’s Top 30 Albums of 2023

Best of 2023

And we are back, once again, with our annual ranking of our favorite albums of the year. Below you’ll find the contributor best of 2023 list with blurbs written by the staff talking about why we loved these albums. Each album title links to a streaming page so you can check out anything you may have missed. There’s also a playlist featuring a song from every album on this list, and a few staff members have shared their individual lists and some commentary in their blogs.

As always, thanks for spending 2023 with us, and I hope you find something new to check out and love.

Note: Check the bottom of this post for links to individual contributor lists.

Top Albums of 2023

1. Fall Out Boy – So Much (for) Stardust

As long as this corner of the internet has been hopping along, Fall Out Boy have been one of those bands who have always been top of mind. And that’s not just because of their ascension from a small pop-punk band that was featured on MTV to playing arenas all over the world, but rather due to the band’s innate ability to make you feel something in their music. Whether it be Pete Wentz’s knack for writing killer lyrics in a hook that stays in your mind for days on end, to Patrick Stump’s vocal range that puts most band’s frontmen to shame, Fall Out Boy have earned their right at the top of the mountain of this scene’s popularity. So Much (For) Stardust took all of that long-lived legacy of the band, rolled it up into a complex firecracker, and exploded in magical/vibrant colors all over the place. The promotion cycle even included the very first vinyl record to include the band members’ tears (called “Crynyl”), and singles that will ultimately stand the test of time even as we turn the page on 2023. Fall Out Boy are undeniable, and they made their way towards the top of our contributors’ list once again. – Adam Grundy

2. Blink-182 – One More Time…

Having Tom Delonge back in Blink-182 just feels right. Like that last missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle, or a connection with an old friend you haven’t seen in forever, having Tom back in the fold in the classic Blink lineup makes everything better. Jason wrote majestically about this exact feeling in his “essential reading” review of the album, and it’s hard to not get a little emotional when hearing their comeback single “One More Time” with the gut-wrenching refrain of “Do I have to die to hear you miss me?” Blink-182 means so much to so many people, so to have these three musicians and beautiful souls re-connecting on all cylinders was quite the treat in ‘23. From completing the “Anthem trilogy” in “Anthem Pt. 3” kicking off the LP to the closing notes of “Childhood” wrapping up this latest chapter in the band members’ lives, everything clicked directly into place at just the right time. It’s a magical formula that you just can’t quantify, but you know it’s there when you hear it. The three core members of Blink-182 are back, the tunes are awesome, and all is right in the music world once again. – Adam Grundy

3. The Gaslight Anthem – History Books

Resurrection. If there was one theme to the music of 2023, that might have been it. So many bands I never, ever thought I’d hear new music from again in my life came roaring back into the picture, often with vital work. History Books brings back the long-dormant Gaslight Anthem, but not in a way that pretends time hasn’t passed. Instead, History Books contends with all those years – with time and battle scars and mortality – and does it so beautifully. “We circle ‘round the sun until someday we won’t”; “I was invincible many years ago when I was so much stronger”; “I wish I could do my life over, I’d be young better now.” Again and again on this album, frontman Brian Fallon sings about the burden of age and how it humbles you. Fallon writing about faded youth isn’t necessarily new, but it hits different when you’re pushing mid-30s or 40s than it did when you were 21, and it hits different when his voice sounds older, wiser, more weathered. There’s vulnerability here that wasn’t present on those earlier Gaslight albums – admissions of regret or pain or weakness that probably would have been anathema to the punk listeners who served as this band’s first fans. But The Gaslight Anthem don’t care about being “punk” anymore, nor do they care about running away from comparisons to Bruce Springsteen (who shows up as a duet partner on the title track) or about making sure every song works in the context of a rock ‘n’ roll concert (there are a lot of ballads here, and some of them, particularly “Michigan 1975,” steal the show). Brian once said he didn’t want to make another Gaslight album unless he could write songs that could stand up alongside the stuff on The ’59 Sound. On History Books, he somehow does just that…and makes it look easy. – Craig Manning

