Roll Out the Red Carpet… This Is We Plug Good Music’s Best Albums of 2023!
As we turn the page on another year in the ever-evolving world of music, it’s time to celebrate our best albums of 2023. This year has been a captivating journey through the highs and lows of the music industry, filled with groundbreaking events and poignant moments.
2023 was a historic year for Pan-African music with the international chart success of artists like Burna Boy, Asake, Tyla, Rema, and Tems. The Grammy Awards also announced the introduction of the ‘Best African Music Performance’ category, set to debut at its 66th annual ceremony in February 2024, with this new category signifying a step towards the GRAMMYs embracing the rich diversity of Pan-African music.
The year was marked by thrilling reunions and releases. NSYNC returned to the spotlight, presenting at the VMAs, while Girls Aloud confirmed a reunion tour, and Blur announced a major gig at London’s Wembley Stadium. The Beatles surprised us with “Now And Then”, a posthumous release featuring all four original members, completed with a blend of old recordings and new technology.
However, 2023 was not without its sorrows as we bid farewell to musical talents such as Sinéad O’Connor, Tina Turner, AKA, De La Soul’s Trugoy The Dove, Costa Titch, Harry Belafonte, Magoo, MohBad, and Lisa Marie Presley. We remember and honour them for the indelible marks they left on the music world.
After years of anticipation, fans were delighted by the return of Paramore, Kelela, Skrillex, Rae Sremmurd, Janelle Monáe, and Macklemore, each releasing their first albums in five or more years, adding fresh sounds to our playlists. On the other hand, and in a show of continued unparalleled dominance, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift captivated audiences with their individual world tours, earning the two highest-grossing tours of all time by women.
Chart milestones were set with Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” and Dave with Central Cee’s “Sprinter” dominating the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Official Singles Chart, respectively. Morgan Wallen’s One Thing at a Time and SZA’s SOS reigned supreme on the Billboard 200 Album Chart, with SOS marking a significant achievement as the year’s longest reigning number-one on the Billboard 200 by a female artist.
Rihanna made a triumphant return to live music at the Super Bowl halftime show, her first live performance in six years, while Ed Sheeran emerged victorious in a legal battle over his song “Thinking Out Loud”. Britney Spears, on the other hand, gave us a glimpse into her life with her memoir The Woman in Me, adding a personal touch to this year’s music narrative.
As we reflect on the vibrant and varied landscape of music in 2023, from chart-topping hits to soul-stirring albums, let’s delve into the sounds that defined our year. Prepare to be captivated by the depth and diversity of We Plug Good Music’s Best Albums of 2023.
While you can revisit our list so far here, prepare to be captivated by the depth and diversity of We Plug Good Music’s Best Albums of 2023, from #10 to #1 below.
10. Gabriels – Angels & Queens
Gabriels’ Angels & Queens stands as a testament to the trio’s ability to blend diverse musical influences into a cohesive and innovative whole. The album, an extension of their 2022 release Angels & Queens Part I, showcases the group’s unique sound, characterized by its soulful depth and contemporary flair.
Jacob Lusk’s vocal versatility is a highlight of the album. His ability to switch between a bold baritone and a celestial falsetto adds a dynamic quality to tracks like “Angels & Queens” and “Taboo.” These songs demonstrate the group’s knack for mixing genres, with “Angels & Queens” being a sultry disco number and “Taboo” presenting a slower, cinematic vibe with its string arrangements.
The album’s exploration of soul music’s various facets is notable. It includes traditional elements while introducing modern twists, resulting in a sound that’s both fresh and familiar. The trio, consisting of vocalist Lusk, keyboardist/producer Hope, and violinist/composer Balouzian, brings a blend of experiences and backgrounds that enrich the album’s sound. This is evident in tracks like “To the Moon and Back” and “Professional,” which juxtapose soaring strings and baritone harmonies with minimal arrangements and emotive balladry.
