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  • Writer's pictureOCULATE UK

OCULATE UK'S TOP 20 PROJECTS OF 2023

Updated: Dec 22, 2023


As we reflect on the releases of the past year, Oculate UK is proud to present a curated collection of the most exceptional musical projects that blessed our ears in 2023.

This year witnessed a diverse range of releases that left an indelible mark on the music landscape, from seasoned artists making triumphant returns to emerging talents who have carved their own niche. Each project on this list is a testament to the incredible diversity and innovation present in the music landscape of 2023. Join us as we delve into the intricacies of these projects - in no particular order, celebrating the artists who have made our year with their standout projects.

 

SAMPHA - LAHAI

Released: October 2023

It had been a full 6 years since Sampha’s previous project, and fans were chomping at the bit for new songs from the immensely talented singer. Under these circumstances, it can be incredibly hard to live up to the expectation. This is a rare case in which it was managed. ‘Lahai’ is thoughtful, experimental, reflective, and fully deserving of its spot on this list.

 

OVERMONO - GOOD LIES

Released: May 2023

Brothers Tessela and Truss released their debut album Good Lies in May, and it’s clear to see why they have shot to stardom. The album has cemented itself amongst British royalty on one of the best labels our tiny island has to offer, which of course is XL Recordings. The 12-track album is a reflection on the duo’s musical history together, and an audio display of their brotherhood, both in blood and sound.

 

NIA ARCHIVES-

Released: March 2023

Nia Archives, hailed as jungle's newest sensation, lives up to the title with her EP ‘Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall’. Embracing a more eclectic sound, she showcased her production prowess on tracks like the high-energy ‘Baianá’, and the expansive title track. However, it's her songwriting that steals the spotlight, revealing a more nuanced and versatile side. Straying from a reliance on beats, the EP allows listeners to engage with Nia's stories, showcasing an unheard side of this unique artist. With standout performances at Coachella and her own Warehouse Project this year, this EP has elevated Nia to the highest point of her career yet. 

 

JUNGLE - VOLCANO

Released: August 2023

‘Volcano’ presents a fusion of 70s Soul, hypnotic 80s loops and 90s house music, showcasing the London duo's refined sound. When an album successfully blends genres and sounds, as heard in tracks like 'Candle Flame' and 'I've Been In Love', the impact is undeniable. Embodying the contemporary musical landscape's diverse influences, ’Volcano' is a sonic cocktail of genres and sounds, creating an album you can put on and get lost in. 


 

TEEZO TOUCHDOWN - HOW DO YOU SLEEP AT NIGHT?

Released: September 2023

We cannot speak about the best music of 2023 without mentioning Teezo Touchdown’s debut album. Teezo is an artist that has been creating innovative music since his explosive entrance onto the scene. He uses melodic instrumentals, blended with absurdist lyrics and offbeat deliveries, to create a sound that is truly his. With such an unapologetic approach to creating music, Teezo has gathered a large audience and landed features on the albums of Travis Scott, Tyler, The Creator and Drake. The fan response to the album was nothing but positive. A reaction unsurprising to us, as we’ve long been enamoured by Teezo’s artistry.

 

LANA DEL RAY - DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE'S A TUNNEL OCEAN BOULEVARD?

Released: March 2023

Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard? Is Lana Del Rey’s 9th album. As we enter another era of Lana, the album provides a martini-drinking reminiscence of family and legacy, and memories and nostalgia. It’s hushed experimentalism over 16 songs of pure bliss, straight from the opening track, The Grants - an ode to her family name.

 

DOWNTOWN KAYOTO - LEARNING IN PUBLIC

Released: June 2023

Downtown Kayoto may have experienced being overlooked by some, due to him coming from the small city on the Humber river - the mighty Hull. But with this project, ‘Learning In Public’, he has made himself known. Not following the standard stereotypes of UK rap, Downtown took his inspiration from the likes of Pharrell and Tyler, the Creator adding his own unique flair to every track. With his DIY approach, ‘Learning In Public’ is a body of work that shows off who Downtown really is. Whether it be the energetic ‘LITE’ or the chilled-out tones of ‘Only A Crush’, you can always tell it’s a DK song. 

