Ep. 123: Favorite Music of 2023 – Top Ten Albums

So here we are. 2023 is ending and that means it’s time to share my favorite albums of the year. This completes my 8th year of doing this podcast and these end of the year wraps up are some of my favorite episodes to put together so I hope you enjoy it too. 

But before I jump into my top ten list, let me share my honorable mentions. These are albums I listened to and enjoyed but for one reason or another, didn’t quite make the top ten album list for me:

Honorable Mentions:

  • Philip Selway – Strange Dance
  • Chris Staples – Cloud Souvenirs
  • Blur – The Ballad of Darren
  • Beirut – Hadsel
  • The Arcs – Electrophonic Chronic
  • Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Council Skies
  • Boygenius – The Record
  • Foo Fighters – But Here We Are
  • The Milk Carton Kids – I Only See the Moon
  • Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We

So, with that said, let’s jump in and count down my top ten albums of the year.

10: Andy Shauf – Norm

This Saskatchewan singer/songwriter is back with his 8th album and it’s among his best work. As usual the songwriting is solid. The lyrics are told from the perspective of a cast of different characters. Andy’s voice is soft and smooth, fitting the relaxing production well. He plays all the instruments himself, which include guitar, bass, drums, piano, synths, and clarinet. The vibe stays pretty mellow most of the record, which sounds influenced by 1970s soft rock. Paul Simon comes to mind. But even so, he throws in enough variety with the melodies and arrangements to keep things interesting.    

Essentials: Wasted On You, Telephone, Sunset

9: Wye Oak – Every Day Like the Last

This Maryland based duo has released six studio albums of the years, starting with their 2007 debut. This one is actually a compilation of singles released since 2019, as well as three new songs. As usual, the songwriting is fantastic. I love the choices with the melodies. Jenn Wasner’s voice is one of the prettiest I’ve heard in recent years. At times it reminds me of Sarah McLachlan. The arrangements are soft but often intricate with off-beats rhythms, string arrangements, and atmospheric touches. It’s a fantastic collection from start to finish.

Essentials: Its Way With Me, TNT, Every Day Like the Last

8: Inhaler – Cuts & Bruises

This is an Irish rock band whose singer, Elijah Hewson, is the son of U2’s Bono. Now I’ll admit, I was skeptical and listened just out of curiosity, thinking he might be just riding the coattails of his father, but I was pleasantly surprised! They’ve carved out a sound of their own and it’s very catchy stuff. It’s got great songwriting hooks, fun beats, and smart modern production choices. At times, it reminds me a little bit of Muse or brit-pop bands like Oasis or Travis. They do a good job at varying the sound to keep it interesting. This is their sophomore album and they sound like a band that’s really gelled and honed in their sound. It’s a fun album that I’ve really enjoyed.

Essentials: Love Will Get You There, These Are The Days, Just To Keep You Satisfied

7: Chris Stapleton – Higher

This Nashville-based singer/songwriter is back with his 5th album and as usual, he keeps his standards high. The songwriting is rock solid, with great melodies and clever lyrics. The production is a blend of roosty-southern rock, blues, and country, which is a sound he’s carved out as his own over the years. But what really ties everything together is his raspy, soulful voice. I love hearing the moments when he really belts it out. It’s a great album from start to finish and among his best work.   

Essentials: South Dakota, What Am I Gonna Do, Trust

6: Meija – Do Ya?

This artist is a new discovery for me this year. It’s the project of Jaime Sierota, who is the guitar player for the band Echosmith, who you might know from the song “Cool Kids.” In the last few years, he’s released a couple of solo EPs but this is his first full-length album and I gotta say, I’m impressed. The songwriting is super catchy: great melodies and deep lyrics. The production style borrows from a modern, indie take on the Beatles, similar in vein to Dr. Dog. He incorporates a lot of old analogue machines, giving it a warm and occasionally lofi sound, especially with the drums and pianos. Lots of great arrangement choices. It’s a very unique and rewarding listen and one that I keep coming back to.

