Cole Kincart’s Best Albums of 2023


In an age of never-ending lists and music stats, I find myself willingly subjected to and as a self-imposed user of the relentless onslaught of tier lists and the vicious ecosystem of incandescent rankings. Every year since my early high-school days in 2017, I’ve maintained a ritual: crafting a January playlist that serves as a sonic scrapbook, featuring one song from each album I’ve encountered throughout the year. Attempting to rank them, I managed to nail down the top 50 or so. While at times all of this feels like a seemingly chore-like task, it has allowed me to stay current and on top of today’s freshest and finest music.

Over the years, I’ve learned this routine is more than just about lists and rankings; it’s a reflective exercise that allows me to sift through a year’s worth of music. What started as an innocent form cataloging to appease my tier-list dominant brain has become a valuable tool for discerning what withstands the test of time and ultimately, what resonates with me. While I’ve been somewhat reserved in sharing this annual musical archive, I’ve come to see this post as a fitting backdrop for a purposeful exercise—a canvas on which I can articulate why these albums hold a special place in my heart and have shaped the sonic landscape of my year.

However, before we delve into this curated selection, a disclaimer is in order: albums featuring live recordings, sadly, cannot secure a spot on this coveted list. Although they were taken into consideration during the selection and curation process, due to self-inflicted ethical complications, I must regretfully omit these contributions from my list—apologies to MJ Lenderman and Black Country, New Road.

All said, here they stand, albums that have continued to scratch the inner workings of my brain throughout the year.


Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?
Kara Jackson

Kara Jackson, the talented singer-songwriter from Oak Park (shoutout to Chicago!), captured the title of National Youth Poet Laureate in 2019, a clear indicator that lyrically, her work could be captivating. However, her poetic contemporary folk debut, titled Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?, reveals a depth of expression and intricate experimentation that goes beyond expectations.
An album-length meditation on love and loss, Kara delves into the existential struggle of grasping a reflexive nature without succumbing to being pulled under or corrupted. Thematically, it draws parallels with SZA’s seminal 2017 record, “Ctrl.,” offering a more meditative and poignant approach to modern-day existentialism.
“I think in general, the whole album is giving me compassion for my younger self,” notes Jackson in an interview with The Line of Best Fit. It serves as a testament to the grief she experienced in her youth and the transformative process of growing up and gaining a different perspective to navigate life.  


Erotic Problems 2
Nourished by Time

Erotic Problems 2 by Nourished by Time was an album that heavily accompanied my summer months, particularly during bike rides through Chicago. It’s a deeply cohesive piece, brimming with subversive dance and alternative pop. In a musical landscape where bedroom pop, especially bedroom R&B, has somewhat become played out, the debut album from Marcus Brown breathes fresh life into the genre. Erotic Problems 2 feels authentic and brims with intense fervor.

With a runtime of just 34 minutes and abundant freestyle lyrics, it evokes a sense of nostalgia, reminiscent of early Blood Orange or Solange tracks. Vibe-wise, I can’t help but imagine myself at a roller rink in the 80s. It’s a captivating journey rooted in warm authenticity and a perfect addition to the soundtrack of my summer 2023.



I have an unwavering love for Sampha. Since his debut in January 2016, I’ve eagerly awaited his latest installment, learning the virtue of patience and appreciating that great work takes time. When Lahai, his latest offering, arrived, it wasn’t necessarily the record I had been expecting, but it delivered nonetheless, offering fans one of the strongest R&B records of the year. Unhurried and deliberate, this album is proof that sometimes the most profound creations take time to unfold.
In the words of Grace Wales Bonner during an interview with Sampha for I-D, Lahai is, in some ways, an ode to his grandfather and past generations no longer physically with us. When asked about what he hopes the record will reveal for future generations of his family, including his daughter, Sampha beautifully expresses his desire for the album to convey the idea that self-discovery or exploration is valid. He hopes his daughter will take away the understanding that being oneself or exploring oneself is an essential and permissible act, even if it means not being perfect or feeling like an amateur at times. Something I think we can all learn from.


Desire, I Want to Turn Into You
Caroline Polacheck

Caroline Polachek isn’t new to the musical scene, yet it still feels like she is just getting started. With a rich musical history as part of the Brooklyn electro-pop duo Chairlift and later exploring her solo career under the name Arcadia, she has now graced us with her second album under her name entitled Desire, I Want to Turn Into You.
Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is a sonic marvel, showcasing Polachek’s remarkable vocal acrobatics paired with left-field synth chords. The album delves into the complex and transformative nature of desire, exploring its volatility, intensity, and the endless yearning it generates. Each track contributes to a rich tapestry of emotions, creating a deeply personal narrative. Polachek, a pop auteur and emotional philosopher, masterfully captures the essence of falling in love, standing as an album that demands to be savored, filled with sensuality and introspection.


