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Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

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Impact’s Top Albums of 2023

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As 2023 comes to a sudden close, we’re taking a look back at some of the best albums the year had to offer. Several of our staff members took the time to write about their No. 1 picks, and we hope you’ll find some new favorites among them.

 

Mike Merucci, entertainment editor

stillness, softness… by Hinako Omori

Among the billions of thoughts us humans have, there is a distinct, sometimes terrifying thought that creeps into the mind: “I am not real.” Hinako Omori’s latest album, stillness, softness…, meshes perfectly with this thought. It exists in a beautiful gray area outside of time, outside of structure — it is strangely cold and warm at the same time. This album, too, hardly feels real. Though it doesn’t feel real, stillness, softness… swirls gently about the deepest human emotions; it glides over one’s skin as a numbing winter breeze. This is ambient and electronic at their most introspective, at their most intimate. This is the most exciting album 2023 offered me, and it’s sure to remain an inspiration as years quietly slip by.

 

Jovana Nagj, co-host of Terminally Online

Blonde Venus by Sam Quealy

Somehow both macabre and enchanting, seductive and rebellious, Blonde Venus makes you dance while the world burns behind you. Sam Quealy takes genres from all over the music spectrum to produce this experimental techno-pop album. Nods to drag, club nightlife and even cabaret are threaded through each song on the debut album, pushing the understanding of femininity past conventional borders. Quealy shows that femininity does not look a certain way — to be feminine is to be comfortable in your own skin. 2023 marks the birth of Blonde Venus, and the album will remain one of the most memorable I have ever listened to.

 

Ana Wagen, video editor

Common Suffering by Harms Way

While I did wait years for many 2023 albums, Harms Way made the comeback of comebacks. Common Suffering is a combination of the band’s brutal, chaotic hardcore with something more existential. Am I what sustains the machine that causes my pain? Do I give in to this curse or resist it? While pit-friendly songs like “Devour” and “Terrorizer” are easy favorites, the slower tracks — particularly “Undertow” with vocals almost entirely by King Woman — are standouts. You spend most of the album needing to take out your anger towards everything wrong in the world. Then, the opening riff of “Wanderer” hits, and you need to lay on the floor for a while. Before you know it, the floor becomes an ocean, and you don’t realize the album is over.

 

Ryan Wilbert, volunteer

Live At Bush Hall by Black Country, New Road

Losing your lead singer and creative force would, in most bands, be the end. After a greatly anticipated debut in 2021 followed by an even stronger sophomore release in 2022, Black Country, New Road found themself along a new road, or rather, a crossroads. Issac Wood, frontman of the seven piece, departed with the band and cited mental health as the cause. What would the band do? Where could they go after losing everything they’ve built?

On Live at Bush Hall, Black Country aims to respond to this question with ease. Made up of entirely new songs performed live across three unique nights with different themes — a prom night, a ghost haunted pizza establishment and a farmers’ gathering —, the creativity of the album is spread wide on an open table. Each member of the band shines, holding their own weight. Members take turns singing and fronting the operation, creating some of their most special tracks to date. Songs like “I Won’t Always Love You,” “Laughing Song” and “Dancers” are some of my favorite tracks from the band of all time. This release is a promise to longtime fans and an invitation to new. This band won’t stop traversing new roads.

 

Rachel Kozlowski, social media director

SCARING THE HOES by JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown

My end of the year music stats told me a lot of things, but the main thing they showed was my absolute obsession with SCARING THE HOES. When I found out JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown were teaming up for a collab album, it felt like my own personal Christmas. Any fan of the alternative hip hop scene knows these two are some of the most unique voices in the game, and they absolutely delivered on their promise to “scare the hoes.”

