Twelve months of music can be a lot to process. In looking back and reflecting on our favorite music of 2023, a total of 141 albums were tossed into the ring by the team of WXPN’s on-air hosts, and they ran a gamut from local favorites to esoteric curiosities to big, bold pop releases that captured the collective spirit of this past year.

It was a lot of music to reflect on, and debate about. You can explore the everybody’s individual picks on our Best of 2023 page. But a consensus coalesced, and that’s what we’re excited to present you with today: WXPNs Best of 2023 MEGA LIST of our albums of the year. Read on for reviews of each of the top 25, written by the folks who chose them — it’ll take you on a deeper dive on music you might already know, and it might help you discover a new favorite or two.

25. Low Cut Connie – ART DEALERS (Contender Records)

Low Cut Connie- Full Set (NON-COMM 2023)

I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. ART DEALERS, the latest collection of rock and soul from Philly’s Low Cut Connie, might not wind up in the Louvre, but it nonetheless sits comfortably alongside streetwise classics by Lou Reed and Roxy Music. Bandleader Adam Weiner rallies for those living on society’s fringes, lavishing each character study with empathy and grit. Weiner exorcises some of his own demons, too, transforming personal challenges into rousing anthems. For those who discovered the group during their series of home-recorded live streams, ART DEALERS serves as a taut introduction to Low Cut Connie’s world of glitter and grime. There’s a renewed energy in the road-tested band, which plays out in the album’s accompanying documentary film. The finished piece is a candid offering from a journeyman performer that’s suitable for framing. –  Eric Schuman

24. The Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds (Polydor Records)

The Rolling Stones & Lady Gaga — Sweet Sounds Of Heaven (Live at Racket, NYC 2023)

When you first put on a record like The Rolling Stones’ new album Hackney Diamonds, it is with an odd mix of excitement and fear: excitement that you’re hearing the Stones’ first new album of original material in 18 years, and fear that it won’t stick the landing. Will it be overly trendy? Will it be derivative of their past glories? While longtime fans will hear those Stonesian echoes, you can’t fault a band for doing what they have always done best: creating taunt grooves for twin guitars to bob and weave, and for Mick to top with the vocal swagger and verve that made him the best frontperson in history. The end result is an album that’s as fun to listen to as it must have been to make, with producer Andrew Watt applying his own sonic fandom to the band’s best tunes in 30+ years.

If you’d asked me in 1989 to imagine a Stones album in 2023 as the entire band was into their 80s, I couldn’t have dreamed of a record as good as Hackney Diamonds.  They hit all the right notes welcoming longtime bassist Bill Wyman (who left in 1993) back to the fold, honoring the late Charlie Watts by using a few drum parts cut before his 2021 passing, and adding guests like Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and Elton John to the mix. Though I dropped the needle with trepidation, by the last song I was sad to see it end (with a perfectly sparse harmonica/guitar/vox version of Muddy Waters’ “Rolling Stone Blues,” the very song from which the band took their name more than 60 years ago.)Jim McGuinn

23. Margo Price – Strays (Loma Vista Recordings)

Margo Price - Been To The Mountain (Official Music Video)

Since her debut in 2016, singer-songwriter Margo Price has been a lot Americana with increasing amounts of rock and roll. Price released two albums this year: Strays, which came out in January, and the recent Strays II, a two-parter/double album that came out in October. The record on this list refers to the former, as it laid the ground and set the scene for II. Strays is a beauty, a further marrying of Price’s classic rock moves and her love of its roots, as well as a broadening of her pop sensibility, as seen in her collaboration with Sharon Van Etten on “Radio,” with Lucius on “Anytime You Call,” and with Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell on “Light Me Up.” Collaborations aside, Strays showcases Price’s continued broad embrace of various pop styles, including the R&B flavored “Time Machine,” and the gorgeous mid-70s Laurel Canyon vibes of “Landfill.” – Bruce Warren

