Presenting, Across The Margin’s Top 50 Albums of 2023…
Once again, we are thrilled to share with you, our readers who we are forever grateful for, the music that ruled our world this year. As is always the case when we annually celebrate our Top 50 Albums at Across the Margin, what we are proud to present here is simply the albums we are most thankful for in any given year (not particularly “the best”). Those which received the greatest play, moved us with the deepest emotion, and settled most soundly in our souls. So, without further delay, let’s step in and drop the needle…
50. Wednesday — Rat Saw God
It is wild to know that the latest full-length release from North Carolina’s Wednesday (produced by Alex Farrar) was recorded in just one week. The way in which Wednesday seamlessly blends shoegaze, country, and indie rock is stunning, but what is exceedingly impressive is the depth found throughout Rat Saw God. Take “Bull Believer” for instance, a heart-wrenching track with a two-part narrative, where the first part of the song depicts the anguish of losing a loved one to the grips of addiction, and the second half ruminates on the uncertainty and grief rife within the teenage experience. Rat Saw God manifests itself as a profound emotional journey that is a delightful and melodic adventure from start to finish.
49. King Tuff — SmallTown StarDust
King Tuff’s (Kyle Thomas) latest album, Smalltown Stardust, is, as he puts it, “an album about love and nature and youth.” It’s a tender and ultimately lighthearted record that might come as a surprise to those familiar with the artist’s back catalog. King Tuff believes there could never be such a thing as too many loving songs, stating, “almost every song in the world is about love, yet somehow there’s still not enough love songs.” The third single released from the outstanding album, “Tell Me,” terrifically encapsulates this idea. It is a lovely jaunt of a song, as breezy as the perfect summer day, in which Thomas openly and proudly professes a deep love, one where the object of his affection “can make it right / ‘Cause I can’t keep my love from you.”
48. Margo Price — Strays
Margo Price is an artist that is entirely comfortable in her skin, a fact you can viscerally feel on her latest album Strays. It’s an honest, heartfelt album where the Nashville-based singer/songwriter wears her wins, losses, and vulnerabilities on her sleeve for all to experience. It gives us great joy to know that Strays, an album written by Price with her husband/musical partner Jeremy Ivy, was partially conceived in an Airbnb in Charleston, South Carolina, on psychedelic mushrooms, where the two spent entire days listening to music. Playlists there included songs from Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Tom Petty, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen — all whose influences can be heard shining through on Strays. Also, it is very much worth noting, Price followed up Strays with a sequel (Strays II) that is excellent in its own right.
47. Spencer Zahn, Dave Harrington, Jeremy Gustin — A Visit To Harry’s House
Multi-instrumentalist Spencer Zahn tells a story of being on the A train in NYC after playing bass in the pit for Moulin Rouge and “the subway car that I was on flooded with a bunch of very excited young people dressed in 70s style clothing.” He described the atmosphere as “pure bliss.” Those exhilarated fans were fresh off one of Harry Styles fifteen concerts at Madison Garden, and this moment was that inspiration for the most novel cover album we’ve come upon all year. Teaming with producer and guitar virtuoso Dave Harrington and jazz drummer Jeremy Gustin, the trio crafted A Visit To Harry’s House, one of the more surprisingly delightful albums we came upon this year.
46. Allison Miller — Rivers In Our Veins
Jazz drummer extraordinaire Allison Miller’s latest album is a fascinating nature-themed concept. Entitled River In Our Veins, the project is a 12-song cycle embracing the concept of flow and renewal, and dedicated to the United State’s crucial rivers, watersheds, and the organizations devoted to reviving and protecting them. Her band features a deeply telepathic cast of improvisers, including violinist Jenny Scheinman, Ben Goldberg on contra-alto and Bb clarinets, pianist Carmen Staaf, trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Todd Sickafoose, and a grouping of remarkable tap-dancers. The captivating piece of American art that is Rivers in Our Veins was commissioned by the Lake Placid Center for the Arts and acts as a tribute to the natural environments we are blessed to live within and around and to those who make it their mission to protect them.
45. Dreamer Isioma — Princess Forever
Princess Forever, the sophomore effort from Chicago singer-songwriter and multiple-genre artist Dreamer Isioma is a sci-fi concept album where Dreamer draws her inspiration from otherworldly jazz legend Su Ra and the famed sci-fiction author Octavia E. Butler. If you are familiar with both of these luminaries you could likely anticipate the types of soundscapes and themes showcased on the album. What Princess Forever offers is a healthy heaping of galactic funk, soul, Afrofuturism — all of which provides the soundtrack to an apocalyptic setting where the character of Princess Forever comes face to face with the Creator of the Universe. This fantastical concept offers listeners the opportunity to take a thought provoking journey into Dreamer’s ruminations about the ways of the world and their place within it.
44. Larry June — The Great Escape
We consider San Francisco rapper Larry June one of the most underrated emcees in the game. His relaxed flow is buttery smooth, and it is perfectly paired with production from Alchemist on his latest release The Great Escape. Larry makes his first full length collaboration with the prolific, brilliant producer, in which he waxes poetically about the riches his talents have so deservedly earned him. The guest artists on The Great Escape are minimal, highlighting Larry’s talents and storytelling prowess. Essential collaborations that do standout however include Big Sean on “Palisades, CA” is particularly worth noting. We can only hope that this is the first of many albums that Larry June and Alchemist team up on, as it’s a match made in hip-hop heaven.
