In the November 2023 issue of Rolling Stone, a bunch of Millennial and GenZ editors essentially showed all Boomers and GenX’ers to the door to claim the magazine as their own. That’s fine, we had a good run. It’s been 30 years since the original MTV generation was evicted from MTV, we’re used to it. Since Beatlemania, pop culture has equated to youth culture, despite the fact older music fans have more income to spend on pricey concert tickets, physical media, and merchandise.
A while back, a publicist for one of the bands I featured on my year-end list suggested I change the name, drop the “aging hipster” angle, saying most artists would view such association as the kiss of death, “if your parents like something, it’s no longer cool.”
Well, if you want to see year-end “best album” lists filled with trendy hip hop, trap, and teen pop artists you can twerk to, and all the other stuff that was streamed a billion times on Spotify, there are plenty of other places to look. I bought Taylor Swift’s CD (a Target special edition even), which may have made my Top 100 albums, but I only have so much of your available time to scroll this list. My rankings here are merely purchase or streaming suggestions for people of a certain age based on the type of music we grew up listening to. It includes artists aged 18 to the mid-80s singing songs with big hooks, magnificent bridges, and melodies that will put some pep in your step. Less rizz, more rad.
Ready? Here we go! While the ticker starts at #40, there are plenty of well-deserved ties in the scroll ahead.
40.) Gene Loves Jezebel • X Love/Death/Sorrow
Anytime there’s a new Gene Loves Jezebel album out – for clarity, let’s just call GLJ from here onward, you must ask someone in the know “which one?” Alas, depending on where you live, there are two separate bands laying claim to the name. By legal agreement, Band A is called GLJ in the States and Michael Ashton’s GLJ in the UK. Band B is called Jay Ashton’s GLJ here in the states, and GLJ in the UK – except on the CDs, which is just GLJ, meaning a hype sticker is your only clue that this new album is from the same band that dropped 2017’s creative comeback, Dance Underwater (Jay’s band), and not whatever the hell Michael is selling. To quote the narrator from the 70’s sitcom, Soap, “Confused? You won’t be after…” This new album reminds us why we loved this band all along – post punk goth music for mascara strewn lonely hearts. With their original producer back in the fold, this album, X, like Dance Underwater, holds up to the band’s heyday classics that peaked with Kiss of Life.
39.) Unloved • Polychrome
The “house band” on the Killing Eve Seasons 1 & 2 soundtracks is building a rabid fanbase – Jarvis Cocker of Pulp guested on their last double LP – with a fever dream triphop shoegaze sound that is somewhat like Chrissie Hynde fronted Morcheeba filtered through David Lynch’s darkest thoughts – haunting songcraft that defies categorization, Polychome is an intense but rewarding listen.
38.) Melanie Martinez • Portals
Second only to Morgan Whallen as the most successful alumni from NBC’s The Voice (neither won), Martinez sings really really really dark pop songs about sexual violence and traumatized childhood though a variety of characters. “Cry Baby” was my entry point, at press time it was north of 143 million views on YouTube. She’s already made a movie starring the (now deceased?) character and now she’s cometing into her post hit Bjork, anything goes part of the sonic universe. Portals is exactly that, it will teleport you to an otherworldly, dark, romantic, sad, somber and terrifying sonic dimension that for many listeners of all ages likely mirrors their childhood memories or realities.
37.) Softee • Natural
Brooklyn’s Nina Grollman delivered a transcendent debut of visionary dancefloor soul. This CD could have been a breakup album – but instead it traverses the full spectrum between this relationship is over, this one is beginning as she soon fell in love with the person who is now her fiancee. In the video for isn’t enough, she plays both Beck Hansen and Maya Hawke type characters:
36.) The Hives • The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons
The notorious sharp suited Swedes are back to save the world from safe rock. On “The Bomb” the band piles on double, triple, and quadruple negatives in the singalong chorus. As the album, a tribute to a late fictional member of the band, steamrolls through its 31 minutes, it finds a groove and allows its pop side to eventually peek through the curtain.
35.) Waves Crashing • All of It
This rising supernova trio from Olympia, WA travels back to moppish London in the mascara-strewn 1980’s to mine new wave and post punk sonics for glorious results. They’ve dropped a series of EP’s that can Voltron into a stellar debut album via your choice of playlist or CDR technology (me, I spring for high res downloads via their Bandcamp) and burn them to rainbow Sharpie-adorned CDRs. The band name makes sense, as waves upon waves of sound wash though each track, you’d sometimes swear it’s a synth band, but much like Johnny Marr, the Chameleons, and Primal Scream before them, — there’s infinite magic (and sadness) to be made from a righteous guitar pedal board. It you like The Cure, Primal Scream, Lush, Curve, Hum, Smashing Pumpkins – meet your favorite new band.