4. Foo Fighters – …But Here We Are

“You showed me how to breathe, never showed me how to say goodbye/You showed me how to be, never showed me how to say goodbye.” Dave Grohl sings those words on “The Teacher,” a sprawling 10-minute prog-rock epic that serves as the penultimate track on But Here We Are, the 11th Foo Fighters album and a record unlike any other they’ve ever made. Written in the wake of two incalculable losses – both the band’s drummer, Taylor Hawkins, and Grohl’s mother, Virginia, died in 2022 – But Here We Are is an open wound of an album that wears its grief proudly on its sleeve. It’s the greatest Foo Fighters album since the ‘90s, and there’s a fair argument to be made that it’s their best, ever. The songs themselves are instant Foos classics: the sunshiny “Under You,” which bathes its heartbreak in a power-pop chorus so good it could have been on 1999’s wonderful There Is Nothing Left to Lose; “Hearing Voices,” whose creeping, foreboding darkness recalls The Cure; the dreamy “Show Me How,” a gorgeous duet between Grohl and his daughter that sounds almost dizzy with sadness. Even as standalones or received in a vacuum, these songs would be excellent. The magic of But Here We Are, though, comes ultimately from the sheer force of the catharsis, which hits like bag of bricks when you listen to the album all the way through. One of my favorite music moments of 2022 was watching the Taylor Hawkins tribute shows and seeing Hawkins’ son Shane perform “My Hero” with the band. Witnessing Shane hammer away on his dad’s drums was raw and beautiful – a profound expression of rage and joy and love and utter heartbreak. But Here We Are is the same, an album that searches for answers and healing amidst the clash and chaos of rock ‘n’ roll, and finds them. By the end of the record, Grohl is promising to “Try and make good with the air that’s left,” knowing all too well how quickly the screen can cut to black. – Craig Manning

5. Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS

The year’s most anticipated pop album, GUTS arrived like a little atomic bomb – first with the warning shot of “Vampire,” an audacious lead single that’s as much Bat out of Hell-era Meatloaf as it is zoomer teen pop; and then with the album as a whole, featuring 11 more tracks full of brutally-honest, gnarled poetry. Rodrigo was the rare pop phenom who seemed to arrive fully-formed, with her 2021 debut SOUR offering up a masterclass of both relatable songwriting and TikTok virality. Her ability to bridge the gaps between the last 20 years of youth culture – from early 2000s emo to Taylor Swift’s imperial phase, all the way to Gen-Z contemporaries like Billie Eilish – was preternatural, perhaps only eclipsed by her gift at delivering hall-of-fame-worthy F-bombs. GUTS is even better, lingering less on the T-Swift-style breakup ballads and spending more time in the company of very loud guitars. As just about everyone has said, the album’s rockers are (mostly) where it shines, especially the hilarious “Get Him Back!”, which ping-pongs between a massive chorus and talk-sung verses that ooze charm and good humor. But while the slower songs lose some of the attitude that makes Rodrigo such fun company – and while there’s probably at least one too many of them – those confessional tracks still give GUTS its beating heart. The album’s final three songs return us to a classic ‘90s trope – the “So, it turns out fame kind of sucks!” narrative – and they do it so deftly and in such interesting, heart-on-the-sleeve ways that I can’t help but feel like Rodrigo’s “rock songs only, please” critics overlook what makes her special. “The Grudge” is a “never meet your heroes” lesson captured in gutting breakup song form; you won’t convince me it’s not about Taylor Swift. The spacey “Pretty Isn’t Pretty” lifts some elements from Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” for a frank and moving discussion about mental health and body image. And the aching “Teenage Dream” takes aim at the music industry’s fetishization of youth in a way that shows how that obsession damages even the people it helps lift to the fore. Swift took over the world with big, catchy, ubiquitous singles, but it was her ultra-personal, diaristic ballads that made her the voice of a generation. Rodrigo seems to be heading in the same direction. – Craig Manning

6. Zach Bryan – Zach Bryan

Last year, Zach Bryan felt like a scrappy underdog. An underdog that released a 34-song, 122-minute triple album and notched a billion plays on Spotify, sure, but an underdog nonetheless. This year, he felt like a superstar. His album moved 200,000 units in the first week, he had a mugshot go viral after getting arrested over a petty disagreement with a police officer, and one of this record’s key tracks – a gorgeous duet between him and Kacey Musgraves called “I Remember Everything” – shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. It was a show of success I never expected until it was happening. I followed country music closer than any other genre between 2015 and 2020, keeping extremely close tabs on artists who Bryan counts as his top influences, like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton, and Turnpike Troubadours. The prospect of any of those artists topping the pop charts seems outlandish, even now. But then again, maybe other country and Americana artists are the wrong comparison for Zach Bryan. At his core, Bryan is an everyman. Where there’s a bit of a mysterious aura around all the artists I mentioned above, Zach has always scanned as down-to-earth, plainspoken, and impossibly humble. Pair that homegrown, salt-of-the-earth relatability with Bryan’s ability to whip a crowd into a frenzy at a live show – his concerts inspire the type of sing-alongs typically unheard of outside of a Dashboard Confessional gig – and it seems clear: Bryan isn’t an Isbell or a Childers; he’s a Springsteen. Over and over again, whether on big, heartfelt anthems like “Overtime,” “East Side of Sorrow,” and “Fear and Fridays”; or stark, bare-bones ballads like “Smaller Acts” and “Oklahoman Son,” Zach Bryan has the songs to justify that lofty comparison. – Craig Manning

