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Top 30 Must-Listen Albums of 2023: SoundThread's Picks



As 2023 comes to a close, I'm taking a look back at all the great new music that's graced my ears. In the past, I've focused on "top songs" of the year (and I'll still do that), but I realize that most of my listening focus this year has been about the album - about the full, artist-intended listening experience, from beginning to end, from A-Side to B-Side on the turntable. I couldn't limit this list to a "top ten" or "top twenty," nor could I rank them in any way, as every one of these long plays is special, noteworthy and unique on its own. They've all carried me through 2023 in one way or another. Perhaps some of these albums are new to you, the reader, and may resonate in some way with you or awaken a musical heartstring that you'll embrace for years to come. So, in alphabetical order, I present my Top 30 "must-listen" albums of 2023.

 

Emma Anderson | Pearlies

Former Lush member Emma Anderson's debut album, Pearlies, is absolutely stunning. Since the dream pop band's last release, 2016's Blind Spot EP, we've heard new music from Lush co-founder Miki Berenyi with her new band Piroshka, while Pearlies introduces the first solo material from Emma. The dreamy, lush guitar soundscapes and beautifully written melodies that envelop Emma's soft, mesmerizing vocals, magically layered atop elegantly spacious production, make this one of my favorite albums of the year. Definitely worth the wait for this stunning solo debut and hoping there is more on the way from Emma Anderson.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Clusters"

 

Jacob Aranda | War Planes

California-based indie-folk singer-songwriter Jacob Aranda's sophomore album, War Planes, is a touching collection of poignant and deeply personal life experiences conveyed through the powerful medium of Jacob's music. Warm, beautiful Southwestern-flavored melodies are the pages of the War Planes songbook, with Jacob's masterful, heartfelt and melancholic vocals narrating each of the chapters of this album. With lyrical themes that touch upon coming to grips with facets of youth, embracing truth, letting go of burden, mourning loss and finding reunification, War Planes is an impressive and refreshing must-listen.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Strangers in a Field"

 

Ane Brun | Rarities 2

Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun unveils Rarities 2, a welcome and anticipated companion to her 2013 Rarities compilation of demos, unreleased tracks and other non-album material. As Ane celebrates 20 years as a musician, this enjoyable compilation presents her own compositions as well as unique takes on a diverse range of songs and artists that range from Bill Withers, Otis Redding, Julie Miller and Joni Mitchell to the likes of ABBA, a-ha and Aurora.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "I Still Cry"


 

Course | Tight Feathers

The sophomore album, Tight Feathers, from Chicago synth-pop band Course presents a magical, modern mix of dream pop, electronic and indie rock. With an overarching theme that speaks to letting go of one's fears and insecurities in order to embrace the chaos and uncertainty in life, the ten tracks across this outstanding release gorgeously flow from one to the next with Jess Robbins' melodic, atmospheric vocals leading the listener through the enchanting vibe that is Tight Feathers.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "None Of Us Are Good Enough"

 

Darin | En Annan Jag

En Annan Jag (Another Me) from Swedish singer-songwriter and pop star Darin (Zanyar) is the only non-English entry in our 2023 Album Roundup. After recently releasing a series of English-language singles that featured in his My Purple Clouds (2022) EP, En Annan Jag finds the artist returning to his native Swedish tongue and a noticeably more upbeat, charged and downright danceable studio album with heartfelt and honest lyrical themes (you'll have to trust me on this!), ultra-catchy melodies, polished production and Darin's instantly-recognizable, dynamic and soaring vocals.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Om Du Var Min" (If You Were Mine)

 

Day Wave | Pastlife

In his second studio album, Pastlife, dream pop singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Day Wave (a.k.a., Jackson Phillips) rekindles and refines the aural magic we first experienced on his impressive debut album, The Days We Had (2017). The multi-layered, lo-fi production that incorporates reverbed guitars and dreamy synths is fresh, upbeat and modern, while channeling hints of Joy Division and The Radio Dept. Check out the deluxe version of the album that concludes with a touching cover of The Cranberries' classic "Linger."


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Where Do You Go"

 

Eighty Ninety | Eighty Ninety

Since making their debut in 2016 with their viral hit "Three Thirty," NYC-based indie pop duo Eighty Ninety have released three outstanding EP's (Elizabeth, The Night Sky, Bowery Beach Road) over the past few years. Following a series of stunning new single releases, siblings Abner and Harper James round out the year with the unveiling of their anticipated, self-titled, full-length debut, Eighty Ninety. The 10-track album presents the band’s most cohesive and confident work to date, with intimate storytelling, infectious melodies, and minimalist pop productions built on acoustic instruments and electronic sounds. In the band's own words, "The album explores unspoken words, missed opportunities, and moments that may seem wasted."


