Sunday, December 31, 2023

F & L Best of 2023

Hey music lovers! Well once again, we have arrived at the final day of the year. That means it's time for my 13th annual roundup of my favorite music of the year. One thing that really blows me away about the modern world of independent music is how much of it is out there — and how much of it is really good! I could read dozens of other people's best-of-2023 lists and discover many, many releases that I'd never heard or even heard of. I feel like just going through all the year-end posts on Add To Wantlist is equivalent to taking an honors course in new music! I realize that even within my well-defined power pop/punk/garage bubble, my blog doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of all the good stuff that's out there. Yet even from the music I enjoyed in 2023, it was difficult to choose just 30 albums and 45 singles & EPs to make the cut for this post. It's a good time to be into music. When I contemplate exactly how much longer Faster and Louder ought to exist, I can look at my end-of-the-posts and realize that with this many great bands and artists out there, there's no good reason to stop in the near future. Let's be real here: this blog pretty much runs itself. I'm not creating anything. I just come across incredible music which talented people have poured their hearts and souls into, and I tell my tens of readers about it. So thanks to all of you who give the world the gift of music. On that note, let's dive into the releases I have dug the most in the year 2023! 

Top 30 Albums of 2023 

30. Hellebores - Uncles
Super high energy poppy punk rock from Sydney, Australia. If this record doesn't make you smile, you are beyond saving. 

29. The Decibels - When Red Lights Flash
Sacramento's legendary power pop group finally releases the album that was postponed by the pandemic. Of course it's magnificent.

28. Guerrilla Teens - Under the Dagger
The long-awaited debut album from this post-Humpers, post-Lovesores supergroup is everything you would have hoped for and more. This is what they call rock 'n' roll, kids!

27. Nervous Jerk - Ugly Losers Club
Killer punk rock out of New Zealand!

26. High School - Freshman 15
High School, a San Francisco-based band that existed from 2005 to 2007, finally sees the release of its debut album. A perfect mix of poppy punk, power pop, and straight-up rock 'n' roll featuring songs about love, school, and love at school.

25. Friends of Cesar Romero - Queen of all the Parliaments
J. Waylon delivers the goods with 15 more tracks of powerful punky pop straight out of the garage. Worth checking out for the song titles alone! 

24.  K​ü​ken - self titled (III)
The twins Philipp and Chris (The Kidnappers, Highschool Rockers) are back home on Alien Snatch Records and ripping harder than ever! 
23. The Young Hasselhoffs - Dear Departed
Does the world need a pop-punk record about death, grief, love, and obsession with an adaption of an Edgar Allan Poe poem as its emotional core? Um, yeah! The Young Hasselhoffs, longtime mainstays of the pop-punk scene, are literally making the best music of their lives a quarter-century into their existence.

22. Dennis Cometti - Suburban Condition 
An absolute banger of ferocious pub punk rock 'n' roll from down under.

21. The Young Rochelles - Kicked to the Curb
Nothing more and nothing less than a perfect pop-punk album.

20. Psychotic Youth - Happy Songs
38 years into its career, Northern Sweden's Psychotic Youth still sets the standard for power-pop-surf-punk.

19. The Midnight Callers - Rattled Humming Heart
On their second album, JEM Records recording artists The Midnight Callers wear their love for glam rock and '70s power pop on their sleeves. The future is bright for rock 'n' roll!

18. Miesha and the Spanks - Unconditional Love In Hi-Fi
This Canadian alt-rock/punk duo delivers an album packed with passionate, intelligent, and powerful rock anthems.

17. The Smart Shoppers - LEFTOVERS FROM TOMORROW
There was no sophomore slump for Green Bay, Wisconsin's premiere new wave punk rock band!

16. Chinese Junk - Fly Spray
Imagine the 1977 Ramones if they'd done an album for Rip Off Records.

15. The Unknowns - East Coast Low
Super-catchy old school punk rock 'n' roll from Australia. Energy off the charts and hooks for days!

