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Pop Culture Corner: Some of my favorite albums of 2023

It’s a Spotify wrapped world out there

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 23: From left, Joe Jonas , Nick Jonas and Kevin Jonas, of the Jonas Brothers announce to the fans “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” before the start of the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium on June 23, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 23: From left, Joe Jonas , Nick Jonas and Kevin Jonas, of the Jonas Brothers announce to the fans “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” before the start of the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium on June 23, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With Spotify Wrapped dominating social media feeds at the end of every year for a few days, it’s as good a time as any to celebrate some of the best music we’ve listened to in 2023. Nowadays, most artists release a string of singles on streaming services. The Algorithms like this and reward the consistent production and release of #content for the consumers. This is why new popular artists often release a string of singles and EPs for years before putting out an album.

On one hand, this is good! If you’ve got a good song, you shouldn’t need to put out an entire album of songs before anybody has heard of you. That’s a lot of effort and a lot of investment. Not everyone has this.

On the other hand, it drives me bonkers when this happens, because I am an old man and I like albums. It’s easier than ever to put a random assortment of songs in a playlist. You don’t even have to burn a CD to do so. I find it tedious doing so, and as a result I listen to albums. The artist already curated a playlist of songs for me. They’re their own music experts.

So here are some of my favorite albums of this year, as my own Spotify wrapped will attest.

The Good Witch by Maisie Peters

What makes Taylor Swift, well, TAYLOR SWIFT? No, I’m not talking about the fame or the phenomena of Taylor Swift—we’re just focusing on her music here. I’d argue that her music succeeds because of a unique combination of three main factors: one, the personal specificity of her songs; two, her ability to craft memorable melodies; and three, the strength of her lyrics. Lots of artists write about themselves. Lots of artists write catchy stuff. Lots of artists are wonderful and incisive poets. It’s the synthesis that marks Swift’s success.

Why, then, am I talking about Swift when this section is ostensibly about Maisie Peters? It’s because, more than any other recent artist I can think of, Peters succeeds on all three counts. She’s a witty lyricist with sharp phrases like “You’re just a boy and I’m kind of the man” or “Now I can’t help thinking that she’s got a better body / has she got a body better than mine” or (my personal favorite) “Baby, I am the Iliad / of course you couldn’t read me.” She also regularly swaps lyrics within the chorus as the song progresses to more effectively tell stories.

But the lyrics shine as they do because the songs themselves are so good and so catchy. Personal favorites include The Band And I, a rock ballad about the ups and downs of Peters’ touring adventures; BSC, which features a driving drum groove and and references to Annie Hall and Graham Norton, and History of Man, a beautiful lament of the nature of relationships and breakups.

Out Of My Mind by Trousdale

For those of you who don’t know, I have an extensive musical background in classical, orchestral, and choral music. I graduated from college with a music degree and play French horn, trumpet, and sing in choirs. So while I have nothing against programmed drum loops and heavy auto-tune and electronic instruments, I gravitate towards ensemble musicianship and skilled instrumental performances that show live music mastery.

Trousdale is a perfect example and I love their music, because every song put out by the group is an endless barrage of expertly-crafted three-part harmonies sung by talented singers. Out Of My Mind is a genre mashup with elements of pop, soul, funk, and country. It’s got slow songs and fast songs and groovy songs and everything you’d ever want.

Personal favorites include If I’m Honest, a horn-infused earworm with slap bass that’ll get stuck in your head for a long time; Can’t Get Your Love Back, a relatively straightforward country ballad that features immensely satisfying drums and vocal harmonies; and Sometimes, a jazzy song that can best be described as a ‘bop’.

The Album by The Jonas Brothers

“What if we put out a disco funk album” is a sentence that somebody in The Jonas Brothers camp must have said, and somebody else must have said “Yeah ok that sounds great” because that’s what we’ve got with The Album. In a world where most artists are channeling 1980s sounds, this album heavily—and I mean heavily—is sonically inspired by the 1970s and groups like the Bee Gees and Stevie Wonder.

I didn’t listen to the Jo Bros’ earliest albums when I was young and therefore don’t have the nostalgia goggles that so many other people have about those albums. They were...ok. Fine. Clearly they had and still have musical talent, but in my mind The Album and The Jonas Brothers’ previous work, Happiness Begins, are the group’s best work. The Album is their crowning achievement, and it is legitimately an excellent album.

Everything is great! Waffle House is unbelievably catchy. Montana Sky is one of my favorite songs I’ve heard all year. Little Bird is a tearjerker. Walls (with Jon Bellion) goes so hard. Look, I know many of you will overlook this one because The Jonas Brothers. It’s your loss.

Unicorn by Gunship

A few years ago, I started to go down the rabbit hole of the genre “Synthwave.” It heavily channels 1980s vibes, from instrumentation (heavy on the synthesizers and saxophones) to visuals (purples and pinks and sunglasses and 80s cars) and lyrical themes (technology, cyberpunk-ness, general action star brooding, you get the gist).

The issue is that most Synthwave is not good, which pains me deeply. It’s one thing to create a good song that uses nostalgic sounds to create a mood. It’s another thing to use those synths as a crutch to paper over subpar songwriting. For every group like The Midnight or song like Blinding Lights you get a bunch of stuff that just wouldn’t survive existing outside of the pixelated hues of the digital 80s sunset.

Enter the band Gunship and their album Unicorn, which is the most over-the-top album I’ve ever heard. It leans so hard into its 80s videogame/sci-fi/futurism/synthwave moods that it almost ends up as parody. At multiple points when listening to the album for the first time, I burst out laughing at the saxophone solos in a few tunes.

I mean, come on. The song Nuclear Date Night features lyrics like “Nighttime is the right time for love” and “Optics run monochrome when it starts to get deep / volatile neurons in ultra high frequency.” The best song, however, is unquestionably Empress of the Damned—in no small part because it features vocals by one of my favorite artists, the Canadian pop queen Lights. But it’s all such great fun.

What are some of your favorite albums this year? What have you listened to? Sound off in the comments!