SoundThread Favorite Track: "2 Carat"

 

Fever Ray | Radical Romantics

Radical Romantics, Karin Dreijer's third solo album under their Fever Ray alias has been one my favorite listens of the year. Just as much as I still love the way their dark/broody self-titled solo album makes me feel, Radical Romantics is more dancy and upbeat, quite reminiscent of some of Karin's later creative work with brother Olof Dreijer as The Knife. In fact, we find contributions from Olof on several tracks and music videos from Radical Romantics. If you've been thirsting for new Fever Ray or just missing some classic The Knife music, then Radical Romantics is a must-listen.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Shiver"

 

Frances Luke Accord | Safe In Sound

Chicago-based indie folk duo Frances Luke Accord's stunning sophomore album, Safe In Sound, is medicine for soothing the chaos of everyday life. Penned as a modern day indie folk version of Simon & Garfunkel, Safe In Sound finds Frances Luke Accord at their finest. This is an album glittered with gorgeous musical pearls that are comprised of textured harmonies, poignant lyrical themes, spacious arrangements and first-rate songwriting.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "This Morning"



 

Peter Gabriel | i/o

Whenever there is news of an upcoming new Peter Gabriel studio album, I'm always reminded of the phrase: "You can't rush creativity." It's been more than 20 years since Up, Peter's last studio album of new material. Throughout 2023, listeners have been treated to both "bright side" and "dark side" versions of new Peter Gabriel songs released in conjunction with each full moon. The year is over and those 24 tracks (two versions of each song) are compiled in Peter's new album, i/o. Subscribers to Peter's Bandcamp page are treated to extra commentary, videos and rough mixes of each of the songs (check it out!). The wait has been worth it - i/o is here.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "The Court"

 

Stefano Guzzetti | Music for Marianne

While only clocking in at just over 20 minutes, the nine beautiful instrumental (piano, violin) tracks that comprise Music for Marianne, the soundtrack to the 2021 film Bettgefluster (Pillow Talk), will transport you to a faraway, magical, fairytale-like place. Sardinian musician Stefano Guzzetti's neo-classical compositions are the elegant and emotive musical tapestries that are born to adorn and enhance cinematic creations. If you like what you hear, check out the full catalog of Stefano's releases on his 2020 Editions label.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Marianne"

 

Juliana Hatfield | Sings ELO

If you're not familiar with Juliana Hatfield's recent cover albums, you are missing out! Her latest release, Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO, follows the impressive trend established with her previous and equally-as-stunning Sings The Police (2019) and Sings Olivia Newton-John (2018) cover albums. Perfectionism is clearly at work here - each of the ELO covers pays true homage to the originals, with Juliana's warm, melodic vocals offering a fresh vocal element to each of the songs. Look for the bonus "I'm Alive" 7" single at the American Laundromat Records store to accompany this fun cover album.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Don't Bring Me Down"

 

Hazlett | Bloom Mountain

Music can be therapeutic. When I'm looking for inspiration, calm and simply want to reset, I'm regularly drawn to the music of Australian-born singer-songwriter and storyteller Hazlett. Bloom Mountain spotlight's Hazlett's therapeutic, infectious songwriting style with uplifting, empowering lyrics. The gorgeous acoustic instrumentation, airy production and Hazlett's warm, emotive vocals are the perfect musical medicine for reflection and putting life back into perspective.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "My Skin"


 

Kristin Hersh | Clear Pond Road

On her eleventh solo studio album, Clear Pond Road, singer-songwriter and alternative rock icon Kristin Hersh paints a cinematic and elegant soundscape of intensely personal moments, reflections and perspective. The songs of Clear Pond Road are bathed in predominantly acoustic guitar and beautiful strings, intricately melded with Kristin's edgy, honest and occasionally vulnerable vocals that tell songs straight from the heart.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Dandelion"



 

Emma Hewitt | Ghost Of The Light

One of most instantly recognizeable voices in EDM music is that of Australian-born singer-songwriter Emma Hewitt. Her voice and songwriting ability boldly came into their own spotlight with the release of her magnificent debut solo album, Burn The Sky Down (2012). "Miss You Paradise," co-written with her brother Anthony, is one of my all-time favorite songs. 2023 gifted us Emma's long-awaited follow-up album, Ghost Of The Light, and it was definitely worth the wait. The production, atmosphere and songwriting across the album's 13 tracks is outstanding. Fingers and toes crossed for more Emma Hewitt solo albums in the future.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Warrior"

