Choosing an album of the year is never an easy task. We are lucky here at The Forty-Five, to have a community of music writers all with disparate tastes and opinions – but sweet lord, does that make compiling a list hard work! Fortunately, this year we’ve been blessed with plenty of records that have united us all – undeniably great LPs that will stand the test of time. From pop masterpieces, to those ushering in a new (and wonderfully queer) era of indie rock, these albums have been the soundtrack to our year. So whether 2023 has been shitty, life-affirming, revelatory, magical or somewhere in the middle, we’re sure there’s a record here that will resonate with you. We’d recommend giving them all a spin because every single album in this list is worth your time – as are plenty of records that didn’t quite make the cut. So here they are – in our humble, collective opinion – the best albums of 2023.
Words: Rhian Daly, Charlotte Gunn, Hannah Mylrea, Arusa Qureshi, Alex Rigotti, Jenessa Williams and Lisa Wright.
45The Japanese House – ‘In The End IT Always Does’
The artwork for The Japanese House’s second album ‘In The End It Always Does’ featured a roughly drawn circle and its smudged, wonky blue outline couldn’t have represented the record’s contents better. Over its 12 songs, Amber Bain detailed endings, the jagged cycle of life and relationships, and moving on to the next spin around, showcasing new ambitious heights of experimentation and impactful songwriting as she jumped into each revolution. Rhian Daly.
44Miya Folick – ‘Roach’
“I wanna smile real big / I wanna fucking live,” Miya Folick shared on ‘Roach’. Although ‘2007’, the song that houses that lyric, was first released on an EP of the same name last year, that sentiment served as something of a mission statement for Folick’s second album – an intimate, incisive record that found the LA singer-songwriter trying to overcome her insecurities and solidify her sense of self. Rhian Daly.
43Arxx – ‘Ride Or Die’
When they burst onto the UK’s DIY scene in 2017, Brighton duo Arxx quickly gained a reputation for exhilarating live shows full of spiky garage rock. Since then, their sound has evolved into the form it took on ‘Ride Or Die’ – gleaming, hook-filled pop – with some of the ferocity of their roots. Rhian Daly
42Ashnikko – ‘WEEDKILLER’
An ambitious worldbuilder by trade, Ashnikko’s long-awaited debut album ‘WEEDKILLER‘ was never going to be short on talking points. Loosely themed around the dystopian demise of earth and the fairy fae who learns to fight back, the artist traversed punk, sex, rap, heartbreak, and most importantly, themes of endurance, displayed most clearly in the surprisingly-subtle ‘Dying Star’ (featuring Ethel Cain). Jenessa Williams.
41Raye – ‘My 21st Century Blues’
18 months ago, Raye was a frustrated artist trapped in a stifling major label deal; one legendary Twitter call-out, a move to independence, a multi-platinum-selling single in ‘Escapism’ and a Number Two album later, and she’s ending 2023 with a hero’s narrative arc. Full of heart-on-sleeve catharsis and deeply personal storytelling, Raye’s debut was a long time coming, but oh so worth the wait. Lisa Wright.
40Biig Piig – ‘Bubblegum’
Irish dance-pop artist Jessica Smyth, known more commonly by her moniker Biig Piig, has built up a steady stream of immaculately produced singles, but her mixtape ‘Bubblegum’ proved to be her finest offering yet, providing a delicate balance between the softness of her vocals and the lustre of the record’s dance floor-ready bangers. Arusa Qureshi
39Bully – ‘Lucky For You’
Nashville-based Minnesotan, Alicia Bognanno, has been making smart, gravelly rock music as Bully since 2013. On ‘Lucky For You’, she veered into poppier territory but lost none of the substance. Exploring loss, mental health, abortion rights and more, Bognanno created an album of weighty emotion – one that made you want to thrash about until your problems felt lighter. Charlotte Gunn.
38Chappell Roan – ‘Rise And Fall Of A Midwest Princess’
With her first album, Chappell Roan created a record that – in her own words – “mirrors the rollercoaster of becoming the popstar I always wanted to be.” Years in the making, it holds “stories of unearthing my true self and fearlessly embracing queerness”, the rising artist’s stories and clear-cut lyricism packaged up as future-facing pop hits. From the megawatt smash of ‘Red Wine Supernova’, to the quietly devastating ‘Casual’ (“Two weeks and your mom invites me to her house on Long Beach/Is it casual now?”), and the pithy electro-pop of ‘Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl’, it’s the debut of a future pop superstar. Hannah Mylrea.
