The Best Albums of August 2023

Featuring Chris Farren, Diners, Ratboys, Shamir & more

Music Lists Best Albums
The Best Albums of August 2023

August quickly proved to be not just the most prolific month of the year so far, but also the very best. Though the heatwaves outside came aplenty, the musical world had its own surge of warmth—as records that sang of power pop, country-inspired folk-rock and glitzy, synth-focused singer/songwriter finesse led the charge. From an ambitious major label debut from Crooks & Nannies to Ratboys’ Album of the Year contender, these last 31 days awed us all and then some. As September begins soon, let’s take a moment to recap this great month of unmissable music. Here, in alphabetical order, are the best albums of August 2023. —Matt Mitchell, Music Editor

Buck Meek: Haunted Mountain
Buck Meek works often through love with a deluge of mythology and naturality and spiritual forces across Haunted Mountain. It’s the richest part of the work altogether, beyond the sonic construction of the songs themselves. On “Undae Dunes,” he muses on UFOs and spaceships, singing “Years flew by with enigmatic beauty, but every night he’d think of Suzy. Red sky filled with rockets, Jim still flies with a silver locket.” On “Lagrimas,” he ushers in nods to sorcery and vintage, otherworldly safekeepings in order to find reconnections with a dead loved one. “Saving my tears in a bottle, saving my nickels and dimes to give to the old necromancer who knows how to read and write,” Meek sings. “Dip your quill into my well, tears fall as you write. His wings will carry my words so heavy to the sky.” In his world, sincerity is evergreen and beautiful, the first real step towards achieving authentic bonds with the people and places you set out to love. There’s an intentionality behind the playfulness on Haunted Mountain, and it’s something that Meek taps into often—unraveling its integrality in friendships and romances, exploring the freedom and flexibilities of childlike wonder in healthy relationships. —Matt Mitchell [Read our full feature]

Chris Farren: Doom Singer
Chris Farren has been thinking about movie endings. On his third album, Doom Singer, he shares his ideal conclusion: “Everything turns out great for me / There’s no discomfort or conflict.” It’s a fitting idea for the LA songwriter to be caught up in. Through his work in pop punk bands like Fake Problems and Antarctigo Vespucci, Farren has focused closely on chronicling situations of social and romantic discomfort. It’s on solo albums like Can’t Die and Born Hot where he’s anchored each lyric of clever self-deprecation in classic songcraft, wailing guitar parts and quieter songs that plainly display his feelings. Doom Singer stays true to those strengths, combining Farren’s bombastic power-pop instincts with a new round of concerns, situations, and effortless choruses. Doom Singer solidifies itself as Farren’s tightest release yet, building on his previous strong suits like unshakable choruses and memorable lyrical anecdotes. After a string of records this strong, it’s apparent that he deserves the cinematic ending he’s been hoping for. —Ethan Beck [Read our full review and our full feature]

Crooks & Nannies: Real Life
The major label debut for Philadelphia duo Crooks & Nannies, Real Life is an entire spectrum of musical wonder. Songs like “Temper,” “Country Bar” and “Weather” are already some of our favorite tracks of the summer, but Real Life doesn’t end there. It’s a complex portrait of transness, grief, loss and romance’s deep, wandering potential and ache. Max Rafter and Sam Huntington have been friends since high school, and their lifelong bond can be felt through every inch of Real Life. Fusing power-pop, synth-rock and country, the album is ambitious and lands on two feet with a crooked smile. It’s one of our favorite albums of the year across the board, not just this week. —MM [Read our full Best of What’s Next feature]

Diners: DOMINO
The latest record from LA singer/songwriter Blue Broderick—who performs as Diners—is set to be one of the best, if not the absolute best, rock records of 2023. Teased by singles “The Power,” “Domino” and “Someday I’ll Go Surfing,” DOMINO is a beautiful amalgam of everything that made power-pop chart-topping and accessible in the 1960s. But the sound doesn’t stop there for Diners, as the record is a lesson on shredding with a modern imprint. Broderick is one of the best singer/songwriters working today, and her finesse and penmanship on DOMINO. From beginning to end, there are no fractures. It’s a record glossed over with an immense bubblegum foundation hiding a dream-pop skeleton that’s shining inside. —MM [Read our full feature here]

Hozier: Unreal Unearth
Unreal Unearth is packed full of poetic lyricism, heavyhearted remorse, hopeful anticipation and an honest expression of the joys and sorrow of being a human. This is undoubtedly his best work. The more straightforward tracks may be too saccharine at times, but Hozier’s gravitational artistry more than makes up for any slight missteps off the path. The song order is an improbable hero, as the pacing and experience the listener goes through only accelerates the impact. There is a sharp balance across the entirety of Unreal Unearth—it’s never top-heavy nor is it ever stagnant, the sonic IV constantly dripping musicality into your body. From choir swells to poetic lines that find a way to hit you unexpectedly, the album is a tremendously soulful experience. —Sam Eeckhout [Read our full review here]

Laura Groves: Radio Red
Radio Red is a pop record through and through, as a song like “Good Intention” has the groove and sensuality of a 1990s mega-hit. It’s like a perfect mixture of Janet Jackson’s Janet and Mariah Carey’s Music Box, as Groves allows her vocals to play out like a rollercoaster—coasting through pitches and octaves that only emphasize her command of finesse on the track. The instrumental flashes like a sugar-sweet bedroom-pop mix, with joyous, dreamy singing. “I overhear you in the distance,” Groves croons. “‘Ready to love!’ And I abandon all resistance.” It’s a beautiful ode to surrendering to the affection we crave. Closing track “Silver Lining” achieves a similar boundary, as Groves makes good on releasing any feelings of possessiveness in the name of growing older and finding more appreciation in natural love. “You’re my silver lining,” she sings, over a beautiful, serenading synthesizer pattern. “I love your perfect timing.”

