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Best Albums Of 2023 So Far: See The List

May 27, 2023

It's June. Already. The year is slipping away from you. But not from us! We the Stereogum staff have once again assembled our annual rundown of the best albums of the year's first half. We are on top of it so you don't have to be.

All lists are subjective, even ones like this one that feel so objectively correct. We obviously haven't heard everything released since January, and our picks represent a certain collective point of view that doesn't encompass the full spectrum of recorded music. You get it. Still, of all the records we’ve consumed with a release date before June 30, we vouch for these 50 above the rest.

If you’re the kind of person who spends any time clicking around this website, the following list probably contains some of your own favorite albums from 2023 Q1 and Q2; it likely features some records you don't yet know you love, too, as well as some you absolutely cannot stand. That's cool. That's how this is supposed to work.

OK, enough preamble. Let's celebrate the continued vitality of music together. Let's argue. Let's find something new to obsess over. Let's enjoy music fandom and all the messy, impassioned discourse that goes along with it. Check out our picks below, and share your own list in the comments. —Chris DeVille

Poison Ruïn's version of punk rock is brutal, filthy, and lo-fi, and they play it with the high-concept grandiosity of heavy metal. On sophomore album Härvest, Mac Kennedy applies his orc-like bark to stories about medieval times and fantastical worlds, turning the dark ages into allegories for our own. The resulting music hits with violent force and leaves a nasty muck on whatever it impacts, like fellow umlaut enthusiasts Motörhead's mascot Snaggletooth wielding the blunt end of a scythe. —Chris DeVille

Regional rap will never die. Even if he didn't have a song called "Texas," with a slide-guitar sample and a video full of cowboy hats, you could still mark Dallas’ BigXThaPlug as a product of the Texas underground from a mile away. It's all there: the booming and authoritative drawl, the playful crime-life punchlines, the preference for clean and linear beats built on woozy samples and 808 thunder. With Amar, the Big Stepper proves himself to be an urgent, charismatic figure who knows how to write an instantly indelible song. He does Texas proud. —Tom Breihan

"There's parts of me I still don't even know yet," Yves Tumor utters on the opening track of their latest LP, which proceeds to keep unfolding new dimensions of one of music's reigning shapeshifters. Praise A Lord Who Chews… continues Sean Lee Bowie's evolution from experimental electronic producer to dystopian glam-rocker, keeping bits of all that en route to some kind of art-damaged pop-star character — perhaps an homage to certain forebears, but most definitely not a parody. The tl;dr title Hot Between Worlds really does sum it up. —Chris DeVille

Cruisin’ makes the case that experimental electronic pop can be heady and intellectual yet simultaneously playful to the point of goofiness. Bernice's latest pulls off kind of an uncanny valley new-age aesthetic — or maybe it's a deconstruction of the statuesque synthpop practiced by the likes of Chairlift and Annie Lennox. The Toronto band's music can be challengingly oblique at times, but it always wanders back to moments of heartfelt beauty like the exquisite "No Effort To Exist." —Chris DeVille

i’ve seen a way sounds like it was bashed out in an empty warehouse. Every sound ricochets off the walls, becomes larger than life: booming drums, the patter of rain, the intoxicating incantations of Valentine Caulfield, muddy and indistinct and unintelligible (especially if you don't speak French). Tracks rise and fall unexpectedly, and amid the twisted and turned and pulse-poundingly mangled sounds, an environment starts to emerge — one filled with clanging and clamor and a devilish cool. Guess that's just Mandy, Indiana. —James Rettig

We can't take Boldy James for granted. For years, the raspy, authoritative Detroit rapper has been cranking out leathery crime-story records at an impossible pace. In January, though, Boldy was hospitalized after a serious car crash; he's just starting to recover now. A few days after the crash, Boldy released Indiana Jones, a lush and psychedelic record produced entirely by Blended Babies member RichGains. The album is a different look for Boldy – a warm, melodic excursion that suggests a wide-open future. —Tom Breihan