Gabriels’ approach to Angels & Queens is bold and creative. The addition of six new tracks to the original seven compositions from Part I recontextualizes the songs into a new universe. This approach ensures that the album feels cohesive and thoughtful, rather than just a collection of added songs. The interplay between the old and new tracks brings a fresh perspective to the songs we already know, while the new tracks elevate the overall experience of the album.
Angels & Queens also receives acclaim for its musical and lyrical complexity. The album’s structure allows it to flow effortlessly, showcasing a range of emotions and styles. This is a soul journey that takes listeners through various musical landscapes, from light-hearted melodies to intense, emotion-packed arrangements. The chemistry among the trio is evident, with their collaborative effort leading to an album that’s both adventurous and grounded in the roots of soul music.
In conclusion, Angels & Queens by Gabriels is a masterful blend of past and present, a soulful journey that showcases the trio’s exceptional talent and vision. It’s an album that not only respects the traditions of soul music but also ventures into new territories, making it a standout addition to the 2023 music landscape and a significant chapter in Gabriels’ discography.
9. Nourished by Time – Erotic Probiotic 2
Erotic Probiotic 2 by Nourished by Time emerges as a striking, genre-defying creation, a bold statement in the contemporary music landscape. Released on April 21, through Scenic Route Records, it marks the debut album of American singer and record producer Marcus Brown under this alias. The album has garnered widespread acclaim, ranked on several best albums of 2023 lists, including being named the best album of the year by Gorilla vs. Bear for its refreshing and unique synthesis of musical styles.
The album stands out for its eclectic blend of genres and eras, playing like a sampler of a time-warped ’80s that takes place in Brown’s imagination. It extends into the present day, merging Jodeci harmonies with Paul Hardcastle synth drizzles, and even includes warped samples of contemporary figures like Joe Budden and ESPN’s Jay Williams, all melting into a shoegaze thicket. Brown’s ability to sublimate these diverse influences into cohesive songwriting results in music that is both familiar and unbidden, studied yet uncouth.
The freestyle ethos of the album allows for a creative freefall through time. For instance, the single “Daddy” starts with pulsing drum programming and ascendant harmonies, evoking hip-house, before transitioning to nocturnal synths and a more forlorn vocal tone. This track, like others on the album, reflects Brown’s skill in weaving together disparate styles and moods. Songs like “The Fields” showcase this blend with skittering hi-hats and snappy snares, producing a sound that suggests Miami bass, while the questioning vocals anchor the performance in the realm of freestyle.
The album has been praised for being both stylish and open-hearted, with songs that are suited for various emotional states and settings. Tracks like “Shed That Fear” channel the gentleness of Arthur Russell and the bounce of Depeche Mode, while “Daddy” and “Unbreak My Love” offer a lushly rendered world of deep emotions. The album creates a wonderland of sound that nourishes both the body and soul, showcasing Brown’s potent blend of glittery freestyle, post-punk, and sophistipop.
Erotic Probiotic 2 is a significant addition to Nourished by Time’s discography and stands as a testament to Brown’s artistic vision and ability to transcend traditional genre boundaries. It’s an album that skillfully navigates the complex terrain of modern music while maintaining a connection to the past, making it a must-listen in the realm of innovative and genre-blending music.
8. Corinne Bailey Rae – Black Rainbows
Corinne Bailey Rae’s 2023 album, Black Rainbows, marks a significant departure from her previous work, showcasing an eclectic mix of styles and themes. This album is a dramatic shift from the smooth soul and adult contemporary R&B that characterized her earlier albums, venturing into more experimental and diverse musical territories.
Black Rainbows is described as a uniquely conceptual work, setting itself apart from Rae’s prior albums while maintaining a deeply personal touch. The album taps into the spirit of Rae’s punk roots, with tracks like “Erasure” delivering a riotous punk rock feel, complete with fuzzy riffs and high-powered vocals. This song, in particular, stands out for its raw and emotional content, reflecting on the exclusion Rae faced growing up as a black child.
