WNXP’s Top 30 Albums of 2023

The year-end list is a project that each WNXP DJ basically works on all year round, when you consider all the new music digested and shared with the 91.ONE audience, as well as “side quests” per our own individual tastes. For the aggregated Top 30 records of 2023, we’ve taken all our DJs’ Top 10 albums, weighted them and crunched the numbers, resulting in this time capsule of the albums that defined the year for us. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these are records we spent a lot of time with — i.e. Record of the Week selections — and/or local artists we especially love elevating on WNXP. Check it out!

30. Samia Honey

29. Jalen Ngonda – Come Around and Love Me

28. Devon GilfillianLove You Anyway

27. El Michaels Affair & Black Thought – Glorious Game

26. CARRTOONS – Saturday Night

25. Boygenius – The Record

24. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin

23. Killer Mike – Michael

22. Jamila Woods – Water Made Us

21. billy woods & Kenny Segal – Maps

20. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – V

19. Indigo De Souza – All of This Will End

18. Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS

17. Jungle – Volcano

16. Vagabon – Sorry I Haven’t Called

15. Allison RussellThe Returner

14. Bakar – Halo

13. Wednesday – Rat Saw God

12. Jessie Ware – That! Feels Good!

11. Deeper – Careful!

10. Sampha – Lahia

Sampha’s voice has so much depth and warmth in it. Whether it’s collaborating with Drake, Solange, or Kendrick Lamar — or doing his own thing — this artist’s soothing voice always does a beautiful job at conveying the message of any song he is on. On his debut album Process, he dealt with grief after losing both of his parents to cancer. His voice and the music carry the record to a meditative space as he copes through loss. Sampha described his new album Lahia as a new musical chapter. Named after his and his grandfather’s shared middle name, the record Lahia is the brightness after the darkness, putting him in a more optimistic space since the birth of his daughter in 2020. He shares pop-influenced tracks, and even hip-hop bounce on songs like “Only.” He is sharing his enjoyment of fatherhood on the song “Suspended” while still maintaining that depth and warmth on songs like “Spirit 2.0” and “Can’t Go Back.” – Marquis Munson

9. Queens of the Stone Age – In Times New Roman

Listen, I’m all for artists pushing boundaries and reinventing their sound so as to not grow stale. Often the longevity of a band depends upon not its consistency so much as its ability and willingness to switch things up album to album, perhaps slicker production and/or a fun new toy in the mix. That said, I’m also very keen on “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” File under “unbroken,” at least to these ears, the sonic equation perfected by Queens of the Stone Age, which released its fantastic 8th full-length in 2023. A quarter-century in, the particular type of straightforward alternative rock ‘n roll made by the five-piece QOTSA not only still hits, but it somehow strikes me as refreshing amid so much experimental, almost genre-less music being made today (which we at 91.ONE love, too, of course). 

To this aging hipster, In Times New Roman… felt like comfort food, even though it’s plenty emotional and aggressive, fueled by frontman Josh Homme’s lived experience since the last record released in 2017. Across 10 tracks, Homme’s combo growly-croony vocals perch atop the loud everything else core to the Queens sound: blues-based guitar riffs, bass bombs, electric organs and relentless drums. Songs like “Paper Machete” and “Emotion Sickness” make me so rowdy I want to make like Fred Durst up in here and, you know, break shit. Seeing the band live at Ascend Amphitheater on a sweaty August evening only solidified for me that this record deserves a spot on my personal Best of 2023 list, and there was certainly agreement among the WNXP squad to position it at #9. Long live the reigning Queens of American rock ‘n roll. – Celia Gregory

8. Janelle Monáe – The Age of Pleasure

In the detailed narrative about ArchAndroid Jane 57821 that Janelle Monáe has been telling in every album since her 2003 mixtape (which is not even available on Spotify), the protagonists of the story have reached a mythologized “Paradise Found.” The Age of Pleasure is the soundtrack to this golden world where friends are lovers and sex abounds. All of that is table setting for this album to be a vibe. And vibing it is.

