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.
50. Potter Payper – Real Back In Style
Potter Payper’s debut studio album, Real Back In Style, is a powerful narrative of authenticity and resilience, marking a significant milestone in the British rapper’s career. Released on May 12, 2023, by 0207 Def Jam, the album follows his acclaimed 2021 mixtape Thanks for Waiting and the Training Day mixtape trilogy.
The announcement of the album on April 21, 2023, through Payper’s social media, and its promotion through singles such as “Blame Brexit,” “Multifaceted,” and “Corner Boy,” set the stage for its impactful release. Real Back In Style has been received with universal acclaim, as reflected in its Metacritic score of 84 out of 100. Critics have lauded the album for its storytelling, realism, and its reflection of a newly mature era for UK rap.
Payper’s narratives are described as impassioned and fiery, offering a tightly woven and cohesive presentation of his signature road rap storytelling. The instrumentals, resonating with the power and expansiveness, complement his cleverly crafted stories. Joe Goggins from Rolling Stone noted the album’s authenticity and its production nods to 90s hip hop, encapsulating its deep roots in the genre.
In the album, Payper masterfully balances tales of struggle, hardship, and resolution against the backdrop of adversity. His lyrics are incisive, targeting politicians, the criminal justice system, and personal challenges, as seen in tracks like “Blame Brexit” and “Toy Story 1 & 2.” The standout track “Money Or Victims” is particularly striking, where Payper delves into the harrowing reality of addiction and his own involvement in perpetuating cycles of misery.
The album also offers moments of levity, as in “How Can I Explain,” a triumphant acknowledgment of his success and freedom post-incarceration. Payper’s delivery, marked by a juxtaposition of smooth flow and gravelly voice, and his minimalist beat selection, heavily influenced by trap and 90s hip-hop music, make Real Back in Style a remarkable addition to his discography and one of the top albums of 2023.
49. Kali Uchis – Red Moon In Venus
Kali Uchis‘ Red Moon in Venus album is a mesmerizing odyssey through the complexities of love, lust, and heartache, showcasing her Colombian influences and angelic vocals. This third studio album marks a significant evolution in Uchis’ artistic journey, presenting a more mature perspective on adult relationships and deep human connections. The album, which spans 43 minutes, delves into the cycles of a relationship — from the honeymoon phase to lust, toxicity, breakup, and self-recovery, only to restart the cycle again.
The album’s narrative begins with the enchanting track “I Wish you Roses,” which uses metaphorical roses to symbolize the fleeting nature of love, foreshadowing the end of a relationship even in its honeymoon phase. “Worth The Wait,” featuring Omar Apollo, captures the essence of lust and sexual desire, while “All Mine” envelops the listener in Uchis’ world where love revolves around her. “Love Between” samples a 1970s Motown track, embracing a more inclusive approach to lyrics and evoking a dreamy sense of romantic connection.
“Fantasy,” a collaboration with Don Toliver, marks the transition from romantic idealization to confronting the reality of relationships. Spanish tracks like “Como Te Quiero Yo” and “Hasta Cuando” explores themes of toxicity and jealousy, signifying a shift in the relationship cycle. The album’s pop-centric anthem, “Endlessly,” encapsulates Uchis’ desire for adoration, contrasting the smooth grooves of “Blue,” which introduces the heartbreak phase. The album concludes with “Happy Now,” offering a sense of closure and readiness to move beyond past pain and heartache.
Red Moon in Venus is a rich tapestry of R&B, interweaving gorgeous, loving lyrics for the good times, soothing vocals for the bad, and sassy, danceable tracks for recovery and empowerment. Kali Uchis leans into the full spectrum of relationship dynamics, breaking through the themes of pure toxicity often found in the R&B genre. The album stands as a celestial exploration of romance and personal growth, solidifying its place among the top albums of 2023 and setting the stage for Uchis’ continued artistic evolution.
48. L’Rain – I Killed Your Dog
L’Rain’s 2023 album, I Killed Your Dog, marks an audacious step in the Brooklyn-based experimental musician’s artistic journey. Released on October 13, 2023, through Mexican Summer, the album stands as her third studio venture and is lauded as her “boldest statement to date.”
L’Rain, whose real name is Taja Cheek, described the album as an “anti-break-up” record, showcasing a blend of indie dad rock and experimental electronics. The album delves into a “world of contradictions,” described as sensual yet terrifying and strange, a reflection of Cheek’s commitment to exploring the depths of her creative vision.