14. Autogramm - Music That Humans Can Play
Best album yet from the masters of contemporary new wave.

13. The Whiffs - Scratch 'N' Sniff
Power pop by the book, and it's a book I'd read any day of the year. 

12. Girl Drink Drunks - After 9pm
2023's best pure punk rock album. Dark and ferocious garage punk played with hardcore intensity. Joel Jett is the man! 

11. Geoff Palmer - An Otherwise Negative Situation
Geoff Palmer is back with ten more stellar tracks that blur the lines between pop-punk and power pop. Possibly his best album! 

10. Juniper - She Steals Candy
Teenage singer Juniper teams with her father Michael Shelley and a whole slew of talented friends to deliver a sophomore album full of timeless yet contemporary pop songs.

9. Duncan Reid and the Big Heads - And It's Goodbye from Him
Duncan Reid, a legend of power pop/punk music, closes his recording career with one of the best albums he's ever been a part of.  

8. Poppy Robbie - Neighborhood Beautification Commission
The long-awaited proper debut album from the beloved musician, artist, music reviewer, and intergalactic pop influencer Poppy Robbie is a master work in songwriting and storytelling.

7. Justine and The Unclean - The Signal Light
I still can't believe Justine Covault is gone. Justine and The Unclean were always a first-rate punk/pop band, but on this release, Justine's songwriting soared to extraordinary heights. The Signal Light is one of those albums that transcends genre. If you want to hear amazing songs with amazing lyrics performed by incredible musicians, The Signal Light is an album you need to own.    

6. Civic - Taken by Force
An 11-track Aussie punk rager that can stand toe-to-toe with the best of The Saints and Radio Birdman.  

5. Rich Ragany & The Digressions - What We Do (To Not Let Go)
Rich Rags continues to show why he's one of our greatest modern-day songwriters. Backed by the remarkable Digressions, he delivers an epic rock record that's packed with anthems that will touch your heart and stir your soul.

4. Brad Marino - Grin and Bear It
If I'm doing a year-end favorite LPs list, and Brad Marino had an album out, you'll always find him near the top.

3. The Shang Hi Los - Aces Eights & Heartbreaks
I was eagerly awaiting this album for a couple years, and it did not disappoint. Nine tracks, and it's nothing but hits! Jen D'Angora and Dan Kopko as a songwriting and singing tandem are hard to beat.

2. Kurt Baker - Rock 'N' Roll Club
While still a classic power pop rock 'n' roll album in spirit, Kurt Baker's fifth solo album finds him broadening his musical style and embracing his maturity as an artist. I might rank "Anchors Up" as his finest song ever. This is Baker's fourth album to make my year-end top ten list and the third to make my top two!

1. The Exbats - Song Machine
I led my review of this album by saying, "It's official: The Exbats are the best band in the world." That's how good it is. Daughter/dad songwriting duo Inez and Kenny McLain continue to take the influence of 1960s and '70s pop music and create something that feels genuinely new and exciting as we sit on the doorstep of 2024. How can I not love an album that reminds me of The Shangri-Las, The Carpenters, and Ramones all at once? In a just world, this would be a multi-million seller. Song Machine more than lives up to its title.

Top 20 EPs of 2023

20. Matt Speedway - Home Demos - Vol. 11
Over the last couple years, Matt Julian from The Speedways has released 11 volumes of free home-recorded demos. This was the final and best installment. I eagerly await a proper solo album!

19. Stars Like Ours - Better Every Day
This Boston super-trio brings the old school college radio rock like 1992 never ended.

18. Chinese Telephones - Outta My Hands
Back with their first new recordings in 16 years, Milwaukee's punk-pop sensations pick right up like they were never gone.

17. Vista Blue - Runaway
On this all-covers EP, Mike pays tribute to some of his favorite songs (by Imperial Teen, All Girl Summer Fun Band, Television Personalities, and Camera Obscura) which have influenced him as a songwriter. I love it when bands do records like these!

16. The Naggs - self titled
From Düsseldorf, Germany, The Naggs debut with five stellar tracks of garagey power pop rock 'n' roll.

15. Heatwaves - Heatwaves #4
First release in four years from Spain's beloved girl group/power pop revivalists does not disappoint!

