The Top 25 Tracks of the Year
The 25 best songs of 2023, according to Crack Magazine. From viral singles and chart-climbing hits to summer sizzlers, synergistic fusions and club anthems with pop sensibilities, these are the tracks we just couldn’t shake this year. Read our Albums of the Year rundown next.
Known for genre-fluid interpretations of amapiano buoyed by elastic vocals, Johannesburg singer Tyla was crowned 2023’s pop girly with breakout single Water. Opening with a cloud of ethereal synths, the track declares a state of erotic emergency via an anthemic chorus commanding a lover to “make me lose my breath, make me water”. Tyla is clearly a natural storyteller – bungee-jumping across her upper register, each syllable brims with yearning and attention to detail. But, more importantly, she’s also a savvy marketer. The song was promoted on TikTok with complex choreography that saw Tyla pouring water down her back, spawning one of the summer’s most popular dance challenges. Warning: it’s not for the uncoordinated.
Nothing, Full of Hell
Spend the Grace
Closed Casket Activities
The veil between total brutality and the sublime is gossamer thin – something Nothing and Full of Hell understand. The bands, both from Pennsylvania and equally genre-phobic, have spent their careers experimenting in the space where ugly meets beautiful, with Nothing skewing melodic and Full of Hell intent on making the most pummelling noises possible. On Spend the Grace, the lead single from their collaborative album Where No Birds Sing, they move from one extreme to another. The intro sees Nothing’s Domenic Palermo sing softly over rusty guitars and sparse wind instruments, gradually making way for a barrage of heavy sludge and harsh growls from Full of Hell vocalist Dylan Walker in a gripping dance of ice and fire.
On My Mama
Victoria Monét’s On My Mama rides in on a masterfully nostalgic crunk sample from Chalie Boy’s 2009 southern anthem I Look Good. This nod to the Atlanta singer’s roots is just one of the myriad ways she pays homage to the people, sounds and experiences that have inspired her journey so far (in the track’s noughties-referencing music video, for example, her mother and young daughter form part of her dance crew). Across three minutes, Monét’s honeyed vocals glide smoothly across a Beychella-reminiscent trumpet section and 808 basslines that wouldn’t be out of place on Ciara’s Goodies. An empowering R&B number that conquered hearts and dancefloors, and which keeps climbing higher and higher up the charts.
The coiled tension that permeates Model/Actriz’s Amaranth is borderline unbearable. Taken from their accomplished debut LP Dogsbody, the standout track’s motorik hi-hats and start-stop guitars dizzy the senses, while singer Cole Haden’s desperate drawl paints grim images of self-destruction: “I want to see the surface of the water bend/ See it cave in, diving over me/ See my body carried, splintered and/ High, high enough for scattering.” But just when you think you can’t take it anymore, there’s release. A torrent of industrial noise washes over as Haden shouts: “Amaranth! Opening!” There are few bands who so masterfully tread the fine line between overwhelming darkness and artful catharsis. Like we said, borderline.
2023 was a banner year for Ed and Tom Russell, a.k.a. Overmono, the brotherly duo with a knack for tear-jerking club tracks made for the biggest rooms. Coachella debut? Check. Hits-loaded debut album? Check. More dobermans than you can shake a stick at? Triple check. Good Lies – the album’s anthemic Smerz-sampling title track – demonstrates the hallmarks of a winning, refreshingly straightforward Overmono production: a skittering breakbeat, a singalong vocal sample chopped with Michelin-precision, synth chords laced with ecstasy and melancholy. While the pair are no strangers to era-defining bangers (see: Ed’s 2013 stomper as Tessela, Hackney Parrot), Good Lies feeds an increasingly undeniable appetite for in-your-feels dance tracks with pop sensibilities.
2023 was a vintage year for pop in the classic style. Miley’s Flowers, Kylie’s Padam Padam – these are the kind of scroll-stopping, radio-conquering hits that cut across generations before settling down for long tail adoration in any given gay bar. Olivia Rodrigo’s Gen Z appeal always sat a little differently – until Vampire. Outwardly, the track feels like a souped-up Drivers License, but this is less rehash than refinement. The sheer brio of the acceleration from piano ballad to minor weather front is heartstopping, while her lyrics, once sickly sweet, now land like poison darts (“Six months of torture you sold as some forbidden paradise!”). Duly, Vampire resonated beyond her fanbase, appealing to anyone afflicted with a toxic ex and even appearing, at one surreal point, on Strictly Come Dancing. Welcome to the canon, Olivia.
