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2023 YEAR IN REVIEW: Our Annual Mixtapes Ft. Our Favorite Songs of the Year, Pt. 2 (Songs 052-001)

The second half of our year-end mixtape series counts down our Top 52 songs of 2023. So what are you waiting for? Isn't the suspense killing you? Let the countdown begin...



052 JENNY O. | "The Big Cheese"

Blurb: Why didn't this album catch on? Based on slinky pop gems like "The Big Cheese"... unforgiveable. Perhaps shortening her given name Jennifer Ognibene to Jenny O., also the name of a major brand of turkey breasts, caused some confusion. Her new album, Spectra, was no turkey, though, it was stuffed with understated little pop gems like this one. She's a real musician attempting to do something original with her music, so perhaps that's the issue. No matter, this self-deprecating track finds her seemingly content with not being one of the cool kids. And not caring about being cool is the first indication of being truly cool. Everybody knows that.

Moment of Conversion: Mid-song observation that "All the greats are of dying age."

051 JULIE BYRNE | "Portrait of a Clear Day"

Blurb: The final line of Julie Byrne's poem set to music, "Portrait of a Clear Day," from her grief-stricken new LP, The Greater Wings, has stayed with me all year. I won't quote it here, because out of context it surrenders its meaning, but it is a beautifully sad moment. A moment that sounds like something should follow— another verse, another chorus—but that she wisely just leaves to hover in the air. Perhaps she just couldn't go on. The album was completed after the death of a friend and collaborator and you can feel that emotional weight throughout, but from great heartbreak often comes true beauty. Such is the case here.

Moment of Conversion: The very last line.

050 BLONDE REDHEAD | "Snowman"

Blurb: I had my definitive listen to Blonde Redhead's new album Sit Down for Dinner one cool night recently while I was walking my dog (half pit, half bulldog), Otis. The record sounded so good, in fact, I told him, "It's your lucky night, Oat, let's take a long one tonight" and I let him lead me outside of our normal evening route. "Snowman" lured me in and reminded me how subtle textures can amount to beautiful pop music. I wasn't sure how they did it, but they'd delivered one of the most pure, rapturous, and subtle records of the year. That night, it sounded so damn good I could've walked forever. And I wish we had, because Otis unexpectedly and heartbreakingly passed away a few weeks later. I'll always remember that walk and the music that soundtracked it.

Moment of Conversion: The walk.


049 UPPER WILDS | "10' 9""

Blurb: When I was a kid, I'd always eagerly read the Ripley's Believe It Or Not! comic in the Sunday paper. An obsession with the Guinness Book of World Records followed. I wasn't alone, of course. There were many of us fascinated by the oddities of life, extreme performance, and knowing who on our planet could eat the most hard-boiled eggs in two minutes. But all oddities and records are not created equally. The whole thing has, for the most part, become a baggy pants farce and the "records" adjudicated these days are often ridiculously specific and asinine (most armpits sniffed, et al). But I do remember some truly amazing visuals from back then, including a photo of the world's tallest man, Robert Wadlow, who stood a towering 8' 11" tall in his bare feet (no afro like Fletch either). To this day, he holds the height record and his statue is one of the main attractions at Ripley Museums strewn around the world. Who doesn't want to pose with the world's tallest man? Which brings us to the Upper Wilds' "10' 9"" which details the custom-made size requirement for Wadlow's casket (he died at 22 years-old of an infection, unfortunately). I do appreciate a band willing to take on unconventional topics and when they're paired with a blistering Hüsker Dü-esque guitar attack as found on the entirety of the Brooklyn band's latest planet-themed record, I'm in heaven (Most Rock Albums Named After Planets: Upper Wilds, 3 —Mars, Venus, and now Jupiter).

Moment of Conversion: Guitar buzzsaw.

048 MANNEQUIN PUSSY | "I Got Heaven"

Blurb: It's no secret, especially with a slogan like "Records As Religion," that I'm not religious at all. So when Mannequin Pussy singer Marisa Dabice rips off a line in the middle of "I Got Heaven" like, And what if wе stopped spinning? / And what if we're just flat? / And what if Jesus himself ate my fucking snatch? you'd think I'd delight in its irreverence. And you would be right.

