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 #40 to #31 below.
40. Gaz Coombes – Turn The Car Around
Gaz Coombes‘ 2023 album, Turn The Car Around, marks a significant chapter in his solo career, showcasing a mature, reflective, and musically adventurous artist. Released on January 13, this album has been hailed as one of his finest achievements, representing a culmination of his musical evolution post-Supergrass.
Turn The Car Around is recognized for its eclectic nature, blending various styles while maintaining a distinct sonic identity. The album opens with “Overnight Trains,” setting an epic tone with its slow build-up and layered crescendo, reflecting Coombes’ dexterity as a musician and vocalist. The track “Don’t Say It’s Over” is driven by a propulsive drumbeat, gradually incorporating guitars and showcasing Coombes’ prowess with an extended solo, making it a standout piece that combines disparate elements brilliantly.
Another highlight, “Feel Loop,” brings to mind the sound of Radiohead in the early 2000s, such as Kid A or Hail to the Thief. It blends shimmering guitars with a more electronic beat, demonstrating Coombes’ willingness to experiment on his solo material, helping it stand apart from his work with Supergrass. “Long Live the Strange” leans more towards pop, closer to the sound of Supergrass, and is expected to be a prominent feature in live sets.
“Not the Only Ones,” an ambient, acoustic-led track, introduces elements of trip-hop and marks a departure from the rest of the album. Despite its more melancholic tone, it is another luscious song that centers around Coombes’ ethereal vocals. The title track “Turn the Car Around” exemplifies the album’s strength in managing experimentation, while “This Love” showcases Coombes’ vocal range, drawing comparisons to some of Beck’s work without feeling derivative.
Overall, Turn The Car Around is an amalgamation of thoughtful and thought-provoking songs from a writer whose responses to the world around him illustrate an ever-deepening maturity. This maturity is evident across his four solo releases. The album successfully manages to maintain the experimentation found on World’s Strongest Man, yet remains accessible and distinct from its predecessor.
Coombes here cements himself as a versatile and important artist, over 25 years into his career, and is in as fine voice as ever, which fans will have recognized at Supergrass’s most recent gigs. The album is an immaculately produced, eclectic set of tracks that captures all that makes Coombes such a significant figure in contemporary music.
39. Susanne Sundfør – blómi
Susanne Sundfør’s Blómi album, released under Bella Union, marks a significant and evocative addition to her discography, showcasing her evolution as an artist. The album, meaning “to bloom” in Norse, is described as a love letter to her young daughter, a theme that resonates throughout its tracks. Sundfør’s sixth studio album blends a genre-mix of classical, electronic-pop, jazz, and folk sounds, creating a rich tapestry that is both enchanting and emotionally resonant.
The album opens with “Orð Vǫlu,” a track that gently probes the convergence of spirituality and science. It stands out for its balance of chaos and order, echoing a mother’s explanation of life and the universe to her child. This theme of profound balance and the embrace of both light and darkness is central to the album, drawing listeners into a gravitational pull toward love.
“Ashera’s Song” is a noteworthy track, offering a prayer sung to the ‘first mother’. It showcases Sundfør’s ability to embody spirit and motherhood in her music. The song, along with others like “Rūnā” and “Fare Thee Well,” illustrate the album’s exploration of complex emotions and life experiences. “Rūnā,” in particular, serves as an acoustic piece that crescendos into rhythmic drums and tambourines, advising openness to change and resilience in the face of pain.
The track “Alyosha” is a declaration of adoration and devotion, with Sundfør’s vocals delivering raw emotion and embracing femininity. The song, akin to the Carpenters’ “Close To You” in its harmonies and delivery, vividly illustrates the journey of love and the rejection of external voices in favor of a personal path of affection. “Náttsǫngr” is another standout track, delving into the depths of devotion and doubt, characterized by a lullaby-like vibrato that evolves into a haunting crackle, demonstrating Sundfør’s range and depth as an artist.
Blómi stands as a testament to Susanne Sundfør’s artistic depth and maturity. It’s a journey that captures the essence of unconditional love, exploring themes of spirituality, motherhood, and the duality of life with a luminous and ethereal serenade that resonates throughout. Despite its complexity, the album remains approachable and moving, with Sundfør continuing to make challenging music that is justly rewarded. Blómi not only continues to push the boundaries of Sundfør’s musical expression but also cements her position as a significant voice in contemporary music.
