Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Absolute Best Records of 2023


If I'm being honest, 2023 was a pretty bad year and I'm more than happy to usher it towards the exit.  I'm hopeful that 2024 will be a bit better.  We'll have to see I guess.  Luckily there were still some really great records that came out, helping me get through things, though I think the back half of the year is when things really picked up.

But here it is, my list of my favorite records of 2023.  Pretty Flowers dominated my listening this year, though I got that record a lot earlier in the year than many others.  Reverse and Pop Marshal picked up the 'I wish it was still the 90s in the UK' award for putting out a record that I would have been just as happy listening to 30 years ago as I am today.

I'm going to be taking a little break from things for a bit here.  I'm sure I will be back to writing again pretty soon, but I'm not entirely sure when, but I'd guess I would be back posting things again by February at the very latest.  I just need a break and have some other things to take care of.  In the mean time, take a stroll through my list and let me know if there's anything egregious that I've missed.  Always looking for more tunes to listen to.

ShopliftersSecond Nature – PopKid / Brassneck / Waterslide (Listen) 
*** Shoplifters can’t be part of my top 20 because it’s on PopKid and that just feels odd to me, but obviously I think it’s one of the best things ever as I wouldn’t have helped put it out if it wasn’t.

01 - The Pretty Flowers - A Company Sleeve – Double Helix (Listen)
02 - Reverse - Behind These Walls – Boss Tuneage (Listen)
03 - Pop MarshalRejoice - Fixing A Hole (Listen)
04 - Czarface – Czartificial Intelligence – Silver Age / Virgin (Listen)
05 - Dan SartainThe Lost Record – Bent Rail / Seasick (I wish you could listen, but it's not online)
06 - Three Minute MovieMarch Winds And April Showers Bring May Flowers - Bloated Kat / Dead Broke (Listen)
07 - Samiam - Stowaway - Pure Noise (Listen)
08 - Night Court - Humans! - Snappy Little Numbers / Debt Offensive (Listen)
09 - The Subjunctives - Let's Try This Again – Top Drawer (Listen)
10 - SpoilersThere or Thereabouts - Brassneck / Waterslide / Rad Girlfriend / SBÄM (Listen)

11 - Main SourceThe Science – P Vine
12 - Mark Murphy & The MedsMonochrome – Bloated Kat / Brassneck / Cat's Claw / Kezy P / Waterslide 
13 - HooperSwim the Races Nobody Wants – Snappy Little Numbers
14 - State Drugs Parade of Red Flags – Snappy Little Numbers
15 - Spells - Loose Change, Vol. 2 - Snappy Little Numbers / Motorcycle Potluck Records / Big Neck Records / Keep It A Secret Records / Shield Recordings
16 - Curious Things - Naif - Snappy Little Numbers / Dumb Ghost
17 - Joel PatersonThe More The Merrier – Ventrella – Nu Tone
18 - China DrumOne Moment Please – Self Released
19 - Falls - Martyr - Waterslide
20 - What Goes Up - Laws of Gravity - Brassneck / Waterslide / Rad Girlfriend


Friday, December 29, 2023

Dan Sartain – The Lost Record LP – Yellow & Black Swirl Vinyl (/1000)


Bent Rail / Seasick (2023)

Of all of the Black Friday Record Store Day releases that were announced for this year, seeing a Dan Sartain record as one was probably the most surprising.  I was able to get my hands on one through the kindness of my lovely wife, as I was not able to get out to the store myself for a myriad of annoying reasons.

This album was recorded before Dan Sartain recorded his Swami debut, Vs. The Serpientes.  It was done with the folks in Plate Six, who he had toured and collaborated with from time to time.  The result is a record that sounds like a natural step in between his Crimson Guard record and what would eventually come out on Swami.

The songs are all great, but many ar ones that you may have heard before.  "Who's Sorry Now" and "This is How they Beat You Down" were both previously released on a Bent Rail 7" back in 2005.  Different recordings of "Lonely Hearts," "Tryin' To Say" and "Autopilot" appeared on Vs. The Serpientes.  That leaves us with four new songs, one of which is about 20 seconds of noisy wailing.  The three new songs are all stellar and it's kind of crazy to me that they remained unreleased until now.  It's the traditional dark, vaguely leaning towards rockabilly sound that Dan was perfecting in that time period.

Even the songs that were on Vs. The Serpientes have a completely different light cast on them in these recordings.  They feel more bass heavy with a lower end that makes them sound a bit more ominous and engaging.  The coolest part is that this really sounds like a cohesive record, despite knowing a lot of the songs from elsewhere.  There's a definite feeling and vibe that they have and they work together making to total album stronger.

