My top 10ish songs of 2023 (plus 20 honorable mentions)
IT’S TIME!!!!! Here’s the whole list, plus 20 of the most unhinged honorable mentions I could think of, and 10 honorable-honorable mentions… I need to restrain myself…
Playlist for easy access:
Honorable mentions (alphabetical)
100 gecs - “Dumbest Girl Alive”
One of the most startlingly fun samples of the year—not the THX audio-logo intro, but the way they rewire the garish “Sicko Mode” bass into a mind-bursting barrage of bouncy low end. After spending every day writing 1,000+ words for work, sorting out household chores, maintaining communication with friends and family, and preparing meals in the never-ending one-person relay race that is adult life, it’s exhilarating to relinquish control and get silly, if only for two minutes and 17 seconds of hyperactive havoc. I love cosplaying as the dumbest girl alive.
BBPUTIN - “I KNOW WHAT I LIKE” prod. Rainsdeaf
Lil Yachty’s quivering vibrato hit peak palatability on “Poland”—at once smooth and innovative enough to get spotlight on the radio and praising op-eds by music critics. “I KNOW WHAT I LIKE” is the polar opposite—a spasming nightmare of whacked-out warbling. BBPUTIN sounds like he’s desperately holding on to consciousness before he slips into a babbling breakdown. “Sex and Prada, I want what I say, I want what I say,” he drunkenly pleads, before every word starts to turn incoherent and the beat drowns him in noisy fuzz.
Chanel Beads - “Police Scanner”
I’m so deep in the NYC music scene surrounding Eldia, Mi Sabor Cafe, and DIY Bushwick (Grimes Square, Slimes Square, Dimes Square), I’ve been missing the non-fried, more straight-ahead indie music. “Police Scanner” could be a campfire tune for cyborgs, or the welcoming anthem humans broadcast to aliens as their platinum saucers descend onto Brooklyn soil. This song, which fuses digital and real instruments into a graceful tapestry of pixels and plucks, suggests an alternative to the current terminally tacky online hell of NFTs and overcharged AI timelines. Instead, it’s a gentle and tender technoworld, where Effective Accelerationism is replaced by True Altruism and our devices don’t make us feel so awful.
Chuquimamani-Condori - “Breathing”
A traffic jam in heaven.
Enzo Avitabile - “Ognuno p’a via soja”
More TV shows need quirkily unnerving soundtracks like Italian saxophonist Enzo Avitabile’s “Ognuno p”a via soja” for The Lying Life of Adults. I can’t remember what the scene was but I recall being happily jarred by its gassy bass and shivering synth twitches. The four-minute odyssey could soundtrack a journey through Naples’ underground tunnels, fusing harrowing glitches and spoken-word to watery sax runs and an expanse of ambient ocean breeze.
Harto Falión, NOLANBEROLLIN - “S.0.T.Y”
CUCKOO: the antiquated sound effect beckons you like a raggedy doll hand into Harto and Nolan’s Caroline imitation of cloud rap. Dissonance hides under every fold of eerily upbeat synth; Harto seems always on the verge of dissolving into a defeated sigh as he says that most of life sucks and floats eyes shut through the glittering hellworld of New York City. Nolan comes in slurring like a broken, forgotten robot, as if groaning in a low tone from a cold factory floor. Countless artists rap and sing about being emotionally drained despite the riches and clout they’ve accrued, but few have captured the feeling with such gleaming resignation. “I've been on the grind, prolly could have won S.O.T.Y,” Harto raps—he came close, but the failure fits the theme.
Hi-C ft. xaviersobased - “GupP1”
So much internet music tries to sound video game-y or hyperdigital but what strikes me about this song is how postapocalyptic it feels, an anarchic mass of raw electricity unleashed into the fields after the power grid goes down. Sophitia’s beat makes me imagine a surge of shifting electrons so densely imbricated they form a wave of pixels, wobbling and teetering but never unchaining from the drums, like Jell-O nearly spilling over a plate.
Kurffew - “i dont wna cry (haste)”
I have no clue who kurffew is, but this music makes me think of a high schooler crumpled over a desk, thick jets of snot oozing from the nostrils, his face a sticky mess of tears and tissues. It’s a winsome whinge-athon of treacly teen melodrama, a masterclass in sounding like the bleary-eyed 14-year-old who writes a dejected letter to his crush after he gets rejected. The original retains some dignity, but the sped-up “haste” version sounds almost cartoonishly upset.
