The 25 Best Albums of 2023 (So Far)

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The 25 Best Albums of 2023 (So Far)

Every June, we poll the Paste music writers and editors about the best albums of the year so far. It’s a great way to present our favorites to you, but also to each other. There are always albums that make the cut that I haven’t even listened to yet. This year that included the excellent new record from San Francisco’s The Reds, Pinks and Purples and an album that just dropped last Friday, Home Is Where’s the whaler. This is a snapshot of our favorite LPs that release from January to June, and our year-end list might look much different. It includes my most-listened to album so far, Kate Davis’s Fish Bowl, and a consensus #1 that wasn’t even that close. Without further ado, here are the 25 Best Albums of 2023 (so far). —Josh Jackson, Paste co-founder and editor-in-chief

25. En Attendant Ana: Principia
I feel like a cliché drooling over another record on Trouble in Mind, but it’s been a while since any one label has so consistently put out the good stuff like this. The French band En Attendant Ana released their third LP on the label in February, and it’s an uncommonly great piece of work—a gorgeous, heartfelt, pop-minded indie-rock instant classic that churns together all manner of recognizable influences into something unique and unmistakable. It’s catchy, it’s jangly, it’s droney, it’s got robotic rhythms straight out of Krautrock driving delicately human pop songs—it’s something special. And I’ve got to single out “Wonder,” an intricately structured miniature epic that is easily my most listened to song in 2023 so far. En Attendant Ana have been around for a spell but aren’t that well-known in the States yet; this should be the one to fix that. —Garrett Martin

24. Young Fathers: Heavy Heavy
The fourth proper album from Young Fathers is being billed as a “back-to-basics” effort, but there’s absolutely nothing basic about it. Bearing in mind that the Edinburgh trio’s full-length debut still sounds stunningly fresh almost a decade after the fact, it’s no surprise that their music remains as impossible to categorize as ever on Heavy Heavy. Five years after their last effort, bandmembers Kayus Bankole, G. Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi can still be counted on to create a clamoring mélange of electronic experimentalism, West African rhythms, art-damaged hip hop and god knows what else. (If you can imagine The Weeknd produced by the likes of Suicide, FKA Twigs, M.I.A. and Massive Attack, whatever you imagine still wouldn’t be quite cutting-edge enough.) As the new album title suggests, Heavy Heavy roils with the weight of the world bearing down from every angle. And yet the music itself glows with a sense of spirit that refuses to be quashed. In its own peculiar way, in fact, Heavy Heavy gives off the intoxicating, celebratory allure of a party record. As alien as Young Fathers might sound to previous (and current!) generations of dance music fans, the band has a way of using brain-twisting rhythms to get listeners on their feet. Lest we forget that disco and post-punk were practically born on the same dancefloors, Heavy Heavy reminds us that the DNA of both forms was bound to yield strange new permutations for a long time to come. —Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

23. MSPAINT: Post-American
Raw emotion is at the heart of MSPAINT’s music—so much so that it practically explodes out of them. Their lyrics and album title, Post-American, refer to a post-apocalyptic world that’s succumbed to grave threats currently posed by capitalism, state violence, religion, misinformation and technology. Post-American suggests that it’s imperative to grasp just how horrific things are in order to make change, and to keep the beauty that power brokers rob from people at the front of one’s mind. Deedee’s stream-of-consciousness poetry is rather artful, mixing imagery from the natural world with seething political critiques, allowing listeners to interpret their tracks as both personal emotional awakenings and broader societal ones. But that doesn’t mean their political messages are subtle, as they spout lines like “Guillotine will decide who’s separated in classes” and “Burn all the flags and the symbols of man.” MSPAINT’s rabid synth-punk sounds like the future, as weirdo synths converge with blown-out basslines and emphatic, vein-popping vocals that fall somewhere between hip-hop MC and hardcore frontperson. Their moody melodies, leftfield grooves, barreling energy and rumbling hiss place them somewhere at the intersection of dance-punk, post-punk, egg punk and industrial music, but their lack of guitars really throws a wrench in things. MSPAINT may not win over the hearts of every hardcore diehard, but Post-American is a vehement document of Hattiesburg, Miss., DIY and an invigorating call to prioritize love and justice in a time when virtually every part of society and culture encourages robotic mindlessness. And if nothing else, they’ll continue to turn heads when they unleash their oddball electro-punk dirges at a punk venue near you. —Lizzie Manno (Read the full profile of MSPAINT.)