I really miss Dan Sartain and I do get depressed when I listen to some of his music at times.  But there's no denying how great his songs are and how much I still enjoy listening to them.  I'm grateful for this lost record, and I hope that one day someone will be able to release Western Hills and Vs. Sun Studio on vinyl as well.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Main Source - The Science LP + 7" - Orange Vinyl


P Vine (2023)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for thirty plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years. 

The Main Source album Breakin' Atoms isn't one that I listened to back in the 90s, but was an album I picked up later and fell in love with.  It was the only album released by the original trio with the group's  1994 follow up Fuck What You Think missing Large Professor.  That's a pretty big missing piece, though I do think that second Main Source album is pretty good. Still, you had to wonder what the second album could have been with Large Professor.  Oh wait, that would be this album The Science.

The tracks on this album were originally meant to be part of the second Main Source album, but were ultimately shelved when Large Pro left the group.  30 years later, P Vine records in Japan got a hold of the tracks and have released them for the first time.  The songs are unsurprisingly excellent, with that perfect early 90s production style that I have always loved.  Large Professor's production skills were upper echelon back then, and the tracks on this album prove that this would have ranked with any of the heavy hitters at the time.  If you dig Breakin' Atoms, there's no way you don't dig this one as well.

The only negative for me is that this feels incomplete still, and I'd have to guess it is.  There's only nine actual songs on it, and that include two versions of "Time" and "Fakin' The Funk."  There's a lot of spoken interludes that fill out the track count, but don't really add much to the album.  Really, this feels like half an album from the early 90s, not a full one.  That's not to say that the songs on here aren't great, they are.  But selfishly I just wish there were more songs on it.

Main Source - The Science:

Monday, December 25, 2023

Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas – Red Vinyl


Gold (2020, Reissue) 

Merry, merry for those that celebrate Christmas time. As mentioned Friday, more than anything, I love the music. This Ella Fitzgerald Christmas album is a long time favorite of mine, but it took a while for a vinyl version to be released that had everything on it that I needed. Primarily, one of my absolute favorite Christmas songs, “Christmas Island.” That song isn’t on most versions of this album, at least not on vinyl. 

This album originally came out in 1960 and was full of incredible versions of classic Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph,” “Sleigh Ride” and the like. But the song “Christmas Island” isn’t on it. I’m not sure where that song originally came from, and you might be surprised to hear I did a bit of research to try to find out. It was hypothesized to be a B side at some point, but I was never able to find a single that had it. It’s possible that it was on some old 60s compilation, but it sure takes a while to dig through those. 

It seems like it really came on the radar in the year 2000 when a remastered version of this on CD came out with bonus tracks. From there on out, any CD or digital version of this album had “Christmas Island” as a part of it. But the vinyl reissues tended to replicate the original vinyl track list. After many years or searching, I finally found this version that came out in 2020 in Ireland. It’s got it, so it’s the one I bought. Sure it’s something I’d only ever listen to in December, but as a whole Christmas album to listen to from top to bottom, it’s one of the very best. 

Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas:

Friday, December 22, 2023

Joel Paterson – The More The Merrier LP – Red Vinyl


Ventrella / Nu Tone (2023)

Those that know me know how much I love Christmas music. Every year, once my birthday is over, I shift over and start adding some Christmas songs to my daily playlist. And as we get closer to the big day, that music takes over with the 20+ hour long mix I have on my iPod. Additionally, I’m always searching for tunes to add. Whether it be forgotten classics or something brand new.

When it comes to brand new Christmas music, I’m obnoxiously discerning. I don’t want punk Christmas or indie rock Christmas or anything like that. I need the music to have the perfect, 1960s sound that is where the vast, vast majority of my favorite Christmas songs were recorded. Most of the songs served up today don’t make the cut for me, but every so often you’ll have a JD McPherson creep up and uncork a brand new classic. Someone else I put in that category is Joel Paterson,

The More The Merrier is is his second Christmas album. It’s a guitar instrumental album that leans on clean tones, dexterous playing and a keen ear for making songs sound retro and timeless all at the same time. He tackles obvious classics like “Hear Comes Santa Clause” and “Rudolph.” But he also goes for some deeper cuts like “Christmas Island” (More on that song on Monday). This is just the perfect, laid back, but never boring Christmas album to throw on. It works just as good as background music as it does being the center of attention. It's not surf-y like The Ventures, but evokes a similar feeling.  If you’re in the mood to be jolly, this album will fit right in.

