10) Geese - 3D Country
Geese were never supposed to make it this far. Formed in high school, they intended to break up after graduation in pursuit of furthering their academics. Luckily, Partisan Records signed the five-piece rock group (now four, guitarist Foster Hudson did end departing to focus on academics) and provided us with 2021’s Projector, but more importantly 2023’s 3D Country. A concept album at its core, the narrative follows a cowboy wandering through the desert as psychedelic drugs take effect, opening up and unfolding the world around him. The fast-paced and punchy “2122” opens the album and establishes the rock and alternative country themes that persist throughout the album. “I See Myself” is a Funkadelic-esque love song with a simple, yet effective chorus and soulful backing vocals. The highlight of the record is easily frontman Cameron Winter’s grandiose and widespread vocals. Reminiscent of baritone cowboys, teenage heartthrobs, and everyone in between, his ability as a vocalist to seamlessly transition and manipulate his voice is best showcased in the record’s title track. The lyricism, not to be overshadowed by the vocals, is silly in essence but also serves as a large backing to what makes the record special. Lines such as “I’ve got eyes for anything moving, fell in love with a tumbleweed” and “What I saw could make a dead man die” put the band in a lane of their own, and are proof that you don’t always have to go to college.
Favorite Tracks: “3D Country”; “I See Myself”; “2122”
- Ryan Carraway
9) Paramore - This is Why
This Is Why is Paramore’s first album together since After Laughter in 2017, and it is so much fun! Tracks like “This Is Why,” “The News,” and “Big Man, Little Dignity” feel like a glimpse into Haley Williams’ diary circa 2020, and they definitely capture some of the frustrations we all felt over the pandemic. Where the album really shines though is in its second half. Tracks like “You First,” “Figure 8,” and “Crave” feel a bit more nuanced lyrically, and they really show the full extent of Williams’ vocal range, which we don’t see as much in tracks like “C’est Comme Ça.” Overall, the album is an easy listen, and the shows they did promoting it looked like a blast!
Favorite Tracks: “You First,” “Crave,” “Thick Skull”
- Mary Scott
8) 100 Gecs - 10,000 Gecs
Hyperpop, a genre of electronic music characterized by its unique, experimental sound full of distortion, unconventional structures, vocal manipulation, and dynamic beats, has roots that trace all the way back to the early 2000s. Most notably, producer A. G. Cook played an important role in shaping the genre through his record label PC Music. In 2019, the duo Dylan Brady and Laura Les (also known as 100 Gecs) took part in introducing hyperpop to the mainstream with the release of their debut album 1000 Gecs. At the time of its release, this album was an immense success that garnered viral attention for the hyperpop genre as a whole. Now four years later, 100 Gecs continues this creative journey with the release of their sophomore album 10,000 Gecs.
10,000 Gecs builds on the creativity and fun that is the sound of hyperpop, incorporating elements of ska, nu-metal, and rock into a unique blend. This fusing of multiple styles and influences ultimately creates a sound unique to 100 Gecs, giving them a prominent place in the music scene. The album opens with the powerful track “Dumbest Girl Alive.” In this song, Laura Les discusses the topic of self-identity while also expressing a nonchalant and indifferent approach to criticism—somewhat ironically agreeing with the critics who say she is “dumb.” The next tracks: "757," "Hollywood Baby," "Frog on the Floor," and "Doritos & Fritos," all give off a playful tone full of whimsical lyricism. These are much like the songs of their 2019 predecessor, making them some of the most popular ones on the album. "Billie Knows Jamie" brings the rap-rock sound to 10,000 Gecs in a way much like that of Limp Bizkit or Korn, excitingly shifting to a heavier tone during the second half of the song. The following track, "1 Million Dollars," seems like an energetic transition or interlude between "Billy Knows Jamie" and a standout piece on the album, “The Most Wanted Person In The United States." This particular track takes the perspective of a serial killer in a witty rhythmical sample of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain.” The last two tracks, "I Got My Tooth Removed" and "mememe," finish off the album successfully, making it a memorable sophomore release and an overall success for 100 Gecs that is definitely worth the listen.
Favorite Tracks: “757”; “Hollywood Baby”; “Doritos & Fritos”; “The Most Wanted Person In The United States”
7) Dominic Fike - Sunburn
Sunburn is Dominic Fike's second studio album, following his 2020 release What Could Possibly Go Wrong. Down to the title of this project, Dominic Fike perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of summer with bright production and laid back vocals. Fike's Floridian upbringing really shows in this album, not only in the production, but in the subject matter as a lot of the songs see Fike delving into his past, recollecting the good and the bad in growing up in south Florida. Fike has taken a more mainstream pop direction with this album particularly seen in songs like "Mona Lisa," which was used in movie Spider Man, Across the Spider Verse. This is far from a bad thing, however, as I think embracing this more upbeat, poppy sound works tremendously in Fike's favor in terms of the albums feel. Tracks such as "How Much is Weed?", "Ant Pile", "Sunburn", "Mama's Boy", and "Dark" exemplify the best aspects of the album and really show how Fike creatively embraces this new sound. Overall, Sunburn is a solid summer album packed with good vibes and a very nice sound.
