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2023 YEAR IN REVIEW: Pickled Priest's 50 Favorite Records of the Year

Well, we did it! We listened to every record released in 2023 and have now boiled them down to our 50 favorites. It wasn't easy. We listened to each record a minimum of ten times, always in the perfect frame of mind and proper circumstances to ensure the purest understanding of the artist's intent, allowing even the most subtle creative nuances to penetrate through the everyday distractions this life affords. We had to quit our day jobs, score Adderal on the black market, and forego our social and family lives, but how else to ensure a thoroughly comprehensive and reliable list of great albums on which every human being could agree?


Here, based on but a portion of the proceeds, is what gave Pickled Priest a reason for living for yet another year. Our list and nobody else's.


Reader's Note: Some entries below have been adapted from prior posts. Why would I write the same things again anyway?



50

BIG FREEDIA

Central City

(Queen Diva)

Blurb

I need to see a whole lotta ass...everywhere!


Recommendation: If you want to live large, spend as much time as you can with the Bounce Queen of New Orleans, Big Freedia. She/he (responds to both) rolls with the volume at 11 pumped through a giant set of speakers, the kind you can walk inside of without ducking when they need repair. Central City wasn't just a bounce record, it was a bounce house, inflated for maximum elevation by the OB, Original Bouncer, who birthed the genre back in the late-80s. No holding back here; the record brings it at all times and expects the same from you. I admit that it took my vestibular system a few listens to orient itself to her world, but I eventually found that its thumping, in-your-face thrust made almost everything I did afterward seem tame and lifeless by comparison. It made me want to up my living game in almost every respect. So if you've got an ass, get more bounce to the ounce with Big Freedia.


Priest Picks

"Life Lessons"

"Throw It Back"

"Booty Like a Drummer"


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49

PARAMORE

This Is Why

(Atlantic)

Blurb

Over the years I've become a big fan of Hayley Williams' unique brand of art-pop songwriting, albeit more for her solo work than her stuff with main squeeze, Paramore. In other words, we're reverse engineering instead of following the manual. What changed things was the band's new album, This Is Why. It's what a pop-rock album should be; innovative, catchy, well-written and dynamically performed. The last requirement is child's play for Hayley. She's a star from all angles, the epicenter of Paramore's earthquake. A force of nature.


Priest Picks

"This is Why"

"The News"

"Liar"


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48

MOTORBIKE

Motorbike

(Feel It Records)

Blurb

This Cincinnati band, comprising a few local outcasts and one lost Welshman, claims they've perfected the "perfect ratio of beer drinking to hell raising," but that frat boy manifesto cheapens their real accomplishment, which is the fact few records in 2023 brought more convincing punk rock 'n' roll to the table than Motorbike's self-titled debut. And, of course, it got almost no notice, such is the plight of rock 'n' roll bands in the comically mislabeled "Roaring 20s." While the band makes an unholy racket with pummeling guitars, pounding drums, and howling vocals, they're already showing signs of additional depth ("Spring Grove," "The Language") that hints at future growth possibilities. Sometimes that can be a bad thing, but with Motorbike, I have a feeling we ain't seen nothin' yet.


Priest Picks

"True Method"

"Spring Grove"

"Throttle"


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47 (tie)

TRAPPER SCHOEPP

Siren Songs

(Grand Phony)

HA HA TONKA

Blood Red Moon

(Self-Released)

Blurb

This tie is brought to you by the Midwest, where bands toil in obscurity until they get "discovered" by some sharp-eared talent scout from a late night talk show (ask Minnesota's Gear Daddies about their Letterman experience). I've been following Trapper Schoepp ever since I saw him perform a raucous opening set for Ha Ha Tonka years ago at Chicago's Empty Bottle (after which Trapper personally sold me a vinyl copy of everything he'd released to that point for $20.00, a great deal) and I'm pleased to report that the Minnesota-born, Milwaukee-based singer/songwriter keeps getting better and better, deserving of far greater acclaim than he's received to date, although more people are noticing. His new record is filled with top-tier songwriting with no subject seemingly out of his purview. There's one about tormented Catholics, a soldier with PTSD, going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, a seaman returning home, and one about a businessman/drag queen, all of which alerted me to the presence of a damn fine and versatile songwriter. No wonder none other than Bob Dylan gave this guy a co-writing credit on one of his songs ("On Wisconsin" to be specific, which was unfinished until Schoepp sent him his version, fully completed). And speaking of underrated musicians, in this case a band, the headliner from that same night in Chicago, Ha Ha Tonka, self-released their new album, Blood Red Moon, this year and it reaffirms what we've known for a long time. They are a diamond in the rough, a super-tight heartland rock band with a great singer and a mounting pile of fantastic songs that are way, way better than they need to be. There's something deeply affecting about the way this band looks at, and validates, normal lives that has made them an important part of my existence in the last several years. From experience, I can tell you that once Ha Ha Tonka's songs become a part of your life, there's no letting them go.


Priest Picks (Trapper Schoepp)

"Good Graces"

"Diocese"

"In Returning"


Priest Picks (Ha Ha Tonka)

"Try Your Life on for Size"

"Tired & Stuck"

"Just Like That" / "Just Like That Again"


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46

THE PRETENDERS

Relentless

(Parlophone/Rhino)

Blurb

As long as Chrissie Hynde is putting out records, I'll continue putting them in my Top 50 list. Why? Because she's still better at this than most everybody else. I don't care how old she is (72), this is what a great band can do if they live and breathe rock 'n' roll. Chrissie still sounds amazing, she still writes killer songs with depth, and she knows how to stack a live band to deliver the goods. Enter sidekick James Walbourne, her latest songwriting partner and guitarist, who more than holds down the legacy of James Honeyman-Scott, Robbie MacIntosh, Adam Seymour, and even Johnny Marr. His guitar is a revelation throughout, witness the solo on "Merry Widow" alone for proof. Relentless showcases a band not afraid to try new things, in fact this record smoulders a bit more than her last LP, Hate for Sale (#39 on our 2020 Top 50), and loses none of its natural cool in the process. You can look around all your want for inspired rock 'n' roll, but when it comes down to it, isn't it a better idea to just listen to a Pretenders song?


