My Top 12 Albums of 2023

Musical faves from a middle-aged dad

John Kovacevich
4 min readDec 26, 2023


I do this every year (read past picks) and all the usual caveats apply (music is subjective, there is no “best,” these are personal faves, I may have missed something awesome, etc.)

As always, whatever you loved this year, I encourage you to BUY your favorite music (not just stream) and support the artists who made it.

1. I Love a Love Song! — Rachael & Vilray

Did I expect a collection of original-but-retro jazz standards to be my favorite album of the year? Absolutely not. I’ve long admired singer Rachael Price (of Lake Street Dive), but I had not heard her team-up with her former music school pal Vilray. The resulting partnership is sublime. New songs that will remind you of timeless classics from the 30s and 40s, with throwback orchestrations and twisty clever word-play that delights.

2. the record — boygenius

The Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus “supergroup” is super because the collab makes their individual songwriting and performance chops (which are pretty terrific in their solo work) soar even higher here.

3. I Made an Album — Daði Freyr

This is the story of discovering and falling in love with a three-year-old music video by an 6’9” Icelandic musician named Daði Freyr. The video was funny and charming and the song itself, “Think About Me,” was a stone-cold BOP. It made me think, “What else has he done?” And that led me to the discovery of this new album. Retro disco catnip.

4. Blame My Ex — The Beaches

Yes! The Beaches are this year’s I-wish-I’d-discovered-them-sooner discovery. The pop-rock quartet from Australia crafts great songs (largely about life in your 20s) and delivers them with so much attitude, you’ll find your lip curling into a sneer as you start moving to the music. And those guitars!

5. Columbo Bruno Major

The guy can SING. And this collection of simple, stripped down songs but his pipes front and center. Major’s voice is always heartbreakingly silky, but on a song like “18” where he sings about a friend who died young, you really appreciate the power of a great voice.

6. Volcano — Jungle

As a 50-something man, I know that I say “it’s a vibe” way too much (as my teen daughter’s eye roll will attest.) But this Jungle album is a vibe! “Back on 74” launched a million TikToks, but the whole album is filled with soulful dance grooves.

7. For All Time — Mayer Hawthorne

Groovy retro-soul. “Hawthorne” is the stage name for Andrew Cohen and his peacocking self-references on this one let you know he’s playing something of a character. But for all the winking, he takes the music seriously and the result is throwback escapist fun.

8. Sorry Like You Mean It — Honeymoan

Honeymoan is a band whose singles have popped into my “For You” Spotify recommendations for years, so I was excited for this, their debut album. It’s full of slightly-off-center pop bops that deliver on the trio’s promise.

9. Fools — Dan Croll

There’s something about Dan Croll that makes me think of 70s and 80s and 90s singer-songwriters — Steely Dan meets Crowded House meets Ben Folds (although that may make him sound a lot more rockin’ and adventurous than he is.) A good thoughtful collection of songs.

10. Momento Mori — Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode was my favorite band as a teenager. But I’ll confess that I’ve thought of them as a nostalgia act for a long time and I haven’t loved one of their albums since 1990. So I was pleasantly surprised by Memento Mori. Enough old-school dark synth to satisfy any DM fan and little signature motifs that harken back to their best stuff. And, thankfully, it doesn’t sound like old dudes cos-playing as a younger band. Plus, Dave Gahan’s voice sounds as good as ever.

11. Endless Summer Vacation — Miley Cyrus

In a year where Taylor dominated the world and Olivia garnered ink as the new “it girl” in pop, I kept going back to this one from Ms. Cyrus. Any album entitled “Endless Summer Vacation” is gunning for “song of the summer” status (and “Flowers” is delightful disco cheese) but she also finds a darker lyrical lane that gives the collection a bit more heft.

12. Suddenly — BØRNS

This is just a six song E.P. and, therefore, probably shouldn’t qualify for this list, but he channels Jeff Lynne/E.L.O. so expertly, it deserves a shout out.

Other 2023 Honorable Mentions: The Answer is Always Yes by Alex Lahey, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You by Caroline Polachek, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess by Chappell Roan, Fuse by Everything But the Girl, Cracker Deluxe by Gorrilaz, The Age of Pleasure by Janelle Monáe, In the End It Always Does by The Japanese House, Fromentera II by Metric, Keep Your Courage by Natalie Merchant, This Is Why by Paramore, Chris Black Changed My Life by Portugal. The Man., Shebang by Scott McMicken and THE EVER-EXPANDING, Javelin by Sufjan Stevens, and Pollen by Tennis.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Kovacevich is a writer and creative director based in San Francisco.