Co-Editor Top Albums & Songs of 2023: Andrew
The year of "There's always next year"
Top 25 Albums:
In 2023, I often found myself grasping at straws reaching out to music that was just not hitting. The quality was undeniably there, but after an initial listen, it was always “That was cool!” right before I return to doom scrolling 2020-22 playlists. The once sacred album-listening experience has become an elusive event enshrined in myth, my intrigue and patience waning as the year became a blur of memorable singles. When all hope was lost and a brain-fog clouded my mind as I began to compile this very list, Wallsocket. Changed. Everything.
A conceptual marvel in every sense of the word, Wallsocket is the hyperpop/electronic/indie-rock dream of probably the most chronically online person you know. The album sprawls with personality and a rich, well-defined narrative that interweaves the stories of three residents from the deeply religious town of Wallsocket, Michigan. While I won’t delve into the intricate, cryptid-esque lore here, it adds a distinct dimension to the album that doesn’t necessarily alienate the uninitiated. Each song stands alone as a detail-oriented masterpiece; the exhilarating whirs and buzzes from the pop-punk opener “Cops and Robbers” breathes immediate life into the project as underscores personifies a Wallsocket bank robber taunting the town while on the run. At every turn, the stakes are raised and underscores finds inventive ways to implicate the fraudster further, gleefully admitting that they “resurrect the dead'' and “trim the fat from the vault.” The album’s indulgence in these ridiculous scenarios gives itself freedom to roam anywhere it wants in this god-forsaken town.
While many cuts dip into the well of brazenly on-the-nose bitcrushed pop-punk, Wallsocket isn’t afraid to dive into a vast sea of interpolations and genres. From the slick Midwestern emo riffs on “Seventyseven dog years” and the twangy country breakdown on “Geez louise” to the bouncing, despondent vocal chops and Alisha Warren sample on club banger “Locals (Girls like us),” this album is all over the place in the best way imaginable. It’s a masterclass in overindulgence; the simultaneous mixes of competing sound profiles blend so seamlessly, creating diverse yet cohesive compositions that leave you anticipating what’s waiting around the quickly approaching bend.
Wallsocket nails its concept, exudes personality, and sounds immaculate to boot; however, if there’s one takeaway I had from this album, which coincidentally also solves my initial conundrum, it’s the importance of intentionality. Contemporary popular albums, while encompassing more distinct sounds than ever, have become complacent, resting on the laurels of an established sound and churning out what works. Every single synth note, midi drum, audio plugin/effect, sample, and layer is placed exactly where it needs to be and mixed to equal perfection. Beyond sounds, every moment of somber despair, lighthearted charm, or bratty self-awareness feels meticulously crafted to an incredibly potent effect. If I need to spell it out even further, it took underscores a back-breaking 10 hours to break down the album in a three-part livestream. As is the case with her detail-oriented live shows, underscores represents everything I love about music and it is with ease I claim Wallsocket as my album of the year.
Favourite Songs: Cops and robbers, Locals (girls like us), You don’t even know who I am, Johnny johnny johnny, Shoot to kill, kill your darlings, Old money bitch, Geez louise, Uncanny long arms, Good luck final girl
Indie music has been in a weird spot for the last decade or so. Its foundational independence and undefined, DIY sound has been algorithmically reconfigured to encompass any quirky personality that remotely sniffs an acoustic guitar. Boygenius, Faye Webster, Clairo, oh my! And let me guess, you were called a hipster twink by Spotify too (i.e., Burlington, Vermont)? Despite the artists’ drastic differences, the margins between artistry shrink by the day as indie (amongst other particularly susceptible genres like hip-hop) become a profitable game of buzzword Mad Libs. However, in the midst of an absolutely desolate January release window, Nashville-based Indie folk-pop artist Samia’s sophomore outing Honey graced me like a kinda Midwestern angel descending from the emotionally vulnerable girlboss early morning heavens.
