Wednesday, May 22, 2024

McQ's Best Of 2023 Vol 1 - Best Of The Best

Greetings once again, friends.

Here we go with 20th edition of Nancy's and I's annual look back at our musical favorites from the last calendar year.

We've got a hefty fifty-two songs coming your way on this year's opening mix, so not going to belabor things with a lengthy preamble. Just suffice it to say we really liked 2023. This year's offerings felt like a significant step up in quality from the previous few years, and early 2024 releases suggest the upward trend is continuing.

If you want to see how we specifically ranked 2023's top album releases, click here.

And if after this mix, you want to take a way deeper dive in to the rest of 2023's best music, check out our Volume 2 - Best Of The Rest Mega-Sized.

And that's it. 

So without further blather, (cause lord knows I'm gonna lay it on thick in the individual song write-ups), here are the fifty-two albums and singles that impressed us most in 2023.



1. Bug Like an Angel - Mitski: I did not take to New York indie-rocker Mitski's 2023 shift to Angel Olsen-styled late-night country balladry, The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We (Mild Recommend) nearly as much as the critics, who placed the album number six on the year. But its opening track, Bug Like an Angel, is one of 2023's very best songs, approaching Nirvana/Explosions In The Sky god-status in its employment of quiet/loud dynamics.

2. That! Feels Good! - Jessie Ware: 2023's best dance record! It was a crowded field this year with Kylie Minogue's Tension, Everything But The Girl's Fuse, Roisin Murphy's Hit Parade and ex-xx-er Romy's Mid Air, but at the end of the day, the award has to go to Jessie Ware's celebratory, hedonistic old-school disco-fest That! Feels Good! (Strong Recommend).  Nearly as great as her 2020 release What's Your Pleasure, Ware replaces that previous album's infatuation with late-night subtlety and sonic sophistication for pounding, undeniable four-on-the-floor grooves, best epitomized by the gauntlet of Donna Summers/Teena Marie-ish tracks on the album's first half - Pearls, Free Yourself, Beautiful People, and title track featured here. Slips a little on the back third, but in total, one of 2023's top releases.

3. I Saw - Young Fathers: Impossible to pin down, Edinburgh hip-hop collective Young Fathers' latest Heavy Heavy (Solid Recommend) delivers another mashup of pop, Afrobeat, psychedelic, rap, and primal chant influences wrapped around close to impenetrable lyricism.  This time out, however, the emphasis is on energy, hooks, and often outright silliness (case in point the "Brush your teeth/Wash your face/Run away" chorus to featured track I Saw here), making Heavy Heavy the most accessible album in the group's catalog to date.

4. Not Strong Enough - boygenius: The critics top album of 2023, boygenius's the record (Solid Recommend) sees the superstar trio of indie singer/songwriters Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker significantly broadening their harmony-driven sound.  For my money, the record is not as consistently impactful as the group's 2018 EP, but in exchange of that efforts tight focus, here each member gets more time to assert their individual personality without diminishing the project as a whole And several of the song are exceptional, especially the Bridgers-led Emily I'm Sorry, Dacus's super brief Leonard Cohen (where both the legendary crooner's simple lyrical wisdom and ridiculous artistic pretension are perfectly encapsulated in a single verse), and song-of-the-year contender Not Strong Enough included here.

5. Long Live The Strange - Gaz Coombes: Just a simple T-Rex-styled glam-rock single I latched onto early last year and have enjoyed ever since, from ex-Supergrass frontman Gas Coombes 2023 solo release Turn The Car Around (Mild Recommend).

6. Blood And Butter - Caroline Polachek: Arguably the best, most slyly adventurous electro-pop album of 2023, Caroline Polachek's Desire, I Want To Turn Into You (Strong Recommend) offers a near endless stream of smart, warm-hearted pleasures, most subtly bathed in a sunny, tropical vibe. So good is the track list, lead single Bunny Is A Rider, Pitchfork's song of the year in 2021, feels like an afterthought, lost among killer cuts like the Midnight City-ish title track, standout early numbers Pretty Impossible and Sunset, the angelic child chorus outro of Billions, winning Grimes/Dido collab Fly To You, and personal fav Blood And Butter featured here.