22. Hozier – Unreal Unearth (Columbia Records)

Hozier - Francesca (Later with Jools Holland)

The first time I heard “Eat Your Young,” I knew something was happening. The impressive third album by Dublin singer-songwriter Hozier has layered rock (“Francesca”), cascading symphonics (“Son Of Nyx”), gentle folk (“I, Carrion”), and bouncy pop melodies (“First Time”). It touches on spirituality and colonialism. It’s sexy. It’s thoughtful. It’s supposedly rooted in Dante’s Inferno. You’ll hear seemingly chaotic ideas and sounds, but somehow Hozier stitches it all together to create a sonic snapshot of his mind and his heart. I feel like Hozier let go of the reins on this one to let it run wild and trust it would take shape…and it worked. – Wendy Rollins

21. The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein (4AD)

The National - Eucalyptus (Official Video)

First Two Pages Of Frankenstein is my favorite downtempo album of 2023. It looks like Matt Berninger’s long period of writer’s block is well over. He had so many songs going into First Two Pages of Frankenstein that The National released two albums: (the second being Laugh Track, featuring Bon Iver, Phoebe Bridgers, and Roseanne Cash, that followed in September).  I love Berninger’s sad-sack persona lyrics. Break-up songs like “Eucalyptus” and “New Order T-Shirt” are crammed with images that ring true to me. Even the great Taylor Swift, who refers to the band for production choices, makes a contribution to First Two: her and Berninger co-wrote the lyrics to “The Alcott” after he got stuck. Personally I am waiting for the duet album It Takes Two (Matt and Taylor’s version).David Dye

20. Arlo Parks – My Soft Machine (Transgressive Records)

Arlo Parks - Blades (Official Video)

My Soft Machine was the album of the summer this year, and not just because of the release date (it dropped at the end of May). Parks has said that these songs relate to deep issues regarding personal tragedies and challenges, but the melodies and production instead bring to mind a light June breeze. The 23-year-old London native has a remarkable penchant for doing the right kinds of experimentation with sounds and textures. Although My Soft Machine didn’t constitute a huge commercial breakthrough (as some expected), I have a feeling that time will be very kind to this collection of vibe-y pop songs. – Dan Reed

19. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin (Asthmatic Kitty Records)

Sufjan Stevens - "Will Anybody Ever Love Me?" (Official Music Video)

Over the past two decades, Sufjan Stevens has proven himself to be an ambitious songwriter / composer with the goods to back it up. Ornate orcherstal pop? See Illinois. Electronic avant rock? The Age of Adz. Heartrending folk? Carrie and Lowell. On this year’s Javelin, he does it all: touching on each of those sonic elements, sometimes all in one song. It’s the perfect compendium of Sufjan’s creative vision. But most significant is the lyrical undercurrent of Javelin: inspired by and dedicated to his longtime partner, visual artist Evans Richardson IV, who passed away in April at age 43, the album is a vehicle for grief and a reflection on loss, as well as having to be with yourself and the world after the loss. It’s heavy, but in the swelling melodies of “Everything That Rises” and the warm chorale of “There’s A World,” it’s also full of hope and love. In confronting mortality on Javelin, Sufjan Stevens finds beauty and transcendence. –  John Vettese

18. Julie Byrne – The Greater Wings (Ghostly International)

Julie Byrne | A Take Away Show

Singer-songwriter Julie Byrne’s first album in six years delivers on the promise of her 2017 album, Not Even Happiness, and then some. The Greater Wings’ ten songs wind through human emotion, nature, and the cosmos, allowing Byrne to offer eloquent observations of life, love, and loss all within the context of a wide-angle view of the universe. Above a shifting bed of finger-picked acoustic guitars, harp, wind chimes, orchestral accompaniment, and warm synths, her vocals float with an ease and elegance that bring the listener in to each line. And with each line, carefully crafted and placed patiently to build every song, the album becomes a multidimensional whole. Built for cold mornings, pensive afternoons, and hot, dark nights alike, The Greater Wings is simply, in my experience, the most beautiful and perfect album of 2023. – Julian Booker