Almost as if the album is living and breathing, Honey feels like an organic collage of lived human experiences bound together by fluctuating cycles of romanticized highs and guttural lows. Samia presents these vulnerable windows into her life through anecdotes that are vivid yet fickle; she reminisces, becomes distressed, she screams, she recoils, she is consumed by emotion and loses her composure at the end of songs only to regain it on the next. She grows progressively frantic on “Breathing Song” as she recalls a traumatic event and is subsequently out-with-the girlies on a whimsical bar crawl on title track “Honey.” Compared to her debut The Baby, Honey feels comfortable and confident letting Samia’s vocals guide the listener through these evocative bouts of gratification, distress, and everything in between.
Like any contemporary ‘indie’ album, the tried-and-true soft-spoken guitar and vocals combo reigns supreme; however, that doesn’t stop Honey from branching out into various styles, time periods, and genres outside of the established indie canon. From the summery, 80s-tinged vibes of “Mad At Me'' to the matrimonial resentment on “Kill Her Freak Out,” Samia embodies such an insane range of disparate emotions and sounds so consistently. A playful preciseness has always permeated throughout her body of work, but on Honey she brings this captivating levity to even the most mundane or awkwardly written phrases. In the moment where everything around us is being consolidated into late-capitalist projects that thrive off a false sense of individuality, exclusivity, and that feeling of being ‘in’ on a hot new indie artist (with 10 million monthlies), Honey feels distinctly human.
Favourite Songs: Kill Her Freak Out, Pink Balloon, Mad At Me, Sea Lions, To Me It Was, Breathing Song, Honey, Amelia, Dream Song
A Jane Remover heel turn into experimental rock was not on the 2023 bingo card, but who cares? I think we won the lottery. Clocking in at an hour with 10 songs, Census Designated demands the listener stew within ambivalent soundscapes with the known risk of collapse. Jane delicately pulls and teases at narrative threads, unraveling dreary themes and gruesome motifs through ambiguous penmanship. Within spans of 5-8 minutes, she constitutes and fleshes out distinct personas/characters that are overtly at odds with each other - sadistically controlling on one song and masochistic on the next.
Consequently, each song is defined by a push-and-pull between contemplative minimalism that coalesce into unhinged messes of noise. On verses, she effortlessly floats over subdued guitars with her visceral lyricism, inducing a dream-like trance that almost makes you forget how morbid the subject matter is. Given the lack of prominent drums on most songs, Jane’s vocals have significant freedom to dictate the pace and energy songs are attempting to convey. Jane takes full advantage by confidently placing herself at the forefront, soaring over the production and fluently slipping in and out of nuanced inflections and deliveries. While this is a “did you know Tame Impala is one guy”-esque moment, it was genuinely baffling re-listening to “Lips” or the title track and realizing how little I missed a core tenet of most rock songs.
Eventually, all good things must come to an end. Most songs decay into cathartically dense sequences where all reins are forcefully stripped away from Jane as she fights for dominance in the mix. The atmosphere on even the most anthemic tracks such as “Always Have Always Will” and “Backseat Girl” become suffocating and intangible, a cacophony of distorted guitars, harsh synths, and hellish screams. Like a star on the brink of death, the songs burn at their brightest before flickering away and letting listeners wallow in the absolute chaos they just experienced. Transcendental would be an understatement.
Census Designated is ultimately an amorphous triumph that eludes any labels attempting to pigeonhole and make categorizable Jane’s delectably unpalatable work. She isn’t seeking applause or validation, nor is she confined to hyperpop, shoegaze, or any quirked-up playlist feigning a genre (I’m looking at YOU lorem). Jane wants you to witness in shock and awe as she crafts these dark narratives and transgressive soundscapes, making the music that she wants to on her terms.