37Holly Humberstone – ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’
‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ was one of this year’s most highly anticipated debuts and it didn’t disappoint. On it, Holly Humberstone refined her spectral, quiet world, sharing a nuanced portrait of isolation in our digital age – at once connected by the doom-scrolling black hole of a smartphone and separated from family, friends and new partners you can’t quite make things work with. As she subtly expanded her sonic horizons, so Humberstone justified the early hype that got her to this point. Rhian Daly.
36Sofia Kourtesis – ‘Madre’
Sofia Kourtesis’ debut was a magical thing. Dedicated to Dr Peter Vajkoczy, a neurosurgeon who operated on Kourtesis’ mother when she was diagnosed with cancer and saved her life, ‘Madres’ was imbued with hope, healing and catharsis. Sundrenched melodies and lush production were meshed with driving beats, these euphoric instrumentals creatively placed alongside far-spanning sounds: like audio samples from Peruvian protests (‘Estación Esperanza’), or sonics inspired by iconic Berlin venue Funkhaus. The results? Powerful and poignant dancefloor ecstasy. Hannah Mylrea.
35Laufey – ‘Bewitched’
Throughout her career so far, Laufey has mixed two realms – the sophistication of traditional jazz vocals and the wide-eyed romanticism of modern pop stars like Taylor Swift. On ‘Bewitched’, her second album, the Icelandic-Chinese artist nailed that balance more perfectly than ever before, offering up a dreamy soundtrack for hopeful crushes, whirlwind romances and finding the magic in the smallest moments. Rhian Daly.
34Jorja Smith – ‘Falling Or Flying’
Since she first emerged in 2016 with her hypnotic debut single ‘Blue Lights’, Jorja Smith has been heralded as one of the UK’s most enthralling voices. She proved that acclaim right on her debut album – 2018’s ‘Lost & Found’ – but it wasn’t until a few years later and the mixtape ‘Be Right Back’ that the world really started to get to know the real Jorja. ‘Falling Or Flying’, her long-awaited second album, pulled back that curtain even further, showcasing the eclectic sounds that occupied her mind without overshadowing the stunning vocals that first gripped listeners. The journey it took us on was unpredictable – a sonic adventure that never stopped surprising and showed just how dexterous Smith’s creativity is. Rhian Daly.
33Water From Your Eyes – ‘Everyone’s Crushed’
Like Brooklyn’s answer to Jockstrap, Water From Your Eyes – the project of vocalist Rachel Brown and producer Nate Amos – make music that sounds like a chopped up collage of everything their speakers have ever encountered, refining that uncategorisable mix into a warped yet strangely hooky collection of songs unfettered by anything like traditional form. ‘Everyone’s Crushed’ was part Sonic Youth insouciance and part modern experimental pop adventure; an album built for nerding out on headphones and head-banging in a sweaty club. In the midst of all this duality lay brilliance. Lisa Wright
32Tinashe – ‘BB/ANG3L’
Tinashe’s ‘BB/ANG3L’ displayed a plethora of ear worm hooks, impeccable sound design and sultry lyrics. ‘Talk To Me Nice’ soundtracked plenty of brooding, brewing fantasies, whilst ‘Gravity’ was birthed from a growing lineage of R&B fraternizing with silky UK garage beats. Fun, flirtatious, unforgettable. Alex Rigotti.
31yeule – ‘soft scars’
Singaporean-British artist Nat Ćmiel’s 2023 album was a riotous nostalgia trip, with emo, pop-punk and grunge firmly on the menu. Drenched in shoegaze tones, angsty guitars and melancholic vocals, ‘softscars’ reflected on feelings of disenchantment with the modern age, as well as confronting personal traumas. Arusa Qureshi.
30Tkay Maidza – ‘Sweet Justice’
With ‘Sweet Justice’ we saw Tkay Maidza build on the impressive sonic world of her trio of ‘Last Year Was Weird’ mixtapes. On it, her genre-spanning sound drew on classic influences like Missy Elliott and Janet Jackson, meshing them with dance music and floor-filling hooks. With collaborators like Flume and Kaytranada bringing their dynamic production to Maidza’s creative circle, and her own distinct lyricism that cuts across every track, it was a stellar continuation of Maidza’s wildly innovative work. Hannah Mylrea.
