Favorite Albums of 2023

Honorable Mentions

Bar Italia – Tracey Denim

Genre: Rock

Must Listens: Punkt, Missus Morality, Changer

Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS

Genre: Pop Rock

Must Listens: all-american bitch, bad idea right?, ballad of a homeschooled girl

2famous – Superstardom

Genre: Drill

Must Listens: Awesome, Okay Okay, Designer

Tomb Mold – The Enduring Spirit

Genre: Death Metal

Must Listens: The Perfect Memory (Phantasm of Aura), Will of Whispers, Fate’s Entangled Thread

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Weathervanes

Genre: Country

Must Listens: King of Oklahoma, Save the World, Cast Iron Skillet

Red Velvet – Chill Kill

Genre: K-Pop

Must Listens: Chill Kill, Underwater, Iced Coffee

Ryuichi Sakamoto – 12

Genre: Ambient

Must Listens: 20211130, 20211201, 20220302 – sarabande

lostrushi – Sisterhood

Genre: Digicore

Must Listens: Take Me Back, Hydroxycut (Take It All), Infinitude // Uroboros

Carbon Based Lifeforms – Seeker

Genre: Ambient

Must Listens: Seeker, Nukleator, Rymden3000

Hot Mulligan – Why Would I Watch

Genre: Pop Punk

Must Listens: It’s A Family Movie She Hates Her Dad, Shhhh! Golf is On, Gans Media Retro Games

The Top 25

25. 棲居在溪源之上 – Cicada

Genre: Chamber Music

A lot of modern chamber music relies on creating a unique atmosphere that offers something compelling beyond what’s been done countless times before. For Taiwanese quartet Cicada, that comes in the form of connecting their newest album, Seeking the Sources of Streams back to nature. Inspired by the valleys and flowing streams hidden deep within mountains, Cicada evoke a sense of wonder and tranquility. Where Seeking the Sources of Streams shines is within its pacing: a balance of motion and deceleration, instrumentation to silence. This kind of music usually carries a weight of existentialism but here, Cicada are more concerned with an appreciation for natural beauty. A touch of longing tinges at its roots, a journey that takes you away from the chaos of civilization.

As each song progresses slowly, there’s room for warmth to be expressed on the guitars, cellos, and violins. Though the instrumental palette is minimal, Cicada manage to diversify their sound by changing their melodic leads throughout each song’s evolution. There’s a meditative quality in its new-age influences that give it a spiritual edge on drawn-out piano notes. Shifting between these cascading melodies, the pristine production emphasizes its airy tones. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, the expressiveness on Seeking the Sources of Streams brings forth a therapeutic serenity that mirrors its gorgeous album cover.

Must Listens: Birds and Moist Pine Needles, On the Way to the Glacial Cirque, Seeking the Sources of Streams

24. Winnterzuko – WINNTERMANIA

Genre: Rap

Hailing from Paris, Winnterzuko has quickly built up a large following in the French underground with his energetic style of rapping over hyperpop beats. WINNTERMANIA is imbued with retrospection: a childhood in a war-torn country, growing up in France with an absent, violent father, and an inevitable hunger to make a name for himself. With countless pop culture references to video games, anime, and film, his lyrics evoke memories of a generation raised on the Internet. It’s only natural then that the production takes the form of glitchy hyperpop with heavy autotune and EDM-inspired drops.

There’s an innate drive in Winnterzuko to make it in the rap game at any cost and that is what makes him so compelling. “PAPA T OU” reveals his deeper motivations as he traces the abuse inflicted on his mother by his father and promises that she will have the world. “Deux Porsche pour ma maman même si elle a pas l’mis-per” he raps with total conviction, a vow that she will never struggle again. Comparing himself to the underdog Gearless Joe from the anime Megalo Box on “GEARLESS”, he recounts trials and tribulations and finds common ground (“On connait les cafards et les rats/On connait le haut et le bas…J’arrive Gearless sans machine/Eux c’est des mages sans magie”). WINNTERMANIA is pure precision, a laserlike focus on the path laid out in front of Winnterzuko as he pledges to keep pushing forward.


23. Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loveliest Time

Genre: Pop

Oh wow another collection of B-Side bangers from Carly Rae Jepsen, honestly who could’ve seen this coming? Since her E·MO·TION days, her output has been staggeringly consistent and The Loveliest Time is no different. That said, there should be some tempered expectations if you wanted the classic synthpop Carly that she’s mastered over the past few albums. This album is far more experimental by her standards as she plays with deeper dancefloor grooves and eschews the massive hooks she’s become known for. With “Aeroplanes”, she strips back her vocals to let the funk grooves and glistening synths do the talking. The darker breaks and panning drums in “Put It To Rest” similarly shift focus towards the production and rhythms as Carly fades into the backdrop.