Joel Paterson – The More The Merrier:

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back 2xLP


Urban Legends (2023, Reissue)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for thirty plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

I couldn’t really tell you when I first heard Public Enemy. I’m sure it would have been on Yo! MTV Raps, but I don’t really know what the first song of theirs that I heard was. What I can tell you, without question, is the first song of theirs that really hit me and made me pay attention was their collaboration with Anthrax on “Bring The Noise.” I loved that song so much I bought that stupid Anthrax B sides record just to get that song. I never listened to the rest of that tape aside from the very first time. I think I had the censored version with the bee buzzing noises where the curse words were supposed to be.

The reason I bring this up is because when I really connected with Public Enemy, the current album that they had out was Fear of a Black Planet. For reasons that I’m not totally sure about, the first record of theirs that I actually bought was It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. And I played the heck out of it, that’s for sure. Ever since I first purchased it, it’s always been my favorite Public Enemy record. There’s something about how aggressive the production is, coupled with Chuck D’s uncompromising rhymes.

I have this on vinyl via the Public Enemy vinyl box set that picked up ten years ago. However that box set, and every other pressing of this album and Fear of a Black Planet, was a single LP pressing. Vinyl Me Please did an incredible double LP version of FOABP a couple of years ago that I picked up.  And since It Take a Nation of Millions… has always been such an important record to me, I thought it was worth the double dip to get a better version of it as well.  I didn’t grab the colored vinyl version or the exceedingly overpriced quadruple LP set that includes all of the remixes. If that fancy one was only double the price, I would have considered, but for $250, that’s a pass from me.

This version that I bought is the standard black vinyl, 180g vinyl version. It really sounds great. Everything is crisp and full, The bass is low and warm, the vocals are clear and powerful. It’s a great version, it’s the best version of the record I would have to think. Is it worth rebuying? I think so, but I also think it depends on just how much you like this record. The version from the box set sounds totally fine, but this one is a notch above in my opinion.

Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back:

Monday, December 18, 2023

Lync - These Are Not Fall Colors 2xLP - 3 Versions



Suicide Squeeze (2023, Reissue)

After way too many years, Lync's flawless 1994 album, These Are Not Fall Colors has finally been reissued.  This is an album that's been out of print for far too long and I'm really happy that others have a chance to pick it up.  I've had the original pressing for a long time, but that didn't stop me from going variant hunting and picking up all of the versions available as part of the first pressing.  Even though I try really hard not to buy multiple copies of the same record these days, this is an album that's just so important to me.  I couldn't resist.

I first heard of Lync because Sam Jayne and James Bertram were both featured on the Beck album, One Foot in the Grave.  That was a monumentally influential album for me, and I used it as a jumping off point to find a lot of new music back in 1994.  Lync was one of those first bands that I got into.  From the moment I heard album opener "b," I was obsessed with this band.  The way the album channels a youthful, energetic take on Pacific Northwestern indie rock was so impactful.  It's an album that's been in constant rotation for me for nearly 30 years now and I love every second of it just as passionately now as I did back then.

Regarding the reissue, there are three main versions of the first pressing.  Blue & Yellow split color vinyl (Lync band variant), Green, Blue & Purple twist vinyl (Suicide Squeeze label variant) and Red in Orange vinyl (retail variant).  The album is split into a double LP at 45rpm, with the fourth side being a blank.  There's one bonus track, "Can't Tie Yet," though that was already available on the Remembering the Fireballs singles compilation.

While this version of the LP sounds great, the best the album has ever sounded, I'm still not really sure it needed such an expansive reissue.  I know that 45rpm is the audiophiles choice for speed and sound fidelity, but this album is something of a low-fi masterpiece.  I'm not really sure if it benefits that much from being at 45 instead of 33.  Especially since one of the album sides ends up being blank.  

My personal opinion is that this could have been a single LP at 33rpm and there would be very little difference.  It would have been a bit cheaper, taken up less vinyl and would cut out a record swap while listening.  I'm sure they had a reason for doing this way, and I won't argue with how great it sounds, I just can't help but think it could have been released a bit differently and been just as impactful.  Then again, I'm just a jerk with a website, so what do I know?

Lync - These Are Not Fall Colors:

Friday, December 15, 2023

Mark Murphy & The Meds – Monochrome LP – Gray w/ Black Swirl Vinyl


Bloated Kat / Brassneck / Cat's Claw / Kezy P / Waterslide (2023)

Mark “Guitar” Murphy and his Meds are back for their second full length, Monochrome. Anyone that reads this website knows that I am a long time fan of Mark’s work – having first discovered his band Crocodile God in the mid 90s. Crocodile God and they entire mid 90s Crackle Records scene in the UK really shaped my view of punk rock and what I was looking for out of it. There was something about it that connected to me differently than what I was hearing in America and to this day, those are the sounds I prefer the most.