Moment of Conversion: There's really no escaping or topping the image of Jesus giving oral.

047 BIG THIEF | "Vampire Empire"

Blurb: Great single from Big Thief this year. Apparently in their live set for a couple years already, I'm assuming it had to be the set closer. The song's lyrics spill out as Adrianne Lenker exasperatedly tells us of her frustration with her "vampire," an unpredictable person who never seems to know what they want when, so they act differently depending on the moment, the time of day, or their emotional or physical needs. Nobody wants to deal with that, but it does make for a great song.

Moment of Conversion: Guitar crunch, heavy drums...finally

046 PARAMORE | "This is Why"

Blurb: The album's title track is a good example of what makes this band different from so many others plying the same trade. It follows Roxette's "Don't bore us, get to the chorus!" mentality, delivering a hook that I could see tearing the roof off the sucka at a Funkadelic show in the mid-1970s. It's distinctly modern, but classically-sourced from a much funkier place and time. The interesting thing is that the rest of the song is something completely different, like a weird 80s nightclub vibe or something. Totally off-kilter and weird, which I like. It's also a new addition to my latest "Introverts Only" playlist thanks to its catchphrase, "This is why / I don't leave the house / You say the coast is clear / But you won't catch me out." Joy rides for shut-ins, baby.

Moment of Conversion: Old school jittery funk.

045 LOW CUT CONNIE | "King of the Jews"

Blurb: A direct quote from Low Cut Connie frontman and songwriter Adam Weiner: "King of the Jews" is in many ways about finding strength and power where so many see weakness in your identity.” By his own admission he has downplayed his Jewishness in the past, but now in a time of increasing occurrences of antisemitism, he's fully embracing it "loud and proud." The Warhol-esque video for great new song "King of the Jews" shows Weiner strapping tefillin onto his arm and head, a Torah-mandated ritual. It's one of Low Cut Connie's most important songs to date.

Moment of Conversion: Timeliness.

044 ROBERT FORSTER | "She's a Fighter/Tender Years"

Blurb: In my album write-up, I commented on the fact that Robert Forster had written some songs inspired by his wife, currently battling cancer, on his great new LP, The Candle and the Flame. Hence, in service to their story, we allow a twofer here. The first a short repetitive mantra celebrating her inner strength. It's followed by "Tender Years," a bit of a travelogue of their long relationship. Despite his calm delivery you'll feel a swell in your chest as the song continues. You'll want to reach out and give him a hug.

Moment of Conversion: I'm in a story with her / I know I can't live without her / I just can't imagine one.

043 THE ANTLERS | "Ahimsa"

Blurb: The Antlers have created some of the most fragile and breathtaking pop songs of the last fifteen years. From "I Don't Want Love" (2011) to last year's brilliant "Solstice," and many spots prior and in between, I save a special place for their songs that I'll keep to myself, thank you. Peter Silberman (songwriter and singer) and Michael Lerner (drums) make these chest-tightening songs soar with understated beauty and open-hearted vulnerability. It's enough to carry you away.

Moment of Conversion: No violence mantra

042 WITHERED HAND | "Misery & Company"

Blurb: I've said it before and I'll say it again here. The Brits are often better at making Americana music than actual Americans. Witness Edinburgh's Dan Willson, performing as Withered Hand since 2008, admittedly a name that doesn't promise a barrel of fun. The title of this song, "Misery & Company," from his excellent new album How to Love, isn't going to change that perception either. But if you give this song some of your valuable time (and I know you've been wasting a lot of it lately based on your recent search history) it may just convert you. It has a catchy chorus, actually two of them kinda, and the vocal has a bit of a Wayne Coyne vibe at times, but way more tolerable. All I know is that when he starts talking about his heart beating again, I can't help but get swept up in his declarations of love.

