Exclaim!'s 50 Best Albums of 2023

Photos (clockwise from top left): Tomb Mold by Colin Medley, DEBBY FRIDAY by Katrin Braga, Zoon by Vanessa Heins, Caroline Polachek by Aidan Zamiri

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Nov 30, 2023

This was the year of the long-awaited payoff. After long stretches of toil and creative refinement, 2023 saw the dam break for a handful of artists who'd been pushing, in increments, toward something bigger. Bands came barrelling out of the gate with fifth albums that felt like firsts; carefully secretive songwriters pulled off their cloaks and let the people in while long-grinding indie staples rose to the ranks of culture-shifting pop infiltrators.

If there's a lesson to be pulled from this year's best albums, it's that the future is always yours to take, the past a library to pull from. Artists who'd been previously flattened by industry pressures came back with course correcting returns-to-form, while others paired up with longstanding peers to expand the possibilities of their music — it was a year marked by rebirths, much-needed jumpstarts and the payoff that comes from a patient slow burn.

Read about Exclaim!'s 50 best albums of 2023 below. See our other year-end lists, including the year's best songs, here.

50. Harrison 
Birds, Bees, the Clouds & the Trees
(Last Gang Records)

The title and album cover are summery and colourful — until a sudden fault line swallows a car. Harrison similarly complicates the music: "Daydreaming" has intermittent downcast notes among riffs that otherwise shimmer like summer heat waves; yearning underpins the grooving, TOBi-assisted "Outta This World"; "Honey Harbor (Bill's Song)" is an ode to his late grandfather. Expect nuanced surprises from Toronto's most exciting producer. 
Kyle Mullin

49. Sweeping Promises
Good Living Is Coming for You
(Feel It Records)

The eerie distance of Good Living Is Coming for You is curiously inviting. The room left by Sweeping Promises' sharp instrumentals is merely space for singer Lira Mondal's wails as she piercingly knocks down social climbing. Screeching synths and consuming basslines build a hollow wall between her and what no longer serves her, with lo-fi guitars signing off on the final severance.
Sydney Brasil

(Loma Vista Recordings / Concord Music Group)

Since their inception, HEALTH have always evaded tradition, and now, even the one they've built for themselves over their recent LPs; studio albums of this decade have so far been collaborative efforts, but with RAT WARS (its title a nod to 2019's insular VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR), they've returned to (mostly) operating as a three-piece, with bandleader Jake Duzsik's vocals back on full display. Though they've put the DISCO on hold for now, RAT WARS remains as danceable as any of their synth-y goth offerings to date. Pay whatever they're asking for a ticket to HEALTH's upcoming tour — stank face and headbanging come free. 
Allie Gregory

47. shame
Food for Worms
(Dead Oceans)

The post-punk zeitgeist is packed with pointed decoration, and shame's directness is a much-needed split from it. Food for Worms is a straightforward rock album — one that contains its rage through melodic exploration. Bandleader Charlie Steen knows when to dial in his angst for maximum impact, expressing the feeling many in their mid-20s know too well: why do some of us grow up quicker than our friends, and when is it time to let go?
Sydney Brasil

46. Jayda G
(Ninja Tune)

Jayda G, the coolest artist you never knew was Canadian, reached more ears than ever this year with the release of her second album. Confidently rocking a smooth confluence of house, funk and R&B with pop hooks to spare, Guy upgrades her deep, club-ready productions without applying any cred-reducing gloss.
Luke Pearson

45. The HIRS Collective
We're Still Here
(Get Better Records)

In a G.L.O.S.S.-less world, the HIRS Collective are undeniably the reigning champions of queercore. With several hundred songs released during their reign, they've come to be known as a fluid supergroup, and their latest record, We're Still Here, harnesses the powers of members of Garbage, My Chemical Romance, the Body, Full of Hell, Thursday, Circa Survive, Soul Glo, Anti-Flag, Fucked Up and many more. The album careens at a blistering pace (good luck finding a track longer than four minutes), their genre-bucking defiance a testament to the band's ethos: they will continue to take up space, if only out of spite.
Allie Gregory

44. Colin Stetson
When we were that what wept for the sea
(52Hz Records)

On When we were that what wept for the sea, Montreal minimalist Colin Stetson takes a long, winding road through the peaks and valleys of loss and life. The virtuoso experimental saxophonist extends and intensifies his singular cinematic, emotion-spanning style on a dazzling, whimsical tribute to his father — a monumental, meditative set that wails and churns, soothes and seeks, through mesmeric spells and sorrowful, sentimental sweeps. Despite its darkness, gratitude is felt, rippling with love and light.
Chris Bryson

