Murray

11. Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS

Olivia Rodrigo may be the biggest star to come out of Gen Z so far. Her debut album ‘SOUR’ was a delicate, delightful, primarily piano-led album of heartbreak anthems, with the exception of Paramore-tinged f-bomb featuring ‘good 4 u’. The latter set the precedent for Rodrigo’s follow up, ‘GUTS’. In the stories she tells, Rodrigo truly comes of age: the wide-eyed naivete and shock at betrayal that characterised ‘SOUR’ has turned to snark, sass, self-criticism, sex. But alongside all of that, there are reminders that Rodrigo’s songwriting can balance the playful with the poignant flawlessly. ‘GUTS’ addresses just what it’s like to come of age as a young woman under the glare of the spotlight. Ims Taylor

10. Julie Byrne – The Greater Wings

“One day the skin that holds me will be dust, and I’ll be ready to travel again.” Dealing with grief – specifically for Byrne’s creative partner Eric Littmann, who produced her 2017 album ‘Not Even Happiness’ and died suddenly in mid-2021 – ‘The Greater Wings’ is both intimate and expansive, blissfully beautiful and heartbreaking.

The album was finished with help from producer Alex Somers (Julianna Barwick, Sigur Rós), whose fingerprints are clearly visible in the cavernous soundscapes of tracks like ‘Moonless’ and ‘Summer Glass’. But it’s Byrne’s songwriting that makes ‘The Greater Wings’ so poignant, drawing on the traditions of lyrical and pastoral poetry to find solace in loss. What results is ambient folk that’s delicate as gossamer, devastating yet ultimately hopeful: “Death is the diamond… I guess sometimes it doesn’t always happen when you’re trying, but when you’re living it comes on out.” Tom Kingsley

9. billy woods and Kenny Segal – Maps 

Anybody who has had to travel for work knows that it can be a much weirder experience than expected. It’s disconcerting: getting over jet lag, meeting new people, finding new places and spending an unhealthy amount of time reckoning with existential crises in airports away from home brings up a lot. For a touring musician, this is only amplified. Through the lens of NYC rapper billy woods – one of the most engaging writers working this year – it translates to a road epic soundtracked by regular collaborator Los Angeles producer Kenny Segal.

‘Maps’ follows woods on a round-the-world trip from his increasingly gentrified Brooklyn and back, chronicling life in transit. There’s complimentary daiquiris on flights to Amsterdam and $300 Ubers that might as well be the Maybach on Future’s ‘I NEVER LIKED YOU’ album cover. woods also finds the time to offer plenty of his signature food writing (see ‘Blue Smoke’ for his pork belly recipe) and doomsaying (see ‘Year Zero, which also includes a phenomenal guest verse from Danny Brown).

By the end of the 44 minutes, we meet woods back home at the park with his baby pondering life’s uncertainty as the screen fades to black. As ever, stories are packed into woods’ lyrics, often hidden between bars, left to emerge later so that each listen presents something new to think about. It’s a whirlwind trip, but one that’s packed with so much texture and detail – the kind you’ll have to revisit to uncover. Grant Brydon

8. Loraine James – Gentle Confrontation 

With each release, Loraine James continues to cement themselves at the heart of electronic music, extending its resonance within and outside of dance music. This year’s ‘Gentle Confrontation’, James’ third Hyperdub release, is their most personal and introspective work to date, a scattered yet coherent palette of sounds that sees the artist meander through fleeting thoughts and anecdotes. Across 16 tracks, James creates an intimate space in which they pinpoint pivotal moments of their adolescence whilst addressing the anxieties that arise later in life.

Experimentation is at the London producer’s core, venturing into the possibilities of glitch, IDM, breakbeats and jazz, roping in guest vocals and contributions from Marina Herlop, keiyaA, Eden Samara and Contour. ‘Gentle Confrontation’ unveils a new dimension of Loraine James, offering a glimpse into the artist’s interior universe. Ana LamondINTERVIEW

7. Kara Jackson – Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? 

A feted slam poet and a distinguished writer, Kara Jackson uses words as her tools. On her debut album, Kara combines the emotional reach of her writing with a natural gift for musicality, uncovering fresh nuance in the rivulets of language. ‘Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love?’ is a magnificent record, one blessed with real maturity, and no small degree of confidence. When a song needs to be cut down to the essence, she achieves a laser-like sense of focus; when Kara Jackson needs to go broad, then that’s exactly what she does. Searching after higher meanings, this subversive record leaves a stain of beauty on all who come across its path. Robin Murray

6. Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We

There’s something intrinsic that you have to get about Mitski. Her songwriting is all-consuming, melancholic, foggy and intense, but when it clicks the truths she seems to tell and the emotions she captures are absolutely universal. On ‘This Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We’, Mitski balances simplicity with complexity to enthralling effect. Runaway favourite and TikTok adoptee track ‘My Love Mine All Mine’ may be the best example, luxuriating in downtempo melody lines and glimmering instrumental textures. As Mitski expertly spins a dense dreamworld of feeling out of sonics that seem stripped-back on the surface, ‘This Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We’ vibrates with emotional potential. Ims Taylor

5. Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy

Scottish group Young Fathers are no stranger to acclaim winning the Mercury Prize in 2014 for their debut album ‘Dead’. Their fourth album ‘Heavy Heavy’ showed the range of the trio’s influences and the eclectic almost hypnotic soundscape they are capable of creating. Across its 10 tracks and 32-minute runtime, there are shades of indie, trip hop, soul and so much more. Whether it’s the stomp and drive of ‘I Saw’ and ‘Rice’, pure pulsating energy or the more subdued but beautiful ‘Geronimo’ and ‘Tell Somebody’ there is never a wasted moment in a record packed full of majestic highs that linger long in the memory. Christopher Connor

4. Amaarae – Fountain Baby

Listening to ‘Fountain Baby’ is like going on a world tour. But it’s not a world tour where you travel by plane – you float, high above the atmosphere, as if completely weightless. Amaarae’s airy, sultry coo is your guide as you visit the hottest destinations in 21st century pop: R&B, trap, alté, hip-hop, afrobeats, and more. But here, among the wispy clouds and ethereal vocals, there’s a steely core. Making an overwhelmingly sex-positive record celebrating the LGBTQ+ community when you’ve been raised in Ghana – a country where homosexuality is illegal – is a brave and deliberate move. Fountain Baby is a record that’s seductive, thrilling, varied, explicit and full of love. It’s a record that says that Amaarae has arrived and is here to stay. Joe Rivers

3. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin

Sufjan Stevens can touch parts of your heart you never knew music could reach. Often wildly experimental, when the American artist chooses to focus on the function and tonality of songwriting few can rival him. ‘Javelin’ was prompted by appalling circumstances – the illness and death of his partner – but Sufjan continually finds beauty and resilience amidst the encroaching darkness. At times almost unbearably fragile, ‘Javelin’ somehow conjures enormous strength: It’s a record that yearns to look towards the light. This ranks – even among the lofty peaks of his past work – as one of Sufjan Stevens’ finest projects. Without doubt one of the most affecting, impressive records of this, or any other year. Robin Murray

2. Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You 

Little could have gotten in the way of Caroline Polachek’s artistic pursuit on ‘Desire, I Want To Turn Into You’, a sprawling collection of tracks that redefine pop music in its numerous different forms. Dabbling in electro, indie and the alternative, the NYC singer-songwriter taps into her upper register with ease, a trope that distinguishes Polachek as one of the most talented vocalists to burst through the doors. Despite its smooth sophistication, ‘DIWTTIY’ is a project that isn’t afraid to have fun, leaping between the explosive hook of say, ‘Welcome To My Island’ into the transcendent spirit of ‘Pretty In Possible.’ Home to craftsmanship, innovation and a spotlight collaboration between Dido and Grimes, ‘Desire, I Want To Turn Into You’ is truly awe-inspiring. Ana Lamond

1. Sampha – Lahai 

The brilliance of Sampha’s second album ‘Lahai is unassuming. It takes care as it threads its way into your life. So when you’re wandering to the shop for missing groceries and fresh air at the end of a heavy day, you’re not surprised to find it playing in your head. It’s supposed to be there for you, to help you find space, comfort and quietude. Named after Sampha’s grandfather, and his own middle-name, ‘Lahai’ takes place somewhere between dreaming and reality. It soars to find a broader perspective; a birds-eye view on humanity, before sweeping down to snapshot details of its author’s singular experience. 

Between urgent percussion, sweeping harmonies and poignant mantras, we find a much lighter Sampha than we met six years ago on the Mercury-Prize winning ‘Process’ who – as the title suggests – was weighed down in attempts to make sense of his existence. Here he finds purpose in the myriad roles he plays – a father, son, brother, partner – examining how he can protect and guide those he comes into contact with, understanding himself in the context of a wider humanity rather than a single life form.

Flight and time are used to explore self-actualisation and a deeper experiencing of life. Songs like ‘Spirit 2.0’ encourage letting go and having faith that we will be caught: ‘Jonathan L. Seagull’, a reference to the Richard Bach novella about self-realisation and liberation, promotes difference and nuance in a world that constantly attempts to polarise us; ’Can’t Go Back’ acknowledges the push and pull of thoughts that drag us away from the present, reminding us that we are exactly where we need to be right now.

‘Lahai’ is by no means about forgetting of what has come before, but holding our past experiences in the present, without judgement about the future. It’s a place within a place. It’s peace within uncertainty, discomfort, chaos; a reminder that human connection, with all of its complications, can be very simple. Grant Brydon

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