 

Cade Hoppe | Just Look At The Moon

NYC-based indie-pop artist and songwriter Cade Hoppe has gone from writing songs in his bedroom to working alongside legendary musicians and producers in just a few short years. Cade's new album, Just Look At The Moon, showcases heartfelt lovesongs to existential reflections, with Cade's warm, baritone vocals and heartfelt lyrics alongside the minimalist synth-pop production that is prevalent throughout this impressive release.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Fool's Gold"



 

hunter & wolfe | I deserve this.

Returning with their first new record in six years, hunter & wolfe, the Brooklyn-based duo comprised of vocalist Michael Maffei and guitarist Sundeep Kapur dropped their new album, I deserve this. Their unique guitar/piano-based indie-rock style that lyrically infuses melancholy and energized optimism shines boldly and brightly throughout the eleven standout tracks on I deserve this. The album's accompanying music videos are clever and inventive and deserve a watch on their own (e.g., the video for "Last Time").


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Anyone"

 

IVORY BLUE | Starlit Love Child

The ten outstanding tracks that span Starlit Love Child, the new album from Kansas City-based alternative singer-songwriter and producer IVORY BLUE originate from the artist's real-life and sometimes painful life stories. As a voice and beacon of strength for those that need to be understood, accepted, respected and loved, IVORY BLUE clearly has the knack for crafting powerful, energized indie rock gems that features their commanding vocals and strong, catchy melodies.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "All Outta Love"


 

KÅRP | Perfect Order, KRIS, Radical You (Apocalypse Trilogy)

Swedish indie-electronic outfit and 'death disco' pioneers KÅRP wrapped up the year with the release of Radical You, the third and final installment in their "apocalypse trilogy" project. Following the electronic, death disco soundscape and theme that their first two EP's (Perfect Order and KRIS) established, the tracks on the forward-looking Radical You are characterized by the idea that a new world must emerge when the old one crumbles. The 12 tracks that span the apocalypse trilogy present an exhilariting electronic journey through chaos, change, crisis and hope for a better world.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Greasy Makeup"

 

mehro | Dark Corners and Alchemy

Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter mehro showcases his delicate and distinct style of brooding, heartfelt bedroom pop throughout his profound and captivating new album, Dark Corners and Alchemy. Poignant and contemporary lyrical themes are enveloped in a "less-is-more," dreamy production, with a prevalence of acoustic fingerstyle accompaniment and mehro's hypnotic, inspiring, and edgy vocal delivery. After just a few listens, the tracks of Dark Corners and Alchemy feel like songs you've known all your life.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "whore"

 

Mike Mentz | Into The Dark

In late 2022, singer-songwriter-traveler Mike Mentz packed up his guitar and headed to central Mexico. That was it - that was the extent of the plan. What ensued was one of the most vibrant adventures of Mike's life, shaped by a story uncovered piece by piece over two months and thousands of miles throughout central Mexico. Mike's creative adventure resulted in Into The Dark, comprised of seven cover songs, each chosen while in transit to tell a single story, along with 14 accompanying music videos, filmed on location along the journey. Melodically brought to life by Mike's warm, expressive and soaring vocals, this is one impressive cover album your ears and heart will thank you for listening to.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"

 

Nation Of Language | Strange Disciple

Brooklyn-based synth/new wave trio Nation Of Language unleashed their ultra-impressive third studio album, Strange Disciple, this year. Ranking at the top of my 2023 Spotify Wrapped, the ten tracks on Strange Disciple are abundant with vibrant, retro-sounding synths, infectious melodies, and drawn out of the gate by lead vocalist Ian Devaney's instantly recognizable, echoing 80's/new wave vocals that elevate all the outstanding tracks to anthemic heights.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Sole Obsession"



 

Pieter Nooten | Someone There

Composed, mixed and mastered in his minimalist home studio in Amsterdam, Someone There is the magnificent, moving new album from nu-ambient, neo-classical composer Pieter Nooten. As one of the founding members of 80's darkwave/goth band Clan of Xymox, Pieter contributed to the classical depth and atmosphere of the band's sound through their Phoenix (1990) album, until the founding members went their own ways. The moving compositions within Someone There express a beautiful combination of piano, strings and subtle electronic textures that create a delicate and expansive presence, establishing Someone There as yet another gorgeous, ambient masterpiece from this brilliant neo-classical composer.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "TT Revisited"

