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Best Albums of 2023: Colorado Sound Staff Picks

It was another fantastic year for music – the songs we heard, who we saw live, and what we shared with our friends, families, and communities. And speaking of sharing, members of The Colorado Sound staff have put together lists of their personal favorite albums released in 2023.

Wherever you are, we hope you, too, had a year full of great music. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you in 2024!

Ben’s Top 10 Albums

1 – Geese, 3D Country
I can’t stress how much I love this album. The over-the-top vocals, guitar solos, the story of a cowboy doing psychedelics in the desert. This album has elements of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and the Strokes. It’s a dad rock album for hipsters! “2122” is one of my all-time favorite opening tracks.

2 – King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation
King Gizzard are now 2/2 when it comes to heavy metal albums. All the songs on this album blend so smoothly, it’s like one long song. Witches, spirits, and a cat turning into an almighty “Gila Monster”! Give it a listen, you’ll headbang through the entire album.

3 – Bully, Lucky for You
Bully is now a solo project of Alicia Bognanno, and I can confidently say this his her best album yet. Her raspy voice mixed with heavy distortion makes for such a good rock album. It’s so emotional, you can feel it in her lyrics and delivery.

4 – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Weathervanes
Jason Isbell is one of this generation’s greatest songwriters. There are parts of this album that feel a bit slow, but Isbell’s lyrics are so good you can’t turn away. It’s truly a beautiful album.

5 – Genesis Owusu, The Struggler
Genesis Owusu keeps stepping up his creativity. This album combines post punk and hip-hop. I think this is the most unique album of the year, not many artists are willing to take risks like Genesis Owusu.

6 – Paramore, This Is Why
Paramore is back and better than ever. The post-punk/new wave sound with Hayley Williams’ voice goes so well together. Not many bands can make an album this good this far into their career.

7 – boygenius, The Record
This all-female supergroup really came through on The Record, their debut studio album. You hear all their individual careers blended into one great sound. It’s like a musical stir fry…now I’m hungry.

8 – Blondshell, Blondshell
Sabrina Teitelbaum’s debut is such a dark album in both humor and emotion. It feels like ’90s alt rock, and while the album would have been great in 1993, it’s fantastic in 2023.

9 – Durand Jones, Wait ’til I Get Over
Durand Jones steps far away from the sound of his work with the Indications with his debut solo album, which is is full of blues, soul, and gospel. It’s a memoir detailing Durand’s life growing up poor, black, and queer, and it’ll pull on your heart strings for sure.

10 – Slowdive, Everything Is Alive
Slowdive proved they’re just as good as ever with this new album. They don’t veer too far off their original sound, but why would they? The shoegaze genre is theirs for life, and they shouldn’t change a thing.

young fathers Priya Ragu Santhosam album covers

Stacy’s Top 11 Albums

1 – Everything But the Girl, Fuse
The first studio album for the band in 24 years, and they haven’t missed a beat!

2 – Young Fathers, Heavy Heavy
This Scottish band’s fourth album delivers an upbeat, raucous romp from start to finish.

3 – Arlo Parks, My Soft Machine
In her second album, Arlo is starting to experiment with her sound, it’s a solid follow up to her Mercury Prize and Grammy winning debut.

4 – Michael Franti, Big Big Love
Michael Franti continues to deliver positivity in his 13th studio album. If you need a dose of feel good and connection, give this a listen!

5 – Yaeji, With a Hammer
We’ve waited six years for a proper debut, and this DJ/producer/singer/rapper delivers with a highly original sound all her own.

6 – Janelle Monáe, The Age of Pleasure
The singer turned actress continues to wow with this all-inclusive party album.

7 – Slowdive, Everything Is Alive
Short but profoundly pretty – a terrific listen for beginning to end.

8 – Priya Ragu, Santhosam
Swiss/Sri Lankan, Priya Ragu pays homage to her Tamil roots as she explores a wide range of dance-pop and R&B. It’s a spicy mix of danceable goodness.

9 – Bar Italia, Tracey Denim
Tracy Denim is Bar Italia at it’s finest, engaging all the post-punk feels with enough accessibility to welcome new listeners.

10 – Fatoumata Diawara, London KO Live
Malian singer/guitarist Fatoumata Diawara mixes her Wassoulou roots with western elements, creating a vibrant tapestry. Damon Albarn (Blur/Gorillaz) co-produced the album.

