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Top 10 Albums of 2023

2023 was an incredible year for new music—one of the best in recent memory. Narrowing it down to 10 was challenging.  There’s some new stuff by old people, some old stuff by new people, some choices that will be obvious, and others that surprised even me.  Without further ado; my Top 10 albums of 2023:

 

Rolling Stones Hackney Diamonds album cover

10) The Rolling Stones- Hackney Diamonds.  For fuck’s sake. These guys are 80 years old. They have no business releasing one of the best albums of the year. And yet, they did. Their first LP of original music in nearly 20 years.  I remember reading that they were releasing a new album and thinking, “Why?” And then I listened to it.  If the Biden campaign doesn’t find a way to use this to show what people in their 80’s can do…

 


Gracie Abrams Good Riddance album cover


9) Gracie Abrams- Good Riddance.  I’m glad this album came out when I’m 32 and not when I was 17.  I would’ve thought I was too cool for it.  And I would’ve been so wrong.  It’s beautifully, painfully raw in the way that only people her age can truly encapsulate. There’s a universal truth layering nearly every track of this album: teenage romance is a mess, even when you’re Gracie Abrams—maybe especially when. 

 


Borrowed Sparks Let a Little Light in album cover


8) Borrowed Sparks – Let a Little Light In. Anyone who doubts that Rock ‘n’ Roll is still alive and well in 2023 has not yet stumbled upon Borrowed Sparks.  Singer/songwriter Mike Bay taps into the wearied hopefulness that plagues and ignites this generation.  We can’t control everything, but we can control how we approach life and what we long to wring out of it. But to do so, we’ve gotta let a little light in. A solid sophomore offering from one of Nashville’s up-and-comers.  Excited to see what’s next. In the meantime, I’ll be letting a lot of light in.

 


boygenius The Record album cover


7) boygenius – The Record. If there is anything that epitomizes “cool” in 2023, it’s boygenius. Julien. Lucy. Phoebe.  You’ll never break into that inner circle, no matter how hard you try. You’d have better luck not trying at all.  And even if you did break in, you’d be wondering if they were going to kill you. I’d risk it anyway. Because they’re witches, and it’d be more than worth it for the chance to see them mix their potions. This album epitomizes “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.” Each of these women puts out great solo music, but together they make practical magic.

 


Worriers Trust Your Gut album cover


6) Worriers- Trust Your Gut. Inexplicably, people still seem to be sleeping on Worriers. But with each release they keep getting better and better.  The styles could not be more different, but if Good Riddance was a break-up album for those in their teens, Trust Your Gut is a break-up album for those in their 30s.  It’s approached with a maturity and self-awareness that oscillates between being thankful for what was, being sad it’s over, and ultimately being relieved by its end. At times, you’re left wondering if Lauren Denitzio is singing about someone else or if these are simply letters to herself.  Either way, it’s a beautiful collection of 12 songs.

 


The Gaslight Anthem History Books album cover


5) The Gaslight Anthem – History Books.  My boys are back! And they brought The Boss with them. It’s no secret that The Gaslight Anthem is my favorite band. Though I’ve loved Brian’s solo albums, nothing compares to the four of them together.  While the past albums have been filled with youthful wonder, imagination, past lives and broken hearts, History Books finds Gaslight solidly middle-aged, having conversations about mortality, the love we’ve given and the love we have yet to give. The dreams have changed from classic cars and California lights to wanting more time with our loved ones and more time to atone. Though the vantage point has changed, that signature Jersey punk edge is still driving from the backseat. I don’t know if it’s the lack of cigarettes or the vocal lessons, but Brian’s voice continues to get better and better, which leads to my one and only complaint of History Books—the final mix has his vocals too quiet. Hard to complain too much though. It’s the Gaslight Anthem album we thought we’d never get, and for that we are forever thankful. A much needed letter from an old friend. How I missed you, indeed.

 


Nothing But Thieves Dead Club City album cover


4) Nothing But Thieves- Dead Club City. “Disco. Rock. Pop. Metal.” – my wife trying to explain NBT to my father, and honestly, I don’t know if there’s a better description. Few artists can create a genre all their own while paying homage to those that inspired them. NBT is one of those bands. Dead Club City is a subtle concept album taking you on a wild journey through disco, rock, pop, metal and a genre that is “nothing but thieves”. Dead Club City is a place we all want to go; a place we may already be.  But do we want to be there? Is it even real? Or is just some pie in the sky ideal? We may never know. But like Hotel California, it leaves this sinking feeling that once we are there, we may never be able to leave.

 


Spanish Love Songs No Joy album cover


3) Spanish Love Songs – No Joy. No one captures the feelings of a suburban-born, American millennial in 2023 better than SLS, and No Joy does it while showcasing sonic and lyrical growth and maturity from their earlier work. Everything is fucked, and we could just give up—the previous albums ended there. But No Joy goes a step further—yes, everything is fucked, so we may as well accept it and squeeze what good there is left. Maybe there’s something here for us—maybe not. But for now, we are here, so we might as well look around and see what we find. At least until the clean-up crew comes to eat us alive.

 


Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit Weathervanes album cover


2) Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit—Weathervanes.  Chances are you’ve heard me quote this before, but it bears repeating here: “Jason Isbell lives in a place as a songwriter that all other songwriters get to visit now and then.” John Mayer wrote that nearly a decade ago, and with Weathervanes Isbell proves that it is as true in 2023 as it was then. Weathervanes shows Isbell wrestling demons inside, outside, and everywhere in between. Isbell has always worn his heart on his sleeve but this may have him at his most personal yet. An outspoken liberal, a proud Southern man, a husband, a father, a recovering addict, and an American. These aspects of his identity often clash, forcing him to ask some difficult and often relatable questions. The answers, where there are any to be found, are weaved within the near perfect hour that is Weathervanes.

 


Dave hause Drive it Like it's Stolen


1) Dave Hause – Drive It Like It’s Stolen.  The word masterpiece is thrown around too casually these days. But there’s no other word for Drive It.  Traveling the country as it awoke from Covid allowed Hause to reflect on the state of a recovering nation. The impact on Hause as an artist, a father, a husband, and a citizen led to Drive it, which presented the most vulnerable version of himself we've seen and consequently yielded his best work yet. Good albums are time capsules that take you back to the place you were when you first heard it.  Great albums are timeless. Drive It is a capsule for the past, present, and future who’s fate has not yet been decided. There’s a plethora of work that deals with a post-apocalyptic world. Drive It is the less common, but arguably more interesting, period of time—a century, a decade, a year—just before everything decays. Hause explores these themes with a signature smirk; he’s in on the joke. This American reckoning is littered amongst signature Hause tropes of sobriety and nostalgia for a time when partying was just a little less dangerous. The album concludes almost where it starts, stranded outside somewhere unfamiliar, feeling less than safe, riding out to the country or rowing in a leaky boat. We see the nightmare happening all around us and though it seems there should be something we can do about it, perhaps the best thing to do is pick up an instrument and join the band while the ship goes down.


***


Honorable Mentions: Ruston Kelly - The Weakness; Metallica - 72 Seasons; Zach Bryan - Zach Bryan; The Menzingers - Some Of It Was True;  Miley Cyrus - Endless Summer Vacation; Josiah & The Bonnevilles - Endurance; Lana Del Rey - Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.

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