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 #20 to #11 below.
20. JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown – SCARING THE HOES
SCARING THE HOES, the 2023 collaboration album from JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown, is a fascinating and challenging addition to both artists’ discographies, offering a raw and unapologetically eccentric take on experimental hip-hop. This project embodies their penchant for pushing boundaries and defying mainstream conventions.
The album kicks off with “Lean Beef Patty,” a track that introduces listeners to its slightly abrasive yet artistic sound, characterized by a hyper-pop flip of P. Diddy’s “I Need a Girl (Part 2),” layered with cinematic synths and punchy lyricism. The song is a clear indicator of the album’s direction, blending recognizable samples with unique production choices. JPEGMAFIA’s use of the SP 404 sampler lends an old-school feel to the tracks, while Danny Brown’s distinct vocal style adds to the album’s eclectic nature. Notably, the album doesn’t shy away from touchy topics, as evidenced by references to social media antics of prominent figures like Ye and Elon Musk.
“Steppa Pig,” another standout track, showcases unique production with its crunchy bass-line and hypnotic chimes. The song highlights JPEGMAFIA’s originality and Danny Brown’s impressive lyrical performance. The title track, “SCARING THE HOES,” continues the album’s trend of being audaciously abrasive but serves as an effective mission statement for the project. This track and others like “Garbage Pale Kids” and “Fentanyl Tester” demonstrate the duo’s ability to create immersive soundscapes with complex drum patterns and innovative sampling.
The album also features the track “Kingdom Heart Key,” where the sole guest, Redveil, delivers an enchanting performance complemented by elegant swells, vocals, and a heavy drum loop. The closing track “Where Ya Get Ya Coke From?” ends the album on a high note, with JPEGMAFIA offering a catchy verse followed by Danny Brown’s energetic delivery.
Overall, SCARING THE HOES is a testament to JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown’s artistic prowess. It’s a record that will likely resonate with fans of experimental rap and those who appreciate the off-kilter and unconventional in music. The album has been well-received for its creativity, unique production, and the chemistry between the two artists. While it might not cater to all tastes, for those who connect with its style, it’s a rewarding and immersive listening experience.
19. PJ Harvey – I Inside The Old Year Dying
PJ Harvey’s 2023 album, I Inside The Old Year Dying, marks a mesmerizing return to form for the acclaimed artist, seven years after her last release, The Hope Six Demolition Project. This album represents a deeply personal and artistic evolution for Harvey, moving away from the globally-focused themes of her previous work to a more introspective exploration rooted in her West Country childhood.
I Inside The Old Year Dying is inspired by and interwoven with Harvey’s book of magic realist poems, “Orlam,” set in Dorset. The album stands out for its use of the local dialect, which adds a layer of richness and authenticity to the lyrics, albeit making them a bit challenging to decipher for those unfamiliar with the language. This decision aligns with Harvey’s commitment to exploring new sonic territories and pushing the boundaries of her artistic expression.
The album opens with “Prayer at the Gate,” where Harvey’s lyrical prowess shines through, using the Dorset dialect to create an almost mystical atmosphere. The dialect, similar to Gaelic and old Shakespearean English, adds depth to the album’s storytelling, transporting listeners to a world that feels both ancient and contemporary. In “Lwonesome Tonight,” for example, Harvey skillfully blends traditional language with modern references, creating a unique juxtaposition.
Harvey collaborated with long-time partners John Parish and engineer/producer Flood to craft the album’s sound. Their collective effort focused on creating an ethereal and melancholic soundscape, utilizing field recordings of community life and nature, which were manipulated to enhance the otherworldly quality of the music. This approach, along with Harvey’s distinct vocal delivery, results in a record that is both an extension of her previous work and a fresh, innovative creation.
The album’s stripped-back, skeletal musical arrangement draws comparisons to Nick Cave’s recent work, offering a sparse yet powerful backdrop for Harvey’s haunting vocals. The acoustic title track, with its vivid imagery and enchanting melody, is a particular highlight, showcasing Harvey’s ability to evoke a strong sense of place and emotion.
In summary, I Inside The Old Year Dying is a spellbinding and immersive experience that showcases PJ Harvey’s continuing evolution as a musician and poet. The album’s unique blend of folk influences, experimental soundscapes, and poetic lyricism makes it a standout addition to her discography and one of the most intriguing releases of 2023.
18. Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy
Young Fathers‘ 2023 album, Heavy Heavy, emerges as a revolutionary adventure in rhythm and a brilliant return from the band, reinforcing their status as gold-standard artists in the UK music scene. The album is a testament to the Edinburgh trio’s unique blend of experimental rock, art pop, hip-hop, and noise, continuing their tradition of defying genre constraints and delivering a sound that is distinctly their own.
The opening track, “Rice,” immediately sets the album’s vibrant tone, showcasing the band’s signature blend of jerky pulses and catchy rhythms. The song “I Saw” further exemplifies this, featuring alt-indie tribal incantations reminiscent of Wild Beasts, while “Drum” exudes a kinetic afrobeat vibe influenced by Kraftwerk. The album’s production, handled mostly by band member G Hastings, skillfully combines a wide range of instruments and unconventional sounds, including strings, synths, drum machines, and even a “bin with chains.” This eclectic mix creates an immersive soundscape that is both intense and joyous.
Heavy Heavy is also notable for the way it weaves together its diverse musical elements. The songs transition seamlessly from one to another, with each track adding a new layer to the album’s rich tapestry of sound. “Geronimo” stands out as a soft, lullaby-like track, while “Shoot Me Down” and “Sink or Swim” bring in alarms and twitches, adding a sense of urgency and excitement. The album’s penultimate song, “Holy Moly,” features honky-tonk keys that transport listeners to a dancehall setting, highlighting Young Fathers’ ability to evoke vivid imagery through their music.
The album culminates with “Be Your Lady,” a track that starts as a ballad and then erupts into a euphoric climax, showcasing the band’s mastery of dynamic contrast. Throughout the album, Young Fathers demonstrate their ability to blend genres and textures in a way that feels both revolutionary and distinctly their own. The album’s production is neither overly polished nor deliberately lo-fi, striking a perfect balance that allows the music’s raw energy and emotion to shine through.
In conclusion, Heavy Heavy is not just an album but an exhilarating musical journey that showcases Young Fathers’ unparalleled talent and creativity. It’s a crowded yet cleverly executed work that brings their Nigerian and Liberian heritage into sharper focus, twisting worlds of sound into a pileup of immersive, foot-tapping tracks. The album is a testament to the band’s continued evolution and their place as innovators in contemporary music.
17. ANOHNI and the Johnsons – My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross
The 2023 album My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross by ANOHNI and the Johnsons stands as a profound statement in their discography, marking a significant moment in the evolution of ANOHNI’s artistry. Released on July 7, this album is notable for being the first to feature the Johnsons in over a decade since their 2010 release Swanlights.
Critically, the album has been received with a mixture of admiration and contemplation, with critics aligning the album with the American protest-music tradition, and noting ANOHNI’s unyielding artistic integrity and the gruesome honesty within the songs. Others have described the album as a soulful testament to carrying stories through time, highlighting ANOHNI’s ability to create a Muscle Shoals sound for her pointed lyrics.
The album, featuring tracks like “It Must Change,” “Sliver of Ice,” and “Why Am I Alive Now?” is characterized by its layered musicality and the emotional depth of its lyrics. ANOHNI’s voice remains a focal point, conveying a range of emotions from grief to a form of joyous catharsis.
The album cover, featuring a photo of Marsha P. Johnson, resonates deeply with the themes of trans liberation and resistance against oppressive forces, which have been a recurring element in ANOHNI’s work. The album’s breezy nature, compared to previous works, still confronts heavy themes like HIV/AIDS, climate apocalypse, and political violence, yet manages to render aching beauty from these dark realities.
Drawing inspiration from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” and the legacy of Marsha P. Johnson, the album is a reflection on the pertinence of their revolutionary work and the ongoing struggles for social justice. The music, while unassailably beautiful in melody and instrumentation, presents a complex interplay of contrasting elements that together form a poignant and powerful artistic statement.
My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross has been acknowledged on various year-end lists, reflecting its impact and significance in the contemporary music landscape. This album is not just a musical journey but a profound exploration of the human condition, societal challenges, and the transformative power of art.