Lil Big Stack - “Skibidi Toilet”
Imagine an army of colorful Pikmins raving their tiny little hearts out. (AND FASTER)
p9jm - “somebody-call-me-up”
The most devious post-dariacore song to date. leroy’s FR3D Figglehorn soundbite was always my favorite dariacore sample use—til I heard p9jm splice the doofy “Mitt Romney vs Barack Obama” Epic Rap Battles of History episode into this whirling massacre of techno and hardstyle. I never could’ve dreamed my ears would be greeted by the bootleg Obama’s “Republicans need a puppet and you fit, got their hands so far up your rear, call you Mitt” diss thrown over breakbeats. (h/t Tony Lashley)
Press play and prepare to be utterly uninhibited — arms throttling and head smashing the air like a deranged prayer dance. The hymn: SKEE-YEE. It’s an addictive ad-lib, a catchy snatch of slang, and perhaps a fleeting moment of transcendent glossolalia. Drop this in an ancient church and watch DJ Ess’ blistering bass shatter all the stained glass.
Snow Strippers - “Sick”
Snow Strippers’ albums pummel with such incessant ferocity they can seem a little like Groundhog Night, as if the duo stopped the clock at the peak hour of a party. Rather than listening in a continuous blast, I prefer skipping through individual songs like “Under Your Spell” and “Just Your Doll” and giving my ears a chance to relax and reset after the onslaught. “Sick” might be the craziest, most frenetic of the laser-displays: its quivering synth beams make it feel vaguely festive, like a Christmas jamboree held on Earth’s last day.
Spaidez - “3rd & Concordia”
Only heard this Milwaukee cut recently (s/o Olivier) but its wavy hula-hooping synth line and frolicking raps have danced their way deep into my brain. The mundane yet outrageous video enhances everything: Spaidez and Maz G wag their tongues and perform ridiculous arm cranks on a street corner while a woman throws ass, and the mic hangs like strange spaghetti from a lamp above.
Someday I’ll write a full essay on why Survivor’s Tribal Council music scratches a bizarre itch in my brain. There’s something very satisfying about the way it’s like a mosaic of audiovisual symmetry: the ratcheting intensity as everyone goes to vote, the dramatic rings that land as each parchment is read, the collage of both repulsed and exultant faces. There are so many little micro-noises—a ding to express an alarmed reaction, a quick gust timed in sync with someone’s eyes darting, pockets of eerie ambience to heighten the tension. Its imitation/appropriation of “tribal” music motifs puts it dangerously close to feeling tacky and tasteless, but it transcends kitsch for me. It functions similar to video game music, which is often jammed with tweeps and bleeps and constantly interacts with visual elements.
My favorite this season was the music for Kellie’s blindside, which was such a shocking move she said she blacked out after it happened. It begins by luring you into a curious calm—it seems like another player, the bumbling Charlie Brown-esque Jake, is about to be unanimously booted. But then a “Kellie” vote appears and the music drops out completely. A low drumbeat starts churning, and with every vote, she looks increasingly panicked. You know her fate is sealed.
Travis Scott ft. Future, SZA - “Telekinesis”
Apparently this was supposed to be a gospel track for Donda, which makes sense, since it sounds like human spirits ascending from their corporeal forms. Auto-Tune turns Travis and Future into translucent sprites, and SZA warps into the fold like a glittering goddess. Yet as much as Travis flexes like he’s a god auguring a glorious future of eternal successes, a shade of sadness lurks under every ripple of reverb, as if he knows the fame is only temporary.
Water From Your Eyes - “Barley”
It feels ironic and almost pathetic listening to this song in New York City, where there are no mountains in the horizon to count, only eyesore skyscrapers and patches of light pollution. Back home in South Pasadena, gazing at the distant, cloud-cloaked ridges of the Angeles National Forest, its unruly rhythm and rugged guitar seem to make the landscape come alive.
