(1) Wednesday - “Chosen To Deserve”
The near-unanimous critic’s choice as indie rock’s Next Big Thing for 2023, and lead single “Chosen To Deserve” more than justifies the hype. Karly Hartzman’s vocal delivery will invite Big Thief comparisons, but for me the whole project clicked when I read that “Chosen To Deserve” is the product of a writing exercise where Hartzman challenged herself to write her own version of the Drive-By Truckers classic “Let There Be Rock.” It’s that infusion of both DBT’s southern rock muscle and storyteller’s perspective that differentiates Wednesday from Big Thief and bands of that ilk (not that they necessarily need to do that, it’s just that, well, we already have a Big Thief). New album Rat Saw God is out April 7.
(Important: If you have ever thought to yourself, “I bet it would be fun to go to a concert with Aaron” … May 29. Upstairs at Paradiso. It’s €10. Just buy the ticket now.)
(2) Fireworks - “I Want To Start A Religion With You”
I don’t know how I feel about the fact that “Recovering Evangelical” is basically an indie rock sub-genre now. I guess mostly it makes me feel less alone, and that’s a good thing, but it’s bittersweet to find out that so many other people feel that same darkness. Lyrically, Higher Lonely Power might not cut quite as deep as parts of Ethel Cain’s Preacher’s Daughter, but it’s close (the lyrics to “Megachurch” could peel paint off the walls). Musically, it’s just a great rock record. My favorite album of 2023 so far.
(3) The Hold Steady - “Sideways Skull”
Craig Finn and co. celebrated their 20th anniversary earlier this month (their first official show was January 22, 2003, in Brooklyn), and the first single from their upcoming new album The Price of Progress (out March 31) almost sounds like something that could have been on their debut album. There’s still time for you to get tickets to come see them in London with me in March.
(4) Zach Bryan - “Oklahoma City” (Live at Red Rocks)
I’m late to the party on this one, but making up for lost time. Bryan’s 2022 album American Heartbreak came highly recommended by reputable music-knowers ranging from my buddy Elliot to Uproxx and Indiecast’s Steven Hyden, but I never listened to it, mostly because the name “Zach Bryan” sounds like an AI tried to create the most boring country artist of all time. I was only hurting myself with that dismissiveness, though, because it turns out that Bryan makes intricate, engrossing alt-country/Americana in the Jason Isbell vein, and it’s great. On Christmas Day 2022 he released the perfectly-titled live album All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster and, come on, like there’s any way I’m not going to listen to a record with that name. For me it was a nice introduction to Bryan’s music, particularly “Oklahoma City,” a deceptively simple song (the verse and the chorus use the same chord progression, which feels like it should never work, but it does) that has been kicking around in various forms since 2020 but finally found a home as the lead single from American Heartbreak.
(5) boygenius - “True Blue” / “Emily I’m Sorry” / “$20”
My question to those of you who care is, “what do you want from boygenius?” Because these three new songs are all great, but they are very much (in order) a Lucy song, a Phoebe song, and a Julien song. There’s really no reason why these couldn’t have been on Home Video, Punisher, and Little Oblivions. They can keep doing that, and I will absolutely listen to every song, but I would love it if boygenius someday grew to be more than the sum of its parts. If we’re comparing them to other supergroups, my dream would be that they end up like New Pornographers, where there were absolutely Carl songs, Dan songs, and Neko songs, but there was no question that they were first and foremost New Pornographers songs, like they would not have fit on a Neko solo record, or a Destroyer record. I don’t know if the women of boygenius want to do that, but I think it would be incredible if they did.
(6) Parannoul - “We Shine At Night”
I don’t know if it’s within my rhetorical abilities to convince you to listen to a sprawling, genre-less Korean-language album made by a still-anonymous unknown artist, but … maybe Ian Cohen can? Honesty, After the Magic is just indescribably fascinating. (Maybe not always good, but always fascinating.) You’ll know within three minutes if it’s for you or not, just give it a shot.
(7) Blondshell - “Joiner”
Ah, those magic words, “I was listening to a lot of Britpop when I wrote this song.” Brings the list of London Calling acts I’m excited to see all the way up to … one. Hopefully more announcements to come on that front.
(8) Miley Cyrus - “Flowers”
It’s nice to live in a world where we don’t really have to care what’s popular. For the most part, we get to listen to whatever we want, whenever we want. (For example, Drake’s “Jimmy Cooks” was the #1 song in America at one point last year, and I’m confident I’ve never heard it.) Still, it’s nice when the biggest song in the world (#1 in 20+ countries, breaking every streaming record) is actually really good.
(9) Little Simz - “Gorilla”
(10) Arlo Parks - “Weightless”
I really like this song. I have no idea why her September show at Paradiso is €32. Like, that seems excessive, right? But we really don’t have that many shows on the calendar yet …
Let’s come back to that one.
(11) Zach Bryan - “Dawns” (feat. Maggie Rogers)
Right, we’re still not done with Zach Bryan. His first new song of 2023 is a duet with Maggie Rogers and I have to say, if I were a self-made singer-songwriter who suddenly found himself moderately famous, that’s pretty much what I would do. “Dawns” is a balancing act in that it’s a breakup song but also a song about the death of Bryan’s mother, both melding into a meditation on heartbreak and loss.