14. The New Brutarians - Don't Want to Know Your Secrets
A mini-album of stripped-down tunes from everyone's favorite Florida-based lo-fi pop art minimalist poetic glam punk rock n' roll duo, cut live in the studio. An expanded full-length version with some extra odds and sods is available from Sioux Records.

13. The Matweeds - Hooligans in the Vestibule
Unreleased for three and a half decades, this first and final release from The Matweeds is an unearthed treasure of 1980s Boston garage/punk.

12. Itchy & The Nits - self titled
Seven tracks of catchy & exuberant garage punk that falls somewhere between a punkier Nikki and the Corvettes and the budget sounds of early Donnas and Bobbyteens. Australia cannot be stopped!

11.  Outtacontroller - Just a Scratch 
One of the bands that helped define modern-day poppy garage punk is back and still on top of its game.

10. Chinese Junk/The Vains - split
Killer split featuring the New England/New Brunswick punk rock supergroup The Vains and the UK's kings of pound shop rock. This record is one half Black Flag meets Samoans meets Johnny Thunders, one half quintessential budget punk, and one whole totally awesome.

9. Parasites - EP-Onymous
Way back in 1989, Parasites recorded five demos as a favor to Sweet Baby, who needed songs for a second LP. Sadly, that LP never came to be. But finally in 2023, those 1989 recordings see the light of day. A couple of these songs ultimately became Parasites classics, but you can definitely hear how they could been great Sweet Baby songs!

8. The Ape-Ettes - Simply The Ape-Ettes
Amazing vinyl debut from Sudbury, Ontario's finest garage punk rock 'n' roll band.

7. Civil Rats - Your Dummest Friends
Do you know your Civil Rats? Philly trio plays the catchiest and most fun brand of garage-punk that you could ever hope to hear.

6. Friends of Cesar Romero - Spiral Eye Roll
J. Waylon released so many great EPs this year that it's hard to single out a best one. Spiral Eye Roll is the pick here, but you should buy 'em all!

5. Danny The K - Cigarettes & Silhouettes
One of the best songwriters in modern-day rock ‘n’ roll finally makes a solo record, and of course it rules!

4. The New Frustrations - Lifetime
Now down to a trio, this long-running Plymouth, Massachusetts outfit continues to put the power in the pop.

3. Cindy Lawson - Don't Come Crying To Me
On her second solo release, the Minneapolis music legend has never sounded better. Great tunes, and that voice is something else!

2. Norcos Y Horchata - Aloha Motherfuckers 
Three more tracks of ass-kicking Midwestern punk rock 'n' roll goodness from one of the best bands out there.

1. Taxi Girls - Coming Up Roses 
This was the record I was most eagerly awaiting in 2023, and it did not let me down. Five exhilarating tracks that will remind you why you fell in love with punk rock way back when. My god, that rhythm section! 

Top 25 Singles of 2023

25. Benny J Ward - "I Didn't Mean It"
A stone cold garage rock power pop banger.

24. Brad Marino - "Ramones and Stones"
This is what I call a mission statement!

23. Shiverlane - "I Get Nervous"
Behold the next chapter in the story of Boston power pop.

22. C.C. Voltage - "Berliner Pilsner"
The greatest beer commercial that never was.

21. Hayley and the Crushers - "Lust for Life"
The Crushers pay tribute to their adopted home base of Detroit with an absolutely smashing rendition of Iggy Pop's classic. I don't think I fully appreciated the song's gonzo lyrical brilliance until I heard this version!

20. The Trouble Seekers - "Crazy"
Kevin and Hillary are back with more of their brilliant dark new wave/synth-punk/retro-futuristic pop.

19. Vista Blue - "Bandcamp Friday Is Here!"
An anthem for our times from my favorite band to write about. I'd write about them again tomorrow if I could. 

18. TJ Cabot - "S'Cool Days" & "Past Discrepancies"
"S'Cool Days" is a blistering cover of Canadian glam rocker Stanley Frank’s 1977 classic; "Past Discrepancies" is a Grade-A TJ Cabot original. Essential low-budget garage punk rock ‘n’ roll from the Maritimes!

