Monday, December 11, 2023

100 Songs for 2023


“You will never know what the world is made of. The only thing that’s certain is that it’s not made of the world. As you close upon some mathematical description of reality you can’t help but lose what is being described. Every inquiry displaces what is addressed. A moment in time is a fact, not a possibility. The world will take your life. But above all and lastly the world does not know that you are here. You think that you understand this. But you don’t. Not in your heart you don’t. If you did you would be terrified. And you’re not. Not yet.” 

- Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger



The world is so much bigger than you can possibly imagine, but you make it smaller every day. You have to. It’s too big. Even “the world” in that context is a poor substitute for the scale of an infinite conceptual framework, not “the world” as simply the planet you live on but the wider world that you inhabit, the far reaches of space and the invisible microscopic world that surrounds you, the forgotten depths of history and all of the infinite possible futures, dreams and memories and all of the abstract concepts that impact your life. It’s all … a lot. 

There are times when your brain snags on something you’ve heard before but never really thought about, and that unfathomable bigness stares you in the face. There are more than eight billion people living on Earth. The universe is 13.7 billion years old. The human brain has 86 billion neurons, connected by somewhere around one quadrillion synapses. For a second, you try to wrap your mind around it, knowing that you can’t. You absent-mindedly pick at the concept of infinity, or eternity, and for a split second you see it, and then it’s gone. You let it go. It’s ok. You successfully navigate your life without coming to a real conclusion on the nature of free will, or the shape of animal consciousness, or whether Jesus could microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it, those stoned-in-a-dorm-room diversions with no real consequences. You set them aside.

You go to the grocery store, find the items you need, pay, and leave. 

You do not think about how every other person there has their own life, a vast collection of experiences totally independent from yours that nevertheless led them to the same place at the same time. They are each as complicated as you are, with their own likes and dislikes, their own hopes and fears. They are each the product of a genealogy that stretches back to a point before humans were even humans. 

You do not think about how every item in that store came from somewhere else. Its presence in that place is the result of a vast number of other other people, and the result of fantastically intricate systems of shipping and trade shaped by historical sales data and computer-modeled demand projections and the impacts of marketing and the fluctuations of the economy at large, all of which required the involvement of still other people, who spent thousands of hours thinking about every aspect of this even though you haven’t. 

You do not think about how this store is one of literally millions of stores in the world, each full of different people and different items brought together by different organizing principles, different wants, different needs, different supply, different demand. And that’s just the stores that exist right now, a tiny fraction of the stores that have ever existed. Or will exist.

You do not think about how crazy it is that we have stores at all, and brands, and money, and a shared concept of society that keeps all of this functioning. You do not think about all of the external forces and historical accidents that got us to this point, all of the false starts and paths not taken and, you know what, let’s just go all the way back: 

Every single atom making up this physical store and the bodies of everyone in it has existed for billions of years and only exists here right now in this exact configuration due to either random chance or God or something in between and no matter where you come out on that, you have to admit that there are implications, aren’t there, and …

You have to filter the world. 

You have to. 

There are colors you can’t see and smells you can’t smell and electromagnetic fields that you can’t feel because evolution decided that was not strictly necessary information and, quite frankly, you have enough on your plate as is. The world you see does not correspond to anything like objective reality. It’s much smaller. Be thankful.

So you do your shopping and you go home without thoroughly cataloging all of the ways in which your shopping experience might have been different than a similar errand in the Mali Empire in the fourteenth century. Again, good. Your internal filters get you through the day.

The problem is that we all set those internal filters differently, and with very little guidance on how to do that in a way that will make us happy. If you don’t check in on those filters regularly, they will harden. They will become more and more opaque. They will get thicker. They will become walls. They will get stuck in place, or even start to narrow. Leave those walls untouched for too long, through routine and necessity and exhaustion and fear, and that becomes your world. Small. 

When we make our worlds smaller, we usually view it as a short term thing due to necessity, a stressful time at work, a period of poor health, something that will one day pass and allow us to dream bigger. We expand our worlds and they shrink back on us. The day to day pressures of life force you to confront the same challenges over and over again. That’s just part of being human. Expand the world as much as you want, the rent is still due. You’re still getting older. It doesn’t matter how big the world is. My world is just this, forever. It’s not true, but it feels true. It’s something we have to fight every day. Keep pushing against those walls.


“Bisson once quoted the Surrealist and communist Paul Eluard: ‘There is another world, but it is in this one.’ When asked about it, he said, gently, ‘That’s the world I want to be in.’”

- “Terry Bisson’s History of the Future



I was hoping that I had invented the phrase “asynchronous nostalgia,” but a quick google search demonstrates that I have not. Disappointing. I’m going to use it anyway because I have to find a way to explain how I found myself overcome with emotion remembering a very specific time and place while surrounded by tens of thousands of people overcome with emotion remembering a different time and place.

In July I went to London to see one of the Blur reunion shows at Wembley Stadium. Just me and 90,000 of my closest, drunkest friends. If you exclude the bored teens dragged along by their parents, I might have been the youngest person there. In this moment, writing these words, I can feel the sarcasm seeping in, the uncomfortable need to make all of this into a joke, because it’s hard to write about real emotions, and because you’re not supposed to have personal epiphanies in a venue that would subsequently host both an AEW wrestling event and an Atlanta Falcons game. And yet here we are.

The show was incredible, there’s no denying that. (If you don’t believe me, ask The Guardian.) The band had reunited before, for one-offs and festivals and the London Olympics, but this was the proper EVENT that it seemed like everyone had been waiting for. (Somehow it was the band’s first time at Wembley.) Damon Albarn cried onstage and later claimed that it was the band’s best concert ever. It probably wasn’t, but those are the kind of soft-focus lies you tell out of love, and because anything short of a superlative fails to properly capture the underlying emotion.

The crowd was there to sing. Like the football faithful that usually pack Wembley, everyone wanted to feel like they were part of something, like they were pushing the band to greater heights. Every massive singalong (“To The End,” “This Is A Low,” “Tender,” “The Universal”) became the evening’s next biggest highlight. And, somewhere in the middle, the song I knew would be the most emotional for me: “End of a Century.”

On its face, “End of a Century” is not remarkable. If anything, it's the opposite. It was the fourth single from 1994’s Parklife, and at the time it was viewed as a commercial failure. It peaked at #19 on the UK charts. The three previous singles had all charted higher, as would the band’s next fourteen, a run that included multiple #1s. 

I did not hear “End of a Century” in real time, in 1994, as an underperforming single from a band trying to find its footing in a suddenly revitalized UK rock landscape. I heard it six or seven years later through laptop speakers in a dorm room, and somehow that makes all the difference.


When I was a kid, my world was small. I do not think this makes me unique. If anything, that’s part of the deal. You go to the places your parents take you. You learn the things you’re taught in school. Your best friends just happen to be the other kids that live on your street. In a certain light, it’s idyllic, a more innocent time when your small world was all you needed.

At some point in my teenage years, I began to resent that. Again, I think this happens to most people. I felt a small world was being imposed on me. I could have tried to expand my world, to push against those walls, but for the most part I didn’t. I settled into an easy resentment. I felt like a bigger world was owed to me, that life hadn’t held up its end of the bargain. To the extent that I was even aware that a wider world existed, it seemed completely beyond my grasp. 

Slowly, tentatively, music became my connection to that wider world. I wish my origin story was cooler. I wish I had been a politically radical pre-teen hiding Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine albums from my parents, funneling my allowance money to the Zapatistas. This is not the case. I wrote about this a bit for The Singles Jukebox recently, but my first transformative musical discovery was … The Beatles

Still, this was progress, the first time I was willing to seek out something that wasn’t handed to me, going beyond the radio mega-hits to the deep album cuts and the full extent of their later genre-defying weirdness. I went to the edge of the world and gave the walls the most gentle tap to see if they would magically disintegrate. They did not.

I liked finding those edges, but my world was still small. My hometown had six radio stations. All of the music in the world needed to fit into one of these categories. Eventually I started to feel that same resentment creeping in. I started to feel the same way about music that I sometimes felt about … everything. The musical world that was served to me through the radio was small, and this was someone else’s fault, and I wasn’t going to do anything to change that. 

