The Horizon’s Top Albums of 2023

The Horizon dissected the best albums that came out of 2023. Whether it be about heartbreak or growing up, all these albums had one thing in common: they were tunes that kept listeners going throughout the year.
The Horizon dissected the best albums that came out of 2023. Whether it be about heartbreak or growing up, all these albums had one thing in common: they were tunes that kept listeners going throughout the year.
Sabareesh Dinakaran
Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd by Lana Del Rey

Throughout her nine studio albums, three extended plays, and 38 singles, Lana Del Rey’s music has explored the kinds of abstract nouns commonly analyzed in English essays: Freedom. Love. Fleeting hope. Although her songs are often infused with the perspective of her tragically glamorous persona, Del Rey revisits these concepts with a deeply personal twist through her latest album, Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, released on March 24.

“Don’t forget me,” Del Rey begs in the titular track as she evokes nostalgia and the need for validation through the song’s melancholic lyrics. It seems as though all of the album’s songs are haunted by a similar sadness. One standout example is the darkly desolate A&W, in which the singer reflects upon “looking like a side piece at 33” as she struggles with the weight of outside judgment: a parallel to the scrutiny she faced in real life over recent changes to her physical appearance. Another theme that occurs throughout Ocean Blvd is family; the album’s first track, The Grants, even contains Del Rey’s family name, as well as an admission that she’s “doin’ the hard stuff… for our family line.” In other songs, Del Rey turns this theme inwards as she contemplates marriage and children for herself — a stark contrast to the danger-seeking, larger-than-life, old Hollywood aesthetic embodied through her early albums.

Ocean Blvd’s production also reflects this thematic shift, with the dramatic orchestral arrangements from Del Rey’s earlier songs replaced with gentle choral melodies and soft, weary piano. These production decisions were instrumental in conveying Del Rey’s somber, reflective tone. The concepts behind the songs, from healing to hair-braiding to death in the family, wouldn’t have delivered the same impact had the background music neglected to contain its slow, cinematic wistfulness.

Lyrically, Ocean Blvd demonstrates an unmatched complexity. Although Del Rey’s songs are, more often than not, loaded with real-life references, Ocean Blvd takes detailed lyrics to another level, painting emotionally gripping scenes of the predicaments throughout her life. Less performative and more personal than ever, there’s no doubt that this album was highly experimental. From the specificity of the lyrics to the tenderness of their internal messages, it feels as though Del Rey truly opened up to write these songs. And it certainly paid off: unique, thoughtful, and explorative, Ocean Blvd is one of Del Rey’s best works, as well as one of the best albums of 2023.

Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) by Yves Tumor

Released in late March, Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) is Yves Tumor’s fifth full-length album — and their most accessible yet. Guitar riffs and glam punk flourishes abound as Yves Tumor, the recording alias of Tennessee native Sean Bowie, brings their signature intentionality to create what is easily the most enigmatically effusive album of the year. 

Opening with God Is a Circle, the record puts heavy breathing and heady base against an identity-contemplating Bowie. Each successive song feels like a smorgasbord of spiraling production, dreamy sound, and yearning lyrics. On Operator, mocking vocals echo a Prince-style flamboyance. Another standout, In Spite of War, is a pop-punk ballad teeming with longing. Later, on Echolalia, an effervescent cool is aided by wind-chime wistfulness. Building up in artful arpeggios, the album culminates in a Lynchian optimism that bridges the tracks together.

Despite Hot Between Worlds’ departure from Bowie’s usual experimentation, it remains rife with samples and true to its catalog. Most skillfully, Lovely Sewer takes a cue from The Cure’s One Hundred Years, cleaning up a drum beat to create one of the most memorable moments on the record. 

Hot Between Worlds provides a calm cacophony that is truly, between worlds. It deserves to be on the aux when you’re trying to impress someone, in your headphones while you grocery shop and blasted from the speakers on your car on the way home from a friend’s house. While the album isn’t Bowie’s best, it’s certainly one of the best of the year. 

Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) by Noah Kahan

Noah Kahan has risen to fame recently after years of making poignant and thoughtful music. Kahan released his fifth album, Stick Season, in 2022, quickly grabbing the attention of folk rock lovers. In 2023, he released the extended version of that album, Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever), which truly captivates listeners with gorgeous vocals, fast-paced banjo, and powerful storytelling in the lyrics. All seven extra songs on Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) are emotional and captivating, acting as a finishing touch to the beautifully done original album. 

The album revolves around Kahan’s time growing up in Strafford, Vermont, and the conflicting feelings he has about his youth. In the namesake song of the album, Stick Season, he depicts the time between autumn and winter when everything seems dreary. Kahan sings, “I love Vermont but it’s the season of the sticks,” which perfectly encapsulates the album; a bittersweet outlook on how you can love and hate something at the same time.

You’re Gonna Go Far is a captivating song that fully embodies the feeling of traveling far away from loved ones. The bittersweet and pensive song depicts a situation in which someone goes far for better opportunities but feels guilty about leaving their loved ones behind, making it relatable to anyone who has had to leave loved ones or will leave them for different opportunities in life. The relatability of the song combined with the gentle guitar and soft vocals make You’re Gonna Go Far a comfort to listen to.

Paul Revere is a melancholic continuation of a major theme in Stick Season: Kahan’s bittersweet feelings toward his hometown in Vermont. The song reflects on what it’s like to feel out of place somewhere you should feel comfortable, like your hometown. Kahan sings “And when they ask me who I am / I’ll say I’m not from around here,” as though he doesn’t feel like a significant enough part of his hometown to claim it as his own. This feeling largely reflects other situations in life as well because it can apply to any situation or location, such as feeling out of place in a friend group. The outstanding vocals and gentle harmonies of banjo and mandolin pull this song together.

While the entire album is a masterpiece, by far the best song on the album is The View Between Villages (Extended). This song is thought-provoking about what it means to look back on your youth. In the song, Kahan is visiting his hometown and remembering his childhood, both the happy and sad aspects of it. In the extended version of the song, the chorus ends and the instruments play softly before the voices of people from his hometown, explaining their take on the small-town charm, come in. The song is emotional, portrayed not only through the lyrics but also through the ups and downs of the song. The volume swings from soft and peaceful to loud and angry, perfectly illustrating the conflicted feelings of the lyrics. The View Between Villages (Extended) is a true work of art, building off of an already gorgeous song from the original album.

Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) solidified Kahan’s rise to fame with deep songwriting and beautiful harmonies, even leading him to be nominated for the 2024 Best New Artist GRAMMY award. Stick Season was a work of art that left listeners in anticipation for more amazing music, and Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) did not disappoint.

the rest by boygenius

“Sometimes I need to hear your voice.” After indie supergroup boygenius released their first studio album back in March, they are continuing to ride their wave of success with the release of their second EP, the rest. With its soothing sounds and beautiful melodies, the rest calms the listener with its perfect tranquility.

Black Hole, the first track on the EP which continues the trend of references to space in boygenius’ music, opens with single, quick electronic notes before being accompanied by Julian Baker’s clear voice singly softly about seeing the stars during a rainstorm. Black Hole was not about a black hole at all but an allegory for the constant ups and downs of a relationship, romantic or not. The “black hole” described being sucked up and spit back out again, or one day having fun then another crying after an argument. Black Hole is about the fluctuation in the state of relationships or rather the misconceptions about, and the messiness of a person —how one second you can be devoured and overcome by someone you love, and another, feel reborn.

