It’s Never Too Late For A Year-End List!: A Smattering of Great Albums From 2023 (And The Best Albums of 2024 Thus Far)

Lucca Swain ‘27, Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

2023 was a packed year for new musical releases, and 2024 is looking to be no less exciting. Clockwise from bottom left: Scrapyard, The Loveliest Time, Albion,  Where we’ve been, Where we go from here

Am I going to list some of my favorite albums of 2023 in this article? Yes. Is it March 2024 as of writing this? Also yes. But time is a construct, as they say, and there’s never any harm in recommending music, regardless of how relevant the recommendations are. But to keep it at least a little bit relevant, this list will also throw in some of the best records of the current year thus far, too.

Carly Rae Jepsen, The Loveliest Time

Though she has significantly dipped in popularity over the last decade (and accrued a rabid cult following in mainstream stardom’s stead), Carly Rae Jepsen has not lost her flair for writing a pop song. If anything, she’s only improved exponentially since “Call Me Maybe”. Across a consistent stream of record releases that could easily stand with the yearly Grammy nominees, it’s hard to say that Jepsen has missed even once, and yet, The Loveliest Time may be one of her highest watermarks yet. The 2023 record is a conscious, visible attempt at self-subversion, the Canadian singer-songwriter poking and prodding at her signature dance-pop sound and seeing just how far she can stretch a particular sound before it breaks, such as the saccharine opener “Anything To Be With You”, where Jepsen proclaims that her fanatical love for a significant other is so strong that she would “be friends with your friends, your friends/anything to be with you”. Punchy, low fidelity drums contrast with pipsqueak backing vocals to create a sugary sweet song that has love and adoration practically oozing from its pores. Jepsen explores trippier, more sensual tempos on the downtempo “Kollage”, and even goes full-on D&B on the surprisingly affecting “Put It To Rest”. But no matter how deep she dives down a particular stylistic rabbit hole, Carly Rae Jepsen never loses her knack for finding absolute joy in everything she does, always managing to pull a life-affirming banger out of whatever endeavor she chooses to pursue.

Harp, Albion

A criminally unnoticed little record from last year, Harp is the brainchild of singer-songwriter and former Midlake frontman Tim Smith and his wife Kathi Zung, who on their debut album Albion pull from goth rock and pastoral folk to create a record that, more than anything else, ends up feeling rooted in the mythological grandeur of a Tolkien novel. The North Carolina-based songwriter sings of the rivers and the flowers, of better days long past and hard journeys ahead. Gothic guitars reverberate bucolic melodies with a gloomy tinge, while Smith’s fatigued vocals echo out into space with great wanting. The target of his yearnings is sometimes difficult to decipher, but the sound of his voice is so distinctly melancholic, it leaves no doubt that this is the music of love, or love lost. Albion is music for weary, lovelorn souls, bewitching tunes for those who find themselves most at peace in the despondence of the wintertime gloaming, or perhaps simply alone in a quiet place with some good tunes.

Model/Actriz, Dogsbody

“I wanted it to be like theater…like building the stage,” said Model/Actriz frontman Cole Haden when describing his vision for the band’s debut album Dogsbody in a 2023 interview with Pitchfork. “I am aesthetically and emotionally drawn to the Greek ilk. I love the drama and the multi-generational vendettas and love stories and infidelities.” And his fondness for drama is no doubt aptly projected on Dogsbody. Across the entire record, Haden’s fiery charisma is the music’s tonal centerpiece, his trembling vocals and hair-raising intonations as immediately commanding as the greatest poets of ancient Athens; “Staring down the verdigris covered faces of the divine,” he stammers with surprising magnetism on “Mosquito”. Yet Model/Actriz’s debut is not an album defined by beauty or splendor. No, Dogsbody is a record that devotes itself entirely to hedonism. Mere moments later on “Mosquito”, the post-punks explode into rhythmic pandemonium, while above it all Haden yelps, practically gasping, about his “body count, higher than a mosquito”. Dogsbody is a nightmare, a frightening, immensely groovy sex and noise freakout that sounds like the worst night at the club ever. As if the phallic cover isn’t an obvious enough indicator of this, the music confirms it: nearly every song is a positively pulse pounding, high BPM industrial rager made all the more deranged by Haden’s vocals and lyrics, which allude towards sex and violence, often in the same breath. In one moment, Haden name drops Lady Gaga (“like Germonatta, Stefani”), and in another he’s almost scream-panting – as though the gods are having his soul and body torn in twain – over music that sounds something like Nine Inch Nails worship made by someone on copious amounts of MDMA. Dogsbody is club music for punks and heathens, high drama drowned in extreme self-indulgence, sexuality as carnage in a horrifying, glorious display. 

