On Repeat's Top Records of 2023 (So Far)
Today we’re taking a look at part two of On Repeat’s Top Albums of 2023 (so far)
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We’re back with part two of On Repeat’s picks as the best records of 2023 so far. If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here.
Last week, I touched on how music discovery has changed, and to state an obvious truth, the Internet has helped all of us gain access to records we otherwise might not’ve ever heard. Today’s list takes us everywhere from Toronto to Tennessee and from Santa Fe to Springfield, Illinois.
There’s a little bit of everything here, but the common denominator is this: if it made the list, I found it exceptional. I hope you find a new favorite or two as well.
Now on to the music…
Tanukichan- Gizmo (3/3)
With the Bay Area locked down during the pandemic, Hannah Van Loon did what many people did and adopted a dog. We also adopted a dog (it only took my family a year to convince me!). And while I’m not sure where Van Loon’s came from, we first met our dog at a gas station in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Like Van Loon, our dog’s name is Gizmo. Ours doesn’t have a record named after him, though…yet.
The dog provided much-needed companionship while she wrote her second record as Tanukichan, following up on 2018’s Sundays. Mine keeps me good company while I hammer out record reviews. So, you know, totally the same.
“A theme I always had floating around was escape…Escaping from myself, my problems, sadness, and cycles.”
And Gizmo is a record that makes for an easy escape. It’s easy to get lost in the hypnotic grooves and textured sound, especially on tracks like “Thin Air” featuring 2022 On Repeat AOTY winners Enumclaw.
For your playlist: Thin Air, Nothing To Lose
Fever Ray- Radical Romantics (3/10)
Depending on which track is playing, listening to Radical Romantics can feel like stumbling through funhouse mirrors or being in a fever dream. For their third album, Karin Dreijer has built an elaborate soundscape for you to navigate. On delicate tracks “Looking For a Ghost,” the calliope and affected voices feel like Bjork at her most quaint.
But Dreijer also brought some friends to the show—namely their brother Olof, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross. The latter two add their own brand of weight to the menacing “Even It Out.” When Dreijer snarls This is for Zacharias/Who bullied my kid in high school/There’s no room for you/And we know where you live!” you find yourself both wondering what he did that was so awful and rooting for him not to get caught.
This is a record full of shape-shifting & nuance. It’s not inaccessible, but it forces you to pay attention. It’s at its best when listening to it is all you’re doing, as opposed to just playing passively while you’re busy with something else.
The reward is there if you’re willing to put in a little work.
For your playlist: Even it Out, Looking for A Ghost, North
Local Drags- Mess Of Everything (3/17)
I wanted to try something like that–a little more experimentation tossed in there. Maybe go almost full-tilt into the power pop/indie rock/alt-country/whatever ideas instead of always making sure it’s still PUNK, ya know? Basically, rip off All Shook Down by the Replacements this time around instead of Tim.
~Local Drags’ Lanny Durbin on making Mess of Everything
During the early days of the pandemic, I took a college course on writing. One of the hardest truths we learned is that writing humor is hard. Not just being funny but writing in a way that delivers your message as intended. Dry humor is particularly tricky. There’s a reason emojis are so popular.
Lanny Durban of Local Drags is a funny guy. His is a particular brand of self-deprecating wit that’s on brand for the Midwest. After speaking with him earlier this year, I really hoped that would come across, and I took a lot of time to try and make that happen.
What wasn’t hard was liking their latest LP, Mess of Everything. It’s an absolute beast of a power pop record, the type that can only come from the part of the world where the endless seas of corn & soy seem to stretch on forever. . this is, after all, the land that gave us a Westerberg, a Zander, and two Stinsons.
The record crams 10 tracks into 24 minutes, saving the best for last. If anything, it’s over too soon. And that’s no joke.
For your playlist: Heard About It, Aloe, Better Now
- That Sweet Breath EP (3/31)
At this risk of getting into “old man yells at clouds” territory, part of the appeal of music growing up was the emotion. Which specific one was secondary; that there was feeling mattered (yes, I know there were plenty of vapid tracks in the 80s-90s, follow me here).
Part of That Sweet Breath’s appeal is that in an era of Instagram filters and smooth, anodyne production, Lowmello has bet the other way. Can anyone imagine BTS building a song and video around bodycam footage of their arrest for DWI? I think not. There are plenty of depths to plumb on this EP, but there are also two of my favorite feelings here: hope and redemption.
From my chat with Lowmello earlier this year:
A lot of artists wear their hearts on their sleeves. Multi-instrumentalist Abel John put his into his latest EP.
Released via Santa Fe, NM-based Mama Mañana Records, That Sweet Breath is a fantastic blend of introspection and revelation. In an era of only showing our best selves and performative nonsense, John's willingness to lay bare his story of redemption is a refreshing change.
The record revolves around themes of loss, tricky relationships, and redemption- it’s navigating a heavier ground than his previous work. But the majority of the songs sound joyous. That dichotomy makes for a compelling listen.
