The Alt’s Top 55 Releases of 2023 & Award Winners

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2023! Our 10th Annual Album of the Year List and Yearly Awards! We made it!

When we started The Alt and these awards, we did it because we wanted to reward the music that we truly felt was the best of the year, not just whatever had the best PR. That goal hasn’t changed, but what has is that since 2013 we’ve grown, and we now have over 25 talented people working at the site: photographers, editors, students, bloggers, and even professional journalists. It’s amazing to see how much we have expanded without losing track of that mission. That has been our proudest accomplishment.

However, that’s not to say that things are easy. These last few years have been the hardest time we’ve ever had as a site. I think a lot of other blogs would agree, because most of them have closed down in that time. Yet, even as we struggle, we’re constantly innovating and improving because we refuse to give up on our shared ambitions to do something special. That’s what I notice most each end of year season; how well our staff comes together to create this awesome list and awards that none of us could accomplish on our own. As important as the music we share is, its that shared mission that is the true purpose of The Alt: music journalists working together to create a platform where they can publish the work they want, about the music they want, in a way that would never be possible alone. I’d say we are doing well with that goal too.

If you believe in our independent music journalism, or even if you just like the music we recommend, please consider supporting our site on Patreon. As much as we are able to accomplish, there’s always more we wish we could do if we only had the budget. If you want another 10 years of The Alternative, please help fund that possibility.

Now it’s time for the good stuff: our 55 favorite releases of the year (as voted by The Alt staff), plus the winners of our Album of the Year, Best Debut, Most Underrated, Best Non LP, and our Fan Vote Album of the Year! There’s a playlist is at the top of each page. If you take the time to listen through, we guarantee you will find something new you love.


PAGE 1 (#55 – #31) – PAGE 2 (#30 – #11) – PAGE 3 (#10 – #1 + Award Winners)

55) Chris Farren – Doom Singer

No one makes lush, shiny power pop with the right kind of humor for this timeline like Chris Farren, and Doom Singer is to me his best yet. Farren wanted to switch up his songwriting process and do more collaboration, enlisting the talent of good friend Jeff Rosenstock, Melina Duterte of Jay Som, and Frankie Impastato of Macseal. What has come from that shake up is Farren’s most honest, affecting, and cinematic album yet. Just go put on “Screensaver” and try to keep yourself from singing along. – Jami Fowler

54) The Gaslight Anthem – History Books

Nine (!) years later, we finally have another album in The Gaslight Anthem’s discography. The wait was worth it. Despite some production choices that hold the strong songs back, there’s a lot of vintage TGA here. The eponymous track, “History Books,” feat. Bruce Springsteen, is a real rocker, though much of the album also meanders down a low-tempo path. The ’59 Sound was perfectly emblematic of its time and of the stage of life Brian Fallon found himself in; allowing the same to be true for History Books escapes the urge to compare and instead embrace the familiar yet evolved sound. – Michelle Bruton

53) Buggin – Concrete Cowboys

The common refrain throughout Buggin’s time in Chicago has been to keep hardcore fun. In an interview in 2019, singer Brianna Roberts said, “We wanted to form a band that’s not a beatdown band, because so much of Chicago is beatdown bands.” That idea is present throughout Concrete Cowboys. “Get It Out” synthesizes that ideology, making the point that sometimes it gets forgotten that hardcore is dance music (“It doesn’t matter who you are / get in the pit, just go hard”). You also have even sillier material with “Snack Run,” which lists a bunch of food to grab on a snack run and is capped off with Roberts burping at the end. You still have some of the typical hardcore fodder of diss tracks on “All Eyes on You,” which features Chicago local Jordan Motten (Kharma). But it never lingers on self-seriousness for too long; a thrashy guitar riff will enter at any moment and subliminally ask the listener to respond to the directive. And in my experience of seeing them in Chicago, people will enthusiastically respond, whether at a Turnstile headliner at Metro or a packed show at a 400-capacity venue on a Sunday night. – Hugo Reyes

52) Geese – 3D Country

3D Country is a feast for the ears. The NYC-based band emulate the old sound of classic ’70s rock with a modern twist. Coming off of their debut record, “Projector,” the band take a departure from their original sound and refine it. The band are more ambitious in their songwriting, taking on more complexity while still keeping the sound crisp. Opening track “2122” is an excellent example of this, shifting between the electric riffs and solid rhythm. All combined with the raspy vocals, it is a true treat. The whole album has an incredible flow from track to track, and is fun to listen to. Catch me coming back to this record to lift my spirits when I’m feeling blue. – Sarah Knoll

51) Movements – Ruckus!