As luck would have it, the internet changed all that for me, the internet plus P2P file sharing plus high-speed campus internet. Overnight, I got instant access to everything I had been missing, everything I thought was owed to me, everything I thought had been kept from me. It was my new world. Finally. Except sometimes it wasn’t exactly new.


I was consistently surprised to see Parklife discussed in reverent tones in music magazines and online message boards, confused by its placement near the top of Best Albums of the 90s lists, sometimes even in the mix for Best Albums of All Time lists. I knew Blur. They had a song that was played on one of those six radio stations I was so sick of. They had a song that was played everywhere. They were the “woo-hoo” band, a one-hit wonder whose one hit was an overplayed Jock Jam that sounded like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” run through a gas-powered leaf blower. I had made up my mind. I had heard “Song 2.” I didn’t need to hear anything else. Pass. Not for me.

Still, I kept seeing Parklife venerated and canonized. At some point boredom and curiosity won out, and I downloaded the album, expecting to waste my time with more grunge ripoffs I would soon be deleting.

“End of a Century” is not the first song on Parklife, so I don’t know why it was the first one I heard. Maybe it finished downloading first. Maybe someone mislabeled the MP3s. However it transpired, I clicked on “End of a Century” and, over the next two minutes and forty-five seconds, tried to process what I was hearing. It was magic. It followed in the footsteps of my precious Beatles, but it was anything but derivative. It was fresh and modern and smart, and … how was it possible that the “woo hoo” band could do this, a melody with this many embedded hooks but also lyrics that hit me in that moment, the idea that we had been told this was a momentous, historic time, but it felt like nothing special, felt like grasping for meaning that was supposed to be right there but somehow wasn’t. 

(It’s really about a fraying romantic relationship but I made it about me. That’s what teenagers do. Music can be anything you want it to be.)

It didn’t stop there because it never does. The rest of Parklife is amazing, as is the majority of Blur’s catalog. After Blur I discovered all of Britpop, and Madchester, and a parallel universe of music that had been right there all along. Pulp. Stone Roses. Primal Scream. Ash. Super Furry Animals. Oasis turned out to be so much more than their radio hits. So did Radiohead. So did The Verve. It was endless.

And it had never been some closely-guarded secret cruelly hidden from people like me, even if that was the worldview I had built for myself. I could sit and pout about my small world, how unfair it was that I couldn't browse the super-cool underground record stores that I imagined were on every block in London or New York, that I didn’t live at a particular time or a particular place, that I wasn’t surrounded by a particular kind of people. None if it mattered. Parklife sold well over a million copies. Blur has three other platinum albums. These CDs had always been easily available at, like, Best Buy. I had literally been walking right past them for years. 

If my musical world was small, it was only because I made it that way. I could push those walls anytime I wanted, as much as I wanted. Sure, I could throw myself into black metal or ambient jazz, but I could also dig a little deeper into more familiar areas, pay more attention to something I might have skimmed past, discover the world one inch beyond where my walls used to be. That’s great, too. There is another world, but it is in this one.

That feeling, the simmering excitement that some new discovery is always right there, has stayed with me. It has given me the confidence to seek out bigger worlds far beyond music, and it has given me the tools to hold firm when I worried that my world might be shrinking. And I’m not saying that discovering a new band is the same as moving to a new city or starting a new job or any of the other life-altering leaps of faith we all have to take sometimes, just that actively seeking out new music has reinforced a worldview that there is so much out there that you don’t know anything about, and a lot of it is awesome. The world is so much bigger than you can possibly imagine! Isn’t that great?

This year, I’m here for the dumbest, smallest possible epihpanies. I mean, I’m here for the big ones, too. Knock down all of your walls. Quit your job, travel the world, learn new things, meet new people. Become a totally different person if that’s what you want. Is this the year you get really into Segenalese kora music? South African 3-step? Are you finally going to master the sitar? Maybe! 

But also maybe not! Maybe your epiphany this year is that the band you liked as a kid is still awesome, that the singer you thought only had two good songs actually has dozens, that the critically acclaimed artist you’ve been avoiding because their fans all seem so pretentious actually makes music that is going to hit the deepest part of your soul. They all count the same! 

I got to do so many cool things this year. I saw incredible concerts all over the world: Martha in Paris, boygenius in London, The Hold Steady in St. Paul, Spiritual Cramp in Dublin. I saw Beyoncé in a sold-out stadium and Wednesday in a tiny room and they were both amazing. I really tried to push against my personal walls in significant ways when I could. But I want to come back to one point, and repeat it again, and underline it in triplicate because I am not in any way subtle: 

This is not an essay about seeing Blur in concert. This is an essay about downloading an album more than two decades ago, a well-known album that millions of people had already heard years earlier, an album that I had written off entirely. This is an essay about sitting in a dorm room and feeling, just for a second, the impossible size of the world, and how exciting that could be. This is an essay about how that feeling stuck with me to such an extent that, twenty-plus years later, standing in a massive stadium watching Blur literally playing “End of a Century” right in front of me, all I could think about was the impact that a stray MP3 had on a kid in Central Minnesota, and everything that had passed between that moment and this one. 

Standing on the pitch at Wembley, the nostalgia was a wave that felt like it might wash me out to sea. I looked at the faces of the people standing around me and I knew they were feeliing somethiing very much the same, thinking back to when they first heard “End of a Century,” or “Country House,” or “Coffee & TV,” wistful for the idealized London of their youth, bursting with potential, a future that was endless, as big as they wanted it to be. I guess we were all imagining another world. It’s still there. It’s this one.


100 Songs for 2023: Notes on the Process

Only 2023 releases are eligible.

Singles released in 2022 from albums released in 2023 are eligible if they weren’t on my 2022 list. Bonny Doon’s “San Francisco” is eligible, Paramore’s “This Is Why” is not. (“Cruel Summer,” and I can’t believe I have to say this, is not eligible because it was on my 2019 list.)

I have imposed a limit of two songs per artist. Almost every artist who hit that limit had more than two deserving songs, but special mention here goes to Fireworks (“Megachurch”), Indigo De Souza (“Smog”), boygenius (let’s say “$20,” they’re all great), Olivia Rodrigo (again, five or six possible choices, maybe “ballad of a homeschooled girl”?), Wednesday (“Quarry”) and Ratboys (“The Window”). 

Even beyond that two song limit, I used artist diversity as a tiebreaker for making tough cuts. There are quite a few artists who deserved a second song, but I think a more diverse list is more representative of my year. Those squeezed this year include Big Thief (“Born For Loving You”), Slow Pulp (“Slugs”), Spanish Love Songs (“Clean-Up Crew”), Parannoul (“We Shine at Night”), Worriers (“Trust Your Gut”) and The Gaslight Anthem (“Little Fires”).

I generally avoid covers and live material. I will make exceptions, although I didn’t this year. I spent a lot of time with Zach Bryan’s incredible live album All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster (the live version of “Oklahoma City” was one of my five most-played songs of the year), but that still feels like 2022 material to me.

I’m repurposing some of the content from my Monthly Mix posts and my reviews over at The Singles Jukebox, so if you’ve been following the blog all year, you might see some reruns.

Finally, as I did last year I tried to shut everything else out and make this a list of my favorite songs, nothing else. I chose album tracks over singles if those were the songs I liked the most, and I tried to avoid making this a Year In Music survey. Plenty of interesting, important work by talented artists didn’t make the cut if, for whatever reason, it just didn’t resonate with me personally. Apologies to Hotline TNT, Lana Del Rey, Sufjan Stevens, Janelle Monae, and The Smile. I guess you’ll have to settle for near-unanimous acclaim from publications that people actually read.

As always: Thanks for listening, thanks for understanding.


1. Wednesday - “Chosen To Deserve”

Album: Rat Saw God

Release Date: Jan. 18

My Song of the Year is a big-hearted country-rock celebration of forgotten spaces, neighborhood pools and Sunday schools, skipping school and abusing over the counter cold medicine. It’s both unflinching and understanding, a song for the kinds of people who don’t often see themselves in songs. Feel free to appreciate it on that level if you want.

If you want to go one step deeper, though, let’s talk about the idea of creativity. When the band released “Chosen To Deserve,” Karly Hartzman prefaced it by saying it was the result of a writing exercise where she purposely tried to recreate the song “Let There Be Rock” by Drive-By Truckers. First of all, that song rules. I’ve seen DBT play it live a bunch of times, once with Craig Finn on guest vocals, and it’s always a highlight. So, if you’re going to try to recreate a song, that’s a good one. 