43. Wevall — Remember
For those not in the know, Wevall are the Amsterdam-based duo of Harm Coolen and Merijn who excel in the realm of minimalist, melodic techno. They first became acquainted during a shoot for a music video in 2011 and began working together but, interestingly enough, neither had been making music full time prior. Their first two albums, a self-titled release and 2019’s The Weight, highlight the duo’s chemistry and talents, but their latest album, Remember, is a front to back stunner. On it are a bevy of eclectic, downbeat grooves that are entirely invigorating, manifesting Remember as an album that is more of an all-encompassing sonic adventure than a collection of tracks.
42. MJ Lenderman — And The Wind (Live and Loose)
Annually, a live album slips its way into our countdown, and this year that privilege goes to MJ Leenderman’s And The Wind (Live and Loose), recorded live at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, IL and Lodge Room in Los Angeles, CA during the summer of 2023. If you are unfamiliar with the Wednesday guitarist / Asheville, North Carolina rockers’ catalog, And The Wind is your opportunity to experience what makes MJ Lenderman so special (“beer-soaked country tunes with heavy guitars and funny lyrics,” as rock critic Stene Hyden puts it), with many of the songs sourced from his recent outstanding 2022 album Boat Songs. Lenderman’s back-up band for the recording is tremendous, composed of Wednesday bandmate Xandy Chelmis on the pedal steel, Ethan Baechtold on bass, Colin Miller on drums, and Jon Samuels (of the Philadelphia bands Friendship and 2nd Grade) on lead guitar. So Dive in (our awful Boat Songs joke) to Lenderman’s ode to Jack Nicholson’s courtside Lakers seats in “Live Jack,” a song about Dan Marino swinging sports memorabilia, and other goodness.
41. Sexmob — The Hard Way
New York City’s famed jazz outfit Sexmob released an album this year entitled The Hard Way that skews decisively electronic. On it, producer Scotty Hard’s beats and soundscapes provide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, saxophonist Briggan Krauss, bassist Tony Scherr, and acoustic/electric drummer Kenny Wollesen, all the stimulus they need to fearlessly reinvent themselves. With each offering, and certainly with The Hard Way and its rich electro-acoustic groove canvas, Steven and crew reveal a modernizing impulse, but also an equally strong foundation in the roots of jazz and American song. Funky, bluesy, with a tattered dissonance conjured up by Krauss’ throaty saxophone tone, the distinctive wail of Steven’s rare horn, and the swagger of Scherr and Wollesen’s rhythm section grind, throughout The Hard Way, Sexmob continues to chart new paths in 21st-century creative music. While we urge you take in the album in consummate, if you want a taste before diving in we recommend giving the enthralling journey of a song that is “Banacek” a run. And then go from there.
40. billy woods and Kenny Segal — Maps
Maps is the new album from NYC rapper billy woods and LA producer Kenny Segal, their first full collaboration since 2019’s Hiding Places. According to the dynamic duo, Maps is a story of the road, or roads, taken and untaken; of living the dream and dreaming of another life. It is an album about trying to find your way home, after making your home wherever you lay your head. Immaculately produced in full by Kenny Segal, Maps features Danny Brown, ELUCID (Armand Hammer), Shabaka Hutchins, Sam Herring (Future Islands), Quelle Chris, Aesop Rock, Benjamin Booker, and ShrapKnel. As a lyricist, billy woods continues to impress, and it isn’t simply enough to hold him in the esteem of one of the best underground rappers around, but one of the most impressive storytellers in all of hip-hop.
39. Slowdive — everything is alive
Slowdive is one of the last custodians of true shoegaze, and their longevity, especially after a twenty-two year hiatus, is admirable considering how much has changed in the music world since 1993’s Souvlaki. Though it’s been six years since their last, self-titled album, some of us were still digesting that one when everything is alive was released back in September. It was a true gift because so many of us weren’t expecting this latest excursion so closely on the heels of the last album, which itself is a euphonic triumph. After all these years, the band seems as creatively inspired as ever, perhaps embracing a new musical outlook on life that only so many years of growing together can do. Distortions, ambient guitar chords, pulsating percussion, reverberating bass lines, and Rachel Goswell’s whispering warble — all the familiar elements are here, but the venture feels like a continuation into new territory. everything is alive is a definitive chapter in the story of this band, one that has us reflecting on what it was like back when this was just a group of teenagers finding their sound together. At the same time, it’s a celebration of musicians who—though experiencing extreme ups and downs over the course of decades of music-making—have only gotten better with age and the wisdom of hindsight.
38. George Clanton — Ooh Rap I Ya
George Clanton is one of the most influential pioneers of the vaporwave scene, and there’s no denying that this sub-genre of electronica is his musical comfort zone. However, his sound is redolent of styles that were in prominence as far back as the early ‘80s and ‘90s, including R&B, acid jazz, shoegaze, trip-hop, punk, and electropop. This blending of multiple styles, while incorporating Clanton’s own unique and augmented vocals to the synth-heavy dimensions of his tracks, is evident on his latest album. Much like its predecessor, Slide, Ooh Rap I Ya employs electric guitars, pounding percussions, and psychotropic synthesizers that have been seamlessly blended together during the production process to create a symphonic experience that gives nods to the styles that have been Clanton’s primary influences. And while the homages are there, the cohesive whole stands on its own as an album that defies classification. Formidable singer-songwriters Neggy and Hatchie lend their feminine vocals to complement the tracks “F.U.M.L.” and “For You, I Will,” respectively, and Clanton’s own booming singing voice throughout accentuates his signature instrumental reverbs and oscillations. Clanton has come a long way in his career, experimenting with style and alternating between different monikers, but this latest album has him deftly asserting himself as someone who will unapologetically take contemporary electronic music in a bold new direction while at the same time showing deference for those who’ve paved the way for him.
37. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Weathervanes
Jason Isbell songs cut deep. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter has a unique ability in his storytelling to cut right to the core of the shared grief and joy that defines our mutual human experience. His latest, Weathervanes, is about boundaries, or as he puts it, “as you mature, you still attempt to keep the ability to love somebody fully and completely while you’re growing into an adult and learning how to love yourself.” Isbell’s affecting brand of songwriting hits so hard because of its relatability. For example, the opening track, “Death Wish,” is about being in love with someone suffering from depression which serves as a reminder of the limits and challenges of love — something that surely hits home to many.
36. TOBi — PANIC
Nigerian-born Los Angeles-based artist TOBi dropped an album this year entitled PANIC which slides easily into the category of hip-hop, but what is so special about it is that it oozes with the grooves and ethos of a soul record. TOBi describes PANIC as the “epitome of unapologetic soul music and we held nothing back, which I am truly proud of. From the stories of vulnerability, masculinity, personal family issues, social commentary, there was no stone left unturned here.” TOBi’s absorbing storytelling ability within the funky twelve tracks that comprise PANIC make it clear this is a young artist that has a great deal to say, and he has just begun in telling his story.
35. Punkadelick — Inflorescence
Prolific percussionist, vibraphonist, bandleader, and vocalist Mike Dillon latest project goes by the name Punkadelick, a trio which features Brian Haas (Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey) on Fender Rhodes, piano, bass Moog and melodica, and Nikki Glaspie (Beyonce, Nth Power) on drums, cymbals, and vocals. Punkadelick’s latest album, Inflorescence, is an expansive 10-track collection, focused and fearless, representing a world where Duke Ellington and Augustus Pablo rub shoulders with crate-digger exotica, the freak-funk of Parliament, and the anything fits outsider ethos of acid-fried punks like The Meat Puppets.
34. Allison Russell — The Returner
4x GRAMMY-nominated singer, songwriter, poet, activist, and multi-instrumentalist Allison Russell’s latest album, The Returner, is a stunner. The album was written and co-produced by Allison along with dim star (her partner JT Nero and Drew Lindsay) and it features Russell’s “Rainbow Coalition” band of all female musicians along with special guest appearances from the legendary Wendy & Lisa, Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, and Hozier. The Returner is brimming with groove, which is the intention according to Allison: “Groove as it heralds the self back into the body, groove as it celebrates sensual and sexual agency and flowering, groove as an urgent call to action and political activism.”
33. Justin Vernon — hazeltons
In our estimation, the most recent release from Justin Vernon, hazeltons, hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves from music fans and critics alike. We understand that the Bon Iver projects get and merit all the acclaim, but hazeltons is one of the most gorgeous albums we have come upon all year, front to back. It’s the definition of airy, floating effortlessly over its terse seven tracks, dancing from song to song in a melodic whisper. This is Justin Vernon paired down, in the way all came to first know his work on the unforgettable For Emma, Forever Ago. There is a reason hazeltons has us waxing nostalgic over Justin’s prior work, as it features songs he recorded between July 2005 and May 2006. While we await each Bon Iver release with bated breath, we hope so very much that Justin takes the time to share stripped down beauties with the world such as this.
32. Cynthia Ruth — Good Years
Cynthia Ruth’s inaugural album captivates with its exquisite beauty. The opening track, “The Hills,” possesses an irresistible quality that will halt you in your tracks, evoking the sultry and deeply affecting style reminiscent of Lana Del Rey. Cynthia Ruth is the stage name of Ella Fishman, who is the daughter of Jon Fishman, the phenomenally talented drummer of Phish whose skills can be found employed on the album. The Fishmans are joined by guitarist Daniel Yoong, multi-instrumentalist Carter Sanders, and bassist Colin Dinnie. We love Ella’s Instagram description of the album where she states: “In my mind, this record takes place at a visually appealing but otherwise upsetting carnival. Lethal doses of nostalgia around every corner, spun-sugar nausea in the funhouse mirror reflection hall. There are pixelated home movies projected on every peeling paint wall. The dart toss prizes are your lost childhood toys. The thrill rides are rickety and you might die.”
31. Rose City Band — Garden Party
A truly fun fact about Across The Margin in regards to our annual album countdown is, if Rose City Band puts out an album that year, it’ll make the list. That is just the level of deep affection we have for the Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips, Moo Duo) fronted band. Although Garden Party by the Portland-based band doesn’t pioneer any new territory, yet a change in sonic direction isn’t what we seek from Rose City Band’s beloved cosmic country sound. What we desire is any chance for a new space to thoroughly adore getting lost in their sound. Garden Party, the band’s fourth release, is pacifying, positive, good-natured, and exactly what we are looking for when we tune into Ripley and Co.
