Welcome to HipHopPunkRock's annual commentary on the "Best Albums" released during the past 12-months.
In my year-end summary from Spotify the music streaming service reported that I listened to 3224 different artists in 2023 (see below). I consider that a testament to the twenty-five artists and bands who made this year's list. I listened to a lot of new music in 2023 and the albums released by these twenty-five artists are the ones that stood out. I hope you find something to love!
01. Moving Targets - In The Dust - Dead Broke Rekerds
A band that dates back to the 1980s, Moving Targets were contemporaries of some of my favorite Boston bands including Bullet Lavolta and Buffalo Tom. After a long hiatus, I am happy to say that the band is not only back but better than ever. Featuring a driving and melodic brand of alternative rock, Moving Targets' "In The Dust" is a really well crafted record that flows effortlessly from track-to-track. The album's raw energy, a dozen great songs, and quality arrangements make for an enjoyable listen. This record has been one of my go-to choices throughout 2023 and a record I know I will revisit in the years to come. My choice for album of the year!
RIYL: Tommy Keene - “Isolation Party”
02. Cut Worms - Cut Worms - Jagjaguwar
Max Clarke, aka Cut Worms, presents an album that effortlessly weaves through various genres that span the softer side of rock. Though it was recorded in a number of studios, with different collaborators, this record maintains a cohesive sound that comforts like a warm blanket. With a nostalgic nod to classic rock and a modern indie-folk twist, the record showcases infectious melodies and literate storytelling. I have yet to explore Cut Worm’s back catalog but I look forward to doing so.
RIYL - Bonny Doon, Nap Eyes
03. Solid State Radio - You Gotta Wear It Or Let It Go! - InCrowd Recordings
Solid State Radio’s first record, “You Gotta Wear It Or Let It Go!” sounds like a mature effort. I know very little about this Atlanta-based band but if I had to guess, I’d say its members have been at this for a while. The performances on this album just do not sound like a they are a bunch of first-timers. Blending various eras of vintage rock and soul this record sounds like something that should be coming out of an old jukebox in a neighborhood dive bar. The album's authentic unapologetic attitude, infectious hooks, smokey vocals, and first-rate musicianship combine to deliver one of the best records released this year.
RIYL: Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, J. Geils Band, Garland Jeffreys - “14 Steps to Harlem”
04. Kevin Morby - More Photographs - Dead Oceans
“More Photographs” is the sound of a talented artist spreading their wings and reaching a creative peak. Songs including “This Is A Photograph II” and “Lion Tamer” demonstrate that Morby is more than capable of pushing the envelope beyond his typical folk and rock sound. This album's arrangements, pacing, and expanded instrumentation, combined with Morby's poignant storytelling, all contribute to one of his best records to date.
RIYL: Kurt Vile
05. Glyders - Maria’s Hunt - Drag City
"Maria’s Hunt" by Glyders is an experimental marvel grounded in the softer side of psychedelic rock while crossing seamlessly into other genres. The album starts with a song called “High Time” that sounds like 70’s-drenched psych rock. By the second track the band has drifted into traditional country music. By track three we’re off to the races with some boogie-woogie. Glyders have crafted a genre spanning sonic exploration and in doing so releases one of the best debut LPs of 2023.
RIYL: Rose City Band
06. Purling Hiss - Drag on Girard - Drag City
Purling Hiss takes us on a rock n’ roll joyride with "Drag on Girard." The album's blend of lo-fi aesthetics and soaring guitars provide a raw and authentic experience that should resonate with alternative rock enthusiasts.
RIYL: Dinosaur Jr., Celibate Rifles
07. J.T. IV - The Future - Drag City
John Henry Timmis IV was a glam-punk savant who self-released four singles and one full-length album in a musical style he called "destructo rock" while living around the Chicago area during the 1980’s. "The Future" is a posthumous release from J.T. IV that was discovered on an unreleased cassette tape that the artist left behind after his untimely passing in 2002. The folks at Drag City obviously know a good thing when they hear it and they were good enough to release these songs for global consumption. The world is a clearly a better place!