Despite these new directions, The Loveliest Time succeeds because Carly remains as earnest as ever. Her hopeless romanticism is infectious and even the slower pace can’t stop her from projecting those feelings into each song. Best of all, with The Loveliest Time being balanced with the lighter, playful songs, the classic Carly songs hit like a truck with their massive choruses in the context of the album. The synthwave effects on “Kamikaze” propel Carly’s reverbed voice to new heights while “Psychedelic Switch” brings French House influences to one of the most memorable hooks in her entire discography. The Loveliest Time is a perfect time in Carly’s career to diversify her sounds and with this experimentation under her belt, the future looks bright for pop’s most underrated star.

Must Listens: Kamikaze, Psychedelic Switch, Put It To Rest

22. Pinkpantheress – Heaven Knows

Genre: R&B/Electronic

Only two short years ago, Pinkpantheress had the entire Internet in the palm of her hand with To Hell With It, a mixtape of bite-sized songs that pulled from 90s DnB and 2-step. With gorgeous synths and addictive choruses squared into tiny runtimes, her virality on TikTok and Twitter was nothing if inevitable. On her debut album Heaven Knows, she takes those foundations and begins to lean further into pop sensibilities. Though the influences remain, the songs are more drawn out, and the production gets fleshed out in detail. Assembling numerous big-name producers like Mura Masa, BNXY, London on da Track, Danny L Harle, and even Mike Dean, Heaven Knows pulls out all the stops with its vibrant beats and danceable melodies.

Despite the mainstream pop sheen that’s evident throughout the record, Heaven Knows still manages to keep the bedroom-pop atmosphere that Pinkpantheress is known for. Constructing a loose narrative of disintegrating relationships and fragile yearning, there’s an innocence to her saccharine crooning that feels intimately relatable. She doesn’t feign ignorance (“I ruined all my friendships with you/And I think I’m runnin’ out of people to lose/I only have to give you my motion/And you always find your way right back to me”) but struggles with the underlying issues. Heaven Knows is a convincing display of evolution as Pinkpantheress shifts gears to make her sound more accessible to the mainstream.

Must Listens: Mosquito, The Aisle, Capable of Love

21. Hitsujibungaku – 12 Hugs (like butterflies)

Genre: Indie Rock

12 Hugs (like butterflies) sees Hitsujibungaku finally hitting their stride as they lean further into their shoegaze influences. Where its predecessor Our Hope was a slow, patient burn, this album dives right into uptempo riffing and crunchy reverb. Touches of grunge and noise rock jumble together with Moeka Shiotsuka’s wispy vocals resulting in airtight melodies. “More than Words” is their biggest hit yet as an ED for Jujutsu Kaisen but unsurprisingly, it’s the other songs that showcase their full potential. Leading to the fuzzy guitar rhythms on “Addiction”, the lyrics of isolation and yearning pierce through the wall of sound. The echoing vocals and reverbed guitar passages of “FOOL” give way to starry-eyed nostalgia and a promise to persevere.

Between the rougher edges of instrumentation, Moeka finds herself at a crossroads in her pursuit of happiness. As she grows older, she has become fearful of losing important things and internally struggles to take risks in life. Instead, she plays it safe and regularly lets go of what she truly wants deep down. 12 Hugs often contains self-affirmations to break out of that mindset and chase freedom without fear of consequence. As the album’s title suggests, the warmth radiating from the 12 tracks feels like a comforting embrace that encourages you to live freely.

Must Listens: 永遠のブルー, honestly, FOOL

20. Moonlight Sorcery – Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle

Genre: Melodic Black Metal

Moonlight Sorcery is one of the most exciting metal bands to debut in quite a while. Bursting onto the scene with two EPs last year, Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity and Nightwind: The Conqueror From the Stars, the Finnish trio unites the symphonic sounds of power metal with the bitter coldness of black metal. With their debut album, Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle, they’ve turned up the theatrics up a notch with blitzing tremolos layered over synths and acrobatic riffs. The sheer emphasis on melodies gives the album a unique flair, sounding almost like a blackened Dragonforce or Children of Bodom. If the galloping blast beats and vicious shrieks weren’t there, you could easily mistake this for a power metal session with the technical prowess on display.

Though the guitarwork is impeccable, it’s the keyboard and synths that really propel their sound into a league of its own. The frozen wall of synths that envelop the songs together with the shimmering keys are fundamental to the wintry atmosphere Moonlight Sorcery want. On songs like “Yönsilmä”, the layers of guitar and synths surge into a majestic march as the rhythm guitars find an opening. The instrumental “The Moonlit Dance of the Twisted Jester’s Blood-soaked Rituals” evokes high fantasy images of desolate boreal regions with its old-school shredding and cascading melodies. Moonlight Sorcery’s fresh take on melodic black metal is a clear start to something special and are the most exciting prospects from the genre in a long time.

