The 100 best synthpop songs of 2023: 50 to 26

The countdown continues of my favorite songs of the year.

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:

50 Neuroticfish – “Imposter Syndrome”

The German icons are set to unveil their seventh album next week. It’s a bit surprising that the first single supporting the album is a slow and somber build instead of a club banger like “Prostitute” or “Velocity.” But that forces the attention on Sascha Klein’s lovely, reflective lyrics. And there are some chilling lines here: “Take a peek behind the curtain. There is nothing left to see.” I suspect we’re in for an unexpected and introspective weeper when the album arrives.

49 The Mystic Underground – “The Backlash Comes”

New York’s The Mystic Underground has always wielded diverse influences from classic synthpop to industrial to house music. “The Backlash Comes” might just be their most high-energy dance cut yet. The duo tops a propulsive beat with urgent sounds from ’90s house music to create a straight-up house banger with a monster hook.

48 IIOIOIOII – “Frozen Sea”

North Carolina duo IIOIOIOII (pronounced I.O.) wring incredible atmosphere out of their synthesizers. On “Frozen Sea,” the mood here is dark and hazy, dotted with elements of mysticism. Singer Chris Gurney draws out the lyrics into epic poetry and punctuates each line of the chorus with a drowned cry of “Froooooozen sea.”

47 Ashbury Heights feat. Corlyx – “Tunguska”

Ashbury Heights is overflowing with unreleased cuts. Since announcing their Ghost House Sessions anthology in 2020, they’ve been steadily releasing one incredible track after another. On this year’s “Tunguska,” they’re joined by Caitlin Stokes from Corlyx for a dark and mysterious thriller. The first volume of Ghost House Sessions is finally coming in 2024—that’s right, they have enough songs for multiple volumes.

46 BlakLight – “Prey”

California’s BlakLight had a very busy year. They became a trio, released a remix album and a sorta-instrumental album, performed a handful of shows, and somehow found time to create new music. Their 2023 single “Prey” finds the project swimming in darker waters, as singer Brian Belknap delivers sharp lines like “You’ve gotta pray for me… You are prey for me.”

45 Vandal Moon – “Satellite”

I did not expect this. California darkwave duo Vandal Moon amps up the, well, everything to deliver one of their hardest hitting tracks yet. “Satellite” is a powerful electro-industrial banger with a roiling beat, shredding guitars, and layers of outrageous sound.

44 Tobias Bernstrup – “Legend”

Swedish performance artist Tobias Bernstrup is known for avant-garde costumes, Italo disco sounds, and incredible storytelling. On “Legend,” the second song we’ve heard from his forthcoming new album, he delivers positive affirmations amid bubbling, effervescent synths. 

43 Affet Robot – “At the End”

In late 2021, Affet Robot’s Eren Günsan moved from Istanbul to London and unveiled his first English-language track, the charming “Kills You Again.” He takes his evolution even further on “At the End.” Hovering over a monster beat, his voice flows with a spoken-word grace that is completely captivating.

42 Erotic Elk – “Hours”

Sweden’s Erotic Elk haven’t been especially prolific since releasing their 2015 album, III. What they like in quantity, they make up for in quality. Like their previous releases, 2019’s “The Living Pain” and 2020’s “Watching You,” this year’s “Hours” is a lovely tune that conveys deep, emotional resonance. If these singles are building toward a full-length, it’s going to be magnificent.

41 White Noise TV – “Equalizer”

International trio White Noise TV makes trancey futurepop with melancholic lyrics much like their heroes, VNV Nation. In fact, they released a VNV cover song this year. “Equalizer,” coming off last year’s superb Every Day Lost album, is an original song with gorgeous melody, contemplative lyrics, and dark electronic flourishes.

40 Uncarnate – “Oceans”

Poland’s Uncarnate took aim at dark dancefloors with their double-sided single, “Oceans/Dead Dancers.” You can’t go wrong with either song, but “Oceans” particularly thrills with throbbing beats, electronic pulses, and cavernous vocals that cut through the fog and flickering lights.

39 Priest – “Burning Love”

The unstoppable force that is Priest had a very busy touring schedule in 2023—I finally got to see them live, and it was a blast. Somehow they found time to record a new album that’s coming next year. Its first single, “Burning Love,” amps up the techno energy with explosive beats and wild noise effects.

38 Black Nail Cabaret – “Autogenic”

Just last week, Black Nail Cabaret surprise-released their first new song since their monumental 2020 album, Gods Verging on Sanity. “Autogenic” offers everything we want from Black Nail Cabaret—gorgeous vocals from chanteuse Emese Arvai-Illes and sharp production from musician Krisztian Arvai. Around the 90-second mark, he triggers sirens that lead into a killer synth build.

