Best of 2023

Two-thousand twenty-three was a turning point for me in my music fandom as in January I made the decision to begin selling off a huge chunk of my vinyl collection. I was nearing a thousand records, but after thought and discussion with many friends and family members for a few weeks, I decided to make available two-thirds of my collection for sale. I sold nearly 100 records in the first month, mostly word-of-mouth and online communities, and then sold ~150 more over the rest of the year, through direct sales, eBay, and now mostly Discogs. I continued to slowly list more and more on Discogs. My collection is down near 700 now with the goal of getting it below 500 and keeping it there (still buying new records, but moving on from others).

I made this challenging decision for many, many reasons– but primarily it was my desire to spend towards experiences instead of stuff. My record sales immediately funded a summer vacation for my family that we could not have done otherwise, and allowed me to attend shows way more often than usual. I have made a goal to attend one rock show a month, and I did that most of the year (sadly did not attend one in December). I have sold off most all of the high-price and rare items that I am willing to part with, but I still have a few hundred “budget buys” ($1 to $20 or less per record) available if you are reading this and interested.

One of the by-products of my decision and change in philosophy was that I purchased far less music in advance, as I used to pre-order just about every record I was interested in; later selling off the ones I didn’t like as much as I’d hoped. Now I am spending more time with music digitally first, for better or worse. So as I worked on this list I began buying records that I loved most in this year; meaning I didn't get physical copies of many of these until the last couple weeks. As I look down through my top 20 below, I did pre-order Bully, boygenius, and The National, but then Speedy Ortiz, Ratboys, Bonny Doon, Explosions in the Sky, and Sufjan Stevens were all purchased after Thanksgiving.

From a digital music perspective, I continue to boycott and protest Spotify (as I tweet about frequently), prioritize and promote Bandcamp, but also use Apple Music as the best way for my family of five to all listen and share playlists. 24 of the 25 albums mentioned below are available to stream and buy on Bandcamp.

As far as the shows I attended, I saw 14 different artists in and around the Detroit area and made a video summary (below). My favorite experience was seeing Middle Kids, Jimmy Eat World, and Manchester Orchestra on the same night, highlighted by all five of my family members attending. While I love all three of those bands, Jimmy Eat World was the standout on that night. Reflecting on my favorite show of the year, it was probably Thrice playing the 20th anniversary of The Artist in the Ambulance.

I created two CD-length mixes, the first of which is on Apple Music and the second is using BNDCMPR (all songs from Bandcamp; no account needed):


Top 20 albums of 2023:

1. Bully- Lucky for You

Nashville, Tennessee
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

I’ve been listening to Alicia Bognanno’s Bully since she debuted the project 8 years ago. This is a breakthrough album and a massive jump in songwriting from my perspective. I had a pretty good feeling it would be my AOTY the day it was released:
I assumed me naming it my #1 of 2023 would be unique and random; little could I have known it would be critically acclaimed! I have seen at least three major publications also name it number one. The guitar work is layered and powerful and all 10 songs are catchy. JT Daly (Paper Route) produced and co-wrote a couple tracks. Album-closer “All This Noise” is my favorite song of 2023 and here is my recording of it when I saw Bully live in September.


2. boygenius- the record

Listen/buy on Bandcamp

I discovered Julien Baker in late 2015 and Phoebe Bridgers in early 2017 as indie musicians and could not have imagined what the future would bring. When they first collaborated with Lucy Dacus on the 2018 boygenius EP I thought of it as a one-time side project. At the time that EP it and most of their solo work was fairly sparse and folly. Now five years later the three songwriters have formed as a cohesive rock band and the results are huge in sound and worldwide notoriety.

3. Cusp- You Can Do It All
Chicago, Illinois
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Initially drawn in by the fantastic cover illustration while browsing Bandcamp, and then all the guitar tones and layers kept me interested. The only album on my list that has yet to be produced in a physical format as this Chicago band has yet to be noticed as they should. Stylistically all over the map, but always rocking.

4. Speedy Ortiz- Rabbit Rabbit
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

As I shared on Instagram, it took months for me to spend enough time with Rabbit Rabbit to really fall in love. Some of this is my own fault, but the main reason is that Side B is SO MUCH BETTER than Side A, and when listening digitally I would start from the top but then get interrupted. My three favorite songs on this album are probably “Ranch vs. Ranch”, “Emergency & Me”, and “Brace Thee”, which all fall within the last 5 songs.

5. Bonny Doon- Let There Be Music
Detroit, Michigan
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

When I first moved to Detroit in 2018 a co-worker of mine told me about Bonny Doon, as one of the best local bands. I didn’t take much time to listen to them at that point, but then they got more on my radar when they were Katie Crutchfield’s backing band on Waxahatchee’s 2020 album Saint Cloud (and she sings on “You Can’t Stay the Same” on this album). When this album dropped, I was immediately hooked. The songs are exceptionally clever, and the lyrics jump out at you. These are some of my favorite lines:
"Yeah I know God, she's a friend of mine
Comes over for beers all of the time
Says the only thing certain is they'll draw the curtain
And tie a little bow around your lovin' and hurtin'"

6. Ratboys- The Window

Chicago, Illinois
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

I discovered Ratboys in 2015 and their debut album AOID was my #10 album that year. Then strangely I stopped listening to them and barely noticed their next two albums. Well, they sure got my attention again with the phenomenal The Window.

7. Sufjan Stevens- Javelin

New York, New York
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Really powerful, emotional album from Sufjan during a terribly sad and turbulent year for him. On the day of Javelin's release he revealed his long-time partner had passed away. And then Sufjan himself has been sick and hospitalized. Gorgeous arrangements consistent with Sufjan's past work, but also breaking a little new ground.

