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Editors’ Picks: The Best (& Worst) of Everything Else in 2023

Best Song, Moment, Comeback, Festival and Most Boring Musical Thing to Happen – it’s all here
Taylor Swift in Brazil, November 2023 (photo: Buda Mendes / TAS23 / Getty Images for TAS Rights Management)

You want to know what the Best Albums were? Here you go. Who is SPIN’s Artist of the Year for 2023, and who were the editors’ individual choices (there’s no consensus on anything around here)? Check our site tomorrow and Friday for the reveals.

And now for the rest… (Look away now, Perry Farrell and Jared Leto.) 

Phoebe Bridgers of boygenius performs at Madison Square Garden on October 2, 2023 in New York City. (Credit: Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

Song of the Year

boygenius, “Not Strong Enough”

Arriving five years after a one-off EP and short promotional tour, the debut album from this trio comprised of indie-leaning singer/songwriters Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker was one of the most anticipated of 2023. Fulfilling the supergroup promise, the record didn’t disappoint, thanks to its breezy three-part harmonies and vulnerable lyrics. With its strident acoustic strumming and pangs of self-doubt (“I don’t know why I am the way I am”), “Not Strong Enough” perfectly encapsulates boygenius’ sound and message. Thematically, the song seems to address inferiority complexes and how to manage your own expectations and emotions while dealing with your own shit (“Always an angel / Never a God”). This feeling of uncertainty is universally relatable, a quality that propelled boygenius to unlikely mainstream visibility and an eye-popping eight Grammy nominations this year. Daniel Kohn, Editorial Director

The Defiant, “Dead Language”

In my October interview with Defiant frontman Dicky Barrett (formerly of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones), I described “Dead Language,” off of their debut album, If We’re Really Being Honest, as “scrappy, punky power-pop” and challenging “the dumbing down of a digitized society.” A killer song with an important message? That’s my song of the year, any year. Liza Lentini, Managing Editor

Lana Del Ray, “A&W” 

Pop’s high priestess of benzodiazepine noir dispenses a singularly potent dose of erotic squalor with “A&W,” aka “American Whore.” This artfully fucked-up mood fugue first places the listener in the lushly lamenting acoustic ballad of a woman adrift in worthlessness. Then, about four minutes in, the song dilates into a dirty masterclass in trap hop. It’s an accomplished and sensual shift, but, like the narrative (which tracks the numb abandon of the used), the prettiness of the tune and its movements is inseparable from its nihilism. Song of the year. Matthew Thompson, Features Editor

Animal Collective, “Defeat”

This 22-minute behemoth, the clear centerpiece of the band’s 12th LP, Isn’t It Now?, is a stoned celebration of all things Animal Collective: neon-glow ambience, psych-pop bounce, and effects-heavy meltdowns that blur the line between good and bad trip. Ryan Reed, Senior Editor

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 03: Big Boi speaks onstage during the 38th Annual Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony at Barclays Center on November 03, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame )

Musical Moment of the Year

Taylor Swift Conquering the World

Sorry, there’s no other choice. Kicking off her Eras Tour outside of Phoenix in March, Swift went on to dominate the headlines and the box office. Her tour was so massive and successful that it spawned a concert film that grossed over $250 million worldwide and even saw a newspaper chain hire a dedicated reporter to cover her every move. If that wasn’t enough, Swift managed to become one of the biggest stories of the NFL(!) season due to her romance with Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce. It’s Swift’s world, and we’re just renting space in it. Daniel Kohn, Editorial Director

Rick Astley (Being Rick Astley)

Rick at Glastonbury, Rick singing Smiths covers, Rick making funny videos on social media, and Rick, very seriously, releasing one of the most fantastically soulful albums of the year. One could make the case that Rick won 2023. Read my October interview with Rick here. Liza Lentini, Managing Editor

The Death of Sinead O’Connor

The death of the sublime and unstable Sinéad O’Connor in south London on July 26, 2023, sparking bandwagoneering posthumous canonizations from the press and from other, tamer, lower-lumen artists, along with Morrissey’s searing retort to all that toshMatthew Thompson, Features Editor