43. Amaarae
Fountain Baby
(Golden Angel / Interscope Records)

Slick, luxurious and as queer in content as execution, Amaarae's follow-up to her 2020 debut is a velvet-smooth tapestry of influences. Bantering about lust and money over varied instrumental textures and pivoting cheekily from sensual R&B to sassy pop punk, Amaarae is as playful on Fountain Baby as she is deliberate. The record illuminates the Bronx-born, Ghana-raised artist's willingness to take risks and defy the traps of genre, establishing her as an Afrofuturist pop voice to listen for.
Safiya Hopfe

42. Militarie Gun
Life Under the Gun
(Loma Vista Recordings)

Los Angeles hardcore bros Militarie Gun took a daring detour in 2023 by going mid-tempo alt-rock for their debut full-length effort — a polarizing shift made to the chagrin of hardcore purists. However, the band's sincere frustration and unfiltered core remain unbridled on Life Under the Gun, even as they clean up and soften their edges for a broader audience. Far from a compromise, the end product is one of the most impressive artistic evolutions of year, a transformation that clutches a profound expression of youthful angst close to the chest while espousing jaded wisdom and a more "mature" musical vision along the way.
Kyle Kohner

nature morte
(Thrill Jockey) 

Using the French term for a still life painting as its title, BIG|BRAVE's sixth album feels both crushing and beautiful. While the music may be their heaviest to date, the Montreal drone metal trio achieve perfect balance through the combination of dense textures, pummelling drums and the haunting voice of Robin Wattie. The result is a dark rumination on the state of the planet and the effects of personal trauma. 
Bruno Coulombe 

40. Fever Ray
Radical Romantics
(Mute Records)

The jaundiced, grinning face on the cover of Radical Romantics couldn't be further from the shaded, cyber-goth sorcerer that beckoned from the front of 2009's Fever Ray; where Karin Dreijer once hid in the shadows, their most recent album is all eye contact, sleazy jokes and warm flesh. Radical Romantics finds Dreijer crossbreeding each iteration of Fever Ray — the ashen scrape of "North," the aurora borealis freakout of "Carbon Monoxide" — into a swirl of tender sensation. As the beats get bigger and the costumes more elaborate, Fever Ray only becomes more human. 
Kaelen Bell

39. Agriculture
(The Flenser)

The self-titled debut album from Agriculture is an oddity in black metal: it eschews the dark and brooding atmosphere the genre is known for, instead creating a work drenched in ecstatic joy and jubilation. While some may dismiss it for its subversion of the genre's norms, doing so would deprive them of one of the year's best metal releases by one of the most exciting new voices in heavy music.
Jeremy Sheehy

38. Lil Yachty
Let's Start Here.
(Quality Control Music / Motown Records)

From the moment "the BLACK seminole" starts, it's obvious that this is not your dad's Lil Yachty. On the rapper's fifth album, he forgoes his usual trap sensibilities in favour of shimmering, psychedelic rock. It's quite the departure for the Atlanta native, whose usual output is marked by bass-laden beats, cartoonish samples and mumble rap. Let's Start Here. is a gorgeous fusion of rock retrospective and forward-looking hip-hop; it's a whole vibe. Each track melts into the next with ease and captures the magic of listening to an album from start to finish. Let the needle drop and just chill. 
Dylan Barnabe

37. myst milano.
Beyond the Uncanny Valley
(Halocline Trance)

Historically, club music has allowed marginalized people to sway, throb and sweat as a united throng. On their second album, Beyond the Uncanny Valley, myst milano. surveys Black dance music, celebrating life beyond the club or headphone spaces their music usually occupies. The Toronto artist celebrates the deep-rooted, far-reaching branches of Black ancestral lineages. Uncanny Valley is sweltering, hot like the rushing bloodlines it honours; it arouses feelings no AI can replicate, let alone replace.
Leslie Ken Chu