34.) Korine • Tear
Much like Waves Crashing, Philadelphia’s Korine take a wild trip in New Order’s hot tub time machine. Morgy Ramone and Trey Frye blend new-wave nostalgia, early emo, and punk with a modern pop sensibility, contrasting upbeat rhythms against sullen, emotionally evocative lyrics.
Tear is perhaps the best retro-forward full-length record since MGMT’s debut, Oracular Spectacular. Similar to MGMT, the duo appears to be fame averse, with very little out there to read about them on the Internets, but if you’ve yet to discover them (their Bandcamp is loaded with goodies), you’ll be grateful beyond words for this tip once you discover them on your favorite streamer.
33.) Carly Rae Jepsen • The Loveliest Time
The world’s most adorable pop star continues her grand tradition of releasing a proper album and a flipside album each cycle, with this one being a dreamy morning after sequel to 2022’s The Loneliest Time. What Jepsen lacks in celebrity/tabloid coverage, she more than makes up for in singing and songwriting prowess – and extra props for releasing her entire catalog in jewel cases with gorgeous album art. Now that 20% of my collection is flimsy eco-paks, CDs built to last truly stand out when I’m mulling what to listen to. This go-round delivers more magic with producer Rostam Batmanglij, founding member of Vampire Weekend – from crushes to flirtation to romance and breakups, no matter where you are in life and love, Jepsen has a song for it.
32.) Demi Lovato • Revamped
You may as well just call this Greatest Hits (Demi’s Version), as one of the biggest voices of the modern age gives her post-Disney lite pop a hard rock makeover. We’re a few years on from her career-best, Dancing With The Devil… The Art of Starting Over, but after the harrowing documentary that details how close she came to dying from an OD surrounded by petrified handlers afraid of alerting the paparazzi, every new day and song with her is a gift.
31.) IN WITH THE NEW…
The Rolling Stones • Hackney Diamonds
The Struts • Pretty Vicious
Perhaps Justin Bieber’s greatest contribution to pop culture is gifting the world producer Andrew Watt, who in recent years has rallied all star guest musician collabs to inspire iconic artists to create some of their best-ever music in the twilight of their careers. Iggy, Ozzy, mid-career Eddie Vedder, and a shelved Morrissey album are prime examples of Watt’s wattage in the studio. And now, The Stones step up for a victory lap in their 60+ year career with a fully cohesive, utterly enjoyable, celebration of life, swaggering hips, and those iconic lips.
Meanwhile, two hours North on the M1 from London, we land in Derby to find The Struts well positioned to be the Rolling Stones for the YouTube generation. Four albums in and always a blast to listen to, the band delivers predictably perfect rock and roll. In a sea of faceless/personality void rock bands (can anyone spot an Imagined Dragon in a crowd?), it’s nice to see a band like this one (and Måneskin) hell bent on being rock stars.
30.) Nils Lofgren • Mountains
The Scottie Pippen of music has long been more well known for the champion teams he’s played on – Crazy Horse and the E. Street Band – than his solo work, but he’s been putting out a steady stream of amazing Nils records for some 50 years now. Neil Young, Ringo Starr, and the late David Crosby are among the many studio ringers along for this showcase in soul and songcraft. “Dream Killer” arrives half way in and is absolutely majestic.
29.) The Smashing Pumpkins • ATUM (Acts 1-III)
This 3CD sequel to 1995’s 2CD classic Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness presented in a bland ecopak pales in comparison when it comes to vibrant artwork, iconic videos, and overall visual presentation – but sonically, it’s a solid reinvigoration of the Pumpkins’ brand which is steadily reclaiming its legacy after some forgettable affairs when it was simply the Billy show. Now that James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin are fully entrenched once again, they really need to bring in some feminine energy. If D’Arcy or Melissa Auf der Maur are unavailable, may I suggest Eagles of Death Metal bassist Jennie Vee, whose iconic style, singing, and (solo catalog) songwriting are just what the Pumpkins need to be the biggest band in the land once more.
28.) The Damned • Darkadelic
Forefathers of punk, post punk and goth pop remain as vital and captivating as ever on their 12th album in some 45+ years. Along with their last one, Evil Spirits, this ranks among their best. Not even a minute into opener “The Invisible Man”, you realize you’re in for a ride when the time signature shifts and the song derails into something completely new – much like a spiritual possession – before returning to the backroom bar rocker it once was.
Rick Springfield • Springfield (1974)
Rick Springfield • Automatic (2023)
Fun facts you may not know about the 80’s heartthrob from “Jessie’s Girl” and General Hospital fame. He’s been professionally singing since the late 1960’s, in 1973, he had his own Saturday morning cartoon show, Mission Magic, and a year later, he recorded a magnificent hard rock album that was rejected by Columbia Records and shelved until 2023. Liner notes by the great Ken Sharp (Rick guested on Ken’s last album) tells the tale of how this album came to be.