 

KWOLLEM - MELO

Released: November 2023

Kwollem has had two cult-classic projects before this one, each one existing in a sub-genre that no one does better. Likely because he pioneered the ‘mellow grime’ sound, Kwollem has mastered it, which he exhibits clearly on his new tape, ‘Melo’. Named in tandem with his new-born baby, ‘Melo’ contains a vast array of collaborators over Kwollem’s soulful production. Joe James features heavily on this project as he did the previous, and delivers some of his best work. Standout tracks include ‘Grandma’s Kitchen’ with AJ Tracey, and ‘No Heart’ with Joe James, Novelist and Ashbeck.

 

HAK BAKER - WORLDS END FM

Released: June 2023

This album from Hak Baker is so many things. It’s conceptual, culturally poignant, heart-wrenching, comedic, heart-warming & more. The range of emotions this album evokes is staggering. He has managed to capture his experience, as well as experiences of countless others. The way the skits are interspersed greatly adds to the flow of the project, as the songs travel through differing sounds. ‘World’s End FM’ showcases what we believe is a lot of Hak’s best work to date.

 

CLEO SOL - HEAVEN & GOLD

Released: September 2023

Including these two separate albums as one in this top 20 is cheating slightly, but both deserved to be here so we’re bending the rules slightly. Cleo Sol’s vocals across both projects are transcendental. The song-writing is personal and contemplative, and the instrumentation is, as has come to be expected from producer Inflo, exquisite. The calibre of artistry on show here is truly stunning.

 

TRAVIS SCOTT - UTOPIA

Released: July 2023

Accompanied with its own playlist-walk-through in the form of a film, ‘UTOPIA’ is a standalone body of work, separating itself from other Scott albums while showcasing his distinct style and sound. It’s clear that Travis has established his key to a successful album, adding slower, melodic, almost intoxicated sounds, seen in ‘I KNOW ?’, ‘MY EYES’ and ‘TIL FURTHER NOTICE’ and his classic rage-inducing songs, like ‘FE!N’ and ‘TOPIA TWINS’. ‘UTOPIA’ comes across as being a lot slicker in comparison to his other albums. Whether you feel that works for Travis or not, you can’t deny that this album is an experience, between the rapid beat switch-ups, blend of genres and variety of features. From funk, afrobeats, folk-rock and rage, Utopia may have it all, and it’s clear that Travis embraces his featured artists’ talents while adding his own signature twist.

 

KILLOWEN - PUB THERAPY

Released: October 2023

A late release in 2023, ‘Pub Therapy’ is KiLLOWEN’s exceptional debut project. KiLLOWEN has proven throughout the year why he is an artist worth investing time into. He experienced massive growth in 2023, particularly with ‘Sober’, becoming a viral sensation in the summertime. This project possesses a raw energy, immediately transporting you to the feeling of a bustling local pub on the weekend. Him having production credits across almost all songs on the project makes it even more impressive, with his genre-blending approach, and creative use of samples. We’ve had ‘Pub Therapy’ on repeat since October, and we cannot wait to see which direction KiLLOWEN goes next.

 

BOYGENUIS - THE RECORD

Released: October 2023

Boygenius’ debut album, ‘the record’, has received an incredibly positive response, and deservedly so. The intricate song-writing from the trio, combined with its emotive instrumentation, has led to an exquisite outcome. Everything about it feels intimate, as if the trio has welcomed the listener into their world with open arms. Having been given enormous praise from fans and critics alike, this album is undeniable. It is worthy of its hype, and certainly worthy of its spot on our list. 