Musically, I Killed Your Dog indulges in swirling soundscapes, characterized by a more immediate rock and folk influence. This new direction highlights a crystallization of L’Rain’s tactile approach to songwriting, as she experiments with rock music tropes and the lineage of folk as Black music in America.
The album’s lead single, “New Year’s UnResolution,” is a quiet explosion of synths and drums, diving into the theme of relationship demise and the erosion of memories post-breakup. The second single, “Pet Rock,” serves as an ode to the white dad rock that Cheek had never listened to, accompanied by a music video filled with miniatures.
Critically, I Killed Your Dog has been met with universal acclaim, earning a score of 87 out of 100 on Metacritic. Pitchfork awarded the album their ‘Best New Music’ distinction, highlighting its transition from introspective music to more baroque dreamscapes. The album is described as bolder and brasher than L’Rain’s previous records, with every harmony, loop, and skit filled with verve.
In this latest record, L’Rain seeks to push the envelope further with a broader theatrical scope, spine-chilling lyrics, and mesmerizing musicality and production. The meticulous production details create an encompassing landscape of dreamy instrumentation, featuring guitars, synths, and strings that weave in and out of each song, providing picturesque backdrops to Cheek’s ethereal vocals.
Her performance balances seductive, devious, and playful elements, embracing a distinctive feminine twinge that colors each creative decision. Signaling its significant impact in the music landscape of the year, I Killed Your Dog is an artistic statement that is likely to inspire many artists in her sphere for years to come.
47. Laurel Halo – Atlas
Laurel Halo’s Atlas album emerges as a pinnacle of her evolving artistry, a stunning foray into electronic, ambient, and jazz sounds that firmly cements her status as a visionary in the electronic music sphere. Released on September 22, through her own label Awe, Atlas represents Halo’s fourth full-length album, featuring notable contributions from saxophonist Bendik Giske, violinist James Underwood, cellist Lucy Railton, and vocalist Coby Sey.
Atlas began taking shape in 2020, with Halo delving into the realms of electroacoustic sound design and developing a passion for piano. This journey led her to Ina-GRM Studios in Paris, where she spent time experimenting with simple piano sketches, later enhancing them with electronic flourishes and acoustic instrumentation. The album represents a culmination of years of research and experimentation, blending ambient and jazz elements into a cohesive and immersive soundscape.
The album announcement came on July 12 with the release of the lead single “Belleville,” marking a welcome return after a five-year hiatus. The title track “Atlas,” released on August 8, is an ambient track filled with dramatic flourishes, accompanied by strings and an abstract sense of dread. This track epitomizes the album’s essence, combining intricate sound design with evocative musical narratives.
Critically, Atlas has received a score of 78 out of 100 on Metacritic, indicating generally favorable reception. The album is described as a “richly immersive headphones experience,” a multi-dimensional sonic journey that blends chaos and nostalgia. Each track forms part of a dense collage, with piano and strings providing familiar anchors amidst thick, enveloping soundscapes. “Atlas” is thus hailed as a testament to Halo’s prowess in sound exploration and her ability to evoke deep emotional resonance through her music.
Described as an exceptional example of translating theory into practice, Atlas is commended for its otherworldly sound yet grounded by subtle piano parts at vital points. The album is seen as a modern minimalist triumph, standing tall alongside groundbreaking works like Brian Eno’s Music for Airports and Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians.
It’s a refreshing listen, combining numerous musical vernaculars into a seamless, continuous auditory experience that is both captivating and intellectually stimulating. Overall, Atlas by Laurel Halo is not just a musical album; it’s an artistic statement that showcases the breadth of her talent and the depth of her creative vision, making it one of the standout albums of 2023.
46. Kara Jackson – Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love?
Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love? by Kara Jackson is a profound exploration of the human condition, blending music and poetry into an emotionally resonant journey. As the former U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate, Jackson’s transition to music has been nothing short of revelatory. Released through September Recordings, this album marks a significant evolution in her artistic expression.
Jackson began demoing the songs in her childhood bedroom during the early COVID-19 lockdowns, later joined by co-producers KAINA, NNAMDÏ, and Sen Morimoto. The album’s first single, “no fun/party,” highlights Jackson’s unique lyrical flair and introspective exploration of love’s complexity. The album received a score of 90 out of 100 on Metacritic, indicating universal acclaim.
