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the best of 2023

Great albums serve as statements about a time and place while beckoning toward the future. Whether atop the charts or bubbling beneath them, they innovate upon the forms of the past and expand their genres’ potential. Across pop, hip-hop, R&B, electronic, rock, postclassical and metal, here are 10 of the best albums from 2023 that do it right.

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Charlotte Cardin, 99 Nights.Handout

Charlotte Cardin, 99 Nights (Cult Nation/Atlantic): The Montrealer’s sophomore album is subdued and confessional. It’s catchy in its sparseness, and a testament to self-expression in spite of any commercial pressures that could have emerged after her 2022 Juno Award sweep. Cardin even found inspiration in perhaps the unlikeliest of places – well, not that unlikely, given the Weeknd’s similar appreciation last year – in the comedian Jim Carrey’s expoundings on ego death.

Jeremy Dutcher, Motewolonuwok (Secret City): After expanding the boundaries of sampling with the award-winning debut Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa – which built postclassical arrangements around archival wax-cylinder recordings of Dutcher’s ancestral music from the Wolastoqey Nation – the classically trained tenor’s own range expands on Motewolonuwok. With flickers of jazz and pop and the occasional full orchestra, the composer sings in both Wolastoqey and English, inviting listeners to “take my hand / walk with me.”

Feist, Multitudes (Polydor): The (usually) Toronto singer-songwriter was one of the first musicians to bring new, exciting performances to the public after lockdowns began lifting in 2021, launching Multitudes as a piece of multimedia performance art to residencies on multiple continents. After honing it on the road, she finally released a recording this year to great acclaim. It’s intimate and loud, fragile and strong, and above all, moving.

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Debby Friday, Good Luck.Handout

Debby Friday, Good Luck (Sub Pop/Arts & Crafts): The charming pop single So Hard to Tell belies the substance of Debby Friday’s Sub Pop debut, which flits between club, industrial and hip-hop. It sounds like a trip through a throbbing club that offers something for everyone, and showcases Toronto-based Friday’s growth as both a person and artist. No wonder it won this year’s Polaris Music Prize.

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Fred Again.. and Brian Eno:, Secret Life.Handout

Fred again.. and Brian Eno, Secret Life (Text Records): It’s been 50 years since Brian Eno helped push ambient experimentation into the mainstream with (No Pussyfooting), the landmark collaboration with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. Now boomer-rock’s most interesting sound sculptor has teamed up with his millennial mentee for one of the most gorgeous albums of 2023. Eno takes the second credit here, shepherding the producer Fred again..’s club-music mindset into something sparser and lusher, demanding repeat listens.

Home Front, Games of Power (La Vida Es Un Mus Discos): Edmonton’s Home Front manages to bridge the worlds of punk and gothy synth-pop with a frantic urgency. Led by members of Wednesday Night Heroes and the (unfortunately) long-dormant Shout Out Out Out Out, Home Front have come out of the gates strong with their debut, produced by musician Jonah Falco. For all its propulsion, even the slower moments on Games of Power show the band at its most powerful, as evidenced by tracks such as Overtime and Face Value.

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Kaytranada and Aminé, Kaytraminé.Handout

Kaytranada and Aminé, Kaytraminé (Venice Music): The pairing of Montreal producer Kaytranada and Portland rapper Aminé is a match made in chilled-out heaven. Kaytra’s beats are languid, yet precise and energetic, and Aminé's bars suit whatever mood he’s in in a given song. Much hay has been made about the Pharrell guest spot, but features from Freddie Gibbs and Big Sean steal the show. Shame it isn’t the summer any more; this record is a ray of sunshine.

Caroline Polachek, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You (Perpetual Novice/The Orchard/Sony): Caroline Polachek is riding two of pop’s most captivating lanes, taking the heart-on-sleeve hooks that people turn to Taylor Swift for and dragging them into the hyperpop world that’s turned 100 gecs into a hipster household name. You could call it art-pop, but it’s really one of the most interesting pop albums, broadly, in years: captivating, catchy and forward-thinking. Credit to Polachek’s reputation for managing to bring in both Grimes and Dido for guest spots ... on the same song.

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SZA, SOS.Handout

SZA, SOS: (Top Dawg/RCA): Sure, this was released last December, but 2023 has allowed SZA’s SOS to age like a fine wine. Her debut Ctrl was already one of the best albums of past decade, but her songwriting and relatability have jumped up several notches on SOS, transitioning genres with fantastic ease, managing to blend pop, R&B, rap and even, on F2F, pop punk. SZA is a generational talent we’ll be talking about for generations.

Tomb Mold, The Enduring Spirit (20 Buck Spin): One of the most talked-about death-metal bands in the world right now is from Toronto. The trio is fronted by drummer Max Klebanoff, who manages to kick out blast beats while singing – a move so Don Henley-esque that it’s shame there’s already a band called Eagles of Death Metal. Tomb Mold’s musicianship is profound, and on The Enduring Spirit throwing elements of prog and even jazz fusion into its growling mix. Listen, we know the average Globe reader probably isn’t a death-metal fan. But it’s impossible to deny Tomb Mold’s innovative virtuosity.

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