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Albums of the year

From Mandy, Indiana and Mitski to Julie Byrne and Mick Jenkins, we rank the records that defined 2023.

04 December 2023, 08:30 | Words by The Line of Best Fit

The breadth of taste and opinion on music in 2023 is more diverse than any year we’ve seen as we head towards two decades of Best Fit’s life.

Despite Taylor Swift dominating almost everything in music for the past 12 months, her name didn’t appear once in the 80-strong list of writers and editors whose opinions we polled as part of our annual Best Fit Fifty. Support for the likes of boygenius, Lana Del Rey and Blur - also absent from our list - was also minimal and consensus was harder to find than ever before in making this elusive list of the music we've loved this year. Such fragmentation can only be a good thing though – a sign that independent thought is thriving and the album format is enduring.

Other factors figured into the rankings of our favourite albums – site ratings, artists we've long championed (and ones we felt deserved more attention) plus more than a little instinct and gut-feeling when it came to the final ordering. And right at the top of the list is one of the strongest debuts we've heard in years, by a frighteningly talented artist whose record cuts to the core of what it means to be human.

GUTS by Olivia Rodrigo

Superstars building upon their mega-smash albums is always a fun thing to behold. Will they get better? Will they fail miserably? It all makes for tasty viewing. But in the case of Olivia Rodrigo, coming back from 2021s Sour involved picking the scabs of maturing in the spotlight and letting the gnarled mess meet some bright, brash pop punk winding up in her stock rising astronomically.

GUTS' opening of “All-American bitch” is undoubtedly one of 2023s most gloriously succinct opening moments, which also acts as a thesis statement for its originators life to date. With Rodrigo, in a unassuming honeyed cadence, professing “I feel for your every issue / I know just what you mean” before lurching into a directive that brazenly winds through admitting to an endless list of flaws and faults, owning every single last tangled mess she found herself in has never sounded so freeing. The partnership of both Rodrigo and emo-prince producer Dan Nigro has proven to be richer than ever, and GUTS finds a scathing new edge compared to the sweetness of Sour throughout its rollercoaster runtime.

While we’re all now familiar with the various singles crunching their way through Rodrigo’s various romantic entanglements (“bad idea right?”, “get him back”) the dexterity of the moments the reflections set in (“vampire”, “logical”) with a wisened head prevailing shows the growth and maturation of someone thrust to the top of pop-dom’s great mountain range and dealing with it in the only way she knows how - pouring it all out onto a page and letting the music bring it to life. 2023 has proved to be the year Rodrigo doubled down on being a famous pop star, even down to the sheer staying power of her new offerings which already feel like anthems that can transcend the year to be pillars of the new youthful experience. – SL


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My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross by Anohni & the Johnsons

What does protest music sound like? For some it’s four chords and the truth, for other’s is the clattering 808s and indignant verses of Chuck D and Kendrick Lamar. ANOHNI has a different answer. Once Antony & The Johnsons, then ANOHNI, now ANOHNI & The Johnsons, the West Sussex singer, now twenty years into her career, returns for the first time in a decade to her old band, and brings the old baroque stylings which she had once abandoned for pummelling electronica.

Fronted by a sketch of activist Marsha P. Johnson, her latest album is another record of heartache songs (the only kind that stunning voice could likely muster), but often those songs are sensitive, reflective elegies for passed friends and worldly injustices - protest songs, in other words, just not as we know them. Listen once to ‘It Must Change’ and it sounds like a poignant farewell for the departed lover, listen again and it reveals itself to be a quiet plea for an end for hateful, bigoted violence. The talent and twist of this record is to put those injustices in such soft and supple terms; each one of these are gorgeous, emotive songs, lit by patient melodies, only often - on tracks like ‘Scapegoat’ - they’re songs of mourning for a fate as an object of derision instead of a living, sensual being. “A scapegoat is all I can be”, she sings.

