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The 15 Best Albums of 2023 (and 60 more)

I work as one of the two Music Directors at WMEB, the University of Maine’s student-run radio station located in Room 164 of the Memorial Union. In my role, I work with promoters to recommend albums and songs to our roster of nearly forty currently active DJs. The staff seeks to cultivate a distinct sound for the station; we try to promote independent and alternative artists almost exclusively. For a Music Director, that means listening to potentially dozens of less-than-mainstream releases in a month.

Ever since 2021, before I had even graduated high school, I’ve made an effort to listen to at least 100 albums per year. This year, I doubled that number, reaching exactly 200 just before the year’s conclusion.

Below, I picked out 15 of my favorites to discuss (listed in alphabetical order), and further below that are 60 additional favorites that I strongly recommend. Beneath, you can find a Spotify playlist featuring a track from each of these records, and a link to WMEB on streaming.

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

After an eventful thirteen year hiatus for ANOHNI and her variable backing band the Johnsons, the band returned with their fifth studio album “My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross,” the cover of which is graced by the tender smile of activist Marsha P. Johnson. The music contained on this record is an expression of that same tenderness; most of the tracks eschew complex compositions or production quirks, consisting mainly of restrained bluesy instrumentation from her backing band. Instead, it is Anohni’s achingly passionate soul-styled vocals and pointed lyricism that carries these songs. Indeed, the main role of the band here is to accompany her vocals, most poignantly on the fourth track “Can’t,” which crescendos into a magnificent two-minute outro of passionate emotional catharsis. While Anohni ruminates on heavy topics, including death in “Sliver of Ice” (inspired by the death of her friend Lou Reed), existential panic on the mournful and samba-accented “Why Am I Alive Now?” and hateful dehumanization on “Scapegoat,” the record never once feels bitter or dreary. Instead, the album feels like a reflection of humanity itself, in all its wonder and brutality.

bar italia – Tracey Denim

A washed-out tapestry of heavily-treated vocals, slurry guitars and punchy Madchester rhythms, “Tracey Denim” marks the official arrival of London-based indie rock group bar italia to the mainstream of indie music, if there is such a thing. The band released their first few albums around the outset of the pandemic, charged by hype arising from their association with underground favorite Dean Blunt.

On “Tracey Denim,” their third record, bar italia wears their influences on their sleeve. Sometimes it’s a bit Life Without Buildings, sometimes a bit Bends-era Radiohead and often quite Cure-esque, all with the general atmosphere of early trip-hop and a shoegaze-y reliance on bottomless reverb. But don’t mistake their grimy take on jangle pop for another landfill-ready 90s nostalgia product. Their obsession with replicating the sounds of bands prior does not detract from their ability to build layered compositions with catchy hooks (“Nurse!,” “Missus Morality,” “Clark” and “maddington” being standouts in this regard), and the revolving door of vocalists keeps the album from feeling too much like a one-trick pony—although Nina Cristante is usually the most interesting singer of the three, and thankfully the one who appears the most often.

bar italia released another album, “The Twits,” later in 2023.

billy woods and Kenny Segal – Maps

In a year where rap music’s mainstream has stalled both creatively and commercially, the genre’s underground has flourished, aided by its detachment from whatever is going on up top. Admittedly, I have never been a huge fan of billy woods’ previous works; while his intricate lyricism is always impressive, his reliance on an atmosphere that I find oppressively dark kept them from meriting more than respectful admiration on my end. Kenny Segal’s production on “Maps,” however, provides woods with some of his most lively beats yet without compromising his lyrical integrity. Mellow piano-driven tracks such as “Rapper Weed” and “The Layover” are well-balanced by the paranoid harder-edged songs more typical of woods’ discography so far, like “Year Zero,” which features Danny Brown, and the dark, droning “Hangman.” “FaceTime,” one of the finest tracks of the whole year, features neo-soul artist Samuel T. Herring, is a simply revelatory slice of jazz rap. woods’ trademark lyrical skillfulness and Segal’s pleasing production choices combine to make “Maps” a great record highly deserving of repeated and dedicated listening.