- David Wheeler
6) Zach Bryan - Zach Bryan
This year’s release of Zach Bryan’s self-titled, sophomore album continues the singer-songwriter’s reign as a generational sensation– one that extends far beyond the realm of the country music world. I don’t consider myself a country music “fan” by any means, but I find myself constantly revisiting this album. Though it definitely boasts plenty of Americana classics, the genre of this album can feel oddly ambiguous at times. There’s something for everyone to appreciate, from the earnest lyricism of “Tourniquet” to upbeat country classics like “Fear and Fridays.” Bryan experiments with collaboration, teaming up with both high-profile artists like The Lumineers and up-and-comers like The War & Treaty. Regardless of his production style or who he’s working with, Bryan’s sincerity is present in every track. Not a single part of this album feels commercial, but instead reads like pages from a diary. Zach Bryan has proved he’s more than deserving of a seat at the industry’s table. We’re witnessing what will one day be regarded as the beginning of a legendary career.
Favorite Songs: “Tourniquet,” “Ticking,” “East Side of Sorrow”
- Lauren Alexander
5) Mitski - The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We
Mitski released her 7th studio album in 2023 to critical acclaim. The Singer-Songwriter considered retirement after her 2022 album, Laurel Hell, but renegotiated her deal with label Dead Oceans to keep releasing music. It’s a great thing she did, because The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We is Mitski’s strongest album in years. Her sound is quieter and slower, but the album retains her lonely and crushing lyrics. She’s really matured as an artist, reaching a warmer and more spacious sound on this record. Multiple songs feature beautiful orchestral arrangements by Drew Erickson. Mitski is amazing vocally on this album, with her voice sounding the strongest on “I Don’t Like My Mind.” This is one of the best new albums to own on vinyl. The instrumentals reach a feverish pace until they reach distortion on songs like “The Deal” and “When Memories Snow.” But, the biggest standout is “My Love Mine All Mine.” The song is a low-key love ballad that has captured the hearts of her fanbase. In the five months it’s been out, the song is already Mitski’s second highest streamed song ever and is about to pass 500 million streams. The album finishes on a fantastic three song run. “Star” features an ethereal instrumental, “I’m Your Man” is a haunting tune of betrayal, and “I Love Me After You” is a power song of independence that reaches shoegaze levels of noise. Overall, the album is phenomenal. It’s a tight 32 minutes over 11 tracks, with the album being all killer and no filler. If you have half an hour, give this album a try. You won’t regret it.
4) Black Country, New Road - Live at Bush Hall
Upon the departure of their frontman Isaac Wood just before the release of last year’s Ants From Up There, the future of the new and already iconic Black Country, New Road was uncertain. However, alongside the departure of Isaac, the band issued a statement saying the remaining six members would continue the band. When they returned to the stage there were no songs from the recent album or anything they had done before, but instead they played what would later be released as the live album, Live at Bush Hall. The album begins with “Up Song” sung by Tyler Hyde and nods to everything the band had accomplished with the line, “Look at what we did together, BC,NR, friends forever”. The next song on the album presents a new lead vocalist, May Kershaw, and on track four another lead, Lewis Evans. This cycle of vocalists demonstrates both an effort to fill the shoes of someone great and a statement that talent remains spread throughout the whole band. While the passionate angst and often cryptic writing the band had previously used remained a part of this album, a tinge of sweetness had made its way onto the album with songs like “The Boy” and “Across The Pond Friend”. The artistry between the vocals and instrumentation throughout the album colors a feeling of emotion that can’t be accurately explained outside the sphere of music. The unpolished finish to every second of song says something so human and relatable about the album; even the instruments sound like they’re talking, voice cracks and all. While Live at Bush Hall is a new direction for BC,NR, it absolutely works, and it shows promise that one of the most exciting modern bands will continue to build on their already stellar legacy.
- Trey Hibbard
3) Boygenius - the record
Every time I listen to the record, I feel the same excitement that I felt a year ago when boygenius announced that they were releasing their first full-length LP. The group - consisting of Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers - has had me hooked since the release of their self-titled EP in 2018 and, more specifically, the NPR Tiny Desk Concert that followed. While their debut release had more of a folky, “back porch” feel (in my Dad’s words), the record showed a much more playful side of the group. While they definitely stick to their sad indie roots in tracks like “Revolution 0,” “Emily I’m Sorry,” and “Cool About It,” tracks like “$20” and “Satanist” show off the band’s ability - according to Baker - to be “fun and cool and angry.” The three songwriters have always been deeply personal in their work, and I would say that the record reflects their growth not just as artists, but as people, over the five years since boygenius. The closing track on the record - “Letter to an Old Poet” - is probably the most shining example, and I am not kidding when I say that I get chills every time I hear it. The song reprises the tune of their breakout hit “Me & My Dog,” but changes the lyrics to reflect the healing they have done since the EP’s release, which I think is something everyone can relate to having had lots of time for self-reflection over the course of the pandemic and the years that have followed. Overall, I feel like the record emphasizes the importance of friendship and deep, personal connection and understanding - a message more important now than ever! Go, Boys. Go!