36. Jeff Rosenstock
(Polyvinyl Record Co.)

Everyone's favourite punk frontman Jeff Rosenstock leans into manic chaos on his fifth solo album, HELLMODE. It's a raucous pop-punk ride that wrestles with the bizarre reality of modern life. "Don't you pretend the world is treating us all equal / When a person can starve as another one hops in a Lyft Plus to JFK, to Europe, expenses paid / I know it's not okay but I still participate," he sings on "3 SUMMERS." Rosenstock doesn't mince words, and we wouldn't love him as much if he did. As always, his stream of consciousness is best left to its unique machinations. As an advocate for creatives and fans alike, Rosenstock will always have our vote — and it doesn't hurt that HELLMODE is one hell of an album too.
Dylan Barnabe

35. U.S. Girls
Bless This Mess

Becoming a parent is a trip: priorities shift, worlds shrink, sleep is elusive. Created as Meg Remy and husband/bandmate Max Turnbull were welcoming twins into the world, Bless This Mess captures this shift in perspective in real-time. It sharpens the light funk and R&B hooks of past U.S. Girls albums, but they've turned their gaze inward as they look for a new place in a rapidly changing world. 
Ian Gormely

(Venice Music)

Long-time collaborators Kaytranada and Aminé join forces to produce a joint album where their unique styles blend into a savoury sonic cocktail. Kaytra digs deep into the sample vaults to provide a wide array of beats for Aminé to go ham on, and the result is a breezy collection of summer anthems. Party starters mixed with carefully crafted songs make KAYTRAMINÉ a perfectly balanced project that proves the one-MC, one-producer formula is here to stay.
Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo

33. Laurel Halo

Laurel Halo's fourth full-length release, Atlas, is one of the most baffling musical experiences of the year. Those paying close attention to the electronic musician's previous offerings could have predicted the introduction of more jazz elements, and Halo's 2018 mini-LP Raw Silk Uncut Wood was an indication that she was composing in a looser, more ambient idiom. But these songs are neither jazz nor ambient pieces. At their best, like on "Late Night Drive," they are liminal compositional zones, simultaneously gauzy and thick. The difficulty in locating any kind of textural or harmonic bedrock is the prevailing feeling throughout Atlas, and it makes for a bewildering listen.
Tom Piekarski

32. Home Is Where
the whaler
(Wax Bodega)

Only can Florida's Home Is Where make 9/11, Dale Earnhardt and entrails strung along telephone lines coalesce in a single breath — one deeply pained exhale, drawn out for dramatic effect, lingering in the abstract. At the vanguard of emo's radical new wave, Home Is Where's sophomore full-length effort, the whaler, amplifies their reputation for conceptually bizarre and forward-thinking vision, and also introduces an impressive wrinkle: the intense honesty and emotion — both pained and tongue-in-cheek — bubbling up from its entrenched poeticism like an oozing wound left untreated far too long.
Kyle Kohner

31. MIKE
Burning Desire

In the five years since his breakthrough, War in My Pen, MIKE has established himself as a pillar in New York's underground scene. Burning Desire sees the 25-year-old rapper relishing in his position, showcasing a mastery of his sound, while also exploring new territory, resulting in his best project to date. Songs like "plz don't cut my wings" and the gorgeous "U think Maybe?" exemplify the writer he's become, and showcase the potential for him to take his craft to an even higher level.
Wesley McLean

30. TOBi
(RCA Records / Sony Music Entertainment)

These days, you'd be hard-pressed to find an MC more versatile than TOBi. The Brampton MC nonchalantly flaunts his ability to span genres and narratives alike across PANIC's 12-track run, on which bouncy jams ("All Night Long"), tender balladeering ("Keep From Falling") and shades of East Coast hip-hop ("Someone I Knew") all find a place to shine. The true beauty of PANIC lies in TOBi's capacity to knit each sound together, tailoring the project into a complete sonic experience rather than just a collection of songs.
Ben Okazawa

29. Dizzy
(Royal Mountain Records)

Dizzy's self-titled third album finds the band at their best. Lead vocalist and lyricist Katie Munshaw doesn't so much bare her wounds here as she instructively excavates a life deeply felt, her fiery existence persisting despite heartbreak, loss and even love. It's impossible not to feel Munshaw's words coursing through us as they once did through her. Lingering in and honouring the moment of living — thoughts and feelings good and bad — is this album's achievement, its hopeful gift to us. Dizzy reminds us that we are alive in a way few bands have.
Alisha Mughal