30. Joy Oladokun — Proof of Life
The fourth album from genre-blending singer-songwriter Joy Oladokun, Proof of Life, is runneth over with hope. This isn’t to say it doesn’t address the adversities so many of us face in life, and that Oladokun faces as a Black, queer woman in America, but it displays a spirit of someone who believes there truly is light on the other side of the tunnel. This hope is inspiring, and even in tracks such as “We’re All Going To Die” where she/they sing “We’re all gonna die tryna figure it out / We’re all gettin’ high any way we know how / We’re over our heads, so I’ll say it out loud / We’re all gonna die tryna figure it out, we’re all gonna die,” it is done in a jovial manner that somehow makes listeners feel okay, that the inevitable is what it is, so let’s enjoy the ride.
29. Danny Brown — Quaranta
Danny Brown is all grown up. Sure the frantic paced rhymes that spew like fire from the Detroit-native’s mouth are chock full of witty punchlines and clever metaphors as always. But, Brown’s sixth studio album finds him far more introspective, waxing poetically about the adversities he has faced, and somehow overcome. He also tackles pressing social issues such as gentrification, facing mortality, and dealing with fame — all in a day’s work on this now veteran’s excellent new album Quaranta. Danny Brown had an epic year in 2023, one in which he turned 40 and with Quaranta being critically acclaimed and beloved by fans. But he was also part of a brilliant collaboration that we will get into as the countdown continues. To Be Continued…
28. Tyler The Creator — CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST: The Estate Sale
It isn’t often (or ever!) that we select an album for this list that is essentially a B-sides release, but Tyler The Creator’s The Estate Sale, a collection of tracks “left over” from his previous brilliant CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, is just that special. “Dogtooth” was the first surprise drop from the CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST: The Estate Sale expansion pack, released on March 27, 2023. Tyler tweeted that the track was a leftover from his album that was never intended to “see the light of day.” “Dogtooth” finds Tyler going in about his benevolent sexual offerings and the spoils emanating from his recent successes. It’s a song, and album, we cannot get enough of, chock full of Tyler’s unique brand of witticisms and highlighting his captivating and entirely novel delivery.
27. Anohni and the Johnsons — My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross
My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross is the fifth studio album by Anohni and the Johnsons, formerly known as Antony and the Johnsons. The operatic, impassioned stirring album is a musical work of art like no other we’ve heard this year. This might be the most soulful of Anohni’s offerings to date, and although is finds her with a heavy heart, as a loss of a dear friend is addressed in multiple occasions throughout My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross, there is a beautiful buoyancy to to the album that draws you in. Produced by Jimmy Hogarth (Duffy, Amy Winehouse), My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross is dream pop at its finest, thematically weighty yet sonically breezy.
26. M83 — Fantasy
It’s hard to believe that Fantasy is M83’s ninth studio album. It’s been seven years since the critically divisive Junk, and many consider this latest outing to be a return to form for the French group, which would strangely seem hard to define for such an eclectic catalog, one that includes both film scores and moody, lyricless synthscapes. But here we are, revisiting the group’s trademark vigorous guitar, lucid piano, ample reverbs, and ethereal vocals. The album opens with “Water Deep,” a dream pop-like panorama that eventually yields to refined guitar chords, and when these two merge it builds to a pulse-like crescendo that perfectly segues to “Oceans Niagara,” a song that fittingly exemplifies Anthony Gonzalez’s sonorous crooning, however sparingly. From there the album sets a shifting tone characterized by Junk’s playfulness, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’s “epic” scale, and Saturdays=Youth’s storytelling. As the tempo rises and falls with each successive track, the sonic range repeatedly gets in our personal space and then withdraws again, but we don’t mind at all.
25. Abraham Alexander — SEA/SONS
This year Fort Worth-based singer-songwriter Abraham Alexander released one of the most impressive debut albums we have come upon in many moons. Featuring assists from such living legends as Mavis Staples and Gary Clark Jr., Alexander’s first album, SEA/SONS, is a soulful and vulnerable journey that finds the gifted musician inviting listeners into his story, his heartaches, and desires. The cream of the outstanding crop to us is “Deja Vu,” a song featuring the aforementioned Mavis Staples. On this track Staples’ beautiful vocals thoughtfully ruminate on the deep inequities of America’s criminal justice system. “Tell the truth, it’ll set you free / Preacher’s words ring loud in me / Blind lady, hear my plea, justice, no heresy / But you’re not listening, modern-day slavery,” Staples croons in a song that is both chill-inducing and gorgeous to behold, on a captivating album front to back.
24. Janelle Monáe — The Age of Pleasure
Janelle Monáe is a superstar. Beyond their flourishing music career, Monáe has excelled at film acting having had major parts in Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Harriet, Antebellum, and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. And on their fourth studio album released this year, The Age of Pleasure, Monáe lets it all hang out on an album that is about owning, and finding joy in, being exactly who you are. “This is a movement,” they proclaim. “It’s not just about myself, but a lot of folks are radically being confident about who they are and finding their joy, discovering themselves, and creating safe spaces with them and the people they love because there is no pleasure without safety. This is a result of me feeling safe and exploring all of me.” The Fela Kuti inspired soundscapes on the album perfectly reflect this ethos, with songs that whisk listeners away to islands awash with the pleasures and the sensuous riches life can offer.