29LVRA – ‘Soft Like Steel’
Shortlisted for this year’s Scottish Album of the Year award, ‘Soft Like Steel’ was a worthy contender, placing LVRA’s bold blend of hyperpop, industrial club sounds and electronic experimentalism front and centre. As a seven-track statement of intent with a clear creative vision, it felt visceral, claustrophobic and yet fiercely beautiful. Arusa Qureshi.
28Jockstrap – ‘I<3UQTINVU’
Jockstrap have never knowingly taken the obvious path. And so, though ‘I<3UQTINVU’ was billed as a remix companion to their Mercury-nominated debut ‘I Love You Jennifer B’ (itself, The Forty Five’s Album of 2022), in reality it was an entire madcap thrillride of its own. Taking sampled elements of the originals and mutating them into new and often utterly insane forms (see: the electronic horrorcore of ‘Red Eye’), it emphasised the duo’s singular outlook: one where boundaries are nonexistent and truly anything goes. Lisa Wright.
27Be Your Own Pet – ‘Mommy’
Reuniting after more than a decade away, Nashville punks BYOP re-emerged with a different kind of fire to their incendiary wares. Where leader Jemina Pearl’s first time in the spotlight was as a teenager, now she returned as a mother, invigorated by a dual need to reclaim the musical part of her identity and address the misogyny she’d faced before. ‘Mommy’, then, was an album that balanced joy and frustration, piling out the hooks but lacing them with important lyrical missives. Lisa Wright.
26Priya Ragu – ‘Santhosam’
With its strong South Asian elements and thematic focus on finding a sense of inner joy in a tumultuous world, Priya Ragu’s feel-good ‘Santhosam’ was an ambitious debut. Tracks like the BLM-inspired ‘Black Goose’ and vibrant ‘Adalam Va!’, which emphasised the record’s infectious energy, contributed to making it a real standout release of the year. Arusa Qureshi.
25Yaeji – ‘With A Hammer’
Yaeji’s debut ‘With A Hammer’ provided an excellent taster of her evolution as both a producer and electronic-pop innovator. With lo-fi arrangements, a mix of tender and rage-fuelled moments, and plenty of interesting textures, the album succeeded in highlighting her vulnerable yet defiant edge. Alex Rigotti.
24Liv.e – ‘Girl In the Half Pearl’
Los-Angeles-based artist Liv.e gave us a new era of sonics with her second album ‘Girl In The Half Pearl’. Attempting to untangle the complexities of rebirth and change, it was a record that allowed Liv.e to sink into experiments with form, production and warped soundscapes. Arusa Qureshi.
23Kali Uchis – ‘Red Moon In Venus’
With her third studio album (and her second sung mostly in English), Kali Uchis gifted us with a collection of sensual, lush and romance-fuelled sketches. ‘Red Moon In Venus’ was a record that embraced femininity while also providing a sultry exploration of love in all its manifestations. Arusa Qureshi.
22Doja Cat – ‘Scarlet’
Doja Cat doesn’t care what we think about ‘Scarlet’ – or anything about her life and career, for that matter. The rapper courted controversy among her fanbase in 2023 thanks to some candid social media posts about the relationship between follower and artist, but her compelling fourth album ‘Scarlet’ was strong enough to win back fans’ affections. On it, she resoundingly silenced the haters who claimed she can’t rap, while delivering yet more chart-conquering earworms ready to live in our heads rent free. Rhian Daly.
21Arlo Parks – ‘My Soft Machine’
Arlo Parks might not have fully embraced the dancefloor on ‘My Soft Machine’, but she at least edged a little closer to it than on her debut, ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’. This second album, written after she moved to LA, experimented with drum machines and glittering synths, washing its songs with a cinematic, sunkissed glow. Paired with Parks’ poetic confessionals, it made for a combination as hazy and heady as the lure of the City of Angels. Rhian Daly.
20CMAT – CrazyMad, For Me
2023 was the year CMAT became a star. Where debut ‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’ set out her stall as a modern country-indebted storyteller of considerable talent, its follow up embraced every facet of her bountiful personality – from sweeping sucker-punch emotion to campy winks – via a sometimes-meta narrative that followed a destructive past relationship from beginning to end. It was, surely, the year’s finest case of having the last laugh. Lisa Wright.
