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Risk Is Art: 50 Good Albums from 2023

Risk Is Art: 50 Good Albums from 2023

So, I couldn’t make it through the boygenius album, but thought they were absolutely fab on SNL. I love their combined voices, like the lyrics very much, and dig the guitars when they’re doing stuff. If I don’t like the band as a whole too much it’s probably for the same ineffable reasons that made me, as a tween, realize that REM wasn’t going to do it for me and what I really wanted was music that was much, much worse. 

I couldn’t make it through the 100 Gecs album, but saw them at Knockdown Center and thought they were perfectly delightful. I think I like the first album better, which I assume makes me authentic, but mainly I’m happy/bemused that the kids have embraced 2009 to such an extent that they’ve alchemized and popularized a Ninjasonik, Team Robespierre, Japanther, and Death Set bill into a single electric FrankenDIYn monster.

(Other Metaphor/References/Jokes I’m still Workshopping: the bikes couldn't stay in the kitchen forever. “Luke” is the Doctor, 100 Gecs is the creature. etc. etc.)

As far as other albums that might be expected to be on the list but aren’t: 

At least one member of Fiddlehead is a great tipper and I admire the band, but I got off the Revelation Records train when the label started signing reasonable people. Not what I look for from the genre. 

Militarie Gun are also clearly a good band, but I can’t help but feel like the post-hardcore intelligentsia is trying to get them elected to Turnstile In Chief via a brokered convention. No, I will not be taking questions at this time. 

I actually really dug the Water From Your Eyes album and only left it off to make room for albums that weren’t on any other lists (a rule I obviously didn’t apply to billy woods, namely because I take great joy in spouting off on billy woods and Elucid et al.).

Wednesday were disqualified for having too many emotional catharsis guitar parts. I don’t like being told what to do. 

I didn’t listen to hardly any new metal this year. Hence, despite my admiration for their fine work, no Woe, Horrendous, or Yellow Eyes. Don't blame them. Blame me for being a wuss in 2023.

Otherwise, anything else that seems like an egregious omission should be understood by remembering that I don’t enjoy consensus, pop music, or bands that sound like Sonic Youth (with the latter two being a matter of taste rather than ideology) (for the most part). And that I prefer Dynamics PJ Harvey to Songwriter PJ Harvey. 

Also, undoubtedly, there are a few albums that I simply forgot to include. 

Oh, and I’m listening to the new Among The Rocks And Roots album, Pariah, right now, AS WE SPEAK, and it rules pretty hard. I’m tempted to take something off the list and throw Pariah on instead, but that feels mean. That said, if you feel strongly (and perhaps correctly) that the list lacks twenty minute symphonic jazz-crust Missing Foundation songs, you should feel free to adjust the list accordingly in your heart. Shoot... this Fashion Tips EP is great too... GODDAMNIT.

With all that explained, here’s a list of fifty albums—in no order whatsoever—that I liked very much in 2023!

Also, If I cheated by quoting my own tweets about some of these albums, sorry. Fifty albums is a lot and anyway it’s not like anyone is on Twitter anymore.

Geese - 3D Country (Partisan) The best American Rock And Roll album since A Giant Dog’s Pile. Imagine if Jeff Lynne had kept The Move going. Imagine if Black Crowes had gone prog. Imagine if Kula Shaker had been good. Imagine if Kings of Leon had been. JUST IMAGINE. In terms of pure pleasure principle, the album of the year.

SKECH185 - He Left Nothing for the Swim Back (Backwoodz) When it doesn’t clatter and shout like Pussy Galore’s cover of “Yü-Gung” (switching out the J Spencer blackface for an extra helping of Public Enemy), it sounds positively groovy (if spookily so… like if Pop Staples played the Halloween soundtrack). Possibly the best Chicago blues album of the last couple decades. 

Silicosis - Bocetos (Cintas Pepe) Cintas Pepe, the World’s Greatest Punk Label Besides Toxic State, spends a lot of bio time trying to claim this isn’t post-punk. Which says more about the genre’s current dire reputation than it does about the band in question. But, fine, Silicosis—being good as hell—can define themselves as they like. Let’s just say it sounds as if the dude from Rosetta Stone had Jacques Brel’s sense of drama, fronted a bleakly nü romantic pub rock band in a Chilean mining city, and that city’s chief export was flanger pedals and bops. 