23. Kevin Abstract — Blanket
Early this past November Kevin Abstract, one of the founding members of hip-hop supergroup Brockhampton, released a pop-rock masterpiece entitled Blanket. Abstract has stated that the LP was influenced by Sunny Day Real Estate, Nirvana, and Modest Mouse, and most of that checks out with us. The track “My Friend” features indie rocker extraordinaire MJ Lenderman and Kara Jackson, which is exemplifying of what a unique piece of art this is, well outside of the box one might try to fit Abstract in. While we have learned to expect the unexpected from the Brockhampton crew, and especially Abstract, we are entirely delighted with this adventurous departure of an album.
22. Genesis Owusu — Struggler
The second full-length release from Ghanaian-Australian artist Genesis Owusu was inspired in part by one of the greatest plays of all time (IOHO), Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett, and by Kafka’s Metamorphosis. More unique than that, this concept album about perseverance and the search for meaning in an upside down world is largely taken from the point of view of a cockroach. If this sounds like a wild piece of art, you are starting to get the vibe of Owusu’s fantastical blending of experimental post-punk, rap, and R&B. But we urge you to not be taken aback by this unique and complex concept, as one thing that Struggler is through and through that makes it accessible by all is…funky AF.
21. Mick Jenkins — The Patience
On Mick Jenkins latest album, his fourth studio effort entitled The Patience, Jenkins is rhyming (as the kids say) like the rent is due. Sounding as impassioned as ever, the Southside Chicago rapper vents his frustrations with the (unfair) ways of the world throughout eleven tight and focused tracks. The album features guest appearances by Benny The Butcher, Freddie Gibbs, JID, and Vic Mensa, four of the best rappers in the game currently which is apropos because The Patience makes clear that Jenkins belongs to be rapping with the best of the very best.
20. John Andrews & The Yawns — Love For The Underdog
As you start with the opening strings of John Andrews & The Yawns’ latest album, Love for The Underdog, and reach its final note, it’s evident that Andrews’ folk-pop style is wonderfully easy to embrace. In his most recent album, the artist presents his interpretation of New York City—a series of urban snapshots capturing “cynical heroes and troubled lovers” within the passage of time. Recorded across various locations in the Empire State, the album resonates with this unique essence. Each song is deep and tender, and best-enjoyed with one’s headphones on while out for a stroll. Be it on the streets of NYC or the neighborhood that you call home. If you root for the underdog and enjoy a blend of Belle & Sebastian, Johnathon Wilson and Andrew Bird, accompanied by the enchanting allure of string quartets, then this poignant and dreamy album is precisely your cup of tea.
19. El Michels Affair & Black Thought — Glorious Game
Mere months after releasing one of the most impressive albums of his storied career (Cheat Codes), Roots frontman Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) is back at it. This time, he has teamed up with “cinematic soul” band El Michels Affair for the release of an album aptly titled Glorious Game. As the story goes, Trotter and El Michels Affair lead musician Leon Michels met in the 2000s when Trotter became acquainted with the contemporary soul scene. In 2020, Trotter contacted Michels to collaborate with El Michels Affair, who went to work cutting up samples and crafting boom-bap instrumentals for Trotter to write to. The fruit of that labor is an excellent album which finds Trotter seamlessly flowing over diverse and often intricate soundscapes. The lead single “Grateful” highlights what happens when an emcee who just continually persists at the peak of his talents teams with a freak group of musicians who bequeath Trotter a pocket to spit fire within, and then bless it with dynamic, full soundscapes (for example, the wonderfully haunting flute line that underlies this tremendous opening track).
18. Osees — Intercepted Message
We have a bold proclamation to make, one we stand behind firmly. Of all the terrific albums The Osees have released into the world (28 studio albums!), their latest, Intercepted Message, is their best. Maybe we should just say our favorite, but we just cannot get enough of the Los Angeles-based rockets most recent album. But you don’t have to take our word for it, one of their remarkable drummers, Dan Rincon, called the album “ the best release we’ve done since I joined almost 10 years ago.” What Intercepted Message amounts to is the same brand of fiery punk rock that has made Osees a must-see live act, but this time wonderfully infused with synth pop, new wave, and even disco overtones.
17. Bonny Doon — Let There Be Music
If you aren’t familiar with the Detroit, Michigan born indie rock band Bonny Doon, here is a terse history. The trio of Bill Lennox (vocals, guitar), Bobby Colombo (vocals, guitar) and Jake Kmiecik (drums) assembled in 2014 and the following year they released a self titled EP. In 2017, the group announced their debut full-length album. Then in 2018, they released their second full-length album, Longwave, which led to them becoming the backing band for Waxahatchee on the tour in support of her outstanding album Saint Cloud. To commence 2023, Bonny Doon gifted fans with the single “Crooked Creek,” a sailing indie rock jaunt. Bobby Colombo explains the free-spirited nature of the track which speaks to the airy, soaring feel of Let There Be Music in its entirety: “We were trying to be more free in our writing and I think this song is a good example. We had a lot of fun with the words, which is sometimes not the fun part. I love writing with Bill’s voice in mind, and he was able to really capture the spirit of this one I think.”
16. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard — The Silver Cord
It feels strange to write, but the fact of the matter is the most prolific band in psych rock currently only put out two albums this year (they released five in 2022) — but they made ‘em both count. One that has our full attention is The Silver Cord, an album that is influenced by electronic music. The standard release has a runtime of over 32 minutes while the extended mix (highly recommended going this route) release is nearly 90 minutes. While we lean towards this one as our favorite of the two releases this year, if you are looking for something a touch heavier, give PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation — it’s a wild ride well worth your time.
15. The National — First Two Pages of Frankenstein
The National returned this year with their ninth studio offering entitled First Two Pages Of Frankenstein. The record features assists from Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers, and Sufjan Stevens (Swift on the track “The Allcott” and Bridgers contributing on two songs — “This Isn’t Helping” and “Your Mind Is Not Your Friend.”). First Two Pages Of Frankenstein is full of some road tested material, songs debuting on tours over the last few years such as “Grease in Your Hair,” “Ice Machines” and the excellent lead single, “Tropic Morning News.” The song is inspired by something far too many of us are guilty parties to — doom scrolling. “The idea of referring to the darkness of the news in such a light way unlocked something in me,” frontman Matt Berninger explained. “It became a song about having a hard time expressing yourself, and trying to connect with someone when the noise of the world is drowning out any potential for conversation.” Frankenstein is a wonderful album, emblematic of everything The National does so well, as too is the follow-up to it, Laugh Track, their tenth studio album which was a surprise release having been announced only days prior.
14. Gorillaz – Cracker Island
For Gorillaz’s eighth album, Cracker Island, the fusion of indie and funk intersects superbly, creating a backdrop where everyone’s favorite cartoon/musician characters of Murdoc, 2D, Noodle and Russel can pursue their dystopian pleasures. Featuring a perfect balance of guest vocals and Gorillaz-only songs across its ten sublime tracks, Cracker Island is a pleasing excursion into the daydream mind of Damon Albarn and the Gorillaz crew. With assists from Beck, Bad Bunny, Stevie Nicks, Thundercat, Adeleye Omotayo and Bootie Brown, each song on Cracker Island has its own technicolor world to draw you into. Be it Steve Nicks on “Oil,” singing about “interlocking cluster bombs like bass and drum” or Adeleye Omotayo’s heavenly vocals on the woebegone “Silent Running” (arguably one of the best songs Gorillaz have written) or Bad Bunny’s velvet crooning on the easily-likable reggaeton track “Tormenta,” it’s all there waiting for you to enjoy. But it’s not just the guest performances that stand out. “The Tired Influencer,” “Skinny Ape,” and “Baby Queen” are excellent examples of Albarn’s perfected brand of melancholy that we all crave. With an abundance of enjoyable tracks, singling out just a few is hopeless. It’s best to start at the album’s beginning, dive into the musical journey aboard the Gorillaz’s submarine, and venture out to Cracker Island—a place where we are all just Cartoon G’s.
13. Jemini The Gifted One — Born Again
Anytime famed producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) is involved in a project, we are interested. But the story behind Jemini The Gifted’s album Born Again, produced by Danger Mouse, is intriguing far beyond just who is involved. As Danger Mouse’s career was kicking off, he reached out to one of his favorite rappers, JeminiThe Gifted, in hopes of working with him which came to fruition 2003’s Ghetto Pop Life. The pair went on to record another album, the aforementioned Born Again, but it was shelved for various business and personal reasons, and the momentous success of Danger Mouse’s controversial, Beatles-sampling 2004 hit The Grey Album. This year it was finally released and we are happy to let you know Born Again is an album so good, it was worth the two decade wait.
12. The Murlocs — Calm Ya Farm
The Melbourne-based psych-rock King Gizzard offshoot The Murlocs released their seventh studio album this year, Calm Ya Farm, and the lead single from the album was quite a departure for the band. The track “Initiative” draws its inspiration from American country music and finds the group moving “away from all the distortion and dirt and grit, or at least let the grit come off a bit more clean-sounding,” as frontman Kenny-Smith explained in a press release for the album. He further expounds that “Initiative” is about “recognizing the need to start taking responsibility for your life instead of always living in the now and killing all your brain cells along the way.”
11. Emergency Group — Inspection of Cruelty
As Emergency Group explains it, “Everything stands somewhere on a continuum, like various shades along the color spectrum. Emergency Group’s Inspection of Cruelty is somewhere on a spectrum refracted through the ’70s bands of jazz-rock fusion in general and (despite the lack of horns) Miles Davis’s keyboard-heavy bands in particular, yet coming five decades on from that initial blast of creative innovation, the original musical DNA has been mingled with other styles and developments.” Straddling the lines of krautrock and free jazz, Brooklyn outfit Emergency Group plucks members from Plates of Cake, Tone Poets, and The Jazz Marauders, to create an album which is an all-encompassing sonic journey, one we couldn’t suggest more that you embark on.
Essential Track: “Inspection of Cruelty, Part 1.”
