Albums of the Year- 2023

I hope you find something to love.

At this point in the history of Moderate Rock, that’s pretty much all that matters. Among all the music, so much music, that comes out every single day, I really really want you to find something you love. And if you don’t believe me just because I’m saying it here, then you should know that reading and writing about music, spotlighting new artists, and connecting people with sounds that they might never have heard, remain the hugest thrills for me.

This year though I got to feel those thrills here less than almost all of the years before. Just take a peek at the front page of Moderate Rock. Updating the monthly mixtape notes has been the only thing keeping this place ticking over. Excuses excuses of course, but my 2023 featured some pretty significant and unexpected life events and unfortunately this here website fell somewhere near the bottom of my priority pile. It shouldn’t have done considering what it means to me, but it did all the same.

That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t listening. In fact, my profile suggests I listened to songs from almost 8000 albums this year. Apart from being frankly bananas, that number is certainly boosted by spins of classics, and my habit of, unfairly or not, dipping in to records for only one or two tracks. But hopefully it shows that, yes, i’m always listening. Even if doesn’t translate here, I’m always making notes on what floats my boat. I’m always working on an Albums of the Year list.

As always, ahead of any new list, I mention at least one album from last year that I discovered too late. One that would’ve made the last list if it had made it into my ears in time. This year that’s the eerie, unique ambience of Kim Myhr’s ‘Sympathetic Magic’– music for life on another planet.

And, as always, I note my favourite EP of this year. That’s the cloudkicking excellence of the self-titled debut from The Supervoid Choral Ensemble– not a choir in sight but still speaking to me in tongues.

My favourite albums of the year are below. As I feel compelled to say on a loop as loud as possible, these are not the best albums of the year- no one can tell you that- but these are the ones that snatched my attention, the ones that thunked my jaw on the floor the fastest, the ones that most floated my boat. So many of 2023’s new releases are still worthy of your time- Hammock’s brilliant bliss, Tim Hecker’s hymns to organic intelligence, Will Haven at full bore- but these are the ones I loved. I hope you agree, or disagree, or feel something, anything. I hope you, too, find something to love.

11 because Spinal Tap.

11. SLOWDIVE- ‘Everything Is Alive’

While this is less loud and powerful than Slowdive’s 2017 comeback album, it’s more hypnotic and human and unique. It sounds less like a band competing with their storied past and more like a band now completely free of it. There’s also every chance it’s an album that made this list on the strength of its second track, ‘Prayer Remembered’, alone, a song that has haunted me since the first time I heard it.

10. NO LIGHTS- ‘Dream Eraser’

On first listen you could be forgiven for dismissing ‘Dream Eraser’ as just another punk rock record. Further listens reveal big ideas, dark corners and new depths. It’s an album- tightly-wound, dripping with dread, as close to a dream as a nightmare- made for years like this.

9. NIGHT VERSES- ‘Every Sound Has A Color In The Valley Of Night (Part One)’

It had “only” been five years since the previous Night Verses album but I still figured there was a chance we might never hear from Nick DePirro, Reilly Herrera, and Aric Improta again. What a thrill then, when this record was announced in August. And what a mix of relief and awe to discover, within seconds of pressing play, that the trio had lost none of their unique power. Before the first track finished it was clear Night Verses still possessed endlessly impressive virtuosity yet still hadn’t relinquished their quest to find the grooviest groove ever grooved. With the band on this form, a gambler would get good odds that ‘…(Part Two)’, due early next year, will make 2024’s list here.

8. HOME FRONT- ‘Games of Power’

Home Front won’t be for everyone. On ‘Games of Power’ the Canadian crew sound like Danzig doing krautrock, or The Cure if Robert Smith wrote songs for football terraces instead of goth disco, or if New Order knew about mosh pits. There’s cowbell. Listen, even as I write this I know it doesn’t sound appealing. Home Front won’t be for everyone. But they work wonders for me.

7. ANTI-GOD HAND- ‘Blight Year’

That Will Ballantyne, almost entirely on his own, has turned this record- nine tracks of cosmic black metal, Converge-esque hardcore, and the most intense version of the Stranger Things theme tune you’ll ever hear- into reality is impressive. That he’s done it while sounding this exciting, emotional, and consistent is incredible. Bonus points also for my favourite cover art of the year.

6. ALLEN EPLEY- ‘Everything’

Erstwhile Shiner frontman Allen Epley set out to channel the AM Gold sounds of his youth on his first solo album. And he manages that just fine. But he also tempers the warm melodies and smooth grooves here with a wonderful weariness, and marvellous melancholy, and the special kind of space dust that is sprinkled over his usual work.

5. PILE- ‘All Fiction’

To me, right now, it feels like more bands are trying to sound like Pile than ever. Excellent timing then, for the masters of it all to return and upend their sound in glorious fashion.

4. MISS GRIT- ‘Follow the Cyborg’

A compelling, confident, and perhaps most important, catchy combination of cinematic indie rock, bristling electronics, and Reznor-esque ear candy. A record that doesn’t really fit in here (I’m not sure it fits in anywhere) but picked the lock, hacked the alarm, and made itself at home anyway. Come with this album if you want to live.

3. TRUE FAITH- ‘Go to Ground’

The only album on this list, or any list I’ve ever put together in fact, featuring a track that’s a dead ringer for a Flock of Seagulls classic. True Faith (who seemed to have added a ‘The’ to their name since this album was released) play post-punk with a youthful, light-fingered naivety- full of energy and never afraid of trying new things at the same time as borrowing and stealing from the genre’s best without ever sounding like they’re straight-up copying on the test. They add pop hooks, brooding darkwave, and hardcore urgency to the mix and make it all their own, building songs into rolling balls of butcher knives, made of hooks. Now, ‘Go to Ground’ isn’t blessed with great variety and there’s a chance that (The) True Faith may have just written the same song in nine different ways here, but I’m so taken with the central sonic seed, the killer core concept, that I just don’t care.

2. MS PAINT- ‘Post-American’

It’s incredibly rare to hear a new album that actually feels new. A record that genuinely sounds like it’s pushing limits or breaking ground or thinking original. However you want to phrase it, ‘Post-American’ is a perfect example. Here, MSPaint take all the tools of hardcore punk- except guitars, replaced by synths throughout, because of course they are- and smelt them into a soundtrack for running through walls. It’s like asking for a breath of fresh air and being swept up by a hurricane. It’s like drinking through a fire hose. It’s new.

1. MILITARIE GUN- ‘Life Under the Gun’

Forget everything I just said. Sure, Moderate Rock is a sucker for the original and the new. But we’ll take tried and tested and pretty much perfected every time too. Although burdened by great expectations, ‘Life Under the Gun’, the long-awaited debut album by Militarie Gun was somehow everything I wanted it to be from my very first listen. This is super catchy, sunny day rock’n’roll that could soundtrack the next American Pie as easily as it could start a mosh pit. Every riff rips, not a single song goes on too long, not an ounce of fat remains. Repeat listens reveal pressure-cooked melodies, and layers of indie murk that suit lyrics about the fallacy of capitalism and the monotony of every day life, but every single trick these LA boys try lands, and no new ingredient upsets the main meal. The end result is a half hour of power, and 12 songs I’ll still be singing this time next year. Let’s not overthink it then. Let’s not mix any more metaphors. Let’s just turn the music up and dance around the house. ‘Life Under the Gun’ is my favourite album of the year.

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