Sparky’s Best Albums 2023

Article Casey Rafter

We expanded our reach this year to find out what our Sac State, Sparky-lovin’ community was listening to this year. Not only were there KSSU DJs DJ Geo, DJ MB, Dj Key, DJ Larry Dee, DJ Bumble, DJ Jetjetplane, DJ TeZaSean, DJ Birdie, The Other, DJ Rafterian, Chris Woodard, DJ Artrocks, DJ Kayla and DJ Harrito BUT we opened up our survey again to the staff at The State Hornet AND a few other fans of the station.

All in all, 24 Sac State students helped us determine the cream of the crop from 2023.

The festivals and live events in Sacramento were LIT this year. Even with its festival dates shifted further back in the year due to flooding at Discovery Park, Sol Blume saw an enormous turnout of fans of Kehlani, PinkPantheress, Samaria and Jessie Reyez (with many many more artists filling the bill). Aftershock was huge. Tool, Korn, Incubus, 311, Queens of the Stoneage, Stone Temple Pilots, The Hu and Babymetal were shaking the overpass at Discovery Park.

At local venues, Sacramento was treated to performances by Labrats and Jakhari Smith at the Torch Club on Sundays. Owl City, Wolfmother and Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage at Ace of Spades. Local rockers Rainbow City Park rocked the house at Old Ironsides while Subhumans, Yelly and The Pharcyde laid down the law at Harlow’s.

That’s just a taste of the hundreds of local and traveling artists and venues bringing in audiences this year. If you didn’t have a chance to catch any live acts in 2023, don’t sleep on 2024. The future is looking bright.

We’ve been hard at work to make sure music from new and established artists filled our station’s library. Out of all of the responses to our “Sparky’s Best Albums” survey, the top-ranking entries went to:

  1. Kali Uchis – Red Moon in Venus (4 nominations, tying for first place!)
  2. Paramore – This is Why (4 nominations. What a comeback!)
  3. Travis Scott – Utopia (3 nominations)
  4. Boygenius – The Record (3)
  5. Lana Del Rey – Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd (3)
  6. Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS (3)
  7. Taylor Swift – 1989 (Taylor’s Version) (3)

Listen to Sparky’s Best Albums of 2023, a 2 hour block airing every weekday from 9-11 a.m. on KSSU.COM or check out this Spotify playlist. Please note that this Spotify playlist contains explicit songs

Here’s what the KSSU extended family had to say about some of Sparky’s favorite albums of 2023:

  • Red Moon in Venus by Kali UchisChris Woodard

    • KSSU DJ & The State Hornet’s Managing Editor ​

      • Something about Kali Uchis aura, sound and look is so divine. Tracks on “Red Moon in Venus” are paced with harmony and her continued elevation of Latin music and multiple genres keeps your ears guessing.
    • Aiyana Rodriguez 
      • The best album to get over my ex
    • Finneas Brumbaugh KSSU’s DJ Bumble
      • This album is a sanguine flowing down a river of mild feels vibe. Its the type of music you sway to, close your eyes and dream to it.
    • Daniela Torres Melendrez KSSU’s DJ Dani
      • The album itself is very soothing and relaxing. The self healing that the album talks about helped me this year with so many personal things. The album is about being in love while living on and healing from past events/ relationships. “I Wish you Roses” is an amazing song talking about how she hopes people who are not in her life anymore are doing well. The album is very relaxing and calm

This is Why by Paramore


  • Brionna Woody The State Hornet, Visual staffer
    • Not only is it my album of the year, it’s a testament that Paramore is aging like fine wine. Sonically, they come back home and lock into that angst-driven sound that they had when they first entered the scene and blend it perfectly with the maturity and reflection that their fans have seen them grow into over the years. Between the themes, instrumentals, songwriting, all of it, there’s not a single aspect of this album that’s less than perfect. 
    • Angela Kallas The State Hornet, Visual Staffer
      • Paramore was on a hiatus and came back with a new sound that still that any adult can relate to. 
    • Casey Rafter KSSU Station Manager, DJ Rafterian
      • Though I’ll be just fine if the title track exits my life for a year or two (it’s been EVERYWHERE), I loved seeing a new generation of alt-loving peeps go wild for this and IT’S GOOD.
    • DJ Dani
      • Being a Paramore fan since 2012, it was very exciting to see what paramore was going to make. They did not disappoint with This Is Why. The music in this album made me feel as if I was listening to their old music, it gave me a nostalgic feeling. You First and Big Man, Little Dignity were my top songs in this album 

