Atwood Magazine’s 2023 Albums of the Year

Atwood Magazine's 2023 Albums of the Year
Atwood Magazine's 2023 Albums of the Year
Alaska Reid Angie McMahon Bailen Ben Howard billy woods and Kenny Segal Bleach Lab Bombay Bicycle Club boygenius brotherkenzie Caitlyn Smith Caroline Polachek Caroline Rose Chappell Roan Cold War Kids Del Water Gap Depeche Mode Dhani Harrison Doja Cat Dominic Fike Gracie Abrams GRAYtheband Gregory Alan Isakov Holly Humberstone Hozier Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit Jeff Rosenstock Josaleigh Pollett Joy Oladokun Kali Uchis Kelsea Ballerini King Krule Lana Del Rey M83 Me Nd Adam Miley Cyrus MisterWives Mitski Monika Roscher Bigband Movements Nicki Minaj Noah Kahan Olivia Rodrigo OTNES Overcoats Paramore Renao Ryan Beatty Samia Savannah Conley Slow Pulp Slowdive Soda Blonde Spanish Love Songs Squid Stephen Sanchez Sufjan Stevens The Beaches The Lemon Twigs The National Troye Sivan Young Fathers Zach Bryan

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From all of us here at Atwood Magazine, we wish you a happy and healthy new year!

2023 has been an inspiring year for music. Living legends have further solidified their legacies, whilst fresh faces have become new favorites.

Atwood Magazine has always had at its core the mission to celebrate music of all genres, and this year we continued our goal to be a space of inclusivity and representation by consciously highlighting art and artists from around the world. The year in music was made all the more exciting because of the broad range of music we featured and focused on – from those familiar names in the Top 40, to creatives in the most underground, indie, and alternative of circles.

For so many of these artists, music is more than a mere means of self-expression; it is a vessel full of awesome potential. In recent years, it has felt increasingly important to acknowledge and elevate those who use their art as a voice for the disenfranchised; the oppressed; the underrepresented; and the underprivileged. This year, we continue to recognize those who speak for more than just themselves, while at the same time indulging in the familiar, timeless themes of love, loss, hope, connection, courage, change, and the never-ending pursuit of happiness.

As the year comes to a close, our staff took a step back to honor the songs, albums, EPsconcerts, and artist discoveries that had the greatest impact on our lives. Without further ado, Atwood Magazine is proud to present our curated list of 2023’s Albums of the Year, in alphabetical order by artist.

From mainstream heavyweights like Nicki Minaj, Olivia Rodrigo, Miley Cyrus, Paramore, Troye Sivan, and Lana Del Rey, to alternative darlings like Hozier, Mitski, Noah Kahan, boygenius, Samia, and Del Water Gap, and fresh faces like Chappell Roan, OTNES, Stephen Sanchez, and Savannah Conley – and so many more – these are our favorites – the albums that influenced and inspired us the most. Please join us in celebrating 2023’s contributions to the music world!

Mitch Mosk, Editor-in-Chief

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,Atwood Magazine

Atwood’s 2023 Music of the Year 

2023’s Best Albums of the Year

Click on the artist’s name to skip right to their album’s entry!

Alaska Reid Angie McMahon Bailen Ben Howard billy woods & Kenny Segal Bleach Lab Bombay Bicycle Club boygenius brotherkenzie Caitlyn Smith Caroline Polachek Caroline Rose Chappell Roan Cold War Kids Del Water Gap Depeche Mode Dhani Harrison Doja Cat Dominic Fike Gracie Abrams GRAYtheband Gregory Alan Isakov Holly Humberstone Hozier Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit Jeff Rosenstock Josaleigh Pollett Joy Oladokun Kali Uchis Kelsea Ballerini King Krule Lana Del Rey M83 Me Nd Adam Miley Cyrus MisterWives Mitski Monika Roscher Bigband Movements Nicki Minaj Noah Kahan Olivia Rodrigo OTNES Overcoats Paramore Renao Ryan Beatty Samia Savannah Conley Slow Pulp Slowdive Soda Blonde Spanish Love Songs Squid Stephen Sanchez Sufjan Stevens The Beaches The Lemon Twigs The National Troye Sivan Young Fathers Zach Bryan

The Best Albums of 2023

AMitch Mosk

Angie McMahon can always be counted on to bring us face-to-face and heart-to-heart with our innermost selves. Ever since we first met her in 2018, the Australian indie rock singer/songwriter has effortlessly soundtracked the tender turmoil of our restless souls – and with it being four years since her last full length release, we were well overdue for a proper McMahon musical cleanse. Released in October via AWAL, Angie McMahon’s long-awaited sophomore album is everything fans could have hoped it would be: Emotionally charged, sonically breathtaking, achingly human, and beautifully vulnerable. Aptly titled Light, Dark, Light Again, the thirteen-track follow-up to 2019’s Salt brings listeners on a powerfully cathartic, soul-stirring journey of reckoning and redemption as McMahon delves into her own darkness and finds her way back out again.

Personal highlights include the achingly visceral “Fish,” the spectacularly cinematic slow-burn “Exploding,” and the enchantingly tender, brutally honest and raw “Serotonin” – but for me, all else pales in comparison to “Making It Through,” the album’s tempestuous finale and a fiery, cathartic upheaval of inner reckoning, confrontation, clarity, and cleansing (that you can read all about here).

There’s a lot to love about all of Light, Dark, Light Again’s music and lyrics. Whether she’s baring her soul or… baring her soul, McMahon makes art with incredible care and intent: Every song is nuanced and lovingly layered – an intimate, emotionally epic upheaval expertly balancing the catchy with the cathartic. Light, Dark, Light Again is by no means a “light” album, but it wears its weight well. Putting her faith in vulnerability, she has made a timeless record of self-examination, self-acceptance, and self-love that ultimately explores what it means to be human: Fractured, yet whole; fragile, yet strong. Ever-changing, yet somehow still the same.

If this is to be McMahon’s masterpiece – her greatest contribution to culture – then it was well worth whatever profound spiritual purging it took to bring these thirteen breathtaking songs to life. – Mitch Mosk

BAILEN’s long-awaited sophomore album is a smoldering, soul-stirring enchantment. Achingly intimate and beautifully raw moments of truth are easy to come by on Tired Hearts as the New York-based sibling trio spill their souls through passionate indie pop melodies and heart-rending harmonies. Arriving four long years after the band’s 2019 debut album Thrilled to Be HereTired Hearts is an evolution in every sense of the word. We’re all older, sure, and as New Yorkers, we’ve all been traumatized (to some degree) by what the COVID-19 pandemic did to our own lives and to our city; but Tired Hearts dives even deeper than that. Julia, Daniel, and David Bailen wear their hearts on their sleeves as they sing about love, about illness, about family, and about carrying life’s heavy burdens on their shoulders and in their souls. Working together with producer Brad Cook (Bon Iver, Snail Mail, Waxahatchee), BAILEN reach a new musical high while plunging unapologetically into their lows.

This is a record reckoning with inner and outer turmoil; one confronting the turbulence in our immediate lives and the friction we’ve experienced at a national level. Passionate, heartfelt declarations about women’s rights and empowerment share a space with songs of healing and songs of hope as BAILEN navigate their late 20s, in the 2020s.

Highlights range from the radiant, spirited anthem “Call It Like It Is” and the breathtakingly dreamy, vividly dramatic title track “Tired Hearts,” to more nuanced moments like “Nothing Left to Give,” an uplifting mantra of perspective and perseverance (and one of my more recent Editor’s Picks). “I know I’ll make it out of this alive, so don’t stop me from trying to enjoy the ride,” Julia Bailen sings at the song’s start, a sense of urgency, intimacy, and raw determination radiating off her voice. “Gotta keep from burning out before I hit my stride.” A personal favorite is the hauntingly beautiful “BRCA (Nothing Takes Me Down),” whose titled is derived from the breast cancer gene Julia shares with her mother, a breast cancer survivor. I actually also have the BRCA gene, and never before have I felt so close to an artist in the way that I feel for Bailen when I listen to this gut-wrenching, sweetly soothing song.

It’s all just an uphill battle
You shoulder the brunt because
You wish it wasn’t mine
But I’d take it every time
You’ve given the best you could give
And I know that I wouldn’t change it now
Oh nothing takes me down…
Nothing takes me down
And it won’t change my plans
I’ll still live like I’m dying
But I won’t let it take me down

This is a prime example of an artist channeling their pain and darkness into beauty, and it’s just one twelve magic moments that light the way through Tired Hearts. BAILEN haven’t just upped the ante with this album; they’ve absolutely outdone themselves. – Mitch Mosk

How do you sonically represent the strangeness of experiencing and then healing from catastrophe? Ben Howard’s newest album, Is It? (July 2024) does just that. After suffering two mini-strokes, Howard began working on Is It? articulating the disorientation of his experience as well as the moments of healing and hope. Far from the stifled screams of Howard’s 2015 angst in “End of Affair,” the album has a textured yet airy experimental sound to it with spacey electronic guitar loops and playful melodies. Howard’s lyrics gleam like shards of glass, talking with startling vividness about his first stroke — the “half-mast frown” immediately conjures the image of his partial drooping face in “Couldn’t Make It Up.” Despite his harrowing experiences confronting his own mortality, the album is a miraculous expression of tenderness and hope — in “Little Plant” he turns a compassionate eye towards a small plant (“you wanted to be more and that’s ordinary”), in “Spirit” he asks, “what’s mine anyway?” and answers with the stunning affirmation: “a love that cannot be derailed.” He asks in the album’s opening song, “Love, is that the final sound?” Yes. In this album, Love is the final sound. – Kate Millar

Hip-hop turned 50 this year, though grumblings over declining sales threatened to rain on its parade. Whether rappers have ceded Billboard‘s throne to bro-country, K-pop or Taylor Swift is debatable. But if there’s one thing we can  agree on in 2023, it’s that billy woods doesn’t miss.

Despite avoiding the spotlight, woods is widely recognized as the blurred-out face of underground rap. Celebrity pre-rolls, $300 Ubers, missed soundchecks and other tales from the road dot Maps, but his second go-around with producer Kenny Segal is far from a victory lap. “Soft Landing” loop-de-loops around a jet-lagged guitar lick and bass clouds that puff like oxygen through an airplane cabin.