Universe, removeface - “Mile Away”
So much music around the sigilkore scene is gnarly, distorted, baleful. It’s refreshing to hear artists deploy this microgenre’s palette of slithery gray vocals and glitches to make a love song. The cover art captures the vibe — it’s like the Illuminati has gone soft and sweet in the throes of yearning: a giant heart-shaped eye circled by fluttering butterflies and a vast purple galaxy.
Yhapojj - “SSupporting That”
Yhapojj’s recent tape is the sonic incarnation of the sigma male alpha wolf meme, where terminally online men cosplay as lonely wolves riding a motorcycle out into a twilight horizon. The music is so on the nose it’s basically camp: awwwoooo sound effects, boasting about telling “ya baby girl” that he’s a wolf, yearning to put his fangs into a woman’s flesh, not to mention the stupidly silly line “I got my dick sucked, while sippin' lemonade.” Furry rap has never hit harder.
YOHEI ft. sharkdrug - “상어 용병_*3333*_sinn”
This is like the drum n bass equivalent of doomsday corecore edits: a hellscape of diabolical breaks and a cardiac arrest-inducing hardstyle climax. It feels like you’re plugged into a Mega-Matrix, your brain being DDoSed with millions of packets of data every millisecond. The video stitches a flurry of frantic visuals: people jumpstyle dancing, cars driving in video games and, at one point, a demonic avatar urging you to buy an FL Studio license legally.
Yuno Miles - “Hong Kong” (prod. Vinxia)
Haters say Yuno Miles is beyond the realm of the guilty pleasure, but this isn’t typical viral comedy rap revolving around puerile gamer humor or shock gags. Miles’ ostrich squeals are genuinely addictive, like watching a pole vaulter clear a 15 foot jump back to back in a continuous sprint.
Honorable Honorable Mentions (10 more)
Playboi Carti - "2024" (prod. ojivolta, earlonthebeat, Kanye)
Caroline Polachek - “Pretty In Possible”
OLTH - “sOng fOr jOrdan”
underscores ft. Jane Remover - “Uncanny Long Arms”
Addison Rae ft. Charli XCX - “2 die 4”
Osamason - “Summer Sixteen”
kuru - “09” (prod. feardorian)
kulaphantasy ft. egobreak, lostrushi, sonicreations, kumosai - “nonsense” (prod. egobreak)
iokera ft. Jedwill - "vines" (prod. histarkey, iji)
Nia Archives - “Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall”
The top 10
#10 - bar italia - "Missus Morality" / "maddington" (tie)
I spent a lot of time listening to bar italia this year without really learning anything about the band or its songs. Some of that is by design—the vocals are often mumbled or buried in the brooding alt-rock mudslide, the themes orbit vague feelings and slices of slices of life. But I don’t need a Pitchfork interview or a Genius lyric analysis to grasp the spirit of this music. It hits with such potent feeling despite and because of its murky color and melted pulse. It’s a symphony of the sallow, a tour de force in shy melodies and gently beating, entrancing grooves. The way the three members rotate their vocals, sometimes harmonizing in contrasting tones like a human shadowed by a gloomy second self, makes me imagine friends rendezvousing on a dark street corner, trading stories and comforting each other after a peculiar night out. Sometimes when I listen to bar italia riding the bus late or walking across the bridge in the rain, the songs lodge themselves so deeply in the rhythm of my thoughts I almost forget I’m listening to music.
After teasing you with tepid chords, “Missus Morality” wigs out into a whirling freefall. Nina Cristante exhorts you to “give up your dreams and come this way,” and it feels less like a command to be jaded than an invitation to enter into a lovely private secret. The equally cathartic “maddington” weaves sparkling violin into the attic-dusty instrumentation. It sounds like a long-enervated sad sack discovering happiness again, a gray existence letting light spill in.
#9 - Ken Carson - "Lose It" / "Me N My Kup" (tie)
A Great Chaos really electrified me for the first time when I played it on a run. The five-miler took more than 35 minutes but it seemed like so much less—my blood spiked to a volcanic boil, my shoes sparked the ground with every step, my breath synced up with Ken’s giddy giggles. I initially passed the tape off as another Opium damp squib, but it’s one of the most amped fireworks of the year. True to the implied command in its title, the obscenely bass-broken “Lose It” sends me into a bruising cyclone of head-mashing. Yet there’s something so delicious and almost ASMR about its oceanic low-end—as with Carti’s best music, it shatters my cognitive function: Time for himbo mode, I want my brain to be ping-ponged by two giant pillars of steel.
