The 10 best indie albums of 2023

Best Indie 2023
(Image credit: Various)

2023 was yet another fine year in the incredibly eclectic world of indie rock. It featured huge comebacks, long awaited material from supergroups, new artists breaking into the mainstream and a vibrant underground scene that saw the parameters of genre pushed into a myriad of exciting new territories.

Here are the 10 best albums of a landmark year.

Louder line break

10. The Murder Capital – Gigi's Recovery

Irish post-punks The Murder Captial’s second album saw them pull away from their promisingly noisy 2019 debut When I Have Fears and lean in far further toward melody, a greater sense of dynamism and some undeniable pop hooks. The dubby bass, screaming guitars and vocalist James McGovern’s impassioned snarl were all still present, but Gigi’s Recovery sounded bigger, broader and more ambitious than previous efforts.

9. Bar Italia – Tracey Denim

The London trio are remarkably prolific, this being the third of four albums they’ve released since September 2020. Tracey Denim is the finest moment of their career thus far, an effortlessly cool mixture of the proto-alt-rock of Sonic Youth’s quieter moments and the skittering beats of Portishead and Massive Attack’s classic Bristolian trip-hop. The fact that a song like Nurse can fit so much into a mere less than four minutes is proof of their quality.

8. Velvet Negroni – Bulli

The second album from Jeremy Nutzman’s Velvet Negroni alter-ego took his wondrously unusual mix of lo-fi indie rock, modern rap, pure pop and classic R&B and delivered something genuinely unique sounding. Thanks to his Evangelist Christian upbringing, Nutzman wasn’t exposed to pop music as a child, but was a classically trained pianist, and that utterly singular set of influences make Bulli an indie album unlike any other on this list.

7. Blur – The Ballad of Darren

Blur’s first comeback album, 2015’s The Magic Whip, was a huge letdown for longtime fans of the band, so, you couldn’t help but approach The Ballad of Darren with a touch of caution. As soon as the gorgeous first single The Narcissist was released, however, hopes were raised that we might get an album worthy of the Blur name. And did we ever. The Ballad of Darren is a more weathered, measured and melancholic Blur than the BritPop years, but just as exquisite and moving as they were during their peak.

6. Boygenius – The Record

Since their inception as an indie-rock supergroup in 2018, fans of cult favourites Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus were gasping to hear a full-length album from Boygenius. It finally arrived with The Record, and was well worth the wait. Featuring some of the sweetest, most spectacular harmonies you’ll ever wish to hear, rough, lo-fi guitar riffs and brilliantly cacophonous rhythms, The Record’s balance of honey-coated lushness, underground grit and superb songwriting is a real aural treat. 

5. Yves Tumour – Praise a Lord Which Chews but Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)

If you want proof of the wildly vast and daring direction indie music has taken over the last few years check out this fifth album from Yves Tumor aka Sean Lee Bowie. The Floridan artist is a sonic magpie, and on their fifth album they cherry-pick the very best elements of classic Bowie glam, Tyler the Creator’s dreamy alt-hop, the broken beats of Nine Inch Nails and The Strokes' scratchy, noisy guitars. A relentlessly unpredictable trip.

4. The National – The First Two Pages of Frankenstein

Born from a period of creative struggle and writers block, The National initially gave up on their efforts to make a new record, before regrouping and focusing on writing in a whole new way, ending up with enough material to fill two excellent albums. The first of those was the sublime The First Two Pages of Frankenstein, an album that mines all the melancholic beauty The National are known for, but with an added synthy buzz that made songs such as Tropic Morning News both heartbreaking and danceable.

3. Nation of Language – Strange Disciple

The third album by the indie-synth New Yorkers was an perfect love letter to both the effortlessly cool post-punk of their own city, with wiry Television and Talking Heads guitar lines, and the golden age of early 80’s synth. The Kraftwerk-esque locomotive rhythms and icy keyboard stabs of prime Human League and early Depeche Mode on tracks like Stumbling Still and Sole Obsession were some of the year's most inescapable earworms.

2. Paramore – This is Why

A pop-punk band... on an indie list? Absolutely, for after roughly a decade of flirting with new wave, post-punk and synth pop, Hayley Williams and co. finally graduated away from their teenybopper roots and delivered an album of classy, mature, self-reflective indie rock. Crucially, even though the songs were more complex, they never lost that knack for writing endless hooks, resulting in the finest album of their career.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin

Sufjan Stevens's Javelin is arguably the most impressive-sounding album of 2023. The Detroit multi-instrumentalist's tenth album explores themes of heartache, love, pain, intoxication and more, and is built around lightly plucked strings, sweeping orchestration and a choral-like contribution from Hannah Cohen, Megan Lui, Adrienne Marie Brown, Nedelle Torrisi and Stevens himself. Javelin is so delicate and fragile that you fear it may evaporate at any minute. It doesn’t, instead songs such as the tear-jerking Will Anybody Ever Love Me and the nearly nine-minute long, breathless, swaying, swooping Shit Talk just leave you frozen and enraptured by their staggering grace and splendour. 

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.