Northern Transmissions Best Albums of 2023
In the past year, the musical and cultural landscape evolved at a breakneck pace, making it challenging to keep up. Genres collided, boundaries crumbled, and artists fearlessly explored hybrid spaces. It’s as if allegiances to genre were not merely abandoned but downright tossed into the winds of reinvention. The musical and cultural landscape, like a shape-shifter, defies confinement and embraces an enchanting unpredictability. This was the year that saw landmark tours from global superstars such as Beyoncé and Taylor Swift (who, at the time of writing this, just shattered records as the first tour to surpass blow past the $1 billion revenue mark), a proliferation in medium-hopping trends that defy categorization (get ready for a permanent, virtual KISS on tour, coming to a city near you), and what it means to be a fan of music in in 2023. First and foremost, however, this year sounded different.
From André 3000’s beautifully sweeping, 87-minute New Age album, Brooklyn-based indie duo Water From Your Eyes with their eclectic blend of weird and jittery “out there” pop to Olivia Rodrigo’s pop-punk infused and riotous sophomore album. It feels like a year that abandoned, reinvented and downright tossed out any allegiances to genre, and it feels especially charmed. Also Taylor Swift is literally everywhere.
At the risk of sounding too romantic about it, this kind of genre collapse is a huge part of what makes finding new music exciting, especially this year. One minute you might stumble upon a Bandcamp industrial noise pop project from Middle America and the next you might find yourself in a rabbit hole of outsider house music that’s only available on FlexiDisc (god bless you, Discogs). While an inconceivable amount of great releases were put out this year, we paid meticulous attention to the wide spectrum of releases with our ears to the floor (or, the computer). Woven into the fabric of our curated list of superlative albums, one encounters an exuberant cacophony, an alchemical fusion of diverse genres coalescing into a breathtaking mosaic of musical richness. Below is a full list of our top albums of 2023, where the music is as limitless as the imagination that birthed it:
Northern Transmissions TOP 50 ALBUMS OF 2023
From position 50 to 21
50. Greg Mendez – Greg Mendez
49. Troye Sivan — Something to Give Each Other
48. Squid – O Monolith
47. Pony – Velveteen
46. L’Rain – I Killed Your Dog
45. Water From Your Eyes – Everyone Crushed
44. Pile – All Fiction
43. Blur – The Ballad of Darren
42. Shame – Food For Worms
41. Nation of Language – Strange Disciple
40. Sleaford Mods – UK Grim
39. Slowdive – Everything is Alive
38. Wild Nothing – Hold
37. The National – First Two Pages Of Frankenstein
36. Geese – 3D Country
35. Róisín Murphy – Hit Parade
34. Bully – Lucky For You
33. Armand Hammer – We Buy Diabetic Test Strips
32. Yo La Tengo – This Stupid World
31. Jeff Rosenstock – Hellmode
30. Danny Brown – Quaranta
29. Andre 3000 – New Blue Sun
28. Anohni & The Johnsons – My Back Was A bridge for You To Cross
27. JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown – Scaring The Hoes
26. Jessie Ware – That Feels Good
25. Yves Tumor – Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume
24. Fever Ray – Radical Romantics
23. Romy – Mid Air
22. Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS
21. PJ Harvey – I Inside The Old Year Dying
20. The Armed – Perfect Saviors
Perhaps The Armed keeps its members mostly secret because revealing the fact that humans created this music detracts from its sheer magnificence. Sometimes the most powerful quotes are anonymous. Perfect Saviors, whatever it is, is incredible. It’s the type of work of art that upon suggestion could warrant scoffs of derision, but upon execution, warrants gasps of awe. You have to hear it to believe it. It’s a masterclass in singularity and creativity.
19. Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy
18. Youth Lagoon – Heaven Is A Junkyard
This record will be on many of your list for the year, because of its rawness, because of its polish. Because of Powers’ compelling honesty and artifice, and his deep-feeling search into the beauty and terror of life. One boy from Idaho’s take on the nitty gritty of life. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, one man’s junkyard is another man’s heaven. Heaven is a junkyard is a great comeback record.