Moment of Conversion: If my heart / My heart’s still beating / My heart, it’s beating over again

041 ANNA ST. LOUIS | "Phone"

Blurb: She grew up in Kansas City with the last name St. Louis, moved to L.A. where her Laurel Canyon sound seemed a perfect match for her new surroundings, but then tired of the L.A. grind and recorded her superb new album, In the Air, in upstate New York. The girl gets around. With all those miles under her belt, she has clearly found her musical identity it seems. The word "natural" comes to mind when considering her music. If the record was an object, it would be a cup of hot coffee. If the record was a time, it would be early morning. If it was a place, it would be a front porch. It wouldn't make sense to assign a geographical location to her music anyway since she's always on the move. So wherever you are, play "Phone" and let it work its organic magic.

Moment of Conversion: 0:33, "Baby, baby...on the phone"

040 JEN CLOHER | "Mana Takatāpui"

Blurb: A really cool new album this year from Aussie, and Courtney Barnett ex, Jen Cloher. She's got some indigenous blood and peppers her songs with lyrics in Maori, a Polynesian language, and songs like this one have a distinct island vibe at times, which is very calming as only a thought of a warm distant shore can be.

Moment of Conversion: Maori chorus


039 FEIST | "Hiding Out in the Open"


Love is not a thing you try to do

It wants to be the thing compelling you

What a great line. Enough for me to put "Hiding Out in the Open" on this tape on its own. I can't imagine someone not being moved by this song. Or the rest of her new record, Multitudes, for that matter. This is solo performance at its finest.

Moment of Conversion: Aforementioned lyrics

038 JUAN WAUTERS | "Milanesa al Pan"

Blurb: Two lovers, long separated by the pandemic, reunite and spend most of this song doing you know what...that's right, eating! The title of the song is the name of a beloved Argentinian sandwich, and later, when finally digested, it's finally time for the dirty deed...that's right, fried cake! Have you two forgotten something perhaps? This Spanish song from Queens resident and world traveler Juan Wauters may be the most universal melody on this whole mixtape. Can a song sound overjoyed to exist? If so, this little island hopper is stone in love with itself.

Moment of Conversion: Gorgeous guest vocal from Zoe Gotusso.

037 CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS | "Tears Can Be So Soft"

Blurb: Time is valuable, so I short-sheeted the bed on Christine and the Queens new album, Paranoïa, Angels, True Love, by buying the 41-minute "highlights" disc instead of the full 97-minute operatic opus, which by all accounts is a little bloated. Perhaps someday I'll feel the need to delve deeper into the whole thing, but I doubt it. Not that Christine and the Queens hasn't done enough to merit the effort, but I don't even love the entirety of the 41-minute version, particularly whenever Madonna shows up for a cameo, so I'll stick with this set. That said, the single "Tears Can Be So Soft" is an instant modern soul classic that gives Marvin Gaye a songwriting credit for a sample of his ballad "Feel All My Love Inside" (from I Want You) and amazingly ends up out-Marvin Gaye-ing Marvin Gaye himself on the track. It's got that shimmering 70's haze found on records from that era, but then brings a modern thump to keep it contemporary. It might take you a few listens to get it, but take your time and it will emerge.

Moment of Conversion: Voice channeled from a higher power


Blurb: How hard is it to put out a new album after a Hall of Fame career that people actually want to hear again and again? Songs that don't soundtrack your bathroom break at the next concert? Well, those kind of songs are all over the new Pretenders album. There are killer rockers and devastating ballads and some are a little of both, like "A Love" which is a greatest hit anyway you slice it. It's resonates more with me every time it plays.

Moment of Conversion: The opening moments announce a new Pretenders classic

035 NATALIE MERCHANT | "Sister Tilly"

Blurb: "Sister Tilly" is a tribute to old-school feminists, but not one in particular. She's called it an "amalgam" of several stalwarts from her mother's era. When I wasn't aware of this approach, all I could think was 'Wow, I wish I could've met this Tilly!"—a complex woman who cranked Led Zeppelin, wore Joan Didion sunglasses, sang like Buffy Sainte-Marie, attended protests for this cause and that, and even wore "Pashmina shawls" when Tilly was chilly. (Only Natalie could put a Pashmina shawl in a song and get away with it—others advised not to attempt.) The impetus for the track is the fact most of these women have left, or are imminently going to leave this world. There aren't a lot of other artists with the gravitas to pull off such a song, but Natalie has the patience needed to deliver a nearly 8-minute opus like this one and still keep you captivated the whole time while she's doing it.

