The Best Songs of September 2023

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The Best Songs of September 2023

With September in the rearview, I can’t help but believe it was one of the uniquest months of music 2023 has given us so far. From stunning ballads from Atka and Molly Burch to a folk rock epic from Slaughter Beach, Dog to synth-heavy tunes by IAN SWEET and Wild Nothing, the slate was spectacular. Narrowing this list down to just 10 entries was a nearly impossible feat, but we got it done. Without further ado, here are the 10 best songs of September 2023. —Matt Mitchell, Music Editor

Atka: “Lenny”

German singer/songwriter Atka only has two singles out in the world—but they’re both stupendous, spectral masterworks. Her latest track, “Lenny,” is glitchy and catchy and marauding. Forthcoming from her debut EP The Eye Against The Ashen Sky, the song radiates danceable anxiety with electronics that boast drum machine work not too far removed from The National’s Sleep Well Beast era. But even then, Atka distills an idiosyncratic, postmodern vibrato into her singing—which then transforms into this colorful, visceral melody. “Lenny” is triumphant and unforgettable and lyrically piercing. “You scream ‘Grow up!’ yet you sit there, frozen in time,” Atka sings. “I love you but you are bored, say you have nothing to gain from this.” There’s boldness and then there’s “Lenny,” which outpaces any such colloquism. The glitz of Atka’s second offering is undefinable yet marvelous. —Matt Mitchell

Big Thief: “Born For Loving You”

Released as the B-side to fan-favorite “Vampire Empire,” Big Thief’s latest single offering is all unbridled elation bubbling underneath the surface of indie folk mastery. Adrianne Lenker sings “​​When the hard times come and the hard times stay, when they stick around and won’t go away, I was born for loving you. That’s just something I was made to do.” The arrangement is understated, twangy and laid-back—even Lenker’s delivery lands on the mellower side of her catalog—but it’s the warmest the band has ever sounded. Though a new staple in the group’s live sets, this studio version of “Born for Loving You” is a stark reminder of what it means to be genuine and genuinely in love. —Madelyn Dawson

Devendra Banhart: “Fireflies”

The fourth and final single from Banhart’s upcoming album Flying Wig, “Fireflies” is, quite possibly, the sweetest synth ballad of the year thus far. You can find flickers of I’m Your Man-era Leonard Cohen in the arrangements, but even that feels like a rudimentary comparison. The instrumentation is soft and spacious, yet so, so dense somehow—boasting light horn work and a shimmering, crystalline guitar melody that unfurls like a teardrop synth might. Banhart co-wrote the track with Cate Le Bon, and you can definitely hear the Pompeii-style influence in the pacing and the mood. “See you in a stranger’s eyes, and there’s so much I wish I could say,” Banhart sings. “Just a song I’ll sing anyway, when I said I wouldn’t need it.” The vibes of “Fireflies” are relentless, and Banhart arrives upon it like a late-night crooner whose octaves can’t break away from their heavenly chains. I recommend listening to this song sometime between 1 and 4 AM; it’ll make you wish the sun went extinct for good. —MM

IAN SWEET: “Emergency Contact”

All of the teaser songs from IAN SWEET’s forthcoming LP Sucker have been terrific thus far, but there is something fully beautiful and unforgettable about “Emergency Contact.” The arrangements swell from a looped, gentle synthesizer melody into a more ferocious indie beat. It’s a propulsive, delicate story that Jilian Medford tells with such grace and patience. “I cry, cry, cry in the shower, tears and water are no different,” she sings. “And I could call you, I know you’d listen. But I keep you at a safe distance, park my car on your street. I heard that song and had to scream, I’ve made too many enemies.” “Emergency Contact” is subdued and sublime, rewarding in its slickness and incomparable poetics of devotion and separation. —MM

Molly Burch: “Tattoo”

Pop singer/songwriter Molly Burch’s brand new album, Daydreamer, is out later this month, and the project’s latest single “Tattoo” is a stark, moving ballad that offsets the synth-driven gems “Physical” and “Unconditional” that preceded it. Luna Li provides backing vocals on the track, while Burch sings about her best friend Lana—who passed away when they were 19. “I wanna bathe you in the water, heal you like I got you,” she harmonizes. “I promise forever behind you, I wanna tell you it’s okay, even though it’s crazy. You wouldn’t believe it, I think you would hate it.” “Tattoo” is powerful beyond belief, as Burch finds a sorrowful spark in her own grief. The track is driven by a piano and a theatrical, guitar-focused instrumentation that delicately envelopes it. For an album that is so poised with dance songs, “Tattoo” is the heart and soul of Burch’s next chapter. —MM

Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter: “I WILL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS”

Part-funeral hymn, part-Appalachian folk vocalization and part-extraterrestrial haunting—the likes of which we don’t even have the language to name—Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter’s second single leading up to her post-Lingua Ignota debut is certainly one of the most instantly affecting tracks of the year. There is a desperation in Hayter’s voice, one that rings through in trembling vibrato. Even as she takes in a breath between lines, you can hear her hunger and her gasping for any air that will give her the strength to finish the song. “I know your name, take your teeth out of me,” she sings. “Return my body to me, release me.” Maybe this song is the closest I can get to God; maybe it’s drawing me to some other angel—but, either way, I follow Hayter’s voice like a siren. —MD

Slaughter Beach, Dog: “Engine”

When I say that Slaughter Beach, Dog’s new album Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling is their best album yet, just trust me. However, if you aren’t fully convinced, please direct your attention to new single “Engine”—a nine-minute, “On the Beach”-reminiscent epic folk track that punctuates the country swing of “Strange Weather,” “Float Away” and “Summer Windows.” It’s, by all means, Jake Ewald’s strongest lyrical work of his career thus far—which says something, given that he has long been one of our best storytellers. “It’s hard enough singing when the hotel chokes on your memories,” he sings. “Maybe let’s watch The Sopranos, maybe let’s order Chinese. The laundry isn’t breathing, I write about Julie in a little white chair. There’s nothing for music, there’s styrofoam crushed in the garbage.” “Engine” is a poem carved into the space of a song, as Ewald surveys his surroundings and plugs them in like a stream-of-conscious journal. With Erin Rae providing backing vocals and a triumphant, visceral guitar solo guiding the song’s breakdown, this is the epitome of generational, gob-smacking folk rock. —MM

Squirrel Flower: “Intheskatepark”

One truth I can offer today is this: Squirrel Flower makes massive tunes. Between lead single “Full Time Job” and our song of the summer “Alley Light,” there’s no other way to describe Ella Williams’ artistry. Now, she’s given us access to “Intheskatepark,” a woozy, noisey heater that’ll burn through your bones. I can’t even begin to stress just how nuts the melody on this thing is, as Williams never overextends herself vocally. She arrives here with patient, angelic singing backed by thick, sludgy guitars. It’s not so much a grunge tune as it is soaring alt-rock glossed with candied delicacy. Can you believe this isn’t even the best song on Williams’ upcoming album Tomorrow’s Fire? It’s wild to see a masterpiece unfurl one chapter at a time. —MM

Sufjan Stevens: “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?”

Our favorite whispering singer surprised us all with a return to his delicate folk roots in August with the first single from his upcoming album, Javelin, due out later this week. If “So You Are Tired” felt like a return to the personal reflections of Carrie and Lowell, its followup “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” is a swelling orchestral track that would have felt at home on one of his state-themed masterpieces, but with a hint of the Age of Adz beats adding to the quiet symphonic build at the song’s climax. The singer, who was recently diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, earnestly asks in the song, “Will anybody ever love me? For good reasons, without grievance, not for sport?” We still love you, Sufjan, and we wish you a quick recovery and thank you deeply for all the music. —Josh Jackson

Wild Nothing: “Suburban Solutions”

Small-town dream pop band Wild Nothing is set to release their sixth studio album Hold next month, and their second single, “Suburban Solutions,” is a shimmering synth soundtrack of subversive suburbia—the counterpart to previous groovy single “Headlights On” (featuring Hatchie). Packed with an unflinching ‘80s pop influence and a biting satire of the beloved decade, Jack Tatum’s comeback after five years of new fatherhood and the return of personal production is off to an impeccable start. The chorus delivers a jingle for a fictitious company, reassuring us to “Take a deep breath, Suburban Solutions has your back.” The single is the perfect merger of nihilism and nostalgia, punctuated with the promise of a colorful album we can’t wait to indulge in. —Olivia Abercrombie

Listen to a playlist of these 10 songs below. Catch up on our Best Albums of September 2023 list here.

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