Best Albums Released in 2023 (So Far)

An omnipresent entity in our lives, time and its many faces always seem to surprise us in the best and worst ways. As we find ourselves either looking forward to the next best thing or begging the universe to hit the breaks when life feels as though it is moving faster than we can bear, it is just as important - one could even say crucial - to acknowledge certain milestones and appreciate everything its given us so far. So, in the spirit of slowing down and savoring the small things, here is a non-exhaustive list of our favorite albums released so far this year.

Ryan Beatty, Calico

Throughout Calico, Ryan Beatty meets you at your most intimate moments, memories, and thoughts. From the unspoken weight of the piano that introduces “Ribbons” to the hollow guitar of “Little Faith,”  Beatty’s pen bleeds not ink but his well-shed blood and tears. His incessant pleas to “have a little faith” on the album’s closing track only reinforce the painful memories recounted on the preceding tracks. Believe in the magic of the moment, he seems to be saying, and swallow your pride as you dutifully serve your fate. Calico sounds like the best kind of friend, the one you share the longest history and most sincere bond with. A shoulder to lean on and a hand to hold, Beatty’s third album reminds us why we listen in the first place. – Kieran Kohorst

Wednesday, Rat Saw God

It’s hard to pin down the moment I went from being a casual listener to being a Wednesday fan - then again I don’t think there is anything casual about Wednesday. Regardless of the specificities, the second all the country-gaze allegations started swirling around I just knew Rat Saw God would make it onto my AOTY list.

A bit like the perfect pair of worn out 550s, Rat Saw God is a perfectly imperfect record that reflects the mundane in a nostalgic yet revealing light. Not necessarily immune to the bittersweetness that comes along with reminiscing on her youth, Karly Hartzman (lead singer and lyricist) paints a colorful picture of life in Asheville. From neighborly  inside scoops (" Quarry”) to the ins and outs of feeling and falling in love (“Chosen to Deserve”) Rat Saw God is an intricate guide to Hartzman’s world. Stylized by her unique vocal intonations and the band's infectious signature country-meets-shoegaze-meets-grunge sound, it is undeniable that Rat Saw God will stand the test of time. – Olive Soki

Blondshell, Blondshell

In her self-assured debut, Blondshell doesn’t bother to sugarcoat things: she’s lived some nightmares, dated some bad guys, and has her own shortcomings. She’s lived to tell the tale with a knack for devastating lyrics and a nuanced perspective on the principles of existentialism, a combination that goes together like salad and poison (“Look what you did / You’ll make a killer of a Jewish girl”). When not fantasizing about fatal revenge, she’s thinking of playing savior to someone else who is also from the “bottom of the bin” or falling in love with a feeling, “not with anyone or any real thing.” Blondshell’s self-awareness shows itself in many ways on the project - she knows how uncomfortable addiction and self-sabotage can be for a listener, so she finds ways to alleviate the tension with off-handed humor that…kind of makes things better? “I’m going back to him / I know my therapists pissed,” she begins “Sepsis,” immediately following this line by dragging on the fact that “We both know he’s a dick / At least it’s the obvious kind.” While she’s a believer in being born-again, she feels that it comes “Not by Jesus,” but by “Validation in some dude’s gaze.” While her gripping voice and 90’s alt scene aesthetic are captivating in their own ways, the writing is the star of Blondshell, with lyrics centered around a character too wise to cast themselves as a hero. More of a cautionary tale for those in their 20’s than a scared-straight testimony, Blondshell is a story worth hearing. – Kieran Kohorst

Fenne Lily, Big Picture

Catharsis, among many other extraordinary qualities associated with music, is the reason why we (music lovers) tend to gravitate towards our favorite artists, albums when in times of need. While there is no doubt that the right combination of fast tempo, heart-wrenching lyrics, and soul-crushing melodies could mend any broken heart, there is something to be said about the kind of music that washes over you. The kind of music created with the intent of soothing and unraveling unease string by string until all there is left is peace. This is what the English folk singer-songwriter, Fenne Lily, accomplished with her latest record, Big Picture. 