Must Listens: In Coldest Embrace, Yönsilmä, The Moonlit Dance of the Twisted Jester’s Blood-soaked Rituals

19. Kelela – Raven

Genre: R&B/Electronic

The return of Kelela after nearly six years should feel like a surprise but Raven feels as if she had never left. Building upon the foundation she created in 2013’s Cut 4 Me and 2015’s Take Me Apart, the dance cuts on Raven mix minimal breakbeats and nebulous synths with garage and UK bass rhythms. Sparser than her previous work, Raven is a dreamier adventure as ambient passages slowly wrap around the shuffling drums. Kelela’s voice is far more laidback on the album with glacial falsettos and silky ad-libs. The atmosphere is the most crucial component of Raven as its stripped-down melodies contort slowly into dancefloor grooves.

Throughout Raven, there’s a hazy ambiance that drives forth the melodies. It’s remarkably thick, a smog of breathy reverbs that disappear into the depths of a darkened club. Kelela’s voice dances across the sidechained pulses, an entrancing performance that’s purposely drawn out with the fading synths. Raven excels in its buildups, locking in rhythmic pressure before releasing it at the climax of the track. There’s something enthralling about how little she uses to convey emotion and longing in her vocals. Though it thinly wraps around the synths, the refined texture of those harmonies becomes buried within the shadowy depths. Immersive through its purposeful restraints, Raven is a delicate glimpse under the surface of a neverending night out.

Must Listens: Happy Ending, Contact, Raven


Genre: Drum N’ Bass

It might be hard to remember what you were doing at 16 but it almost certainly wasn’t dropping a masterclass of atmospheric drum n’ bass as a debut. TURQUOISEDEATH’s distinctive style of liquid atmospheres and intense breaks always balanced out explosiveness with ambiance. On Se Bueno, there’s a shift towards shoegaze influences as features from Parannoul, Asian Glow, and BrokenTeeth round out the lush melodies. Though the driving force might feel like the energetic breaks throughout the album, it’s the shimmering synth pads that are most hypnotizing. As if walking through a nocturnal forest, the sounds of fireworks, birds chirping, and light drizzles blend together with sweeping crescendos for a familiar sense of nostalgia.

Though Se Bueno is in constant oscillation – whether it’s the punchy breaks of “The Sky Fell” or the wistful, echoing vocals of “Sinking into You” – the delicate symmetry sounds natural. It captures a feeling of distant melancholy that gradually dissipates with the return of the breakbeats. The restraint that TURQUOISEDEATH demonstrates during the dreamier passages so they can build is incredible. Se Bueno is the warm embrace of days long gone, a pulsating rhythm that leaves you invigorated. With such a phenomenal debut, just imagine where TURQUOISEDEATH could be within a few short years.

Must Listens: The Sky Fell, Sinking into You, Guessabelle

17. 2hollis – 2

Genre: Electronic/Dance

If you want to know what the future sounds like, give a quick listen to any 2hollis album. Mashing together the 80s sounds of electroclash with digicore and witch house, 2 feels like a natural evolution of the newest SoundCloud trends. Using atmospheric synth pads reminiscent of mid-2010s era SADBOYS, 2hollis distorts his ethereal vocals and fits them into the pulsating 808s. Heavily influenced by trance and techno, songs like “GOD” and “FORFEIT” dissolve the bitcrushed vocals into chromatic explosions as the basslines continuously shift.

On his debut album White Tiger, 2hollis emphasized his vocals quite a bit with rapping and a clean mix. The songs would often alternate between vocal and production sections and drew a distinct line between them. On 2, that line gets blurred more as his autotuned crooning gets pitch-shifted to be an extension of the synths. There’s no rapping in the traditional sense and instead, his voice gets chopped and spliced in between the empty spaces of each song. Intoxicating in the same way as a trance song builds up momentum leading to its climax, 2 feels like it’s always pushing towards a bigger moment. At its core, 2 is a dance record for a new generation, a futuristic rave that never relents.

Must Listens: GOD, FORFEIT, fame runner

16. Sampha – Lahai

Genre: R&B/Soul

Six years after releasing his debut album Process and carving a name for himself in industry features, Sampha makes a quiet comeback with Lahai. At release, there was surprisingly little fanfare given the length of his absence but to be honest, Sampha probably prefers it that way. Without unsatiable fans demanding new music and drawing constant comparisons to Process, the break has given him the space needed to craft new music the way he envisioned. A departure from the themes of loss and grief in Process, Lahai is more optimistic as Sampha reflects on fatherhood, spirituality, and personal growth. While it’s sparser in the vocal department, Sampha refines the production by layering textures and diverse melodies from the instruments.