RIYL: The Peacers
08. Lewsberg - Out And About - Lewsberg Records
Lewsberg is a Dutch band from the city of Rotterdam. "Out And About”, the band’s fourth release features stripped down songs, embellished at times by violin and organ, and a first rate guitarist. The band alternates male and female vocals in a way that feels totally organic. This album's minimalist approach coupled with introspective lyricism captivates with its understated brilliance.
RIYL: Porridge Radio, 1980’s Yo La Tengo
09. Billy Nomates - Cacti - Invada Records UK
Tor Maries, aka Billy Nomates, is a singular entity who has carved out an original sound that borrows from pop, rock and punk. Her confessional songwriting invites the listener into her world in a way that makes her both accessible and relatable. That she does this as a solo artist, who performs live with just a mic and a prerecorded backing track, adds to her appeal and captivating live performances. Over the course of two full length albums and an EP Billy Nomates has staked her claim as one of the UK’s most interesting and exciting artists.
10. Moin - Clocked Off - AD 93
Moin's 2022 release “Paste” was a revelation and one of my favorite albums from last year. Discovering that record reminds me of the first time I listened to the Pixies. Sometimes bands just bring something undeniably new and brilliant to the conversation and for me “Paste” is that type of genius. It is a record that set a high bar for whatever Moin decided to do next. ”Clocked Off”, a four song EP, came out this year and continues to showcase a band that is willing to take chances. A highly percussive and somewhat abrasive effort, this release leaves me wanting more and wondering what comes next. This album's unconventional soundscapes and rhythmic complexity are both weird and exciting. I don’t enjoy these tracks as much as the music on “Paste” but this band has my attention and I am excited to hear what comes next.
11. Tha Retail Simps - Live On Cool Street - Total Punk
Comprised of veterans from the Montreal punk scene, Tha Retail Simps play stripped-down punk rock. With scratchy lo-fi vocals over dueling guitars the band creates a vintage punk rock vibe that borrows from both the Velvet Underground and Alex Chilton. Album opener “Wrong Direction” and closer “Easy Street” are two standout tracks.
RIYL: Alex Chilton “Like Flies On Sherbet”
12. Macy Gray - The Reset - Moonslice Records
Fans of Macy Gray are pretty lucky. Since 1993 she has consistently put out good and sometimes great records. Is “The Reset" one of her best records? I think it is. It is also a testament to the artist's versatility and staying power. Spanning musical styles and themes this album takes on serious subjects on tracks like “Cop Killer”, “America” and “Mr. Policeman”. Tracks including “You Got Away” and “Thinking of You” are love songs and amongst the best she’s ever written. How these divergent themes and songs come together to form a cohesive listening experience I am not quite sure. They just do.
13. Meat Puppets - Camp Songs - Self Released
If you have seen a bunch of Meat Puppet concerts, the tracks on “Camp Songs" will sound familiar to you. This is one punk band who never shied away from including a George Jones, Marty Robbins, or Hank Williams song to their set lists. The fact that “Camp Songs” also includes a cover of Butthole Surfers’ “Pee Pee the Sailor” should give you some indication of just how masterfully this Meat Puppets cover all the bases. Meat Puppets are an American treasure whose output on SST Records in the 1980’s is largely responsible for birthing the genre of alt-country. This album is a fun addition to the band’s catalog.
14. The Feelies - Some Kinda Love - Bar None Records
The Velvet Underground are rock n’ roll royalty. Surely we wouldn’t want their song catalog in the hands of less than excellent stewards. Good news! The Feelies are the perfect band to record a live album of VU covers. In the family tree of rock n’ roll The Feelies branch undeniably extends from the Velvet Underground’s limb. Knowing this helps us to understand that this record is a loving tribute from one band to another. For listeners who might be new to The Feelies this album is a history lesson. Listen here kids. The Velvet Underground passed the torch to The Feelies, The Feelies passed the torch to bands like REM and Yo La Tengo, and so forth and so on. If you are exploring the family tree of rock n’ roll, this is a very nice limb!