Black Country, New Road – Live at Bush Hall

Last year, Black Country, New Road—a standard bearer for the ‘Windmill Scene’ of the eponymous Brixton venue’s artsy post-punk misfits—released “Ants From Up There,” a masterful album that quickly cemented itself not only as one of my personal favorites, but as one of the decade’s definitive indie albums. A week prior, Isaac Wood, the vocalist for the band and one of its many songwriters, announced his departure from the group, citing mental health turmoil and a desire to be away from the spotlight. After some brief internal reorganization, the other members of BCNR marched on and wrote a whole suite of new tracks intended solely for live performance, released this year as “Live at Bush Hall.”

Listening to some of the slower moments, you get the feeling that it was Wood keeping the band from indulging their classical training too much. Certain moments are compositionally complex, but lack the emotional weight that Wood’s delivery provided. You also get the feeling that some of these songs would have benefitted from a studio rendering, as the more explosive moments sound less dynamic than they did on either of the first two records. Still, the painfully sincere displays of emotion that made their second record so fantastic have not disappeared entirely with Isaac’s departure: “Up Song,” “Across the Pond Friend” and “The Wrong Trousers” all hit those same poignant peaks heard on “Ants From Up There.”

“Live at Bush Hall” is, ultimately, a record displaying the band in a moment of transition. It is a monumental task for any band to both recreate an essentially perfect record while sustaining the loss of its beating heart. The fact that the band succeeded even partially at recapturing some of that magic is reason for praise.

Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You

While Caroline Polachek, who originally gained attention as the singer behind indie rock band Chairlift, has never been considered a hyperpop artist by genre purists, her albums (including 2019’s “Pang”) have clearly taken from many of the same sonic inspirations as her PC Music contemporaries. And much like her peers, Polachek has chosen to adapt to the splintered post-hyperpop landscape by embracing musical diversity. “Desire, I Want To Turn Into You” sees Polachek explore tropical Afrobeats (“Bunny is a Rider”), flamenco pop (“Sunset”), Celtic folk (“Blood and Butter”), frantic sprechgesang interludes (“Welcome to My Island”) and choral music (“Billions”) that compliment her usual glitchy art pop, with gorgeous results. Indeed, Polachek’s willingness to let experimentation color her dominant pop sensibilities and keen ability to bridge the mainstream with the indie scene has allowed her to enforce her reputation as the era’s most interesting popstar.

Geese – 3D Country

I didn’t much care for Geese when they debuted in 2021 with “Projector.” Besides the groovy single “Low Era,” I found them to be mediocre two-bit imitators of bands which performed their danceable post-punk act decades ago, and to better results. With “3D Country,” however, Geese proved me wholly wrong. The songs, which mainly take inspiration from country rock (with touches of glam, prog, and punk throughout the record), are much leaner and catchier, with each seeming to have its own distinct identity within the tracklist. On tracks like “Cowboy Nudes” and “Mysterious Love,” Geese exude playfulness, a trait which has been lacking from the sometimes self-serious 2020s post-punk revival. They even manage to come off as sincere on songs like “I See Myself,” despite the Brooklynites’ rustic turn being a somewhat obvious put-on. Vocalist Cameron Winter can seemingly bend his voice into whatever timbre he feels like, pulling off the delicate balancing act of delivering knowingly-quirky vocals without ever being too obnoxious or overbearing. With “3D Country,” Geese have achieved one of the decade’s most promising transformations yet.

Home Is Where the whaler

“the whaler,” the second album by emo band Home Is Where, is one of contrasts. Vocalist Brandon MacDonald oscillates between abrasive screaming and more typical emo vocals. The blown-out rockers (“skin meadow”) are always balanced with more contemplative moments of introspection; the slow piano-driven interlude “9/12” follows hardcore screamer “everyday feels like 9/11.” Even the album cover, which depicts a rotting cartoon whale suspended on telephone lines, is a pleasant shade of pink.