If Lahai could be summarized with one word, it would be jittery. Sampha’s vocals waltz in and out of the spacey synths and sweeping string arrangements. He usually focuses on a singular motif, a repetitive phrase or chorus that comes in and out of focus as it pleases. The empty spaces are used to experiment with more sounds as piano melodies and drum machines collide with angelic backing vocals. It’s minimalist in nature, juxtaposing his anxieties as a father and growing optimism for the world around him. Sampha frequently alludes to flight and realizing the potential in his “wings”: “And we’re in need of some tenderness, mm/Like sun rays through a flying crowd/Did we have to be so featherless, mm?” Lahai is a transcendent experience, an album dedicated to personal growth by surpassing imaginary limitations we place on ourselves.

Must Listens: Suspended, Inclination Compass (Tenderness), Only

15. LAMP – Dusk to Dawn

Genre: Jazz Pop

With a career spanning twenty years, you’d think that LAMP would’ve run out of ideas long ago. Yet against all odds, they return after a five-year hiatus with Dusk to Dawn, their longest and most intricate album to date. At first, the album still sounds very much in the realm of Shibuya-kei as it meshes together the 60s and 70s sounds of boss nova, jazz, and soul. With such a long runtime though, LAMP are given more room to branch out with different ideas and in the second half, the songs mellow out towards a more traditional chamber or jazz pop sound.

What’s striking about Dusk to Dawn is how it retains a distinct energy regardless of whether the song is upbeat or gentle. The bouncier tracks like “As Time Goes By” or “August Calendar” have the same soothing effect as slower tracks like “A Winter’s Day” or “Autumn Letter”. While it might initially sound like the two halves of Dusk to Dawn are quite different, the atmospheres they create are intrinsically linked. In classic LAMP fashion, the harmony of instruments and synths are compelling but it’s the vocal duets from Sakakibara and Nagai that truly set them apart. When the two delicately balance their melodies against one another alongside the jazzy backdrop, the allure of Dusk to Dawn could not be clearer.

Must Listens: The Last Dance (ラスト・ダンス), Weekend (ウィークエンド), Old Notebook (古いノート)

14. Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We

Genre: Chamber Pop

Seeing how Mitski’s sound has evolved over the past decade in six albums is always fascinating. Embracing a variety of styles from noise rock to synthpop to art rock, her lyrics of anxiety and heartbreak in the face of growing up cut deeply at an intrinsic level. Her songwriting is fundamentally moving: an examination of the human condition amidst the messiness of finding significance. On The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, she strips back the excess synths and guitar effects to form an intimate dynamic between her voice and acoustic instrumentals. Taking a page out of the Weyes Blood book of sweeping orchestral passages and tender vocals, the album is a return to her chamber music roots.

Opening with Bug Like An Angel, the steady guitar strumming eventually dissolves into a reverbed choir that laments addiction: “As I got older, I learned I’m a drinker/Sometimes, a drink feels like family”. With the pacing of her songs slowing down to a trickle, each line weighs heavier than the last. “You believe me like a god/I destroy you like I am/I’m sorry I’m the one you love/No one will ever love me like you again”, she sings on “I’m Your Man.” For the first time, Mitski sings without the urgency of her previous work as she takes her time to breathe and take in her surroundings. Never has she sounded more heartfelt than this album, brimming with love for others as the world crumbles around her.

Must Listens: Bug Like An Angel, I Don’t Like My Mind, I’m Your Man

13. Zach Bryan – Zach Bryan

Genre: Country

Zach Bryan’s astronomical ascent to the mainstream within a short four years might be surprising but hardly unwarranted. From his original viral hit “Heading South” to a sprawling triple album last year that vaulted him into public consciousness, Zach Bryan has maintained a consistent philosophy in crafting his music. He thrives in his own world, committed to telling his stories of loss, personal growth, and wistful sentimentality. Even when he gets full-band arrangements alongside his lyrics, the final sound still feels intimate. Though there are far more pop sensibilities here than ever before, he stands firm in those heartland roots and storytelling.

Zach Bryan feels like a culmination of his career arc so far by pulling from the passion of DeAnn, the introspection of Elisabeth, and the poetic tales of American Heartbreak. Trading the energy of his previous work for a stripped-down sound, the album gives more room for Zach to linger on each line. As he reminisces on fragile memories, the pain reveals itself in the depths of his voice: “And I lost you in a waitin’ room/After sleepin’ there for a week or two/Doctor said he did all he could/You were the last thing I had that was good”. While he’s one of the best songwriters out today, he seems at peace with his lack of radio appeal because it means he can put every unfiltered emotion on record. Unwilling to compromise even an iota of that artistry, it’s easy to see why everyone roots for Zach Bryan.