Moment of Conversion: That voice still slays me every time.

034 MOONLIGHT BENJAMIN | "Haut là Haut"

Blurb: Haitian voodoo blues. Do I really need to say anything beyond that?

Moment of Conversion: Heavy creole vibe from the Haitian Patti Smith

033 PETER ONE | "Cherie Vico"

Blurb: The feel good story of the year (see Top 50 albums list) gives us an assortment of gentle vibes to tap into, some mournful, some joyous on his record, Come Back to Me. "Cherie Vico" is a touch of both. Fragile, but somehow glorious at the same time, this is music to heal the soul.

Moment of Conversion: Background vocals.

032 YARD ACT | "The Trench Coat Museum"

Blurb: Leave it to droll Leeds band Yard Act to both educate and entertain us all at one time. Here, the origin and legacy of the beloved trench coat, worn by everyone from Dick Tracy to Hitler, Humphrey Bogart to Peter Sellers, Columbo to Snidely Whiplash, is examined. Of course, told with the amusing matter-of-fact panache of singer James Smith, the perfect bloke to enlighten us with a bit of pub trivia. The twist is that the song is anchored by an electro-synth club beat that drives the track forward, a development that shows this band has more sides than we initially expected. And extra credit for not only finding such an insidious groove but for extending it for a full four-minutes after the lyrics end. It's a delirious, nonsensical fade-out that only a confident band could pull off. Brilliant.

Moment of Conversion: 8:00 song with a 1:00 intro and a 5:00 groove-merchant fade-out. What?

031 BELLE & SEBASTIAN | "I Don't Know What You See in Me"

Blurb: Belle & Sebastian have apparently discovered a goldmine in the Scottish Highlands of their beloved homeland. Two records in two years, both teeming with life. Fire up the bagpipes, leash up the Loch Ness Monster, and break me off a piece of that Haggis loaf, that's something to celebrate! This delightful gem on side two of the vinyl sounds very 80s, thanks to a hearty helping of synthetic bounce, and tells the age-old tale of a guy who failed to punch his own weight in the romance department and now has to live his life pathetically holding on for dear life, praying his self-esteem issues don't implode the whole affair from within.

Moment of Conversion: The infectious chorus.

030 DURAND JONES | "Lord Have Mercy"

Blurb: "Lord Have Mercy" evidences a power I've hoped to witness from Durand Jones, raw and spiritual simultaneously, and it's only one moment of many on his new record that'll drop your jaw.

Moment of Conversion: Heartbeat rhythm.

029 THIS IS THE KIT | "More Change"

Blurb: "More Change" is a song that thinks about the pace of change and how it varies for each of us. Which is where potential disconnects can arise, of course. Add Kate to your list of similarly clever singer/songwriters like Aldous Harding, Cate Le Bon, and Laura Marling (et al). There's room for one more as long as it's of this high quality.

Moment of Conversion: The vocals.

028 JAIMIE BRANCH | "Take Over the World"

Blurb: Many Jaimie Branch songs have rotated through this spot this year. The record is deep, ambitious, adventurous, and cohesive, and cannot be represented by just one track, such is the diversity and scope of the LP, so I advise you not to divide and conquer, even though I don't follow my own advice here by offering up "Take Over the World" one of the most visceral tracks on the record, and one that will shock listeners expecting a more traditional jazz record. The song is a poetry slam with a thundering rhythm, charging the listener with a thrilling, driving, scatting message. Ironically, the song features less of her virtuosic trumpet than almost any other track on the record, which only proves the depth of her talent.

Moment of Conversion: Rhythm method.