For your playlist: Fool, That Sweet Breath
The New Pornographers- Continue As Guest (3/31)
Few bands can say they’ve reached the twin peaks of extensive discography and fevered fan base the way The New Pornographers have.
This combination becomes fertilizer for lively- and often extreme, ly pedantic- discussions about a favorite record, era, lineup, etc. Everyone has their opinions, and for my money, everyone is right! But I’ll say this; Continue As Guest is arguably one of the best records yet from a band known for consistently putting out solid work.
From my initial review:
Speaking of expectations, I expect a New Pornographers record to be packed to the gills with catchy hooks and nuanced lyrics. It would be easy for band leader Carl Newman to crank out boilerplate power pop, but then it wouldn't be one of their records.
Continue As Guest exceeds those expectations. If there's a prototypical song for the band, opening track "Really Really Light" is it. The harmonies are airtight, and the hook is addictive. It's the sort of song that sets up shop in your mind and hangs out for a bit—the kind of song they do so well. Don't be surprised to find yourself quietly singing it days later.
For your playlist: Really Really Light, Cat and Mouse with The Light, Marie and The Undersea
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Heatwaves- Heatwaves #4 EP (5/9)
Heatwaves are a Spanish group taking the best of 60s girl groups, power pop, and just a pinch of new wave, molding it into a wonderfully light 4- song EP.
11/10. No notes.
RIYL: PIzzicato Five, Saint Etienne, The Ronettes
For your playlist: Don’t Say No
Jeffrey Silverstein- Western Sky Music (5/12)
I have no formal music training. With a limited understanding of music theory, I rely on other modes of communication with bandmates, mixing/mastering engineers, and other collaborators. I may not always know what key or chord I’m playing, but I can describe how I want a song to feel, move, or a scene/place it should conjure
Silverstein must be a master of communication, then. Western Sky Music is lush without being overwrought. Expansive without being overwhelming. Silverstein has some help here from the likes of Barry Walker Jr. (pedal steel), Akron Family’s Dana Buoy (drums), and Alex Chapman (bass). Together they have painted a gorgeous landscape of sound evoking the wide open spaces of the American West, where sunsets take up your entire field of view and roads seem to go on forever, chasing a horizon you never quite get to.
For your playlist: Chet, Sunny Jean
The Morlocs- Calm Ya Farm (5/19)
If Western Sky Music is the soundtrack of the open road, then Calm Ya Farm is what’s playing at the bar you stop at after a long day at the wheel. Australian band The Morlocs don’t fit neatly into any category, and Calm Ya Farm doesn’t either.
Answer: All of the Above.
It doesn’t much matter. Ultimately, it’s a rollicking good time and a good dose of kicks rock. The band has taken the best from each and made a record (their 7th since 2014) that knocks it out of the park.
For your playlist: Initiative, Common Sense Civilian, undone and Unashamed
PONY- Velveteen (5/19)
A late addition to the list, but one that made the cut almost immediately. If you’re looking for bright shiny power pop, this record is for you.
At any rate, Summer is now officially here, and Toronto-based PONY are back with a Velveteen, a gorgeous summertime record and follow-up to 2021’s TV Baby. I don’t know if there is a per-minute legal limit for hooks, but if there is, Velveteen is definitely testing those limits. Those limits are pushed right from the start when the duo of Sam Bielanksi and Matty Morand drop the hammer on “Très Jolie.” With a built-for-singing-along chorus of “I wanna kiss you. I wanna make you mine. I wanna lie to you and say that I am fine,” it’s electric.
For your playlist: Très Jolie, French Class
Bully- Lucky For You (6/2)
Lucky For You can be deceptive. The songs cover a wide range of issues, with emotions ranging from an exhausted resignation to wanting to throw a (proverbial) brick through a window. We get to listen along in real-time as Alicia Bognanno pushes back against the societal forces trying their best to box her in.
From my initial review:
For all intents and purposes, Bully is Alicia Bognanno. Lucky is Bully’s latest release and the first since 2020’s SUGAREGG. Over the course of several LPs, they’ve mastered a sort of throbbing, electric, could-explode-at-any-second sound. The lyrics are emotional, the sound volatile. All sung with a voice that sounds like it subsists on Marlboros and cynicism.
It is the voice of someone that’s seen some things.
It’s a record made by someone with some thoughts on those things, too. Whether it’s a relationship on “All I Do” (I've been ready to leave/ but it's hard to go/ If it ain't the right choice/I don't wanna know), or the state of the world on “Ms. America,” the result is a scorching record that ties together some of the loose threads from previous LPs.
For your playlist: All I Do, Change Your Mind, Ms. America
Eyelids- A Colossal Waste Of Light (3/10)
Depeche Mode- Memento Mori (3/24)
Boygenius- The Record (3/31)
Burning Ferns-World Of The Wars (4/7)
Wednesday-Rat Saw God (4/7)
Fruit Bats- A River Running to Your Heart (4/14)
John Hiatt- Beneath This Gruff Exterior (5/6)
Arlo Parks- My Soft Machine (5/26)
Stuck- Freak Frequency (5/26)
Lousie Post- Sleepwalker (6/2)
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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