11 – Ezra Colletive, Where I’m Meant to Be
The follow-up to their 2019 debut, Ezra Collective’s new album fuses a rainbow of sounds from jazz to hip-hop, Afrobeat to EDM.

slowdive kiltro album covers

Margot’s Top 5 Albums

1 – Slowdive, Everything Is Alive

2 – Sparklehorse, Bird Machine

3 – Slow Pulp, Yard

4 – Bar Italia, Tracey Denim

5 – Kiltro, Underbelly

baaba maal gregory alan isakov album covers

Ron’s Top 11 Albums

1 – Baaba Maal, Being
I’ve enjoyed Baaba Maal’s music since the late ’90s. Seeing him live at the Arvada Center’s Day of African Culture brought this album’s music right to my heart.

2 – Mountain Goats, Jenny from Thebes
Ya gotta love an album ’bout a woman who splits town and her life on a Kawasaki motorcycle.

3 – Cat Power, Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert
It takes confidence to cover Dylan, let alone a live album that’s such an important part of his mystique.

4 – Gregory Alan Isakov, Appaloosa Bones
Sometimes the light bulb simply ‘turns on.’ That happened to me with Greg at Folks Fest in 2021. I’m a fan.

5 – Sun Room, At Least I Tried
This is why you don’t miss the unknown opener at concerts. These guys opened at Summit Denver, and I loved their throwback SoCal sound!

6 – Bettye LeVette, Levette!
She. Walks. The. Talk. Read. Her. Story.  Listen. To. That. Voice.

7 – Lucero, Should’ve Learned By Now
A band that makes a catchy hook sound like it’s just somebody talkin’. (Macon, if we make it….)

8 – Rodney Crowell, The Chicago Sessions
Rodney’s been there, done that. He’s got nothing to prove. Having Jeff Tweedy produce this album simply fine-tuned his already great sound.

9 – Dry Cleaning, Swampy
They go looking for a lead singer and instead find a poet…and a unique sound.

10 – Everything But the Girl, Fuse
After 24 years, an older-and-wiser Tracey and Ben bring it while reminding us how they bowled us over in the ‘90s.

11 – The Hold Steady, The Price of Progress
It’s not easy making music that stands out. THS (with Craig’s voice) do it consistently.

city colour volores album

Sabrina’s Top 10 Albums

1 – Treaty Oak Revival, Have a Nice Day
Just released in November, this album has been on repeat for me, shooting to the top of my list. This up-and-coming band from deep in the heart of West Texas is stomping into a new era with fantastic storytelling full of broken hearts and unexpected characters. The music includes sweeping steel guitar, twangy vocal grit, kicking drum lines, and an overall tone that reminds me of a marriage of country and the punk-pop of bands like Jawbreaker. The album is solid song after song.

2 – City and Colour, The Love Still Held Me Near
Canada’s Dallas Green is a an alternative-folk tour de force with his band painting lush, laid-back rock soundscapes. I am a huge fan of this band. Their music is quieter, but the songs draw me in with compelling vocals, an emotional guitar release, and quality writing that gets me every time. My favorites are “Bow Down to Love,” “The Love Still Held Me Near,” and “Underground.”

3 – Foo Fighters, But Here We Are
I am biased: any Foo album will always make my top 10. That said, they deserve it, because each album is another incantation, another era, another sonic adventure. This time around they range from full on rock mayhem, to power ballads, to the ten minute long “The Teacher.” Die-hard Foo Fighters fan here, and this latest album does not disappoint.

4 – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Weathervanes
Jason Isbell has the bravery to write lyrics about real struggles and vulnerabilities. Weathervanes includes songs that process America’s wounds (“Save the World”), blue-collar folklore (“King of Oklahoma”), and his amazing ode to Justin Townes Earle (“When We Were Close”), a song that helps us process grief and experience joy in the memories of our own friends who have passed.

5 – Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton, Death Wish Blues
Wow what a duo! Fiery blueswoman Samantha Fish teams up with Texas singer-songwriter Jesse Dayton, and their album hits the nail on the head. When I saw Fish play the Aggie Theatre this year, I was struck by her big vocal and guitar chops and her ability to bring a modern young woman’s perspective to the blues. Fish and Dayton have a bold, electric chemistry, and their songs push the boundaries of the genre through grit, funk, and rock energy.

