You know we’re fond of a good list here at HeadStuff, so if you didn’t get your fill of cracking 2023 albums from our Irish picks last week, then we’ve got you covered with another fine selection of the best of 2023 – this time from around the globe.
Whether it was a 90’s revival in LA, Scottish hip-hop fusion or psychedelic rock from New Zealand, we had plenty of international highlights between January and June.
So let’s get into it – here are The 12 Best Albums Of 2023 (So Far), according to HeadStuff.
Black Country, New Road | Live At Bush Hall
It’s not often I’d class a live album as one of the best in any given year, but Live At Bush Hall is no ordinary live album – and if you haven’t been paying attention the past couple of years, Black Country, New Road are no ordinary band.
The group’s 2023 setlist is made up of newly composed, never before recorded tracks written in the wake of lead singer Isaac Wood’s departure last February, just days before the release of sophomore record Ants From Up There.
If you were worried at the time about the future of BCNR without their leading man, then look no further than Live At Bush Hall for evidence that there is exceptional talent in each and every member of this singular collective.
While there’s nothing quite like the live show (I’ve been fortunate enough to witness the set both last year at Primavera Sound and last month in the Olympia Theatre), Live At Bush Hall brings you closer than most live recordings, immersing you in the majestic sounds of ‘Up Song’, ‘Turbines/Pigs’ and ‘Dancers’ as though you were front row center.
Whether these tracks ever get a studio version seems moot as this point, because it would be near impossible to bottle the lightning of this chapter in BCNR’s story quite like Live At Bush Hall.
Blondshell | Blondshell
Music geeks spend our entire calendar year looking forward to anticipated releases from our old favorites and follow-ups to recent discoveries, but let’s face it: there’s no better feeling than coming across a debut record that knocks our socks off.
The past three months unquestionably belong to Sabrina Teitelbaum, who redefined the ever-popular nineties revival with her self-titled debut as Blondshell. After a false start recording under Baum a few years ago, Blondshell is all about gaining confidence in songwriting and is unvarnished in its confrontation of all the enormous feelings that go into growth and finding yourself.
‘Veronica Mars’ is an instant classic opening song that punches you in the mouth while you can’t help but ask for more. Throughout the record, Teitelbaum plays with the idea of dynamic range that dominated the nineties alternative scene, electing for subdued verses that give way to booming choruses, and there’s no better example of this than ‘Kiss City’ where she uses a facade of guitars to contrast lyrical tenderness.
Blondshell is a rare record featuring six singles, and each one is a hit because this entire album is a triumph.
boygenius | the record
The long-awaited full-length album from the supergroup comprised of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker dropped in March this year. They last released music together as boygenius in 2018, and have become at least ten times more super in the interim, growing their discography and their fanbases more than they might ever have imagined way back when.
the record is less folky than their self-titled EP, embracing multiple genres over its forty-two minute runtime. From gentler introspection to friendship ballads to 90s-style punk, the boys perform best at their loudest; something that is easier for them to do together than apart.
You can see the stamp of each artist on the album, and guess who wrote which song for the most part, but they move together. They are in conversation, or they are swathing the listener in their harmonies.
Best Tracks: ‘Cool About It’, ‘Satanist’, ‘Not Strong Enough’
Caroline Polachek | Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
Ten years ago, I spent a scorching afternoon at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, watching the criminally underrated band Chairlift roll through a swampy set while imbibing far too much warm box wine. My biggest takeaway was that Caroline Polachek was a commanding frontwoman, and the group was destined for bigger things. Chairlift may have only released one more record a few years later, but Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is where we hear Polachek officially go from indie darling to a full-blown mega popstar.
It’s an unsurprising development, as Polachek appeared with Charli XCX and Dua Lipa over the past few years, and this is the record that bears those fruits. Working with co-producer Danny L Harle, Polacheck is not interested in genres or decade worship, instead bouncing everywhere from art pop to new age and alternative pop.
The best moments on an album full of bangers come when channeling Madonna’s work with William Orbit on Ray of Light – ‘I Believe’ features some wicked pads over a classic house beat, ‘Smoke’ takes a gentler approach to the sound, and ‘Fly To You’ brings Grimes and Dido along for an early aughts trip-hop ride. If the rest of the pop world was as forward-thinking as Caroline Polachek, I might be more interested in visiting it regularly.
Gorillaz | Cracker Island
With the highly anticipated return of Blur, Damon Albarn has already had quite the start to 2023. He kicked it off in February with the latest release from Gorillaz: Cracker Island. And quite frankly, his animated band’s eighth album is up there with there with their best.
Unlike 2020’s Song Machine, Gorillaz never outstay their welcome. Meanwhile, the collaborations – which include artists as varied as Bad Bunny, Stevie Nicks and Tame Impala – compliment rather than overpower. A fun listen which moves in many directions, Albarn’s pop project sounding as fresh as it did two decades earlier.
Best Tracks: ‘New Gold’, ‘Baby Queen’, ‘Skinny Ape’
James Holden | Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities
Reviewing the comments left under most trance and progressive electronic music videos on YouTube doesn’t always make for optimistic reading.
