J.K. F. and Layla H.
The music industry has changed radically throughout the 2020’s, in part due to the proliferation of social media. Instead of using albums to drive sales, major music labels now profit mainly from artists creating singular hits that go viral on the internet in the form of short fifteen-second clips. Albums, however, are purposefully conceptualized and sequenced in order to be a single body of work. (The artist Mac DeMarco stands out as an interesting exception). Listening to and appreciating albums is a time-consuming process that requires a lengthened attention span, which makes it an entirely different experience from simply listening to individual songs. Here are a few albums that we especially enjoyed in 2023, in no particular order.
“the record” by boygenius
My favorite thing about “the record” is the clean production. The instrumentals and vocals on each song sound crisp and clean, (a quality which is imperative for alternative and indie music) standing out and capturing listeners. The poetic songwriting felt incredibly deliberate, making the album an emotional listen every time with lyrics elaborating on heritage, self-worth, heartbreak, and the beauty of life. Although the songwriting and production of “the record” was exceptionally advanced, the album in and of itself felt simple– reminiscent of folk music. Many of the songs, like “Cool About It” or “Revolution 0,” feel like campfire songs that anyone could sing or play on the guitar, which is partly why this album feels just so relatable and down-to-earth. “The record” is a timeless piece, and I look forward to the next release from boygenius.
“the record” by boygenuis is a standout among modern indie rock albums. Massively successful, “the record” was named the top indie rock album of the year by Rolling Stone magazine, an incredible accomplishment for the band. The entire album has a remarkable production value, with each song sounding clean and polished while still making use of the hazy effects that have been widely popularized in indie rock. The most popular song on the album, “Not Strong Enough,” reached over 1.4 million streams in less than a year, and was the group's first No. 1 song. Showcasing the high production quality and the group’s musicality, “Not Strong Enough” begins simply with a clean guitar and a simple drum beat that escalates into a momentous hurtling sound layered with multiple vocal and instrumental tracks. In addition to some more expansive, ambitious songs, “the record” features many simple, quieter songs sprinkled throughout the tracklist, which adds to the overall intimacy of the album. While it is undeniably clean and well-produced, “the record” still preserves a very raw, emotional feel, which makes it stand out among other modern albums.
“VOIR DIRE” by Earl Sweatshirt and the Alchemist
The tracks on “VOIR DIRE,” which translates to “to speak the truth,” are bright and sustain a slow rhythm, making it an easy album to listen to. The majority of the songs are short– under three minutes– and incorporate different instruments and moods, making each track a unique piece. The Alchemist, a prolific rap producer, maintains a similarly soulful and melodic sound in most of the projects he has produced, and “VOIR DIRE” is no exception. The Alchemist’s production complements Earl Sweatshirt’s mellow, effortless delivery, making this album incredibly accessible even for those who are not familiar with Earl Sweatshirt or The Alchemist. Despite its laid-back tone, the album’s lyricism is profound and raw, which I appreciate in a hip-hop album.
I enjoyed “VOIR DIRE”– I found it to be a fun, carefree album filled with melodic beats and light, yet poignant lyrics. Earl Sweatshirt’s signature “off-beat” rapping and unique rhyme choices blend well with the Alchemist’s simple yet elegant production technique. Songs like “Heat Check” fuse Earl’s playful lyrics and euphemisms with more serious topics, blending impeccably over a disco-fusion beat that recalls aspects of 80’s pop music. My personal favorite, “Mancala (feat. Vince Staples),” continues to employ Earl’s signature rhythmic mumbling, which balances perfectly with the Alchemist’s cinematic beat constructed around a sample from the 1976 gospel track “God Has Smiled on Me” by Sister Ida Maxey and the Tampa Chapter Mass Choir. The simple beat ambles on as Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples rap through their respective verses, and despite the simple, repetitive melody, this track, like all the other songs on the album– possesses its own unique sound. This distinctness makes the album captivating and a joy to listen to again and again.
