We’ve both come to, and surpassed the end of 2023. So, like all the other websites that talk about music, we’ve compiled all our favorite albums over the past year into a list. Unlike all those other music websites though, we’re not ranking them, because music isn’t a competition, it’s an experience. Besides, the order of all those lists are probably decided by one person anyway. Diffusing the power to everyone, KRUI had twelve of our staff members write about their favorite album from 2023. Here, they talk about why these releases are great, why they were so captivating over the past year, or just why they were so enjoyable to listen to.
100 gecs – 10,000 gecs
Hyperpop icons Dylan Brady and Laura Les released their second 100 gecs record after a four year break since their breakout first album. 10,000 gecs is built on their ear-itchy crunches and absurd combinations of random noises that coalesce into that perfectly overstimulating gecs sound. I wasn’t expecting the 10,000 gecs to surpass their first record, but there’s a charm of genuine passion to their new album.
If I can trust 100 gecs with anything, it’s to respect the holy sanctity of nü-metal and the gospel of ska. I love nü-metal. I love ska. 100 gecs does both great. Tracks transition erratically to hyperpop versions of various genres until every track is a whole new combination of influences and wacky noises, yet it remains collectively cohesive in its absolute commitment to the silly.
At its core, it’s an album that embraces the intrinsic joy of silly “cringe”. While the last album felt unserious and a meme in itself, 10,000 gecs is an homage to all the music that gets universally hated on by the masses. I’ve seen a lot of ska, butt rock, and Linkin Park hate in my days, but 100 gecs embraces the cringe. As the most stupid and genuine album I’ve heard this year, 10,000 gecs has to be a top pick.
Recommended for fans of hyperpop, nü-metal, dubstep, crocs shoes, ska, bad stick-n-poke tattoos, and rats. >:)
-Pauly, Online Content Staff
bl4ck m4rket c4rt – Today I Laid Down
Up until about a week ago my album of the year was Dogsbody by Model/Actriz followed by Lonnie Holley’s Oh Me Oh My. I even got to meet and talk to the members of Model/Actriz, and Lonnie Holley on the same weekend here in Iowa City. Considering they dropped in February and March respectively and stayed at the top of my year-end lists. I felt secure in my reviews and was ready to look forward to what 2024 offered. Then I heard Today I Laid Down.
Summarizing the artist’s Bandcamp page doesn’t feel particularly useful or appropriate. If you want a description, it’s kind of like if you told Car Seat Headrest to make a Deathconsciousness sequel. If you want the backstory or context, it was solo produced by 17-year-old Kai Wesener who has since passed away.
The vocals are whispered and overpowered by the instrumentals and occasional punches of noise. The album contrasts dreamy and quiet acoustic and piano ballads, with distorted crashes and buildings of tension. It’s a 10/10, one of less than a dozen releases I’ve ever made that claim on behalf of. Like the album I’ll keep this short. A family lost a son, peers lost a friend, and we lost a talented soul. I really do cherish the few pieces of art he shared with us. I love it, and I I hope you’ll give Kai a listen.
-Amman Hassan, News Staff
Club Eat – Start
Club Eat dropped their first album “Start” back in May. At the core of this album is a plethora of caffeinated bad-bitch bangers fit for the charmingly ostentatious DIY club scene of New York City. The duo of Ren G and Chicken’s music production consists of extremely glossy hyperpop songs that are restrained enough so they never get lost in the chaos.
Digitial bass hits with the right amount of heaviness make every song bumping and danceable in an eccentric flair. Perfect for a dainty hip shuffle, hand toss combo. Infused within the instrumentals are sampled sounds akin to that of the Utopian Virtual vaporwave subgenre, which gives a Frutiger era vibe to the album’s glitziness. This aesthetic is even shown through on the album’s cover art of Ren G flying through the air from being hit by a car, with all her purse contents scattering, in front of an early 2010’s back drop of Times Square.
The front woman’s lyricism and snarky vocal delivery is what gives this album its admirable flamboyant personality. She sings about both her obsession with boys, and the raving feeling that daily life brings. Above all, the lyrics are witty, campy and funny. Like on the song “Clothes” where the line ”I put clothes on to take clothes off” points out how we dress up our best when going out just to take them off in front of someone later at the end of the night. Or on “Parking Lot” where she describes fucking in a car with some guy playing the band Tool as an uncomfortable and unfitting backing track.
Even among all its imposed glamour, the album still feels incredibly relatable. It’s grounding in the sense that we are all just trying to survive on this manic planet, living by the mantra of “crazy world makes the crazy girls crazier.”
