Chaos, Red Moons and Desire: Here are the best albums of the year... So far

Chaos, Red Moons and Desire: Here are the best albums of the year... So far

Spoiled for choice when it comes to a mid-year round-up, the Euronews Culture team have made their choices and ranked their favourite releases of 2023.

Our countdown to the best album of the year (so far) begins with...

15) Gorillaz – Cracker Island

Since bursting onto the scene a staggering 25 years ago, Gorillaz have kept us guessing. And just when you thought Damon Albarn couldn’t have distanced himself any further from his Blur origins, he and his band mates release ‘Cracker Island’. The group’s eighth studio album hit number three on the US Billboard 200 and debuted in the top spot of the UK Album Charts - the first Gorillaz album to reach number one in the UK since the iconic ‘Demon Days’ in 2005. That’s little surprise given the sheer quality of collaborations on this electro pop masterpiece. Among the 15 tracks on the album’s deluxe version, the outfit employ Stevie Nicks (‘Oil’), Tame Impala (‘New Gold’) and Beck (‘Possession Island’), cementing their status as one of the most respected groups in their field and one not afraid to experiment on every level. ‘Baby Queen’ is particularly mesmerising. Inspired by Albarn’s meeting with Princess Siribha Chudabhorn at a Blur concert in Bangkok in the ‘90s, it’s dreamy pop at its finest. So, despite a quarter of a century in the game, it seems as though Gorillaz are very much here to stay. We couldn’t be happier. Saskia O’Donoghue

14) Ice Spice – Like...?

Few artists could dream of as meteoric a rise as Bronx rapper Ice Spice. After she dropped her single ‘Munch (Feelin’ U)’ in 2022, the 23-year-old rapper was thrust into the spotlight. Whether it was down to her Bronx drill vocal style, unapologetically sex-positive lyrics, iconic ginger afro, or her now-trademark twerking, the song brought her to the attention of the public and labels alike. Less than a year later, Ice Spice has released a deluxe EP, features on the Barbie soundtrack, and has collaborated with multiple industry stars including Nicki Minaj, Pink Pantheress and Taylor Swift. Her debut EP 'Like…?' continues the rapper’s confidently delivered drill stylings accompanied by tighter production and features from Minaj and Lil Tjay. The influence of Lil’ Kim is ever present as a guiding force for the nonchalant attitude that makes Ice Spice feel so unique. 'Like…?' never truly manages to find a groove beyond creating different shades of that first single to guarantee her status as more than a passing phase, but the sheer bravado of her debut makes the young rapper one to watch. Jonny Walfisz

13) Sparks – The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte

Despite their nearly six decades in the business, Sparks have proven their immense staying power and their latest album is testament to that. ‘The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte’ is a tantalising blend of wit and charm topped off with the duo’s whimsy-enthused musical prowess. The Mael brothers may be on their 26th studio album, but the long-time underdogs of the synth pop world sound as fresh as ever here. The record’s title track is a standout and the music video is a must-see. How the duo roped in Hollywood darling Cate Blanchett to do an interpretive dance is anybody’s guess but it’s perfectly quirky - and perfectly Sparks. Continuing their long-held tradition for albums spanning entire genres, ‘The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte’ takes us on a musical journey with trippy tracks like ‘A Love Story’, which focuses explicitly on buying drugs, to the Beatles-inspired ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way’. The album leaves fans old and new spellbound and craving more of Sparks’ still enchanting brew. SO'D

12) Foo Fighters – But Here We Are

The first Foo Fighters album written and released since the deaths of the band’s long-time drummer Taylor Hawkins and frontman Dave Grohl’s mother, 'But Here We Are' unsurprisingly deals with grief. The impassioned line-up of songs on the Foo’s eleventh album serve as an ode to survival, combining riffs with emotional gut punches that sound like friends powering through their grief together. It’s not all doom and gloom, mind you: the muscular tracks - which have Grohl on vocals, guitars and back behind the drumkit - are as anthemic as they’ve ever been, with the opening triple-tap of ‘Rescued’, ‘Under You’ and ‘Hearing Voices’ standing as one of this year’s most memorable opening statements. From sorrow to rage, all the way to acceptance that grief is both a burden and a process, the album shows the band channelling a similar urgency that coursed through their 90s records, as well as their back-to-basics 2011 album ‘Wasting Light’. Most of all, 'But Here We Are' is the sound of a band imbued with a fresh sense of purpose, following a series of middling releases over the last decade. It’s dynamic and heartfelt, as if they wanted to create a testimonial worthy of their mourning. Mission accomplished. David Mouriquand

11) Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy

Scottish band Young Fathers have made a name for producing exciting music. Starting from their Mercury Prize winning debut 'Dead', the group have gone from strength to strength with a string of brilliant releases that blend genres of indie rock, hip-hop, and art pop. Their fourth album, this year’s 'Heavy Heavy' feels like an attempt to bring their eclectic sound to a wider audience. Opening track ‘Rice’ starts with the group’s now-typical lyrical style — delivered more like a sermon than a rap — backed by urgently propulsive percussion. The song then breaks out from sermon to full choral euphoria for the chorus. Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham "G" Hastings all share vocal duties alongside many backup singers to create layers upon layers of voices threading through the momentum of the instrumentation. This pattern is repeated throughout the album to create a hypnotic work of anthemic quality that never dips into trite stadium sycophancy. Among the cacophony, the 30-minute album still takes the time to dial down for lighter moments. Tracks like ‘Tell Somebody’ and album closer ‘Be Your Lady’ hit the breaks to experiment in the ethereal. It’s a marvel in such a short time that they can achieve orchestral highs reminiscent of the climax in post-rock tracks often as long as this entire album. More than anything, 'Heavy Heavy' manages to meld poignant lyrics to an astounding sound to create something that is, above all, fun. JW

10) Grian Chatten – Chaos For The Fly

“Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly,” once said the wise Morticia Addams. It seems that Fontaines DC’s frontman Grian Chatten has taken this to heart, by switching perspectives and introducing a little chaos. Not in the way you may be thinking, as he doesn’t double down on the rollicking post-punk sound of his Dublin band but instead dials things down for his first solo album. The singer exposes himself like a raw nerve with these nine intimate and rather bleak songs, which explore existential ruminations and confirm once more what an accomplished lyricist he is. Comparisons with Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave don’t topple into gushing praise, especially when listening to opener ‘The Score’ and ‘Last Time Every Time Forever’. Elsewhere, tracks like ‘Fairlies’ and ‘All of the People’ stand out, with lyrics like “ Kindness is a trick to turn you strange / 'Til you're twisted and you're shining like a varicose vein ” and “ Don't let anyone tell you that they wanna be your friend / They just wanna get close enough to take the final shot. ” And if you’re thinking of giving ‘Chaos for the Fly’ a skip because the world feels gloomy enough as it is without intense poetic observations about how life leads to disillusionment, the occasional appearance of Chatten’s fiancée Georgie Jesson on backing vocals does brighten things up considerably, especially on the croonerific 'Bob’s Casino'. As for fans of Fontaines DC, they need not worry; Chatten’s vocals and delivery remain just as recognizable, and the band are working on LP number 4, after the towering success of last year's 'Skinty Fia'. But while you’re biding your time, this debut is truly worth treasuring. Just don’t go into it feeling too morose. DM

9) PJ Harvey – I Inside The Old Year Dying

For all those who thought PJ Harvey had well and truly lost it in 2016 with the noble but cringely literal, diary-to-music concept album 'The Hope Six Demolition Project', prepare to embrace Polly Jean once more. The singer-songwriter's tenth album, 'I Inside the Old Year Dying', is a definite return to form. Based on her 2022 novel-in-verse "Orlam", which delves into the folklore and the 19th century dialect of her native Dorset, this could have been the insufferably oblique flipside to her previous album’s crushingly earnest travelogue. Instead, it’s a fascinatingly elusive album, which gradually draws you into a melodic world populated with ghosts. If Harvey’s stellar 'Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea' was the polished valentine to the vibrant urban environment of New York she took inspiration from, then 'I Inside the Old Year Dying' sounds like the eerie and darker rural counterpart. It’s a challenging but strangely soothing album that tells the tale of a nine-year-old girl who sees spirits in Gore Wood - including apparitions of Wyman-Elvis, a Christ-like figure who’s half messiah, half Elvis. It all sounds a bit pretentious, but the overarching story is a background consideration for the first few listens; you’re initially drawn in by Harvey’s 12 pagan incantations, which instil a hypnotic aura of eerie enchantment. After that, what you do with the narrative is your business. You’ll still be lost in PJ’s haunted woods, and chances are you won’t want to leave. DM

8) Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd

Lana Del Rey’s ninth studio album, 'Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd', has all the hallmarks of the singer’s hypnotic, dreamy style and existential ponderings. With 16 tracks ranging from piano ballads to gospel vocals, the album envelops you in an emotional journey with plenty of heartwrenching moments. “Fuck me to death, love me till I love myself,” she sings on the title track, over a lilting violin melody. She doesn’t shy away from hard-hitting topics either, including the afterlife, motherhood, trauma and the female body. “Look at my hair, look at the length of it and the shape of my body,” she whispers in the musing A&W. “ If I told you that I was raped, do you really think that anybody would think I didn’t ask for it? ” Ranging from blissful to harrowing in a heartbeat, Del Rey’s new album shows her mastery of tonal complexity and musical nuance. Rebecca Ann Hughes

7) Kali Uchis – Red Moon In Venus

Following her critically acclaimed projects, 'Isolation' and 'Sin Medio', Grammy-winning artist Kali Uchis continues to push boundaries and explore new sounds on her third studio album, titled 'Red Moon in Venus'. The project showcases a rich blend of lush, floating R&B and Latin-infused Neo-soul tracks, each exploring different facets of love. With her enchanting vocals and lyrics delivered in both Spanish and English, the Colombian-American singer-songwriter effortlessly creates a dreamlike atmosphere imbued with divine feminine energy. The album's early opener, 'Wish You Roses', perfectly sets the tone for the entire project, enveloping listeners with a gorgeous, swelling beat and Uchis' celestial vocals. Other standout tracks, such as the 80s-inspired 'Hasta Cuando', the deeply psychedelic 'Moral Conscience', and the chart-topping hit 'Moonlight', further showcase the scope of her artistry. In addition to Uchis' solo brilliance, 'Red Moon in Venus' also features carefully selected collaborations with Omar Apollo, Summer Walker, and her partner Don Toliver, adding a delightful touch to the album’s sonic landscape. Clocking in at digestible 43 minutes, 'Red Moon in Venus' is a seductive exploration of romance, draped in honey-like allure. It’s without a doubt one of the year’s finest musical offerings so far. Theo Farrant

6) Amaarae – Fountain Baby

Amaarae’s debut album 'The Angel You Don't Know' received rave reviews in 2020. 'Fountain Baby', which was released in June this year to critical acclaim, is already hooking fans with its Afro rhythms and trap beats. Coming out just in time for summer, the album is playful, sunny and sexy. The Ghanaian American's trademark baby sweet, feminine voice rises above a whole range of sounds from dancehall to punk and Japanese folk to flamenco. The music is lavish, with everything from harps to gunshots shaking up tracks. The lyrics are bold and playful: “ I met a girl, she a saint and a demon / Two like Tia, two like Nina Sky / Me and her, it felt like threesomes / Must be Gemini ” she sings in 'Co-Star'. There’s no doubt this 14-track album will be a hedonistic, thrilling and very catchy summer soundtrack for many. RAH

5) RAYE - My 21st Century Blues

In 2021, RAYE, the 25-year-old South Londoner, took to Twitter and declared, "I'm done being a polite pop star. I want to make my album now." Fast forward two years, and the moment her fans eagerly awaited arrived - the release of her debut-full length project 'My 21st Century Blues'. This momentous release follows a lengthy battle with her former label, Polydor, who had signed her when she was just 17. During her time with Polydor, RAYE showcased her songwriting talents by penning songs for some of music’s biggest names including Rihanna and Beyoncé. But RAYE was constrained from releasing her own project, making this album a hard-fought triumph of artistic freedom. 'My 21st Century Blues' stands as a testament to RAYE's undeniable talent as both a singer and a songwriter. The album boldly breaks through genre boundaries and delves candidly into some of her most vulnerable life experiences. From the global smash-hit 'Escapism', which earned the artist her first UK No.1 single, to the emotionally charged, progressive house beats of 'Black Mascara' and the profoundly moving track 'Ice Cream Man', RAYE's prowess brilliantly shines through, proving her as a true musical force to be reckoned with. This album deserves to be listened to from start to finish, then again, and again. TF

4) Jessie Ware - That! Feels Good!

What better way to deal with our collective existential dread than to leave it all out on the dance floor? Jessie Ware knows this, and after blessing us with the infectious club hits on 2020’s 'What’s Your Pleasure?' she’s back with a joyous new album that delivers even more opportunities to dance until you drop. 'That! Feels Good!' leans heavily on disco influences and funky beats, with the hit single 'Free Yourself' serving up a hedonistic rallying cry for the world’s disillusioned youth: “ Why don't you please yourself? If it feels so good then don’t you, baby, don’t you stop! ” This is music to sway to in a dark club, forgetting yourself, the beat thumping in your bones and sweat dripping down the small of your back. We dare you to try not to dance to 'Freak Me Now' or 'Pearls'. On top of the album’s pure scintillating energy, Ware’s powerful vocals reach deep into your soul on ballads like 'Hello Love' and 'Lightning'. With this third album, the British powerhouse has firmly claimed her crown as the queen of dance music in the roaring, rage-filled 2020s. Anca Ulea

