Okay, so we’ve dissected the various failings of the year and set ourselves up for some more in the year ahead, now it’s time for the fun part.
Every year I like to list out my top 20 albums of the year because, well, frankly, I miss being a music journalist. So here are my…
Top 20 albums of the year.
20. Witch Ripper – The Flight after the Fall. A rip-roaring stone rock album that’s like a tour of all the disparate places stoner rock has gone over the years, with some great riffs and some fantastically progged-out space jams, as well as epic choruses for days.
19. Goflesh – Purge. The titans of doomy electro sludge have done it again. Let’s face it, nobody does industrial quite like Godflesh, and this is up there with some of their absolute best albums.
18. Besra – Transitions. It seems that post-metal was back in a big way this year, and Finnish band Besra’s debut album is near the top of the pile for me, with its veers between the sludgier end to the more atmospheric.
17. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation. Yes, I did copy/paste that title. Definitely at the heavier end of the spectrum for these prog weirdsters, and far better than any band should be doing as their 25th album.
16. ’68 – Yes, and… This year I finally got to see a Josh Scogin band, and the ’68 didn’t disappoint. Neither does this, which sounds like if the White Stripes had even 10% of the chaotic power that the music press seemed to think they had.
15. boygenius – the record. A sublime record, somehow managing to be the perfect blend of its parts, then coming to something more than the sum of them. Letter to an Old Poet is the most devastating album closer in recent memory.
14. Dirge – DIRGE. I’m not sure why there are two post-metal bands called Dirge, but this debut by the Indian Dirge is devastatingly heavy. Magnificent stuff. No video for this one.
13. Blood Command – World Domination. I have to say that this album has still not entirely won me over, and yet here it sits on this list. Much like the Code Orange album, I still can’t tell how I feel about its random about-faces and gear changes, but I do know that I’m still listening to it. A lot. Ranging from thrash punk to pure pop, this is a weird one, for sure, but worth checking out.
12. Haken – Fauna. The kings of prog-pop-metal take another step closer to the pop end of their sound, and wear quite magnificent floral shirts as they do so. Ignore the fact that the cover looks like an NFT though.
11. Graveyard – 6. A seventies-inflected stoner band who’ve snuck up on me more with every release, this is a lush album, full of soulful melodies and soaring riffs. Certainly of the seventies retro stuff that’s been garnering attention lately (Green Lung, Ghost, Uncle Acid) this is the band who’ve retained the sense of the blues the best for me. Lovely stuff.
10. KEN Mode – VOID. A companion piece to last year’s NULL, this picks up exactly where that left off, which is to say taking a power drill right to your cranium and then screaming into the hole. Delightfully, nihilistically bleak fun. No videos to go with it though, so…
9. Jeff Rosenstock – HELLMODE. Ska-inflected pop punk with the melodic sensibilities of the Wilson brothers that manages to look at the world around with a dash of hope to go along with the consternation.
8. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin. In which the ethereal pixie of folk-pop manages to weave together the many disparate stylistic strings to his bow into a coherent, stunningly gorgeous entity.
7. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Land of Sleeper. It’s been a long time since any band made me think of Iron Monkey, but when it comes to hefty-fucking-riffs, these guys certainly fit the bill, even if it’s more married to a doom template than a sludge one. Another band that thoroughly rocked my world live this year, too. For the video for this one I’m just going to put the whole KEXP performance on because holy shit.
6. Herod – Iconoclast. A battering assault of furious post-metal and sludge, bringing in bits of melodic death, industrial, and more besides. Where Herod excels though is in weaving together a coherent through-line across everything they do in much the same way that Cult of Luna do.
5. Grave Pleasures – Plagueboys. We listen to a lot of 80’s goth in our house, and if you dropped Plagueboys into the middle of that you’d honestly not notice the difference. Somehow Grave Pleasures manage to invoke The Cure, Siouxsie, Sisters, and even Joy Division, without ever sounding like a tribute act, something aided by the fact that all ten songs on Plagueboys are absolute bangers.