Maps might veer off in a different, if not slightly more accessible direction, but woods’ gallows humor still cuts to the bone. It’s damning to hear someone who’s squeezed a semi-stable profession out of late-capitalist doomsaying so weary of their own prospects. “It’s still things we never saw”, he sighs over a bleary-eyed ’70s soul sample. “But I don’t want to see more.”

Spotify, merch cuts and astronomical ticket prices continue to eat the music industry alive, but at least hip-hop is in good hands. Maybe next year will bring a changing of the guard, but billy woods ends 2023 holding the same title as last year: Top dawg. – Will Yarbrough

Wave after wave of shiver-inducing shoegaze, glistening indie rock, and dream pop wash over the ears as Bleach Lab’s debut album drenches its audience not just in breathtaking sound, but in visceral emotion. Released in September via Nettwerk Music Group, Lost in a Rush of Emptiness is the apotheosis of everything the London quartet have built over the last four years: As enchanting as it is achingly intimate, their first full-length is an immersive collection of inner reckonings and soul-stirring reflections on what it means to be alive. They plunder the depths of their own hearts and souls, ultimately delivering an experience that is at once wondrous and wistful, thought-provoking and deeply evocative.

It feels like everything that’s come before – the grief and trauma of A Calm Sense of Surrounding; the heartache and vulnerability of Nothing Feels Real; the haunting beauty and seductive, raw reverie of If You Only Feel It Once – has been leading up to this moment. Active throughout the past four years, Bleach Lab have found their niche in a glistening assembly of sweet, seductive, and singular sound. Think Mazzy Star meets Daughter, The Smiths, and The 1975. A longtime Atwood Magazine artist-to-watch, five-time Editor’s Pick, and one of our Top Artist Discoveries of 2021, the four piece comprised of Jenna Kyle, drummer Kieran Weston, bassist Josh Longman, and guitarist Frank Wates are one of the UK’s most exciting acts, with a heavy, lush shoegaze-y sonic identity and soul-stirring lyrics full of depth, unfiltered emotion, and substance. It’s always exciting to hear an artist top their best work, and Bleach Lab have undoubtedly done that on their debut album – taking lessons and cues from their EPs, without ever once looking backward or leaning on the past.

Lost in a Rush of Emptiness is a cathartic triumph: From the yearning, obsession, and desire of “All Night” to the feverish turmoil of “Everything at Once”; from the romance and fragility of “Indigo” to the churn of “Smile for Me” and the unfiltered heartbreak of “Leave the Light On,” Bleach Lab capture the highs and lows of a life lived to the fullest with stunning grace and time-tested finesse. The album has plenty to offer in terms of raw, meaningful, and memorable moments, where cathartic eruptions and catchy singalongs collide into one visceral, vulnerable, and unforgettable experience.

Lost in a Rush of Emptiness concludes with the ultimate Bleach Lab anthem “Life Gets Better,” a sonically delicate, emotionally charged recognition of all the twists and turns, wounds and scars we gather along the way. It’s not so much the aftermath of the reckoning, as it is an oasis in an ever-churning storm; the winds will likely pick up again, but while things are calm, this is their affirmation – an anthem of resolve; a promise to live. “I want you to know I’m doing fine,” vocalist Jenna Kyle sings. “Life gets better.” It’s the highest high Bleach Lab could have ever reached at this stage in their career, and they made sure to end their album on it: A bright spark of warmth and love – a light in the dark. – Mitch Mosk

After a three-year hiatus, Bombay Bicycle Club’s newest album My Big Day is a delectable musical potluck, featuring collaborations with Jay Som, Nilüfer Yanya, Damon Albarn, Chaka Khan, and Holly Humberstone. Fourteen years since their first album, these indie rock legends have not lost their distinct flavour, presenting a characteristic array of genre-bending songs – from the triumphant horns crescendoing into an electronic soundscape on “Rural Radio Predicts the Rapture” to the heavy fuzz and alt-rock nostalgia of “Meditate” and the infectious grooves of “Just A Little More Time” and “I Want To Be Your Only Pet.” Amidst the sonic array lies an emotive core: “Turn the World On,” the heart and soul of the album. An uplifting melody accompanies nostalgic lyrics written from parent to child, “You’ll make a fine young man… you’ll find your merry gang,” reflecting on the hopefulness of childhood with a future full of possibilities ahead. – Kate Millar

AMitch Mosk

In February, just 6 months after his last album release, brotherkenzie (the solo moniker for Nathan Stocker of Hippo Campus fame) surprised many when he dropped his fourth record, BLOODSUCKER. In many ways, BLOODSUCKER continues to explore the themes of narcissism, self-actualization, and heathen ideals introduced when NATHAN was released in August 2022. But sonically, Stocker headed in a different direction on this record; adding more synth, including spoken interludes, and getting more experimental with his guitar solos. Tracks like “DVD” and “IT’S SO STUPID TO BE THAT MANIACAL” exemplify the different routes his experimentation took him in while still remaining cohesive within the context of the record. If NATHAN was a journey in the afterlife of a creative death, BLOODSUCKER is the subsequent rebirth; rising from the ashes of death to mark a new era for brotherkenzie. – Claire Meyer

In April 2022, Caitlyn Smith released the first half High, and now a year later, she released second half Low, joining the two halves together as High & Low. A record written and produced by Smith. Shane McAnally, the co-president of Monument Records, Smith’s label home, told Smith, “You have to do it. No one else could do it except you.” When you listen to High & Low, it is crystal clear why no one else but Caitlyn Smith could have made this record. “It was really a gift to myself, just really an exercise in believing in myself and trusting my own gut instead of worrying about what everybody else around me wanted”, Smith told me when I interviewed her in 2022.

Listen carefully and High & Low is an incredibly eclectic record. It’s not quite pop, but not firmly country, either. There are bluegrass influences, like the opener to the Garth Brooks backed “Mississippi”, and then there are moments filled with sensuousness that wouldn’t go amiss on a soul record like, “Good As Us” and “Nothing Against You”. Pinning Smith down in one genre is a struggle. Not fitting perfectly into one genre or another has served Smith well in creating a body of work that’s both boundary-pushing and deeply intimate and personal. Smith said that making the record pushed her out of her comfort zone forcing her to not only confront uncomfortable truths but also allowed her to feel “fully alive, in the light and dark, in the high and low.”

“Alaska” is the obvious song showcasing this transformation in Smith. The music invites space, but it’s forced space. At times, it sounds as if Smith is singing in the middle of nowhere, her breath her only company, singing to no-one except herself. With glacial undertones, Smith sings those words we all want to pretend we don’t think, “I’m terrified, we’ll end up like, our parents, together but alone.” Smith likens her love to the frozen and faraway landscape of Alaska.

You’re in the next room over
Drinking tequila on ice
And I’d be six months sober
If you were my vice
If your walls were mountains
I would shake you like an earthquake
‘Cause baby your heart’s in another place
When you look at me, boy you might as well be in Alaska

“Maybe in Another Life” is the standout track on High & Low, is soaked in the longing we all feel that had a relationship existed in a parallel universe it probably would’ve worked. A love that once burned bright and hot but collapses in on itself is a theme that returns in Smith’s songs.

And I’ll love you forever with the fire in my soul
Maybe I could be your girl
And we don’t ever say goodbye
Maybe in another life

High & Low embraces the messy lows and the euphoric highs. – Emily Algar

Caroline Polachek was on another level this year, just watch this Late Show appearance or Tiny Desk performance. She has homed in on her abilities and has turned into a once-in-a-generation talent. Pitchfork released an hour-long podcast praising her newest project and talking about her diverse array of influences. Listen to any interview she has done and you can see that everything she does is meticulous and thought out to the tiniest detail (again I would like to draw your attention to the Late Show performance [seriously, I really recommend it]).

Hopefully, her trajectory continues because at this rate, going from a fun indie pop band in Chairlift, to releasing Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, one of the most exciting albums of the year, Polachek keeps getting better and is on a comet-like trajectory, and everybody should take note. – Eric Schuster

Caroline Rose is no stranger to reinvention. Their folk roots grew towards a pop leaning environment by their third release LONER, which catapulted even further with 2020’s Superstar. Their latest LP is no exception to their evolution, with The Art of Forgetting acting as a metamorphosis for the 34-year-old. The record still contains remnants of their previous work but has since expanded past straightforward pop by way of sonic experimentation complemented by vulnerable writing and an emotionally raw performance.

A vulnerable Rose repeats with full intensity, “You’ve gotta get through this life somehow,” as if to convince theirself of the line (“Miami”). Self-reflection and intimacy intricately weave throughout the 14-tracks, elevating Rose’s artistry to unprecedented heights. Where does Caroline Rose go from here? – Marissa DeLeon

Chappell Roan is the queen of camp; her debut record, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, earning her this mighty title. Unabashedly herself, Chappell brings listeners on a bildungsroman of sorts, celebrating her highest of highs and wallowing in her lowest of lows. The 14 tracks are, in essence, emotional whiplash — see the immediate tone shift between the heart-breaking “Kaleidoscope” and the endlessly spunky “Pink Pony Club.” Albeit, we’ve never been so eager to oscillate between wiping tears and dancing the night away. The track “Red White Supernova” is a stellar example of Chappell’s ability to balance wistful longing with high energy and effortless charisma; see her Vevo DSCVR series performance as a testament to her prowess as a performer. “Baby, why don’t you come over? / Red wine supernova, falling into me,” she chirps out while flitting about the stage in her pink-sequined corset. While she might be a musical supernova herself, Chappell is not planning on fading away anytime soon, reserving her place in modern pop royalty with The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess. – Sophie Severs

Cold War Kids are a special kind of indie rock royalty. Underdogs for 20 years and counting, the band led by Nathan Willett and Matt Maust perform with fire in their eyes and a hunger in their souls – forever chasing something elusive and ethereal, always visible but just out of reach. Their music has the fighting spirit, and with their self-titled tenth studio album, one gets the sense that they finally know, once and for all, what it is they’re fighting for.