“Me N My Kup” has a similar effect but it’s like being gripped by two mega pincers that are sliding back and forth in a demented forced waltz a la dismemberment by horses. Instead of brutal pain, it feels glorious, as though the mad beat is pulling the chains off my mortal body.
#8 - a.s.o. - "Go On"
In 2023, you can find a perfect pastiche of basically every genre. There’s Snow Strippers doing witchy vocal electronica that oscillates between “poor cover of 2011 trance-pop” and blackout-wasted hardstyle. The Dare’s doing his best debauched electroclash cosplay for the horny and clout-hungry post-pandemic city kids. Nia Archives is the poster woman of the jungle revival, and there’s a throng of DJs making some 2020s update of UK garage. Shoegaze was already having a renaissance last year and now it’s accelerating even more. While countless copycats are content to pump out rote replays of dusty old styles, there are as many artists retooling the sounds in captivating ways, or making music with such skill it’s irresistible.
Trip-hop heads had it great this year, especially with a.s.o.’s “Go On,” a reverie of languorous drums and subtly baleful synth-ripples that could’ve been produced by The Focus Group. Alia Seror-O’Neill’s slow-motion musings have been the perfect soundtrack to some of my late-night strolls, either walking in a daze back from the club or ambling meaninglessly across the city. The way her reverb-laden words dissolve into the foghorns of echoing synth remind me of the Manhattan horizon at night: the slow dimming of brightness as every apartment goes to sleep.
I remember my friends and I driving back from Montauk earlier this year, listening to “Go On” in aggressively hazy conditions that obscured the trees and turned the ocean into purple nothingness. Thing is, I’m absolutely sure we didn’t actually listen to the song during the ride. But the song is so potently atmospheric I’m haunted by this phantom memory.
#7 - saya - "blood school" / sprinks - "Paradox"
You know you’re getting to the good stuff when you hit the realm of SoundCloud users with hieroglyphic text in their names. The mysterious bubble around saya — aka “saya #cc ᏲᎥᎴᎿᏫᏒᎥᎯႶ akaꔫSayako ☆ﾟelfaction” — and the groups they’re affiliated with (canteen collective, #elfaction, MAGENTADREAMLAND?) feels like a parallel society where cloud rap was the first genre ever invented and the pop charts thrum with video game soundtracks and kitschy elevator music. Their prolific catalog brings to mind a tropical resort in the year 2039: cyborg butlers swiftly ferrying trays of frozen margaritas to jacuzzis floating in the clouds; unnaturally healthy trees flanking trails that light up with every step. The vocals radiate elation in a smushed incoherent way that feels like dystopian ad fodder; the instrumentals belong in a coming-of-age anime.
“blood school” could be the tragic fall of this futuretopia: saya’s melodies spin out into a gleaming meltdown of Auto-Tuned regrets. One of the coolest things about niche internet music is the intertextuality - it’s like the outside world of rock and pop doesn’t exist to these artists: Dariacore DJs pluck samples from digicore singers; hexD remixers morph mutant rap into shoegaze fuzz. They have their own insular canon. On “blood school,” saya flipped a piano piece from a tiny account with 200 followers into a poignant intro that tees up the song’s chaotic turn.
Fellow deep-web denizen sprinks stepped outside the internet music canon for a more daring sample trick on “Paradox.” It rewires Mareux’s eerie coldwave megahit “The Perfect Girl,” which is itself a cover of The Cure’s 1987 song of the same name. In sprinks’ edit, all the seductive slowness has been excised in favor of apocalyptic synth-strobes. I wish they made a video for the track; their clips are like if Voldemort made skater edits, spasming with witchy flashes and disorienting angles.
