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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Olivia Rodrigo
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3. Billy Woods and Kenny Segal – Maps

I don’t know if billy woods (stylized) is a fan of Chris Marker but I can’t help but think the two are spiritual brothers. Marker, the French documentarian from the mid-20th century, made travelogues unlike any other filmmaker before or since. It’s not as if woods is the first musician to draw universal truths from his life on the road. It’s just that none of the others sound like this. Part of this is due to woods’ remarkable ability to observe and document the landscapes through which he journeys (“Soundcheck,” “Baby Steps”).

Part of it is his extraordinary collaboration with Kenny Segal, who embellishes his slow roll bass and drums with sounds that seem to come from the dawn of time (“Hangman”). There were plenty of articles celebrating hip hop’s 50th anniversary this year, and I admit that I am finding it harder and harder to identify new sounds that engage both ear and brain. woods is the only hip-hop artist in my top twelve this year. Fortunately, he is enough all by himself.

BEST TRACK: YEAR ZERO (FEATURING DANNY BROWN)

2. Olivia Rodrigo – Guts

The best young playwright I know of today is Selina Fillinger. A recent production of her play “POTUS” at Arena Stage in Washington opens with the blast of Rodrigo’s clarion call “brutal” from 2021’s SOUR. It is just one further sign of how this 20-year-old has seeped into the cultural bloodstream.

One of her dynamic tracks from GUTS – “get him back” – is advertising the newest iPhone. GUTS is older and wiser than SOUR. It is more nuanced. It can be angrier, but also more self-reflective. If it is not perfect – and it’s true that some of the quieter, piano-driven ballads are a little soft around the edges – it has so much good songwriting and production that it doesn’t matter. Besides, those “soft” songs are actually pretty damn good. They just aren’t “all-american bitch” -  “bad idea, right?” – “ballad of a home-schooled girl” – “get him back,” which are four of the best songs of the year. And they aren’t as good as “vampire,” which is in fact the best song of the year.

BEST TRACK – VAMPIRE