 

JORJA SMITH - FALLING OR FLYING

Released: September 2023

‘falling or flying’, marked a triumphant shift in her musical journey after the introspective 'Be Right Back' mixtape in 2021. Teaming up with production duo DAMEDAME*, close friends from her hometown, the album is a diverse musical treasure, ranging from the mesmerising 'Try Me' to the dancefloor ready beat of 'Little Thing’. A clear standout from the project was ‘GO GO GO’. This saw Jorja head back to her Midlands hometown and find her indie roots, creating a track we would never have expected to hear. Throughout the record, we can see Jorja’s genuine connection with her past, as well as her renewed sense of self-trust. ‘falling or flying’ is a compelling musical portrait of where Jorja is in her life after making the move away from London.

 

PARAMORE - THIS IS WHY

Released: October 2023

Paramore’s return to creating music as a group was as remarkable as we expected it to be. After the band’s six-year hiatus, lead singer Hayley Williams is accompanied by Zac Farro on drums, and guitarist (and partner) Taylor York, releasing their sixth studio album earlier this year. Continuing with the band’s traditional themes of stellar vocals and grungy guitar riffs, ‘This Is Why’ has reminded us of why we loved Paramore when we were teenagers. This project is one that has been stuck in our heads all year, due to the addictive performances from all three members, and particularly the catchy choruses of Hayley Williams.

 

CASISDEAD - FAMOUS LAST WORDS

Released: October 2023

After a ten year wait for Cas’s debut studio album, the highly anticipated wait was more than worth it. One of the most common picks from the Oculate team on this list, Famous Last Words is 23 tracks long and every single one is simply outstanding. The album feels like it could be the soundtrack to an 80’s blockbuster with its overflow of synth pop, including a feature from Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant. Casisdead is untouchable, do not sleep on him.

 

IDK - F65

Released: May 2023

Known for his creativity, storytelling and honesty, IDK did not stray from his skillset in F65, which features an influence from his love of Formula 1. This album has an array and juxtaposition of sound, from the jazz-inspired ‘Cape Coast’, the melodic ‘Up The Score’, the honest storytelling of ‘Mr Police’, the heavy beats of ‘Salty’ and ‘Pit Stop’, and the catchy groove of ‘Pinot Noir’. Despite the wide variety, the body of work feels well put together, with lyrics that highlight IDKs level of awareness as an artist. With songs still on repeat after 7 months since its release, this album is a solid favourite of ours.

 

POTTER PAYPER - REAL BACK IN STYLE

Released: May 2023

The raw authenticity in this album is awe-inspiring. Potter Payper is as real as it gets, and he brought it into style in the most poetic way. The whole project feels unfiltered and genuine, which are unfortunately rare qualities in large swathes of releases. It retains listenability, whilst being home to some of the best storytelling rap you can find anywhere. This album is a triumph.

 

ANTSLIVE - JUST A MATTER OF TIME

Released: January 2023

When AntsLive started the year with the bold and brave claims in ‘Number One Candidate’, many people might have doubted that he truly was “Next Up”. How wrong they were; 2023 has been nothing but exceptional for the young talent. With the release of ‘Just A Matter Of Time’ AntsLive caught the attention of everyone, with outstanding visuals for ‘Number One Candidate’ bringing them all into this mixtape wanting to see more of what he could do. Featuring previously released ‘Don Corleone’, ‘Skeet’ and ‘Glow Up’, Ants also treated us to multiple new releases, showcasing his ability to create magic over a wide array of beats. This is a project we can’t help but keep going back to.

 

JIM LEGXACY - HOMELESS N*GGA POP MUSIC

Released: April 2023

This genre-defying body of work from Jim Legxacy had to make the list. His approach to crafting his songs is truly unique. He pulls together samples in such a magnificent way, blending them with vocals that tell stories in a way like no other. The bulk of this project was made with Jim Legxacy staying on friends’ floors and sofas, having no home for himself. This further adds to how impressive this collection of songs is. An artist with such a bright future, Jim Legxacy has already proved himself with this notably brilliant body of work.

 

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