22. Blondshell: Blondshell
Three months ago, I thought it was obvious that Sabrina Teitelbaum—better known by her stage name Blondshell—was going to be a big deal by April. However, I might have undersold Blondshell’s starpower potential at the time, as she just performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon before her self-titled, debut album was even officially out. Most of Blondshell was written at the genesis of COVID in 2020, as a result of, as Blondshell puts it, “not a lot going on and having a lot of big feelings that I need to talk about.” She sings like a classically trained vocalist while injecting her charisma with the bravado of Courtney Love and the pop likability of Avril Lavigne. As a songwriter, she instills a complexity throughout the record that perfectly mirrors her own humanity. She is vulnerable, funny, painfully honest and doesn’t hide behind vague language. Her work is a true foil to that of folks who love metaphors. No two songs sound alike, yet Blondshell is not a collage of subgenres. Instead, it’s Blondshell tinkering with her own renditions of sonic palettes previously mastered by the artists she got really stoked on during the pandemic, like Hole, Nirvana and Patti Smith. It’s indie pop fused with grunge, but it also, thoroughly, rebuffs getting lost among other ’90s alternative imitations. That’s all thanks, in most part, to Blondshell’s songwriting and compositional finesse, both of which allow her to attach a glaze of bubbly acoustic guitar and synths atop the heavy lyrical shit that might necessitate a litany of spell-binding distortion. Blondshell is a triumphant debut from the next indie superstar. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a project that’s more confessional, urgent or needed than this one. —Matt Mitchell (Read the full profile of Blondshell.)

21. Kate NV: Wow
On WOW, Kate Shilonosova’s latest album as Kate NV, she assembles a panoply of curious sounds and visions to delight beyond what typical music can do. WOW isn’t fun like a class clown, per se, but more like a clown with class. Over the years, Shilonosova’s toying with busted instruments, manipulated vocals and everyday objects has led her to amass a treasure trove of recordings of all things spontaneous. Drawing on the boundless curiosity of her hero Nobukazu Takemura, Shilonosova’s own love for all things fun and vibrant has her eschewing traditional structures in order to construct pop songs so stimulating and multifaceted that they can be hard to keep track of. Her songs ask a lot of listeners not because they are overdetermined works of art but because they require dropping all pretense and submitting oneself to forbidden levels of whimsy. It’s a difficult exercise, but oh so rewarding. —Devon Chodzin (Read the full review of WOW.)

20. The Reds Pinks and Purples: The Town That Cursed Your Name
Since 2019 Glenn Donaldson has released seven albums and a slew of EPs full of wistful, yearning indie pop under the name The Reds, Pinks and Purples. It’s a testament to how consistently great his songs are that 2023’s The Town That Cursed Your Name isn’t clearly his best record yet; his stuff has been uniformly great all along. His latest record has a handful of songs that could only have been written by somebody who’s spent a lot of time in the indie-rock world, with blackly comic songs about record labels falling apart and bands breaking up after not making money. It’s all set to gauzy ear worms that could’ve been released by Sarah Records in the ’80s, Donaldson’s voice aching with a sincerity that’s not always on the level. When he sings about commercial failure and disappearing labels he sings from experience; Donalson has been making music for over 30 years and was a major figure in the Jewelled Antler collective that released some of the more interesting music in the “freak-folk” / “new weird America” scene of the early-mid ’00s. If you have any Thuja, Skygreen Leopards, or Flying Canyon records, you’ve heard his work before. (He probably played on like a third of the songs that were on my iPod in 2006 and 2007.) The RPPs is a very different project, but it’s steeped in the same independent spirit that has motivated pretty much all of Donaldson’s work. —Garrett Martin

