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The Best Albums of 2023 So Far – GooPdf News

The Best Albums of 2023 So Far – GooPdf News

Along with blockbusters by Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monáe, Lil Yachty, boygenius, and Lana Del Rey, this year has given us an exciting new crop of promising pop stars like GALE and Gracie Abrams, a pair of great BTS solo joints, brilliant music from rap radicals like Danny Brown (with JPEGMAFIA) and billy woods (with Kenny Segal), innovative R&B from Jordan Ward and Amaarae, plus much, much more. Here are our favorite LPs of 2023 so far, unranked and in alphabetical order.

gracie abrams

Gracie Abrams

‘Good Riddance’

In her stunning debut, one of pop music’s most promising stars sticks the landing in more ways than one. Proclaimed as “Gen Z’s melancholy maven” in a Rolling Stone feature earlier this year, Abrams harnesses the emotions of the rising generation into a unique sound full of soft-spoken, simple melodies that are steeped in sadness but still pack a punch. Abrams might have a delicate voice, she might even sing about blocking an ex on the internet, but the way she can deliver seething lines in an angelic whisper sets her apart from her bedroom-pop peers. —M.G.

amaraae

Amaarae

‘Fountain Baby’

Amaarae has been wild and thorough since her excellent 2020 breakthrough, The Angel You Don’t Know, featuring the luxurious and lusty “Sad Gurlz Love Money,” which quickly went viral and attracted a remix with the similarly decadent Kali Uchis. On Fountain Baby, Amaarae doubles down on the thrill and amps up the danger, pulling influences from Afro rhythms, Asian standards, and punk-rock rage for a brooding adventure through her world. —M.C.

anohni

Anohni

‘‘My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross’

Anohni and her band, the Johnsons — named in honor of gay-rights activist Marsha P. Johnson, who graces My Back’s cover — has carried the weight of her worries for decades. Every track on My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross feels like a Greek statue frozen in some tragic visage of horror. Anohni’s voice sounds delicate, angry, and exhausted, as she grieves track by track — for the unfulfilled promises of civil rights, for friends lost to drugs and depression, for the immolation of a world succumbing to ecocide. You feel the burden she’s carrying as it crushes her back, and quite often it is beautiful.–K.G.

Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, and Shahzad Ismaily

Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, and Shahzad Ismaily

‘Love In Exile’

Love In Exile is not jazz, despite featuring pianist Vijay Iyer, a heavy in that world. Nor is it “global music” — whatever that means — even though it showcases Urdu vocalist Arooj Aftab, who won a Grammy in that category last year. Instead, listening to Love in Exile, which also features Shahzad Ismaily on bass and Moog, is more akin to visiting some sort of beautiful, strange sonic landscape made from strings, keys, and breath. Their first album together is a masterclass in space, with the musicians trading off and darting around one another like “a school of fish,” as Aftab describes it. —B.E. 

asake

Asake

‘Work of Art’

Less than a year since his highly acclaimed debut, Mr. Money With the Vibe, the Nigerian singer-songwriter has delivered his sophomore LP, Work of Art, which is easily the most important music he’s made to date. Amapiano drums and basslines, shakers, and synths coupled with guitars, saxophones, and violins permeate the album. Asake’s blend of amapiano and Afropop (created with his go-to producer-engineer Magicsticks) has placed him at the forefront of Nigerian artists who have adopted a similar stylistic approach. Asake has already proved that his breakthrough was more than earned. With Work of Art, he solidifies his status as a street-pop superstar.–M.M. 

barbie the album

‘Barbie The Album’

Barbie the Album has something for everyone (Brandi Carlile’s loving bonus track cover of the Indigo Girls’ “Closer To Fine” is an especially sweet, sincere touch), and it neatly ties together the playful feminism of the film into an enjoyable musical experience. A Barbie album without Nicki Minaj simply wouldn’t make sense, and “Barbie World,” her track with Ice Spice, effortlessly brings Aqua’s classic “Barbie Girl” from the Nineties to 2023. Dominic Fike shows a brighter, summery side than usual on “Hey Blondie.” Gayle plays a grungy Barbie on “Butterflies.” Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” mirrors the existential, tear-jerking moment Robbie’s character goes through in the film.–T.M.

gina burch

Gina Birch

‘I Play My Bass Loud’

Gina Birch became a punk-rock legend with the Raincoats, the feminist London art-rebel band she started in 1977. But what could be more punk than making your first solo album at 67? I Play My Bass Loud has that same revolutionary spirit, one of the year’s freshest, funniest rock statements. “Sometimes I wake up and I wonder, what is my job?” she sings in the title jam, answering with a shout: “I play my bass loud! I turn it louder!” —R.S.

blondshell

Blondshell

‘Blondshell’

Countless artists try to revive the Nineties, but few do it better than Sabrina Teitelbaum, whose self-titled debut is a stunning mess of emotional fury and female outrage à la Live Through This and Exile in Guyville (Teitelbaum is even touring with Liz Phair this fall). Six of the nine tracks were released as singles (the excellent “Salad” and “Joiner”), but listening to the album in full is crucial to understanding Teitelbaum’s genius: She’s not just evoking another era, she’s reinventing it. —A.M. 

blur

Blur

‘The Ballad of Darren’

The very existence of Blur’s first new album since 2015 feels nothing short of miraculous. “St. Charles Square” is a sharp-toothed, Bowie-esque rocker (“I fucked up/I’m not the first to do it”). Elsewhere, songs like lead single “The Narcissist” and the deceptively bouncy pop bummer “Barbaric” are striking in their open, emotional tone. Some songs on The Ballad of Darren call back clearly through the band’s history — perhaps none more than the opening track, “The Ballad,” which is based on a 2003 solo demo by Damon Albarn and dedicated to the band’s longtime head of security, Darren “Smoggy” Evans. Twenty years after that demo, there’s still no one who does a bittersweet mope quite like Blur. —S.V.L.

Boygenius

boygenius

‘The Record’

There’s never been a supergroup like boygenius, which is why the label doesn’t do them justice. They’re simply a world-beatingly great band, with three of the most brilliant singer-songwriters in the game. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus all came into boygenius with their own totally distinct styles. But the power of boygenius is how something weird, unpredictable, and slightly dangerous happens when these three musical minds meld. All over The Record, they prove they’re a band that can do it all, hitting peaks together that can’t be reached any other way. —R.S.

danny brown jpegmafia

Danny Brown/JPEGMAFIA

‘Scaring the Hoes’

Detroit hip-hop maximalist Danny Brown and rap-electronic eccentric JPEGMAFIA explore a radical, perhaps slightly unhinged, form of honesty. “Lean Beef Patty” rides a pitched up sample of Diddy’s “I Need a Girl (Part 2),” warped into Gen Z oblivion before a staggered synth pulse coaxes a rhythm out of the clashing components. Meanwhile, the ever referential JPEGMAFIA opens with what might be the best line of the year, opting to declare “Fuck Elon Musk” as if it were simply the first thought his mind could muster. It’s the album’s unpolished edges that rope you in. —J.I.

daniel caesar

Daniel Caesar

‘Never Enough’

Six years after his debut, Freudian, notched three Grammy nominations, Daniel Caesar remains an egnimatic character, consumed with wanderlust. Never Enough began as a folk record before Caesar’s longtime production partners wrangled it toward more traditional R&B, but the phasing guitars and wide-open spaces still evoke the space westerns of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno as much as any of the singer’s R&B fellow travelers. —C.P.