For about a year there, I thought that 100 gecs had missed their window. As 10,000 gecs kept getting pushed back, the hyperpop landscape that the duo helped put on the map seemed to evolve and move past them. How could they possibly compete? But, no, when 10,000 gecs arrived after many delays, it was exactly what one needed. Endlessly energetic, delightfully whimsical, just plain nutso — it proved that no matter how many artists are peddling similar sounds, ain't nobody can do it exactly like gecs. —James Rettig

Nicole Dollanganger sounds like a glamorous ghost. The Canadian musician spent years teasing the release of Married In Mount Airy before its sudden arrival at the beginning of this year, and its dark, rapturous languor is ominous and romantic in equal measure. Dollanganger recorded the album with Ethel Cain collaborator Matthew Tomasi, and her songs radiate blissful serenity while inhabiting violent, self-destructive lives. The record is comforting and disquieting in equal measure, and there's nothing else like it. —Tom Breihan

With This Is Why, Paramore returned triumphant. Over 10 tightly wound tracks, Hayley Williams, Taylor York, and Zac Farro grapple with a rapidly changing world, one that looks quite different from the one they inhabited when starting out nearly two decades ago. Adding a dance-punk edge to the new-wave tone they perfected on After Laughter, Paramore offer a master class in evolution, both personally and professionally. —Rachel Brodsky

Liv.e (pronounced "Liv," it bears repeating) is both a throwback and a futurist. In spirit, Girl In The Half Pearl feels directly descended from Erykah Badu and the neo-soul era, but opener "Gardetto." — with its dial tones, frantic drum ‘n’ bass beat, and hyperpop-adjacent vocals — establishes right away that Olivia Williams is her own artist. From there things only get weirder, wilder, and more impassioned as Liv.e grafts R&B to IDM with a singular, emphatic touch. —Chris DeVille

One of Margo Price's most standout qualities is her defiance and perseverance. Strays is Price's most headstrong project yet, refusing to be boxed into genre or "nice" subject matter. A consummate storyteller, Price tackles abortion rights on the solemn "Lydia," female sexual pleasure on "Light Me Up," and her own mental health journey on "Change Of Heart." Strays might run the gamut of country, folk, Americana, and classic rock, but Price is a punk at heart. —Rachel Brodsky

Thanks to its New Year's Day release date, many people missed Higher Lonely Power. But if you have any interest in hearty, anthemic indie rock about the deepest turmoil of the human soul, don't sleep on Fireworks’ dejected opus. While wrestling with disenchantment over American Christianity's decay, the former pop-punks spent a decade maturing their sound, coming away with a grand statement LP that would slay on alt-rock radio if it had the chance. —Chris DeVille

A real sense of history courses through I’ve Got Me. The New York City songwriter Joanna Sternberg grew up in Manhattan Plaza, an enclave that has served as home to artists of many stripes over the years, and that's where they returned to write their sophomore album, eventually recording it with Matt Sweeney across the river in Brooklyn. Sternberg's songs evoke the many smoky lounges and enervating folk-music hubs that have risen and fell throughout the city's long history, raw and timeless. —James Rettig

They could have broken up. Instead, when singer Isaac Wood's departure created a vacuum at the center of their pop-culture-savvy conservatory rock, the remaining six members of Black Country, New Road wrote a whole new setlist, spent months honing it on the road, and turned a triumphant hometown performance into a live album that doubles as their next proper LP. Though the singers and songwriters rotate, the nine all-new tracks on Live At Bush Hall share a peculiar personality, a dramatic and dynamic community-theater blog-rock vibe that feels both epic and charmingly diaristic. Look at what they did together! —Chris DeVille

ICECOLDBISHOP emerged from the heat of South Central, Los Angeles with an album that sounds like what might have happened if Kendrick Lamar joined A$AP Mob a decade ago. Generational Curse puts a spooky spin on West Coast rider music: Bishop's unchained verses shift shape and erupt into wild, eccentric peaks, and his producers’ demonic G-funk plays out like a lurching low-end symphony befitting all the dark material he's reckoning with. Yet like, say, Three 6 Mafia, he's so colorfully creative (and just plain fun) that even this march through hell plays like party music. —Chris DeVille

