Half way through the year, and I have to admit the favorite list isn’t looking too solid for the last six slots. I definitely like albums by SYML, Kelala, Eluvium and Jason Isbell. I like the first album by Everything But the Girl in 24 years, but it’s not my favorite of theirs. The remaining slots are up for grabs, although Kesha’s album has enough rawness to hold onto its spot.
Here’s how 2023 is shaping up so far:
SYML, The Day My Father Died: Brian Fennell has a gorgeous voice, and this album feels singular to that voice.
Kelela, Raven: This album needs a few listens before it burrows deep.
Eluvium, (whirring Marvels in) Consensus Reality: Probably the most epic album in the Eluvium discography.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Weathervanes: This could be Isbell’s best album since Southeastern. It’s raw.
Everything But the Girl, Fuse: Welcome back, Ben and Tracey.
Kesha, Gag Order: Drag them, girl.
Sufjan Stevens / Timo Andres / Conor Hanick, Reflections: I saw a number of reviews complaining about the fact this album is essentially modern classical music. Which, of course, is a selling point for me.
Danish String Quartet, Prism V: I wish the Danish had chosen a more modern Webern work in the way they had with Schnittke and Shostakovich, but it’s an impeccable pairing with Beethoven and Bach nonetheless.
Queens of the Stone Age, In Times New Roman…: This album actually reminds me a lot of … Like Clockwork, with which I also recently caught up.
Thomas Frank, “Burn the Sails”: Thomas Frank is a productivity YouTuber, but this first foray into singing is really impressive.
Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen: I overlooked this album in 2022.
Queens of the Stone Age, … Like Clockwork: I remember this album getting good reviews around the time it came out.
Luscious Jackson, Electric Honey: I reviewed this album back in 1999 but let it go for cash. I’m glad it’s back in the collection
Nena, ? (Fragezeichen): A number of tracks on this album served as a foundation for the multilingual album 99 Luftballons.
System of a Down, Toxicity: This band is pretty operatic, no?
Daryl Hall and John Oates, Private Eyes: There are way too many hits on this album for it not to be enjoyable.
Rosanne Cash, King’s Record Shop: This album holds up pretty well.
Thomas Frank featuring Airplane Mode, “Burn the Sails”
I don’t usually pay attention to singles, and Thomas Frank is more known for his YouTube videos about productivity and the web app Notion than for music. But Frank, who previously released guitar instrumentals, took singing lessons and applied them to this single. And it’s impressive. I hope he has the gumption for an EP, at least.
Eluvium, (whirring marvels in) Consensus Reality
The last few Eluvium albums felt like they could be interchangeable, but this one? Not so much. Matthew Cooper has expanded his sonic vocabulary to include bona fide string arrangements. This albums feels uncharacteristic of the Eluvium M.O., but in very welcome ways.
SYML, The Day My Father Died
When I was younger, I would spend more time with albums, playing them weeks on end, even the ones for which I felt ambivalence. I don’t do that any more. So it’s rare that an album dominates my media devices the way this album has. Brian Fennell has a gorgeous voice, but he also knows how to tailor his songs for his voice. And they’re really good songs. They kept playing in my head long after the playback stopped. I can’t remember the last time an artist did that for me.
Natalie Merchant, Keep Your Courage
I think Merchant took her own advice with this album title because I don’t think I’ve heard her so confident.
NUMBER GIRL, Mujo no Hi
I didn’t realize NUMBER GIRL’s influence would have enough staying power to bring the band back together for fans who never saw them live in the first place. It was weird enough coming across a video of ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION covering “Toumei Shoujo,” which NUMBER GIRL played four times on this final concert of their reunion tour. And they sound every bit as fierce as they did nearly 20 years ago. Paint me a little disappointed that a new album didn’t result from this reunion, but I’m glad the newer generations of fans got to see NUMBER GIRL in their element.
Kesha, Gag Order
Good on Kesha. Drag them.
Danish String Quartet, Prism V
Danish String Quartet’s Prism series paired works of Beethoven and Bach with composers who came in their wake, ranging from Felix Mendelssohn to Alfred Schnittke. Do I totally buy the connections Danish sees between the two B’s and Bartok or Shostakovich? I like the fact the Danish even tried to forge one. The final installment of this series pairs an early string quartet by Anton Webern with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16, Op. 135. The Webern quartet is a post-Romantic work with an unstable tonality but still fairly lush compared to the austerity his later works took on. Here, the connection with Beethoven is much more apparent.
Sufjan Stevens / Timo Andres / Conor Hanick, Reflections
I read user reviews complaining this album as nothing but modern classical garbage, so I took a listen myself, and no, it’s not garbage. But it is definitely modern classical, perhaps even post-modern. I have a few of Stevens’ indie rock albums, and I find them unoffensive. But this side of Stevens? I can get behind it.
Jake Shears, Last Man Dancing
Shears’ solo debut left not a single impression with me. But this follow-up is — what is that term the youngs use today? Oh, yes: FIRE.
Sugababes, Angels with Dirty Faces
I remember not having enough savvy about pop music to give this album an ambivalent review when it came out. Now that I’ve had a number of decades to reflect on this album and its predecessor One Touch, I have to say it’s a solid work. And it’s an essential album for anyone who wants to get a sense of Sugababes at their finest.
The Donnas, Early Singles 1995-1999
I learned of the Donnas right on the cusp of their signing to Atlantic Records, so I was unaware of their punk bonafides, which these early singles definitively establish.
Concert reviews were always something I wanted to write for this site, but I never drummed up the gumption to jot down my thoughts about shows after I attend them. In reality, I didn’t want shows to become means to an end, in the same way album purchases had become source for reviews.
Still, I go to a lot of concerts, and it feels awkward not mentioning them at least once.
So I’m going to do a year-end overview of all the shows I’ve attended in the past year.