‘A tonic that no medication can give’: readers’ favourite albums of 2023

<span>Composite: PR, Jordan Hemingway</span>
Composite: PR, Jordan Hemingway

Everything But the Girl – Fuse

A thrilling group that I thought had gone for ever – so it was amazing to hear this, how fresh it is and yet so recognisable. My partner of 20 years died very suddenly of a brain aneurysm in October 2022 and I so wish he could have heard Caution to the Wind. It moves me immensely. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt have always been so eloquent about love and loss, and about the joy of music and partying. Heartfelt ballads, pounding drum’n’bass, songs that play with the form of music itself – there’s a lot to love. In my own loss I’ve taken to listening to music a lot when driving; Fuse has been a constant in my car at all times of day and night since I bought it. Liz Cooper, 62, New Zealand

Jung Kook – Golden

I’ve loved Jung Kook’s singles, but since Golden dropped, I haven’t stopped listening to the whole album. Please Don’t Change, Hate You and Yes or No have been my favourites. The versatility of different styles Jung Kook is playing with is unbelievable. I had a burnout in 2018 and I was badly depressed. It took me two years to get back to normal life. I was scrolling my phone when I found BTS, and therefore Jung Kook. After that I have been a super fan. They literally saved me when I thought of giving up. Heli, 38, Finland

Blur – The Ballad of Darren

As a teenage boy in the north-west during the 1990s, I felt alone in loving Blur when all my mates were mad into Oasis. I’ve followed Damon Albarn in all his guises for nearly 30 years, and this was probably his best year. Songs like The Narcissist and The Heights will sit proudly among the best of Blur’s career. The overall tone of the record leaned more into classic Damon-melancholia, with understated but beautiful played backing from Graham, Alex and Dave. Tears were shed at Wembley, where I took my two eldest boys (also big fans, obviously). Pure, unadulterated heartwarming stuff. Ian Harrison, 42, Amersham

Mac DeMarco – Five Easy Hot Dogs

A somewhat spidery and very woozy guitar-based instrumental album of 14 tracks that act like a sonic journey through some of the multi-instrumentalist’s favourite stops along the route of a road trip. Every track is an utter delight – with a personal standout being Edmonton – a track that I listened to on repeat before exploring the city for the first time myself earlier this year. Lee Thompson, 50, Nottingham

Yves Tumor – Praise a Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)

An astounding aural assault consisting of beautiful harmonic guitar and clear but confounding lyrics. A whirlwind of stories, sounds and spectacle that is captivating from the first beat to the last note. I am enthralled by Yves’ desire to continually push the boundaries of pop music and you can feel their touch on each individual sound, crafting an album that is both uplifting and nostalgic. This is as perfect as an album gets for me, and I cannot wait to see what they produce next. David, 34, Chicago

Zach Bryan – Zach Bryan

Zach Bryan’s album has it all. His music at times is simple: just him, a microphone and his acoustic guitar. The simplicity is beautiful in itself, but this allows the core of the lyrics to shine through. It allows the blue-collar spirit of the songs to be front and centre. I spend hours alone in the cab of a truck trying to provide enough for my family and all I want is to get home and cuddle my wife. So to hear my own lived experiences presented back to me is a really unique experience. Andy, 36, Reading

Amaarae – Fountain Baby

Late to the party, but 2022 and 23 are years where I dug deeper into Afrobeats. There are many contenders, but Fountain Baby is the funnest, coolest, most experimental album I heard this year. Afrobeats just seems to go in so many directions all at once and the talent pool seems vast. Thank you Amaarae – and Eddie Kadi on BBC Radio 1Xtra for pointing the way! Benny G, 51, Hong Kong

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Weathervanes

The songs on this album are so beautifully constructed they elicit both sobs and laughter – sometimes in the same song. In a few meticulously chosen words he expresses the relatable anguish, frustration and confusion that is so much a part of modern life. Musically, Isbell unabashedly samples styles from the best rockers in history and pushes those styles to impressive levels, providing delight and revelation without mimicry. Isbell is in the shortlist of the best rock musicians working today – perhaps ever. Weathervanes is a “desert island” album. Rick Boyer, 69, Solana Beach, US

Skindred – Smile

I saw this album recommended from Louder magazine, and that they were a Welsh band. It was my first time listening to them, and now I’m an avid fan. It’s just a feelgood album that makes you smile. I like to listen while walking my collie or when cleaning the house. I never, ever considered the heavy metal reggae genre before, but it works so amazingly well. It’s one of those moments when you find a band you wished you had found sooner. Daniel Butler, Wales