Released November 3, 2023 via AWAL, Cold War Kids is dynamic, dramatic, daring, and definitive: A deserving eponymous record, if ever there were one. While the band started off as a bluesy, gritty indie rock outfit, they’ve evolved considerably over the past two decades, incorporating elements of R&B, gospel, Motown, and even *gulp* pop into their music as they themselves have grown, evolved, and changed. Fresh of an experimentation-driven three-album series entitled New Age Norms – through which the band built out their world considerably, exploring innumerable facets of who they’ve been and who they could be – the self-titled Cold War Kids feels like their thesis statement: This is who we are, it boldly declares in twelve soul-stirring, passion-fueled songs.

Cold War Kids is also the band’s most introspective and personal album to date, as Willett’s songwriting turns inward to reflects on his and the band’s identities: Their story. From the spirited opening anthem “Double Life” – a reflection on Willett’s own double life of rock n’ roll and domesticity, as a happily married father of three – and the achingly vulnerable dream-chasing finale “Starring Role,” to the heated “Toxic Mask” (an intimate exploration of privilege and playground social dynamics), the churning, emotionally charged “Blame,” and the soul-soaked “Sunday in the City” (a celebration of Los Angeles, of humanity, and of finding joy), Cold War Kids is endlessly enthralling: A charismatic, cinematic, and cathartic fever dream.

Cold War Kids have always kept it fresh, and their eponymous album sees them at their very best. – Mitch Mosk

Del Water Gap’s S. Holden Jaffe has shown himself to be a musical and lyrical genius on more than one occasion, and his sophomore album I Miss You Already + I Haven’t Left Yet (released in September via Mom + Pop) remains one of this year’s musical masterpieces. A cinematic, soul-baring record full of inner reckonings, raw upheavals, rude awakenings, and some of the catchiest indie pop I’ve ever heard, the follow-up to 2021’s self-titled debut is achingly intimate, candid, unapologetic, and deeply vulnerable: From the breathtakingly stunning “All We Ever Do Is Talk” and the achingly visceral, sonically and emotionally charged “Coping on Unemployment” to the gently driving “Doll House,” the fervent “NFU,” the heavy-hearted fever dream “Beach House” and beyond, I Miss You Already + I Haven’t Left Yet is an up-close and personal look at Jaffe’s unbridled self – that shaky balance between who we think we are, who we really are, and who we long to be. He’s an artist trying to make it through the day just like you and me, grappling with all those questions that keep us up at night, with the lyrical and musical know-how to convey these struggles in a way that doesn’t just connect, but rather truly resonates deep in our core. – Mitch Mosk

As someone who literally grew up with Depeche Mode (proudly since I was 9 years old!), hearing about Fletch’s death was one of the greatest pains I could have experienced. At the announcement of Memento Mori I felt very conflicted, not knowing exactly what to expect. The only thing I was sure of was that there would have been many tears on my part, and I was definitely right about it. Memento Mori is a mixture of beauty and deadly melancholy, like in Playing The Angel. In this case, however, it is a self-conscious sadness. It is not a record meant to mourn Fletch – or at least, not only. It is a carpe diem, an invitation to enjoy every single moment and treasure it, especially with the people we care about. After all, what would we be without the bonds we make on this earth? Memento Mori (which, by the way, means “Remember you’ll have to die”) is a gem of an album, a treat for the ears, and above all a reminder to those who thought Depeche Mode were over. The end of this group is yet to come, because they really have so much to offer. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to treasure their music, in every precious little piece. As Fletch would have wanted. – Dimitra Gurduiala

In the six years since his solo debut In//Parallel, Dhani Harrison has returned to England and headed for the mountains amidst a swirl of despotic soundscapes to rally against a technocratic uprising. Peering down the mountain ridges which adorn the album art, Harrison is ready to combat the tide of isolation and absentminded mass media consumption; synths are the blade he wields against a megatech dragon. Innerstanding is a meditation on loneliness and information inundation, with infectious chorus hooks built around aphorisms and pitch-shifted robotic passages. Teamed with frequent collaborators including Mereki Beach, Leila Moss, Graham Coxon and Paul Hicks, Harrison embeds sweet melodic hooks in a sonic pallete heavily influenced by his extensive soundtrack work. In addition to the stellar lead single, “Damn That Frequency”, highlights include the shimmering “Ahoy There” and the madcap track “The Dancing Tree.” The album’s sweetest moment is cloaked in a pun: “I.C.U. Can you see me? The river flows at its own speed.” A beautiful companion piece to the debut record, the album underscores themes of brainwashing with melodies that burrow into your consciousness and won’t leave for weeks. – Aidan Moyer

I admit it took me a while to warm up to this record, in part because it sounded so different from any of Doja Cat’s previous albums and was, for the most part, the polar opposite of its predecessor, Planet Her, in terms of radio friendlines. At this point, though… consider me warmed up! I now appreciate that Scarlet is full of some of Doja Cat’s most ferocious rapping ever, as tracks like “Demons” and “Paint the Town Red” demonstrate, and also makes plenty of room for her softer side with delicate numbers like “Balut” and “Agora Hills.” Plus, artists always get bonus points from me if they present me with a memorable live rendition of their music, and Doja definitely delivered on that front with an unbelievably fierce performance when her Scarlet Tour stopped by TD Garden in Boston earlier this month. Doja Cat has already made a strong case for herself as the defining rap star of the early 2020’s thus far, and Scarlet certainly helped her to reinforce that claim quite well. – Josh Weiner

A hot summer night in July in need a of soundtrack effortlessly etched a space for the release of Dominic Fike’s Sunburn. Fike’s tribute to his hometown of Naples, Florida, is easily his most comprehensive project yet. Sunburn fuses Fike’s affinity for alt-rock instrumentation with his grungey form alt-rap, creating a sound that is distinctly his and consistent throughout the album. Sunburn features intoxicating pop tracks like “Mona Lisa” expected in a Dominic Fike project, but the sophomore album also demonstrates Fike’s propensity for more vulnerable narratives. Whether its confessions of intimacy and insecurities in “Ant Pile” and “Bodies” or personal anecdotes of life in Florida explored in “Think Fast (feat. Weezer),” “Mama’s Boy,” and “Sunburn,” Fike depicts a raw portrait of his life and its highs and lows. – Sofia Sar

Gracie Abrams’ Good Riddance is by far and wide one of the best albums of 2024. The depth in her lyrics paired with the unparalleled production of The National’s Aaron Dessner delivers an album that gives you something new with each and every listen. While Abrams has cultivated a strong following with earlier debuts like “21” and “I Miss You, I’m Sorry” it’s clear she’s found her home and her sound with the partnership of Dessner.

From starting with the clear beginning that is “The Best” to ending with the poetically perfect “Right Now,” Abrams gave the world a perfect album with a story of heartbreak and coming into yourself weaved throughout each and every note and lyric. Abrams has a way of self-deprecation and self-awareness that makes it impossible note to root for. Without sounding cliche, this artist is so herself in a world where it is easy to be swayed. Good Riddance is a timeless, beautiful and perfect album. – Kelly McCafferty

I first came across GRAYtheband back in April this year when they dropped the tantalizing debut single, “All Done.” Little did I know that the impending debut album would be my favorite album of 2023. All Done is painfully beautiful with each note and lyric tugging at your heartstrings. The sheer emotion and poignancy is so powerful and evocative, as lead singer Gray Ford touches on serious topics, disguising them as alternative, R&B, neo-soul anthems. Listening to issues surrounding the negative side to the society we live in, is probably something that we would limit ourselves to listening to, however Ford presents them in a way where we constantly crave more. His addictive sound feeds our appetite through pure, organic instrumentation, enchanting melodies and Ford’s impressive vocal range. The album also features fellow Edmonton artists including K-Riz and Janay Thomas, both adding their own flare and keeping us engaged throughout. 2023 has certainly been a strong year for GRAYtheband and we can only imagine what next year has to follow. – Joe Beer

From seeds to songs, Gregory Alan Isakov is a true folk farmer – and on his sixth studio album, the Colorado-based singer/songwriter cultivates a record full of beautiful, poetic reflections and intimate observations on life in motion and life on pause. Released in August, Appaloosa Bones is an eleven-track set of tender, raw ballads about human connection and the strength of the human spirit. These songs are soft, yet heavy; stirring, yet cinematic: From the hushed and haunting weight of “Watchman” and the gentle glow of “Silver Bell,” to the tender aches of “Miles to Go” and “Sweet Heat Lightning,” Appaloosa Bones feels as if it was torn both from the heart, and from the land. – Mitch Mosk

Holly Humberstone’s unique brand of melancholia has never felt more rejuvenating than it does on her debut album. “Here’s to new horizons,” she sings at the very top of Paint My Bedroom Black, cheers-ing to the dawn of a bold new era of self-empowerment, liberation, confidence, and catharsis. Already in the midst of a years-long transformation from alternative singer/songwriter to rising pop star, Humberstone does what she’s long done best, letting her music – in particular, her brutally honest, irresistibly catchy, no-holds-barred songwriting – do the talking for her.

Yet this time, everything feels turned up a notch. The music is louder; the tension more palpable; the melodies brighter; the inner reckonings more visceral. Aching from the inside out, Paint My Bedroom Black‘s thirteen songs emerge out of the shadows with painstaking intimacy, vulnerability, and unfiltered, unapologetic passion.

Ever since 2020’s debut EP Falling Asleep at the Wheel first introduced her to the world, Humberstone – a longtime Atwood Magazine artist-to-watch and two-time Editor’s Pick – has been known for spilling her heart out through poignant, often breathtaking poetry, baring her soul for all the see, hear, and feel. On her first proper full-length album, she sings about human connection, self-expression, and embracing life’s little moments – all of which inevitably falls under the overarching umbrella of her own ongoing coming-of-age quest for purpose, understanding, and belonging in this large and lonely world.

At the core of this album is Humberstone’s warm, seductive voice – a sonically and emotionally charged beacon of raw, radiant feeling that inevitably sends shivers down the spine, glowing with its own resonant inner light. Moody, glistening guitars and pulsing drums add compelling contours and additional layers of evocative feeling along the way, keeping listeners properly hooked in as Humberstone rises to her highest of highs and sinks down to her lowest of lows.

