2023. The songs that follow were released or re-released this year, except where noted. Cover Image: about 15 minutes from home and 1 minute to surf. Let's get into it, shall we?
01. [EXCEPTION No.1] Hate the Christian Right - Team Dresch 2023 saw a surge in new interest in Riot Grrrl era bands. 1993's Personal Best was my favorite. It's a perfect blend of punk + twee. This song is a fine way to start an election year.
02. Can't Hardly Wait - The Replacements An engineer who helped the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Motorhead make records took Tim to task and the result is a perfectly good excuse to listen to the replacements in 2023 (if you need one). The box set includes a lot of outtakes and extras, including this demo of Can't Hardly Wait. Like many of the songs on this expansive rerelease, Westerberg's vocal chords sound more taxed and hoarse than every before and the guitars feel chirpy and raw. Perfect mess.
03. Freaky - Upchuck Upchuck started the year and remains as my favorite band of 2023 (tied with CIVIC). Kiala Thompson reminds us that there should be a lot more punk bands helmed by black women.
04. Blood Rushes - CIVIC Two more brilliant singles and this record. Banner year. The End of the Line (an early single from their latest) appeared on last year's list. The best rock and roll band in the world right now? CIVIC seemed capable of becoming that when I saw 'em at Bottom of the Hill this year.
05. [EXCEPTION No.2] High Tension Wires - Hibernate Mark Ryan is in so many terrific bands (Marked Men, Mind Spiders...) that his High Tension Wires supergroup kinda feels like an afterthought. A streaming algorithm suggested that I listened to their records plenty in 2023, so here it is. The tempo and tone feel great. This is true of everything he does. I caught the Marked Men at the Stork Club this year and it was pretty much everything I'd want out of a show.
06. Trauma Bonds - High Vis Speaking of live performances, High Vis at Neck of the Woods was sorta miraculous. When they return to SF, the venue will be larger. This band is so talented but the polish doesn't dim the band's hardcore tightness and sincerity. These song feel genuine. I'm still processing a friend's death this summer and Trauma Bonds is part of that soundtrack.
07. Can't Believe We're Here - J Mascis Can anyone deliver a line like "eve-ry-body made a fuss" any better? No. So good having him around.
08. Slowly on the Wheel - Guided By Voices GBV put out three full-length LPs this year. The prolific output means I had a plethora of options. I chose one of the oddest and least accessible. This song feels like Pollard doing Tommy or A Quick One While He's Away. It's very strange, but wading through all the tempo changes rewards your ears with a snippet of vintage GBV prettiness at 3:45 mark. Its existence within this song is such a treat and makes me appreciate the process of getting there. Give it a couple listens, it's a worthwhile trip.
09. Learned to Surf - Superchunk. We're in a nostalgic little 90s set here. Superchunk released an outtakes record called Misfits this year (including a couple solid Misfits covers). I didn't think much of this late-era song when it first appeared, but this version sounds great. Superchunk is one of my favorite bands (lifetime, not the more flighty daily favorite band list). They make me happy. For more on how and why see the latest installment of my Perfect Records campaign.
10. [EXCEPTION No.3] Maglite - Wussy. Spotify and everyone in my household claim this was my most-played band in 2023. Nothing new, I'm just late with my adulation. This band from Cincinnati, Ohio is worth a deep dive. Every album is gorgeous.
11. Master Crowley's - Lankum An Ozzy sorta take on traditional Irish folk. Wait for this instrumental to take a dark turn. This record is both pretty and heavy. It's also kind of a lovely requiem for Shane.
12. Yerimayo Celebration - Baaba Maal You don't need to listen to this entire song, but the first one minute and twenty odd seconds is the best sonic moment I heard this year. What the heck is that thing that comes from outer space at the 30 second mark and lands like a beast behind everything? Really, what is that sound and why isn't it on more songs?
13. These Dishes Aint' Gonna Do Themselves - KABEAUSHE Speaking of outer space, this whole record is like Prince piloting George Clinton's mothership. It's okay to move.
14. Rice - Young Fathers I haven't given these gents much thought lately, but then they release a record called Heavy Heavy and I think: "Well, I'll be the judge of that." I don't know if it's heavy (see Zulu below), but it sure is beautiful. This band has a grace & timing in their delivery that feels Jamaican without being reggae. That's a neat trick.
15. Kenwood Speakers - Billy Woods & Kenny Segal "Blue-Eyed White Walkers in King's Landing" is a pretty great line in a song about gentrification. Ouch. There are plenty of murderous rap songs, but this crime performed via words. Billy Woods made a lot of music this year and all of it was smart and sharp.
16. They Did it Like This - Shirt Many years ago, Greil Marcus proclaimed the Mekons' minimalist The Building as the quintessential punk song. Stripped bare. This is like that. I think I mentioned this last year: Shirt is my favorite rapper at the moment.
17. Love Letter - Black Thought More minimalism. This is a beautiful story and gives more on every subsequent listen. Of all the 50th birthday recognitions that rap received in 2023, this was the best.
18. [EXCEPTION No.4] Dans Les Rues de Brest - Syndrome 81 Tim keeps opening my ears to new French punks. The guitar, delivery... so joyously 80s. It's a few years old, but had to share.
19. Burn 'Em - MESS Mexico's MESS made my favorite record of the year. Nothing new. It reminds me of the Stiff Little Fingers. Among the many songs like this one that sound like Alternative Ulster or Suspect Device, they even include an uplifting instrumental that sounds sorta like Two Guitars Clash.
20. [EXCEPTION No.5] Place du tertre - Bromure More French Oi. Saw 'em live at the Knockout this year. I wasn't sure if I'd love all the saxophone. I did.
21. Our Day is Now - Zulu I think Nikos and I arrived on this LA band on the same dang day. If you're gonna call yourselves Zulu you better be 1) Black 2) Heavy and brave. This record is fascinating and all over the place. Go for the heaviness, stay for the tender poetry and vintage reggae and soul.
22. the mountain - jaimie branch (no caps) This comes from a jazz record. jaimie branch was, first, a great jazz trumpeter and this album has all that. But then it also featured this old time gem featuring a snippet of trumpet. jaimie died before this record was released (goddamn drug overdose). It's my favorite jazz record of the year.
23. Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Gèbru - Jerusalem I don't usually mess with classical music, but this Ethiopian nun and immigrant to Jerusalem uses a structure that sounds more African at the piano, so her interpretations blend classical with an almost stride technique. At least, that's what my ears hear and seems like a fitting end to this year's noise.
Thanks for listening. If you partake in Spotify, it's all wrapped up tidy in a playlist below:
I read Greil Marcus' 2023 book, Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs. It's great. Witty and full of Marcus' classic meanderings. One of the seven songs is Dylan's 2020 release, A Murder Most Foul. the song is basically the history of rock (and post-war America) told through a dead (or dying) Kennedy as he asks Wolfman Jack for requests. Later in 2023, I heard PJ Harvey mention she's obsessed with the song. And that's exactly it. It is an obsessive song. The first time I heard it, I listened to it three times in a row. At nearly 20 minutes, that's a commitment. Marcus warned readers this might occur. Since then, I've stumbled into articles and dissertations attempting to dissect the references and infer intent. It's not just me.