john cale mercy

John Cale

‘Mercy’

In the decades since he co-founded the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed in the mid-1960s, the adventurous Welsh singer-songwriter, producer, and composer has had a historic run. Mercy, Cale’s first album in a decade, is one of his most compelling. Full of swirling sounds, sincere crooning, and shimmering rhythms, Mercy can’t help feeling like a summing up, if not a willful finale. But even as he glares into the void, Cale demonstrates his optimism by hanging out with younger musicians and often centering the album around contemporary rhythms. —J.G.

natenael cano

Natenael Cano

‘Nata Montana’

The trap-infused spin on the traditional Mexican folk song known as corridos tumbados has become one of the biggest genres of the year on a global level. And a large part of that success is due to the music of Natanael Cano, who has largely been responsible for establishing the subgenre’s place in the world of música Mexicana. For his new album, Nata Montana, Cano has assembled an all-star cast of corridos stars like Peso Pluma, Junior H, and Gabito Ballesteros, and the result is a feisty, disruptive collection that that further spotlights the corridos takeover.–L.V.

eladio carrion

Eladio Carrión

‘3MEN2 KBRN’

The most-dazzling accomplishment in Carrión’s latest opus is not that he managed to secure an all-star cadre including Future, Lil Wayne, and Quavo. What’s especially uplifting is how seamlessly these collaborations flow next to Latin duets with Myke Towers, Bad Bunny, and Carrión’s solo numbers. The rapper’s tireless work ethic and sheer ambition have generated an expansive work. “I’m human/I have my own flaws,” admits Carrión. And yet, the deep grooves of “Si Salimos” — with lifelong idol 50 Cent — and the kinetic grace of “Coco Chanel,” with an inspired Benito, are anything but flawed. —E.L.

christine and the queens

Christine and the Queens

”Paranoïa, Angels, True Love’

It takes 97 minutes to listen to Christine and the Queens’ moving, three-act pop opera, Paranoïa, Angels, True Love, but you need months to understand it fully. On the album, the French artist (let’s call him Chris for simplicity) summons celestial bodies, pays tribute to his late mother, flirts with 070 Shake, navigates acid-rock and dubby detours, samples Marvin Gaye and Pachelbel’s canon, and divines some of the catchiest melodies of his career. Releasing Paranoïa, Angels, True Love in all its grandeur is a bold move since attention spans for pop music couldn’t be shorter. But the album is a full statement and requires a time commitment to appreciate it. —K.G.  

kelly clarkson

Kelly Clarkson

‘Chemistry’

Throughout Clarkson’s 14-song pop spectacle, she expels her angst of her recent divorce by channeling the fierce alt-rock ethos of her 2007 breakup opus, My December — as well as swelling “Kellyoke” covers like Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” and Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” — and the R&B through line of 2017’s Meaning of Life. But while the album is rife with cinematic choruses flanked by big guitar riffs, much of the record hinges on Clarkson’s emotive vocals and soul-baring lyrics, turning Chemistry into her most vulnerable project since My December.–I.K.

crosslegged

Crosslegged

‘Another Blue’

New York singer-songwriter Keba Robinson has her own style of experimental DIY rock cool. She began Crosslegged in an indie-folk spirit, leaning on her voice and guitar, but on her breakthrough, Another Blue, she expands her sound with synth waves and electro percussion. Yet the songs are anchored in her powerful singing, especially the irresistibly openhearted “Only in The,” where she pleads, “I ride on or I die with you/It’s in my blood.”  —R.S.

miley cyrus

Miley Cyrus

‘Endless Summer Vacation’

Cyrus has had hits with purgative power ballads and candy-coated odes to America; she’s made forays into synthpop, psychedelia, country, and art-rock; and she’s played with the public’s idea of what someone in her position owes the world. Cyrus’ eighth album Endless Summer Vacation, which was teased by the coolly resilient statement of independence “Flowers,” feels like a recap of her career’s 15-plus years, with Cyrus breezing through genres with the ease of a well-seasoned tourist. —M.J. 

davido timeless

Davido

‘Timeless’

Last summer, Afrobeats star Davido told Rolling Stone he had nearly finished his fourth album, his new era ushered in with a stirring gospel-tinged single on overcoming hardship. Then, after a lifetime of loss, he faced an unthinkable one — the death of his three year-old son. Persevering through the grief and lifted by supporters, Davido redid the album entirely. The outcome is Timeless, miraculously unshrouded in despair. It pulses, swoons, and shakes, an emotive mix of defiant amapiano, confident club anthems, jazzy afrobeats, and sensual love songs. It’s a party — and it feels purposeful. —M.C.

lana del rey

Lana Del Rey

‘Did You Know There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd’

The core of Ocean Blvd is Del Rey trying to get a closer look at herself, flipping the story as we have come to understand (and maybe even misunderstand) about what she’s trying to tell us. Through stories of her family, a failed relationship, her conflicting desire of being both seen and hidden, Del Rey exposes more than just who she is, but why she is who she is. Songs like the excellent “A&W” — named in reference to the phrase “American whore,” not the root beer — and “Fingertips” are two sides of the same life-storytelling coin. Each ponders sexual development, an estranged mother, and the harrowing reality of carrying trauma deep into adulthood. —B.S.

iris dement

Iris Dement

‘Workin’ on a World’

The 62-year-old singer-songwriter has spent her life in song, striving toward a sacred sense of purpose in a modern world intent on the exact opposite. DeMent’s latest  is a survey of her reignited sociopolitical inspiration and desperation, set to a country-gospel palette firmly within her wheelhouse. DeMent has emerged from the past half-dozen years of global turmoil and communal rot with a message to convey: She is working on a building, and the work has only barely started. —J.B.

depeche mode

Depeche Mode

‘Memento Mori’

Melancholy has long been an important part of the Depeche Mode experience. So it’s not surprising that the group, whose two members are now in their sixties, named their 15th album Memento Mori, a title they picked before the death of founding member Andrew Fletcher. Acknowledging mortality defines much of Memento Mori, but it never feels heavy-handed or even all that sullen. Some of the tracks even sound upbeat. As always with Depeche Mode, everything counts in large amounts, and on Memento Mori, the stakes feel bigger than ever. —K.G.

dinner party

Dinner Party

‘Enigmatic Society’

​​The second album from Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, and Kamasi Washington’s supergroup blends electro, jazz, and R&B in effortless fashion. Enigmatic Society’s chilled-out vibe doesn’t take away from the musical virtuosity on offer, both from the band and their rotating cast of vocalists. Take the swooning closer “Love Love,” a gentle devotional made utterly affecting by Arin Ray’s sweetly firm croon: “I love you/ For who you are/ And not who they want you to be,” its refrain goes, a simple, simply delivered sentiment that puts a sweet finishing touch on the affair. —M.J.

bob dylan shadow kingdom

Bob Dylan

‘Shadow Kingdom’

The studio recordings of the songs that appeared in Dylan’s 2021 streaming special Shadow Kingdom have been collected for this album. The material here skews toward the 1960s, with three exceptions: “Forever Young,” from 1974’s Planet Waves, “What Was It You Wanted?,” from 1989’s Oh Mercy, and a new instrumental closer, “Sierra’s Theme.” But the powerfully understated arrangements seem to come from somewhere in time between the two World Wars, if not from before the 20th century began. These new versions of classic songs stand totally on their own. —M.M.

