2023 Music – Year In Review: Best Album & Best Artists

Kevin Taft's choices for the music that inspired and moved him (either emotionally or physically) during 2023.

For me, music has to hit me in the gut. Whether it’s the lyrics or just a good pop groove, I have to feel something inside, be it sorrow, inspiration, joy, despair, or longing. I need to connect. To feel. To rise.

While favorite music and musical artists are subjective, for sure, I really enjoy discovering new talent and sharing them with everyone I know. I love seeing new artists succeed, and I get inspired seeing how established artists keep rising.

So here are my choices for the music that inspired me and moved me (either emotionally or physically) during 2023.

BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR

DREAMBOY – MORGAN CLAE

A film director and music producer, Moran Clae also boasts one of the most pure and powerful voices I’ve heard in a long time. I stumbled upon one of her Tik-Tok videos where she sang a cover of some song I don’t remember but was stunned by her vocals. I immediately went to Apple Music and found a number of singles she has released over the past few years, but also her debut album “Dreamboy.” I immediately put in my ear pods and sat back to listen. What a journey I was about to take.

“Dreamboy” is a concept album that is best to listen to from start to finish in one sitting. Clae tells the story of a woman hoping to find her perfect partner, one she’s seen in books and movies and may not think exists. But she has hope. And soon enough, she meets him.

She then takes us on her yearning for love, finding that person, loving the relationship and the man, and ultimately realizing this person was not the “dreamboy” she was presented with. Or thought she was presented. When the truth becomes clear, so does the anger, the pain, the acceptance, and finally, the moving on.

Clae has described her music as cinematic pop, which perfectly describes the emotional weight and resonance of her music. From moments of quiet reflection to full-on choral crescendos, Clae’s emotions are on full earnest display – which is precisely how going through the stages of a relationship is. They are bigger than life. Epic. Profound.

Clae names her tracks after the stages of the relationship’s journey she takes us on. From “The Hope” of finding someone to “The Fall,” where she meets “the one,” to “The Ride,” they go on together, and finally to “The Break” and what comes after.

Throughout, Clae’s vocals are powerful yet crystalline. Her lyrics are relatable and true. She has a Taylor Swift vibe to her words and the feel of “The XX” to her beats. There’s also a modern spin on early Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Toward Ecstasy” album, which has this fascinating layered production surrounding intimately complex and reflective lyrics. When the character she sings about realizes the truth of her relationship, she says, “Running through my day now, I’m biding my time; I don’t know what’s real or what’s stuck in my mind. I’m second-guessing your every word, it’s hard for me to think you were one of a kind.”

It’s hard for me to truly describe what a stunner this album is. The voyage Clae takes us on is incredible in its diversity of styles and, ultimately, the power in its finale.

It truly is a masterpiece.

Runners Up:

  • Atta – Sigur Ros
  • V- LVCRFT
  • Angel Face – Stephen Sanchez
  • Dead Club City – Nothing But Thieves
  • Rush (Are You Comin?) –  Maneskin
  • God (EP) – Jake Daniels

 

BEST ARTISTS OF THE YEAR

Aside from Morgan Clae, I discovered three other artists I love this year that are absolutely worth checking out.

JAKE DANIELS

His tracks are catchy, dark, intriguing, and full of emotional heft and life. While he doesn’t have a full album, he has an EP entitled “God” and dozens of singles. The weird thing? There’s not a clunker in the bunch! There are so many great, masterfully produced tracks with a booming beating heart, only to be matched by Daniel’s pure vocals and twisty lyrics. This guy is one to watch!

Check out: “The Show,” “God,” and my personal fave, “Stalker.”

EMLYN

Another artist with catchy single after catchy single, this pop-rock goddess doesn’t pull any punches in her lyrics. While hitting back at old flames or damning the patriarchy, Emlyn belts her feelings in ways that make you want to strut down the street, flipping everyone off that’s done you wrong but, you know, in a fun way!

Check out: “B.O.M.B.,” “Plan Z,” and “Badder.”

Photo by Sarvey Rector

NIGHT TALKS

This alternative rock trio, led by singer Soraya Sebghati, Jacob Butler, and Josh Arteaga, totally reminds me of the cool bands from the 80s and 90s with a playfully dark edge. They have a shimmery throw-back sound that is at once retro as well as modern in its sensibilities. It’s like a record you’d throw on at a party in your basement back in the day, drinking alcohol from the package store and vibing out to their groovy sounds.

Check out: “Roll On,” “Nights,” and “Running On a Cloud.”

Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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