7. Ratboys – The Window

It took five albums but finally listeners are recognizing the tour de force that is Chicago’s Ratboys. After releasing the great Printer’s Devil in 2020 (the momentum of which was cut off by the pandemic), the quartet leaned further into the alt-country and power-indie pop from before, enlisted Chris Walla to produce, and came away with The Window – one of if not the most powerful and moving record of 2023. Julia Steiner turns in an incredible vocal performance over striking guitar hooks (“Crossed That Line” and “It’s Alive”), impassioned ballads (the emotional roller coaster title track), and core-shaking post-rock (the nearly nine minute “Black Earth, WI” – one of the year’s best songs). With Ratboys’ slow but steady trajectory over the course of the past decade, it’s always felt like just a matter of time before the band added a modern classic to their discography and The Window accomplishes that and more. – Drew Beringer

8. The Maine – The Maine

“We poured everything we have into this album, and it’s self-titled because, in many ways, it represents who we are as a band.” That’s what The Maine had to say about their ninth full-length album, and it answered a question I always have going into a self-titled record. With the exception of a debut, which seems like a natural time to name an album after yourself or your band, I always approach a self-titled LP with extra expectations. If a band feels the pull to go the eponymous route three, five, ten albums deep into their career, my assumption about the work is that it has to be some sort of exciting reinvention, culmination, or level-up. The Maine disappointed me at first because it is not the best album this band has ever made. That title still belongs to 2017’s masterful Lovely Little Lonely, a record so perfectly balanced in terms of pacing, sequencing, hooks, production, and thematic cohesion that it could have easily borne the weight of being self-titled. But The Maine is still worthy of that status, too, if only for how it takes this band’s sonic identity and jet-streams it into something that really, truly sounds like it could go supernova in the mainstream. Not since the heydays of early 2000s rock bands like The Strokes, The Killers, or Franz Ferdinand have I heard a rock record this legitimately danceable. Songs like “dose no. 2” and “leave in five” long for a dimly-lit club with a flashing disco ball and a jam-packed floor, so infectious are their rhythms and grooves. The album does lose some of the emotional punch of The Maine’s best work – though penultimate epic “cars & caution signs” feels like a nod back at their more “emo” days – but it is such a catchy little feast of sounds that it ultimately won me over regardless. – Craig Manning

9. 100 Gecs – 10,000 Gecs

10. The Menzingers – Some of it Was True

“The older I get, the less I know/And I knew nothing then.” So goes the most striking line on The Menzingers’ seventh full-length studio album, a lyric that seems to sum up everything this band has been writing songs about since they first started writing songs. Perhaps more than any other band, The Menzingers are obsessed with aging, with the passage of time, with the ways the years change us, and with the joys and dangers of nostalgia. They named their breakout album On the Impossible Past, for god’s sake. But the above line, from this album’s uneasily anthemic title track, is somehow the best-ever distillation of the Menzingers’ thing – not to mention one of the most painfully apt lyrics ever written about growing up. Adults seem like fountains of wisdom when you’re young; then you become one and realize adults are, largely, fucking morons. Some of It Was True is an album about ping-ponging around in that no-one-knows-shit world and trying to make something meaningful – and yes, true – out of all the chaos and noise. “Sometimes, I can’t help but think/There’s no place in this world for me,” sings frontman Greg Barnett early in the album. That fear is all too easy to succumb to, and it’s what often leads us to find solace in the rose-colored rearview mirror that is nostalgia. But as Barnett sings later, “I’m so sick of playing pretend/Thinking everything was better back then.” The truth the album stumbles upon, I think, is that we undervalue our present by overvaluing our past. And while The Menzingers don’t promise to stop singing about the past, there’s something profoundly hopeful in how this album’s maze of rich melodies and thoughtful musings about time lead to the resolution of the closing track: “It’s so hard to be hopeful, but I promise you I’ll try/To always see the big picture, find faith in the future/To keep on running in the roar of the wind.” Amen, boys. – Craig Manning

