The 25 best synthpop albums of 2023

Counting down my favorite albums of the year.

Thanks for joining me for another year of excellent music. The countdown below contains the 25 albums I enjoyed most this year. I hope you discover something you love as much as I do. I’ve included links to Spotify so you can sample these artists, and I’ve provided links to Bandcamp so you can invest in their futures. If you do discover any artists on this list that you particularly love, I encourage you to purchase their music or merch and see their shows.

See you again in 2024. I’m hoping to try some new things next year, but I’ll continue to promote new music, mostly on Friday release days. As always, I’ll countdown my favorite tracks at the end of each month. Follow me on Facebook if you’d like to keep up with new posts.

25 Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Bauhaus Staircase

Synthpop legends OMD remain devoted to mostly analog synthesizers, which occasionally lends their songs a thin sound in a thoroughly digital world. But they continue to cover modern topics in unique and poetic ways. On their fourteenth and possibly last album, they tackle topics like climate change, corruption, and the rise of fascism. The album’s silliest moments—a pair of robotic tracks called “Anthropocene” and “Evolution of Species”—are easily outpaced by the evocative title track and the Goldfrapp-inspired “Slow Train.” Its finest moment is actually a four-year old song—they’ve included the sparkling “Don’t Go” from their 2019 Souvenir collection.

Listen: Spotify

24 Dagon – Goran Sharok

Greek musician Dagon made some shocking moves in 2023. He stepped down as the voice of Dark-o-matic, then announced the end of his solo project. On Goran Sharok, his final album under the Dagon name, he goes out with a bang. The three best tracks arrive early, setting the stage for a magnificent listening experience. “Death Follows Too” piles on layers of electronic sound. “Lightning Burst” slows down the tempo with lovely plucking guitar and gorgeous vocals. Completing the triumvirate, the album’s standout track, “Room of Ice,” thumps along to a rollicking beat and Dagon’s clever lyrics: “You did nothing wrong. Except for everything.” Fortunately, we’ll hear more from this amazing artist—he’s launching a new project called d.o.G.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

23 X Marks the Pedwalk – Superstition

In the 10-plus years since returning from a long hiatus, Germany’s X Marks the Pedwalk has emerged as reliable architects of modern synthpop. Superstition doesn’t see them drastically mutate their sound à la resurgent album Inner Zone Journey or 1995’s Meshwork (which foretold futurepop no less). But the songs continue to showcase gorgeous melodies and exceptional production. “Who Is Right” stands out for its deep, driving beat and spirited vocals from Estefanía. Mastermind Sevren Ni-Arb takes lead on bouncy single “Fading Waves.” And for the first time ever, the couple combine for a genuine duet on “Die With Me.”

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

22 The Mystic Underground – Everyone Deserves a Stage

New York synthpop duo The Mystic Underground have a unique gift for crafting music that sounds retro and modern by tugging at influences from across the decades. On their thumping third album, Everyone Deserves a Stage, singer Vladimir Valette commands a sharp wit along the lines of classic storytellers like Morrissey and Neil Tennant. On “A Very Shady Character” (a Smiths title if there ever was one), he sings about a barfly who creeps and hovers. Musician Benedetto Socci adds a heavy dollop of house sounds. “The Lonely Ones” combines early ’90s piano keys and modular bells, while the “The Backlash Comes” is a bona fide house floor banger.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

21 Missing in Stars – Perfusing the Circuit

Wisconsin musician Dan Guenther has a rich, hearty voice that would make him a good fit as an earnest alternative rocker. As a synthpop artist, his voice clashes beautifully across electronics, making his music as Missing in Stars feel full and distinctive. He’s all passion on “Fight,” pleading to stand up and face your battles. On “The Sinners,” he’s ruminating about our misdeeds. On the album’s standout cut, “The Tides,” his voice rumbles across fluttering electronics as he sings about “a child of the dancefloor grinning with disgust,” then later transforms his words into a spectacular “la la la la” verse.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

20 Depeche Mode – Memento Mori

“Death is everywhere,” Depeche Mode famously proclaimed on their best record ever. It’s never been more present than on fifteenth album, Mememto Mori, which finds the now duo considering death not as morbid curiosity but as men combating mortality. Songs like “Ghosts Again” and “Wagging Tongue” address death directly, packing in particular resonance in the wake of longtime peacemaker Andy Fletcher’s untimely passing. Death’s specter is accompanied by the welcome return of thumping industrial beats and skittering electronics, particularly on tracks like “The Cosmos Is Mine” and “People Are Good.” They’ve mostly abandoned the bluesy vibe of the past two decades and sound much better for it.

