Our Favorite Songs of 2023

Ta-da!! We’re back! Really, an impossible task: Name your favorite three songs of 2023. Those who barely rub shoulders with music can rattle off more than three picks. For the music obsessives here at KUTX, it seems unbelievably daunting. So many favorites remain on the cutting room floor. We could list them all but invariably we’d forget something, and the process – not to mention the reading – would go on forever. So all we can do is say, “Well, today, at this moment, these are my favorite three songs.”  Maybe a few of them will become yours, too. 

-Jeff McCord, music editor 

Maile Carballo- Digital Content Intern

Being Dead – “Last Living Buffalo”

Being Dead alone is wonderful, spectacular, sublime, and out of this world. Pair the power trio with a drum-driven indie-western ballad about the great American buffalo extinction and you get a masterpiece greater than any Michelangelo. I’m glad that KUTX has the privilege to call this band a part of the Austin Music Experience. 

Osees – “Intercepted Message”

Anything DEVO-adjacent makes me chuffed, and by golly is this single DEVO-adjacent! Thee Oh Sees, as they are also known, never fail to amaze me. You can never know how hardcore or eclectic their next album will be, and that’s part of their magic. Catching them at Hotel Vegas was one of my favorite shows of the year, too!

Quasi – “Nowheresville”

Catching Quasi in Studio 1A was probably the closest I got to living Portland’s dream of the 90s (until I met Fred Armisen in September)! Quasi immediately became one of my favorite band discoveries of 2023. Pair the ex-drummer of Sleater Kinney with her synth/keyboard master ex-husband and you get one of the greatest duos in the music scene today. 

Marnie CastorHost

Faye Webster – “But Not Kiss”

Sophisticated and complex, with musical twists and turns that surprise and delight.

M. Ward & First Aid Kit – “Too Young to Die”

This song speaks to a zeitgeist. The lyrics pack a quiet punch as Klara Söderberg’s sweet voice belies the gravitas of the song. 

BLK ODDYSSY, Bnxn – “Lay Low” 

A perfect two minutes of smooth groove. I couldn’t stop listening to it. It hits me in all the right spots.

Jacquie Fuller- Assistant Program Director

Janelle Monae- “Water Slide”

Not since Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop,” forty years prior, has the art of female/non-binary onanism gotten the respect in song it deserves.

SZA- “Kill Bill”

With a function-follows-form vocal progression that’s both familiar and disorienting, SZA pays homage to a favorite movie and flips the script on the centuries-old murder ballad trope.

Boygenius- “Not Strong Enough”

There’s a delicious tension between the song’s general sense of defeat and the tightly coiled bitterness of the repeated “always an angel, never a god.” It so pointedly nails the feeling of being … well, not a man.

Rene Chavez- Engineer

Caramelo Haze – “Una mañana”

I got to mix CH at our pop-up tent during ACL and swooned over their version of this José José tune. It’s got this big crooner vibe against a backdrop of psych-y instrumentation and perfectly distorted drums. Big ups. 

Brittany Howard – “What Now

This single hit so hard for me. It’s aggressively forward like rock but smooth like Brittany’s brand of post-blues pop. The melody and angst-y nature has the sensibilities of something The Weeknd might write, combined with the tightness of a Daft Punk track. 

Cherry Glazer – “Ready For You” 

This track sounds vastly different from when I was listening to CG years ago. I love it. She moves into this mid-‘90s alternative thing on a chorus that’s noise-y and drum forward with fat-saturated guitars. The big hook just sells it for me. Great track.

Jody Denberg- Host

The Beatles – “Now And Then” 

Why? “Because the wind is high, it blows my mind.”

Black Pumas – “More Than A Love Song” 

Austin psych-soul masters returned a few months ago with this, the first volley from their 2nd album “Chronicles Of A Diamond”. Instead of repeating one of their debut’s blueprints, they came up with this fresh slice of pop R&B – which has already been nominated for a Grammy, and deservedly so. 

Margo Price – “Been To The Mountain”

Margo’s work may still be filed under ‘Americana’, but this rocker shows she is beyond categorization. The opener of her album Strays–  and most of her recent shows – “Mountain” is full of self-aware declarations from the get-go: “I got nothing to prove, I got nothing to sell/I’m not buying what you’ve got, I ain’t ringing no bells.” The whole album is great, as was her guest DJ stint on KUTX’s SXSW Wrap-up show and ACL-TV taping. 