7. chess with friends - Runnner: I absolutely adored the core sound of Noah Weinman (aka Runnner)'s second release for the Run For Cover label, like dying stars, we're reaching out (Strong Recommend). If an album-long suite of songs that effortlessly recalls the best practices of indie darlings like Death Cab For Cutie, Sufjan Stevens, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver appeals to you as much as it did to me, you'd be crazy not to check this hidden gem of an album out.

8. Carnavoyeur - Queens of the Stone Age: One of 2023's stronger hard-rock releases, In Times New Roman (Solid Recommend) is a strange, loose, sonically fascinating, and pull-no-punches spiteful record that gets right to the nastiness of frontman Josh Homme's recent cancer and addiction struggles and ugly divorce from his troubled punk-rocker ex-wife Brody Dalle. In addition to the album's lead single and best song Carnavoyeur featured here, songs like Emotion Sickness, Paper Machete, and Made To Parade also impress.

9. Shiver - Fever Ray: Though she'll likely never abandon the bizarre performance-art-anchored electronic niche she has carved out for herself in solo efforts as Fever Ray and with her like-minded brother Olof in The Knife, if you dive into the lyrics on Karin Dreijer's latest Fever Ray full-length Radical Romantics (Solid Recommend), you might be surprised to discover that she is a hopeless romantic at heart - just a girl looking, as Shiver featured here suggests, "for a little touch." One of the most unconventional collection of love-songs in recent memory, in its own twisted way, Radical Romantics really works, making it my favorite Fever Ray release to date.

10. bad idea right? - Olivia Rodrigo: I've had multiple friends and acquaintances who had yet to hear Guts (Highest Recommend) ask "Isn't Rodrigo just doing what Paramore or Garbage or The Breeders were back in the day?" And the answer to that question, to a degree, is yes, with one huge caveat. Just as Madonna was the original but never made a single album as good as stylistic successor Robyn's Body Talk, none of the 90s alt-rockers mentioned above ever made a single album as front-to-back strong as Guts.  My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross's incredible sound and passion are all that prevented Guts from being McQ's Best Of's 2023 album of the year.  It may be teen-oriented music, but when it's as finely crafted, high energy and fun as songs like bad idea right? who cares?

11. Weird Goodbyes - The National (feat. Bon Iver): Recorded in ramshackle fashion while on the road in support of the band's first 2023 release The First Two Pages Of Frankenstein, The National's second 2023 full-length release Laugh Track (Solid Recommend) is composed of leftover writing efforts from the Frankenstein sessions that were then further workshopped during live performances before being committed to tape. As such, though the albums feel of a piece, there's a more palpable sense of freedom and live energy to Laugh Track, making it the more interesting record of the two even if Frankenstein is slightly better. Highlights include the wonderful Rosanne Cash collaboration Crumble, wonky closing jam Smoke Detector (unlike anything the band has ever done in a very intriquing way), and the one song that was recorded before the start of the Frankenstein tour, the Bon Iver assisted Weird Goodbyes featured here.

12. Burned Mind - The Armed: Moving increasingly towards hooks and accessibility, the anonymous Detroit-based hardcore punk collective The Armed goes almost KROQ alt-rock mainstream on their latest release Perfect Saviors (Solid Recommend). They're still dense, weird, techno-y and gratingly loud, but on tracks like Everything Glitters, Liar 2, and Burned Mind featured here, they're also now a kick-ass good time.