28. Paramore
This Is Why
(Atlantic Records)

Over two decades of metamorphosis, Paramore have remained one of the most incendiary and prominent rock bands of the 2000s. "Thought I'd simmer down as I got older," reckons Hayley Williams on karmic kiss-off "You First," yet belts with a scream on "C'est Comme Ca" that "I still need a certain degree of disorder." Leaning into post- and dance-punk, the strength in Paramore's sixth album is this artful balance of anger, proving that maturity isn't about toning it down, but rather learning how to fashion it into an arrow aimed coolly at a slew of modern anxieties. This Is Why they've endured for so long.
Isabel Glasgow

27. Julie Byrne
The Greater Wings
(Ghostly International)

A folk album that hits the throat like a glass of icy water, Julie Byrne's The Greater Wings is a clarifying meditation on death, memory and the path ahead, carried by the most dynamic and lushly rendered music of Byrne's career. Inspired partially by the death of friend and musical partner Eric Littman, The Greater Wings finds Byrne layering synthesizer, strings and digital flourishes atop her loping fingerpicking, reaching constantly for whatever's there beyond the sky. 
Kaelen Bell

26. Loraine James
Gentle Confrontation

It must be an utter thrill to go from idolizing Aphex Twin and Squarepusher to creating art that belongs among IDM's finest moments. On her fifth LP, Loraine James does more than splice beats; she seams together fully realized sonic emotions, melding skeletal tones with fleshy vocals from guests like neo-soul singer KeiyaA and experimentalist Marina Herlop. Gentle Confrontation shows the London producer not just at home on the famed Hyperdub label, but also representing its entire next-gen progression.
Daniel Sylvester

25. Sofia Kourtesis
(Ninja Tune)

Dedicated to both the artist's sick mother and the neurosurgeon who saved her life, Sofia Kourtesis's Madres is equal parts warm and exacting, light-suffused house music that chimes with layer upon layer of careful detail. The Peruvian-born, Berlin-based producer and songwriter lets her joyous, confrontational songs swing wildly between colours and moods, touching pop perfection on "Si Te Portas Bonito" and tapping into alien frequencies on the quivering "Moving Houses." It's a record made for laughing, crying and moving — music to live by. 
Kaelen Bell

24. Home Front
Games of Power
(La Vida Es Un Mus Discos)

Don't let the analog synths, monochrome aesthetic and leather-clad jump kicks fool you. Games of Power isn't just another shameless exercise in '80s revivalism. On the propulsive debut full-length from Edmonton's Home Front, shimmering new wave ("Overtime") and fist-pumping punk ("Nation") collide with jagged krautrock ("Crisis") and thrumming gothic synthpop ("Quiet World"). If the Stone Roses covered Killing Joke at CBGBs and someone survived to bootleg the set, it would sound like this: euphoric post-punk permanence that lingers with frostbite on the soul. As frontman Graeme MacKinnon croons on the swirling album highlight "Contact": "There's a pulse in the street / A violent rhythm that's always there."
Owen Morawitz

23. Model/Actriz
(True Panther Sounds)

Whether it's violently writhing in anger or simmering in seductive pleasure, Dogsbody is a ferocious debut album that blows up any preconceived notions about a post-punk band from New York. Frontman Cole Haden leads Model/Actriz with his shrieks and moans, inducing ultra-sexual lyrics to fervently fuse with the band's onslaught of caustic guitar tones and lurching disco beats. Fearlessly disobedient as an industrial noise cabaret, Dogsbody succeeds with an undeniable amount of swagger and theatrical intention.
Chris Gee

22. Yves Tumor
Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
(Warp Records)

Yves Tumor plunged into a kaleidoscopic range of genres on their fifth studio album, traversing from glam and psychedelic rock to post-punk to experimental electronica, with each fully realized in their own right, while also forming something completely unique to the artistry of Sean Bowie. It's a record that feels like stepping through a portal into a strange and dazzling world, where the depths of spirituality, queerness and love are boundless, and avant-garde theatrics are rooted in human emotion.
Jordan Currie

21. Jonah Yano
portrait of a dog
(Innovative Leisure)

Jonah Yano's portrait of a dog is at once an affecting work regarding remembrance and kinship, and a marked leap forward in the Japanese-Canadian musician's artistry. Yano's stirring voice, tender as ever, is beautifully complemented by the lithe, jazz-indebted instrumentation of producers and recurring collaborators BADBADNOTGOOD, compositions augmented by accompanists including cellist Eliza Niemi and pianist Felix Fox-Pappas. As a songwriter creatively concerned with mnemonics, Yano has delivered an impactful listen that remains wholly unforgettable.
Calum Slingerland