It’s stunning that each one of these songs carry a similar directness and weight, making for one of the year’s most supple and soulful records, and one of its most intense. – LIJ

Bandcamp | Spotify


Sorry I Haven’t Called by Vagabon

Vagabon wants to let you in on a secret: “Can I talk my shit? / I got way too high for this.” On her third LP, Sorry I Haven’t Called, Cameroonian-American Laetitia Tamko dishes out bouncy, witty electro-pop. The project’s opening track, “Can I Talk My Shit?”, is a highlight, welcoming listeners to the album with a lush choir of auto tuned vocals and an anthemic hook. Sorry I Haven’t Called marks a distinct step in Tamko’s artistic evolution. Her first record, 2017’s Infinite Worlds, was a guitar-heavy indie-rock project straight out of the DIY era. On her follow-up, 2019’s Vagabon, she took a 180-degree turn, moving into the pop/singer-songwriter crossover space. Sorry I Haven’t Called pushes Tamko deeper into the pop music fold. “Made Out with Your Best Friend” channels Caroline Polachek and Charli XCX while “Carpenter” centers the swinging, groovy baselines and twinkling embellishments associated with the likes of Vampire Weekend’s Rostam (which makes sense, because he co-produced the album). Still, don’t be fooled by the album’s dance-able beats.

On the album, Tamko is confessional, sharing her contemplations and anxieties with listeners as if they were a friend. “I wasn’t ready to hear you out / I wasn’t ready to pull me out,” Tamko divulges on “Carpenter.” The project closes with “Anti-Fuck,” a grunge-tinged track more reminiscent of her early works. But even this callback to her beginnings is fused with her newer sonic experimentations. The track, as with the album as a whole, showcases an artist finding her stride. – LAD

Bandcamp | Spotify


Chaos for the Fly by Grian Chatten

The restrained sensitivity of Chaos For The Fly sheds new light on the arresting swagger of Grian Chatten. Far removed from the whirlwind of post-punk fury that surrounds his work as frontman of Fontaines DC, his debut solo album takes a more restrained approach. What it lacks in ferocity, it more than makes up for in depth, firmly cementing Chatten’s status as a master of self-mythology and folklore.

Whilst Fontaines are no stranger to the woven narrative, drawing and building on a rich history of Irish literary tradition, Chaos From The Fly gives Chatten the opportunity to experiment with this in new ways. Nods to the cultural landscape of Ireland are revisited, again a central feature of his work, but give way to a greater emphasis on artifice but, crucially, contemplation.

‘Salt Throwers Off A Truck’ is a real highlight, offering stripped back sincerity that cuts through the dark. ‘There ain’t no forever where living’s concerned’, Chatten croons, managing to pair his piercing drawl with all the misty eyed wisdom of a stranger sat soul-searching at a bar. ‘Fairlies’, though decidedly more upbeat, operates on a similar plane. Perhaps the closest to a Fontaines track, it’s a nimble acoustic folk-rock number that is at once self-assured and lost in time. Despite being steeped in mysticism, Chatten seems to keep an unsettling eye on reality, darting between images of ‘fairies’ and ‘ferries’ to impressive effect. In the album’s most exciting and perhaps left-field turn, ‘East Coast Bed’ and ‘The Score’ see Chatten given space to experiment with trip-hop-esque electronic drum beats reminiscent of Portishead or Massive Attack.

Sonically dialled down, his usual accompaniment of strained guitars and pounding drums now replaced with more mellow acoustics in a sparser landscape. The overarching tone, though, twists and turns through the dark with all the same buttery tension that has got him this far. His lamenting brutality places him in that blurry spot between hope and pain, future and past. In his new isolation, he is intense and introspective - using these layered character studies to give us a glimpse into his own anxious rumination on fame.