Fatboi Sharif - Decay (Backwoodz) There used to be that apocryphal (I assume) story about William S. Burroughs finishing Naked Lunch, throwing the manuscript down the stairs, and then publishing the book in the order that the pages fell. It's a cute story if you have the patience for it, but I’m disinclined to be impressed when that just sounds like a day ending in “y” for Fatboi Sharif—a real 30 Century, Bish Bosch type man—who never met an association he didn’t want to free (or at least keep tenuous to the untrained ear).  Out of the roughly six thousand albums Shariff released this year, Decay isn’t necessarily the “best” one.They’re all worth the listener’s time, and idiosyncratically so. But I haven’t shouted praise for Decay producer steel tipped dove in a few minutes, and this collaboration is a wonder of dream warfare and MC vs. Satie stylee showmanship. Anyway, Decay is the popular favorite and I feel like being part of a consensus for once. 

Rigorous Institution - Strange Harvest (Symphony of Destruction) Kind of a cheat as this isn’t a new album, rather it’s a collection of older EPs pressed on vinyl for a European tour. OK, it’s more than “kind of” a cheat. But I’m too much a patriot to pass up a chance to include America’s finest crust punk band on an EOY list. So I’m a cheater. BIG DEAL. No Gods, No Masters, baby.

Gold Dime - No More Blue Skies (No-Gold) One hundred years of no-wavitude and Disco/Not Disco summed up in thirty-five minutes, with Andrya Ambro budgie-ing up the joint to the point where ahistorians might be forgiven for misremembering Jane's Addiction as a No New York band. The fact that this absolute scorcher of VERY FUN AND CATCHY AND STRANGE silver machinery isn’t on every EOY list can be taken as strong evidence of some member of Gold Dime having been caught with the blueprints for all the music sites’ basements (or, more likely, having been mean to some editorial big-ish dick swingers while waiting in the bathroom line at Death By Audio in 2011). 

The Native Cats - The Way On Is The Way Off (Chapter Music) Wrote about these demi-godly tragicomedians, who I love deeply, in the current issue of CREEM. If you’re too cheap to subscribe to America’s Only Rock n’ Roll Magazine, then at least buy this album of agit-static dream-of-a-dream-pop post-punk genius. If you don’t, I can’t promise you won’t go to your grave with a nagging suspicion that your heart was never quite as full as it might have been.

Algiers - Shook (Matador) Shook—a project of caustically utopian collaboration, dance-this-mess-forward resistance, and hard and harder bop—is the first Algiers album (since maybe the Atlanta/NYC agit-rollerdiscopunk’s debut) that critics seemed to universally grok, and also the first album by the band that nobody paid me to write about. But I am not bitter. Rather, my heart is full; fat in the knowing that I was right about these big audio dynamos all along. 

King Vision Ultra - Shook World (hosted by Algiers) (PTP) The grass under Shook’s pavement. An album with a decidedly expansive notion of just what the “field” in “field music” might consist of, and featuring some of the Actual Underground’s friskiest soundniks—each and every one of ‘em treating their respective tracks like a snake handler spitting venom (and its antidote) for kicks at an end time revival: Shook World is possibility music. Real impermanence of mountains type shit. Which, as any casual reader of the Quran will tell you, is a positive. (If all this sounds too heady: just imagine an after-hours party, thrown after time itself ends, attended by people you can actually stand.)

Zohra - Murder In The Temple (American Dreams) Austere and blackened disco against empire and the casual cruelty/indifference inherent to said society in well deserved decline. Forever outsider/outsider forever music. Can hardly be objective on this one, as I saw the labor and soul that Zohra and producer Ben Greenberg poured into this one. But, suffice to say, I married Zohra partially out of love and partially out of awe. 