After years of intentionally eschewing anything that might remind listeners of the 2010s-defining "Midnight City," Anthony Gonzalez puts listeners back into the arena on M83's ninth studio album. Complete with rushing rhythms, cascading keys, and tidal-wave synths, Fantasy is everything you want an M83 record to be: a cinematic, world-building wall of sound that more than justifies its wild excess. —Rachel Brodsky

Philly's Jesus Piece have always been one of the most physical bands on the hardcore circuit. On their second LP, they wrestle with the idea of how to remain as punishingly, unrelentingly heavy as ever while making music about grown-up things. Can you write a love song to your child that also works as an ignorant mosh anthem? Yes, as it turns out, you can. The riffs on …So Unknown are sick as hell, and the feeling behind them is real. —Tom Breihan

It's rare to hear a hardcore group really going for it, but that's what California's Initiate do on their sophomore LP. Initiate's sound is sharp and direct, and bandleader Crystal Pak has a truly fearsome scream. On Cerebral Circus, though, the band comes with bright production, arena-sized hooks, and even the occasional acoustic guitar. It's a short, energetic burst of sincere mosh music, but its moments of grand-scale catharsis stand out. —Tom Breihan

Though it pulls from other eras, like scrappy ’90s indie rock and solemn ’60s British folk, in essence Dead Meat is the best ’80s jangle-pop record that never was. The Tubs’ debut is so propulsive and catchy that you’d almost call it chipper if Owen Williams wasn't bellowing such darkly morbid, bitingly clever stories over every gleaming guitar arpeggio. Imagine Bob Mould fronting the Smiths or even Eddie Vedder teaming up with Felt, and you’ll be in this band's familiar, distinctive wheelhouse. —Chris DeVille

Indigo de Souza keeps it real and raw. The Asheville singer-songwriter performs vulnerable, discomfiting lyrics with a livewire immediacy; she scrapbooks together umpteen versions of indie rock and pop into music that feels just as deeply personal as the words. All Of This Will End sounds like letting it all hang out and getting the strands of your life messily tangled together, but it's too artfully assembled to be a random splatter. At the intersection of deep thoughts and big feelings, de Souza found something like magic. —Chris DeVille

The Arizona-raised and Berlin-based house producer Avalon Emerson has been a big deal in the dance world for years, but when she ended her 2020 DJ-Kicks compilation with a Magnetic Fields cover, she suggested a change in direction. & The Charm is the culmination of that change – a full album of starry-eyed Balearic indie-pop that brings the widescreen chemical-charge rush of big-room dance music to to the smaller, more homespun sounds that she clearly loves. The combination feels both intimate and vast. —Tom Breihan

This was supposed to be Andy Shauf's "normal" album, but as Canada's quirky bard kept brainstorming and revising, another conceptual narrative piece emerged. All of Shauf's LPs play out like independent cinema, but Norm is maybe the closest thing to an oblique arthouse film he's ever made: a creepy, ambiguous metaphysical stalker story set to an especially woozy version of the luxuriant soft rock that meshes so well with his unmistakable mewl. Debut the next one at Sundance. —Chris DeVille

Karin Dreijer might be getting older, but they are not getting complacent. Radical Romantics, their third album as Fever Ray, is their softest, most sensual yet, but it still retains Dreijer's prickly edges. There are come-ons delivered as threats (the skin-crawlingly intimate "Shiver"), there are gnarled personal politics (the revenge banger "Even It Out"), and there's Dreijer leering out around every corner, delivering each line with that signature devilish gleam. —James Rettig

There are few pop songs this year more hypnotizing than "SO HARD TO TELL," which finds the Toronto musician Debby Friday wandering around her city unable to distinguish between shadow and light. Her debut album GOOD LUCK is built for the club, a space where those differences strobe into transcendence, and she offers up enough pulse-pounding jams and sticky synth quivers to keep us wanting more. —James Rettig