13. Cowboy Nudes - Geese: Abandoning the Talking Heads/Television/CBGBs-inspired sound of their 2021 debut Projector, Brooklyn post-punk outfit Geese transform themselves into high-camp jam-rock warriors on one of 2023's wildest, fitful, and at times, immensely entertaining listens, 3D Country (Solid Recommend). A high-energy, unpredictable pastiche of 70s classic-rock sounds, much of the thrill comes from lead-singer Cameron Winters' joyful, over-the-top, unhinged vocals, which can recall anyone from Jerry Garcia to David Byrne to Ween's Gene to The Strokes' Julian Casablancas to Tim/Jeff Buckley depending on his whim at the moment. By now you get the idea - messy, wild, rocking, retro, uneven and tons of fun. A tremendous grower, you gotta give it multiple listens. Oh, and the playful little love song Cowboy Nudes featured here: definitely a top-5 song of 2023 for me. "Be my warrior!" indeed.

14. kisses - Slowdive: Recognizing the lower-case title fonting to shoegaze pioneers Slowdive's fifth full-length everything is alive (Solid Recommend) is crucial to appreciating the album.  For a band of lifelong friends that's been together since their early teens and who's early music played to the intensity of adolescent feelings, this new effort is a bit of a switch, focused on expressing the less heightened but no less meaningful emotional experiences of child-rearing middle age. For some fans, everything is alive may prove too quiet and slow compared to what came before, but I enjoyed it's more relaxed, gratitude-filled textures.

15. Save It For The Next Fool - Coco Montoya: While it receives almost no attention in today's mainstream music press, the blues are alive and doing quite well thank you; you just need to be willing to do a little digging (and the All Music Guide's year-end genre summaries are a fantastic place to start). Here, my favorite straight blues cut of the year, Ex-Bluesbreakers' lead guitarist Coco Montoya's Save It For The Next Fool from his eleventh solo outing Writing On The Wall (Solid Recommend) stands in for 2023's many fine blues releases - including Chris "Kingtone" Fisher's Live In London, Joe Bonamassa's Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 (probably the strongest album of the lot), Eric Bibb's thoughtful, acoustic Ridin', and more singles-oriented Black Keys-ish efforts like Eric Johanson's The Deep And The Dirty and Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton's Death Wish Blues. Choice cuts from all these albums can be found on our Vol 2 - Best Of The Rest Mega-Sized.

16. Big Steppa - Amaarae: Ultra modern and wrapped in a bounty of exotic, slinky instrumentation, starling-voiced Ghanaian-American and LGBTQ-activist Amaarae's Fountain Baby (Solid Recommend) was one of 2023's smoothest and most varied R&B releases. Big Steppa highlighted here is just one of many flavors to be found on the album in full.

17. Barbaric - Blur: I wasn't crazy about Blur's critically celebrated return The Ballad of Darren (Mild Recommend), but cast adrift amid its armada of snoozy, melancholy ballads were a pair of somewhat livelier A+ songs, The Narcissist and even better, the band's relentlessly hummable take on a fading relationship, Barbaric, THE mid-tempo rock song of 2023. 

18. Lord Abore and Mary Flynn - Lankum: Centuries-old tradition and the edgiest of modern musical sensibilities battle to the death on Irish doom-folk quartet Lankum's daring, almost comically nihilistic fourth outing False Lankum (Strong Recommend). A Mercury prize finalist and the highest scoring UK album in 2023's year-end aggregate critical polls, think of False Lankum as some unholy mix of Gaelic folk (all but two of the songs are covers of aged classics), Alistair Crowley paganism, Nick Cave's Murder Ballads, and Swans at their most instrumentally exploratory and pugilistic. Needless to say, virtually none of this is fare for the conventionally eared, but it is one of 2023's most unique outings, and a few songs do provide a straight-and-soft entry point for the masses, particular the lilting Romeo and Juliet-styled tragedy Lord Abore and Mary Flynn feature here. 

19. Under You - Foo Fighters: A heartfelt and impressively crafted tribute to recently passed drummer Taylor Hawkins (so heartfelt Dave Grohl and company wouldn't play the majority of the album's songs on their subsequent live tour), But Here We Are (Strong Recommend) rates among the Foo Fighter's very best releases. 