The sample-based production courtesy of JPEGMAFIA will satisfy any fan while also doing things completely new, culminating to a perfect run of straight bangers. Peggy’s sassy, trolling personality and Danny’s high-pitched quick wit complement each other perfectly. Even the song titles match their chronically online personas, such as “Lean Beef Patty” and “Jack Harlow Combo Meal.” My top songs of the year were “Kingdom Hearts Key” and “God Loves You” because with production so heavenly, I couldn’t help but keep hitting replay. This album was unforgettable and will remain a staple in my rotation for years to come. Anyone who is even remotely a fan of the alt rap scene cannot miss out.

 

Ashe Burr, volunteer

amaXesha by Bongeziwe Mabandla

Sometimes, the albums that mean the most to you just find their way into your life. How this Xhosa soul album, which explores the various forms of love, managed to work its way into my playlist, I have no idea. As this year has worn on though, tracks such as “hlala,” “sisahleleleni (i)” and “ukuthanda wena” have become ones that grip my entire psyche and keep me turning towards them at all hours of the day. The exploration of emotions that Mabandla leads you on has been one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had as an enjoyer of music, and amaXesha was well worth the three year wait. Even if you don’t speak isiXhosa, just sit back and let the gut-wrenching emotions wash over you.

 

Jeremiah Dungjen, volunteer

10,000 Gecs by 100 Gecs

Hyperpop diarchs Dylan Brady and Laura Les returned this March to claim their places in the throne room with their sophomore album 10,000 Gecs, featuring a cleaner sound, a genre-bending tracklist and a surprising amount of accessibility while still retaining their underground charm. This album, short like its predecessor, is devoid of any unnecessary filler. Each song is intentional and lovingly crafted.

Notable in this album is the use of the patented Gecs sauce over the top of a variety of genres, creating Geccified ska, rap, hardcore, club music and pop ballad tracks. For hyperpop enjoyers, all the singles from this album are true to the original Gecs formula. Brady’s production is cleaner than ever, see “One Million Dollars” and “The Most Wanted Person in The United States,” and a scaled back use of vocal effects lets Les’ emotion shine through more than we’ve seen before, see “Dumbest Girl Alive” and mememe.” With this addition to their catalog, Geccers worldwide can only wonder what’s next for the onion-eating duo.

 

Ryan McMillan, volunteer

Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd by Lana Del Rey

You can mark a clear distinction in Lana Del Rey’s work before and after the release of her landmark 2019 album Norman Fucking Rockwell!. Stripped-down production and brutally honest lyricism took precedence over the highly stylized image of Del Rey as an icon of the Americana. Her ninth studio album, Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, is an amalgamation of every Del Rey record from the past decade.

The heart-wrenching honesty of Blue Banisters on songs like “Kintsugi” meshes surprisingly well with the unadulteratedly fun, Lust for Life-esque qualities of “Peppers.” Lyrical nods to decade-old songs or repurposed samples of Norman Fucking Rockwell! cuts still sound current within the context of the album. She looks back at her past work not for the sake of nostalgia, but to showcase the perfection of her craft. Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd is Del Rey at her most self-referential, honest and exciting — it is an essential album to her catalog and easily one of the best of the year.

 

Maco Jeleniewski, news editorial assistant

IN CASE I DIE (Live) by Will Wood

Will Wood’s IN CASE I DIE (Live) has been described by music reviewers as a “musical suicide note,” as Wood announced an indefinite hiatus from performance shortly after its release in January 2023. IN CASE I DIE (Live) is an emotional and devastating reflection on Wood’s life, career and music. In July 2022, Wood released “In case I make it,” purposefully ending with a comma. Despite the fact that the album was intended to signal an end to his music, the title heavily implied a follow-up. IN CASE I DIE (Live), said follow-up, includes a variety of live performances of songs written as early as 2015 and omits Wood’s band in favor of his ukulele and piano playing.

