OPB Wrapped: 23 music albums that captivated our ears and hearts in 2023

‘Tis the season of holiday cheer and year-end lists. So we decided to ask the staff at OPB what some of their favorite albums released in 2023 were — the records that provided a background score to their busy days.

Related: Spotify playlist: OPB Staff Picks

We compiled and lightly edited the answers we received from our colleagues — which include albums from across genres. Here they are, in no particular order.

1) “Javelin” by Sufjan Stevens

"Javelin" by Sufjan Stevens.

“Javelin” by Sufjan Stevens.

Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

“Javelin” is one of my favorites this year. I put it off a bit, worried it would be too sad, but how could I forget that Sufjan pulls off sad, uplifting and affecting Every. Single. Time? A beautiful record from start to finish. It has made me both smile and cry these last couple of months.

Honorable mention to Victoria Monét’s “Jaguar II,” specifically the song “On My Mama,” my personal anthem of 2023.

– Elizabeth Miller, education reporter/producer

2) “Quiet Music for Young People” by Dana and Alden

This is a young, local take on an ever-transforming jazz sound. Every track either moves me emotionally, or just makes me wanna bust a move. Favorite track? “Dragonfly.”

– Levine Baker, facilities technician

3) “Brand New Life” by Brandee Younger

"Brand New Life" by Brandee Younger.

“Brand New Life” by Brandee Younger.

Courtesy of Impulse Records

“Brand New Life” is the perfect description for what this album provides to the listener. Brandee Younger gives you everything you need (sonically) to begin a new day or to reset from a stressful situation. Listen to this stunning album from front to back, and in 37 minutes you’re transported to a fresh state of mind. Beautiful harp music to fill your heart with calm, while being lifted by the R&B rhythm and downtempo grooves.

A few tracks featuring bright vocalists guide you to consider life, love, doing things your own way, and not letting time pass you by. Stunning sound in headphones or speakers, this album is the ideal companion on a journey, or when reading on a rainy day or cooking a nourishing meal.

If you have a chance to catch Brandee Younger in person, get the tickets. I had the chance to see her at The Old Church in Portland, and it was an incredible show. I’d also encourage you to read about Younger’s influence from harpist pioneers Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, who she deeply honors on this album.

– Morgan McDonald, audience intelligence strategist

4) “The Record” by boygenius

"The Record" by boygenius.

“The Record” by boygenius.

Courtesy of Interscope Records

Three female artists coming together to create awesome music? Yes, please! This album is also Grammy-nominated.

– Savannah Douglas, accounting technician

5) “The Age of Pleasure” by Janelle Monáe

"The Age of Pleasure" by Janelle Monáe.

“The Age of Pleasure” by Janelle Monáe.

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

Everything about Janelle is heaven. This album is the first exposé I’ve seen on the concept of “pleasure as liberation” but Janelle has made it fun, colorful, inclusive, and tantalizing. This album was a burst of joy, a celebration of Blackness and sex-positivity in an otherwise bleak and dreary season of this show we call “Earth.”

– Robyn El Kay, associate director of audience development

It’s fun. It’s sexy. It’s queer AF. What’s not to love?

– Julie Sabatier, podcast producer

6) “Domino” by Diners

Diners’ Blue Broderick has been a power-pop powerhouse for years, and this album is no different. Recorded and produced by Portland’s own Mo Troper, Broderick’s catchy, poppy riffs and endearing lyrics make this record a standout this year. Blue has plucked my heartstrings, and it’s great to see her songwriting flourish.

– Donald Orr, announcer/producer

7) “Volcano” by Jungle

It’s smooth, jazzy, funky, and back-to-back infectious grooves.

– Heather Arndt Anderson, newsletter writer

8) “Unicorn” by Gunship

A fantastic blend of synthwave and hard ‘80s rock, accompanied by the legendary Tim Cappello on saxophone and another cameo by John Carpenter. This album has been my weekly audio companion while driving to the office since its release.

– Carlos Charnell-Delgado, systems administrator

9) “The Funky Worm — Live at Dooley’s 1976″ by Junie Morrison

Junie Morrison was a multi-instrumental genius who had the distinction of playing on and composing some of the biggest hits for seminal funk bands Ohio Players (“Pain,” “Funky Worm”) and Parliament-Funkadelic (“One Nation Under a Groove,” “(Not Just) Knee Deep”) — in other words, total funk royalty.

In between his work with those groups, he set out on his own for three incredible solo LPs on Westbound Records, and it was believed he did a tour somewhere in there from ‘75-’76. In late 2022, some stereo recordings were previewed from a capture from a small Detroit club — and in 2023 finally got a proper release on ReGrooved Records out of the Netherlands. For a fan of the funk, this was akin to the unearthing of the holy grail. (I mean, I named my daughter after this man!)

The album features a complete stunner of a concert which includes Junie ripping through his solo work, and hits with the Ohio Players with the backing band consisting of Columbus, Ohio, area musicians Crowd Pleasers.

– Steven Vaughn Kray, sound supervisor

10) “Sandhills” by Toro y Moi

A chillwave pioneer putting out a country album? Sign me the hell up. Chaz Bear proves once again that there’s nothing he can’t do. Having grown up listening to the likes of Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard in the backseat of my mom’s car and later becoming a fan of Toro in the twenty-teens, I feel like this album was made especially for me.

– Bradley W. Parks, digital producer

11) “MY GOD!” by Tessa Violet

I would describe Tessa Violet as “sunshine indie pop.” Her stuff can be about dark or awkward themes but it’s full of upbeat hyper-pop earworms. Also, she grew up in Ashland!