027 BOMBINO | "Si Chilan"

Blurb: I love getting a new Bombino record. I never know exactly what's coming. Better yet, that same feeling happens at the start of every song. Sometimes I get classic Bombino riffery, which is always welcome. He's dominates on guitar. This time, he adds some fabulous slower tracks, which is also welcome. It offers another side of his playing. "Si Chilan" also offers something new, even though the song has been in his arsenal for a while now. It has a swing to it, and I could let it play on repeat all day and not think twice about it.

Moment of Conversion: That swing.



026 MARGARET GLASPY | "Act Natural"

Blurb: "Act Natural," to its credit, doesn't sound like many other songs despite its relatively simple foundation of guitars, bass, and drums. It probably would've had better success in the alternative 90s, when indie-rock gems like this had a better chance at making some impact. My hope is that real inventive and original rock songs like this one, and several others from her new album, will make a comeback. She deserves the attention.

Moment of Conversion: Heavy guitar lick at the beginning sets the tone.

025 LAYNG MARTINE JR. | "Love Comes and Goes"

Blurb: Hard to pick a single track, but "Love Comes and Goes" is a little country-pop ditty that you might've heard Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds killing back in the 80s. Please give this gem of record a chance, I beg of you.

Moment of Conversion: Boyish voice still in tact!

024 JESSIE WARE | "That! Feels Good!"

Blurb: Every Jessie Ware record sounds unbelievable, but this is ridiculous. This, as the title promises, feels so good! If this song, and this record, doesn't get you off your stagnant ass no matter where you are—home, work, funeral, wedding—it's time to give up your spot on this planet to someone with a pulse. This record puts me in the best of moods. If this is the new face of disco, back to the tribal rights of Saturday night I go.

Moment of Conversion: Pleasure is a right!

023 GINA BIRCH | "I Play My Bass Loud"

Blurb: Gina made one of the most deliriously great records of 2023 and its power anthem, the title-track "I Play My Bass Loud," is your ticket into her crazy world. There are so many great tracks to pick from on her new album, each revealing a crucial component of her life philosophy, but when it came down to it, playing her bass guitar loud is what paved her way. And, based on the amusing video, she's got plenty of inspired acolytes following wisely in her path, learning from one of the original feminist punks in the process. You should do the same.

Moment of Conversion: The loud bass of course!

022 CIVIC | "Taken By Force"

Blurb: Predictably, "Taken By Force" immediately sounds like a punk classic from another era and it would easily fit in on a punk classics mixtape right next to Radio Birdman's "Aloha Steve and Danno." Not even the most indoctrinated punk would question its presence.

Moment of Conversion: Guitar solo at 1:31 is fucking nasty.

021 WITCH | "Unimvwesha Shuga"

Blurb: Well, this is everything I like all in one spot. Killer drum groove, ridiculously exciting vocal, funky breakdown, spontaneous feel, great guitars, and a rhythm that could go on all night like a Fela Kuti jam. I will buy all you got of this, sir.

Moment of Conversion: Drums.

020 SUSANNE SUNDFØR | "Leikara Ijóð"

Blurb: There is a thread running through Susanne's new album, so tugging on it risks the entirety coming loose, but when they came up with the term "centerpiece" this is what they intended. The song has a little of everything: nature sounds, humming, harmonies, hand claps, Southern gospel, choirs, soaring vocals, a false ending, and an unexpected, but strangely beautiful ending. The album is alive and well in 2023 and Sundfør gave us a gorgeous, cohesive statement. Which doesn't mean I can't pull this fabulous composition out for a solo ride now and then.

Moment of Conversion: Gimme, gimme, gimme....shock treatment!

019 PARANNOUL | "Arrival"

Blurb: As it turns out, I'm highly susceptible to the majestic walls of sound this still-anonymous artist has to offer and "Arrival" is a sonic journey that lures you into its world for the first 3:30 before sucking you down a black hole of disorienting yet miraculous sounds, unsure of where it's taking you. Break out your finest headphones for this one. If I see you with earbuds in your hand I'm gonna slap you into the middle of next week.