The album is not just a collection of songs but a narrative of love, loss, and self-discovery. Tracks like “Pawnshop” and “Dickhead Blues” display Jackson’s keen ability to weave lyrical wit with music, exploring the transactional nature of love and the world-weariness of romantic striving.
Her songs vary in form and length, often shifting tempi and structure mid-tune, which creates a rich and varied sonic landscape. This diversity in composition reflects the album’s thematic depth, examining love and relationships through a lens of self-discovery and empowerment.
The title track, reportedly the first one Jackson wrote, is a direct and affecting piece, inspired by personal loss and the universal experience of mortality. Her style of singing is conversational and intimate, bringing the listener closer to her emotional world. This intimacy, however, is not always comforting; it can be painful or harrowing, reflecting the album’s exploration of love’s complexities.
In summary, Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love? is a stunning debut from Kara Jackson. It stands as a testament to her poetic prowess and her ability to translate complex emotions into music. The album’s exploration of love, loss, and self-realization resonates deeply, making it one of the most compelling and impactful albums of 2023.
45. Jamila Woods – Water Made Us
Jamila Woods’ Water Made Us album stands as a landmark in her discography, showcasing a profound exploration of relationships and self-reflection. This album marks a significant evolution from her previous works, with a focus on intimate and nuanced storytelling, set against a backdrop of lush neo-soul and alternative R&B soundscapes.
The thematic core of Water Made Us is relationships, but Woods approaches this universal experience with a level of detail and introspection that sets it apart. The album begins with “Bugs,” a track that introduces the theme of vulnerability and openness in relationships. Woods’ songwriting shines here, using everyday observations to delve into deeper emotional truths. This track, along with others like “Tiny Garden” and “Practice,” showcase her ability to turn mundane details into profound insights.
Woods’ exploration of love and relationships is not just limited to the romantic. Her songwriting weaves through the complexities of love, embracing imperfections and celebrating the journey of understanding and growth. The album is interspersed with interludes that further enhance its narrative depth. For instance, “Let the Cards Fall” is more of a conversation than a song, offering a candid glimpse into Woods’ thoughts on love and relationships.
Musically, Water Made Us is a testament to Woods’ artistic growth. The album’s production is versatile, ranging from the soulful and introspective to upbeat and rhythmically engaging. Songs like “Backburner” and “Boomerang” juxtapose thoughtful lyrics with lively musical arrangements, reflecting the dynamic nature of relationships. The production talent of Chris McClenney and others, including Peter CottonTale, is evident throughout, providing a sound that’s both contemporary and reminiscent of classic R&B and soul.
Critics have lauded Water Made Us for its artistic merit and the maturity of its themes. The album has been described as possibly the most intelligent album about love this decade, celebrating flaws and the ability to work through them, a stark contrast to the often superficial treatment of love in popular music.
In summary, Water Made Us is a journey through the ebbs and flows of relationships and self-discovery. Jamila Woods has created a work that is both deeply personal and universally relatable, securing its place as one of the top albums of 2023. Her poetic lyrics, coupled with soulful and innovative musical arrangements, make “Water Made Us” a standout addition to her discography and a significant work in contemporary music.
44. 100 gecs – 10,000 gecs
10,000 gecs, the sophomore album by the hyperpop duo 100 gecs, represents a significant evolution in the band’s sound and style, marking it as one of the standout albums of 2023. This album has taken the duo’s signature blend of genres to new heights, incorporating elements of rock, nu-metal, and ska, while maintaining the core hyperpop sensibility that initially defined their music.
The album opens with “Dumbest Girl Alive,” which immediately sets the tone with its combination of the overwhelming THX deep note and a gritty dad-rock guitar riff, showcasing a departure from the nightcore-esque pitch-shifted vocals prominent in their previous work. This track heralds a new era for 100 gecs, where they venture into more varied sonic territories without losing their core identity.
One of the standout tracks, “757,” harks back to the hyperpop roots of the duo, featuring pitched-up vocals and cleverly crafted lyrics that make it irresistibly fun to sing along to. The futuristic production of this song, including laser blasts in the outro, exemplifies the band’s ability to push the boundaries of hyperpop while still delivering catchy and enjoyable music.
The album is not without its experimental moments. “One Million Dollars” is an avant-garde piece that utilizes TikTok’s Text-to-Speech function over chaotic electric guitars and a volatile drum machine. This track, while brief, challenges traditional notions of what constitutes a song, adding to the album’s unique character.
