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A&E’s best music of 2023

By Jay Collura , Arman Saxena , Jacob Pellegrino and Hadley Medlock     1/9/24 11:30pm

From record-breaking tours to smaller indie albums, 2023 was a year filled with great music. While chart-topping hits created a smaller impact than usual in the year’s musical landscape, many iconic and beloved artists released albums. The Thresher’s A&E writers recap ten of this year’s best album releases.

10. “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” by Lana Del Rey

While the Thresher originally gave Del Rey’s “Ocean Blvd” a three out of five star rating due to its “directionlessness,” it’s been an album that’s only gotten better with time. From Del Rey’s haunting, whisper-soft vocals to expert collaborations with artists like Father John Misty and Bleachers, the singer’s ninth studio album is full of the depth and philosophical introspection that Del Rey has come to be known for. Experimental in sound but still trademark Lana, Del Rey seems to continue maturing with each track. — Hadley Medlock

9. “Quaranta” by Danny Brown

“Quaranta” is a spiritual successor to Brown’s 2012 release “XXX,” some of his most personal work to date. The album’s title is Italian for forty and the album is largely about Brown’s life experiences as he enters his forties. Danny Brown’s confessional verses are heard over instrumentals that vary from sparse to intense from producers such as The Alchemist. Danny Brown’s personal lyricism seen here showcases another side of one of rap’s most interesting musicians, while still keeping his trademark style throughout. — Jacob Pellegrino

8. “Unreal Unearth” by Hozier

A masterful concept album crafted with grace, ripe with emotion and complete with powerful vocals, Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth” has easily cemented Hozier as an artist and performer to be reckoned with. Drawing upon the epic of Dante’s “Inferno,” “Unreal Unearth” takes listeners on a cathartic journey through hell and back again that is full of well-thought out lyrics and mythical allusions. From the swelling opening of “De Selby (Part 1)” to the ascendant ending of “First Light,” this is an album in which Hozier just keeps getting better. — Hadley Medlock

7. “Javelin” by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens has made a career of bittersweet and introspective indie and folk songs, and yet “Javelin” still feels like one of his most deeply personal works. As “Carrie and Lowell” was a product of Sufjan wrestling with his grief following the death of his mother, “Javelin” is marked by the grief following the death of his partner Evans Richardson. “Javelin” is a heartbreaking album featuring an ever-poetic Sufjan laying bare his experiences with longing, love, Christianity and much more. Sonically, Stevens marries the folk of “Carrie and Lowell” with the electronic instrumentation of “The Age of Adz,” culminating in songs like the album’s climax “Shit Talk,” a worthy contender for 2023’s song of the year. — Arman Saxena

6. “That! Feels Good!” by Jessie Ware

After capturing a groovier, disco sound on her last album “What’s Your Pleasure?”, Jessie Ware has cemented her dance-pop virtuosity on “That! Feels Good!”. The title is incredibly fitting - this album will put you in a good mood. Each track features incredibly catchy, layered instrumentation and soaring, rich vocals from Ware herself, giving the album an incredibly lavish yet energetic feel. Lyrically, the songs are endearingly melodramatic, but this simplicity allows the wonderful production to shine through. Seeing Ware perform at Austin City Limits was an absolute highlight of the festival, but even if you missed that, this album wonderfully captures Jessie Ware’s exuberant musical ethos and energy. — Jay Collura

5. “Scaring the Hoes” by JPEGMAFIA x Danny Brown

When it comes to the world of contemporary alternative hip-hop, JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown are the dynamic duo of the moment. With releases like “Atrocity Exhibition” and “LP!”, these two artists have delivered some of the best rap albums of the last 10 years. As a result, “Scaring the Hoes” is an event album for many and it feels like one. Bursting with eclectic energy, this album features JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown at their most maximalist; their infectious enthusiasm making this a contender for the most fun listen of the year. — Arman Saxena

4. “The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We” by Mitski

Mitski’s career has gone through many transformations. From the raw, anxious indie rock of “Bury Me at Makeout Creek” to the bittersweet and poppy “Be the Cowboy” and the lush 80’s inspired synthpop of “Laurel Hell,” Mitski has tapped into so many different genres and styles. With her newest album, Mitski continues that experimentation, dipping into folk, Americana and country influences, and delivers her best album since 2016’s “Puberty 2.” Mitski is one of the best singer-songwriters of her generation, and her latest sees her at her poetic best, ranging from the romantic “My Love Mine All Mine” to the devastating verses of “I’m Your Man.”  — Arman Saxena

3. “Zach Bryan” by Zach Bryan

With his relatively recent rise to fame, quickly moving from playing smaller venues to football stadiums on tour, Zach Bryan has not slowed down with releasing music. One of the most vital artists working in the country genre today, Bryan mixes country, rock, and folk to create a unique sound that puts in his songwriting front and center on his eponymous album. “Zach Bryan” is an album that justifies repeat listens, filled with songs that will stay in your head and beg to be heard again. As a writer, Bryan is able to universalize his personal experiences in his music, creating songs based on his own life that can resonate with wider audiences. — Jacob Pellegrino

2. “the record” by Boygenius

An effective and touching ode to friendship, love and being seen, Boygenius’ first full-length album “the record” was a long-awaited project that soon became an instant classic. A true testament to each member’s individual power, “the record” showcases the unique singing and songwriting expertise of Phoebe Bridgers, Julian Baker and Lucy Dacus in harmonious ways. With the success of their self-titled six song EP in 2018 and ongoing wildly successful solo careers, boygenius had lofty expectations to live up to that were easily surpassed with each song on this album. 

— Hadley Medlock

1. “Lahai” by Sampha

Sampha’s “Lahai” is an album like nothing else, existing completely in its own lane with an otherworldly, ethereal sound. It makes you feel as if you’re floating with its beautifully layered production and Sampha’s vocals that have made him such a desired collaborator across the industry. Infused with an indelible sense of joy and wonder, the album is an ideal fusion of organic and electronic sounds, a combination that leads to an experimentation at once singular yet grounded in familiarity. The sound “Lahai” brings is distinct from anything else but never alien from the human experience. 

— Jacob Pellegrino

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