17. Black Pumas – Chronicles of a Diamond (ATO Records)

Black Pumas - Mrs. Postman (Official Video)

This Austin, Texas band (essentially the duo of Adrian Quesada and Eric Burton) make genre-smashing music that encompasses soul, dream pop, psychedelic rock, jazz, and more. The new album boasts their finest songwriting thus far, and Burton’s vocals are just incredible throughout. It’s also a real “album” experience. In fact, the latter part of the record (or side two, if you wish) is actually the best. Black Pumas remain a force to be reckoned with, and the potential is unlimited. – Dan Reed

16. Hannah Jadagu – Aperture (Sub Pop Records) 

Hannah Jadagu - Full Set (NON-COMM 2023)

Hannah Jadagu brings a jagged edge to the world of bedroom pop on her debut album, Aperture. This is undoubtedly a good thing, not just for my tastes as a lover of both bubblegum and shoegaze, but for ignoring the box of boundaries that we call “genre.” Seriously, I can’t get enough of the feeling of “Lose.” The guitar, drum machines, and vocals coming together for a restrained explosion on the chorus… it’s glorious!

I lived with Aperture for a long time in the late summer, being pulled further into Jadagu’s world upon every listen, and being reminded of what life was like as a teenager. The wants, the fears, and the hopes, both immediate and urgent. After meeting Hannah, I sensed the quiet confidence of an artist who knows where they want to go, and how they want to approach it. As she sings on “Letter to Myself,” “I wrote a letter to myself / And watched it all come true.” Aperture is indeed a dream come true. – Stephen Kallao

15. Cat Power – Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert (Domino Recording) 

Cat Power: Like A Rolling Stone | The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

In very apropos timing for us here at XPN (due to our recent 885 Greatest Songs By Women Countdown), the singer Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) has seen fit to take on the Mother of all Bootlegs, the famed Royal Albert Hall concert of Bob Dylan’s 1966 tour. Cat Power’s career has been leading to this moment; in her three volumes of various covers projects, she’s sang Dylan’s “Paths of Victory” and “I Believe in You,” along with a direct address to Dylan himself, “Song To Bobby.” With her creative takes on covers in the past, she is both reverent and confident in this performance, channeling both Dylan’s electric and acoustic sets. In Sings Dylan, Cat Power proves she’s one of music’s great interpreters. Even more, when an audience member shouts “Judas” to recreate that moment of the famed concert, she responds with “Jesus,” making her loyalties clear.  – Keith Kelleher

14. Janelle Monáe – The Age of Pleasure (Wondaland Productions) 

Keke Palmer Shakes Her Hips To Janelle Monáe's Energetic Performance | Soul Train Awards ‘23

Janelle Monáe’s first three albums, with their sci-fi fantasy vibe, accentuated the future in  Afro-Futurism. The Age Of Pleasure, however, is firmly rooted in the present. From the blissful opening track and first single “Float,” we are engulfed in sensuality and in the album’s flow. Clever segues and the use of many African and Caribbean styles from Afro-beat to Reggae meld the first ten tracks together.  Janelle also utilizes guests like Seun Kuti, Sister Nancy, and Nigerian super-star CKay, but not always in obvious ways. Sometimes you feel like the cleanliness of Monáe and Wondaland’s production doesn’t always jibe with the carnality of the lyrics: the love described demands more funk. Nonetheless I keep returning for more. – David Dye

