Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

2023 Playlist: Collegian staff picks for best albums of the year

Handpicked by us, here are the best albums of 2023
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

“the record” by boygenius

Suzanne Bagia, Collegian Staff

In their debut album, boygenius returns to do what they do best: capture the pulse of an emotion with vivid narration. The album opens with a soft ode that transitions into the bang of an electrifying guitar. “the record” spans three acts, tying together nostalgic memories of grief, intimacy, mental health struggles and redemption. Marketed as an album about friendship, “the record” goes beyond such a surface to detail the impact of connection on how we see ourselves, and shape who we can become.

“GUTS” by Olivia Rodrigo

Naomi Bloom, Collegian Staff

Olivia Rodrigo’s “GUTS” is a poignant and vulnerable exploration of girlhood and the turbulence of modern adolescence. Each of the album’s 12 songs holds such raw and emotional quality that resonates with any listener, in both the more upbeat and the wistful. Part of the album’s merit is Rodrigo’s sincerity in her music and how beautifully she expresses herself through it. With the release of her sophomore album, it is especially clear just how much her lyrical and musical prowess has improved through her career in music.

“Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana” by Bad Bunny

Gustavo Atencio Flores, Collegian Staff

“Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana” is Bad Bunny’s long-awaited return to trap music. For hardcore fans, this means contagious beats, intriguing samples and catchy rhymes. For the casual fan this sound may seem unfamiliar compared to his previous releases, but the album proves a perfect introduction to the signature style of his early work. The record showcases Bad Bunny’s talent as a songwriter by delivering some of the best lyricism of his career so far. Through these lyrics, he gives us a glance into his life in the music industry, exploring his complicated relationship with his fame, fans and experiences navigating a ruthless business. “Monaco,” “Perro Negro” and “VOU 787” are just a few of the standout songs.

“Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” by Lana Del Rey

Shanti Furtado, Assistant Video Editor

Two years since her double-record release of “Blue Banisters” and “Chemtrails Over The Country Club,” Lana Del Rey stormed back with a project rivaling that of its predecessors. Rich with her trademark lyrical storytelling and sweeping vocal melodies, “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” proves the indie starlet has plenty of poetry left to give. Her ninth studio album offers 16 tracks spanning interpretative orchestral productions, to more signature emotion-evoking, rhythmic numbers that can’t help but become classics.

Most obviously, the record can be hallmarked by the now smash hit, “Let The Light In (feat. Father John Misty).” The collaboration, outside of its eventual product, was destined to be great. The prowess of Del Rey, matched with the rising mainstream popularity of indie folk’s Father John Misty cultivates a sure-fire, gripping resonance listeners can’t help but come back to. To boot, “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” features several other cameos from names to the likes of Tommy Genesis and Bleachers, a glaring indication of Del Rey’s constantly expanding and evolving artistic influence.

With themes of familial resonance and self-reflection, now more than ever Del Rey is doubling down on her unapologetic presence as she does best: through her music.

“Unreal Unearth” by Hozier

Grace Jungmann, Collegian Columnist

Hozier describes his record “Unreal Unearth” as eclectic, combining both the real and the mythological into a haunting blend of styles while keeping that classic Hozier feeling. Inspired by Dante’s “Inferno,” several of the tracks explore themes surrounding the nine circles of Hell, death and the afterlife. This is also the first album where the Irish artist sings several sections in Gaelic, mourning the attempted eradication of the language by Great Britain. I couldn’t help but listen to this album over and over again, discovering something new every time.

“The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess” by Chappell Roan

Nathan Legare, Assistant Social Media Editor

In “The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess,” Missouri native Chappell Roan yearns to escape her small-town life, setting her sights on the big city. Inspired by the campy and hyper-dramatic coming-of-age films of the ‘90s and early 2000s, the album is a chaotic journey that crosses a range of genres, moods and tempos. Roan co-wrote the album with Daniel Nigro, the former lead singer of indie rock band As Tall As Lions. After his band’s breakup, Nigro rose to international fame after producing Olivia Rodrigo’s albums “SOUR” and “GUTS.” Whereas Rodrigo is Nigro’s mainstream, commercialized ingenue, Roan is his unabashedly queer indie-pop protégé who doesn’t care how the public perceives her. Standout singles include “My Kink is Karma,” “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl” and “Pink Pony Club,” the tale of a Tennessee girl who finds herself at home in a Santa Monica drag bar.

“Bewitched” by Laufey

Catharine Li, Collegian Staff

Icelandic-Chinese singer-songwriter, classically trained cellist and jazz-pop sensation Laufey stuns with her sophomore release, “Bewitched.” Here, her work becomes a revel in the hyphen — where a poignant statement on modern jazz dances with the historically diverse dimensions of the genre. Buoyant, rhythm-forward tracks like “From the Start” reverberate alongside soulful ballads such as “Promise,” all reflective of the artist’s vocal prowess and overwhelming versatility. Laufey’s music is atmospheric in every sense of the word, a triumph in sonic storytelling that captures the emotions of love and heartbreak in tangible imagery. “Haunted,” a personal favorite, soars with a simple yet luscious string swell, the perfect amount of cinematic flair that imbues even more color to a truly enchanting album.