Dan Melchior Band - Welcome To Redacted City (Midnight Cruiser) This could be (and maybe should be) completely insufferable. Twenty-one tracks of “online influencers are bad” and “Modern Life is Rubbish USA.” He even makes fun of Fleetwood Mac and the Grateful Dead, like it was 1980 and he’d just gotten his first Dead Kennedys t-shirt. Melchior owns a tv. And he cops to watching some trash. But NOT Everyone Loves Raymond (!!!). Luckily our hero (and, yeah, he is a fucking hero) also devotes as much time to reviling snobs (who are maybe like him but not in the correct ways) and, decades in as the brutalist Vic Godard of garage rock, setting his grievances to tunes as squirrely and jagged, kinked and Kinks-y, as the personality behind them. Even if the endless lash and backlash of poptimism has rendered it forever unclear whether watching Vanderpump Rules is an act of high irony, akin to subverting class structures, or just plain narcoleptic-ally counterrevolutionary, there’s something noble about Melchior’s refusal to concede any square overculture point (or to even veer too far from the ethos set forth by Thee Headcoats’ “Squaresville” manifesto). 

Armand Hammer - We Buy Diabetic Test Strips  (Fat Possum) Wrote about it at some length HERE but, in short, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is a conniving, tricky (and Pre-Millennium Tension Tricky-esque) beast. It practically smuggles in avant moves—with some beats only a few (metaphorical, not literal) decibels above musique concrete—and hides its party rockin’ (particularly provided by El-P and Willie Green) in the attic. Still, like those old weird Christian nun paintings, the hedgehog—with all its jokes and prickliness—can’t help but announce itself. 

Short Short Review: As perfect as it wants to be (but you hopefully already knew that).

ALSO: Wrote about seeing Armand Hammer (and a number of other superstars) at Lincoln Center for The Quietus. 

Fairytale - Shooting Star (Toxic State) Every couple months or so, some twitter account with an avi of Cicero (or, like, a futanari statue of Michaelangelo’s David) posts a picture of Rothko and denounces modern art as the degenerate cause of Western Civilization using pronouns and woman being given the vote. This is immediately followed by all my friends taking the bait and screaming at them; essentially go-hate-funding the anonymous fash twerps through quote tweets. It’s all in all pretty dumb. Especially when real heads know that the height of human advancement is well crafted—with just enough freakiness to scribble outside the mold—D-beat punk music. I’m only half kidding most of the time, and not kidding at all when a band like Fairytale makes an album of treble-y and burning spiritualism. If one can concede that Roman pillars and aqueducts are pretty neat, that the Enlightenment had some nice aspects as well, that modern art is easily the least abhorrent thing that the CIA ever funded, and that  D-beat is second only to black metal in its admirable denial of how lovely it can be; it becomes inarguable that Shooting Star is as gorgeous as a corpse-painted Mona Lisa huffing pointillism on the Seine.  

Spiritual Cramp - s/t (Blue Grape) I did the bio for this album. I did it for cheap cos I like them/it a lot. Now that I mention it, I don’t actually know if they ever paid me… so I’ll just quote myself and call it even. Great record. “Spiritual Cramp is what happens when you treat the English Beat’s “Mirror In The Bathroom” as a guide for living. Spiritual Cramp is what happens when you argue that Mick Jones was the best Clasher - at first just to annoy the older punks, but eventually you realize you meant it all along. Spiritual Cramp is what happens when a band has never read Nietzsche and stares too long at the rude boys. Spiritual Cramp is what happens when Tony Manero and Richard Ashcroft strut into each other on the sidewalk and both refuse to give way. Eventually they kiss, roughly at first, but with increasing tenderness. At the three minute mark, they stop and part as exes, with memories that’ll last a lifetime.” -Me, 2023, bio rates negotiable 

Big Blood - First Aid Kit (don’ttrusttheruin) The chronology of this album is confusing. The bio says it was recorded when singer/daughter Quinnisa was 13. Which, according to the singer’s last EP,  would have been about five years ago. But all the reviews act like this is new material. In fact, most of the reviews (even in the freaky deaky sites) just kind of copy and paste the album bio. Am I the only professional in the niche rock scene???? A heavy burden indeed. Anyway, whenever it was recorded, First Aid Kit is great; another straightforward motorik psych-folk winner from the family band seemingly torn from the pages of a Lisa Crystal Carver ‘zine, who seemingly gave their progeny an endless supply of Darlene Love albums instead of bad advice. A shimmering example for all parents. 

