I’ve always been an avid sports fan, and I firmly believe in one thing: The NFL Draft is better than the Super Bowl.
It’s better than any playoff or rivalry game, because it’s the one day we can focus on the future, not the past. The draft in any sport is about answering the question, “What’s next?”
As a music fan, I love this question. I’m dying to find a new artist or album to focus on. So I listen and listen and listen some more.
This constant search for the horizon prevents me from indulging in music nostalgia – although I do indulge in that a little too.
This year I’ve listened to more new albums than those selected in the NFL Draft (259) and NBA Draft (60) combined. If I cross the MLB Draft threshold (614) in a given year, check my mental health.
People read too…
Although obsessive exploration is great, I know there is also value to reflection. I also know that music, unlike sports, is not a competition.
So, a disclaimer before I dive into this column: The point of a “best of…” music list is not superiority, but curation.
I sincerely hope you can take something from this list that you haven’t heard yet, and find the same satisfaction in it that I do. If you enjoyed it, I hope you can share the record with me in return.
Music is about sharing perspectives and understanding. Through each of these columns, I hope you can get to know me better, and vice versa.
As much as I loved it when my favorite basketball team selected a future All-Pro in 2015, finding new music feels even better.
Here are my favorite albums of 2023.
Harrison Gordon – “yuppies win”
I’ve listened to recordings from almost every state in the US this year. My favorite song from Iowa is Miss Christine’s “Bittersweet,” and my favorite record from Illinois is Harrison Gordon’s “The Yuppies Are Winning.”
The emo rocker from the Bloomington-Normal college town can be endlessly relatable on this record. As a musician, connection isn’t always enough. But fortunately, Gordon knows how to write ripping guitar riffs and catchy guitar hooks, too.
He manages to squeeze in self-deprecating words in between the Dragon Ball Z and Super Smash Bros. references. On the headbanger “Kirby Down B.” As a testament to Gordon’s musical range, there’s also the satirical acoustic ballad “I’m Happy,” which easily exceeds its one-minute running time.
I’ve listened to a lot of emo records this year, and this is my favorite.
Wednesday – “The Rat Saw God”
Growing up, there was a dirt patch down the street from my house where I would go through broken bottles and Gushers wrappers to build a sand hill with my friends. “Rat Saw God” sounds like he’s walking home after that. My hands are muddy. My hair is sweaty and matted. And I’m silently grateful that I’ll see my friends again tomorrow.
Call it the country look. Call it the grunge bubble. Either way, “Rat Saw God” is a new wave opus of country-tinged indie rock. It has moments of gravel catharsis on “Bull Believer” and “Quarry.” But it’s also full of seriousness, the product of the chemistry between guitarist MJ Lenderman and singer Carly Hartzman. It’s Wednesday’s year, and they deserve it.
Betty – “USA”
Betty is not just a flash in the pan. He’s not a gimmick or TikTok artist either. The Detroit-born comedian turned indie rocker has a large following on social media for his silly comedy sketches. And on “USA,” he turns that humor on its head to deliver devastating lyrical blows.
It’s like seeing Adam Sandler in “Punch Drunk Love” or Will Ferrell in “Everything Must Go.” Hearing your usual comedic relief in the midst of existential crisis makes every line land that much harder. Petty has already made my list of favorite artists with previous songs like “Don’t Tell The Boys” and “Little Habits,” but “USA” is his most complete album to date.
“Live This Way,” “I’ll Wait,” and “Family of Six” are my favorite songs on the setlist.
Pynch – “Howl at a Concrete Moon”
For 18 years growing up in a small town, I thought if I only lived in a big city, everything would be fine. I regret to inform you that this is not the case.
“Walking into the city, has it always been so ugly?” Pynch frontman Spencer Enoch sings on “The City (Part 2),” a pivotal song on the British band’s brilliant debut record, “Howling at A Concrete Moon.”
Sonically, Pynch has elements of The Cure, LCD Soundsystem and The Postal Service, with its mix of catchy indie rock and danceable synths.
Don’t pay attention to the words, and “Howling at A Concrete Moon” sounds like the promise of a sparkling city skyline. But look beneath the glitz and glamor of the guitars and electronic pulse, and you’ll find a heavier underbelly. It’s a wonderfully self-analytical record, and in every song, you can hear Enoch getting closer and closer to figuring it all out.
Elliot Green – “All I Miss”
I distinctly remember sitting down when I was probably eight years old and my father telling me, “Stop being so arrogant.” It reminded me that in trying to bully bullies in elementary school, I had become one myself.
I remember thinking about my decisions after that call, mentally placing everything I said and did into a binary of “good” and “bad.” This distinction has been emphasized ever since.
“All That I Lacking” is, at its core, a record about trying to be good. With her candid, quotable writing, Seattle songwriter Elliott Green has built an entire world within this record. Seriously, Greene’s nuanced lyricism is up there with contemporary masters like David Bazan, Andy Hull, and Julian Becker.
Green’s poetry is amplified by her searing vocals, hesitant guitar plucks, and raucous epiphanies. This album means more to me than I can put into words in this column. In my heart, I’m still trying my best to be good too.
Concert of the Week: The Polyhythms Trio +2 at UUCQC
Most importantly, I’m not only a music fan, but a journalist too!
One of the most satisfying stories I’ve written this year came in November, when I spoke with friends and family of Polyhythms co-founder Nate Lawrence.
Lawrence passed away unexpectedly in August, and the organization has done an inspiring job of continuing. Their Third Sunday Holiday Jazz Series takes place this Sunday at the Quad Cities Unified World Complex, located at 3707 Eastern Blvd. in Davenport.
Headlining the show is the Polyhythms Trio, featuring special guests Manuel Lopez III and James Colfer. It starts at 5 p.m., and admission is $15.
On this day: Kacey Musgraves on December 15, 2015
Finally, I’ll leave you to take a look at country star Kacey Musgraves’ visit to Daytrotter Studios. My favorite genre to delve into this year is country music, a corner of music I’ve long ignored.
What I learned very quickly is that Musgraves is one of the most talented writers in the genre. This skill comes down to it Traveler The performance of “Fine,” an already poetic country song, is made perfect by the harmonious slide guitar.
As I tour the country with the above records and much more this year, I’m sure I’ll find something new in 2024. I hope you will too.
“Travel junkie. Coffee lover. Incurable social media evangelist. Zombie maven.”