BEST OF 2023 The Best Albums of 2023: S – Z By Bandcamp Daily Staff · December 07, 2023

All this week, we’ll be counting down our editors’ picks for the Best Records of 2023 and, just like we did last year, we’ll be taking ’em on one chunk of the alphabet at a time. Next week, our genre columnists weigh in with their picks for the year’s best records.

Go to:

December 4: Best of 2023: A – E
December 5: Best of 2023: F – K
December 6: Best of 2023: L – R
December 7: Best of 2023: S – Z
December 8: 2023’s Essential Releases


Snotty
Mi Vida Loca

Over the course of 2023, New York’s Umbrella Collective built their steady underground buzz to a deafening roar, culminating in a triumphant performance at Brooklyn festival The Cookout 2.5. All of the Collective’s members—among them Mickey Diamond, Substance810, and the RZA of the collective, Pro Dillinger—released a torrent of tough, nervy LPs this year, but none of them was better than Mi Vida Loca, a bracing biographical album on which Snotty reflects not only on his time in prison, but on the arc of his life in general, and the tenacity it’s required to get as far as he has. The album pulls no punches: Snotty’s bars are expertly honed, and backed by soulful, cinematic production that only heightens the mood. It’s a tour de force, and the perfect entrypoint into the Collective’s deep catalog.

—J. Edward Keyes

Read our Feature on the Umbrella Collective

Marnie Stern
The Comeback Kid

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Cassette, Compact Disc (CD)

Listening to Marnie Stern‘s first record in a decade feels like holding on for dear life to the electric guitar blasting through the atmosphere on its cover. Neither time nor age have dulled Stern’s signature full-throttle tapping style or made her any less inexhaustible. She’s so obviously thrilled to be back that she can’t contain herself, and it makes for some of her most exhilarating, liberated, left-field, capital-G guitar rock ever. It’s not a breath of fresh air. It’s a blast of it.

—Elle Caroll

Read our Album of the Day on The Comeback Kid.

Sufjan Stevens
Javelin

Rather than growing mellower with age, Sufjan Stevens seems to have become angrier, more discomfited with the disappointments of life, more apt to bluntly proclaim there is no meaning—though the very act of making music signals an ongoing search for it. No Stevens record has ever been exactly “happy,” not even his Christmas ones, but there is a spark of hope on Javelin that perhaps was missing from the comparatively cold and synthesized The Ascension, one grounded in a true and whole understanding of love framed by absence and underpinned by the realization that some things once lost will never be regained, at least not in the way they once were—”There’d be blood in the place/ Where you stood,” as he sings on the title track—and that this, too, is part of God’s perfect plan.

—Mariana Timony

Read our Album of the Day on Javelin.

Tele Novella
Poet’s Tooth

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

With Poet’s Tooth, the Texas-based duo of Natalie Ribbons and Jason Chronis further crystallize the unique psych-pop sound they began unearthing on 2021’s Merlynn Belle: a whimsically anachronistic mix of medieval pageantry and frecklefaced country and western crooning, like a dusty tumbleweed rolling through the court of the Crimson King. Here the velvety-voiced Ribbons steps into the role of intrepid troop leader with a star-tipped magic wand, charging merrily through a series of fables populated by forgotten unicorns, weeping clowns, ravenous vampire cowgirls, and kitchen brooms that transform into noble steeds. There are broken dreams aplenty and disappointments along the way, but when Ribbons yodels “Our hearts so high/ Look down and you’ll see heaven!” on the majestic “Changeless Kingdom,” it’s like cresting a mountain just as dawn breaks over the Garden of Earthly Delights.

—Mariana Timony

Read our interview with Tele Novella.

Temple of Angels
Endless Pursuit

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Few albums this year balanced the sweet and sinister quite like Endless Pursuit, Temple of Angels‘s debut album. Melodically, the Austin band resembles a dream pop outfit from the dark side of the moon, reared on Sisters of Mercy’s gothic romance and My Bloody Valentine’s glorious mess. Simultaneously, their spring-tight rhythm section, a byproduct of its members’ hardcore roots, provides the structure and counterbalance necessary to keep those euphoric soundscapes aloft. (Don’t miss the balancing act on “Tangled In Joy.”) Abetted by some of the most in-demand producers and engineers of the moment—Will Yip (Turnstile, Citizen, Title Fight) handled the mix—Temple of Angels have given us radiant guitar music suitable for punks, goths, bloomers, doomers, and everyone in between.

