Tuesday, February 20, 2024

My 94 favorite albums of 2023

Taylor Swift
I may not have as many albums as usual on my "favorites" list of 2023, but that doesn't mean it was a down year. When I see how low some of my consistent favorites rank on the list (Bully, Belle and Sebastian, Yo La Tengo, for some examples), it's testament to how strong the quality of all this music was in 2023. 

94. Smashing Pumpkins: ATUM Act 1 and 2 (this never-ending double album sees the Pumpkins back in fine form for just enough of the time to make my list. A single album would have been pretty good, but it makes some sense that this is a sprawling electro pop prog Billy Corgan whatever)
93. The Hold Steady: The Price of Progress (there is a lot to admire in this fine Minneapolis band; this is another in a long line of albums that all sound kind of the same and don't have standouts - I dare you to put together a greatest-hits collection - but are fun to listen to in small doses)
92. Low Cut Connie: Art Dealers (the Philly rockers offer a lesser album, but there are still enough Steve Perry, A Star is Born, and lower-class Bruce to ensure that it belongs in the record collection)
91. Little Dragon: Slugs of Love (this might be my least favorite album by these prolific Swedish wackos, but it's still enjoyable all the way through)
90. Duff McKagan: Lighthouse (go with this rocker's last release if you want to truly dig into Duff; it was great and this one too is pretty good, especially if you need a shot of Guns N' Roses that the entire band doesn't seem to be cooperating with)
89. The Salt Collective: Life (this is a well-played and very profficient album by a crack band of players, but in the end I really only love a few songs that are collaborations with Matthew Caws of Nada Surf, Juliana Hatfield, Richard Lloyd, and Matthew Sweet)
88. Kurt Vile: Back to Moon Beach (not anywhere near his best, but it’s still a laid-back grower that picks up considerably after a lagging middle)
87. The Sticker Club: Destination Rock and Roll Station (this would be higher on the list if it's taken in small doses, since it's a children's album. That said, it's kid music from Nic Dalton and Alison Galloway of Lemonheads-connection fame)
86. Scott Zosel: Saturday's Child (Minneapolis songwriter takes a sound and style from The Jayhawks, with a pinch of Westerberg/Stinson and Dave Pirner, and creates a short and pleasurable listen)
Lil Yachty
85. A. Savage
: Several Songs About Fire (the Parquet Courts leader makes a pleasant mid-tempo album that never fully takes off, but I like his soothing Evan Dando voice)
84. Katie von Schleicher: A Little Touch of Schleicher in the Night (this Brooklyn artist has created a real grower of a mellow, symphonic, and poppy debut)
83. Janelle MonĂ¡e: The Age of Pleasure (this is a really upbeat listen all the way through with reggae and Caribbean sounds sprinkled liberally throughout)
82. Alaska Reid: Disenchanter (good late-night vibe music somewhere like if Olivia Rodrigo mashed up with Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs)
81. Blur: The Ballad of Darren (I've never been a big member of the Blur cult, but this album is really good, especially my favorite song from the band ever, "Barbaric")
80. Fucked Up: One Day (when I'm in the mood to get screamed at, which admittedly isn't as often as when I was younger, this has become my go-to band, and they may be equally at their most melodic here as well)
79. Willie Nelson: I Don't Know a Thing About Love: The Songs of Harlan Howard (one can never forget a Willie album - or two - in the annual list; man is still on a tear)
78. Royel Otis: Sofa Kings (these Aussie indie popsters had a mess of singles as well as this EP/LP or something in between; check out the single "Fried Rice" - an ode to bad habits - to instantly fall in love)
77. R. Ring: War Poems, We Rested (Kelley Deal's latest project works as Breeders-like and as well as one would guess)
76. White Reaper: Asking for a Ride (Louisville band brings a lot of fun back into the long-missing genre of emo punk-pop; it's a grower)
75. Bennett Wilson Poole: I Saw a Star Behind Your Eyes, Don't Let It Die Away (this catchy pop collection borrows heavily from the sounds of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, with even some Beatles, Byrds, and Who sprinkled in; clearly a lot for rock fans to like here)
74. Kris Ulrich: Big in the USA (this somewhat mysterious Canadian has a handful of beautiful storytelling songs kicking off an album that tails off quite a bit in the second half)
73. Dengue Fever: Ting Mong (Cambodian psych pop via Los Angeles and world weary, wonderful, and weird)
72. The Nude Party: Rides On (these North Carolina post-poppers descend from the likes of Lou Reed, Violent Femmes, and Luna, which pretty much guarantees their likability)
71. Fust: Genevieve (Southern Californians who are making some fine psych folk)