19. Kate Davis: Fish Bowl
Fish Bowl is Kate Davis’s best work yet; a unique movement inspired by Greek epics and A Hero’s Journey. In a lot of ways, the album twists and turns like a big, romantic concerto with Davis firmly in the eye of the storm. While other artists saw their music releases halted or postponed at the beginning of COVID in 2020, Davis used that time to start piecing together the glass of Fish Bowl. The songs are wondrous and confessional, and Davis chronicles a life full of people standing at a distance from one another. Perhaps that’s why the songs are astronomical and poetic. On “Confessions,” she talks of a black hole tearing into the part of her heart that had forgotten about fragility and tenderness; on “Call Home,” she ponders if the last gasps of freedom should be spun into an apocalyptic romance or social commentary. There’s a bit of embellishment at play, which Davis zeroes in on nicely by taking up the persona of an otherworldly character—FiBo (short for Fish Bowl)—a vehicle in which Davis feels most comfortable telling her confessional stories, serving as a mirrored experience of what she had been living through but in a world that had nothing to do with her own reality. —Matt Mitchell (Read the full profile of Kate Davis.)

18. Kara Jackson: Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love
What the Chicago-based interdisciplinary writer and musician Kara Jackson accomplishes on her debut LP Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love is not “raw,” at least not in the sense that the writing is unrefined or off-the-cuff. Instead, that distinction comes through how the listener is made to feel listening to Jackson’s cosmic country jams. Lines like “Some people take lives to be recognized” are delivered with nonchalance, and the way she belts “don’t you bother me” over swirling harp notes elicits chills. Jackson is communicating her message with precise orchestration for optimal impact. As a listener, you may feel exposed, maybe even singled out. Jackson starts the album with “recognized,” a lo-fi exercise contemplating what people do for validation and why. As she and her piano arpeggiate, she raises the stakes. It contrasts with the lush “no fun/party,” where her theatrical voice balances with a racing guitar and reclining strings. She reckons with men who won’t rise to the occasion and take that out on her and, as much as she laments the loss of companionship, she remembers that the other person is just as liable to miss her, too. Across the album, Jackson’s expert guitar work and lyricism reveals an extensive archive of her relationships with peers, partners and more who she’s entrusted with her love. Many of those people are men who’ve mishandled that love. When Jackson is solo, she is a force. With her friends’ help, the result is divine. —Devon Chodzin (Read the full review of Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love.)

17. McKinley Dixon: Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!
Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!? is about an entire ecosystem crafting its own optimism in the wake of surviving together. The progression is natural, earned and celebratory. But to achieve optimism, you have to first grieve through the cyncism and fatalities that come before it. Five years after the death of his homie Tyler, Dixon is still learning how to cope with that absence in his heart. On the track “Tyler Forever.” he raps: “Propelled forward by vengeance, penchant for taking yo’ pendants / Accountability process is loaded in them extensions / We done fixed on ascending, my boys might break through the roof / Y’all become killers all of a sudden when you find dusty loops.” Dixon’s songs are not figments of the past so much as they are considerations of the present and the future, depictions of how each soul around him continues to get by in the place they came from. He considers how he will continue to hold them and make their voices loud and true and generous under the sun’s, the cops’ and the system’s calamitous weight. It is not the work of a king, but the stenography of someone—born on street corners that bent inwards into gentleness at the first crack of summer sun—who has found enough language to chronicle survival. And who is the architect of a kingdom if not the tongue that dared to name the crown? —Matt Mitchell (Read the full profile of McKinley Dixon.)