Whilst perhaps missing some of the all-out thrill of the band’s collective work, Chaos For The Fly allows Chatten’s poetic voice to take on new shapes and, with it, shadows. After 2022 saw Fontaines DC collectively barrel toward dizzying new levels of success, this record has felt like somewhat of an anchor to Chatten’s humanity - a space to brood, breathe and play. – AB

Bandcamp | Spotify

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Perfect Picture by Hannah Diamond

It’s 2023 and the ascent of hyperpop – the sub-genre from whence Hannah Diamond came – has transcended from the fringes of underground coolkid music scenes to the chart mainstream. Over a decade, its plasticky hyperrealism has interwoven into pop and electronica: Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides by the late producer, SOPHIE, was nominated for a 2019 Grammy; Charli XCX’s mid-2010s reinvention accelerated her acclaim and peaked with this year’s Mark Ronson Barbie soundtrack, “Speed Drive”.

In Barbie, the culmination of hyperpop may literally be in packaged consumerism, something the genre’s progenitor A. G. Cook seems to be aware, stating earlier in 2023 that his iconic label PC Music will cease to release new music within the year’s end. As such, Diamond’s Perfect Picture, is one of the last non-archival releases by the record label. A longtime affiliate, the producer, songwriter, and photographer often favoured putting a sheen on other’s projects as opposed to pushing solo endeavours.

The cybernetic fluidity of hyperpop and Diamond’s own creative image is woven throughout Perfect Picture, and in an age where filters are replaced by AI generated visuals, limitations of the eye are synonymous with doubt. “Wonder what you see looking through the magazine,” go the opening lines of “Poster Girl”. “Do you think I’m incomplete when you’re staring back at me?” The touch of Kesha and Charli XCX producer David Gamson is clear in the album’s unabashed Y2K choruses and eurodance underpinning “Flashback,” while “Staring At The Ceiling” dives to darker, nihilistic realms.

Such neurotic vulnerability subverts the icy detachment of earlier work, making Diamond – ironically – immediately more real while still, undeniably sadgirl, however, tracks like “No FX” and “Affirmations” strike a glimmer of optimism where once there was none. With Perfect Picture, Diamond conjures a tenuous peace in an artificial world of fluctuating authenticity. – KW

Bandcamp | Spotify

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stillness, softness... by Hinako Omori

As a genre, ambient music can so often be the antithesis to its sonic aspirations. So often without an anchor of voice, lyrics, structure, such compositions can be devoid of any such emotion their creators may aspire to.

Despite the stoic tone of her instruments of choice, Hinako Omori is a craftsman in touch with a seemingly limitless capacity for emotion. Born in Japan, her family emigrated to South London – where she still resides – when she was a child; throughout her life and to the present, each festive season she would journey to her homeland to reconnect with loved ones. Her eclectic career to date has seen her in touring bands for EOB, James Bay, KT Tunstall, Georgia, and Kae Tempest.

No stranger to traversing the globe across East and West, such international travels have helped shape an emotional empathy and perspective influenced by both cultures. This quiet introspection is imbued in Omori’s work and culminated in this year’s release of stillness, softness…, her second album following last year’s debut, a journey… Whereas the latter explored the therapeutic qualities of forest bathing and time spent in nature – the Japanese concept of ‘shinrin-yoku’, with stillness, softness… Omori turns to healing herself.

Coining the concept of “memory rooms”, Omori journeys through neural corridors so as to face her shadow self; as such, this continuous album is a pensive and earnest meditation documenting the quest for peaceful equilibrium. “It’s funny,” she intones on “ember”, the album’s opening lines capturing her purgatory amidst chilly analogue synthesizers. “It’s like decades have passed yet still no time at all since you closed the door and here I am waiting, holding the key.”

Omori’s relationship with her instruments is less that of an anointed limb, and more that of a mystic reaching, tentatively, into the void, intuitively clutching at threads of understanding until the right one reverberates. Conjured by the Prophet ‘08, the Moog Voyager, the UDO Super 6, this emotive palette is certainly inspired by the future-thinking tone of their classic counterparts, yet embodies a nuanced subtlety inaccessible to its predecessors. Glimmering, “stalactites” dances between the ears; elsewhere and, like breathing, “cyanotype memories” swells softly to capture Omori’s realisation of her own vulnerability.