20. pawnshop - Kara Jackson: A super intriguing singer/songwriter debut from America's 2019/2020 National Youth Poet Laureate, Oak Park, Illinois High School graduate Kara Jackson, And Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? (Solid Recommend) doesn't wow over every moment (some of its slow songs drag with the husky-voiced Jackson still a work in progress as a singer and composer), but the album's ambition is impressive, and its best songs - dickhead blues, no fun/party, pawnshop here - have a singularity of vision and emotional clarity to them that suggests a new Joni Mitchell/Tracy Chapman-type talent could be coming of age right in the backyard of some of Nancy and I's dearest Chicagoland friends.

21. I Got My Tooth Removed - 100 gecs: Hyperpop production duo 100 gecs seems to squeeze something from every known music genre into the mere twenty-seven minute run-time of their over-caffeinated sophomore full-length pastiche 10,000 gecs (Solid Recommend). Highly entertaining if you can deal with the Redbull-fueled pace, the whole scramble is so chaotic and silly and of a piece I can't name a fav track, so I just went with a cut that leaned into an otherwise unrepresented genre for this mix here, the infantile ska-leaning ditty I Got My Tooth Removed.

22. Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd - Lana Del Rey: I do wish it were shorter. At seventy-seven minutes, Lana Del Rey's Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd (Solid Recommend) is a lot of glacially paced Lana to wade through in one sitting, but on the other hand, only a few 2023 releases boast top songs as good as The Grants, A&W, the Father John Misty collab Let The Light In, Bleachers collab Margaret, and the title track featured here, making Ocean Blvd, despite the occasional stretch of tedium, her second best outing to date after 2019's Norman Fucking Rockwell.

23. You First - Paramore: Now a twenty-year industry vet but still only thirty-five, Hayley William's pivots from teen-angst to full-fledge adulting anxieties on Paramore's first album in five-years, the Bloc Party/Franz Ferdinand-indebted This Is Why (Solid Recommend). As for You First included here, William's swears it's a song about finding the good in oneself, but damn if it's game-of-chicken chorus (Everyone is a bad guy / And there's no way to, no way to know / Who's the worst / Karma's gonna come for all of us / And I hope, Well, I hope, I just hope / She comes for you first) doesn't read as a gauntlet throw down for these politically divided times.

24. Everything That Rises - Sufjan Stevens: A marvelous return to his early states-side form, Sufjan Stevens Javelin (Strong Recommend) may be his most Sufjan Stevens-y album yet, near every one of its ten songs opening gently with just his voice, his trusted banjo, and potently raw lyrics about longing, loss, and love (some inspired by the recent passing of his longtime partner Evans Richardson) before exploding into his patented kaleidoscopic orchestral builds and theatrical female-choir arrangements. Standouts abound, and Will Anybody Ever Love Me? (featured Volume 2 - Best Of The Rest Mega-Sized) was a major player in the year-end best song polls, but I'm choosing a different representative song that hits even harder in light of recent developments - Everything That Rises. Soon after the release of Javelin, Steven was struck with a debilitating case of Guillan-barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that left him almost paralyzed.  Treatments have supposedly gone well, he is presently relearning how to walk and is expected to make a full recovery, but this may be his last album in a while, so treasure it.

25. The Thrill Is Gone - RAYE: It should have been a no-brainer for record label Polydor. Rachel Agatha Keen (aka RAYE) had already written songs for Beyonce, Rihanna, Ellie Goulding, John Legend, and David Guetta. She had already served up impressive guest vocals on other artists hit singles, and she was already a commanding, charismatic live performer. Put plainly, RAYE was, and is, a natural. But never underestimate the data-driven myopia (or overwhelming power) of marketing departments in today's entertainment world, and for Polydor's marketing team, RAYE was just too damned eclectic. They couldn't figure out an angle on the sell (uh, maybe "she can do it all."), so they sat on the album's release... for years. Finally, RAYE was able to extricate herself from her Polydor contract, and began afresh. The resulting self-produced album of all new material, My 21st Century Blues (Solid Recommend), showcases exactly what the Polydor marketers feared, an R&B-rooted artist of astonishing stylistic range. Contemporary pop, slow-grind blues (Mary Jane), Motown/Winehouse-styled funk (The Thrill Is Gone featured here), 30s/40s cabaret, Ella Fittzgerald-inspired scatting, rap, jazz, swing, bossa nova - it's all in play on this lively, adventurous, and once in a while painfully personal (Ice Cream Man) tour de force of craft. 

