A&E Review

A Year in Review: The Top 10 Albums of 2023

Photo collage of album covers. Courtesy of Nick Hancock.

With 2023 now in the rearview mirror, it’s every music critic’s favorite time of the year as we get to dissect the past 12 months and pick our favorite releases. As always, remember this list will be based on my personal opinion, and while I feel I have pretty diverse music taste, I might leave something off that you loved. 

10. “CAN YOU IMAGINE?” – Elevation Worship / Best Song – “Praise”

It may be a bit surprising to see a worship album kick this list off, but Elevation Worship’s fourteenth live album was too good to leave off the list. It took a comfortable seat atop the Christian Billboards and featured some of worship music’s current best artists like Brandon Lake and Chandler Moore. Elevation Worship is not only revolutionizing Christian music but proved to the secular scene that gospel music can actually sound really smooth with “CAN YOU IMAGINE?”

9. “A Brief Nirvana” – Khamari / Best Song – “Tell Me”

The work from this “wanna-be Frank Ocean” artist from Boston made my songs of the summer list, and now six months later I’m still not over Khamari’s project. The long-lasting effects of this album make it disrespectful to compare him to Frank Ocean at this point, as he’s proved he’s got his own voice and style. Khamari’s 2023 album offers slow R&B love songs, bops perfect for  sunset drives on Coast Highways and everything in between. If you call yourself an R&B fan, then Khamari’s work needs to be in your rotation.

8. “Voir Dire” – Earl Sweatshirt and The Alchemist / Best Song – “Vin Skully”

This album — as brilliant as it is — is the epitome of rap music this year. We got a taste of a lot of solid music within the genre, but nothing seemed to stick. The Alchemist and Earl Sweatshirt mesh-like peanut butter and jelly on this project, but each track feels like a snippet rather than a song. This is a testament to how clean The Alchemist’s beats are and a compliment to the flow Sweatshirt maintains; because even though they found it difficult to produce a song over two minutes, the duo made a damn good album.

7. “Zach Bryan” – Zach Bryan / Best Song – “Holy Roller”

Don’t ask me why Zach Bryan decided to name his 2023 album after himself, but all I know is that this project is one of the best country-folk albums from this year. Bryan continues to blow fans away with his emotional songwriting, his ability to tell stories through music and his production quality that is levels above his country counterparts. My only concern with this album is the length and slight inability to switch things up. By song 12 of 16, I could feel my eyes getting heavy as he lulls me to sleep. The album is incredibly moving, but to some, it may seem like one, long sob story.

6. “For All The Dogs” – Drake / Best Song – “Tried Our Best”

Drake’s pure greatness in the music industry and rap game has actually done more harm than good for the Canadian artist. His bars can’t get any more clever, beats can’t get any harder and flow can’t get any smoother. At this point in his decorated career, Drake may be out of ways to impress us. Nevertheless, Drake hits another bullseye on “For All The Dogs,” and won’t get the credit he deserves. The ending of this album falls off hard, and that’s why it sits in the sixth spot.

5. “Higher” – Chris Stapleton / Best Song – “Think I’m In Love With You”

There really is no wrong way to go when picking a “Best Song” from Stapleton’s “Higher.” This project would be my choice for country album of the year, and it’s so beautifully crafted by Stapleton. The story of a man’s broken heart coming full circle is elegantly told through this 14-track album. The lyricism is top-notch on “Higher,” but in typical Chris Stapleton fashion, I found myself more impressed by his incredible vocals. 

4. “A Gift and a Curse” – Gunna / Best Song – “bread & butter”

Take into account the situation that Gunna was in when he dropped this album in June 2023, and it becomes the easy choice for trap album of the year. The Atlanta rapper was in the heat of the tense YSL trial, and facing immense backlash for his willingness to testify against his former counterparts. Knowing there was no one left in the industry willing to work with the “snitch of rap,” Gunna took this album on solo and killed it. The top song — “bread and butter” — is Gunna’s testimony to how difficult it was to have everyone turn their back on him.

3. “UTOPIA” – Travis Scott / Best Song – “MY EYES”

The album we thought we’d never get, and then it finally came. “UTOPIA” was a project that sat in Scott’s back pocket for nearly five years, but it was worth all the waiting. Scott’s sixth album was stacked with features and showed off Scott’s experimental side. From SZA’s heavenly vocals to 21 Savage’s mean tone, “UTOPIA” was a fun treat for music fans this summer. Scott poured everything he had into this after his last project “ASTROWORLD” was snubbed of the Rap Album of the Year award back in the 2019 Grammys.

2. “NEVER ENOUGH” – Daniel Caesar / Best Song – “Always”

Caesar has solidified himself as THE guy to beat in the R&B industry, and his most recent album only further proved that. His ability to tightrope on the precarious line between experimental R&B and traditional, soul R&B is remarkable. Caesar has a unique, irreplaceable style that makes his music so addicting while continuing to tap into the soulful roots of R&B that make the genre so easy-going. “NEVER ENOUGH” is the textbook example of how to create an R&B project that has something for each listener.

1. “SOS” – SZA / Best Song – “Snooze”

You probably forgot about this album right? “SOS” was released so late into 2022 that it didn’t make it into that year’s lists, and now as we enter 2024, “SOS” has been out for a full year. In that time though SZA has shown she is the voice of this generation. The movement and effect SZA’s album had wasn’t topped all year, and songs like “Snooze,” “Kill Bill” and “Love Language” have maintained a steady presence in my song rotation. On top of that, SZA rapped, rocked out and slowed it down on this album. She scored a hat trick on “SOS,” and this versatility makes her project the clear pick for album of the year.