11. Yellowcard – Childhood Eyes

The joke these days is that no band ever really breaks up; they just go on hiatus. Even in the context of this “every band comes back” moment, though, Yellowcard’s 2016 farewell really did feel final. At every turn, the band’s self-titled swansong played like the work of a group of guys who never planned to make music together again. But even Yellowcard couldn’t resist the call of a suddenly-reawakened popularity of early 2000s emo and pop-punk. And so, everyone’s favorite violin-toting rockers got back in the saddle in 2023 – to stellar results. The band has gone on the record saying that last year’s tour audiences were their biggest and most locked-in ever, dwarfing even the crowds that their farewell tour drew back in 2016. And while Yellowcard could easily get by just playing nostalgia sets full of Ocean Avenue cuts – that album did turn 20 in 2023, after all – the boys felt inspired enough to head back in the studio and make something new. The outcome is Childhood Eyes, a stellar five-song collection whose only real flaw is that it’s too damn short. While the EP isn’t as daring as the burn-it-all-down experiments that drove 2014’s Lift a Sail or 2016’s Yellowcard, it does successfully recapture the magic of Yellowcard’s pop-punk days, an era the band largely abandoned after 2012’s still-perfect Southern Air. Songs like “Three Minutes More” and the title track feel like little time machines back to 2003; the former even boasts a reference to Dashboard Confessional’s A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar. And fittingly, Dashboard’s own Chris Carrabba – fresh off his own long-awaited return-to-form comeback in 2022 – shows up on the final track, the gorgeous “The Places We’ll Go,” to help Yellowcard capture some of that “One Year, Six Months”/“Back Home” magic. Here’s hoping Yellowcard decide to stick around – and that we get a full-length album out of the deal – in 2024. – Craig Manning

12. Koyo – Would You Miss It?

After seeing Koyo open up for Bayside and I Am The Avalanche, I couldn’t help but put the band on my radar to see what they would cook up in 2023. Would You Miss It? answers the big question in a large way by knocking the audience directly on the ass from the opening notes forth. The LP was universally adored on our site when it came out, and it’s not hard to see why given the impact that one of the past Top Albums winners, Turnstile, had on this same scene. Koyo was able to wrangle up voices like Daryl Palumbo (Glassjaw) and Vinnie Caruana (I am the Avalanche/The Movielife) to appear on their proper full-length debut, and set the tone that their band had arrived, the party is starting, and it’s about time to get on the damn bandwagon. – Adam Grundy

13. Taking Back Sunday – 152

My first impression after my first listen of Taking Back Sunday’s 152 was some version of, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

I sat there with a dumb look on my face, slack jawed, completely and utterly blown away by how much I loved what I had just heard. After all these years, I didn’t think the band had this in them, and I have never been happier to have my expectations proven utterly wrong. 152 might be the best argument for mixing up who you work with and trying an outside-of-the-box producer I’ve seen in a long time. The result is the band’s best album in twenty years. It might be their best album if I take off my nostalgia glasses and am dead honest with myself. It’s just a front-to-back great rock album. Zero misses. They sound rejuvenated and inspired, and the album sounds incredible. Fresh. Modern. Punchy. From the standout “Keep Going” to the ballad “I Am The Only One Who Knows You,” I’m genuinely blown away. It’s an album that sat in constant rotation from that first play and will be something I reach for often over the next few years. In a year that saw many of our old favorites putting out new music and many of those bands gracing this list, Taking Back Sunday sits deservedly near the top. – Jason Tate

14. Kelsea Ballerini – Rolling up the Welcome Mat

16 minutes: That’s all it takes for Kelsea Ballerini to lay her marriage to rest, and to absolutely level you in the process. If you tack on a bonus track from a later re-release, Rolling up the Welcome Mat still only clocks in at just under 19 minutes. But despite the fact that Welcome Mat is brief, there’s something to be said for an artist who somehow manages to say everything there is to say in a remarkably compressed space. Throughout her career, Ballerini has often been considered as a singer or performer first and a songwriter second. But on Rolling up the Welcome Mat, Ballerini so thoroughly laps every other songwriter that got in the game this year that it forces a reconsideration of her entire career. Half solo writes and half co-writes with a single other collaborator (a songwriter named Alysa Vanderheym), Rolling up the Welcome Mat is a potent and poignant examination of what happens when you get married at 24 and then watch as the entire thing crashes into the rocks before you even get to 30. No one ever plans to be at that point; marriage, after all, is supposed to last forever – as Ballerini’s own lovestruck 2017 album Unapologetically will attest. But sometimes, the fates just aren’t aligned, and the ties that bind just come loose. And so, across these seven songs, we get to hear a generation’s most underrated songwriter untangle herself from the mess, reckoning with the moment she realized it was all over (“Mountain with a View”), the trivial meaningless of the word “marriage” once it becomes nothing more than a legal contract (“Just Married”), the exquisite pain of calling it all off (“Penthouse” and “Blindsided”), and the soul-deep ache of wishing your ex well, even as you move on to a life without them (“Leave Me Again”). – Craig Manning