  • Utopia by Travis Scott

    • Arthur Kunert KSSU DJ Artrocks
      • This album has to be the best rap album from him as an artist for a while. I went and saw him perform it in Oakland and was blown away. I don’t generally listen to rap and hip hop but this album by far was amazing all throughout.
    • Karolina Ervin KSSU DJ Karo
      • This is an album with some songs that get you ready to party!! I love the distinct beats each song offers, it definitely has some blastable songs and some good workout songs.
    • Aiyana Rodriguez
      • Been waiting for this damn album forever and it didn’t disappoint

  • The Record by Boygenius

    • Ciaran Henderson KSSU’s DJ Key
      • They’re here, they’re queer, they’re music trio boygenius. Long anticipated and extremely well received, the record is an incredible work of art by best friends and brilliant musicians Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers. The lyrics, the music, the crazy concerts that ensued; the record solidified the power of women in rock. Nominated for a whopping SIX Grammys, including record of the year, you’d be stupid not to consider how fantastic this record, and how amazing these women are.
    • Melanie Martinez
      • The music and lyrics are innovative and creative.
    • DJ Dani
      • The production of the album is so amazing it blew my mind away. There are happy songs such as Satanist, love songs such as We’re in Love, and sad songs such as Not Strong Enough and Cool About It. I love the combination of all their voices and how they all go together so well.

  • Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd by Lana Del Rey

    • Kayla Lewis KSSU’s DJ Kayla
      • I chose this album for my top 3 because this album from her in particular was very layered and well-written, and was slightly different than her past albums. I loved the way the album told a story throughout. I also just think Lana Del Rey has an amazing voice.
    • Aiyana Rodriguez
      • Also another album to get over my ex
    • Alissa Mozeb
      • This album perfectly captures Lana’s story telling style. There’s so many sides to this album I just think it’s a beautiful story. To me it’s a person learning to love and grow in new ways while overcoming a pass life. 

  • GUTS by Olivia Rodrigo

    • Harrito Andres KSSU DJ Harrito
      • This album helped me understand my current situation in life. For example, Ballad of the Homeschooled Girl resonates with me a lot because of how I feel when attending any event with a lot of people, even attending classes in college. Another song that helped me was the first track in the album, All American, as it made me feel confident on how my supposed “friends” are always there for me but when I reach out they don’t respond at all; yet I feel like it makes me more independent. Lastly, Get Him Back! is one of my personal favorite songs as it reflect my status with my former friends. Similar to how All American help me cope with that, Get Him Back!, reflects how I feel about all the past people who I thought cared about me but ended up ignoring and even wanting to have nothing to do with me all because I post content that doesn’t suit them or they don’t care about my radio show. The songs are amazing and even the hidden vinyl tracks are hidden gems. 
    • DJ Karo
      • You just can’t go wrong with Olivia Rodrigo, she brings in early 2000s/teen pop vibes and I am here for it. This album offers a variety of different beats that keep you engaged in every which way. 
    • Angela Kallas The State Hornet, Visual Staffer
      • Olivia is a mastermind at songwriting and perfectly encapsulating what it is like to be a teenager.

  • 1989 (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift

    • Karolina Ervin
      • Ahhh! Anything Taylor Swift is such a hit! I love this album so much for it now being her version as well as whenever I play it, it brings back nostalgic times. Just shake it off *pun intended*. 
    • DJ Harrito
      • I’m not a Taylor Swift fan, but this album really brought out all the inner nostalgic feelings I had bottled up over the years. I remember hearing almost all her songs from this album on the radio, that’s how great they were. Although I’m not a Swifty, the songs do certainly make me feel like one. Shake It Off is also just purely fun to listen to, it can make anyone feel upbeat at any time if you ask me.
    • Melanie Martinez
      • Pop BIBLE

