The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Review | buzz picks the best albums of 2023

2023 produced many boundary-defying albums through exciting debut artists, returning successes, unique pop arrangements and complex lyrics.

From Lana Del Reys ninth studio album to Olivia Rodrigo’s turn to the punk genre with “GUTS,” this year had no lack of pleasant surprises. Here are the buzz staff’s top picks for our favorite albums of the year, rated out of 10.


“Blondshell” Blondshell 

Best song: “Kiss City”

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Overall rating: 7.8

Nineties angst takes form in Blondshell’s debut album “Blondshell,” a confident and impressive display of the trials of growing into early adulthood. Mixing indie-pop and rock, some tracks on the album such as “Salad” take on more of a grunge feel, while others are driven by a distinct pop vibe, as in “Kiss City.” No matter the feel, each song plays a part in painting the unique narrative that is the “Blondshell.” 


“GUTS” Olivia Rodrigo

Best song: “vampire”

Overall rating: 7.9

A sonic successor to Rodrigo’s debut album “Sour,” “GUTS” serves to stamp the artist’s starhood on the current pop-music landscape. 2000s pop punk’s influential resurgence can be attributed to this album’s sticky hooks and popularity. “lacy” and “making the bed” diversify the tracklist with gripping ballads and thoughtful songwriting. Teenage angst hasn’t been this catchy in over a decade.


“Javelin” Sufjan Stevens

Best song: “So You Are Tired”

Overall rating: 8.0

Stevens is not new to creating soaring albums detailing complex themes of love and loss, and his 10th studio album “Javelin” is no different. “Javelin” creates a candid narrative of loss, weaving intimate stories with soaring harmonies, grandiose orchestral sounds and fervent lyricism. A forgiving and intricate album, “Javelin” is Stevens’ most intimate form of a confession, his best album since “Carrie & Lowell.” 


“Desire, I Want to Turn Into You” Caroline Polachek

Best song: “Billions”

Overall rating: 8.0

Polachek’s fourth album lives up to the quality established by her 2019 album “Pang.” “Desire, I Want to Turn Into You” delves into art pop with tracks such as the contemplative “Butterfly Net” and the anticipatory “Hopedrunk Everasking.” Overall, the album provides the listener with a deeply philosophical and relaxing experience mixed in with experimental production choices.


“This Is Why” Paramore

Best song: “Thick Skull”

Overall rating: 8.1

Nearly two decades after their 2005 debut album “All We Know Is Falling,” Paramore released their most consistent project to date with “This Is Why.” Though only clocking in at around 40 minutes, each track adds a new layer to the album’s dance-punk aesthetic. Penmanship is in its prime on tracks such as “The News” and “Thick Skull.” As the band’s sound evolves, Paramore consistently establishes why they are a staple in the post-punk revival scene. 


“Sundial” Noname 

Best song: “Namesake”

Overall rating: 8.1

Five years after the release of her previous album, Noname returns with her familiar sound while simultaneously taking a step toward growth and maturity. Noname’s gentle voice weaves together provocative verses over captivating beats, delivering nothing less than an expressive and contemplative record of rap music. With piercing in-depth lyricism and storytelling, “Sundial” successfully narrates through an album of heavy topics, making it one of the best albums of the year. 


“Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” Lana Del Rey

Best song: “A&W”

Overall rating: 8.2  

Lana Del Rey’s ninth studio album “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” may have been one of the most anticipated albums of the year, and it didn’t disappoint. Basking in her titles as the “Queen of Sadness” and a “21st-century femme fatale,” Del Rey weaves herself through an album of love, loss and self-growth. “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” is a delicate album that combines orchestral melodies with Del Rey’s nostalgic-sounding vocals to create one of the best, most intricate albums of the year.


“Lahai” Sampha

Best song: “Dancing Circles”

Overall rating: 8.3

Albums do not need bombastic vocals or fresh production techniques to be deeply moving and impactful. An intensely emotional record, “Lahai” relies on Sampha’s angelic vocals to create an ethereal atmosphere from track to track. The vocal timbre and harmonies are pointedly contemporary. Lyrical explorations of self-inquiry and self-discovery are presented in a way unique to Sampha, only seen before on his debut album “Process.”


“After the Magic” Parannoul

Best song: “Polaris”

Overall rating: 8.5

An intimate album, the spiritual depth of “After the Magic” transcends language barriers for English-speaking audiences. This shoegaze project by anonymous South Korean artist Parannoul demonstrates an interest in reviving ’90s sounds with 2020s mixing practices. Strings adorn many tracks, embellishing the dreamy vocals with a lush, grandiose chamber of tones. The blend of uplifting guitars and wistful backing vocals of “우리는 밤이 되면 빛난다 (We Shine at Night)” contribute to the album’s overarching theme — longing for a better future. Looking backward to move forward, Parannoul pushes the canon of this subgenre to stronger, brighter days.


“Red Moon in Venus” Kali Uchis

Best song: “I Wish you Roses”

Overall rating: 8.6 

Kali Uchis’ vocals are ethereal, with her melodies flowing like honey through each song, constantly displaying raw and profound emotion. “Red Moon in Venus” is Uchis’ third studio album, fully encompassing a sense of divine femininity that only she can achieve and blending R&B and pop. Each song explores love in the most intimate way, with sincere lyrics riddled with passion and delicate harmonies. “Red Moon in Venus” is nothing less than an expressive and elaborate arrangement of pop music. 


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About the Contributor
Annisyn Krebs-Carr
Annisyn Krebs-Carr, Senior buzz Reporter
Hi, I’m Annisyn! I am currently a freshman majoring in journalism. I started with The Daily Illini in Fall 2023 as a buzz staff writer, and became Senior buzz Reporter in the spring. I’m excited to be a part of The DI editorial team, and I’m looking forward to writing more arts and entertainment content. When I’m not writing for The DI, I enjoy playing with my dogs and watching movies. For any questions or concerns feel free to contact me at my email below.
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