Movements have continued to push themselves and their sound since their debut album, Feel Something, in 2017, which instantly became an emo classic. Their sonic growth hasn’t been for everyone; to those listeners, we say, that’s too bad. Ruckus! takes the band in some different directions; “Tightrope” sounds like nothing they’ve ever put out and perhaps an attempt to appeal to a more mainstream audience, yet “I Hope You Choke!” and “Fail You” feel like archetypes of Movements’ established sound. And “Dance with Death” is one of the best songs the band has put out to date. It may take you a few spins to get your arms around this one, but the payoff is high. – Michelle Bruton

50) Initiate – Cerebral Circus

Initiate returned this year with their sophomore album Cerebral Circus and paved their own way with a unique blend of hardcore, alternative rock, metal, and even tinges of pop punk. It’s undoubtedly the band at their most vicious and lyrically the most vulnerable they have ever been. A striking piece of work that shines all the more because of the very lack of inhibitions, and an ambitious commitment to being as powerfully honest as they can be. The impression it left on me has lasted all year long. – Loan Pham

49) Lankum – False Lankum

Originating as a folk punk duo featuring brothers Ian and Daragh Lynch, Dublin-based Lankum developed their sound in the Irish trad session scene, eventually adding veterans Radie Peat and Cormac MacDiarmada to round out the 4 piece. Lankum’s output since 2014’s Cold Old Fire has seen them develop a unique blend of traditional instrumentation (heavily featuring Uilleann pipes, concertina, harmonium and fiddle),  multi-part harmonies (all four members sing, often all at the same time), and hardcore atmospheric drone, all delivered through an unmistakably punk voice. False Lankum continues an insane run of albums, mixing new arrangements of traditional songs alongside original tunes. From straightforward acoustic guitar folk songs (Lord Abore and Mary Flynn”, and “Clear Away in the Morning”), to conceptual psychedelic takes on traditional Irish funeral customs (“Go Dig My Grave), to continuing their streak of incredible album closers (the magnificent original “The Turn), the members of Lankum fearlessly push sonic boundaries to further establish themselves as heavyweights in the folk music world. – David Barron

48) James Ivy – Everything Perfect

I was lucky enough to catch James Ivy open for Porter Robinson back in 2021. I had never heard of him before that show and was immediately sold after watching him perform live. James revels in the catchy sounds of the early 2000’s (think Incubus and Third Eye Blind) and mixes them with the current day electronic elements of A.G. Cook’s PC Music. On Everything Perfect, James has nearly perfected his craft for an album that makes you feel nostalgic for your childhood and hopeful for a future that hasn’t happened yet. James took on his first headline tour this year as well and sold out every date. We recommend jumping on the James Ivy train now if you haven’t already, there are big things ahead. – Kyle Musser

47) Spiritual Cramp – Spiritual Cramp

Spiritual Cramp’s blistering debut album is a fitting introduction for the uninitiated. Their self-titled album teeters between frenetic protopunk energy, early 2000s garage rock, and straightforward punk rock that actually barely scratches the surface of who they are. Brimming with confidence and soulful charisma, it’s them at their most palatable and conveys life as they know it without any pretense as a bunch of punks from San Francisco. – Loan Pham

46) Sweet Gloom Reverie

There is one word to describe Sweet Gloom’s debut album, Reverie, and that word is fun. Regardless of where you’re at while listening to this album, you will find yourself rocking out. Made up of members from San Jose’s Get Married and L.A.’s Tiny Stills, Reverie was released earlier this year via Asian Man Records. Offering 10 tracks filled with irresistible hooks, infectious melodies, and painfully relatable lyrics, Reverie is just the beginning for the power-pop influenced punk trio. – Jazmin