Sometimes, you just want someone to rip your head off and play Hacky Sack with it. That's what New Jersey hardcore freaks Gel do. Gel's first album is only an album by the loosest definition. It lasts all of 16 minutes, and two of those minutes are dedicated to the voicemail message skit "Calling Card." But when Gel are sprinting at full speed, they absolutely cram an LP's worth of wrath and frustration and dizzy, excited abandon into their adrenaline-blasted ragers. —Tom Breihan

The first time Gia Margaret made an instrumental album, it was a practical necessity; she’d lost her voice. The second time, she held her tongue simply because the inspiration kept flowing through her fingers. Thanks to Margaret's lapsed-piano-student technique and Yoni Wolf's unique mixing job, Romantic Piano has a sonic dialect all its own, but the feelings it unearths are universal. Press play on "Cicadas" and just try not to be reduced to an extremely wistful puddle. —Chris DeVille

Santa Cruz's Drain have a rep as hardcore's fun party band: the crew who incites good-natured pandemonium, who sends people stage-diving with boogie boards and inner tubes. You can feel some of that good-time energy on their second LP, and Drain switch things up from time to time — a rap experiment, one Descendents cover that sounds Foo Fighters-esque. But Drain are able to bring chaos to live shows because they play hard, and they play hard because they mean it. The riffs slam, the grooves bounce, and frontman Sammy Ciaramitaro spits out vocals that land with a wet, tactile splat. —Tom Breihan

As the singer-songwriter at the center of the Sidekicks, Steve Ciolek spent a couple decades refining his gift for revved-up guitar-pop. On his new project's first album, Ciolek presents a chilled-out and barrel-aged version of that signature sound as he unpacks the fresh contentment and new anxieties of life's second quarter. Working in elements from classic power-pop and peak aughts indie rock, Infinite Spring feels lively and lived-in, and Ciolek can still bring songs to a fist-pounding, howl-along climax when he feels like it. —Chris DeVille

Lana Del Rey really freaked it with "A&W," but Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is also her most consistent album in years. It's an intoxicating head-rush that sprawls out through her own family history as she navigates her place within that legacy with poignancy and depth. It feels luxurious and melodramatic in the best way. —James Rettig

As the leader of Regional Justice Center, Ian Shelton has been responsible for a whole lot of fast, brutal, headwrecking music. With Militarie Gun, he goes the exact opposite direction, writing big, friendly, excited golden-retriever hooks that call back to ’90s alt-rock and Britpop. But even as those choruses soar, Nelson still growls with authority, and he's got the best gorilla grunt in the game. On Militarie Gun's first official full-length, the hooks are bigger, but the intensity remains. Good. A great melody should make you want to kick a hole in a brick wall. —Tom Breihan

The heavy parts on A New Tomorrow, the debut album from LA hardcore band Zulu, are so heavy. When operating at peak intensity, Zulu sound like worlds exploding. But what sets A New Tomorrow apart is all the stuff that's not heavy. Over a brief half-hour runtime, Zulu play around with rap, jazz, funk, spoken-word, samples of Curtis Mayfield and Nina Simone. It all adds up to a powerful statement about Blackness and community and resistance, and it never sits still. —Tom Breihan

The formula sounds simple enough: Brothers Tom and Ed Russell match expertly chosen, acutely manipulated vocal samples with brisk breakbeats and airy synths. Yet there's some kind of alchemy in the way Good Lies coheres. The title track catches a breeze and glides on toward infinity. "Walk Thru Water" channels Noah "40" Shebib's twilit hip-hop. "Sugarushhh" taps into a ribbon of gold within an ambient soundscape. Overmono make it all feel effortless, but if transcendent electronic dance-pop was easy, more folks would be doing it like this. —Chris DeVille