“Ganger” by Veeze

Luke Macannuco, Collegian Staff

Detroit native Veeze did not disappoint this year with his long-awaited debut album, “Ganger.” The 21-track, hour-long record stands out as one of the strongest trap releases of the year, with Veeze being a fresh face in a subgenre that fans lament has grown stale. The album opens with “Not a Drill,” where Veeze stumbles through a raucous, invigorating beat with his signature drugged-out, raspy flow. Deeper into the album sit some excellent guest verses: “Broke phone” featuring Lucki and “Boat interlude” featuring Lil Yachty are two standouts. “Broke phone” is a smooth, chill cut compared to “Boat Interlude,” which features a chaotic, mind-melting beat with both Yachty and Veeze’s vocals being pitched down into a demonic register. Veeze keeps it fresh with softer cuts like “Weekend,” “Safe 2” and “Tony Hawk” on the closing end of the record. If you are a trap fan — especially if you are a Detroit trap fan — “Ganger” is a must-listen.

“Raven” by Kelela

 Thomas Machacz, Assistant Arts Editor

No one does heartache like Kelela. Her latest album “Raven” is both wistful and sober, with electronic soundscapes that beautifully ride the line between dance-R&B and soothing ambient. The artist’s irresistibly smooth voice carries the listener from moment to moment on waves of sexy ennui. With each album, Kelela elevates her style to create more and more immersive sonic worlds. With only one feature from Rahrah Gabor, it’s a stunning showcase for Kelela’s unmistakable clarity of vision. It’s my pick for the strongest album of the year, both compulsively listenable (“Contact” is addictive) and layered enough to find more meaning with each listen.

“Jump for Joy” by Hiss Golden Messenger

Caitlin Reardon, Head Arts Editor

Written by front-man MC Taylor, Hiss Golden Messenger’s “Jump for Joy” is a refreshing testament for appreciating the small stuff, despite life’s one intimidating constant: change. Partially told from the perspective of alias Michael Crow, Taylor playfully tells tales of his adolescence to adulthood while striving to support himself as a full-time musician. The North Carolina based, five-piece band commits to a breezy yet energetic soundscape, with occasional transitions of ambient interludes that mark the different stages of Crow’s growing up.

Weaving through whirlwind barnburners like “Feeling Eternal” to the confessional sing-speak trip of “Jesus Is Bored,” Taylor dives deep in pondering life’s purpose and marvels at his discoveries. Soft-spoken drums, medicinally twinkling piano and a warm folk-rock acoustic/electric guitar are tonally balanced in epiphanic lyricism and masterful, commanding choruses. “Nu-Grape” is a standout example of his kaleidoscopic storytelling: “I’m just a nail in the house of the universe / Drinking Nu-Grape with a five-dollar bill,” he sings with a powerhouse backing ensemble, synonymous to that of blues rocker Susan Tedeschi’s gravelling belts. Whether it’s a tangerine moon or favorite swim spot, Hiss Golden Messenger’s “Jump for Joy” revels in the ‘stop-and-smell-the-roses’ beauty of mundanity as a cosmic cruise into the unknown – and we are all enjoying the ride.

“And Then You Pray For Me” 

Luke Ruud, Editor-in-Chief

Buffalo’s most influential rapper, producer and curator Westside Gunn released a sequel to his breakout album “Pray For Paris” and delivered a long track list of talented features, incredible instrumentals and boundary-pushing production. The album was written and developed during 2023’s Paris Fashion Week, and it shows. Lyrics detailing designer clothing and high fashion  melt together over beautiful beats by Conductor Williams, Tay Keith, DJ Drama and others. Fans of Tyler, The Creator, Freddie Gibbs and MF DOOM should add this album to their must-listen list.

“Grog” by Frog

Victoria Thompson, Collegian Correspondent

Four years after the release of their last album, Frog makes a powerful return with their expectation-defying, genre-bending fifth studio album, “Grog.” This album strays from the band’s traditionally restrained, soft sound as the indie-rock, alt-country duo traverses through a wide range of genres throughout the course of only 11 tracks. Twangy, banjo-driven tunes are contrasted by bluesy, funky, disco-esque melodies, followed by unpolished, amateur-sounding garage rock.

Despite this seemingly chaotic journey through various genres, the band has undoubtedly solidified its unique style, as each song conveys a confidence and conviction that affirms the group’s eclectic and idiosyncratic sound. With an untrained voice, lead-vocalist Daniel Bateman recounts candid, sincere tales of adolescence through the far-away lens of adulthood. Never taking itself too seriously, “Grog” contrasts youthful and playfully humorous lyrics with deep intimate confessions of adulthood.

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