A bonus: I can’t tell if 7Nightz’ “Nightz_ᏕᏂᏋ ᏝᏋᏖ ᎧᏬᏖ Ꮧ ᏝᏗᏬᎶᏂ ᏗᏕ ᎥᎥᎥ ᎧᏉᏋᏒᎴᎧᏕᏋᎴ, ᏕᏂᏋ ᏠᏬᏕᏖ ᏕᏖᎧᎧᎴ ᏖᏂᏋᏒᏋ”—someone boot up the Venutian translator—is goofy or genius. It’s one of the most bizarrely entrancing things I’ve heard in a year of extremely madcap music. After submerging you in a dreamily washed-out 80s beat, 7Nightz begins moaning with heavy reverb and a chorus of sampled background moans (“this hentai so gud,” someone wrote). Then he starts crying about feeling like he can never be himself. Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” cuts in behind him and its yearning nostalgia sounds weirdly perfect. The effect is like a kind of demented mural, a composite of timelines collapsing into a montage of clumsy sadness. It’s the last song 7Nightz posted before they disappeared seven months ago.
#6 - lostrushi - "HYDROXYCUT" / "USE YOUR WINGS"
Two years ago, lostrushi was part of a microgenre called “maplekore” with kaystrueno, who coined the term after staring at pixelated scenery in the old-school Korean MMORPG MapleStory. The two released brief singles built around impressionistic, dreamy sounds. Then kaystrueno went mysteriously absent, and almost like a prophecy, lostrushi picked up the mantle. He exploded and evolved the maplekore palette on his first album SISTERHOOD, a retrofuturist universe of holographic confetti and digi-dazzle.
“HYDROXYCUT” and “USE YOUR WINGS” are the night and day of this fantasy world. The former is shiveringly fitful, erupting like a motherboard spasming under hot goo, while “USE YOUR WINGS” gallivants with the gentle grace of a dancer stretching out on a wide open plateau. Despite the claustrophobic mixing, which gives tracks the gauzy distance of a vignette unfolding on a TV screen, the sounds expand and saturate like a 5D panorama. It’s a whole new language of fairie textures: swooning cheeps, somnambulant grunts, multi-stereo glitches, effervescent gurgles.
Today’s underground is dominated by flashy singles and experimental one-offs, and whenever a bedroom rapper with 5,000 SoundCloud followers releases a full-length record it’s usually half-baked. So the instinctual response to someone announcing an album is skepticism: They can’t pull it off. And in a streaming environment that rewards data dumps packed with copy-paste filler, there’s not much incentive for rising artists to spend months or years fleshing out a project and risk it flopping anyway. lostrushi’s SISTERHOOD shatters all that cynicism. There are zero features and lostrushi sculpted every inch of production. It’s probably the best “internet” rap album of the year. No artist from this amorphous SoundCloud generation has carried an LP with such an insular yet compelling sound-palette since quannnic’s Kenopsia.
#5 - Tirzah - "2 D I C U V"
Enough with the proclamations about how hyperpop, digicore, and other cyber-brained artists like yeule capture the experience of being terminally online like nothing else. That’s old news. I can only enjoy so much anxious introspection conveyed with glitchy Auto-Tune vocals and metallic snares. What intrigues me now is less music reacting to online life than stuff that feels realer, more brilliant and expansive than the limitless 4K portal of the internet. I am jaded and numb to the pleasures—I don’t want to log off, I want a stronger drug. One answer this year was trip9love…?, ML Buch’s Suntub, and certain Smerz tracks like “No harm,” all of which you could roughly sort into an unofficial micro-style of hysterical hyperrealism. Not “hysterical” in the James Wood sense of cluttered prose and overelaborate plots, but music that sounds super-sharp and radiantly bright and also makes me feel hysterically, unnaturally alive. Brakence and the cutspace/xang strain of IDM SoundCloud rap fits into this category. It’s music that sounds too high-definition, like you’re wearing glasses with lenses that make everything agonizingly crisp.
“2 D I C U V” emits such an aura I can almost feel lights glow and floorboards quiver around me. It’s like ripping apart the body of a guitar to find a radiant crystal inside. I want to live in a land that looks like this sound, where the sky is a neon pink streak, the river rushes in an always-sparkling blue torrent, and twisting green trees rise taller than the bleach-white stars.