20. Earl Sweatshirt and the Alchemist
(Warner Records)

Don't get hung up on the hidden YouTube album rumours, the initial NFT release, and all the other teases in between; Earl Sweatshirt's anticipated full-length team-up with the Alchemist is the truth. Lean and accessible on both of their parts, VOIR DIRE enthrals with the rapper's expectedly heady lyricism and each revolution of the producer's warm, rich loops. Earl captures its allure clearly on the non-streaming edition's "All the Small Things": "Embed it with gold and it's gon' never get old."
Calum Slingerland

(Convulse Records)

Post-American is a refreshing work in the realm of heavy music. Having synthesizers in the place of guitar riffs, MSPAINT are able to explore a larger range of soundscapes and emotions that traditional hardcore cannot access. Post-American is a wonderfully upbeat and positive record full of catchy choruses that encourage the listener to get up and dance — a shining light of positivity in the stressful world we currently inhabit.
Mark Tremblay  

18. Olivia Rodrigo
(Geffen Records)

When she burst onto the world stage with her 2021 debut SOUR, a still-teenaged Olivia Rodrigo was suddenly one of the biggest pop stars in the world. If you can believe it, there's probably some pressure that comes with that. Fortunately, GUTS is the opposite of a sophomore slump: an impressive mix of tender ballads and pitch-perfect pop-punk that captures the highs and lows of adolescence and young adulthood with more honesty, empowerment and artistry than any Netflix teen movie. You could credit the earnestness and authenticity of Rodrigo's music for her ability to win fans among teenage girls and fully grown, snobby music bros and everyone in between — but really, it's just because pretty much every song on GUTS is flat-out excellent.
Adam Feibel

17. Avalon Emerson
& the Charm
(Another Dove / One House)

Avalon Emerson is a Berlin-based DJ with deep roots in the club scene, but for her debut full-length, she untethered herself from her decks and drifted into the ether. While still retaining her roots in dance music, & the Charm is foremost a dream pop record: the hypnogogic throb of "Dreamliner" captures the liminal space of an international flight, "Astrology Poisoning" clings to moments of euphoria amidst the horrors of the climate crisis, and "A Dam Will Always Divide" is a churning expanse of amorphous shoegaze. Even when the vibes are heavenly, the clear-eyed lyrics and sweaty dance pulse keep & the Charm anchored here on earth.
Alex Hudson

16. Lana Del Rey
Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd
(Polydor Records / Interscope Records)

Lana Del Rey has been an inescapable force for the past several years, and her latest record is a career high. After building a self-mythology on her old Hollywood imagery, here, we see a glimpse of a past that was truly lived by the songwriter. Ocean Blvd is rife with reflective piano ballads, but she's much more than a sad song: her candid confessions switch up with a sickening beat in the disarming "A&W," a track perfectly fit for this risk-taker. 
Madison Ryan

15. Feist
(Polydor Records)

A testament to Leslie Feist's artistry, Multitudes has already had multiple lives. Beginning as a run of intimate performances in 2021, Feist then turned Multitudes into her sixth studio album. "As I heard someone describe, Multitudes is a world that knows its own rules," she wrote in a statement announcing next year's tour, which will be the project's finale. Like the project as a whole, Multitudes (the album) is expansive. Among bursts of crackling instrumentals and quiet meditations, the entire life cycle is in this record. These songs are weird and sometimes sad but incredibly beautiful — just like life.
Laura Stanley

14. Zoon
Bekka Ma'iingan
(Paper Bag Records)

Bekka Ma'iingan is an album that breathes through time. It naturally excavates and reassembles itself, making it the most metamorphic release of Zoon's career. Its delicate tranquillity is never marred by its tectonic subversions; instead, it fuses into the avant-garde amassment of Daniel Monkman's distinctive "moccasin-gaze." From the abstract entropy of "Niizh Manidoowig (2 Spirit)" to the crunched glamour of "Gaagige," Bekka Ma'iingan shapeshifts in front of you on every listen.
Myles Tiessen

13. Kelela
(Warp Records)

Patience is a virtue, and Kelela has it in abundance. At the tail end of 2022, the much-worshipped electronic-R&B visionary returned from a four-year retreat with "Washed Away" — a spacious ambient exploration that, parallel to its companion piece "Far Away," bookends her sophomore effort, Raven. These tracks are the infinite waters that gently lap around the album, stirring contemplation that releases into sensuous, hydrating bursts of some of 2023's best club music — especially "Contact." Raven is further evidence of Kelela as a master curator, fount of intention, and one of our greatest vocal arrangers.
Noah Ciubotaru