Laurie Gallardo- Producer, Host

Brittany Howard – “What Now”

Brittany Howard has this preternatural ability to unleash mad funky grooves so tight with so much soul that they’re about to burst. And with Howard’s vocals, it’s all an unstoppable force.

Bakar – “Alive”

Could it be the jaunty beat, or the way it’s a bit reminiscent of the ‘80s British new wave? These melodies hook and reel you in.

Caramelo Haze – “Una Mañana”

More of the dreamiest grooves from Austin’s premiere Latin psych/Afro-Columbian funk outfit. It’s the seductive golden rays of neo-sol.

Ezra Gomez- Digital Content Intern

Boygenius – “Not Strong Enough”

Always an Angel, never a God. Always a Fan, never a ticket. I have been a Boygenius fan since their first album, which is longer than I’ve been a boy – and certainly longer than I’ve been a genius. Every new song, ep. album, and tour I pirate off of Youtube just blows me out of the water. “Not Strong Enough” is the perfect mix of heartbreaking, hilarious, and humble that makes these boys so, so –  genius. 

Hozier – “Francesca”

Who knew this gentle giant had all this rage in him? From the boisterous drumming to his full vocals, this was my favorite song off of Unreal Unearth. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard Hozier scream on a track, but it’s the first time it’s struck me and made me come back for more. 

PinkPantheress – “Turn Your Phone Off” 

Were you guys ever on CoolMath games? Ever play Run? That’s exactly how this song feels, jumping with impressive precision as you glide through a space tunnel. Not to be “that guy” (even though at KUTX I’m sure we’re all “that guy” for a couple of artists),  but I’ve been a PinkPantheress stan since Day. One. Her production and songwriting skills have improved tenfold from her first TikTok audio. She released her first album this year, and I am so excited to see what’s next.

Deidre Gott- Assistant Program Director

Janelle Monáe, Seun Kuti, Egypt 80 – “Float” 

I like shabari. 

Yard Act – “The Trench Coat Museum”

I researched if a Trench Coat Museum does exist and found this. I love a shtick.

Boygenius – “Cool About It”

This song feels so intimate in its lyrics and production. And as a former choir nerd, these harms make me feel the feels. 

“Confucius” Jones- Host

Die Spitz – “Chug” 

Outside of being one half of The Breaks, I’m the production assistant for Studio 1A. Die Spitz came in for a session and were the nicest girls imaginable – until they started performing. A true rock band, amazing performers. Also, they refused to perform this song during their 1A. Very rock and roll indeed.

Harry Edohoukwa – “Zombies”

Fun fact: Harry Edohoukwa opened the very first SXBREAKS in 2018. We had no idea who he was then, but we know who he is now. “Zombies” is a haunting track that has my favorite line in it “Every room I walk in is mine”. It was true in 2018 and it definitely is true now.

Skateland – “As The Father, So The Son”

I’ll be honest with you, I’m partial to Skateland because he is my blood cousin. But don’t get it confused. He’s an amazing artist in his own right. This track, in my opinion, showcases not only his potential but where the path is going to next—family first but talent always.

Aaron “Fresh” Knight- Host

Jungle – “Us Against the World” 

Jungle’s album, V, was one of the best releases of the year hands down. The infectious chorus chant and rebellious nature of the song just grab you. 

Little Simz – “Gorilla” 

Little Simz kicks a verse off with “Rest In Peace Mac Miller,” and I was sold. The album Thank You, was one of the best rap releases of the year and Simz again didn’t disappoint. 

Harry Edouhoukwa – “Zombies”

My only gripe about this song is that Harry didn’t make it longer, but at the same time, it’s the perfect length. The build-up in intensity is unmatched by most things out there right now. 

Art Levy- Producer

Being Dead- “Muriel’s Big Day Off”

Their guest DJ set was epically chaotic: we talked about acid trips and Ricky Martin, a delay on the monitors rendered our speech a swampy, elongated stew, and all of it captured live in front of a confused audience in hundred-degree heat. I’ve done over 500 of these things, and this is my favorite, because it perfectly captured Being Dead’s court jester spirit, which you can hear on “Muriel’s Big Day Off.” They write silly garage pop with impish delight, and you either surrender to it or risk looking like a fool. Bonus points for tight harmonies, switching instruments, and mid-song jazz odysseys.