19Olivia Dean – ‘Messy’
Olivia Dean‘s anticipated, Mercury Prize nominated debut album was a special thing. Throughout, Dean’s impressive song-writing and gorgeous vocals were put front and center, whether they were run over ethereal, Imogen Heap-influenced instrumentals on ‘UFO’, or slinky funk-laced sounds on ‘Ladies Room’. And with the poignant and jubilant closer ‘Carmen’ (a powerful celebration of her grandmother), Dean shared one of the finest she’s ever written. Hannah Mylrea.
18Corinne Bailey Rae – Black Rainbows’
Few artists this year managed quite as jaw-dropping an about-turn as Corinne Bailey Rae. Formerly considered a mellow Radio 2 staple, ‘Black Rainbows’ saw the 44-year-old embrace punk aggression and experimental structures via an album indebted to Chicago’s Stoney Island Arts Bank and the wealth of Black history contained within. In turns celebratory and seething, it completely flipped the script on everything we thought we knew about the singer. Lisa Wright.
17Wednesday – ‘Rat Saw God’
Wednesday‘s fifth album and their first on buzzy indie label Dead Oceans, painted a dark and often humorous picture of life in the American south: a place where drug overdoses and Dollywood exist side by side. ‘Rat Saw God’ was an album of stories, frontperson Karly Hartzman their narrator. Over a blend of shoegaze and indie rock we got a glimpse into a part of America that’s often ignored. The result is one of the year’s most affecting rock albums. Charlotte Gunn.
16LE SSERAFIM – ‘Unforgiven’
K-Pop groups rarely go for a full-length 13-track album in their debut year, but then Le Serrafim aren’t just any group. ‘Impurities’ and ‘Fearless’ showcased their flair for erudite R&B, while ‘Unforgiven’ unleashed their trend-setting cowgirl aesthetic, setting the groundwork for the outlaw-EDM banger that was ‘Eve, Psyche and The Bluebeard’s Wife’. Jenessa Williams.
15Underscores – ‘Wallsocket’
Based around the inhabitants of the fictional town of Wallsocket, April Harper Grey’s inaugural underscores LP was an exercise in excitable world-building. Accompanying her live show with ‘90s computer game-indebted visuals, and building an online trail of Wallsocket paraphernalia for fans to follow, its detail was mirrored in an album bursting at the seams with ideas; one where hyperpop, emo and indie could cohabit in genuinely new and forward-facing ways. Lisa Wright.
14Amaarae – ‘Fountain Baby’
Following the release of her 2020 debut album ‘The Angel You Don’t Know’, Amaarae positioned herself as a future star of experimental Afropop. With ‘Fountain Baby’, she cemented this tenfold, having delivered an album that plays with the conventions of Afrobeat, injecting various sonic influences and inventive production along the way. Arusa Qureshi
13Indigo De Souza – ‘All Of This Will End’
An existential reckoning set to the tune of eleven exploratory alt-indie purges, ‘All Of This Will End’ took the potential panic of its title and, instead, chose life. Out of this period of change, Indigo de Souza made an album that veered from pounding synths (‘Time Back’) to grizzled grunge (‘Wasting Your Time’), all the while embracing an audible sense of freedom and a ‘fuck it’ sensibility we could all take a lesson from. Lisa Wright.
12Samia – ‘Honey’
On her second album, ‘Honey’, Samia took her cinematic songwriting to new heights. Traversing break-ups, addiction, toxic relationships and self-loathing, Samia dug deep, saying her darkest thoughts out loud, to deliver an album of utterly relatable indie pop. Charlotte Gunn.
11Jessie Ware – ‘That! Feels! Good!’
“That! Feels Good!” whispered Jessie Ware and a chorus of her pals at the start of her record of the same name; and it feels apt. Listening to Ware’s fifth studio album does feel good. A siren call to the dancefloor, the disco, funk and soul fuelled collection was a slinky, seductive listen. From ready-made festival anthems (‘Free Yourself’) and bouncing house belters (‘Freak Me Now’), to deliciously saucy sing-a-longs (‘Shake The Bottle’), it was pure joy. Hannah Mylrea.
10Noname – Sundial
For her first project in five years, Noname was on confrontational form – facing up to herself as well as figures often on the receiving end of nothing but praise (Obama, Rihanna, Beyoncé among them). Set to coiling piano runs and smoky bass-lines, her observations pulled no punches, and reminded us just why the Chicago rapper has long been revered as a thought-provoking cult favourite. Rhian Daly.