Essentials: No More Excuses, Not Sure How This Ends, How You Like  

5: Wilco – Cousin

I’ve been a fan of Wilco for many years. They’ve made some of my all time favorite music but I’ll admit, I’ve had a harder time getting into their last 3 or 4 albums. I feel like they sort of shifted their focus to centering on a certain vibe or mood while their songwriting has gotten weaker. But this year, they’re back with their thirteenth album and I love it. I feel like they’ve continued in somewhat of an experimental vein like before but they raised the level of the songwriting with more accessible melodies and lyrics. Some of the credit may go to the direction of their producer, Cate Le Bon, who is the first outside producer they’ve worked with in 14 years. The record has the trademark twists and turns we’ve come to expect from Wilco albums, with interesting arrangements and sounds. It takes repeated listens for the songs to really sink in but it ultimately rewards the listener. If you’re a fan of their masterpiece, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, you’ll love this album.

Essentials: Levee, Infinite Surprise, Meant To Be 

4: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Weathervanes

This is the 9th album from this critically acclaimed singer/songwriter from Tennessee. He’s joined by his backing band, the 400 Unit and they’ve created yet another great, solid album. His songwriting is as strong and pointed as ever, balancing the struggles and inner demons of the downtrodden with the simple joys in life. The arrangements are strong, with his band sounding more gelled than ever. Some great lead guitar parts and I love his raspy, soulful voice, which ties everything together. All and all, it’s a fantastic album from one of the songwriting greats of his generation. 

Essentials: Middle of The Morning, Strawberry Woman, Death Wish

3: Paramore – This Is Why

This is the sixth album from this rock band from Franklin, Tennessee. I’ll admit, I’ve sort of watched Paramore from a distance and I’ve always thought of them as a good band but this album really surprised me. This is their longest gap between records, at six years since 2017’s 80s influenced album, After Laughter. During that gap, singer Hayley Williams also released two solo albums. But when they got back together to record this album, they took the opportunity to revamp their sound in a very cool way. They took inspiration from dancey, post-punk sounds from bands like Bloc Party or even Talking Heads. It’s energetic and fun, but also with a layer of complexity and maturity. I especially love the drumming. The songwriting is also really interesting and it’s all held together with Hayley’s great vocal performance. They never let the music get boring on this album.

Essentials: This Is Why, The News, Running Out of Time 

2: Gorillaz – Cracker Island

This has been quite a year for Damon Albarn. Not only did he reunite with Blur and release their excellent 9th album, The Ballad of Darren, he also found time to release a new Gorillaz album. This is his 8th record with this project. This time he enlisted the help of super-producer Greg Kurstin, who’s worked with such artists as Adele, Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Sia, and Beck. Together they wrote and produced each track and invited a string of high profile collaborators to join them, including Stevie Nicks, Tame Impala, Bad Bunny, and Thundercat. I have to say, the results are pretty amazing! The songs are very catchy. They have great melodies and really fun production. They follow the trademark sound that Gorillaz have become known for, yet there’s still enough variety to keep things interesting. It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.

Essentials: The Tired Influencer, Oil, New Gold  

1: Caroline Rose – The Art of Forgetting

This artist is a new discovery for me this year. This is the 5th album from this Austin, Texas based singer/songwriter and I think it’s her best. Her musical style has shifted with each album, from vintage alt-country to 80s dance pop. In this latest album, she shifts yet again to more of a blended genre, experimental indie rock sound. She has a beautifully angelic, yet powerful voice. The production is very ambitious with lots of cool, unique touches and interesting rhythms. But it also sounds very big and spacious, especially with the drum sound. The songs are interspersed with a series of recorded phone messages from her late-grandma which culminates in a recorded conversion with the two of them at the end of the album. The songwriting is incredible! The lyrics are very emotional and powerful, which focus on getting through a deep depression and loss of a family member. Yet, the melodies are very catchy and unique. Listening to this record is like going on a rewarding journey and I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’ve come back to it several times this year.

Essentials: Everywhere I Go I Bring The Rain, Where Do I Go From Here?, Love / Lover / Friend

That’s our show. I’ve made Spotify playlists for these songs and more of my favorite music of the year.

I’d love to hear what your favorite albums for 2023 were. Go to my Facebook group for Making Music with Jake Haws and leave a comment so I can check them out.

Also, for listeners of this podcast, my production company, Arches Audio is offering 10% off your purchase to license songs from our music library, as well as any services, including audio editing, artwork, and a course on podcasting. Visit archesaudio.com and use promo code “makingmusic” at checkout.

Stay tuned for more episodes in 2024. We’ll see you next time.

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