Big Boi Inducting Kate Bush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I couldn’t care less about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—that is, until an artist I deeply admire is up for nomination. When I learned that Kate Bush was getting in, I had immediate questions: Will she actually show up? Will she perform? How many goddamn Stranger Things jokes will I have to endure? In a heartbreaking but typically cooler-than-the-universe move, the art-rock goddess did not emerge from the shadows and grace us with her presence. We did, however, get to hear from rapper Big Boi, who inducted his hero with a heartwarming and hilarious speech in which he accidentally blurted out curse words, made a case for Bush’s hip-hop credentials, and recalled falling in love with her music in middle school. Most importantly, he called out the singer on national television, begging her to finish their long-teased collaborative track. “Hey Kate, the song is done,” he said. “I sent you three versions. Pick one.” Ryan Reed, Senior Editor

Don’t Call It a Comeback (But It Is): Comeback Artist of the Year

André 3000

For the better part of the past few decades, André 3000 has kept a low profile. Outside of the occasional guest spot on a song and a few moments captured on social media of him appearing with a flute, the Outkast rapper has rarely been seen publicly. That changed in November, when André surprise-released an album of songs composed on his trusted flute. Featuring prominent members of L.A.’s beat scene, the album is one of the best surprises of the year. Hopefully, this is a sign that he is back for good. Daniel Kohn, Editorial Director


For their October cover story, I called Dogstar’s first album in 20 years—Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees—“honest” with a heartfelt comparison to the great tradition of garage-band rock. THIS is what the music world needs now: bands who make music because they love doing it. Liza Lentini, Managing Editor

No one

I refuse to acknowledge anyone in this category. I tried. Believe me I tried. I listened to new music from “maturing” artists as varied as P.J. Harvey, Kylie Minogue, Porno for Pyros, and Peter Gabriel, and all have done far better work. None are a patch on their former selves. Maybe they need some people around who aren’t afraid to tell them to shit or get off the can. Because whether the songs were pretentious tosh, straight out bilge, plainly boring, or what you mighty smile and politely clap at were it your old uncle, nothing amounted to much more than stale farts. Matthew Thompson, Features Editor

Peter Gabriel

I think I’ve gushed enough already, but obviously the man qualifies. 

Sigur Ros

The Icelandic post-rock crew reunited with their original keyboardist, Kjartan Sveinsson, and released the magnificent Átta, their first album since 2003. It’s exactly what you’d hope for: equal parts curveball (almost no drums, way more orchestrations) and comforting familiarity (Jónsi’s ageless falsetto). Ryan Reed, Senior Editor

(L-R) David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, John Heilemann, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth during a ‘Stop Making Sense’ Q&A at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). (Credit: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for BAM)

Music Documentary of the Year

We Were Famous, You Don’t Remember: The Embarrassment 

This was a good year for music docs—there were a ton of them, and some of them were great. But for me the best one is the strange and wonderful and strange-some-more story of the Embos, the best band that never made it, the contenders who strangely didn’t get their shot. The Embarrassment were four art school kids from Kansas inspired by the Sex Pistols, who wrote weird songs but played with a ferocity and electrifying skill that, had they come from N.Y.’s downtown scene or L.A.’s glittery Sunset Boulevard, would have seen them be massive, like Blondie or Iggy or the Clash.

The film still doesn’t have a major distribution deal, although it did finally become available for renting, on Amazon and Night Flight—ha, they can’t shake this Purgatory of indifference towards them that the movie is about in the first place! So far it has only been seen on the big screen at various festivals and that gloriously immutable institution, the art house cinema. Screenings were sometimes capped by a live reunion.

One of the mysteries of the film—after how did they not become household names—is whatever happened to one of the original members, bassist Ron Klaus. He disappeared. For no discernible reason, and even the Embos’ emergence from the quicksand of obscurity hasn’t brought him into the light.

Learn more about them at: Bob Guccione Jr., Acting Editor in Chief

Stop Making Sense

The greatest musical documentary was reissued, and the Talking Heads somewhat reunited for the first time in over two decades to promote it. If that can happen…perhaps there’s more on the horizon? We can only hope. Daniel Kohn, Editorial Director

Joan Baez: I Am Noise

Aside from being a beautiful account of an astounding human being, watch this documentary because it’s important to be reminded of why music matters, why art matters, why caring about humanity and the world around you—absolutely and completely—matters. Read our moving interview with Joan here. Liza Lentini, Managing Editor