Luckily, Mark is still writing songs just as catchy and immediate as what he was cranking out with Crocodile God. Monochrome is full of his fast tempo, fuzzed out guitar riffs, insanely catchy vocals and more hooks than a thing that has a lot of hooks. It’s as good as the last record, though I’ll admit it took me a few listens to come to that conclusion.

I can’t call it a criticism, because it’s not really a negative thing, but the first couple of times I listened to the record, it flew by so fast that most of the songs didn’t really hit me. This is a record that’s barely over 20 minutes long and the fast paced songs do kind of fly by if you aren’t paying attention. It took a few times of sitting down and really focusing on the record that allowed the songs to sink in more and connect. I guess what I’m saying is due to it’s brevity, it’s not really best enjoyed as background music. But if given more dedicated attention (or even better, played loud while driving) that’s when you’ll see why Mark is one of my favorite songwriters.

Mark Murphy & The Meds – Monochrome:

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Czarface – Czartificial Intelligence LP – Stole The Ball Edition - Orange Vinyl (/5000)


Silver Age / Virgin (2023)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for thirty plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

Czarface is definitely releasing the most consistently great hip hop records today. Yes, there are folks (like Del) that still put out records that I enjoy immensely, but you can count on Czarface to put out an album every year or two and have it be great every single time. Czartificial Intelligence is the follow up to last year’s Czarmageddon and like that album, was launched on a Record Store Day related event, in this case, Black Friday.

The Record Store Day version of this album was a run of 5000 copies, was pressed on orange vinyl and had alternate artwork. But the biggest difference between the RSD version and the regular one is the inclusion of 2 bonus tracks not on any other vinyl version of the album. Which is a cool little bonus. But in digging around a bit, it seems that the versions available on streaming sites and MP3 also include these two extra tracks. I’m not mad that these songs are accessible to more people, but in some ways it makes me think that the normal version of the vinyl is just missing two songs, since they seem to exist everywhere else.

But back to the album itself, Czarface consists of Inspectah Deck and Esoteric on the mic and 7L handling production duties. They are one of very few hip hop acts that make records that feel like the Golden Era. The production sounds modern, but still clings on to the type of beats that connected with me as a teenager. It’s loud, with big drums and tons of low end. The samples are futuristic at times, leaning into the group’s comic book influences, but still sound warm and familiar. It’s a balancing act that very few can accomplish these days.

Lyrically, the subject matter definitely leans into what some might call nerdy territory. But, it’s material that resonates with me the same way that my mind was blown the first time I heard Das EFX and all of the pop culture references in their lyrics. Lots of highlights on this album, but in particular the two tracks where Kool Keith shows up are really memorable to me (though one of them, “Live and Czarnegie Hall,” is one of the RSD exclusive tracks).

All in all, it’s another great Czarface record. I’m always grateful that I stumbled across them a few years ago and am hopeful they keep leading the charge of hip hoppers that manage to still make records that connect with me.

Czarface – Czartificial Intelligence:

Monday, December 11, 2023

State Drugs – Parade of Red Flags LP – Green Vinyl


Snappy Little Numbers (2023)

State Drugs are another band that I’m not entirely positive I would have heard if not for them putting out records on Snappy Little Numbers. It’s certainly possible, but them being part of a label that I already was super into served them up to me on a silver platter. I’ve been listening to them for a few years now and was thrilled when their second proper full length, Parade of Red Flags, showed up in the mail.

Every time I write about them, I can’t help but compare them to Unwelcome Guests or Nude Beach. That’s because those are the two bands I always think of that best exemplify the strain of earnest, rootsy rock and roll that State Drugs is playing. There’s a lot of average, midwestern rock made by bands that collectively own two Tom Petty CDs. But State Drugs, Unwelcome Guests and Nude Beach are three bands that just take it a step further and manage to create songs that sound fresh and exciting, even if the influences are tried and true.

Red Flag Parade is probably the best State Drugs album to date. I really enjoyed their last one Live. Laugh. Love. And their singles comp Takings & Leavings is just crammed full of hits. However, Red Flag Parade is their most consistent record, start to finish. Every song is great and each one fits as part of a larger album feeling. I feel like I’m saying this a lot lately, as 2023 was certainly stacked towards the end as far as good albums being released, but this is one of the better albums of the year. I fully expect it to be on my end of the year list, which terrifyingly enough, I really need to get working on.