70. Wednesday: Rat Saw God (an Asheville band whose album starts slow but then rounds into fine Kinks-like form; bonus points for putting on a fine show opening for Guided by Voices in Dayton over Labor Day weekend)
69. Video Age: Away from the Castle (said to be influenced by the likes of Paul McCartney and Janet Jackson - an odd combo - these New Orleans poppers lean more Phoenix for me. "Better Than Ever" is one of my favorite tracks of the year)
68. Generationals: Heatherhead (another New Orleans band, this Phoenix-like dance pop is produced by a band that I've liked quite a bit for a long while; you might too) 
67. Albert Hammond, Jr.: Melodies on Hiatus (this is one of the Strokes' lead guitarist's lesser releases, but it's still pretty darn catchy and, hey, Strokes-tangent is still Strokes-tangent)
66. Deer Tick: Emotional Contracts (great rowdy alt-country, from Rhode Island's finest, to throw on and dance and drink to; another release in the group's growing excellent discography)
65. Yo La Tengo: This Stupid World (this is a good release to throw on in the background because of its cinematic-prioritized-over-pop vibe; no greatest-hits material but still solid)
64. 21 Savage: american dream (it might be the first time someone ever uttered the words "smells like gas in here, I think somebody pooped" in music, but the cinematic landscape across this rap release is super groovy)
Lydia Loveless
63. The Bad Ends
: The Power and the Glory (Bill Berry's first music since his days with R.E.M. might kind of sound what a new R.E.M. album would sound like)
62. The No Ones: My Best Evil Friend (speaking of ex-R.E.M. members, Peter Buck teams up with friends for an often Teenage Fanclubesque batch of great pop nuggets)
61. Deeper: Careful! (this angular Chicago post-punk release grooves with a new-wave-sounding Echo-type singer layered over Stephen Malkmus-y guitar hooks)
60. Willie J Healey: Bunny (this British singer-songwriter lands somewhere between All Things Must Pass-era George Harrison and early Lenny Kravitz; really chill and enjoyable)
59. Flyying Colours: You Never Know (a wild American supergroup that combines shoegaze musicality and catchy songwriting, featuring members of Deep Purple, Joe Satriani, Dream Theater, and a singer from the Disney Billboard Top 40 universe!)
58. boygenius: the record (everyone has been losing their minds over this album and I've been a fan of Lucy Dacus albums in the past, but I don't see why it's so special other than a few great tunes)
57. Bully: Lucky for You (one of my favorite bands of the past decade returns with its weakest effort, with sometimes questionable production, but Bully is still the best 90s grunge and power-pop revisionist act around)
56. Belle & Sebastian: Late Developers (these Scots continue to lean heavy into their legendary sense of twee/fey-pop, with typically top-notch results on a quick release following 2022's A Bit of Previous)
55. Ron Sexsmith: The Vivian Line (the first half of this release is absolutely gorgeous, and the rest ain't bad either)
54. Califone: villagers (this Chicago band captures a real Chicago sound, like a quieter and slower swinging The Sea and Cake; leader Tim Rutili has been making great, understated folk pop since way back in his 1990s days with Red Red Meat)
53. Gramercy Arms: Deleted Scenes (the first three songs are candidates for songs of the year, and the rest is pretty enjoyable too from this New York-based collective of musicians that include members of Guided by Voices, The Dambuilders, Lloyd Cole himself, and many others)
52. Louise Post: Sleepwalker (one of Veruca Salt's co-leaders is back after all these years with a catchy album; if you liked them in the 90s, you're going to really like this one)
51. Foo Fighters: But Here We Are (in its first post-Taylor Hawkins release, the FFs are clearly still experiencing agony; and while it's slim on classics, overall it will probably be a grower over time) 
50. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Council Skies (this might be the most Oasis-like of any recent releases and all the songs are big and hit-worthy)
49. Megan Maroney: Lucky (this Georgia singer's debut is a little too country and little too polished for my tastes, but after repeat listens, I couldn't help but to just simply sit back and enjoy it)
48. Cut Worms: Cut Worms (this Brooklyn project is gorgeous and sounds like Double Fantasy-era John Lennon with backing from the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys)
47. Guided by Voices: Nowhere to Go But Up (the final of three GBV releases this year, it starts and ends strong, but Pollard and Company are starting to follow this pattern a little too frequently. Why not just release albums with all killer material like most of the band's releases? Combining the three albums into one may have propelled GBV into the #1 overall slot on this list)
46. Smut: How the Light Felt (there are several bands with this name, but this is the one from Chicago that has beautiful sparkling, bordering-on-shoegaze pop guitars and female vocals, with a bit of a Mazzy Star '90s indie feel)
