Best albums of 2023: Olivia Rodrigo, Peso Pluma make list

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ten of the top albums of the year, as chosen by Associated Press Music Writer Maria Sherman.

It was a blockbuster year across genres, but only a few could make AP’s list. (SZA’s “SOS” released in December 2022, Ice Spice’s “Like…?” isn’t a full-length release, and the 11 Grammy nominations for “Barbie the Album” is recognition enough.)

Instead of embracing the antiquated practice of ranking very different albums against one another, we’re celebrating the best next to the best. Enjoy.

“Génesis,” Peso Pluma

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This cover image released by Dead Oceans shows “Rat Saw God” by Wednesday. (Dead Oceans via AP)

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This cover image released by Universal shows “Mañana Será Bonito” by Karol G. (Universal via AP)

FILE - Bad Bunny performs at the Latin Billboard Awards in Coral Gables, Fla., on Oct. 5, 2023. Bad Bunny's

This cover image released by Warp Records shows

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This image released by Double P Records shows “Genesis” by Peso Pluma. (Double P Records via AP)

(Double P Records via AP)

The year belongs to regional Mexican artists, who brought their banda, norteño, mariachi, sierreño and more to geographies well beyond Mexico and the southwest U.S. As Carín León told The Associated Press earlier this year, it is no longer “regional,” but “global” music. Leading the charge is Peso Pluma, whose third studio album, “Génesis,” became the highest-charting regional Mexican album of all time. Across 14 tracks, Pluma marries contemporary swagger with traditional corridos tumbados, bringing the colorful and once-maligned music to the masses — and making it all his own in the same breath.

“GUTS,” Olivia Rodrigo

In the two years since her tear-jerking ballad “drivers license” came in like a wrecking ball, Olivia Rodrigo experienced a lot of life in a short period of time, resulting in “GUTS,” her sophomore album. Across 12 tracks of big feelings balladry and riot grrrl-informed power pop-punk, Rodrigo expertly soundtracks the throes of fame — and the experience of entering your 20s. From the bloodsucking piano ballad “vampire” to the cheeky backslide anthem “bad idea right?” to the Joan Didion-referencing clean screams of “all-american bitch,” Rodrigo makes hard lemonade out of life’s lemons — a sonic treatise on a young woman’s dissatisfaction.

“Lucky,” Megan Moroney

Let’s cut straight to the chase: Country music dominated this year. Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” and Luke Combs’ cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” held onto the top of the Billboard charts for the majority of 2023. But beyond those impressive metrics should be recognition of Megan Moroney, whose stellar debut album “Lucky” emerged fully formed and fully without the male bravado that punctuates much of mainstream country. Her swooning single “Tennessee Orange” was ubiquitous on country radio this year, but it’s the whole of “Lucky” — and Moroney’s position as a Gen Z songwriter with Taylor Swift-level acuity — that makes her one to watch.

“Hackney Diamonds,” The Rolling Stones

Prior to “Hackney Diamonds,” the Rolling Stones hadn’t released an album of original material in 18 years. (That was 2005’s “A Bigger Bang,” and a bigger bang it wasn’t.) No one saw this album coming, as raw and rocking as ever: a collection of 12 crackling songs, their first since the 2021 death of drummer Charlie Watts, produced by Andrew Watt (known for his work with Post Malone and Justin Bieber), featuring Lady Gaga, and a rapturous addition to their already legendary discography. But that’s the Stones for you — it’s as if they invented new ways to approach longevity. AP’s Jocelyn Noveck put it best: This album is their best new work in decades — tight, focused, full of heart and swagger.