The album’s tracklist includes songs like “A Spell, A Prayer,” “Black Rainbows,” “Erasure,” “Earthlings,” “Red Horse,” “New York Transit Queen,” “He Will Follow You With His Eyes,” “Put It Down,” “Peach Velvet Sky,” and “Before the Throne of the Invisible God.” Each track offers a different aspect of Rae’s artistry, from punk chanting in “New York Transit Queen” to the loungey jazz and electronic layers in “He Will Follow You With His Eyes.”
“He Will Follow You With His Eyes” is particularly notable for its celebration of black beauty and individuality. The track “Put It Down,” which is eight minutes long, stands out as it transforms from a burdened beginning into a pop-fueled dance track, illustrating the album’s versatility. The closing track, “Before the Throne of the Invisible God,” delves into a mystical essence, adding to the album’s overall air of mystery and enchantment.
Black Rainbows has been widely acclaimed for its bold experimentation and departure from the expected, solidifying Rae’s place as an artist capable of significant stylistic evolution and deep introspection. The album transcends her R&B persona, exploring personal themes through various approaches and highlighting her ability to communicate introspective messages through diverse artistic expressions. Overall, Black Rainbows represents a fresh start for Corinne Bailey Rae, offering a journey that allows listeners to experience dance, introspection, and liberation within a single record.
7. Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We by Mitski marks a striking evolution in her artistic journey, blending a unique Americana influence with her signature introspective style. The album, embracing acoustic-driven folk sounds, represents Mitski’s “most American album,” a shift from her previous synth-heavy work.
In The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We, Mitski explores themes of personal struggle and emotional landscapes. The opening track, “Bug Like an Angel,” sets the tone with its acoustic folk sound, offering an intimate meditation on finding the divine in life’s darker moments. The song, punctuated by an unexpected gospel choir, beautifully encapsulates Mitski’s ability to find profundity in simplicity.
Another standout track, “The Deal,” showcases Mitski’s narrative storytelling skill. It’s a dynamic fable where she engages with tempo and melody to weave a tale of making a deal with the night to ease her pain, culminating in a powerful tonal collapse. This track, along with others like “When Memories Snow,” highlights Mitski’s poetic prowess, packing her songs with emotional depth and complex metaphors.
The album’s exploration of Americana doesn’t limit itself to a single sound or theme. Tracks like “Buffalo Replaced” and “Heaven” further Mitski’s foray into country western themes, while “I Don’t Like My Mind” delves into the challenges of workaholism and mental health. The latter stands out as a vivid portrayal of the toll a strong work ethic can take on an individual.
Mitski’s The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We is an album of emotional depth and stylistic breadth. It’s a record that sees Mitski experimenting with new genres while maintaining the introspective lyricism and unique vocal style that have become her trademarks. The album offers a poignant reflection on life’s complexities, making it a significant addition to her discography and one of the top albums of 2023.
This album is a testament to Mitski’s growth and passion as an artist, showcasing her ability to evolve her sound while staying true to the themes that have always defined her music. It’s a record that is sure to resonate with long-time fans and new listeners alike, proving once again why Mitski is regarded as one of the most compelling voices in contemporary music.
6. Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS
Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS album marks a significant evolution in her musical journey, showcasing a maturity and depth that surpasses even the high expectations set by her debut album SOUR. Released on September 8, GUTS has been praised for its authenticity and emotional resonance, echoing the experiences and sentiments of Rodrigo’s Gen Z audience.
The album reveals a blend of themes, from the struggles of body image in “pretty isn’t pretty” to the humorous yet poignant “ballad of a homeschooled girl.” The tracks not only resonate with the listener on a lyrical level but also through their sound, which ranges from early 2000s pop-punk reminiscent of Avril Lavigne to delicate ballads filled with introspection. The song “making the bed” exemplifies this introspective quality with its delicate composition and poignant lyrics.