en attendant ana

En Attendant Ana

‘Principia’

French collective En Attendant Ana crafts chiming indie-pop with shimmering guitars, crisp harmonies (courtesy of singer-songwriter-bandleader Margaux Bouchaudon and multi-instrumentalist Camille Frechou), and the occasional peal of brass. On their second full-length, their hooks remain potent, but the songs have gotten knottier; the moodily taut “Same Old Story” pivots on a post-punk-y bass line, while the churning “Wonder” uses the wow and flutter of analog synth to underscore Bouchaudon’s anxiety over the idea of being “a good human being.” —M.J.  

everything but the girl

Everything But the Girl

‘Fuse’

Fuse is Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn’s first collaboration since 1999’s underrated gem Temperamental, which topped off the amazing Nineties trilogy they began with Amplified Heart and Walking Wounded. Everything But the Girl’s trademark style of ghostly electro-pop hits home, with Thorn’s melancholy voice floating through the glitchy beats. Fuse picks up right where Temperamental stopped, as if they’re hitting play on a cassette they’ve kept on pause for 24 years. But they keep it fresh, using the latest digital effects to warp, filter, and mutate Thorn’s voice into a deeper, more dolorous instrument, which suits the adult tone of the songs. —R.S.

fall out boy

Fall Out Boy

‘So Much (For) Stardust’

Fall Out Boy have had their share of growing pains in the process of building a name outside of a scene. For their eighth album, So Much (For) Stardust, they return to Fueled by Ramen, the label known for its all-star roster of emo and pop-punk heavyweights, for the first time since their 2003 debut. In doing so, they pinpointed what made them such an enduring standout in the first place (and what they may have lost in their effort to redefine their sound): a type of bold, incisive, emotional theatricality that places them among rock’s most-endearing misfits. —B.S.

feeble little horse

Feeble Little Horse

‘Girl With Fish’

This Pittsburg band creates sweet, violent little sound worlds on their second full-length LP, mixing bright noise and tense, tender twee-pop to create a sense of comfort and dislocation that makes every song feel surprising. On “Sweet” the guitar static is almost symphonic, and tepid breakbeats rise up out of nowhere, while “Pocket” is a fragile power-pop tune that even comes with a playful rap interlude of sorts, before it evolves into bleary wailing worthy of an old Dinosaur Jr song. —J.D.

foo fighters

Foo Fighters

‘But Here We Are’

The first Foo Fighters album since the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins sorts through the fallout of what happens when things get completely unpredictable. It possesses a vitality that in a sense is expected given the events that transpired before its release, but its refusal to take the easy route around grief makes its drum fills (played by Grohl in his first return behind the kit on a Foos album since 2005) land with more intensity and its guitar slashes hit harder. Even the more-subdued tracks like the swirling “Show Me How,” which is leavened by Grohl’s daughter Violet’s lilt, have an urgency to them that makes But Here We Are an immersive listen. —M.J. 

gale

GALE

‘Lo Que No Te Dije’

Puerto Rican singer GALE made a name for herself in Miami writing hooky hits for Christina Aguilera and Selena Gomez. Her debut album aims for a deeper catharsis — a breakup record so candid and vulnerable that it almost feels as if no one had written about such turmoils before. Sonically, GALE limits the expected urbano influence to a faint undertone. Instead, her ruminations on freedom and self-love inhabit a musical comfort zone anchored on hyper-pop choruses, grungy guitars, and oceanic electronica. On delicately crafted gems like “Triste” and “La Mitad,” her voice sounds gorgeous and triumphant. —E.L.

geese 3d Country

Geese

‘3D Country’

On their 2021 debut, these Brooklyn indie-rockers showed off a beyond-their-years mastery of New York rock history, from Television to No Wave to the Strokes, as well as a more expansive Radiohead-ish side. On 3D Country, the band goes big. The sound here can bring to mind anything from Parquet Courts to King Krule to Let It Bleed to Deep Purple to spaghetti Westerns. Geese sound like they’ve also spent equal time dipping into the Steely Dan side of the Seventies, with bongos, synth, strings, and smooth backing vocals faded way up in the mix.–I.B. 

glume

Glüme

‘Main Character’

The second album from actress and wayward pop star Glüme (a.k.a. Molly Marlette) is as grandiose as its title might imply, with earworms like the anthemic “Do Me a Favor” and the twitchy “Dangerous Blue,” cameos from the likes of Rufus Wainwright and Sean Ono Lennon, and a string-laden intermission in which Glüme instructs listeners to enjoy the show. But it’s hardly indulgent; its songs are kept vibrant by Glüme’s playfulness, which is apparent on tracks like “Wedding Cake Shop,” a fever-dreamy collaboration with indie fantasists Of Montreal. —M.J.  

Gorillaz

‘Cracker Island’

Cracker Island — originally begun as “Season Two” of Song Machine before being reworked as a traditional album — is the easiest-going and most purely pleasurable Gorillaz album since their opening one-two punch, 20-some years ago. Guests feel purposeful, filtered into the indie-funk melange with ease. Thundercat gets to uncork some walking bass lines over a Daft Punk-worthy mirrorball groove, and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker trades verses with the Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown on a synth-pop scorcher that’d be at home on, well, a Tame Impala record. —C.P.

ellie goulding

Ellie Goulding

‘Higher Than Heaven’

When Ellie Goulding told Rolling Stone that Higher Than Heaven was her “least personal album” yet, pop music fans rejoiced. And for good reason: In recent years, artists have opted for introspection, but Goulding decided to just make fun, escapist pop. And it sure worked. Songs like the upbeat “Cure for Love” and the synth-filled “Temptation” remind listeners of Goulding’s pop prowess. —T.M.

gunna

Gunna

‘A Gift And A Curse’

Musically, Gunna is able to remind us of the real reason why we appreciate him in the first place: the way his velvety-smooth, mellowed-out approach to rapping about the finer things in life works in tandem with a glitzy, exciting sound that’s all his own. He knows how to make the drip feel like it’s in you rather than on youThe five-track victory lap between “Ca$h $hit” and “P Angels” is by far the best sequencing of songs on a hip-hop record this year, especially the transition from the Dunk Rock-produced “fukumean” to the exhilarating “Rodeo Dr,” in which Gunna makes a wild night on Rodeo Drive feel like a deep-space ride on the Millenium Falcon.–M.B.

pj harvey

PJ Harvey

‘I Inside the Old Year Dying’

 The 12 songs on I Inside the Old Year Dying began as poems, so they don’t translate to verse-chorus-verse pop songs at all. Instead, Harvey, who has been working on score music for plays and TV series in recent years, composed folky mood pieces that capture the essences of her words, which she sings in unusual and often beguiling ways. Some of the songs are harder to digest easily, which is likely Harvey’s point on the album — to make people listen closer.–K.G. 

the hold steady

The Hold Steady

‘The Price of Progress’

“The trick is not getting cynical,” Craig Finn warns early in the Hold Steady’s excellent ninth album, The Price of Progress. The Brooklyn rock savants celebrate their 20th birthday as one of the all-time great New York bands, stretching out with a fresh sense of adventure in tough tales of gamblers, junkies, and fugitives. Pick hit: “Sideways Skull,” about a recovering metalhead in a halfway house, keeping her dreams alive by belting “We Are the Champions” with “a hairbrush mic and a fantasy band.” —R.S. 

niall horan

Niall Horan

‘The Show’

One Direction’s Irish bard has always been the soul of warmth and charm, always ready to bust out his acoustic guitar and make a stadium feel like a rowdy pub. But Niall Horan elevates his game with The Show, his third and finest album yet. He gets emotional as he heads into his thirties. He wrote many of these tunes on piano, since his beloved guitars were stuck in tour storage—an especially cruel fate for this guy. It’s full of laid-back Laurel Canyon-inspired ballads, heavy on the mellow, full of feelings about looking for sanity in a time of personal turmoil. As he confesses in “Must Be Love,” “I’m a specialist at overthinking everything.” —R.S.

ice spice

Ice Spice

‘Like..?’

