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.
OK, I confess: I started listening to Brian Fennell because he showed up in my social media feed, and thought, “Oh, he’s really cute.” So yes, there may be a halo effect to my becoming a stan. But Fennell has had a diverse career so far. As part of the trio Barcelona, he sang powerfully in front of a driving guitars. By the time he released the self-titled debut album as SYML, that rock vocabulary expanded to include electronics. SYML and Absolutes are the best of Fennell’s early works.
Soundtrack, Star Trek Voyager: The Caretaker
I’m ambivalent about Star Trek as a whole, but do not doubt my devotion to Star Trak: Voyager. Most of that fandom was driven by a crush on Garrett Wang, but I really liked how Voyager felt grittier than other series in the franchise. Jay Chattaway’s scores for the series did their job girding what was happening onscreen, so subconsciously, I perceived there were some avant-grade gestures going on. I didn’t realize the extent till this soundtrack laid it all bare. So much so, Jerry Goldsmith’s theme song feels anachronistic next to it.
Vagabon, Sorry I Haven’t Called
This album is the first of three I’m anticipating in 2023. The others are Water Made Us by Jamila Woods and LAHAI by Sampha. I don’t get the impression Vagabon strayed too far from what made her previous album appealing, and that’s fine with me.
Explosions in the Sky, End
Seven years have passed since the previous Explosions in the Sky album, and they too have made made drastic renovations to their sound, similar to labelmate Eluvium. End actually has some conventional song structures — shocker! — and electronics figure much more heavily this time around. The album starts of strong, but it does flag in the second half.
Jason Isbell, Southeastern (10th Anniversary Edition)
I could go on about how the the live and demo versions of this breakout album provides context and whatever else reviewers prattle on about, but I am a gay man who is not above listening to music performed by an attractive guy. And Isbell is a smoke show on the updated cover of Southeastern.
The Replacements, Tim: Let It Bleed Edition
Hey, you know the guy who produced Living Colour’s debut album Vivid? He updated the mix of the Replacements’ major label debut, and it sounds pretty damn good.
I haven’t really cottoned to Explosion in the Sky’s soundtrack work, but I’m hoping this release feels more like an album than a cue sheet.
John Coltrane, A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle, Oct. 8
At first, I thought this album was just a reissue of Live in Seattle, till I took a closer look at the title.
Renée Fleming, Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene, Oct. 8
I wonder if John Green would be interested in reviewing this album.
The Replacements, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, Oct. 22
The Replacements had, at best, a periphery influence on my teenage listening habits, and yet I’ve bought just about every deluxe edition of their albums. Clearly, I’m making up for lost time.
R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi (Deluxe Edition), Oct. 29
I’m ambivalent about this album. I had sold it for cash a long time ago, but I picked it up again from the thrift shop. I don’t know if it holds up well.
ABBA, Voyage, Nov. 3
I can’t lie — I’m pretty damn excited about a new ABBA album in 40 years. The singles preceding the album sound like time hadn’t stopped for the quartet, and the world definitely came back around to them.
Sting, The Bridge, Nov. 19
I guess I still care because there is a part of me that fondly remembers a younger Sting in various forms of undress.
Robbie Williams, Life Thru a Lens, Sept. 24 Robbie Williams, I’ve Been Expecting You, Sept. 24
The Ego Has Landed was one of my most played CDs of 1999, and it collected the best bits of Robbie Williams’ first two albums. About 20 years later, I would find I’ve Been Expecting You at the thrift store. So I have to say I’m very much tempted to drop cash on these vinyl reissues, even though I haven’t heard Life Thru a Lens in its entirety.
Japan actually has its own Record Store Day event that focuses on domestic releases, but it’s separate from Record Day, which happens annually in November. While Record Store Day focuses on independent retailers, Record Day in Japan looks similar to National Album Day in the UK, where larger retailers are involved with the festivities.
Past Record Days in Japan have included reissues of NUMBER GIRL, YEN TOWN BAND and a number of Studio Ghibli soundtracks. For me, AJICO is the biggest news coming out of this year’s crop, but I’m also immensely pleased to see Hatakeyama Miyuki’s Diving into your mind getting a reissue. The Tomosaka Rie 7-inch single pairs two of her biggest hits, “Cappuccino” and “Escalation”, the A-side written by Shiina Ringo.