Musically, GUTS incorporates a diverse array of genres, significantly leaning towards rock music, more so than SOUR. Elements of emo, new wave, shoegaze, and rap rock are interwoven throughout the album, creating a rich tapestry of sound. Songs like “All-American Bitch” and “Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl” are infused with pop-punk energy, while “Love Is Embarrassing” and “Lacy” offer a touch of new wave and folk respectively. Critics have noted the album’s mix of nostalgic and contemporary music elements, which contribute to its wide appeal.
Lyrically, GUTS explores Rodrigo’s transition from adolescence to adulthood, tackling themes of identity, sudden stardom, and the complexities of romantic relationships. The album opens with “All-American Bitch,” which sets the tone for Rodrigo’s navigation through societal expectations and the search for meaningful connections. The song “Logical” is noted for its smart and sharp takedown of an ex-partner, illustrating the power dynamics in relationships through Rodrigo’s varied vocal tones.
The lead single, “Vampire,” is seen as a sequel to Rodrigo’s breakout hit “Drivers License.” It showcases her signature storytelling style, combining earnestness with a layer of embittered sarcasm. This song, along with others like “The Grudge,” demonstrates Rodrigo’s growth as a songwriter, where her self-critique and the barbs hurled at others are more precise and impactful.
Overall, GUTS stands as a testament to Olivia Rodrigo’s growing artistry and her ability to capture the essence of her generation’s experience. It’s a blend of raw emotion, catchy melodies, and thoughtful lyrics, securing its place as one of the top albums of 2023 and marking another milestone in Rodrigo’s burgeoning career.
5. Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
Caroline Polachek’s Desire, I Want To Turn Into You album marks a pivotal moment in her musical journey, receiving widespread acclaim and being ranked high on several lists of the best albums of 2023. Known for her experimental approach to music, Polachek’s latest venture is a continuation of this tradition, with refined songwriting and expansive production. After her successful debut solo album Pang in 2019, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You finds her once again collaborating with the producer Danny L Harle, pushing the boundaries of modern pop music.
The album is noted for its eclectic sound and imaginative use of figurative language to explore themes like love and desire. Tracks like “Butterfly Net” and “Pretty in Possible” exemplify Polachek’s talent for blending intense longing with surreal and earthy metaphors. The album’s title itself suggests a duality, focusing on the process of transformation as much as the emotion of wanting, a theme that resonates throughout the record.
Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is characterized by its diversity in sound and style, with tracks ranging from the anthemic “Welcome to My Island” to the catchy “Bunny Is a Rider.” Songs like “Sunset” and “Crude Drawing of an Angel” showcase Polachek’s vocal prowess and ability to create lush, atmospheric soundscapes. The album strikes a balance between physicality and vulnerability, humor and surrealism, making it a uniquely compelling listen.
Polachek’s album is a testament to her undeniable talent as a vocalist and arranger. It has been described as an example of what happens when pop music sets out to transcend its own limits, breaking free from outside expectations and transforming inner anxieties into an intoxicating pop euphoria. Desire, I Want To Turn Into You stands as a significant addition to Polachek’s discography, a record that not only deepens her artistic repertoire but also makes a profound impact in the music world, securing its place among the top albums of 2023.
4. Sampha – Lahai
Sampha’s 2023 album “Lahai represents a significant evolution in his artistry, marking a departure from his previous work with its intricate soundscapes and introspective themes. This album, coming nearly seven years after his critically acclaimed debut “Process,” showcases Sampha’s journey through time, loss, and the pursuit of personal freedom.
The album opens with “Jonathan L. Seagull (JLS),” inspired by Richard Bach’s novella about a bird striving for perfect flight. This track, along with others like “Spirit 2.0,” reflects Sampha’s contemplation of time and his dealing with loss and grief. These themes resonate deeply, mirroring his own experiences following the passing of his mother, which heavily influenced his debut album. In “Spirit 2.0,” Sampha explores a sense of liberation and peace, suggesting a free fall out of time, supported by the metaphorical wings of his community.