Last year, Ice Spice went viral with “Munch (Feeling U),” a coldly efficient putdown of the opposite sex that earned her a million-dollar deal with 10K Projects/Capitol Records. Since then, the Bronx rapper has generated headlines ever since. Lyrically, her debut EP, Like..?, serves as a testament to the politics of attraction, and Ice Spice expresses it all with preternatural confidence. She has a smooth, deep voice that glides over RIOTUSA’s beats, and her chopping delivery feels effortless. If these tracks seem a bit too sympatico, their raw quality also makes her performances visceral and exciting. —M.R.

jason isbell weathervanes

Jason Isbell

‘Weathervanes’

The songs on Isbell’s brutally beautiful ninth studio album tremble with anger, desperation, and fear; characters wrestle regret and unhealthy appetites, struggling to cut losses in the wake of bad choices and cascading consequences. Isbell’s stories glint with memoir and headlines as they put human faces on head-count epidemics: mass shootings, opioid addiction, Covid-19. Even the love songs are bruised and weary, chilled by cold truth. Inextricable from all this is the 400 Unit, as essential here as Crazy Horse or the Heartbreakers to Neil Young or Tom Petty’s great moments. —W.H.

kara jackson

Kara Jackson

‘Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?’

Chicago-area singer-songwriter Kara Jackson is a former National Youth Poet Laureate who blends country-folk, Seventies chamber pop, and sparse folk strumming on her stunning and adventurous full-length debut, the grief-stricken Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? Jackson’s writing is both immaculately crafted and deeply funny: “Every man thinks I’m his fucking mother,” she sings seconds later, on “therapy.” With its series of five-to-eight-minute songs, Jackson’s LP is the most daring singer-songwriter statement you’ll hear this year. —J.B.

jesus piece

Jesus Piece

‘… So Unknown’

On … So Unknown, the Philadelphia band blasts 10 hardcore, groove-metal, and metalcore tracks in less than 30 minutes, but Jesus Piece avoid any repetitive and rough aspects by growing exponentially as musicians. The band really thrives when singer Aaron Heard gets personal. On “The Bond,” he contemplates the disintegration of the relationship with his brother, and on “Silver Linings,” Heard hollers an ode to his three-year-old son: “You’re a part of me/My other half/When days get bleak/You’re my silver lining.” —I.B.

jimin face

Jimin

‘FACE’

The solo debut from BTS’s Jimin starts off with something unexpected — horns that sound like they’re coming from an energy-depleted carnival band, bleating out a few jaunty notes before completely falling into a heap. It indicates that Jimin is willing to have fun with the image he’s cultivated over the decade-plus that he’s been in the global spotlight. And while FACE does at times dwell on the existential what-ifs that plague twentysomething men who have the world’s gaze turned squarely toward them, for the most part it’s a compelling showcase of the silky-voiced singer-dancer’s pop strengths. —M.J.

karol g

Karol G

‘Mañana Será Bonito’

A feeling of bucolic self-acceptance is at the emotional center of the sprawling Mañana Será Bonito, Karol G’s strongest effort to date. The album begins in epic, post-breakup mode. She finds a supportive sonic partner in producer and compatriot Ovy on the Drums, a digital architect able to inject a sense of purpose into the most-tired reggaeton backbeat. The autobiographical “Carolina” floats in a honeyed layer of Afro-beats smoothness, and the brief, encyclopedic musical references throughout the LP add context to her innovations. —E.L.

katranada amine

Kaytranada and Aminé

‘Kaytramine’

Beloved dance DJ and producer Kaytranada is not new to rap collabs — in fact, he’s an ardent hip-hop head, having made whole projects with low-key MCs Buddy in 2017 and IDK just last year. However, he seemed particularly pumped about his union with Aminé, even fusing their names for a debut album. Kaytraminé is top tier for both artists — Aminé is rapping at his coolest and most charming, Kaytra is tapping into the perfect balance of groove and grit, and both stars attract and gel with a bevy of the games’ best names, including Pharrell, Snoop Dogg, and Freddie Gibbs. —M.C.

kelela

Kelela

‘Raven’

Kelela took six years to release her sophomore LP, Raven, and while the title suggests something skybound, in practice the record sounds more interstellar. Over the course of an hour, the singer visits planetoids of subterranean breakbeats (“Missed Call”) and traverses grand chasms of warping ambient space (“Holier”). Songs suggest R&B mutated over millennia of evolution; the title track is Björk-tier melodrama, volcanic in its intensity. Kelela can take as long as she wants on a third LP. —C.P.

kesha

Kesha

‘Gag Order’

On her fifth LP, Kesha is tired, angry, and vicious. There’s a lot she still can’t say, but she unspools as much of her feelings as she can across 13 scorched-earth tracks that present an artist pulling herself back up from the brink of madness. The most-striking element of Kesha’s latest is the sound; working with producer Rick Rubin, she has found a psychedelic middle ground between the sleazy synths of her 2012 breakthrough, Warrior, and the rootsy Southern rock of her past two, 2017’s Rainbow and 2020’s High Road. —B.S.

labrinth

Labrinth

‘End & Begins’

The third album from British composer-singer-producer Labrinth only clocks in at about 28 minutes, but it’s a megadose of mood. The LP’s darkly hued tracks about love and loneliness come wracked with so much tension it often seems as if like they — and Labrinth himself — can fall apart at any moment. Labrinth puts forth intense lyrics that reflect his apocalyptic take on romance, surrounding his wail in opulent music — complete with synth squiggles and 23rd-century Greek choruses — that suggest he might have time-traveled here from a bleaker future. —M.J. 

ladytron

Ladytron

‘Time’s Arrow’

Electropop traditionalists Ladytron drew their sound from New Wave, dance pop, Italo disco, Kraftwerk, Abba, and even a little arty prog-rock (their band name comes from an Eno-era Roxy Music album), and they’ve never looked back. And that’s a good thing. Their seventh full-length, Time’s Arrow, overflows with chilly robotic dream-pop — from the Giorgio Moroder-style dance-floor banger “Faces” to “Misery Remember Me,” a sort of a disco-prog hybrid that never sounds too nerdy or too cool for school. —K.G

jenny lewis

Jenny Lewis

‘Joy’All’

Joy’All is the latest volume in an ongoing drama we might call the Many Loves and Losses of Jenny Lewis. Coupled with the album’s Music City vibes (think Elvis Country or Nashville Skyline but with silkier vocals), Lewis’ wit and candor find more leg room on Joy’All than on previous albums. The country-rock feeling complements the album’s best songs: When Lewis sings about screaming “I want you back” on “Essence of Life,” the steel guitar wails, too, and on the upbeat “Cherry Baby,” they create a sweet yacht-rock texture that makes “I fall in love too easily with anyone who touches me, fucks with me” almost suitable for radio. —K.G.