– Lillian Karabaic, Weekend Edition host

12) “Barbie: The Album” by multiple artists

"Barbie The Album" by Various Artists.

“Barbie The Album” by Various Artists.

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

I’ll be that person and say the “Barbie” soundtrack is my album pick of 2023. “Dance The Night” by Dua Lipa was actually the song my now-husband and I played to open our wedding dance floor to all our guests! I think the mix of pop songs, which enhanced the movie with perfect scene music pairing, is just so campy and fun, with splashes of nostalgia and existential thinking. This album makes me want to laugh, groove and ponder society — the total package.

– Meagan Cuthill, deputy digital editor

13) “This Is Why” by Paramore

From L-R, Zac Farro, Hayley Williams and Taylor York pose as Paramore.

From L-R, Zac Farro, Hayley Williams and Taylor York pose as Paramore.

Zachary Gray

Personally, this year for me was all about female rage. And what better way to channel it than listening to Paramore’s 2023 album, “This Is Why,” on repeat. The band marked their comeback after a hiatus of five years with a 10-track-strong album that provides social and political commentary via razor-sharp songwriting layered over agile and angsty instrumentals.

Of one of the album’s singles, “The News,” lead singer Hayley Williams said in a press release, “‘The News’ is one of those songs that came together pretty quickly and felt exciting from the start. It feels like a happy medium between classic Paramore angst and bringing in some influences we’ve always had but never exploited. Watching Zac (Farro) track drums for this one was one of my favorite memories from the studio. Lyrically, it probably explains itself. The 24-hour news cycle is just impossible to comprehend. And I feel a pang of guilt when I unplug to protect my headspace. The common reaction, or non-reaction, seems to be dissociation. Not one of us is innocent of that and who could blame us?”

Honorable mention: Portland-based artist Andy Akiho’s Grammy-nominated album, “Sculptures.” The album is a tribute to Japanese American artist Jun Kaneko’s decadeslong career, and takes listeners on a journey with the help of experimental orchestration.

– Prakruti Bhatt, digital video producer/reporter

14) “Strays” by Margo Price

"Strays" by Margo Price.

“Strays” by Margo Price.

Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

From the opening track, the fiery “Been to the Mountain,” Margo Price pulls you in and holds you close. Her cocksure delivery and punchy lyricism occasionally give way to sweetness. There’s triumph and sorrow and defiance, all grounded in a no-nonsense ethos that permeates the album.

“Strays” is Margo Price standing up and demanding we all take notice, and once you do it’s hard to look away.

– Nate Sjol, radio operations manager

15) “Black Classical Music” by Yussef Dayes

Yussef Dayes’ solo album “Black Classical Music” is a fusion-forward jazz cosmic journey into Black music. The drumming is impressive — he doesn’t beat the drum, he blisters it — lightly and intensely. One can hear rhythms of the Caribbean, soul-jazz, and drum and bass. Musically we also get a personal snapshot of Dayes, a Jamaican, who grew up in South London, and who is also now a father. KMHD has a pretty cool end-of-year list too!

Honorable mentions to some pretty awesome collaborative projects this year, including Kaytraminé, a fantastic ride into afrobeat club vibes featuring producer powerhouse Kaytranada and Portland rapper Aminé.

– Deena Barnwell, KMHD on-air host and content coordinator

16) “Bluey: Dance Mode!” by Joff Bush

My kids like Bluey.

– Tony Schick, investigative editor

17) “Proof of Life” by Joy Oladokun

"Proof of Life" by Joy Oladokun.

“Proof of Life” by Joy Oladokun.

Courtesy of Sacks and Co

Joy is such an amazing songwriter and her choice in collaborators and guests (Chris Stapleton, Manchester Orchestra, Maxo Kream and others) is wonderfully eclectic, and her songs are at once beautiful, poignant, catchy and intelligent.

– Jason Sauls, announcer/producer

It’s so good, I can’t pick just one song.

– Keller Henry, radio operations coordinator

18) “Live at Electric Lady” by Remi Wolf

It moves. It grooves. It feels like I’m at a party. You wouldn’t really know it was a live recording.

– Sarah Nairalez, production and media asset coordinator

19) “Silver” by Say She She

The band is fronted by three fantastic singers and their harmonies are incredible.

– Lisa Wood, announcer/programming coordinator

20) “Take Me Anywhere” by The Sons of Rainier

Devin Champlin of The Sons of Rainier cannot write a bad song. Each one captures the heart of what it is to live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest in all of its grandeur and weirdness.

Honorable mention: André 3000 once again demonstrated the mark of true musical genius: never settle, keep pushing, find the new sound with “New Blue Sun.”

– MacGregor Campbell, director of product, digital video

21) “Weathervanes” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Isbell is one of the best songwriters alive and the band keeps getting better and better. A must-see in concert if they are coming to your area.

– Andrew Theen, politics editor, news

22) “Black Mona Lisa” by Billy Porter

Along with having some of the hottest new dance tracks I’ve heard in years, this album is super personal to Billy, and that transcends to all Black queer artists, such as myself. The album feels almost like a second coming out and a huge “f— you” to an industry steeped in homophobia that told Billy he had to hide his queerness. “Black Mona Lisa” lets Billy embrace his identity and it is the queerest thing imaginable, in all the best ways. Keep being you and shining bright, Billy. We see you!

– Michael Hammerstrom, market research analyst

23) “Welcome 2 Collegrove” by Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz

Lyrics, production, songwriting, etc.

– Noah Thomas, producer