2023 has been an extraordinary year for music, showcasing an eclectic mix of genres, styles, and artistic visions. This list of 17 albums represents the year’s rich musical landscape, each offering a unique perspective and sound. From the psychedelic choral pop of The Polyphonic Spree’s “Salvage Enterprise” to the introspective and nuanced melodies of Jenny Lewis in “Joy’All,” these albums traverse a spectrum of emotional and sonic experiences.
The list includes revered artists like Peter Gabriel with his album “I/O” and new interpretations of classics like “The Endless Coloured Ways (The Songs Of Nick Drake)” by Various artists. It also features the experimental sounds of “Hologram” by Amplifier and the laid-back reggae vibes of Rhoda Dakar’s “Version Girl.” Each album stands as a testament to the artist’s creative vision, whether it be through revisiting and reimagining past genres or exploring new territories in sound and storytelling.
From the ethereal shoegaze of Slowdive’s “Everything Is Alive” to the dynamic rock energy of Riverside’s “ID.Entity,” these albums collectively form a snapshot of 2023’s diverse and vibrant music scene. They celebrate the continuous evolution of music and its unending capacity to innovate, reflect, and connect.
The Top 10
“Salvage Enterprise” by The Polyphonic Spree, released in 2023, marks a significant return for the band, known for their theatrical and operatic approach to alternative music. The album is categorized as a rock album on Apple Music, but it encompasses a broader range of styles. The band continues its tradition of naming songs starting with “Section” followed by a number, a unique titling method that adds a layer of intrigue to the album.
The album opens with “Section 44 (Galloping Seas),” a six-minute track that sets a dramatic and emotional tone for the album. This song, with its build-ups and shifts in tempo, exemplifies the band’s knack for creating a cinematic feel in their music. The lyrics convey hope and resilience in the face of adversity, a recurring theme throughout the album.
Each track on “Salvage Enterprise” is a distinct journey, combining elements of drama, opera, rock, and indie music. The use of various instruments like strings, plucked guitar, and woodwinds adds depth and soulfulness to the music. The vocal delivery is gentle yet impactful, complementing the rich instrumentals.
The album has been described as a ‘rising-from-the-ashes’ record by frontman Tim DeLaughter, indicating a theme of resilience and rebirth. Songs like “Shadows On The Hillside (Section 48)” and “Morning Sun, I Built The Stairs (Section 52)” highlight this theme, with the latter concluding the album on a high note, symbolizing overcoming challenges and emerging stronger.
In summary, “Salvage Enterprise” is characterized by its dramatic and operatic style, blending rock with indie elements, and marked by its thematic focus on perseverance and renewal. The album is a testament to The Polyphonic Spree’s ability to create music that is both theatrically grand and intimately expressive.
“News From The Invisible World” by The Fierce & The Dead is a significant evolution in the band’s journey, introducing vocals for the first time in their discography. This album, with its eight tracks spanning 42 minutes, marks a bold step forward, showcasing the band’s willingness to embrace change and expand their musical horizons.
The album opens with “The Start,” a track that symbolizes strategic decision-making and crescendos from a subdued beginning to an intense finish. “Shake the Jar” follows, featuring impressive guitar work and a gritty garage rock aesthetic, transitioning from robustness to whimsy and back to a hard rock finale. “Golden Thread” surprises listeners with its shift from conventional hard rock to a more complex and alternative sound, enriched by techno-style vocal echoes.
“Non-Player” stands out as a transformative piece, where the band simulates an orchestral sound with keyboards and synthesizers. The vocals evoke Jon Anderson of “Yes,” with a track that culminates in a free-spirited brass arrangement. “What a Time to Be Alive” is another notable track, highlighting the tight synchronicity between the bass and drums, and effortlessly shifting between intense rock and ethereal instrumentals.
The album closes with “Nostalgia Now,” a contemplative piece that invites introspection with its insightful approach, leaving a lasting impression on the listener.
Overall, “News From The Invisible World” is a journey of musical exploration and innovation. It’s an album that might not resonate with every listener, but its complexity and unique style firmly establish it as a work of art, worthy of attention from both long-time fans and newcomers.