17. The Family Township - "Cross the Line (Oh Andrea)"
An epic rocker love song that will get your heart racing.

16. Kurt Baker - "Secrets"
Power pop meets Motown meets summertime vibes on this feelgood earworm featuring Jeff Beam on guitar.

15. The Chelsea Curve - "How Can I (Resist You)?"
Another perfect single from Boston’s finest mod-punk power pop trio.

14. The Bellrays - "Ball of Confusion"
As part of the I-94 Recordings Detroit covers series, the mighty Bellrays deliver a modernized and urgent rendition of The Temptations’ timeless classic. This is an absolutely essential purchase, and vinyl copies remain in stock over at the I-94 web site

13. Dogmatics - "I Can't Get Over You"
The Dogmatics, I’m thrilled to say, still sound like The Dogmatics!

12. Angel Face - "I Can't Go Back"
The second 7" from this Tokyo-based punk rock super group is pure fire.

11. The Lemon Drop Gang - "I'm Done" b/w "Johnny Is a Jerk"
A true double A-side affair from Tuscons’s garage-punk pop sensations.

10. Split System - "Bullet" b/w "On the Street"
A smashing double A-side of quintessential Aussie punk!

9. Vista Blue - "Coming Out Swinging"
One thing I find very underrated about Vista Blue are Mike's lyrics. I heard "Coming Out Swinging" and suspected that the band had pulled a John Fogerty and written a song about baseball that was actually a song about them. Yet if you choose to believe that this song predicted LSU's 2023 championship baseball season, there is plenty of evidence to support such an inference. Mike's lyrics are so skillfully-written that one could argue that both interpretations are equally valid. That "new ace" referenced in the song is probably Paul Skenes, but alternatively it could be Richard Bates or Classic Pat! 

8. Norcos Y Horchata - "Live, Laugh, Toaster Bath"
"Jump right in/The water's fine"

7. The Fastbacks - "A Quiet Night"
That’s right: it’s the legendary Fastbacks with their first new recordings in over 20 years! The Muffs cover on the B-side will give you chills.

6. The Melmacs - "Alive"
Germany’s beloved power pop punk rock ‘n’ rollers treat us to a "dousing hot-cold-shower which sums up the blazing, man-made destruction we all live in." An absolute anthem!

5. Wyatt Funderburk - "November" b/w "You'll Know"
Wyatt Funderburk’s first new solo recordings in a decade are a preview of his forthcoming album. Pop music doesn’t get any more beautiful than this.

4. Juniper - "I Was Thinking About You"
Part of teen singer Juniper’s appeal is that she loves '60s and '70s pop but also loves contemporary popular music. Written by her dad Michael Shelley after Juniper played him some Harry Styles songs, "I Was Thinking About You" typifies why Juniper is such a breath of fresh air in the indie rock scene.

3. The Prize - "First Sight"
The most exciting new band of 2022 follows up its instant classic debut EP with a perfect power pop single.

2. The Lemon Drop Gang - "Sweetie Pie" b/w "The Party's Over"
The LDG's second appearance on this list. Is this now the best band on Rum Bar Records? Signs point to yes! 

1. Stef + The Sleeveens - "Give My Regards to the Dancing Girls"
Stef is Dublin-born singer/songwriter Stefan Murphy. The Sleevens are Ryan Sweeney (Cheap Time, Sweet Time Records) on drums, Eli Steele (Sweet Knives) on guitar, and Jamie Mechan on bass. Together they’ve delivered an extraordinary debut single of '70s punk-inspired pub rock ‘n’ roll with lyrics that will fill your heart with hope and joy. Now known simply as The Sleevens, the band will be releasing a full album on Dirtnap Records in early 2024. In a very different vein, Murphy has a new solo album out on Sweet Time.