DJ Lag, Novelist
Black Major x Ice Drop
South London meets South Africa on this growling banger featuring Lewisham’s Novelist and Durban’s DJ Lag. Over the past five years, the latter has become one of the most prominent voices in South Africa’s gqom scene, deploying ominous basslines and rhythmic percussion to unsuspecting dancefloors across the world. Lag’s surgical production style creates ample space for Novelist’s bars on this grime-gqom fusion, which centres around a deceptively simple rhythm. With a bruising kick drum punctuated by offbeat vocal snatches and piercing howls, Bulldozer summons the feeling that danger is not far off – and it’s a total thrill. A gripping sonic synthesis between two undeniable innovators, further showcasing our increasingly open-minded and borderless club culture.
It’s only right that we’re finally looking to Toronto’s underground club scene, with its deep links to the Caribbean (and, in Bambii’s case, Jamaica) for the next-next-wave of dancehall fusion. Having recently made the leap into production after helming the queer underground party JERK for the best part of a decade, Bambii has her concept nailed down perfectly, metabolising two decades of Black electronic music – from dancehall and funky to jungle, bassline, Jersey and beyond – into club heat with a pop sensibility. One Touch is among the best of her productions to date, combining two bassline cultures – dancehall and northern – with chaotic jungle loops, chopped garage vocals and even a bloody air horn. Highly versatile.
Super Shy marked breakout K-pop group NewJeans’ clear shift to the dancefloor. Where previous tracks like Cookie and Ditto teased their widening pool of club-rooted influences, Super Shy – the first single from their second EP – brought these desires to the fore, resulting in an irresistible pre-game anthem. With the consistently on-point Erika de Casier among the enlisted writing crew, on SuperShy, NewJeans’ R&B romanticism is shot through the prism of liquid drum’n’bass and Jersey club. It’s this approach – fusing noughties girl band-inspired hooks with big club beats – that’s turned new ears onto a young band who know how to make nostalgia feel gloriously fresh.
Any other year, you’d be hard pressed to find an immediate connection between UK club music and FOX News. But in 2023, it was this bolshy club heater that wiggled its way into the hearts of front-left dancers and a certain US weather presenter, who declared it “track of the year” on air. We’re of course talking about Installation, the audacious lead track from the Hessle Audio co-founder Pangaea’s second album, Changing Channels; a project which embraces the light, playful frivolity of the club. This cheeky levity is at its most potent in Installation, with a catchy bassline and vocal sample so warped (a nod to 2011’s Hex) that it’s impossible to glean any obvious meaning – but that’s simply part of the fun.
Munch (Feelin’ U)
Who would have thought one of the biggest hip-hop success stories of this – or any – year would be a mild-mannered rapper from the Bronx with cut-off jean shorts and Little Orphan Annie hair? Munch (Feelin’ U) has everything that makes a debut single sensational: an unforgettable hook, forward-thinking production and enough megawatt charisma from its performer to stun a rhino. A tale as old as woman-fronted rap itself, Munch sees Ice Spice endeavouring to escape the male gaze and dodging “eaters” who think that just because she loves herself, she must automatically love them, too. The confidence worked – in just about the track’s two-minute runtime, Munch took Ice Spice from viral sensation to bonafide rap royalty.
My Love Mine All Mine
Like the saying goes, “There are no pockets in a shroud.” Despite all we might accumulate in our lives – property, money, material possessions – we can’t take anything with us when we die. In fact, the only thing of any significance that we leave behind is the way we made others feel. That is the subject matter Mitski wrestles with on My Love Mine All Mine, the standout song from her 2023 album The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We. Set over slow-dance piano, Mitski’s echoing vocal – faraway sounding, like she’s echoing in from a distance – remains as grave and haunting as ever, reminding us that the most precious gift we can give is to love one another. “Nothing in the world belongs to me,” she sings, resigned to it. “But my love, mine, all mine.”