Fountain Baby

Fountain Baby by Amaarae was the album that subtly found its way into my rotation. This summer, I had an absolute blast listening to it on repeat. Packed with infectious beats, catchy choruses, and incredible instrumentals, this album was the soundtrack to my summer. Amaarae’s confident and bold approach to “Counterfeit”, coupled with an infamous flip of Clipse’s “Wamp Wamp (What It Do)” (complete with Pharrell’s iconic 4-count at the beginning), sealed the deal for me. If I’m allowed to make this comparison, in many ways, I found a lot of parallels with Rosalia’s Motomami, another pop album that was high on my list in 2022 that I enjoyed for similar reasons—hot, confident, and infectious.


Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
Yves Tumor

I occasionally harbor concerns about the state of rock music, fearing that its vulnerability in the contemporary landscape of pop music may erode the larger essence of what it truly means to be a rock star. However, after this album was released, and shortly after I saw Yves Tumor live this spring, my anxieties were put to rest for another year.
Having witnessed Yves Tumor live this past spring, the album’s coolness took on a new dimension. Post-punk passages manifested predominantly in the bold guitar riffs and rhythms, creating a sonic landscape that defied conventions. The sounds presented in the album were not just cool; they were bold, ambitious, and imaginative. Legendary engineer Alan Moulder’s finishing touches, as noted by Pitchfork, transformed the album into a ‘mysterious nexus where Loveless meets Purple Rain.’


Rat Saw God

If you’re chronically online like me, you might recall a meme depicting two paths—one a “yellow brick road” leading to a glistening castle under the banner “country music: I am going to live and die in this town,” and the other, a spooky road to a haunted mansion with “punk: I am going to live and die in this town.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate both sides and quite frankly, Rat Saw God by Wednesday draws a perfect contrast between them.

Wednesday’s Rat Saw God is a powerhouse of catharsis-filled rock, featuring standout tracks like ‘Bull Believer’ and ‘Turker Vulture’ that deliver some of the most intense and memorable performances of the year. Lead singer Karly Hartzman captures the essence of growing up in the overlooked parts of North Carolina with lyrically rich performances of “Quarry” and “Formula-One,” which serve as compelling tours through gritty rose-tinted glasses. Notably, ‘Chosen to Deserve’ stands as one of my favorite singles of the year, revealing candid details about her messy, adolescent years and giving a genuine, unadulterated look into her early years.


Ryan Beatty

Admittedly, my obsession with Ryan Beatty can be traced back to Brockhampton, proving that their influence still precedes my music taste in 2023. Nevertheless, Ryan Beatty’s Calico stands as a feat in its own right. Another brilliant project from Beatty, this album is undeniably his rawest work, and for good reason.
At its core, Calico embodies the essence of unanswerable questions intertwined with graceful acceptance, something I found myself deeply connecting with during the late-summer months. Beatty’s words and melodies are unrestrained, accentuated by smooth progressions and silky soundscapes. This album marks a transformative step for the visionary singer-songwriter, presenting an intimate and admirable embrace of his artistry.



Feist’s Multitudes stands as my most listened-to album of 2023, and yes, there’s some bias, but let me explain. A culmination of Feist’s most intimate and ambitious offerings, “Multitudes” is the abstract symphony I’ve always yearned for—a labyrinth of a singer-songwriter’s work, filled with highly-complex production, mirroring the intricate emotions. While I still enjoy her earlier work, this album, with its deep tenderness and experimental nature, reflects sorrow, growth, compassion, and loneliness. Despite critiques of its airy sound, the abstraction allows for open interpretation, mirroring Feist’s journey of figuring it out. The emotional depth is heightened by life-altering events—her daughter’s birth and her father’s death—capturing a profound album experience born from tender lullabies, reworked throughout COVID to create a deeply mesmerizing collection of songs.


Heavy Heavy
Young Fathers

Heavy Heavy by Young Fathers has secured its place as my favorite album of the year, claiming the coveted #1 spot for compelling reasons. At its core is the intrinsic beat of the drum, a fundamental element that resonates deeply within the human experience.

In J Dilla’s biography, Dilla Time, I found parallels in Heavy Heavy exploring the drum’s pivotal role in the human experience. Like J Dilla reinventing meaning, the album captures the essence of letting the human experience bleed through the rhythm.

Lyrically, the album is filled with unwavering commands and imperative statements, all centered around endurance. Statements like “You either sink or swim or do nothing” in “Sink or Swim” and “I gotta survive and provide” in “Geronimo” resonate strongly, with the latter becoming my favorite track. The poignant lyrics of “Geronimo” encapsulate a sense of divine anticipation, declaring, “I’m on the verge of something divine, that’s gotta keep me in line./ Most of my life I’ve been thinking, got the feeling that I’m caught in a bind.” 

The album as a whole is filled with spiritually-dense vocal performances and rhythms triggering a near-primal response, akin to fight-or-flight. As a busy engineering student navigating the uninteresting, monotonous challenges of attending a tech school, Heavy Heavy became a lifeline, shattering the perception of what seemed like a bleak 2023. Filled with spiritual, tribal, and triumphant sounds, Heavy Heavy is my album of the year, offering a transformative experience that feels both evolutionary and anthemic.


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