16. The Lemon Twigs: Everything Harmony
Recorded with Andres Valbuena and Daryl Johns and mastered by Bug Sound’s Paul Millar, Everything Harmony is the best thing the D’Addario brothers have ever made. The D’Addario brothers have long possessed a potent stronghold on the architecture of pop melodies. Brian and Michael have been calling Everything Harmony their “Simon & Garfunkel record,” given how much they let these new songs breathe atop dynamic, orchestral and—mostly—acoustic arrangements. Lead single—and longtime setlist cornerstone—“Corner Of My Eye” is very Fate for Breakfast-era Art Garfunkel, as Brian splays an inquisitive falsetto over a sweet, catchy, plucky melody. It’s chamber-pop perfected to a T, which you can hear through a delicious wall of harmonies cascading at the 1:50 mark. And while most of the album is a perfect, idealistic rendering of mid-century, singer/songwriter bliss, “In My Head” and “What You Were Doing” tap into the glam rock ethos that still courses through their veins. —Matt Mitchell (Read the full profile of The Lemon Twigs.)

15. superviolet: Infinite Spring
Steve Ciolek has seen America many times over, but he’s content with staying in Ohio for as long as the state will hold both him and his buds. When he was fronting the Sidekicks—the Buckeye State’s beloved coterie of emo, power-pop sharks—hubs like Chicago, Brooklyn and Philadelphia were always destinations, but never fantasies of a possible forever. Infinite Spring, Ciolek’s debut album under the moniker superviolet, has the blood and hope of Ohio roaring through its veins. Ciolek’s best pal and longtime collaborator Zac Little—the frontman of fellow-Buckeye folk-rock legends Saintseneca—played bass, theremin, wind harp, solo freak and “digital goober” on the album, while his Sidekicks co-CEO Climer took to the drums, shaker and tambourine. Ciolek’s wife Kosoma Jensen provided harmonies and clarinet, and her cat Fry—which Ciolek has become the father of by adoptive proxy—meows and chews on “Good Ghost.” Ciolek is one of the best songwriters we’ve got, and him having a relentless curiosity is what makes Infinite Spring so refreshingly brilliant and poetic. The album works through the existential crisis that comes through falling in love, outgrowing your own band and living with your own mortality—all while trying to figure out who you are in a post-pandemic world. —Matt Mitchell (Read the full profile of superviolet.)

14. Protomartyr: Formal Growth in the Desert
The death rattles of late capitalism keep getting bleaker, and Protomartyr keeps getting better. Correlation or causation? Ah, who knows. On the Detroit band’s sixth album, Formal Growth in the Desert, frontman Joe Casey is like a crank prophet for the post-truth age, spinning yarns about Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse machinations (“Let’s Tip the Creator”), Amazon’s crushing grip on the Midwestern economy (“Fulfillment Center”) and the decimation of the global tiger population (“3800 Tigers”) in his trademark throaty bark. The band’s post-punk roar conceals a melodic interior, which blossoms on “Graft Vs. Host,” an uncommonly vulnerable song in which Casey tries to experience joy after his mother’s death. —Zach Schonfeld

13. Bully: Lucky for You
“It’s unattractive for me to burden you with shame,” sings Alicia Bognanno about halfway through Lucky For You, her fourth album as Bully. She shouts the line with the kind of exhaustion and straightforwardness that we come to expect from Bully. With 2020’s Sugaregg, Bognanno turned her band into a solo project and pushed onward with a blurry collection of cathartic, tired songs. Three years later, Bognanno picks up where she left off with Lucky For You, another strong collection of anthemic post-grunge that doubles as Bully’s poppiest record so far. But this album’s catchiness runs contrary to Bognanno’s strongest suit, which is writing about varying forms of disappointment. Bognanno has always been an expert at pairing her chagrin to fuzzy rock songs, but Lucky For You likely has some of her most muscular tunes yet. In the explosive, shouted chorus of “Hard to Love,” the catchy bass lick of “How Will I Know,” and the pummeling drum intro of “Days Move Slow,” Bognanno clearly wants the smoldering, crunching textures of this record to ring out in the listener’s memory. Between images of black holes, shades of blue, and pledges to “never get fucked up again,” the most memorable thing here is her intensifying honesty and lyrical dexterity. Bognanno’s writing for Bully has always sat atop the balance of visceral and ephemeral. On Lucky For You, that tightrope balance is a beautiful achievement. —Eric Bennett (Read the full profile of Bully.)