Home Is Where prove adept at developing their particular blend of folk, hardcore, and alternative country. Certain songs are clearly inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel, with MacDonald sometimes lifting Jeff Mangum’s trademark twang (“lily pad pupils”) and several tracks incorporating singing saws and dusty harmonicas. Despite the blissful guitar tones and an earnest, cutting vocal performance by MacDonald, “the whaler” maintains a raw edge that underlines its place as one of the most vital records released this year.


“SCARING THE HOES” sees two abstract hip hop powerhouses, JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown, unite for a record that blends JPEGMAFIA’s trademark irreverent attitude and Brown’s maniacal energy, resulting in one of the most chaotic and engaging listens of the decade so far. “SCARING THE HOES” seems to do it all, from interpolating Kanye’s “Get ‘Em High” (the title track) and sampling a chipmunk version of Kelis’ “Milkshake” (“Fentanyl Tester”) to turning a gospel session into a pure heater (“God Loves You”), all with perhaps the most infectious energy of any record this year. While the album may not reinvent the wheel, its blisteringly high-powered fun and marquee collaboration between two of hip hop’s finest is enough to render “SCARING THE HOES” a must-listen LP of 2023.

McKinley Dixon – Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?

Despite clocking in at a brisk 29 minutes, McKinley Dixon manages to make a remarkable impression with his new album “Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?,” a record partially inspired by the works of author Toni Morrison. Lyrically, the album traverses conscious territory, with an introspective Dixon reflecting on the criminal justice system, the violence inherent to growing up in the urban environments of this country, and the premature death of his friend Tyler. Dixon has a clear gift for combining his literary proclivities with a grounded, impactful delivery. However, this album’s greatest strength lies in its sonic palette, combining lush baroque instrumentation (not unlike that from Little Simz’s 2021 album “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert”) with incredibly crisp production and a strong melodic core. “Run, Run, Run” is an absolute revelation of a song, the platonic ideal of a jazz rap cut and probably my personal favorite for the finest song released this year. “Sun, I Rise” and “Dedicated to Tar Feather” are also stunning displays of songcraft, with the latter including a feature from experimental folk artist Anjimile (who also released a great album, “The King,” this year).

Discovering McKinley Dixon and this record was one of the highlights of my decade so far, and if there’s any justice in the world, “Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?” will have earned a spot in the hip-hop pantheon.

Mitski – The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We

What hasn’t been said about Mitski, the immensely talented singer-songwriter whose brand is practically synonymous with “sad girl indie” despite her own clear discomfort with being pigeonholed by such a facile label?

The intense attention her unexpected success garnered, and her emergence as a reluctant generational icon, led Mitski to withdraw almost entirely from the public eye. Some even anticipated a retirement announcement; the artist herself admitted to strongly considering stepping away from music permanently. By the time she felt ready to return, COVID-19 had irrevocably changed the zeitgeist: she released “Laurel Hell” in early 2022, but the more pop-oriented record fell short of the expectations of many. Indeed, that album seemed to tread water stylistically despite interesting ideas presented, and again rumors of a retirement emerged.

Mitski, however, returned unexpectedly early, and her new album appeared to be a conscious effort to move away from the spacious synthpop of that record and return to somewhere approaching her comfort zone. “The Land…” is her most focused and concise effort since 2016’s “Puberty 2,” returning to the more restrained and melancholic composition of her first few records. As always, Mitski uses brevity to her advantage. The short length of most tracks, none of which surpass four minutes, compliments her austere compositions and introspective lyricism.

Don’t take her sonic reconsolidation as an admission of defeat: “The Land…” still traverses new ground for Mitski, incorporating traditional country influences and embracing strings as an integral instrument in her songwriting toolbox. “Heaven,” the third track, is maybe the most clear distillation of this sound, the type of song that you could imagine Glen Campbell’s titular Wichita Lineman hear crackling in over a shortwave radio. The mournful ballad “My Love Mine All Mine” would become a monster TikTok hit, surpassing in listens even indie rock staples like “Francis Forever” and “First Love/Late Spring.”