37 Missing in Stars – “The Tides”

Wisconsin’s Missing in Stars has been releasing music since at least 2017, but this year they signed with scene-defining label Infacted Recordings and took to new heights. Dan Guenther, the man behind Missing in Stars, has a rich, resonant voice imbued with so much passion. On “The Tides,” my favorite track from his Perfusing the Circuit album, it rumbles across flittering electronics.

36 Red Cell – “Going Back Before Going On”

Swedish duo Red Cell makes gorgeous, sentimental synthpop in the tradition of genre legends like OMD and Depeche Mode. Their self-titled album is a sublime collection of songs with many standout moments, including the well-crafted and marvelous “Going Back Before Going On.”

35 Dead Cool – “Stranger Kind”

From the haunting realm of shadowy darkwave and dazzling synthpop, North Carolina duo Dead Cool cranks up the gloom with “Stranger Kind.” With head-bopping beats and ecstatic synth riffs, they deliver a powerful be-yourself anthem for strange and mysterious folks who find solace in darkness.

34 Depeche Mode – “Ghosts Again”

The world’s most famous synthpop band returned in 2023 with their best track in years. “Ghosts Again” is an introspective and sentimental mid-tempo number that tackles death with lovely twinkling keys and tender lyrics from Martin Gore. In the wake of founding member Andy Fletcher’s untimely passing, it’s a profoundly moving triumph.

33 Diary of Dreams – “The Fatalist”

Germany’s enduring Diary of Dreams delivered a comeback of sorts with their latest album, Melancholin. The whole album is a dramatic, darkwave gem preceeded by intense singles like “Viva la Bestia” and “The Secret.” But I am most drawn to deep album cut “The Fatalist” for its majestic lyrics and the way it ditches guitars for jittery electronics.

32 KÅRP – “Greasy Makeup”

In 2023, Swedish synthpop project KÅRP completed a series of EPs they call their apocalyptic trilogy. Radical You, the final EP in the set, includes a lovely and thoughtful song called “Greasy Makeup” that is probably about domestic abuse. The synths may be uplifting and the vocals enchanting, but some of these lines can be painful and heartbreaking: “I know you’d strike back even harder.”

31 Torul – “Now I Die Inside”

On their first new song since 2021’s dreamy and dancey “Resonate,” Slovenian synthpop maestros Torul took a minimalist approach. “Now I Die Inside” dials down the tempo and amplifies the tension with a striking percussive beat and delicate vocals from Torulsson himself. The song’s unique and unexpected structure feels fresh and innovative from a band unafraid to reinvent itself.

30 Fatigue – “Cold as the Sun”

Massachusetts synthpop artist Fatigue is building quite the reputation for subversive songcraft. On “Cold as the Sun,” even the title topples expectations. Lillian Edith Martin crafts an innovative soundscape out of squishy electronic noises, then creates a rhyming scheme that is among my favorite lyrics of the year—at one point, she pulls of the impressive feat of rhyming multisyllabic words “cacophony” and “monotony.”

29 Promenade Cinema – “To Synchronise No More”

From the dark scene’s best storytellers comes this bewitching and meticulous tale of heartbreak. On “To Synchronize No More,” Emma Barson’s evocative lyrics cover mundane but fascinating details like “tracks in the driveway” and “stains from your coffee” while the duo’s swirling synths conjure a woeful and sullen atmosphere.

28 Bedless Bones – “Dead Woman”

Estonian project Bedless Bones builds enchanting atmosphere out of ethereal electronics and her mysterious vocals. It’s impossible not to feel transported by the misty-eyed unease of “Dead Woman,” the first single and opening track from her superb Mire of Mercury album.

27 Dagon – “Room of Ice”

In 2023, Greek musician George Georgalas stepped down as the voice of synthpop project Dark-o-matic. Now focusing on his solo work as Dagon, he delivered a superb collection of songs called Goran Sharok. The album’s standout cut is “Room of Ice” for its rollicking beat and clever wordplay: “You did nothing wrong. Except for everything.”

26 APNOIE – “Magic Stuff”

APNOIE’s debut album kicks off with a bang. First track “Magic Stuff” blends frenetic beats and sensual lyrics, a dynamite introduction to the Russian project from Dance My Darling keyboardist Aleksandra Snork. With wild energy, she delivers lines like “You must be superhot” in a seductive baby doll voice.

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