Peter Gabriel’s album “i/o,” released in December 2023, marks his first album of new material in over two decades. The album unfolds a narrative of modern concerns and personal reflections. It was uniquely released track by track every full moon throughout 2023, creating a gradual buildup to the album’s release.
Stylistically, “i/o” aligns with the tones and styles of Gabriel’s earlier works, particularly “Up” and “Us.” It features a blend of acoustic instruments and electronic elements, creating a rich, ambient soundscape. The album is available in two different versions: the “Bright-Side” and “Dark-Side” mixes, each offering a slightly different tonal experience but maintaining the core essence of the tracks.
The album addresses a range of themes, from surveillance culture in “Panopticom” to the complexities of cancel culture in “The Court.” It also delves into deeper, more introspective themes, like the tragic naivety of corrupted religious faith in “Four Kinds of Horses” and the sobering reality of mortality in songs like “Playing for Time” and “So Much.” Yet, there are moments of brightness and celebration, such as in “Road to Joy,” a jubilant electro-funk track, and “Olive Tree,” a soulful pop song imagining a future of enhanced human connectivity.
“i/o” has been described as a thought-provoking blend of modern concerns with personal reflections, offering a mixture of austere and jubilant moments. Gabriel’s exploration of mortality, grief, and hope for renewal is a significant theme throughout the album. Despite the weight of these themes, the album closes on a hopeful note with “Live and Let Live,” expressing a desire for global self-forgiveness and peace.
Overall, “i/o” is seen as a worthy addition to Peter Gabriel’s catalog, reflecting his status as a future-facing artist who continues to push boundaries in music.
“Hologram,” Amplifier’s first album since 2017, emerges as a strong and diverse addition to the band’s catalog. Not originally intended as their next album, “Hologram” was created in the Autumn of 2022, during sessions for another project, “Gargantuan,” which is yet to be released. Realizing that the material from these sessions didn’t quite fit the “Gargantuan” project, the band decided to release it as “Hologram.”
The album showcases Amplifier’s signature style, blending philosophical and abstract lyrical content with a slightly dystopian and sci-fi ambiance, reminiscent of the works of Philip K. Dick. The band’s evolution is evident, ranging from their crunchier, early rock albums to the full-on prog rock of “The Octopus,” and then to the more subtle art rock of “Echo Street.” Amplifier’s music is described as a celebration of the transcendent nature of rock music as escapism.
Tracks like “Two Way Mirror” display classic Amplifier riffs with stoner tones, while “Sweet Perfume” presents a weirdly dissonant sound aiming at vacuous celebrity. The title track “Hologram” offers a more atmospheric soundscape with soft, dream-like vocals. “Tundra” is a standout piece, showcasing fluid drumming and layered guitars, while “Let Me Drive” returns to a theme with infectious synths and a groove guitar riff. The final song, “Gargantuan, Part One,” hints at what might be expected in the next full album.
“Hologram” is a journey of just 36 minutes, but it’s praised for its quality rather than length, offering a glimpse into what the future holds for Amplifier’s music. The album has been well-received for its high quality, marking a welcome return for the band and generating excitement for their upcoming project “Gargantuan.”
“Pearlies,” the solo debut album from Emma Anderson, known for her work with Lush, is a significant return to the music scene. Released following the final breakup of Lush in 2016, “Pearlies” showcases Anderson’s journey back into the spotlight with a collection of songs that revisit the gauzy sound of Lush’s early shoegaze years. The album diverges from the brasher Britpop era of Lush, instead embracing a more atmospheric and dream-pop approach.
The album stands out for its melodic quality, reminiscent of Lush’s early era, yet explores more adventurous and richer sounds. Tracks like “I Was Miles Away” demonstrate Anderson’s crystalline vocals and distinctive melodies, while “Bend The Round” and “Willow And Mallow” present a more haunting and spectral side, hinting at influences like Vashti Bunyan and Shirley Collins. The album also features a cinematic quality, influenced by Anderson’s initial plans to develop the music for film and TV soundtracks.
“Pearlies” is not just a nostalgic trip to shoegaze but a step into broader musical landscapes, combining the sickly-sweet quality of 60s TV drama themes with an undercurrent of eeriness. The album’s strongest tracks are noted for their haunting quality, blending light-filled soundscapes with a sense of otherworldly melancholy.