Listen: Spotify

19 The Mobile Homes – Tristesse

Despite a career that spans nearly 40 years, Swedish project The Mobile Homes remain an underrated force in synthpop. Their eight studio album Tristesse (the French word for sorrow) takes the romantic melancholy of previous album, Trigger, and plunges it into more turbulent waters. “Some Days” tackles mental health with a somber piano and vocal arrangement. “In Memoriam No One” takes a more intense route with stabs of icy electronics. But of course, the highlight of Tristesse is the band’s unexpected pairing with Nitzer Ebb multi-instrumentalist Bon Harris, who provides spirited vocals on “Throne” that take down self-serving politicians.

Listen: Spotify

18 Diary of Dreams – Melancholin

Diary of Dreams - Melancholin

The long-gestating German project Diary of Dreams returned from a five-year hiatus—their longest break between albums. Melancholin is often menacing and sometimes danceable, but there are also moments of profound beauty. “Beyond the Void” turns down the tempo a bit for a proggy run through Pink Floyd territory. As this falls more in the electro-goth realm, guitars abound, though they’re used sparingly so the synths rise to the foreground. Pre-release singles “Viva la Bestia” and “The Secret” combine guitar and electronics for intense melodrama and inward-facing lyrics like “I am my best friend. I am my biggest enemy.” It’s a dire affair. Melancholin’s most synthpop moment comes courtesy of deep cut “The Fatalist,” which offers jittery electronics and majestic lyrics.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

17 Red Cell – Red Cell

Swedish duo Red Cell are a long way from their roots. Once architects of angry electro-metal, they now make soaring, anthemic synthpop. Their self-titled fourth album showcases sentimental lyrics, rousing beats, and sharp production that sounds thoroughly modern. Yet I can’t help but compare its tracks to classic acts of the ’80s. Songs like “Coloring My Bones” and “Until the End” introduce darkly accented bleeps that recall early Depeche Mode. But the clearest comparison comes courtesy of Tears for Fears. On last year’s “Good Morning, Good Light” and the marvelous “Going Back Before Going On,” Jimmy Skeppstedt’s baritone voice and towering melodies recall the duo famous for songs like “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

16 Torul – End Less Dreams

Across a history spanning 20+ years, Slovenian synthpop band Torul has employed a couple of different singers. The one constant remains sharp production techniques from bandleader Torulsson. He’s at his most innovative on the cannily titled End Less Dreams, a somewhat darker album for the project informed by the COVID years. Album highlights “The Only Way” and “Now I Die Inside” offer unusual song structures and unexpected elements. Near the end of “The Only Way,” he introduces a creepy digitized voice that cranks up the gloom. Other standout tracks include “Resonate” for its uncompromising mood and “Falling Apart” for its thumping pads and anguished lyrics.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

15 Bedless Bones – Mire of Mercury

Ethereal. Otherworldly. Transcendent. Sensual. I have no shortage of adjectives to describe the genre-defying music of Estonian artist Bedless Bones. She launched her third album, Mire of Mercury, with a pre-release single called “Dead Woman” that instantly captivating me with its mystical soundscapes. Further cuts from the album are just as powerful. “Litha” grafts her spectral sounds to a rapidly churning beat and cries of “Swell swell swell!” On “Solar Animus,” clattering electronics amplify the tension. I haven’t felt this transported by music since the first time I heard Fever Ray’s debut album.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

14 – Black and White

“It’s so good to see you again. It’s been far too long.” The Austrian music project picked up the cyberpunk story they began way back in 2004 with their debut, Lost Alone. New album Black and White is heavy on exposition as Agent Black infiltrates the Agency that once employed him. Even the most accessible tracks like “Integrate” advance the story with narrative lyrics that can sometimes bog down the simple enjoyment of songs. Yet remains one of the most innovative music projects in the dark scene and beyond. Black and White includes all the elements we want from the project. Emotions run high on relatable tracks like “Lost and Alone.” Thrilling soundscapes fill songs like “Drowning in the Fire.” And the much loved robot vocal effects may not be as prolific but do make a welcome return, especially on closing track “Activate.”

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

13 Zanias – Chrysalis

Alison Lewis is a grandiose artist with one of the best voices in the dark music scene. As half of Linea Aspera, she practically birthed a sound now championed by bands like Boy Harsher. But her most prolific work now belongs to her solo project. As Zanias, she’s produced three albums, each one chartering vastly different directions. Third album Chrysalis finds her incorporating stronger pop melodies with ethereal sound effects and warehouse beats. Standout moments include the cooing vocals of “Lovelife” and the buoyant synth ripples of “Closing.” Across Chrysalis, she offers provocative insights into the human condition, none more so than the opening lines of enchanting track “Burial:” “I’m crumbling inside, and I’m feeling disconnected from it all.”