-John Glab, Editor-In-Chief
Fever Ray – Radical Romantics
After two projects under the Fever Ray alias, Karin Dreijer collaborates once again with their brother and former collaborator on the project The Knife, Olof Dreijer. Radical Romantics sounds flamboyant, fun, enigmatic and energetic. All these adjectives can also describe The Knife’s musical catalog, but in this case, Karin has the last word of what goes into it.
The opening track “What They Call Us?” debuts various elements applied throughout the first half of the record. One being the electronic wind instruments (EWI) that Olof brings to the table. On this track it resembles a combination of tornado alarms and singing whales. Formant-shifting tools are heavily used to introduce different characters within the album’s concept, and right from the beginning we see Dreijer’s voice change into an androgynous being.
“Kandy” contributes more towards that line of ideas, in this case building the melody from the EWI that brings an almost prohibited indulgence to the track. The lyrics refer to Kandy, a self-referring character within the album’s universe that, even though sweet, may not be good for the taker. Kandy’s interaction with Romance, another character within the album, is magnificently showcased on this track’s video. Between the previous and the following track, one can clearly hear the difference between the two halves of the album. One delicately playful, yet mysterious, while the second is strong and unrestricted.
“Even it Out” posts itself as the most out-there track of the album lyrically. It calls out to Dreijer’s kid’s bully, and the anger that comes as a parent in the situation, making known the possible repercussions of a not-so-far from reality situation. My favorite track is “Carbon Dioxide” which takes a dance-filled 4-on-the-floor with over-the-top vocals, along with strings that fall and come back to their feet throughout the song. What makes this track great is its ending, working as an amazing encore for a dance party. It takes me back to mainstage EDM festivals from 2012, but in the best way possible.
-Andrés Mora Mata, Music Director
Flooding – Silhouette Machine
From Kansas City, Missouri, three-piece band Flooding released their second fully fledged album entitled Silhouette Machine in September of this year. Precedent to their self-titled album, the second album integrates more hardcore screamo, and abrasive beatdown components that further intensify and reinforce the band’s tonality for harshly sedated ruggedness. Upon the onset of the new album’s first track “Run”, one is immediately taken aback, as the band’s lead, Rose Brown, belts out a caustically grating caterwaul that communicates a dissonant vibration, which is quite fresh for the band.
In terms of metrical measure, one can also observe more deep drops of percussion and stabbing augmentations of guitar, at which fuzz and distortion are much further increased. For instance, on the following track on the album dubbed “Muzzle”, there is more of a pick-up on overdrive saturation and amplified grain. In this particular song as well, Brown’s mint beginnings into aggressive snarls are ever guttural and bestial, inciting the band’s hint at evolution.
The rest of the songs, like “Interlude (The Dying Swan)” and “Slit”, emit the band’s classic gloomy, eerie down tempo in respect to slowcore. Other tracks on Silhouette Machine like “Silver Gilt” and “Monolith Girl” have more of the coarse static that is audibly present. Wholly, the album consists of obscure dialogue and drably overcast instrumentation, which provide atmosphere for eye bags upon a cathartic outburst.
-Anika Maculangan, Online Content Staff
JPEGMAFIA, Danny Brown – Scaring the Hoes
I planned on starting my review by quoting a tweet that JPEGMAFIA had released teasing this collaboration with Danny Brown, but it has since been deleted. I remember it being a few photos of him and Brown, with a caption that read, “if it ain’t scaring the hoes i don’t want it.” With that singular tweet, my hype flew through the roof. I was worried it might’ve been too much, but on March 24th, 2023, I was pleased to learn that the hype was well deserved.
Scaring the Hoes contains JPEGMAFIA’s signature style of production combined with Danny Brown’s iconic voice in a synergy that you rarely find on a collaborative album. The album as a whole is a sonically jarring experience, but in traditional JPEGMAFIA fashion, this works to the strength of the individual songs which in turn works with the whole album. The listening experience shifts from loud and brash as heard on “Burfict!” and “Garbage Pale Kids” to angelic and floaty such as on “Kingdom Heart Key” and “HOE (Heaven on Earth)”. Speaking of “Kingdom Heart Key”, it contains the lone feature of the album, that being redveil, the young rapper who is starting to cut out his own spot in my favorites playlist. redveil’s feature is amazing and fits perfectly in with the partnership of Danny and JPEGMAFIA.
Scaring the Hoes is a powerhouse of an alternative hip-hop album that achieved classic status the day it was released. The strengths come through on the production and the absolute insane flows and bars. I think all hip-hop fans, regardless of their opinion of alternative hip-hop, should give this album a listen. I give it a 9.76/10. Oh, and this isn’t even counting the deluxe edition, in what was called “The DLC Pack”.