The album is one designed to shared and played with friends who gas you up and make you feel comfortable. In our Record of the Week interview, Monáe told us that this album is more than something to put on in the background and vibe to, though, “This is a movement. It’s not just about myself, but a lot of folks are radically being confident about who they are and finding their joy, discovering themselves, and creating safe spaces with them and the people they love because there is no pleasure without safety. This is a result of me feeling safe and exploring all of me.” It’s a safe space for Black culture as well. Janelle Monáe brought in Black royalty from Grace Jones to Seun Kuti to create the Pan-African sound of the sun drenched utopia that is The Age of Pleasure. It is a confident statement of self, twenty years in the making. – Justin Barney

7. Be Your Own PetMOMMY

After laying dormant for 15 years, Be Your Own Pet, one of Nashville’s rowdiest outfits, made a surprise return in 2023. A lot changed for the former teen punk sensations during that time — marriage, kids, mortgages — but one thing remains the same: their “damn the man” frenetic punk rock that, frankly, kicks ass.

Time has been kind to Jemina Pearl as Mommy finds the frontwoman at her finest, showcasing a sense of maturity, both lyrically and creatively. There’s a confidence and self-acceptance that only comes with age, and it’s apparent in the album’s subject matter which runs the gamut from metal health to reproductive care and misogyny. The high energy throughout Mommy somehow makes these heavy topics feel…fun? – Emily Young

6. BullyLucky For You

Making the personal universal is the underlying job of most songwriters including Alicia Bognanno (aka Bully) who was able to translate a devastating loss into a collection of songs that doesn’t require grief as the price of entry. Her fourth full length album Lucky For You is dedicated to and inspired by her longtime companion Mezzi, the shepherd husky mix, who showed up on everything from social media to band merch. While desperate sadness arises in the work, this is not contemplative folk for dark days under the covers. Bognanno places the stages of grief – anger, isolation, revelation – into a mix of driving 90’s grunge blasters and indie rock anthems of catharsis. While the lyrics may come from experiences directly linked to Mezzi they tap into the shared experience of loss and longing anyone on earth can feel when hearing lines like “Time’s just a useless measurement of change” from the song “Lose You” featuring fellow Nashville indie artist Soccer Mommy. The album also expands Bognanno’s production palette and resulted in her highest charting singles to date. – Jason Moon Wilkins

5. Palehound – Eye On The Bat

“‘The Clutch’ is my favorite song of the year thus far,” I told El Kempner when we spoke a couple weeks before the release of their new full-length as Palehound, Eye On The Bat, having absolutely no chill (journalistic integrity?). Whatever. I’m a fan first, not a critic. The heavy riffage and the screamy song-ending repetition of “You didn’t need my help!” rang like a war cry, or a love’s post-mortem, or both. Dynamite.

But I did listen with a critical ear to the rest of Eye On The Bat after air guitar soloing to its first single for many weeks straight, and the work as a whole did not disappoint. Leveling up their guitar chops, empowered by teaching lessons over the pandemic, Kempner’s instrumentation is primo throughout Bat’s 12 tunes, as is their demonstrated gifts as lyricist. To me, the album’s moments of greatest impact (“a punch in the guuuuut,” if you will) are Kempner’s plain references to the end of – but also some of the best times in – a romantic relationship. “Black Sabbath as the sun goes down/Cuz I like heavy metal now/We’re the only people for miles around/And we’re head-banging to ‘Paranoid’” goes the title track. It’s a break-up record, the artist told me, but not all sad. “Independence Day” is one Kempner called “a victory lap,” with conviction that the end was inevitable and they wouldn’t want a different outcome, all things considered. “My Evil” explores the darkest sides of ourselves we absolutely wouldn’t tolerate in someone else. (That one begins, “I’ve become the person I’d wanna punch in the face if they ever treated you this way.”