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

12 Séance – Dark Flow

Switzerland’s Séance has been around since 1985, though this year’s fiery lead single, “Follow the Leader,” was my first encounter with them. What an intro. Atop thumping body music beats, they deliver rapid-fire spoken word vocals that are unlike anything else I’ve heard. Their latest album Dark Flow is aptly named. While “Follow the Leader” opens the album, it closes with “Carnivore,” a stunning tour de force about predators and prey. Those two tracks alone warrant immediate attention, yet Séance demonstrate enough diversity in between to overcome easy comparisons to EBM forebears Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb. “Stargazing” is a certified synthpop jam with gorgeous melody, while “Too Heavy to Fly” adopts trancier sounds of modern futurepop.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

11 Devours – Homecoming Queen

Queer identity has long been a vital component of Vancouver’s Devours, but he’s never explored queer beauty quite so intently as on Homecoming Queen. There is after all a track called “Jacuzzi My Stonewall” that flips the script on the icon of the modern gay rights movement. He approaches the material this time with a touch of melancholy—opening track “37up (the Longing)” offers a refrain of “I would give it all up to go back to the longing.” The chirpy, chiptune sounds of Devours records past appear, especially in “Reverse Ombre” and “Hairspin,” but they’re not nearly as omnipresent. Homecoming Queen sees Devours at his most accessible, particularly on album highlights “10 Things I Crave About You” and “Ghosted Through Ice.” This is more of a melodic affair delivered with deeply rooted passion and achingly beautiful vocals.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

10 Apnoie – Ivory Tower

Russian artist Apnoie released her debut album in 2023, but she’s no newcomer to the scene. The darkpop project comes courtesy of Aleksandra Snork, keyboard player for Dance My Darling. As Apnoie, she leans heavily into spellbounding soundscapes and seductive vocals. “Magic Stuff” opens the album with frenetic beats and cheeky lines like “You must be superhot” that she delivers in a baby doll voice. Other highlights include the title track, which showcases the artists’s command of captivating synth riffs, and “Recollections,” a dark and sensual blast of club beats and sing-along hooks.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

9 Beborn Beton – Darkness Falls Again

The beloved German trio Beborn Beton enjoys cult status for their 1997 club hit, “Another World,” which still draws swooning crowds to goth-industrial dancefloors. More than 20 years later, they’ve got another hit on their hands with “Dancer In the Dark,” which I just named song of the year for its subversive take on enjoying life’s simple pleasures as the world crumbles around us. But “Dancer In the Dark” is just one of many fine moments from their 2023 album, Darkness Falls Again. “Burning Gasoline” tugs at the same end-of-the-world strings with compelling melodies, creative lyrics, and a killer sample from the underrated Netflix show Altered Carbon: “God is dead. We’ve taken his place.” Meanwhile, “I Watch My Life on TV” features a slinky beat and a memorable chorus: “We used to be magic.”

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

8 Neuroticfish – The Demystification of the Human Heart

The beloved German band Neuroticfish has long turned thoughtful commentary into goth club anthems. But they’ve never felt quite this introspective. On their just released seventh album, The Demystification of the Human Heart, they’ve unspooled a topic and they’re sticking with it. Across 12 tracks, the album examines the toxic noise we encounter, primarily online, and the damaging impact it has on our humanity, both individually and as a society. It’s a more somber affair than we’re used to hearing from the band who brought us tracks like “Prostitute” and “Velocity.” There are the requisite bangers: “Echokammer” and “Rival” get the heart racing. “We Are Not Safe” includes the fist-in-the-air media samples that Neuroticfish does so well. But there are also calmer moments like table-setting opener “Imposter Syndrome” and the tender vocals of “How to Suffer.”