Flamingods – Head of Pomegranate

In this album, I really liked the fusion of contemporary electronica and Middle Eastern influence. The album is multi-paced, and the vocal layering and harmonies are fabulous. Flamingods played the Ventnor fringe festival in July and they were superb. I loved that the musicians rotated duties in bass, drums and keyboards, and the vocalist had an interesting theremin. Warren Kerr, 60, Isle of Wight

Raye – My 21st Century Blues

Raye has the ability to move between rap, blues, retro pop and then deliver the most beautiful soaring passages that you expect from the Adeles and the Whitneys of this world. She speaks with wit, candour and brutality about deeply personal yet so widely-experienced issues such as sexual assault, eating disorders, addiction and unwise romantic choices; her gift is her ability to deliver killer blows with the most gorgeous sound. I also adore the recording of her performance of the album at the Royal Albert Hall. Get yourself a great speaker or set of headphones and blast Oscar Winning Tears, Ice Cream Man and The Thrill Is Gone and experience the range and emotion. If you aren’t moved in any way, seek help. Helen, 43, Birmingham

Jungle – Volcano

It’s so full of joy, and the video with its beautiful dancers just make me happy. As someone who has struggled with depression over the years, it’s the kind of tonic that no amount of medication can give. Dominic Fox, 60, Bristol

Olivia Rodrigo – Guts

A tremendous set: short, punchy rock with witty lyrics, capped off by Olivia’s emotive voice. She kept The Grudge vague enough to be devastating, ironic, and hopeful despite the supposed Swift connection. I loved Sour but this album is better, if a little more complex. I’ve been playing Bad Idea Right? around 30 times a day since release. Album of the year came out early and kept going. Aaron, 25, London

Reneé Rapp – Snow Angel

This is Rapp’s debut album, and it’s amazing. The variety of sound on Snow Angel is pretty impressive, and all the songs manage to feel heartfelt. Rapp has been candid about her bisexuality and ADHD on this album and in interviews, and a lot of that has resonated with me and many others. Overall, it’s a great album – I still think it should have been bigger, though! Helen, 20, Oxford

Fred Again.. and Brian Eno – Secret Life

Although I’m a long-time fan of Brian Eno, I had not heard of Fred Again.. before this release, but now he’s my most listened-to artist this year. Like a lot of his catalogue, it’s a mixture of found lyrics, electronics and open space, and the collaboration with Eno works perfectly to create a gentle album which at times seems sombre, but has a quietly uplifting thread running throughout its 11 tracks. “Don’t you even think of giving up” – the refrain in Enough, my favourite song of the year – is the peak of the album, as it winds with delicate, ambient rhythm and spacious, conversational keyboards to a cosy close. Peter McLoughlin, 35, Belfast

Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We

This is a killer album. Mitski is so honest in her lyrics, and her instrumentals speak beautifully to the emotional content of the songs. There’s something in the album for everyone, whether you’re having the best or the worst day of your life. When Memories Snow is my favourite track. The building instrumentals and raw vocals make it the most beautiful, haunting song of the year. Charlotte, 19, Madison, US

Romy – Mid Air

Occasionally, an album comes along where literally every track is a classic – this album does that great trick of being uplifting and melancholy, often at the same time. At the phrase, “My mother said to me: enjoy your life”, I tear up every time. I like the album as it is so inventive and emotive and I really like the fact that it is written from the perspective of queer love. It’s also a great album to dance to in your kitchen. Mike Church, 60, Brighton

Kelela – Raven

Raven is an example of how an album should not only be consistently excellent, but flow together and reward the listener for listening in the order it was intended. There are a number of showstopping moments on the album, namely Contact, Let It Go and On the Run, but it really culminates in the album’s centrepiece, the title track. A fantastic blend of electronic and R&B. Kevin, 28, Berlin

Nas – Magic 3

Nas’s rapping is simply light years ahead of the majority of current MCs, which is no mean feat when you consider that this album served as a celebration of both his and hip-hop’s 50th birthdays this year. Hip-hop has typically been seen as a young person’s genre, with very few artists managing to age gracefully and remain relevant beyond their initial breakthrough success, yet with Magic 3, Nas has shown he can still compete three decades into his career. Will, 38, Nottingham

Taylor Swift – Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)

I became a Swiftie late in the game. Her earlier albums never felt like my Taylor albums, but this re-release breathed new life and possibilities into the listening experience. Now both versions coexist in my collection, her voice is now more mature, and songs like Better Than Revenge updated to remove the more problematic lyrics like “she’s better known for the things that she does / on the mattress” to “he was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches”. It reminds us all of the slightly unfortunate things we may have said in our youth, and that it’s time for new memories. Marc Wright, 36, Manchester