RIYL: The Velvet Underground, Yo La Tengo
15. Red Snapper - Live at The Moth Club - Lo Recordings
As Red Snapper’s career closes in on three decades the three core members continue to explore the intersection of jazz and electronic music. ”Live at The Moth Club" captures a 2022 performance from London with tracks spanning the band’s catalog. The band’s fusion of electronic beats, jazz, and trip-hop creates a dynamic listening experience. The vocalist featured on the tracks “The Sleepless” and “Suckerpunch” are not as good as the original renditions, done on record by MC Det, but it’s not enough to take away from an otherwise great performance.
RIYL: Thievery Corporation
16. Gia Margaret - Romantic Piano - Jagjaguwar
Gia Margaret's "Romantic Piano" is a captivating mostly instrumental recording. The artist’s talent for creating piano compositions, with gorgeous melodies, creates an intimate and tranquil listening experience. Margaret’s organic soundscapes, enhanced by the humming of Cicadas, spoken word, brass instruments, and other soothing instrumentation, are both captivating and beautifully crafted.
RIYL: Beautiful melodies.
17. Oracle Sisters - Hydranism - 22Twenty
A three member band with a big sound, the Paris based Oracle Sisters play sophisticated pop music with of a 70’s folk-rock vibe. ”Hydranism”, the band’s first full length release weaves together indie pop, dream-pop, and psychedelic elements. The album's lush arrangements and vocals create a timeless sound that incorporates diverse elements to create something new. The result is a highly enjoyable listening experience.
18. Jen Cloher - I Am The River, The River Is Me - Milk! Records
Jen Cloher is better known in her home country of Australia than here in the U.S.A. This album should change that. It’s always a revelation when a singer songwriter has both something to say and the musical chops and creativity to bring their vision to life. "I Am The River, The River Is Me" is that kind of album. Fusing aboriginal language into the lyrics adds a unique element and gives the album a sense of place. The understated guitar leads are exceptional. Cloher and her band have created a deeply personal and resonant listening experience.
RIYL: Courtney Barnett
19. Rozi Plain - Prize - Memphis Industries
U.K. artist Rozi Plain has released about half-a-dozen albums. 2023’s “Prize” is my first introduction to the artist and I haven’t yet had the chance to dive into her back catalog. Something to look forward to! “Prize” leans towards indie pop sensibilities and features dream like soundscapes. Plain's soothing vocals are a prominent feature. With a diverse sonic palette, where no one element overpowers the other, this record is beautifully constructed and even tempered. A well crafted album and engaging listening experience.
20. Zwei Null Zwei - Zwei Null Zwei - Peculiar Works Music
Zwei Null Zwei's Bandcamp page describes the band as “Eli Janney, Geoff Sanoff, James Canty, Sohrab Habibion: DC expats living in NY, making music inspired by Düsseldorf”. In other words, this is American Krautrock. The band’s self-titled debut EP features repetitive and driving soundscapes that blur the lines between punk and electronic music. The record’s second track, “No Reference” is a standout.
21. Bounaly - Dimanche à Bamako - Sahel Sounds
"Dimanche à Bamako" by Bounaly is a cultural fusion that combines traditional Malian sounds with modern electric instruments. The album's vibrant rhythms and hypnotic melodies offer a unique sonic journey through the musical traditions of West Africa. The album's description on Bandcamp states, "Recorded live on location, the music on "Dimanche à Bamako" is a mix of regional favorites, traditional standards, and originals. Long songs with looping rhythms, pounding kick drums, and electric shredding guitars, punctuated by shout-outs to the guests of honor."