12. Indigo De Souza: All of This Will End
Indigo De Souza’s music can be funny, sad, sweet or unsettling—sometimes all at once. In touch with her feelings and attentive to those of others, De Souza’s work presents a genuine openness that, while oft-imitated, is truly singular. If Any Shape You Take is notable for the empathetic way it conveyed insecurity, her new album All of This Will End is marked by its presentation of anger and anxiety. Though it pulls from many of the same sonic places, it’s messier—less concerned with traditional structures and genre constraints. The opener “Time Back” is done up with autotune in a way that recalls “17” from two years ago, though it only poses as a pop song for a moment. Despite its sub-two-minute run time, “Time Back” undergoes three separate movements, as De Souza vents about mistreatment—proclaiming that she’s reclaiming the pieces of precious life that were taken from her. Closing out All of This Will End is one of De Souza’s most divine pieces of work. “Younger & Dumber” is an easy song to label “devastating,” because it’s sad, but its power is more restorative than destructive. Yes, she’s singing about pain and about a relationship that took so much from her, but she isn’t just mining or exploiting that pain; she’s reflecting on her past trauma while affording herself grace. —Eric Bennett (Read the full review of All of This Will End.)

11. Home is Where: the whaler
When the presence of destruction—from a pandemic to the creep of environmental decay to the tacit attempts at genocide of trans individuals—becomes prevalent, for some—it becomes background noise. Frontwoman Brandon MacDonald turns it into anything but with a repeated scream: “everyday feels like 9/11.” The cry pierces the midpoint of the whaler, Home Is Where’s ambitiously self-proclaimed “concept record about getting used to things getting worse,” but MacDonald’s performance argues that adjustment doesn’t equal complacency. It rattles the relative quiet surrounding either side of “everyday feels like 9/11,” like a moment of sudden lucidity about all the bullshit endured before the first wail erupts. This is where the whaler thrives: feeding off the same ceaselessly roiling possibility that made i became birds more than just another fifth wave emo debut. On the whaler, Home Is Where can be post-hardcore maniacs on “everyday feels like 9/11,” before quickly switching gears to the alt-country slide guitars of “daytona 500.” But it’s MacDonald’s commanding howls and yelps, alongside her jagged lyrical descriptiveness, that anchor each maneuver, complemented by guitarist Tilley Komorny’s fluid shifts in accentuating every disparate narrative. —Natalie Marlin (Read the full review of the whaler.)

10. boygenius: the record
The first EP from boygenius—the supergroup composed of three of the greatest millennial rock singers: Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus—felt raw in an almost accidental way, like we were peeking into a quiet evening among friends through a door left ajar. the record travels to a similar space emotionally, but everything about it feels more curated: the tracklist, the sonic mood, and the sharing of the mic (and pen—all three artists are credited as songwriters on every song). Boygenius’ collaboration is harmonious in more ways than one, and the record shows they belong among the ranks of the greatest American supergroups. For every bar of lo-fi folk or pop music on the record, there’s a rock ’n’ roll outburst to match. In the fashion of Bridgers’ “I Know The End” (and a seemingly endless stream of indie rock songs since then), both “$20” and “Satanist” feature guttural screams. “Anti-Curse” is another great loud moment. Baker initially takes the lead, but then a little glimpse of each artist comes into focus: Dacus’ trembling guitars, Bridgers’ cool soprano against the backdrop, and Baker’s warm-blooded words. Their three voices together are magic, they know this, and best of all, they seem to just really enjoy making music together as much as we enjoy listening to it. Baker, Bridgers and Dacus are nothing if not effective communicators, but it’s clear the most important dialogue is between each other. —Ellen Johnson (Read the full review of the record.)