gabe lee drink the river

Gabe Lee

‘Drink the River’

Gabe Lee has managed to package a prayer, a truth, and a dream in one album. Drink the River, his fourth studio album, delivers this trifecta through each of its nine songs, doling them out in a way that feels like both a fever and a fairytale. He’s here to tell stories, after all. Specifically, ones he’s collected since Farmland in 2019 and left Nashville, only to come back again. While his 2022 album The Hometown Kid solidified Lee as one of the city’s most promising contenders, Drink the River is a declaration of his promise to become one of the heartland’s greatest storytellers.–C.M.

lil yachty

Lil Yachty

‘Let’s Start Here’

 Let’s Start Here is positioned as a grand reset, an offering of artistic integrity from a musician introduced to the world as the mainstream star of the SoundCloud generation. Except there’s been a subtle force of brilliance lurking beneath Yachty’s earnest, treacly flow. Yachty’s instincts draw him into the expansive soundscapes of experimental jazz and psychedelic rock. While many artists have signaled a need to break new ground — Beyoncé’s Renaissance and Drake’s Honestly Nevermind have set the stage for an even bigger reshuffling on the horizon in popular music — Yachty’s latest effort dives headfirst into the unknown. —J.I.

liv.e

Liv.e

‘Girl in the Half Pearl’

Dallas-born Olivia Williams’ sophomore album, Girl in the Half Pearl, is a fully-formed artistic breakthrough, swerving from drum-and-bass to bleary soul to sensual, spacey confessional jams. The overall sound can be summed up by the title of one of the LP’s most enveloping tunes: “Lake Psilocybin.” Liv.e uses her wide-open inner space to map out messy romantic states and multileveled internal crisis, luxuriating in a self-discovery that seems to be eternally unfolding. —J.D.

melanie martinez

Melanie Martinez

‘Portals’

The L.A. dark-pop artist has found a new muse: a pink-skinned, four-eyed fairy creature that’s stuck between Earth and the afterlife. And she’s using that character to deliver her most introspective lyrics and sounds that move outside her sonic comfort zone. Musically, Martinez strays from the alt-pop sounds of her past to explore pop-rock songwriting, driving drum beats, and voice filters; it makes for an effortlessly inventive, mature record that reintroduces her as an artist unafraid to start from scratch and tackle complex, difficult ideas. —T.M.

metallica

Metallica

’72 Seasons’

On their 12th full-length album, Metallica remember their formative years of going “full speed or nothin’,” a lyric Hetfield reuses from the band’s 1983 debut, Kill ’Em All, on “Lux Æterna,” and also feeling “broken, beat, and scarred,” a line from 2008’s Death Magnetic that shows up on the lumbering “Room of Mirrors.” Metallica have always been masters of corpulent, groove-heavy riffs and labyrinthine song structures, but now, with more than 40 years of experience, they play with more purpose than in their speed-demon days. —K.G.

ava max

Ava Max

‘Diamonds and Dancefloors’

Diamonds and Dancefloors served as a moment of catharsis for Ava Max, who channeled her real-life heartbreak into upbeat songs meant to “make you cry and dance at the same time.” Led by single “Maybe You’re the Problem,” the album is filled with synth-pop bangers with a touch of disco tinges influenced by Europop and U.K. garage on “In the Dark.” —T.M.

metro boomin spiderman

Metro Boomin/Various Artists

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Soundtrack from & Inspired by the Motion Picture)’

No one would make a better choice to helm the soundtrack to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse than Atlanta trap whiz Metro Boomin. The results lend new meaning to the term “spider verse,” with plenty of web-slinging bars from Offset, A$AP Rocky, 21 Savage, Future, and an equally superpowered cast of melodic rappers of the moment. AC/DC and the Ramones seemed like dated choices for Peter Parker’s misadventures in 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. But Metro Boomin’s music for the teenage, Afro-Latino Spidey of this film sounds super apropos in the high school halls of Brooklyn Visions Academy. —M.M.L. 

militarie gun

Militarie Gun

Life Under the Gun’

On Militarie Gun’s debut LP, frontman Ian Shelton isn’t afraid to turn his innermost fears and doubts into straight-up earworms. The Seattle musician and his newest project have taken everything that’s uniquely cathartic about the hardcore and lacquered it with insanely catchy melodies, infinitely clever guitar riffs, and the kind of call-and-response energy that literally landed them a Taco Bell sync. That last detail might be enough to lead some of the more strident members of the punk community to dismiss Life Under the Gun entirely, but those folks would be missing out on an album that uniquely captures what it is live in a world that’s seemingly out to get you at every turn.–B.E.

miss grit cyborg

Miss Grit

‘Follow the Cyborg’

Margaret Sohn’s cerebral pop goes high concept on the debut album by Miss Grit, a sci-fi chronicle of a machine’s path to sentience told through elliptical, hooky songs that take unexpected turns. The steely “Like You” explodes into Technicolor when Follow the Cyborg’s protagonist wonders about life on “the other side,” while the simmering “Your Eyes Are Mine” glitches into a glorious math-y breakdown. Sohn’s sparse poetry lays down the framework of Follow the Cyborg’s modern tale of growing up, and the music surrounding it gives the story enough heft to summon tears from an android. —M.J.   

model/actriz dogsbody

Model/Actriz

‘Dogsbody’

Call it the upward spiral: Model/Actriz’s debut traces a path from hard-edged industrial depravity to something like emotional repair in its final moments. Still, it’s a hell of a journey getting there. Tracks like “Mosquito” and “Crossing Guard” locate the kinky kick of percussive mania, while second-half freakouts like “Pure Mode” lay screeching locomotion over singer Cole Haden’s blood-soaked confessionals. The release, when it comes, is worth the pain. —C.P.

janelle monae age of pleasure

Janelle Monáe

‘The Age of Pleasure’

The Age of Pleasure is a half-hour fever dream that feels like a hazy stretch at a sun-dappled gathering of people whose stunning beauty is matched by their alluring personalities. Beats from all over the map flow into one another; snatches of dialogue slip into the mix; the lyrics are focused on feeling good, whether through carnal pleasure or being comfortable in one’s own skin. Its 31-ish minutes are exquisitely wrought, as smoothly mixed as a top-tier set from a DJ with an infinite collection that includes Fifties doo-wop sides and cutting-edge cuts from the African diaspora. —M.J.

monaleo

Monaleo

‘Where the Flowers Don’t Die’

In the two years since Monaleo’s first single, “Beating Down Yo Block,” broke through, her Southern charisma and blunt charm has taken her all the way to Coachella this spring. She’s dropped a compelling string of singles and freestyles — like her original “We Not Humping,” its remix with friend Flo Milli, and her take on Chief Keef’s “Faneto” — but her debut, Where the Flowers Don’t Die, is a true testament to her diverse tastes and ability to excel across them. Its vulnerability through traces of gospel, country, and pop is solid and striking among her brutal raps on men’s failures and her belligerence. —M.C.

megan moroney

Megan Moroney

‘Lucky’