Rick’s latest, Automatic, delivers another spectacular dash of his signature power pop. Normally, I can’t digest a 20-song outing in one sitting, but this one really flows. For fans of the hits – he returns to the well with glorious results, and for those wanting something new, he truly spreads his wings. “Exit Wound” and “She Talks to Angels” come out of the gate like pure cut “Jessie’s Girl” Springfield, then comes the left field title track that sounds like prime Sammy Hagar.
26.) Kenny Rogers • Life is Like a Song
The Gambler’s first posthumous album, lovingly curated by his widow, primarily focuses on unreleased studio tracks from 2008-2011. Here, Rogers remains top of his game and the production is absolutely top notch. If you own his Greatest Hits, this would be an essential companion.
25.) Public Image Limited • End of World
John Lydon’s “other band” has been chugging along steadily for some 45 years now. “Hawaii” – a tender ode to his dying wife, was the band’s failed entry in the Eurovision contest – but don’t think the band has gone soft. This album radiates with the constant left turns and surprises that make a PiL album urgent, entertaining, danceable, and fascinating. Pair listening to this with an Absolute Must Read Interview by Lyndsey Parker of Yahoo! Music.
24.) Robocop Kraus • Smile
Remember when rock was fun – circa the early 2000’s before Trump, COVID-19, and all the new wars just about ruined everything? Back when a fresh crop of bands like Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Futureheads, Hot Hot Heat, and the Libertines made us look good on the dance floor? Robocop Kraus was a major player in that original mix and are back with their first album in 15 years – one so fun, it was totally worth the wait. They’re kinda like Germany’s answer to Franz Ferdinand, Art Brut, and Talking Heads all rolled into one.
23. Ladytron • Time’s Arrow
OK, I mean this in the most positive way possible, if you have one Ladytron album, you have them all — and you truly do need them all. I’ve been obsessed with this band (and their solo offshoots) for some 20 years now, originally discovering them after Felix da Housecat’s masterpiece Kittenz and the Glitz ushered in the electroclash wave of the newborn century. Their sound is perfect and truly their own (Kraftwerk fronted by Austin Powers’ femmebots) so why change? Their arrangements and ambitions keep getting bigger and bigger, so this new album (perhaps their last as a quartet) delivers the chills and feels in all the right places. And at press time, they also announced of all things, a new holiday single.
22. BAND OF BROTHERS
Foo Fighters • But Here We Are
Chris Shiflett • Lost at Sea
After a year of devastating personal loss, Foo Fighters blaze back with their grief and catharsis album. The experience really makes you feel the weight of the respective passings of drummer Taylor Hawkins and Dave’s mom, Virginia Grohl. After 15 years or so of pleasant but increasingly pedestrian arena rock albums, The Foo’s latest ranks in the top three albums of all time – and somehow, this makes me sad. Why? Because I adore Taylor Hawkins and he’s not on any of their best albums. “Show Me How” is a lovely duet with daughter Violet Grohl; it revisits the title track “Touch”, a duet with Veruca Salt’s Louise Post from the movie soundtrack of the same name (considered a lost Foo Fighters album).
On an infinitely lighter note, guitarist Chris Shiflett drops his latest solo record and it is a banger. Foo Fighters are just one of Shiflett’s many bands, he also spent time in No Use for a Name and Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s, plus his Jackson United project was essentially a lost Foo Fighters record as Grohl, Hawkins, Rami Jaffee and Drew Hester all appear on most tracks. Lost at Sea is a true “Foo Fighter-free” album, mostly rooted in sound and soul in Nashville, honky tonk with some SoCal swagger.
21.) Pia Toscano • I’m Good
Late 2022 saw the long awaited debut album from “the most shocking American Idol elimination ever”. Season 10 – the one that gave us Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Casey Abrams, Lauren Alaina, and winner Scotty McCreery was supposed to have been won by gorgeous brunette bombshell Pia Toscano, but she got knocked out surprisingly early. A subsequent deal with Interscope went belly up and she went on to sing background for JLo and David Foster. On this amazing album, she nails the venn diagram between Celine Dion and Adele. The production and arrangements are custom-crafted to showcase her powerful vocals, proving it’s never too late to step into the spotlight on center stage.
20.) Olivia Rodrigo • Guts
In pop music, there’s Taylor Swift and then everybody else. Leading this band of A-list misfits is Olivia Rodrigo, yet another Disney-launched instant pop superstar who has the singing, songwriting, and stagecraft to forge a long and exciting career. Rodrigo channels the energy of influences Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney into mainstream pop stompers, balanced with just enough weepers to make every preteen lovestruck playlist and homecoming slowdance. She mixes heartbreak, angst, rebellion, sarcasm, and lust into a songbook that defies generation appeal. With an interpolation of The Byrds thrown in for good measure, even grandma will like this.