New Brunswick's own Screaming Females are industry vets now, eight albums in, but they remain DIY basement players at heart — and oftentimes in practice. With a bit of synth and power-pop added to the mix, Desire Pathway is the sound of a long running band doing exactly what it does best: earth-quaking riffs; tight, propulsive drumming; and Marissa Paternoster's unmatched vocal quaver. Screamales are forever. —Rachel Brodsky

Like a darker, industrial-grade Dismemberment Plan or an avant-garde LCD Soundsystem, Squid turn dance-rock inside out until you can't really dance to it anymore. The arty, explosive O Monolith will still send your body into strange contortions, though. Ollie Judge's unhinged vocals are a perfect match for music that might go any direction at any time, veering from pensive slow drifts to wide-eyed freakouts to acute-angle funk grooves. It's not the kind of music you put on at a party; it's an experience. —Chris DeVille

Meg Remy reimagines a lame Home Goods catchphrase so well on Bless This Mess that I sincerely hope her next album is titled It's Wine O’Clock. Set against the backdrop of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding ("Pump" actually samples the sound of a breast pump), Remy focuses her lens on motherhood and blankets it in disco-funk and R&B shimmer. —Rachel Brodsky

It took patience to wait for Raven, Kelela's first new album in six years, and it takes patience to really sink into it, to lose yourself in the spacious beats and lock into her more meditative headspace. Kelela obliquely reflects on the political climate and imagines a potential rebirth, a less astringent existence. The best place for that experience is still the dance floor, as she depicts on "Contact": "It's 2AM, yeah, we made it/ Everybody faded/ So high/ Now I’m floating away/ Far and away." —James Rettig

It's hard to make exceptional pop music, but it's maybe even harder to make chaotic experimental music hit like pop. Rachel Brown and Nate Amos pull it off on Everyone's Crushed. The album wrangles the disruptive noise of modern life into busy symphonies, sonic junkyard sculptures built from ingredients that defy the binary between melody and discordant blaring. The result is somewhere between cyberpunk and indie-pop, held together by Brown's bewildered humanity amidst the clatter. —Chris DeVille

This Stupid World is Yo La Tengo's 17th studio album. Just let that sink in for a minute. Any career band can get itself into the studio — the impressive part is how Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew always have something new to say (or not say, depending on how droney they’re feeling). With its lean production (courtesy of the band), existential themes, and trademark loud-quiet squall, This Stupid World is a sliver of light in dark places. —Rachel Brodsky

On her assured debut album (a decade in the making), Yaeji uses tools both new and familiar, wielding her slippery dance songs for introspection, working out why sometimes she feels so good and other times so bad. The attention to detail is impeccable; every track contains at least one idea that reveals someone firmly dedicated to her craft. With A Hammer is intricately constructed and icily cool, but still humane and inviting. —James Rettig

It was jarring to watch the youths of TikTok — a platform Caroline Polachek briefly conquered with the "So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings" dance – realize their fave was once in an old indie-pop duo called Chairlift. But Polachek has indeed been expanding her (and by extension, our) pop universe for 15 years now. On the Danny L Harle-produced Desire, her star goes supernova via experimental dips into R&B, new age, whimsical pop, and even flamenco. —Rachel Brodsky

It's remarkable just how physical Parannoul's music sounds, especially as it's become increasingly clear that it's primarily just one person and a computer. After The Magic, the third solo album from the still-anonymous South Korean musician, is a maximalist shoegaze fever dream, ultra-compressed and ultra impressive. From the acoustic-pop burbles of opener "Polaris" to its operatic closing title track, After The Magic is yet another reminder that songs made with machines can be just as distinctly human as ones requiring a corporeal touch. —James Rettig

On her sixth LP Multitudes, Leslie Feist finds new ways to express how two things can be true at once. From the tension-filled catharsis of "In Lightning" to the oh-so-quiet acoustic "Forever Before" to the dissonant beauty of "I Took All Of My Rings Off," Feist unpacks death, birth, and how daily life intermingles with both. —Rachel Brodsky