9. Mega Bog: End Of Everything
Erin Birgy, the force behind Mega Bog, is not one to shy from experimentation. Over her past six albums under the project, Birgy’s arsenal of avant-pop tools grows every time, and with each aesthetic pivot, the Mega Bog universe grows more colorful. On End of Everything, her first release with Mexican Summer, Birgy sought an icy, glistening synthpop palette, tapping collaborators like co-producer and Big Thief drummer James Krivchenia and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Otheim to help realize that vision. Overtop the swirling synths, Birgy’s voice dances with Broadway bravado as she reckons with personal traumas and an accelerating climate crisis. From her vantage point in Los Angeles, beneath the constant smog and within sight of burgeoning forest fires that grow more deadly by the year, she sounds like a klaxon that cannot go ignored.Like Birgy’s previous two Mega Bog albums, Life, and Another and Dolphine, End of Everything is full of surprises, but its tools are more concentrated—centered on chilling production and curious, sometimes-confessional lyrics that sit prominently atop bold synthpop. Birgy’s transition into this musical realm is enthralling and promises more excitement from the dedicated experimentalist. As painstakingly beautiful as her more inscrutable records have been, to witness Mega Bog in crystalline electronica is to witness an artist reclaim and represent her consciousness with unsettling clarity. It is a privilege to behold. —Devon Chodzin (Read the full review of End Of Everything.)

8. Caroline Polachek: Desire, I Want to Turn Into You
In the wake of Chairlift’s dissolution, Caroline Polachek tried her hand at a solo project. After trying out various aliases, she ultimately settled on her own name. Her eventual debut, 2019’s Pang, produced by Danny L Harle, at once modern and bucolic, saw Polachek exploring the joys and anxieties of new love. Now Polachek’s sophomore effort sees her grapple with feeling limited by physical space and by our corporeal forms—she wants not only to be near someone she loves but become a physical part of them. Desire is just as esoteric musically. Its songs pull from genres as disparate as drum and bass, dembow, and flamenco while Polachek and producer Danny L Harle festoon them with baroque instrumentation—bagpipes, church bells, organs, and a children’s choir. Its arrangements are intricate and densely layered so that every song reveals itself to you more and more upon revisiting. Even the quiet moments split your attention, like on “Hopedrunk Everasking,” where a smoke alarm’s low battery chirp pierces the space between Polachek’s maudlin delivery. Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is a massive leap forward, and for an artist so focused on orate detail, never falters under the weight of its many parts. It’s elegant, revelatory, verbose and fucking catchy. —Eric Bennett (Read the full review of Desire, I Want to Turn Into You.)

7. Fever Ray: Radical Romantics
It starts with fear, because that’s present even in pleasure. As a phantom synth melody swirls between channels in the mix, Karin Dreijer’s lyrics return to the same uneasy question: “Did you hear what they call us?” “What They Call Us” hangs a pall over the rest of Radical Romantics, the third album from Dreijer’s solo project Fever Ray. Though Dreijer’s slippery experimental synthpop record never explicitly returns to the social peril of this opener, it looms like a latent hitch to queer desire, a subconscious state that must be confronted to achieve unguarded connection. It’s a thread made all the clearer in a stray aside on second track “Shiver,” with Dreijer interrupting their lustful lyrics with a simple question: “Can I trust you?” It’s a question of unclear directness—is it asked in actual conversation, or to themselves in thought?—but one that places all its impact in unambiguous baggage, holding the tacit hesitancy that comes after past hurt. Dreijer penetrates these themes with pop songwriting that cuts to the chase like a forthright come-on. For all their uncertain trust on “Shiver,” Dreijer and their brother/former bandmate Olof infuse the song with a deep, bubbly bounce, as if to prove that the track’s unquenchable thirst remains even through anxiety. What makes Radical Romantics, like the best of Dreijer’s work, a cut above merely great pop is its subversive streak. Their lyricism is unapologetically queer while sidestepping empty platitudes, more often nodding to the knotted complexities of queer and trans people’s existence against marginalization and endangerment. Even in the face of apprehension, Fever Ray has never surveyed their own future with this much conviction. —Natalie Marlin (Read the full review of Plunge.)