Tracks like “Hollywood Baby,” “Doritos & Fritos,” and “MeMeMe” are filled with euphoria, embedding themselves into the listener’s subconscious. These songs showcase 100 gecs’ ability to blend infectious melodies with their distinctive blend of sounds. “MeMeMe,” in particular, stands out as a mature and sincere expression of the duo, dealing implicitly with the parasocial realities of their fanbase and explicitly with their personal struggles in connecting with others.
Furthermore, the album includes tracks that lean heavily on novelty, such as “I Got My Tooth Removed” and “Frog on the Floor.” These songs, while entertaining, highlight the duo’s penchant for playful and somewhat absurd concepts, adding a lightheartedness to the album’s overall feel.
Overall, “10,000 gecs” by 100 gecs is a bold and innovative album that successfully expands on the band’s hyperpop foundation, incorporating a wide range of influences and styles. It stands as a testament to their creative versatility and positions them firmly as one of the most exciting acts in the contemporary music scene, deserving of its place among the top albums of 2023.
43. Fever Ray – Radical Romantics
Fever Ray’s 2023 album, Radical Romantics, stands as a compelling and transformative addition to their discography, solidifying their place as a formidable force in the realm of electronic and avant-pop music. The album, released on Rabid Records, continues Fever Ray’s tradition of combining heavy electronic textures with emotionally charged lyrics, resulting in a body of work that is both immediately accessible and deeply layered.
At the core of Radical Romantics is an exploration of the multifaceted nature of love. Fever Ray, the solo project of Karin Dreijer, dives into this theme with a nuanced understanding, examining love’s different angles and expressions. The album is brimming with bristling and creeping avant-pop sounds that capture the intensity, passion, and despair often associated with love affairs.
Each track serves as a unique expression of these themes, from the yearning energy of “What They Call Us” to the raw and visceral “Even It Out,” a track charged with protective parental love and anger towards a bully. This song, in particular, reflects Fever Ray’s unfiltered articulation of rebellious sentiments, which has become a signature element of their work.
The production on Radical Romantics is characterized by its bold and experimental nature. The album’s sound design is a meticulous blend of drum patterns, synth lines, and pitch-bent vocals, creating a sonic landscape that is both unsettling and captivating.
Notable tracks like “Kandy” and “Carbon Dioxide” exemplify this, with their intricate layers of sound that build to create a rich, immersive listening experience. The album’s production balances its heavier industrial elements with a more sensitive and emotive core, showcasing Fever Ray’s ability to temper sharp edges with a deeply human touch.
Radical Romantics also stands out for its lyrical profundity, with Fever Ray delivering lines that resonate with listeners on multiple levels. The lyrics convey sincere reflections on love, acceptance, and rejection, often blurring the lines between different emotional states and experiences. The album is a testament to Fever Ray’s mastery of language and their ability to evoke a wide range of emotions through their words.
In summary, Radical Romantics is a testament to Fever Ray’s continued evolution as an artist. The album’s exploration of love in all its complexity, combined with its innovative sound design and profound lyricism, makes it a standout release in 2023. Fever Ray’s latest work is not just an album; it’s a captivating journey through the many stages and forms of love, marking it as one of the year’s most significant and impactful releases
42. Water From Your Eyes – Everyone’s Crushed
Everyone’s Crushed, the 2023 album from Water From Your Eyes, is a unique and compelling addition to the indie music landscape, showcasing the duo’s continued evolution and creativity. This album, marking their debut on Matador Records, presents a significant leap in their artistic journey, offering a sonic experience that is as challenging as it is rewarding.
The album opens with “Structure,” a track that nods to the duo’s past works while setting the stage for the new sonic directions explored in the album. “Barely,” which follows, exemplifies this shift with its Sonic Youth-inspired vocal delivery and disjointed guitar riffs, anchored by a driving beat that remains catchy despite the song’s complexity. “Out There” continues this trend, with its Hawaiian xylophone-like synth adding a unique texture to the album’s soundscape.
The production of Everyone’s Crushed is noted for its exceptional quality, creating a lush and immersive atmosphere. The album features layers of pulsating synths, groovy basslines, and intricate percussion, all of which complement the ethereal vocals of the duo. This intricate production is key to the album’s appeal, as it allows each musical element to shine while maintaining a cohesive and engaging listening experience.
The album’s distinctiveness is further highlighted by its experimentation with a wide range of influences and styles. The instrumentation, while straightforward in its components (electric guitar, bass, and drums), takes on an otherworldly character, often sounding as if played by a computer or sampled from a corrupted file. This unique approach to instrumentation adds to the album’s allure, making it difficult to visualize people playing the music, which is both disarming and intriguing.