Speedy Ortiz - Rabbit Rabbit (Wax Nine) The chorus to Armand Hammer’s “Key Is Under The Mat” goes: “The key is under the mat/Maggie and Hopey, Love & Rockets/That security deposit ain't comin back/Excavated artifacts in the hall closet, boxed and stacked.” If the song had come out earlier this year those lines could have served as the one sheet for the new album by Speedy Ortiz (Sadie Dupuis’ long running New England-core college band, named after Maggie and Hopey’s mentor in the Love & Rockets comic book). Convenient shared reference aside, Dupuis is very much a poet of the Irretrievable Deposits (of one kind or another) and excavated artifacts. Rabbit Rabbit, besides being the band’s best album yet, is a lock box of wry grievance, tape cut from the entirety of the Gorman Brothers discography, and demos of songs left behind when the studio killed Clueless Two: Cher and Josh Get Divorced. Throw in some truly serpentine guitar lines, and a couple pages from What The Living Do, and you got a real drinking-at-the-kitchen-table house party!

FACS - Still Life In Decay (Trouble in Mind) If 2021’s Present Tense was the world’s first hard rock hauntology album (for the purposes of this discussion, it was), then this year’s FACS is the sound of the rock stadium when only the ghosts are left. To extend the metaphor (and why wouldn’t we), there’s also a Gritty uniform, still gripping its little Go Team Go flag, with a skeleton inside. Also it’s raining. If you’re too pea-brained to understand this objectively perfect analogy, just imagine Steve Albini producing Horace Andy. Or maybe vice versa. Whichever sends you to the bandcamp shop faster. 

Peasdez - Fenomenologia Del Espiritu Agonico: De La Existencia Sordida Al Pendulo De La Nada (SPHC) Ten tröo morbid tales of doves and bayonets meeting un-cute, as told in the dark by Costa Rican d-beat crossover punks of varying hair length (with one of the longhairs being the sole member of the excellent death metal band Solar Crypt). Lacerating good good stuff, and nearly pretty in its approximation of a hallway on fire.

UZU - s/t (a world divided) Apocalyptic surf punk—in the vein of Agent Orange, Wipers, and Dead Kennedys (complete with bile throated vibrato). The songs the house prom band plays when the popular kids’ pigs blood antics go awry, and everybody gets exactly what they deserve.  

Filth Is Eternal - Find Out (MNRK Heavy) Whether the opening drum roll is a nod to L7’s Shove’s nod to Mudhoney’s “You Got It” is something we may ever know, but let’s pretend it is as it gives a pretty good idea of what Filth Is Eternal is up to on this lil’ behemoth motherfucker. I loved Filth Is Eternal as big-bottom-end d-beat band, but I may like them even more now that they’re agro-struttin’ and depressive-swaggerin’ around the joint like those Melvins KISS cover EPs, if those EPs had delivered what their covers promised. 

(btw: also enjoyed this FIE member side-gig, the adorably named Haunted Horses, from 2022)

Habak / Lágrimas split (self released/Fiadh Productions) I hear that the tiktok kids are super into shoegaze. Which is a pity. I also hear the tiktok kids have been radicalized into loving terrorism and revolution. Which is less worrisome. Ideally the tiktok kids will eventually take these two nascent interests and take them to their logical conclusion; stadium crust. If they do, this split LP—by two epicly crustacean, back-patch-banner-bearing, Tijuana-n titans of Tragedy-ic totalitärnation—is a good place to start. More righteous than a 100 middle-schools of thought contending. Prettier than a pedal board to a cop’s face

billy woods & Kenny Segal - Maps (Backwoodz) Albums about touring are ideologically suspect. Examples of it being done with any degree of sufferability are few and far between (Mclusky’s “To Hell With Good Intentions,” Joni Mitchell…) In the hands of reactionaries and/or saps, you get Grand Funk Railroad and/or contemporary emotional pop-punk. In the hands of someone rare as woods, you get an album as bittersweetly funny and emotionally resonant as Maps. Is it woods’ Hejira? Yes, yes it is. Quote me on that in the anniversary pieces. 

