On Repeat's Top Records of 2023 (So Far)
Today we’re taking a look at On Repeat’s Top 10 Albums of 2023 (so far)
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Now on to the music…
Let the games begin!
It’s Best Of season again. Or at least the midway point. Every year I wonder if this’ll be the year that sees a dearth of good music, and every year I’m happily proven wrong. The real issue isn’t whether or not there will be enough material making the grade, but rather how to winnow it down to a manageable number.
As someone that writes about music, this is, of course, a great problem to have.
At the same time, it feels like music discovery-at least for me- is trending back to word of mouth. I might be reading someone telling me, “check this out!” instead of hearing it, but the end run is the same.
The amount of new music is both wondrous and overwhelming; there’s no way I can possibly keep up - and lord knows I try. All of that to say, I’m sure I’ve missed something. And if I have, please let me know! Music discovery works best when it’s omnidirectional.
Records also have a tendency to grow on me, so a release that didn’t quite make the cut here in mid-June could very well do so come December.
The picks might change, but my guidelines have not. To make the cut, a record had to:
Have an impact on me
Spend a decent amount of time in heavy rotation
Been something unique (they can’t all be New Wave or Power Pop!)
Be a solid record from end to end. If it was a “no skips” album, the odds are pretty good it was in the running.
I broke this up into two parts to give the albums a little time to breathe and keep this from becoming a homework assignment. Like last year, they are ordered by release date.
Unlike last year, I’ve combined EPs and LPs on the same list. My completely objective and not at all made-up barometer is that anything with five tracks or less is an EP. Any of the latter will be noted as such.
Part 2 will land in your inbox at this same time next week. Until then, enjoy! And may you find a new favorite record.
Die Spitz- Teeth (1/15)
In aviation, things usually run like clockwork...until they don’t. Any time things would go sideways, one of my former coworkers would say, “It’s chaos, but it’s my kinda chaos.”
Some people like to see the world burn. He loved the challenge, I guess.
My elevator pitch for anyone wondering about Teeth is this: Die Spitz is the Gen Z equivalent to L7. That’s meant as high praise. And like L7, Die Spitz are fast, loud, and have something to say— and exactly zero Fs to give. Lost in that message is that they’re also talented musicians, with 3 of the four rotating instruments depending on the song.
Die Spitz is an Austin-based 4-piece barely out of their teens, and this record is jet-fueled chaos. But it’s my kinda chaos.
For your playlist: Hair of Dog, Chug
Guided By Voices- La La Land (1/20)
overuse often make the joke that if we ever go more than 8-9 months without a new GBV record, something is seriously wrong. Luckily, Bob Pollard is still in fine form, churning out records at a breakneck pace.
Last year’s Tremblers and Goggles By Rank made a lot of year-end lists (including mine) and contained five and six-minute songs, new ground for a band used to cranking out sub- 2:00 minute tracks. According to Pollard, La La Land is that record’s direct follow-up. And like its predecessor, it shows him going deeper, again writing (relatively) longer tracks and a more sophisticated sound.
Forty years in, Pollard-and GBV- have nothing left to prove. They could probably coast and release iterations of Alien Lanes, and we’d all eat it up. But they don’t, and the world’s a better place because of it.
For your playlist: Instinct Dwelling, Queen Of Spaces
Illiterate Light- Sunburned (1/27)
For a duo, Illiterate Light puts out a lot of sound. I learned this the hard way when I recently forgot to bring earplugs to their show.
But it’s also a good sound, with layers that leave you surprised there are only two of them. After that show, I noted that this would likely land a spot on my AOTY list, and here it is.
It’s a clunky analogy, but title aside, this record feels like the kind of humid summer morning familiar to anyone living in the mid-Atlantic states or Midwest. The kind where everything’s green, and the haze hasn’t quite figured out how to burn off yet.
The band flits between garage rock and Americana-often within the same song—and that sort of style collision rarely ends well. Yet it somehow works here. The usual themes are also evident (love, loss, rebirth), but again, it works.
For your playlist: Light Me Up, Automatic
patchnotes- Endless Surrender (1/27)
Three hundred sixty-three days after dropping the fantastic Golden Hour, patchnotes was back with follow-up Endless Surrender.
I’m pretty sure I was walking my dog the first time I played Golden Hour all the way through. This time I almost didn’t get to play it at all. My phone initially thought I was in a country that didn’t allow it- I was actually in the Atlanta airport. Go figure. Earlier that week, my company announced that employees would no longer be allowed access to frequent flyer lounges, so my younger son and I did the only thing we could while riding out a 6-hour layover- we bought a day pass and decided to hit as many as possible. We made it to two before he decided he was comfy and promptly fell asleep, and I promptly dug into Endless Surrender.
PDX-based producer Kyle Schwendinger, who performs as patchnotes has again delivered another solid record. Endless Surrender is a nocturnal world of neon-lit streets and warm beats.
For a chillwave record, it’s surprisingly intimate- which makes sense once when you learn that it’s essentially a breakup record. Speaking with Kiley Larsen for his Check This Out! Substack earlier this year, he explained, “It’s basically about exiting and relationship and going through the steps of falling in and out of love with someone,” says Schwendinger.”For me, this entire thing is just kind of a therapeutic out, I suppose you could say.”
It’s also a great way to kill six hours in a terminal.
For your playlist: Exhale (ft. Kyla Hall), I Love You
The Tubs- Dead Meat (1/27)
Speaking of which, sometimes an ending really just means a new beginning. When Joanna Gruesome split up, its members scattered in different directions and landed in new bands. For guitarist Owen “O” Williams, that band was The Tubs. Dead Meat is the follow-up to an earlier EP. Sound-wise, there’s a little post-punk snarl here, but by and large, it feels like they rooted through a collection of 80s college rock and jangle pop, took their favorite bits, and headed to the studio.