The beautifully bold, bright album opener “Paint My Bedroom Black,” mentioned above, sets the tone with a refreshing, newfound sense of freedom and self-discovery as Humberstone casts away the weight of her past and sets off to make a fresh start: “With the windows down I am reborn in the ever-fading light,” she sings in a breath full of hope. “No, I don’t feel that sinking feeling no more… I think it’s gonna be alright.” That high comes crashing down as she tears her way through “Into Your Room,” an achingly intimate eruption of passion and pain, heartache and nirvana that hits hard in a way that only love can do. A love-soaked anthem and lovesick ballad all in one, “Into Your Room” finds the artist exposed and vulnerable as she shares her innermost feelings alongside a buoyant and brooding sonic soundscape of warm, dramatic synths and cool, pulsing beats.

The rest of this album is just as emotive and alluring: From the candid, all-consuming churn of “Cocoon” and the achingly raw inner turmoil of “Antichrist” to the romantic, heart-on-sleeve ballad “Kissing in Swimming Pools,” the relentlessly intense, high energy fever dream “Ghost Me,” the grooving, longing-fueled duet “Superbloodmoon, ”the melodramatic, soul-baring confessional “Elvis Impersonators” and the driving, guilt-ridden upheaval “Lauren,” Paint My Bedroom Black is immediate, unfiltered, and visceral.

Ultimately, this record is a celebration of Holly Humberstone’s raw humanity – dwelling not so much in the darkness, but rather in the fullness of life itself. As she sings in the album’s title track: “Finally, I’m living, not surviving.” There’s no doubt in my mind that Holly Humberstone’s Paint My Bedroom Black is the album of the year. – Mitch Mosk

With the addition of this album to his discography, Hozier deserves to be more readily highlighted as one of our Great Songwriters. There is almost prophetic yearning throughout Unreal Unearth, and the concepts are much more grandiose and mythological than on his first two albums. He still references his usual themes of interpersonal relationships, religion, politics, and introspection, but there’s a more epic quality, in a literary sense, this time around. Hozier drew inspiration from works like Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman and Dante’s Inferno for this project, and that kind of bent is very clear here. Hozier seems to be searching for his Beatrice across this album; craving someone to guide him and for someone with whom to experience the full measure of the human experience. Someone who can help him redeem his soul after so much introspection.

Vocally he expands the range of his voice, and tries methods of expression only fleetingly heard in previous albums. There are rhyme schemes that he played around with that are lifted directly from certain cadences in Dante’s Inferno, which is another clever way to highlight this inspiration. Many people are preoccupied with recreation of the lightning-in-a-bottle sound of “Take Me To Church,” which they likely, and rightfully, viewed as profound (unfortunately, it feels gratingly necessary to bring this point up at all), not bothering to get acquainted with the rest of his music. That song became their only frame of reference for him as a musician, but this does him a grave disservice; there seems like a struggle to comprehend that there’s still profundity, even awe, to be found within the remainder of his songs. “Unknown/Nth,” in particular, is a classic, bluesy ballad dealing with typical themes of the heartache and loneliness that arrives post-breakup. Hozier’s voice across this song employs leaps and bounds that run the gamut of emotions one would likely feel if in the same situation. The sparse guitar riffs feel like a knife in the gut when they strike. It’s a perfect combination of several of his inspirational styles. Among the heaviness and refractions of light, amid the soul-baring, and the resolution-seeking, there are interludes, postludes, and clear sonic distinctions here that posit Unreal Unearth as a true opus, a folk-tinged rock opera made with care, insight, and vulnerability. – Kendall Graham

In a year where lyrical, singer-songwriter-driven country has dominated through the likes of Zach Bryan and Noah Kahan, Jason Isbell released one of the best records of his career. Isbell has never been shy about stretching himself out, but he’s unlocked new bounds with this record. While he’s always straddled the lines of indie folk, country, and southern rock (all under the “Americana” banner), Weathervanes sees him exploring new territory like the indie rock-tinged “Save the World” while holding onto his beloved trademarks.

With Weathervanes, Isbell brings new stories to life in the way that only he can. He ties real honest-to-God human emotions to the types of stories that feel like people you know. Whether it’s looking back on an abortion in “White Beretta” or struggling with substance abuse in “King of Oklahoma,” there’s true humanity deeply embedded in these songs. While Bryan and Kahan have brought some young blood to this genre of American singer-songwriters, Isbell continues to have the type of wisdom that one can only have from watching 40 years of American decay. – James Crowley

HELLMODE is a powerful, anthemic pop punk odyssey which reinvigorates the spirit of its influences. Interpolating the punk ethos of Green Day and Weezer, Rosenstock authentically tackles 21st century ideologies with roaring guitars and witty, searingly honest choruses. “Let it crash, let it fall / It doesn’t do any good at all,” he belts amidst the the buzz of “GRAVEYARD SONG,” urging us to challenge the system, bury the bulls**, and raucously celebrate disorder. Who said rock n’ roll was dead? – Jake Fewx

I am often remiss to directly compare one artist to another within music analysis and criticism, though sometimes it is either just unavoidable, or perhaps it is just the easiest, or the best way, to accurately describe the artist, or album, in question. And it was not intended to be a backhanded compliment—and my hope was it did not come off that way, but two years ago, when Zoe Reynolds released Mood Ring under her Kississippi project, because it leaned so heavily toward a kaleidoscopic and bright pop sound, I had described it as the best Carly Rae Jespen album released that year. And I will make a somewhat similar critical assessment now with In The Garden, By The Weeds, the third full-length from Josaliegh Pollett: It is the best Flock of Dimes album released in 2023. Jen Wasner’s genre bending solo project is a very clear influence on Pollet’s approach to In The Garden — it’s glitchy and skittering in its production at times, anchored by organic moments of beauty and bombast, and full of unabashedly earnest and personal lyricism that the gravity of which lingers with you well after the shimmering and jittery final moment has come to an end. An album full of surprises both in sound, and in the depth of its writing, In The Garden is a huge statement from a tremendous young talent. – Kevin Krein

Nashville singer/songwriter (and Atwood Magazine Editor’s Pick) Joy Oladokun has proved herself a voice of a generation time and again these past few years through intimate songs full of warmth, raw emotion, vulnerability, honesty, and passion. Her music is equal parts catchy, cathartic, and comforting, and nowhere does she shine brighter than on her uplifting, inspiring third album, Proof of Life (released April 28 via Republic Records / EMI Records UK).

I’ve been listening to Proof of Life on repeat ever since its release, and the best way I can describe this record is thus: If Oladokun was looking up (that’s a play on her song, “look up”) on her last LP, in defense of my own happiness, she’s now looking straight ahead. Oladokun is just trying to live her best life and sing about the highs and lows along the way, as she establishes right from the get-go on album opener, “Keeping the Light On” (a personal favorite):

I grew up out in the desert
Where I learned to thrive alone
Lived in L.A. ’til it broke me
Oh, I rolled on like a stone
Found a girl and found a job
Just like they say good people do
But every now and then
I turn to salt inside her wounds
Oh and all I know is we can’t, we won’t let go
Keeping the light on, the light on, ain’t easy
Keeping the fight on, for so long, is hard to do
For all the times you feel the weight
There might just be a better way
Won’t deny that it feels so hard
Whеn the night gets so dark
Keep keeping the light on…

What struck me the moment I first met Oladokun was her authenticity. “My entire life I have been trying to bridge the spiritual and the physical,” she explained in a conversation back in 2021. “I have existed too much in my head and in my heart at times, and forgotten that I am a human being with limits and flaws… I think the biggest thing I have learned is that I don’t have to be in my head all the time, I don’t have to over-analyze things; I can look at something and say, ‘that is bad.’”

Proof of Life makes it abundantly clear that Oladokun has been practicing what she preached. Lyrically, the record is an up close and personal look at what it takes to get by on a daily basis. She opens up about conversations with herself, while diving deep into her relationships with friends and loved ones alike.

“This album is evidence of how I live,” Oladokun shared upon its release. “I hope these are helpful anthems. I started making music because I wasn’t hearing from the ‘everyday human being’ on the radio. I hope this resonates with anybody who feels normal and needs a little musical boost to get through the day. I’m average. I do this job because I love what I do. I put so much care, craft, and intention into it. I’m making music to live to.”

We’re all gonna die tryna figure it out
We’re all getting high any way we know how
We’re over our heads, so I’ll say it out loud
We’re all gonna die tryna figure it out
We’re all gonna die
I write a song, it’s got a couple deep lines
It’s bulls**, don’t it make me sound sort of wise?
But I’m pissin’ in the dark and hopin’ I hit the bowl
I’m afraid of what I can’t control
– “We’re All Gonna Die,” Joy Oladokun ft. Noah Kahan

It feels good to feel seen, let alone heard. From the candid, hopeful opening track “Keeping the Light On” and the glistening, heart-on-sleeve confessional “Changes” (a personal highlight) to the enchantingly intimate “Friends” (featuring Mt. Joy), the emotionally charged headbanger “We’re All Gonna Die” (featuring Noah Kahan) and the impassioned, soaring outpouring “The Hard Way,” every one of these thirteen songs is a nugget of cozy, smile-inducing folk-pop wonder.

Oladokun has created in Proof of Life a spirited, sweetly stirring soundtrack to everyday living full of love. It’s no wonder I want her to be the voice of a generation. – Mitch Mosk

Released in March, Red Moon in Venus explores burning celestial desire, telenovela-style heartbreak, and the astrology and mythology surrounding divine femininity. This album feels like a “UV index at 9” kind of day. It conjures a hypothetical trip to Southern California — stepping out with a slicked back ponytail and your favorite pair of sunglasses. Even if there are fleeting moments of pop, Uchis’ sultry, R&B vocals always shine through, highlighting the very best aspects of this songwriter. – Julia Dzurillay

Rolling Up the Welcome Mat was released February 14, 2023. It became part of a much larger narrative of famous women within the country music industry having to shrink themselves down for their partner who couldn’t handle their overwhelming success – Kacey Musgraves’ star-crossedCarly Pearce’s 29, and the discussions surrounding Ballerini’s divorce from fellow country artist Morgan Evans and Evans’ response to not only their private divorce, but also Ballerini’s artistic expression, has continued to keep this narrative in the spotlight.