Moment of Conversion: Switch-flip at 3:33


Blurb: From one of the most compulsively listenable and all-purpose records of 2023 comes a killer single with a super laid-back reggae groove and a somehow perfectly compatible soul vocal laying right in the cut at all times. "Mary" is subtle genius, an instant classic that could've gone very wrong, but didn't. Everyone involved knew the vibe and rode it from beginning to end, doing their job, and in the process delivered a moment of simple, restrained, slow-release magnificence.

Moment of Conversion: I've got my hands in the pockets of my hometown...

017 CORINNE BAILEY RAE | "Erasure"

Blurb: A visit to the Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago inspired the dramatic change of musical purpose for Corinne Bailey Rae this year, and it resulted in one of the most surprising artistic reinventions in a long time. Bailey Rae put out a diverse record with powerful messages this year with everything from straight punk to smooth soul sharing space, but the moments that stood out most were punk song "New York Transit Queen" and alt-rock freakout "Erasure." Not entirely shocking after being told her first band was a punk/indie-rock deal before she broke with "Put Your Records On," but still pretty amazing. "Erasure," shows that her visit to the black cultural museum rattled her to the core and the song is absolutely devastating in delivery and subject matter. Discover it for yourself.

Moment of Conversion: First 35 seconds of buildup


Blurb: This collab with Angie Stone is one of many major highlights from Diawara's new album, London Ko. Here, we find two powerhouses surrounded by an amazing band that brings this song home with power and passion. All the colors are here. No need to pick just one.

Moment of Conversion: Vocal/instrumental interplay.

015 DOMINIQUE FILS-AIMÉ | "My Mind at Ease"

Blurb: After my album of the year write-up, I have nothing left to say. If that didn't sell you nothing will. I love every single song on her new album, but in a year that was very challenging in many ways, a song about keeping "My Mind at Ease" is just what my addled brain needed to calm itself from within. Maybe it'll do the same thing for you.

Moment of Conversion: Vocals.

014 JESS WILLIAMSON | "Hunter"

Blurb: Jess Williamson is the real thing and "Hunter" is just one of many ways to verify her authenticity. Coincidentally, Jess is hunting for the real thing—no, not a Coca Cola; I'm talking about love here—throughout the entire song. She's not one to fuck around with short-term commitments and she's here to tell you so, "My love is pure as the universe / Honest as an ashtray." I don't even know what that even means exactly, but Phoebe Bridgers would've cut your throat to have written it. In fact, there's a distinct Phoebe vibe throughout the song's chorus and if that's your vibe, don't pass this over. For everyone else looking for true love, go on the hunt with Jess. She'll show you what's real.

Moment of Conversion: Vibe


013 SHAME | "Adderall"

Blurb: One song that proves Shame to be more than we ever expected is "Adderall," a somber message about love and loss from within the throws of addiction. That it still shimmers and soars is a tribute to a band that knows how to make just about any kind of song stick. I had no attention deficit this year as long as this song was playing.

Moment of Conversion: Medicated vocal.

012 JOY OLADOKUN | "Taking Things for Granted"

Blurb: "Taking Things for Granted" follows Joy's life from her 8th birthday party (unattended by anyone, despite invites to all) onward. The thread of not being seen runs throughout. Soon enough, Joy realizes she has to do more to get people's attention. It still doesn't work every time, but that's not going to be a problem is she keeps writing songs as great as this one.

Moment of Conversion: Subtle lilt built into the beat.

011 THE WEDDING PRESENT | "We Should Be Together"

Blurb: A 24-song (with five bonus tracks), double-LP prompts the difficult task of selecting a song to represent the whole damn collection. Since that is nigh on impossible, we default to the charming duet "We Should Be Together," featuring Wedding Present mastermind Michael Gedge alongside Louise Wener of the Britpop band Sleeper (the band who originally wrote the song, but never recorded it). To these ears, the track sounds to me like a lost classic single from the golden age of Britpop.

Moment of Conversion: When Gedge and Wener's voices join together, the title is fully realized


Blurb: "Sunset" gets plucked from Polachek's single-rich 2023 album, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You, because it has a light Latin undercurrent to it, which we like around here. "I Believe" could have just as easily been the choice as it's totally magnificent and stirring, too. Several others were in contention, too. The sign of a great album is when you see seven or eight songs mentioned on different Best Songs of the Year lists. Everybody has their own personal favorite. This is ours.