Sampha enlists a diverse array of collaborators across “Lahai,” including Yaeji, Ibeyi, Morgan Simpson from black midi, Yussef Dayes, Laura Groves, El Guincho, and Kwake Bass. This reflects his thematic focus on connections with those around him, a thread that runs throughout the album. In tracks like “Dancing Circles,” he contrasts the chaos of London with the intimate act of dancing, using powerful language to convey the catharsis and shared memories inherent in such moments.
The album also delves into the complexities of emotional recovery and self-discovery. On Lahai, Sampha centers his narrative around his family, particularly focusing on his role as a father and his journey towards emotional healing. The lead single “Spirit 2.0” stands out as a testament to this theme, with its lush, open-air instrumentals symbolizing Sampha’s release from the grip of depression and his quest for self-acceptance.
Overall, Lahai is not only a continuation of Sampha’s deeply personal and introspective style but also a progression into new emotional and musical territories. The album’s production, with its more electronic-focused approach, complements Sampha’s introspective songwriting, resulting in a body of work that is both sonically adventurous and emotionally resonant. It’s clear that Lahai is more than just a follow-up to Process; it’s a considerable artistic step forward for Sampha, reflecting his growth as an artist and an individual.
3. boygenius – The Record
The Record, the 2023 album by indie supergroup boygenius, which comprises Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, has rightly earned its place among the top 50 albums of the year. This triumphant debut LP marks a significant milestone in the group’s journey, seamlessly blending the unique styles and strengths of its members into a cohesive and emotive musical experience.
The album showcases an impressive division of lead roles, with each member taking the forefront on four of the twelve tracks, while the others provide harmonious support. This egalitarian approach allows “The Record” to highlight the distinct musical inclinations of each artist — from Baker’s soft-punk sensibilities and Bridgers’ emo-informed songwriting to Dacus’ nostalgic storytelling — without ever letting one voice overshadow the others.
Recording the album in an intensive, month-long session at Shangri-La in Malibu, boygenius eschewed the detached process of trading files over the internet for a more synergistic approach. This collaborative spirit is palpable throughout the album, with each song resonating as a collective yet deeply personal expression of emotion and experience. Tracks like “$20” and “Satanist” stand out with their guitar-driven arrangements, while others such as “True Blue” and “Leonard Cohen” draw listeners closer through relatable and introspective lyrics.
The album’s thoughtful structure guides listeners through a journey of emotional highs and lows, beginning with the evocative a cappella track “Without You Without Them” and culminating in a reflective and poignant conclusion. This narrative arc, both linear and enigmatic, is part of what makes The Record so compelling. The album successfully delves into themes of love, loss, and personal growth, with each track evoking a different emotion, laced with vivid imagery and powerful memories. The trio’s ability to translate raw emotion into poetic and visceral lyrics is particularly evident in tracks like “Satanist” and “True Blue,” which explore complex themes of relationships and self-discovery with authenticity and depth.
In summary, The Record by boygenius is not just a successful collaboration among three of indie music’s most talented artists; it’s a testament to the power of collective creativity and emotional honesty. The album transcends the expectations set by their 2018 EP, solidifying boygenius as a group that far exceeds the label of a mere “supergroup.” It’s an essential listen for anyone seeking a musical experience that is as thought-provoking as it is emotionally resonant.
2. Amaarae – Fountain Baby
Amaarae’s Fountain Baby album is a richly textured and vibrant exploration of genres, showcasing her prowess as a global pop alchemist. Ranked at #2 in our top 50 albums of 2023, this record is a testament to Amaarae’s artistic growth and her ability to blend an array of musical styles to create a cohesive and captivating sound.