-Mason Dunn, Programming Director
Lana Del Rey – Did you know that there’s an tunnel under Ocean Blvd
In the time of overtly commercialized pop, and a music industry dictated by social media, how does one stay relevant and timeless? A handful of artists in the last year have made a successful attempt, and one of these attempts, Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd by Lana Del Rey, has become one of the most celebrated of the year. Ocean Blvd serves as a crash course in Lana Del Rey’s musical world-building while capturing a healing mood that many have found themselves in the post-pandemic world.
Lana takes her listeners through a sonically pleasing journey to a cheerful and accomplished resolution. Along the way, however, grief and loss are expressed over the topics of family, relationships, and self. The opening track, “The Grants” sets the tone for who and what is to be grieved by Del Rey affirming that she’s going to “take mine of you with me,” when speaking about memories. Then, in Ocean Blvd, she asks the same of her audience, “Don’t forget me, like the tunnel under Ocean Blvd.”
Learning how to set boundaries and making peace with the past are also essential to the album’s structure. Candy necklaces, braids, root beer, and trucks create a set to a dreamy California that Lana has crafted in previous albums which impart her personal touches to this latest release.
-Amelia Johnson, Music Staff
The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein
After their 2019 album, I’m Easy to Find, The National fans were a little worried about a future album. The slow and sentimental release was a sign that The National was trying something different, trying a new sound. When First Two Pages of Frankenstein dropped in April, it exceeded every expectation of The National’s classic sound, and in a way that rivals their best albums. They continue with the slower and more melodic sound. Frontman, Matt Berninger, weaves beautifully sensitive lyrics about broken relationships, the loneliness that comes with fame, and the feelings of never really leaving someone who you promised to never see again.
With the help of cameos from Taylor Swift, Sufjan Stevens, and Phoebe Bridgers, the band creates a new somber atmosphere. The first song on the album, “Once Upon a Pool Side”, featuring Stevens, sets up the cohesive list of songs. The song describes Berninger’s fear of fame, and his personal life being taken away. Other songs on the album, such as “Your Mind Is Not Your Friend”, featuring Phoebe Bridgers, and “Ice Machines” convey a similar message.
Berninger takes a deep dive into writing about his depression. Does this make some songs harder to dance to? Yes. But there are still some songs that have The National’s more well-known tone like “Grease in Your Hair”, and their most popular single from the album, “Tropic Morning News”. My favorite thing about this album is the way the band ends it. The last track is called “Send for Me”, an emotional rollercoaster about the letting go of someone who will live with you forever. This is a perfect way to tenderly bring the album to a close on a more hopeful note.
-Tatum D’Emanuele, Music Staff
Tyler, the Creator – The Estate Sale (Reissue)
Whenever a new installment of the Fast and Furious franchise comes to theaters again, I am ecstatic. No, not because I am a fan of the over-top action series, although Tokyo Drift is an underrated masterpiece in my opinion, but because I am a Tyler, the Creator fan. As many online have pointed out, Tyler, the Creator releases seem to coincide with installments of the franchise. This year we got Fast X, but more importantly, we got Call Me If You Get Lost: The Estate Sale.
The Estate Sale is a deluxe edition of 2021’s Call Me If You Get Lost. However, this is no normal deluxe edition where the artist throws in some of their rejected tracks, and re-releases it for a few more sales. While the extra tracks do consist of songs that were cut from the original album’s release, these songs don’t feel like an eclectic accumulation, but rather a faithful continuation of the original album.
DJ Drama’s loud adlibs welcome us back to the wonderful world of Call Me If You Get Lost, full of Tyler’s now trademark outstanding production, writing, and artistry. Tyler continues the flexing of his newfound upper levels of success, on tracks like “STUNTMAN”. The Estate Sale continues the hard-hitting features with new ones from A$AP Rocky and Vince Staples.
We bounce with the upbeat, exciting, and eclectic tracks that are what we have come to expect from Tyler, but we also get a diversion from this with the slowed-down “SORRY NOT SORRY”, my favorite of the new tracks. While we get to experience new songs, it’s a treat to re-experience the masterpiece that are all the original tracks from Call Me If You Get Lost. The Estate Sale was a surprising but welcome addition to 2023, and topped my list of favorite releases.
-Preston Venable, Programming Staff
underscores – Wallsocket
underscores’ new album Wallsocket has quickly became a favorite of mine, with continual listens since it was released in September. At first, I didn’t really give the album a chance, as I had never heard of her before and sometimes it is hard for me to get myself into a new artist. Thankfully, one of my fellow DJs at KRUI played the track “Cops and robbers” on the radio and I was hooked.
The collaborations with such artists as Jane Remover, gabby start, and henhouse! really livens up the atmosphere of the album, while still fitting its theme. Heavy themes are present throughout, even some that could be triggering to audiences at certain instances, but underscores handles it beautifully.