Much of the record taps into pastorals of interstellar imaginings, cosmic ways to make a romance shed its density and ascend towards limitless humanity eons above any grounded limitations. Radio Red is not just a character study on relationships; it’s an undertaking that focuses on compassion towards the people we adore and a curiosity for how we might begin to prioritize our own lights in spaces shared with others. The album is a welcomed full-length return for Groves, who has made two great, unflinching and patient records spread out a decade apart. Radio Red is a crystalline, shimmering pop enterprise that dares to ask what a project might look like when a synthesizer takes a backseat to a career-defining vocal performance. —MM [Read our full review here]

Ratboys: The Window
On The Window, Ratboys showcase, over and over again, their considerable skill for making songs that are emotionally raw and sonically polished, intrinsically rootsy and invariably catchy. “Morning Zoo” seems to burst from the speakers as Steiner asks “How long does it take / to find the peace that I want?” against a heart-swelling, Wilco-style country-rock jam—while the heavily fuzzed-out “Empty” sports a brief-but-killer guitar solo and answers a different question: “What if Charly Bliss was part of the Elephant 6 Collective?” And opening track “Making Noise for the Ones You Love” kicks things off with a propulsive guitar riff that builds tension as Steiner first sings about looking through a window—a theme that will return throughout the album.

Elsewhere, Ratboys alternate between sticking to their strengths (such as the spacious, sparkling “It’s Alive!”) and experimenting with, for example, programmed percussion on “Break” and dramatic violin parts on “Bad Reaction,” both of which would fit snugly and aptly on a Death Cab For Cutie album. Here, you can easily envision the world of new sounds and ideas that opened up to Ratboys when they met up with Chris Walla, and it’s worth noting that both parties did a good job of adding “stuff” to the mix, but not “too much stuff.” It’s the way the band has dared to sound all along, put forth by an unyielding vision from the foursome. Those are the kinds of choices that inevitably come up when a band is writing bigger and better songs, recording in new spaces, trying new things, pushing itself outward and its sound forward. Ratboys have done all of that and more on The Window. Did they make their best album yet? That’s up for you to decide. —Ben Salmon [Read our full review and our full feature]

Shamir: Homo Anxietatem
Last year, Heterosexuality was Shamir’s raw, honest portrayal of what being a trans person in a country working overtime to erase you looks like—along with being a queer songwriter in an industry not yet ready to burst its bubble swollen with a capitalist-minded, saturated reverence for cookie-cutter LGBTQ+ anthems. Heterosexuality became an essential statement on hopelessness at a time when having hope was demanded of anyone caught beneath the blade of an unruly empire. So, to expect Shamir to return in that same mode on their next album wouldn’t have been an outlandish prediction—as their realistic, unwavering and candid approach to documenting brutality greatly matches what remains incessant beyond the confines of music at-large. But Homo Anxietatem arrives like an aftermath, a proper companion piece to its predecessor—as Shamir arises at the forefront with just as few answers as they had a year ago.

There are flashes of chart-topping, mainstream architecture here, too. If you told me “The Beginning” went #1 for a week in 2006, I’d fully buy into that proposed arc. In the wake of a project like Heterosexuality, which was rid of optimism and offered some particularly brutal renderings, Homo Anxietatem is much more on a spectrum of joy—at least sonically. Shamir sounds like they’re having a whole lot of fun giving in to the Billboard Hot 100 machine in a winking way—and it’s what helps make the record so unique in their catalog. Homo Anxietatem is a stroke of brilliance not for how many different landscapes Shamir wanders across, but for how generous and relentless in the pursuit of transformation they become as the album unfolds. Anyone can hawk their soul to achieve that same fate, but I highly doubt it’ll sound as remarkable as Shamir’s. —Matt Mitchell [Read our full review here]

SPELLLING & the Mystery School is a career triumph, evidence that the young connoisseur of art-pop already has the material for a greatest hits compilation. For Cabral, however, it’s not enough just to compile her most celebrated tracks. To her, each song is a living document that is capable of evolving from its original form into something else entirely with the guidance of her ever-changing and trusted ensemble. They retain the original charms that made them stand out—the tracks originally on Pantheon of Me, for example, still emphasize looping and repetition—but their new forms take on something between show-tunes and glam rock that grips just as hard. Already, SPELLLING has shown how she can transform her project from peculiar, interior pop to something grandiose—and Mystery School demonstrates her versatility: Not only can Cabral reorient her sound, she can fashion her existing songs with a new, consistent approach, closely tying all of her eras together under one project. As such, SPELLING & the Mystery School is a paean to a career that has only just begun but already shows boundless promise. —Devon Chodzin [Read our full review here]

The Armed: Perfect Saviors
Perfect Saviors, The Armed’s immaculate, relentless and accessible follow-up to their 2021 record Ultrapop, is a perfect montage of punk, glam rock and pop music. The band have long lived in the shadow of their own post-hardcore legacy, but Perfect Saviors is a buoyant artistic pivot that soars to the same echelons Deafheaven did on Infinite Granite two years ago. Yet, even in this new, glossy outfit, The Armed are still juxtaposing delicacy with their steadfast, hypnotic energy. Songs like “Everything’s Glitter” and “Sport of Form” are career benchmarks, but I have a feeling the large, still-expanding outfit has much, much more to give. But what we’ve got from then now, Perfect Saviors, lives up to its title: It’s exactly the haven of drama and hope and honesty we all needed this summer. —MM [Read our full feature here]

Check out a playlist of our favorite songs from these 10 records below.

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