45. Heyrocco: Teenage Movie Soundtrack (these Charleston, S.C. indie rockers are lots of fun and when they are hitting on all cylanders, they are new versions of sometimes Nirvana and sometimes The Cure)
The Lemon Twigs
44. Bethany Cosentino
: Natural Disaster (the Best Coast leader ventures out solo on a record that sounds very similar to latter-day Liz Phair and is loaded with catchy, moving, and topical numbers)
43. The New Pornographers: Continue as a Guest (the latest from these indie nomads misses Dan Bejar's usual few songs but has plenty of sophisticated pop to offer from A.C. Newman and Neko Case)
42. Slaughter Beach, Dog: Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling (this Philadelphia band sounds more out of the Desert West, somewhere between Meat Puppets and Leo Sayer; a catchy pop-folk grower)
41. Those Pretty Wrongs: Holiday Camp (Jody Stephens of Big Star basically adds to the amazing Big Star collection with this often stunningly beautiful release. A great surprise)
40. PONY: Velveteen (these ultra-poppy Torontonians reach for the fun heights that early Juliana Hatfield and The Blake Babies did)
39. Willie Nelson: Bluegrass (Willie's touch is just what the bluegrass genre needs; his loose style makes these tunes, many of them already classics, even more perfect)
38. Slow Pulp: Yard (while the second half tails off a bit, the first half of this release is everything you could want from Midwestern lo-fi shoegaze grunge)
37. Steven Adams: Drops (this British songwriter's album really kept growing on me this year; it's kind of like Pavement mixed with classic-rock bands like Golden Earring)
36. Son Volt: Day of the Doug (Jay Farrar and company are back with music from Doug Sahm that harkens back to classic Uncle Tupelo, which is really saying something about how great this collection is)
35. Marchica: Ped Xing (this Spanish-American band certainly wears its influences on its sleeves, having even previously covered Pavement's classic "Frontwards;" this album is very catchy)
34. Jen Cloher: I Am the River, The River is Me (Courtney Barnett's Australian ex has really gone into the wilds for this release, which provides a powerful deep self reflection)
33. Jenny Lewis: Joy’all (the former child actor and Rilo Kiley leader continues her great string of Stevie Nicks-inspired California sunshine pop)
32. Kara Jackson: Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? (I don't frequently include renowned poets in this year-end list, but this true artiste from Illinois puts together a stunning collection of lyrical songs; it's slow paced but I slowly came to understand and love what she's doing, especially throughout the first half of this album)
31. King Tuff: Smalltown Stardust (this Sub Pop band had my #8 best album of the year in both 2012 and 2014 but has been pretty quiet since; this oddly swerves into Fleetwood Mac territory and is less freaky than earlier releases)
30. Juliana Hatfield: Sings ELO (her guitar playing, singing, and composing really shines on this collection of gorgeous covers of Jeff Lynne songs)
29. Guided by Voices: Welshpool Frillies (so many albums; this one is great as usual and has the benefit of being the one the legends were publicizing for their 40th anniversary weekend that I got to celebrate with them in Dayton over Labor Day)
28. Hurry: Don't Look Back (gorgeous pop from Philly in the vein of The Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub, and other 90s heroes)
27. Cowboys in the Campsite featuring Tommy Stinson: Wronger (even a minor Stinson release is major cause to celebrate; the Replacement continues to somehow get even better and better as a master singer/songwriter, with this side project leaning on countrified mellow stuff)
26. Daisy Jones & The Six: AURORA (talk about Fleetwood Mac, this is absolutely no different than what a great followup to Rumours could have been. I loved this TV show, and the songs took me a while to come around to, but the first half of this score is as good as anything released this year)
25. Ben Folds: What Matters Most (the next great hope to keep Elton John and Billy Joel's pianoman legacy afloat is back with his first album of new material in eight years, and it does at times veer into classic Joel teamed with beautiful flourishes and references to themes from Folds' impressive back catalog)
24. Pardoner: Peace Loving People (Bay Area slacker rockers provide one of the most rauceous and plain-fun punk rock releases of the year, with melodies for days throughout; headphones loud please)
23. Blondshell: Blondshell (this is a great and demented pop debut, and she was great when I saw her open for Liz Phair)
22. Arlo Parks: My Soft Machine (I loved this British singer's first album and her followup may be an even better helping of smooth, pop goodness)
