This is a tad late, I know.
We’re a few weeks into the new year, enough time to make it feel like 2023 was a different time during which you were a different person. You went to the gym less and spent more time on social media back then. You meditate now, and take ice baths. And though they haven’t made you dissolve into eternal contentment just yet, your positive life changes have altered your music taste beyond recognition.
But please, I’m begging you. Don’t move on from 2023 just yet; you have a whole year left for that. At least listen to these songs before you cut ties.
Here are the best songs of 2023 (that you probably missed).
“Cubic Zirconia” – Katy Kirby
Kirby’s 2021 debut Cool Dry Place sounded just like its name. Cool lyrics and arrangements, as much silence as sound. Dry vocals and guitars. And nine hypnotizing songs of it, turning anyone who listens into a pillar of salt stuck in place for thirty minutes. Now, she’s starting the release process for her next record. The lead single, “Cubic Zirconia,” is shiny and humble as its namesake. It’s honest and small, swelling with strings and harmonies at just the right moments, with a vocal performance (especially in the bridge) to melt mountains.
“Morning Pages” – The Japanese House ft. MUNA
One never needs to ask “Who is this?” when The Japanese House comes on. Amber Bain’s vocals are instantly recognizable, pure as a sine wave, with harmonies that drip like honey into all the right places and none of the expected ones. George Daniel’s production never misses. It pains me to have to choose one song from last year’s In the End It Always Does, but “Morning Pages” is the one I find myself coming back to most often.
“Oxford Sweater” – J Lind
J writes music charged with meaning, and that’s because he finds it everywhere. Without getting too grumpy about it, allow me to say that I get frustrated with the unyielding nihilism, the layer upon layer of irony until everything beautiful has become buried and shapeless, that has become the standard under which we have most of our discourse. “Oxford Sweater,” along with its parent album Alchemy, is a breath of levity in the midst of much heaviness, with a swaggering drum-and-bass groove, and lyrics that call to mind those small moments when one wakes up to the wonder of the world.
“The Last One” – Maisie Peters
It’s pop music for sad girls, so naturally it’s pop music for all of us. “The Last One” is a bonus track on her sophomore release The Good Witch, and it’s inexplicable that it didn’t make the original 15. But all’s well that ends well. The lyrics are sentimental in the best way, and the track is built for people to clap along to in arenas. Listen to this one while driving at night with the city lights in the rearview.
“Moment Like This” – Noah Gundersen
When I went to a Noah Gundersen show in September and he covered “Round Here” by Counting Crows, everything made sense. “Moment Like This” is a direct descendant of 90s rock: all guitars and harmonies, punchy bass and massive snare, pauses before each chorus, the works. To go with it, Noah has one of those voices: when he sings something, you know he means it. This song reads like a prayer, and sounds like a summer drive.
“handgun” – jake minch
I think Tiktok is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse (the other three are NFTs, Amazon, and Joe Flacco, in case you were curious). But Tiktok is largely responsible for jake minch (who stylizes his name like a true indie boy) releasing his debut single “handgun” into the world, and for that, I’ll let the apocalypse slide. The song is the pensive, swirling sum of jake’s memories, more whispered than sung. The ache is so genuine that I almost feel I’m eavesdropping on a therapy session. I still listen to it on repeat though.
“Have a Good Summer (Without Me)” – Valley
It’s pop music for sad boys, so naturally it’s pop music for all of us (I think these guys would like Maisie Peters). Valley is a pop band in the most literal sense: they take slices of pop culture – a Springsteen or The 1975 lyric here, an Office or Harry Potter reference there – and weld them together into an army of summer jams. “Have A Good Summer (Without Me)” will bring you back to an 80s poolside, even if you were born in 2003.
“Worst Case Kid” – Tommy Lefroy
Tommy Lefroy is the self-produced work of songwriters Wynter Bethel and Tessa Mouzourakis. Their project is unlike anything else I’ve heard. It’s part classic literature, part grocery store magazine; it rings with loneliness, but was made for screaming along with your friends; it’s named after Jane Austen’s boyfriend, and uses the occasional pool cue for percussion. “Worst Case Kid” is more of the same: lyrics that make one feel in on the joke, and guitars and drums like a thunderstorm.
“I Like America & America Likes Me (Live From Real World Studios)” – The 1975
You may have heard this song, but probably not like this. It was originally released on 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. But in December of last year, the band released a live reimagined version of the song, which they recorded in one take after spending fifteen minutes arranging it. It’s packed with all the charm and grit of an improvised live performance – voice cracks, vocal cues (“yeah, George”), sloppy piano and drum grooves that creep in and out – and is glued together with pure emotion from Matty Healy.
“Bleed Together” – Hayley Reardon
Hayley Reardon is a songwriter’s songwriter. Her lyricism is simple, sharp poetry, delivered with a voice like the scrape of flint lighting a fire. Her latest EP Changes dressed her writing in new clothes, and “Bleed Together” is the best of a strong lot (with “Enough is Everything” in a close second). Lines break and settle like ocean waves, production elements springing up like foam. The first verse ends with the same bittersweetness as the end of a year: “It’s all just dust, spinning and falling.”