Songs like “Barley” borrow elements from dance music, while “Remember Not My Name” carries a dream pop haze reminiscent of Broadcast. “Open” presents a dread-filled sea of distortion and feedback, and the closing track “Buy My Product” stands out for its straightforward, almost playful nature, resembling a catchy preset song from an old keyboard.
The album’s unsettling, experimental nature is further emphasized in the dissonant, electronic style that dominates throughout. Tracks like “Structure” and “Barley” feature frantic electronic beeps and distorted sounds, creating soundscapes that are both eerie and captivating. Rachel Brown’s vocals provide a point of familiarity amidst the chaos, her soft and intimate delivery serving as a comforting presence in the otherwise dissonant and challenging sonic environment.
Water From Your Eyes also demonstrates a knack for balancing the bracing and unusual with quality and inventiveness. Tracks like “Buy My Product” and “Out There” showcase this balance, featuring hyperactive dance beats and a mix of steel drum dub and dancehall keyboards, respectively. The album, filled with rapid transitions and a variety of influences, from hardcore bass lines to orchestral samples, creates a listening experience that is both original and engaging.
In conclusion, Everyone’s Crushed is a standout album that solidifies Water From Your Eyes’ position as one of the most interesting acts in contemporary music. Their ability to blend subversive elements with catchy melodies results in an album that is not only original but also deeply reflective of the duo’s restless creativity. This album is a testament to their potential and significantly deserving of its place among the top albums of 2023.
41. Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
Lana Del Rey’s 2023 album Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd stands as a powerful testament to her evolving artistry, marking a significant milestone in her illustrious career. This album, her ninth studio release, presents a multifaceted exploration of themes ranging from love and family to spirituality, showcasing Del Rey’s continued growth as a songwriter and artist.
Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd distinguishes itself with its diverse stylistic range, integrating elements of adult alternative pop/rock, contemporary singer/songwriter, and alternative/indie rock genres. Del Rey’s exploration of new themes, including reflections on God and her family, adds a layer of depth and introspection to her work. This album is not just an expression of her eternal quest for transcendent romance but also a celebration of different forms of love, including familial and divine love.
Collaboration plays a pivotal role in the album, with various artists contributing to its richness. The album art boldly highlights the names of these collaborators, reflecting the inclusive and communal spirit of the project. The opening track “The Grants” immediately deviates from Del Rey’s signature style, featuring the voices of singers Melodye Perry, Pattie Howard, and Shikena Jones, before Del Rey joins in. This introduction sets the tone for an album that is as much about artistic collaboration as it is about Del Rey’s individual expression.
One of the album’s standout moments is the duet “Let the Light In” with Father John Misty, an artist also known for his profound songwriting. Their collaboration results in a track that perfectly complements Del Rey’s style while showcasing the distinct flair of Father John Misty. The song “Peppers,” influenced by Tommy Genesis’ “Angelina,” is another highlight, capturing the essence of love with its sunny and bouncy melody.
Throughout the album, Del Rey revisits and recontextualizes themes and motifs from her previous works, creating a sense of continuity and evolution in her music. The final track, “Taco Truck x VB,” brings back the familiar sound of “Venice Bitch” from Norman Fxxking Rockwell! but with a new twist, integrating 808s and trap-style production reminiscent of her 2017 album Lust For Life. This interplay of past and present elements in her music underscores Del Rey’s established and recognizable sound, which remains distinct and compelling regardless of the stylistic variations she explores.
Producer Jack Antonoff’s contributions across most of the album play a significant role in shaping its sound. Antonoff, known for his work with other prominent artists, finds a unique synergy with Del Rey, resulting in a production style that emphasizes warmth and intimacy over bombast. His influence is particularly evident in the song “Margaret,” a touching tribute to love and hope, and a high point of the album. Del Rey’s collaboration with Antonoff demonstrates her ability to inspire and be inspired by her fellow artists, leading to some of her most affecting and memorable songs.
In summary, Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is a compelling addition to Lana Del Rey’s discography, showcasing her evolution as an artist and her ability to create deeply personal and resonant music. Through its exploration of new themes, collaborative spirit, and stylistic diversity, the album stands out as a significant release in 2023, further cementing Del Rey’s status as one of the most influential and talented singer-songwriters of our time.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2023!