26. Volunteer - Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Jason Isbell, doing Jason Isbell things, up to Jason Isbell's exactingly high standards. If you've been a fan of Jason's previous solo and 400 Unit releases over this decade long hot streak he's been on since the release of 2013's Southeastern, you're gonna like Weathervanes (Solid Recommend), his latest collection of top-flight alt-country ballads and rockers, just fine.

27. baba louie - Jaimie Branch: My favorite jazz cut of the year came from my second favorite jazz album of the year, the playful baba louie from recently deceased Chicago-based trumpeter Jaimie "Breezy" Branch's Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die((world war)) (Solid Recommend). An eclectic collection of experimental numbers that sometimes feels as indebted to punk or step as it does to jazz, baba louie is the most traditional sounding song on the daring album, so prepare for wilder stuff if you chose to explore further.  And that other favorite 2023 jazz album that Ms. Branch bumped from this mix, Yussef Dayes' enticingly chill contemporary fusion outing Black Classical Music (Solid Recommend).

28. Quarry - Wednesday: 2023's most critically praised straight rock album (finishing #7 in AOTY's year end aggregate poll), North Carolina quintet Wednesday's Rat Saw God (Solid Recommend) operates in a crunchy country-tinged garage-rock space.  I didn't love the record's spiky, more alt-rock-leaning first half nearly as much as the critics, but I willingly admit once the terrific Chosen To Deserve kicks in, it's all pretty great from there, peaking with Quarry, the openly plagiaristic repurposing of the melody to The Kink's Waterloo Sunset featured here.

29. Tropic Morning News - The National: Has any band ever moped about first-world problems over wine and a charcuterie board better than Matt Berninger and crew. On their first record in four years First Two Pages of Frankenstein (Solid Recommend), the National, (with vocal help from pals Sufjan Stevens, Taylor Swift, and Phoebe Brigders) enter their third decade with arguably their best work since 2013's Trouble Will Find Me.  Tropic Morning News featured here is just one of many impressively self-flaggelating tracks, most gathered on the album's seamless opening half. 

30. Eat Your Young - Hozier: Look, I liked Hozier's ambitious Divine Comedy-themed Unreal Unearth (Solid Recommend) well enough despite it feeling overlong like Lana's Ocean Blvd. But let's be absolutely clear, the album is represented by Eat Your Young primarily for one reason, and one reason only - Nancy loved it. 

31. Kiss City - Blondshell: USC Thorton School Of Music alum Sabrina Mae Teitelbaum was four years deep into her up-and-coming career as the contemporary pop singer BAUM in 2020 when she abruptly pull the plug on the act, shelving an almost completed, label-funded EP. She could no longer stomach the growing disconnect she felt towards the slight music she was making. So she took a step back, retreated into herself and her classic-rock-loving father's record collection, and with a little encouragement from that canceled EPs producer Yves Rothman, reemerged in 2023 with her fiery, eponymous, alt-rock re-debut Blondshell (Solid Recommend). I really like this one.  In addition to the single Kiss City featured here, Veronica Mars and Joiner are also big time winners.

32. Madres - Sofia Kourtesis: My favorite house/IDM outing of the year, Peruvian Sofia Kortesis' Madres (Solid Recommend) is a shimmering assemblage of chill, welcoming dance-floor charmers. As fit for quiet moments alone at home as the club, songs like Si Te Portos Bonito, the title track highlighted here, and Vajkoczy (a stirring tribute to her mother's cancer surgeon) all exude a sense of good karma slowly emanating your way.