A non-linear reflection on past relationships and the existential bouts we all fall victim to from time to time, Big Picture is both emotionally and musically stimulating. While it is quite subtle on first listen, there are enough ear-catching details, like the opening guitar on “Light Light Up,” and simple yet effective lines (“Did I pick a bad time to love you/ Did I pick a bad time to arrive?), to entice you to take it for another spin. Opposed to the overwhelming warmth experienced at the hands of a weighted blanket, like morning mist, Big Picture settles slowly upon its listeners, allowing for a new and eye opening experience. – Olive Soki

Uly, 1822.Demos 

On his debut LP, Dublin-based artist Uly puts together a collection of songs that sound like ambient music but equate to much more. His blend of jazz, funk, and soul is a vacation for the mind, the proclaimed “demos” more self-realized than one would presume. A sultry 33-minute listen, new favorites emerge with repeated plays. The titles of any given track capture the atmosphere of the respective song: “Slow Waltz On The Moon” transcends romanticism with its groovy guitar and longing vocals; “Cold Mountain Air” is a brisk and breezy contemplation of all that we are; “In a Café (That’s Sweet)” captures the rare moment when overthinking doesn’t kill us and we allow ourselves to spiral with clarity. 1822.Demos breaks the silence of your environment but just barely, operating at a wave length just above that of solitude, always there when you need it and invisible when unwarranted. – Kieran Kohorst

Caroline Polachek, Desire, I Want to Turn to You

It goes without saying that Caroline Polachek is one of those artists that is willing to go there when it comes to infatuation and desire. After all, her solo project gave us mega hits like “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” and “I Give Up.” However, what we wouldn’t have expected, but definitely needed, was for Polachek to release a project which offers a completely realized vision of desire and its many forms. 

As stated in the title, and sung throughout the opener “Welcome to my Island,” Desire, I Want to Turn Into, is a record that seeks, and succeeds, to illuminate every dark corner of desire. From the obsessive need to embody the ones we yearn for, “Blood and Butter,“ to helplessly grappling with the sensation of losing what once was, “Butterfly Net,” Caroline masterfully pulls from within, articulating and owning up to desires often unspoken of in our daily lives. Enriched by her controlled, yet impressively malleable, vocals and playful stylistic choices Desire, I Want to Turn Into is impressively abstract, undeniably irresistible, but above all unforgettable. – Olive Soki

Lil Yachty, Let’s Start Here

Though we’re far from the beginning of Yachty, Let’s Start Here is where we are to begin all conversations about him moving forward. A true rap chameleon, it seems forever ago that the 25-year-old was naming himself the King of Teens and helping pioneer the “happy rap” trend of the late 2010’s. 

While much was to be made of his comments expressing his desire to be more than a rapper, Let’s Start Here shows that he was less resistant to the fluidity of the genre as he was to the glass ceiling placed on those who hold the title of “rapper”. Not many rappers would open their album with a nearly 7-minute track that sounds the way “the BLACK seminole” sounds. The vague language of the previous sentence is intentional - throughout the album, it’s difficult to place descriptors on the music Yachty is making. You’re feeling the music as much as you are hearing it: you instinctively nod your head to the crooning and sweltering Yachty displays on “running out of time”; you’re overcome with the groove of the Diana Gordon collab “drive ME crazy!”, a song that presents Yachty at his most comfortable; goosebumps likely overtake you when things turn hauntingly sinister in the event of “REACH THE SUNSHINE”. As an honest attempt at reinventing its artist, Let’s Start Here shows more promise than it does unyielded artistic vision. It’s deserving of more than just a pat on the shoulder and a “nice try," as it stands out among other notable releases of the year in its boldness and undeniable aspirations. – Kieran Kohorst

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