Favourite Songs: Cage Girl/Camgirl, Lips, Fling, Backseat Girl, Idling Somewhere, Always Have Always Will, Census Designated, Contingency Song
- Girl With Fish by Feeble Little Horse (indie rock) Saddle Creek: Spotify | Apple Music
- Hearth Room by Frost Children (Indie pop) True Panther Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- Calico by Ryan Beatty (Pop) Atlantic Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- Scaring the Hoes by JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown (Hip-hop) AWAL Recordings: Spotify | Apple Music
- 10,000 gecs by 100 gecs (Electronic pop) Dog Show Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- Voir Dire by Earl Sweatshirt and the Alchemist (Hip-hop) Tan Cressida: Spotify | Apple Music
- teeth by juno (Alternative rock) self-released: Spotify | Apple Music
- Let’s Start Here. by Lil Yachty (Psychedelic pop/rock) Quality Control Music: Spotify | Apple Music
- Heaven knows by PinkPantheress (Breakbeat/pop) Warner Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We by Mitski (sad? idk) Dead Oceans: Spotify | Apple Music
- NEVER ENOUGH by Daniel Caesar (R&B) Republic Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- And Then You Pray For Me by Westside Gunn (Hip-hop) Griselda Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- Live At Bush Hall by Black Country, New Road (Progressive alt-rock) Ninja Tune: Spotify | Apple Music
- Javelin by Sufjan Stevens (Indie-folk) Asthmatic Kitty Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- O Monolith by Squid (Rock) Warp Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- Hot Between Worlds by Yves Tumor (Psychedelic rock) Warp Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- Space Heavy by King Krule (Art rock) Matador Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- softscars by Yeule (Experimental electropop) Ninja Tune: Spotify | Apple Music
- This Is Why by Paramore (Indie rock/pop) Atlantic Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- Did you know there's a tunnel under ocean blvd by Lana Del Rey (Art pop) Universal Music: Spotify | Apple Music
- Quaranta by Danny Brown (Hip-hop) Warp Records: Spotify | Apple Music
- SPEED RUN by Frost Children (Electric/dance) True Panther Records: Spotify | Apple Music
Top 50 Songs:
- As If by Glaive (Pop-rock) Interscope Records
In the last year or so, the poster-boy for the once burgeoning Soundcloud hyperpop scene, glaive has been fading away from the zeitgeist. In real time, I witnessed the reputation of this teenager become utterly marred with accusations of selling out to the wretched temptress of commercialized pop-punk - not helped by his feature on Machine Gun Kelly’s “more than life.” But, if I may butt-in, why do we care so much? As music listeners and, more generally, adults, why do we feel that a teenager owes us anything, let alone a consistent sound? Almost in response to the backlash against his new sound, the leading single off glaive’s debut album “as if” stands on business as an unapologetically angsty pop-punk anthem that relishes in staying true to one’s self. It’s bright, poppy, and most significantly, demarcates a new-found comfortability in vocal ability as glaive unabashedly soars over the instrumentation with minimal manipulation. He rattles off qualms with ex-friends that mocked his queerness while also mourning those he’s lost to drug abuse; upon first listen, “as if” feels like a sudden submergence into cold water that finds its reprieve in the fact that glaive understands he does not need to change himself to fit in.
The rapport between glaive and long-time producer Jeff Hazin feels realized to its fullest potential, the production intricately weaving in-and-out in perfect ebbs and flows. Everything on the composition front, especially those drum and synth fills, is sonically airtight yet incredibly dynamic. I think it would have been very easy to lie and say my favorite song of the year was a small indietronica-folk-punk band and their 7-minute song about living in a small town in the middle of fuck-all nowhere; however, if I’m anything, I’m a sucker for a coming-of-age punk-pop song and “as if” exceeded any expectation of glaive’s sound I could’ve ever had.
- A LA CARTE by Quadeca & Brakence (hip-hop) deadAir Records
Between Jane Remover and Quadeca, it’s safe to say that deadAir records has had an iron-tight grip on my music listening as of late. After the conceptual, atmospheric epics that encompassed Quadeca’s most recent LP I Didn’t Mean To Haunt You defied all expectations for what a ‘YouTube artist’ could produce, it was difficult to imagine a singular path forward. Could his sound become even grander? Will he beef with KSI again? What comes after getting Danny Brown to rap from the perspective of carbon monoxide or getting a feature from Ye’s Sunday Service Choir? If your answer to that a year ago was an emotionally despondent anti-love song with vividly awkward accounts of social anxiety (feat. brakence), I would’ve just been happy to find someone who listens to Quadeca.