Priest Picks

"A Love"

"Merry Widow"

"Vainglorious"


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45

NATALIE MERCHANT

Keep Your Courage

(Nonesuch)

Blurb

One of my favorite voices ever so I'm always pleased when a new Natalie Merchant record arrives, especially when it's all new material from her own pen (unless she borrowed someone else's I guess). I equate my original discovery of Natalie (10,000 Maniacs' In My Tribe, to be specific) to a formative time in my listening life where my mind was rapidly being opened up to many different types of songwriters. Yes, she may be a little precious or pretentious for some, but I like her that way, my erudite, deep-thinking, coffee-drinking companion.


Priest Picks

"Sister Tilly"

"Guardian Angel"

"Come On, Aphrodite"


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44

THE WEDDING PRESENT

24 Songs

(HHBTM)

Blurb

In 2022, David Gedge, leader of the long-running British indie-pop band the Wedding Present, decided to release a double-A-sided single every month for a year. A challenging and fun idea, but not a new one. He'd done the same thing in 1992 (eventually compiled on the CDs Hit Parade 1 and 2). Well, the current version resulted in twelve of the songs hitting the British charts triggering a collector's feeding frenzy over the elusive vinyl singles. Thankfully, another double-LP compilation, 24 Songs, has all the singles in one spot (re-sequenced by Gedge) and the overall quality is remarkably consistent. Gedge's brand of jangly indie-pop sounds crisp and fresh to these ears and there's not a single clunker among the two-dozen tracks (a few bonus tracks round out the collection as well). Since the singles were mostly a European pursuit, I'm counting 24 Songs as a 2023 album for list purposes since we didn't get a fair chance to snag our share of the singles in the US. My blog, my rules.


Priest Picks

"We Should Be Together"

"Monochrome"

"I Am Not Going to Fall in Love With You"


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43

BILLY WOODS AND KENNY SEGAL

Maps

(Backwoodz Studioz)

Blurb

This acclaimed duo beat out all other rap albums this year because the beats are mad inventive and considered just as important as the lyrics, with both elements simply more entertaining than any other album I've heard this year, with Black Thought's collab with the El Michels Affair not far behind (I contemplated making another tie here, but felt like I was pushing it). I could spend an hour highlighting my favorite individual lyrics, some funny, some dead serious, but I'll leave you with this one sample from "Soft Landing," a perfect example of what separates this amazing work from all others.


Killin' is one thing, what sticks is how casually


Priest Picks

"The Layover"

"FaceTime"

"Rapper Weed"


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42 (tie)

WIMPS

City Lights

(Youth Riot)

THE BLIPS

Again

(Cornelius Chapel)

THE WHIFFS

Scratch 'N' Sniff

(Dig!)

Blurb

If you must know, this wasn't a real tie, let alone a three-way deadlock. We actually don't formally vote at Pickled Priest, nor do we engage our trusted and beloved accounting firm (P. Hayden CPA, Ltd.) to verify our results; we occasionally just make up ties in order to slip a few like-minded albums into one spot, thereby skirting the rules and expanding our list to more than 50 records in the process. So here we pack Wimps, The Blips, and The Whiffs into one cramped studio apartment. Their names share an overlooked, disregarded, and unkempt quality anyway, so I know they won't even notice most likely. The Wimps, from Seattle, are three 40-year-olds still playing instantly memorable DIY rock/punk in their basements, but their songs are full of catchy riffs and smart lyrics, most of which are about loneliness, being a mom, not leaving the house, or being three small blips in a big metropolitan city. Which brings us to the Blips, from Birmingham, Alabama, now two-time Pickled Priest Top 50 list-makers (#47 on our 2021 list)! Quite an accomplishment for what was initially a hasty assemblage of notable scene veterans peddling low-budget garage riffery, super sticky hooks, and snarling vox to great affect. More ramshackle than Wimps, and with far more rock 'n' roll swagger, they continue to get better and better, writing killer songs and reeking of promise. Speaking of reeking, last but not least we have Kansas City's the Whiffs, a power-pop band that sounds like it was imported from the late-70s Stiff Records roster, which could be the best thing I could hear said about a band in this forever niche genre. Could this be the start of another International Pop Overthrow? With songs as catchy as those on their new record, Scratch 'N' Sniff (which comes complete with an actual scratch 'n' sniff sticker—banana flavored!), there's a remote possibility. Three big victories for the little guys! Yay!

Priest Picks (Wimps)

"Fits"

"Lonely"

"Never Leave the House"


Priest Picks (Blips)

"She Still Shouts"

"Laika"

"Glass People"


Priest Picks (Whiffs)

"Shot Thru"

"Wanted"

"Tired of Romance"


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41

JEN CLOHER

I Am The River, The River Is Me

(Marathon Artists/Milk!)

Blurb

Jen Cloher, a 49-year-old Australian singer/songwriter of Māori descent (New Zealand Polynesian), has been releasing music for 20+ years now, none of which I listened to prior to 2023. You're welcome, Jen! As luck would have it, I locked into her orbit a couple months ago and have really revolved around her new record, I Am the River, the River is Me ever since. She's a clever lyricist and able vocalist with a knack for writing catchy melodies. Interestingly, this is the first time she's incorporated the Māori language into her lyrics and this is what takes what could've been a really solid singer/songwriter affair and turns it into something wholly original. If you can get to a oceanside hammock any time soon, bring this record. If not, that's fine, you don't need to live inside the Polynesian Triangle to enjoy this record, but it will certainly conjure that feeling if you let it.


Priest Picks

"Mana Takatāpui"

"Harakeke"

"My Witch"


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40

KENDRA MORRIS

I Am What I'm Waiting For

(Karma Chief)

Blurb

There's nothing I don't like about Kendra Morris's new album, I Am What I'm Waiting For: The empowering title for starters, the "clock suit" album art is also marvelously retro in a Nancy Sinatra kind of way, complete with an accompanying photo book insert with additional snapshots of Kendra in said suit all over town. They pressed it on pleasing "creamsicle" vinyl and popped for a gatefold cover design, too. I also love how the lyric book is written as if part of a 7th grade cursive assignment circa 1974. Oh, and the songs, too! The songs are the best part. I love that Kendra is a bit of an oddball, seemingly inspired by a little of everything within earshot. The record has some obvious 60's overtones until she adds some weird twist that makes you question exactly what you're hearing and when it was really made. The fun part is that this is a product of 2023, so bask in the totality of her accomplishment.