6. billy woods & Kenny Segal: Maps
Maps is one of those preternaturally inspired rapper/producer pairings, fusing New York rapper billy woods bleary-eyed, detail-rich travelogues with Kenny Segal’s mind-warping free-jazz loops. On a loosely defined concept album that draws upon woods’ touring experiences, the rapper evokes a sense of perpetual movement and disorientation as he weaves the literal (fragmented glimpses of a flight in “Soft Landing” or overpriced food options in “Rapper Weed”) and the impressionist (“I don’t go to sleep, I tread water until I sink”) together with fluidity and aplomb. This is not just one of the best hip-hop albums of the year but quite likely of the decade thus far. —Zach Schonfeld

5. Lonnie Holley: Oh Me Oh My
After a joint album with Matthew E. White over the pandemic, Lonnie Holley’s latest is full of collaborations. They include poet/activist Moor Mother adding her own lyrical flavor to Lonnie Holley declaring, “I Am A Part Of The Wonder” and “Earth Will Be There” and Michael Stipe lending his lovely baritone to the title track, singing “Oh Me, Oh My,” before Holley contrasts it with his higher timbre and his occasional growl. Justin Vernon, Sharon Van Etten, Rokia Koné and Jeff Parker all lend their talents to songs that both dig deep into Holley’s past and proclaim messages of peace and kindness and thankfulness. “Kindness Will Follow Your Tears” is one of the titles, and it’s one of the many mantras Holley has chosen to live by. But there are no vocal collaborators on “Mount Meigs.” It’s his voice alone over the cacophony as the memories become more horrific. The three years of abuse and neglect he experienced at the notorious Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children will always be with Holley. And they will always fuel his art and music, but with a purpose, challenging the viewer or the listener to think about the distant future and how we’re living. —Josh Jackson (Read the full profile of Lonnie Holley.)

4. Yo La Tengo: This Stupid World
Forty years of Yo La Tengo. Think about that: If a band had been around that long by 1983, the year Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan first performed together as Georgia and Those Guys, it would have formed during World War II. If critics seem to harp on about Yo La Tengo’s longevity, it’s because it signifies a kind of genetic mutation; bands of this age are not supposed to be still making albums this good. And This Stupid World, the Hoboken trio’s first proper full-length in five years (not counting the ambient lockdown quickie We Have Amnesia Sometimes), is very good indeed, a dreamy and reflective song cycle that welcomes us into Yo La Tengo’s private world while leaving ample mysteries unexplained and secrets untold. This Stupid World bristles with a sense of uneasy quiet as the world outside rages and burns. Humor and sadness swirl together, as they often do in the Yo La Tengo extended universe. The musicians trade instruments and vocals with ease. The record ripples with a sense of self-discovery. All three band members sing lead within the first four songs. This Stupid World is a particularly introverted record, even by their standards, and saves the expansive drones for last. The title track (the band’s first ever) is a monochrome drone rocker, plodding along like some damaged White Light/White Heat B-side. As the song sputters to an end, the trio repeats the titular refrain like a mantra: “This stupid world / It’s killing me / This stupid world / Is all we have.” Maybe that’s what passes for optimism these days. Maybe, as Yo La Tengo has found, perseverance in a stupid world is its own kind of hope. —Zach Schonfeld (Read the full review of This Stupid World.)