16. Julie Byrne – The Greater Wings
Julie Byrne’s 2023 album, The Greater Wings, is a masterful demonstration of her evolution as an artist, presenting a sonic landscape that is both intimate and expansive. This album, following her 2017 release Not Even Happiness, signifies a poignant journey through grief, loss, and ultimately, a resilient affirmation of life.
The album’s opening track, “The Greater Wings,” sets the tone with its warmth and depth, paying homage to Byrne’s creative partner Eric Littmann, whose sudden passing deeply influenced the album’s creation and thematic resonance. Each song thereafter seems to breathe with a desire to infuse the mundane with cosmic significance, a testament to Littmann’s enduring influence.
“Summer Glass,” a central piece in the album, marks a departure from Byrne’s signature fingerpicked guitar, introducing arpeggiated synths that create a sense of soaring intimacy. This track encapsulates the album’s overarching themes of love, belonging, and the fleeting nature of beauty and joy. It’s a song that embodies Byrne’s willingness to risk, to venture into shared and solitary visions, and it’s this bravery that gives “The Greater Wings” its soul-stirring power.
“Flare” is another standout track, showcasing the depth of Byrne’s songwriting and her keen ear for melody. The song is a poignant reflection on capturing and holding onto moments of beauty, a theme that resonates throughout the album. The album closes with “Death Is the Diamond,” a minimalistic yet powerful piece over piano, where Byrne’s voice, in a searching whisper, sings of time, memory, and a fearless approach to a new day. This track, in particular, is a heartfelt tribute, culminating the album in a spectacular and moving manner.
Throughout The Greater Wings, Byrne’s use of diverse instruments and exploration of new moods marks a significant progression in her artistry. The incorporation of strings, harp, and synthesizers alongside her guitar and vocals creates a rich tapestry of sound that is both otherworldly and deeply grounded.
Julie Byrne’s The Greater Wings is a journey through the complexities of human emotion, a reflection on personal and environmental cataclysms, and a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit. It’s a work that positions Byrne not only as a talented musician but as a profound storyteller, capturing the essence of human experience in her melodies and lyrics. This album undoubtedly secures its place among the top albums of 2023, resonating with fans and new listeners alike for its pathos, empathy, and exquisite musicality.
15. Lankum – False Lankum
Lankum’s 2023 album False Lankum emerges as a significant and transformative entry in the realm of contemporary folk music, blending traditional elements with avant-garde experimentation to create a soundscape that is as haunting as it is beautiful.
The album kicks off with “Go Dig My Grave,” a track soaked in a dark, funereal atmosphere, marked by an electronic, high-pitched drone that adds a supernatural quality to the song. This track, like much of the album, is a testament to Lankum’s ability to reinterpret traditional folk songs with a modern, almost eerie twist. The sea, a recurring theme in folk music, serves as a metaphorical conduit in this album, linking past and present, and transporting messages across cultures and times.
“Master Crowley’s” and “The Turn” are standout tracks, exemplifying the band’s unique approach to folk music. “Master Crowley’s” begins with a traditional E-dorian reel, slowly giving way to a modern, ambient soundscape. “The Turn,” a 13-minute epic, is both a nod to the band’s folk roots and a leap into a more experimental realm. The track evolves from a Floyd-esque melody into a joyous, defiant crescendo, challenging the very notion of folk music.
The album also includes “Netta Perseus,” an original by Daragh Lynch, which showcases a beautiful blend of fingerpicked guitar and hushed vocals, accompanied by orchestral brass. This track, like others on the album, leads the listener on an uncertain journey, reflecting the album’s overall theme of exploring the unknown and embracing the unexpected.
False Lankum has been acclaimed for its spellbinding quality, with reviewers noting how the band uncovers new depths in centuries-old forms, crafting songs that collectively form a kind of fever dream spanning across time. The album has been praised for its ability to not only revisit the past of folk music but also to tailor it to the contemporary zeitgeist, ensuring its relevance and impact on future generations.
Overall, False Lankum is a powerful contender for album of the year, not just within the folk genre, but in the broader music landscape. It’s a testament to Lankum’s masterful blending of traditional and contemporary sounds, creating a rich, immersive experience that resonates deeply with listeners. The album reflects the band’s ongoing evolution and their commitment to pushing the boundaries of what folk music can be in the 21st century.
