It’s been a challenge to assemble the best indie albums 2023 has produced so far. But I’ve got nine exceptional records for you here.
I’ve dug deep, listened long and sampled wide. In the process, I’ve heard a lot of dull songs, some pretty weird stuff and found the very best indie rock albums 2023 has available for your rock dollar. In some ways, the standouts seem fewer this year. Maybe 2022 was so epic, it has been hard to compare; maybe I’m setting the bar too high.
Best indie albums 2023: A few ground rules
Some notes about the 9 bands listed here, the dozen or so honorable mentions and 128,000 bands with albums this year who aren’t listed.
- First, I think you can goof a little with a mid-year list, but not a lot. These are nine bands I’m serious as a heart attack about. I don’t posture as cooler-than-thou.
- Second, I’m notoriously 2-4 weeks behind in my listening. This list should be good to about the first of June; I have ten or twelve records on my phone I either haven’t listened to or bought yet.
- Third, your favorite nine albums are probably just as good as mine. Individual mileage may vary.
- Finally, I became attached to the number 9 somewhat arbitrarily. Fifteen might have been a better number.
So read a little about these 9 albums and listen to a song from each record. If you dig it, listen to a few moe songs. Link to the release and buy it.
All on one indispensable website, because I love you.
Best alternative albums 2023, to rank or not to rank?
This list of the best indie albums 2023 has produced isn’t listed in order of preference – it’s way too early for ranking! But each album is fantastic and should already be in your collection.
They all stand a fair chance of making many Top 10 lists at the end of the year.
Shana Cleveland (Manzanita)
The lead singer for La Luz, Shana Cleveland‘s solo albums are distinctly removed from her Seattle band’s surfy good times. Manzanita is a bewitching concoction of dream pop, slithering psych folk and pedal steel. A few of the longer pieces are ornamented with more acoustic passages and discreet melodic side channels.
Of the fourteen songs on Manzanita, eleven are fuller compositions and two or three are a bit more like transition elements, including the 12-second “Bloom.” Haunting arrangments like “Quick Winter Sun,” “Bonanza Freeze” and “Gold Winter” feel like Syd Barrett’s 1960’s Pink Floyd.
But you can imagine Cleveland opening for Beach House on songs like “Mystic Mine.”
I highly encourage you to explore Manzanita, available with Shana merch at her website.
Fixtures (Hollywood Dog)
Hollywood Dog was a spring favorite of mine. Fixtures layers a terrific horn section over power pop. They make you wonder what Bob Mould would have sounded like with these kind of expansive brass arrangements.
Hollywood Dog opens with the driving “21/1” and closes with the “21/1 Reprise.” And “21/1” is a great example of the way each song on Hollywood Dog takes on added drama from Riley Cooke’s done-but-not-overdone trumpet. The brass creates a mystic quality on songs like “Ghost Relays,” which if K. Liakos decided to push his vocals to a scream would sound not unlike a lost Pixies classic.
I’ve decided I will travel up to 400 miles to see Brooklyn’s Fixtures live. Here is the 2:26 blast of title track “Hollywood Dog,” which would rip in person!
Buy a digital copy or vinyl edition of Hollywood Dog at Fixtures’ Bandcamp page.
The WAEVE (The WAEVE)
The WAEVE was the first album in 2023 to really knock me over.
I didn’t expect to love Graham Coxon and Rose Elinor Dougall’s album as much as I did. Obviously the Blur founder can turn almost anything to gold. But this is the year 2023 and my expectations were…modest. What a terrific surprise!
Everything about The WAEVE is emotive and stirring. The sequencing of the album from rocker “Kill Me Again” to the jazz-infused “Over and Over” is perfection. “Over and Over” also illustrates how exquisite Coxon and Dougall sound together. A bit of an April-September musical and literal romance, Coxon’s saxophone, guitar progressions and Dougall’s smoky vocal style just couldn’t be better suited together.
The WAEVE is an album of endless surprises, and is probably still my favorite this year.
THE SONGS ARE LONG — and really deserve the time to gradually reveal themselves. The motorik rhythm of “Drowning” is an example of an arrangement you just need to stay with. It turns into this mini-epic of strings and sax perfect for a chilled, rainy night.
At two minutes in, “Drowning” is just getting started. Give it the time it deserves.
Shame (Food for Worms)
To hear Food for Worm is to be reminded of the seminal London Calling.
Shame swings for the fences again, turning post-punk into something fresh and important. Instead of The Clash’s experiments with ska and world beats, Shame alternately drops skronky guitars and spikey rhythms into Food for Worms.
I’m anxious for Shame to play America this year. However the planned tour dates so far venture no further west than Dallas. They have to announce some West Coast dates – there is still hope to hear one of the best indie albums 2023 has produced so far!
Not surprising, Food for Worms is best played at ear-crushing decibels. Bump that VU on the arena-worthy chorus of album highlight “Adderall.”
Buy your copy of Food for Worms at Shame’s website.
Lael Neale (Star Eaters Delight)
Star Eaters Delight is an early dark horse for my favorite album of 2023.
Lael Neale retreated to her parents home in Virginia during the Corona, and the rural expanse is a felt co-producer on Star Eaters Delight. Neale’s propulsive melodies burst with a sense of clarity from those pastoral months, an extension and sort of reconnection to her previous life in LA.
As consuming as the songs are, they are spacious arrangements. I thought the comment of her producer, Guy Blakeslee, was amusing: “Lael is always telling me to play fewer notes.” Boy, can you hear it in the cavernous arrangements, which don’t seem spare but instead spotlight Neale’s perfect vibrato.
It’s hard not to see and hear a bit of Natalie Mering in Neale, though Neale is more baroque. SED is an album full of singles from one of the best indie albums 2023 has seen so far. But I can only choose one song.