Godcaster - s/t (Ramp Local) When Godcaster played the CREEM Magazine/Roberta’s Pizza day party, the band’s Sex Beat-en, Roxy rollin’, big-top goth brand of theatrics was greeted with *cough* a range of opinions. Some people immediately dug it (I’m some people) and others—perhaps a bit too self conscious to fully embrace death dirge caravan rock, fronted by a yowling succubi of a frontman, aerobicizing right out of his tight black uniqlo’s, and generally lizard kingiing up the Bushwick atmosphere at four o’clock in the afternoon—didn’t quite know what they’d done to deserve such an unbridled assault of sun-still-up sensuality. Their loss. As someone who loves Bambara, loved both Vue and Bellmer Dolls, and who thinks the Doors would be OK if they tried a little harder, I find Godcaster (the band, the album) entirely delightful. 

Truth Cult - Walk the Wheel (Pop Wig) D.C. smart/crazy post-post-punks giving their Avail and One Last Wish records the near inverse treatment that post-skiffle proto-mods in the UK gave the blues. Meaning that Truth Cult—unafraid of barrelhouse organ, Motor City hip shake, or the sound of the female voice—make their love swing as hard and/or harder than the originals.. 

Wreathe - The Land Is Not An Idle God (Alerta Antifascista) Do you love the stadium crust of Fall of Efrafa and Morrow (and, if you have good taste, you do) but wish the bunny-at-rest to bunny-scampering ratio was tilted a bit in favor of bunny-scamper? Well, yr in luck! Wreathe has members of both bands, but shortens the songs till they’re 80% scamper!

Full of Hell, Nothing - When No Birds Sang (Closed Casket Activities) Even without knowing that all concerned parties share a preoccupation with the absence of the divine in their day to day lives, and without further knowing Domenic Palermo’s affinity for the poetry of John Berryman (he of “Hell is empty…” and “Life, friends, is boring.” fame), the band name “Full of Hell, Nothing” is solid. As it’s unlikely that anyone in Maryland/Penn’s Full of Hell or Philadelphia’s Nothing are as pretentious as yours truly, I doubt anyone in either band would agree that the sentence fragment band name amalgamation is even better than the two (reasonably sick) individual band names that its made up of. And I won’t claim that When No Birds Sang is an improvement on either band’s individual albums. But this record is equal to those other works; differently scabrous and sublime (with only educated guesswork to indicate which band—the usually violent/occasionally plaintive Full of Hell or the usually swooning/occasionally rambunctious Nothing—is most providing which). Even with not having ever wished either band was anything but what they are, it’s neat-o/spiffily-disconcerting to have an album which satisfies one of the few hungers in life I wasn’t aware I had. 

Blu Anxxiety - Morbid Now, Morbid Later (Toxic State) Look, I’m not going to try to sell you on “dark freestyle.” I get that what most people want—when they romanticize some of the more hybrid sounds of the ‘90s—is a Pantera that won’t embarrass them in front of their friends. All I’m gonna say is that, twenty years from now, when everyone is correctly embarrassed about the recycled Korn riffs they championed in the last few years, this album—of strange and dangerous goth-beat and symphonic/chthonic-roller-disco-metal—will still hold up. In fact, and you can quote me, it’s going to be seen as a classic (of, admittedly, rarified sorts). 

Public Image Ltd. - End of World Some of the lyrics are quite fine/self-aware (“I don’t get bothered/I don’t bored/I get ignored”) and some (that I ain’t quoting here) are so fucking stupid it’s a wonder they made it out of Lydon’s twitter drafts. If you can live with that (and aren’t one of those goofy gusses who think there’s no decent conservative art), then this goony fucker has some of PIL’s best songs since the late ‘80s.

Death Valley Girls -Islands In The Sky (Suicide Squeeze) Wrote about it HERE.

Ryan Davis & the Roadhouse Band - Dancing on the Edge (Sophomore Lounge) Like Raymond Carver, if he’d never met Gordon Lish, Ryan Davis—in his songs about damaged dogs shaking their muddy fur all over the just cleaned shag carpet—goes stoically long. Of course, Raymond Carver didn’t have the good sense to add pedal steel guitar or contributions by Freakwater to make edits both unnecessary and unwanted. None of these drolly tragic songs—epic in their attention to both prosaic and emotionally interior detail—feel eight minutes long. If anything, they expand to make the passing of time outside the songs a bit more bearable*. Which I guess is why it’s “cosmic” country rather than, uh, cosmonotonous country. (Yes, that was the best I could come up with.)