10. Killer Mike — Michael
Atlanta rapper Killer Mike’s latest album, Michael, swells with gratitude. On it, Killer Mike expounds upon his arduous, improbable rise to stardom and the fat that at this moment, he’s not only creating remarkable solo albums but also gaining recognition as one half of the successful hip-hop duo Run The Jewels.. Being RTJ fans, a track on Michael that has our whole heart is “Don’t Let The Devil” featuring the other half of RTJ in EL-P. Feeling as if its been ripped straight from one of Killer Mike and El-P’s RTJ albums, “Don’t Let The Devil” is in your face rap that is brash and a triumphant example of the powerful music that Killer Mike and El-P are capable of when they team up. But Michael is well beyond any other album he has worked on. It’s a hip-hop album that doubles as a gospel album.It’s Killer Michael’s love letter to his family. It’s a confessional, a reckoning with his past misdeeds and a celebration of finding a way to grow into a better human. And it’s easily one of the best hip-hop albums to be released in
9. Sunny War — Anarchist Gospel
Over the course of her first four albums, and increasingly so with each ensuing album, Sunny War is releasing the sort of soulful, charged folk that is making it resoundingly clear the Los Angeles raised, Nasheville-based musician is one of the most exciting voices in all of Roots music. Her latest album finds Sunny War brazenly baring her soul, as she puts it, “…there’s so much singing on here. I didn’t plan for that, but I really like it. That’s why I thought it would be cool to call the album Anarchist Gospel, because of the choirs on these songs.” The album explores the duality in all of us, “the internal struggle that all people face just trying to be the best version of themselves. And the guilt that you feel when you’re not being the best version of yourself.” There is one song that highlights this heady soul-searching above all else, “No Reason,” a tremendous track where Sunny passionately sings “You’re an angel / you’re a demon / ain’t got no rhyme / ain’t got no reason.”
8. boygenius — the record
The hype around this year’s reunion of supergroup boygenius, which included a photoshoot for the cover of the Rolling Stone, is well deserved. The trio featuring Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus has a lovely origin story, wherein each of these tremendously talented artists have become friends through their appreciation of each other’s work and then they set about making magic together. Their 2018 self-titled EP was a stunning work of art that displayed an unearthly synergy between the three songstresses, and this year they released their first full length studio album entitled The Record. Produced by boygenius and co-producer Catherine Marks at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, one of the first three singles they released in anticipation of the album, “True Blue” had our entire heart. Featuring gorgeous songwriting by Dascus, “True Blue” tells the story of authentic love, that type that brings out the best of you (“I remember who I am when I’m with you”). It’s a song that makes you believe that true love is possible, and just one of the many alluring tracks found on The Record.
7. Lana Del Ray — Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd
Lana Del Rey’s latest album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, is another dreamy and introspective journey showcasing her distinctive retro 60s-sounding style and poetic storytelling. The album is flush with songs that effortlessly blend elements of indie pop, alternative rock, and baroque pop, all serving to create a nostalgic and ethereal sonic landscape. Del Rey is a celebrated visionary artist with an unparalleled ability to create immersive musical experiences, and that is no more apparent than on the song “Kitsugi.” The song’s title references a traditional Japanese art form that involves repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold or silver. The English translation literally means “golden journey” and the art form aims to transform the broken object into a unique piece of art, highlighting its history and imperfections rather than disguising them. On “Kitsugi” the track’s minimalist production allows Del Rey’s evocative storytelling to take center stage, as she reflects on the bittersweet nature of love and the resilience of the human spirit. In the context of Del Rey’s career-long exploration of human nature and emotion, “Kitsugi” is likely used metaphorically to explore themes of resilience, healing, and finding beauty in brokenness, something we here at Across the Margin can certainly get behind.
6. Danny Brown & JPEGMAFIA — SCARING THE HOES
The debut full-length collaboration from rappers JPEGMafia and Danny Brown is a barnburner. It’s abrasive (title-inclusive!), gritty, and all-together fun as can be. Proving to be an absolutely perfect pairing, Detroit rapper Danny Brown and New York raised, Baltimore-based rapper and producer JPEGMAFIA (aka “Peggy”), synergy was otherworldly. It was almost as if Danny Brown’s spit-fire flow was made for JPEGMAFIA’s unorthodox beats, while Peggy’s clever lyricism complimented Brown’s talents wholly. With the previous successes of both artists prior to this project, expectations were extremely high by critics and fans alike, and it’s amazing to see that these two entirely unique artists over-delivered on what amounts to an instant classic of an album.
5. Lil Yachty — Let’s Start Here
The fifth full-length studio release for rapper Lil Yachty is a psychedelic alternative album” that features guest appearances from Daniel Caesar, Fousheé, Diana Gordon, Justine Skye, and Teezo Touchdown. This album took us wonderfully by surprise, and we weren’t alone. The Roots and Jimmy Fallon drummer Questlove was floored byt the album and shared his appreciation in an Instagram post stating, “I had to let 24 hours go by just so I could process this. Then I hesitated ‘cause I didn’t wanna use hyperbole to naturally give the trolls ammo to hate it or to further evidence sort why my co-signs are whack. I dunno man: after about 3 listens (and I thought I’d NEVER say this — & not because “I didn’t expect this from Lil Yachty” — but just in general I didn’t expect this from MUSIC). How should I put it? I really really really really love this @lilyachty record and I love when artists pull off a good departure record (departure albums are when musicians pull a COMPLETE creative left turn —-most times as a career sabotage of feeling doomed to not be able to live up to a standard they set. Not being able to make the Thelma & Louise jump. Quitting the job/relationship before you give em a chance to fire you—)—-some famous departure albums backfired (Sgt Peppers wound up making the Beatles even MORE important further proving you can’t just do tin pan alley showtunes & think THAT is gonna get rid of the screaming fanbase….now the entire world wants a piece of you) Some were pure art that turned off the fanbase that came to the party for seconds of what you served before (Paul’s Boutique/Around The World In A Day) some seemed like career disasters w critics (Dylan’s Self Portrait & Davis’s On The Corner & Gaye’s Here My Dear) & then some come just for the sheer sake of surprise & man it’s like “WTF did I just listen to?” (Kid A/Kamaal The Abstract/Back To Black/A Seat At The Table) — this aptly titled #LetsStartHere lp might be the most surprising transition of any music career I’ve witnessed in a min, especially under the umbrella of hip hop. I remember @divinestyler_1 has a sophomore release that shocked me & im still processing the 3rd @junglebrothers4life lp some 30 yrs later. But man….whatever you put in your Wheaties bro….keep goin. Shit like this (envelope pushing) got me hyped about music’s future.” Us too, Quest. Us too!
