The Best, Worst, and Most Surprising Albums of 2023

In this episode of The Pitchfork Review podcast, our critics talk about some of their faves from our 50 Best Albums of 2023 list and lament a few of the year’s biggest disappointments.
Lil Yachty (photo by Erika Goldring/FilmMagic), ANOHNI (photo by ANOHNI with Nomi Ruiz courtesy of Rebis Music), and Kara Jackson (photo by Christian K. Lee). Image by Chris Panicker.

Our weekly podcast includes in-depth analysis of the music we find extraordinary, exciting, and just plain terrible. This week Editor-in-Chief Puja Patel, Reviews Director Jeremy D. Larson, and Senior Editor Anna Gaca discuss the very best albums of 2023, by Amaarae, ANOHNI, Sofia Kourtesis, Kara Jackson, SZA and more. They also talk about some of the year’s biggest disappointments, including Lil Yachty’s psych-rock experiment and Doja Cat’s rap misfire.

Listen to this week’s episode and read an excerpt from it below. Follow The Pitchfork Review here, and check out all of Pitchfork’s 2023 wrap-up coverage here.

Puja Patel: Let’s talk about our album of the year, SZA’s SOS, which technically came out in 2022—Jeremy’s gonna have an aneurysm on the practicalities and logistics of this.

Jeremy D. Larson: I’m over it now. It was just hard for my slightly OCD brain to reconcile a 2022 album on a 2023 list, but it’s just like a Grammy or Oscars window of eligibility.

Patel: The TL;DR here is that anything that was released after our lists were published last year is eligible for this year’s list.

Larson: Throughout 2023, Puja would be like, “What’s your album of the year?” and no matter what we talked about, at the end of all of those conversations, it was like, “Does it compare to SZA?” And I was like, “Not really.” SZA’s been in the pole position the entire year.

Patel: The density of this album! She does a million different things sonically, in the formats of her songs, in the songwriting, in the way that she is both sharp and cutting and vindictive and extremely funny and extremely like, “Fuck all y’all, I’m the best.” And she does it all so quickly and with such skill that you have to be like, “Wait, did she just say that?”

Anna Gaca: Remember how long we waited for this album? She was bottling it all up and then just hosed us with it.

Larson: It’s still astonishing to listen to, you just see so much of who she is. The song that I wanted to say is the most emblematic of this is “Blind.” I want to point out how brilliant these lines are: “My past can’t escape me/My pussy precedes me/My, my, how the times change.” The way she uses “my past” and rhymes it with “my pussy,” and then goes “my, my, how the times change.” It’s all so dense and so richly written. It’s a revealing lyric, but there’s also so much craft in there.

And then later she’s like, “I like it when you pull out a gun at a red light,” which is a crazy thing to admit, just dark. And then she’s just also flexing and it’s so light. She’s a genius!

Gaca: There’s so many things on this album where I’m like, “I can’t believe you just said that!” And “Kill Bill” is another one of them, just trusting that her audience would accept it as fiction and fantasy, and understand what she’s trying to do, even though it’s completely different from anything else she released in the past.

Patel: It’s Shakespearean in how much of a comedy and a tragedy that song is at once. It’s extremely funny to hear her inner monologue of, “I’m so mature” on repeat before saying, “I did all of this on no drugs/I did all of this sober/ I’ll kill your ass tonight.” This woman is extremely smart about her self-interrogation, and so funny. The songwriter of our time.

Gaca: When we say this is the album of the year, not only was it with us all year, not only did it have a really big cultural impact, it just speaks to the time too. What year could we have a long R&B album with Travis Scott and Phoebe Bridgers on it, and a punk song and a Quentin Tarantino joke? It could only be 2023.