Priest Picks

"When I Go to Space"

"Dominoes"

"What Are You Waiting For"


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39

SHAME

Food for Worms

(Dead Oceans)

Blurb

The third album is often a time for a successful band to push the creative envelope a little bit, especially if it comes on the heels of two great albums in a row. In some circles, this is called spending creative capital. In others, it's called fucking with a proven formula. Food for Worms does both here, buoyed by the success of the band's riotous 2018 LP, Songs of Praise, and its ambitious follow up, 2021's Drunk Tank Pink, two critically acclaimed darlings in a row. We're now at the point where everybody splits on where they think the band should go next—same old, same old, or a new direction. The entire debate, refreshingly, is of little interest to the band. In the end, they've done a little of both. Food for Worms, as a result, is flawed in the best way (better to try and fail...) but also contains several of the best Shame songs to date. I consider the album to be mostly brilliant and I can see it being more revered as history tends to put things in the proper perspective eventually.


Priest Picks

"Six-Pack"

"Adderall"

"Orchid"


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38

TONY ALLEN & ADRIAN YOUNGE

JID 018

(Jazz is Dead)

Blurb

The late great Tony Allen recorded a session with Adrian Younge as part of Younge's Jazz Is Dead project (now up to 20 volumes) and it just got released this year even though Allen died a couple years ago—and it's a belated gift for all of us. Anything the guy touched seemed to be elevated by his presence and this offering is no different. He was an artistically restless phenom till the bitter end and his work here is predictably inspired. The man was a genius behind the kit and you don't have to be a drum head to realize that. Let's hope this isn't the last of the posthumous output.


Priest Picks

"Ebun"

"Don't Believe the Dancers"

"No End"


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37

ROBERT FORSTER

The Candle and the Flame

(Tapete)

Blurb

Go Betweens co-founder Robert Forster released one of those albums this year that really nestles into your heart. A record so personal it almost feels like an invasion of privacy to hear it. Several songs were written about his wife, who is battling cancer at this very moment, and they are glorious tributes to her battle toughness and inner beauty. They tell the story of a couple who have been through wonderful times and hard times, clinging to each other in both situations. As he wonders if life is worth living without her, he also finds reasons to live in the smallest discoveries (an old ticket stub, a discarded note). The album a must hear for all of us; if you don't identify with it now, maybe you will later. So keep it around. Works this beautiful and crushing— simultaneously—don't come around often enough. And let's hope this dynamic duo's future is a long one.


Priest Picks

"She's a Fighter"

"Tender Years"

"There's a Reason to Live"


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36

RATBOYS

The Window

(Top Shelf)

Blurb

This is it. This is how you can make something fresh with familiar ingredients. It helps to have a great singer and songwriter like Julia Steiner who makes it all sound as easy as rolling over in the morning and killing your bad thoughts with a butcher knife. That kind of approach to life, as it turns out, is just what I needed this year and this Chicago band, with the help of fabulous producer Chris Walla (Death Cab), has found a richer sound without sacrificing what made them a buzz band to begin with. The songwriting is top-notch, worthy of the extra production effort, and there's also one of the best guitar solos of the year in the epic 8 1/2 minute "Black Earth, WI." My apologies to Wednesday, but the Ratboys claimed your spot on the list this year.


Priest Picks

"Morning Zoo"

"The Window"

"Black Earth, WI"


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35

BLACK MARKET BRASS

Hox

(Colemine)

Blurb

The soundtrack to an African sci-fi thriller? If it isn't, it should be, and I wouldn't put it past one of the greatest instrumental outfits on this planet or any other, Minneapolis's own Black Market Brass. Is there anything these guys can't do? Let's make this movie right now. I beg of you.


Priest Picks

"S.C.C. (Surge Cell Continuum) / Hox D"

"The Pit"

"Hox B"


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34

MANDY, INDIANA

I've Seen a Way

(Fire Talk)

Blurb

No wonder they originally named the band Gary, Indiana, after the smelly, factory-packed armpit of the American midwest, a place I've never been without immediately thinking, "How soon can I get out?" So it's not entirely shocking that the band's sound approximates what might result if you dropped off some French and British art students at a WWII-era industrial plant in Berlin to record an album. Giant machines are randomly plugged in, things are clanged together and pounded upon, rusted contraptions spring to life, and just about everything else is either belching, wheezing, or grinding. How did we not get a Tom Waits cameo? Amazingly, it makes for some sensational noise, sometimes worthy of a horror movie ("Iron Maiden"), but more often than not, a strange beauty emerges from the cacophony. Granted, you will need to expand your definition of beauty a bit, but still, it's there somewhere. At the helm is perfectly-named lead singer Valentine Caulfield, who deftly leads the band through the abrasive maelstrom with the disinterested precision of a French dominatrix. You don't want to know what this sounds like?


Priest Picks

"Pinking Shears"

"Injury Detail"

"Iron Maiden"


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33

BLONDE REDHEAD

Sit Down for Dinner

(Section1)

Blurb

The return of New York favorites Blonde Redhead this year, after ten years dormant, was another welcome surprise, but with 90's alternative rock coming back in style again, perhaps not a huge stretch really—everybody seems to be doing it. That they returned with such a fantastic record despite both the blonde and the redhead likely showing streaks of grey by now is impressive. My memory of Blonde Redhead, I'm sorry to report, had faded a little over the last decade or so. Initially a noise-rock band (I saw them open for Shellac/Fugazi once) who eventually gravitated to dream pop, I've now left them unplayed for way too long. Until now. Sit Down For Dinner (are we only getting strawberries?) is one of the headphone albums of the year, a dazzling performance featuring gorgeous pop arrangements, percolating percussion, and ethereal vocals all amounting to shimmering songs that will elevate your dream game substantially. No matter which direction they go into they still sound like no other band.


Priest Picks

"Snowman"

"Kiss Her Kiss Her"

"Not For Me"


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32

CALIFONE

Villagers

(Jealous Butcher)

Blurb

I wasn't expecting Califone to check in with one of my favorite records of the year, but Villagers arrived as one of 2023's most unexpected and pleasant surprises. Tim Rutili's intentionally fractured and meticulously reassembled folk songs are unlike anyone else's I can think of and his withering, cracking vocals perfectly complement his junk drawer creations. Everything about the band's music seems like it was found in a pile of discarded ephemera just waiting to be reinvented and repurposed. It's what he creates out of these pieces and parts that is a continued source of fascination for me.