3. feeble little horse: Girl with Fish
Pittsburgh noise-pop quartet feeble little horse has had a whirlwind two years since bandleaders Ryan Walchonski and Sebastian Kinsler got the idea to embark on their own creative passion project and enlisted drummer Jake Kelley to help create a dizzying blend of post-punk and art rock on released feeble little horse’s first EP, modern tourism. A follwo-up, Hayday, arrived via noise-rock tape archivists Julia’s War in fall 2021. The band leveled up tremendously; the three-piece became a quartet with the addition of Lydia Slocum, the multi-disciplinary artist whose nonchalant vocal delivery and level, witty lyrics have become endemic to feeble little horse’s sound. Kinzler’s bold processing of harsh, synthesized electronics, samples and pop hooks help form the sound that the band works from today. On their first new LP with Saddle Creek, Girl With Fish, feeble little horse’s layers upon layers of processing mask the traditional genre approaches the band starts from. For pop fiends, the hooks and melodies are strong enough to cut through the noise. The band brought in a litany of folksy influences to add a hypnotic charm that levels the band up from their Hayday era. Forays like “Healing” emphasize fingerpicked guitar riffs and cosmic electronics, while earworms like “Pocket” start gentle and grow more abrasive with time—throwing listeners into a conflagration of “Do you want to be in my pocket?” by the track’s end. Slocum approaches her singing unconventionally throughout Girl With Fish, darting between her chest voice and her head voice with a controlled crack that sharply commands attention. The recording project of curious young experimentalists has grown into one of DIY’s buzziest bands—with an arresting live show to boot. It’s time to embrace the fun in scratchy pop. —Devon Chodzin (Read the full profile of feeble little horse.)

2. Greg Mendez: Greg Mendez
“Picking up the things you left / I never thought I’d be so upset” are the lines Greg Mendez uses to open his new, self-titled album. It’s a fitting entrance for the Philadelphian, as he spends the next nine songs putting back together the fragments of his own life—attempting to understand the absurdity of his own truth and what hard damage has met him on the road to clarity. Ever the master of his storytelling craft, Mendez makes a bookend out of imagery that can be plugged into anyone’s own correspondence with the world around them. Greg Mendez is one man’s vulnerable, open book made accessible to anyone who might find something courageous or trusting within it. From drug use to heartbreak to childhood trauma to houselessness, Mendez offers a loving embrace drenched with hindsight to his former self. In turn, the album is not a critique of his past, but an attempt at understanding how it informs his personhood in the present. He populates the tracklist with recoiling and punctuated stories that are as humorous as they are heartbreaking. —Matt Mitchell (Read the full review of Greg Mendez.)

1. Wednesday: Rat Saw God
There’s something about the South that’s sort of impossible to explain. It has this je ne sais quoi that hovers like the sticky humidity-you can’t pinpoint it, but you can feel it in the air. It comes in flashes, the machine guns, crushed Four Loko cans, stock car races, Bible verse bumper stickers and awkward glances around the classroom when you get abstinence-only sex education, feel like heat lightning. It’s sacrilegious and sacred, it’s pregaming in a church parking lot before heading to the high-school football game. Wednesday, get it. They lived it. On their latest album, Rat Saw God, they capture the off-kilter magic of one of the most confusing places. Lyrical precision is what makes the record shine, the fact that singer Karly Hartzman can recall the exact video game, in this case, Mortal Kombat, that someone was playing when her nose started bleeding at a New Year’s Eve party she didn’t even want to be at. There’s something striking in how sentimental the details feel, how she can weave these intimate narratives out of “piss-colored bright yellow Fanta,” and a Planet Fitness parking lot that makes their country-gaze so alluring. There are moments on the album where Hartzman’s one-liners serve as a knock-out punch. Whether they express it through private symbolism or get straight to the point, it doesn’t matter. Wednesday is the woman who thinks “America” is “a spoiled little child” but still gives out king-sized candy bars on Halloween. They’re the kids with crew cuts and the rest stop on the way to Dollywood. They’re the exhilaration of sneaking into the neighborhood pool and only going to school three days a week. They’re everything they document on Rat Saw God and more. —Samantha Sullivan (Read the full review of Rat Saw God.)


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