The most exciting country mainstream record of the first half of 2023 belongs to the Georgia-raised Megan Moroney, whose Gen Z iteration of three chords and the truth involves plenty of SEC football and social media scrolling: “Did you mean to double-tap that Spring Break throwback from 2016 in PCB?” she sings in the note-perfect opener, “I’m Not Pretty.” But Lucky is also an exercise in mastery of tradition, from the Shania-style romp of the title track to the devastating piano ballad “Mustang or Me.” —J.B.

the national

The National

‘First Two Pages of Frankenstein’

First Two Pages of Frankenstein is a remarkable reassertion of the band’s potency: the sound of a third act being forged through the hell of depression and writer’s block. It’s their shortest LP in 15 years, a cycle of patient and often quiet songs, completely stripped of the sharp-angle production flourishes that enlivened their recent LPs. The pared-down lyrics, written by Matt Berninger with his wife and longtime creative partner Carin Besser, sound wrenched from someplace primal, with little of the full-sentence verbosity that defined early records. —C.P.

navy blue

Navy Blue

‘Ways Of Knowing’

Navy Blue can be a runic MC: In 2022, he released a quadrilogy of LPs, three of which aren’t available on streaming, with names like Crypt of Carlos: Onward! But he also has a classicist streak, conjuring Jay-Z at his most heartfelt on Navy’s Reprise. For his Def Jam debut, Ways of Knowing, the man born Sage Elsesser finally puts it all together, weaving heartfelt reflections of family with sixth-sense visions over a string of sumptuous productions by L.A. beatmaker Budgie. —C.P.

new pornographers

New Pornographers

‘Continue as a Guest’

New Pornographers are like if Cheap Trick was as quick-witted as Steely Dan, or the Romantics were as thoughtful as R.E.M. On their ninth album, a sense of crisis in Carl Newman’s songwriting is reflected in a more-subdued musical tone, making for an LP that delivers its vivid emotional payoff in subtle gestures. That doesn’t mean there aren’t big, splashy songs here. Mostly, though, the mood has changed. Hot guitar charge takes a back seat to studio pastiche, a wistful saxophone shows up prominently, and the tempos tend toward the reflectively drifty. —J.D.

joy oladokun

Joy Oladokun

‘Proof of Life’

Joy Oladokun’s second major-label LP is probably the only record this year that’ll feature Houston rapper Maxo Kream, Chris Stapleton, and jam band Manchester Orchestra. A Black, queer artist, this singer-songwriter makes what she calls “helpful anthems.” Proof of Life swerves from the existential toughness and distorted guitars of “We’re All Gonna Die” to “Changes,” a roots-country tune that references the L.A. riots, to “Revolution,” which features Kream and evokes Eighties Afro-pop. Oladokun graciously flows this diverse mix together, creating an open-ended and satisfying whole. —J.D.

queens of the stone age

Queens of the Stone Age

‘In Times New Roman’

QOTSA’s eighth album never veers too far into a divorce-rock gripe-fest or a dark night of the soul confessional, chiefly because the music itself is so cathartic. After the dance-rock experimentation of 2017’s Villains, the band has returned to the clockwork riffage that has characterized the best of their work going back to their self-titled 1998 debut. Listening to hooky, hard-pounding cuts like “Obscenery,” “Negative Space” and “Emotion Sickness,” it sounds almost like the band is closing ranks around its leader, helping him work through darkness and chaos with interlocking guitar blasts and concussive drum grooves.–D.E.

rafa pabon

Rafa Pabón

‘Galeria’

At this particular juncture in time, the genre known as urbano is a state of mind — an umbrella term that points at a certain zeitgeist of the heart. In the hands of Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Rafa Pabón, urbano can be anything he wants it to be: the healing reggae riddim of “Manifestación de Amor,” or the progressive reggaetón sharpness of “Como Agua”; the raw rasp of Spanish diva Buika on the stately “Ay Amor,” or the languid montuno-pop of “Leyenda,” with former Los Van Van sonero Mayito Rivera. Pabón even adds Indian sitar to “Rosa,” a tender merengue for the ages. The scope of his musical galería is boundless. —E.L.

palehound eye on the bat

Palehound

‘Eye On the Bat’

The latest release from Palehound was inspired by the “apocalypse road trip” across the U.S. that the indie Boston band took mid-tour to get safely back home as the pandemic hit in early 2020. Adventurous songwriting has always been par for the course for Palehound, the brainchild of queer singer-songwriter, El Kempner. Over the course of four full-length releases, Kempner’s vivid lyrics and knack for fusing rock sensibilities, punk energy and folky softness have helped make their band peers of beloved artists like Pup, Big Thief, and boygenius (who they’ll be opening shows for this fall). Yet, Kemper’s directness, empathy and intimacy are all their own.–M.G. 

paramore

Paramore

‘This Is Why’

This Is Why is Paramore’s excellent foray into post-punk, riddled with a new set of anxieties. Lead single “This Is Why” sets a menacing, urgent tone for the album and its subject matter: paranoia and frustration about the lack of human empathy even after the unbearably awful shared traumas the world has faced in recent years. Thoughts on aging pervade the songs. In rock-star years, they’re veterans, and they feel it in their bones. But this album is proof that the teen angst that fuels pop punk and emo never really dies; it merely mutates. —B.S.

arlo parks my soft machine

Arlo Parks

‘My Soft Machine’

Parks is a pop prodigy; she got noticed by a management company as a teen and won the 2021 Mercury Prize with her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, which came out when she was months away from turning 21. My Soft Machine expands that sonic palette while also digging in deeper emotionally — even when Parks is describing the ways in which she tries to numb out. She has a skill for inviting listeners not only into her mind, but into her immediate environment, and the effects bring her racing emotions right to the forefront. —M.J.

Caroline Polachek

Caroline Polachek

‘Desire, I Want to Turn Into You’

Caroline Polachek knows her way around a pop song — she’s written for Beyoncé and Travis Scott, collaborated with next-wave artists like Charli XCX and PC Music, and toured with the likes of Dua Lipa. On her second solo album, the former Chairlift vocalist uses her encyclopedic musical knowledge and formidable voice as vehicles for flipping the concept of the “perfect pop song” in unexpected ways. Polachek excels at depicting the crush of thoughts and feelings that the 2020s’ always-on cultural milieu can tease out musically and lyrically. —M.J. 

iggy pop every loser

Iggy Pop

‘Every Loser’

Every Loser contains some of Iggy’s hardest rockers in years, and emphasizes all of the things the man does well: blistering rock, po-faced ballads, and a genuine way with words. Several songs recall the Stooges rather directly. The wah-wah on “Frenzy” might have come from the late Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, while the opening of “Modern Day Ripoff” nearly quotes the Stooges’ classic “TV Eye.” He gets somber on the slick-yet-rough “New Atlantis,” a loving ode to his long-ago adopted Miami home, which he calls “a beautiful whore of a city.” —J.G.

margo price

Margo Price

‘Strays’

Price’s fourth album is perhaps the most comprehensive iteration of her continually-evolving palette. The record’s most exciting moments are when she fully stretches out as a storyteller: Songs like “County Road” and “Lydia,” third-person character sketches that unfold into six-minute plus epics, serve as the album’s anchor. Price’s narratives unfold verse by verse, painting vivid, short-story-worthy portraits of Americans struggling in a world of endless prisons, opioids, and gentrification. —J.B.