Priest Picks

"The Habsburg Jaw"

"Villagers"

"Comedy"


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31

MARGARET GLASPY

Echo the Diamond

(ATO)

Blurb

New York-via-California rocker Margaret Glaspy likely won't cross over any time soon—her songs are just a little too off-kilter for mainstream acceptance, relying on heavy guitar licks, odd time signatures, and abstract lyrics like "Can those marigold ears hear me?" but ignore her at your peril. She's a wailing, brawling singer and guitarist, not some wallflower singing to herself in her upstairs bedroom. She doesn't fuck around either, she records fast and furious, pares things down to only the essential elements, knows the value of a killer rhythm section, and isn't afraid to get in your face. "Don't be a dick" starts "Female Brain" and you'd better believe she means it. Echo the Diamond is her boldest work yet, showcasing many sides of a talent that can't be ignored for much longer.


Priest Picks

"Act Natural"

"Irish Goodbye"

"Female Brain"


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30

MARIA WILMAN

Dark Horse

(MW)

Blurb

Where the fuck have you been, Maria? Here's her debut record at the ripe age of 53, which proves the dream never has to die as long as you're willing to put yourself out there. It's too bad it took her so long because she's a crafty songwriter with an amazing voice. She could easily pull off the Chrissie role in a Pretenders cover band if she wanted to and as it turns out she's a bit of a pretender herself. On the cover of her new record, she wears a black mask a la Mrs. Incredible almost as if she's trying to hide her true identity from her friends and co-workers in case the music thing doesn't work out. With an album as good as Dark Horse, good luck with that. From now on, she deserves to focus on nothing but making music, her true calling. Better late than never!


Priest Picks

"Full Circle"

"Dark Horse"

"Waterscreen"


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29

YUSSEF DAYES

Black Classical Music

(Brownswood/Nonesuch)

Blurb

Yussef Dayes' Black Classical Music (which is what jazz has been called in some circles) is diverse and complex, sometimes to its own detriment. I was overwhelmed by its scope by the halfway point of its 74-minute run time and from there I just decided let it flow, hoping to absorb what I could along the way. I'm not qualified to call it a masterwork, but Dayes is a constant force behind the drum kit, leading through rhythm, band members and guests intuitively weaving in and out of his expertly laid grooves. A major talent and a record I admit to not fully grasping at this point. But I know an amazing musician when I hear one.


Priest Picks

"Raisins Under the Sun"

"Chasing the Drum"

"Black Classical Music"


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28

WITCH

Zango

(Desert Daze Sounds)

Blurb

Zambia's WITCH (an acronym for We Intend to Cause Havoc) are one of the most popular Zambian rock bands ever ("Zamrock" for short). They've been around since the 70s (with a long hiatus starting in the mid-80s) and they've seen a surge of popularity lately due to sudden interest in their early records. To capitalize, they released a new record this year. Well-intentioned, sure, but is the magic still there? Answer: a resounding YES! As you might expect with such a long-lived group, only one of its original members remains, but it's the crucial one, thankfully. Bandleader Jagari Chanda masterfully guides a group of new members all intent on carrying the band's torch well into the 21st century throughout Zango (to which I would've added an exclamation point). Suffice it to say, no matter who is in the band now, the album absolutely smokes.


Priest Picks

"Waile"

"Unimvwesha Shuga"

"Avalanche of Love"


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27

YOUTH LAGOON

Heaven is a Junkyard

(Fat Possum)

Blurb

I fell in love with a song ("Prizefighter") and that led me to the album, Heaven is a Junkyard, which had me equally engrossed at first pass. Youth Lagoon is Trevor Powers, an introverted melodocist with a fragile heart, not unlike the great Elliott Smith, which is as high a compliment as we can give. His songs seem barely there, ready to crumble almost, until they are somehow embedded in your subconscious mind, in the part of your brain that stores pleasing sounds for later retrieval when you need them the most.


Priest Picks

"Prizefighter"

"Trapeze Artist"

"Rabbit"


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26

SUSANNE SUNDFØR

Blómi

(Bella Union)

Blurb

The last record we allowed into the room for year-end consideration was Susanne Sundfør's Blómi, which considering the picture on the album cover, I was very pleased to hear translates as "to bloom" in Norway, where Sundfør resides. The fact I didn't stop such a latecomer from moving up in the rankings until spot #26 should tell you something about the immediate impact the record had on me. On first listen, I knew I was onto something intriguing and challenging. And I like to be challenged and intrigued. The album is built to be listened to as a whole mainly because it has a distinct and powerful collective vision. You're ushered in and out by spoken-word tracks intended to set the thematic tone, but in between Susanne is your guide. She takes you to soaring heights with her songs, which seem best heard echoing off the walls of a cathedral, so grand is the presentation. (Hopefully, you have cathedral access.) There are some absolutely breathtaking moments on Blómi, including a mid-album four-song run that is almost a religious experience. Her songs are accented by horns, pianos, choirs, strings, you name it. But the songs come first and foremost, with Sundfør's stunning voice there to carry you away into the heavens.


Priest Picks

"Leikara Ijóð"

"Alyosha"

"Fare Thee Well"


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25

CIVIC

Taken By Force

(ATO)

Blurb

It's no surprise to hear a snarling Australian rock band like Civic has been influenced by other edgy Australian rock bands like Radio Birdman. It would be bizarre if they hadn't been. Civic's follow up to 2021's unrelenting Future Forecast (our #21 album of that year) is Taken By Force and it rides the same sonic wave (as featured on the cover?) discovered by Birdman back when they released their cult classic, Radios Appear, in 1977. It should come as no surprise then that this record was produced by Radio Birdman singer Rob Younger. I love it when a plan comes together! Taken By Force immediately sounds like an Aussie punk classic worthy of standing side-by-side with the band's clear inspirations.


Priest Picks

"Taken By Force"

"Trick of the Light"

"Time Girl"


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24

SLOWDIVE

Everything is Alive

(Dead Oceans)

Blurb

File under: Things I didn't know I needed. Maybe I was too wrapped up in my alternative rock, blues, and soul records to indulge Slowdive back in their so-called prime, but the entirety of their new record, Everything is Alive, some thirty years after forming, is fantastic. It's something to put on and immerse yourself in completely, deprivation-tank style, like the best shoegaze demands. It's an enthralling listen.