21. Militarie Gun: Life Under the Gun (this record brings me great happiness whenever I hear it; Fugazi-like screamo over the most joyously big melodies; definite banger of the year)
20. Guided by Voices: La La Land (this release starts and ends very strong with some less-great material in the middle; yet another album in which those new to GBV could start out with before getting sucked into their Who-like vortex of thousands of classic "hits")
19. Island of Love: Island of Love (like the male version of Bully, these Londoners came out of nowhere for a debut that blasts out of the speakers as descendants of Dinosaur Jr., Archers of Loaf, and a little Guns n' Roses)
18. Teenage Fanclub: Nothing Lasts Forever (this is not an album that stands out amongst all the band's classics, but it calmly chugs along with great song after inexplicably great song)
17. Bonny Doon: Let There Be Music (this Detroit trio is descended from the slacker-rock likes of Pavement and Silver Jews, and pulls off being both mellow and rocking at the same time)
16. Alex Lahey: The Answer is Always Yes (this is the best non-Courtney Barnett Courtney Barnett album of the year. Lahey is a rock 'n' roll songwriter who is thoroughly modern but could also fit in any era, such as the ones with The Strokes or Blondie)
15. Chappell Roan: The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess (this Missouri-bred synth-popper is sassy and dirty-mouthed just like you would expect from one of Olivia Rodrigo's tour openers; a lot of party bangers)
14. The Rolling Stones: Hackney Diamonds (nobody saw this one coming, but the new album is more listenable all the way through than anything the band has done since the 1980s and these 80-year-olds sound timeless)
13. Geese: 3D Country (Brooklynites blast onto the scene with a freak-party jam that mashes up country and blues and soul with a heaping helping that lands somewhere between Ween and Radiohead)
12. The Lemon Twigs: Everything Harmony (the band's fourth album is its best and most consistant, with pop and yacht and a lot of mellow at the end. Not a snoozer in the bunch)
11. Dexys: The Feminine Divine (you will get nowhere near a stranger release on this year's list than this one, which is even weirder since a version of this band had one of the 1980s biggest smashes with "Come On Eileen," as Dexys Midnight Runners. This one gets weirder, more beautiful, and simply divine the more I hear it)
10. John P. Strohm: Something to Look Forward To (it’s great to hear from the former Blake Baby and Lemonhead all these years later; still perceptive - and poppy - as ever on the political and social aura of the day)
09. Wilco: Cousin (a subtle release from the band making the most consistently exceptional rock albums, with this one starting weird and beautiful to progressing through quiet numbers and then back to weird and beautiful) 
08. The Bug Club: Rare Birds: Hour of Song (many of these 47 songs - as promised, in an hour - are "burds words" snippet interludes, but the songs bring the finest lo-fi boy-girl mystery group you'll find in 2023; weird and joyous)
07. Ryan Davis & the Roadhouse Band: Dancing on the Edge (appearently this guy has some great albums with his old band State Champion, but this is my intro to him and it's a beautiful mix of Silver Jews and the Grateful Dead; best lyricist of the year)
06. Lydia Loveless: Nothing's Gonna Stand in My Way Again (I love this alt-country rocker so much; she really doesn't release anything but greatness and this could easily be my favorite album of the year on any given day right alongside the five releases in front of it here)
05. Lil Yachty: Let's Start Here. (this starts out sounding like a cross of Pink Floyd and the best Funkadelic and never releases its sonic grip. The Atlanta mumble rapper graduates from his old style into a super slick batch of jazzy, dancey, and weird pop greatness. I don't want to stop listening)
04. Olivia Rodrigo: GUTS (what can I say? My 10-year-old daughter got this embedded into my head all year long and, try as I might, I can't find a single misstep anywhere; a beautiful collision of rock meets pop, with The Breeders fittingly opening some of her shows)
03. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Weathervanes (this is the former Drive-by Trucker's magnum opus. He has had great albums before but this is his most perfect alt-country display)
02. Taylor Swift: Speak Now (Taylor's Version) (I know a lot of people will groan with this near the top spot, but I defy anyone to say this isn't an amazing collection of 22 (!!!) songs. They are all great, and many are stunningly great)
01. Taylor Swift: 1989 (Taylor's Version) (just when we thought Tay couldn't get any better than Speak Now, 1989 tops it with pop genius pretty much from top to bottom; there is so much to explore here that it will take a lifetime, and it arguably shoudn't even qualify in the list because it's mostly not a new album. But it's my list, so ...)

Enjoy all that music coming your way in 2024!

No comments:

Post a Comment