Mutiny in Heaven

I watched this doco on the morning of Thanksgiving, and it put me in a foul as fuck mood, which then compelled me to drive solo for an hour just to get sociable enough for lunch. Why? Because it conclusively demonstrates what absolute fucking “bilge”—to borrow a sledge Birthday Party guitarist Rowland S. Howard throws at Echo and the Bunnymen and A Teardrop Explodes—so many rock bands are in comparison to this bloody and beautiful wrecking ball of a group, fronted by Nick Cave at his peak of reckless savagery. Howard talks warmly of watching footage of the Doors separated from their audience by a line of police, so volatile had the shows become. That’s what rock is meant to be, Howard says: dangerous. Rock as confrontation, not entertainment. People are meant to get riled up. And man, you gotta hear the story behind the majestic video for “Nick The Stripper”: setting a garbage dump on fire, bussing in disturbed psych inmates, and fending the attending police off with forged letters of permission from the city authorities so they could realize Cave’s vision of hell. Matthew Thompson, Features Editor

In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50

This long-teased King Crimson film, patiently assembled by director Toby Amies, doesn’t solve any mysteries about prog-rock’s most pivotal and enigmatic band. But it does offer rare behind-the-scenes insight from band members past (RIP to both Ian McDonald and Bill Reiflin) and present—highlighted by alternatingly acerbic and soulful commentary from bandleader Robert Fripp, including a centerpiece scene that’s too profound to spoil. Ryan Reed, Senior Editor

Music Festival of the Year

2023 Big Ears Festival 

On the whole, I’m not really a music festival guy. Not a big fan of crowds, aggressively drunk people, boomy outdoor acoustics, or distractedly watching 10 minutes of 45 concerts over three days in the blazing heat. So the Big Ears Festival has always been a godsend for me—and partly for selfish reasons, since it happens to be held in my home town of Knoxville, Tennessee. More importantly, it’s a kind of weird, forward-thinking oasis amid so much boring bullshit in this industry. 

For three days, you can stroll around from gorgeous theaters to dingy indie clubs to hole-in-the-wall venues, soaking in avant-garde jazz and electronica and classical and experimental rock and other fascinating sounds that defy categorization. What you won’t find is the same homogenized artist lineups that seem to decorate every mainstream festival marquee. 

In 2023, my experience was revelatory, as always: atmospheric jazz-funk (Pino Palladino and Blake Mills); radiant, symphonic jazz-fusion (Makaya McCraven); stirring art-folk lullabies (Ichiko Aoba); multimedia digi-sample odysseys (Oneohtrix Point Never); heavy, looped tuba grooves (Theon Cross); and improvised electric madness (John Zorn). With every passing year, Big Ears feels more like home to me—and more like an institution for listeners seeking the sublime. Ryan Reed, Senior Editor

Lauryn Hill and Pras Michél of the Fugees perform during the 2023 Global Citizen Festival on September 22, 2023 in New York City. (Credit: Gotham/WireImage)

Fake News Award! (Something that was heavily built up but fizzled out)

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill 25th Anniversary Tour: Ms. Lauryn Hill & the Return of the Fugees

First I kept hearing how amazing, how singularly sharp and strong, Lauryn Hill’s one and only solo album, 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, is. Then I listened to it. Unremarkable.

Next I kept hearing how amazing, how singularly sharp and strong the experience would be of seeing Hill perform the album live in this year’s silver jubilee roadshow of the album. 

Then reports emerged of messy shows in the acoustic hell of basketball arenas. Then dates started getting canceled. Then videos emerged of Hill ranting at audiences like Fidel Castro on a nasty batch of speed. Then the remaining dates were canceled. Vocal strain. Matthew Thompson, Features Editor

Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars performing at Austin City Limits Music Festival, October 14, 2023. (Credit: Erika Goldring/FilmMagic)

Most Boring Musical Moment/Thing of the Year

The Return of Porno for Pyros

Wanna know what’s boring? Porno for Pyros setting dates for another one of Perry Farrell’s auto-cover band alt-nostalgia experiences, then canceling said shows to write new music, then releasing a new song that reinforces the certainty that the curtain went down a long, long time ago.  Matthew Thompson, Features Editor

Jared Leto, Um, Climbs the Empire State Building  

There’s something deeply sad about scaling a skyscraper to spark publicity for your band’s upcoming tour. It’s like standing in a delightful town square and shouting “Please look at me!” through a megaphone as strangers stroll by. Joke’s on me, though—I’m writing about it, so I guess the stunt worked! (The feat itself is obviously impressive. I couldn’t get 10 feet up without sobbing, pissing myself, or both.) Ryan Reed, Senior Editor

What Ryan Reed said. Liza Lentini, Managing Editor

First, Leto was falling from the top of the stage at Lollapalooza. Then he was scaling the Empire State Building. One stunt is fine, two we’re pushing it. What’s next? Flying to the moon and planting a 30 Seconds to Mars flag? Daniel Kohn, Editorial Director