Quadeca, Scrapyard

5 years ago, Benjamin Lasky, known by his moniker Quadeca, was a teenager rapper and soccer player running a popular Youtube channel that contained videos as eloquently titled as ‘LIL PUMP “ESSKEETIT” (REMIX)’ and ‘PSG NEYMAR VS BALE FIFA 18 RAP BATTLE’. At some point, Quadeca abandoned Youtube and branched out into a full-fledged musical career, though his music seemed to follow the same disappointing path as any other ‘Youtube rapper’. To the chagrin of many excited fans, Quadeca was releasing songs full of type-beats and wannabe lyrical miracle rapping, the exact kind of hip-hop that in the modern era could best be described as ‘corny’. That’s why it was all too surprising when, in November 2022, Quadeca released I Didn’t Mean To Haunt You, an expertly produced and almost unbearably beautiful concept record that found the former Youtube star moving away from rap and working in the lanes of folktronica and art pop. Haunt You was shockingly focused and well put together, so much so that with this single release, Quadeca had at once eradicated any notion of him being a Youtuber with a music career on the side, and established himself as an artist worth taking seriously. In February 2024, he released his follow-up Scrapyard

Quadeca’s latest mixtape is a revelation, his clear talent for melody conjoining with a revitalized interest in rap to create a collection of songs that both capture the heart and inflame the soul; in other words, it goes hard. The beats are unlike anything in recent hip-hop memory, sometimes combining the blown out bass and sampling typical of abstract hip-hop with the warbling guitars and melancholic mood of I Didn’t Mean To Haunt You, and other times going full-on art pop, such as on “Way Too Many Friends”, where a live piano and drum shuffle play behind Quadeca’s woefully lonely raps; “I got way too many friends,” he reiterates with apparent doubt in his voice, as if to convince even himself that what he says is true. The production is warm and fuzzy, and often straddles the line between styles, though the comfy sound only serves to amplify the heartbreak in Quadeca’s words. “You made an exception for someone/And look where it got you, nice try,” he murmurs on the heartbreaking “U Tried That Thing Where Ur Human”, making it audibly apparent that he could burst into tears at any moment. 

What really separates Scrapyard from its rap contemporaries, though–the wheat from the chaff–is how willing it is to be vulnerable, to embrace messier textures and more unorthodox styles and sounds to create music that feels genuine, raw and human. This is most apparent on stunner of a closer “Texas Blue”, which no doubt takes home the award for ‘Most Beautiful Song Ever Made By a Former Youtube Rapper’, in large part due to a feature by (and duet with) former Brockhampton leader Kevin Abstract, and the grandiose string parts that accompany the duo’s rich harmonizations. It’s a flooring track, simply put, all of the parts coalescing into a totally lush, bittersweet tune about learning to accept reality, and let go of the past. “I’ll be honest/It hurts so much more than I knew/But who asked you?”, Quadeca and Abstract hymn in sync. Flutes and strings and piano lift them ever higher; it’s lovely music for the sake of being lovely. But then again, what’s the problem with that?

Friko, Where we’ve been, Where we go from here

On their debut Where we’ve been, Where we go from here, Chicago newcomers Friko find catharsis in raw melody and noise. The band of young 20-somethings have a knack for writing emotionally devastating indie rock blowouts, great discordant walls of sound that have a tendency to hit a listener right in their core, like on the phenomenal “Where We’ve Been.” It’s no wonder that they’ve mentioned their love for indie stalwarts Yo La Tengo, as just like the New Jersey cult heroes, Friko know just when to get loud–and even grating–and when to tone it down. The devastating ballad “For Ella” sees Friko in a contemplative mood, with singer Niko Kapetan somberly remembering a past connection long gone; “You were running through the backyard/Said the puddles were the ocean/Now the smell of rainy days always reminds me of you.” But the Chicago indie scenesters know how to get pumped, too. On “Get Numb to It!”, the band’s rasping group chanting of, “And it doesn’t get better it just gets twice as bad because you let it/ So you better get numb to it,” is spirit-cleansing and adrenaline pumping. For now, the ball is in Friko’s court; few bands display this much mastery over the fundamentals of indie rock throughout their entire careers, much less on their debut – the real question is whether the band will utilize all that talent to create something even greater than Where we’ve been, Where we go from here.

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