14. Wednesday – Rat Saw God
Rat Saw God, the 2023 album by Wednesday, stands out as one of the year’s most compelling indie albums, marked by its rich tapestry of sounds and poignant storytelling. The album cuts through the digital uniformity of modern music, offering a distinct regional flair that harks back to the band’s Asheville, North Carolina roots. This sense of place imbues the album with a unique character, setting it apart in today’s indie rock landscape.
The band’s lineup, including Karly Hartzman on guitar and vocals, MJ Lenderman on guitar, Xandy Chelmis on lap steel, Margo Schultz on bass, and Alan Miller on drums, brings together a diverse array of talents that shine throughout the album. Lenderman’s guitar playing harmoniously intertwines with Hartzman’s vocals, while Chelmis’s pedal steel adds a modern flair to the tracks, grounding the record in a contemporary sound. The production by Alex Farrar, known for his work with artists like Angel Olsen and Indigo De Souza, further elevates the album, ensuring that each musical element roars out of the speakers without losing the emotion or intensity of the songs.
Lyrically, Hartzman displays a deepened capacity as a songwriter, with her voice sounding more powerful than ever. She throws herself into the lyrics with visceral energy, particularly evident in tracks like “Turkey Vultures” and the explosive end of “Bath County”. The album’s sequencing offers a journey through Hartzman’s phantasmagoric scenes and nonsequiturs, painting vivid pictures and fully realized characters within just a few lines.
Tracks like “Bull Believer” and “Chosen to Deserve” stand out for their ability to elicit a range of emotions, from cathartic release to introspective contemplation. “Bull Believer” is particularly notable, with Hartzman surrendering wholly to the song’s catharsis. Meanwhile, “Chosen to Deserve” showcases the band’s versatility, blending indie folk-rock with anthemic and melodic tones.
Rat Saw God is a narrative of life’s darker and more poignant moments, told with empathy and honesty. It captures the luminance within pain, reflecting on human suffering from a place of understanding and compassion. This depth and complexity make Rat Saw God not only one of the best indie rock records of the year but also a significant addition to Wednesday’s discography. The album demands attention for its unique blend of indie rock, powerful storytelling, and emotional depth. It’s a work that resonates deeply, not just for its musicality but for the stories it tells and the emotions it evokes.
13. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin
Sufjan Stevens’ 2023 album Javelin is a work that stands out in his discography for its emotional depth and personal revelations. The album, a dedication to Stevens’ late partner, Evans Richardson, is imbued with a somber and melancholic mood, yet it resonates with a sense of deep introspection and nostalgia. It’s a journey meant for reflection, where each song invites the listener to contemplate the profound meanings behind the lyrics.
Javelin is distinguished not only by its thematic focus but also by its musical composition. The track “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” echoes the choral singalongs reminiscent of Stevens’ earlier work in “Illinois,” yet it pivots from communal celebration to a more personal, introspective reflection. This shift in tone is emblematic of the album as a whole, which delicately balances a sense of personal loss with a broader, almost existential questioning.
The title track, “Javelin,” is a particularly striking example of Stevens’ skill in crafting songs that feel both timeless and deeply personal. With its fingerpicked guitar and Stevens’ tender vocal delivery, the song conjures a sense of fragile beauty. This track, along with others on the album, showcases Stevens’ ability to blend plain-spoken confessionals with more poetically obscured introspection, a style reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.”
Stevens’ production approach on Javelin is notable as well. Much like Prince, he demonstrates a remarkable ability to write, arrange, and produce tracks that sound like the work of a full studio crew, despite being largely a solo effort. The use of additional elements such as percussion, subtle electronics, and wind instruments contributes to the album’s elaborate orchestrations, enhancing the raw beauty of the melodies.
The emotional core of the album is perhaps most vividly expressed in tracks like “Evergreen” and “A Running Start.” In these songs, the grief and love Stevens felt for his partner are palpable, conveyed through poignant lyrics and a haunting musical backdrop. These tracks exemplify the album’s exploration of the dualities of Stevens’ identity, where themes of Christian faith and queer/trans relationships intertwine to create a uniquely resonant narrative.