Beyond the theming, the world that is created in this album is very immersive. The songs center on three girls in the made-up town of Wallsocket, Michigan. Like the different characters, all of the songs present a different soundscape which never lets one get bored of the album. In fact, my own issue with the album is how jam-packed it is with content that could be delved into, and stylistic differences that make it really hard to fully articulate in this short blurb. Heck, I don’t even know how to properly classify this in any genre sense! If you do go out and listen to this album, I would heavily suggest you read some of underscores’ interviews on it. They are really eye-opening. Go out and enjoy this album!
-John Mumm, Online Content Staff
Wednesday – Rat Saw God
Wednesday’s record Rat Saw God propelled them to the forefront of indie and alternative rock, putting them on many year-end lists, Iowa City’s Sound Alternative included. Diverging from the shoegaze-heavy sound in Twin Plagues, Rat Saw God ranges from country-tinged indie rock, to the pulverizing riffs and head-bangers of dark shoegaze.
Karly Hartzman’s eclectic songwriting weaves religious imagery with pastoral scenes of the paved American South. Dollar Generals, burning cotton fields, and death loom in her painted landscapes. Hartzman also grapples with the restrictive faith of American Christianity, contrasted with her own personal life.
“Comfort fools us into faith, then fate pulls us away again,” Hartzman sings in “Bull Believer”, an eight-minute epic whose conclusion culminates into Hartzman wailing “finish him” over and over again. This is all over Alan Miller’s powerful drumming and a solid bed of distortion. Xandy Chelmis’ lap guitar joins Hartzman’s screams.
Ghosts and trauma haunt the album. Death is prevalent in Karly’s life, from seeing herself “dead at the end of a staircase,” in “Hot Rotten Grass Smell” to someone dying “in a Planet Fitness parking lot,” in “Bath County”. Emotional openness shines in the album’s tracks adorned with MJ Lenderman’s powerful, catchy guitar riffs. Somber reflections contrast explosive vivaciousness.
My favorite track on the album is “Quarry”, a single tucked into the album’s B-side. It opens on an image of an old lady who “sits caddy corner to the aftershock from the quarry.” The old lady says that “America’s a spoiled child that’s ignorant of grief,” but then “gives out full-sized candy bars on Halloween.” Ironically, the older, wiser lady feeds into the same system she criticizes.
The chorus continues the explosive imagery. A quarry is a result of searching for materials. Their flaming youth eventually burning out the barren landscape the old lady haunts. “Quarry” embraces the group’s country influences while critiquing the same system in which country music flourished: blue-collar music about living life to the fullest after the extortions of the work-week.
Rat Saw God is Wednesday’s most complete work yet with unabashed, confessionals from Hartzman. Wednesday’s scuzzy shoegaze-country sound is finally fully realized.
-Nick Layeux, Training Director
Zach Bryan – Zach Bryan
There were two country singers who spent time at #1 on the Billboard charts in 2023: Morgan Wallen and Zach Bryan. Unlike Wallen, Bryan’s self-titled fourth studio album was produced completely by himself and contains self-aware and detailed songwriting that sets him apart from other mainstream country acts.
Bryan is transparent about his struggles with fame and how his career has changed. “Tradesman” is a daydream about being a carpenter and the ways his life would be different, ending with the line, “the only callouses I’ve grown is in my mind.” “East Side of Sorrow” is a rollicking song with electric guitar and banjo that includes the complaint, “Do you ever get tired of singing songs like all your pain is just another fucking singalong?” “Ticking” begins with dobro and finds Bryan frustrated with some of his fans, “everyone thinks they know me now in these close-minded leave-me towns, but I’m too young to even know myself.”
The album also contains a number of songs written about losing friends and family. “Summertime’s Close” describes the process of losing a loved one to cancer. It details the time spent together during the sickness, and then dealing with the loss by themselves after the person has passed away. “Jake’s Piano – Long Island” contains an ode to someone who had a big impression on him when he was younger, with Bryan wanting to let them know of the positive ways in which he’s changed.
Even though the album topped the charts for two weeks, the self-deprecating lyrics like “I’m a self-destructive landslide if you wanna be the hill,” from the track “Spotless” and “Did the city beat your ass like the trash you are?” on the album closer “Oklahoman Son” help defy the idea that mainstream country is always formulaic.
-Brian Wrobel, Music Staff
Other Positive 2023 KRUI Album Reviews:
Dryad – Abyssal Plain
Kelela – Raven
Kali Uchis – Red Moon in Venus
MSPAINT – Post-American
Washer – Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends
Cover image by Anna Kritz.