12. 100 gecs
10,000 gecs
(Dog Show Records / Atlantic Records)

A frustratingly long rollout preceded the release of Laura Les and Dylan Brady's sophomore album as 100 gecs, leading to some justified skepticism about the quality of its contents. Against all odds, the duo did not fall victim to the sophomore slump; rather, they exceeded expectations with a concise yet wide-ranging collection of songs presented in a tight 26 minutes, showcasing Les's newly unfiltered (well, sometimes) vocal palettes and plumbing the depths of their well of influences — from blink-182-indebted pop-punk ("Hollywood Baby") to third-wave ska ("Frog on the Floor," "Doritos & Fritos," "I Got My Tooth Removed"), nu metal ("Billy Knows Jamie") and hyperpop ("757," "mememe"), and genres that have perhaps yet to emerge — as well as featuring samples of TikTok noises, 2000's Scary Movie and even the THX Deep Note. It might be a shitshow, but it's top-tier, elite shit.
Allie Gregory

11. boygenius
the record
(Interscope Records)

It's official: 2023 is the year of boygenius. From the coveted musical guest spot on Saturday Night Live to performing countless sold-out shows across the globe, the supergroup of friends-turned-bandmates Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus have been everywhere. While the trio received rave reviews for their self-titled EP in 2018, debut album the record has exceeded the praise of its predecessor, earning them six nominations at the 2024 Grammy Awards. On notable tracks like "Not Strong Enough" and "Cool About It," the boys unpack the ever-complicated — yet relatable — nature of being human with themes of self-doubt, tender affection and religion at the forefront. With powerful chemistry both on and off stage, the unmatched dynamic of boygenius captured hearts in 2023. 
Heather Taylor-Singh

(Arts & Crafts)

You can always count on DEBBY FRIDAY to bring the party (but keep you guessing) with DJ sets that are as expansive as they are eclectic. It should come as no surprise, then, that her debut full-length would encapsulate the frenetic energy of her DJ sets while also taking extremely satisfying left turns. Flitting between bonafide pop icon and punk rock star without skipping a beat, FRIDAY infuses GOOD LUCK with every ounce of her personality and idiosyncratic tendencies. With this kind of fearlessness, it's no wonder she took home this year's Polaris Music Prize
Scott Simpson

9. ML Buch
(15 love)

Baskets of muscle, pillars of mosquitos, a fleshless hand — these are the oddities that litter Suntub's MIDI-warped landscape, an alien environment sketched in silvery riffs and dewy electronics. A world away from the digital splatter of 2020's Skinned, ML Buch's sophomore full-length is pastoral art rock imbued with heaving, sticky humanity, a place where past and present collide constantly to create entirely new forms. From the aching, wordless guitar dirge "Dust beam" to the shuddering and expansive "Pan Over the Hill," Buch melds old-school physicality with a weightless newness. Suntub sounds less like it's from the future and more like it's building its own version of it. 
Kaelen Bell

8. Ratboys
The Window
(Topshelf Records)

Ratboys' fifth album, The Window, is the Chicago quartet's most expansive yet. Guitars rip and solos crackle all over its 11 supercharged tracks. They brim with life — even the album's quietest moments are lyrically vivid and sonically crisp. The Window bursts with joy and sadness, both youthful and mature. Singer-guitarist Julia Steiner treasures the safe, magical instance when two people suddenly realize their friendship has blossomed into romance; she celebrates her grandparents' enduring love to its final moment. The Window provides a view into lives fully lived with all its butterflies and heartbreaks. There's nothing timely about these feelings — these feelings are simply timeless.
Leslie Ken Chu

7. billy woods and Kenny Segal
(Backwoodz Studioz)

On Maps, the second full-length collaboration between Armand Hammer's enigmatic wordsmith billy woods and L.A. producer Kenny Segal (following 2019's Hiding Places), the catharsis — and malaise — of touring serves both as an anchor for small moments and a metaphor of epic proportions. The 17-track tour de force grounds meditations on liminality in the tangibilities of travel, packing doom and detail with electrifying poise. Primarily made in transit, Maps is a road trip diary, a collaged photo album of images blown open, and a statement on America's hypocrisies, absurdities and charms steeped in apocalyptic awareness.
Safiya Hopfe