9Paramore – ‘This Is Why’
Their first record in five years, Paramore wasted no time getting reinstated as one of the finest bands of their generation. From the feisty title track to the more intimate, dynamic melodies of ‘Liar’, ‘Crave’ and ‘Thick Skull’, this was the sound of a group getting to know themselves again, revelling in the thrill of natural expansion. Jenessa Williams.
8Blondshell – ‘Blondshell’
A statement of a debut album, on her self-titled LP, Blondshell explored the darkest pits of human emotion. With a scuzzy, grunge sound and killer lyrics “he wears a front-facing cap, the sex is almost always bad.”, Sabrina Teitelbaum quickly became tipped as one of 2023’s most exciting rock artists. Smart, funny and heavy as hell – Blondshell may be a new musical project but Teitelbaum proved she’s far from a novice. Charlotte Gunn.
7Mitski – ‘The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We’
Leaving the synth-pop of ‘Laurel Hell’ behind, the world received a more pared-back Mitski for her seventh album ‘The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We’. Aside from the stunning orchestral backings from Drew Erickson – (Father John Misty, Weyes Blood) – there was a simplicity to this album that put Miski’s exquisite storytelling at the fore. From the tender ‘My Love Mine All Mine’ to the self-flagellating ‘Bug Like An Angel’, we got another intimate portrait of a world-class artist, wrestling with being alive. Charlotte Gunn.
6Kara Jackson – ‘Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love’
On her debut album, the former national Youth Poet Laureate wielded her pen with confidence, finding meditative wisdom in beautifully understated flourishes of folk piano, banjo and xylophone. Themes of romance, friendship, grief and self-discovery were contemplated with equal care, a gut-spilling exercise that still managed to sound elegantly, thoughtfully refined. Jenessa Williams.
5Caroline Polachek – ‘Desire, I Want To Turn Into You’
Caroline Polachek‘s gesamtkunstwerk approach to music created an album that was impressively unique and playful. In discovering her own identity after heartbreak, she dove into an entire world of sound – Celtic bagpipes, Spanish guitars, and extraterrestrial trip hop – to come out the other side sounding like absolutely no one else in music today. Alex Rigotti.
4Kelela – ‘Raven’
Kelela has carved out her own individual space between rave and R&B where the world has otherwise forced her out. ‘Raven’ functioned as a cleansing for the singer’s emotional labour navigating the world, where listeners were invited to submerge themselves in this aquatic record and experience the rapture of dance music. Alex Rigotti.
3Olivia Rodrigo – ‘Guts’
Following up world-conquering debut ‘SOUR’, all eyes were on Olivia Rodrigo when it came time for her sophomore statement. Her response? A record that simultaneously underlined all her finest qualities (a wry lyrical eye; a proudly youthful worldview; a way with a pop-punk adjacent banger as well as a ballad) and pushed them into smarter, sassier territories than ever. Even amidst a thriving pop landscape, ‘GUTS’ cemented Olivia in a lane of her own. Lisa Wright.
2Lana Del Rey – ‘Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd’
For her ninth album, Lana Del Rey opened up her musical world more than ever but, despite collabs with Bleachers, Father John Misty, Tommy Genesis and more, ‘… Ocean Blvd’ retained its master creator’s DNA at its core. Eclectic and introspective, the album wasn’t afraid to ask questions about purpose and destiny, love and family, all the while letting Lana do what she does best – dissecting life’s polychromatic palette of emotions in poignant, affecting masterpieces. Rhian Daly.
1boygenius – ‘The Record’
“It’s a bad idea, and I’m all about it”, sang Julien Baker on ‘$20’ – the first offering from a new era of boygenius. In their time away, each band member’s star had individually risen and by the time they were ready to release their debut album, people were poised to listen. And thank goodness: the union of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus had long been a sleeper hit – one with the talent to rival some of the best collaborations in musical history but on Grammy-nominated ‘the record‘ the trio had the confidence (and major label budget) to fully realise their vision. The result was an indie rock album for the ages, one that explored love, self-doubt and most of all: the power and beauty of true friendship: something that bonds the boys to an enviable degree. Moving from tender, a capella harmonies to thrashing riffs, boygenius redefined what a rock group looks and sounds like in 2023 and went from indie outliers to bonafide superstars. Long may it continue. Charlotte Gunn.