“Raven,” Kelela

On her sophomore album, “Raven,” the fluid R&B singer Kelela offers a masterclass in sensual breakbeats and experiences in queer Black motherhood. (She sends potential collaborators a reading list featuring bell hooks and Decolonizing Love in a World Rigged for Black Women’s Loneliness” by Shaadi Devereaux.) If pulling from U.K. garage, ‘90s house and electronica has become a trend in 2023, Kelela does it with a restrained intensity — soulful vocals atop dance rhythms, hazy sunset music set in a vintage club, like on the single “Contact.” “Loneliness, I see in your eyes / It might just render you blind,” she sings. “Baby, let’s dance it away.”

“Mañana Será Bonito,” Karol G

It took decades for reggaetón to be recognized in the mainstream arena and outside of the diverse Latin communities that created it — music comprising Jamaican dancehall riddims, Puerto Rican el underground, Panamanian reggae en español, New York hip-hop and beyond. But even now, when reggaetón enjoys worldwide success, men dominate the conversation: Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, and Rauw Alejandro, to name a few. On “Mañana Será Bonito,” the greatest album in Karol G’s discography, the Colombian superstar proves there’s been some serious gender oversight. This album should be considered part of a modern canon for the explosive dem bow of “Ojos Ferrari,” the dance-y “Ciaro,” the breathy “TQG,” featuring Shakira, the Afrobeats of “Carolina.”

“New Blue Sun,” André 3000

It’s not a rap record, but the opening track is titled “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time.” That one features California alt-jazz experimentalist Carlos Niño and sets the tone for the most daring release of 2023. For the first time in 17 years, André 3000 — half of the best-selling hip-hop duo of all time, Outkast — has released a new album of original material. Across 87 minutes, the musical innovator plays upward of 40 different types of flutes from around the world on this ambient jazz LP. It is a minimal, meditative listening experience — in some ways, ancient and, in others, an extension of the Afrofuturism that André 3000 has always worked to bring to the forefront. In 2014, he told the AP he wondered if he would always be the “Hey Ya!” guy. He can wonder no longer.

“Sundial,” Noname

In a little over half-an-hour, Noname’s “Sundial” jolts the Chicago rapper-poet’s audience. The album is a contentious and confrontational continuation of the spirit felt on 2018’s “Room 25,” centering Black art and simultaneously unraveling the ways in which it is exploited. The highlight, if just one, is “Namesake,” a track where Noname targets Rihanna, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar’s ties to the NFL. “War machine gets glamorized / We play the game to pass the time,” she raps, before flipping the lens on herself and her own shakable politics. Ideological quandaries — speaking truth to power and then highlighting the instances where that fails — abound, delivered in smooth packages.

“Rat Saw God,” Wednesday

The most exciting band in contemporary indie rock is informed by Drive-By Truckers, delivering an alt-country rock sensibility where narrative storytelling — pulling the listener into the quiet parts of a Carolinas hometown — is as much a part of the sonic fabric as lap steel or guitar fuzz or a poetic line sung out of key. At the heart of “Rat Saw God,” Wednesday’s fifth album, is a tension that plays out like a sonic embrace. It is an album about the complications of Southern identity, the pride and grit and shame and particularities of American geography that come out in songs about machine guns, race car drivers, crickets, trucks, Dollywood, sedans and Narcan. Evocative, to say the least.

“My Soft Machine,” Arlo Parks

It hasn’t been too long since Arlo Parks truly made a name for herself in 2021, when her unique brand of introspective R&B earned her a Mercury Award and two Grammy nominations for her debut album “Collapsed in Sunbeams.” Parks’ acute understanding of writing early-20s ennui has only sharpened. On “My Soft Machine,” she expertly navigates an incredible diversity of sound: the reverbed guitars and breathy vocals of “Purple Phase,” the ’00s pop-rock-meets-soul of “Devotion,” the blurry retro “Room (red wings),” and the sweet love song “Impurities.” She manages to weave sounds together that shouldn’t quite fit together, finding congruency in her downy melodies and romantic lyricism.

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This story has been updated to correct the title of a song on Megan Moroney’s “Lucky.” It is “Tennessee Orange,” not “Tennessee Whiskey.”

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