“The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We” is a fantastic record that has reasserted Mitski’s position in the canon of this generation’s definitive singer-songwriters.

Otay:onii – Dream Hacker (夢之駭客)

I was first introduced to the work of Lane Shi Otayonii (performing as Otay:onii) in 2021, when her album “Míng Míng (冥冥)” was released. That album from Otay:onii, who frequently globetrots for visual art exhibitions and also performs in the band Elizabeth Colour Wheel, became one of my favorites of the entire year for its masterful manipulation of soundscapes and texture. Her new album, titled “夢之駭客,” meaning Dream Hacker, is another triumph by the Chinese-American artist.

Otay:onii exists beyond the confines of what most would call “pop,” but at no point does she lose sight of melodic sensibilities. Her music defies easy categorization, although some have tried—’post-industrial,’ ‘electroacoustic,’ or simply ‘experimental.’ None are entirely capable of capturing the disparate musical ground covered in “Dream Hacker”’s runtime. “Overlap” features dramatic gothic synth strikes, while “W.C.” sounds like a radio hit from hell. “You Do/Rub” is split down the middle between ethereal folk and dense, layered drones. The metallic synths ache and creak; guitars and heavily processed vocals spasm over drums that pulse and shake as though they could shatter. Otay:onii displays impressive dexterity as a vocalist, wailing over some tracks but only cooing over others.

With this record, Otay:onii continues her streak as one of the most exciting experimental artists in music. “Dream Hacker” may be inaccessible and at times uninviting, but it is never once uninteresting.

Slauson Malone 1 – EXCELSIOR

“EXCELSIOR” is the second full-length record by Jasper Marsalis (performing as Slauson Malone 1), the son of jazz artist Wynton Marsalis. “EXCELSIOR” is a truly experimental sound collage, an ambitious forty minute compilation of disparate sound that pans between dissonant noise and hauntingly delicate melodies with surprising agility. Marsalis flits between textures and tempos at will, often in the middle of a track, resulting in the tracks themselves often appearing fractured even though its (exceptionally well-designed) soundscape remains consistent throughout; its lack of easily playlist-able songs demands the album be digested in one sitting every time. Under another artist, this record could have been a catastrophe, but the grounded vision of the Slauson Malone 1 project ensures that the album never gets too far ahead of itself. “EXCELSIOR” is one long-waking dream, frustratingly opaque but rewardingly serene when it finally unfurls.

Sufjan Stevens – Javelin

“In the future there will be a terrible cost, for all that we’ve left undone.” This maxim is delivered late in the runtime of Sufjan Stevens’ new record “Javelin,” during his eight-minute opus “Shit Talk,” but it serves as the thesis statement of the entire album. While it’s not appropriate to speculate on the intricacies of Sufjan Stevens’ personal life, especially given his general revulsion to celebrity status, there’s no escaping that “Javelin” is a breakup record. On “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?,” Stevens laments the seeming unachievability of unconditional love, while “So You Are Tired” sees him confounded over the reasons for his relationship’s demise. Stevens navigates these topics with his usual poetic deftness, and any one of these tracks could rival those of “Carrie and Lowell,” the consensus choice for his lyrical peak. But it’s impossible to listen to “Javelin,” and impossible to write this review, without acknowledging its tragic real-world circumstances: on the day “Javelin” released, Stevens shared on his Instagram profile that the record was dedicated to his partner Evans Richardson IV, who had died earlier in the year at the age of 43 and who Stevens described as “one of those rare and beautiful ones you find only once in a lifetime—precious, impeccable, and absolutely exceptional in every way.”