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

Caroline Polachek has been carving out a fascinating career as a solo alt-pop wizard since her former band Chairlift ceased operations back in 2017. 2019’s Pang (her first release under her full name) established her oblique lyrical POV and supernatural vocal abilities; Desire, I Want to Turn Into You has now granted her a real “album cover reveal followed by instantaneous memes” level of indie ubiquity. And you know what? It’s well-deserved. Desire is appealingly eclectic in a 1990s Pure Moods compilation kind of way (flamenco vibes on “Sunset!” bagpipes on “Blood and Butter!”) but never gets lost in the sauce of its quirkiness. Polachek isn’t afraid to give into her stranger impulses, like her absolutely out-of-pocket glissando howling on the uptempo synth bop “Welcome to My Island,” and her musical collaboration with PC Music alum Danny L Harle favors moments of intrigue that break up the more straightforward pop moments. “Potential is the drug they never knew you never tried,” she sings on “Pretty in Possible”—Polachek seems to have tried her own potential, and we can all catch a hell of a buzz off it. – Molly Mary O’Brien

44) Heavenward – Pyrophonics

Pyrophonics further bolstered the current alternative rock revival with its emotional dynamism, poppy hooks, and freewheeling space rock melodies when it debuted at the beginning of summer. The hi-fi production on the album holds it a step above most other releases in the same vein, and its intuitive tracklisting flows in such a way that retains a compellingly propellant energy throughout. This album offered up some of the most gorgeous and diverse tracks of the year including the alt metal influenced “Be My Blues,” the sugary sweet “Planned Human Combustion,” and the anthemic “Pneumatic (Fly),” and showed that few are doing it quite as well as Heavenward. – Loan Pham

43) Billy Woods & Kenny Segal Maps

Seeming at times like a weary inner monologue during the first weed run back in town, billy woods and Kenny Segal’s Maps is an endlessly listenable meditation on being detached from time and place. Here, woods drops references to David Attenborough and William Burroughs on the guitar-based “Soft Landing,” walks in “like Bourdain” over a hypnotic piano line in “The Layover,” hangs “in Bruges” with “time to kill” on “Waiting Around,” and lies down “like V. I. Lenin” following a groundswell of strings on “Babylon by Bus” in a moment that opens the record up like a lotus blossom. Maps is packed with lines and instrumentals that will lodge themselves into your brain, but it’s the calming “NYC Tapwater” that I can’t stop returning to as its slightly warped guitar line makes the instrumentals sound as jetlagged as woods’ narration that finds him simply stating “sometimes I don’t tell anyone I’m back around / just lay low, crack a fresh pound / the cat miss me the most / purring loud on my lap.” – Aaron Eisenreich

42) Origami Angel – The Brightest Days

Who else but Origami Angel would open their latest album with a ukulele hook that unfurls into a breakdown? The Brightest Days, which the DC duo is pitching as a mixtape, somehow covers more ground than either of their previous LPs, all in a fraction of the time. Lead single “Thank You New Jersey” calls back to the technical easycore of Somewhere City before shifting into surf rock mode, “Kobayashi Maru” speedruns from skate punk to metalcore in 2:29, and “Looking Out” is a sugary acoustic ballad that swaps out guitars for ukuleles again and proves, when they’re not treating it like a bait-and-switch, Origami Angel can actual write a killer uke melody. And look no farther than “Second Best Friend” for a classic Gami pop-punk cut. The brightest days might be “few and far between,” but for Origami Angel, the brightest days are still ahead of them. – Zac Djamoos 

41) The New Pornographers – Continue as a Guest

The New Pornographers have been making weirdo power pop for decades, and this album feels like a homecoming for the band. Continue as a Guest is full of glistening synths, playful percussion, woodwinds, guitars, a cacophony of other instruments and harmonies I could drown in. What is also there is A.C. Newman’s talent for a clever line and a stick-in-your-head hook, even if the hooks are a bit more hidden. – Jami Fowler