Priest Picks

"Andalucia Plays"

"Kisses"

"Shanty"


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23

PETER ONE

Come Back to Me

(Verve Forecast)

Blurb

Age is a construct, part five. Sixty-seven-year-old Peter One's new album, Come Back to Me, ranks among my favorite discoveries of 2023. What a charming, unassuming joy this record is! It might take a bit for it to settle into the cracks of your life, but I think you'll eventually feel the simple power of his music before long like I did. You can feel a palpable sense of joy, maybe relief, as these songs emerge. Like most people, I knew nothing of him prior to this year. Likely because he's been working in a Nashville nursing home for the last 30 years without once mentioning his past life as a popular musician in his home on the Ivory Coast. To oversimplify, he left his birthplace due to political turmoil and violence and eventually settled down in Nashville, where he found work to survive. Now his music finally gets to be heard. His songs combine an African feel with strains of American music (country, blues) weaved together to create a very original hybrid, only accentuated by his high, brittle, soothing voice. His story is amazing, his music cuts right to your core.


Priest Picks

"On My Own"

"Cherie Vico"

"Birds Go Die Out of Sight (Don't Go Home)"


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22

UPPER WILDS

Jupiter

(Thrill Jockey)

Blurb

The guys in Brooklyn's Upper Wilds, much like the Pickled Priest, are obsessed with space. How are we not talking more about the revelatory pictures being trasmitted from the Webb telescope, I ask?! Mind-blowing stuff that has included amazing new images of Jupiter that give us a deeper understanding of the planet we've never had before! I guess Taylor Swift would have to perform a gig on the planet for us to pay it any mind at all. Totally unacceptable, people. Well, Upper Wilds, at least, has been working its way through the solar system for three albums now (Mars, Venus, and now Jupiter) and they've been battering through the outer edges of their sound while on the journey. This time, awed by the enormity of Jupiter and our relative size in comparison (11x the diameter of Earth!), they're telling stories of giants who have walked our planet and relationships that have lasted seemingly forever, all made insignificant by the enormity of time and space. A pretty high concept, but delivered in what has to be the best way possible—in a hailstorm of Hüsker Dü-esque guitar riffs and the pinched wail of Dan Friel (ex-Parts & Labor). It's a remarkable sensation to be enveloped by a wall of sound as you hurtle through space. And, on top of that, they give us a positively charged Hüsker Dü cover, "Books About UFOs" (from New Day Rising), that positively fell into their lap out of the sky. That's why it always pays to keep your eyes on the sky.


Priest Picks

"10' 9" "

"Short Centuries"

"Books About UFOs"


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21

PARANNOUL

After the Magic

(Poclanos/Top Shelf)

Blurb

K-Pop? Not for me. So what about K-Shoegaze? Again, hard pass...I think. Parannoul is a good example of why one should never rule anything out on description alone before listening to it yourself. As it turns out, I'm highly susceptible to the majestic walls of sound this still anonymous artist has on offer. Put the phone down, turn off the TV, and 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. After the Magic, an ironic title to be sure, is actually magic in real time, built layer-by-layer with the patience and attention to detail of a true sound artist. Sonic euphoria awaits you.


Priest Picks

"Arrival"

"We Shine at Night"

"Parade"


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20

YOUNG FATHERS

Heavy Heavy

(Ninja Tune)

Blurb

Scotland's Young Fathers intriguingly titled their new record, Heavy Heavy, and we like heavy around here. Our expectations were heavily debated. Is this just heavy? Or is it really heavy heavy? Actually, fucking jubilant is what it is, the whole lot of it. The secret to Young Fathers' music is the bones of each song provide needed structure. Then Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and the disappointingly-named Graham Hastings kick into gear, layering sonic elements on and around those bones to create a kinetic energy that positively bursts from the tracks. The last time I experienced the same electrical phenomenon is when TV on the Radio emerged out of Brooklyn with their Young Liars EP in 2003. There's a new source of energy being created here, something inherently spiritual and soul cleansing. It's hard not to get caught up in all the commotion.


Priest Picks

"Rice"

"I Saw"

"Tell Somebody"


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19

THIS IS THE KIT

Careful of Your Keepers

(Rough Trade)

Blurb

FYI: We're calling this alt-folk now. That's the genre where people have been filing Kate Stables' music with her band This Is The Kit and it's as fair and futile as any label, reasonably accurate but limiting simultaneously. Kate isn't a traditional linear storyteller; she's a minimalist and miniaturist, opting for lilting melodies and poetic lyrics to get her magnificent songs across. Add Kate to ther 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.


Priest Picks

"More Change"

"Inside Outside"

"Goodbye Bite"


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18

CORINNE BAILEY RAE

Black Rainbows

(Thirty Tigers)

Blurb

"Put Your Records On" is one of my favorite songs and has been since the first time I heard it back in 2006— cool Sunday afternoon R&B. But if you think Corinne was going to lock into that easy-listening groove forever, her new album indicates you have wildly underestimated her. Black Rainbows is a game-changer for Bailey Rae, the kind of record that draws a line between the old and new versions of an artist. It's also one of the year's most impressive creative pivots. She's not just putting her records on this time, she's putting all of her records on at once. There's punk, soul, gospel, rock, funk, jazz, and yes, even some smooth pop in these songs. Lyrically, it's a manifesto, unafraid to take on any subject bluntly. True, the "statement" record can be a risk and not everyone can pull it off. Before this year, I wouldn't have bet on Bailey Rae either, but after the spectacular Black Rainbows I will never bet against her from here on out.


Priest Picks

"Erasure"

"New York Transit Queen"

"He Will Follow You With His Eyes"


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17

CAROLINE POLACHEK

Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

(Perpetual Novice)

Blurb

Contrary to popular belief, Pickled Priest loves pop music, we just don't hear a lot of it that we love, most of it seems pandering and over-produced to appeal to the big Grammy machine. So, when an artist comes along that has clever songs and an innovative way of presenting them, we're all in. Desire, I Want to Turn Into You has no less than six killer singles on it at a minimum and none of them sound even remotely similar. We call them as we hear them and sweet Caroline has a gift for keeping our attention locked in. So good, so good.