“Chosen To Deserve” does share some of “Let There Be Rock”’s DNA, youthful near-disasters recounted with the questionable wisdom of age, a chorus whose meaning mutates just a little bit with each repetition. But “Chosen To Deserve” is wholly original, because of course it is. Karly Hartzman could only write this song, even if she set out trying to write another one. No one else could write it like this, and no one else could sing it like this. Your art could never be anyone else’s because your life could never be anyone else’s.        

2. Indigo De Souza - “Younger & Dumber”

Album: All of This Will End

Release Date: Feb. 8

From The Singles Jukebox: I've spent most of my life angry at younger versions of myself. With the dangerous gift of hindsight, I have seen that my younger selves regularly failed to achieve perfection: they didn't know things, they didn't see things, they didn't take risks, they didn’t act when the moment was right. Those selves let me down over and over again, and it has always been so easy to blame them for the hardships and failings of my current self. It's taken me a long time to forgive them, and even longer to realize that they had nothing to apologize for in the first place. This is the project of "Younger & Dumber," an immersive journey that clicks when you realize that every pronoun is one version of Indigo De Souza addressing another. No outside force made her somebody, just as no outside force made her sour. The song takes time to reveal itself, opening on the vulnerability of a plaintive country ballad, the flower waiting to be picked, dumb, nobody. Each turn picks up layers of depth and texture, tentatively reaching out into the darkness for more, different, better selves. The way De Souza whispers "run" at 1:31 is the vocalization of an ambient, directionless longing that I've felt since before I can remember. Go. Somewhere. Anywhere. It builds, slow but unstoppable, the march of time. Add but never subtract, even if you want to. Carry those mistakes, those failures. Try to use them. It gets bigger, louder, better (yes better, absolutely better!), but also more complicated, splintered, fragmented, dissonant. At its apex, De Souza briefly harnesses the power of all those younger selves still inside of her, the power that could take her anywhere, the power that could drag her down. That’s an incredible accomplishment. It ought to mean that she no longer needs to run. It ought to mean that she should feel at home. But it doesn’t. It’s just one more self that will be seen as younger and dumber by those to follow. May your future selves be quick to forgive. [10]

3. boygenius - “Not Strong Enough”

Album: the record

Release Date: Mar. 1

From The Singles Jukebox: The boygenius project could have been a success even if it never exceeded the sum of its parts. It could have been a long-distance book club and mutual admiration society, three wildly talented songwriters who occasionally got together to sing backing vocals on each other’s songs. Maybe it stops there. Even the most like-minded artists can’t always find the same creative wavelength. It happens. When the first three singles from the record were very clearly The Julien Song, The Phoebe Song, and The Lucy Song, it wasn’t necessarily a disappointment (all three are excellent in their own right). It just felt like the group had a ceiling. “Not Strong Enough,” though, points to something bigger. It’s the first song that sounds like boygenius as a band. It’s a song that none of them could have produced individually. The titular hook is Phoebe’s, the “always an angel, never a god” climax is Lucy’s, and Julien’s guitar holds it together (plus she gets to drag race through the canyon singing “Boys Don’t Cry”). There’s a collective joy, a thrill of possibility, something above and beyond their individual brilliance. Listen to them talk about it. It’s cool that they played Madison Square Garden, and Saturday Night Live, and it’s great that they’re going to be near the top of every year-end list that anybody cares about, but none of that explains why this was The Year of Boygenius as definitively as “the way Phoebe looks at Lucy when she talks about songwriting.” [10]

4. Spiritual Cramp - “Talkin’ On The Internet”

Album: Spiritual Cramp

Release Date: Aug. 23

Not everything needs to be innovative. Sometimes, if you wear your influences on your sleeve proudly, and you hit each one just perfectly, you can skip “derivative” and go directly to “transcendent.” Spiritual Cramp sounds like The Clash. They sound like Interpol. They sound like Rancid. They sound like The Hives. They sound like the most fun I had listening to music in 2023. Their self-titled debut album is ten songs, twenty-six minutes, no skips, perfectly polished, front to back punk energy. Seriously. We’re flying to Dublin this weekend to see them play an opening set. I’m not sure if there are any other bands we would do that for. I don’t really care that they didn’t reinvent the concept of guitar rock. They may have perfected it.

5. 100 gecs - “Hollywood Baby”

Album: 10,000 gecs

Release Date: Feb. 16

From The Singles Jukebox: On March 4, 2023, in a cold, TSJ-less world, I wrote a few track reviews for my sorely neglected blog, including this one for "Hollywood Baby": "By far the dumbest song on this list, and yet it leaves me with a huge grin on my face every time I hear it. I can say with 100% certainty that (a) The Singles Jukebox would have reviewed this, (b) I would have given it a [9], (c) the next highest score would have been a [4] at best, and (d) multiple very smart people would have given it a [0]. I don't care. It's great." I have never been more confident in a prediction, and eight months later this song still makes me want to get drunk and light off fireworks indoors. [9]

(Note: This prediction was not even close to being accurate.)

6. TORRES - “Collect”

Album: What an Enormous Room

Release Date: Oct. 3

As ominous and thrilling as an approaching thunderstorm. Mackenzie Scott is back, this time as the angel of death. The way the guitars drop in at 2:27 might be my favorite single second of music released this year, the sound of the heavens opening. I don’t care how loud you’re listening to this, it isn’t loud enough.

7. Remi Wolf - “Prescription”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Mar. 12

From The Singles Jukebox: Boots Riley starts big. His new show I’m A Virgo comes with the contradictions pre-heightened, a masterful Afro-surrealist fun house with every absurdity stretched to its breaking point, amplifying a message that has never been more timely: real change doesn’t come from painstakingly crafted anti-capitalist rhetoric or even aspiring revolutionaries with questionable superpowers, as convenient as that might be. It comes from community. It comes from solidarity. It comes from other people. Remi Wolf starts small. “Prescription,” written at Riley’s request for a very specific plot point in I’m A Virgo (I won’t spoil it, but the episode is called “Balance Beam”),  opens on spare drums and descending synths, Gen Z Prince working through some social anxiety issues. Wolf said that the song is about “being in love and being really, really scared about it,” and its that underlying fear that underpins the subsequent ascent into ecstasy, the horns and the key change and the climax that probably only works if you’re just a little bit nostalgic for Macy Gray, it all hinges on giving up control. This isn’t the kind of joy you can find on your own. It comes from connection. It comes from other people. Riley and Wolf arrive at the same place: whether your revolution is personal or political, you’re going to have to let yourself be vulnerable. You’re going to have to reach out. [9]

8. MJ Lenderman - “Knockin’”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Aug. 7

One of the themes of my list this year is songs that start out somewhat absurd, even comical, before transitioning into something profound. Here’s the first one: Lenderman starts with a story about seeing former golfer and famously sloshed man-about-town John Daly singing a karaoke version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” where he makes up lyrics about golf, then neatly segues into a bittersweet song about clinging to a relationship in a world falling apart around you. “Loneliness is simple / Not much else is.” And then, of course, Lenderman sings a bit of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” himself. John Daly could not be reached for comment.

9. Olivia Rodrigo - “Get Him Back!”

Album: Guts

Release Date: Sept. 15

From The Singles Jukebox: Sometimes I just stop and reflect on how lucky I am to be living at a time when I can write the words “prominent Butthole Surfers influence” about one of the five biggest pop stars in the world, then come to find out that two major publications beat me to it. Long live our slacker-rock princess. [9]

10. Ratboys - “Black Earth, WI”

Album: The Window

Release Date: Mar. 7

After years of all good music coming from Philadelphia, Sweden, or occasionally Australia, the geography of music I like seems to be shifting. New hot spots include Asheville, North Carolina (three of the top eight here, though that may be a bit of an outlier since they all know each other, play on each others’ albums, and two of them are dating), Northern California (continuing a trend that started last year, we’ve already hit SF’s Spiritual Cramp and Palo Alto’s Remi Wolf so far this year), and the Upper Midwest generally, centered on Chicago but extending to Wisconsin and Michigan. (Minnesota, time to step it up.)

