STE's Best Albums of 2023
Blur and Turnpike Troubadours star in my favorite albums of 2023.
Last week, a few tweets circulated concerning an issue that's a familiar concern at the end of a year: how can anybody on earth possibly be familiar enough with 50 albums in order to rank them.?
As it happens, this chatter surfaced when I was starting to feel pangs of guilt that my personal Best of 2023 album list wouldn't come close to 100 records. Blame the shortfall on a number of things: the continuous glut of new music, parenting a pair of toddlers whittling away at free time, not being able to click with albums from Kesha to Lankum, choosing to not bother with a new Lana Del Rey album, etc. They're all equally true, they all add up, but it's also true that Year-End lists are inevitably constrained by what a listener was able to hear and process within the course of a year. That's their flaw and their beauty: they're a snapshot, capturing a particular perspective on twelve months passed.
Like always, after the first twenty or thirty titles on this list the distinctions in ranking start to lessen. I tend to arrange these lists not only according to my favorites but also what records I would want to hear at the moment I'm making the list. Inevitably, I'll look back and discover these preferences have shifted but that's fine: I like having a record of how a year seemed to me at the time and maybe somebody else will discover something somewhere in this list.
A few stray thoughts concerning 2023:
As a listener, I find the relentless pace of releases exhausting--not only the volume of albums that arrive on a weekly basis but artists feeling the need to maintain a constant presence in the spotlight. They're not wrong to feel the pressure: albums vanish days after release, individual songs/singles keep an artist in algorithmic rotation. Still, the way that, say, Zach Bryan delivers an EP weeks after delivering an LP—after a year where he was plugging a double album, EP, and live album, plus some stary songs—just makes me zone out.
Furthermore, this avalanche of releases--which can include the relentless march of Taylor's Versions from our reigning superstar--encourages myopic listening: you're supposed to immerse yourself in one worldview instead of seeking out other perspectives. That's not how I like to listen.
Although she certainly has a leg up on many other musicians, Bethany Cosentino isn't wrong to complain about how her solo debut Natural Disaster effectively disappeared from the public consciousness weeks after its July release. She's hardly the only artist who is finding themselves boxed out of a music marketplace that prioritizes freshness, even novelty, over career artists. There used to be an infrastructure in place to develop artists and support established musicians. Those both have eroded dramatically for the detriment of both the artist and the audience.
I'm losing patience with alternative pop that prizes restlessness over form: interesting sounds are nice, melodies and hooks are better.
The following albums aren’t a ranking of all the new albums I heard in 2023. Rather, these are the albums I liked and can imagine playing in the future. As always, I’m sure I missed quite a few things over the course of the year and hope to catch up some day down the road.
Blur—The Ballad of Darren
Turnpike Troubadours—A Cat in the Rain
Paul Simon—Seven Psalms
Queens of the Stone Age—In Times New Roman
PJ Harvey—I Inside the Old Year Dying
Jenny Lewis—Joy Y'All
Tyler Childers—Rustin' in the Rain
Low Cut Connie—Art Dealers
Rolling Stones—Hackney Diamonds
Bethany Cosentino—Natural Disaster
Yo La Tengo—These Stupid World
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit—Weathervanes
Renee Rapp—Snow Angel
100 Gecs—10,000 Gecs
Speedy Ortiz—Rabbit Rabbit
Brit Taylor—Kentucky Blue
Joe Jackson—Mr. Joe Jackson presents Max Champion in 'What a Racket!'"
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives—Altitude
Juliana Hatfield—Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO
Paramore—This is Why
Brent Cobb—Southern Star
Brandy Clark—Brandy Clark
Gaz Coombes—Turn the Car Around
The Kills—God Games
Rhiannon Giddens—You're the One
King Tuff—Smalltown Stardust
Margo Price—Strays/Strays II
Danny Brown/JPEG Media—Scaring the Hoes
The Feelies—Some Kinda Love: Performing the Music of the Velvet Underground
Andre 3000—New Blue Sun
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds—Council Skies
Jessie Ware—That! Feels Good!
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real—Sticks and Stones
Duran Duran—Danse Macabre
Sunny War—Anarchist Gospel
Bobbie Nelson & Amanda Shires—Loving You
Gina Birch—I Play My Bass Loud
Old Crow Medicine Show—Jubilee
Everything But the Girl—Fuse
Bully—Lucky for You
Ellie Goulding—Higher Than Heaven
Jimmy Buffett—Equal Pressure on All Parts
Durand Jones—Wait Till I Get Over
Dave Matthews Band—Walk Around the Moon
US Girls—Bless This Mess
Foo Fighters—But Here We Are
The Hold Steady—The Price of Progress
Bob Dylan—Shadow Kingdom
Ian Hunter—Defiance, Pt. 1
Iggy Pop—Every Loser
Hiss Golden Messenger—Jump for Joy
Teenage Fanclub—Nothing Lasts Forever
Bonny Doon—Let There Be Music
Carly Rae Jepsen—The Loveliest Time
Caroline Polacheck—Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
New Pornographers—Continue As A Guest
Caroline Rose—The Art of Forgetting
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