Rather than the epic and enigmatic “In Verona,” here is “Faster Than the Medicine,” which I think is representative of the full recording.
Teini-Pää (Sata syytä aloittaa)
Teini-Pää (“Teenage Head”) record super-duper two-minute power pop gems in their native Finnish.
Songs on their second album Sata syytä aloittaa range from power punk to jangle pop and a couple of gazier numbers, most cuts just 2 minutes and change. I’ve had as much fun with this album as any I’ve heard this year. It has as many hooks and as much depth as Alvvays’ 2022 Blue Rev.
Before your declare, “I don’t even speak Helsinki!”…listen to the universal language of garage rock on songs like “Kuka vaan käy.”
You can buy read more about Teini-Pää and Sata syytä aloittaa (“100 Hundred Reasons to Start”) at their Finnish label Soit Se Silti. As far as I can tell from a poor Google web translation, you need to buy Sata syytä aloittaa from their Bandcamp page.
Let’s get Teini-Pää to play ‘Merica!
Gaz Coombes (Turn the Car Around)
Gaz Coombes’ Turn the Car Around was the first album I bought this year. I’m listening to it now for the first time since January — it’s still superb!
Coombes’ band Supergrass was not part of my musical journey. You can’t listen to all the music. But Gaz is part of my story now. His voice sounds incredible, the compositions are rich, complex, just impeccable.
By point of comparison, many songs on Turn the Car Around are a perfect stylistic mashup of Elbow and Radiohead. “Long Live the Strange” could equally be a takeout from Leaders of the Free World or Kid A.
Check it out on Soundcloud.
Buy Turn the Car Around from Coombes website – I don’t know if I’ve heard a better release all year!
The Murlocs (Calm Ya Farm)
I believe I’ve sampled more alt country than any other genre in 2023 besides your broadly defined post punk. I mean…I’VE HEARD A LOT of alt country, and not much has hit hard. I’ve listed a few honorable mentions below, and I’ll find more for my year end list.
But The Murlocs – wow! A band doing something new under the sun!
Calm Ya Farm is a swampy, scuzzy proggy country thing that is an absolute joy. If Geddy Lee formed a bayou jam band and held drunken Friday night hootenannies for friends in low places, it would approximate half the creative energy wrapped up in the 7th album by Melbourne’s The Murlocs.
A sort of second-cousin to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, members of The Murlocs have labored a bit in King Gizzard’s shadow. The Murlocs’ singer Ambrose Kenny-Smith and bassist Cook Craig also play in King Gizzard. Also, the bands tour together and share a ton of DNA.
Here is The Murlocs’ smoking, roiling “Russian Roulette,” a cut from one of the best indie albums 2023 has seen so far — across any genre!
A song like this begs the question, does Calm Ya Farm devolve into camp? I hear an honest tribute to the genre, not goofing on alt country. And it’s new, different…it is NEEDED.
Buy Calm Ya Farm from The Murlocs website, pour yourself a finger of whiskey and decide for yourself!
Dignan Porch (Electric Threads)
Dignan Porch is the retro DIY project of Joe Walsh, and it is amaze.
Melodies are slightly off kilter and psychedelic at times. The lofi songs are wonderfully poppy at their core but warped just enough to sound like lost cassette tracks from Marquee Moon. You can hear the late, revered Tom Verlaine in the mournful harmonized guitar of songs like “Ancestral Trail.”
Walsh moved from London to Manchester shortly before the pandemic. Other than a bit of help from his brother, Walsh wrote, performed and recorded most of Electric Threads on his own.
Order Electric Threads from Safe Suburban Homes Records in the UK and Hidden Bay Records in the EU. In North America, buy from Repeating Cloud Records. I’ve enjoyed Electric Threads so much, it has made me want to go back and explore their back catalogue. You can go through Dignan Porch albums going back to 2010 at their Bandcamp page.
Best indie albums 2023 so far: Honorable mentions
- The Angles (The Angles) – You’ll fall in love with this soft 70’s jangle pop
- Indigo De Souza (All of this Will End) – I regret missing De Souza at Kilby
- BoyGenius (The Record) – Great album. Really good. Don’t @ me for not including them in my Top 9
- Fran (Leaving) – Top shelf singer-songwriter acoustic songs
- The Go! Team (Get Up Sequence) – Such a trip hearing The Go! Team in top form
- Purling Hiss (Drag on Girard) – Wrote, then removed, Purling Hiss entry in my Top 9. Recency bias
- National Honor Society (To All the Distance Between Us) – Jangle pop I will return to at year’s end!
- M(h)aol (Attachment Styles) – Not a song on this album I didn’t love, prurient or not
- JAWNY (It’s Never Fair, Always True) – Looking forward to the JAWNY show in SLC
- Hifi Sean and David McAlmont (Happy Ending) – I’m working on a full post about this duo!
- Manchester Orchestra (The Valley of Vision) – This release is amazing but I think it is EP length
- The Bombshell Flowers (The Death of Me) – Utah indie pop with sugary Killers-style hooks
Best indie albums 2023 so far: Not super impressed
- The National (First Two Pages of Frankenstein) – I’m a big fan but Frankenstein was unremarkable
- Sparks (The Girl is Crying in Her Latte) – I love Cate Blanchett as much as anyone, but come on
- Murray Lightburn (Once Upon a Lifetime in Montreal) – So much for my Murray Lightburn mancrush
- The Tallest Man on Earth (Henry St) – Seems like a lifetime since Shallow Grave. I guess it has been
- Bondshell (Blondshell) – These songs are good; good not great
- Yo La Tengo (This Stupid World) – Some day we’ll look back and wonder why we lost our collective mind over an average Yo La Tengo album