38. Mr Eazi – The Evil Genius
The Evil Genius, Mr Eazi’s debut album released on October 27 2023, stands out as a rich tapestry of afrobeats music, showcasing his unique talent and vision as an artist. The album is a deep dive into themes of love, betrayal, loneliness, and family, presenting Mr Eazi’s most personal work to date.
It features a diverse range of tracks, each accompanied by its own artwork, adding a deeper layer to the listening experience. This creative approach, blending music with visual art, was highlighted at exhibitions like the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair 2023 and Gallery 1957 in Accra, offering a groundbreaking fusion of African music and arts.
The album opens with “Olúwa Jọ̀”, a track that exposes a raw and vulnerable side of Mr Eazi, contemplating the emotional toll of success. The song sets a reflective tone for the album, with Mr Eazi turning to God in his native Yoruba dialect. Following this, “Advice” showcases a defiant Mr Eazi, unapologetic and resilient in the face of detractors, blending Nigerian and Ghanaian pidgin in his lyrics.
A standout track is “Òròkórò”, featuring the legendary Angelique Kidjo. The song is a celebration of success, where both artists deliver verses in Yoruba, accompanied by groovy composition and electric guitar plucks from Grammy award-winning producer Kel-P. Other notable tracks include “Jamboree”, and “Good Lovin'”, which are energetic and seductive, highlighting Mr Eazi’s versatility. These songs are particularly remarkable for their upbeat rhythms and engaging melodies, capturing the essence of afrobeats music.
“Panadol” shifts focus to celebrate Mr Eazi’s sexual prowess, with lead guitar chords and mid-tempo drums creating a captivating backdrop. The album also includes “Legalize”, a special dedication to Mr Eazi’s partner, illustrating his romantic and tender side. The album closes with “Exit”, featuring the Soweto Gospel Choir, ending on a note of gratitude and spiritual reflection. This track, along with “Mandela”, pays tribute to Nelson Mandela and showcases the powerful vocals of the Soweto Gospel Choir.
Overall, The Evil Genius is a testament to Mr Eazi’s growth as an artist, exploring various aspects of his life and career. The album is assertive, confident, and vibrant, crossing soundscapes of high life, R&B, afrobeats, gospel, and more. This album is a representation of Mr Eazi’s journey, highlighting his ingenuity and experience in the music industry, making it a must-listen for fans of afrobeats, and music enthusiasts in general.
37. Victoria Monét – JAGUAR II
JAGUAR II, Victoria Monét’s 2023 album, is a remarkable demonstration of her artistic evolution, seamlessly blending the nostalgia of 70s soul with contemporary R&B. This album, coming three years after her breakout project “JAGUAR,” marks her debut on Lovett Music/RCA Records and has solidified her position as a significant force in modern R&B.
The album opens with “Smoke,” a collaboration with Lucky Daye, setting a high standard right from the start. The track’s smoldering bass and regal horns, coupled with Monét’s and Daye’s hazy vocals, create an immersive listening experience. “Smoke” not only serves as an ode to weed but also metaphorically represents exhaling the old and inhaling the new, a theme that resonates throughout the album.
JAGUAR II is defined by its confidence and self-assurance. Tracks like “On My Mama,” which samples Texas rapper Chalie Boy’s 2009 hit “I Look Good,” are infused with self-affirming lyrics. Monét’s ability to balance introspective themes with upbeat, empowering songs is evident throughout the album. This duality is showcased in tracks like “Cadillac (A Pimp’s Anthem),” which is an empowering tribute to women, and “Alright,” produced by KAYTRANADA, a sexually-charged house jam that’s sure to get listeners moving.
The album also features a collaboration with Buju Banton on the track “Party Girls,” which brings a festive and dancehall vibe. In “Hollywood,” a collaboration with Earth, Wind & Fire, Monét explores her experiences living in Los Angeles, reflecting on the importance of staying grounded amidst the city’s allure. This track also features the laughter of her daughter, Hazel Monét Gaines, symbolizing how motherhood has reshaped Monét’s perspective.