Priest Picks

"Sunset"

"I Believe"

"Billions"


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16

JESSIE WARE

That! Feels Good!

(Interscope)

Blurb

It took me a while to get just the right inflection, but I think I've finally found the best way to say this double-exclamation song title. What makes me feel good? That! That makes me feel good! How does that feel? "Feels good!" The record lives up to its title and is absolutely loaded with contemporary disco informed but not suffocated by the past, all performed at the highest level (no, not high on cocaine, but now that you mention it...) The album sounds like it could soundtrack a remake of the cult disco film Thank God It's Friday with Jessie in place of Donna Summer in the starring role. I recommend checking your inhibitions and reservations in the coat room and giving yourself up to the irresistible vibes laid down here. You may think you don't need this album, but let me assure you that you do, my friend, you do. It's not a guilty pleasure in any way, just a delirious, joyful dance record for every man, woman, and child to enjoy and, as Jessie so convincingly tells us all, "Pleasure is a right!"


Priest Picks

"That! Feels Good!"

"Pearls"

"Shake the Bottle"


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15

THE LOVING PAUPERS

Ladders

(Easy Star)

Blurb

When you think reggae, Washington D.C. is not normally what comes to mind. But remember, Bob Marley lived nearby in Delaware for a while prior to gaining his legendary status, so give the city a chance. In fact, while the Loving Paupers, named after a Gregory Isaacs song, draw from classic reggae riddims, they're more a soul reggae band at their core than anything else, with a strong pop undercurrent coursing through their songs as well. The band's music would've fit perfectly in the party scene of Steve McQueen's fabulous Small Axe movie, Lovers Rock from 2020. It's got a similar head-bobbing lilt to its grooves that gets you dancing, but with a more relaxed, economical, full-body sway. It's an all day party, people, so conserve your energy! More astoundingly, the vocals are handled by a force named Kelly Di Filippo, not in any way who you'd expect to be behind the mic of a reggae-influenced band. Perhaps she strolled into the wrong studio at some point, but what a gift her voice is—a natural soul singer and rhythm rider, just perfect for the laid-back grooves this band lays down. Personal experience tells me that this album drifting through your home on a warm summer day is positively uplifting. I've gotta tell ya, my main motivation this year, as always I guess, was to find music to get lost in and this fit the bill perfectly. The Loving Paupers have managed the near impossible with Ladders, and made a record that takes a classic sound and makes it all their own, succeeding wildly in the process.


Priest Picks

"Mary"

"Big Boys"

"I'm Up Here"


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14

DURAND JONES

Wait Til I Get Over

(Dead Oceans)

Blurb

I'm a fan of Durand Jones' rich soulful voice because he can sing just about anything well, but for some reason his recorded work hasn't consistently captured what I sensed was there for the taking. In earlier singles, he brought a much tougher vocal sound, almost Wilson Pickett-esque at times, but he then took a turn into smooth soul, light funk, and occasionally drifted into an early Motown vibe. All fine and good, but although there were flashes of brilliance, it wasn't quite my bag. His new solo LP, Wait Til I Get Over, changed everything for me. It's is a highly personal passion project, like he had something to say and figured he needed to give the Indications, his longtime band, the record off in order to execute it. All indications are that he made the right move (you think I can't shoot a layup?). If any record this year mandates getting the vinyl version, it's this one. You'll want to enjoy every rough edge, every masterful vocal performance, every thick bassline. This is the Durand Jones I've been waiting for.


Priest Picks

"Lord Have Mercy"

"That Feeling"

"Wait Til I Get Over"


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13

BOMBINO

Sahel

(Partisan)

Blurb

One of our favorite guitarists on the planet is the absolutely gigantic-handed Nigerian known as Bombino (aka Omara Moctar) and he's back with another astonishing set of desert blues and rock songs on his new album, Sahel. There's a risk that his albums could start blending into one large whole for some, but I'm convinced Sahel is among his finest records, if not his very best. He brings the requisite riffs like the master he is, but this time his grooves positively swing at times. Paired with some revelatory slower numbers, they stand out all the more. He's always been a genius with his axe, but this is the sound of him evolving and miraculously getting better at his craft. You've really gotta hear this to believe it.


Priest Picks

"Darfuq"

"Tazidert"

"Si Chilan"


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12

ANOHNI AND THE JOHNSONS

My Back Was a Bridge For You to Cross

(Secretly Canadian)

Blurb

This is powerful stuff. Not that I'm surprised one of the most unique artists of the last quarter-century has returned with another milestone record to go along with several others, particularly 2005's I Am A Bird Now, but even by her standards this one is special. Known for taking on tough issues (climate change, homophobia, trans rights, etc) and lending them her singular voice, this time she does so in the form of a blue-eyed soul record, albeit a non-traditional one. The results are nothing short of stunning—a modern day soul masterpiece that is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.


Priest Picks

"It Must Change"

"Sliver of Ice"

"Scapegoat"


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11

FATOUMATA DIAWARA

London Ko

(Wagram)

Blurb

For those who follow African music no introduction is necessary to Malian singer/songwriter Fatoumata Diawara, whose songs are as rich and vibrant as the bright colors that appear on the cover of her spectacular record, London Ko. Fatoumata notably worked with several marquee guest-stars (most notably Damon Albarn and Angie Stone) on the record, but the star of the show is always the radiant Diawara, who seems incapable of writing an average song. She's something of a quadruple threat it turns out (songwriting, singing, guitar playing, hair styling) and there isn't a moment on the record that is less than captivating. An explosion of color that is global in its reach.


Priest Picks

"Yada"

"Nsera"

"Mossayua"


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10

ALBERT HAMMOND JR.

Melodies on Hiatus

(Red Bull)

Blurb

Melodies on Hiatus is an amusing but deceptive album title because there are more melodies per square inch on Hammond's surprisingly great solo record than there are on most other albums released this year. At 67-minutes and 19 songs, of course the record would've benefited from an edit down to 45-minutes or less. How many people have the time or inclination to absorb a levee break of this magnitude? Not many. Which is a sure-fire recipe for an overlooked record if there ever was one. But for those who did put in the time, they likely realized that recommending cuts to trim isn't an easy task, with only a couple targets immediately apparent. The rest are invariably excellent. Hammond is clearly a skilled pop songwriter with a unique voice that complements the pop-ish material he writes in his off hours from the Strokes—Julian just wouldn't sound right singing this stuff. Hammond subcontracted the lyrics to talented poet-for-hire Simon Wilcox, so maybe having less to think about in that department opened up his mind to more melodic experimentation. Whatever happened along the way worked. The record is like going to a candy store with no prescribed spending limit. Yeah, it might backfire in the end, but nobody is thinking about a stomach ache when you're in the middle of such a sugar rush.