13. Queens Of The Stone Age – In Times New Roman… (Matador Records) 

Queens of the Stone Age – Emotion Sickness

I am a long-time fan of Queens Of The Stone Age, but admittedly, this album took a few listens. This one is darker than most Queens albums, and that’s saying a lot. It feels heavy, looming over you. Frontman Josh Homme definitely took some heavy hits since Queens’ last album: an all-too-public divorce, a cancer diagnosis, and the death of some of his closest friends (Taylor Hawkins, Mark Lanegan)… not to mention a global pandemic. In Times is the final piece of an album trilogy, and according to Homme, it’s “what you’ve learned along the way.” One of my favorite lyricists, Homme never fails. There are so many examples, but two that stick with me: “You better turn a blind eye ‘fore they take your other one” in “Made To Parade,” and “Come for a fitting way of life / It’s all the rage, enslaved, in style” in “Straight Jacket Fitting.” – Wendy Rollins

12. Slaughter Beach, Dog – Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling (Lame-O Records) 

Slaughter Beach, Dog - Full Set (Free At Noon Concert)

Jake Ewald of Slaughter Beach, Dog will crack you up; he’ll break your heart. It’s almost as though the Philly indie rock singer-songwriter wanted to promise fans exactly what they could expect with the title of his new album: Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling. The band’s fifth record is the strongest chapter in an increasingly strong catalog, mixing pensive folk with raucous roots rock and expansive psychedelic dreamscapes. Vocal harmonies by Nashville’s Erin Rae throughout give the album a vibe reminiscent of Conor Oberst and Emmylou Harris on I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. But Ewald’s storytelling is the core: like Paul Simon, Randy Newman, and Jeff Tweedy, he uses each song to take a playfully poignant snapshot of a character’s life, and whether it’s the world-weary traveler on “Strange Weather,” the bible school dropout of “My Sister In Jesus Christ,” or the jazz-loving dreamer of “Henry,” and you’ll feel love and compassion for them all. –  John Vettese

11. Various Artists – Barbie The Album (Atlantic) 

Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice – Barbie World (with Aqua) [Official Music Video]

First of all, anything producer Mark Ronson touches is gold! And this year, he gave us 17 glittering tracks that make up Barbie The Album. The star-studded soundtrack is largely a thing of the past, but this one is full of songs specifically and perfectly written for the film from the likes of Dua Lipa (“Dance the Night”), Billie Eilish (“What Was I Made For?”), and of course, Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice, who sample the 90s one-hit-wonder “Barbie Girl” by Aqua for their collaboration on “Barbie World.” The crown jewel of the collection, though, is Ryan Gosling’s instantly iconic performance of “I’m Just Ken,” which is a joy to hear even when you’re not watching the hilariously choreographed fight-dance scene for which it was written. This all adds up to the perfect playlist to beach off, or to do anything, really. If you’re ever feeling blue, put a little “Pink” (by Lizzo) in your life by hitting play on this compilation, and remember: “You Are Kenough.” –  Kristen Kurtis

10. Blur – The Ballad of Darren (Parlophone, Warner) 

Blur - Barbaric (Live)

Since their debut in the early 90s, Blur has emanated a brilliance that has never waned. Even as lead singer Damon Albarn pushed musical frontiers forward with his virtual band, Gorillaz, embracing hip-hop, world music and electronic sounds, his other work retained its creative spark. The Ballad Of Darren, Blur’s ninth studio album, and first LP of new material in 8 years, finds the British rock band in their mid-50s, reflective, musically baroque, and less aggro than ever. Songs like “The Narcissist,” “Avalon,” and “Far Away Island” are lush and beautifully-composed songs. “Barbaric” and “St Charles Square,” two of the most up-tempo songs on the album capture Blur’s middle-aged emotion wonderfully, yet still with a bit of the Blur edge. 