6 – Kiltro, Underbelly
Named after a Chilean slang word for “street mutt,” Kiltro offers sweet escapism with a unique use of sound, timing, effects, and grooves that are entirely their own. The band’s Chilean-Denver roots lead to mixed genres, danceable melodies, hints of a shoegazer sound, and plenty of emotion on this sophomore album.

7 – Chris Stapleton, Higher
Chris Stapleton’s soul-drenched music is staple you can count on. This love-soaked album is straight-up sexy and positive, dishing out songs that will put your heart on your sleeve like the epic “White Horse,” the honest “Think I’m in Love with You,” the heart-soaring title track, and beautiful slow dance numbers such as “Weight of Your World” and “Loving You in My Mind.”

8 – Volores, Ages
The debut album from Colorado trio Volores features a dark, almost sweeping goth-meets-punk vibe, centered around beautiful vocals by Shelby Maxwell and solid bass lines by her husband Nathen Maxwell (of Flogging Molly.) The lyrics bravely tackle real life. This band is touring extensively, and this year they took home a Colorado Sound Music Award as the Band You Would Drive 105.5 Miles to See.

9 – Black Pumas, Chronicle of a Diamond
The Black Pumas deliver all the neo-soul vibes on their much-anticipated sophomore album, which is filled with songs that patiently build to sweet finishes. Compared with their earlier music, the songs here are mellower and drenched in R&B, hip-hop, and blues.

10 – Mammoth WVH, Mammoth II
Wolfgang Van Halen throws down the rock goods on his sophomore release, further proving that his talent is the real deal. I was impressed with his solid vocals and great songs when I saw the band live this year – and you’ll have a chance, too, when they open for the Foo Fighters at Empower Field at Mile High in 2024.

jason isbell janelle monae album cover

Dawn’s Top 7 Albums + Extras

1 – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Weathervanes
Isbell wrote this album while on set in Oklahoma filming Killers of the Flower Moon, which you should see if you haven’t. As usual, every single song on this album is a mini TripTik, taking you somewhere familiar but brand new at the same time. Favorites include “King of Oklahoma,” “Cast Iron Skillet,” “Strawberry Woman,” and “White Beretta.”

2 – Jalen Ngonda, Come Around and Love Me
Jalen has been putting out music since 2015, and I wish I had heard him sooner! This album is his debut on the Daptone label, the same one that gave us the great Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. His music sounds like it could’ve come out in the 1960s – that soulful sound of longing that makes you transcend your troubles…or dive deep into them. If you ever get a chance to see him live, don’t walk, run!

3 – boygenius, The Record
Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker fell together as a group in 2018, and lucky for us they got together again this year to release The Record. They famously believe that women shouldn’t compete with each other, and they’re a perfect example of what can be made when talented people come together to make art.

4 – Janelle Monáe, The Age of Pleasure
I listened to this record for the first time while out in my garden and felt like I was getting away with something naughty…in the best way possible. Monae never holds back musically, or otherwise – she’s the real deal, and this record is a wonderful, sexy, short (at 32 minutes) roll in the proverbial hay. Perfect for an afternoon delight!

5 – Bright Light Social Hour, Emergency Leisure
I really love to dance – in my kitchen, in my car, on an actual dance floor – and this album is a perfect dance party from beginning to end. Check out “Most High,” “Prefecture,” and “Not New.”

6 – Jon Batiste, World Music Radio
Like We Are from 2021, this is a beautiful album from start to finish, full of surprises, dance grooves, and themes of love and hope.

7 – Slowdive, Everything Is Alive
This record is on several 2023 best-of lists (including here at The Colorado Sound), and for good reason. It’s ethereal, bold, familiar, and yet somehow out of this time. It’s like a summer day and a crisp fall morning at the same time. One of the best of the year by far.