In perhaps the best way possible, Quadeca sounds absolutely pathetic on “A LA CARTE.” His tone is whiney and inconsistent as he navigates a tumultuous relationship where he’s not only an anxious-wreck, but unsure of his emotional commitment to his partner. Quadeca’s breathy, energetic delivery interchanges frequently, almost on a line-to-line basis. His voice becomes unsteady while he nervously twiddles his thumbs in his suit, and clumsily lingers when his jokes fall flat. Rather than reading like a total pity party though, there’s a quirky charm that permeates the track - a self-awareness and wittiness that brings levity to the romantic distress.
While the track shines in its commitment to thematics, like any Quadeca produced track, the dense, intricate instrumentation is, in itself, a marvel. Rustic drum and guitar loops contrast against a punchy bass, and an ethereal synth that gives the song that signature Quadeca atmosphere that permeates throughout his work. And though I’m not usually a fan of Brakence’s brand of melodramatic performances and hyperactive production, his rich vocal tone riffs so effortlessly across Quadeca’s production, giving the cut a refreshing boost of momentum in the closing third.
I think for many, this track will be polarizing. Some of the autotuned vocal layering may sound jarring and a little stilted, but if 2023 taught me anything about myself, I’m a sucker for commitment to the bit.
- I can’t go back home by spiderblush (pop) self-released
In a (mostly) post-Covid world where most are just attempting to recover any sense of pre-pandemic normalcy, we fail to realize just how much music has become intrinsically altered. Whether it be the slew of Antonoffian productions that homogenized indie-folk or the rise of online-centric niches/genres, how we listen and find music in 2023 is far removed from recent golden ages like 2016-2018. Through mass data farming, algorithms have become catered to preempt an individual’s desires, leaving listeners blissfully consuming but unaware of the nefarious systems at play. It sounds so dystopian, but if there’s a silver-lining to all of it, it’s that I found artists like spiderblush. As I stalked my own playlists (because who doesn’t), I spun the roulette of recommended songs and saw the same 8 regurgitated Jane Remover, Frost Children, and Yeule recommendations after every click of ‘refresh.’ All hope was lost until I saw a 77-second song called “depraved” by an artist with 8k monthly listeners. While my proclivity toward songs that validate my miniscule attention-span is one thing, I became entranced by this liminal, Midwestern sound with dreamy vocals.
I followed her on Spotify and thought nothing of it. However, in early November “i can’t go back home” appeared on my Release Radar and now, I just can't get it out of my head. As a piece of nebulous pop, the single reaches for disparate sounds to create an intoxicating concoction that takes from glitchcore, breakbeat, and that anthemic, coming-of-age pop-punk that I so adore. The song captures a distinct feeling of alienation, constantly existing in a transitory state with fluctuating instrumentation that often contrasts with spiderblush’s soft delivery. spiderblush reminisces on a time when she didn’t absolutely hate being everywhere or herself; she’s apprehensive to leave home, but is sick of it after COVID; she’s in her head about her pessimism but can’t help feeling like an outsider, unaccustomed to an adult world she’s being thrust into. While there’s probably a kajillion intimate, harrowing accounts of the years lost to the pandemic, the sonically malleable environment of “i can’t go back home” actively challenges spiderblush to work through her estrangement. Despite the oftentimes transgressive synths and bass stabs, she produces a danceable banger while retaining an air of candid authenticity.
“i can’t go back home” embodies everything it means to live in a decade already rife with uncertainty. With every listen, I become stateless, lost in the proverbial fog that spiderblush conveys. If there’s one artist in 2024 I will be patiently waiting to blow up to have my “I told you so” moment, I’m more than confident betting all my chips on spiderblush.