*I understand that this is what all music ostensibly does. But ostensibly doesn’t always make it so. 

EXEK - The Map and the Territory (Foreign) Serpentine clattering were-dub by possibly the smartest lycan/misanthropes on earth. Poppier than Second Edition despite itself. Should meander but instead feels like a drunk-driven, counterintuitively romantic, day at the races. It’s not about the journey anyway, it’s about the friends you drop along the way.

Corker - Falser Truths (Feel It) If I was inclined to feel like an old man (I mean, more so than I’ve felt since I turned fifteen…) I’d maybe be bemused at a band so clearly influenced by Total Control and Iceage (first album only). Instead, because I value folk music tradition and because Corker shivers and shakes like newborn un-swaddled babies, I’m stoked. Total drench-pop for now people.

Débruit & Alsarah - Aljawal ا​ل​ج​و​ا​ل (Soundway) French producer Débruit teams up with Sudanese-American superstar—at least in the cooler circles—Alsarah (of the Nubatones) to make another (all too rare) example of trans-continental pop, folk,  and dance modes being synthesized successfully, without a trace of cringe or eyebrow-arch-inducement. Not that there was a danger of that, considering that Alsarah is both a songwriter of understated originality and a walking (occasionally twirling) encyclopedia of music history. As with the singer’s larger catalog, Aljawal is subtle in its pop moves, making for something that might be mistaken for smooth if one isn’t paying attention. But, like—for example—the music of Sade or Steely Dan, the smoothness isn’t slick; that’s just an illusion of the current.

Side Note: Right wingers have—in an entirely typical reenactment of cynical rituals—taken to weaponizing the ongoing crisis—and the lack of attention paid to them—in Sudan (along with Afghanistan) in an attempt to whitewash the ongoing atrocities being enacted by Israel upon the Palestinians. This is fucking gross on its merits, and doubly so because many people (the left, right, and center) have indeed ignored Sudan (and Afghanistan). Just wanted to express that, but not have mention of said crimes dominate the blurb for the album.

Raspberry Bulbs - The World Is Empty, The Heart Is Full (Hospital Productions) America’s finest anarcho-problematic Rudimentary-Peni-Circa-Revolution-Summer bog-crust-metal-punk band is back, with arguably (if this is the sort of thing one is inclined to argue about) their best album yet. Lovers rock for lizard people (and their discontents). 

HEZ - Panamaniacs (Discos Enfermos) Endless blockade for the pussyfooter, minus the blockades (and swastika t-shirts). Arguably the best straight up PUUUUNK album of the year. Actually, who would argue? Stupid jerks exclusively, probably. Wrote about it at length HERE.

Upper Wilds - Jupiter (Thrill Jockey) The Books About UFOs/Space Truckin’ hybrid that HG Wells promised us in his unpublished first draft of The Time Machine, where the story was told from the point of view of a teenage morlock with a steam-powered pedalboard and a lot of heart. Went long on this sweet n’ feisty fucker here.

Buggin - Concrete Cowboys (Flatspot) The sound of one thousand madballs (the band, the ball) let loose in a rubber room. And the rubber room is a bounce house, and also society. All the sucky Turnstile strivers think that they can emulate Nirvana Two Electric Boogaloo by throwing some cutting room grunge melodies over their breakdowns. Buggin understands that what makes Turnstile great—what keeps them from being generic GB pastiche—is not the taking hardcore and making it pop (Gorilla Biscuits were a pop band already) but that Turnstile is, above all else, a dance band. 

New Pornographers - Continue as a Guest (Merge) Criminally slept on for reasons of bad taste. As good as Twin Cinema. Maybe better. A.C. Newman is a poet on par with James Tate. New Pornographers are our Blue Nile, Simple Minds, and ELO wrapped up in a nifty new wave hair-bow. All they want to do is fulfill Canada’s dream of a new romantic Tusk. And people underrate them just because they didn’t break up, never went Bono, and don’t call themselves a “collective.” People are fucking dumb. 