Black Hole and Afraid of Heights, the second track on the EP, transition from one to the other with a fan-favorite musical technique, starting with the same beat and melody that the previous song ended with. This creates a satisfying effect that makes it seem like these two songs are two parts of the same story. Afraid of Heights slows the chaos in the beat where Black Hole ended, almost fading to complete silence before picking up with a guitar. Dacus’ voice returns to this song, picking up where she left off on the last track. Afraid of Heights’ meaning is pretty clear. It’s about feelings of inadequacy and being made to feel that way specifically by someone else. In all, Afraid of Heights is a tragic song. It’s about two people who want more from one another, and one person who is being eaten alive.

The third track on the EP, Voyager starts with the same sound the previous song ended with and melodic humming by all three boygenius band members and is accompanied by the airy vocals of Phoebe Bridgers, in her first solo performance on the EP. Voyager, like many boygenius songs, is a song full of references like inside jokes between the artist and the listener, for the ones that understand them. Voyager carries a similar theme of recklessness as Afraid of Heights. In the last line of the song, Bridgers references her song from her 2020 album Punisher, Moon Song. In Voyager, Bridgers ends beautifully with the words: “But I never imagined a dot quite as pale or as blue / You took it from me, but I would’ve given it to you.”Voyager is a beautiful song, not as poetic as Black Hole and not as depressing as Afraid of Heights. The difference in the vibe and the sound of the song allows Voyager to stand out from the rest of the EP. 

the rest provides comforting and soothing late-night music. You could turn out the lights and put this EP on, closing your eyes and decompressing.  The name of the EP seems to reflect its origins, as it seems more like a follow-up to their early spring album, the record, or perhaps consists of songs that didn’t make it onto that album. the rest would be better if it had more of the melodies and harmonies that made them famous in their first self-titled EP, with songs like Souvenir and Ketchum, ID, addicting listeners to how each voice shined and blended in the song. But despite all this, boygenius is and will continue making amazing music that people will listen to and look forward to the days when they do.

 

Cracker Island by Gorillaz

2023 saw a release from one of alternative rock’s biggest and most influential names with Gorillaz dropping their eighth studio album since their first in 2001, Cracker Island. Following up a consistently good album in 2020 with Song Machine, and with sneak previews of the album with single releases of its titular track Cracker Island, and breakout hit New Gold, the album gained a lot of hype within the band’s fanbase and the alternative rock community, and its imminent release left audiences wondering if they could live up to their past success.

Thankfully the album did not disappoint — for the most part — with Gorillaz proving again they have mastered the art of the feature, and showing to the world once again that their sound is still one of the most unique out there. Cracker Island’s playfulness mixed with its electronic charm makes it one of the best alternative albums of the year. 

From the opening note of the album, Gorillaz utilizes unique sounds with funky drum beats and synth progressions that will get you on your feet. Although hitting strong with Cracker Island as its first track of the album, the setlist continues to thrive with features from rock legend Stevie Nicks on Oil, and Psychedelic rock extraordinaire Tame Impala on New Gold. The album only continues to hit heavily with Baby Queen and Tarantula with the former providing the album with its slow charm and the latter giving the album its love song, neither leaving us disappointed. Ending the album was one of the most anticipated songs of the release with Possession Island featuring Beck, as Beck was a feature on Song Machine’s Valley of the Pagans, a stand-alone song that was one of the best of the album. However, it seems Gorillaz saved their weakest for last as the song disappointed, leaving the album feeling incomplete. 

Overall the album is a consistently good album that is on par with the rest, but maybe not their greatest albums such as Plastic Beach or Demon Days. One thing is for certain however, Cracker Island will leave audiences wanting more, preparing everyone for another decade of Gorillaz’s musical genius. 

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Prima Changwatchai, Community & World News Editor
Class of 2025 I love writing, photography, and design, so I’m thrilled to be on Student Press! When I’m not doing journalism work, I’m still typing up stories and taking photographs, only I’m also doing the daily New York Times puzzles, making little doodles in my math notebook, reading anything from poetry to fantasy fiction, learning new songs on the piano, and overthinking everything.
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