Favorite Albums of 2023
Boygenius - The Record - As solid an indie-rock supergroup album as you're likely to ever find, this one has a lot of clever writing, crisp production that highlights the vocal interplay, and catchy hooks that lodge themselves in your ear for days.
Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert - The infamous Dylan concert is great, and this close-to-the-original live performance of that original setlist is great as well. The small variations from the original - both in musical arrangement and in vocal stylings - do a lot to further an appreciation for both performances.
Explosions in the Sky - End - A new EITS album is always cause for celebration, and their first new record in seven years sees them once again taking their noodling crescendos into orbit. Great stuff to write too, as always.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Weathervanes - It probably seems a given that if Jason Isbell puts out a record it will make my annual list (see also: Jeff Tweedy or Thom Yorke), but it is hard to argue that this record isn't yet another set of smart lyrics, catchy tunes, and considered playing.
Metallica - 72 Seasons - This record is, essentially, a greatest-hits style record with all new songs. That is, 72 Seasons gives you new songs that each sound something like the style/sound of some Metallica hit through the years. There's some songs that sound like they fit on "Ride the Lightning," some that sound like they fit on "Load," etc. Fortunately, that means that there's plenty of stuff here that sounds more like 80s/early 90s Metallica than any record since that time period...as a result it holds its own as easily the best thing the band has done since at least "The Black Album."
Ragana - Desolation's Flower - This one reminded me a bit of Deafheaven's stuff from a decade ago and shares a lot of the production values throughout - layered wall-of-sound guitars, driving kick drums, and hoarse but melodic vocals...all these came together to make this my favorite metal record of the year.
Say ZuZu - No Time to Lose - This record sounds like it came out in 1994 or so, right around the height of the mainstreaming of alt-country music. Great songwriting and catchy melodies on an album that regularly highlights the acoustic guitar and sounds like a timecapsule.
Colin Stetson - When We Were What Wept for the Sea - While Stetson has done a lot of soundtrack and shorter/side-project work in recent years, this is his first full-length solo record since 2017 and it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his best prior work. A concept album that addresses his father's recent passing (especially with the one vocal track, the mournful "The Lighthouse III", sung by Iarla Ó Lionáird), this entire album is very much a solitary piece that is best experienced in a single setting.
Wilco - Cousin - This record is more of a "grower" than most Wilco records tend to be, and there's a lot of interesting instrumentation and experimentation hanging around the edges of a lot of these songs. At times, it sounds like Wilco's trying a little too hard to recapture an "experimental" vibe...but when it works, there's tracks here which sound like they'd stand up well against some of the band's classic-era work.
Honorable Mentions: Sonic Youth - "Live in Brooklyn, NY," Animal Collective - "Isn't it Now?," Janelle Monae - "The Age of Pleasure," Andre 3000 - "New Blue Sun," 100 Gecs - "10,000 gecs," Oneohtrix Point Never - "Again"