2023 Staff Picks - Music

D-Day Cover
Agust D

Agust D is the rap alias of K-pop superstar and founding member of BTS, Suga. Agust D delivers angst and aggression on his third major release, breaking from the polished image of BTS in favor of brutally honest introspection and personal emotions. Focusing on themes of liberation and building inner strength in the face of outside pressure and challenges, the rapper’s talents are on full display here. 

The Ballad of Darren Cover

The Ballad of Darren is English pop group Blur’s first album since 2015’s The Magic Whip. Unlike that album, The Ballad of Darren was recorded as a full group in the studio, shaping and coloring compositions that lead singer Damon Albarn had written while on tour with Gorillaz. The result is a mature and nuanced album that cherishes the severed connections and vanished spaces that were once taken for granted but now seem precious. Featuring the single “The Narcissist.”

Keeping Secrets Will Destroy You Cover
Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Keeping Secrets Will Destroy You is slow moving, intentional, and mysterious, with singer/songwriter Will Oldham's long-practiced balance of menace and thoughtfulness at its peak.

The Record Cover

Indie supergroup boygenius consists of singer/songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. The trio first united in 2018 to bash out an EP over the course of four days. Their full-length debut, the record, is a more deliberate effort that finds these three idiosyncratic songwriters consciously decide to subsume their quirks within a group voice, embracing the pleasures of a united front, creating a hefty, hooky album in the process. 

Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. Cover
Del Rey, Lana

Lana Del Rey’s ninth album Did You Know That There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. finds Del Rey returning to the powerful level of song sculpting she reached on NFR!, and feels like a strong step forward as much as it does a worthy follow-up to her best record. Highlights include, the seven-minute "A&W," one of Del Rey's more daring and immediately mesmerizing songs, starting out as a slow-motion lament but changing lanes dramatically with a severe beat switch. Minimal electronics build tension until the song suddenly explodes into a blur of cheerleader-chant hooks and overpowering bass. It's a career-best track that owes its excellence to Del Rey's willingness to take it somewhere wildly unexpected. 

Glorious Game Cover
El Michels Affair & Black Thought

Glorious Game is a collaborative studio album by American cinematic soul group El Michels Affair and American emcee Black Thought of the Roots. It features the singles, “Grateful," "That Girl," "Glorious Game," and "I'm Still Somehow." Black Thought has stated that his goal for the album was to have every song tell a story from or about his life. The title is a term for "information passed down from... an elder statesman with a cautionary tale here and there."

Appaloosa Bones Cover
Isakov, Gregory Alan

On the Colorado-based singer’s new album, Gregory Alan Isakov wanted to pare it back. Arrangement-wise, the impulse to keep things simple was a pendulum swing away from his Grammy-nominated 2018 album, Evening Machines. Recorded in his barn studio on his property outside of Boulder,  the resulting album is intimate and hushed, but maybe not as spare as what Isakov initially had in mind. The eleven songs on the album are full of lush vocal harmonies and layers of instrumental textures that blend guitar, banjo, piano, and keyboards.

Leather Cover
Johnson, Cody

Known for his explosive live shows and electrifying stage presence, country recording artist Cody Johnson has established a following of passionately loyal fans. Leather is his third major label studio album that includes his newest single, “The Painter.” About the song Cody said, “I think it's the first song I've ever recorded where I sing it in my talking voice. I intentionally tried to stay out of the way of the song, so the listener could paint their own image, and have their own interpretation of it.” The New York Times said that “The Painter” comes from “one of mainstream country’s sturdiest performers…extends his streak of music that’s deeply earnest, unflashily produced, and a blend of emotionally stoic and trembling.”

Gag Order Cover

Gag Order, so named because of Kesha’s feelings of being restricted in her speech due to her ongoing litigation with her former producer, Dr. Luke. Those lawsuits prevented her from speaking directly about the events at the root of her personal trauma, so she winds up writing around the problem on the album, focusing on the emotional aftermath instead of the instigating events. Her inner turmoil is conveyed through washes of electronics, contorted Auto-Tunes, spectral samples, and a keening performance from Kesha, whose passion cuts against the dour atmosphere. Check out the track, “Hate Me Harder,” which shows Kesha confronting all of the criticism she’s encountered throughout her career, processing it with grace and compassion.

Unforgiven Cover
Le Sserafim

After scoring a handful of chart-toppers with the EPs Fearless and Antifragile, South Korean girl group Le Sserafim repackaged some previously released tracks with new songs for their first proper studio album, Unforgiven. Showcasing their bass-heavy, groove-forward dance anthems, the set features their 2022 hit singles, "Fearless" and "Antifragile," as well as the chart-topping "Unforgiven" with guitarist Nile Rodgers, who brings his signature funk to the elastic jam. Check out the track, “Eve, Psyche, & the Bluebeard’s Wife” which is a really fun introduction to the world of Le Sserafim.