  • Lahai by Sampha

    • Will Bremer
      • Long awaited return of such a soulful artist. Really controls the melodies and it feels like listening to a beautiful painting. Also a great mix of sounds with traditional soul and R&B with newer electronic ambiance. 
    • Chris Woodard KSSU DJ & The State Hornet’s Managing Editor
      • “Lahai” dives into patience, anxiety and optimism in ways that only Sampha’s voice and peculiar production can. While some of the work can feel constrained by the artist’s desire to create an album curated for live performances, the new mindset gives Sampha’s solemn falsetto a new meaning. Tracks 2 through 6 of “Lahai” may be the best handful of tracks from an artist in 2023.”
  • Cracker Island by Gorillaz [DJ Rafterian]
    • Looking back over the music released this year, I was caught off guard to listen to this again. I oversaturated myself with it leading up to the release but you have everything you expect from a Gorillaz release: Albarn, great collabs, fun imagery to join the music. Still though…I really miss the interactivity of the Gorillaz website during the Demon Days and Plastic Beach eras.
  • Bunny by Beach Fossils [DJ MB]
    • Their best album from start to finish. Opened for Post Malone on his last tour.
  • The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We by Mitzki [DJ Key]
    • Every song on this album is a masterpiece. Mitski’s ability to dance between genres every album, yet stay true to her poetic lyricism, makes every album of hers a blessing to listen to. This album is consistent, catchy, and groundbreaking for the folky-country sound that she captures brilliantly throughout. For an indie pop artist to make a drastically different album that rivals Lana Del Rey’s sound and do it better only to get snubbed at the Grammy’s is beyond me.
  • Big Time Rush by Another Life (Deluxe Version) [DJ Geo]
    • After an almost decade-long hiatus, Big Time Rush returned with a new album comprised of new songs, with a new sound and as for the band members – a new look. Starting with their lead single “Can’t Get Enough” and this year’s tour of the same name, Big Time Rush manages to bring back the “Boy Band” style of music with lyrics that are more mature and relatable for their fans who grew up watching them on Nickelodeon. Overall, with songs such as Forget You Now, Weekends, Learn to Love and Ask You Tonight, there is a clear indication that they simply cannot get enough of being back, making music together.
  • Cory Wong by The Lucky One [DJ Larry Dee]
    • Contemporary funk-dominant grooves that make you wanna move balanced out by some lush, slow tempo songs here and there. Just about every tack is a banger and I always feel refreshed after listening through this album. I’ve been bumping it in my car the past few months since its release in August.
  • Lovejoy by Wake Up & It’s Over [DJ Bumble]
    • This album is not only a milestone for the band but also an amazing representation for what indie rock could be. The songs are great to listen to for most occasions and are absolute bangers to rock your head to and walk your walk. 
  • Kaskade and Deadmau5 by Kx5 [DJ Jetjetplane]
    • Legendary collaboration debut album between 2 well known producers in the EDM industry. This albums perfectly captures the energy and sounds each artist are well known for. Great variation of energy, rhythms, atmosphere. The list goes on.
  • Karan Aujla by Making Memories [DJ TeZaSean]
    • Added a whole new genre to Punjabi music that hadn’t been done before. Also was a top hit within a week.
  • For all the Dogs by Drake [DJ Birdie]
    • It’s a vibe, always a fan of Drake’s music
  • Blonde Redhead by Sit Down For Dinner [The Other]
    • Fresh but familiar, it is a refreshing and mature album that shows the band evolving and taking new strides in terms of sound.
  • Heaven Knows by PinkPanthress [DJ Rafterian]
    • WHY didn’t I see her at Sol Blume???? So foolish. I really hope that, when GTA VI comes out, we get a chance to bash cars through the streets with tunes from this album blaring on the radio. It just fits.
  • Take Me Back To Eden by Sleep Token [Chris Woodard]
    • Sleep Token’s 2023 success with “Take Me Back To Eden” and touring may be the spark the hard rock scene has desperately waited for. Sleep Token’s ability to rebrand Nu metal
  • Soft Landing by Art School Girlfriend [DJ MB]
    • Love every song, underrated
  • Data by Tainy [DJ Geo]
    • After achieving much success producing for artists such as Bad Bunny, Myke Towers, and J Balvin, Tainy continues to prove why he is such a recognized producer amongst the Reggaeton Genre. With tracks such as “LA BABY”, “LO Siento BB” & “TODOVIA” it is no doubt why he remains one of the most influential artists in the Latin music world.
  • If Not Now, Who? by Joe K. Walsh [DJ Larry Dee]
    • Masterful bluegrassy/roots performances from Walsh and his band. Each song has great texture to it, warm and cozy. I particularly like to work with this one in the background.