8. Explosions In the Sky- End

Austin, Texas
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Explosions in the Sky, like their post-rock comrades in Mogwai, spend much of their time, and probably make most of their money, making film soundtracks. So whenever they release a true album, it is a treat. End is EITS's first LP in seven years, and absolutely gorgeous. I don't know that I would ever describe rock music without vocals "catchy", but these melodies definitely stick with me.

9. The New Pornographers- Continue as a Guest

Vancouver, British Columbia
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Most of the shows I attended this year were bands on tours unreleased to specific album releases, but this was an exception. I saw The New Pornographers a couple months after Continue as a Guest was released, and it did give me an appreciation for the songs that hadn't grabbed me much in recorded form. This was more of a grower than their last few albums were for me, partially due to the prominence and feature of saxophone throughout--not my favorite decision, and hoping it was a one-off. The show itself was phenomenal, highlighted by the vocals of Neko Case.

10. MxPx- Find a Way Home

Bremerton, Washington
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Honestly, I never thought an MxPx album would show up in a list of my again, or that I would ever listen to them much again. 90-plus percent of my MxPx listening took place in the 1994-1997 range, as they exposed me to the genre of pop-punk. After a few years I realized I didn’t really like pop-punk, but I’ve had nostalgia for MxPx ever since.

11. The National- First Two Pages of Frankenstein

Brooklyn, New York
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

I listened to this a ton the first half of the year, and probably originally would have predicted it to wind up in my top-5. But by the time the second The National album came out this year, I was somewhat tired of them, and I have yet to even listen to Laugh Track.

12. Paramore- This Is Why

Franklin, Tennessee

It took me way longer than it should have to listen to and buy a Paramore album on the day of its release, but glad I did! This is my favorite Paramore album and I love the energy of it. The only album in my top 20 not available on Bandcamp.

13. Nickel Creek- Celebrants

Carlsbad, California
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

14. runnner- like dying stars, we’re reaching out

Los Angeles, California
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

15. Bella White- Among Other Things

Victoria, British Columbia
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Over the month of December I read dozen(s) of year-end lists and sampled tons of artists and albums I missed out on over the year. Crazily, this country album is the one that stunned me and stuck with me. Bella White’s voice had me hooked immediately, and then her songwriting kept my attention. This is the most true country album I have liked in a very, very long time.

16. Caroline Rose- The Art of Forgetting

New York, New York
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

17. LIES- Lies

New York, New York
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

(This is sort-of the new American Football record.)

18. Blondshell- Blondshell

Los Angeles, California
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

19. Joy Oladokun- Proof Of Life

Casa Grande, Arizona
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

20. Fust- Genevieve

Durham, North Carolina
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Top 5 EPs of 2023:

1. Manchester Orchestra- The Valley Of Vision
Atlanta, Georgia
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

If this were fleshed out into an LP, would have definitely been in my top 5; perhaps my third favorite release of the year. Wrote at length about my dislike of Manchester Orchestra's live show and engaged in much online discussion about it; the bottom line is that I would love to see them play an acoustic show as I do not like how they try to make heavy all their gorgeous songs (like these six) in the live context. My family all likes Manchester Orchestra's recorded music, but they have now all seen them live twice and mostly hate how loud and blown out it is.

2. Rosie Thomas- Lullabies for Parents
Livonia, Michigan
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Most of these songs were released in 2022 as a series of singles and ultimately two EPs, but then this summer were ultimately released as a full-length album.

3. Lee Bozeman- We Should Rejoice

Tyler, Texas
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Lee Bozeman dropped these songs early in the year and mentioned they were songs considered, but not used for the next Luxury record, which was in progress of being written and recorded. Now we know that Luxury album is coming in February!

4. Laura Lucas- The Dreamer

Winnipeg, Manitoba
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Unsure how I first heard Laura Lucas, but at some point in the year I noticed the occasional, beautiful single she would release. Finally a few weeks back she pulled them all together into an EP.

5. Kevin Klein- Random Space
Boston, Massachusetts
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Most highly anticipated albums of 2024:

Sixpence None the Richer. It's arrival is more hypothetical at this point, but I feel it. For one, they dropped a single, "The Tide" (even though it's bizarrely marketed as "Leigh Nash and Sixpence None the Richer"), their first song in a dozen years. Secondly, Matt and Leigh are now a part of 10,000 Maniacs (also bizarre, but awesome) and those shows include lots of Sixpence songs. Matt and Leigh writing and recording together is what we need, and I am pumped. Also, a 25th Anniversary vinyl reissue of the self-titled album is due in February (pre-order here), and I wrote the liner notes!

Mates of State. Details are still vague and incomplete, but Kori and Jason played shows in 2023 (and as recently as this month), they have shared studio photos on Instagram, and have said a new album is coming.

Middle Kids- Faith Crisis Pt 1
February 16

Middle Kids released four singles from this upcoming album throughout 2023, and for a long time I assumed it would have been released in the fall. Saw them play a couple of the new songs live in August.
Stay Inside- Ferried Away
February 28

Stay Inside first released "A Backyard" as a single over the summer, and was a radical departure into poppier territory for this experimental post-hardcore band. They have now released two other singles that better connect the dots from their past to current work. I love the vocal layering this band does and how it combines the singing (and occasional screaming) styles of Chris Johns, Bryn Nieboer, and Chris Lawless.
Luxury- Like Unto Lambs
February 1

Luxury has been hinting at this record for years, but they have been on a one album per decade rhythm for awhile, so it is easier to be patient with them than most bands. Thrilled we are finally close to hearing the whole thing after the single "The Wilderness" dropped earlier in December.