19.) Nation of Language • Strange Disciple
You can tell you’ve made it when the New York Times dedicates an entire feature section to your day off Sunday apartment lounging routine, yet this synth pop trio has been working toward this moment for years. Their first two albums found underground success above street level, drawing the line between early OMD fan fiction and Interpol for new romantics. Their latest is filled with majestic, yet minimalist synth lines that totally pull at the heartstrings when you pay attention to it, or it fills the room with hip hotel lobby background music when not. Now I get what my daughter means with “It’s a vibe.”
18.) ALL IN THE FAMILY
Duran Duran • Dance Macabre
Andy Taylor • Man’s a Wolf to Man
Dance Macabre marks the first time the entire double D has been back together in band history. OG Fab 5 guitarist Andy Taylor returns to the fold for the first time since Astronaut. Warren Cuccurullo (ex Missing Persons, who was in the band for 17 years) returns as well. This Halloween-themed mashup of covers, updates to obscure deep cuts, and a few originals could have gone horribly wrong – but it absolutely works. I spent much of the past year tracking down the Japanese comps filled with DD’s legendary Night Versions, B-sides and other deep cuts, many of which resurface here in mutated zombie form. The CD commits to the theme, straight down to the spooky and mysterious packaging and ghostly videos.
Andy Taylor, meanwhile, released his first solo album in some 30 years. The title alludes to mankind’s ability to be cruel to each other and that could not be a more relevant topic in 2023. Taylor’s Thunder came out in 1987 following his Power Station era that included solo albums by Robert Palmer and Rod Stewart. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he underwent a unique trial and now claims to be symptom free. Wolf – perhaps a cheeky nod to “Hungry like the Wolf”, is a really big album – one that is full of life versus a rumination in the eventuality of death. Taylor sounds a lot like 90’s David Bowie throughout – “Big Trigger” near the end especially sounds like Ziggy-era Bowie fronting Low Life-era New Order.
17.) PERFECT PAIRING
Trans-Canada Highwaymen • Explosive Hits Volume #1
Adam Lambert • High Drama
Tribute albums and covers records provide an easy way for recording artists to feed the Spotify beast between album cycles; they’re relatively easy to record and generate immediate performance royalties while gifting some micro pennies per play to whoever owns the publishing. Taylor Swift has made a second career out of covering herself while Dolly Parton and Juliana Hatfield spent much of the year plundering other artists’ songbooks. But when done right, the results can be magnificent.
On the south side of the Great Lakes, we get Indiana native Adam Lambert on a brief hiatus from his vocal duties with Queen and fresh off his recent solo career best album of originals, Velvet. On High Drama, Lambert takes on a variety of queens (Sia, Billie Eilish, Boy George, Pink, and Noel Coward among others). Do we really need another version of Bonnie Tyler’s Jim Steinman masterwork “Holding out for a Hero”? No. But the ten tracks he picks here – especially his takes on Jobriath’s “I’m a Man” and Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” remind us why Lambert was the most exciting American Idol ever.
From the north side of the Great Lakes, the Trans-Canada Highwaymen are an alt-90s’ supergroup that sings K-Tel/AM Radio Canadian hits from the 60’s and 70’s. Moe Berg (the Pursuit of Happiness), Chris Murphy (Sloan), Craig Northey (Odds) and Steven Page (formerly Barenaked Ladies) mine for AM Radio Gold to create a truly solid, uptempo, indie rock album. It’s the ultimate “rabbit role” record as you first enjoy the album as it is presented (Level 1). Next, you can track down the original artists and explore their catalogs (Level 2), before exploring the four Highwaymen and their rich catalogs (such as TPOH’s classic “I’m an Adult Now” and Page’s 2022 landmark LP, Excelsior!”).
Chris sings “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” by The Poppy Family and blissfully doesn’t change the gender cues. The Poppy Family original has a glorious chorus that ABBA would have been proud of; the band was actually the duo of Susan and Terry Jacks, the latter of whom had a giant solo hit with “Seasons in the Sun.” Album highlight is the one original in the bunch, Page singing the rollicking origin anthem “Theme from Trans-Canada Highwaymen.”
16.) Sam Ryder • There’s Nothing But Space, Man!
The former TikTok star with the once in a generation voice looks like Will Forte impersonating Edgar Winter, he rose to European prominence representing the UK at Eurovision 2022 and then found international fans when he slayed at the 2022 Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert live from London. His debut album delivers on all that potential and momentum – a barn burner with nothing but potential #1 singles that channels Freddie Mercury and Adam Lambert-era Queen, Bowie, Elton John, Sam Smith and Brandon Flowers of The Killers.
15.) A Certain Ratio: 1982
Until this year, ACR, along with Section 25, were among the “other Factory bands” – back in the era when my friends and I had no access to the NME or Melody Maker and just kinda discovered records in suburban Cleveland record stores. Each release came with a mercurial “FAC” number and often little to no other information about what was inside: single, EP, album? By which band? Who the hell knows!