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

7 Male Tears – Krypt

Long-time readers of Synthpop Fanatic know that we stretch the boundaries of traditional synthpop far beyond its standard synth refrains and reflective melodies. California’s Male Tears might just exemplify that ceremony better than any other artist. On Krypt, they shape a host of influences from synthpop and beyond into a cohesive collection of outstanding tracks. “I Expire” trades in the kind of deadpan vocal delivery of bands like Boy Harsher and Ultra Sunn, while “DEAL3R” incorporates elements of Berlin techno. “DOMIN8” thumps along to a genuine EBM beat. But my favorite moments of Krypt wallow in somber, romantic territory. “Sleep4Ever” and “Slay” employ the kind of beautiful synthpop melodies and rich sentimentality that I just devour.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

6 unitcode:machine – Critical Fault

I’ve been keeping a close tab on Texas-based act unitcode:machine since he covered VNV Nation in 2019. Subsequent tracks like “Falling Down” continued to tug at my attention, but his monumental 2023 release, Critical Fault, takes the project to greater heights. It’s the rare full-length with zero skips. Eric Kristoffer dives deep into his psyche with uncompromising songwriting we initially experienced on advance singles “Cold” and “Undone.” The remaining songs on Critical Fault offer especially poignant reflections of mental health to such a degree that I suspect every listener will find their own favorite. I love the personal catharsis of “A Violent End,” but “Blind” hits hardest with me for the way it tackles self-sabotage.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

5 Nuovo Testamento – Love Lines

Nuovo Testamento - Love Lines

One of the great joys of 2023 was witnessing the explosion of Italo disco revivalists Nuovo Testamento. Their sophomore album Love Lines is eight tracks of unrelenting ’80s joy that incorporates some of the less co-opted sounds of the era… at least among darker ports. Songs like “Perfect Storm” and “In My Dreams” bop to the steel drum beats of Miami Sound Machine. “Get Closer” kicks off with a synth riff that would make Harold Faltermeyer proud. But the biggest and by far best influence on Love Lines is early Madonna. Her approach to joyous hooks can be found all over the album, especially in its two breakout singles, “Heartbeat” and “Heat.”

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

4 Dead Lights – Glitterspit

Dead Lights - Glitterspit

At the start of their sophomore album, the gloriously named Glitterspit, glamgoth duo Dead Lights declare: “Let the ugly out.” On the ten tracks to follow, they do just that, unleashing a torrent of electro sleaze we haven’t really experienced since the heyday of bands like Thrill Kill Kult and Lords of Acid. A pair of early singles, “Receiver” and “I Am Electric,” blast menacing beats and sinister lyrics with sexual undertones. Deeper album cuts feel just as wicked. “The Electric Ocean” rumbles along a funky synth riff, while “Sinners Are More Fun” roils with mutant vocals. This is the sound of embracing your dark side.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

3 Fonohead – The Captain Reik Diary

Fonohead - The Captain Reik Diary

Fonohead is a nomadic artist who’s made the experience of travel an integral part of his music. “Metropolitan Child,” his ode to urban exploration, remains his most popular track. He transmits the travel theme into a full-length album on the magnificent The Captain Reik Diary, which tells a complete story of a seafaring adventure. Its 11 songs play like chapters in an epic novel, beginning with “I Left in Silence” and concluding with “Sailing Home.” Along the way, Fonohead examines his emotional state with gently roiling beats and rich, warm vocals. Loneliness is a recurring motif, particular on the album’s standout cut, the tender, love-stricken “Another Mile.”

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

2 System Syn – Kill the Light

American project System Syn has long been a reliable source of sharp production and imaginative songwriting. But Clint Carney has never sounded this good. Kill the Light features diverse sounds and song structures, not to mention some of the most evocative lyrics of the year. The album’s stunning highlight, “Ashes in the Wind,” obliterates traditional song structure with chaotic soundscapes and poetic lyrics I cannot stop quoting: “I was born with the devil’s tongue in my mouth. They cut my horns so I grew them inside out.” “Goodbye Fellow Traveler” offers a buoyant, orderly counterpoint to that song’s sinister chaos. “Where Is the Love I Was Promised” rumbles across a bomb beat with lyrics that tackle religious indoctrination: “I was just a child when they taught me I would burn.” This album goes straight for the jugular.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

1 VNV Nation – Electric Sun

Since the dawn of their career, VNV Nation has produced remarkably cohesive albums. You always know which album a VNV track belongs to. Electric Sun may be the closest they’ve come to a concept piece yet. The songs about people dwelling beneath a fiery wrath unfold like a three-act story, complete with a James Bond orchestral theme—see VNV’s first ever title track. There are bomb beats and moments of deep cynicism—the evangelical-skewering “Prophet” and the apathy of “Wait.” And there are moments of great hope—the cries of “Long may we endure” on “Invictus” and perhaps my favorite line from the set, “For all who are lost can always be found,” from the divine ballad, “At Horizon’s End.” Depending on your POV, Electric Sun might be about a far-off civilization or it might be about us, our world igniting around us, the water rising to our necks. It’s a carefully plotted, complex, and extraordinary triumph—and the best album of the year.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

Related posts