Water From Your Eyes – “Barley”

The first time I heard this song, I knew: I’ve never heard anything like this before. Months later, this song still sounds transgressive, the future of rock and roll. It’s good for the blood.

Black Pumas – “More Than A Love Song”

I didn’t think Black Pumas could ever write a chorus better than the one on “Colors.” But I didn’t need to doubt them, because, on this one, they aimed for something just as meaningful. The song underlines the point of its title: music is more than hit singles or sold-out shows. It can be a healing and disruptive force, a good reminder to take into 2024.

Jeff McCord- Music Editor, Host, “What’s Next”

Liv.e – “Wild Animals”

The rare pop groove that digs a bit deeper, Dallas-born Olivia Williams (Liv.e) eyes male miscreants through a jaundiced lens on “Wild Animals”, with an unstated but complicit awareness. “Wanna take a walk around my world?”

Will Johnson- “The Conductor Calls”

“Sometimes I fail to feel a thing,” Johnson admits. But this isn’t one of those times. Austin’s Johnson augments his usual guitar crunch with graceful swopes of steel guitar and a lifting, late chorus, but it doesn’t hide the foreboding. Someone has done something wrong here, even if you’re unsure what it is. 

PJ Harvey – “I Inside the Old I Dying”

The haunting grip of this strange and brief mantra, from Harvey’s I Inside The Old World Dying,  lingers. Longing flows from its repetitive bars, while Harvey serenades someone named Wyman over a hypnotic old English guitar pattern. “Just a charm in the woak / With the chalky children / Of evermore.”

Rick McNulty- Music Director, Host, “Left of the Dial”

Geese – “I See Myself”

My earworm of the year. I cannot fathom how a band that can’t legally purchase liquor can produce one of the most soulful songs and albums of 2023. It’s a rarity in the music business for an artist to release a sophomore album that is stronger than their debut. These dudes nailed it—and did so by reaching new heights. I can’t wait to hear this as someone’s wedding song.

Sprints – “Up and Comer”

You know that feeling you get when you hear a young band starting to catch fire? Dublin’s Sprints is that band for me. They call it ‘garage punk,’ which only hints at their feverish and explosive sound. Karla Chubb, the bright and blazing face of the band, takes no prisoners in her vocal delivery. This song is a perfectly landed punch to the face. Sprints are #1 on my list of bands to see at SXSW ’24.

Font – “Sentence I”

For most of the two years they’ve been together, this was the only song Austin’s Font had officially released. That’s fine because this track has enough excitement, melody, counter-melody, and cowbell (oh hell, yes) to carry an entire album, let alone one song. They’ve already opened for bar italia, Water From Your Eyes, and Horsegirl. Their indie cred is unimpeachable, and people are starting to notice. It’s only a matter of time before Austin does the same.

Jake Perlman- Engineer

Being Dead – “Muriel’s Big Day Off” 

The album When Horses Would Run is one of my faves of 2023, local or otherwise. Their quirky vision and sense of humor have made me a fan since I first heard them. Plus, the piano-jazz breakdown bridge in this song always makes me smile.  

THEBROSFRESH – “Your Energy”

This grooves somewhere between classic MJ & yacht rock, with a Purdie shuffle & some fairly tough guitars. The hooky chorus sold me on the first listen. There are times when I’m amazed at all the talent we have here in Austin. Hearing this tune is one of those times. 

Yard Act – “The Trench Coat Museum”

I’ve been digging these lads for a while; it’s cool to hear them dive deeper into 80’s dance sounds (esp. on the eight-minute version of this tune). I don’t know when all these British kids started raiding their parents’ old Talking Heads, Gang of Four, and Tackhead records, but I hope the trend continues!

Trina Quinn- Host

Grace Sorensen – “Digits” (featuring Magna Carda)

I’ll never get over this song. The longing ache. It’s perfect. 

Walker Lukens – “The One Who Loves You”

The title track to your next romance.

Brigitte Calls Me Baby – “Impressively Average”

Loved this from the first note. Familiar, but brand new. Massive energy and that voice!

Juliana Rios- Intern

Molly Burch – “Unconditional” 

After I heard Molly perform this song live in studio 1A, it was stuck in my head and it’s been in my playlist ever since. Her sound reminds me of Lana Del Rey and Lady Gaga, I love her vibe!

