Welcome to my annual countdown of the year’s best tunes in synthpop, futurepop, darkwave, and the like. This is the fifth year in a row I’ve compiled this list, but that’s not the only milestone I’m celebrating in 2023.
In March, I completed a long overdue revamp of my website to make it more of a destination. And just last month, I passed 5,000 followers on Facebook, which is where I do most of my promotion. If you’d like to follow along on Facebook, you can find me here.
Each year when I look back at the music I enjoyed most, I try to spot trends that define the year’s mood. It seems like the prevailing mood this year is cynicism, as a lot of the artists I love lament the sorry state of things. Our inaction on climate change, our inability to treat each other right, and a general feeling that things aren’t ever going to get better are topics that frequently surfaced in synthpop music. The once hopeful promise of a post-COVID world seems quickly dashed.
You’ll see that cynicism appear in much of the music below. For the fifth year in a row, I’m excited to present my 100 favorite songs of the year. As always, I only include each artist once on the list in order to share the love.
The complete list:
- The 100 best synthpop songs of 2023: 100 to 76
- The 100 best synthpop songs of 2023: 75 to 51
- The 100 best synthpop songs of 2023: 50 to 26
- The 100 best synthpop songs of 2023: 25 to 1
25 Zanias – “Simulation”
If this line doesn’t speak to you, you’re probably at the wrong website: “Finding god on a dancefloor, alone.” Alison Lewis of Zanias wields an incredible gift for storytelling that’s relatable and rewarding. On the opening track from her Chrysalis album, she cuts across hazy atmosphere with a shuffling beat, ethereal sound effects, and so many provocative lines.
24 Years of Denial – “Dancing With Demons”
French musician Jerome Tcherneyan and Czech performance artist Barkosina Hanusova made a triumphant return in 2023 as the dark, distorted duo Years of Denial. Melding influences from darkwave and techno, they released their sophomore album, Suicide Disco Vol. 2. Its menacing and hypnotic first single, “Dancing With Demons,” is one of the year’s standout club tracks.
23 Deus Ex Lumina – “Fight Back”
Darkwave project Deus Ex Lumina, hailing from Berlin but with roots in Buenos Aires, has been steadily cranking out superb singles all year long. In fact, they’ve produced so many good songs, they’ve signed with influential label Cold Transmission to release their debut album next year. The powerful and insanely catchy “Fight Back,” released all the way back in the first week of January, serves as an anthem for dark and demented folks to stand up to oppression.
22 Teledeath – “Hotline”
One of the year’s best new artists is New York’s Teledeath. The one-person project from David Budet merges diverse influences into an uncompromising and difficult-to-categorize sound. On his best song so far, “Hotline,” he piles on layers of explosive synths, offset by his softly cooing vocals that emit evocative lines like “I’ve reached the end with you ’cause loving you is suicide.”
21 Beyond Border – “Journey”
Germany’s Beyond Border is gearing up to release their sophomore album, Gathering, which arrives in late January. The album’s second single, “Journey,” is another contemplative, high-energy banger with everything you expect of Beyond Border—thick beats from musician Michael Deiters and an incredibly passionate vocal from Kai Iggi Németh.
20 mind.in.a.box – “Drowning in the Fire”
Austrian cyberpunk project mind.in.a.box made their long-awaited return in 2023 with their further adventures to the Dreamweb. Black & White, their eighth studio album, unspools plenty of narrative, but it’s the characters’ emotional reckoning I care most about. Mid-album cut “Drowning in the Fire” conveys the turbulent impact of conflict while miab’s dynamic music plumbs the proggy electro sound they’ve embraced in their latter years.
19 Cold Connection – “Bright”
In 2021, I named Swedish duo Cold Connection the best new synthpop artist of the year. They haven’t let me down since. Cold Connection already appeared on this year’s list of best videos for their innovative reimagining of Page’s song “Aska.” But “Bright” is a wholly original song with spacey electronics, a strong beat, and lovely vocals. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
18 Kite – “Remember Me”
Swedish duo Kite released only two songs in 2023, yet they remain my favorite synthpop band in the world. No other act could pull off an eight-minute beast of a song with barely any lyrics beyond the words “remember me.” But Kite does it with rich, bombastic soundscapes and Nicklas Stenemo’s trademark vocal somersaults.
17 unitcode:machine – “Blind”
Texas-based project unitcode:machine dives deep into his psyche on his 2023 album Critical Fault. It’s an especially poignant listen with relatable lyrics for anyone who’s struggled with mental health. For me, I find “Blind” most relevant for the way Eric Kristoffer tackles self-sabotage via emotionally charged lyrics: “The truth was right in front of me. I am my own worst enemy.”
16 Ghost Cop – “A Shot in the Dark”
Ghost Cop open “A Shot in the Dark” with echoey synths that immediately put listeners at usease. Swirling electronic noises and menacing keys soon arrive, then we’re treated to an elegant vocal track from Lucy Swope that is among the best in the dark music scene. The New York duo delivers a masterclass in sonic tension.
15 Ohne Nomen – “Cold Sadness”
Italian duo Ohne Nomen brew a bewitching blend of dark electronic dance music on their 2023 album, The S-Witch. The album’s standout cut, “Cold Sadness,” is an absolute ripper that cuts through the haze of fog machines and flickering lights with one tremendous beat and a piercing hook from singer Francesca.
14 Male Tears – “Slay”
It doesn’t get any more tragically romantic than this: “I would end my life for a lover.” Through shimmering, luminescent synths, California’s Male Tears weave a tale of Shakespearean proportions that doesn’t forget to ask the most important question: “But would he follow me in?” I adore the rich, sentimentality of “Slay,” my favorite track from their superb 2023 album, Krypt.