Moment of Conversion: Latin feel.

009 ALBERT HAMMOND JR. | "Downtown Fred"

Blurb: When Hammond submitted this track to his lyricist, Simon Wilcox, I wonder what she made of it. "Downtown Fred" is deliriously all over the map. It goes down a back alley every time it seems to settle onto a clear paved road. But that's the point—the song keeps you on your toes, so you're never quite sure when it's going to make a squealing left turn or snap your head forward with a quick downshift. It's a really fun ride, whatever this is.

Moment of Conversion: Tempo shifts.

008 ANA CARLA MAZA | "Bahía (Latin Version)"

Blurb: I love that Ana had to put "Latin Version" in parenthesis, as if we couldn't figure that out ourselves in like four seconds. But it does add some intrigue that there could be some other versions of this infectious bandstand number out there somewhere. I'd love to hear the Cuban version, perhaps, the country of Maza's origin. That could be cool, too. "Bahía" was the song that fully woke me up to the world of Ana Carla Maza, a master cellist, arranger, producer, bandleader, and whatever else she wants to do. There's such energy, playfulness, and delight throughout this entire track that I could swear inanimate objects in my house—chairs, lamps, clocks—were dancing behind my back when I wasn't looking. The musicianship is jaw-dropping, too, and you'd be amazed at what her cello can do in such a dynamic setting. The sound of life being lived to its full potential is right here for the taking, all in just under five fantabulous minutes.

Moment of Conversion: 2:37 whoa-oh-ohs.

007 ANOHNI AND THE JOHNSONS | "It Must Change"

Blurb: If "It Must Change" was retroactively slotted into Marvin Gaye's What's Going On it would likely now be considered as much a part of the soul lexicon as "What's Going On," "Mercy Mercy Me," and "Inner City Blues." It's that impactful. The song's message is similarly universal, if frustratingly persistent. What must change specifically? How we run the world, how we treat others, racial equality, her relationship, how we treat our environment, all of it. Anohni's vocal here is one of her most subtle and powerful ever, gaining power through purity, just like Marvin did back in the day. The comparison is weighty, but appropriate. One of the most distinctive voices of the last few decades. The rest of the album is similarly powerful, too.

Moment of Conversion: Beyond the obvious vocal master class, the soulful guitar, the restrained drums guide the song

006 GRIAN CHATTEN | "Salt Throwers Off a Truck"

Blurb: "Salt Throwers Off a Truck," an awkward title to be sure, is a fine example of what makes Grian Chatten's (singer of Fontaines D.C.) new solo album, Chaos For the Fly, one of the year's most surprising records. Chatten's flat, nasal voice works perfectly inside the downcast moods he creates. On this song, a bitter winter day in New York City is brought to poetic life...

When February came, it came straight for New York

Any colder, they said we'll be skating to work

Salt throwers were taming the sidewalks with haste

'Til the whole of the city was seasoned to taste

The entire album has this same snowy day feel throughout, but the key is that Chatten is always aware of the need for a memorable vocal hook or turn of phrase. This is the insular world of a poet set to music. A slow addiction that will only get more and more unshakeable as the temperature drops and dark pubs fill with people looking for refuge.

Moment of Conversion: The last lyrics are easy to overlook, but they kill me every time: Old was a man who attended his patch / Offending next door with the lock on the latch / He felt too deeply, too often, too long / And now he’ll feel nothing forever

005 YOUTH LAGOON | "Prizefighter"

Blurb: I've fallen in love with this song and I don't care who knows it. Shortly after a shaky takeoff, a heavenly chorus appears like sunshine above high clouds and I could bask in it all day. Youth Lagoon is Trevor Powers, an introverted melodocist with a fragile heart. His songs are barely there until they are, but somehow they slip into your subconscious mind; the part of your brain that stores pleasing sounds for later.