Javelin is more than just a collection of songs; it is a testament to Stevens’ enduring talent as a songwriter and his ability to connect with listeners on a profoundly emotional level. This album not only reinforces Stevens’ place as a key figure in modern indie music but also marks a significant moment in his personal and artistic journey.
12. billy woods – Maps
Maps, the 2023 album from billy woods, in collaboration with producer Kenny Segal, is a remarkable addition to the rapper’s discography, offering a deep and contemplative journey through the life and mind of woods. Described as a “post-pandemic” record, it marks a significant shift in narrative and mood from woods’ previous works. This album stands out for its introspective look at woods’ experiences during his return to touring in a world slowly emerging from the isolation of the pandemic.
Throughout Maps, billy woods offers a series of vignettes that capture the various facets of touring life, from the mundane to the profound. Tracks like “Soundcheck” and “Facetime” explore the everyday realities of life on the road, from seeking culinary comfort in a Szechuan restaurant to solitary contemplation in a hotel room. Yet, the album is more than a mere travelogue; it’s an introspective exploration of woods’ thoughts and feelings as he navigates different places and experiences.
Musically, Maps differs from woods’ previous album, Hiding Places, offering a lighter touch with Kenny Segal’s production featuring clean, expansive beats that complement woods’ lyrical depth. Segal’s production shines through with soft guitars, flute samples, and bracing drum patterns, providing a backdrop that is both uncluttered and evolving. The album also features notable guest appearances, including Danny Brown and Aesop Rock, who contribute their unique styles to the project.
The album’s themes revolve around the idea of displacement and reflection. As woods travels the world, he remains introspectively grounded, often observing his surroundings from a distance, both physically and emotionally. This sense of detachment is captured in tracks like “NYC Tapwater,” where woods reflects on the changing landscape of his home city and his own place within it.
Maps is a testament to billy woods’ ability to articulate complex emotions and experiences through his music. It’s an album that not only documents his journey but also invites listeners to explore their own thoughts and feelings about the world around them. With its combination of introspective lyricism and innovative production, “Maps” solidifies billy woods and Kenny Segal as formidable forces in the realm of experimental and underground hip-hop.
11. Jessie Ware – That! Feels Good!
Jessie Ware’s That! Feels Good! album, is a confident stride into the realm of neo-disco and alternative dance, an opulent affair that sees Ware embracing her role as a modern disco diva. Released on April 28, the album spans 40 minutes of energetic, luxurious, and often hedonistic sounds that mark a significant milestone in Ware’s musical journey.
The album opens with the title track, “That! Feels Good!,” a limber disco-funk number characterized by scratchy guitar, explosive horn bursts, and a groovy bassline. This track sets the tone for the album, emphasizing the idea that pleasure is not just an indulgence, but a right. It’s a theme that Ware confidently weaves throughout the record, particularly in songs like “Free Yourself,” which is a disco diva anthem that celebrates sexual liberty for all, regardless of orientation.
“Free Yourself” transitions from piano-driven disco to house and back again, showcasing Ware’s impressive vocal range. Meanwhile, “Freak Me Now” offers a cheeky take on electro-funk, and “Shake the Bottle” presents playful instructions for romantic fulfillment. Another highlight, “Beautiful People,” is an upbeat track designed to uplift listeners as they prepare for a night out, embodying the album’s overall theme of positive encouragement.
Ware shows her versatility in slower, more soulful tracks like “Hello Love,” a romantic song reminiscent of classic R&B artists, and “Lightning,” a lush, Sade-like slow jam that offers a moment of introspective calm towards the album’s end. These moments of tranquility give the album a well-rounded feel, balancing the high-energy tracks with more mellow tones.
That! Feels Good! has been praised for its blend of forward-looking sounds and reverence for past icons of the disco genre. Ware’s control over her voice is noteworthy, as she adeptly switches between soaring theatricality and smoldering seduction across various tracks. The album’s production, led by James Ellis Ford and Stuart Price, adds to its allure, providing a vibrant backdrop that complements Ware’s dynamic performances.
Overall, That! Feels Good! is more than just a collection of dance tracks; it’s a statement of artistic confidence and a celebration of the joy and liberation found in music. Ware’s embrace of the modern disco style not only reaffirms her place in contemporary pop but also contributes to the ongoing evolution of the genre.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2023!