Sunday, December 24, 2023

Team Sisson's Best of 2023

Happy holidays from Team Sisson, and congratulations on receiving Chris Schuck's 22nd Annual Surprise Birthday Bash for Jesus. As always, we've picked and exquisitely sequenced tracks from 22 of our favorite albums of 2023 for your listening pleasure. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

1. Party Dozen - "Wake In Might"
Album: n/a
Let’s kick things off with some gnarly key/sax/percussion from Party Dozen.  I first became aware of Party Dozen this summer when they did a session at KEXP that I happened to be streaming in my office.  What first caught my ear was when they introduced the band one of the members was Jonathan Boulet.  Sharp eared listeners may recall we featured the Jonathan Boulet track “You’re A Animal” on the 2012 Bash.  This was, and remains one of my favorite songs we ever featured on the Bash, but we haven’t heard anything from this Aussie since then.  It appears he’s been keeping busy with other projects though and we’re glad to be re-introduced.  Their Spotify bio states Party Dozen is “a sonic partnership of saxophonist Kirsty Tickle and percussionist Jonathan Boulet, Party Dozen is a project loosely based around improvisation.” Truth be told they didn’t actually release an album this year.  Digging into their back catalog I highly recommend you check out 2022’s The Real Work.  As far as I can tell all they’ve released in 2023 is the single “Wake In Might” which we’re just too excited about to wait for it to be included on an album so here you go.  Hope you like it.  

2. The Gaslight Anthem - "Positive Charge"
Album: History Books
Today we right a wrong committed 14 years ago.  My biggest Birthday Bash regret is completely missing “The ’59 Sound” back in 2009 and failing to include it in that year’s still very strong Bash. I remember buying The ’59 Sound from eMusic the following year and I’ve been loving it all these years since.  You guys remember eMusic?  The model was you paid them $10/month and you got to download 30 songs per month.  It was a better deal than iTunes which was $1/song, but they had a pretty limited catalog of available music which worked great for me since I was trying to find cool unknowns at the time.  Now we pay $10/month for every song ever recorded.  What a world.  Have you heard Gary Gulman’s phone bit?  Anyway, Cory invited me to see the Gaslight Anthem this summer and they put on a fantastic show at the Midland. History Books is their first album since 2014’s Get Hurt and we’re super glad they’re back. 
Also check out: "History Books", "Spider Bites"

3. Sufjan Stevens - "Goodbye Evergreen"
Album: Javelin
You guys know we've been long time Sufjan fans.  I'm sure you all are too.  I mean what's not to love? We found out the day of Javelin's release that Sufjan's long-time and secret partner had passed away, and that's the context of "Goodbye Evergreen" and perhaps the whole album.  If you haven't heard it yet it's as pretty as you're imagining so just click play and thank me later.  
Also check out: "Will Anybody Ever Love Me?"

4. Petite Noir - "Blurry" feat. Sampa the Great
Album: MotherFather
Spotify says I added "Blurry" to my best of 2023 playlist on April 14, but I feel like it's been in my life forever. It just feels like one of those timeless songs that would have been just as good 30 years ago and will be as good 30 years from now.   According to his Spotify bio, "Petite Noir is the architect of Noirwave - a musical and cultural movement that draws creative energy from punk aesthetics and the fragmented identity of today's African diaspora."  Duh. 
Also check out: "Finding Paradise", "777

5. Lila Blue - "Sweet Pea"
Album: Sweat Pea
In November I was on a long early morning walk to Firestone where I was to pick up our mini-van with a new set of tires.  Earbuds were in and I was searching 2023 releases for something that might appeal to the Mankin boys.  To that point my best of 2023 playlist was dominated by gnarly guitar rock bands and sleazy hip hop.  I needed something softer and gentler to provide balance.  On that walk I found both Daneshevskaya ("Somewhere In The Middle" was a late cut) and Lila Blue.  Not sure either fit my criteria but damn were they both good.  
Also check out: "Changeling"

6. FIGHTMASTER - "Bad Man"
Album: Violence
One of the Sound Opinions producers introduced me to "Bad Man" on their fall Buried Treasures show.  I've been unable to get it out of my head ever since.  I don't think there's anything groundbreaking about the playing but the lyrics are so earwormy!  Plus, can you think of a better name for an artist than FIGHTMASTER?  Go ahead.  I'll give you a year and you won't be able to top it.  Speaking of a year, I think that's how long it will take for this song to escape your head.  "I've got one hand free, the other's on you knee"!!!!!!!
Also check out: "Wild One", their cover of "I Will Follow You into the Dark"