Monét’s songwriting prowess shines throughout the album. Whether it’s the cheeky yet relatable lyrics of “Stop (Askin’ Me 4Shyt)” or the sentimental tone of “How Does It Make You Feel,” she demonstrates her skill in crafting lyrics that are both witty and poignant.
Overall, JAGUAR II is a cohesive narrative that showcases Victoria Monét’s growth as an artist. With this album, she continues to push the boundaries of R&B, blending past influences with contemporary sounds, and establishes herself as a major player in the genre.
36. CMAT – Crazymad, For Me
Crazymad, For Me, the 2023 album by CMAT, also known as Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, is a fascinating blend of wit, vulnerability, and musical diversity, making it a significant addition to her discography and one of the top albums of the year.
The album, following her acclaimed debut If My Wife New I’d Be Dead, diverges into more pop and rock genres, showing CMAT’s versatility as an artist. The influence of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell is evident in the album’s dramatic and emotional intensity, while the title draws inspiration from Sheena Easton’s “Morning Train (9 to 5).”
The album’s thematic focus is on a past romantic relationship CMAT had with an older man during her teens, exploring the evolution of her perspective over time. CMAT herself described “Crazymad, For Me” as a breakup album that took six years to conceptualize, emphasizing that time and perspective warp events and that there is no point in suffering.
Each track on the album carries its own distinct tone and style. For instance, “Such a Miranda” is a somber ballad, whereas “Have Fun!,” the album’s closing track, is energetic yet laced with sarcasm. Throughout the album, CMAT’s anger, vulnerability, and comedy give the songs an authentic feel, making them resonate strongly with listeners. One standout track, “Rent,” is noted for its emotional depth and the range of feelings conveyed through CMAT’s powerful voice.
Another notable aspect of the album is CMAT’s willingness to experiment with her music. “Where Are Your Kids Tonight?” featuring John Grant, is inspired by the ballads of the 1980s, showcasing her broad musical talent and knowledge. This track, in particular, is praised for its beautiful combination of vocals and haunting drumbeats, evoking comparisons to Kate Bush.
The album’s exploration of personal growth and the process of coming to terms with a breakup is told from the perspective of a future version of Thompson, reflecting on her formative relationships. Songs like “Phone Me” offer a bleak and honest assessment of past relationship mistakes, while “Vincent Kompany” humorously reconciles her younger self with her current self, highlighting CMAT’s trademark blend of raw honesty, self-reflection, and humor.
In summary, Crazymad, For Me is a richly layered album that solidifies CMAT’s place as a unique and influential artist in the music world. With its blend of pop, rock, and country influences, coupled with CMAT’s distinctive voice and songwriting, the album is a standout work that effectively captures the complexity of emotions and experiences, making it a must-listen for 2023.
35. Sofía Kourtesis – Madres
Sofía Kourtesis‘ Madres album is a vibrant and emotionally resonant body of work that brilliantly showcases her unique blend of house music with influences from her Peruvian heritage. The album stands out for its deep personal touch and cultural richness, a testament to Kourtesis’ growth as an artist.
Madres begins with a call for a maternal community inclusive of all identities, setting a tone of warmth and belonging. The track “How Music Makes You Feel Better” is a standout, blending radiant vocals and synths over ecstatic house beats. This song, along with others on the album, provides a joyful and uplifting experience, emphasizing melody, rhythm, and lyrics in a harmonious mix.
Another highlight of the album is “Estación Esperanza,” featuring Manu Chao. It’s a cosmic blend of twinkling sounds that adds a moment of serenity to the album. The album also delves into more sensual and melancholic moods with tracks like “Si Te Portas Bonito” and “Vajkoczy.” The latter, named after the neurosurgeon who saved Kourtesis’ mother’s life, is particularly moving, with triumphant horns symbolizing a celebration of survival and recovery.
Kourtesis also addresses social issues and pays tribute to artists and cultural activists from Peru, her home country. Tracks like “Funkhaus” and the album’s closer, “El Carmen,” highlight these themes. “El Carmen” samples Afro-Peruvian electro-folk group Novalima and Colombian cumbia group Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, showcasing Kourtesis’ stance against erasure of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian styles. These inclusions reflect Kourtesis’ deep connection to her roots and her commitment to bringing these sounds to a wider audience.