3) boygenius – the record

Oh, this is such a stunning record it actually hurts a little bit. The supergroup composed of indie rock singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Davis first got together in 2018 for an EP which promised much. Since then, each performer’s star has risen, so a full-length release was never a given. However, 'the record' (stylised in lowercase like the band's name) delivered more than just an expectation-meeting album; it feels (and sounds) like an achingly personal event in which the three artists have managed to combine their distinctive styles in order to create an intimate ode to collaboration. Listening to 'the record', you feel like you’re privy to a mic-sharing session between three friends who genuinely enjoy their creative time together and who know that alone, they’re strong, but together, they’re unbeatable. Each is given their chance to shine, but benefit from the added input. Whether it’s the tale of existential crisis on the rockier ‘$20’, the bittersweet romance at the heart of the dreamy ‘True Blue’, the Paul Simon-indebted ‘Cool About It’ or the catchy lo-fi folk of album centrepiece ‘Not Strong Enough’, the musical dialogue between the trio is so sharp, the songs so catchy, and the chemistry so disarmingly genuine that you won’t want to hear them apart after this. DM

2) Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You

Spare a thought for Caroline Polachek. When penning her 2023 album 'Desire, I Want To Turn Into You', she was faced with the mammoth task of following up previous album’s hit single ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’, one of the best pop songs of the last decade. Thankfully for Polachek, whose multifaceted career includes fronting synth-pop band Chairlift, writing songs for Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Charli XCX, as well as more guest features than you can shake a stick at, musical talent is in abundance. She is firing on all cylinders with 'Desire, I Want To Turn Into You'. Trip-hop beats back tracks like ‘Pretty In Possible’, Spanish guitars leads us through ‘Sunset’, while electronic glitches disturb vocals on ‘Bunny Is A Rider’. Polachek’s genius is an ability to navigate atypical chord progressions, experimental techniques and varied instrumentation without ever losing sight of her pop sensibility. Every song would sound at home in the most commercial settings, yet listen along and your ears are constantly treated to sonic surprises. Over it all is her incredible voice. Capable of vocal oscillations that should only be possible through digital manipulation, Polachek warbles through octaves in single syllables. Delve into the lyrics and Polachek is focused, creating an atmospheric ode to desire in its many forms along an epic journey across the locations and ages. Yearning, sexy and volatile, Polachek has created what could very well be the pop album of the year. JW

1) Gabriels – Angels & Queens

It’s not always easy writing about an album when all you want to say is: “It’s outstanding, please listen to it now. Why aren’t you listening to it yet? How about now, are you listening to it now?” But here goes... This one had a funny old release. The first part of soul and R&B trio Gabriels’ 'Angels & Queens' came out last year: a 27-minute long, 7-track sonic slap which weaved gospel, jazz, soul and disco, all to the sound of singer Jacob Lusk’s velvety falsetto. The second part of the album, somewhat confusingly, encompasses part one and adds six more songs, with a shuffled tracklist order. All you need to know is that 2023 saw the release of Gabriels' full debut album, 'Angels & Queens', and it’s quite simply remarkable. Produced by Kendrick Lamar’s longstanding producer Sounwave, the album is daring, lush, and funky, an astonishing soundtrack that somehow manages to fit every mood. You’re a fan of Prince? You’ve been served. Love Marvin Gaye? He’s in there too. Yearn for some Billie Holiday soulfulness? Yep, Gabriels have ticked that box as well. 'Angels & Queens'’s grooves make you want to dance; its nuanced rhythms and orchestrations make you want to sit back, relax, and take in the most ambitious sound of 2023. From the stunning vintage sounds of opening number ‘Offering’ to the sumptuous closing song ‘Mama’, via the delicate ‘To The Moon and Back’ and the thrilling ‘Love And Hate In A Different Time’, there’s an addictive and timeless quality to what Lusk, keyboardist Ryan Hope and violinist Ari Balouzian have achieved. Consecration came during this year’s Glastonbury, when Lusk joined Elton John on stage. Elton then declared that their song ‘Love And Hate In A Different Time’ was “probably one of the most seminal records I’ve heard in the last 10 years.” If it’s good enough for Elton... There only remains one question: “Are you listening yet?” DM

There we have it. Did we miss anything? Let us know, and check out our ranking of the Best Movies of 2023 So Far.