With the end of 2023 quickly approaching, it felt appropriate to highlight some of the albums that stood out over the course of the year. Grave Robbing by leroy, SCARING THE HOES by JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown, and After the Night (Live) by Parannoul all brought something new and exciting to the table in their respective genres—and to the contemporary music landscape as a whole. Consistently adventurous in scope, technically well-crafted, and immensely enjoyable in the simplest ways, these three projects cement themselves as some of the best of 2023.
Grave Robbing by leroy
leroy is a side project of Jane Remover, a pioneer of 2020s indie-hyperpop, highlighted particularly by her 2021 album Frailty. Remover has recently taken to a more rock-focused style under the “Jane Remover” name, as seen on 2023’s Census Designated. When making music under the moniker leroy, she has tended to create sample-heavy dance tracks with beats per minute (BPM) nearing the 200s.
Remover pushed this style to its limits in the Dariacore trilogy—three collections of insanely hyper dance songs. In contrast, Grave Robbing feels like a much more focused, cohesive project. It’s like listening to a live DJ set but in album form.
On Grave Robbing, Remover takes her time on every song and swaps out overwhelming BPMs for a more cohesive, thought-out experience. Although not as hyper as some previous leroy projects, every track on this album was evidently crafted with a huge amount of purpose and effort, accumulating in an hour of run time that is littered with an insane amount of detail that never stagnates. Grave Robbing feels like the final chapter of leroy and what every previous release under her name has been building up to.
Despite what was left behind, what makes Grave Robbing so enjoyable is that it is still classic leroy. Pop song samples that are intensely unapologetic litter the tracklist, combining with addictive and masterful dance production from a clear expert in their craft. Remover has ripped these samples from their internet graves and given them new life in the form of the best dance album of the 2020s.
Take “Jack’d My Swag (& Those DAMN PRICES)” for example. The track begins with a flip of “My Jeans” by Jenna Rose, works this into a drop, then comes in with chops of “N95” by Kendrick Lamar before mashing the two samples together and then topping off the mix with a flip of “Venus as a Boy” by Björk. The song then concludes by introducing the lead sample of the next track, “it’s up to YOU now!!,” a common theme that works to give the album its cohesiveness.
SCARING THE HOES by JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown
SCARING THE HOES showcases a mastery of production from JPEGMAFIA and combines his usual unbothered attitude toward songwriting with the ever-eccentric Danny Brown. Brown is a master at finding the pocket within songs, ensuring that his lyrics complement the beat and add to the instrumentations. JPEGMAFIA and Brown, the figureheads of current experimental hip-hop, team up on this project to create the best hip-hop album of the year. Expectations going into the album were sky high, and it’s safe to say the pair delivered.
SCARING THE HOES is enticing and addicting because of how carefree the project is. Not carefree in a sense of feeling low effort—undoubtedly, these tracks are meticulously crafted, and JPEGMAFIA’s production is nothing short of superb—but carefree in the simple sense of the album’s fun nature.
JPEGMAFIA and Brown, two talented and proven professionals, find themselves combining powers to enjoy their craft and not take themselves too seriously, as evident by samples from songs like “Milkshake” by Kelis on “Fentanyl Tester.” These choices littered throughout the tracklist result in an incredibly enjoyable listening experience overall. On “Burfict!,” some of the lyrics reflect the playful energy from the album.
“I feel like Trump when I step in the booth / Drippin’ like Rudy, you know how I do,” Brown sings, jokingly comparing himself to the former president.
But the carefree nature of this project, in both song titles and lyrics, can be deceptive from the outside. SCARING THE HOES is still a relentless and hard-hitting tracklist. JPEGMAFIA stops at nothing to hit listeners over the head repeatedly with grimy beat after grimy beat. From the overblown, fuzzy synths of “Steppa Pig” to the grimy sample and bass of “Garbage Pale Kids” to the incredibly filthy gospel flip of “God Loves You,” SCARING THE HOES doesn’t give listeners a moment to catch their breath, for as soon as one song ends, an equally tumultuous beat is sure to follow.
After the Night (Live) by Parannoul
Ever since the release of his 2021 album, To See the Next Part of the Dream, Parannoul has been the most exciting face in modern shoegaze. After the Night (Live) is a live album primarily featuring previously released songs. But compiled all together, the tracks form a collection of pure mastery of noise, melody, and emotion.
These already charged songs are only bumped up a notch in this live setting, as Parannoul repeatedly strains his voice through the waves of fuzz for consistently raw and gripping performances. Beneath him are reliably beautiful melodies that utilize piano, synths, and guitars, all buried in a deep layer of fuzz. Expert and expressive drum work also highlight the superb instrumentation across the project.
The tracklist closes with a song that is responsible for over half of the project’s run time and serves as a fair representation of what Parannoul has to offer throughout the entire live album. A 46:06 epic, “Into the Endless Night – Live,” is truly the amalgamation of Parannoul.
The song brings listeners through all the motions of Parannoul’s artistry, featuring a lighter, synth-driven intro, before evolving into a more raucous shoegaze section. Then, the track softens again with a section driven by lighter guitar and piano. The song then explodes into sound, utilizing high levels of distortion and instruments like horns in the mix. It then takes the fuzz one step forward and evolves into a total wall of distortion around the 26-minute mark.
Parannoul isn’t afraid to take his time during any section of this song, as the noise doesn’t die down completely until five minutes later. The next section features field recordings and various other snippets of people talking, the sound of someone walking, and other chatter, all backed by a light piano and synth-backed melody.
It seems as though Parranoul knows he can’t end his work on this note, and he brings the track around once again, going back to the now familiar fuzzy shoegaze sound, closing out the best rock album of the year and best live album of the decade. After the Night (Live) is incredibly ambitious, but Parranoul manages to nail every aspect in his best work yet.