The year is coming to a close, and as usual, The Boar is proud to present their picks for the best albums released this year. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Are your favourites included on this list?
Live at Bush Hall by Black Country, New Road – Anna Bickerton
The band whose name derives from a random Wikipedia article generator, Black Country, New Road, have continued to stand out on the post-punk scene this year with their third album Live at Bush Hall. The departure of characterful frontman Isaac Wood had left questions about how the band would live up to the success of their critically acclaimed sophomore album Ants From Up There – concerns that the bewitching showcase of May Kershaw, Lewis Evans, and Tyler Hyde’s vocal talents throughout the album comfortably dispelled. The six-piece’s now well-established practice of lengthy album tracks endures with the 10-minute ‘Turbines/Pigs’, a simultaneously mesmerisingly beautiful and soul-crushing performance. But it is the endearing “Look at what we did together, BC, NR friends forever” call of the opener ‘Up Song’, an assertion of the Windmill Brixton alumni’s continued commitment to creativity and dedication that finalises my nomination of the album.
Chaos for the Fly by Grian Chatten – Sophie Flint Vázquez
In his debut solo album, Grian Chatten, renowned frontman of post-punk sensation Fontaines DC, boldly departs from the raucous, all-consuming instrumentals that characterised their previous works. Instead, he invites us to the stagnant world of small, Irish, seaside towns through mellow vocals, lilting guitars, and sparkling synth rhythms. Chatten’s haunting vocals, reminiscent of the late Elliott Smith, make a mesmerising patchwork of emotions saturated in sombre, treacle-like melancholy. Chatten’s lyrical prowess makes Chaos for the Fly more akin to poetry set to music. His vivid portrayal of workers salting roads in ‘Salt Throwers Off a Truck’ is nothing short of genius. Another standout is ‘Bob’s Casino’, a nostalgic journey led by emotive brass arrangements, elevated by the backing vocals of Chatten’s fiancée, Georgie Jessen. Despite being less than a year old, Chaos is a musical gem that transcends time and sounds like it could have been written at any point in the last 70 years, a testament to his artistic brilliance.
So Much (For) Stardust by Fall Out Boy – Alex Bird
With its themes of heartbreak, the passage of time, and stardom, Fall Out Boy produces a coherent album that places melancholy alongside almost euphoric highs. Lyrically, the album is incredibly self-referential, something which appeals to diehard Fall Out Boy fans. A perfect example of this is the self-referential closing track ‘So Much (For) Stardust’ which features a heart-wrenching reprise of ‘Love From the Other Side’, that solidifies the package. This album feels like an intimate labour of love from Fall Out Boy, marking it not just as one of their best releases but as one of the best releases of 2023.
Javelin by Sufjan Stevens – Dan Nobbs
Sufjan Stevens captures blisteringly raw emotions on this intimate and oddly beautiful record. Javelin recaptures the magic Stevens found with his acclaimed 2015 album Carrie & Lowell, delving into contemplations of death and grief. In the space of a year, Stevens has had to relearn how to walk after a crippling illness and endured the devastating loss of his partner Evans Richardson. Stevens delivers an oddly comforting and tender record, confronting the effective collapse of his life as he knows it with warm and intricate singer-songwriter work, which stands tall with the best work of his two-decade-long career.
Unreal Unearth by Hozier – Lucy Gibbons
Hozier’s masterful Unreal Unearth takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions. The singer-songwriter had a tough act to follow after the success of both his debut and sophomore albums, but his third album is arguably his best one yet. The beautiful ‘De Selby (Part One)’ transports you into a hypnotic trance, while the transition into ‘De Selby (Part Two)’ will snap you back into reality. His renowned lyricism permeates each track, particularly the soulful ‘Unknown / Nth’ and heart-wrenching ‘All Things End’. Over the hour duration, Hozier evokes every possible emotion, with you questioning: “what just happened?” as the final note of ‘First Light’ hits.
the record by boygenius – Tom Lowe
This album is a true blessing from three of the most elite members of indie royalty. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus have combined their artistic talents to produce something truly special. From the instant classic ‘Not Strong Enough’, to the introspective soul-searching ‘True Blue’, boygenius’ the record is a landmark in songwriting and music production. Some may criticise the album for lacking a cohesive structure or style, but it is important to consider that this is still a band finding its footing in the industry, and the record is a wonderful foundation from which boygenius can propel itself forward.
RUSH! by Måneskin – Grace Goodwin
I’m surprised to say that my own choice comes from the Italian rock group most famous for winning Eurovision in 2021. This year, they’ve hit the music scene with a distinctive brand of what can be called sleaze-rock, which might seem like a reductive label, but in the case of Måneskin, it seems to be the very image they thrive off. My personal favourites range from the louder, more crazed anthems: ‘MAMMAMIA’, ‘GOSSIP (feat. Tom Morello)’, and ‘BABY SAID’, which fuel the anti-authority, provocative rock foundation of the album to more dynamic personal songs: ‘TIMEZONE’ and especially ‘THE LONELIEST’. Critics have debated the necessity of their place in the music world, but I think the point is that they’re unabashedly fun and don’t take themselves too seriously, as their songs suggest. This album has become my car litmus test among friends and is definitely my highlight of the year, however rogue.
Aurora by Daisy Jones & the Six – Emily Neville
Aurora by Daisy Jones & the Six was a soundtrack I had been looking forward to since the first time I read Taylor Jenkins Reid’s fascinating novel. And although I had expected the exact replica of what was written in the novel, I was even more impressed with the final product than I could have ever imagined. The backdrop of a 1970s theme provides exquisite vibes and easy listening, regardless of whether you are familiar with the plot or not. But with the added knowledge of the storyline, the voices of the cast truly shine through.
GUTS by Olivia Rodrigo – Tilly Armstrong
Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS as the successor of her critically acclaimed debut SOUR is the ultimate ode/lamentation to the inner conflicts of being a teenage girl. This album is even less repressed, more overtly frustrated at society’s unattainable beauty standards and contradictory expectations of women. Yet perhaps GUTS’ greatest asset arises from the fact that most of its bubbling rage is directed towards the self and the tendency to make the foolish decisions which characterise adolescence. GUTS’ acute sense of self-awareness is a stark reminder that the teenage era, although romanticised, is often one defined by mistakes, misplaced trust, and crumbling identity.
Broken By A Desire To Be Heavenly Sent by Lewis Capaldi – Anokh Tiwana-Parmar
Lewis Capaldi’s 2023 album was the one I listened to while going through my heartbreak this year. It was emotionally captivating, and it left a particularly painful sting as ‘Wish You The Best’ was released around the same time I received the same message. His vocals, as always, are searing, and while the melodies are simple, it’s his ability to capture the universal stages of grief we all have when we lose someone we love and can’t bear to be without. It will always be the album I associate with the start of my twenties and the life lessons I needed to learn. I never thought that covering ‘Forget Me’ at the start of my second year would end up being a song I related to just months later. ‘Haven’t You Ever Been In Love Before?’ will always be the album’s highlight and the one that profoundly moves me yet again to tears. As always, Capaldi proves his ability to transform pain into a series of emotive hits.
Desire, I Want To Turn Into You by Caroline Polacheck – Devina Singh
Caroline Polachek’s sophomore album Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is fantastically vivid. I’ve found that I love albums that have a certain transportive quality. Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is sure to whisk you away – Polachek’s use of imagery and a tropical backdrop places its listener right on an island. Each track could stand on its own. When tied together with Polachek’s piercing vocals, they create a seamless listening experience. An album ripe with colour, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is a yearning escapist’s dream world, as each song twists with imagery and want.