Overall, “Pearlies” is a glowingly lovely and nicely crafted record that shows Anderson’s ability to create music that is both soothing and subtly unsettling. It serves as a polished, less urgent version of Lush, displaying Anderson’s expertise in crafting neo-shoegaze music with a distinctive charm.
“Ziggy Stardub” by Easy Star All-Stars is a reggae reinterpretation of David Bowie’s iconic album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars.” This album is a fresh take on Bowie’s work, delivered in a dub reggae style that’s both straightforward and impactful. Featuring a mix of younger and veteran vocalists, including notable names like Steel Pulse, Maxi Priest, and Macy Gray, the album offers a blend of reggae styles with well-established and emerging talents.
One of the standout aspects of “Ziggy Stardub” is how it maintains the essence of the original Bowie songs while seamlessly integrating reggae elements. The album includes tracks like “Five Years,” sung by David Hinds of Steel Pulse, and “Rock’n’Roll Suicide,” featuring Macy Gray, whose husky voice adds a new dimension to the song. The album has been praised for its ability to transcend novelty, highlighting the strength of the original songs while offering an endlessly listenable reggae experience.
The Easy Star All-Stars have a history of reimagining classic albums in reggae styles, as seen in their previous works like “Dub Side of The Moon” and “Radiodread.” “Ziggy Stardub” continues this tradition, demonstrating the band’s creativity and reverence for the original material. While some may argue it lacks the surprise factor of their previous works, the album is nonetheless celebrated for its high-quality production and its natural fit within the reggae genre.
“Everything Is Alive” by Slowdive marks a significant evolution in the band’s sound, presenting an album that is both intimately familiar yet ventures into new sonic territories. The album, which follows their self-titled reunion album, manages to retain and invigorate the timeless magic of Slowdive’s music, while also exploring new dimensions in sound and emotion.
The opener “Shanty” immediately establishes the album’s tone, integrating modular synths alongside Slowdive’s signature sound. The album is noted for its seamless blending of different elements, from aqueous, distorted guitar stabs to steady pulses, all while maintaining the quintessential Slowdive identity.
One of the standout tracks, “Andalucia Plays,” is described as the most affecting song in Slowdive’s career, showcasing the band’s ability to evoke deep emotion and narrative through their music. The track, along with others like “Kisses” and “The Slab,” brings a sense of propulsion and intensity that surpasses the group’s previous works.
Throughout the album, there’s a consistent balance between darkness and hope, with each track contributing to a comprehensive, yet varied, listening experience. The album also benefits from the skilled mixing of Shawn Everett, known for his work with artists like the War on Drugs and Kacey Musgraves, which adds to its powerful resonance.
“Everything Is Alive” transcends its shoegaze origins, becoming something more expansive and emotionally resonant. It represents a band not only revisiting its roots but also expanding its horizon, creating a work that is both haunting and unassailably alive.
“Steven Wilson’s album ‘The Harmony Codex’ represents a significant milestone in his career, showcasing an evolution in his sound and artistic expression. The album intertwines various musical styles, including progressive rock, jazz, electronica, and ambient soundscapes, creating a unique listening experience.
The track “Inclination” opens the album with a blend of trumpet, synths, and percussion, setting an adventurous and experimental tone. “What Life Brings” follows, offering a more conventional song structure with strong guitar elements and captivating vocal sections. “Impossible Tightrope” stands out as an almost 11-minute epic, blending progressive rock with spiritual jazz and electronica, highlighted by Nate Wood’s drums and Theo Travis’ saxophone solo.
The album also features a significant contribution from Ninet Tayeb, particularly on the track “Rock Bottom,” which she not only sings but also wrote. This song, along with others like “Beautiful Scarecrow,” showcases Wilson’s ability to create dark, atmospheric music with electronic backgrounds. The title track “The Harmony Codex” offers a nearly ten-minute journey through sounds and textures, different from anything on Wilson’s regular albums but in line with his sonic preferences.
Overall, ‘The Harmony Codex’ is seen as a brave step forward for Wilson, with a mix of familiar elements and new explorations in sound. It’s a testament to his evolving career, offering diverse and challenging compositions that require and reward attentive listening.