Putting aside the lyrical context, the album sounds like a culmination of Stevens’ illustrious career up to this point. At various moments, “Javelin” recalls the glistening electronics of “The Age of Adz” (magnificent opener “Goodbye Evergreen”), the intensely-personal autumnal folk of “Seven Swans” and “Carrie and Lowell” (“My Red Little Fox”), the lush and intricate chamber pop of “Illinois” and “Songs for Christmas” (“A Running Start”) and his most recent obsession, ambient inflections (the last minutes of “Shit Talk”). “Javelin” also stakes claim to its own distinct identity, with perhaps the heaviest reliance on backing vocals on a Sufjan project yet.


“Javelin” is far from Stevens’ most experimental outing. It’s not his most dynamic, nor is it the catchiest. However, it will stand on its own in his discography as one of his most beautiful and heartfelt, another wonderful present from one of the greatest singer-songwriters alive. We are incredibly lucky to have Sufjan Stevens.

Underscores – wallsocket

On “wallsocket,” a concept album about three young women in a rural Michigan hamlet of the same name, 23 year-old musician Underscores orchestrates a major coup in managing to justify her sound’s immediately-evident quirkiness. The album has all the energy to match the teenaged mania of its characters, but “wallsocket” successfully avoids seeming as though it’s weird merely for its own sake. While Underscores has never been a doctrinaire devotee of any particular genre, this record sees her at her most diverse yet, pulling variously from 2000s electroclash (“Locals (Girls like us)”), bitpop (“Old money bitch”), country (“Geez louise”), shoegaze (“Uncanny long arms”) and indie rock (“Johnny jonny jonny”), with recurrent audio samples sprinkled throughout like hip hop producer tags. The ridiculous fun of the music clashes with the disturbing and misanthropic lyrical content of many of the songs, with the resulting tension being a thread that defines much of the record.

That “wallsocket” can deal with topics like pedophilic grooming, stalking and class resentment, and still come off as nothing too serious, is a testament to Underscores’ remarkable prowess as a songwriter.

yeule – softscars

A portrait of alienation, self-hatred, and depersonalization, “softscars” by the Singaporean-British artist Yeule is reminiscent of the themes explored in media like Serial Experiments Lain and Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” observing the melting lines between reality and the digital world we all find ourselves increasingly enmeshed in—distrust of, but complete reliance on, technology. yeule revels in the maladaptive escapism of the internet, asking on one song “Don’t you feel so pure, when you don’t have a body anymore?” Their vocals sound as though they are cybernetically enhanced, cut-up and pitch-shifted (the choruses of “4ui12” and “cyber meat”) or modulated into lilting melodies (“sulky baby”).

Still, there is an unmistakably human essence to the album, mirroring the thematic content of an uncertain boundary between the digital landscape and our own. The intense compression of the production gives the record a feeling of overwhelming warmth, especially on acoustic tracks like the piano interlude “fish in the pool” and the climactic, guitar-driven closer “aphex twin flame.” Even with the processed sonic palette, the riffs are vast and swirling, as if the alternative rock radio hits of the late 90s and early 2000s were crushed under a thousand layers of digital file compression. yeule’s soft yet tortured vocals are deeply affecting when their actual self penetrates through the digital mystification, such as their verse on “inferno.”

The ability of “softscars” to frame both ethereal beauty and visceral pain as complementary to one another has earned it a status as one of the definitive artistic statements of 2023.

As I mentioned before, I also recommend these 60 albums from this year:

