In times of chaos, music can be a place of escape or comfort. The best albums of 2023 devised a wealth of helpful solutions and coping mechanisms for our everyday problems. Must-hear albums kept piling up at an insane rate, and with a few noted exceptions (including Miley Cyrus, Drake, and the, um, Rolling Stones), this wasn’t a huge year for blockbuster releases by mega-stars, but that only made more room for newer innovators.
Here is our top 10 album list for the year from seven members of the Messed!Up music staff!
Death Valley Girls
“Islands In The Sky”
In a just and fair world, Death Valley Girls would be headlining the biggest festivals and invited as guests to the most popular talk shows. But since this is not a just and fair world, I will never get to hear tens of thousands of people in the audience in front of Roskilde’s Orange stage sing along to the chorus on “Magic powers”. Well, as long as I can enjoy it in my headphones and sing along myself in my car, I’m happy.
Islands in the Sky is one of those great albums that sound good the first time you hear it, even better the second time around, and great every time thereafter. Almost like a concept album, with dreamy, multilayered voice tracks, catchy melodies, and self-caring lyrics. The quality of the songwriting is superb, I imagine how many of the tracks could have fit nicely on an Iggy Pop album. No surprise then, that they have collaborated with him (on a music video some years ago). Or Peaches, who remixed one of their songs last year. But the Death Valley Girls stand firmly on their own feet. More of this, please!
With their enchanted, psychedelic soundscape Tomma Intet has the power to fascinate the listeners, this is no exception on this album. The Scandinavian melancholy turns into love when we get into the universe that is Tomma intent.
Well … Even though one of my best friends is a HUGE fan of theirs, for some reason I never really got into the band. Until 2020’s Jade which perfectly encapsulated the evolution the band had been going through throughout their career and culminated in a piano ballad. On a punk rock album.
Fast forward three years and Pascow released a hot contender for the “Album of the year” title very early on in the year. Small ideas such as the intricate, post-rocky ending of “Himmelhunde” or the strings in “Mailand” further develop the typical Pascow sound while remaining true to the punk roots, while other tracks such as “Monde”, “Vierzehn Colakracher” or “Daniel & Hermes” show the band reveling in their trademark sound. Once again, the lyrics are also in a class of their own; particularly socially critical and clearly political, despite their often coded language. Hitting the zeitgeist on the head and often leaving a gut-wrenching feeling when you realize that they’re right and our society probably is very fucked.
“If You Can’t Find What You’re Looking For Please Ask…”
Those who grew up on ’90s Brit-Pop will instantly warm to George Hennessey’s latest album If You Can’t Find What You’re Looking For Please Ask. Like suddenly finding yourself in a time warp, us oldies will be instantly transported back to another era. The album sounds so much like Oasis that you may think it’s an unreleased Oasis album from the 90s – a compilation of unreleased banger tracks! “She Left Me A Daydream, “Lost Society, “All Or Nothing and “Go With The Flow are super Britpop anthems. An album with no bad songs on it.
“Seven Crowns and Seven Seals”
This one came completely out of nowhere: I had never heard of the band before, but all of a sudden, my Instagram blew up with a very cool-looking new vinyl record (the label calls the vinyl color “howling void effect”): Seven Crowns and Seven Seals by Sulphur Aeon.
I was intrigued. Then I listened to it. And I was hooked. Instantly.
Sulphur Aeon play brutal, yet spheric blackened death metal with Lovecraftian lyrical themes. And despite their harsh sound, it’s music that you can get lost in – and at the same time music that (at least for me) is perfectly suited to play in the background while doing some deep-focus work. I like it very much! And I don’t know why I discovered this band sooner.
“Take Me Back to Eden”
In the first two weeks of 2023, Sleep Token released (in my completely unbiased opinion) the best four singles of the year, followed by an album announcement that would shake up the alternative world.
Take Me Back To Eden is the perfect combination of the band’s unique 50/50 pop and metal formula, and the title track encapsulates this genre-hopping an 8-minute long ballad.
The masked ensemble, led by the one only known as Vessel, displays some of their best technical proficiency and most heart-wrenching lyrics. “The Summoning” shifts from hammering breakdown to funk wah-bass epilogue; “Aqua Regia” braces for a heavy intro before feinting and ducking left with a gorgeously melancholic, jazzy piano chord; the title track cycles through the band’s unique brand of 50/50 pop and metal before hitting you with the heaviest Sleep Token ever hits … and “Euclid” simmers the anger down, back into reasonable discussion in preparation for a final, grand outro – a callback to the trilogy’s first track – “The Night Does Not Belong To God”.
Despite their anonymity, and their niche melding of opposing genres, Sleep Token have become the alternative scene’s latest darlings. “The Summoning” is the top track of 2023 for many metalheads, prog nerds, songwriters, and emos, and the full release of Take Me Back To Eden has only catapulted this success further.
“When I am done dancing to alarm bells, no wonder my ears are still ringing. And I when I am done fighting off change, no wonder my arms are still swinging.” (Aqua Regia)
With this album, Sleep Token have shown that originality and creativity are still a route to success for artists. With their spooky outfits and funky dancing, Sleep Token’s aesthetic is a draw for many, but they wouldn’t have gotten this far without the sensational music to back it up.
Beach Fossils as number four?! Is it 2010 all over again?
Well, maybe, maybe not, but Bunny is probably their best album so far. It continues along the line of previous releases with the jangly guitars in minor key, but the melodies are just so strong and the sounds is just like a nice blanket to cuddle into. The Brooklyn band have taken their time since the last record, which could be considered a hit with the song Down the Line (which has over 100 million streams on Spotify! Not bad for a band of their size), but it is a big step forward sound-wise. I just love “Sleeping On My Own” and “Don´t Fade Away”. Excellent stuff!
“Schönheit Die In Schmerzen Liegt”
This mixture of melancholic guitar pop and a gentle, warm voice as well as soulful, honest lyrics for me makes it one of the highlights from the German-speaking region. You can feel every word and find comfort and hope in the poetic texts. I think we can expect a lot more from this duo and I’m already very excited about more songs.
Lana Del Rey
“Did You Know There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd”
Dear Lana, thanks for the new album. Great to hear from you again! I was worried about you there for a while, you seemed a bit lost for a couple of years, after your magnum opus Norman Fucking Rockwell! in 2019. But now I recognize the old you, with your very high highs musically, and very low lows emotionally. All baked together in a delicious American cherry pie. Both the title track and “A&W” could lift any album from mediocrity to an aural gem on their own. OK, the album is uneven and far behind the modern classic NFR!, but that’s like comparing a prime Zidane with what he can do with a football nowadays. By the way, you don’t need all those guest artists weighing down your album, both you and I know that you can fly solo both higher and safer than Amelia Earhart ever did. Soundin’ off, bang bang, kiss kiss.
Get ready to be swept away by this calm, dark, and mysterious beauty of an album. Blodet delivers heaviness throughout the album and keeps the quality flowing in a sonic wave of hypnotic riffs together with Hilda Heller’s vocals which truly makes this a majestic album.