15. Jason Isbell and the 400 Units – Weathervanes

Even coming from a guy who has joked about writing the saddest song everWeathervanes is as heavy as an anvil. In the decade since his 2013 breakthrough Southeastern, Jason Isbell has written about his struggles with alcoholism, gotten extremely candid about some rocky patches in his marriage, contended with ghosts from his past, and sang about the political strife of the Donald Trump era. Somehow, though, even in the darkest moments of his catalog, Isbell has always seemed to find that little flicker of hope. That’s rarely the case on Weathervanes, Isbell’s eighth album and the first one where it sounds like our most insightful musical poet thinks the world might well and truly be doomed. These songs are dark, troubled, upsetting tales, fraught with addiction, poverty, violence, hate, family betrayal, and impossible choices. After adoring everything Isbell touched for a decade, I confess that Weathervanes was the most I ever struggled to connect with an album of his. Where I’ve typically felt either comfort or deep catharsis in Isbell’s songs, this album made me feel uneasy, on edge. But perhaps that uneasiness I’ve felt while listening to Weathervanes is a sign of its brilliance. There’s a reason “King of Oklahoma,” a piercing Nebraska-esque epic about addiction, desperation, crime, and heartbreak, doesn’t resolve with a happy ending, or even an ending at all. There’s a reason “Save the World,” a track where Isbell frets about sending his daughter out into a world fraught with gun violence, doesn’t offer up any sort of grand solution worthy of its title. And there’s a reason “White Beretta,” about a flame from Jason’s past who chose not to keep the baby they might have had together, hurts like hell even if Isbell is framing it from a perspective of empathy and gratitude. These subjects aren’t easy things to write songs about. They aren’t easy, period. They’re big, divisive issues that have confounded communities and stymied politicians, let alone songwriters. Isbell hasn’t ever been one to shy away from the hard conversations, but on Weathervanes, he’s playing the game on a higher difficulty level than he ever has before, and he’s still nailing it – even if the songs themselves get a little thornier as a result. – Craig Manning

16. Thrice – The Artist in the Ambulance (Revisited)

The only re-recorded album to make our final list was Thrice’s The Artist in the Ambulance (Revisited), and once you hear it, it’s easy to understand why it feels reinvigorated and refreshed in its new mix. While many of us were big fans of Brian McTernan’s production on the original mix, this 2023 version of the classic Thrice album feels like they’re playing the songs with such urgency, momentum, and passion, much like they’re trying to get their name out there for the first time. The aggressive nature is there when needed, and they scale things back in the production on the title track and “Stare At The Sun,” that features Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra, in a very tasteful way. The songs take a fresh walk around our headspace once again with key contributions from Be Well, Hot Water Music, Holy Fawn and Architects, and yet none of these outside collaborations ever feel forced. Thrice didn’t release any new music in 2023, but their impact was still felt during this momentous year in the scene. – Adam Grundy

17. Boys Like Girls – Sunday at Foxwoods

It was thrilling to hear that Boys Like Girls were making a comeback in 2023, and even more thrilling to discover that Sunday at Foxwoods is far from just an empty nostalgia play. Since the last time we heard from Boys Like Girls (2012’s Crazy World) Martin Johnson has been working with pop stars and amassing one of the finest collections of songwriting credits this side of Max Martin. The songs that bear his name – Avril Lavigne’s “17,” Betty Who’s “Glory Days,” Elle King’s “America’s Sweetheart,” Dan + Shay’s “Road Trippin’” – are some of the most joyful, propulsive bits of pop music you could find in the past decade. Johnson also spent those years honing his skills as a producer and album maker by way of a side project, the ‘80s lovefest that is The Night Game. All those elements seep into Foxwoods, which probably boasts five of the 10 best hooks I heard all year. Never mind that Boys Like Girls don’t actually sound much like they did back in the day: Johnson sings differently now, for one thing, and the band has let most of the trappings of their Myspace emo roots fall away. Still, there’s something there in the spirit of songs like “Blood & Sugar,” “The Outside,” and “Brooklyn State of Mind” that isn’t so far from what these guys were cooking up on classic singles like “The Great Escape” or “Thunder” or “Love Drunk.” Those songs were great because they seemed to capture the unbridled optimism of youth and put it through a speaker; On Sunday at Foxwoods, Boys Like Girls are still making music that sounds impossibly full of life and possibility – they’re just doing it for an audience of wistful 30 and 40-somethings rather than a pit full of rambunctious teens. It’s a reminder that there’s a lot of good life left to live after your youth is gone. – Craig Manning

18. Spanish Love Songs – No Joy

When a band known for loud, aggressive albums takes a step away from that sound, it’s always a risk. A risk it won’t work. A risk the songs won’t capture the same tension and release. A risk fans won’t like it. But when the risk pays off? It’s a beautiful thing to see. No Joy captures all of the band’s heartbreakingly brutal songwriting in their best sounding album to date. It’s an album that pulls you in and slowly weaves its way deep into your bones—pulling at the parts of you that are most vulnerable, most raw. I’ve often found myself finishing a listen just sitting there, drained, feeling like my nerve endings have been rubbed with emotional sandpaper. – Jason Tate

19. Crime in Stereo – House & Trance

Bands that take thirteen years between releases don’t normally return with their best record yet but that’s exactly what Crime in Stereo achieved with their fourth album, House & Trance. The Long Island band has always experimented within their brand of post-hardcore but House & Trance takes it even further as guitarists Alex Dunne and Gary Cioni used an array of pedal boards to create the wild tones percolating behind album’s seamless blend of atmosphere and punchy chords (“Goliathette” and “Skells”). Kristian Hallbert vocally and lyrically gives the best performance of their career – both the personal and political intersect (“Superyacht Ecopark” and “We Can Build You”), as it’s nearly impossible to separate the two these days. Listening to this record, you’d never believe 2010 was the band’s last release as it doesn’t feel like Crime in Stereo has missed a beat. – Drew Beringer

20. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin

Sufjan Stevens made his heyday albums when he was a late twentysomething wunderkind, and it’s audible how much records like Illinois and Michigan and The Age of Adz are the work of someone who has all the ambition and all the ideas of restless we-can-change-the-world youth. Javelin, Sufjan’s 10th full-length album, is not that. Instead, this record – which arrives with Stevens nearing his 50s – reckons with age and mortality in raw, painful, poignant, and beautiful ways. Sufjan wrote the songs as he was literally learning to walk again, after struggling with a rare autoimmune condition that affects the nerves in the feet, hands, and limbs. He also released Javelin just months after his partner Evans Richardson – who Sufjan called “the light of my life” – tragically died at the age of 43. And so, while the songs on Javelin still sound like Sufjan Stevens songs – with that deft balance between intimacy and maximalism that he could always strike so well – they’re shot through now with the vulnerability and soul-deep sadness that comes with these kinds of losses. Songs like “Will Anybody Ever Love Me” and “Genuflecting Ghost” sound almost like Stevens is singing them through tears, so raw are the emotions. But Javelin’s emotional vulnerability is also offset with big crescendos, huge orchestral explosions, and cathartic choral bursts, all of which imbue the sad songs with the epic, widescreen colors of a sunset witnessed from the top of a mountain. The result is an album that breaks your heart, but also somehow feels uplifting. It’s a mysterious dichotomy that sent me back to Javelin again and again. – Craig Manning

21. Paramore – This is Why

Many fans were cautiously optimistic when Paramore announced that their latest LP, This Is Why, would sound very influenced by bands like Bloc Party and The Talking Heads. Some fans couldn’t really vibe with the title track, but Paramore found their way back into their hearts with “The News,” before the rest of the album would drop in February. It’s really tough to set the tone for a full year in the early stages of an unshaky time that was early-’23, but Paramore lived to tell the tale, and then some, by embarking on their biggest headlining stint to date (w/ Bloc Party opening several dates) and getting the warmest of welcomes by Taylor Swift to join her on her European leg of The Eras Tour. Paramore ended 2023 clouded in mystery as they would delete all of their social media content from their pages, making fans go in near-panic mode of what this could all mean. Could Paramore really be gearing up for another album drop before the ink even dries on This Is Why? – Adam Grundy