In August of this year, Ballerini released the final chapter to the EP, Rolling Up the Welcome Mat (For Good). The former ended on bare bones track “Leave Me Again”, which looked back at the past. The latter leaves us on a more hopeful note, “How Do I Do This”, with Ballerini looking towards the future. Ballerini also included a live version of the song “Penthouse (Healed Version)” that morphed slightly as she sung it every night on tour. “Blindsided (Yeah, Sure, Okay)” also gets an extended cut.

Rolling Up the Welcome Mat has been nominated for Best Country Album at next year’s Grammy Awards. If you’ve listened to the record, it is obvious why! Both versions of the EP, are the best thing Ballerini has ever made. Written, recorded, and produced with her friend, Alysa Vanderheym, the EP is shooting star in the music industry: rare intimacy and universal specificity. Ballerini details her inner most thoughts, fear and words shouted during arguments with her ex-husband, yet it never feels closed off or unrelatable. Ballerini’s in her feelings and your very much in there with her too.

Take the opening song to both versions, “Mountain With A View.” It is written from a place that only Ballerini visited (“It’s 7 AM and I’m on a mountain with a view, I’m the only one, alone, at a table meant for two”). It contains a snippet from an argument Ballerini had with her then-husband (“Scream, I’m just like my parents and givin’ up easy, but you never took that last flight to see me”), and it is the moment Ballerini realises her marriage is over (“I realize you loved me much more at twenty-three, I think that this is when it’s over for me”). Pretty specific, yet, the music, the words and the ambience created by the instrumentation and Ballerini’s voice, makes you believe it is your story too. We can all roll up our own welcome mat. – Emily Algar

Londoner Archie Marshall’s musical moniker King Krule tends to shoot himself in the foot when it comes to the release of new projects. Fans and critics alike who attribute their introduction to his drearily captivating undertone to earlier, vastly successful projects such as The OOZ or 6 Feet Beneath The Moon are skeptical of any new releases – expectations are unwaveringly high. And as anyone familiar with the style of Marshall might know, his songwriting is critically dependent upon his level of satisfaction with the cards of life dealt at the given moment in time. Space Heavy is a beautiful representation of the bittersweet – Marshall reflects upon entering a season of fatherhood while simultaneously experiencing isolation and loneliness resulting from his move from London to Liverpool. In classic Krule-ian style, Marshall musically demonstrates his optimistic confusion through an array of energetic, high-powered, angst driven verses kept in balance with more introspective and sonically faint ballads of love. Marshall eloquently presents angst and anger in a chillingly beautiful way with “Flimsy,” “Seagirl” and “Tortoise of Independency,” while tapping into his distinctive stomach-sinking, tortuous growl featured in “Space Heavy” and “Empty Stomach Space Cadet.” Space Heavy is intensely pleasing, reckoning with love, fatherhood, distance, and isolation. Equally compelling as it is haunting, Marshall has done it again in 2023. – Miles Campbell

When’s it gonna be my turn?” Lana Del Rey ponders, existentialism that serves as the backbone of Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd. Quiet ruminations, sweet memories, and delicate confessions Del Rey exhibits not only the full spectrum of human emotions, but human existence in her ninth studio album. Accompanied by the technicolor production by Jack Antonoff, the record seamlessly blends genres of soul, rock, and trap with Del Rey’s ethereal alt-pop and features thoughtfully curated guest vocals.

Contemplative and reflective, the album truly demonstrates Del Rey’s range as a storyteller with standout tracks including “A&W,” “Margaret (feat. Bleachers),” “Peppers (feat. Tommy Genesis),” and of course the title track. While the title may seem long-winded, each word of “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” necessary its thesis: what is our legacy when we leave? By shining light on the people and places that go unnoticed, Del Rey brings a new perspective to existence and our time on earth. With an already discography full of deputy, Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd further cements Del Rey as the great American songwriter of a generation. – Sofia Sar

It might sound silly to hang your hopes and dreams, your fear and optimism, on a record from M83 in the year 2023. At least, that’s what the average listener might think. Led by Anthony Gonzalez and rounded out in a live setting by more than 10 musicians, M83 will likely remain in perpetual playlist rotation thanks to the awe-inspiring charms of impossibly catch 2011 alt radio smash “Midnight City.” Now, this isn’t a bad thing in the slightest — and it only proves that M83 have long been so much more than a “one-hit wonder.” In fact, 2023 album Fantasy proves this in stunning fashion. The album is quite close to a masterpiece, full of rich sonic texture and the soaring heights one has come to expect from M83. The fact that it comes across as none other than life-affirming in a live setting is also, quite frankly, mind-blowing and joyous. Let no one tell you differently: The conversation about M83 dives so much deeper than one track or a moment in time — it’s more than a fantasy, and this album backs up that notion quite handily. – Beau Hayhoe

When Texan duo Me Nd Adam dropped their debut album American Drip Pt. I in 2020 we never expected there to be a follow up that could match its greatness. And yet, here we are with the aptly named American Drip Part II, and man does it slap. Graced with another 12 songs, (or 15 if you include the deluxe version), friends and bandmates Vince and Adam prove that their talent knows no bounds. Part II is just as bold and brash as the first, but sees the duo taking a more organic approach to their sound, pulling the reins on some of the heavier electro-pop moments. The second edition definitely shows the band owning their unique identity, with them admitting that part one was certainly more exploratory. “Best of Me” is a hard hitting rock track, reverberating with rambunctious percussion and lyrics that speak about being exhausted and defeated, a feeling we’re all used to I’m sure. Then there are songs like “Anything for You” which strips things back to its basics. Simple guitar strums, delicate piano melodies and honest lyrics showcase a more mellow side to the duo. American Drip Part II will take you on a ride through multiple different territories, offering up something for everyone. – Joe Beer

On March 10, Miley Cyrus released Endless Summer Vacation – a roughly 45-minute album featuring songs pertaining to self-empowerment, embracing the good times in life and love and loss. It’s a breath of fresh air with catchy tunes that overflow with wonder and awe. Truly, this seems like Cyrus’ most honest album yet.

As the album begins with hit-song “Flowers,” and travels down to “Wonder Woman,” it’s almost as if Cyrus is taking you on her own personal journey. In “Flowers,” Cyrus sings about a heartbreak but instead of sulking in it, she’s coming out stronger than ever – buying herself flowers and doing the things she loves. As we head to “Wonder Woman,” we make stops at “Jaded,” a song about someone who self-sabotaged something that could’ve been absolutely amazing, “You,” a track about wanting to go on edgy endeavors with only a certain romantic interest, “River,” an upbeat tune that wants to make you dance about a night on the town and “Island,” a vibey track with hints of reggae that takes on a metaphor for loneliness. By “Wonder Woman,” a raw and beautiful ballad, Cyrus tells the story of a won’t-stop woman who has gone through the deepest trenches of life, but anyone on the outside perspective would never know because of how well she hides it. “But when her favorite record’s on and she’s dancin’ in the dark/ She can’t stop her eyes from wellin’ up, up/ She makes sure that no one’s ’round to see her fall apart/ She wants to be the one that never does,” Cyrus sings so passionately. It’s a gorgeous song that encapsulates detailed storytelling. But truthfully, this album is filled with exactly that, detailed storytelling. Cyrus really captures it all in Endless Summer Vacation and delivers an outstanding piece of work with artistic creativity standing at the forefront. – Lauren Turner

Nosebleeds is rock n’ roll, infectious, intricate, delicate, and beautiful. It’s as therapeutic as it is entertaining and it is most certainly one of the best albums of 2023. This albums is what it sounds like to completely let go and create exactly what you want with exactly what you feel. Like I said, it’s rock & roll and it’s how all the best music is made. When we sat down with the group this year, lead singer Mandy Lee had the below to say about creating this album,

“We’re taught that happiness and joy are good and anger, sadness and depression are bad. I think it’s just the full spectrum of what our experience is and it’s about reclaiming that versus feeling like one is good and one is bad. They’re all normal, natural responses to life.” She continues, “I felt very raw and open, and I wanted the music to reflect where I was, rather than trying to race towards the silver lining of everything being packaged pretty and cleaned up nice for people to digest.” – Kelly McCafferty

Oh, Mitski. The announcement of The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We hit me like a train, so unexpected was it. Even more surprising to discover that it was her most successful work, for me on par only with Puberty 2. It is an album to be listened to strictly in solitude with your own thoughts, getting in close touch with your emotions and treasuring them. It starts by letting yourself be lulled by the gospel chorus in “Bug like an angel”, which already makes you ask yourself a fundamental question: is all the pain worth it? Is there a point? Or is there no real solution to all this? Should you let yourself be engulfed by despair? And this is where the real journey begins. What Mitski sets to music is a troubled mind, softened and consoled by love only. The real heaven is often not that overwhelming and over-romanticized feeling, but the one that lies in those little, daily things that slowly binds us to our special someone. However, this love is destined for a bitter end, as shown in the melancholy “Heaven” and the nostalgic “Star.” Here, however, we get a glimpse of the true philosophy of this record.

Love stories can end at any moment. They can cause tremendous pain, give us trust issues and who knows what else. You can be a victim as well as an executioner, as in the wonderful “I’m Your Man.” What remains of a relationship, however, is always a distant light, the light of a star that may be there or not, it doesn’t matter. All we care about is seeing its light, and especially finding it in ourselves. That is because the real point of all this is that the world is constantly changing, every relationship can end at any moment: what will never end, however, is our love, how we love others and how we show it-nothing is more precious, nothing is more free. This is how we can defeat despair, it truly gives you a whole new perspective on the world. – Dimitra Gurduiala

Indulging in her flair for the supernatural, Monika Roscher successfully conjures up an album that lives up to its name on Witchy Activities and the Maple Death. The German jazz ensemble masterfully weaves sounds of avant-jazz and art pop in an ambitious, sprawling effort which teems with mysticism. Roscher’s ghostly vocals spew tales of, apocalypse, seances, eerie echoes in the forest, and foul creatures of the night on one cinematic track to the next. There’s a strong tenacity in the band’s performances as the big band instrumentation is used to maximal effect. Growling, driving musical textures support tight, sinister solo performances which ooze with nuance. Witchy fun aside, stellar execution and illustrious orchestration make for the most immersive jazz project of the year. – Jake Fewx

There’s nothing better than an album that perfectly balances dark and light in content, and heavy and gentle in sonics – that being said, it’s safe to say that Orange County rock band Movements did it all and more with their latest album, RUCKUS!

Meeting at the intersection of indie rock, pop, and post-hardcore, Movements prove that experimental doesn’t always have to be a bad thing; in fact, it doesn’t even have to go all the way outside one’s range of comfort. For their third record, RUCKUS!, Movements seamlessly bridge the worlds and sounds of old and new, proving the experimental worthwhile on not only artistic ends, but rewarding on listening ends. Jam packed with catchy earworms and brooding anthems, the band wholly embraces evolution and maintains their earnesty. With a trajectory as solid as this, I can only hope that Movements continue to live up to their name – never settling, never stagnating, and further continuing to embrace the RUCKUS! – Isabella Le

One of the most anticipated albums in 2023 from the rap community was the return of Nicki Minaj on her next studio album, Pink Friday 2. From the intro with a sped up sample of Billie Eilish’s “when the party’s over” to the energetic take on Junior Senior’s “Move Your Feet”, this album has something for everyone. Singles from Pink Friday 2 include “Last Time I Saw You”, “Red Ruby da Sleeze,” and “Super Freaky Girl.” Nicki Minaj promised fans the trip to her AI created world ‘Gag City’ was going to be well worth the wait and the positive reception to the album is showing this. The lyrical maturity and prowess of the tenured artist can be seen strongly in this album giving fans a look into Nicki’s life as well as giving listeners some new club favorites. Overall, Pink Friday 2 exceeded expectations for me and time will tell if this album is considered a new classic over time. – Jaclyn Kelly

The beauty and brilliance of Noah Kahan’s Stick Season album, to me, lies in how confessional, confrontational, and conversational his songs are – often all at once. His diaristic lyricism is honest and vulnerable, and his vocal performances are equally as intimate and impassioned, conveying achingly raw emotions, desires, hopes, and dreams with endearing charm and the open-hearted charisma of a close friend. That remarkable quality only intensified on 2023’s seven-track addendum, We’ll All Be Here Forever, an extended version of the record that saw Kahan dwelling boldly in his most brutal and darkest depths.

From the fiery fervor of “Your Needs, My Needs” and the heartwarming, teary-eyed love of “You’re Gonna Go Far” to the urgent, rip-roaring folk rock of “Dial Drunk,” the inner ache of “Paul Revere,” and the bittersweet tenderness of “Call Your Mom” (“Don’t let this darkness fool you; all lights turned off can be turned on,” Kahan sings in the breathtaking chorus), Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) feels like an evergreen look at a soul in the midst of its own inner reckoning: That space between chaos and whatever calm looks like for Kahan, the self-dubbed busyhead. And yet for all the turmoil of his lyrics, there can be no doubt that the Vermont-born singer/songwriter has found where he himself belongs, in a folk-soaked space where lyric and melody share the throne equally as king and queen. Every moment of Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) is earnest, intense, achingly raw and unapologetically human – and that’s what makes this album so undeniably beautiful. – Mitch Mosk

It’s hard (scratch that, utterly absurd) to deny Taylor Swift the title of Defining Pop Star of 2023. But in terms of Defining Pop Star Who Put Out a New LP in 2023, Olivia Rodrigo may very well have snatched that title for her own with GUTS. This sophomore album built upon the success of SOUR in every measurable way, proving to be a major critical success and helping its author score another trio of major hits (“Vampire,” “Get Him Back,” and “Bad Idea, Right?”). Olivia Rodrigo can no longer retain the title of “teenage pop sensation” as of her 20th birthday earlier this year, but she clearly has the vocal prowess, lyrical maturity, and all-talented production team to power her through the “masterful young adult singer” phase that her career has just entered. – Josh Weiner

Intimate, bold, and beautifully vulnerable, OTNES’ SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE! is a cathartic and captivating indie pop record of raw humanity. Singer/songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Emily Otnes is exposed like never before as she shines a radiant warm light on her innermost depths, sharing the most authentic version of herself yet in twelve songs that ache for real, deep connection. The result is one of this year’s most exciting and exhilarating debuts – an endlessly enthralling record that never fails to take our breath away.

Released in November via AntiFragile Music, SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE! is the long-awaited debut album from Atwood Magazine artist-to-watch (and two-time Editor’s Pick) OTNES. Formerly performing under the name Emily Blue – through which she released two studio albums, including 2022’s acclaimed The Afterlove, and countless singles – Emily Otnes bid farewell to her former musical identity and introduced a new one, under her own last name, in late 2022. A year and six singles later, OTNES’ first longform project was born. The artist enjoyed creative control over almost all aspects of her debut album, having solely written all of the songs and directed all of her music videos. She co-produced the album together with Joseph Meland, Jody Lee Oliver, Peter Vance, Evan Opitz, and Colin Althaus.

Stylistically, OTNES’ songs retain much of the lush, cinematic glow of Emily Blue’s music, pulling as much from the ‘70s and ‘80s as from contemporary influences in both the pop and alternative spaces. The artist holds nothing back as she carves out a new niche, dwelling in an uncompromisingly intimate and enchantingly vulnerable space.

Highlights include everything from album opener “BLU3” – an intimate, achingly cathartic, and emotionally-charged fever dream –  to “SPIN,” a heartfelt tribute to a lost loved one (her friend and musical collaborator, Max Perenchio) and a moving celebration of life, love, and the power of human connection, and “LIGHT AS A FEATHER,” a vulnerable, heartrending eruption of inner pain halfway between shiver-inducing softness and unrelenting turmoil – one that highlights the range, the care, and the depth of her artistry as she evokes the inevitable strain death has on the living.

I included the emotive, ethereal, and enchanting love song, “REDWOOD DUST,” as one of my songs of the year OTNES’ poetry is touching and her voice is an emotional lighthouse here, yet it’s the lush cinematic pop glow she builds around herself – through glistening, layered keyboards and fuzzy production effects – that makes this track such an immersive, all-consuming success. Tenderly singing alongside a breathtaking atmospheric world of warmth and wonder, OTNES channels her love out into the world, and for a moment, we, too, are engulfed by that gentle, vulnerable beauty.

Through this album, OTNES has introduced the world not only to her music, but also to the inner workings of her soul. From punchy alt-pop to ethereal electronic-laced indie and everything in-between, SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE! is a singularly beautiful, breathtaking, and heartrending journey – a no-frills look at life itself, channeling grief into love, warmth, and wonder. – Mitch Mosk

Three songs into their third album, Overcoats have already established quite a few key principles: That there’s a real power in raw emotion; that their combined voices continue to spark a singular magic in this world; and that it’s okay to change (and keep changing), to make mistakes, to still be figuring your life out, and to not know everything all of the time. “Changed my mind, it’s not right, now I want you back,” the pair sing on album opener “Want You Back,” their voices soaring with radiant energy and heartfelt emotion. “I feel like a Gemini, always changing my mind, never picking a side,” they reflect on “New Suede Shoes.” And on “Never Let You Go”: “I don’t have the answers, I don’t know what’s right. I know that it seems crazy to always change my mind.”

Being open to change is an important theme on Overcoats’ new album, and it’s a meaningful reminder that life is a long and winding road: We don’t need to do it all  once. Accepting that truth and allowing ourselves to keep on changing, with or without regret, is just one of the many ways in which we can all be winners in this life – and ultimately, that’s what it’s all about: A spirited, soaring record of reflection and reckoning, liberation and connection, Overcoats’ Winner is an inspiring collection of songs navigating the highs and the lows of everyday life.

Released April 7, 2023 via Overcoats’ own new record label Never Fall Back Records (and distributed by Thirty Tigers), Winner is a resounding triumph. Following 2020’s acclaimed and empowering sophomore album The Fight and 2021’s Used to Be Scared of the Dark EP, Overcoats’ captivating third studio album captures JJ Mitchell and Hana Elion at their very best, collaborating with two-time GRAMMY-winning producer Daniel Tashian as they blend their soul-stirring voices together in a melting pop of raw vulnerability and indie pop wonder. From their earliest recordings to their latest material, Overcoats have long been a source of cathartic light and inspiration. Their achingly intimate lyrics and breathtaking vocal harmonies, all set against a backdrop of warm organic and electronic arrangements, never cease to amaze and enchant.

From its buoyant opener “Want You Back” to the heated, tender finale “Vagabond,” Winner‘s songs are especially breathtaking: The album’s lead single “Horsegirl” dwells in a cathartic space of reflection and renewal, finding Mitchell and Elion’s voices shimmering over a radiant, dreamy, emotionally-drenched backdrop that feels as heavy as it does sweet. “Never Let You Go,” injects deep, smoldering indie pop grooves into a pure expression of unbridled passion and untethered emotion; the pair have never sounded as visceral as they do here, their voices unleashed in near-perfect unison as they dwell in the mess of love and heartbreak. “New Suede Shoes” is an empowering, groovy, and glistening track that takes a long, hard look in the mirror – ultimately finding any number of reasons to stand tall and shine bright.

Blending pain and hope, the impassioned title track “Winner” is a beautiful ballad of empowerment that shines through a spirited, uplifting chorus: “And every ending has a new beginning. There’s always space out there for something different. I’m on my way to find it,” Overcoats declare.