Vista Kicks DRT Hail Maries – “Better” 

I’ve been following the Vista Kicks since middle school. This song on their newest album is one of my all-time favorites, and I had the pleasure of hearing it live last year here in Austin. It’s an uplifting song; fun to listen to and sing along.

Troye Sivan – “One of Your Girls” 

This is one of the best pop songs to come out in 2023. I would describe Troye Sivan’s new sound in three words: unique, refreshing, and addicting. 

Soundfounder- Host, “Soundfounder”

James Blake – “Fall Back” 

After spending the year collaborating with everyone from Travis Scott to Brian Eno, James Blake’s 2023 album Playing Robots into Heaven was a welcome return to his experimental electronic roots. “Fall Back” is a highlight and one of the most danceable tracks on the album.  

Flobama – “Gradients” 

Celebrated Austin Beat maker Flobama started the year strong with this fleshed-out chill synth groove. A local gem that’s high quality enough to sit next to the best global beat makers on your playlist.

Bayonne – “Right Thing” 

Bayonne secures his spot as one of the best electronic musicians Austin has to offer with this track. Drum machines blend with live drums, while interwoven synth textures fit seamlessly with organic sound elements like piano and vocal harmonies. Listen in headphones for the full experience. 

Jay Trachtenberg- host, “Sunday Morning Jazz”

Little Simz – “Gorilla”  

This song almost made my mid-year picks. After seeing her performance at ACL Fest – where she single-handedly commanded the stage with a flow of rhythmic verbosity atop massive beats – it was time to give this tour-de-force another listen and, indeed, it’s due respect. Endlessly confident, she poses, “My art will be timeless, I don’t do limits.”  

Obongjayar – “Just Cool”    

This Nigerian-born, London-based singer/rapper, raised on American hip hop, brings the infectious sounds of Afrobeat and Afrofunk to his dance party.  It’s not ‘Just Cool’, it’s way cool. 

Explosions in the Sky – “Moving On” 

It’s nice to have these Austin post-rock instrumentalists back in action after a bit of a hiatus. They return to form with their richly textured cinematic soundscape that leaves everything to the imagination. 

Taylor Wallace- Host

Yard Act –  “Trench Coat Museum”

Showing no sign of a sophomore slump, last year’s SXSW Grulke Prize winners gave us this interstitial dance-punk anthem. Using the metaphor of the Trench Coat Museum; a symbol of the versatility and power an object can hold, Yard Act gives the guided tour.

Being Dead –  “Muriel’s Big Day Off”

A weird band of titillation and surprise, Being Dead never fails to pull you in. With hypnotic harmonies and an impressive tightness, “Muriel’s Big Day Off”’s titular character enjoys a day in the city, having tea with friends and making multiple shoplifting trips to Payless. You want to be the person Muriel is meeting for tea between her budget-fashion escapades.

Water From Your Eyes – “Barley”

The first time I heard this song, I knew it was a keeper. “Barley” showcases the duo’s dense, exciting soundscapes created from the madness of their minds. When they performed this song at Levitation, the crowd erupted, so I’m not alone in reveling in the chaos.

Ryan Wen, Host

Jalen Ngonda – “Come Around and Love Me” 

I almost chose to mope inside instead of seeing Jalen Ngonda, but a lifelong friend and kindred soul music zealot gave me a look like, “who are you?” before he justifiably kicked my ass into a cab. Landing somewhere between Bobby Womack’s rasp and Eddie Kendrick’s hair-raising falsetto, with a band that grooves like the Funk Brothers circa What’s Goin On; hearing him was like falling in love with the Motown sound for the first time again. 

Magic Rockers of Texas – “Slomo Cancer”

Imagine that Gram Parsons survived to hear more punk rock, spent another decade self-loathing and self-destructing in a dive bar, and recorded an album with Alex Chilton and Paul Westerberg blacked out on well whiskey. “Slomo Cancer” is the song they wrote the morning after, hungover AF. 

Blonde Redhead – “Snowman”

A Melody of a Certain Damaged Lemons was among the first of many life-changing CDs I stole from my sister. Twenty years and several thousand reminders of how much cooler she is than me later, seeing Blonde Redhead together is still magic. Snowman” is a perfect melange of their many phases. Amadeo Pace’s dour lead and Kazu Makino’s strange backup front a hypnotic procession of bossanova, post-hardcore, minimalism, dream pop, and other oddities for one of their best tracks yet. 

Listen to the full playlist!

Support KUTX’s ability to bring you closer to the music.

Donate Today