33. Fairlies - Grain Chatten: Quite the surprise, rather than remain in the rough-hewn post-punk territory of his primary band, Fontaines D.C. frontman Grain Chatten goes full Lee Hazelwood/Burt Bacharach-mellow for his solo-debut Chaos For The Fly (Solid Recommend).  An odd collection of loungy, folksy cuts (all of which would have felt right at home on a number of late-60s movie soundtracks like the original 1967 version of Casino Royale), the album is a complete anachronism, but won me over with its unwavering commitment to its vibe and the small-scale strength of so many of its songs.

34. God Loves You - JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown: A cacophonous rager, JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown's SCARING THE HOES (Solid Recommend) may lack the lyrical bite of Billy Woods' and Kenny Segal's Maps, Nonames' Sundial, or Armand Hammer's We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, and it's certainly not a crowd-pleaser like Travis Scott's Utopia or Lil' Yachty's psychadelicized Let's Start Here, but as a Bomb Squad-inspired, beats-dominant project with a firm belief in the marriage of funk grooves and pure noise, it's 2023's most jarringly vibrant hip hop release.

35. The Nether-edge - PJ Harvey: One of the oddest albums in PJ Harvey's canon (which is saying something), I Inside the Old Year Dying (Solid Recommend) finds Harvey back in the folkier sing-softly mode of White Chalk and Let England Shake, the entire album a telling of a Harvey-penned original fairy tale for children. The critics ate it up, voting it up to #14 in's year-end tally, and while it's far from my favorite PJ effort, there is a quiet originality to the structure and melodies of many of its songs, The Nether-edge featured here being a good example, that makes the record subtly unlike anything I have heard before. 

36. Nowheresville - Quasi: All credit to Chicago's Riot Fest 2023 for steering me in the direction of Quasi, the goofy, sporadic, thirty-years-running collaboration between ex-Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss and her ex-husband Sam Coomes. Oddball, slightly Pavement-y throwaway pleasures like Queen Of Ears, Doomscrollers, and Nowheresville featured here abound in their latest release, 2023's Breaking the Balls of History (Solid Recommend).

37. ox-eye - Califone: Sometimes you just love a voice, and that's always been the case for me when it comes to the idiosyncratic rasp of Califone founder and lone regular Tim Rutili. On 2023's Villagers (Solid Recommend), the DIY Chicagoan serves up what may be his best collection of low-key indie winners since the project's 2006 breakout album Roots and Crowns

38. NIGHT CRAWLING - John Cale:  Looking back through rock's evolution, was there ever a less prophetic mantra than The Who's "Hope I die before I get old?" Careers in rock 'n' roll have clearly evolved into lifelong pursuits. On this mix here we've got inspiring senior turns from 70-year-old Michael Gira of Swans, 72-year-old Coco Montoya, 77-year-old Iggy Pop, and 80-year-old lifetime partners in crime Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. But topping the "how are they still so spry" list - 82-year-old ex-Velvet Undergrounder John Cale and his 2023 solo release Mercy (Solid Recommend). Unlike anything else Cale has done, Mercy is surprisingly contemporary in feel, a murky electronic album that plays like a sleazed out, demonic cross between Roxy Music's Avalon and Burial's ghostly, echoing Untrue. A phalanx of younger admirers - vocalists Tei Shi and Weyes Blood, electronic artists Laurel Halo and Actress, and prominent indie acts Sylvan Esso, Fat White Family, and Animal Collective - all make meaningful contributions (especially Tei Shi on the album's lightest number I KNOW YOU'RE HAPPY and Halo on the title track) but the album's best song - NIGHT CRAWLER featured here - is vintage Cale all by his lonesome. Can't wait to see what this promising youngster comes up with next. 