The pattern is that the music reminds people of a period of their lives that is long past, evoking some snapshot of a memory (usually taking place in a field or abandoned warehouse) during which their lives seemed full of endless possibilities and when things just made sense, before life/marriage/mortgages/inflation/the Tories came along and ruined everything.
British DJ James Holden’s fourth album, released at the end of March, has the opposite effect. Instead of a memory of a rave, Holden has described the album as “a dream of a rave.” It’s bright and warm, swirling between organic sounds and the more familiar electronic elements of club music, all the while refusing to give in to the release of cheap beat drop, instead drip-feeding the serotonin to your brain in a way that will make you want to spin it again and again and again.
Best Tracks: ‘In The End You’ll Know’, ‘The Answer Is Yes’, ‘Common Land’
Lana Del Rey | Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd
I would have been reasonably confident that I’d be writing the name of this album on my mid-year list as far back as last year, simply with the knowledge that Lana Del Rey was releasing new music in 2023.
LDR has been on one of the greatest album runs of the 21st century since the advent of Norman Fucking Rockwell! back in 2019, and Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd continues this rich vein of form with another dazzling record that finds her exploring genres as far reaching as piano pop, psychedelia, gospel, blues and trap all atop some of her most poetic lyricism to date.
It’s yet another unmissable moment from one of the foremost artists of our generation, working at the peak of her power with no strings attached or punches pulled.
The Lathums | From Nothing to a Little Bit More
The second Lathums record was gifted to us in early March of this year. From Nothing To A Little Bit More brings a more assured and refined sound to the rockers from Wigan. Retaining the northern indie sound that they’ve inherited from heavy influences The Smiths and The Housemartins/Paul Heaton, this time they add a more heartfelt and emotional element.
The Lathums prove they can rub shoulders with indie festival headliners, not afraid of thumping guitar riffs in Say My Name, but they’ll also sit you down and have you think about your feelings with Struggle and Turmoil. The skilled songwriting from young Alex Moore has a fantastic way of grabbing your attention with his soulful voice, before enticing you to stay for a little while with his introspective lyrics.
Indie superstars on the rise.
Best Tracks: ‘Say My Name’, ‘Land and Sky’, ‘I Know Pt 1’
LIES | LIES
When news broke that cousins Mike and Nate Kinsella were releasing a new side project to their much loved American Football, expectations were already set high on just the basis of those two being involved in new music together.
However when excellent singles like ‘Camera Chimera’, ‘Blemishes’ and ‘Resurrection’ revealed that the Midwest Emo pioneers were taking this project into previously uncharted musical territory, expectations were heightened even further. Yet despite this weight of anticipation heading in, the Kinsella cousins still managed to surpass expectations and deliver what is arguably their best album to date under any guise.
Full of daring sonic adventures, beautiful string arrangements, stirring emotional gut-punches and Mike Kinsella’s ever unique way with words, Lies’ self-titled is a truly special record in every way and it will take something else truly magnificent in the second half of 2023 to unseat it from the Album of the Year throne.
Best Tracks: ‘Camera Chimera’, ‘Blemishes’, ‘No Shame’
Paramore | This Is Why
Paramore has worn many hats in their career, from the child stars of the pop-punk scene to dignified indie-pop stalwarts. What’s never changed in eighteen years is the fun-loving bounciness and distinct personality that Hayley Williams brings to each track, supported by intelligent musicians with ferocious energies of their own.
This Is Why picks and chooses the best bits of their former eras, taking the young fury of Riot!, Brand New Eyes’ intelligent songwriting, After Laughter’s bouncy pop stylings and adding just a little more wisdom of years on top, creating a thoughtful but distinctly fun album.
Years come and go, but it really does seem like Paramore are forever.
Best Tracks: ‘This Is Why’, ‘Figure 8’, ‘Crave’
Unknown Mortal Orchestra | V
Ruban Neilson, mastermind behind chill-groove outfit Unknown Mortal Orchestra, just cannot miss.
Establishing a dedicated following from albums Multi-Love and Food & Sex, V represents a new stage of evolution of that immediately recognizable sound, tinged with psychedelic pop elements.
V finds a delicate balance between the album you can put on in the background when you have friends over and an album you could analyze with a fine-tooth comb. Tough as it is to be both stimulating and relaxing, Unknown Mortal Orchestra set up camp on that thin line like they’re going glamping.
Best Tracks: ‘Meshuggah’, ‘That Life’, ‘Weekend Run’
Young Fathers | Heavy Heavy
Scottish three-piece Young Fathers have quietly been fusing hip-hop, gospel, world beat and post-punk music for over a decade now. Despite the Mercury Prize win in 2014 for their debut album proper, Dead, they still don’t get the respect they deserve.
Heavy Heavy, their fourth LP, while retaining the urgency of records gone-by, may be the trio’s most life-affirming, irresistible and vital work to date. With a runtime of just over half an hour over 10 tracks, it is surprising just how complete each individual track is.
It’s a rare album, one that works just as well as an indie disco floorfiller or for headphone addicts to get lost in.
That’s your lot for now.
There’s still so much more to look forward to through the rest of 2023 so for coverage of all the best and the rest, stick with HeadStuff from now until December when we’ll be revisiting these lists and making our final selections for the very best of 2023!
In the meantime, enjoy our Best Albums Of 2023 playlist, jam packed with all of the best tracks from the albums above: