Top Ten Albums of 2023
Here are the rankings of my favorite albums of 2023.
10: Stretch Money & Valid - Bill & Isiah
Motown rappers Stretch Money and Valid channel the Detroit Pistons' Bad Boy glory days on this dope concept album. Layering classic NBA commentary and Siskel & Ebert clips over chilled beats and braggadocio rhymes, 'Bill & Isiah' is a nostalgic fueled dopamine hit for the O.G. hip-hop heads.
9: Miley Cyrus - Endless Summer Vacation
'Flowers' is an undeniable pop juggernaut, but 'Endless Summer Vacation' showcases great range and addictive ear worms from the mature and earnest Miley. I predict this will win the Grammy for Album of the Year in February.
8: Nation of Language - Strange Disciple
Brooklyn new wave revivalists Nation of Language return with their third full length album that is less poppy and accessible than their slick sophomore record, 'A Way Forward', but finds a way to build catchy hooks and bridges from a more experimental, esoteric palate. Think of it as their 'The Seeds of Love' or 'Spirit of Eden' where the synthesizers are tuned to the late '80s, drowning out the yuppie scum.
7: DJ Shadow - Action Adventure
DJ Shadow returns with a throwback pseudo soundtrack to a lost Johnny Quest meets David Lynch Canon flick. There are some killer beats on this cinematic set that weaves through hip-hop, house, new jack swing and electronica.
6: Wild Nothing - Hold
Five years after releasing 'Indigo', a beautiful album that updated the lush pop of Roxy Music's 'Avalon' for the 2010s, Jack Tatum returns with 'Hold', a pivot to a dance floor ready blend of New Order and the Pet Shop Boys. Leaning into electronic bliss, Tatum proves that with his singular style and cryptically confessional lyrics he can easily morph and adapt to different genres as he places emotion at the center of his arrangements.
5: Aesop Rock - Intergrated Tech Solutions
On 'Integrated Tech Solutions', Aesop Rock is the bewildered bystander critiquing the
modern tech dystopia we live in, peppering a juicy slab of beats with his encyclopedic vocab. Rapping 'You could get a robot limb for your blown-off limb/Later on the same technology could automate your gig' on the album opener 'Mindful Solutionism,' Aesop sets the table for ChatGPT hyperbole. But instead of going full 'Blade Runner', Aesop leans into satire and then branches into a Seinfeldian nothingness, pondering everything from drive-thrus and rivers to van Gogh and his late grandmother. This randomness works, as if he's programing your brain to scroll through the images he's uploading to this magnificent cloud of sound.
After the heartwrenching loss of
founding band member Andy Fletcher, the two remaining Modes (Dave Gahan,
Martin Gore) return with the strongest DM album in decades. 'Momento
Mori' is boosted by songwriting collaboration from Richard Butler of The
Psychedelic Furs, giving DM an energy boost lacking in the last few releases. I haven't enjoyed a Depeche Mode album this much since
2005's 'Playing The Angel' and the first single 'Ghosts Again' serves as a coda to 'Precious,' the last great DM single.
But it's 'Wagging Tongue', 'People Are Good' (a frosty update of
'People Are People') and the deep album cuts that are the real gems of
this twilight touchstone from the electronic gods.
3: The National - First Two Pages of FrankensteinNow nine records deep, somehow The National still find ways to stretch their sound, continuing to make interesting albums layered with innovative textures and masterful songwriting. Looping brow raising collaborators into the fold (Taylor Swift, Sufjan Stevens) and re-orientating the production back towards their signature sound allows the band to shine, with Matt Berninger remaining the captivating, dark comic crooner - I'll never look at a 'New Order T-Shirt' the same.
Andre 3000 picked up the flute. Lil Yachty went for the love below. Without the genre bending experimentation of those later period OutKast albums, I doubt we would get this psychedelic-rock flavored hip-hop album from Yachty. 'Let's Start Here' is indeed a colorful acid trip, from Pink Floyd to 'Channel Orange', reminding me of those cosmic jazzy soundscapes from Billy Cobham and Roy Ayers. But Yachty is able to stir this gumbo into catchy tunes like the smooth G-funk tinged jam 'the ride-' or 'sAy sOMETHINg' a golden vibe recalling Slick Rick's Great Adventures. Perhaps Andre 3000 is right, hip-hop is a young man's game. But it's also about the new generation interpreting the past as something different, which Lil Yachty has done brilliantly on 'Let's Start Here'.
1: Iggy Pop - Every Loser
If only every boomer was a cool as Iggy Pop. Working with producer wunderkid of the moment Andrew Watt, Iggy's latest is a kaleidoscope of his classic shticks, from punk rebel to pop dynamo and bluesy raconteur. His social and political commentary is razor sharp and self-aware on the blistering rush of 'Modern Day Ripoff' and 'Neo Punk' and the sparkling new wave of 'Comments'. But my favorite cut is the power-pop ballad 'New Atlantis', a bittersweet ode to Miami, which Iggy ironically calls home these days. It's a softer moment where the 75-year-old rocker, even wiser beyond his years, laments for our fading planet:
'Some say the world will end in fire
Some say ice
Me, I just see fewer birds, fish, butterflies
Plenty of concrete though
I run to Europe, I run to The Caribbean
But coming here is the best thing I ever did
Miami, I love you'
But the melancholy is brief with Iggy remaining raw as ever.