(12) White Reaper - “Pink Slip”
I go back and forth on whether listening to music this aggressively summery in the dead of winter is helpful for my mental health or not. Does it brighten your day to blast yourself with Backyard BBQ Rock like this, or does it just make it feel like summer is even further away? Anyway, depending on your answer, White Reaper’s new album Asking For A Ride may or may not be for you.
(13) Snow Ellet - “Elevator”
There are parts of “Elevator” where the vocals tip over from “heavily Blink-182 influenced” to “okay, seriously, is he doing a bit?” but when you can write hooks like this and you have Sarah Tudzin producing, I’m still buying.
(14) Worriers - “Pollen In The Air”
As a band, Worriers has always been Lauren Denitzio’s singular vision, but on the upcoming Warm Blanket (out April 7) they have decided to treat it as even more of a solo project. If “Pollen In The Air” is any indication, early results are promising.
(15) Fenne Lily - “Lights Light Up”
In contrast to Arlo Parks, €16 for Fenne Lily at Bitterzoet in April is the kind of impulse purchase I can get behind …
(16) DMA’s - “Fading Like A Picture”
Kind of a non-sequitur, but did you know that they’re still doing MTV Unplugged? DMA’s did one in 2018! Twenty One Pilots did one last year! (As far as I knew, the last MTV Unplugged was Dashboard Confessional in 2002.)
(17) The Tubs - “Wretched Lie”
All four members of The Tubs were in the now-defunct (but wonderfully named) Joanna Gruesome. This is a different band, for some reason. I love this interview where they talk about how they’re all in like ten different bands and they sometimes open for themselves and … it just sounds like it would be really fun to be friends with these people.
(18) Fruit Bats - “Rushin’ River Valley”
Turns out Fruit Bats is just one guy, a Chicago singer-songwriter named Eric Johnson. What has he been up to since he wrote an absolutely perfect song (“When U Love Somebody”) twenty years ago? I have no idea! But here’s a new song, and it’s good.
(19) Caroline Polachek - “Blood And Butter”
In 2018, Paper Magazine dared to ask the provocative question “Is Imogen Heap the Most Influential Artist of the Century?” The answer was ‘yes’ then and it’s an even more emphatic ‘YES’ now. Pitchfork published a longform feature titled “The Eternal Influence of Imogen Heap” last year, and “Blood And Butter” serves as one more data point for that argument. Caroline Polachek is one of the most innovative artists currently working in pop music, and here she’s pretty much doing a B+ Heap impression.
(20) P!nk - “TRUSTFALL”
Hey, let’s keep talking about obvious influences. Do you ever stop and think about the fact that, for most of your life, you lived in a world where Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” did not exist? It seems impossible, but it’s true. Anyway, you now live in a world where there are two of them. We have a backup in case something happens to the original. (Seriously, it’s uncanny: the drum break in “Dancing On My Own” hits at 3:07, in “TRUSTFALL” it hits at 3:12.)
P!nk’s first comeback single (“Never Gonna Not Dance Again”) was co-written by actual Swedes, but apparently Max Martin just wants to make songs that sound like they were written for possible Trolls sequels. In contrast, “TRUSTFALL” was co-written with Fred Again and one of the guys from Snow Patrol, but luckily they found a way to harness some fake-Swedish excellence.
(21) DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ - “Brave”
First of all, absolutely perfect name. Perfect. No notes. Back in the Singles Jukebox days, there was a commenter who kept insisting that we needed to review a DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ song, and I thought it was some kind of running joke. Well, turns out it’s a real (but still anonymous) person who even has a production credit on the new 1975 album.
(22) M83 - “Oceans Niagara”
In a similar vein to how MGMT kinda fell apart after “Kids” blew up, it’s pretty clear that Anthony Gonzalez is still trying to process the world-conquering success of “Midnight City.” He’s been making music for more than twenty years, has already reinvented himself several times (2008’s Saturdays = Youth represents my personal favorite iteration), and “Oceans Niagara” sounds like he’s actively trying to figure out what comes next. I’m confident that he will.
(23) The New Pornographers - “Really Really Light”
Okay, let’s close this out with three legacy acts, each of whom is moving in a (pun unavoidable, sorry) lighter direction. First up, Vancouver’s finest! I think I’ve said this before, but for me the problem with every new TNP song is that it just makes me want to go listen to old TNP songs. It may grow on me but, for now, “Really Really Light” is a fantastic verse let down by a somewhat (for them) forgettable chorus. New album Continue As A Guest is out March 31.
(24) The National - “Tropic Morning News”
You already know how you feel about The National. “Tropic Morning News” is a slightly more upbeat take on their classic sound, and I kinda like it. Their new album First Two Pages Of Frankenstein (out April 28) features Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers, and Sufjan Stevens, so get ready for them to be absolutely inescapable this year. (Respectfully, I’m not sure if I could be talked into seeing them at Ziggo Dome in September, but hey, you’re welcome to try. I mean, Bartees Strange is opening …)
(25) Belle and Sebastian - “I Don’t Know What You See In Me”
This is … I don’t know what this is. Ilana compared it to both fun. and Owl City, and I don’t think either of those were meant as compliments. It just feels … disposable, I guess? A bit cloying? Then again, B&S are responsible for some of the most important music in my life, and frontman Stuart Murdoch is going through some pretty serious health problems at the moment, so if this is the kind of music they want to make right now, who am I to tell them they can’t?
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