  • Quest for Fire by Skrillex [DJ Jetjetplane]
    • After almost a decade, Skrillex dropped a full album followed by another one a week later. Consists of great variety of collaborations with Porter Robinson, Four Tet, Flowdan, Peakaboo, and Swae Lee. Massive variation of music production skill and energy is displayed with with this album.
  • Coney Island kid by The Mommyheads [DJ Artrocks]
    • I chose this because I really like the album as a whole. It is a little slower and mellow, a little more than I’d like but it is a really great album to listen to on a long drive. I honestly like the pace despite it being not super hard rock. I actually am in contact with the artist and he’s a huge fan of my show!
  • Four you by Karan Aujla [The Other]
    • Was one of two major hip hop albums to reach the top charts in India. First Major Punjabi hip hop album in 2 years.
  • Sexy Red by Hood’s Hottest Princess [DJ Birdie]
    • Skee Yee!
  • Melodies on Haitus by Albert Hammond Jr. [DJ TeZaSean]
    • Quenches my thirst for Strokes/Voidz music, while still surprising me and making me think.
  • Everything is Alive by Slowdive [DJ Kayla]
    • I chose this album for my top 3 because I just think everything Slowdive releases is amazing. There’s only 8 songs, which is slightly rare these days, but every song fits very well together on the album. Very mellow and dreamy.
  • Get Up (EP) by NewJeans [DJ Harrito]
    • The music is a vast array of upbeat hits that are sure to lift anyones spirits. Kpop is not a genre you hear often on radios which is why when I first heard this album, it surprised me how good it was. Tracks like Super Shy and ETA use a mix of vocals and techno to create something unique. It definitely makes me happy anytime I listen to it.
  • Warm Air by Beach Novels [DJ MB]
    • Underrated AF, played their songs on almost every one of my show playlists, deserves more attention
  • Saturno by Rauw Alejandro [DJ Geo]
    • Puerto-Rican talent Rauw Alejandro is one of the leaders of the new wave of Latin music and his album “Saturno” continues to solidify this status. With hits such as “LOKERA”, “PUNTO 40″ and “PANTIES Y BRASIERES”, the first two of which reached the Global Top 50 with more than 75 million streams each, accompanied with a massively successful world tour, it is clear why this album is one of the best to be released in 2023.
  • Bewitched by Laufey [DJ Larry Dee]
    • ​Contemporary vocal jazz ballads with vintage tastes. Some jazz fans argue that she’s not real jazz due to reaching top charts as a “jazz pop” musician, but honestly these songs are legitimately great. This album is a genuine delight and it’s a joy to see older stylings living on in current musicians.
  • THE FUTURE IS DARK by Lil’ Darkie [DJ Bumble]
    • Full transparency; this album probably cannot be played on Sparky. (see what I did there, ha.) This album is a loud call for change within music. I personally enjoy the spin Lil Darkie has on rap music and the way it moves from scene to scene with tone and what feels like multimedia project. Its the type of music to scream in the shower or listen while silently staring at someone or something you absolutely hate to.
  • Existential Dance Music by San Holo [DJ Jetjetplane]
    • SAN Holo is a favorite so it might be biased. This is the second album released and it perfectly captures the vast FEELINGS of a niche human experience. Do you get existential about who you are as a person? Or even life as a whole? This one’s for you. Also consists of a satisfying variety of edm genres San holo is recently exploring. The live show is packed with even more heavy drops and variety in genres. Great year to be a San Holo Fan
  • Electric Sun by VNV Nation [DJ Artrocks]
    • I chose this album because the industrial genre is really good in Germany and VNV Nation is by far one of the best. I like the balance between electronic and Industrial elements he uses in his music and his latest album does not disappoint. I would definitely give it a listen if you are into industrial and electronic music!
  • Ghost by Diljit Dosanjh [DJ TeZaSean]
    • One of two major hip hop album this year (the other is listed above). Was the comeback of the largest artist in punjabi and his first hip hop album.
  • Like by Ice Spice [DJ Birdie]
    • She’s dope!!
  • One Wayne G by Mac Demarco [The Other]
    • Personally not a fan of the 200 demo song format, but definitely some really great tracks on here.(Even if you never get through all of them) Mac Demarco is still the prince of indie rock and it shows in some of these tracks.
  • The Ballad of Darren by Blur [DJ Kayla]
    • I chose this album for my top 3 because it actually led me to check out more of Blur’s music. It’s very well-done instrumentally, which is something I loved about it. I only liked a few songs at first but over time the entire album really grew on me. Good stuff!