So, to start us off on that last one, here’s Chicago’s Ratboys singing about a village in Wisconsin a little over a hundred miles from where I grew up. At over eight and a half minutes, it's the longest song on this year’s list, but the length doesn’t bother me at all. It’s a journey, a road trip taking only the back roads. It feels like sprawling plains, endless expanses of nothing, a perfectly unbroken horizon. Languid guitar solos unfurl and build toward a kind of false climax around the five and a half minute mark, a choir of voices trying to hold on to an epiphany only to see it slip through their fingers, falling back into lyrics about trains and wind and the black dirt that still freaks you out.  

11. Boygenius - “True Blue”

Album: the record

Release Date: Jan. 18

As I have said many times, if there is a way for me to pre-pre-pre-order the novel that Lucy Dacus will someday write, I would like to do that immediately.

12. MUNA - “One That Got Away”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Apr. 17 

MUNA only put out one new song in 2023, but it still feels like this year represented a significant step up for the band. Seeing them open for boygenius in front of a huge crowd in London was eye-opening: they’re ready for the big stage. They’re legit stars now, whether or not the rest of the pop culture landscape comes along for the ride.

13. Chris Farren - “Cosmic Leash”

Album: Doom Singer

Release Date: May 16

Honestly, being an indie musician sounds terrible. You try to focus on your music and you get ignored: too boring, no personality. You try to sell yourself, show some personality, and you’re written off as a novelty: unserious. Chris Farren has been a tireless self-promoter for years and has been unfairly pigeonholed at times as a wacky meme guy. He started selling a novelty cup at his live shows that got so popular that the cup itself was interviewed by Spin. (Farren himself has never been interviewed by Spin.) His Stereogum profile was titled “You Know Chris Farren Is Funny, But Did You Know His Music Is Also Great?” Well? Did you? Because it is.

14. Dim Wizard - “Ride the Vibe”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Feb. 28

This is the guy from Bad Moves (new single coming December 30!), the guy from The Sidekicks, Jeff Rosenstock, and Sarah Tudzin all singing a song about Kevin Morby. I’m sure it’s a logistical nightmare to put together an all-star collaboration like this, which is too bad, because I would like about twenty more of them.

15. Wednesday - “Bath County”

Album: Rat Saw God

Release Date: Feb. 23

Just the sheer audacity in building to a perfect sing-along chorus (“Every daughter of God / Has a little bad luck sometimes”) in the first minute, playing it once, and then never going back to it

That iconic line is a riff on a Loudon Wainwright III lyric (“Every son of God gets a little hard luck sometimes”). I think a past version of me might have been disappointed that the line isn’t fully original, but I’m starting to move past that distinction. Karly Hartzman’s line is original. No one could sing that the way she does.

16. 100 gecs - “Dumbest Girl Alive”

Album: 10,000 gecs

Release Date: Mar. 17

Now that is how you start an album. As always, watching Ilana fall in love with a song (and a band) is worth about ten spots in the rankings. Sadly canceled their European tour, which probably would have killed us anyway.

17. Sydney Sprague - “Smiley Face”

Album: somebody in hell loves you

Release Date: May 12

Her previous work drew comparisons to Kacey Musgraves, but Sprague has gone full pop-rock on this year’s somebody in hell loves you, and it works beautifully. Joins Jimmy Eat World and the Gin Blossoms on the growing “Artists Who Are Inexplicably From Phoenix” list.

18. King Isis - “im fine, thx 4 asking”

Album: scales

Release Date: Mar. 29

Queer Afro-futurist indie rock from Oakland. Signed to Matty Healy’s label so I really don’t see any reason they couldn’t throw together a European tour next year.


19. Margo Cilker - “Keep It On A Burner”

Album: Valley Of Heart’s Delight

Release Date: Jun. 30

The titular valley is the Santa Clara Valley, where Cilker grew up and where her family has lived for five generations. The album’s soul isn’t in Silicon Valley, though, it’s in the disappearing past of orchards and agriculture. Album highlight “Keep It On A Burner” adds horns to the country-folk mix, providing just enough forward momentum, like a slow-motion parade.

20. Dua Lipa - “Houdini”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Nov. 10

From The Singles Jukebox: Maybe the critics have it backward: Dua Lipa’s fundamental blank-slate-ness is a feature, not a bug. There’s a freedom that comes with having absolutely nothing invested in her as an artist. I don’t want to make Dua Lipa friendship bracelets. I don’t want a Dua Lipa: Homecoming concert documentary. I don’t want to know what the Dua Lipa stan army calls themselves. Sometimes I just want a no-strings-attached pop song that seems completely uninterested in cultural relevance. Don’t overthink it. Kevin Parker is here because we’ve been doing disco for three years now and it’s time for something else. The central Houdini concept makes absolutely no sense. Who cares! Let’s dance! [9]

21. Fireworks - “I Want To Start A Religion With You”

Album: Higher Lonely Power

Release Date: Jan. 1

One of my favorite traditions is the surprise New Year’s Day album release. Jeff Rosenstock did it a few years ago with POST-. It’s great. What is anyone doing on January 1 anyway? Sitting around being hungover, maybe watching football. Why not check out a new album? It was due to the well-timed release of Higher Lonely Power, and the fawning press that followed, that I finally discovered Michigan’s Fireworks in 2023, fourteen years and four albums into their career. Never too late, though. It’s iffy to compare a band to Arcade Fire these days (due to both the allegations against Win Butler and the fact that, musically, they lost the will to live more than a decade ago), but imagine a scandal-free Arcade Fire with a razor-sharp punk edge, a few new tricks, and a searing lyrical vision. That’s, basically, Fireworks. We’re deep into religious trauma territory here, but it’s insightful and darkly funny and it rocks harder than I was expecting.

22. Pkew Pkew Pkew - “The Night John Buck Hit Three Home Runs”

Album: Siiick Days

Release Date: Sep. 8

I have no idea how this exists. Toronto party rockers Pkew Pkew Pkew made my list in 2017 with “Before We Go Out Drinking,” a ragged anthem about getting as drunk as possible even when you’re broke, seemingly aimed at people who think Andrew WK is too cerebral. (It still rules.) Their new album is called Siiick Days (three “i”s). That’s who we’re talking about here.

Anyway, the night former Toronto catcher John Buck hit three home runs was also the night that Pkew Pkew Pkew frontman Mike Warne’s grandfather passed away (April 29, 2010), and this song is a heartfelt, lo-fi acoustic tribute to both of them. I’m serious. You are two minutes and sixteen seconds away from the phrase “Go Blue Jays” making you cry. Again, I have no idea how this exists.

As Warne puts it, “This isn't a sad song. Don't be fooled. It's about watching baseball with my best pals for as long as life will allow." And he’s right, sort of. It’s not a sad song, but at the same time it is. That’s the “as long as life will allow” part.

But don’t just take it from Warne, take it from John Buck himself, because the band found him and played the song for him before it was released: “"It's funny how the game of baseball creates special moments that are impactful in people’s life! I feel honoured to be the dude that was lucky enough to clip bombs and be a good vibe part of Mike's grandfather's passing. What a gift to put music to memories and tell such a great story."

We live in a magical world. Go Blue Jays. 

23. Slaughter Beach, Dog - “Strange Weather”

Album: Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling

Release Date: Jun. 14

The comma is important. Say it like a stoner. No dogs were harmed in the making of this album. Honestly, I think dogs would like it. It’s back-porch music, all slide guitar and Americana vibes. I found myself seeking out more calming, reassuring music in 2023, and Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling was always right at the top of the pile.

24. DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ - “Brave”

Album: Destiny

Release Date: Jan. 21

Quite a year for the still-anonymous DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ. (It’s not Aphex Twin, though that was a popular rumor for a bit.) “Brave” was the first of many, many songs they released in 2023 (their album Destiny consists of forty-one songs and clocks in at just under four hours, and that is not even close to the entirety of their output), and for me it's still the standout, juuust on the right side of cheesy. It will start out as your guilty pleasure until you realize that you don’t feel even the tiniest bit guilty about how much you like it.