Overall, we celebrate the vulnerability and realness here, illustrating an artist growing into themselves personally and creatively. Eye On the Bat is a super memorable tracklist, and one of my favorite WNXP Record of the Week picks, in a year chock-a-block with great records that should stand the test of time. – Celia Gregory

4. Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We

Mitski doesn’t make a big deal about living in Nashville but it’s a big deal that she’s here. Her album The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We is number 4 on our list of 2023 Favorites and is one of the biggest success stories to come out of the city this year, period. That fact is, and will likely remain, little known outside of her ravenous fanbase and some keen observers of the Nashville music scene. But this is a Nashville album as much as anything released in the realm of commercial country. It’s rooted here from its studio production to the song’s creation. She says “My Love Mine All Mine,” which has well over 300 million streams on Spotify alone, came to her while lugging groceries and later looking up at the moon in her East Nashville backyard.

Yet that song isn’t automatically attached to its place of origin in the way some others are. And that’s an issue unique to Nashville, among the music cities of the world. No one questions an artist’s move to New York. A musical export from London doesn’t come loaded with genre assumptions the way that something stamped with Nashville does. So when an Asian American woman of considerable artistic merit, who emerged from the world of indie rock, makes (according to nearly every year end poll you can find, including ours) one of her finest works to date, it tells a story. Not just the story of the song’s backdrops — although she admitted during her surprise release night appearance at the Belcourt that the train mentioned in “Buffalo Replaced” is the one that rolls through her backyard — it demonstrates the limitless creative spirit which this city and beautifully diverse creative community is capable of.

3. Paramore – This Is Why

My breakdown of this album is that it rules but let me provide a little more context to why. This Is Why, you get it. Paramore is one of the most influential bands in the modern era. Their influence is all around us when you listen to Olivia Rodrigo (who has another album of the year in her own right with Guts), Willow Smith, Girl in Red, and even in the hip hop world with Lil Uzi Vert. What makes Paramore so special is that they are always able to capture the moment of what people are feeling in real time, socially and lyrically, with smashing guitar hooks and emotional honesty. That’s what gives fans such a close connection to the music.

I was able to see Paramore live twice this year. I value the feeling I got at the Grand Ole Opry, my first time ever in the historic venue, watching Hayley Williams go on stage kicking off the show with the album’s title track. Thinking about all the social unrest over the last few years, we all need a soundtrack that captures those feelings, and Paramore did it on this one. – Marquis Munson

2. Chappell Roan – The Rise And Fall of a Midwest Princess

In our interview for Record of the Week Chappell Roan described her music as unserious. “It’s just silly pop. It shouldn’t be serious.” Hearing that pulled the chair from under my cold critic heart and allowed me to simply enjoy this album. The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess chronicles Chappell Roan’s very real rise as a teenager from the tiny town of Willard, Missouri, who got signed to a major label, to the fall of her music not catching on and having to move from L.A. back to Missouri and making ends meet working at a drive-thru coffee shop. What the album doesn’t catch is Roan’s rise back up to pop star after releasing songs like “Pink Pony Club,” a song about dancing with the drag queens of West Hollywood, and “Femininomenon,” which catapulted her to new fame as a queer pop icon. The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess is an album that perfectly balances biographical ballads with big pop bangers and it’s an absolute delight. – Justin Barney

1. Blondshell – Blondshell

The influence of the ’90s was rampant in the music released in 2023, but few artists are putting a modern spin on it as well as Blondshell, the new project from Sabrina Teitelbaum. Her self-titled debut channels the angst of grunge greats while sharing the universal experience of a new generation of women. From dating dirt bags to wanting to murder abusers, the relatability in her sharp-tongued storytelling is equally matched by arena-sized riffs. The emotional delivery on standout tracks like “Sepsis” and “Salad” gives this new generation permission be angry.

In Blondshell’s liner notes, Teitelbaum describes the album’s heavy guitars as a “protective shell” for her vulnerability. When she spoke to WNXP about the record and its honest approach, she said she never even intended for anyone to hear it. Clearly, the rest of the world is thrilled they did as Blondshell was one of the buzziest acts of the year, and her legacy has only just begun. – Emily Young