The lyrics are a different, grittier story. Underneath those shimmering hooks are some pretty grim words.
Speaking about the title track, Williams had this to say:
“This one’s about living in a rubbish filthy flat, wearing a horrible smelly beanie, and running out of steroid cream for the rash that’s spreading up your perineum. And about blaming someone else for all of that.“ says vocalist/guitarist Owen “O” Williams. “The lyrics are sung from the perspective of the accused – who’s all like ‘Okay fine blame me if you really want but you’ve always been a depressing crustie.’”
That might stop another record, well, dead in its tracks, but nice neat hooks have a way of papering over that sort of thing, and Dead Meat has ‘em by the truckload.
For your playlist: Dead Meat, Wretched Lie
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Timeout Room-Tight-Ass Goku Pictures (2/3)
When I was a little kid, I would spend hours pretending to be a DJ; I would make playlists and charts and record weird interstitial bits between songs that I was playing on the air. And like many kids of a certain age, I would first hold my tape recorder close to the radio to grab my favorite songs.
Performing as Timeout Room, Baton Rogue’s ST McCrary has done the same thing here—the difference being that he’s playing his own tracks. The songs are lo-fi but clean, and the styles vary. It feels both a little off-kilter and rock-solid. The promo blurb claims you’ll hear everyone from Wire to Wipers here. If you hold the radio close enough, you just might.
For your playlist: Oozin’ Out, Black ‘N’ Milds.
crushed- Extra Life (2/10)
Someone on Bandcamp described this record as a brilliant combination of Morcheeba, "The Process" by Saint Etienne, and a bit of Slowdive. The result is this awesome EP.
I can’t sum it up better than that. Trust me, I tried. 10/10. No notes
For your playlist: Waterlily, Coil
Yo La Tengo- This Stupid World (2/10)
Time is squishy. Has it really only been 4(ish) months since this record was released? It feels like it’s been around forever. Maybe that’s because Yo La Tengo has been around nearly that long.
One of the benefits of that kind of tenure is a large discography. One of the (possible) downsides is that everyone has a favorite and can be impossibly pedantic about it.
Many of the reviews for this record felt like a Mad Libs exercise with lines like “This Stupid World is the band’s best record since ____.” I’m not claiming any high ground here; I would’ve penciled in 2013’s Fade.
What almost everyone could agree on was that this is a rock-solid effort from the band. Yo La Tengo can be a band that makes it hard to love them, with styles ricocheting all over the place. In some ways, that’s still the case here, but the pop is poppier (for my money, “Fallout” is one of -if not the - poppiest song they’ve released in years), and the transitions are easier.
What I initially wrote:
Yo La Tengo has never been a band that fits nicely in a box, and 2023’s no time to start. They’ve gone from critics darling to your favorite band’s favorite band to indie rock elder statesmen.
And all of that from a band that feels more like neighbors you’d ask to watch your house while on vacation.
With seventeen records and a bunch of EPs and singles, this would’ve been a fine capstone to a storied discography. Instead, it feels like a band hitting its stride with the best yet to come.
And who knows? In a few years, maybe the reviews will all say that their latest release is their best record since 2023’s This Stupid World.
For your playlist: Fallout, Brain Capers, Miles Away
Blues Lawyer- All In Good Time (2/17)
Earlier this year, I had this to say about “Chance Encounters,” the opening track of Blues Laywers’ All In Good Time record:
It’s easy to sail full steam ahead into an iceberg of reductive writing when describing a band like this— “Indie” and “jangly” make for easy copy. But Blues Lawyer really does evoke a very specific vein of 90s pop.
If you’re of a, ahem, “certain age” it won’t be a stretch to imagine Evan Dando singing the first line we hear, “I wanna stop talking about the way things used to be,” instead of Miller. This also pairs well with bands like Gin Blossoms and even Velocity Girl.
Every word of that still holds true. “Chance Encounters” is a lovely jangle-pop song on a record full of them. All In Good Time covers a lot of themes—crappy jobs that overwork/underpay, broken hearts, and the laundry list of other hurdles most of us go through at some point— against the timeline of societal expectations. When you “should” have a good job, etc.
As noted earlier, The subjects can be pretty bleak, but the melodies and hooks sound fantastic. This is a record built for singing along to.
For your playlist: Chance Encounter, Late Bloomer, Nowhere to Go
En Attendant Ana- Principia (2/24)
En Attendant Ana is another band making a repeat appearance on my AOTY lists. And for a good reason- their sound is a very specific blend of sunny pop sounds and cool nonchalance.
What I said in my initial review:
Like jangle-pop? You’re in (a lot of ) luck here.
How about some horns? You bet.
Perhaps a dash of post-punk? Bassists Vincent Hivert and drummer Adrien Pollin got what you need.
That steady rhythm section is a great foundation for singer Margaux Bouchaudon’s sparkling vocals and infectious melodies. There’s more brass this time, too, and like any extra ingredient, it adds just the right amount of swing and sophistication to keep the record from floating away on a cloud of dream pop.
Bottom Line: Like gourmet food or high fashion, the best artists honor the past while constantly pushing up against the boundaries. With Principia, En Attendant Ana are doing just that. With equal parts joy, confidence, and rhythm, En Attendant Ana is like a stroll down the Champs-Élysées on a lovely spring day.
RIYL: Saint Etienne, Pizzicato Five
For your playlist: Ada, Mary, Diane, Black Morning, Wonder
That’s the end of Part 1. Check back next week for part 2!
In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these records. Are any of them on your list? Who should be on here? Share your thoughts!
Thanks for being here,
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