6. Wednesday
Rat Saw God
(Dead Oceans)

It's a good bet that Wednesday won't be part of the Asheville tourism board's highlight reel anytime soon. That's a compliment to the band, who deftly (de)mythologize their itinerant teen years in their North Carolina hometown on their fifth album. On the surface, these tales of sex, drugs and shattered faith, all set to the band's trademark rangy countrified noise, are typical wasted-youth stuff. But it's the specificity of the details — dead grass, watered-down booze, Planet Fitness parking lots — that flesh out Wednesday's world. To listeners, it's a Southern Gothic nightmare. For the members of Wednesday, it's home.
Ian Gormely

5. Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA

At around 36 minutes, the collaborative album between Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA makes sure listeners get maximum bang for their buck by combining Peggy's liberal sampling philosophy and experimental mixing with Brown's go-for-broke, madcap wit and energy. In an era of bloated, hour-plus rap records, the pair over-deliver on each and every track. This makes for an experience that is at once nerve-jangling, funny, disturbing and eccentric. That combo of energies isn't going to land for everyone, but for those who can key into the duo's unconventional wavelength, they'll find plenty to merit many a replay.
Nicholas Sokic

4. Tomb Mold
The Enduring Spirit
(20 Buck Spin)

Every so often, a band release an album that achieves a new level of complexity, of wonder, of downright incredulity, that it rightfully deserves every bit of praise heaped on it by fans, publications and the scene in general. The Enduring Spirit, Tomb Mold's dizzying, cacophonous and gorgeous fourth album, is all that and a bag of guttural chips. Mining some truly unexpected genres — '70s prog, jazz fusion, dream pop — the three-piece explore the vastness of the universe and our place in it by digging deep inside themselves. No big deal for one of Canada's most important and influential musical exports.
Marko Djurdjic

3. Sufjan Stevens
(Asthmatic Kitty Records)

Javelin, Sufjan Stevens's return to traditional songwriting after a few years of collaborations and sprawling compositions, strikes a tender chord. Occasionally, the songs rise and crash like waves, with choral harmonies and lush, at times chaotic production breaking through the surface. But, before long, the singer-songwriter's intimate vocals return to anchor things back into a state of ruminative calmness. While the record's release has been marked by personal tragedy and is filled with vulnerable queries on love, loss, life, faith and reckoning, Javelin never succumbs to the void. No matter how painful the circumstance, Stevens finds the beauty of the temporary, fragile state of life, leaving listeners with a hopeful affirmation.
Matt Owczarz

2. Mitski
The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We
(Dead Oceans)

Considering where we'd left off on last year's Laurel Hell, the first 50 seconds of The Land Is Inhospitable are starkly subdued: just the wincing steel of acoustic chords and the truth. Except it's Mitski's truth, which reimagines American Gothic as a fly writhing at the bottom of a whiskey glass — something closer to holy than unions of blood and countries founded by those with it on their hands. This 21st century bid for the Great American Songbook has what is already being dubbed the "Skinny Love" of the 2020s with Billboard-charting swooner "My Love Mine All Mine," not to mention a desperate anthem against the precariousness of it all ("I Don't Like My Mind") and the cavernous release of the Kate Bushian hounds ("I'm Your Man"). Mitski reinvents herself again in the sonic Wild West, following the North Star of her pen to her most achingly unruly beauty yet.
Megan LaPierre

1. Caroline Polachek
Desire, I Want to Turn Into You
(Perpetual Novice)

Caroline Polachek's second solo album under her own name reaches out to listeners, tells them they've arrived to her island, and declares they'll never leave. Proceeding to spend its 45-minute runtime anchoring itself to distant shorelines densely populated with references to everything from ancient myth to the intangible networked living of contemporary existence, it revels in a distinctly material becoming, defying any notion of a stagnant, isolated plane of existence. 

Gleaning as much from the rich if overlooked innovations of late 20th century diva pop and feminized adult listening (Enya's new age enchantments, Auto-Tuned Cher, Céline Dion, Suzanne Vega, Dido) as the accelerated contemporary pop metascapes of Grimes, Charli XCX and SOPHIE, Polachek's sound palette marries the innovations of more than 30 years of music in a psycho-technological aesthetic continuum, imagining the future in the process.
Tom Beedham

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