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Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2023

Full-Length Escape

Dec 23, 2023
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Here we go again, racing to December’s finish line, eager to put another chaotic year in the rearview and nervous about what the next 12 months have in store for us. In 2023, the WHO ended its global health emergency status in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. inflation eased, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine continued and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupted when Hamas attacked Israel and the latter declared war on Hamas, leading to a truly tragic situation and lots of civilian deaths (with over 20,000 Palestinians killed and over 1,400 Israelis dead). Worldwide, the effects of global warming were more apparent than ever, with record temperatures and rampant forest fires.

Fears over AI, among other issues, meant that dual actor and writer strikes shut down Hollywood for months, while at the same time U.S. autoworkers were also on strike and in Washington, D.C. the House of Representatives was at a virtual standstill when Kevin McCarthy’s short tenure as Speaker of the House came to an end and there was a lengthy and dysfunctional process to name his replacement. Next year we have a crucial U.S. presidential election to stress over, which will likely be a rematch between two candidates who aren’t that popular beyond their base supporters (although, it’s important to remember, that only one of the two candidates incited an insurrection).

In this over-connected century, it seems impossible to escape the ills of the world, but we can always take solace in the arts. For us, that mainly means music (as well as films, TV shows, video games, books, and comic books/graphic novels). Please ignore those who bemoan a lack of exciting new albums in 2023; the naysayers just weren’t listening closely enough.

Each year, Under the Radar seems to be one of the last music publications to post their best albums of the year list. I guess we’re less concerned with being first and more worried about getting it right. That’s not to say that other music sites don’t take care when putting their lists together—perhaps we just obsess too much. And it’s also not as if we’ve left it all to the last minute, we’ve been working on our Top 100 Albums of 2023 list since at least early November.

It starts with me putting together a nominations list of albums I most want our writers to consider (this year it was 138 albums). They have to be new full-length albums first released in 2023 (no reissues, live albums, or best of compilations). Then our writers and editors are free to suggest other albums they feel are worthy of consideration. It all goes into a shared spreadsheet and we all do lots of listening and re-listening and then each writer inputs their ballot of their 50 favorite albums of the year into the spreadsheet, with their favorite album getting 50 points, their second favorite getting 49 points, and so on until their 50th album gets one point. They are able to also vote for up to 15 honorable mentions at one point each. My Co-Publisher/wife Wendy Redfern and I have a few more points to work with, since it’s our magazine after all, so our number one albums get 65 points and so on down from there.

This year 269 different albums were included on the spreadsheet. For an album to have a chance to make the Top 100 it has to be picked by at least three different writers, for there to be a true consensus. Our number one album this year was picked by 17 different writers, including Wendy and myself, and overall 20 contributors took part in this year’s vote. This year we did a separate vote to decide what should be our number one album, choosing between the two that got the most votes. Then, as we do most years, I put together a Top 95, based mainly on the staff vote, but slightly tweaking the order here and there based on our coverage in the past year. Then we did a separate vote to decide which five albums should round out the list, from a selection of 30 albums that almost made the Top 95. Finally we arrived at this Top 100 Albums of 2023 list, with several honorable mentions for good measure. Our writers wrote new blurbs on each of the Top 50 albums.

Here at Under the Radar we aren’t afraid to include artists we’ve covered for years on our best albums lists, as long as they put out a new album we loved, but we also like to make room for new blood and debut albums. We’ve never hidden that we’re primarily an indie rock magazine and so while some other genres do get a look in, you won’t find too many albums on this list that could be considered mainstream pop, hip-hop, country, metal, etc. But there’s still a whole varied universe of sounds within indie rock. We like our lists to truly represent our editorial coverage from the last year, including artists we’ve interviewed in the last 12 months, albums we’ve favorably reviewed, and artists who made our weekly Songs of the Week lists, all with the benefit of year-end hindsight. Certainly there are albums in the Top 100 that you will have seen on many other best albums of 2023 lists, but we hope there are some surprises too, although if you’ve been paying attention to what we’ve written about in the last year you shouldn’t be too shocked by our choices.

In just a few days, it all begins again, with a new year and a fresh crop of releases to dive into (some of which we’ve already heard). Before the cycle restarts, join us in reflecting on the albums that meant the most to us in 2023.

Check out part 1 (featuring #1-50) here.

Check out part 2 (featuring #51-100 plus honorable mentions) here.

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