Quevedo

Quevedo

‘Donde Quiero Estar’

The debut album from Spanish rapper Quevedo is a glowing patchwork of influences and references that inspired him to pursue music. The sparkling, synth-filled “Yankee” is a direct nod to reggaeton legend Daddy Yankee with an unexpected BMP bump; the gossamer “Dame” featuring Omar Montes interpolates a chorus from Colombian artist Feid for those in the know. These bits and pieces, combined with lyrics of sun-draped yearning and summer nostalgia that Quevedo rap-sings about in a booming voice, create a whole that feels vibrant and new. —J.L.

rae sremmurd sremm 4 life

Rae Sremmurd

‘Sremm4Life’

Rae Sremmurd are back in full force as a united front for Sremm4Life, a tight statement from the two that sees them continue to grow and expand the unique sonic world they’ve invented. The songs on their latest continue to showcase the interplay between the two sides of the brothers: Slim Jxmmi’s tougher edge continues to mingle well with Swae Lee’s softer, sung-rap delivery. It kicks off with the hazy “Origami,” which asks the extremely apt question, “How you have a party/And not invite us?” It’s something we’ve all wondered in their absence. —B.S.

fuerza regida

Fuerza Regida

‘Pa Que Hablan & Sigan Hablando’

Fuerza Regida ended 2022 with an explosive surprise: On Dec. 30, just after dropping their anticipated album Pa Que Hablen, the rebel-minded California kids released a companion album, Sigan Hablando. Both records were stuffed to the brim with ornate, chugging brass sections and triumphant lyrics, delivered in frontman Jesús Ortiz Paz confident bellow — plus collaborations with nearly every big name in música Mexicana, including Peso Pluma and Grupo Frontera. In fact, the romantic cumbia “Bebe Dame” with the latter became the band’s first song on the Billboard 100. —J.L.

bebe rexha

Bebe Rexha

‘Bebe’

Through weed-infused studio sessions, Bebe Rexha mixed a Seventies pop, Stevie Nicks lyricism with bright melodies and disco tinges to make Bebe her best album yet. The LP is a stark contrast from the darker energy of her earlier music — and she shines through that optimism. Although the album features her smash hit “I’m Good (Blue)” with David Guetta, Rexha’s best moments are on dance-pop songs like “I’m Not High, I’m In Love,” and the Dolly Parton-featuring “Seasons.” —T.M.

Caroline Rose

Caroline Rose

‘The Art of Forgetting’

The last couple of albums by Caroline Rose have exhibited a playful, arch sense of humor. Their latest, 2023’s The Art of Forgetting, doesn’t feel so funny — Rose recorded much of it while healing from heartbreak and staring down an existential crisis. As a result, the mood is considerably more experimental and dark, with Rose’s astute pop melodies snapping into focus through gauzy waves of synthesizer, wordless vocal harmonies, and looped acoustic guitars, hitting with force when it happens. —J.F.

paul simon seven psalms

Paul Simon

‘Seven Psalms’

No one was expecting the 81-year-old singer-songwriter’s newest release — Seven Psalms, a 33-minute suite whose title and concept literally came to him in a dream. The music is serious, even solemn, just as the format suggests. This time out, mortality and what comes next are the music’s meat. But it’s also surprisingly wide-ranging. What makes this music connect is Simon’s ability to make a spiritual setting feel down-to-earth, what you might expect from one of American pop music’s greatest conversational songwriters. —M.M.

skrillex

Skrillex

‘Quest For Fire’

While Quest for Fire is technically only his second album, Skrillex has hardly been away from the spotlight. He has wrangled a constellation of guest stars for Quest for Fire (from Four Tet to Missy Elliott). The British grime MC and producer Flowdan offers the most satisfying match for Skrillex’s world-swallowing beats; his low-slung voice towers over the ricocheting rhythm of the Fred again..-assisted “Rumble.” Like the mosh pits and dance floors that have thrilled to his music, Skrillex knows that perpetual motion is crucial. —M.J. 

sam smith gloria

Sam Smith

‘Gloria’

Gloria, Smith’s fourth album, builds on the foundation laid down by their chart-topping single “Unholy.” It’s a compact, steadily flowing collection of pop songs that showcase Smith’s vocal versatility and personal growth. Smith’s experiences as a queer person who was raised Catholic threads through the album, and not just on the family-portrait-smashing “Unholy.” On Gloria, one of the world’s most recognizable voices grasps how being true to themselves can make their own instrument’s power even mightier. —M.J.

suga agust d day

SUGA

‘D-Day’

D-DAY, the third Agust D release, follows his self-titled 2016 mixtape and 2020’s D-2; the first to be classified as a proper album, D-DAY is a tight 10-track collection that lyrically and musically probes the concept of freedom — what it means, whether it’s a blessing or a curse. Take the double-entendre title of the thundering “Haegeum,” which wraps around a drone from the two-stringed traditional Korean instrument of the same name. “Haegeum” also can be translated as “liberation,” and Agust D unpacks that idea in knotty, spat-out rhymes that take aim at conformity, the trappings of “success,” and information overload. —M.J.  

tainy

Tainy

‘Data’

The reggaeton super-producer’s first as a solo artist feels like downloading the deepest contents of the super-producer’s brain and seeing his creative process directly in front of you. The genius of Tainy’s past work is that it’s a treatise between him and other artists, a meeting point that helps the acts he’s working with achieve what they want on their own albums. Here, Tainy can do exactly what he dreams up: Yes, that’s Sech on an emo ballad and Arcangel on a bubbly hit that sounds like it time-traveled from the Eighties. And yes, he did splice a Four Tet sample into a track with Skrillex and Rauw Alejandro.–J.L.

tisakorean

TisaKorean

‘Let Me Update My Status’

With all due credit to Tyler, the Creator, who let DJ Drama shout all over Call Me If You Get Lost, no one loves mid-aughts mixtape rap quite like TisaKorean. A chaotic collage of snap, crunk, ringtone rap, computer sound effects, Soulja Boy references, and song titles like “cRaNk iT Up (BoNuS).mp3,” Let Me Update My Status conjures the past as a corrupted download. The concept seems heady, but TisaKorean keeps things as exuberant as a 100 Gecs track. —C.P.

twice ready to be

TWICE

‘Ready to Be’

Much has been said about K-pop over the years, and much has been misunderstood about the genre, too. On their new EP, Ready to Be, the girl group TWICE blow up the tired stereotypes and smashes through barriers with a seven-song set that’s as brash and compelling as anything in the pop music landscape today. Ready to Be is a confident comeback from one of K-pop’s most exciting groups, chock full of high-octane bangers and clever earworms that command your attention from the very first note. —T.C.

kali uchis

Kali Uchis

‘Red Moon in Venus’

The Colombian American pop star blends styles and genres so deftly that placing a box around her music feels antithetical to its ethos. She’s clearly a student of R&B from the past few decades; “Love Between …” is a bedroom-pop update of a glimmering 1970s bedroom cut. “Endlessly,” which was co-produced by Pop&B mastermind Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, has a vocal melody and synth flourishes that recall his most indelible works, but the textures are just fuzzed out enough and the vocals tough enough to transform it into a decidedly 2023 cut. —M.J.

us girls bless this mess

U.S. Girls

‘Bless This Mess’