You might think I’m a loser baby but you would be wrong
‘Cause I found parts of me that I thought were gone
Think you had to leave me for me to move on
I was never gonna end it
‘Cause I’ve spent enough time without living
I had to walk alone across the line
To know I’m winning
And there’s no bad blood running here between us
Thought that I’d be broken but I get back up
And every ending has a new beginning
There’s always space out there for something different
I’m on my way to find it
Another round, another ride
Another chance to get it right
Another round, another ride
Just me myself and I
You’ll never know if you don’t try

Wherever you press play, Winner promises to deliver both warm, wondrous music, as well as plenty of moving words of wisdom. Home to the boldest, rawest, and most vulnerable work of their entire career, it’s a beautiful, comforting companion to everyday living. A record of unfiltered honesty, connection, spiritual reckoning and liberation, Winner is a reminder that we can keep changing our minds as many times as we like, and no matter what we choose to do or who we choose to be, we’re winners because we’re doing it for us. – Mitch Mosk

Is there anything more satisfying than seeing your first Favorite Band, the Band of Your Life, standing at their absolute best and reaching for the fullest of their potential? Seeing them in phoenix mode, at the pinnacle of their career, carrying on when things seemed so precarious? There’s been few other things in my life as exciting as watching one of my favorites of all time grow right alongside me, addressing life’s turbulence in much the same way I would. Witnessing that growth mirror my own has been an invaluable support system that I will never take for granted. This Is Why offers frequently rueful examination of the self and of the environment we experience around us. It feels reductive to call this album “plucky,” but it begrudgingly still resonates. Against the onslaught of offenses that Paramore have dealt with in their career, there remains determination in the music, and even though some emotional naivete briefly disarms (as in “Liar,” and “The News”), the album once again conveys an unpolished rawness that is one of the hallmarks of their music.

“You First” perfectly encapsulates the qualities that make Paramore long players in the alternative and rock fields. The riffs and attitude here recall Riot-era “Let The Flames Begin,” AWKIF-era “Brighter” and “Emergency,” self-titled-era “_______,” and many other songs on This Is Why lend themselves to a nostalgic walk through Paramore’s discography, but they never sound contrived or like they’re trying to replicate former glory. Paramore grows and expands their sound, propagating the best pieces to create music that sounds both timeless and perfectly on time. This Is Why occupies a liminal space in Paramore’s discography. There’s a throughline of getting continually beaten down by life and trudging forward through it anyway. Here, retrospect is both the weapon you use and the weapon that is being used against you, and where the musical progression of a band is diversified by its members’ individuality. Whether it’s remnants of drummer Zac Farro’s own synth-leaning, indie pop project HalfNoise, guitarist Taylor York’s guitar work at the forefront clearer than ever before, or Hayley Williams’ clever integration of the vocal styles employed across her solo albums (Petals for Armor; flowers For vases/descansos), the vulnerability employed across This Is Why is both a shield and a balm, readying us for the next round of battle. – Kendall Graham

Singer, songwriter, and producer, Renao, released his album A Space Between Orange and Blue earlier this year. The album features a collection of relaxed, lo-fi songs. Each track showcases Renao’s artistry and the sureness he has as an artist. The track “Day Off” is about staying at home and doing nothing. The song is like Bruno Mar’s “Lazy Song” chilled out cousin. Meanwhile, “Break It Down” shows off his falsetto while telling the story of being enamored by someone and unable to escape. There’s an obvious theme of retrospection throughout the tracks, coupled with a breezy production. This album is an essential for 2023. – Freya Rinaldi

Perfect for a late spring walk or an early summer road trip, Calico is Ryan Beatty’s measured comeback. It is stripped down to lush acoustics and Beatty’s raw voice, the lyrics laid bare for the listener to digest over multiple listens. There is a contemplative peace woven through the nine tracks — no maximalist peaks or quality dips, but a consistent musing on life, love, and family. Beatty’s songwriting has never been stronger than in “Bruises Off the Peach” and “White Teeth,” a showcase of his talent with the pen and pop melodic sensibilities. The latter in particular encapsulates the contented atmosphere of the album, in “old summer rain” and how “some left, but the right ones stay / A good end to a Saturday.” Beatty has never sounded more assured, the gravity of his line delivery matching the intricate and grand production of backing instruments. – Brendan Le

Samia is the kind of emotionally devastating writer who makes no pretensions about what they have to say. She opens Honey, her sophomore album, with a Roe v. Wade allusion, and later in the song, she says to an old ex, “I hope you marry the girl from your hometown / And I’ll kill her / And I’ll freak out.” This unflinching honesty is what makes other musicians like Self Esteem so successful — there’s no doubt that wanting to kill someone is apart of her rawest, most primal thoughts. Anyone else wouldn’t have admitted it, but this is a central tenant of Samia’s lyricism. Gentle desperation pops up in spades on Honey, including the best example, on highlight “Sea Lions”: “You said when I come on the radio it makes you want to die / Well, if I shut up, can I come inside?” She’s a cutting, decisive analyzer of modern dating (one song gives up, says, “I don’t wanna charm you”), heartbreak (“How are you supposed to want to love me anymore?”), drunken nights out filled with fantasy and flirtation (“Amelia”, the title track), and, while she’s at it, gorgeous and evocative lyricism about just being — she rambles about brain functions in the closer, “Dream Song”, and on the upbeat “Mad At Me”, she declares, “Hiding is easy / It’s like a daydream / You can be nowhere, all of the time.” Honey falters a bit with its jangled groupings of sounds — ballads follow dancehall numbers, at time, the autotune is tense to the point of severity — but this fissure makes Samia all the more real, the complexities of emotions even more pronounced. Honey is a brilliant and astute dissolution of the messiness of life in one’s twenties — the percolating, the breathing, the dancing, and the dying. – Sam Franzini

Sonically captivating and emotionally cataclysmic, Playing the Part of You Is Me is a visceral and vulnerable triumph: An intimate, unapologetically raw, and beautifully breathtaking eleven-track record that finds Nashville’s Savannah Conley – a two-time Atwood Magazine Editor’s Pick – reckoning with external forces and her own inner demons, navigating the throes of mental illness and young adulthood while blending substance with style. Radiant indie pop melodies come to life through her own soaring and stunning voice, accompanied by a dazzling array of rich vocal harmonies, glistening guitar licks, vibrant keys, churning drums, and the occasional tastefully-placed orchestral flourish. It’s an altogether enchanting experience to behold, and undoubtedly one of this year’s finest albums. – Mitch Mosk

2023 was a good year for indie rock bands who dabble in alt-country, and Slow Pulp was no exception with their flavor of indie rock, accented with shoegaze and country rock. Yard, the band’s second studio album follows Emily Massey as she examines her past and present relationships. Arrangements fluctuate from folk- and country-tinged melodies, marked with melancholic harmonicas and acoustic guitars, to ‘90’s alt-rock grit, full of heavy drum fills and anxiety-inducing guitar riffs. Yet through it all, Massey’s diaristic lyrics remain, keeping the introspective focus of the album consistent throughout. Several tracks, most notably “MUD,” embrace both aspects of the band’s sound, starting with a more acoustic sound in the beginning but building up leading up to the chorus. In Yard, Slow Pulp is able to play to all their strengths, and develop new skills along the way. – Claire Meyer

Slowdive is one of the most iconic bands in the shoegaze genre, and for very good reason. It’s extremely rare for an artist to bear the same resonance and impact as they did thirty years past – even more, to an entirely new generation of listeners. Slowdive, with their fifth album, everything is alive, prove that it is possible, and it doesn’t have to be done by forcing change to fit the times. Exploring spirituality and leaning on hope, the record transcends genre, attitude, and era. Pushing the boundaries is oftentimes necessary to avoid stagnation, but Slowdive have proven one thing is certain: everything is alive, and it’s not just verging on survival. Looking to the future, but sticking to their guns, Slowdive are here to stay and only getting better. – Isabella Le

Soda Blonde’s cinematic pop sound is singular in nature, and in Dream Big they hold nothing back. The Irish indie band’s sophomore album is beautifully dramatic and boldly dynamic – immediate, urgent, and uncompromising both in its values and in its sound. The Dublin-based four-piece of Faye O’Rourke, Adam O’Regan, Donagh Seaver O’Leary, and Dylan Lynch delve into the depths of their own humanity, holding a microscope in one hand and a mirror in the other as all our innermost thoughts and feelings get a soundtrack of their very own through songs that hit hard and leave an everlasting mark.

The immediate seduction of the starry-eyed “Midnight Show” and the jagged drive of “Bad Machine” prove a powerful one-two punch, but it’s the full weight, warmth, and wonder of Dream Big that makes its journey so special. “You are so damaged,” O’Rourke declares in “Boys,” channeling inner pain and fracture into a visceral and textured anthem. Our physical (and mental) fragility comes to the forefront on the beautifully bittersweet “An Accident,” a tender ballad balancing tragedy with hope: “An accident can happen at any time, should be glad I’m alive, along for the ride with you,” O’Rourke concludes, opting to look up despite all the negative forces outside of her control. In “Space Baby,” Soda Blonde breathe fresh energy into a song about love, honesty, and claustrophobia, by quite literally removing the breaths themselves. The band revive an anti-WWII slogan for “Why Die for Danzig,” a song that delves not only into war, but also into how people treat refugees differently depending on where they come from: “How many bullets do you have to sеll?” O’Rourke roars in a moment of heated passion. The spirited and soaring anthem “My First Name” is an emotional reclamation of O’Rourke’s body, her womanhood, and ultimately, her identity:

I want to be clear, I want it in the driver’s seat
Between my teeth
You know that it’s sad but
They said he was a lucky man
Such a young girlfriend
I don’t really care what anybody says
It’s never gonna phase me
Lady Madonna has gotten to lazy
Gonna make you be fair
Go make those cheques out to my first name
Gonna make you be scared of me
I’ll make your night and ruin your day

Emotionally breathtaking and sonically stunning, Dream Big sees an ambitious and empowered Soda Blonde grabbing the reigns and charging ahead fearlessly. For the longtime bandmates and best friends, the crux of this album is that their ambitions and dreams are still very much alive, but the dream itself needs revision. “What does the dream look like for an artist in 2023? I think it needs to be kind of reimagined a bit,” O’Regan says. “I think that’s where we’re at now.”