In an interview with Mojo magazine last July, guitarist Graham Coxon said the new album “sounds like Blur, but more like men.” He’s referring to their vulnerability, and in turn, a certain strength that comes through on the album. So, if you’re looking for Blur hits from the past like “Song 2,” “Girls And Boys,” “Parklife,” or “Country Life,” you won’t find them on The Ballad of Darren. You will, however, find an excellent collection of songs from four guys who, with age, have gotten much wiser, and all the while maintained their rich sense of musicality and appeal. – Bruce Warren

9. Devon Gilfillian – Love You Anyway (Fantasy Records) 

Devon Gilfillian - Love You Anyway (Official Music Video)

I was turned on to Devon Gilfillian when I first started working at XPN, and it’s been really cool to see how his audience has grown since. Besides XPN, platforms like Rolling Stone, The Joe Budden Podcast, Jimmy Kimmel Live and more acknowledge how great the Morton, PA native’s music is. A friend of mine once told me that love is finding someone who accepts your quirks the way you do theirs, and Gilfillian’s songs like “All I Really Wanna Do” and “Right Kind of Crazy” capture that idea. I have never been to Nashville, where Gilfillian lives these days, but Love You Anyway feels like cruising down a sunny Tennessee road with someone special in the passenger seat. –  Abdur Rahman

8. Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We (Dead Oceans) 

Mitski - My Love Mine All Mine (Official Video)

Mitski’s latest album, The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We, paints a sparse, cruel, lonely landscape just from the title. Mitski’s gift, however, is finding the warmth, kindness, and humanity in that landscape. She wonders at the far-away moon, at a crushed insect that looks like an angel, at the ways “memories snow and cover up the driveway.” Like a great filmmaker, Mitski finds the symbolism in those details. That’s how she makes the big themes, like “love” and “America,” feel intimate and personal. She also has a film score composer’s ear, working with producer Drew Erickson to bring in sweeping cinematic strings, and a choir, that make the moments of sparseness on the album even more arresting. – Raina Douris

7. Say She She – Silver (Karma Chief Records) 

Say She She - Full Set (NON-COMM 2023)

It’s funny how the album is called Silver, and the cover looks like pieces of silver, because the album sounds like a party in a disco ball. It makes sense too, considering I saw Say She She on Good Morning America receive praise from legendary disco producer and guitarist Nile Rogers. Nya, Piya, and Sabrina all cried tears of joy, honored by the kind words. Songs like “Reeling” and “C’est Si Bon” make you feel like you’re grooving at Studio 54. On the other hand, “Don’t You Dare Stop” and “Passing Time” are soulful love songs reminiscent of their shining 2022 debut Prism. Abdur Rahman

6. Blondshell – Blondshell (Partisan) 

Blondshell - "Salad" (Free At Noon Concert)

When you first listen to the album Blondshell, the debut from singer-songwriter Sabrina Teitelbaum, there’s a strange sense of familiarity. Musically, Blondshell draws from her love of nineties alternative rock, and through her songwriting invites you to take a look at life through a lens, that is anything but sugarcoated. The LA-based songwriter sets a post-adolescent scene that covers relationships gone bad, revenge, and addiction. Giving in to that vulnerability and letting it filter into the music is something I can’t help but admire. It’s honest, it’s raw, and it connects. Especially if you grew up in the 90’s, these songs bring you back to your own complicated younger years. If you’re growing up now, well, Blondshell is a voice for your generation. Having the opportunity myself to watch these songs in front of a live audience twice this year, I can attest the devotion and the fandom is real. –  Mike Vasilikos

5. Wednesday – Rat Saw God (Dead Oceans) 

Wednesday - "Chosen To Deserve" (Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session)

Most bands would give anything for just two of their members to operate in perfect, locked-in synchronization. In the case of Wednesday, all five members function as a complete unit, a roaring hydra of country-sizzled indie rock. The Asheville band’s star has been steadily rising since their formation a few short years ago, and Rat Saw God is the culmination of their powers. Singer Karly Hartzman’s meticulously detailed lyrics paint vivid, often-time soured scenes of life growing up in the American south. Driven by scorching lap steel guitar, Wednesday’s tales of adolescent misadventure veer from hushed tenderness to overwhelming eruption, usually within the same song. Standout appearances in our studio for an Indie Rock Hit Parade Session, and at XPoNential Festival served as mile markers for the breakout year that Wednesday has had in 2023. Rat Saw God is such an inviting and captivating record; it’s no wonder so many new fans are seeing the light. –  Eric Schuman