Dismantled Into Juice
Unset your jaws! The second act of Blawan’s career has seen the producer sideline the gnarly and grim techno with which he made his name for something altogether more experimental. The follow-up EP to 2021’s Woke Up Right Handed, Dismantled Into Juice is a tour of the outer reaches of modular weirdness, but it’s the title track that really goes there. A twisted cousin to the blown-out, punk-minded music he creates with Pariah as Persher, it’s hard to tease apart the elements that make this track so ugly-beautiful because, well, there’s a lot going on: the ungainly rhythm that never quite locks in, the shredded vocals, the delay-drenched synth stabs, those soupy burbles, that bloody YUM YUM! noise… It’s brilliant and it’s nauseating. Better to not ask questions and just… enjoy?
Bad Gyal, Tokischa, Young Miko
When Catalan singer Bad Gyal dropped Chulo in February, it was met with rapturous praise. It has it all: a pounding dembow beat so powerful it could shatter concrete; intoxicating, melodic hooks delivered through her signature Auto-Tune; lyrics about getting changed into Jordan sliders at the club to throw ass more comfortably. Then, somehow, the song levelled up. Chulo Pt.2 unexpectedly dropped a few months later, fortified with scene-stealing guest verses, in Spanish, from Dominican provocateur Tokischa and queer Puerto Rican trap star Young Miko. “Mami if you want/ You can call me chulo,” teases Young Miko, who, like Tokischa, has famously never paid any mind to dated gender norms in her music. This year’s posse cut for the hotties.
Rachel Grace Almeida
U All the Time
Tirzah’s new album, trip9love…???, is based on an unusual premise: each of the 11 tracks on the Londoner’s third full-length revolves around the same eight-bar drum loop. Beefy kick drums, crusty snares and skittering hi-hats sit alongside dusty, slightly off-kilter piano samples created by longtime collaborator Mica Levi. U All the Time is the undeniable star in the series of fractured poems that emerges from this minimalist creative palette, which exists in what the artist has described as a “lazy club fantasy zone”. Indeed, Tirzah’s processed, hazy vocals capture exactly that – the feeling of being adrift in the dance, losing oneself in daydreams about former and future lovers.
Kiero K Me Kieras
True Panther Records
South Florida Trance Team – SoFTT for short – could not have chosen a better name to represent their vibe if they tried. Everything about this sticky sweet collaboration between creative entrepreneur Trevor McFedries and Ecuadorian rising star Kablito is giving beach club. It’s giving strip mall. It’s giving struggling to apply lip gloss with heavily bejewelled nails while wearing an airbrush crop top and voicenoting the group chat to coordinate evening plans that probably include a venue with ‘Bar & Grill’ in the name. From the thumping trance beat to the Kiss FM-style DJ intro and bubblegum vocals, Kiero K Me Kieras owes as much to noughties Eurodance as it does to Latin pop, using tried-and-tested ingredients to create a fresh-feeling banger for the memorable moments in life – like running for a cab in a bodycon dress and drinking alcopop through a straw.
As the oddballs of guitar music du jour, Bar Italia have had a landmark year, releasing not one but two records. On both Tracey Denim and The Twits, the London three-piece have riffed variously on their brand of Slowdive-by-way-of-a-grotty-pub post-punk. But Nurse! – with which they announced their signing to Matador back in March – is perhaps its strongest encapsulation. The track sounds basically as though Blur circa Beetlebum and Erase/Rewind-era the Cardigans had a weird kid who makes holes in their sleeves to put their thumbs through. The guitars lean dissonant; the vocals are disaffected and wry, occupying the same removed, almost voyeuristic, space as the best Jarvis Cocker lines. When singer Nina Cristante intones, “You feel like leaving when no one’s looking,” it’s like she’s talking directly to you, through the crowds of a packed pub. It’s good – important even – that there’s a British band making strange, uneasy music like this in 2023.
There’s joy in life’s small pleasures, as Jorja Smith reminds us on summer sizzler Little Things. Capturing the frisson and minutiae of dancefloor flirtations, the track leaps to life with a live jazz piano loop that catches the ear immediately and brings to mind the sort of low-lit clubs that are primed for romance. “It’s the little things that get me high/ Won’t you come with me and spend the night?” Smith playfully teases on the intoxicating hook. By this point, the P2J and New Machine-produced beat has unfurled to reveal its full form: a rapturous UK funky banger, led by skipping hi-hats and a bassline so rhythmic you just can’t help but jump into motion. But more than anything, it’s the sound of an artist having fun – a frivolous, infectious track created for loosening bodies on the dancefloor. It’s no wonder this one went down such a treat, with Nia Archives’ propulsive jungle remix just the cherry on top.
One of the founders of the influential and modish Colombian imprint TraTraTrax, Verraco has spent the last few years deconstructing what the world thinks it knows about Latin American electronic music. Escándaloo is arguably his most conspicuous release to date, released on Blawan and Pariah’s Voam label and asserting the producer’s place not only in the Latin canon, but the global bass music honour roll. Snatching the wobbles from UK bassline, a thick, warehouse-ready 4/4 that’d be right at home at Berghain, and the foley clatter of any number of experimentally-minded PAN-adjacent operatives, Verraco sculpts an anthem that’s infused with the swing of Latin rhythms without being shackled to pigeonholing expectations. Verraco looks outward, wondering what the future of the so-called ‘Latin boom’ might present, and how those at the forefront might shape a new, more equitable dancefloor landscape.
Open Shift Distribution
It’s hard to forget a Sexxy Red lyric. Whether she’s taking shots at “stupid butts”, revealing her type (“you know them dread heads do it the best”), or laying down anatomical facts about bodily orifices – like on breakout single Pound Town – the scarlet-haired St. Louis rapper has hit upon a winning formula of authentic, unapologetically NSFW lyrics. The rompy, trap-laced entrée to EP Hood Hottest Princess, Pound Town was conceived following a trip to the figurative town in question. What once was a freaky freestyle, however, is now a global smash hit, taking Sexxy Red from For You pages to festival main stages, a Nicki Minaj remix and a Drake co-sign in breakneck speed. Sexxy Red never expected Pound Town’s most quotable line, “My coochie pink, my booty-hole brown”, to pop off like it did. But if bawdy bangers are to be Sexxy Red’s bread and butter, what better way to formally introduce yourself?
Zoë Mc Pherson
Lamella (Scratcha DVA Remix)
Zoë Mc Pherson’s third album slipped criminally under the radar when it landed on their own SFX imprint back in March. On Pitch Blender, the Berlin-based artist created ten uncanny, brain-altering tracks through warped club rhythms and mystifying melodies. Three months later, a new mutation spawned: Pitch Blender’s remix EP, featuring the likes of footwork extraordinaire Jana Rush and Hakuna Kulala’s MC Yallah. Another artist enlisted was Scratcha DVA, whose gqom remix of Lamella transports the otherworldly track back to the human realm. On Scratcha’s rework, strangeness is replaced by pure seduction, with guttural log drums and reverb-laden synths evoking the grittiest, sweatiest dancefloor. Mc Pherson’s faraway wails are stretched out so far they sound almost orgasmic, as they translate the song’s shapeshifting mood through words: “I have no feelings but I feel the tension/ Of every move/ Reverberating/ Across our web.”
James K, Hoodie
If dance music history has taught us anything, it’s that sounds that were once considered unfashionable, overplayed or de mode will eventually become cool once more. This year alone, we’ve witnessed a renewed interest in previously maligned genres like donk, tech house and, most recently, trip-hop, which has once again become a fertile space after a quarter century spent in the cultural sin bin. You might point to a.s.o.’s excellent eponymous debut LP or DJ Python’s downtempo experimentations as prime examples of this, but neither have provided such a clear, distilled update on the sound as James K and Hoodie achieved on Scorpio. Paired with divine, breathy vocals from fellow Berlin-based artist Naemi (a.k.a. Exael), James K’s loose beat and rumbling dub bassline alone makes Scorpio an undisputed highlight of 2023: the sort of foundational, mantric groove that reaches deep into your soul, and stays there.
Central Cee, Dave
There was no escaping Dave and Central Cee’s Sprinter this summer. The infectious track racked up the most streams ever for a UK rap song in its opening week, going on to become a UK No. 1. To seal the deal, a glowing Central Cee was joined by Dave to deliver a raucous and triumphant performance of the track on Glastonbury’s Other Stage. It’s a hit for good reason: pairing a finger-picked flamenco guitar with the snap and bass trill of a downtempo drill beat – provided by Lewisham luminary Jim Legxacy – Cench and Dave’s interweaving verses toy cheekily with the excesses of their massive global success over an earworming three-and-a-half minutes. Bringing brand awareness to Mercedes Sprinter vans everywhere, the pair’s signature lilting, languorous flows manage to skip through double entendres on bra sizes and bulletproof vests while making ample space for the addictively minimal beat to hook listeners in. Sprinter isn’t your typical flex about sexual conquests and riches, though. Under the surface, Dave and Central Cee’s verbal dexterity prove their status as some of the UK’s most exciting artists – in rap and beyond.