13 Die Sexual – “Bound I Rise”
Los Angeles-based duo Die Sexual is a brand new project from Black Light Odyssey’s Anton Floriano that employs his partner Rosselinni on vocals. They come out of the gate swinging with a seductive banger called “Bound, I Rise” that could soundtrack your local sex club.
12 Frozen Plasma – “Let It Rain Love”
Germany’s long-established futurepop act Frozen Plasma upends expectations with their only 2023 single. Singer Felix Marc delivers sorta spoken-word verses about “neglected people” and “agony without end,” then transforms the lyrics into a rousing, sing-along chorus of “Let it rain love” that will likely light up European festivals like Wave-Gotik-Treffen. This is the kind of cheery sentimentality I love.
11 Devours – “10 Things I Crave About You”
Vancouver artist Devours is probably best known for making chaotic, chirpy songs like “Feckless Abandon” from 2021’s Escape From Planet Devours. But he also has a deeply sentimental side, and that’s where I like him best. “10 Things I Crave About You” is a tender, wrenching ballad about heartache that lowers the tempo and the chaos without neglecting the artist’s signature sound.
10 Nuovo Testamento – “Heat”
It’s been a helluva year for Nuovo Testamento. The Italo disco revivalists released their sophomore album, embarked on an unrelenting touring schedule, and found themselves courting mainstream success with coverage from music sites like Stereogum and Bandcamp Daily. “Heat,” the ferocious second single off their Love Lines LP, ignites the dancefloor with instantly memorable lyrics from Chelsey Crowley and pulsating rhythms from the sunnier side of the 1980s.
9 The Mobile Homes feat. Bon Harris – “Throne”
I really wasn’t expecting a combo like this. Swedish synthpop act The Mobile Homes tapped Nitzer Ebb mastermind Bon Harris for a vocal turn on “Throne,” the lead single from their seventh album, Trigger. And it is a stunner. “Throne” takes aim at infatuated politicians with incisive lyrics and sharp melodies, made all the better by Bon Harris.
8 KUNT – “Jericho Stand”
At the start of my year-end recap, I named Sweden’s KUNT the best new synthpop artist of 2023. That distinction is largely based on the power of “Jericho Stand,” an absolute furnace blast of energy and attitude. “Jericho Stand” showcases the band’s extraordinary blend of electropop melody and punk attitude with a ripping vocal delivery from singer Paula Lé Boss and bomb beats from musician Rickard Rosendahl.
7 Dead Lights – “I Am Electric”
Glamgoth duo Dead Lights amp up the energy in “I Am Electric,” one of several outstanding tracks released this year in the build-up to their sophomore album, Glitterspit. “I Am Electric” is raw power full of muscular beats, whirling synth noises, and sinister vocals that carry a sexual undercurrent: “I flow through you.”
6 Séance – “Carnivore”
Swiss duo Séance returned in 2023 with a timely song called “Follow the Leader” that I’ve already included in my list of the year’s best music videos. That song opens their 2023 album, Dark Flow, but the album’s final cut is even better. Built on a slinky, playful beat, “Carnivore” unleashes flowing, rhythmic lyrics about packs of animals and torn flesh. And then the wolves begin to howl.
5 VNV Nation – “Before the Rain”
“Before the Rain,” the lead single from VNV Nation’s Electric Sun album, is not the first time the futurepop giants have touched on creation—they have a song called “Genesis” after all. But they do so here with some of the most lyrical prose in Ronan Harris’ playbook. Over a steady pulsing beat, he contemplates the origin of the cosmos not just as a natural event but as the possibility of human relationships.
4 Fonohead – “Another Mile”
Fonohead’s The Captain Reik Diary is one of those rare, once-in-a-lifetime albums in which every track builds upon the last, telling the story of a long voyage. “Another Mile,” the album’s emotional centerpiece, finds the protagonist of the story furthest from home and longing for his lost love. It is nothing short of divine.
3 Video L’Eclipse – “Almost There”
Swedish synthpop duo Video L’Eclipse have an uncanny gift for wringing rich, warm sounds out of their synths. Their only 2023 release, “Almost There,” opens with ambient tones and delicate tinkling keys, then gradually evolves into a melancholic wave as they introduce additional layers of sound. This song should appear on next year’s Begin-Repress-Depart album—easily one of the most anticipated releases of 2024.
2 System Syn – “Ashes in the Wind”
Song lyrics don’t get any better than this: “I was born with the devil’s tongue in my mouth. They cut my horns so I grew them inside out.” On “Ashes in the Wind,” System Syn unleashes one evocative line after another, completely obliterating any sort of traditional songwriting structure. Like the lyrics, the music ebbs and flows with new sounds—at one point, it pauses completely for a few tense seconds. Everything about this should be a chaotic mess, but Clint Carney holds it together with daft precision and exquisite production.
1 Beborn Beton – “Dancer in the Dark”
Beloved German synthpop band Beborn Beton returned in 2023 with their first new music in eight years. “Dancer in the Dark,” the lead single from their Darkness Falls Again album, opens with a slinky, finger-tapping beat. Around the halfway point, they introduce a strumming guitar that keeps the track feeling fresh and dynamic. Stefan Netschio offers lovely, memorable vocals, singing about dancing and the world turning. But don’t be fooled. There’s a menacing cynicism behind his lyrics. This is more than just a feel-good anthem about the power of dance—it’s also a powerful condemnation of our joie de vivre as the world crumbles around us.