As frontperson, lead guitarist, songwriter, and primary producer for Bully, Alicia Bognanno is something of a Swiss Army knife, and on her forth studio effort Bognanno's prowess for vein-popping grunge-pop is as undeniable as ever. Lucky For You takes new strides — the tone is darker, muddier, and raspier — but it's still 100 percent Bully, which means distortion-heavy hooks and total candor. We’re lucky to have her. —Rachel Brodsky

It's understandable it took this long for Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker — who started as boygenius in 2018 — to release a full-length album: each performer's individual star has risen considerably in the five years since their revelatory self-titled EP. Reunited on the record, the trio's powers nearly overwhelm with gut-punch harmonies, sticky catchphrases ("always an angel, never a god"), and chemistry that leaps out of the speakers. Bridgers, Dacus, and Baker are the rare modern supergroup worthy of the descriptor. They might not be strong enough to be your man, but they are stronger together. —Rachel Brodsky

The New York rapper billy woods has been on a prolific, bewildering run these past few years. On Maps, he re-teams with Los Angeles producer Kenny Segal for an album that's as dense and dizzying as it is bleak, as woods untangles the complicated knot of finding success and a sense of stability in a society that continues to careen out of control. Through the humming anxiety of Segal's instrumentation and a bevy of incensed featured guests, Maps illuminates the fear of the road not taken. —James Rettig

What hath Alex G wrought? The Philadelphia wunderkind is a guiding light for Feeble Little Horse and many of the bands in their extended universe, but the Pittsburgh quartet is uniquely attuned to translating the qualities that have made the G man such a legend in this scene. Sophomore album Girl With Fish separates Feeble Little Horse from the pack, establishing them as a band that can turn muddy and indistinct experiments into real songs, with piled-on hooks and sardonic lyrics delivered by Lydia Slocum, their not-so-secret weapon. —James Rettig

Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA have been two of the most fired-up, unpredictable presences on the underground rap landscape for years, but they didn't fully unleash their inner freaks until they came together. Scaring The Hoes gets its title from the idea that these two are limiting their audiences by making dense, vivid hyper-rap, and maybe they are. But JPEGMAFIA's giddy, referential web of samples and beat-switches makes for its own kind of party, and both rappers treat it like one. —Tom Breihan

There's nothing quite like this album. The way Deedee barks at you throughout Post-American recalls any number of punk and hardcore forebears — including Militarie Gun's Ian Shelton, who produced the album and lends his own voice to "Delete It." Many bands have deployed synths that hit as hard as the drums. It feels like a simple formula, but on MSPAINT's debut it congeals into something revelatory. Is it synth-punk? New wave hardcore? Dystopian rap-rock? It doesn't matter what you call it, only how it makes you feel: confounded, exhilarated, ready to burn down society and start over in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. —Chris DeVille

Jessie Ware's reinvention has been a beautiful thing to witness. She was doing just fine for herself as a belter of grand, majestic ballads, and she was doing even better as a podcaster and cookbook author. But when Ware embraced dizzy, euphoric club sounds on 2020's What's Your Pleasure?, she unlocked something within herself. That! Feels Good! goes even deeper, with Ware applying her magnificent voice to lush, sexy, playful disco anthems that never feel forced or studied. She's just doing what feels good, and her pleasure is infectious. —Tom Breihan

They’re coming from the mountains. They’ve got their lap steel guitar; they’ve got their hooks, serrated and sweet; they’ve got their reverence for My Bloody Valentine and Drive-By Truckers and the Southern gothic. For the past four years, Wednesday have built up their musical community and their sound, and it all comes to a head on Rat Saw God: A sparklingly mangled document, it rips and roils and registers as a singularly staggering album. The band moves like a hulking colossus, craggy and sharp; its bleeding squalls are matched only by Karly Hartzman's violent poetics and bruised vocals, which elevate Wednesday from mere shoegaze acolytes to something invigorating and infinitely more exciting. —James Rettig

Stream a playlist with songs from all 50 albums, also available via Apple Music:

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