And so, with an album honoring 1982, 2023 became the year I went all in on A Certain Ratio. I loved this album so much, I quickly blew through a good $200 collecting ALL their CDs on Factory, Mute, and some inbetweener labels. Their absolutely fascinating, always evolving sound blends post punk, tribal dance, trip hop, pop, soul, funk, and just about anything else you can imagine. Now that I’ve processed them all, 1982 ranks among their very best – not bad for a band that has spent a good 50 years in heatseeker mode here in the States. At first listen, 1982 honors classics ranging from Tricky’s Maxinquaye, to most every !!! (chk chk chk) record, to classics by Massive Attack and Ronnie Size & Reprazent – but then I realized most of those acts honor early A Certain Ratio. Like many of the legacy acts on this list, ACR proves fully capable of delivering utterly brilliant, constantly surprising jams all these years later.
14.) Jessie Ware • That! Feels Good
This universally adored album truly moves the 2020’s disco revival into bold new territory. After 2012’s breakthrough Devotion, Ware’s subsequent albums failed to catch fire until 2020’s What’s Your Pleasure joined Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia and Kylie Minogue’s Disco as the essential lockdown living room dancefloor anthems of the pandemic. That! Feels Good takes that earworm ecstasy to even higher levels with lush, sophisticated sounds that give a good soundsystem an eargasmic workout. This is unabashedly adult pop, less “WAP” and “Bongos” twerking on Red Bull overload and more Studio 54 VIP Lounge hanging with the likes of Goldfrapp and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
13.) Cindy Wilson • Realms
Much hype was made for 1989’s “Cosmic Thing”, the comeback album from the B-52’s which at that point were only 10 years into their career and only three years out from their one sonic misstep, the grief-laden Bouncing off the Satellites. Well, here we are some 34 years later, and the band is seemingly on a farewell tour. Wilson is far from retiring though, and with her second solo album, Realms, it feels like she’s just beginning. I loved this album so much, I went out and bought all the band’s solo albums (one from Kate, four from Fred, and another one from Cindy). And they all kick ass.
Once again, Wilson’s signature voice is center stage, but this isn’t in the same universe as her band. On this album and 2017’s Change, she crafts a sound all her own. Both albums are on the Kill Rock Stars label, but they align cosmically more with Goldfrapp and Tame Impala, than they do iconic riot girl acts. Don’t look too hard to find a hit single, the entire album is a vibe. Pop in the disc and float blissfully onto the dancefloor and out into the stars.
12.) Big Stir Records • Yes, The Whole Freakin’ Label
For the first time ever, I am placing an entire record label in my year-end roundup. Face it, we live in a streaming era, where it’s common to consume 10 hours of a single story that one would then land one spot on a list of the year’s best TV shows. Why should music be any different? Throughout the year, the Burbank-based indie label kept my stereo thumping with an endless stream of amazing bands from around the world, each with its own unique take on one of my favorite sounds – power pop. So if you’re fans of Cheap Trick, The Romantics, Rick Springfield, The Kinks, and The Knack – then here come a dozen or so of your new favorite bands.
On Radio Transient, Chris Church moved away from Guided By Voices-infected lofi into his Buckingham/Fixx era, with shades of The Church, REM, Duran Duran, Hall and Oates thrown in for good measure. In addition to epic hooks, he delivers lyrical bon mots like “Collect your fossil fuels and move it along, intramolecular aggression is wrong”.
LA’s cheekily named Sparkle Jets UK issued their first full-length album in two decades, a double LP filled with covers of underground classics by their friends from the turn-of-the-century Southern California power pop scene (Wondermints, The Sugarplastic, Cockeyed Ghost, Stew and many more) – it plays like a greatest hits record because it is packed with epic covers of their favorite songs. The Flashcubes, another resurrected CBGB’s era band, delivered a winning album of covers. Some of the original artists joined them in the studio, as did a busload of absolute studio ringers (including several members of Dramarama). Listening, you would think this is the greatest album The Who never released.
On “Thank You, Valued Customer”, Shplang! follow up their recent anthology, Los Grandes Excritos 1994-2019 with a tight knit collection of new songs – each with its own unique sound that showcases the multidimensional sounds within the glittering diamond of the genre. Dolph Chaney’s Mug pays homage to power pop, country, and barroom rock from 1970s thru the 90s, its ideal for fans of Matthew Sweet, Joe Jackson and the Plimsouls.
And finally, British legend Graham Parker signed to the label to release his triumphant Last Chance to Learn the Twist. In the film This is 40, Paul Rudd’s fledgling indie label triumphs after going all in by signing what many hipsters considered an over the hill/past prime act – and now this is happening in real life. Parker rose from the same scene that gave us Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe; he sounds a lot like Van Morrisson (without the baggage). Over the years, he’s come in and out of vogue, and with this spectacular new album, remains on top of his game. Check out Popdose alum Will Harris’s new interview with Parker in the resurrected Q Magazine.