40) Equipment – Alt. Account

Equipment’s songwriter Nick Zander may still be in his twenties, but Alt. Account feels like a life’s work that has been years in the making. High in both concept and energy, the record features clips from a YouTube channel Zander ran as a child, with his past self talking about those god-dang Sega controllers and the frustrations of Mario Kart 64 while present-day Zander spends the days lounging around “listening to records in sweatpants” and fighting with his acoustic guitar while his partner is off at medical school “full of hot, young doctors / with their postures correct / trading glances in halls.” The whole record rips, but it’s on the closing pair of “Your Clothes Without You in Them”—a moment of restraint on that pays off in its final hook full of lush synths—and the marathon “Perfect Temperature Coffee” where Equipment really show the range of sonic ideas they can fit into their poppy and delightful take on emo. – Aaron Eisenreich

39) Blink-182 – One More Time

In 2012, I had tickets to see Blink-182 (with Tom) but Travis came down with tonsillitis a week before the show and it was canceled. Shortly after that, Tom left the band and I never got to see the iconic trio. When Tom’s rejoining was announced last year along with the notion that new music was coming, I nearly cried. A year later, and we finally got the (literally and figuratively) return to form Blink album. ONE MORE TIME picks up where their self titled record left off (listen, I’m a Neighborhoods defender but I think of it more of an Angels and Airwaves record than a Blink record). Hearing Tom’s opening riff to “ANTHEM PT. 3” accompanied by the chorus lamenting about the dreams he “gave up and wasted” made me tear up all over again. The second half of this album also holds some of my all time favorite blink tracks with “BLINK WAVE” and “TURPENTINE”. On top of the serious tracks on ONE MORE TIME, they were sure to sneak in a cum joke on “TURN THIS OFF”. To put it more concisely: BLINK IS BACK – Kyle Musser

38) Black Belt Eagle Scout – The Land, The Water, The Sky

The Land, The Water, The Sky is an album that has so much thought put into it, that you can feel the exact energy that the songwriter was trying to summon. There are so many textures to this sometimes wispy and other times stormy record, which as its title suggests, draws on the powers of the Earth and the elements. Instantly upon listening I am swept away and drawn in deeper to learn more and listen more and feel energized. This is not something that happens with all albums, or even many albums at all. But Black Belt Eagle Scout seem to be growing in their ability to create complex sound environments and interesting song structures in a way that is near or at the top of the game right now. – Henderson Cole

37) Short Fictions – Oblivion Will Own Me and Death Alone Will Love Me (Void Filler)

Both their heaviest and most hushed record yet, Short Fictions’ Oblivion Will Own Me and Death Alone Will Love Me (Void Filler) is also their strongest album to date. The guitars on tracks like “To Loved Ones Lost in Pursuit of Foolish Passions” and “Anymore” sound massive, particularly in their contrast to the gorgeous and heartbreaking “Max,” an acoustic and piano-led track that smacks you in the face placed between the two heavier tunes. Lead single “Wasting” is pure pop junk food that doesn’t lose the group’s sense of doom as Sam Treber sings, “if the world is really ending could you please call when you get home?” The decision to close with a classic country cover may seem odd at first, but the more time you spend with the record, the more it resonates with everything that came before it, morphing from a quirky curiosity to a heartfelt plea every bit as gutting as the one uttered in “Max.” – Aaron Eisenreich

36) Armand Hammer – We Buy Diabetic Test Strips

In a breakout year for cacophonous rap, Armand Hammer’s smash-and-grab We Buy Diabetic Test Strips hits notes that many listeners were unaware existed. Songs like the JPEGMAFIA-produced “Woke Up and Asked Siri How I’m Gonna Die” challenge what a rap album should sound like, almost frustratingly at times, pushing against genre limitations. Standout bars on “Y’all Can’t Stand Over Here” and “The Gods Must Be Crazy” solidify the record as a banger; we will not soon forget the line “Henry Kissinger my album’s only feature.” – Hanson Egerland