25. Bjork - “Oral” (feat. ROSALÍA)

Album: N/A

Release Date: Nov. 21

The vast majority of Bjork’s music doesn’t really resonate with me. I am confident that this is my fault, that if I was smarter, more creative, more cultured, I would suddenly understand her genius. I say that because, when Bjork’s music does resonate with me, it hits deep. “Oral” is one of those instances. Apparently Bjork wrote this more than two decades ago and is releasing it now to raise awareness of destructive industrial fish farming in Iceland? I have no idea what to do with either of those facts. I’m sure she’s right about industrial fish farming, it sounds terrible, but I’m even more incredulous that she had this song sitting around since potentially the late-90s and just thought, “nah.” There are certain melody lines that, when you hear Bjork sing them, it sounds like she invented them right there, like no one else has ever vocalized that exact series of notes. The “Is that the right thing to do?” line from “Oral” is one of those. It feels like she discovered it. 

26. Parannoul - “Polaris”

Album: After The Magic

Release Date: Jan. 28

Sometimes it's fun to retain a little mystery. After two fascinating albums, here’s what we know about the artist behind Parannoul: lives in Seoul. That’s it. Well, we also know that they have seemingly mastered every genre, because After The Magic is shoegaze, then it's K-pop, then it’s Passion Pit, then it’s 90s alt-rock, then it’s dream pop. It’s everything. “Polaris” is a highlight, but the whole album is mesmerizing.

27. Spiritual Cramp - “Herberts On Holiday”

Album: Spiritual Cramp

Release Date: Sep. 27

A perfectly crafted love song from frontman Mike Bingham to his wife Barb, his partner of almost twenty years. So, of course, at the show last night, he dedicated it to “your mom.” You have to take things so seriously in order to not take them seriously at all.

28. MGMT - “Mother Nature”

Album: Loss of Life

Release Date: Oct. 31

MGMT hit it big in 2008 and almost immediately seemed overwhelmed by the fame, sometimes refusing to play their biggest hits live and transforming overnight from blog-ready dance-pop to experimental psych-rock. Everyone hated them for it. There’s some good stuff in those next few records, but you have to dig. If the first two singles from their new album (“Mother Nature” and “Bubblegum Dog”) are any indication, they might be moving back in a more pop-friendly direction. “Mother Nature” is structured like an Oasis power ballad, but performed like an Electric Light Orchestra song. I will never say no to that combination.

29. Shamir - “Oversized Sweater”

Album: Homo Anxietatem

Release Date: Jun. 8

Absurd + Profound, Exhibit 2: Here’s a powerful song about the inherent transience and fragility of human relationships that also includes the line, “I can barely hear my Peacock subscription.”

Also, I remain pleasantly surprised by the staying power of Feeder’s “High” as an indie rock touchstone.

30. Spanish Love Songs - “Haunted”

Album: No Joy

Release Date: May 17

It’s amazing the difference some synths can make. SLS has spent years perfecting the formula of despair-as-an-ethos lyrics over Menzingers/Wonder Years-style grown-up punk, but in the lead-up to the new album, frontman Dylan Slocum announced that he had “grown bored with the darkness.” So throw some synths on there and, you know what, I do feel more hopeful. Or, maybe “not as hopeless” would be more accurate. Still!

31. Katy Kirby - “Cubic Zirconia”

Album: Blue Raspberry

Release Date: Aug. 29

Katy Kirby songs don’t feel written as much as assembled. I love the decision to start “Cubic Zirconia” with strings only, I love the buzzy tone on the guitar that comes in at 0:58, I love listening to her songs and wondering what element she’s going to add next. 

32. Trust Fund - “Animals In War” (feat. Ex-Vöid)

Album: it is what it is: complete new trust fund songs 2022-23

Release Date: Mar. 16

Just achingly beautiful. Not entirely clear if it’s a song to a younger self, but it's a song to someone who needs comfort and reassurance, and wow does it deliver. “It's not for you to write the song in which you forgive yourself, is it?

33. Mitski - “Bug Like An Angel”

Album: The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We

Release Date: Jul. 26

For Mitski, 2023 will be the year of “My Love Mine All Mine,” her biggest commercial hit and one of her biggest critical hits, but I like Mitski with some dynamic range, so for me the pick is lead single “Bug Like An Angel.”

34. Alex Lahey - “The Answer Is Always Yes”

Album: The Answer Is Always Yes

Release Date: May 19

As a general rule, I’m still not really interested in pandemic-related art. Maybe that will change over time, but for the most part it still seems too fresh to me. Lahey’s 2023 album The Answer Is Always Yes (and especially its closing title track) is one major exception, as her blend of humor (she refers to having to move back in with her parents as an “unscripted vacation”) and introspection allow her to take a wider view of the situation, isolation and quarantine giving her time to reconsider her past and future, not just the claustrophobic present.

35. The Hold Steady - “Sideways Skull”

Album: The Price Of Progress

Release Date: Jan. 4

The trick is not getting cynical.” A stray line from the first verse of “Sideways Skull” neatly sums up twenty years of the greater Hold Steady project. It’s not as simple as it sounds. I know my personal cynicism levels have fluctuated wildly over that stretch, and I know it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Craig and Co. either, carrying the weight of a fan base always looking to them for a reminder to stay positive. I saw the Hold Steady in concert twice this year: my annual March pilgrimage to the Camden Ballroom in London and an ego-shredding trip to the Minnesota State Fair. They are nothing if not consistent. You know what you’re getting at a Hold Steady show, and that may not be thrilling for me anymore, but it sure is comforting.

36. Zach Bryan - “Dawns” (feat. Maggie Rogers)

Album: N/A

Release Date: Jan. 27

After Zach Bryan took over the world in 2022 as a self-made artist with a unique vocal style, 2023 was the year he somewhat confusingly pivoted to focusing on collaborations. He hit #1 with Kacey Musgraves, and also partnered with Bon Iver, Noah Kahan, and The Lumineers. For me, though, his best collaboration was with Maggie Rogers on the seemingly under-the-radar “Dawns,” which should have made a bigger splash given the star power of the artists involved (and the quality of the song itself.)

37. The Tubs - “Wretched Lie”

Album: Dead Meat

Release Date: Jan. 16

They’re called The Tubs now. All four members of The Tubs were formerly in the amazingly-named Joanna Gruesome. Three members of The Tubs are also in Ex-Vöid, who we’ve already heard from. On their last tour, Ex-Vöid’s opening band was called Garden Centre. One of the guys from The Tubs is also in Garden Centre, so he was opening for himself. Three of the guys are also in a band called Sniffany & The Nits. It sounds amazing. We should all be in more bands. Anyway, The Tubs represent the guys in jangle-pop mode, and they are great at it, both on record and live.

38. The Armed - “Sport of Form”

Album: Perfect Saviors

Release Date: Jun. 27

I really tried with this band’s whole mythos, but honestly it’s exhausting. It’s this weird cultish thing where they’re anonymous except when they’re not and the makeup of the band changes all the time even though they’re all part of the same collective and they’re all super into bodybuilding for some reason … if Dan Ozzi couldn’t make me care about it, no one will. So I don’t know if Perfect Saviors remade the world in all the ways that the band wanted it to. Most of their songs don’t really hit for me, but I loved “Sport of Form,” a shapeshifting, chaotic mess that eventually resolves into a Julien Baker-assisted climax that builds for over a minute but honestly could go on for as long as they wanted it to.

39. Militarie Gun - “Do It Faster”

Album: Life Under The Gun

Release Date: Feb. 21

It’s the morning after the Militarie Gun/Spiritual Cramp show, and my ears are still ringing. I don’t care what you do / Just do it faster.

40. Indigo De Souza - “Losing”

Album: All Of This Will End

Release Date: Apr. 28

We saw De Souza at Tolhuistuin earlier this year, and she’s at that fun stage of international fame where she had an adoring audience hanging on her every word but she also stood by herself in the crowd to watch the opening act (Cloud Cult, who are somehow Dutch but do a perfect impression of North Carolina indie) without anyone approaching her.

Anyway, she didn’t play “Losing.” This isn’t surprising. It wasn’t a single. I don’t even think I’ve seen a review mention it. Still, I remain a sucker for songs that lean heavily into light/dark imagery.

41. Bully - “Hard To Love”

Album: Lucky For You

Release Date: Apr. 20

It’s possible “Days Move Slow” is a better song, but I’m not going to force you to listen to a song about the death of a pet. If you feel like you can handle it, you can read Alicia Bognanno’s tribute to her dog Mezzi here.

42. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - “When We Were Close”

Album: Weathervanes

Release Date: Jun. 9

An instant classic about fate, family, and survivor’s guilt, and a tribute to Isbell’s friend Justin Townes Earle, who died of an accidental overdose in 2020. The line in the first chorus is “I was the worse of the two of us / But “Rex's Blues” wasn't through with us,” referencing a Townes Van Zandt song written about a former bandmate with a restless spirit, “bound to leave the dark behind.” Rex is still with us (he owns a music venue in Houston), but Van Zandt passed away in 1997 due to complications from years of substance abuse, leaving behind friends, family, and a grieving protege named Steve Earle. 

The line in the last chorus is “I am the last of the two of us / But the Fort Worth Blues isn't through with us,” referencing a song Steve Earle wrote to remember his mentor. The other way Earle honored his mentor was by naming his son after him. As the saying goes, we might be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us. 

43. Victoria Monét - “On My Mama”

Album: Jaguar II

Release Date: Jun. 16

The greatness of The Singles Jukebox (may it rest in peace, or live forever, or something in between) is that it made me stop and pay attention to everything. I don’t know how I missed Victoria Monét this year. Her album was incredibly well reviewed and she has placed highly on pretty much every year-end list I’ve seen so far. Still, for whatever reason, I missed her until she came up on the temporarily resurrected TSJ. I couldn’t think of anything clever to say, so I just voted with my [9].

44. Caroline Polachek - “Dang”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Oct. 17 

I wholeheartedly support Caroline Polachek’s efforts to get just as weird as possible at all times (wanna see the greatest Powerpoint presentation ever?). We saw her at Paradiso earlier this year (minus the slide deck) and she is an electric live performer, highly recommended.

45. Hudson Mohawke - “Set The Roof” (feat. Nikki Nair, Tayla Parx)

Album: Set The Roof EP

Release Date: May 24

I don’t really know anything about Hudson Mohawke. Turns out his name is Ross. He’s Scottish. He’s produced for a bunch of big names: Kanye, Drake, Lil Wayne. I just know that every few years he pops up with an inexplicable earworm that I can’t get out of my head. In 2015, it was the massive from-blown-speakers jam “Ryderz.” In 2023, it’s the skittering, sample-destroying “Set The Roof.” I have no idea what’s going on at any point in this song, and that’s fine.

46. Blur - “The Narcissist”

Album: The Ballad of Darren

Release Date: May 18

When I saw Blur at Wembley, their set ended with “Girls & Boys” → “For Tomorrow” → “Tender” → “The Narcissist” → “The Universal.” I’m not saying “The Narcissist” is in the same league as any of those songs (it is not), but in that moment it felt like it belonged there, a declaration that Blur still exists in the present tense. For a band that’s been at it for more than thirty years, that’s really all you can ask for.

47. Dua Lipa - “Dance The Night”

Album: Barbie: The Album

Release Date: May 25

According to the credits, those are live strings, which I refuse to believe. It is impossible that even one physical instrument could have touched this. It’s the most artificial song of 2023, and in this context I mean that as a compliment. Plastic perfection is the goal here, and mission accomplished.

48. The Gaslight Anthem - “Positive Charge”

Album: History Books

Release Date: Apr. 28

Getting older, but aren’t we all? Brian Fallon’s solo work has functioned as an ongoing admission that the arrow on his personal PUNK ←→ DAD spectrum has permanently flipped to the right. (The albums have been pretty good, the live shows tend to devolve into stories about his kids that I’m sure he thinks are interesting.) The Gaslight Anthem’s first new album in almost ten years follows that trend, doing everything that bands do to show maturity, with varying degrees of success. This place has everything: nods to the past (Bruce Springsteen’s appearance on “History Books”), literary ambitions (“Michigan 1975”’s retelling of The Virgin Suicides), explicit reckoning with mortality (“Autumn”’s “I hate the way that time goes / Crashing over like a steamroller / I wish I could do my life over / I’d be young better now”), you name it. Lead single “Positive Charge” is one of the album's few attempts to recreate the old Gaslight Anthem sound (“Little Fires” is another), and for a few minutes it works. 

49. Ratboys - “Morning Zoo”

Album: The Window

Release Date: Apr. 10

We spent Thanksgiving with Ratboys this year because tickets go on sale early here and I didn’t stop to consider whether November 23 might be something other than some random Thursday. I enjoyed myself, though I have to admit that reviews from our household were mixed. Double-check your calendars, everybody.

50. PONY - “Sick”

Album: Velveteen

Release Date: May 19

The dream of the 90s is alive in a lot of places, but add Toronto to the list. Imagine sayingWe were all pretty into the ‘Two Princes’ snare sound, and I think it fits the vibe perfectly” with a straight face. That’s the Canadian difference!

51. Bonny Doon - “San Francisco”

Album: Let There Be Music

Release Date: Jun. 16

Crossing the streams here, this is both Michigan and Northern California. Bonny Doon is a town near Santa Cruz, but Bonny Doon the band originated in Detroit (though we once saw them open for Snail Mail in San Francisco). Lead singer Bobby Colombo subsequently moved from Detroit to Marin County, and wrote this paean to San Francisco, complete with starry-eyed lyrics that wouldn’t be out of place on a Grateful Dead album. Bonny Doon also served as Katie Crutchfield’s backing band both on the recording of Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud and the subsequent tour, and Crutchfield returns the favor here with some added vocals.

52. Kara Jackson - “pawnshop”

Album: Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?

Release Date: Feb. 23

One-time National Youth Poet Laureate making what she describes as “guitar-ass music.” Chicago again, because why not?

53. The Kills - “New York”

Album: God Games

Release Date: Jul. 25

Do I like Indie Sleaze now? Have I always liked Indie Sleaze?

54. Olivia Rodrigo - “love is embarrassing”

Album: Guts

Release Date: Sep. 8

I reviewed both “vampire[8] and “bad idea right?[8] for The Singles Jukebox, and both are deserving of this spot, but I’m going with “love is embarrassing” because it’s fun and because it demonstrates how deep Guts is as an album. Where is this in line as a potential single? Sixth? Seventh? Can I just say how much I’m enjoying the whole Olivia Rodrigo experience?

55. Meet Me @ The Altar - “Kool”

Album: Past // Present // Future

Release Date: Feb. 21

As an American living in Europe, there’s really no reason for me to take Brexit personally, and yet I still do. First, it’s awesome when you travel to London and the line at border control takes longer than the flight. Second, and more importantly, I think it’s robbing me of concerts. When people started seriously considering the impact Brexit would have on the wider world, one thing that started to come up was that it would be more difficult for American bands to schedule European tours, additional visas required and whatnot. The thinking at first was that bands might tour continental Europe and skip the UK. Well, it seems like the opposite is happening. I’m writing this days before flying to Dublin to see Spiritual Cramp and Militarie Gun because they scheduled a UK/I only tour, and Meet Me @ The Altar, who seem like they would be incredible live, have been to the UK twice but have never been to Europe. Never trust a Tory, you guys.

56. Jam City - “Wild n Sweet” (feat. Empress Of)

Album: Jam City Presents EFM

Release Date: May 3

“Jam City” is the moniker of a London DJ, and Empress Of is from Los Angeles, but “Wild n Sweet” traces its lineage back to the Scandinavian dance-pop classics, especially Alphabeat’s “DJ.” (I so rarely get the chance to compare something to Alphabeat, so you better believe I’m taking it. Someday The Spell will get the critical reappraisal it deserves.)  

57. Jessie Ware - “Pearls”

Album: That! Feels Good!

Release Date: Feb. 9

The Singles Jukebox reviewed “Begin Again” and it felt like a contest to see who could come up with the most interesting way to say, “pretty good, not her best, but her best is amazing, so yeah, pretty good.” I’m going with “Pearls” instead as my pick from the album, but the sentiment is much the same.

58. The Beths - “Watching The Credits”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Mar. 28

Elizabeth Stokes writes the same song over and over again, and she does it perfectly, and I hope she never stops.

