The 12 best albums of 2023 so far

It has been a great year for female-led bands.

The Linda Lindas Perform At The Regency Ballroom
The Linda Lindas Perform At The Regency Ballroom / Steve Jennings/GettyImages
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Skating Polly
Daniel Boczarski/GettyImages

7. Skating Polly – Chaos County Line

On their first album in five years, step-siblings Kelli Mayo, Peyton Bighorse, and Kurtis Mayo kick things off with the rollicking post-cow punk of “Baby on My Birthday.” Then they immediately spin into the sweet harmonies of “Masquerade.” That establishes a basic pattern of rockers and ballads which constitutes their longest (68 minutes) and strongest collection of songs to date.

They can rock as hard as any band (“Singalong”). Or they can be slyly cute and flirty (“Booster Seat”). They can do heartbreak (“Charlie’s Brother”) and vitriol (“Send a Priest”). They can crank out power pop ballads (“Hush Now”). They often find ways to do it all in one song. Skating Polly has been around forever and they are still ages away from their 30’s. It will be fascinating to see where they go from here.

BEST TRACK (MAINSTREAM): TIGER AT THE DRUGSTORE or (ALT) BABY ON MY BIRTHDAY

6. Underscores – Wallsocket

I’m a big fan of minimalists like Blaze Foley and John Prine. Well, Underscores is no minimalist. Her second album, Wallsocket, is jam-packed with so many voices and sounds and ideas that it’s easy to get lost in the maelstrom. She released a single earlier this year (“Count of Three”) with production help from Benny Blanco. But she was wise to stay away from hitmaking machines on Wallsocket. That would have neutered it.

From cleverly namedropping M.I.A. on the opening track (which comes across as an update of “Paper Planes”) to the sweet sendoff of “Good Luck Final Girl,” she takes us on a journey through young womanhood which should be de riguer listening for parents. There’s the terrifying sing-song of sexual predators (“Johnny johnny johnny”), the cliquish bullying (“Old money bitch”), multiple paeans to jealousy and frustrations, and finally the epic scope of “Geez Louise,” given extra dimension by Henhouse!’s collaboration.

Does the excess go too far at times? Sure. Several songs could have benefitted from an editor. But I’d rather have too much Underscores than not enough.

BEST TRACK: GEEZ LOUISE