Priest Picks

"Downtown Fred"

"818"

"100-99"


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09

LAYNG MARTINE JR.

Music Man

(Bloodshot/Kill Rock Stars)

Blurb

This is a warm story. Layng Martine Jr. is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, writing songs for artists as diverse as Elvis, the Pointer Sisters, and Trisha Yearwood among many others. His music producer son, Tucker Martine, thought it would be cool to have his dad record some of his own songs from over the years and put out an album. Tucker chose the songs, Layng sang 'em. Pretty cool idea. End of story. But not quite. I'm not sure anyone was prepared for how good this record turned out. It was no surprise the songwriting was top-notch, of course, that was never in question. What most weren't prepared for was the sound of the 80-year-old Layng's boyish voice, amazingly preserved and fresh sounding like it was coming from someone less than half his age. The entire record is a revelation, an absolute charmer of the highest order, and its mere existence in my record collection makes me so so happy.


Priest Picks

"Music Man"

"Love Comes and Goes"

"Try Me Again"


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08

SCREAMING FEMALES

Desire Pathway

(Don Giovanni)

Blurb

Do you have certain bands you'll always love and trust even if one of their albums gets a chilly critical reception from some pseudo-credible source? Screaming Females are one of those bands for me. When I saw Pitchfork drop a 6.8 score on this record I knew it would still be great and that I would love it regardless. And it is and I do. All those pretentious Condé Nast fucktoids who have sold their souls in exchange for roles as the arbiters of our haute couture culture can kiss my ass. What those of us who still appreciate great rock bands can tell you is that there aren't many band leaders left who have both a distinctive singing voice and the ability to absolutely shred on guitar. Marissa Paternoster is just such a band leader. She also writes cool songs that manage to sound like nobody else's and they're catchy as fuck, too. Nobody can tell me the Screaming Females are anything but one of the best indie rock bands of this century. Desire Pathway is more proof even if no more was needed.


Priest Picks

"Brass Bell"

"Beyond the Void"

"Ornament"


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07

DOMINIQUE FILS-AIMÉ

Our Roots Run Deep

(Ensoul)

Blurb

The second album in a row from Dominique Fils-Aimé to make our Top 50 list after 2021's superb Three Little Words came in at #30 of that year. Our Roots Run Deep is better than that record in every way as Dominique continues to evolve as a singer, arranger, and songwriter. Her prior three records examined the history of African-American music by blending various styles and influences, sometimes within the same song, and her new record builds on everything the Canadian, born of Haitian immigrants, learned during that process. The title summarizes the biggest of those lessons, Our Roots Run Deep. She discovered the complex vocal styles of her forebears to the point that this album is nothing short of a master class at vocal arrangement. They are often jaw-droppingly spectacular. The record sounds pristine with just the right musical accents added that don't intrude on the vocals, instead fleshing them out brilliantly. It would've been so easy to throw the kitchen sink at this project, but discretion is Dominique's ace in the hole.


Priest Picks

"To Walk A Way"

"My Mind at Ease"

"Give Me a Reason"


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06

JAIMIE BRANCH

Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((World War))

(International Anthem)

Blurb

Tragically dead from a drug overdose at 39 last year, jazz trumpeter Jaimie Branch left us with some amazing music during her too-short career and we should celebrate it all, even though we'll never know what could've come next—that's the painful reality. By all accounts, she was one of the most promising jazz artists of her era, cut off in her prime (sound painfully familiar?). For some reason, she titled every one of her solo albums with a variation of her now horribly prophetic "fly or die" mantra and the latest, recorded in 2022 months before her death, is Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((World War)). It's a major work, with no posthumous embellishment required. If I may act the part of a snooty jazz critic (which I'm not), the record is a deep, ambitious, adventurous, thrilling, challenging, and still somehow cohesive work. A real "unpack your adjectives" affair. I don't consider myself a cultured connoisseur of technique and tone, but sometimes the talent is so obvious even amateurs like me can get it from the first listen. As 2023 progressed, and other records piled up around it, I found myself craving this record, picking it from the stack again and again. I was always rewarded for doing so.


Priest Picks

"borealis dancing"

"baba louie"

"bolinko bass"


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05

ANA CARLA MAZA

Caribe

(Persona Editorial)

Blurb

I can hear you from here. "Who the fuck is Ana Carla Maza?" Your incredulity is palpable. For some of you, perhaps she's a household name. For the rest of you, the answer is this: Ana is a Cuban cellist and singer who taps into the many different forms of music heard in her native country and delivers them all in fresh and exciting new ways. Her music combines Cuban and Latin American influences including rumbas, son, tangos, bossa novas, sambas, and descarga jams. And while that might sound too Buena Vista Social Club for some of you, let me assure you that this music, unless you've got a poker up your ass, will bring joy into your heart. This music is more than the sum of its parts. It's so lively, refreshing, and buoyant the energy it lets off is positively invigorating. Adding a cello to much of this music (one of my favorite instruments, I may add) adds an intriguing component that is wholly unexpected. Maza is a virtuoso on the instrument and although based on traditional elements, there's a distinct feeling of being in uncharted waters here. The album is wonderfully paced, much like a live show. A couple songs to get you warmed up and then a non-stop run to the finish line with Ana Carla Maza as your bandstand host. The world is a better place with this record in it. What higher compliment can I bestow?


Priest Picks

"Astor Piazzola"

"Bahia"

"Cumbia del Tiempo"


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04

JOY OLADOKUN

Proof of Life

(Amigo/Verve Forecast/Republic)

Blurb

What better endorsement for a record can there be than "It'll bring more joy to your life." This is one of those records and the fact her name is Joy is merely a delightful coincidence. But receiving the feeling of joy from a person named Joy doesn't automatically mean all her songs are joyful. There is some sadness here, too. I just appreciate when someone really puts their true self out there for the taking even if others may not be, or haven't been, open to it. That pure form of expression is what brings me joy—and hope. She's opened her heart as an example for us all and her music seems to ask us if we will follow her example. Proof of Life is a clear and simple creation on the surface, almost deceptively so, but if that's the case why do her organic, uncluttered songs cut right to my soul? Maybe it's because she sounds like she's finally finding her own way in this life, something I aspire to do myself. That's why this is joyful music for me.