11.) Ian Hunter • Defiance (Part 1)
I’m not a huge Mott the Hoople fan, but for decades, Ian Hunter’s “All of the Good Ones Are Taken” was my all-time favorite music video until it was unseated by Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia”. Now age 83, the eternally young dude signs onto the legendary Sun Records and recruits a murderer’s row of icons to show all whippersnappers how rock and roll is done. Ringo Starr, Todd Rundgren, Johnny Depp, Billy F Gibbons, Joe Elliott, Jeff Tweedy, Mike Campbell, Slash, Robert Trujillo, Brad Whitford, Duff McKagan, and the late Jeff Beck and Taylor Hawkins bring the thunder to lift Hunter’s soul.
In many ways, Defiance sounds a lot like a late era Joe Strummer LP. Barnburners (“Bed of Roses”) and ballads (“No Hard Feelings”) – the latter featuring an exquisite Beck solo with Johnny Depp on slide guitar – barrel right into “Pavlov’s Dog” with Hunter fronting Stone Temple Pilots’ Dean and Robert Deleo. Hawkins drums on three tracks, lending vocals to a song called “Angel” (because of course), where he also plays piano and guitar. The affair ends with a secret alternate version of “I Hate Hate” with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco.
Decades after Santana’s Supernatural, these all-star albums are quite in vogue this year. If you love the cast of this album, check out Brother Johnny, Edgar Winter’s tribute to his late brother, Eddie Vedder’s Earthling, Iggy Pop’s Every Loser, Ozzy Osborne’s Patient #9, and the Rolling Stones’ Hackney Diamonds.
10.) Robin Tayler Zander • The Distance
You may scroll upon this entry and say aloud, “wait, the guy from Cheap Trick has a solo album out?” and the answer will be both yes and no. Frontman Zander released his debut solo album 30 years ago, and so it’s fitting his son, RTZ, who plays rhythm guitar in Cheap Trick, releases his debut solo album this year.
At first listen, I thought the manufacturer had slipped someone else’s album into The Distance slipcase. RTZ sings in a softer, higher register – somewhere in a venn diagram with George Harrison, Julian Lennon, and Natalie Maines. Mikeala Davis, whose own album is elsewhere on this list, adds harp and backing vocals; their two albums plus the latest by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, really took Americana to new heights in 2023.
9.) Angela Perley • Turn Me Loose
Popdose first fell in love with “Athens”, a love letter to southern Ohio by Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons close to a decade ago; the slow build and massive payoff in the bridge and chorus still gives chills. It’s been a joy watching my biggest music crush since Belladonna-era Stevie Nicks to blossom artistically ever since. On the live circuit she remains a hot midwest and east coast commodity, but her voice — tender, bold, powerful, and whisper quiet in all the right places — storytelling and blazing FM radio production deserve a worldwide audience. Kindred in spirit to Dolly Parton, Lucinda Williams, Neko Case, and Amanda Shires, her sound will flutter hearts of indie rock, Americana, alt and mainstream country fans of all ages. Need more? She also just dropped a new holiday tune, “North Star Bound”, on her Bandcamp and all major streamers.
8.) Madison Beer • Silence Between Songs
I’m a few chapters into The Half of It, Madison Beer’s cautionary “be careful what you wish for” autobiography. It may seem absurd that A.) someone in their young 20’s already feels entitled to write an autobiography, and B.) someone in his late 50’s (me) is listening to her music and buying her book. Well, she wrote the book because she has lived quite the life so far, and as most young kids these days want to grow up to be an influencer, YouTuber, or pop star, her tell all from behind the curtain is well worth paying heed to. As for me, well I love Buckingham/Nicks and damn, this girl can sing in that style. Frothy teen pop this ain’t – she discarded that after her first single. Now two albums into fully controlling her career, Beer is a creative and cultural force to be reckoned with. Her songs are magnetic, angelic, soulful, sweet, haunting, and heartbreaking — sometimes all at once.
7.) Lol Tolhurst, Budgie, and Jacknife Lee • Los Angeles
Last year, we had the Night Crickets, a post punk SuperGroup featuring members of Bauhaus and Violent Femmes. This year, we get a group without a name, comprised of two iconic drummers – The Cure’s founding drummer Lol Tolhurst, author of the new book “Goth: a History” and “Cured: a Tale of Two imaginary Boys”, and Budgie from Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Creatures. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Garret ‘Jacknife’ Lee (U2, The Killers, Snow Patrol, Taylor Swift, and a billion others) rounds out the core trio. The press release for this album absolutely nails it, calling Los Angeles “A hard-hitting and compulsively exploratory 55-minute electronic mindscrew.” Guest credits for, amongst others, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Civil Rights avant-gardist Lonnie Holley, Starcrawler wildchild Arrow de Wilde, Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse, and The Edge from U2.