Sleaford Mods - UK Grim (Rough Trade) Two prominent (in certain circles) lines of thinking that make me roll my eyes are: “if both sides hate you, you’re doing something right” and “Sleaford Mods are the last real rockers… our Clash etc.” The first is dumb because, usually, one side is usually more correct than the other. Being edgy or centrist is no inherent virtue. And, as for real rockin’, Sleaford Mods were always a stranger, more prickly, and more ambitious operation than what the authenticity mongers tried to pigeonhole them as. THAT SAID… the fact that, maybe more than the Tories, so many UK punks fucking hate these guys—consistantly slobbering over every (admittedly unforced) error—isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In that, Sleaford Mods are very much like The Clash. I love the punks. I even/especially love their purity tests. Purity can be great! But Sleaford Mods were never pure, never will be pure, and will forever be great in how they are forever torn between wanting to be “Stay Free” and Sandanista at the same time. (And by that I mean that they want to be both G N’ R’s “My Michelle” and Axl’s anti critic rap, and good for them. Someone should be Guns N’ Roses.)

Ghösh - Prismassive (Ramp Local) We were promised a grebo revival but instead these heroes broke up, 100 Gecs went full Firework, and all we got was more indie sleaze revival, a new Islamophobic war for the indie sleaze revival to call its own, and this EP, Ghösh’s farewell note. Geniuses they are (were), the duo cover Gillette’s “Short Man,”  the 1994 bridge between Pop Will Eat Itself and Korn, so that the suckers might know that musical history is a river not a series of boxes lined up in order.

Retirement - Buyer’s Remorse (Iron Lung) You know how the comic book Watchmen took the mythology of “mystery men” and placed them within a hypergrim version of something akin to the “real world”? Well, this is that but for mysterious guy hardcore. These Pacific Northwest malcontented clockcleaners take the famously jolly genre and slow it down (a smidge) as if to imagine mysterious guy hardcore heroes in a world where there is no hope of a signing to Jade Tree, there are no guest slots on FOX’s Red Eye in the offering, a world where having a hard to google name bears no fruit at all, and all there is to do is barback into one’s thirties, listen to Flipper, and die. I think the album is hella fun; with a singer of Killdozerian charisma and riffs so sick they bear repeating. I can’t imagine anyone thinking otherwise.

Fantasma - demo (Educacion Cínica) A three song demo by two Brasil punks in NYC that could be twenty songs and still be too short. This sounds like nothing else that came out this year; a vigorously depressive/depressively vigorous, Hank Woodsian take on paisley underground garage pop.

Nihiloxica - Source of Denial (Crammed Discs) The counterfactually miraculous techno-noise end-progression of the sins of all those dancehall ghosts from the Caretaker album that we’re supposed to be sad are dead. Fuck those ghosts. But this rules harder than any shitty empire ever could.

Nana Benz du Togo - AGO (Komos) Describing music that’s actually, you know, pleasurable to listen to isn’t really my strong suit. So bear with me as I try to describe this giddily hard pulse of an album. Absolutely heroic synth lines and harmonies that rise and swoop higher than a cloud supported discotech. You know what? Fuck it. I’m taking the easy way out—saying this is like if a whole gang of Letta Mbulus took over the first Depeche Mode album—and everybody can just yell at me when they see me in the afterlife. 

Nakibembe Embaire Group - s/t (Nyege Nyege Tapes) I have grown increasingly wary of international DJ/live band cross pollination projects. For every Bargou 08-esque triumph, there’s always another project coming down the glitterbeaten pike that feels suspiciously like some Van Der Beeker or another—who maybe couldn’t cut it in the local Stockhausen cover band circuit—just booked a flight into Dakar (or wherever) in order to recruit some local color and throw some beats over their beats. This ain’t that. For one thing, the Nakibembe band went to Europe first, and their collaborators are Indonesian noisenik stalwarts who’d easily dominate any Battle of the Stockhausen Cover Bands. For another thing, the unremixed songs on Nakibembe Embaire Group flow, if not seamlessly than jauntily, into the electronic workouts. It works beautifully as a whole, with nary an icky sensation to be found, like a collection of love songs with some power ballads thrown in for the hard types.

