A 2023 midyear report

Some very good records came out this year and I'm highlighting a select few just because I can.

A 2023 midyear report
How I feel most of the time, from the cover of the Undergang/Spectral Voice split.

Greetings, friends. I've had some people ask me if I was going to put together a mid-year list of my favorite music. I wasn't totally sure whether or not I wanted to but, since I live to serve, I'm doing exactly that. I actually already did something like this back in February to collect things I'd been listening to and digging, so if there are any glaring omissions, they are likely in there.

Hyperdontia, Deranged

I don't understand how Hyperdontia keeps improving their sound but, by god, they keep on doing it. Though it's just an EP, the songs on Deranged tightly wound and feel extremely vital. The production is moving out of the murky zone a lot of death metal bands have been playing in and that gives the whole thing an overall hookier feel. The clarity on the riffs allow them to hit harder and rest in your skull a little longer, all of which makes me even more excited for what they do next.


A collection of outtakes from last year's stellar OUTOFBODY? What's not to love! these eight songs all offer slightly different views into James' songwriting, and I value getting to see the new ways he twists familiar feelings in new, engaging ways. "Submarine" is probably my favorite track of the bunch, but they're all winners here.

Axxe Crazy, Black Winds Blowing, An Indifferent Sky

I stumbled across this release randomly and it's probably my favorite hardcore release this year. It's obviously indebted to the classic D-beat and crust sounds, but I hear a lot of His Hero Is Gone in it, which is a thing I almost never say. To me, His Hero Is Gone are an untouchable entity. Any time I've ever heard someone say a band sounds like them, they've been so incredibly off the mark it almost feels like a prank. By not directly going for that, Axxe Crazy actually achieves it by feeling monolithic and suffocating, all while retaining their own distinct sound in a landscape that can often feel homogenous.

Dodheimsgard, Black Medium Current

As of this precise moment, this is my front-runner for album of the year. I keep going back to it and finding more and more inside it, and that's something that's exceptionally rare for me these days. I wrote a bit more about it a couple newsletters back, so feel free to read my extended thoughts there.

Godflesh, Purge

Though I count myself a pretty big fan of Justin K. Broadrick's assorted works, I rarely reach for the post-reunion Godflesh albums. They are by no means bad, but it's rare I'll pick them over Streetcleaner or Pure, so what's the point really? Well, given that the last Jesu album ranked as one of my favorites from that project, and now that Purge is in the running for the best post-reunion Godflesh LP, maybe that tide is starting to turn. They aren't reinventing the wheel here, but this is about as impactful of an LP as they've ever made, all churning break beats and chunky riffs with vocals that feel deeply inspired.

The Softies/Tony Molina, Tour Tape 2023

My relationship to Tony Molina's music is one of intense passion and then utter disinterest. Starting with the Ovens and running up through his first solo album, Dissed and Dismissed, I was all in. Catchy pop-punk songs with some heavy riffs and harmonized solos? That stuff is sick as hell. But once he decided to essentially be Beach Slang but for The Beatles, I was out. I once had someone want to physically fight me over saying that, so I'm saying it again in the hope someone else wants to do the same. I hope that, ever the shit-talker himself, Tony could appreciate such a bold diss.

Anyway, it should be no surprise then at The Softies covering the entirety of Dissed and Dismissed for this split highlights just how good those songs really are. Their versions are reimagined into their style perfectly, and they capture all the charms of both the songs and The Softies distinct take on twee-pop. Unfortunately, Tony's three Softies covers are, at best, fine. At least the Healer 7-inches he's done have been sick.

Bad Operation/Joe Gittleman, Wavebreaker #4

Speaking of splits, this one gets high marks from me. Joe Gittleman of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones turns out three songs that shows he's still an expert at songwriting and arrangement, with songs that likely would have been the best ones on the last Bosstones record had they been used for it. Meanwhile, Bad Operation sound absolutely masterful here. Though I've always liked them, the singer's voice could get a bit pitchy in spots but he's dialed in here and it allows the band to truly shine. The ska revival may have lost some of the luster it had just a year ago, but there are still great releases coming out from this crop of bands that are worthy of your time and attention.