RIYL: African-Desert-Punk, Pekos / Yoro Diallo
22. Cat Power - Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert - Domino Recording Co.
Cat Power sings Dylan. You had me at hello. Chan Marshall’s song-by-song cover of Dylan’s live album (1996) is exactly what you would expect from the sum of its parts. Classic material lovingly restated by one of the contemporary artists best suited to the task. Of course, covering even a single Dylan song can be intimidating for an artist. Taking on an entire album is a heavy lift. To my ear, it sounds like Marshall made a conscious effort not to stray too far from the source material. A few embellishments would have been interesting but you can understand her reluctance to fuck-with-genius. The album captures the raw emotion and poetic brilliance of Dylan's compositions, reinterpreted through Cat Power's vocal prowess. Sounds good to me.
23. Floating Action - Glacial Speed - Airloom
Since 2009, a Floating Action album has been featured on my annual best-of list in more years than not. Seth Kauffman, aka Floating Action, is a prolific artist who releases new material on an almost annual basis. Truth be told, I can not remember ever leaving one of his albums off my annual list of favorites. This is one artist who consistently produces some of my favorite music. Over the course of eleven albums, where Kauffman serves as songwriter, the sole musician, recording engineer, and producer he has released a catalog of consistently excellent albums. “Glacial Speed” is par for the course. Leaning into the indie-dub-western-NC sound that has been present throughout his body of work. This album is the perfect accompaniment for a comfortable hammock, a warm Caribbean breeze, and a few ice-cold Coronas, Red Stripes, or Caribs.
RIYL: Dr. Dog, Dream Stitch
24. Lifeguard - Crowd Can Talk / Dressed In Trenches - Matador
The first song I heard by Lifeguard was their 2023 cover of The Jam’s “In The City”. Soon thereafter I discovered the band had already released two EPs on Matador. I regularly champion new young bands who hold promise and Lifeguard fits the bill. Their EPs lack the pop sheen of their cover of “In The City” and adopt a more angular and aggressive sound. Together, the band’s two EPs, "Crowd Can Talk” and “Dressed In Trenches" are a double dose of post-punk energy. Both releases demonstrate a band with musical chops and a love of feedback drenched rock and roll.
RIYL: Sonic Youth, Black Midi
25. Sonic Youth - Live in Brooklyn, NY (2011) - Goofin’
”Live in Brooklyn, NY" captures Sonic Youth at a hometown show in 2011. As a longtime fan and someone who saw the band a lot between 1991 and 2003 I am happy to have a new high-quality document of career spanning material to listen to. It seems like the band plans to release additional material from their archives on Goofin’ in 2024. Looking forward to hearing what’s next.
Music Related Headlines from 2023:
No doubt about it, Neil Hagerty is one of my favorite guitarists. His tenure with the bands Royal Trux and The Howling Hex, and his solo material reveal a truly unique talent. Not just a musician but an artist who has stayed true to his craft for more than three decades. Unfortunately, a confrontation between Hagerty and a bunch of cops resulted in his arrest in 2023. My sincere hope is that these events will not lead to incarceration and that Hagerty will be free in 2024 and beyond to get on with his life and creative pursuits.
Donations to Hagerty’s health and legal defense fund can be made here: https://givesendgo.com/NeilHagerty
November: Brian Jonestown Massacre Brawl Onstage Cancel Rest of Tour
It isn’t everyday that you see a band stop mid-set to have an inter-band argument that leads to an onstage brawl. In 2023, Brian Jonestown Massacre abruptly ended their tour when band drama came to a head during a performance in Melbourne, Australia. When band leader Anton Newcomb fired guitarist Ryan Van Kriedt in-between songs the situation devolved into rock-n-roll mayhem.
Highly Anticipated New Releases (2024):
Granddaddy / Blu Wav / Dangerbird - February 16, 2024
MGMT / Loss of Life / Mom+Pop - February 23, 2024
Sinkane / We Belong / City Slang - TBD