Half-way through and the six-minute opus of “foundation” marks an inner turning point. “My foundation is stable,” Omori incants, over and over until her message shifts, doing the groundwork with herself to provide an unburdened heart for another. Its poignant atmosphere is imbued with faith. “Our foundation is stable.” Twinned with the lament of “in full bloom”, its dark juxtaposes the prior hope while consolidating patience in pursuit of peace.

In writing stillness, softness… and airing her vulnerability, Omori has come to realise that her journey is not one of unique isolation. “We are all existing in this world together,” she told Best Fit earlier in the year. “It’s almost like a puzzle where we’re figuring out certain situations. There is a sense of togetherness; vulnerability can be a really beautiful thing.” – KW

Bandcamp | Spotify

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trip9love…??? by Tirzah

Tirzah’s third album trip9love…??? reads like one continuous sentence, running from page to page. With a consistent drum line and piano melody throughout the entire record, it is as if the songs all pull from the same rippling undercurrent spiraling with a dizzying display of rawness, remoteness, and rhythmic contortion. It is the slight, individual distortions of the central production on each track then, as well as in their lyrical throes, that provides the different textures of surface foam giving them their independent identities. The sound of the album becomes unmissable from the off: dark and claustrophobic tones, whirlpooling emotions of love and its painful permutations, and the tug of the uncanny. These themes were leached from the woodwork of Tirzah and producer Mica Levi’s very own home studios across London and the South East, also aiding the project’s intimately personal plight. Releasing it on whim with no forewarning or lead-up singles, the album forwards minimalism and trusts its central sonic profile to draw in eyes.

Tirzah embodies a vagueness in her penmanship, collating a series of short, at times contradictory, and intentionally foreboding set of lyrics for the listener to untangle themselves. The two standout cuts arrive right in the middle of the tracklist as the project unspools further downstream into its aching dissonance: “No Limit” and “today”. The former manipulates the familiar instrumentation with a looped and surprisingly well enunciated vocal (questioning “what’s your limit? / what’s my limit?”) to create one of the most compelling moments of the project in its circling descent. The latter does the opposite, suppressing the heightened energy back down and offering further glimpses into the warehouse and industrial sounds that give the album its signature stifling sound. “Don’t feel today / they led you on / you let them in,” Tirzah reprimands herself, casting eerie aspersions of “the Other” that hides in the lyrical shadows of this project. trip9love…??? Is ultimately as gothic and fleshy as it is austere and intriguing, and one can’t help but be pulled deeper into the masterful lore hidden within its minimalist sound. – TT

Bandcamp | Spotify

Tirzah Trip9love

Quest for Fire by Skrillex

Skrillex embarked on a pilgrimage, a Quest For Fire, searching for the most mind-bending beats in all the land. Its fifteen, chameleonic tracks are a love letter to a lineage of electronic sounds that Skrillex had been burdened with the reputation of having defaced. As the poster boy for ‘brostep’, an aggressive, testosterone-fuelled imposter which destroyed the reputation of the right and noble dubstep scene with which it was often confused, Skrillex became one of the most maligned figures on the dancefloor. Despite the revulsion his early music invited, his imagination knew no bounds: here was a sound that dared to challenge, to stretch the sweet things that our bodies can’t resist to sour extremes. Even as his career as a producer transmuted to working with Justin Bieber, FKA Twigs and the Weeknd to critical and commercial acclaim, Quest For Fire proves that he is still a devoted student. Skrillex knows more than you think.

He draws from beautifully executed drum’n’bass to Northern bassline and Chicago juke – but this isn’t fancy dress. Every venture is built outward from a core that is, undeniably, Skrillex: acts of technical wizardry which prove that he has learned that the greatest acts of maximalism come from keeping some things in reserve. And just to prove he has been doing his homework, the line-up of collaborators on this thing is crazy. He’s like an impossibly well-connected stylist reinvigorating timeless pieces from the archives. “Butterflies”, a subterranean house track which draws on the astral talents of Four Tet, demands a nod of respect; “Tears” does justice to “proper” dubstep so well you could almost call it smug, calling on scene veteran Joker to give the tribute authentication.