4. boygenius – The Record (Interscope Records) 

“Cool About It” - boygenius (LIVE on The Late Show)

It took five long years after boygenius initially formed and gave us the self-titled EP to promote their 2018 joint tour, but the supergroup’s debut album was worth the wait. The creative chemistry between Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus is palpable in every moment of the record, especially on the handful of tracks that are credited to all three of them (“Without You Without Them,” “Cool About It,” “Not Strong Enough,” and “Satanist.”) This trio of musicians, who were already crafting generation-defining art on an individual basis, soared from angel to god status with their combined power as songwriters who figured out how to perfectly balance and blend their voices and styles. As if their music wasn’t moving enough, it was also inspirational to see these women revel in their friendship as they brought out the best in each other both onstage and off. This may be their first album together, but we certainly hope it’s not their last. –  Kristen Kurtis

3. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Weathervanes (Southeastern Records)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – When We Were Close

Few songwriters create a sense of place quite like Jason Isbell. In fact, expectations feel unfair whenever he releases new music. His trademark style of storytelling is so vivid and reflective of our society; it’s one of a kind. So, when Isbell releases an album like Weathervanes, even the “tough to impress” crowd is impressed. I, for one, will admit to that.  Every song on Weathervanes is a carefully-crafted story. And while some of these stories seesaw between fiction and non-fiction, you can’t help but be drawn into them. The characters Isbell paints have a magnetic quality that makes you ache for them, love for them, and in many cases want to pull them out of the holes they’ve dug themselves in. That’s how much Isbell makes you believe. These aren’t clickbait songs, but stories with so much heart that at times they do their best to test yours. If you’re in search of music that truly makes you feel, Weathervanes hits the mark. –  Mike Vasilikos

2. Genesis Owusu – Struggler (Ourness)

Genesis Owusu - Full Set (NON-COMM 2023)

Who could’ve predicted that one of the best albums of 2023 would be a concept album told from the perspective of a cockroach? Perhaps only Genesis Owusu himself, a 25-year old singer, performer and Australian of Ghanian descent. Struggler, his genre-melding sophomore full-length, infectiously mixes up hiphop, new wave, funk, psychedelia, and R&B. Some might hear a bit of early Prince brought forward in this approach, an intimidating level of sonic ambition. But in an era when listeners are less beholden to individual genres than ever before, the fusion of styles works.

As to the concept behind the songs, Owusu said “The struggler runs through an absurd world with no ‘where’ or ‘why’ at hand. Just an instinctual inner rhythm, yelling at them to survive the pestilence and lightning bolts coming from above. A roach just keeps roaching.” So why wouldn’t an album about a cockroach be underserving of best album? And with an excellent performance during Non-Comm at World Cafe Live in May and Underground Arts in the fall, Owusu has emerged as a favorite of not just down under, but all over, including the airwaves of WXPN and the hearts of our staff and listeners. – Jim McGuinn

1. Bully – Lucky For You (Sub Pop)

Bully- Full Set (NON-COMM 2023)

Alicia Bognanno, who performs under the name Bully, has made the saddest album you’d ever wanna blast with your car windows open. Its full of big, guitar-driven songs with huge hooks and sing-along choruses… but when you listen a little closer, you’ll hear that Bully is singing touchingly about loss and grief. The songs were largely inspired by the passing of her dog Mezzi, who Bognanno says was one of the most important relationships in her life. But you can also hear her relationship with her gear, as an engineer and producer, as well as her guitar, an instrument she plays like it’s an extension of herself. The contrast between subject matter and sound is truly compelling. Lucky For You is a breakthrough for Alicia not only as a thoughtful, crafty songwriter, but also one of the best young alternative rock engineers working right now.  Raina Douris