“Let’s Start Here.” by Lil Yachty
“Let’s Start Here” surprised me because I was expecting it to be primarily a rap album, like other records from Lil Yachty. It was intriguing to see the artist venture outside of his established genre, especially because the rap industry, which can at times produce very formulaic and derivative music, is so profitable. The heavy autotune and psychedelic backdrop of the songs make this album striking, and arguably more artistic than other albums in circulation. Although autotune is not widely respected in the music industry, it is utilized effectively as its own contribution to the mood of the album. Similar to other artists such as Travis Scott, Lil Yachty fully commits to the sound of autotune, rather than trying to disguise it (as is common in pop music). The artist mixes a plethora of genres, making “Let’s Start Here” one of the most exploratory and fascinating projects of 2023.
“Let’s Start Here” was particularly memorable among all of the albums released in 2023. It maintains a unique sound that integrates multiple genres to create what could be described as a new subgenre of hip-hop or psychedelic rock. Throughout the album’s runtime, Yachty and his producers utilize many distinct vocal and instrumental effects to evoke a sonic haze, allowing listeners to identify the album within seconds. The song “drive ME crazy,” which is the most successful record on the album to date, has a light, jumpy feel and features Lil Yachty’s distorted, autotune-heavy vocals over a catchy yet intricate psychedelic funk track supported by airy synthesizers and mellow acoustic drums. In addition to Yachty’s vocals, the song features the voice of R&B artist Diana Gordon, whose unmistakeable falsetto contributes to the playfulness of the song. In addition to the easygoing feel of some songs, “Let’s Start Here” also has an undeniablely cinematic dimension. Songs like “WE SAW THE SUN,” which is my favorite on the album, mesh together multiple layers of sound to form a wave of melodic guitars and synthesized chords. Combined with Yachty’s oscillating vocals, the song is vividly unique and interesting. The album’s individuality, as well as its incredible attention to detail, makes listening to “Let’s Start Here” an electrifying experience.
“One Wayne G” by Mac Demarco
“One Wayne G'' stood out from any album I listened to in 2023 because of its length and form. The 199 tracks on the album are named with only a series of numbers to represent the date they were created, and many of them are short or unfinished. Since the album is mostly instrumental, I frequently listened to it as background music. There is something to appreciate about Mac Demarco’s ability to create melodies and instrumentals. He mixes conventional and unconventional sounds with instruments to create music that feels uniquely modern, but with a retro twist. Some of his songs are nostalgic, with classic guitar riffs and drums with a similar feel to songs from the 1970s. However, other tracks feature synthesized and digital sounds that are almost futuristic. “One Wayne G '' is a fascinating amalgamation of musical experimentation from one of the most individual artists on the music scene now.
Listening to “One Wayne G” by Mac DeMarco is radically different from listening to any other new album from a popular artist. An astounding 199 songs, the album was described as a compilation of songs that DeMarco had created, but never finished. In an interview with Associated Press, he recounts his reasons for releasing all of these songs on an album, explaining, “I need to move forward [...] So the 199 thing was a way for me to [say], ‘I like all this stuff. I’d like to share it. I don’t really know how, I might as well just give it all at the same time.’” Almost every song on the album is unnamed, titled only as a series of 8 or 9 numbers, meant to represent the date that the track was recorded. Out of all 199 songs recorded for the album, only about 17 of them have any real lyrics, with most of the tracks being short, mellow instrumentals. Out of all the instrumental tracks on the album, one is vastly more popular than the rest: a song titled “20190724,” with more than 14 million streams on Spotify alone. The song went viral on social media after a clip surfaced of Mac DeMarco playing it for a reporter and calling it garbage, earning it the name “Garbage Funk.” The one-minute song incorporates a looped guitar accompanied by a simple drum beat, but it has gone on to become the most popular song on the album. This entire album comprises many signature aspects of DeMarco’s music including quiet, mellow vocals, simple drum tracks, and layered guitars with lots of effects. With these common details present in the album, many fans of DeMarco’s music have gravitated towards this album, and it has been surprisingly successful for such an ambitious project. With so many songs, the “One Wayne G” offers incredible variety in style, while staying true to the artist’s signature sound.