Well, it's officially been a year since I've posted on DFTR.... so sad! If you are interested in musing on workforce engagement, check out my writings for LinkedIn - Let's get on with the show.
Those who say Rock N Roll is dead simply aren't paying attention. We live in a time when extraordinary music is made, produced and distributed weekly - don't believe me? Check out The Download 15, All Songs Considered, Growing Up Punk, Indiecast, Brooklyn Vegan or Gorilla vs Bear. You're Welcome!
2023 found new music by The Hold Steady that involved massive guitars, hook laden choruses and lyrics that spanned as far as musing on LeBron James. John Prine's son Tommy debuted his first album with a different style but heartfelt nods to his dad - RIP! Sufjan Stevens reverted to his former self on Javelin (which is wonderfully comforting)! We also got some yummy punk rock (or whatever you call it) from Something Missing and Wicked Bears; one very sad, the other a barrel of laughs. Free Throw shared elements of both the aforementioned. Cat Power performed Bob Dylan to absolute perfection and Slaughter Beach, Dog gave us some lovely laments to drive to.
Hovvdy is emerging as a powerhouse, Wishy made some shoe gaze, Wednesday has brought back honky tonk (albeit on acid), and Rat Boys followed suit. Wilco made a record, no one cared. There appears to be some worthy material coming from Middle Kids, Alkaline Trio (remember them?), Grandaddy (remember them?), IDLES, J Mascis (remember him?), Madi Diaz and Katy Kirby. The guy from Fontaines D.C. made a quiet, haunting shut-in record.
Mike Skinner returned - meh. Not a lot of good hip-hop made (and don't say JPEGMAFIA).
Here are the Top 5 Record Albums of 2023:
5. You Are Who You Hang Out With by The Front Bottoms
"... you have got the power to drive around here 100 miles an hour... "
YAWYHOW won't go down as a pinnacle Front Bottoms release but a pretty good Front Bottoms record is better than most. We get the quintessential Brian Sella lyrical blend of humor and remorse. Great acoustic anchored songs complete with hand claps, ivory vibes, big bass and chaotic drum rolls. You can't listen to the Front Bottoms without feeling the glorious debauchery that is this beautiful thing called life. Bangers like Outlook, Punching Bag, Fake Gold and Brick will get any room beer soaked while Paris and Finding Your Way Home hint at a more-mature future for our favorite party kings & queens. Like Fountains of Wayne, The Weakerthans and They Might Be Giants before them, The Front Bottoms have an uncanny ability to write upbeat songs about sad topics that leave the listener exhausted from dancing with a head full of contradiction. Well-done, boys!!!
4. What Matters Most by Ben Folds
"... in these days of overwhelming change I just want to know what I want ..."
Ben Folds has had a history of letting his since of humor (and possibly a whole lot of boredom) take away from his genuine gift for lyrical reflection. Not here. Indeed we see the return of what makes Ben Folds one of the great musicians of our time: heartbreaking lament with a sliver lining of optimism. Yes, please, I'll take all of it! What Matters Most is a triumph of the human spirit from a human who is complex in his favoritism for solitude. Tall Heights join on Moments which is a lyrical journey leaving the record skipping with love in the listeners heart and a tear in her eye. The title track cutting deep into the world's most perplexing dilemma: the meaning of life. There is a reversion to the sophomoric in Exhausting Lover (delete this track from your playlist) which is not surprisingly the lead single. Otherwise cover to cover this record is a masterpiece. Good to have you back, Benjamin!!
3. Why Would I Watch by Hot Mulligan
"... there's nothing special in the water here, there's no reason you should feel the need to stay ..."
Hot Mulligan is a motherfucking assault on the brain, body and spirit!!! You'll find yourself involuntarily air boxing followed with roundhouse kicks fueled by the vitriol of youthful heartbreak. Nathan "Tades" Sanville's guttural vocal delivery is as incendiary as any Russell Hammond lick. The lyrics cutting deep with an element of self-protection rain coating another daily voyage to find peace. Dudes mad about a lot of shit (not a ton of which I understand) but it is strangely comforting to know he's out there fighting for us all... if only in his own head. This record will splatter your brain (in a good way)! The Lansing Michigan Emo seen is alive!!!
2. The Record by boygenius
"... I'll walk to Karaoke, sing the song you wrote about me, never once checking the words... "
Now turning the knob to the other end of the sound spectrum. 2021 was the year of Phoebe Bridgers, 2022 was the year of Lucy Dacus, so by proxy 2023 must belong to the third member of super-group boygenius; Juilen Baker. It's almost criminal that this band exists. Imagine Pete Townsend, Ginger Baker and John Bonham joining forces in the late 60s. Yes, that's how overwhelmingly talented this group of young people are. The story telling ethos that Phoebe and Lucy seem to share is only complimented by the guitar power that Julien brings to the group. Extraordinary lyrics, soaring vocal harmonies, and calming bridges followed by roaring choruses; purely sensational. It seems the three take turns writing on The Record, each tune better than the next with Leonard Cohen a seeming Phoebe stand out. We're In Love a masterpiece from Lucy Dacus. Simply Magnificent!
1. Laugh Track by The National
".. when did they say we should turn back the clocks? why do they always say everything's for the best when everybody knows it not ..."
If ever there was a soundtrack to divorce Laugh Track is it. The second side of this record is a pedal to the metal one way trip off a cliff. Matt Berninger admitting he has a healthy marriage because he looks into the abyss makes this record all-the-more remarkable in it's lyrical narrative. Tune after tune an exploration of relational heartbreak, regret and uncompromising pain.... all with a happy ending (?) The National have always had moments but past albums as a whole display lulls. A careful listen to this record will change your life and you'll never be the same.
So there you have it. A year of remarkable music. We laughed, we cried, we rocked, we swayed. Rock is alive and well and there is nothing we can do but cry along the wispy ride with the reassurance that it's all going to be Ok.... because it will.
Until Next Year.... Thanks for Listening!