6.) Iggy Pop • Every Loser
I remember seeing Iggy Pop play Metro in Chicago on the Avenue B tour, amazed that this dude in his 50’s could still stage dive, sing, scream and swagger better than all newcomers in the recently imploded Nirvana era. I thought I was seeing him at the tail end of his career, and here we are some 30 years later with Iggy still out thundering everyone else in rock and roll. Every Loser picks up where his last rock outing Post Pop Depression let off, this time trading members of Queens of the Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys for two Red Hot Chili Peppers (Chad Smith and former guitarist Josh Klinghoffer), Taylor Hawkins, ¾ of Jane’s Addiction, Duff McKagan, Travis Barker and Stone Gossard – all under the eye of producer Andrew Watt. The album is a victory lap through all of his 80’s-00’s peaks – throat shredding/snot nosed hardcore, wise sage spoken word, synth pop, screamo, and Berlin/Bowie-era pre-punk. Heaven knows what’s next for Pop, as he’s known to buffer his rock records with French chamber music or spoken word stuff, but this Loser is an absolute winner, among Pop’s essential solo records. This album was issued in many different formats, the best being a special issue of Punk magazine dedicated entirely to Iggy Pop. Several of these releases were long delayed, as the label promised thousands of autographed copies that Pop couldn’t keep up with. Considering all the hard living and blood spilled on the stage over the past 60 years, it would have been ironic if carpal tunnel syndrome would have been his grand undoing.
5.) Christian Kjellvander • Hold Your Love Still
Much like Kate Bush, Kjellvander’s voice is quite jarring at first listen – somewhere between Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, U2’s Messiah period, and the theatrical warble of Ethel Merman. But once you enter his dark and mysterious world lit only by a bright moon from the same galaxy as the classic Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World soundtrack, the music elevates the boundaries of lush and captivating. His previous album was a bit more harsh – brash guitar parts shattering the dreamscape vibe – but this one goes all into the fever dream spaghetti western vibe; a fitting companion to the two new Coral albums that also rank high in 2023. One standout song worth discovering, “Notes from the Drive Between Simat and Alcoi” described in press materials as “a travelogue from South-Eastern Spain inspired by breathtaking valleys, a Cistercian monastery and the comforting distortion of a well used sound system.”
In fact, the press release itself should win a grammy – reading it as the songs unfolded was like having a great writer like Burrows or Lester Bangs sitting by the stereo, turning me onto their favorite new album. Some plum excerpts:
- “Naked but for a soft blanket of reverb, Christian Kjellvander’s tender voice invites us into his latest creation.
- “The Swedish troubadour in a reflective mood, exploring the difficulties of an honest life amid the entanglement of capitalism, and imploring us to nurture that faltering hope for a better tomorrow.”
- ”A grounded celebration of the power of nature, this is a reminder that the long grass has more beauty than the manicured lawn.”
4.) The Coral – Sea of Mirrors + Holy Joe’s Coral Island Medicine Show
They say you spend your addiction trying in vain to return to the highs of the first hit, and that seems to explain the preponderance of CDs by The Coral on my shelf. They’re all very good to excellent, but until now, the band has never returned to the creative highs of their self-titled debut album, a masterpiece produced by Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds. That one, recorded when they were teens, was a dizzying spectacle of 60’s psychedelia, peak Doors, Motown soul, a dash of the Beatles, and English seaside folk; rhythmic shifts and abrupt chord changes awaited at every turn to form a riveting debut. Subsequent albums were always charming and melodic, but played it much safer.
This year, they found their creative mojo once again by conjuring the soundtrack to a fictional spaghetti western and then expanding that universe with a bonus album released separately on the same day. Sea of Mirrors introduces us to a variety of fascinating and shady characters, with rhythms and melodies that would sound great in any Tarantino or David Lynch movie. Man of the hour, Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer) guests as one of these lost souls in a spoken word contribution. Then things get truly freaky on Holy Joe’s Coral Island Medicine Show, a late night radio broadcast set somewhere between this world and Coral Island, the band’s 2021 concept album. Whereas The Weeknd’s epic Dawn FM played like a radio broadcast (hosted by Jim Carrey) that ushered lost souls from this life to the next, Holy Joe’s is a late night refuge for drifters, grifters, con men and carnies. Grizzled narration sets up another ¾ album of Coral originals, each written by different members of the band. Taken together, these CDs transport you to an otherworldly fantastic and dangerous place. And if that wasn’t enough, the band also released an acoustic EP called The Skiffle Sessions.