Skrillex has also been keeping an ear to the ground for the tremors of new dancefloor disruptors. “Supersonic (my existence)” features 100 gecs anarchist Dylan Brady, but together they create something haunted with a deep-fried bassline that crescendos into synths that swipe with the precision and ferocity of a katana. And then there is “Rumble”, the crowd-pleasing collaboration with producer of the moment Fred Again.. which has been blessed with the grit of East London grime legend Flowdan, leaving it with an air of menace. Every track is a product of your wildest dreams, and Quest For Fire proves that for Skrillex, the thrill will always be in the pursuit. – SLW


Skrillex Quest for Fire

NAILS by Benefits

Few albums this year had the vitriol, rage and impact of this debut from Teesside’s Benefits. The project of frontman Kingsley Hall, he synthesised his myriad experiences into a record that’s both cutting and thoughtful. Having previously spent years making music and touring in angular indie-punk outfit The Chapman Family, he’s in no way new to drawing on the tiresome politics of little Britain, but on NAILS it felt like Hall had finally snapped. “Just don't tell me my fucking rights. Just remember my former imperial might. God save the fucking Queen and hold my pint,” he screams on “Empire.”

Sonically, the album is a hard listen, tracking from abrasive punk to visceral electronics via industrial soundscapes, some of Hall’s vocal recordings so raw and nihilistic the levels clip into distortion. It’s also confronting in its content, an uncompromising take on the UK’s social and political landscape that doesn’t let anyone get away easily. No quick “fuck the tories” will save you from Hall’s side-eye. However, inside his political polemics there are some wonderful gems, the odd line catching from the unrelenting haze, throwing you a small break. “Stop telling me we’re levelling up!” he shouts on “Warhorse.”

Released on Invada Records, it’s a suitable fit for the Bristol label’s progressive and experimental catalogue. There’s the anti-facist sentiment and punk aesthetic of Idles, the sparse socio-political commentary of Sleaford Mods and even a touch of the very British humour of The Streets, but Hall’s stance feels individual and self-aware. “I understand, I’m the snake, I’m the scum. The unpatriotic one. Faithless, feckless, all bark no bite, a deserter from their blue passported birthright,” he spits on “Shit Britain.” Both unapologetic and unforgiving, NAILS is the sound of exhaustion turning into action and hopefully sets the tone for more to come. – JL

Bandcamp | Spotify

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Kaytraminé by Kaytraminé

Since his rise as one of the nimblest and in-demand producers in music, Kaytranada has filled dancefloors with energetic live sets and his distinct house style rooted in hip-hop and funk. Constantly seeking out collaborators to make his beats complete, enter Kaytraminé… perfecting the formula from one powerhouse to another.

Pairing up with esteemed MC Aminé, the sunny duo dance across 11 tracks, best experienced with a gin and juice in hand, and (ideally) a Malibu sunset in the distance. Balancing a cheeky swagger and offhand pop culture references, the project is complemented by a handful of A-List features (Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dogg). Although it doesn’t necessarily extend the project to be evergreen outside of June to September, it’s enough of a party in the moment, and the pair have enough personality to live up to the hype. – HB


Kaytramine Amine Kaytranada

Words by Sophie Leight Walker (SLW), Thomas Turner (TT), Steven Loftin (SL), Olivia Swash (OS), Liam Inscoe-Jones (LIJ), Larry Day (LD), Laura A David (LAD), Alice Browne (AB), Kayleigh Watson (KW), Jen Long (JL), Hannah Browne (HB), Adele Julia (AJ), Marc Corrales (MC), Matthew Kent (MK), David Cobbald (DC), Ed Nash (EN), Dinesh Mattu (DM), Hayden Merrick (HM), Quentin Harrison (QH), Will Yarbrough (WY), Kyle Kohner (KK), Elise Soutar (ES), Josh Herring (JH), Josh Mills (JM), Sam Franzini (SF), Tanatat Khuttapan (TK), John Amen (JA), Cerys Kenneally (CK), Tom Williams (TW), Joe Creely (JC)

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