Fountain Baby is characterized by Amaarae’s fusion of various global sounds, creating a unique tapestry of music that transcends traditional genre boundaries. Her Ghanaian-American background is evident in the album, as she seamlessly integrates Afrobeats with elements of Japanese folk, Spanish flamenco, and American rock. The album features tracks like “Reckless and Sweet,” “Wasted,” and “Counterfeit,” each showcasing her ability to mix diverse instrumentation such as traditional Chinese strings and afro drums, along with her signature seductive and confident delivery.
A standout track, “Princess Going Digital,” is noted for its electric strobes and cozy cowbell taps, embodying the album’s theme of abundance and creativity. Meanwhile, “Aquamarine Luvs Ecstasy” mesmerizes with breezy saxophone notes, and “Water From Wine” concludes the album, highlighting Amaarae’s undeniable appeal and versatility. Each song on the album not only showcases her knack for sticky melodies and catchy one-liners but also reflects her intention to play with the tropes of genres that are still evolving, much like the ever-changing landscape of Hip Hop and R&B.
Amaarae’s approach to Fountain Baby is not just experimental; it’s a deliberate and thoughtful exploration of her musical identity. She traverses different emotional and stylistic states, from the infectious rhythms of African jazz to orchestral elements, showcasing her versatility and intuition. This album firmly places her as an artist with a clear vision, one who is bristling with intentions and ideas, and unafraid to step outside conventional musical boundaries.
In essence, Fountain Baby is a refreshing listen that pushes the envelope of what constitutes popular music. It’s far more experimental than Amaarae’s previous work, yet it retains a sense of accessibility and familiarity that makes it an engaging experience. The album not only cements Amaarae’s place as a significant voice in contemporary music but also contributes to the broadening landscape of global pop and afrobeats.
1. Noname – Sundial
Noname’s 2023 album Sundial stands out as a momentous release, showcasing her evolution as an artist and a thinker. This album, a blend of thought-provoking lyricism and innovative musicality, has rightly earned its place at the top of the year’s album rankings.
The opening track, “black mirror,” sets a reflective tone for the album. Noname’s style, rooted in spoken word poetry, shines through her wordplay and fluid flow. The song delves into the complexities of balancing political commitments with personal success, a recurring theme throughout the album. Notably, it features a bossa nova rhythm with intricate instrumental layers, creating a rich sonic texture that’s both engaging and introspective.
“hold me down,” another significant track, boldly challenges societal norms and self-inflicted traumas. It features Jimetta Rose’s soulful choir, Voices of Creation, adding a unique depth to the song. The album also sees Noname collaborating with prominent artists like Jay Electronica on “balloons” and Common on “oblivion,” the latter closing the album with its impactful message and funky beat.
“boomboom” and “namesake” are standout tracks that exhibit Noname’s versatility. “boomboom” transitions into a jazz rap style, while “namesake” cleverly combines synthesizers and jazzy drum patterns. These songs, along with others like “toxic” and “afro futurism,” highlight Noname’s skillful wordplay and her ability to seamlessly blend different musical elements.
The album’s thematic depth is evident in its exploration of identity, societal critique, and personal vulnerability. Noname’s approach to tackling both external issues and her own contradictions is particularly compelling. In tracks like “Namesake,” she navigates complex topics like wealth, ambition, and societal expectations with insightful lyrics and an authentic voice.
Critically, Sundial has been praised for its lyrical prowess and musical arrangement, though some reviews noted that the hooks in certain tracks, such as “Hold Me Down,” might feel underwhelming compared to the overall excellence of the album. Nevertheless, the guest features add significant dynamism to the project, with powerful contributions from artists like $ilkmoney and Jay Electronica.
Overall, Sundial is more than just an album; it’s a reflective journey that captures the essence of contemporary culture, personal growth, and artistic integrity. Noname’s unique blend of critique, introspection, and musical experimentation makes “Sundial” a remarkable and influential addition to her discography and to the music world in 2023.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2023!