—Zoe Camp

The Hirs Collective
We’re Still Here

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Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Cassette, Compact Disc (CD)

Queer grindcore group The Hirs Collective keep their core membership anonymous, but the features list on We’re Still Here is a who’s-who of the punk scene’s living legends and its most essential up-and-comers. With 35 different collaborators on board, it’s a manifestation of solidarity and community in pursuit of queer revolution. Lyrically, the collective explores exhaustion, grief, and hard-fought resistance. Amid the pummeling blast beats and shrieked vocals, you’ll find raised fists but open arms. 

—Mia Hughes

Read our Album of the Day on We’re Still Here.

Tomb Mold
The Enduring Spirit

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette

In the second week of September, three years after their last LP and with four days’ advance notice, Tomb Mold arose from the abyss with their strongest material to date. The Toronto band’s capacity for glory is hardly a secret seven years in; their first three albums staged hyper-technical, tinnitus-inducing space operas at a staggering scale, earning respect from death metal obsessives and casual listeners alike. And yet, on The Enduring Spirit, Tomb Mold’s hellscape expands yet again, adding punishing prog sequences and sublime, jazz-inflected riffs to the shock-and-awe playbook. From the blackened assault of the opener (“The Perfect Memory [Phantasm of Aura]”) to the stark beauty of the finale (“The Enduring Spirit of Calamity”), this is heavy music at its most transcendent, not to mention its best.

—Zoe Camp

Read our Album of the Day on The Enduring Spirit.

WITCH
Zango

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Nearly four decades since their last album, Zamrock legends WITCH returned this year with Zango, their most vibrant, impassioned record to date. Now in his 70s and the original group’s sole surviving member, Emmanuel Chanda works with old cohort Patrick Mwondela (WITCH’s keyboardist in the early ‘80s), younger recruits like Jacco Gardner, and guests including rapper Sampa The Great. The result is revelatory: a multiracial, international, cross-generational reboot that’s irresistibly funky, heavy, soulful, psychedelic and so very much ALIVE.

—j.r. Moores

Read our Album of the Day on Zango.

Witch Prophet
Gateway Experience

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt, , Vinyl LP

Toronto-based vocalist Witch Prophet is fascinated by waves: not just the sound waves of her music, but the peaks and valleys of her own brain. As the title of Gateway Experience suggests, her latest album is a lucid experience that seeks to conjure a restorative space for the listener, reflecting on recorded sound’s ability to trigger neurological stimulus. Witch Prophet’s lush vocals float over jazzy drums and trip-hop beats, effortlessly gliding like a spirit leading you outside of your own body.

—Nadine Smith

Read our Album of the Day on Gateway Experience.

Young Fathers
Heavy Heavy

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Cassette, Compact Disc (CD)

“We wanted it to make you go ‘What the fuck?’,” says Young Fathers’s Graham Hastings. And good God did the trio succeed. Since their school days, Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi, and Kayus Bankole have absorbed a huge range of influences across dance, pop, post-punk, hip-hop, as well as sounds that are even further afield. But on their fourth album they turbocharged all of that with instant, body-rattling jamming, and let loose incandescently ecstatic energy. Both the album and its corresponding live shows left audiences reeling, as Young Fathers declared themselves an unstoppable force.

—Joe Muggs

Read our interview with Young Fathers.

Zulu
A New Tomorrow

Zulu’s debut full-length is one of the year’s essential heavy albums. Their crushing powerviolence is driven by the realest possible anger, yet celebratory soul and reggae samples are just as integral to the band’s approach. Here, Black rage isn’t separate from Black joy; they stand powerfully shoulder-to-shoulder. Race has long been a taboo topic for the ostensibly outspoken hardcore scene; with A New Tomorrow, Zulu change the narrative.

—Mia Hughes

Read our Album of the Day on A New Tomorrow.

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