39. Lightning Comes Up From The Ground - Julie Byrne: As delicate and ephemeral as any singer-songwriter album I heard in 2023, many of the barely there songs on Julia Byrne's The Greater Wings (Strong Recommend) nonetheless land with tremendous impact, fueled by the deep wells of grief, loss, and appreciation Byrne was experiencing following the unexpected death of her principal collaborator, producer, cheerleader and romantic partner, Eric Littmann, midway through the album's recording process in 2021. Gotta be in the mood for this one before throwing it on (our representative track Lightning Comes Up From The Ground is emblematic of the the album as a whole), but when the time is right, one of 2023's most exquisite recordings. 

40. All I Do - Bully: Nifty slice of Hole-like alt-rock from gravelly voiced guitarist Alicia Bognanno (aka Bully) and her equally boisterous and efficient fourth album Lucky For You (Solid Recommend).

41. Blue Over Blue - The Clientele: Autumn came early in 2023 with the summer release of The Clientele's first album in six years, I Am Not There Anymore (Solid Recommend).  If immaculately constructed,  melancholy indie-pop featuring in the vein of Belle & Sebastian,  Love's Forever Changes or The Monkees' best Davy Jones songs (lead singer Alasdair Maclean is a vocal dead ringer from the Monkees' heartthrob) is your thing, this is the record for you.

42. Strong - Romy: The most emotionally urgent electronic release of 2023, The xx's Romy Madley Croft's solo-debut Mid Air (Solid Recommend) eschew's her signature band's spare, airy arrangements for a sound way denser and way more propulsive. With a production assist from Fred Gibson (aka DJ Fred again...) Mid Air harkens back to Romy's formative years before joining The xx, when she made her name as a rising-star DJ in gay dance clubs. Ironically, given this, the album is a bit of a slow starter, but once Strong kicks in, it's non-stop romantic catharsis, culminating in the killer closing track duo of Enjoy Your Life and Jamie Xx collaboration She's On My Mind

43. That Feeling - Durand Jones: My favorite retro-soul album of 2023, Durand Jones first solo outing Wait Til I Get Over (Solid Recommend) is a stirring, varied tribute to his hometown of Hillaryville, Louisiana, founded by eight ex-slaves who received it as a form of reparations after the Civil War.

44. Ornament - Screaming Females: I had the distinct thrill of catching rousing New Jersey indie act Screaming Females live for the first time last fall at Riot Fest Chicago. Though they work mostly in classic rock territory, the veteran, aggressively DIY outfit (they even draw their own album covers) has always flown under the mainstream radar  - with one exception: last year, Rolling Stone magazine honored lead vocalist/guitarist Marissa Paternoster alongside the likes of Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Val Halen, and Tom Morello when it named her one of the 250 greatest guitarists of all time. Based on what I witnessed at Riot Fest, the praise is well-earned. Paternoster is a no-nonsense, pocket-sized badass equally adept with punk, hard rock, heavy metal and pop phrasings, and her dextrous guitar work dominates every moment of Screaming Females' latest full-length Desire Pathway (Solid Recommend), something firmly established here by the vibrant punk-pop number Ornament.

45. Too Much, Enough - Nation of Language: The lyrical focus (today's twenty-four hour news cycle) is up-to-the-minute present day, but when it comes to sound, Boston synth-pop trio Nation Of Language's Too Much, Enough - along with it's host album Strange Disciple (Solid Recommend) - couldn't be more firmly rooted in classic 80s new wave. If you've got a hankering for something new that recaptures those early MTV-day sounds, this album, along with Depeche Mode's strong late-career outing Memento Mori, are 2023's go-to choices.

46. Rest - ANOHNI and the Johnsons: It's not 2023's most consistently awesome listen (Guts and The Rolling Stones Hackney Diamonds have an edge in that department), but in terms of passion and core sound, nothing topped ANOHNI and the Johnson's My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross (Highest Recommend), cementing it as McQ's Best Of...'s number one album of 2023. Conceived as a blue-eyed soul response to today's political backlash against the Trans community, the album is an almost flawless pairing of the irresistible smoothness and moral pleading of Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On (check out opener It Must Change) with Johnny Greenwood's stunning jazz-guitar work from Radiohead's In Rainbows (see penultimate track Why Am I Alive Now). And man, lyrically does it hit hard in a Lou Reed-like no-frills way (as well as detouring to an actual recounting of Reed's final days in Sliver Of Ice) with several songs (I Can't, Scapegoat) directly confronting the loss of life that's resulting from the continued otherization of the trans community by the political right. 