“Brothers & Sisters,” the fifth solo album by Steve Mason, is a creative and politically charged work that sees him returning to the experimental and melodic styles that marked his time with The Beta Band. The album opens with expansive synth waves, possibly paying homage to the late Vangelis, and quickly establishes itself as an uplifting and optimistic spiritual reckoning. Mason doesn’t shy away from addressing the turmoil and chaos of current global and political climates, using his music as a platform for expression and defiance.
Tracks like “No More” and “I’m On My Way” exhibit Mason’s signature sound, blending introspection with psychedelic pop. “Pieces of Me” is a poignant ballad with searing synths and a reverbed bar-style piano, showcasing Mason’s heartfelt lyrics and emotional depth. The album also features Pakistani musician Javed Bashir, who adds a unique dimension to songs like “Brixton Fish Fry,” blending seamlessly with Mason’s drifting sounds.
“Upon My Soul” brings a party-up vibe, with a swinging, groovy feel, and the album closes with the title track, “Brothers & Sisters,” which is an upbeat anthem promoting unity and positivity. The album is a kaleidoscope of sounds, creating a psychedelic groove that leaves listeners feeling uplifted and transported away from the world’s ills. Mason’s talent for beats and percussion and his knack for creating absorbing rhythms are evident throughout the album.
“Brothers & Sisters” is fundamentally about connections and unity, delivering a message that things must work for everyone or they work for none. In creating this album, Mason reminds us that protest music needn’t always be angry; it can also be a unifying and joyous celebration.
“The Endless Coloured Ways: The Songs of Nick Drake” is an album that stands as a significant tribute to the enduring musical legacy of Nick Drake, featuring an eclectic mix of artists who bring their unique interpretations to his songs. This compilation album, released on July 7, 2023, includes contributions from a variety of artists across different genres, all unified by Drake’s poignant lyricism.
The album begins with Fontaines D.C.’s rendition of “Cello Song,” setting a high bar and indicating that the artists have embraced their creative liberties in approaching Drake’s music. Each track maintains the spirit of Drake’s originals, yet diverges in substantial and tasteful ways through musical phrases. French pop icon Camille, for instance, adds a whimsical touch to “Hazey Jane II” with delicate singing and instrumentation.
The album showcases a range of styles, from the post-punk elements in Fontaines D.C.’s performance to the arty synth-pop of Let’s Eat Grandma in “From The Morning.” It also features notable collaborations, such as Bombay Bicycle Club joining forces with The Staves for “Road,” blending playfulness and charm. Aurora’s cover of “Pink Moon” and Philip Selway’s minimalistic approach to “Fly” are other highlights, showcasing the breadth of artistic expression found in this tribute.
Overall, “The Endless Coloured Ways: The Songs of Nick Drake” is not only a celebration of Drake’s songwriting but also a demonstration of how his music transcends styles and continues to inspire a wide range of artists. It’s a testament to his influence in the music world and serves as a beautifully crafted homage to his legacy.
“Sky Void Of Stars” by Katatonia, released in 2023, showcases the band’s evolution from their previous work. This album is praised for its unique blend of gothic rock and prog elements, with a focus on brooding, morose songwriting. The opening track “Austerity” is highlighted for its complexity and melancholic melodies, setting the tone for the album.
The album is noted for its dynamic range, from the gothic magnificence of “Opaline” to the more accessible “Birds” and “Atrium,” the latter embodying the grandeur of 80s goth rock. The track “Impermanence,” featuring guest vocalist Joel Ekelöf, is a standout, contributing to the album’s poignant atmosphere.
Critics have commended “Sky Void Of Stars” for its cohesive collection of tracks, blending powerful and dramatic music with a tone of vibrant darkness. Each song offers a unique experience, from memorable choruses to heavy grooves, showcasing Katatonia’s skill in creating gloomy, melancholic metal.
“ID.Entity” by Riverside, released in 2023, is an album that delves into contemporary themes with emotional depth and melodic richness. The album reflects on the complexities of identity and the digital age, presenting these topics through a mix of prog rock and modern musical elements.
