Exclaim!'s 25 Best Albums of 2023 So Far
Published Jun 01, 2023The ingénue, the prodigy, the blinding comet of talent that comes crashing to earth from seemingly out of nowhere — there are few characters with more powerful gravitational pull and allure. But what about a slow burn? A long-simmering stock rather than a flash in the pan? It's a slightly less tantalizing narrative, sure, but the reward can be far more satisfying — and Exclaim!'s mid-year list, counting down the best albums that 2023 has offered up so far, is an ode to the glow up. It may be the year of the rabbit, but this list is all about the tortoise.
From underground workhorse bands who finally made the leap to superstar status to longtime craftsmen operating at the peak of their powers to indie tastemakers making the delirious pop star plunge, these are Exclaim!'s top 25 albums of 2023 so far.
25. Charlotte Cornfield
Could Have Done Anything
(Next Door Records)
Charlotte Cornfield has a light touch. The humour and compassion with which she tells stories about herself and other people on her latest record, Could Have Done Anything, is refreshing and endearing. The record is short, clocking in at less than half an hour, and most of the songs are similarly understated. This, as well as the diary entry intimacy of the songwriting, gives the album a spell-like quality that lasts long after the music ends.
24. Jessie Ware
That! Feels Good!
(PRM Records / Interscope Records)
Jessie Ware's 2020 album What's Your Pleasure? marked a brand new era for the British singer, one that ushered in a lavish disco revival and paid homage to the euphoric sounds of 1970s club music. Ware keeps the never-ending party going on That! Feels Good!, where everything is a little gutsier, a little sexier, a little more glamorous. With funk, dance pop, house and R&B this intoxicating, it isn't difficult to lose all sense of time in That! Feels Good!'s giant, glimmering discotheque.
(Rhythm Section International)
With her debut album, Mascarade, Gayance makes the leap from DJ and producer to fully fledged recording artist, making a strong case for global musical stardom along the way. Thanks to her refusal to settle on any one genre, along with an impressive guestlist of Montreal musical mainstays, Gayance has created a focused and seamless collection of skits and tracks that provide an engaging glance into both her life and vast musical repertoire.
22. Daniel Caesar
On NEVER ENOUGH, Daniel Caesar captures the purity of his debut album (2017's Freudian) and refines the exploratory sound he aimed for on his second (2019's CASE STUDY 01). Satisfying his artistic need to showcase that he's no one-trick pony, Caesar spreads his wings well beyond his gospel roots. But for balance, he tempers his sonic experiments with the raw, unembellished R&B that endeared him to many. By riding the line between caution and risk, Caesar hits his stride.
21. Kali Malone
Does Spring Hide Its Joy
Does Spring Hide Its Joy finds composer Kali Malone wielding the power of harmonics to rapturous effect. Written for a trio of Malone on sine wave oscillators, Stephen O'Malley on electric guitar and Lucy Railton on cello, the piece is a masterclass in the emotive and compositional potency of frequency interference patterns. Over the three distinct performances of the composition, slight gradations between individual instruments' tonal qualities begin to blur, giving way to the impression that the performers are generating a continuously blooming, limitless sonic territory. However expansive, Does Spring Hide Its Joy feels like Malone's most focused and singular work to date.
Liturgy's 93696 feels like the most cohesive version of the "Transcendental Black Metal" idea that Haela Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix has been pursuing since the very beginning. The music here is dense with the familiar themes and motifs of the band's earlier releases, but taken to their logical extremes to create a rapturous listening experience. Is it "real" black metal? Who cares? What it is, is one of the year's most unique and inspiring metal releases.
(True Panther Sounds)
Listen closely and you're bound to find something to like in this debut from New York's Model/Actriz. Post-punk, industrial, experimental noise, electronic, indie sleaze even musical theatre — all make up their confrontational din. Yet they're much more than the sum of their parts thanks to frontman Cole Haden, who revels in and subverts the tropes of his role while exulting the joys of love, lust, heartbreak, community and just plain being alive, always with a playful wink.
This Is Why
Paramore's impeccable sixth LP sees the band at the height of their powers, and may well be their best album thus far. With incredible vocal performances from Hayley Williams, Zac Farro's tightest and most impressive drumming to date, and infectious riffs throughout from Taylor York, the trio find an undeniable groove here. From the catchy hook of the opening "This Is Why" through to the hazy catharsis of closer "Thick Skull," there's not a single skippable moment.
17. Jonah Yano
portrait of a dog
Jonah Yano's ability to articulate his grandfather's battle with dementia so tenderly over the course of portrait of a dog is profoundly touching. Voice recordings strewn sparsely throughout the album offer an intimate glimpse of Yano's family as his delicate vocals rest gently atop the rich jazz instrumentals supplied by BADBADNOTGOOD. Few albums this year have blended poignant storytelling and sonic excellence with the surgical perfection showcased on portrait of a dog.
Kelela has written that first spreading her wings to create Raven began with "feelings of isolation and alienation … as a Black femme in dance music." In full flight on one of the year's best, the visionary delivers a remarkably sequenced set of electronics swinging between club exhilaration and quieter reflection, to form what she calls "the sound of our vulnerability turned to power." The strength Kelela finds in Raven's community of collaborators — Asmara, LSDXOXO, BAMBII, Kaytranada and more — is palpable.
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