Must Listens: East Side of Sorrow, I Remember Everything, Tourniquet

12. Hannah Diamond – Perfect Picture

Genre: Hyperpop

A decade ago, no one could’ve seen just how influential A.G. Cook’s PC Music collective would become. Within ten years, the sound of hyperpop has helped alter the face of pop forever with its heavily digitized vocals, synthetic textures, and pristine production. Hannah Diamond has been an essential component of this aesthetic movement from beginning to end: her 2014 single “Every Night” was the first song available as a paid download for the label, and now Perfect Picture acts as the final release before PC Music comes to an end. In a way, Perfect Picture is an immaculate encapsulation of the label’s evolution. Though Hannah’s songs started as a tongue-in-cheek critique of overconsumption and campy digitization, it’s evolved into a more earnest introspection of self-image and hyperfeminity.

Hannah’s vocals are heavily processed through vocoders and give the upbeat production a glistening sheen matching her bubblegum sound. Her musings of fame and insecurities are softened by affirmations like on “Lip Sync”: “I can recreate, I can make mistakes/Might not get it right from the start/I can turn my flaws into superpowers/Won’t take my imperfections to heart.” Funnily enough, the irony of creating such an overproduced popstar image has swung back around to a sincere embrace of pop music at its core. Perfect Picture is a true full-circle moment as Hannah Diamond consolidates a decade of PC Music evolution into an enchanting finale.

Must Listens: Poster Girl, No FX, Lip Sync

11. Day Aches – One Last Dream Before Dying

Genre: Grunge/Shoegaze

The modern day revival of alt-metal has been exciting to witness over the past few years as bands like Loathe, Fleshwater, and Static Dress bring the sounds of shoegaze and nu-metal back into guitar music. Day Aches, a 5-piece band from Virginia and D.C., take the fuzzy, reverbed guitars and submerged vocals of 90s grunge and mesh it together with shoegaze. Their debut album One Last Dream Before Dying is a deep dive into the emotions of fraying relationships along the passage of time. The haunting one-two punch in opener “Hide” and “New June” convey a sense of longing within the ethereal vocals. The poignant breakdowns on the album are perfectly placed with the lyrics alternating between loss and acceptance. Serving as the climax of each song’s arc, they function as a massive moment of catharsis.

The celestial ambiance crafted on One Last Dream Before Dying captures the feelings of sentimentality in the process of letting go. This is reflected in the incredible guitar work as they fluctuate between aggressive and softer melodies. The drumming is equally impressive, an exercise in restraint to keep the rest of the instrumentation grounded in the sprawling passages. Day Aches is obviously indebted to Deftones and My Bloody Valentine but they’re able to bring a fresh perspective on grungegaze with their distinct dynamics. One Last Dream Before Dying is a dense behemoth of raw emotion and dreamy guitarwork that subtly latches onto distant memories and lost connections.

Must Listens: New June, Arreis, Velvet Response

10. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin

Genre: Indie Folk

Javelin sees Sufjan return to a more intimate singer-songwriter style that we haven’t seen since Carrie & Lowell. Undoubtedly one of the darkest years of his life, Sufjan grapples with being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome and the loss of his longtime partner, Evans Richardson. With this context, Sufjan’s lyrics don’t feel as cryptic as usual and instead carry a devastating weight. As he draws breath on the opener “Goodbye Evergreen”, exhaustion tints the lyrics: “Goodbye Evergreen, You know I love you/But everything heaven sent, Must burn out in the end.” Sufjan displays profound vulnerability on this record as he copes with heartbreak and reconciling his faith in the face of tragedy. Despite this, Javelin has a resilience to it that shines a ray of optimism through the surrounding melancholy.

There’s a spiritual aura that embraces the songs on Javelin as the folk instrumentation and choral backing vocals take shape. These give Sufjan’s vocals plenty of space to float atop acoustic piano and guitar melodies. The result is spellbinding: lush arrangements that prop up his soft crooning and act as guideposts amidst the crashing waves of grief. It’s astonishing how little Sufjan needs to create heartrending music that can move you to the core. As much as Javelin is about coming to terms with sorrow, it’s also about holding onto the memories of those no longer here: “I will always love you/But I cannot live with you.”

