So, first item of business – my blog is back up and running! I had a fake post1 here explaining as much (though I forgot to mirror it on RSS, oops), but I upgraded to a new laptop recently, and in the process lost a bunch of data I needed to keep this site running. It took a while, but I’ve sorted it out. It’s possible that I may have missed something, and if I find that’s the case, I should still be able to rebuild it from a snapshot I have.
Anyway! 2023 is over! It was a terrible year; good riddance, I guess. I’m writing this alone on New Year’s Eve as I get over covid. My idle moments are consumed with the anxiety of returning to my job on Tuesday, as they always are when I’m not consumed by the anxiety of actually being at my job. I genuinely feel like it might kill me if I don’t quit soon, so that’s fun!
I didn’t do one of these posts last year2 for a number of reasons. But, I told myself I would this year. To motivate me to get the blog up and running again, to motivate me to produce some creative output for the void, and I guess hopefully to motivate maybe one other person to check out maybe one or two rad fucking albums. Originally my plan was to write about five albums and five video games. I kind of succeeded at the first part here, I just also threw in five honorable mentions. And I’m planning to break out the video game list into a separate post. Things were getting unwieldy, and I’m honestly still juggling a few games around in my head to determine what makes the cut. Spoiler alert: Viewfinder and Picayune Dreams are guaranteed to make the cut. Even if I fail to get that post out, click those links! They’re good games!
Anyway onto the five albums of 2023 that I want to highlight, in no particular order:
- Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want to Turn Into You
- Let’s just get this one out of the way since anyone who has a grasp on the type of weird I am probably thinks this is my album of the year. And, y’know, maybe it is. I think it’s a perfect album, if that means anything. But it’s been discussed to death by all the most pretentious people in the world, so what can I add? Well, I will say that I struggled with it for a few months. Generally speaking, I struggle with albums that are stylistically diverse3. My brain was quick to latch on to ‘Bunny is a Rider’, a programming-forward pop track that expresses itself at first blush as quite minimalist. On the whole, however, Polachek describes the album as an exercise in maximalism, “too-muchness, […] overwhelm.”4 And for a while, when ‘Bunny’ would end and throw me right into the Spanish guitars of ‘Sunset’, I was indeed overwhelmed in a way that genuinely challenged me. It was a challenge that brought back my memories of fully learning to grasp and understand and love Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love as an (also perfect, IMO) album. It paid off for me, and if you haven’t heard Desire, I Want to Turn Into You… yet, I haven’t much else to say except that I do firmly believe it’s a must-listen.
- Portishead – Roseland NYC Live 25
- Okay, being a rerelease of an album from 1998, I guess this one’s a cheat5. I already knew I loved this album; it was already my favorite Portishead album, unequivocally. If you’re unfamiliar with Portishead, it’s worth knowing that their discography is… sparse. They released two studio albums in 1994 and 1997, then just kind of disappeared until releasing Third in 2008. In between those first two albums, however, they did a few live performances – something they were famously uncomfortable with – and in 1998 released a live album and concert film of a performance with a chamber orchestra at the now-defunct Roseland Ballroom. The concert film was all drawn from this one concert, but inexplicably the album release contained alternate recordings of several tracks as well as several omissions. Now we have this remaster, and it’s… imperfect, but still a massive improvement. The tracks are all from the Roseland concert shown in the film, though ‘Elysium’ and ‘Seven Months’ are still oddly absent. A vinyl release is forthcoming, so perhaps length was a factor. Overall though, the track list is much more comfortable and the sound quality is great.
- Pupil Slicer – Blossom
- I am decidedly not a metalhead; hell, I barely even find most forms of rock capable of tickling my brain. Neither of those are statements that I’m proud of, so I am genuinely happy when something breaks through my wall and manages to expand my horizons a bit. When I do dip into metal, it tends to be stuff that leans heavily into to other sonic palettes that are more approachable to me6. Blossom, certainly, is not the first mathcore album, but it did introduce me to the math-rock-but-harder genre, and it’s been an incredible album to keep revisiting and finding little bits and pieces that I can latch onto to kind of better learn how to appreciate the sonic elements of metal that my brain really hesitates to open up to. ‘Momentary Actuality’ was the first track I heard; it’s approachable, it’s incredible, give it a listen. Oh, and if you pick it up, you’re supporting a trans artist. Fuck yeah.