Some of the ingredients that comprise U.S. Girls’ eighth album are new motherhood, Greek mythology, and the classic sounds of Hall and Oates and Carly Simon — but artist Meghan Remy makes her songs personal enough that they sound original. “Only Daedalus” could be sung by Michael McDonald just as much as Remy, but her chilled delivery of “Only Daedalus coulda thought of this” feels unique. “Futures Bet” boasts a fuzzy synth-pop vibe, and there’s even a song, “Pump,” about breast pumping. It all makes for a blessed mess. —K.G.

veeze ganger

Veeze

‘Ganger’

The Detroit rapper promises to take his craft to another level on Ganger. That doesn’t mean pandering or reaching for hits, but adding more subtle additions to an already winning formula. Listening to him rhyme is akin to observing someone knock over a cup of syrup on the concrete; you’re just watching the slow slide, wondering where it’ll go next. Sometimes, he’ll offer game like “When you get your time, she gon’ fuck half the city / Same niggas that you called “Gang” laughin’ at you,” but more often than not, it’ll be unabashed scumbaggery like “make a bitch walk from here to LA” — hopefully she was already in Compton.–A.G. 

summer walker

Summer Walker

‘Clear 2: Soft Life’

On her full-length albums, including her 2019 standout, Over It, as well as its worthy follow-up, Still Over It, Walker sings in a supple and limpid tone that sometimes gets flattened by the heavy processing effects that typify modern hip-hop and R&B. Her Clear series, which began in 2019, is dedicated to real “soul music.” It’s long been obvious that Walker is a Southern soul singer who creates worlds of emotions and feelings. Here, she cobbles together a suite of songs that sound like sketches yet nevertheless build into a compelling portrait of a young woman in transition. —M.R.

sunny war

Sunny War

‘Anarchist Gospel’

Sunny War has spent the past half-decade refining her unique blend of acoustic street punk poetry. Her latest, Anarchist Gospel, represents a career apex with its effortless synthesis of styles that manages to integrate all of the many traditions War is versed in, be it folk busking or Eighties hardcore. They all shine through on the record’s blend of murky swamp grooves (“Swear to Gawd”), warm country devotionals (“His Love”), and textured, hand-clapped electric blues (“Shelter and Storm”). It all amounts to a powerful statement from a singer-songwriter poised to become one of the year’s most vital voices in roots music. —J.B.

jordan ward

Jordan Ward

‘Forward’

Jordan Ward has developed from a talented backup dancer into a promising R&B artist, touring with acts as big as Justin Bieber. As a former theater kid with an atypically normal charm, Ward taps into a gift of subtle storytelling on his debut album, Forward. He molds the typically romantic genre into a more personal one, performing songs about normalized violence, financial hardship, and complicated family dynamics — each with a unique bounce. In an interlude that’s as gentle and pensive as it is chaotic, he explains his drive to make music as memorable as this: “I’m the only child. I’m the last ward. Everything I’m doing is forward.” —M.C.

jessie ware

Jessie Ware

‘That! Feels! Good!’

Ware zeroes in on the many pleasures of dance music. Bodies and bodily sensations are emphasized, while inhibitions are shaken off in pursuit of ecstasy. That! Feels! Good! is even brighter and funkier than its acclaimed 2020 predecessor, What’s Your Pleasure, full of big brass and grooves that amplify the feeling of joy. “Why does all the purest love get filtered through machines?” she wonders on “Begin Again.” It’s a plea for renewal and human connection, the kind that the dance floor is uniquely equipped to provide. —J.F.

wednesday

Wednesday

‘Rat Saw God’

North Carolina indie rockers Wednesday are rootsy and noisy in pretty much equal measure. If you’re a fan of boygenius or Big Thief, you’ll like singer Karly Hartzman’s fearless, anxious songwriting. And if you’re a fan of migraine headaches, you’ll love the band’s knack for busting out My Bloody Valentine-levels of refined amplifier torment. There’s a Flannery O’Connor story collection worth of Southern fucked-up-ness going on here. But Wednesday are just as interested in sucking you in with a walloping guitar banger as they are in delivering unsparingly honest snapshots of the ruralburban coming-of-age experience. —J.D.

lucinda williams

Lucinda Williams

‘Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart’

The Americana legend’s 15th album celebrates the power of survival by performing with and honoring the friends she’s made through her lengthy career. Williams co-wrote all of Stories’ 10 tracks with her husband and longtime collaborator Tom Overby; Nashville session guitarist Travis Stephens and downtown New York rock fixture Jesse Malin also assisted. “Let’s Get the Band Back Together” sets the tone, its hard-won reflection (“We were just another bunch of stupid kids/Staying up all night playing poker and pool”) melding with the sort of defiant jubilance that powers great rock & roll songs. It’s an “I’m still here” declaration that’s backed up by the music that follows.–M.J.   

billy woods & Kenny Segal

billy woods and Kenny Segal

‘Maps’

For much of the past decade, Brooklyn rapper billy woods — he stylizes his name in lowercase letters — has reigned as an unlikely hero of left-of-center hip-hop. Maps marks woods’ second full-length collaboration with Kenny Segal. Essentially, it serves as a travelogue for a blossoming indie star, compiling the misadventures, curiosities, and indignities he endured while on tour. Woods fulfills the literary expectations he’s often saddled with. Each work is a different chapter in an impressively consistent collection, and Maps finds him in repose, taking stock of the world around him. —M.R.

stax records

‘Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos’

THE STORY OF Stax records has long been smoothed over and sculpted into a neat bundle of Southern aphorism and marketing copy. There’s a much more profound story being told about the label in Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos, a revelatory new 146-song set of previously unreleased demos from a crop of its many unheralded songwriters. That story is of a record label providing an ongoing space, creative ecosystem and infrastructure for some of the most profound popular American songwriting of the 20th century, much of which, as this collection demonstrates, the listening public has never even heard.–J.B. 

yaeji

Yaeji

‘With a Hammer’

From her earliest releases, Yaeji’s always known her way around a hook, whether it was the coy reworking of Drake’s “Passionfruit” or her instant-classic party starter “Raingurl.” But it turns out that was all preamble to the sonic pleasures to be found in With a Hammer, a prismatic assemblage of bilingual melodies, city-pop shimmer, and double-barreled drum programming. Inspired by magical-girl anime and a lifetime of barely suppressed rage, it sounds like an explosion. —C.P.

yo la tengo

Yo La Tengo

‘This Stupid World’

This Stupid World has a mood that makes it feel distinct in the band’s esteemed catalog. As its title implies, it’s openly downcast, tinged with images of mortality and the struggle to make something out of whatever time we have while we’re here. “Prepare to die/Prepare yourself while there’s still time,” Ira Kaplan sings like an indie-rock grim reaper on “Until It Happens,” a tetchy acoustic song with a droning organ that sounds like a polite warning siren. But a record this beautiful makes easing toward the abyss feel a little less painful. —J.D.

young nudy gumbo

Young Nudy

‘Gumbo’

Everyone can appreciate some sonic wandering, but sometimes, as is the case with Atlanta rapper Young Nudy, there’s a benefit to knowing what you’re going to get. On Gumbo, Nudy sticks to his braggadocious, hunger-inducing script and succeeds across a 13-track canvas that places him further up the ranks of hip-hop’s “best ear for beats” board. Gumbo’s producers have crafted a project that’s immersive but never overpowering, leaving room for Nudy’s distinctive, rubbery voice to be the centerpiece of the music. —A.G. 

From Rolling Stone US.

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