3.) Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark • Bauhaus Staircase (Super Deluxe)
Early into David Medsker’s must-read new Popdose interview with Andy McClusky, the OMD co-founder reveals “People say nice things about us, so the last thing we want to do is fuck up that by doing a shit album, you know?” While it’s been 45 years since he and Paul Humpreys hit the scene with an experimental set helmed by Paul Hardcastle (of future “19” fame), the band is still creating peak level pop music that nerds can groove to. Look no further than the UK charts, as Bauhaus Staircase debuted at a career-best #2. Granted, that chart entry may have been boosted by the limited-time digital release of a 29-track Super Deluxe Edition that sold for $5. The proper CD was made available in single and 2-disc versions, the latter contains 13 demos not on the 29-track digital version. Plus there’s a CD single with a remix not on any of the above… and yes, I bought them all.
I’ve been all in on OMD since the very beginning, when songs about science and history sparkled above entrancing synth melodies with nary a guitar in sight. Their first imperial era was experimental and wildly creative, followed by their commercial peak, “If You Leave” from Pretty in Pink. Then band blew apart and when they reformed, they did so with creative vengeance. Staircase is the fourth album in the band’s second imperial phase that also includes The History of Modern (2010), English Electric (2013), The Punishment of Luxury (2017).
On this album, high school crushes are long forgotten, as Andy and Paul flat-out address the world we live in – ominously predicting it’s too late and we’re all doomed. If we’re all gonna die, it’s a perfect soundtrack to make a magnificent exit. It’s fitting there’s a connection to Propaganda’s A Secret Wish, the all-time greatest synth pop album ever (one of the tracks here is an unresolved demo from Humphreys’ OneTwo project with xPropaganda’s Claudia Brucken); as both albums push synth pop to the absolute peak. Dark, powerful, urgent, engrossing, and utterly compelling, with Bauhaus Staircase, OMD has created their own brand of stadium-rousing anthems that could hold their own with peak Guns n’ Roses and Depeche Mode.
2.) Mikeala Davis • And Southern Star
One of two albums on this list from the iconic Kill Rock Stars label, the sophomore set from this jaw-droppingly talented Hudson Valley harpist/singer/songwriter is an absolute aural feast. While her name is on the marquee here, And Southern Star is truly a band album with a musical family she’s been assembling since childhood. Drummer Alex Coté, guitarist Cian McCarthy, bassist Shane McCarthy and steel guitarist Kurt Johnson take collective steps into post-pandemic adulthood on this otherworldly, brilliantly modern affair that filters Americana and Classic Rock through a late 60’s Laurel Canyon kaleidoscope.
Davis & Co. are among a modern breed of visionary artists who are twisting, turning, and evolving Americana into bold new forms, their songs often blossom with sonic shifts and surprises in the perfect places. This album ranks up there with the best albums by kindred spirits Neko Case, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlisle, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and the Delta Spirit – not to mention longtime Popdose fave Angela Perley who is also on this list. Ted Asregadoo, host of the Planet LP Podcast where we raved about this album on many occasions, heard hints of Sheryl Crow and the Civil Wars as well.
According to the band website, mixer Mike Fridmann is lovingly nicknamed as the ‘silent sixth member of the band’ and it shows – this is now one of my top 3 CDs to show off the prowess of my sound system when guests are over (the other two being Prince’s The Gold Experience and the recently remastered Police catalog). Every instrument absolutely crackles like fireflies in the night sky, backlit by the full moon light of Davis’s haunting, majestic, and magical vocals.
1.) K.Flay • Mono
Multi-platinum, 2x Grammy-nominated Kristine Flaherty could probably still walk down the street without anyone recognizing her, but in my eyes, she’s one of the biggest rock stars of the past decade. As K.Flay, she has released five truly era-defining albums that you just can’t put in a box – hip hop, punk, funk, chill, metal, industrial – basically she’s everything, everywhere, all at once. “Blood in the Cut” from 2017’s Every Where Is Some Where is among my 10 best songs of the century and most every track on Mono is hell bent to top it. Give this album some more time to earworm into my psyche throughout 2024 and beyond, I bet many of them do.
Mono marks the first album since K.Flay completely lost hearing in one ear. 14 songs probe the pain of loss and the power of transformation. It’s an intense white knuckle ride through one of the most creative and inventive minds in the game. The mix is part NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine, and part Skyler Grey solo album. Much like Missy Elliot, Flay is a double threat, as she can sing big songs as good as she can spit rapidfire, insanely creative rhymes. This album comes out of the gates swinging with “Are you Serious?” which tackles her deafness head on. It steadily builds to a peak late in the game with “Chaos is Love”, an intense and simultaneously beautiful song that leads into “Yes I’m Serious”, a callback to the opener which has the most exciting hip hop rhymes I’ve heard since “The Machine” by The Mad Rad.
Halsey recruited Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for her “dark album” a few years ago, but it was in many ways impenetrable with a dense wall of production. Mono, to the contrary of its name, is sonic ear candy – plenty of room in the mix for beats, vocals, bass, synths, and raging guitars to each shine without muddying up each other. Surprise twists and rhythmic course corrections drop at every turn. The album and the artist demand and reward attention and deliver catharsis when we need it most.