17. Lankum – False Lankum
False Lankum is an hour and ten-minute offering, and many of the songs are over the seven minute mark, sometimes because of instrumental interludes that introduce drone to the mix. It is a beautiful marriage of old and new and a tribute to past, present, and future musicianship and songwriting. This album is historical, is the best way to put it. Storytelling and music writing, fit for the history books.
16. Hotline TNT – Cartwheel
Cartwheel would be a boring album if Anderson resigned himself to guilt, indolence, or hopelessness. But he refuses to allow misery to swallow him. A wheel that stays in motion always has a chance of remaining stable if it pivots at the right times, and with his latest album, Anderson has made the right move. How far it’ll take him remains to be seen, but like Anderson, listeners can be optimistic.
15. feeble little horse – Girl with Fish
Girl with Fish is music that sounds as though it comes incredibly easily to the band, written in short bursts of creativity and met with such satisfaction that no member feels a need to revisit them. It’s music as spontaneity and it’s a pleasure as a listener to be able to hear a young band explore the limits of their songwriting and run with what they like.
14. King Krule – Space Heavy
In an interview with Blackbird Spyplane, Marshall mentioned that much of the record was composed in the key of C major, which, when done lazily, can result in many of the songs sounding indistinguishably similar, but with Marshall’s studio experimentation and the unpredictable sax runs of Ignacio Salvadores. It’s hard for songs to sound anything like each other when they slide across genre and tempo.
Space Heavy’s lighter atmospheres and breezier textures make it one of the strongest records in King Krule’s discography and among the best albums released so far in 2023.
13. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – V
Regardless, V is here, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s brand new double album, their fifth overall, perhaps their best record to date. The album spans 14 tracks and opens the double album with a rocker titled “The Garden” which has the band rocking out to 70s-inflected rock decorated with shiny synths. Around the 4:00 mark, the track features a guitar solo from lead guitarist Ruban Nielson. The band delivers some of its best work of lyricism and musical instrumentation on this record.
12. Ratboys – The Window
They said that they loved recording with Chris Walla, who approached the recording process in a warm and authentic way, forgoing technical jargon and instead saying things like “This cymbal hurts my feelings” and “This song is like a cat.” He pulls out the best in the full band arrangements, something that they had practiced and shared with Walla for six months of twice weekly practices during the lockdown. The result is a fully realized, forty five minute, eleven track album, The Window, that’s sure to please Ratboy’s long time fans, and introduce others into the fold.
11. Slow Pulp – Yard
Yard is more than an album; it’s a testament to the healing power of music, its ability to forge connections, and its capacity to make us feel less alone in a world that can often leave us adrift. Whether you’ve been a longtime fan of Slow Pulp or are just discovering their enchanting sound, Yard is a must-listen experience that will linger in your heart and mind long after the final notes have faded. It’s undoubtedly one of the standout albums of the year.
10. Billy Woods & Kenny Segal – Maps
Maps has been out since May so if you haven’t gotten on to this album yet, it’s never too late to enjoy. Interestingly, the album seems to work even better, with its mid tempo jazzy grooves, in the winter weather than the hot summer sun. It’s such a delight from start to finish and shows that woods is one of the best in the biz still.
9. Lana Del Rey — Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd is a magnum opus of sorts — not immediately gratifying as Norman Fucking Rockwell! but packed with the observation and reflection that makes it one of her deepest and most personal albums to date. Mixed with interesting production amongst beautiful folk cuts, Lana dissects her history with a blade so sharp and a mind so keen it makes sense she emerges a little broken. “Doin’ the hard stuff, I’m doin’ my time,” she admits on the opener, surrounded by a choir, ready to dig into everything that made her the woman she is today — the beautiful and the illicit. But, as they say, that’s how the light shines in.