Must Listens: Goodbye Evergreen, Will Anybody Ever Love Me?, My Red Little Fox

9. Jessie Ware – That! Feels Good!

Genre: Disco

With so much genre revivalism going on right now, it’s not hard to write off disco’s 2020 return as little more than a fad. But for Jessie Ware, whose 2020 album What’s Your Pleasure? smashed into the crossroads of pop and disco revival, it seems she’s more than ready to double down on her faith in the neon-colored dancefloor. That! Feels Good! is the natural sequel: a precise, resolute sound that gets honed to reflect the shift back toward the real world. The touch of physicality is essential here as the energy of the pulsing synths and drumlines are intrinsic to her sound. Taking on funk, Italo, and Diva House, That! Feels Good! revels in excess: the ecstasy of pleasure lingering on breathy moans and cheeky euphemisms.

Jessie Ware’s velvet vocals swing from croons to belts to falsettos as she moves with the infectious instrumentation. On “Pearls”, she flexes her ability to climb the upper range with ease moving from airy whispers to elated cries. “Freak Me Now” synthesizes the distinct digitality of French House with a pounding bassline. While it hinges on nostalgia for the golden age of disco, Jessie Ware’s charisma and smoky register are enough to give her sound a distinct flair. Beyond just paying homage, she remains fully committed to the source material while breathing fresh air into its foundation. Jessie Ware has quickly become the driving force behind the disco revivalism of this decade and on That! Feels Good!, she seems to fully ease into that role.

Must Listens: Free Yourself, Freak Me Now, Shake the Bottle

8. Betcover!! – 馬

Genre: Jazz Rock

Betcover!! has been on an insane run – three immaculate albums in back-to-back years. On , they combine the chaotic punk signatures of 時間 with the wistful, progressive elements of . Splashes of off-kilter drumming and jazzy riffing build up the dusky atsmophere in the record. However, it’s Jiro Yanase’s baritone that carries the brunt of the emotional weight in Betcover!!. In interviews, he’s stated that his goal is to often convey a sense of humanity and imperfection within their music. This is accomplished by the freeform nature of their recordings: ignoring metronomes, more fluctuations in the instrumentation, and a focus on emotions rather than an airtight performance. His vocals are unbalanced, wavering from melodic movements to volatile spoken-word passages. It doesn’t always come off perfectly clean but the effect is undeniable: a voice that manages to convey the abstract rather than a tangible concept.

The flow of benefits from these chaotic ideas all merging at different intersections. The metaphysical idea of nostalgia, something that we cannot describe with words, is felt with each chord and verse within . A lot of Betcover!!’s aesthetics are dervied from a desire to replicate Showa-era moods and imagery. Though none of us were alive at that time, they manage to evoke that particular ambiance with ease. The messy “バーチャルセックス” is a collision of punchy riffing and vocal harmonies that instill a desperate sense of urgency. “フラメンコ” conjures images of moody jazz lounges with its interspersed piano and alternating rimshots with unstrained snares. At first, sounds like a jumbled mess of sounds but as the album chugs along, it reveals emotional intricacies that cannot possibly be described with mere words.

Must Listens: バーチャルセックス, 鏡 , フラメンコ

7. McKinley Dixon – Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?

Genre: Jazz Rap

Despite not having the renown of underground rappers this year like Billy Woods or JPEGMAFIA, McKinley Dixon has carved out a unique lane for himself in jazz rap and his newest album Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!? finds him in top form. Taking his ambition to higher heights than ever before, the album has a maximalist scope. Using layered orchestral arrangements, each instrument functions as an extension of his charismatic delivery. Fluid harps, sweeping horns, and rich organs decorate the tapestry McKinley lays out. As he moves from verse to verse, he alludes to the struggles of losing friends, community resilience, and violence that he can’t seem to escape.

The way McKinley weaves his stories together never feels preachy or overwrought. Channeling vivid imagery through metaphors and diverse cadences, there’s a delicate balance between his flow and the instrumentals. “Nights on the car hood, laid out crucified/Grew much more from the love that you provide/Standing on stage, hold back both teary eyes”, a striking reminiscence on “Run, Run, Run”. Though his emceeing is fundamentally straightforward, it allows him to fit cohesively into the extravagance of the jazzy backdrop. It’s a dynamic that relies on McKinley’s deftness to execute and he does it masterfully. Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!? is an artistic evolution to the highest degree, a grand vision that slowly unveils itself within the individual parts.

Must Listens: Run, Run, Run, Live! From the Kitchen Table, Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?

6. Le Cri du Caire – Le Cri du Caire

Genre: Jazz

Retracing the steps of the Egyptian revolution, Le Cri du Caire (The Cry of Cairo) features poet and singer Abdullah Miniawy backed by saxophonist Peter Corser, cellist Karsten Hochapfel, and trumpeter Erik Truffaz. Experiencing the Egyptian Revolution firsthand, Miniawy draws inspiration from the isolation and longing for freedom he had as a child who was cut off from the outside world. As the vibrato in his voice slowly pulses at the end of each line, the raw emotion he spills of religion, revolution, and freedom tinges the passages of Arabic Jazz.