59. Beyoncé - “MY HOUSE”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Dec. 1

From The Singles Jukebox: It can be disorienting to remember that Beyoncé exists on the same plane of existence as the rest of us. She’s the alien superstar, she’s one of one. Imagine Beyoncé eating a sandwich. And it’s not like she doesn’t have influences, or contemporaries, but she has taken great pains to create a personal aesthetic of otherworldly perfection, and to position her most recent albums, especially RENAISSANCE, as self-contained objects that arrived fully formed, the product of a singular genius. Then you hear the thirty seconds of “MY HOUSE” and you realize, “Oh. Right. Houston.” Beyoncé is from Houston. She comes from a lineage that is Southern, Texan, and influenced by identifiable strains of late-90s and early-00s hip hop. She does it better than pretty much anyone else, and by the end of the song she has transformed those fairly mainstream reference points into something that probably only she could make, but still. Real person, from Houston. Probably eats sandwiches. [8]

60. Yaeji - “Passed Me By”

Album: With A Hammer

Release Date: Apr. 5

Keeping with one of this year’s themes, a song to Yaeji’s younger self. So many cool little moments in here (I recommend headphones), but I especially love how the line “I like flipping the pages and feeling the physical weight of how much time has …” drops out for the glitchy, whispered “passedmebypassedmebypassedmebypassedmeby.” Even when you stop, time keeps going.

61. Yard Act - “The Trench Coat Museum”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Jul. 12

This is a tough one to rank because it’s a fun, inventive three and a half minute dance-rock song from a band that Elton John once compared to the Hold Steady (yes, really.) The problem is that the song happens to be over eight minutes long. What am I supposed to do with the last five minutes of this thing, Yard Act? Why isn’t there a radio edit? (There is a remix, but it’s somehow even longer.) Anyway, feel free to listen to this for as long as you enjoy it.

62. Big Thief - “Vampire Empire”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Jul. 19

In many ways, Big Thief has become exhausting. Last year’s Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You (an exhausting title) consisted of twenty songs stretching over eighty minutes (also exhausting). The critical acclaim, and backlash to the critical acclaim, and backlash to the backlash (most exhausting of all), almost crowded out the music. The band only put out two songs this year, and they’re both good, but the story surrounding “Vampire Empire” still seems to be that fans are mad that the studio version doesn’t sound as good as the version they did on Colbert. I think the trick to enjoying Big Thief is finding a way to avoid anything related to them except the music itself.

63. Slow Pulp - “Doubt”

Album: Yard

Release Date: Jul. 25

Chicago by way of Wisconsin, another up and coming Midwestern band updating alt-rock signifiers for the 2020s.

64. Slaughter Beach, Dog - “Summer Windows”

Album: Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling

Release Date: Aug. 7

Somehow not the highest-ranking song on this list to reference Townes Van Zandt. 

65. Sincere Engineer - “California King”

Album: Cheap Grills

Release Date: Jun. 28

Of all the Chicago bands on this list, Sincere Engineer might be the most Chicago. (I know they aren’t really a band as much as the solo creative project of Deanna Belos, with other people getting involved as necessary, but stay with me here.) 

One, there’s nothing more Chicago than singing about leaving but not actually doing it. 

Two, I saw Sincere Engineer open for Oso Oso and The Menzingers in Berkeley a few years ago. It was a pretty sparse crowd, and quiet. While the band was tuning between songs, Belos asked the crowd if they had any questions. Someone yelled out, “What’s the best Chicago pizza?” All three of the band members who had microphones immediately (like, reflexively, faster than conscious thought) said different places, then stopped and stared at each other like each person had said the most horrifying thing imaginable.

66. Fireworks - “Funeral Plant”

Album: Higher Lonely Power

Release Date: Jan. 1

I don’t know why we’ve started doing Most Religious-Trauma-Triggering Lyric of the Year as a prestigious award, but if Lucy Dacus took it in 2021 (“When I tell you you were born and you are here for a reason / You are not convinced the reason is a good one”) and Ethel Cain won in 2022 (“God loves you, but not enough to save you”), then I’m giving it to Fireworks in 2023 (“Prayed to be like everyone else / They found drugs or Jesus / And I just had myself”), and I’m also issuing a notice that, you know, we could just all agree to take next year off. I think we’ve had enough.

67. The Menzingers - “Bad Actors”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Mar. 6

The Menzingers put out a solid full-length album (Some Of It Was True) in October, but for me their highlight of 2023 was this one-off single release in March. It’s an outtake from the Hello Exile sessions, and there’s a rumor online that the band was saving it to release in celebration of an Eagles Super Bowl win. Instead the Chiefs won and we got nothing. Thanks a lot, Missouri bands. Couldn’t we have gotten, like, a Get Up Kids b-side or something? What has Foxing been up to for the last couple years?

As is their tradition, The Menzingers will be coming to Amsterdam and playing Melkweg in the cold and dark months (January 24, this time with Prince Daddy & The Hyena opening!). We’ve seen them October 11, 2022, and February 3, 2020. You guys are welcome to visit in the summer sometime, you know. 

68. White Reaper - “Pink Slip”

Album: Asking For A Ride

Release Date: Jan. 3

During a Reddit AMA, someone asked the band to list some influences for the new album and they answered, “different kinds of bugs and pics of camaros online and scorpions and weird al yankovic.” I mean, I don’t not hear it.

69. Lande Hekt - “Pottery Class”

Album: N/A

Release Date: May 16

Once and (hopefully) future leader of the criminally underrated Muncie Girls, Hekt’s solo material has more of a lo-fi feel without sacrificing any of the emotional resonance.

70. Stolen Jars - “Run It Wild”

Album: I Won’t Let Me Down

Release Date: May 26

The year’s best song about getting a huge dog even though you live in a tiny apartment. (I’m listening to it with the implicit assumption that this is a rescue dog and the owner is committed to a schedule of regular exercise and socialization. Please do not ruin this for me.)

71. Blondshell - “Joiner”

Album: Blondshell

Release Date: Jan. 24

The magic words: “I was listening to a lot of Britpop when I wrote this song.”

72. Worriers - “Anything Else”

Album: Trust Your Gut

Release Date: Sep. 15

Big year for Lauren Denitzio, two full-length albums, contributions from Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady, and an Empire Records-inspired music video. Tough to pick one song out of all of that, but as of this moment I’m going with “Anything Else.”

73. saturdays at your place - “it’s always cloudy in kalamazoo”

Album: always cloudy

Release Date: Jan. 20

Just to clarify, the bands (a) saturdays at your place and (b) Saturday Looks Good to Me are both from Michigan, but they sound nothing alike, so it’s unlikely they are talking about the same Saturday.

74. illuminati hotties - “Truck”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Jan. 19

Sarah Tudzin’s 2023 was always going to be overshadowed by boygenius (she co-produced the album and opened for the band on a run of shows), but she always seems to be doing ten things at once, including producing or featuring on at least two other songs on this list and putting out one single of her own, hopefully a precursor to more new IH music in 2024. The fact that illuminati hotties and The Hold Steady have now both explicitly referenced the same Pavement song seems like a glitch in the Matrix.

75. Carly Rae Jepsen - “Psychedelic Switch”

Album: The Loveliest Time

Release Date: Jul. 28

From The Singles Jukebox: Carly Rae Jepsen is, and has always been, just unabashedly corny. It's what makes her so relatable. We all see our most earnest selves in her. When she writes about crushes, unrequited love, the giddy adrenaline rush of a new relationship, the gnawing ache of feeling invisible, I just believe her, more than any other pop star. (Be honest, do you think Dua Lipa has ever truly pined?) The flip side of that is that when she writes from a position of cool, confident sexiness, even on a track this effortlessly weightless, she never really leaves that inner dork behind. I guess what I'm saying is that this is the highest score I can possibly give a song that uses both "birthday suit" and "puttin' on the ritz" unironically. [7]

76. McKinley Dixon - “Run, Run, Run”

Album: Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?

Release Date: Mar. 7

I’ve been slowly losing touch with hip hop since, like, 2006. I know it’s my loss, but it just keeps happening. I just want all rap music to sound like it did when I was in college, the golden age of producers, the Neptunes/Timbaland/Kanye/Just Blaze/Heatmakerz/Jazze Pha era. (I’m largely here for the beats.) McKinley Dixon doesn’t sound like that, but he does represent the only pure rap song on this list. Let’s get two on here next year. Dixon got my attention by kicking off his album with Hanif Abdurraqib reading an excerpt from Toni Morrison. I’m not saying other rappers should do exactly that, but … do something like that.

77. yeule - “dazies”

Album: softscars

Release Date: Jul. 12

No matter how experimental you get (and parts of softscars get pretty far out there), you always wind up back at Siamese Dream.