Favorite Tracks: Letter to an Old Poet, Satanist, Not Strong Enough
- Mary Scott
2) JPEGMafia and Danny Brown - SCARING THE HOES
SCARING THE HOES is a collaborative studio album sung and produced by the rappers JPEGMafia and Danny Brown. The album is composed of 14 tracks and only spans to around 36 minutes.
Each track is laid out in a way where they not only tell a story with the lyrics but also with the instrumental. The style of drums they use ultimately gives the album and the music style itself its unique sound. While most of the songs seem pretty fast paced the rappers do an exceptional job but making each song flow together giving the whole album a fairly free and flowy vibe. "SYBAU/MW" and "Kingdom Hearts Key" are two perfect examples of this because of how clean the switch in vibes are within the song. "Lean Beef Patty” is honestly the best song to open up this album. The song doesn’t even hit the 2 minute mark but the way the beat scales up for the intro just sets the album up perfectly especially with “Steppa Pig” to follow it up. I think “Steppa Pig” has one of the best beats on the album. SCARING THE HOES itself is exceptionally crafted. The song opens up with about 20 seconds of clapping until the lyrics begin. Throughout the song the rest of the beat bounces off of the claps and flows with the lyrics really nicely. The lyrics for the song are honestly incredible, encouraging the idea of commercialization and how more hip hop artists should produce music that caters to mainstream audiences in order to gain more popularity. In simpler terms, JPEG and Brown suggest that the current hip hop scene is driven by branding and image, rather than art. Lyrics in the song like, “stop scaring the hoes” literally means stop making music that drives women away and makes them uncomfortable. Or, “say it ain’t about the bars ‘cause it's all about the brand”, meaning it ain't about the lyrics and all about making a brand. “Fentanyl Tester” is more up the Experimental/Alternative/EDM style of music and portrays a similar beat to “Steppa Pig.” Both of the rappers' style is one of the things I find most interesting about their music. If you listen to any of their tracks you’ll notice just how many beats overlap one another to produce the specific sounds made throughout the songs. Their music typically falls under the hip hop genre but in this album they also add a little bit of jazz, specifically in “Run the Jewels.” “HOE” is just an awesome song. The word ‘hoe’ is an abbreviation for Heaven on Earth and throughout the song there's a very heaven-y feel to the beat that pieces the whole song together. Finally the album comes to a close with, “Where Ya Get Ya Coke From?”. The vocals are super clear in this song and I think it's the perfect song to end the album with. Overall I believe this album definitely deserves its spot in the Album of the year lineup. I think the two rappers work extremely well together and if they end up making even more music together in the future then I cannot wait to hear it.
Favorite Tracks: "Garbage Pale Kids" ; "SCARING THE HOES" ; "Run the Jewels" ; "God Loves You" ; "Steppa Pig" ; "HOE"
- Mallie Altmann
1) Lana Del Rey - Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd
Lana Del Rey’s ninth studio album, Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, brings us 16 new songs that embody the melancholy tone the singer is infamous for. The opening track, “The Grants” kicks off with isolated vocals and harmonies that instantly transcend the listener into the manufactured, somber world that Lana Del Rey lives in. Her angelic, soft voice is perhaps her most defining characteristic, and is highlighted in “Let The Light In,” a song shared with Father John Misty. “Let The Light In” is one of the most notable songs on the album, a heartbreaking ballad which tells a story of what seems to be a forbidden relationship. The harmonies between Rey and Misty almost act as the two characters of the relationship talking to each other, inviting the listener to listen in to the deep emotion behind their words. Throughout each track on Rey’s newest album, piano emerges as a main instrument, which makes this album seem more intimate. We as viewers are sitting in the same room as she shares her deepest thoughts. The track “Kintsugi'' is a great example of this feeling. Kintsugi, which translates to the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by filling the cracks with gold, is a perfect metaphor for healing a broken life, saying that the cracks in a heart let light in. It is beautifully optimistic. Though Lana Del Rey’s new album is slow paced and melancholy, the lyrical aspect of it is truly notable. I think it would be an extreme disservice to her work to not mention how well thought out each track is, and it has definitely earned it’s spot on our album of the year list. Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd is nominated for five Grammys this year, and I think it is safe to say we can expect Lana Del Rey to go home, trophy in hand on Grammy night.
- Haley Mautz