Home Is Where, The Whaler

Though many people who have followed my writing career likely know I've always listened to a lot of different music, during my time at The A.V. Club I wrote a lot about emo. A lot a lot. Some of the stories people know me best for are ones about emo bands and that's cool, because I stand behind that work, but it's a genre that's always been a small sliver of my actual music consumption. In recent years, that sliver has gotten smaller and smaller, as the whole scene got trendy and dove headlong into the genre's influences that I despised the first, second, and now third-time around. That said, Home Is Where do this sound right. Taking parts of Neutral Milk Hotel and injecting them with a bit of a punk spirit, it's no wonder that it ends up sounding like emo without being traditionally conscripted to that style. Lyrically, this thing does what the best emo records do, which is look at the self in context of the larger world, thinking more about how we all feel about this thing called existence and not just "wahhh, I'm full of ennui." Big respect to them for absolutely nailing this.

Militarie Gun, Life Under the Gun

Yet another longtime favorite around these parts, the debut from Militarie Gun is exactly what I'd expect it to be—though it seems not many people share that sentiment. I've seen some people complain that the primal, hardcore-adjacent energy of the early releases is good but it always felt clear to me that Ian Shelton was guiding this project in more pop-focused directions. For my money, those first three tracks are my platonic ideal for pop-rock, as the songs are short, the hooks punchy, and the music never feels completely predictable.

Perilaxe Occlusion, Vapor Chamber

When Vapor Chamber was announced I was… so extremely disappointed. For the past couple years, the two-piece band has been putting out three-song EPs of death metal perfection and had been teasing a full-length album. Then they announced said full-length album and it was actually just a collection of those EPs, some comp tracks, two new songs, and a… System of a Down cover. Why are you hurting me like this? After sucking it up and actually giving it a shot, I can't be totally mad, as the new songs do contribute nearly 20 minutes of music to their discography, and that SOAD cover makes some kind of logical sense here. While it's a bummer they never made an actual album, at least this functions like the best kind of compilation.

Torture Rack, Primeval Onslaught

Primeval Onslaught is Torture Rack at their most produced, but while that could read as a backhanded diss, I think the step up in sonics actually suits them well. The band has always been pretty clearly indebted to early Cannibal Corpse, but I'm hearing touches of Deicide in sections that really feel like a natural extension of their brutalist take on death metal. Also, "Fucked By Death" is a hilariously perfect song title, so bonus points there.

Alienator, World of Hate

This four-song 7-inch from Alienator took me by surprise. I'd never heard of the band, but I checked it out on a lark and it really hit for me. This type of fast hardcore that just feels downright pissed is a flavor I think has been sorely missing from the current landscape and I'm happy to hear it done so well. In 2024, give me more speed and less groove, please.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some records I liked but, in the interest of making this moderately digestible, I decided to include here instead.

Be My Vengeance by Destiny Bond, Cries the Mocking Mother Nature by Destruct, Vast Reaches Unclaimed by Majesties, Split by Spectral Voice and Undergang, Bosoragazan (Բոսորագազան) and Ծուռ (Tzurr) by Odz Manouk, The Dawn of Winter by Fellwinter, Beyond the Veil of Night by Gauntlet Ring.

Classic pick from the shelf: Bill Fox, Transit Byzantium

I've been on a Bill Fox kick for the past couple months and, try as I might, I've not been able to shake it. I've loved his old power-pop/punk band The Mice for a long time but, foolishly, I never checked out his solo material. When I stumbled across a copy of Transit Byzantium in Seattle, I blind bought it and am so glad that I did. Even as he traded in the rock band format for an acoustic guitar and a humble 4-track recorder, Bill's songwriting never lost its punch. You can hear traces of Bob Dylan and Elliott Smith across this record, but it never feels derivative or locked into its influences. Instead, Bill Fox just dashes off these perfect songs in a quiet, reserved way that explains why his fans are so deeply devoted to him.

I was hoping to include a list of books, movies, and TV shows I've watched but, admittedly, I've been so busy that all of those things have been put on the back burner for me this year. I watched all the shows everyone else watched, so there's no trenchant insights to be had there, and I don't think I've watched a movie in weeks. Kind of a bummer, but it just goes that way sometimes.

That said, I recently wrote a tribute to Rick Froberg after the news of his passing last week (thanks Luke!) and also joined the Violent Treatment podcast to talk about Black Flag (thanks Hugo and Eli!) so if you're craving more of my thoughts on other music things, feel free to dig in.

As a final note, I did a short interview with Block Club Chicago about the summer concert series that Nina and I booked in our park. If you live in Chicago and are free any of the Fridays in July, we've got some cool bills put together and you should come out and enjoy some free music with us.