State Drugs – Parade of Red Flags:

Friday, December 8, 2023

Chinese Telephones – Outta My Hands 7” – Pink Vinyl (/100)


Bloated Kat / Dead Broke (2023) 

In many ways, I’m shocked that there’s a new Chinese Telephones 7”. They haven’t released any new music since 2008. That’s 15 years ago somehow and it messes with my brain that Chinese Telephones are one of those ‘newer’ bands that I like. While the fact that the band has been playing sporadic shows lately could have perhaps been a clue that new music was coming, I certainly never expected it. But boy, am I glad it happened.

All four songs are classic Chinese Telephones. Buzzsaw guitars playing ultra catchy chord progressions, vocal melodies and hooks falling from everywhere. There’s a reason this band was always mentioned in the same breath as The Marked Men and the intervening 15 years has done nothing to dull the potency of their songs. These are as good as anything the band has ever released.

For me, the bigger question is what does this mean next? Will there be more songs? More shows? A full length? I sure would love to have a new Chinese Telephones full length album in my collection. I’m grateful that the word got this 7”, but now I’m greedy for more. Fingers crossed that more is coming.

Chinese Telephones – Outta My Hands 7”:

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Del The Funky Homosapien – No Need For Alarm 2xLP – Orange Vinyl (/1500)


Get On Down (2023, Reissue) 

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for thirty plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

On this past Thanksgiving, November 23rd, Del The Funky Homosapien’s second album, No Need For Alarm, turned 30 years old. To celebrate this momentous anniversary, Get On Down reissued this album on colored vinyl. It showed up at my house on Black Friday, so I didn’t have it in time for that week’s Ed Lover Dance Day post, so we’ll get into it this week instead.

I have written about this album before, so some of this may be a bit repetitive if you read the last write up. But to try to summarize, this is my all-time favorite hip hop album of all time. When it was released in 1993, I picked it up immediately since I really loved Del’s first album from a couple of years earlier. I am pretty sure I hadn’t even seen a video or heard any songs from the album when I bought it. I was expecting something different than what was on Del’s debut because the Souls of Mischief record had been released, so I was aware of the path Hieroglyphics were pursuing. That said, I was completely unprepared for what Del was about to unleash into the world.

Hearing No Need For Alarm for the first time blew my mind. The production was like nothing I had heard before. Even the Souls record didn’t have beats that sounded quite like this. The lyrics were so rough and ready with Del creating the sort of complicated rhyme patterns that I had never really heard before. It was almost as it he was reinventing hip hop in real time before my eyes. It became the album I judged everything else against. It reshaped how I thought about hip hop and music as a whole. And I have said this before, but I’m positive this record is the foundation for me eventually getting into punk rock, when hip hop could no longer provide me what I was looking for. It’s just a monumentally important record in my life, which is why I felt that I had to buy this 30th anniversary version.

Is it really a necessary purchase? If you have the album already, probably not. It’s not really any different from the other pressing I have, sound wise. The colored vinyl is nice and the Obi is kind of fun. It also comes with a really cool poster that I think I’ll eventually get mounted and framed. For most, if you have a copy already, that’ll do. But if for some insane reason, you don’t have this record on vinyl, you should grab it right away. They do not come much better than this.

Del The Funky Homosapien – No Need For Alarm:

Monday, December 4, 2023

Hooper – Swim the Races Nobody Wants LP


Snappy Little Numbers (2023)

In 2013, Hooper released their first album, How to Become a Ghost. I adored that record and it was one of my very favorites of that year. Five years later in 2018, the band put out their second album, No Monument. And in all honesty, I didn’t like that one quite as much. It was still a good record, but it didn’t grab me quite the same way that Hooper’s debut did. Five years on from that, Hooper is back with their third LP. Ten years on from their debut, am I still digging this band the way I once did? Yeah, I am.

Swim the Races Nobody Wants is a really strong album. Is it a return to the sounds of their first album? No, it’s still different, but for me they’ve found a sweet spot between the sound of their first two albums. There are post punk influences, particularly in how the guitar riffs are structured, but I feel that this album has a much stronger grasp of hooks and melodies that the last one. There are plenty of fist pumpers and sing along choruses again, while still showing a growth in sound from the first album that you’d really have to expect ten years later. I’m sure not the same person I was ten years ago.

Hooper was the first band on Snappy Little Numbers that I ever wrote about. They were the gateway drug that opened up an opportunity to hear so many other incredible bands over the years. The fact that they are still kicking and putting out records as good as this one is the sort of thing that needs to be celebrated. This is definitely one of the better records to come out this year and should be checked out for sure.

Hooper – Swim the Races Nobody Wants: