KCRW's Best of 2023
KCRW's Best of 2023 - Favorite Songs

According to a few particularly great songwriters, we know that: “Certain songs get so scratched into our souls,” “blue songs are like tattoos,” and that sometimes “all I need is just to hear a song I know.” 

Read on for a rundown of our unranked and totally subjective favorite tracks of 2023 — each one hand-selected and fiercely defended by KCRW DJs and curators. Follow our Spotify playlist for these selects along with all of the songs we didn’t have the space to write about, but still love just as much.

Best Songs

“The King”


Departing from the indie-folk, polyrhythmic playfulness of previous releases, Anjimile returns with biblical vigor in “The King,” a testimony fueled by shifts in his personal life and space held for the range of emotion experienced by being a Black trans person in America. Opening choral harmonies tease you into a place of tenderness, vulnerability, and optimism. The mood turns, slightly, with the entrance of Anjimile’s gentle-yet-wary vocal melody, like a harp luring you into a decadent, ghostly foyer. Then the palace doors blow open, an onslaught of ominous arpeggios cutting across the track like unyielding swords, unable to distinguish enemy from ally. “There’s a flood of flame and it calls your name,” Anjimile warns as the arpeggios double in vigor. Considering the track’s layers and complexity, it’s striking to discover that nearly every sound on “The King” comes from only two instruments: guitar and Anjimile’s own vocals.

— Novena Carmel (Morning Becomes Eclectic co-host)

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“I Won’t Tell (Feat. Smino)”

Baby Rose

Baby Rose kicked off her breakout year with this playful heater, in collaboration with puckish wordsmith Smino. Off the top, “I Won’t Tell” sweeps you into an intoxicating groove with a clean drum pattern and funky bassline. Then comes Baby’s voice: Velvet-pouch deep and idiosyncratically sultry, cheekily letting us in on whatever mischief the protagonist is involved in. Maybe it’s an affair; maybe it’s a heist. Either way, Baby Rose is owning it — until Smino shows up to retort, delivering his signature cadence and witty bars: “You barely come up when we talkin' / plus I got some secrets way darker / I'm talkin' Daniel Kaluuya / At 2:00 in the morning on scooters.” Fingers crossed “I Won’t Tell” is just the beginning for this strong and spicy pairing.

— Anna Chang (Morning Becomes Eclectic Producer)

More: Baby Rose: Live from KCRW HQ

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“Old Death”

Car Colors

Even “Old Death” is a seven minute odyssey/autobiography disguised as a pop song, in which Charles Bissell (of indie rock heavyweights The Wrens) reflects on the opportunity cost of two decades spent perfecting, yet never releasing, the sequel to The Wrens’ near-mythologically revered 2003 album The Meadowlands. The ensuing years brought a battle with cancer, mental health struggles, the breakup of a band of brothers, and the underestimation of Father Time. Bissell released some music during that time, but promised a lot more. "Old Death" is worth the wait.

Like any great protagonist, our hero is relatable, vulnerable, courageous, broken, whole, and lovable. And like all great epics, the parable of “Old Death” is one I’ll keep close to heart. I’ll sing this song from the top of my lungs, I’ll remember to put away my futile devices, and I’ll hold my kids tight while they’re still young.

— Nassir Nassirzadeh (KCRW DJ)

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“Fly To You (Feat. Grimes and Dido)"

Caroline Polachek

Behold: The ethereal, haunting echoes of three of the most exquisitely gifted voices in the game. Caroline Polachek is our modern Enya, her songwriting taking wing over dreamy aural aesthetics. Grimes and Dido chime in to lend their voices as counterweights, completing a perfect storm of sound, tinged with a sweet hint of liquid drum ‘n’ bass, crisp guitar strings, and airy synths. Heaven is a place — or in this case, a song.


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“Ghosts Again”

Depeche Mode

After 40+ years and countless hits, Depeche Mode is still hungry to push their sound forward, not content to “just be a greatest hits band,” as guitarist/lead songwriter Martin Gore told us earlier this year. When the rumblings of new music surfaced, the anticipation was massive, and their fifteenth album, Memento Mori, did not disappoint. “Ghosts Again” captures the group where they are today — now, and for the first time, a duo, following the death of founding member and keyboardist Andy “Fletch” Fletcher in 2020, shortly before album recording was set to begin. The track is a powerful groover, with rich lyrics that combine to evocative effect. With so much that happened within the family, it’s beautiful to see these legends continue to grow, evolve, and just get better with time — ever finding grace in darkness.

Raul Campos (KCRW DJ and host of Global Beat) 

More: Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore on music, mortality, and ‘Memento Mori’

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“Run A Red Light”

Everything But The Girl

The world hardly deserved the return of Everything But The Girl this year. But Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn’s surprise new album Fuse was a balm for the soul in 2023. The album’s first two singles foregrounded the more club-ready aspects of their musical personality. But Fuse’s third single, “Run A Red Light,” burrowed deep into the melancholic heart of their best work. Watt and Thorn have always been first-rate balladeers, with a particular flair for chronicling the highs and lows of urban nightlife. “Run A Red Light” is a masterclass of the form: a portrait of reckless, drug-fueled arrogance given a hauntingly beautiful turn by Thorn’s velvet-textured voice. Like later-period Billie Holiday or Joni Mitchell, her vocal tone has acquired a gorgeous, lived-in quality that suits the dissolute disposition of the song’s protagonist. And Watt’s production has never felt more sympathetic, knowing precisely when to hover and when to bump. A perfect soundtrack for the 3AM of the soul, literal and otherwise.

Myke Dodge Weiskopf (Senior Producer) 

More: Everything But The Girl Live on MBE (1994)

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“Tiny Garden (Feat. duendita)”

Jamila Woods

What is it about a song that finds you exactly when you need to hear it? “Tiny Garden” dropped a solid knowledge block right on my brain; it took a minute (as it always does), but my heart slowly followed, and hasn’t let go since. 2023 was my year of doubling down on seeking solace in songs, of trying to find wisdom and grace in the day to day. Jamila reminds me that it doesn’t have to be a big production. “The seed has all the information,” she sings. And it does — we just need to look after it, and each other, a little bit every day, and not be afraid to open our hearts.

Anne Litt (KCRW Program Director of Music & DJ)

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Deal (LP Giobbi & Le Chev Remix)

Jerry Garcia

Although 2023 was the year we said “fare thee well” to Dead & Company, the music never stops. In fact, it transforms and evolves with new characters and players, like an ever-evolving folk story. Among the cast of a new generation carrying the tale forward is LP Giobbi, a producer, DJ, pianist, activist, and rising star in electronic music. Since The Dead’s original music feels too pure to touch, an electronic remix of a classic Jerry Garcia song is something I never imagined could exist correctly. But Giobbi and Le Chev’s remix of 1972’s “Deal” indeed moves the plot forward, marrying my twin loves of the Dead and house music together in one euphoric explosion. Not only did Giobbi have the courage (and the blessing of the Garcia estate) to carry the torch, but she did so with the pure joy a task like remixing the Dead requires. That joy is her secret sauce across all of her work, brightening every one of her productions into a kaleidoscope of love.

Tyler Boudreaux (KCRW DJ)

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“Through the Eyes of a Woman”

Lucky Lo

Swedish singer/songwriter Lo Ersare, based in Denmark, had been thinking she wanted to write a song about being a woman. But she wanted it to be a song that everyone could listen to, a song that didn't point fingers. One day, while riding her bike, the words "Through the eyes of a woman" came to her, along with a short melody. But the verses and the rest of the song had yet to follow. Months later, she remembered a scene from her favorite TV series, Fleabag, where an older woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) tells Fleabag (Phoebe Waller Bridge), "Women are born with pain built in." This was the clue for Lo that led to finishing this song — one that not only talks about awful pain, but also pain that leads to life.

Chris Douridas (KCRW DJ)

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“P O V O . D E . F É”

Marcelo D2

Like its landscapes, Brazil’s music is vast and multilayered, with many of its rhythmic roots stemming from Africa and its own uncharted Indigenous lands, featuring instruments unique to their locales and drum patterns that converse with their spirits. When I first visited Brazil,. I found myself on a dancefloor surrounded by the sounds of forró, struck by the similarities to the music that nurtured me in my Mexican household and at quinceñeras. 

To feel melodies blending with lyrics doesn’t require a literal translation. Brazilian rapper and singer Marcelo D2 tapped into a genre many moons ago that was born in NYC, but also stemmed from the rhythmic, poetic patterns of Africa and Latin America. When I discovered him, his genre was hip-hop fused with Brazilian samples paying homage to the samba he grew up with. Now, with “P O V O . D E . F É” (“people of faith”), Marcelo digs deeper into the roots that raised him, bringing live choirs and instruments into the studio. He moves from rapping to singing, blending styles and creating a platform for family and community to bloom and thrive through his 2023 LP IBORU. “P O V O . D E . F É” is one of my most played songs of the year. It’s uplifting, telling of ancestral union and protection, of waterfalls, of the street corners where poets recite their truth, and the samba singers who serenade us from then to now. It’s an invitation to arrive and to motivate, opening the road to all “people of faith.” Accept, and the seeds of inspiration and motivation are planted — elements we all need to thrive.

Ro “Wyldeflower” Contreras (KCRW DJ) 

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Return To Centaurus


"Return To Centaurus" has the distinction of being the juiciest slab of cosmic funk released into the universe in 2023. Clocking in at nearly ten minutes, the track earns every second of its runtime, taking its time to ease you into its world with a velvety intro that swaddles you in a warm embrace before launching you into the funkmosphere. Swirling synths and a rubbery bassline stretch and bounce, shapeshifting to breathe new life into the song at every turn. It's still 2023, but the power of "Return To Centaurus" and its follow-up single "Musica" already have me penciling in a spot for Mildlife on my Best Albums of 2024 list. The future is now!  

Travis Holcombe (FREAKS ONLY host) 

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“Make It So”

Naya Baaz

Heart strings. What are they and how can such an intimate vibration emote such instant beauty? On “Make It So,” you will find that instantly, upon first notes, these strings transport you to the eye of a love storm. A fully encompassing peaceful state that allows you to engage your senses and cognitive imagination.

A world perspective as cultures come together showing the loving side of humanity as guitar, sitar, cello, bass, and drums dance around you, converging Eastern and Western philosophies. These musicians collaboratively peeled back the petals of sound, discovering new territory until the unequivocal bloom was born. A new bird of harmony and melody that allows all of us to live long and prosper! 

LeRoy Downs (KCRW DJ) 

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"Cat and Mouse With the Light"

The New Pornographers

"I don't mean to be the last one standing / only meant to be the next best thing" are the damn-near-perfect opening lines to The New Pornographers' "Cat and Mouse With the Light," a simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking vignette of a relationship not meant to be. Neko Case takes the lead on this prismatic pop gem, and by the time she gets to the chorus with "I can't stand that you love me," you'll also fall hopelessly head-over-heels.

Dan Wilcox (KCRW DJ) 

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“If You Could See Me Now”

Quinn Oulton

Quinn Oulton picks up where James Blake left off. This gem is all about celebrating your growth and the parting of one-time loved ones. The production is top-notch, which is something Oulton is known for in his UK circles. His cadence is butter-smooth in juxtaposition with an optimistic soul sample. Combined, the song is balanced in a way that can soothe your heartbreak — or make you two-step in celebration.

Anthony Valadez (Morning Becomes Eclectic co-host) 

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Singer, songwriter, and DJ Romy — one-third of UK outfit The xx — recorded three lauded albums with her band, but in 2023 was finally ready to share her own 11-song debut solo album, Mid Air. A gorgeous recording about celebration, sanctuary, and salvation on the dance floor that doubles as a postcard to the queer clubs that provided comfort and connection, the album’s standout is "Loveher": Right from the start, we catch the soft-spoken Romy politely requesting to "turn it up more," as she launches in. You can feel the scope of her love for her new partner as they cut loose on the dance floor, yet are still a little reserved, wanting to hold hands under the table for a private moment of bliss. While Romy came out long ago, it's rare to find an artist who is so candid about her own life and shares her unique perspective. This was an exceptional track released in 2023.

— Ariana Morgenstern (Executive Producer, KCRW Music/Today’s Top Tune Curator) 

More: Romy: KCRW Guest DJ set

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”Crash (Feat. Izzy Glaudini)


LA post-punks Sextile really outdid themselves with the entirety of their 2023 LP Push, a nasty, synth-laden thrill ride ideally suited for cruising the 110 during the wee hours. But “Crash,” with its transcendent guest verses from Automatic’s Izzy Glaudini, is on another level. Aloof-yet-poignant, scuzzy, and sultry, it’s ‘90s Madchester for an indie sleaze world. If this doesn’t usher us into “the third Summer of Love,” what will?

Marion Hodges (Digital Producer, Music & Culture)  

More: Automatic: KCRW Live from Apogee Studio

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“The Hard Way”

Sid Sriram

Sid Sriram's “The Hard Way" is a poetic exploration of sound. Catching my attention immediately upon its mid-year release, both this track and Sidharth — the album it appears on — easily found themselves on my personal Best Of lists. The San Francisco-via-India artist (a frequent collaborator with renowned composer A.R. Rahman) is known for taking classical Indian roots, filtering them through R&B, and then letting it ride over EDM beats. Ryan Olsen's production, footwork, and additional percussion keep these boundaries expanding, while Sid’s lyrics push the limits even further with his willingness to challenge norms. In a recent conversation, Sid told me a little more about making “The Hard Way.” “The song (like most of the album),” he says, “was built on a stream of consciousness backbone with very intentionally curated layers [eventually] added. ‘The Hard Way,’ is a celebration of life, loved ones, and the realization that all things dear to the heart should never be taken for granted.”

Jason Kramer (KCRW DJ)

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This psychedelia-tinged dreampop anthem lifts off with a coy drum ‘n’ bass rhythm that unfolds into pervasive percussive energy, layering in synths and strings to carry an East Indian-inspired psychedelic melody. Together, it’s an earworm of a journey. For many, cicadas represent personal change, renewal, and transformation. This track has all of that wrapped up into, fittingly, four minutes and twenty four seconds.  

José Galván (KCRW DJ) 

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“Smart Iowa”


“Smart Iowa,” a hauntingly beautiful folk song by Los Angeles-based female trio Trousdale, makes a sobering case for a lifestyle devoid of La La Land’s superficial side and celebrity culture. Delivered in their signature alt-country/folk style evoking Sweden’s first ladies of folk, First Aid Kit, “Smart Iowa” is a soaring tribute to celebrating simplicity: peace and quiet, nature, family, community, and living off the land. If you hear this one and find yourself Googling the weather, job options, real-estate prices, and schools in Iowa — don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Valida (KCRW DJ) 

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“Black Classical Music (feat. Venna and Charlie Stacy)”

Yussef Dayes

It's the way the hi-hats hats sizzle... with sharpness refined by a young prodigy streaming through the cosmos on the backs of giants: Enter UK drummer and composer Yussef Dayes. With the rhythm of a thousand stories told in ancestral cadence over lifetimes, Dayes plants his roots in the old growth forest of jazz, spine straight like the trunks of those who shade all below. 

On the lead single and title track to his debut solo album, Dayes wastes no time in getting to the heart of it, plumbing the depths and soaring the heights of soul and mastery. The interplay between the personnel in the cockpit of this song is dynamic and layered, with playful, striated thematic veins sprawling throughout. Venna and Charlie Stacey raise the fury to a boil on saxophone and keys, respectively, and respectfully. The whole composition plays out like a synchronized flock of birds taking to the sky for their migration, and this time they're bringing us with them.

Jeremy Sole (KCRW DJ) 

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“Don't Believe The Dancers”

Tony Allen & Adrian Younge

Legendary musician Tony Allen, the greatest drummer to have walked the planet, teamed up with Adrian Younge for a recording session before his untimely death in 2020.The result is Tony Allen JID018, a compilation released via the Jazz is Dead record label highlighting Allen’s versatility and mastery. Released this summer, it’s a brilliant effort from top to finish, with “Don’t Believe the Dancers” shining as its premier gem. Tony Allen was many things: improvisatory, a self-taught risk taker, a musical shaman effortlessly breathing life into complex rhythms. These truths are evident on “Don’t Believe the Dancers”, where Allen’s percussion feels as joyous as it does urgent. His genius serves as the song’s spine, allowing the strings and horns to stand tall. Simply put, it is a masterpiece and a testament to Allen being at the top of his game, even during the twilight of his life.

Francesca Harding (KCRW DJ)

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