I’m enough of a rockist snob to turn my nose up at Christmas music, so imagine my surprise at seeing a fucking Christmas album as a year-end pick. But Matt Rogers takes a piss out of the genre, offering a set of songs sung as earnestly as any pop star with Broadway pipes, but throwing equal measures of irreverence toward religion, gay culture and whatever else the zeitgeist deems important. But if these songs were just straight-up pop extracted from the seasonal theme? Fire. Absolute fire.
Right Said Fred, Up
Yes, Right Said Fred is a one-hit wonder, but this album is pretty solid. No, seriously.
The American Analog Set, For Forever
AmAnSet returns after 18 years with an album that doesn’t sound like the AmAnSet I remember from the 2000s. For Forever is uncharacteristically extroverted if your perception of the band is as frozen in time as mine.
I read a number of reviews that pointed out the last track on the album was jazzy without mentioning it was a cover of John Coltrane’s “Resolution.” These reviews were on metal-themed sites, so … OK? The rest of the album is a lot more tuneful than the Helmet I remember, a perception admittedly stuck in the early-1990s.
For reasons explained in the year-end overview for new releases, Brian Fennell dominated my media players in 2023. In addition to his work as SYML, he fronted the indie band Barcelona from the late 2000s to the mid-2010s. In the interest of diversity, I limited how much of his catalog appears on this list. Otherwise, it would have been SYML and Barcelona all the way down.
Spiderland looms large in indie rock circles, which makes it easy to overlook the charms of its predecessor, Tweez. This album just hints at the post rock gestures Slint would pioneer, but its blistering, lo-fi sound deserves its own spot in the underground rock pantheon.
Barcelona, Absolutes SYML, SYML
Fennell’s most recent work is much more introspective, but with Barcelona, he started out very much a rocker. Over time, electronics crept into the band’s sound, practically taking over the band’s third album, Basic Man. The self-titled SYML album sits at a midpoint where Fennell still wrote some rockers, but the quieter music started to make itself known. As beautiful as Fennell’s voice is on that quieter music, these louder albums demonstrate his versatility. He’s no slouch in front of lots of guitars.
Thomas Frank featuring Airport Mode, “Burn the Sails”
Thomas Frank is known primarily for his YouTube channels, but he also has musical ambitions. “Burn the Sails” is his first single as a singer, having released instrumental guitar pieces up till now. He admits to using pitch correction software, but the underlying vocals are indeed quite good.
Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen
I didn’t get around to listening to this album till the start of 2023. Otherwise, it would have ended up on the 2022 list.
Nena, ? (Fragezeihen)
The bilingual international album 99 Luftbalons takes most of its material from this second German-language album. So if you liked the English side of 99 Luftballons, then this album is a must-have.
Queens of the Stone Age, … Like Clockwork
Songs for the Deaf casts a pretty long shadow over the Queens’ discography such that I was hesitant to believe all the good reviews … Like Clockwork garnered at the time of its release. So yeah, this one is definitely a keeper.
King Geedorah, Take Me to Your Leader
Do I listen to MF Doom for the rhymes and the beats or for the cartoon mythology? Why not both?
Luscious Jackson, Electric Honey
I let this album go when cash got tight in the early 2000s, and it shows up with enough regularity at the thrift shop that I brought it back into the collection. It should have never left.
Daryll Hall and John Oates, Private Eyes
I would have liked Daryll Hall and John Oates more if their music hadn’t been so thoroughly saturated at the time of release. Now removed from that onslaught, I have to say Private Eyes is pretty darn catchy.
Robert Palmer, The Island Records Years: I haven’t compared this boxed set with previous reissues to determine if these albums have been remastered, but Palmer’s early albums are some of the most underrated. He starts off with the Meters as his backing band and eventually becomes the dapper singer fronting a band of models.
Jason Isbell, Southeastern: 10th Anniversary: Isbell’s breakout album gets supplemented with demos and a full live performance.
The Replacements, Tim: Let It Bleed Edition: This four-disc edition of the Mats’ major label debut album includes a new mix by Ed Stasium, the producer behind Living Colour’s Vivid. And it sounds pretty good.
A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.
I’m not sure other music writers would agree that 1998 is an important year in music for the ’90s. 1991 saw Guns N’ Roses cap the era of hair metal and Nirvana usher the unfortunately-named alternative rock. But it didn’t have Neutral Milk Hotel.
Igor Stravinsky, Le Sacre du Printemps/Symphony in Three Movements (Zubin Mehta, New York Philharmonic Orchestra)
Mazzy Star, She Hangs Brightly
Bill Frisell, Where in the World?
Fishbone, The Reality of My Surroundings
Kronos Quartet, Lutoslawski: String Quartet
Black Sheep, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Hamada Mari, Tomorrow
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
Painkiller, Guts of a Virgin
Mr. Bungle, Mr. Bungle
Slint and My Bloody Valentine are additions 2004-me would have made. 1991-me would have side-eyed 2004-me.
And he would have scoffed at 2018-me for including Black Sheep, after emitting a gasp at seeing Fishbone on the list at all.
He would have begrudgingly nodded at the additions of Metallica and Hamada Mari, and he would have been curious about Electronic. And he would have gone out and found Painkiller the first chance he got.