#4 - xaviersobased - "u dk how 2 hoop" / Nettspend ft. Osamason - "Wake up" (tie)
xaviersobased and Nettspend are burning the underground up right now. When Nettspend blew up this fall, I didn’t understand what drew everyone to the 16-year-old like a magnet; his music seemed like a glossy, radio-clean version of the hyperactive jerk sound xaviersobased was toying with. Listen again and it’s clear this kid has a Michelin star taste for stylishly freaky beats—there isn’t a single speck of forgettable dust or wasted space in his music. He’ll open with jarring exclamations (“yooo,” “like like like like,” “Waaaah”) and stretch out Auto-Tuned syllables like a lisping robot. Some of my favorite tracks have no intro and just drown you in a flood of elegant chaos—an instrumental style I like to think of as hyperclutter. Songs like “Wake up” and “Model Sex,” Ken Carson’s “Me N My Kup,” Osamason’s “Lil O,” where seemingly 18 different layers of synth, keys, drums, and gurgles convulse tightly against each other.
Even deeper in the blaze of delirium, the beat for “u dk how 2 hoop” practically feasts upon xaviersobased’s voice, deforming and destroying his brags in the humongous low end. The bass is cranked up so high it should come with a hearing loss warning. I can only imagine this is what it feels like to stick your head in lava and melt your brain until your pain receptors are gone and your vision becomes a hallucinatory blur. Xavier is the arch nemesis of libraries.
#3 - Lil Yachty - "Strike" / "prETTy"
“Poland” broke the internet, but it was just pretty good—a snippet-turned-megahit that came about because Yachty was fucking around in the studio and went berserk with the vibrato, rapping like a little assistant was madly tapping his neck like a xylophone. Then he returned with “prETTy,” evolving the gag into a fully-fledged technique—splayed across layers of deeper vocals and a woman’s sighs, his neon quivers express an overwhelming surge of desire. The bliss radiates so brightly it’s almost unbearable, like gazing directly into a solar eclipse of pleasure.
With less longing and more languor, Yachty fine-tuned the slapstick style on “Strike (Holster),” saving his gale of frail flutters for the final verse and just several words. The lyrics span a few topics—he offers a slew of definitions for the word “strike” and talks about getting geeked and tweaked on drugs—but his voice starts billowing at the line “perky got her stuck like a holster.” In the context of this glacial beat, the line morphs into a tragic image, and a perfect distillation of how his inventive yet inane vibrato method sounds: it’s like your words are lagging and you’re sleepwalking through reality, living in a percocet-induced slow-down. Intentionally or unconsciously, Yachty’s tremulous studio trickery captures our moment of stunted growth—a feeling of perpetual unease as twenty-somethings waver between jobs, adrift in a doomscrolling nightmare. The ‘60s had Phil Spector’s wall of sound, how about Yachty’s wailing warbles?
#2 - feeble little horse - "Freak"
The most electrifying album opener of the year, “Freak” functions like an instant hit of frisson. A fuzzy guitar spins you around and buries you under sheets of aluminum, and then Lydia Slocum’s airy yet potent voice reaches in like a hand pulling you from the rubble: I know you want me freak.
And then she delivers my favorite line of the year: “How can you be satisfied? She’s 5 foot 1, you’re 6 foot 5.” It’s funny, but I love it mostly because of the ridiculous way Slocum throws her pitch up at the end like a gawky giraffe neck shooting into the sky. Gives me a dumb grin every time.
For a couple of months I listened to Girl With Fish nonstop, and I couldn’t pinpoint what made it so addictive. It’s not shockingly innovative, but there’s a kind of spectral charm to Slocum’s voice and the way it cheekily glides above the clanging instruments. It feels like everyday life with a touch of the surreal, a magic town where the squirrels can fly and the pavement smiles up at you.
#1 - Olivia Rodrigo - “bad idea right?”
This year I cut the prefix out of hyperpoptimist and became a full-on poptimist: Or at least I loved “bad idea right?” ever since I heard it for the first time in a London hotel. The dry post-punky bounce, the deadpan Wet Leggy narration, the delicious internal monologues that begin with denial and end with Rodrigo revealing her true carnal desires... everything smacks. My favorite bit is how she uses gibberish singing (ahhhhh, blah, blah, blah) to convey a mind short-circuited by the attraction she feels, the blinding head-rush of a hot crush. I’m usually allergic to anything that seems industry-crafted or overly curated, but the combo of the raw yet anthemic instrumentation and Rodrigo’s quirky charisma pierced through all my misgivings.