Moment of Conversion: My favorite chorus of the year from an unexpected source.

004 MANDY, INDIANA | "Pinking Shears"

Blurb: All hail the pinking shears, the most misunderstood cutting tool in the scrapbooking industry! They're not just for fabric anymore people. Actually, and unfortunately for you Hobby Lobbyists, the song is about how this filthy, disgusting world can grind you down to a bloody nub if you're not careful. Kinda how I feel if I spend more than 20-minutes in a Hobby Lobby, ironically. On the surface, though, "Pinking Shears" plays as über cool industrial post-rock even if you opt out of translating the French lyrics. Once you do, however, there's no turning back. It's a gloomy worldview. Valentine Caulfield's speak-sung vocals perfectly complement the song's belching, wheezing backdrop to thrilling effect. It's a song I've never been able to shake.

Moment of Conversion: Industrial backdrop gets the full Tom Waits' Bone Machine treatment.

003 THE TUBS | "Sniveller"

Blurb: Pickled Priest accepts no snivelling in exchange for a spot near the top of our Songs of the Year list. Nor do you need to execute a deep-bow in our general direction as you exit our chambers. None of that will work, instead all you need to do is deliver a song nobody else can and you'll have our loyal affection forever. "Sniveller" is just such a song, a killer duet between band leader Owen "O" Williams and his one-time band mate in Joanna Gruesome, Lan McArdle, and their pairing delivers an age-old tale about how desperate love can be sometimes turn the other into a pathetic bootlicker and/or asslicker in the process. How unbecoming!

Moment of Conversion: First known use of the phrase "snivelling sycophant" in modern popular song since the mid-1600s.

002 SCREAMING FEMALES | "Beyond the Void"

Blurb: Shortly before I sat down to write about this amazing song, I found out the Screaming Females have decided to disband after 18 years together. It's understandable, of course, but undeniably lamentable to see one of the great alt-rock bands of the 21st century bag it, especially on the heels of a great new album, Desire Pathway, which landed in the #8 spot on our Top 50 Albums list this year. I'm at a loss for words. I imagine band leader and hurricane guitarist, singer, and songwriter Marissa Paternoster will go on to do other things, likely a full-time solo career if we're lucky, but her bandmates, powerhouse drummer Jarrett Dougherty, and bassist "King" Mike Abbate will be sorely missed. They formed one of the great modern-day power trios and they lived their music, running the whole show themselves and accumulating quite an impressive body of work along the way that stands alongside any other rock band of their era. Choose any number of songs from their new album and you'll be fine. For the full power-trio effect, "Brass Bed" is an absolute dynamo. Four out of five Screamales fans would likely go in this direction and they wouldn't be wrong. It's got full-throttle Marissa Paternoster vox and guitars all over it. But all year, I've been drawn to "Beyond the Void" as well. It's something new and fresh from the band and it proves they were still at the top of their creative game right up til the end. Whenever it comes on, I get all excited to hear it all over again.

Moment of Conversion: The song begins like it's emerging triumphant from a foggy battlefield at dawn.

001 RATBOYS | "Morning Zoo"

Blurb: Ever have that feeling that somehow, someway, a song was written directly for you and how you feel at this very moment? I'm pretty sure it happens to a lot of people. Well, it happened to me this year with "Morning Zoo" by Ratboys. I know what you're saying, that's not good for you buddy. Indeed, the lyrics hint at someone who is frustrated with their existence and is even wondering when it's all going to be over. Not your usual pop song fodder. Especially when that song has an absolute earworm of a melody and rollicking, jangling guitars that seem to contradict the message conveyed in the lyrics. It simultaneously makes me happy and sad at the same time, to quote Kacey Musgraves. But if I'm going to indulge my melancholy, I'm convinced this is the absolute safest, and most enjoyable way to do it.

Moment of Conversion: But how long does it take / To find the peace that I wanted? / How long must I wait to decide that it's over?


OK, we've done our Favorite 50 Albums and our 104 Favorite Songs. Next up, our Favorite Album Art of 2023, one of our favorite posts of the year. See you in about a week!


The Priest


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