 

Ohly | Miracle

Detroit-based indie folk singer-songwriter Ohly (a.k.a., Christian Ohly) released his superb new album, Miracle, following a series of impressive singles ("Maybe It's You," "Knuckles," "R&P," "Sing For You," "Pistons") that led up to the album's release. Bringing together a solid songwriting sensibility, fingerstyle acoustic guitar mastery, heartfelt and dynamic vocal delivery, and an astute skill for writing lyrics that easily resonate with and relate to the listener, the 14 tracks that comprise Ohly's Miracle are captivating chapters of this cohesive and outstanding full-length album release from this emerging indie folk musician.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "If We Ever"

 

Maddie Regent | Girl Of Your Dreams

On her brilliant new album, Girl Of Your Dreams, NYC alt-pop singer and songwriter Maddie Regent creates a shimmery and vividly immersive electro-pop wonderland from the eight gorgeous songs that grace this release. Maddie's dreamy, melodic vocals frolic and dance atop the infectious melodies, glistening synths and uplifting and driving electronic soundscape that is prevalent throughout Girl Of Your Dreams.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Can't Pretend"




 

Justin Sconza | Parlor

On his third studio album, Parlor, Chicago-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Justin Sconza tells the story of someone's journey from a regular house to a fantastic, dreamlike living room by way of a map they found. On Parlor, Justin played all the instruments (including guitar, drums, mellotron and pedal steel), sang, and recorded all the songs on his trusty 8-track. Characterized by a combination of background sounds of everyday life and lyrics that are impressionistic pictures of day-to-day experiences, Parlor is a must-listen for anyone who loves garage rock, psychedelic music, or vintage movie scores.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "No Real Place To Go"

 

Slowdive | everything is alive

Coming six years after the group's recent and iconic self-titled album, UK indie/shoegaze forerunners Slowdive release their mesmerizing fifth studio album, everything is alive. With just eight tracks, but clocking in over 40 minutes, this expansive and cinematic masterpiece demonstrates that the band clearly still has the creative spark and magic to stand the test of time and continue making their mark with new generations of faithful and enchanted listeners. "Kisses" is one of the best songs in the band's catalog, and the shimmering and dreamy instrumental "Prayer Remembered" reminds me why this band holds a special place in my heart.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Kisses"

 

Squirrel Flower | Tomorrow's Fire

Chicago-based indie rock musician Squirrel Flower's new album, Tomorrow's Fire, is brimming with superb songwriting, ethereal ambience and downright serious indie rock. Minimalist, hazy melodies are juxtaposed with songs where sweet harmonies and infectious riffs rub shoulders with amplified, lo-fi electric guitars and garage rock ambiance. Ella's mesmerizing and emotive vocals are the common thread that weaves the residents of Tomorrow's Fire together, resulting in a cathartic, refreshing and energized listening experience.

SoundThread Favorite Track: "Alley Light"

 

Thompson Springs | Standby

Chicago-based indie rock band Thompson Springs' latest album release, Standby, sees the band set their sights on a fresh and captivating blend of classic guitar rock, blues and a dash of old school/outlaw country. Solid songwriting talents abound on Standby with Matt Smith at the helm with core lineup that includes Jacob Bicknase, David Thrift, Jeff Sullivan and Ryan Suzuka among others. Produced by Wilco's own Pat Sansone, Standby is a testament to the band's talent, steady growth and emergence in the indie/alt rock genre.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "All I Wanna Do"

 

Tiny Microphone | Other Cities

Tiny Microphone is the indie/dream pop project of Portland-based singer-songwriter Kristine Capua, and Other Cities is her new outstanding and gorgeous solo album. Readers and listeners may recognize Kristine as one-half of the indie pop music project, Tiny Fireflies, her collaboration with Lisle Mitnik. Other Cities was a labor of love for Kristine that started prior to the pandemic, but finally saw the light of day this year. And it was definitely worth the wait. Other Cities is one of the finest and most uplifting listens of 2023. Kristine's sweet, soothing vocals, catchy melodies and clean production are prevalent throughout the entire album. While only two singles were officially released ("Holiday" and "Stranger"), every track on Other Cities is single-worthy.


SoundThread Favorite Track: "Holiday"


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