The album begins with “Cicada Days,” a piece surrounding the acceptance of change and loss, introducing the prevalent themes Wood wishes to leave his audience with. It ends with “That’s Enough, Let’s Get You Home,” which concludes the album with recognition of the audience Wood is leaving behind, as well as a calm acquiescence to going back to life before fame. IN CASE I DIE (Live) features two unreleased songs, “Misanthropologist” and “And If I Did, You Deserved It.,” further hammering home the themes of leaving nothing unsaid. Wood’s musical choices to transpose some particularly hard-hitters such as “Euthanasia” and “Tomcat Disposables” — two songs about the unjust death of a rat, and in Wood’s words: “also a little about me” — and to keep the album acoustic touched me on a different level. Wood may be leaving us, but he does so in a cathartic final release.

 

Gabby Nelson, entertainment editorial assistant

0.1 flaws and all. by wave to earth

Sunday is my favorite day of the week. It blooms slowly like the sunrise and ends softly like it’s trying not to wake anyone up, the door barely clicking closed while it tiptoes away. No one would blame you if you spent the whole day reading in your room with a cup of tea, cozying up in a blanket with your cat, only getting up to eat and go to the bathroom. Sunday passes like a dream. Sunday is a gentle lingering kiss. Sunday is 0.1 flaws and all. by wave to earth. And like Sundays, though this album may be slow, it is never boring. Soft harmonies are backed by a full band — guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and, my favorite, saxophone. Part lo-fi, part jazz, part bedroom pop, wave to earth captures the essence of my perfect day.

 

Charlotte Materna, co-host of The Flashback

V by Unknown Mortal Orchestra

V by Unknown Mortal Orchestra encompasses everything I love about music. The style embodies the electronic jam band adjacent, and this album has stolen my heart. It was my most played album this year, and I fell back on it repeatedly. It will always be one of my favorites; it’s soft, vibe-heavy, emotionally spectacular and puts a smile on my face every time I hear a track off it in public. My favorite song on this album is “Layla;” it simply makes me feel happy and is a true earworm that I just can’t get out of my head. I was fortunate enough to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra live back in April of this year, and the songs off V really sunk into my soul.

 

A.J. Evans, sports editor

Ganger by Veeze

For loyal Detroit rap fans, Christmas came early this year. This fall, one of Michigan’s most enigmatic rappers released a full-length project that added to his already undeniable buzz. Veeze’s album Ganger quickly made headwaves through the underground rap scene, providing a cohesive and insightful glimpse into the hazy, codeine-filled world of the 29-year-old rapper.

Filled with cream soda, obscene amounts of money, melodic beats and bars loaded with crafty metaphors, Veeze flows over the majority of his LP as if he’s half-awake, with a catchy beat playing in the distance and a microphone hanging nearby. However, the rapper’s uninterested delivery is contrary to the substance of his best work yet; even when he sounds like he’s not trying, the depth of his lyrics undeniably say otherwise. As 2023 comes to a close, and my time in college creeps closer to its end, I’ll forever have this album to match the vibes of what is shaping up to be an unforgettable senior year.

 

Sam Kurtzman, operations manager

UTOPIA by Travis Scott

In a year that I admittedly found lacking in terms of hip hop releases, I am grateful for UTOPIA. With year after year of build up, I was afraid that the album was destined to crumble under the weight of its own hype, so I was more than pleased to discover that UTOPIA delivered. Not only did it deliver, but it also diverged from the beaten path to create a unique industrial-trap maximalist soundscape.

In an era where some would argue that mainstream hip hop has stagnated, Travis Scott could have easily treaded familiar ground for a safe path to widespread appeal among the “frat bro” following he has gained since the release of ASTROWORLD. Instead, he has crafted a varied yet cohesive array of songs that come together to form his vision of UTOPIA. No two tracks sound alike, but they all feel that they belong together in this adventurous collection of industrial beats, beautiful gospel-like interludes and perfectly utilized features from many distinct corners of rap and beyond. UTOPIA is a triumph, and like its namesake, an ideal for artists to strive towards.

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