100 gecs – 10,000 gecs; Hyperpop

Aesop Rock – Integrated Tech Solutions; Abstract hip hop

Amaarae – Fountain Baby; Alternative R&B

Ana Frango Eletrico – Me chama de gato que eu sou sua; Funk, Brazilian pop

Andy Shauf – Norm; Singer-songwriter

Anjimile – The King; Art pop, experimental folk

Arlo Parks – My Soft Machine; Bedroom pop

asia menor – Enola Gay; Post-punk

betcover!! – 馬 (Uma); Art rock, jazz rock

Blur – The Ballad of Darren; Alternative rock, chamber pop

Buck Meek – Haunted Mountain; Alternative country, indie folk

Corinne Bailey Rae – Black Rainbows; Psychedelic soul, jazz fusion, indie rock

Cory Hanson – Western Cum; Alternative country

Cherry Glazerr – I Don’t Want You Anymore; Alternative rock

Danny Brown – Quaranta; Abstract hip hop

Eartheater – Powders; Art pop, folktronica

feeble little horse – Girl with Fish; Indie rock, noise pop

Frog – GROG; Indie rock

Genesis Owusu – STRUGGLER; Post-punk, neo-soul

George Clanton – Ooh Rap I Ya; Chillwave, baggy

Grian Chatten – Chaos for the Fly; Chamber pop

HMLTD – The Worm; Progressive pop, Windmill Scene

Jane Remover – Census Designated; Shoegaze

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Weathervanes; Alternative country

Jeff Rosenstock – HELLMODE; Power pop, indie rock

Jessie Ware – That! Feels Good!; Disco, funk

Jungstotter – One Star; Chamber pop

Kali Uchis – Red Moon in Venus; Contemporary R&B, neo-soul

Kelela – Raven; Alternative R&B


Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd; Chamber pop, singer-songwriter

Laufey – Bewitched; Traditional pop, chamber pop

Le Cri du Caire – Le Cri du Caire; Arabic orchestral

Lil Yachty – Let’s Start Here; Psychedelic rock

Me oh myriorama – Iris; Experimental hip hop, glitch pop

MIKE – Burning Desire; Abstract hip hop

Mon Laferte – Autopoiética; Latin alternative

Model/Actriz – Dogsbody; Noise rock, dance-punk

Nicole Dollanganger – Married in Mount Airy; Slowcore, dream pop, indie folk

Nourished By Time – Erotic Probiotic 2; Alternative R&B, UK street soul

Ratboys – The Window; Indie rock, alternative country

Róisín Murphy – Hit Parade; Deep house, art pop

PinkPantheress – Heaven knows; Alternative R&B, liquid drum & bass

P.J. Harvey – I Inside the Old Year Dying; Art rock, indie folk

Sampha – Lahai; Alternative R&B, UK bass

Sincere Engineer – Cheap Grills; pop punk, emo

Slow Pulp – Yard; Indie rock

SPELLLING – SPELLLING & The Mystery School; Progressive pop, chamber pop

Spiritual Cramp – Spiritual Cramp; Garage rock revival

Strange Ranger – Pure Music; Indie rock

Squid – O Monolith; Art rock, Windmill Scene

Titanic – Vidrio; Post-minimalism

Troye Sivan – Something To Give Each Other; Alternative pop, dance pop

Wednesday – Rat Saw God; Alternative country, indie rock

WITCH – Zango; Zamrock, psychedelic rock

Yaeji – With a Hammer; Glitch pop, indietronica

Yo La Tengo – This Stupid World; Post-rock

Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy; Neo-psychedelia, gospel

youra – (1); Jazz fusion

Yves Tumor – Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds); Art pop, noise pop

Besides albums, I also listened to a few dozen EPs. Ten of my favorites are:

8485 – Personal Protocol; Liquid drum & bass

bl4ck m4rket c4rt – Today I Laid Down; Slowcore, space rock revival

Daneshevskaya – Long Is the Tunnel; Chamber pop

Dev Lemons – Delusional; Indie pop

hemlocke springs – going…going…GONE!; Dance pop, indietronica

Maruja – Knocknarea; Art rock, jazz rock

New Jeans – Get Up; K-pop, dance pop

Opus Kink – My Eyes, Brother!; Art punk, Windmill Scene

Phuyu y la Fantasma – El pacífico albergará nuestros huesos; Chamber folk, dream pop

YUKIKA – Time-Lapse; K-pop, city pop


Haden Buzzell is Music Director for WMEB 91.9 FM. His show, “Oronoise,” airs Saturdays from 5-7 p.m, resuming on Jan. 21. For inquiries, he can be contacted at

You can listen to WMEB by tuning your radio to 91.9, or by finding them online at

For updates on WMEB, follow them on Instagram @wmeb919.

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