Dawn’s extras:

Tyler Childers, “In Your Love” – No other song this year, or in the last few years, has sounded as beautiful and true.
Jaime Wyatt, “World Worth Keeping” – It’s a challenge to make a record about climate change that not only rocks but makes you think. Lyrically, this song is spot on.
The Beatles, “Now and Then” – I stumbled across the mini-doc about the making of this song and promptly watched it three times in a row! I didn’t realize how much I missed John Lennon until I heard this perfect piece of missed possibilities.
Matthew Logan Vasquez, “Can You Turn Me Up” – I loved this from the minute I heard it! If you need a solid rocker to get you out of your funk, this is that song.
Chris Shifflet, “Overboard” – This song has been on repeat since it was released. It reminds me of driving along Michigan backroads listening to Tom Petty on a late fall day.

love in exile sun arcs blue lake album cover art

Kurt’s Top 10 Albums + Extras

1 – Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, Shahzad Ismaily, Love in Exile
Recorded live with only minimal editing, Love in Exile is an impactful achievement that reaches massive emotional heights, while remaining deeply quiet and feeling almost effortless. Not entirely surprising, though, considering the caliber of the three artists. This was also my favorite live show of 2023 – quiet, dark, and stunningly beautiful.

2 – Lil’ Yachty, Let’s Start Here
Thanks to Questlove for tipping me to Lil’ Yachty, a hip-hop/rock artist who isn’t afraid to mix genres and shift styles in wild, colorful new directions. Lead track “The Black Seminole” is a psychedelic hip-hop masterpiece, rich in textures (including nods to Dark Side of the Moon) while holding you captive to its twisting narrative. Hold on, it’s a fun ride.

3 – numün, Book of Beyond
NYC band numün is Joel Mellin and Christopher Romero of Gamelan Dharma Swara and Bob Holmes of ambient country group SUSS (and before that, Rubber Rodeo). An instrumental sunrise grounded by easygoing spaced-out grooves, Book of Beyond blends elements of East and West for a ride to the stars and beyond.

4 – Lankum, False Lankum
Irish four-piece group Lankum can play and sing beautiful folk melodies, but before you know it they’ve twisted the sound in wild new ways, creating a droning, metallic racket along the way that’s more La Monte Young than “Danny Boy.” It’s lovely but also challenging, at times abrasive, and always exciting.

5 – Ryuichi Sakamoto, 12
Released just before his death in early 2023, 12 is quiet, minimalist music that calmly invokes our imagination while keeping us grounded. Sad, beautiful, and absolutely human.

6 – Young Fathers, Heavy Heavy
Edgy and energetic, with sassy hooks that pull you in, this Scottish band continues to push the boundaries of rock and pop with a fiery album that’s been on heavy rotation in my house.

7 – Sleaford Mods, U.K. Grim
A band that describes its music as “electronic munt minimalist punk-hop rants for the working class and under” has got to be awesome, right? Painting an aptly titled ‘grim’ picture of contemporary U.K. culture, the duo’s socially conscious songs are at times abrasive, blunt-faced, and weird but also unabashedly honest and impossible to get out of your brain.

8 – Blue Lake, Sun Arcs
While I’m a sucker for a good song, I also I love music that’s all about mood and texture. The work of Texas-born, Denmark-based artist Jason Dungan (who built a 48-string zither just for this album), Sun Arcs shifts and sways like morning light in a forest while also hinting at dankness, decay, and mystery.

9 – Pan-American, In Daylight Dub
Like a faintly ticking clock, or a gentle tide inching closer, Pan-American masterfully creates tension that builds slowly and works its way inside your inner sanctum. In Daylight Dub is not in a hurry, its intensions clouded, its destination not entirely known…but it captivates in a new way with every listen.

10 – J. Albert, Will August Park, Flat Earth
Albert and Park create a cool hybrid sound that blends electronic, dub, ambient, and hints of jazz. It’s both relaxing and invigorating.

Kurt’s honorable mentions:

Yussef Days – Black Classical Music
Brian Eno, Fred Again… – Secret Life
Harp – Albion
Tyler Childers – Rustin’ in the Rain
Ilyas Ahmed – A Dream of Another
Gregory Alan Isakov – Appaloosa Bones
Genesis Owusu – The Struggler
Balmorhea – Pendant World
The Necks – Travel

Related pages:

The Colorado Sound Music Awards – meet the 2023 winners

Top 850 Cover Songs – see the complete list of songs based on your votes

Soundboard Newsletter – subscribe to get music news, presale codes, other goodies every Thursday morning

Become a Colorado Sound member – join our awesome community of passionate music lovers

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