47. No More Of This - Swans: There's a great little dialogue exchange from one of the films in the Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise trilogy (I think it was third film Before Midnight, but don't quote me).  In that exchange, Ethan Hawke mentions a friend who learned he was terminally ill, and told Hawke his first reaction to the news was not despair but relief.  He had lived well, he had loved well, he had earned enough for his family to continue on in his absence without experiencing financial hardship. In short, he could stop fighting.  That sense of pending mortality and release from life's everyday pressures permeates every note of experimental rockers Swans' latest two hour epic, the gently meditative but inventive The Beggar (Solid Recommend).  

48. Modern Day Ripoff - Iggy Pop: He's reached an age where his bare-chested wrinkles have wrinkles and his belly rolls have belly rolls, but when it comes to rocking out in classic neanderthalish fashion, Iggy's still got it. While not at the level of his classic Stooges and mid-70s solo work, I still loved his 2023 solo outing EVERY LOSER (Strong Recommend).  As with The Stone's Hackney DiamondEVERY LOSER plays it straight and keeps it simple, but almost everything it serves up lands. Case in point - standout Modern Day Ripoff featured here, which absolutely tore the house down when I caught Iggy at Cruel World 2023.

49. Special - SZA: Quickly emerging as one of the most versatile, eclectic and emotionally naked artists in contemporary R&B, SZA's second full-length SOS (Solid Recommend) was one of the strongest albums of 2022, but was released so late in December of that year, I'm including it here.

50. Sweet Sounds Of Heaven - The Rolling Stones: Sometimes, an  artist's best friend is a deadline (probably even more so when that artist and his principal collaborators are pushing 80). Rumor is, Keith Richards has been noodling in the studio for years on the Rolling Stone's latest batch of recorded material when a frustrated Mick (always the group's sharpest business mind) finally put his foot down after their 2022 tour and told Keith finish everything by Valentine's Day 2023 or else. The ultimatum worked... in more ways than one. Not only did it ensure the record got finished, but it also forced Richards to stop sweating the details and just trust his gut. And it's that sense of seasoned old pros riding their instincts that permeates every minute of Hackney Diamonds (Strong Recommend).  The album won't make you forget the bands classic 60s and early 70s work - there's no organizing theme at play, and the lyrics are run of the mill - but goddamn, do the riffs land, and Mick and the boys are in shockingly great voice. From opening lead single Angry, through hard-chargers like Get Close, Bite My Head Off, Whole Wide World and the Charlie Watts/Bill Wyman featuring Live By The Sword, obligatory twangy country-blues outings like Dreamy Skies and Rolling Stone Blues, the Beast Of Burden-y Depending On You and the Some Girls disco-y call back Mess It Up, there isn't a sour note on the disk.  And then there's Sweet Sounds Of Heaven featured here, a slow-building ballad so good (and featuring an insane vocal assist from Lady Gaga doing her best Merry Clayton impression), it would have felt right at home closing side three or four of Exile.  Maybe I'm overselling some, given the overall Stone's kick I've been on recently, but for me, Hackney Diamonds was the year's best grower, and also, after Olivia Rodrigo's Guts, the most reliable front-to-back listen of 2023. 

51 - Hold Out For Love - James Yorkston: We close out our 2023 collection with two bonus throwaways I hadn't planned on including but just couldn't abandon.  First up of this duo, the endearingly child-like duet Hold Out For Love from veteran Scottish folk-singer James Yorkston and The Cardigan's Nina Persson, featured on Yorkston's eleventh full-length The Great White Sea Eagle (Solid Recommend).

52. Alcohallelujah - Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real: And finally, the aging Frat Boy in me couldn't resist.  From the Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real's 2023 release Sticks and Stones (Solid Recommend).