Alternating between singing and spoken word passages, there’s a delicate balance of contrasting sentiments. Childlike wonder of the world in the face of grief. Persevering hope in an environment that was built to be unforgiving. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Le Cri du Caire is just how much empty space there is. Amongst the three main instruments, there are sparse progressions that give off an eerie impression of quietness as Miniawy sings. Though there are some incredible melodies at play like on “Pearls for Orphans”, the haunting vocals are always the center of attention. Le Cri du Caire is a phenomenal body of work, an intimate examination of the resilience that prevails within us.

Must Listens: Pearls for Orphans, Splendid Tales, Sadiya (Purple Feathers)

5. DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ – Destiny

Genre: House

In the five years since DJ Sabrina released her landmark debut Makin’ Magick, her prolific output of nostalgia-tinged dancefloor tracks has captured the hearts of millennials and zoomers everywhere. There’s just something inexplicably magical about DJ Sabrina albums that meld 90s rave nostalgia with TV sitcom samples and snazzy synths. Destiny is her longest project yet, clocking in at nearly four hours, and against all odds, it doesn’t ever feel like it’s being backed into a corner by its repetition. On the contrary, as the album goes on, the momentum it builds only gets stronger. Ramping up the grooves with disco, synth pop, and vocoder samples, the album feels like a party that never ends.

Though the rhythm and synths form a melodic foundation, it’s DJ Sabrina’s hyperfixation on vocal samples that propel the emotional aspect of her music to something greater. As they get passed through a vocoder and drift into the pulse of each song, there’s an intimately recognizable quality to them. There’s always a hint of melancholy, an undertone of sadness for bygone eras tinged into the upbeat dance tracks. The nostalgia that DJ Sabrina goes for is almost inexplicable, a call back to both heartbreak and unforgettable nights that never seem to end. The enchanting thing about Destiny isn’t just the music itself, but rather the spellbinding emotions that it reminds you of.

Must Listens: For Now and Forever, Will U Be Mine, Actions Speak Louder

4. Parannoul – After the Magic

Genre: Shoegaze

It isn’t easy to describe the charm of the phantasmagoria that permeates Parannoul’s music. Like a surreal kaleidoscope that winds up feelings of yearning and suffering into nostalgia, the haunting sense of familiarity is inexplicable. The dreamy riffs that blended emo, shoegaze, and bedroom pop on 2021’s To See The Next Part of the Dream make a return here on Parannoul’s third full-length album. Where To See The Next Part of the Dream is gritty and melancholic at heart, After The Magic’s dreamier sounds are promises of what lies beyond the escapism. The harmonized vocals on “We Shine At Night”, the shimmering synths and chirping on “Parade”, and the climax of strings on the title track all converge towards tranquility.

If that was all After the Magic had to offer, it might have been nothing more than a quiet follow-up. But for Parannoul, experimenting laterally isn’t enough. Perhaps the most impressive part of this album is how much more developed his voice has become since To See The Next Part. The soaring choruses, emotional screams, and energetic delivery aren’t as heavily filtered through the wall of sound. Songs are slower, allowing the acoustic passages to unwind together with lyrics of longing and forgotten memories. As it closes with the title track, Parannoul makes a promise: “When the magic disappears and the door opens/Dream erodes, Someday somewhere, we’ll meet again”. Maybe there really isn’t anything that could compare to those magical moments that we slowly fade from our memories. But as we continue to seek for what comes after the magic, we might just find something else that we chase for the rest of our lives.

Must Listens: Polaris, Insomnia, Parade

3. Veeze – Ganger

Genre: Rap

Veeze’s sluggish, rambling flows often give off the impression of a rapper who isn’t really trying. With a delivery that teeters on the edge of effortlessness and apathy, he made a name for himself in the comeup of the Detroit scene. Beneath the surface though, is an inimitable style of hilarious punchlines and bizarre musings that betray a sharper wit than what he might be credited for. Ganger showcases Veeze in top form as he drifts in and out of the pockets within the beats. With over 20 producers, every song on Ganger is a new palette that shifts alongside Veeze’s lethargic flow. Rapping with a menacing urgency on “OverseasBaller”, he can just as easily lean back on a summery joint like “WHOda1” or go classic Detroit with “SEXY liar”.