6. Initiate – Cerebral Circus. There’s been an absolute shitload of really great hardcore this year, so much so that this list had to be either full of it or pared right down. Albums by Allfather, Jesus Piece, .gif from god, Judiciary, Buggin, Chamber, Teeth, and Code Orange could all have made this list, quite frankly, but Initiate takes the spot because holy shit is this a great album. Danceable, furious, catchy-as-fuck hardcore.
5. The World is Quiet Here – Zon. I honestly don’t even know where to begin with this album. It’s prog, it’s metalcore, it’s death metal, it’s sludgy, it’s post-metal, oh and it has one of the weirdest vocal performances I’ve ever heard, like the bastard lovechild of Elvis and Pete Steel and Mike Patton all in one. It’s batshit crazy, frankly, and absolutely incredible.
4. Domkraft – Sonic Moons. By Christ, I love this album. A mix of luscious space rock married to absolutely gargantuan sludge/doom riffs, this is hypnotic without ever becoming tedious, adventurous without losing sight of its core vibe, and massive as fuck.
3. EYES – Congratulations. This year saw the two separate camps crawl out of the corpse of Every Time I Die and come back with slightly disappointing new bands. They needn’t have bothered, because EYES have stepped into the void marked CHAOTIC PARTY HARDCORE THAT WILL MELT THE BEJEESUS OUT OF YOUR FACE, and made it all their own. This is a freewheeling, all-conquering beast of a record that only missed out on the top spot because, well, you’ll see.
2. The Ocean – Holocene. 2023 was definitely the year of The Ocean for me. I spent day after day wrapped in the blanket of their ethereal post-metal, and when they dropped Holocene in the middle of the year, I was blown away. A gorgeous, sumptuous feast, wrapped up in riffs and rhythms that will transport you to another world. Getting to finally see them play at ArcTanGent was everything I could have wanted and more, one of the rare cases where a beloved band leans too heavily on their new material but you don’t care because the new stuff is JUST. THAT. GOOD.
1. Hundred Reasons – Glorious Sunset. The other day I was having a conversation with the masterful Dan Howarth about bands never hitting their peaks after they reformed, completely forgetting that Hundred Reasons have done exactly that, this very year. Sure, some of the furious post-hardcore has gone, worn down to a more middle-aged pace, but when you’ve melodies like Right There With You, Replicate, and the title track to this incredible return to form, who needs fury? A stunning album that finally lives up to the promise of their early work.
Books – I failed to read as much as I wanted to this year, and very little of it was brand new, but I enjoyed Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, Joe Hill’s The Fireman, Amy Jeff’s Storyland, and some old classics – Catch 22, Blood Meridian, Carmilla, and Look to Windward. I’m currently about 100 pages away from finishing Chuck Wendig’s Wayward, the sequel to Wanderers, and holy shit this book is incredible.
TV – There was nothing this year that beat The Last of Us, but season two of The Bear, the final season of Succession, the second season of Yellowjackets, Jury Duty, and The Fall of the House of Usher all ran it pretty close. On top of that, I watched every episode of the original series of Star Trek, the first two seasons of which were much better than I thought they would be, though I can’t say the same for the animated series, which was pretty turgid. I’m now working my way through The Next Gen in a futile attempt to watch every single episode of Trek before I die.
Movies – As per usual I don’t get out to the cinema much, but I have managed to watch a fair chunk of 2023’s releases (23, actually, which has a nice synchronicity to it), and here’s my top 12, according to my Letterboxd ratings, at least. Renfield was my pick of the bunch, a huge amount of fun. Oh, and I hated The Killer, which was by far and away my biggest disappointment of the year.
Podcasts – mostly this year I’ve been listening to music and sport podcasts, and I won’t bore you on the latter but there are some fantastic music podcasts out there that I’ve found and loved this year. I’ve been obsessively working my way through both 60 Songs That Explain the 90s and Bandsplain, both of which have deep dives into the music that shaped me, but I also binged through the history of heavy metal on And Volume 4 All, and, as always, anytime a new episode of Pop, Collaborate and Listen drops is a banner day at Hollow Stone Towers.
So there you have it, 2023 all wrapped up in a neat little bow. And here’s a lovely little playlist for the year if you want to check out any of the 20 albums above, or any of the other stuff I’ve been enjoying this year.