35) Blondshell – Blondshell

Now this is how you make a debut record. Blondshell wasn’t someone I had listened to before this record but it really only takes listening to track 1 “Veronica Mars”. When the lyrical references to childhood tv watching faded into the squealing guitars I realized I was dealing with something special here. The sad ballad of “Kiss City” immediately follows that up with a sexual scream-along chorus “did you expect something different / I bet she talks dirty like she’s on a mission”. So by the time I hit track three it was already making my end of year ballot. Blondeshell’s music is cutting lyrically, empowering sonically, and leaves you wanting more. I can’t wait to see what’s next. – Henderson Cole

34) Noah Kahan – Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever)

Noah Kahan - Stick Season (We'll All Be Here Forever) out 6/9 : r/popheads

The We’ll All Be Here Forever EP is the deluxe edition to Noah Kahan’s pensive and raconteur-ing album Stick Season released last year. Known for his raw storytelling and folk sensibilities, the EP acts in the same way its predecessor did by prying open one’s chest by the end of its runtime. For those of us who also have a complicated relationship with our hometowns, We’ll All Be Here Forever makes sure we’re not only seen but listened to with tracks like “Paul Revere,” “You’re Gonna Go Far,” and the voice note tacked onto “View Between Villages.” The EP is reflective. It’s weepy. It’s strong. It’s catchy. It’s damn good – Hope Ankley

33) Sufjan Stevens – Javelin

The writer Ian Cohen said to me that Javelin is a lot like Radiohead’s In Rainbows: neither one approaches the respective artists’ peak, but they are unique in how they encompass everything the band does well in a single album. Javelin is the Sufjan-verse in miniature, bringing everything in the toolbelt to bear in an attempt to reckon with a season of profound grief. The creation of this album was marked by personal loss for Sufjan. Ongoing treatment for Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare auto-immune disorder, left him with a loss of feeling and mobility in his arms, hands, and legs. He had to relearn how to walk. In April of this year, his partner, Evans Richardson IV, passed away. In his Instagram post about the loss, Sufjan said, “He was one of those rare and beautiful ones you find only once in a lifetime—precious, impeccable, and absolutely exceptional in every way.” He had to relearn how to live without his once-in-a-lifetime person. It’s an album about how to define “love.” What makes Javelin special to me is the way that the expression of love both implies and necessitates hope. Sufjan’s work is often talked about in terms of its “devastating” emotional impact, and Javelin, too, is strung through with grief. However, even on songs like “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?”, where Sufjan repeats his question without resolution, the music itself lets the light in. Additional orchestration flutters to life and the song unfolds like a warm benediction. To love is to hope, and even heartbreak is an expression of love that necessitates hope somewhere, fluttering up into the air like notes from a flute. – Keegan Bradford

32) Spanish Love Songs – No Joy

Spanish Love Songs gave us 12 new songs via their fourth album, No Joy. In No Joy, the indie punk band continues to cope with the messiness of what it means to be alive in the modern age. This was obvious from the beginning of this new era of Spanish Love Songs when “Haunted” was released as their first single. With lyrics such as “You sleep with a window open / and you hope the cold gets in your heart / But you’re not haunted / You just miss everything / You’re not a ghost / so stop disappearing,” it can be a reminder about the dilemmas we find ourselves in as we figure out what decisions to make throughout our lives. Released through Pure Noise Records, No Joy will be an album revisited time and time again. – Jazmin

31) Boygenius – the record

It’s been a banner year for boygenius—a sold out stadium tour, playing Saturday Night Live, gracing multiple magazine covers, and Grammy nominations. It’s all thanks to the record, the debut LP of the supergroup composed of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. While all three women are indie rock royalty in their own right, the record catapulted them to a new level of fame. The record is both an expression of love and the mortifying idea of being known, with tracks independently penned by the Boys (as they’re affectionately known) and others a collaborative effort. Their friendship shines through the album, as their harmonies bring each other’s songs to life. Standout tracks include “$20” (written by Baker, who is fiercely screaming and shredding through the entire thing), “Cool About It” (a perfect showcase of their harmonies and ability to play off each other) and “Letter to an Old Poet” (the conclusion to “Me & My Dog” from their 2018 EP). – Madison Van Houten


PAGE 1 (#55 – #31) – PAGE 2 (#30 – #11) – PAGE 3 (#10 – #1 + Award Winners)

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