The track “The Place Where I Belong” is the album’s epic centerpiece, extending over thirteen minutes. It begins with a quieter, more introspective tone, using acoustic guitar and gentle vocals, before escalating into a richer, more layered composition. This track stands out for its emotional intensity and lyrical depth, addressing themes of social conformity and personal disillusionment with the state of the world, particularly in the realm of social media. The song “Self-Aware” closes the album on an upbeat note, suggesting a message of hope and the importance of real human connection.
Riverside’s music in “ID.Entity” is noted for its subtlety and complexity. Tracks like “Friend or Foe” and “Big Tech Brother” address contemporary issues like social media and the tech industry with a critical eye. The band’s ability to evolve their sound while maintaining a connection to their roots is evident throughout the album. Riverside’s blend of rock, prog, and art in “ID.Entity” makes it a significant release in their discography.
The album’s production quality is highlighted for its detail and innovation, with the musicianship of Riverside members being a standout aspect. The album is seen as a continuation of Riverside’s established sound, but with a rejuvenated and more dynamic approach.
Despite some criticisms regarding certain lyrical choices and the use of computer-generated voices in some tracks, “ID.Entity” is generally received as a strong addition to Riverside’s catalog, appealing to both long-time fans and newcomers.
“The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte” by Sparks is a testament to the band’s creative endurance, marking their 26th studio album. This 2023 release showcases Sparks’ ability to blend their classic sound with a modern twist, infusing a more electronic and hard-edged approach compared to their previous works. The album is applauded for its versatility, featuring a range of styles and sounds that demonstrate the band’s evolving artistry while maintaining their distinct identity.
Tracks like “Not That Well Defined” delve into themes of ambiguity and shades of grey, while “We Go Dancing” offers a satirical take on North Korean propaganda, presenting a dark humor characteristic of Sparks. The album also includes playful dance songs like “Escalator” adding a light-hearted contrast to the mix.
The standout track “Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is” presents a unique perspective, featuring a baby’s view of the world. This track, along with others like “Veronica Lake” and Mona Lisa’s Packing, Leaving Later Tonight" exemplifies Sparks’ knack for offbeat, dark humor and storytelling through music.
The album closes with “Gee, That Was Fun” a song about regret and missed opportunities, wrapping up the album with a sense of introspection.
Overall, “The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte” is celebrated for its ingenious lyricism, varied musical styles, and the band’s undiminished energy and creativity. Critics and fans alike regard it as a worthy addition to Sparks’ impressive discography, reaffirming their status as innovative artists in the music world.
Matt Berry’s 2023 album “Simplicity” is a distinctive and innovative work, created in collaboration with the library music label KPM. The album consists of 11 instrumental tracks, each around three minutes long, and is notable for its retro tone and intelligent construction. This collection of songs is very much in the vein of Berry’s previous works like “Blue Elephant” and “Music for Insomniacs,” marked by their familiarity yet fresh and lively feel.
The single “Top Brass” from the album is described as a jaunty tune that quickly engages the listener, encapsulating the theme tune territory. The album as a whole balances on the edge of being saccharine but never fully crosses into that territory, showcasing Berry’s ability to create unique tunes that complement his comedic talents.
“Simplicity” is recognized for its sharp and vibrant instrumentals, which are predicted to feature in various productions for many years to come. The album is a testament to Berry’s prodigious talent, both in creating music and in his comedic work. His collaboration with KPM has allowed him to explore a range of musical styles, all while staying true to his unique artistic voice.
“The Orb’s album “Prism,” released on April 28, 2023, is a rich blend of various musical styles, demonstrating the duo’s versatility and mastery in electronic music. The album is described as one of their best, despite not introducing anything particularly new. It reaffirms The Orb’s love for music, especially reggae, which is prominently featured in the song-based material. The album spans about 70 minutes, offering a diverse musical journey.
The track “H.O.M.E. (High Orbs Mini Earths)” is particularly noted for its intense house music feel, with strong references to the Chicago sound of Mr Fingers’ “Can You Feel It?”. Another highlight is “Picking Tea Leaves & Chasing Butterflies,” which features exquisite contributions from a solo trumpet, adding a colonial flavor to the piece.