Priest Picks

"Taking Things For Granted"

"You At the Table"

"Somebody Like Me"


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03

GRIAN CHATTEN

Chaos for the Fly

(Partisan)

Blurb

It might not be a good sign that lead singer Grian Chatten already released a solo album this year after three great LPs fronting Dublin's finest current rock band, Fontaines D.C., but it might also act as a needed creative outlet for the restless Irish poet, one that allows some of his more nuanced, but no less powerful, compositions to breathe and thrive in more controlled surroundings. That's what made Chaos For The Fly* so quietly compelling this year; the insular world of a poet set to music. A slow addiction that only got more and more unshakeable thanks to his talent for adding a memorable hook to even its most downcast moments. I found myself turning to this record more and more as the year progressed, like meeting a good friend in a cozy pub (fireplace blazing) for some deep and honest conversation.


Priest Picks

"Salt Throwers Off a Truck"

"All of the People"

"Last Time Every Time Forever"


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02

GINA BIRCH

I Play My Bass Loud

(Third Man)

Blurb

If you needed more proof that creativity isn't just a playground for the young of mind and spirit, here it is. Gina Birch, co-founder of the influential Raincoats (who were already doing post-punk while punk was still going strong), checked in out of nowhere in early 2023, a few years past the standard retirement age I may add, with a deliriously odd yet vital record that proves the pilot light for the fire she set back in 1977 was not only still lit, but ready to ignite at any moment. If you look at pictures of her now, she may be indistinguishable from any older lady playing bingo in a local British pub, but inside that brain of hers remains a funny, eccentric, mouthy, playful feminist who cranks her bass real fucking loud to piss off the neighbors. I'm convinced that if told I Play My Bass Loud was one of those lost albums from the late-70s, just discovered in some Kings Road storeroom, the album would now be revered as an all-time post-punk classic and groundbreaking feminist totem. But it was released in February 2023, forty-six years after the founding of her first band, which shouldn't diminish its stature one bit in a fair world. It sounds as fresh and important now as it would've back then.


Priest Picks

"I Play My Bass Loud"

"Big Mouth"

"Feminist Song"


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01

THE TUBS

Dead Meat

(Trouble in Mind)

Blurb

What I wrote earlier this year still stands, so the paragraph below is reprinted in its entirety. Subsequent paragraphs are brand new.


Ever since their debut EP, Names, from 2021, I've been a bit of a Tubs-thumper. I put "Illusion" in the #15 spot on my Favorite Songs of 2021 list and Names ranked #1 on my Favorite EPs list that same year. There was simply something about this band that resonated with me. And now, finally, here's their long-awaited debut, Dead Meat, and it more than lives up to my expectations. In fact, I really like/love every song on the record, something that doesn't happen that often anymore. A tiny bit of backstory first. The band formed from the remains of underrated Welsh band Joanna Gruesome with guitarist Owen Williams taking the reins as the Tubs' frontman. And he's a great one, too, somehow sounding like a jangle-pop version of Richard Thompson suffering from seasonal affective disorder. In other words, he's a bit of a mope, but an endearing one at that. But along the way, the Tubs might've realized all mope and no joy makes the Tubs a dull band, at least for a full-length album. So what did they do? They enlisted the help of Joanna Gruesome singer Lan McArdle to add some female counter vocals to some of the songs and the chemistry between her and Williams is a major highlight of the record. So far, she's just a guest, but if we can get them to binge watch Daisy Jones & the Six, perhaps we will get McArdle to make her role permanent. I mean, if it can work for a fictional rock band with mediocre songs, imagine what it can do for a real band with great songs.


With those previous comments in mind, my year-end internal struggle was putting an album I love completely at the top of my list despite its very short nine-song, 26-minute run time. Shouldn't an "Album of the Year" be more substantial, I wondered? A grander statement of artistic integrity perhaps? My decision to put it at #1 here tells you where I landed on the matter and it wasn't because some of my all-time favorite albums were similarly short (Aretha's Lady Soul, The Ramones' debut, all the early Beatles albums, almost every album from the early-to-mid 60s, countless punk and pop albums, etc.). It was because this was the album I listened to the most in 2023 by far. The tell-tale sign. And contributing to that frequency was, you got it, its pleasing length, conducive to dog walks, short rides, and sudden realizations that I had the house to myself for a short while. The band's decision to include only the best songs, each indispensable to the whole, was a brilliant move in this era of low attention spans and limited free time. The fact that I would've voted to add fifteen minutes more material is beside the point. The Tubs' economical Dead Meat still managed to fill a big void for me in 2023, even if it came in a small package delivered by an unassuming rock band with a simple name.


If you take a long hard look at the cover of Dead Meat, you wouldn't be alone in saying "These computer coders made your most fulfilling record of 2023?" Looking like a bunch of high school nerds on a school field trip ("Can someone take our picture with this cannon!?") you'd be forgiven for being skeptical. In fact, from what I've read, they're a little bit cynical about all the band hubbub themselves, offering an amusing level of self-deprecating humor throughout the record and in interviews, which couldn't align more perfectly with Pickled Priest's unwritten but strictly enforced charter built on similar principles. And don't let the Renaissance Fair 'flamboyantly-serifed' font used on the cover fool you either; while there's a distinct hint of old world British folk implied here (unavoidable, really, especially if you sound like Richard Thompson's long-lost son), this is primarily a guitar rock album, and an amazing one, full of energetic downstrokes that would please even Bob Mould in his prime. So, in the end, I'll take 26 perfect minutes over 40-minutes with filler any day of the week. Dead Meat is our favorite record of the year at any length, at any time, in any place. I am, from this point forward, their snivelling sycophant.


Priest Picks

"Illusion, Pt. 2"

"Two Person Love"

"I Don't Know How It Works"

"Dead Meat"

"Sniveller"

"Duped"

"That's Fine"

"Round the Bend"

"Wretched Lie"


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Next Week...Our 104 Favorite Songs of 2023 spread out over four, yes four, mixtapes!


Cheers,


The Priest

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