Fugitive Bubble - Delusion (stucco) Filling the void left by the great, great, GREAT Chronophage being on hiatus (I think), Fugitive Bubble have stepped up to the plate to be our premier ramshackletastic DIY stalwarts. Standing athwart history—draped in nothing but Dead Moon paraphernelia, new wave, and the truth—and nearly harmonizing "society? Ugh!" like being owed a living was a job, Fugitive Bubble are too gnarly and pure for this hideous world (meaning, they've probably already broken up).

Rhys Langston & Pioneer 11 - To Operate This System (POW) Wrote about it HERE.

Blockhead - The Aux (Backwoodz) You can’t call it a comeback when Blockhead has been here for years, doing just fine. Fact is, the deejay could probably do even better (financially) if he was willing to coast on his well earned laurels, put out a gloriously groovy instrumental album every couple years, and lock down a residency in Colorado. He could be a crate digger Scrooge McDuck, spending his days waist deep in crypto-kush (I assume that’s a thing) and the older sisters of the girl from that Chainsmokers song (the one with the Dorian Gray mattress). Unfortunately for Blockhead, he can’t do that. HE LOVES RAP TOO MUCH. So instead he’s doing what he’s always (periodically) done; coupled his deliriously inventive beats with an entire timeline of few-in-a-generationally talented rappers, the kind of lineup that had countless foodies-but-for-rap sweating out loud the moment Blockhead posted a screenshot of the album’s tracklist. Does The Aux live up to expectations? Don’t be a jerk. Of course it does. The collection is so spilling over with a deeply felt love of hip hop, without hagiography or nostalgia, without once feeling like a tribute to some storied golden age. You can skip pretty much every single one of those Hip Hop At Fifty pieces and just get this bad boy; a fully inhabited appreciation/showcase of rap as a living, kicking thing. 

Blockhead Interview coming to this newsletter before the end of the year (inshallah). 

Boris & Uniform - Bright New Disease (Sacred Bones) I’ve never really listened to much Boris as they were formerly* on a record label run by and affiliated with some people (or, as i like to call them, “folks”) I find personally distasteful (less in the “cancellation” sense and more in the “disingenuous scumbags weaponizing identity politics to sell mediocre alternative metal to dummies” sense), but I always understood that they were good. Uniform are pals, who are pals because they’re good, often amusing, boys. Also I find it useful, within the social hierarchy, to be friends with such a good fucking band. And good fucking band they are, with every release a progression into their singular melding of death church doom-industrial rock, Ben Greenberg’s guitar anti-heroics, and an interrogation/scab picking of personal failure and trauma that would resemble recovered memory if Michael Berdan’s empty-sky-petetion-yelp ever gave any indication that its owner could forget, even for one minute of one day, a single traumatic memory so that it might be “recovered,” as a treat. Bright New Disease has some real pretty back-and-forth singing, like what you might hear from two competing new romantic singers trading recriminations over the open grave of a person they each thought was theirs exclusively.  

*EDIT: I added "formerly" as there was some confusion where a couple folks thought I was talking about Third Man or Sacred Bones. I was not. Fine and lovely folks at both those labels. I was referring to Sargent House, a label that makes music by and for real peripheral type personalities who wear Jane Doe hoodies on the outside because Jane Doe hoodies is how they feel on the inside.

Skinhead - Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt (Closed Casket) In the band’s chatty fixations on dissolution, heresy, and the question of who (if anyone) might be beyond salvation, Skinhead are the differently catholic Hold Steady of Oi! Music. Not actual skinheads, probably still actual sociopaths. Sure, the Upper Crust were also kidding and were also based on a problematic premise (with the lyrics to match) but that doesn't mean “Let Them Eat Rock” didn’t go harder than 90% the non intentional novelty hard rock of the time. I don’t know what it says about me that I find this album genuinely moving. Seriously, I have no idea.

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Oh look, here's a playlist of most of the artists mentioned in this newsletter.

Oh look, here's a list that the Quietus made of albums you can buy where the money goes to Palestinian relief. Ceasefire now. Alright, see you next time.

happy holidays