Laurel Halo, Coby Sey
It’s impossible to predict what will happen when two artists as prodigious and multifaceted as Coby Sey and Laurel Halo get together. While the latter is known for a body of work that is constantly morphing, from glitchy techno and film scores to musique concrète, the former has released everything from ambient recordings made on the coast of Iceland, to hybrid tracks using spoken word, grime and noise. Belleville, taken from Halo’s recent album, Atlas, is an instrumental work of phantasmal compositions and a further step along her journey into abstract, disintegrating textures. The track begins with a brittle and muted piano melody. Sey’s vocals, when they finally appear, do so for mere seconds in a dreamy swell, before the track continues along its hypnagogic path. Belleville’s two-and-a-half minutes of minimalism manages to tap into an affecting range of emotions: quiet contentment but also an aching sense of loss, and an unshakeable feeling that moments of beauty and joy are fleeting.
Hudson Mohawke, Nikki Nair, Tayla Parx
Set the Roof
At the end of lockdown, in those straggly months when the clubs were still half-empty, it was reasonable to fear that the last dance anthem had already been born. Producers had let their drum machines gather dust, metaphorically, and maybe even literally. But the situation had been bad since before Covid. It was hard to remember a time when a new dance 12” had the power to get people talking in advance of its release. The pipeline of original club tracks, the kind that could trigger a subgenre of copycats or make it on to a Now! album, had apparently dried up forever.
Thank the skygods, then, that we kept the dancefloor warm and lived to see the summer of 2023: an unexpected season of proper job Anthems. Over the 268 incendiary seconds of Set the Roof, Hudson Mohawke’s HD swagger and Nikki Nair’s dancefloor instincts fit together like a plug in a socket. HudMo has put his stamp on electronic music two or three times over by now, stunning us with the molten glow of Butter, accidentally conjuring EDM via the hydraulic trap of TNGHT, and tailoring his outside-the-box style for rap royalty. The juice was still flowing on last year’s psychedelic Cry Sugar, his not-celebrated-enough third album. Tennessee’s Nikki Nair, meanwhile, came out the traps flying in 2018 and can’t seem to make a bad record. With releases on a dozen labels as varied as Dirtybird, Studio Barnhus and Gobstopper, he’s able to inhabit a hundred different styles, slipping into all of them like a tailored suit: zipped-up, locked-in, fuss-free.
One wonders what goals they set themselves in the studio. Set the Roof is shorn of all but its essential elements, each somehow central to the song and instantly memorable: the plinky xylophone picking out a naive melody up top; the growling bass beneath that signals the grisly second half; and the perfectly squeezed vocal from Tayla Parx, whose topline skills are the secret sauce between (her previous songwriting credits, tellingly, include Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next and Panic! At The Disco’s High Hopes). If you had to guess, it feels like Nikki laid the 2-step foundations and set the frisky tempo, while HudMo stripped back all but the crucial pillars and beams before buffing it to a shine.
The result is just so obviously a hit. There’s suspense: the walls are suspiciously bare for the first 24 bars, with nothing but the crunch of 2-step underfoot, a plunging bassline and a skippy playground chant set to 1.5x speed. There’s a key change – alert the media! Key changes may be endangered but they don’t have to be cheesy, and the mid-sentence step-up at 1:43 adds the perfect amount of mystery-flavour pop juice. And there’s the obvious songiness of the whole endeavour, all pinned to proper structural elements – verse, chorus, build, drop, reprise – as demonstrated by the downshift into the final 90 seconds for Part II: Bassline Boogaloo. Every bar is accounted for, every inch of material trimmed to size.
What is it, in the end? Mike Skinner offered his own useful taxonomy in 2002, explaining that The Streets make “bangers, not anthems – leave that to the Artful Dodger”. Over 20 years on, dance music has been offering too few comparisons to such chart-dominating garage duos. But just as the debate about playing pop in the club starts to cannibalise itself, Set the Roof waltzes in to render the whole discussion moot. If you can’t get it out of your head, then it’s pop, and it will find its way to the dancefloor. Far from the only true anthem of the season, this one was the best and the brightest, and the one that’ll help us pin down our fading memories in decades to come: “Ah yes, 2023… the year of Set the Roof.”