In the four-year gap since his debut album, Veeze has stepped up his songwriting. Within the sleepy murmuring is a renewed hunger that compels him to make every bar count. “Crybaby Veeze, use the hundreds, wipe it away/I don’t got change for twenty, twenty ain’t nothing but change” over the looping melody of “GOMD” is a promise to never go broke. As Veeze stumbles through NBA metaphors, intrusive thoughts, and self-comparisons to Justin Timberlake, he seems more attuned to the intricacies in his lyrics. In one verse he can go from a clever punchline (“This that Kanye check, they sent it through the wire”) to a hilarious one-liner (“Told her, ‘Take them Skims off, let me be your Ray J'”) all while maintaining the same deadpan delivery. It’s difficult to articulate what exactly makes Ganger so addictive but once you get it, you really get it.

Must Listens: GOMD, GAIG, WHOda1

2. Jeff Rosenstock – HELLMODE

Genre: Power Pop

In an industry that increasingly demands more control of artists signed to labels, Jeff Rosenstock’s DIY ethos has remained a fundamental antithesis to that notion. Over a career that spans nearly 30 years, Jeff has consistently subscribed to the idea of accessibility for his music whether it was in The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb The Music Industry! or as he shifted to a solo career the past decade. Though HELLMODE retains the Jeff Rosenstock DNA, it gets the full studio session treatment for the first time in his solo career and it places its ambition on full display. Everything about HELLMODE is massive: his chanting choruses, the pristine mixing, melody-driven guitars, and splashes of ska all get cranked up to eleven in the first half. Even as it slows down in its second half, the instrumentation remains crystal-clear as Jeff sings of the anxieties plaguing him.

Much like the other albums from his solo career, HELLMODE deals with the fallout of the planet being literally on fire. In the aptly titled “Future is Dumb”, Jeff vents his hopelessness in the face of climate change: “The garbage we’ve shaped into mountains/Assistance with a twisted catch/Do you still dream about tomorrow?”. “Head” is a scorching critique of the government and state-sponsored violence (“Currently it’s obvious there are no fair elections/There is no constitution and there is no bill of rights/And if you gather in the streets to demonstrate objections/They’ll beat you with a club and whisk you off into the night”). Still, he never turns to nihilism and instead opts to find hope within his calls to action. HELLMODE is a perfect representation of how Jeff Rosenstock’s sincerity and authenticity have propelled him to be a voice that cannot be ignored in a world spiraling toward chaos.


1. Panopticon – The Rime of Memory

Genre: Black Metal

Austin Lunn’s Panopticon project has transformed from humble beginnings into an inimitable, foundational aspect of atmospheric black metal today. Over the past two decades, Lunn’s fusion of Appalachian folk, bluegrass, and post-rock with the desolate sounds of black metal has thrust him into a pantheon of his own. Drawing upon his own experiences as an outdoorsman and anarchist, much of Panopticon’s older music was politically charged. But as time wore on, Lunn seemed to find more comfort in solitude and the music reflected that. Looking to preserve nostalgic memories and the beauty of the world around him, Panopticon projects became more well-rounded, with a balance of harsh black metal passages and wistful folk atmospheres. The Rime of Memory once again teeters precariously on that equilibrium as it functions as both a metaphor for the climate crisis and coming to terms with death.

Opening with a dirge on “I Erindringens Høstlige Dysterhet”, the song slowly bleeds into the steel guitars and echoing choir of “Winter’s Ghost” before exploding into dissonant guitars and harsh shrieks. The sudden change is ferocious, marked by its muddy mixing and pounding drums that represent a new landscape of bitter cold and ruin. Then, without warning, the brutality disappears once again and you’re left with a strange catharsis. This ebb and flow throughout The Rime of Memory makes for massive emotional peaks and comedowns. Panopticon has consistently focused on this dynamic of pain interspersed with beauty and it reaches new heights on this album. At the same time, there’s also some new experimentation that Lunn has done with the vocals. His screaming and guttural growling are weaved together with spoken word sections and samples. It’s stylistically reminiscent of the chaotic crescendos of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Have A Nice Life as they drift from clarity to ambiguity.

As The Rime of Memory changes from its suffocating sections into the post-rock ones, a lingering sense of existential ennui remains. In our fear of delaying the inevitability of death, have we torn everything around us asunder? With the planet collapsing, will we be able to face ourselves in old age even if we make it there? Though Lunn doesn’t seem to have a concrete answer, the final song “The Blue Against the White” at least seems to serve as closure. The gorgeous vocal mix and layered instruments betray a sense of inner peace and acceptance of an inescapable destiny. Maybe that’s what Panopticon has been trying to get us to notice this entire time: the moments of striking beauty in a frigid, unforgiving world.

Must Listens: Winter’s Ghost, Cedar Skeletons, The Blue Against the White

About the Author


I turned my incoherent ramblings on music, anime, and video games into an entire blog.

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