“A Ghetto Love Story” and “Tiger” are also mentioned as standout tracks. “A Ghetto Love Story” combines reggae with a trippy production and a booming bass, while “Tiger” is an emotionally deeper track with an urgent vocal exhorting happiness.
The album also explores the realms of pure ambience in tracks like “Why Can You Be In Two Places At Once, When You Can’t Be Anywhere At All,” which is classic ambient Orb. Another track, “Living In Recycled Times,” ventures into drum ’n’ bass, drawing inspiration from the likes of Adam F and Alex Reece.
Overall, “Prism” is described as an uplifting and positive album, blending musical ambience, songwriting substance, and sample-based humor. It’s an album that’s not just for sitting back and relaxing, but also encourages the listener to get up and dance, reflecting The Orb’s reputation as the post-rave therapy of choice for generations of clubbers.
“Version Girl” by Rhoda Dakar, released in 2023, is a remarkable album that showcases Dakar’s love for Reggae, Ska, and Rocksteady. This 12-song collection, her first album in five years, features a variety of covers from artists like David Bowie, Tim Buckley, The Pretenders, Louis Armstrong, and The Rolling Stones, each transformed and reimagined through Dakar’s unique musical lens.
The album begins with the eponymous track “Version Girl,” which is a cover of Dandy Livingstone’s 1970 song and sets the tone for Dakar’s approach to the album. The track “As Tears Go By” is a notable cover of the Rolling Stones’ song, delivering a rendition that retains the original’s poignancy while adding a reggae twist. Another standout track, “Love Hurts,” shows Dakar’s ability to adapt a well-known song into a new genre, offering a ska-influenced take on this classic.
“Stop Your Sobbing,” originally by The Pretenders, is transformed into a “reggae skinhead” track, demonstrating the adaptability of Jamaican musical genres. Dakar’s cover of Tim Buckley’s “Song to Siren” provides a moving rocksteady rendition that doesn’t lose the original’s emotional depth. Her version of “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong adds a fresh perspective to this beloved classic, infusing it with a reggae flavor.
Overall, “Version Girl” is an album that radiates energy and vitality. It’s a testament to Dakar’s skill as an artist and her ability to breathe new life into well-known songs, proving her status as a significant figure in the UK pop-reggae scene. The album is celebrated for its diversity and the way it effortlessly shifts the meaning of the original songs, providing a set of covers that are both familiar and refreshingly new.
“Joy’All,” the fifth solo album by Jenny Lewis, released in 2023, marks a significant step in her artistic journey. The album, recorded entirely in Nashville, is imbued with a country tinge, but it also reflects the complexity of emotions that Lewis is known for, as the former lead singer of Rilo Kiley.
“Joy’All” is characterized by its light and breezy sound, a surprising element considering it was born out of a pandemic project. The album is a beautiful amalgamation of Lewis’ trademark wit, soulful ruminations, and insightful observations on life. Songs like “Puppy And A Track” stand out for their classic rock atmosphere, enhanced by little touches of pedal steel, encapsulating Lewis’s experience with a mid-life crisis in a lighthearted, yet profound way.
The title track, “Joy’All,” recalls the style of Ani DiFranco, a former collaborator of Lewis, and is marked by handclaps, vocalizations, and multi-tracked harmonies. “Psychos,” the opening track, showcases Lewis’s witty lyricism, while “Giddy Up” is seductive and laidback, demonstrating her versatility as an artist.
“Apples And Oranges” and “Balcony” are tracks where Lewis delves into deeper emotional territories, touching upon themes of loss and longing. “Essence Of Life” stands out for its moody waltz rhythm and Lewis’ ominously sparse vocal approach. The album also features an infusion of FM radio sheen in its production, adding a contemporary touch to the music.
“Joy’All” has been likened to the work of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks, reflecting a soft rock ethos reminiscent of California’s golden era of singer-songwriters. The album is described as adult pop/rock with an attitude, showcasing Lewis’s growth and maturity as an artist.
Overall, “Joy’All” is celebrated as possibly Jenny Lewis’s best solo work to date, embodying her fearless confrontation with middle age and the complexities it brings. It is seen as a record that both haunts and inspires, being fun and uniquely complicated, a testament to Lewis’s enduring talent and creativity.