8. Bar Italia — Tracey Denim
The band is a bit of an enigma: no interviews, very little shared back story. But their music makes you feel like you’ve come across these folks before. This isn’t to suggest that bar italia doesn’t have their own little something something. It’s quite lovely to be reminded of three-decade old music but get to listen to brand new songs. “You could have them all if you try”, sings Fenton in “best in show”, and it appears that bar italia is trying – and this is not a bad thing. If the best new music sounds like an amalgam of the best music from 30 years ago, please do keep on keeping on and producing albums like Tracey Denim.
7. Sampha – Lanai
On Lahai Sampha shows an incredible ability to craft sentimental and introspective songs, somehow creating unity between jittery drums, playful keys, and complex synthesizers. Through vulnerable songwriting and striking sound design, Sampha has evaded any semblance of a sophomore slump despite sky-high expectations. The record will surely be remembered for years to come.
6. Mitski — The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We
The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We is a really fascinating shift in Mitski’s output, one that already makes you even more intrigued to see where she’ll go next. What she has to say and how that will sound. The land and a lot of the people inhabiting it may be inhospitable, but it’s nice to have something – a walk out in nature, the company of loved ones, a good album – to present some kind of alternative existence.
5. Sufjan Stevens — Javelin
Javelin offers something for all levels of Sufjan Stevens fans; for those who got caught up in his cinematic compositions, his intimate lyricism, and those who enjoyed the more experimental and ambitious arrangements that arrived later on in his discography. It’s an excellent distillation of his idiosyncrasies which he has deftly developed throughout his career.
4. Boygenius – The Record
The Record is the debut album that fans have been waiting for and sees the trio take turns to lead individual verses or entire songs, bringing their wide ranges of influences and unique voices to the group from Iron & Wine to Now Now and Leonard Cohen that meld together so seamlessly. The latter has a song named after him led by Dacus on an acoustic guitar singing about existential crises and his ability to write horny poetry.
3. Caroline Polachek – Desire I Want To Turn Into You
Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is Polachek’s best collection thus far and that is saying a lot as her last release Pang is almost pure pop perfection. With this album, Polochek’s constant desire to dig deeper adds more depth to the songs than some of her precious work and it’s really revelatory stuff. Whatever your level of needs or desires are, listening to Polachek’s latest should satiate you, elate you, and make you feel like at least one other person in the world understands.
2. Wednesday – Rat Saw God
Wednesday gets rid of the old tail after the album’s initial climax and then builds up again, while the new skin is already coarsening on their body. After “Bull Believer” the rest of the songs is not as heavy as this track, but it slowly, without haste, rediscovers for itself the same road to the peak point, varying in genre from slowcore on “What`s So Funny” and “Formula One” to alt-country rock on “Chosen To Deserve”, which is probably the most accurate and friendly song, but still you treat it with suspicion and apprehension, expecting an unexpected turn of events here as well. «Rat Saw God» is able to scare you, and deceive you with a thousand of its looks, but besides, understanding that it all was hidden in these 37 minutes – such control of your emotions impresses and you succumb to it more.
1. Beach Fossils — Bunny
Bunny is a gem of an album, and supremely re-listenable. Something that would wash a club in a starry light. “You’re such a waterfall / I’m standing in the afterglow,” they sing towards the end of the album, and that describes them perfectly. Their music is like water washing over you, cleansing you with their diaristic verbiage. I think that’s one of the biggest successes of the album. Payseur is describing his life in a way that I think that many people could relate to, in a cloud of light, a beautiful and transportive sound.
Follow the entire playlist on our Spotify page:
Intro Best Albums 2023 by Conor Rooney
Credits Best Albums 2023: Charles Brownstein, Alberto Dal Santo, Adam Fink, Greg Walker, Leslie Ken Chu, Zara Hedderman, Conor Rooney, David Saxum, Igor Bannikov and the rest of NT’s family.
Find Most of our Top 50 albums HERE
Sorry, we couldn't find any posts. Please try a different search.
Looking for something new to listen to?
Sign up to our all-new newsletter for top-notch reviews, news, videos and playlists.