- underscores – Wallsocket
- arms body legs flesh skin bone sinew good luck! Wallsocket is… a lot of things. Leading with ‘Cops and Robbers’, a track that plays out my own personal fantasy of fucking off from a miserable job, cashing out on a white collar crime, and running away to the midwest. The album, overall, is presented as a reflection on the artist’s time spent in the fictitious town of Wallsocket, Michigan. Conceptually, it’s intricate. Sonically… Well, I think I have to come to terms with the fact that we’re entering a post-hyperpop era. Genres ebb and flow, and the big players in the space seem to be branching out. PC Music has come to an end7. There are new, big things on the horizon, and I’ve heard several people kind of solidify this moment in time by declaring Wallsocket as the first post-hyperpop album. That’s kind of silly; genre always is. But, sonically, it’s hard to describe Wallsocket without at least imagining some version of a hyperpop-inspired rock album. It’s as many things to the ear as it is to the mind, with beats often built on beds of ad nauseum vocal samples. If you pick apart all of the pieces and try to figure out how they make a song, it doesn’t seem possible. Yet underscores does it, and she does it very well. I can’t get this album out of my head; I think the obvious first track to recommend is ‘Locals (Girls like us)’ ft. gabby start, though ‘Horror movie soundtrack’ is likely my fave. Oh, and if you pick it up, you’re supporting a trans artist. Fuck yeah.
- Kiki Rockwell – Rituals on the Bank of a Familiar River
- Oh, ho, ho… this is a treat. I think the best way to introduce Kiki is to say that they’re making witch music, but the witches are of the Salem8 variety, and now said witches have power over the men and in the end it matters very little whether this power is magical or not. It’s primal. It comes from the heart, it comes from the land, and it comes from a collective feminine strength. Narratively, she pulls from various histories and mythologies to weave these very freeing reversals of power that stand next to the source material, telling you not to be afraid. I realize I’ve just kind of said a bunch of lofty bullshit here, and I’ve probably made their music seem far more grave than it is, which is a bit of a disservice. Empowering as it is, this album is also just a ton of fun. Watch the behind-the-scenes footage for ‘Burn Your Village (Same Old Energy pt. II)’, it’s a blast. My favorite track is likely ‘Madeline’, though its working with a much darker and quieter sonic palette than the rest of the album. Fantastic album, shout out to the friend who introduced me to Kiki’s music. Oh, and if you pick it up, you’re supporting a queer artist. Fuck yeah.
- Fake meaning I just manually added something to the homepage that kinda sorta resembled a post. I’ll try to make sure it’s archived. ↩︎
- I can honestly just… drop a 2022 recommendation down here as an honorable mention, right? À Dada by Ruby My Dear is just… a perfect, impeccably tight breakcore album. Just listen to this fuckin’ track. ↩︎
- Gonna go ahead and drop an honorable mention here for 100 gecs – 10,000 gecs. Their debut release was one of those albums that sort of fundamentally rewrote the ‘what is music’ part of my brain (and I was already on the hyperpop train). This follow-up is incredible, but again… it has some stylistic jumps that make it hard for me to take in as an album. I’m working on cracking its structure into my brain, though, and I still recommend folks listen to it. The opener, ‘Dumbest Girl Alive’ cemented itself as a personal anthem as soon as I heard it (y’all better put emojis on my grave). Oh, and if you pick it up, you’re supporting a trans artist. Fuck yeah. ↩︎
- Quoted from the interview segment around 16:04 from Polachek’s KEXP performance earlier this year. The entire performance is worth watching, and KEXP is worth giving a sub to if you haven’t already. ↩︎
- Since I’m admitting that the Portishead rerelease is a cheat, it’s only fair that I just drop an honorable mention in here. That’s gonna be André 3000 – New Blue Sun. If you missed this release dropping, it’s… not a rap album, but a beautiful swirl of Windham-Hill-esque acoustic and digital flutes. I didn’t spend enough time with it to really have a lot of deep thoughts, but it’s very pretty and absolutely worth setting aside an hour and a half of a day to give a listen. ↩︎
- Like, say, Deafheaven’s shoegaze-esque approach to the genre. And since I decided that the Portishead album counts, the 10th anniversary remaster of Sunbather is absolutely an honorable mention for this list. ↩︎
- And the final honorable mention of the day: A.G. Cook and EASYFUN’s project, Thy Slaughter, released the perfect end to PC Music, Soft Rock. I honestly just haven’t spent enough time with it yet to really pop it into my short little list here. ↩︎
- I use ‘Salem’ here as an American who knows of Salem as the most recognizable shorthand for the otherwise largely European series of religiously- and politically-motivated witch trials all sort of stemming from the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum. Kiki, who was brought up in Germany, has pointed out that ‘Germany was the country with the most witches burned and executed’ (via Hype Medium). That America has not grown as much as we would like to believe since the Salem trials is certainly not lost on her, however: ‘It saddens me that as of the recent overturning of Roe v Wade in the U.S., this song has connected with people on a much darker level. Women have been dealing with the same themes for thousands of years.’ (via The New Zealand Herald). ↩︎