Overall, Madres is a captivating mix of autobiographical sketches and Latin house music that resonates with the listener on multiple levels. The album’s ability to balance dance floor euphoria with personal stories of liberation and celebration of life makes it a profound listening experience and a notable entry in Kourtesis’ discography. The album radiates authenticity and spirit, qualities that are the essence of Kourtesis’ music, making it a significant addition to the music world in 2023.
34. Yaeji – With A Hammer
Yaeji’s With A Hammer album stands as a groundbreaking work, marking a significant evolution in her artistic journey and earning a place among the top albums of the year. This debut full-length album diverges from Yaeji’s earlier club-oriented dance music, venturing into a more introspective, ambient, and emotive realm. It is a testament to Yaeji’s growth as an artist, as she delves into her experiences and emotions with unflinching honesty.
The album is celebrated for its unique blend of musical styles, seamlessly integrating influences from hyperpop, drum and bass, house, and footwork. This eclectic mix is complemented by Yaeji’s fluid use of both Korean and English lyrics, showcasing her Korean-American heritage. Tracks like “Submerge FM” and “Ready Or Not” exemplify this duality, with the latter transforming Korean lyrics into a new digital language. The song “1 Thing To Smash” is particularly noteworthy for its experimental sound and Arthur Russell-like reverberations.
The album’s thematic depth is evident in Yaeji’s exploration of her personal struggles, particularly as an Asian-American woman. She uses the album as a platform to address societal and self-imposed patterns that have repressed her, employing feisty lyricism and hard-hitting instrumentals. This shift in thematic focus represents a stark contrast to her previous works, offering a more coherent and mature statement. The track ‘Michin’ is a standout, juxtaposing English and Korean lyrics to convey a sense of breaking free from constraints.
Yaeji’s work on With A Hammer is also notable for its balance between dissonance and melody. While the album features jagged, experimental tracks, it also includes more melodic and straightforward songs like “For Granted” and “Done (Let’s Get It).” These tracks highlight Yaeji’s ability to create infectious hooks without losing her distinctive edge. The collaboration with Nourished by Time on “Happy” is a prime example of this balance, blending sensuality and tenderness with genre-defying elements.
Overall, With A Hammer is a multifaceted album that delves into various emotions and experiences, from anger and frustration to loneliness and trauma. Yaeji’s approach to these themes is not one-dimensional; instead, she explores the nuances of her emotions through her music. The album represents a significant step in Yaeji’s career, showcasing her versatility as both a singer and a DJ, and her willingness to push her creative boundaries further than ever before. It is a clear example of Yaeji’s evolution as an artist, reflecting her journey towards self-discovery and creative expression.
33. Baaba Maal – Being
Baaba Maal’s 2023 album, Being, stands as a testament to his ongoing evolution as an artist, merging his rich Senegalese musical heritage with contemporary sounds to create a work that is both innovative and introspective. This album marks Maal’s first full-length release since 2016’s The Traveller, and it is evident that this time has been used to explore new sonic territories and themes, particularly addressing the modernity and technology’s impact on African voices.
Being is characterized by its eclectic mix of musical styles, blending traditional Senegalese sounds with electronic elements, creating a soundscape that is both familiar and groundbreaking. The album opens with “Yerimayo Celebration,” which starts with a bluesy intro and then transforms into a rhythmically powerful piece, setting the tone for the entire album. This track, along with others like “Freak Out” and “Ndungu Ruumi,” showcases Maal’s ability to integrate traditional instruments and rhythms with modern production techniques, resulting in a uniquely hypnotic sound.
The album’s standout tracks feature a range of collaborations, adding depth and diversity to the overall sound. For example, “Freak Out,” a collaboration with The Very Best, is noted for its haunting melodies and Maal’s autotuned vocals, creating an almost hypnotic feel. “Mbeda Wella,” featuring rapper Paco Lenol, is an anthem of joy and positivity, leading into the graceful “Casamance Nights,” which is imbued with a sense of homecoming and reflection.