78. Corinne Bailey Rae - “Erasure”

Album: Black Rainbows

Release Date: Sep. 15

Corinne Bailey Rae, whose adult-contemporary mega-hit “Put Your Records On” has been streamed more than six hundred million times, is back with a no-joke rock (Black Rainbows) and this particularly blistering protest song. “Erasure” could peel paint off the walls. People contain multitudes, remember that.

79. The Umbrellas - “Three Cheers!”

Album: Fairweather Friend

Release Date: Oct. 25

Timeless indie pop from the San Francisco DIY scene. The band’s 2021 self-titled debut was jangly fun, and if “Three Cheers!” is any indication, next year’s Fairweather Friend should be more of the same, just bigger and more confident.

80. Sydney Sprague - “overkill”

Album: somebody in hell loves you

Release Date: Jun. 30

If this is the first song to rhyme “Stone Cold Stunner” with “Homestar Runner,” well, that feels like a real missed opportunity for everyone else.

81. KIcksie - “You’re On”

Album: Slouch

Release Date: Feb. 8

Absurd + Profound, Exhibit 3: First verse: Lyrics about Mario Kart. Bridge: “Where is your god? / They must be quiet today / Today or every day / And it's your fault.” 

Currently opening for Oso Oso, which is just a perfect pairing.

82. Liquid Mike - “Mouse Trap”

Album: Paul Bunyan's Sling Shot

Release Date: Oct. 23

Took me a while to get around to this band because “Liquid Mike” sounds like the name of the worst rapper of all time. Another Michigan band, at this point I’ve lost count.

83. Jeff Rosenstock - “DOUBT”

Album: Hellmode

Release Date: Jun. 27

Turn 40, move to LA, keep making songs where the guitars kick into overdrive as you and you friends scream “I don't know how to scrape / The dog shit that's stuck on / The heart of the fuckin' world” in a way that makes it sound like a call to arms.

84. Hurry - “Beggn’ For You”

Album: Don't Look Back

Release Date: Jun. 21

A power-pop gem in the Teenage Fanclub mold. The difference is that, when I listen to Teenage Fanclub, I think “this is awesome, I should keep listening to this all day,” and when I listen to Hurry, I think, “this is awesome, one song seems like plenty.” 

85. nathy sg - “Broken Ankle Song”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Oct. 6

Checking in on Martha, the Best Band in the World: no new music in 2023, but some fun side projects worth keeping an eye on. First up, nathy sg, the somewhat lazily named new project from Nathan Stephens-Griffin. This one sticks pretty close to the classic Martha playbook, which will never be a bad thing.

86. Get Wrong - “Too Late To Hide”

Album: Get Wrong

Release Date: Nov. 1

Next up, Get Wrong, from Naomi Griffin (and Adam Todd from Spook School!). This one goes in a more synth-pop direction, and it works.

Side Note: Martha are opening for Burn Your Hits hall-of-famers Los Campesinos! at their reunion show in London on February 17. It is sold out. I do not have a ticket for this show, and I am considering all my options, including applying for a job at the venue. Do you think I could get a work visa in two months? Probably not, right? Especially over the holidays?

87. snow ellet - “Whiskey and Soda Pop”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Feb. 23

Eric Reyes and Sarah Tudzin craft a shrine to The All-American Rejects. Next up, I don’t know, maybe Sugarcult? SR-71?

88. Twin Princess - “Allston”

Album: Blood Moon

Release Date: Apr. 24

A dark-synth retelling of Benjamin Franklin’s biography in that it’s about realizing you need to get out of Boston and then moving to Philadelphia. 

89. The Mountain Goats - “Murder at the 18th St. Garage”

Album: Jenny from Thebes

Release Date: Sep. 26

The most propulsive song from this year’s Jenny From Thebes. John Darnielle is so down for the cause that he won’t even testify against fictional characters:

Rather than being coy about it, let me tell you that somebody gets killed in this song, which is, at best, a short-term solution to Jenny’s problems, not that I’m saying she herself did anything. It’s her word against his now, and he can’t talk anymore, and she’s long gone by the time the EMTs get to 18th street. Under oath, I will testify that she was with me, because I am with her.”

90. Car Colors - “Old Death”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Nov. 17

With every passing day, it becomes more unlikely that certain deified pop stars (your Rihannas, your Frank Oceans) will ever release new music. Honestly, fine. They’ve given us enough and should be free to live their lives however they want. Still, I don’t expect that either will ever officially retire. It’s better to keep hope alive, if only so you can still book the Super Bowl, or Coachella. For two decades now, the aging-indie-rock-dude outlet for that kind of misplaced optimism has been The Wrens, whose classic The Meadowlands turned twenty this year. The band had been explicitly promising a follow-up for more than a decade, until it all fell apart in 2021 when Kevin Whelan, half of The Wrens’ brain trust, decided he could no longer work with the other half (Charles Bissel) and released a bunch of long-delayed songs under the name Aeon Station. Two years later, Bissel has started releasing music of his own, as Car Colors. At the risk of sounding incredibly reductive … it sounds a lot like The Wrens. In a good way. I don’t know why Whelan and Bissel couldn’t make it work as a band, but I’m glad they get to share their individual visions with the world.

91. A Place for Owls - “17/24/33”

Album: Celebration Guns / A Place for Owls Split EP

Release Date: Apr. 12

I assume that one day frontman Ben Sooy will release an updated version to cover the kind of songs you can only write when you’re 42, but until then I’ll just have to rely on the greater message of the song, art for art’s sake and its personal value, even if no one else ever hears it.

92. Diners - “The Power”

Album: Domino

Release Date: May 30

It seems like everyone wants to make power pop now. Apparently it’s easy to do but hard to do well. Diners stand out in a crowded field.

93. Sløtface - “Nose”


Release Date: Jan. 20

Now that Sløtface is a Haley Shea solo project backed by an informal collective of Norwegian punks, she’s free to expand the band’s sound, adding brassy horns and distorted saxophone as the sonic embodiment of anxiety without losing any of the hooky energy that made the band so loveable in the first place.

94. Hannah Jadagu - “Admit It”

Album: Aperture

Release Date: Apr. 19

Recorded an EP on Garage Band as a teenager while living in Mesquite, Texas; got an Instagram DM from the co-President of Sub Pop Records three weeks after she graduated high school offering her a record deal; signed the deal but still enrolled at NYU; recorded her debut album in France and then immediately hit the road opening for Bartees Strange. There is literally not one detail of the Hannah Jadagu bio that sounds real.

95. Greg Mendez - “Cop Caller”

Album: Greg Mendez

Release Date: May 5

I’m sure he’s sick of being compared to Elliott Smith, but he’s a thoughtful singer-songwriter writing sparsely beautiful songs about addiction, so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do here.

96. Sheer Mag - “All Lined Up”

Album: Playing Favorites

Release Date: Aug. 3

It’s possible that Sheer Mag’s recorded output never fully captures the awesome power of their live shows, but that might be an unrealistic expectation. “All Lined Up” is a good sign for the direction and quality of next year’s full-length Playing Favorites, and if that album release coincides with a European tour, all the better.

97. Bethany Cosentino - “Natural Disaster”

Album: Natural Disaster

Release Date: Jul. 25

After four albums at the helm of Best Coast, Bethany Cosentino goes solo to focus on soaking up the sun, realizes that these days even minimal exposure can fry you inside and out. In 2023, even the most faithful Sheryl Crow homage has to foreground the apocalyptic dread, both natural and supernatural.

98. Strange Ranger - “She’s on Fire”

Album: Pure Music

Release Date: May 2

“Shoegaze” has become a lazy descriptor for anything with fuzzy guitars and/or dreamy reverb on the vocals, but I think this is the most shoegaze song on this year’s list. The only point against that conclusion is that I can actually understand what he’s saying.

99. Arlo Parks - “Weightless”

Album: My Soft Machine

Release Date: Jan. 18

Not sure if I totally understand the “wait”/“weight” wordplay here, but I’ve chosen to review this one based solely on vibes, and the dreamy, luxurious atmospherics speak for themselves.

100. Charly Bliss - “You Don’t Even Know Me Anymore”

Album: N/A

Release Date: Jun. 21

Eva Hendricks and Co. go full-on pop. It’s fine for one song, but the jury’s still out on whether they could carry a whole album like this.

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