No Thank You Cover
Little Simz

No Thank You is the fifth studio album by British rapper Little Simz. It’s a hip-hop album containing elements of gospel, soul, funk, and electronic music. The songs on No Thank You contain subtle rhythms with orchestral instrumentation, featuring Simz rapping about her music industry experiences, intrapersonal communication, and spiritual revelations. Simz worked with longtime collaborators Inflo (for production) and Cleo Sol (for background vocals) to create this project.

The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We Cover

Sometimes, Mitski feels like life would be easier without hope, or a soul, or love. But when she closes her eyes and thinks about what's truly hers, what can't be repossessed or demolished, she sees love. She hopes her album, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, will continue to shine that love long after she's gone. Listening to it, that's precisely how it feels: like a love that's haunting the land. "This is my most American album," Mitski says about her seventh record, and the music feels like a profound act of witnessing this country, in all of its private sorrows and painful contradictions. On this album, which is sonically Mitski's most expansive, epic, and wise, the songs seem to be introducing wounds and then actively healing them. 

The Age of Pleasure Cover
Monáe, Janelle

The Age of Pleasure is the fourth studio album by American musician Janelle Monáe. It includes the singles "Float" and "Lipstick Lover." The Age of Pleasure is her first studio album in over five years since her acclaimed 2018 album, Dirty Computer. The Age of Pleasure was nominated for Album of the Year and Best Progressive R&B Album at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards. As the title suggests, this album is Monáe indulging herself and sharing her joy.

This Is Why Cover

After six years, Paramore is back with a brand new album featuring the antagonistically funky title track, “This Is Why.” During the group's hiatus, lead singer Hayley Williams recorded two solo albums that found her embracing a more experimental style, it's a balancing act she and Paramore continue to perfect here, albeit with a much tougher, rock-oriented approach.

Formal Growth in the Desert Cover

Since their 2012 debut, Protomartyr have mastered the art of evoking place: the grinding Midwest humility of their hometown, as well as the x-rayed elucidation of America that comes with their vantage. The group's sixth album was recorded at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX with producer Jake Aron. "The desert is more of a metaphor or symbol," singer Joe Casey says, "of emotional deserts, or a place or time that seems to lack life." The "growth" came from a period of colossal transition for Casey, including the death of his mother. But life does go on, and Casey describes the great theme of Formal Growth In The Desert as an embrace and acknowledgment of that fact: a 12-song testament to "getting on with life," even when it feels impossibly hard.

Evergreen Cover

On their fourth full-length album, Evergreen, PVRIS mastermind, Lyndsey Gunnulfsen pushes the possibilities (and expectations) of her project's sound to new limits, breaking boundaries and incorporating other styles into her own thrilling alt-rock hybrid. An ineffably angst-packed energy surges through the front half of this set, from the gnashing opening standout, "I Don't Wanna Do This Anymore," which rides pulsating electronic backing and traditional riff-and-drum power, amid Gunnulfsen's frustrated cries of, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” a relatable sentiment for many. 

Black Rainbows Cover
Rae, Corinne Bailey

Bailey Rae's latest is a musical project inspired by the objects and artworks collected by Theaster Gates at the Stoney Island Arts Bank in Chicago. She attended The Black Artists Retreat there in 2017 and performed in the space. The wide ranging themes takes listeners from the rock hewn churches of Ethopia, to the journey of Black Pioneers Westward, from Miss New York Transit Queen 1957, to how the sunset appears from Harriet Jacobs' loophole.

GUTS Cover
Rodrigo, Olivia

Three-time Grammy award winning recording artist Olivia Rodrigo’s new album, GUTS was recorded with producer Daniel Nigro, who also collaborated with her on SOUR, her chart-topping, four-times platinum debut. Rodrigo says, "for me, this album is about growing pains and about trying to figure out who I am at this point in my life and exactly what I want to say in my songs." Check out the track, “bad idea right?” which exemplifies her creativity and exploration of different musical styles and techniques in a fun, humorous way. 

Carolyn's Boy Cover
Rucker, Darius.

Darius Rucker's sixth country studio album features fourteen songs including the number one hit "Beers and Sunshine" and his latest single "Fire Don't Start Themselves." The album title is named after his mother. Rucker embarked on a successful solo career, applying his versatile baritone to acclaimed R&B and country efforts like the platinum-selling Learn to Live (2008) and True Believers (2013).

Seven Psalms Cover
Simon, Paul

Although Seven Psalms contains seven distinct songs, Paul Simon chose to release them as one, interconnected set, not indexing the individual tracks on either the CD or digital incarnations, creating the impression of a single entity. Much of the piece is a duet between deft fingerpicking and voice, usually Simon's, with some accompaniment from British choir VOCES8 and from Simon’s wife, Edie Brickell. At first, the record can seem like a tone poem, a meditation of mortality and spirituality, yet each subsequent listen reveals a moment of grace or insight that helps pull the entirety of the project into relief.

everything is alive Cover

Long-running English shoegaze band Slowdive employs atmospheric vocal harmonies, rippling processed guitars, and an ambient production sensibility to their music. On everything is alive, many of the songs are underpinned by burbling sequencers and colored in by synths that fit in nicely with the typically Impressionistic wall of guitars. These songs balance cold electronic tones with warm billows of guitar and place the subdued, deeply felt vocals at the center of a quiet storm. Equally experimental and accessible, brimming over with aquatic atmosphere and pointed emotional feeling, and full of familiar joys and new surprises, everything is alive is the work of a group who are done reforming and have set their sights on brilliant evolution instead. 

Javelin Cover
Stevens, Sufjan

Sufjan Stevens', Javelin, is that rarity, a collection of songs about love that feels like something you haven't heard before, both in its depth and complexity, and in the way it explores love in both its human and divine forms. His mix of folkie melodies and serialist structures speak about the need for love that's as necessary to our existence as food and water, aided by beautifully arranged and executed harmonies.  Stevens played all the instruments himself on these ten songs (except for some additional guitar by Bryce Dessner of the National on one track). The album concludes with a cover of Neil Young’s "There's a World," which he makes his own.

1989 : Taylor's Version Cover
Swift, Taylor

Taylor Swift’s powerhouse album, 1989 was originally released in October of 2014, named after Swift's birth year as well as the era of synth pop radio hits that provided partial inspiration for the dancy, hyper-produced material. 1989: Taylor's Version continues Swift's series of re-recording her albums for purposes related to licensing rights, and more than any of the revised versions that preceded it, illuminates the moment when she became a timeless songwriter and stepped into the pop culture continuum. The re-recorded versions sound fresh and vital, perhaps even more powerful in light of Swift's often-shifting artistic progress since. Nine years later it stands the test of time and the five previously unreleased vault tracks are a great addition.

Barbie : The Album Cover
Various Artists

As over-the-top and stuffed with star power as its namesake film, Barbie: The Album is a pop extravaganza that matches the 2023 global cinema phenomenon. Produced and curated by Mark Ronson, featuring the talents of Dua Lipa (starring as Mermaid Barbie in the movie), Charli XCX, Ava Max, Sam Smith, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Karol G, Tame Impala, HAIM, PinkPantheress, and more. Barbie star Ryan Gosling also joins this robust roster of artists with his iconic song, “I’m Just Ken,” performed in character. 

Rat Saw God Cover

Shoegaze guitars meet personal meditations on Southern life, from North Carolina band Wednesday. Fronted by songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Karly Hartzman, the group's songs manage to be deeply personal while touching on doubts and anxieties that are universally recognizable. On Rat Saw God, Hartzman imagines stories and characters from the margins of America. Her observational writing makes dreamlike images out of stark realism, amid guitar-laden indie rock that dynamically balances melody and noise.

With a Hammer Cover

With a Hammer, Yaeji’s first proper album, is at once a protest record, a self-therapy session, and a work of nostalgic fantasy. Composed during the early 2020s, Hammer channels anger over the unjust state of the world, featuring lyrics sung in both English and Korean, her music reflects her time spent in both America and South Korea, and embraces her formative influences from anime to Korean alternative rock.

This Stupid World Cover
Yo La Tengo

This Stupid World is the first studio album in five years from indie rock giants, Yo La Tengo. Recorded at their practice space in Hoboken, New Jersey, the new material captures the collaborative energy and eclecticism that has defined the band's career as it enters its 40th year.

Heavy Heavy Cover
Young Fathers

Edinburgh trio Young Fathers’ highly anticipated sixth studio album, Heavy Heavy merges incendiary and thought provoking lyrics with unashamedly soulful and heartfelt music, where the drums set the scene throughout to transport the listener to a place of celebration and awakening. Young Fathers continue to hone their rich hybrid sound of gospel, soul, folk, dub, and hip-hop, with punk energy.

Summaries provided by DPL's catalog unless otherwise noted. Click on each title to view more information.