Throughout Being, Maal’s commitment to social and humanitarian issues is evident, not only in the music but also in his life’s work. As a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, he integrates messages addressing climate change and climate injustice, using his platform to give power to those who need it most. This blend of music and activism is a hallmark of Maal’s career and resonates deeply in Being.
Being is a journey through Maal’s musically diverse landscape, blending the traditional with the modern, and serving as a bridge between cultures. It’s an album that is both enjoyable and thought-provoking, demonstrating Baaba Maal’s mastery in creating music that is timeless, yet distinctly contemporary. This album’s inclusion among the top albums of 2023 is a testament to Maal’s enduring influence and creativity in the global music scene.
32. Durand Jones – Wait Til I Get Over
Durand Jones’ 2023 album Wait Til I Get Over is a profound and deeply personal exploration of his roots and experiences, marking a significant milestone in his career as a solo artist. The album stands out for its conceptual ambition, blending elements of gospel, bluesy-rock, and classic southern soul to paint a vivid picture of Jones’ hometown of Hillaryville, Louisiana. The project reflects a profound connection to his heritage and a celebration of his identity, particularly as a proud descendant of Longshoremen and farmers from the deep rural south of Louisiana.
Wait Til I Get Over is characterized by its soulful and emotionally resonant tracks, showcasing Jones’ vocal prowess and his ability to weave complex and heartfelt narratives. Key tracks such as “Lord Have Mercy,” “See It Through,” and “That Feeling” highlight the album’s thematic depth and Jones’ mastery in soul and R&B music. The album is likened to the works of iconic artists like Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson, affirming Jones’ position in the pantheon of great soul musicians.
The album’s first single, “That Feeling,” stands out for its portrayal of the complex emotions surrounding Jones’ first experience with queer love. It captures the thrill and the melancholy of first love, reflecting the joy of queer love and its accompanying angst. Another notable track, “Letter to My 17-Year-Old Self,” showcases Jones’ lyrical frankness and the song’s dynamic structure, which transitions from a funky soul number into an epic jazz suite.
“Someday We’ll Be Free,” a track inspired by Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” is an inspirational civil rights anthem that combines soulful crooning with confrontational lyrics. The addition of rapper Skypp, who delivers a powerful solo, adds a poignant layer to the track, reflecting on themes of resilience and hope amidst societal turmoil.
Overall, Wait Til I Get Over is a musical autobiography, offering a window into the various emotions and experiences that shape Jones’ life. The album’s blend of personal narratives and ambitious musicality makes it a thrilling listen, rightfully placing it among the top albums of 2023.
31. Hamish Hawk – Angel Numbers
Hamish Hawk’s 2023 album Angel Numbers is a sophisticated and multi-layered work that showcases his unique blend of indie-folk and chamber pop. The album is a union of ideas, elegantly mixing influences as diverse as Father John Misty, Lana Del Rey, Leonard Cohen, and The Smiths. Hawk’s songwriting on Angel Numbers is compared to a rock opera, with piano-driven tracks like “Think Of Us Kissing” and the stadium rock feel of “Dog-Eared August” highlighting his versatility.
Angel Numbers is characterized by its rich, atmospheric sound, with songs that explore a range of emotions and experiences. The opening track “Once Upon an Acid Glance” sets a celestial tone for the album, with its light keyboard touch and harmonious blend creating a church-like atmosphere. This ethereal quality is maintained throughout the album, as seen in “Rest and Veneers,” a collaboration with Samantha Crain that blends themes of love and societal critique.
The album’s diverse soundscape is further enriched by the inclusion of various musical styles and guest artists. For example, “Frontman,” featuring Anna B. Savage, brings a different dimension to the album, with organ indulgences adding to the track’s charm. “Sadie” starts as a mid-tempo song and ascends to blaring heights, showcasing Hawk’s ability to blend different genres seamlessly.
Angel Numbers is not just an album to be enjoyed once. Its depth and the multiplicity of audible nuances demand repeated listening to fully appreciate the intricate layers of its composition. The album is described as a world within itself, with each track offering a new perspective on life’s various aspects, from the mundane to the magical. Angel Numbers is a testament to Hamish Hawk’s evolving artistry and stands out as a significant addition to his discography.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2023!