2023 Song of the Year 

Poppy Robbie - "Robert Pollard Trading Card Collection"
Leave it to me to proclaim a six-minute track as the best song of the entire year. As if I haven't already demanded enough of your time! "Robert Pollard Trading Card Collection" is the literal and figurative centerpiece of Poppy Robbie's excellent debut album Neighborhood Beautification Commission. Inspired by Robbie's actual Robert Pollard trading card collection, the song reflects on what an amazing twist of fate it was that Robert Pollard went from being an elite athlete (good enough to pitch a college no-hitter) to being one of the most influential and beloved musicians of his time. Think of all the incredible music the world may have lost if Pollard had been good enough to pitch professionally. And imagine what you could still become if you only had the time.

Master Class Album of the Year

Psychotic Youth - Happy Songs
I give this award every year to the best album by a band/artist that's 25 years or more into its recording career. Psychotic Youth are nearing 40 years as a band and have treated us to a vintage effort in the somewhat ironically-titled Happy Songs. The band's classic lineup is on board for this release, and Jörgen's songwriting is in peak form. If you want to hear punk-inspired power pop by the book, it's time to check in with one of the bands that wrote that book!

Best Debut Release of 2023 

Taxi Girls - Coming Up Roses
Jamie, Vera, and Lynn absolutely crushed it on their first release — delivering five smash hits that leave us wanting more. If you love rock 'n' roll, you'll be right there with me awaiting a full album! 

Best Compilation Album of 2023 (single artist)

The Speedways - Triple Platinum 
If you've been living in a cave since 2018 (and who could blame you if you have!), Triple Platinum will give you a perfect summation of the story so far of the world's premiere power pop group. The album features four cuts from each of the band's three albums — including all-new, full-band recordings of four essential tracks from 2018's Just a Regular Summer, which was a de facto Matt Speedway solo album. I love the track selection, and I love hearing those early Speedways songs as "proper" Speedways songs!

Best Compilation Album of 2023 (Various artists) 

Jem Records Celebrates Ray Davies 
It's rare for me to make note of a tribute album at year's end. But this was no ordinary tribute album. What comes through in JEM Records Celebrates Ray Davies is the tremendous love for the source material and the exceptional talent on the JEM roster. When you're paying tribute to arguably the single greatest songwriter in 20th Century popular music, your first mission is to not screw the songs up. The JEM bands went well beyond that and produced an album that honors all this classic material while also casting it in a new light. 

2023 Music Blog of the Year

What Don Valentine does over at I Don't Hear a Single is remarkable. He reviews (in his own words) "new and under appreciated music" at an average of a review per day. His love and appreciation for underground music comes through in every write-up, and his gift for connecting new music to the music of the past makes me envious. I also appreciate the time he invests into listening to the music he reviews and composing thoughtful write-ups. I kind of like how he focuses more on the indie rock side of pop-rock and power pop as opposed to the punk side that is my niche. From him, I learn about a lot of bands that make tremendous music that might not quite fit in with what I do here. If I Don't Hear a Single is not already one of your daily reads, you've got yourself a New Year's resolution that is easy to attain. 

2023 Record Label of the Year

Rum Bar Records
Yeah, I know: I could probably give this one to Rum Bar every year. What's pretty incredible to me is that Lou released three of my top 13 singles, four of my top twenty EPs, and two of my top four albums — and that doesn't even scratch the surface of all the killer music he put out this year! Rum Bar becomes my first-ever two-time heavyweight champion of record labels. Hail to the king! 

That's another year in the books, folks. It sure went fast! Let's do this again in 2024! I hope the new year brings you all amazing tunes and great things in general. 

Faster and Louder Best of Archive 


Scott said...

Fantastic list. Easily the best I've read over the last few weeks. And I need to thank you for introducing me to so many great records not only this year but every year I've been reading your blog. Cheers!

Unknown said...

Lovely. I love a list where I own 70% of the releases as I'm nearly guaranteed to like the remaining 30%. I've just added 6 releases to my Bandcamp wishlist/follow list based on this recap. Thank you.

Drunk Ted said...

Thank you for all that you do! Went through this WHOLE list and while I already knew about most of the bands (thanks to YOU), I still discovered more new releases. Thanks!!!!