As the lines between private and public spaces became ever blurrier, the music of 2023 pondered the meaning of self — who creates it, who defines it, who controls the rights to manipulate it.

Here are our 20 favorite albums of 2023, in descending order.

1. SZA, "SOS"

Technically, it came out at the tail end of 2022. But SZA does so many things so well on her instant classic of a second studio album — plush R&B slow jams, boom-bappy hip-hop, manicured bubble-grunge pop — that perhaps she knew we'd need an extra few weeks to process it all. Which isn't to say that the familiarity of "SOS" (nor its ubiquity on streaming charts and amid nominations for next year's Grammy Awards) has softened the sting of SZA's confessions: "I hate me enough for the two of us," she sings in one of many lines that can still take your breath away.

2. Kali Uchis, "Red Moon in Venus"

Dreamy psychedelic soul music from a casually bilingual Angeleno with a world-class glare and an unerring sense of groove.

3. Megan Moroney, "Lucky"

The year's best country album laments what Moroney calls her "horrible taste in men" — a gag that gets only funnier as she keeps writing circles around them.

4. Ryan Beatty, "Calico"

A decade after he flamed out as a Radio Disney heartthrob, Beatty finds his true calling in an exquisite chamber-folk suite built around his quietly confiding vocals.

5. Olivia Rodrigo, " Guts "

The 20-year-old pop phenom is still mining the Gen Z melodrama that powered her overnight ascent. But the jokes on Rodrigo's sophomore LP are sharper than on her debut — as are some of the hooks.

6. Ice Spice, "Like..?"

Nobody made a bigger career leap in 2023 (or appeared less impressed by it) than hip-hop's newest star.

7. Boygenius , "The Record"

The trick of this indie-rock supergroup isn't that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; it's that the whole actually feels smaller — a deeply intimate mind meld with empathy in place of ego.

8. Blondshell, "Blondshell"

Fuzzy guitars, mordant songwriting, vocals set to deadpan: The '90s are most definitely back. (Yay!) (Yay?)

9. Foo Fighters, "But Here We Are"

A thoroughly alive-sounding document of loss.

10. Lana Del Rey, "Did You Know That There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd"

"If you want some basic bitch, go to the Beverly Center and find her," Del Rey sings on her fourth LP in four years — one way to welcome listeners to a work of profound and haunting introspection.

11. Victoria Monét , "Jaguar II"

Impeccably appointed throwback R&B brought cleverly up to date by Monét, a prolific songwriter-for-hire now showing off a throaty purr of her own. "I could be riding horseback towards you," she tells a clueless dude who unwisely let her go, "slow motion on a beach, titties bouncing and everything."

12. Bob Dylan, "The Complete Budokan 1978"

Great year for fans of live Dylan. Cat Power re-created his so-called Royal Albert Hall gig from 1966 — the one where some dullard called him Judas for going electric — while the man himself was on the road playing unexpected covers and popping up unannounced at Farm Aid. Then there's this expanded reissue of his ebullient (if once-reviled) late-'70s concert LP: two complete shows in which he couldn't seem more psyched to have ordered his saxophonist to bring a flute.

13. Hardy , "The Mockingbird & the Crow"

Having written every stupid-brilliant bro-country song he could, one of Nashville's craftiest operators turns his ball cap around and goes nü-metal.

14. Rod Wave, "Nostalgia"

"Jump off a plane on an island, and I'm here without you," sings rap's reigning trap-soul balladeer. Mo' money, mo' problems, repeat.

15. Joy Oladokun, "Proof of Life"

Songs of preternatural wisdom about faith, about love, about a world both underwater and on fire.

16. Ruston Kelly, "The Weakness"

A year and a half after Kacey Musgraves chronicled the unraveling of her marriage on 2021's "Star-Crossed," the country star's ex-husband offered his strikingly compassionate take on the same events. Come for the promise of juicy celebrity gossip; stay for the reassurance that people can heal.

17. Troye Sivan, "Something to Give Each Other"

Ecstatic club-pop about finding ecstasy in the club.

18. Kelsea Ballerini, "Rolling Up the Welcome Mat"

Another Nashville divorce album, this one from a gifted pop-country trouper high on honesty's thrill.

19. Jenny Lewis, "Joy'All"

The longer she's at it, the more Lewis makes weariness sound like serenity.

20. Post Malone, "Austin"

On which our face-tattooed sad sack trades woozy rap beats for gleaming alt-rock guitars — then discovers that nirvana remains just out of reach.


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