22. Ruston Kelly – The Weakness

Ruston Kelly’s first album, 2018’s masterful Dying Star, is such a deeply sad listen that you could almost miss the light that comes breaking through the darkness at the end. And if you’re at risk for overlooking the uplift on an album that, largely, recounts the struggle to overcome addiction, you could easily come away from Dying Star – or its follow-up, 2020’s almost-as-good Shape & Destroy – without realizing how funny Ruston Kelly is. Bits of his sense of humor have cropped up here and there, but they’ve mostly been extramusical: his Twitter posts, for instance, or his insistence that his brand of country music should be labeled as “Dirt Emo.” The Weakness is the first album Kelly’s made that really puts some emphasis on how funny he can be. The obvious Exhibit A to that point is “Michael Keaton,” a song about getting accidentally and unexpectedly high off some sketchy CBD and then asking faux-profound questions like “What if Michael Keaton killed himself in Multiplicity? Would that be genocide?” Those little moments of levity crop up a few times on The Weakness: Take the way Kelly bellows “Fuck that guy, he’s just a piece of shit!” on the bridge of the title track; or how “St. Jupiter” begins with a description of flowers planted in the front yard “to discourage morning pissers,” but turns into an affecting treatise on loneliness. They’re not just there for shock value, either. Instead, the little moments of crass humor and stoner philosophy on The Weakness serve to underline its lineage of influence, which is less about country greats than it is about pop-punk heroes like Blink-182 and Green Day. A lot of these songs – particularly highlights like “Holy Shit” and “Breakdown” – feel like they’d work as well with big guitars and slick production as they do in the mostly-acoustic singer-songwriter mode that Kelly makes his bread and butter. Of course, the album also has plenty of weight to it, courtesy of poignant ballads like “Mending Song” and “Better Now” that feel like direct responses to Kelly’s divorce from fellow country artist Kacey Musgraves. This time around, though, it’s the poppier, more upbeat stuff that really works. Maybe Ruston Kelly should make a pop-punk album after all? – Craig Manning

23. Chris Farren – Doom Singer

You may famously know him from The Cup (TM) and trying to fend off The Ghoul but Chris Farren is also notably a pretty fucking great songwriter. On Doom Singer – his third release for Polyvinyl Records – Farren worked with Jay Som’s Melina Duterte and incorporates live drums for the first time ever (Macseal’s Frankie Impastato plays passionately throughout), giving Farren that extra oomph to this already near-perfect pop songs (“Bluish,” “Get Over U”). These factors also allowed Farren the headspace the craft his best songs ever, including the exhilarating “Cosmic Leash” and the introspective “Statue Song.” Along with pop-jazz flourishes like “First Place” and the title track, Chris Farren has once again blessed us with another perfect record. – Drew Beringer

24. City & Colour – The Love Still Held Me Near

When I first wrote about the new City and Colour album, it was early February 2023 and ridiculously cold. I wrote, “Maybe it’s this damn weather. It’s bitterly cold. The snow has been piling up all week. And the past few nights, I’ve ended my day by the fire, hooded sweatshirt pulled tight, laying there with this album swirling in the air. Dallas’s voice transporting me. Just goddamn beautiful; a soothing balm after a stressful week. The whole thing is incredible, but “The Love Still Held Me Near” and the final three songs knocked me on my ass.” And now we’re ending the year and it’s cold again. And I’m still utterly transfixed by this album. It’s a reflection on grief, a challenge to persevere, and a hauntingly gorgeous collection that sits up there with the best from the storied songwriter. – Jason Tate

25. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Tilt at the Wind No More

In Something Corporate, Andrew McMahon started off singing about young love, high school drama, and teenage hijinks; now he’s singing about the dynamics of a lasting marriage, the fears and joys of fatherhood, and the surreal feeling of entering your 40s knowing that, maybe, you ain’t that young anymore. McMahon is the better part of a decade older than me, but the story he’s told – now spanning three bands and nine full-length studio albums – feels like a mirror to my life more than any other songwriter’s work ever has. Maybe that’s because I found those Something Corporate records as a freshman in high school and let them walk me through my angstiest seasons, or because Everything in Transit and The Glass Passenger then became perhaps my most crucial albums for coming-of-age and finding my way amidst the great big chaos of life. Or maybe it’s just because McMahon is interested in the same things I am – specifically, in how getting older casts your old memories and friendships in brand-new shades of light, allowing you to find new revelations in your own story the same way you do in a book you’ve read a dozen times. Tilt at the Wind No More is a record defined by that type of stock-taking. It’s about looking back and marveling at “how time can turn chaos and crime into magic,” as Andrew sings on album highlight “Little Disaster.” But it’s also about looking around at where you are and what you have and realizing how much it’s worth. “A world without color is a world without you,” goes the bridge refrain of “Stars,” a magnificent song that bursts with gratitude over the marvels of life and love and family. It’s a song Andrew couldn’t have written when he was younger, but it still maintains a throughline with his past work, because McMahon has always had such a gift for shining a light on what makes life beautiful, even in his darkest times. Tilt at the Wind No More is all about that beauty, and it’s one of the most life-affirming albums of the year for precisely that reason. – Craig Manning

26. Origami Angel – The Brightest Days

One of the greatest feelings when following a young band is seeing them put it all together and reach their full potential. Origami Angel has many great songs in their catalog, but The Brightest Days sees them leveling up and cementing themselves as one of the best bands making this kind of pop-punk today. With songs calling back to the whimsy melodies of Relient K and others embracing the best of Motion City Soundtrack, Origami Angel feels inspired by some of my favorite albums of my youth. And their spin on the genre is both torch carrying and uniquely theirs. – Jason Tate

27. Zulu – A New Tomorrow

While it’ll be classified as a hardcore record, Zulu’s debut record A New Tomorrow is so much more. Channeling everything from free-form jazz to spoken word to rap, Zulu elevates the music Black Americans created, including hardcore (the run of “Shine Eternally” to “Must I Only Share My Pain” to “Life Az A Shorty Shun B So Ruff” is an impeccable example of this). And when it’s time to flex those muscles, Zulu detonates some of the heaviest shit you’ve ever heard in this genre (“Where I’m From” and “52 Fatal Strikes”). Again, it’s more than hardcore – it’s one of the most thrilling records you’ll hear in 2023. – Drew Beringer

28. Sigur Ros – ATTA

29. Hot Mulligan – Why Would I Watch?

After breaking through with 2020’s you’ll be fine, Hot Mulligan has elevated from cult favorite to genre staple with Why Would I Watch?. It’s an aggressively catchy collection of twelve pop-punk tinged emo songs that takes listeners further into the psyche of the Lansing, Michigan band. The opening 1-2 punch of “Shouldn’t Have A Leg Hole But I Do” and “It’s a Family Movie She Hates Her Dad” is rivaled by very few, while front person Tades Sanville eclectic and urgent vocal delivery adds to the frenetic nature of the record. Don’t let the goofy titles fool you, this is a devastating record that centers around all sorts of familial strife, relationship issues, and more. Why Would I Watch? has transported Hot Mulligan to one of the best bands within the genre. – Drew Beringer

30. FRND CRCL – Suburban Dictionary

Suburban Dictionary is the kind of album that sounds at least four times better on hot, sunny, sweaty summer days, so it’s a bit to FRND CRCL’s detriment that we have to finalize these lists in the dead of winter. When Suburban Dictionary came out on June 30, it sounded like the promise of a perfect summer. It lived up to that expectation: Just about every time I got into the car in July or August, Suburban Dictionary was the first album I dialed up. The hooks on songs like “No Bad Days” and “Fuck California” were built for windows-down drives on days when the mercury hits 90, while stuff like “Golden” sounded pretty damn idyllic set against the backdrop of a dusk-and-summer sunset. It’s not the band’s fault that their brand of ‘90s-flavored pop-punk is virtually not functional for crisp fall nights or long, grayscale winters. Just like their forerunners in Blink-182, these guys make records for the mythical, unobtainable endless summer vacation. So, even though I’ve had to tuck this album away alongside the beach chairs, paddleboards, and other trappings of our favorite, fleeting season, I’m already looking forward to the day that Suburban Dictionary goes back into regular rotation. – Craig Manning

The Playlist

You can find a playlist with one song from every album on this list on Apple Music and Spotify.

The Contributors

Some contributors have shared their individual best of 2023 lists:

If you’d like to share your best of 2023 list, there’s a thread in our community, or feel free to share it in the comments.

The Nerd Stat Stuff

Our final compiled list was put together using our ranking algorithm. There were 8 contributors and 154 unique albums across all of the lists. In total, 37 albums out of the 154 were on more than one list, with the number one album appearing on 6 of the 8 lists.

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