My key takeaway from Dream Big, ever since I first heard it, is one of finding connection in an increasingly disconnected world. Soda Blonde may be the dreamers in this story, but they’ve no doubt taken all of us along for the ride of their, and our, lives. – Mitch Mosk

While 2020’s Brave Faces Everyone felt like the preparation for the apocalypse, No Joy offers the search for some solace with a welcome brightness. Complete with shimmering synths (“Haunted”), warm indie rock (“Marvel”), and songs that deserve to be played on a [admittedly very sad] dancefloor (“I’m Gonna Miss Everything”), the disco ball obscured on the cover is fitting for this album. While there’s plenty of darkness present throughout SLS’ latest album, there’s also a lot of comfort and trying very earnestly hard to find some sense of joy (even though we all know that’s a laughable effort).

Of course, the flipside includes completely bleak songs. Singer Dylan Slocum gets his most vulnerable in the slower and more personal songs like “Exit Bags” and “Middle of Nine” that present exactly why you’re searching for those bright spots when you can find them. – James Crowley

Squid set the bar high with Bright Green Field a couple of years back, one of the best debut albums of recent times. Releases like that are hard to follow, but O Monolith can only seriously be seen as a step up. With a bigger and bolder set-up and more progressive compositions, Squid are evolving steadily. They do retain their unapologetically nihilistic lyrical core, however. As Ollie Judge wryly observes, “Well this isn’t what I wanted, so many options to be disappointed.”

The band bring along an extended universe of instrumentation this time around. The tight little world of angular post punk guitars now expanded, Squid prove their credentials in wider orchestration, adding rich horn melodies and backing singers which serve to lift the songs and are always necessary. Squid are a mature band with capabilities well beyond their years. From the inky funk of “Undergrowth” to the creeping paranoia of “Siphon Song,” O Monolith is a dense and rewarding album, one which begs to be liked for its deft complexity. – Adam Davidson

With his debut album Angel Face, Stephen Sanchez emerges as a modern day crooner breathing hope, love, charm, and romance into the world. An Atwood Magazine Editor’s Pick and one of our 2023 Artists to Watch – with over 1.5 billion streams for his song “Until I Found You” alone – the 21-year-old has proved his vocal and songwriting talents ten times over, giving the music of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s a 2020s revival through a wondrous and wistful blue-eyed soul sound, together with a cinematic rockabilly-meets-Western-troubadour aesthetic.

Released in September 22 via Mercury Records / Republic Records, Angel Face is a record “all about love’s humanity.” It’s a record that aims to show both what love should look like, and what love actually is. Thirteen songs produced by Grammy Award winner Ian Fitchuk and Konrad Snyder (as well as Lord Huron’s Ben Schneider) tell the fictional story of famed crooner Troubadour Sanchez who falls in love with Evangeline, the girlfriend of a mob boss named Hunter, who owns an LA nightclub called The Angel. The Troubadour gives Evangeline the nickname “Angel Face” (hence the name of the album), and together, the two star-crossed lovers kindle an ill-fated secret romance that ends in death and tragedy – a lesson, ultimately, in love’s immortality. That kind of intimate connection is Sanchez’s North Star; he is inspired, enthralled, and deeply moved by the power of love, and from smash hits like “Until I Found You” and “Evangeline” to deeper cuts like “No One Knows” (a duet with Laufey), “Caught in a Blue,” and album opener “Something About Her” (which Sanchez considers the first real love song he’s ever written), Angel Face promises to warm not just your ears, but your heart and soul as well.

That he is at the end of the day a hopeless romantic is Stephen Sanchez’s not-so-secret weapon; that kind of dreamy idealism, mixed with moments of anguish and heartache depending on the circumstance, is one (of the many) keys to his meteoric rise and his music’s overnight success. That he continues to enchant us with every song he makes speaks not only to his own gifts, but also, perhaps, to our own need for more love in our lives. Angel Face is a true masterpiece of a debut, if ever there was one, and wherever you are in your love life, it promises to uplift, enchant, and infatuate us all. – Mitch Mosk

For fans of Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens returns with another raw and brutally honest self-reflection — Javelin. This October release tackles complex emotions with ease and regurgitates them in a way that’s somehow simultaneously comforting and heartbreaking. It feels like Autumn’s cozy, rainy weather. If you love dynamic songs with backing choirs, mixed time signatures, and a soft, pleading voice, Stevens’ album is for you. – Julia Dzurillay

The Beaches waste no time getting into it on their sophomore album. “Done being the sad girl – I’m done dating rockstars,” lead vocalist and bassist Jordan Miller sings hot on the mic, her voice a lightning rod of feverish emotion as guitars swell and drums churn all around her. “I’ll become an asshole disguised as a bad girl, in my button-up shirt, a natural disaster.” The heartache is fresh, but the fire inside is stronger – and from the moment Blame My Ex begins, The Beaches make it known that their breakup record isn’t going to wallow in self-pity – and indeed, you won’t find any cries for help or woe is me’s across these ten songs.

Out of inner reckoning and reeling, tension and turmoil, the Canadian rock band create a soaring, cinematic world in which empowerment and liberation reign supreme. They lean into life’s rawest emotions, channeling turbulence into catharsis with unfiltered energy, stunning passion, and unapologetic alt-rock grace. The result is a deeply human collection of songs that ache, energize, uplift, and inspire: Sonically and emotionally charged, Blame My Ex is a bold, brazen, and breathtaking album spanning our lowest lows and our highest highs. – Mitch Mosk

When life gives you lemons, you get the lemon twigs! Brian and Michael D’Addario have quenched our musical thirst once again with their latest record, Everything Harmony. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen just about everything from these brothers — a concept musical about a monkey named Shane, an exquisitely camped-up glam rock record, etc. — but this one simply takes the cake. Balancing bright effervescence with the weight of everyday melancholy, Everything Harmony is a glorious expedition into the complexities of the human psyche (see “In My Head”). I first received a sneak peak into the genius behind this record via a YouTube recording of one of Brian D’Addario’s solo sets from 2018, where he plays a heartbreaking rendition of the track “Corner of My Eye.” I immediately fell in love with the song, which practically oozes unbridled devotion for another. Add the track’s haunting music video to the mix and you’re absolutely in Lemon Twig heaven. All in all, Everything Harmony is nothing short of an emotional and intellectual masterpiece, though it has left me parched for whatever musical mixture the Twigs will cook up next. – Sophie Severs

If there’s one thing a band like The National doesn’t typically do, it’s release two albums in one year. In fact, scratch that: Two albums in one calendar year is something the long-running indie band has never done. To read about the process of making an album across four years or more, the band describes the experience as a marathon, rarely ever at rest and always tinkering with songs and lyrics. So there was joy and surprise when the former Brooklyn (indie) darlings-turned-sad-dads debuted a second album, Laugh Track, within months of the first — and fans relished the chance to dive once more into the world of The National.

It’s one filled with hidden passageways, memories, regret, reflections on the “what if’s?” of life — and it’s one that surpassed the expectations of (seemingly) every devout fan of The National. If the band’s first LP of the year, the quietly elegant and devastating First Two Pages of Frankenstein, left fans wanting more energy and volume, tracks like the heavy outro-filled “Space Invader” or the booming “Deep End (Paul’s In Pieces”) should scratch that itch. If balladry and introspection was more of a preference, well, this LP also had that — in spades. Would you expect anything less than a remarkable effort from a remarkable band? – Beau Hayhoe

Troye Sivan made one of the best comebacks in pop history this summer with his third studio album Something To Give Each Other. Real gay pop is back and better than ever! Through his pulsing dance beats and transcendent vocals Sivan tackles everything from love and pining to heartbreak and personal growth with charm, candor, and catchiness. Quite simply put this is a no skip album.

For Troye Sivan purists, this album represents a more refined and elevated evolution from his debut project, Blue Neighborhood, and an expansion of the musical landscape he began constructing in Bloom. Outside of the iconic fan favorite tracks like “Got Me Started” songs like “In My Room” and “Silly” particular stood out to me with their synth heavy production, fiery beats and breathy vocals. From top to bottom Something To Give Each Other is beautiful, effervescent and just plain fun. Everyone say thank you Troye Sivan! – Minna Abdel-Gawad

Heavy Heavy is one of those albums that is so emphatic, so wide-eyed and sweet, that it’s impossible to ignore and even harder to criticise. The reverent, spiritual tone is an open hand, an invitation to join the carnival, as long as you leave your baggage behind and promise to get swept up in the madness. Geronimo, Drum, Rice, these songs are all dripping with energy and mountain-high choruses, whereas Holy Moly and Tell Somebody are more like transitional phases. But all have the boundless energy and raw soul which makes Heavy Heavy such a special and genuine record.

The album’s triumphant pulse colours each song and vitalises the music. Young Fathers are a band whose message is ultimately very simple. It’s the expression of joy in music – Huge crowds chanting ancient forgotten hymns, relentless clattering percussion, and chest-melting bass. The band are famed for their passionate live performances, which they have gone a long way to capturing on Heavy Heavy. In the studio, the discordance is tempered, the fog clears, and the sunlight peaks over the horizon. Everything is in balance, and it’s over way too soon. Heavy Heavy is a seismic return for Young Fathers after five years on the sidelines. – Adam Davidson

Zach Bryan released his self-titled album on August 25. With 16 tracks and rounding out at around 54 minutes, the album is innovative and artistically pleasing. Bryan starts off the record with a poem called “Fear and Friday’s.” A guitar strums as he speaks on the places he’s been, the people he’s met along the way and the lessons he’s learned through fear – opening up on how it’s given him an insight into appreciating the present day, which is a theme that drives this whole work of art. The poem leads into the rest of the album with songs such as “El Dorado,” “Tourniquet” and “Smaller Acts” – each being carved in thoughtful and beautiful storytelling. He pays tribute to his military days and the strong men he served with, he sings of a love gone awry and commemorates his home state Oklahoma.

Zach Bryan has elements of genres such as folk, country and rock, but doesn’t conform to one, making the album that much more unique and tasteful. The record features artists The War and Treaty, Sierra Ferrell, Kacey Musgraves and The Lumineers. Zach Bryan also tackled some pretty big milestones with this album. “I Remember Everything (feat. Kacey Musgraves),” became both Bryan and Musgraves’ first No. 1 song. The record was also No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for two weeks. To say the record is making history is an understatement. – Lauren Turner

Atwood Magazine's 2023 Albums of the Year


Atwood Magazine's 2023 Songs of the Year


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