4. Yves Tumor — Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
Yves Tumor’s third full-length album, Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds), is an album we did not see coming from an artist most known through the electronic noise underground 2016 album Serpent Music. Their latest album, produced by Noah Goldstein (Frank Ocean, Drake, Rihanna) and mixed by Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails, The Killers), drifts into punk-pop territory without loosing a hint of the power and lyrical depth of the music we have come to know and love from Tumor. A song that exemplifies this profound but welcome pivot to glam rock sensibilities is “Meteora Blues,” a soaring guitar driven track that is both accessible and fiery, brimming with vivid imagery where the gifted artist can be found praying “ to an empty sky / Stare straight into the morning star / With lips just like red flower petals.”
3. Young Fathers — Heavy Heavy
The spirited and energetic Scottish indie group Young Fathers’ fourth album, Heavy Heavy, unfolds as a mosaic, bound together by a glue formed of the communal adoration for music and its emotive power. Its instantly likable songs tap into a current of energy that beckons the listener to rise, stirring their soul with the rhythms of song and dance. Featuring a vibrant mix of songs steeped in soul, passion, and a vitality that compels feet to dance and arms to reach for the sky in joyful adoration of the now, Heavy Heavy is not just a collection of tracks. It’s an ode to the idea that singing (and dancing) can be freeing, can be a shared experience that draws one into a community where freedom and catharsis intersect. To listen to Young Fathers’ latest is to be a part of a celebration reminiscent of a gospel experience, or to be on the sidelines at Mardi Gras in New Orleans as a loud and booming krewe drifts by, the silence momentarily punctured by the energy of lively dressed characters singing and dancing in celebration of music, community and life. Heavy Heavy showcases Young Fathers evolution. It’s an album that demands attention, inviting listeners on a transformative odyssey that pushes the boundaries of contemporary music for the better.
2. Sampha — Lahai
South London singer-songwriter Sampha brought a depth to his sophomore album, Lahai, that is entirely arresting. Inspired by Kodwo Eshun’s 1998 book on Afrofuturism in music, More Brilliant Than the Sun, and Richard Bach’s allegorical fable Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Sapha’s worldview begin to change as he worked on the album and that is represented in the weighty, introspective themes found throughout its riveting fourteen tracks. Family (Lahaiis Sampha’s middle name and the name of his grandfather) and recently becoming a father also deeply inspired the tone and themes present throughout Lahai, and it is that earnest familial heartbeat flowing through the album that makes it so special. Lahai is an inspiring spiritual journey awash in drums and synths working in perfect harmony. It’s an album that vaults Sampha to heights of musical notoriety he has been on the cusp of for some time (an artist turned to for collaborations from the best of the best — Kendrick Lamar, Solange, Drake, etc), yet it persists as deeply personal, and vulnerable, display of growth in real time from a self-examining, questioning artist trying to find their place in the world, while providing an uplifting, beautiful soundtrack to that journey of self-discovery all the while.
1. Jaimie Branch — Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))
It is with a heavy heart that we celebrate Jazz phenom Jaimie Branch’s Fly Or Die Fly Or Die Fly Or Die ((World War)) as Across The Margin’s Album of The Year. The outstanding posthumous release from jazz trumpeter Jaimie Branch was recorded in April 2022 and completed by her family, her band, and label after her death in August 2022. The nine innovative tracks were recorded with her Fly Or Die team (cellist Lester St Louis, bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Chad Taylor) during her residency at the Bemis Centre for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s compelling, and gut-wrenching, to contemplate that an album that finds Branch at the height of her powers and seemingly peaking musically also turned out to be a beautiful and immaculate swan song. While her fiery trumpet shines throughout Fly Or Die Fly Or Die Fly Or Die ((World War)), it is special to also take in her captivating voice which acts as a jazz instrument in its own right, featured on tracks such as “burning grey” and “take over the world.” This is an album that encompasses all we love about Branch’s work — it’s uncompromisingly passionate, unapologetically political, musically complex yet accessible, full of surprises (such as a reimagining of The Meat Puppets “Coming Down” in “The Mountain”), and through and through full of a spirit that is wholly intoxicating. Jaimie Branch is a great loss to the Jazz community and the world and general, and we urge you to explore her catalog of music well beyond Fly Or Die Fly Or Die Fly Or Die ((World War)), as she left us with so much brilliance, music far ahead of his time that we will be learning from and appreciating for the rest of our days. Rest In Peace Jaimie…Thank You.