Album: Since I Have A Lover
I've had "Inwood Hill Park" and "Talkback" on my list since March.  I think 6LACK was mentioned on All Songs but I really don't remember.  Looking at the reviews Since I Have A Lover doesn't appear to have made a big impression with the critics, but I've been loving it for nine months and I guarantee you're loving what you're hearing too.  
Also check out: "Temporary (ft. Don Toliver)"

8. Geese - "2122"
Album: 3D Country
I really can't tell you how I got into Geese.  I'm pretty sure I investigated and wrote off a band called Goose as a potential Birthday Bash track last year or the year before.  Interestingly, just yesterday both Geese and Goose announced they had each lost a member of their respective bands.  Anyway, now that I poke around YouTube I think you can blame The Needle Drop for cluing me into this weird af Connecticut jam band.  I usually hate this kind of music but something about 3D Country has me dancing in the aisles.  
Also check out: "Cowboy Nudes", "I See Myself"

9. Lisa O'Neill - "All Of This Is Chance"
Album: All Of This Is Chance
Now that you're listening to "All Of This Is Chance," it should come as no surprise that my Spotify year-end wrap up listed it as my most played song of the year.  Lankum is getting all of the critical acclaim (#1 album on Loud & Quiet’s list) but we turned to Lisa O’Neill this year to satisfy our Irish folk/drone needs. 

10. Wilco - "Infinite Surprise"
Album: Cousin
Surprise surprise.  It's no secret Wilco has a special place in the hearts of Team Sisson.  My first concert ever was a show at the Blue Note in Columbia my junior year in high school.  I was dragged to it by the Kesterson boys who had moved to our tiny town a couple of years before from St. Louis.  They wanted to see these bands I had never heard of.  The opener was the Geraldine Fibbers and the headliner was Golden Smog which was an alt-country supergroup of sorts featuring members of Big Star, Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks along with Jay and Jeff from Wilco.  It was an amazing show and years later I realized the guy in the Geraldine Fibbers who was playing an upright bass with an electric mixer was Nels Cline (who has since joined, and remains in Wilco). One our our first dates was to a Wilco show.  Our first dance was to a Wilco song ("I'm the Man Who Loves You").  She got me an picture autographed by the entire band as a pharmacy school graduation present.  Yeah, we go way back.  All that being said, I have to say I haven't been gaga for the last couple of Wilco albums.  Cousin though?  I think it's their best work since The Whole Love. Gabe and I caught them at the Midland a couple of months ago and it was a stellar show.  
Also check out: "Evicted", "Ten Dead", "Pittsburgh"

11. Wednesday - "Hot Rotten Grass Smell"
Album: Rat Saw God
I was just thinking, when I was in college there was this emo band called Thursday that I liked a little but not a lot.  This made me think, "has a band/artist been named after every day of the week?"  The answer is yes (go ahead, see for yourself), but by faaaaarrrrr the most successful so far has been the Ashville, NC quartet, Wednesday.  I had "Bull Believer" on my best of 2022 list but the full album wasn't released until this year.  I was blown away when I first heard Rat Saw God, but it turns out I'm not the only one who noticed.  Rat Saw God has been DOMINATING year end best of lists.  Speaking of "Bull Believer," check out this passage from the Sputnik Music review; "Bull Believer” may end up being one of the most important songs of the year. With its two-part narrative, the first half of the song tells the sad vision of watching someone you know succumb to addiction while the latter half embraces a bittersweet reflection on teenage years. With every passing line and gritty guitar passage, the sadness builds and tension grows thicker. Yet all of this tension is released at once as the gut-wrenching screams of ”Finish Him!” pierce through the cacophony of instrumentation as the narrator comes to terms with the person they are today. It’s beautiful, emotional, and resolute – and it perfectly captures the essence of Rat Saw God."  That's a lot of info about a song not even on the Bash, but seriously, check it out.  And seriously, the whole album is great.  Looks like they're playing Omaha May 30th.  In one of the live performance videos I saw, Karly told the crowd before the last song, they "don't do encores because encores are goofy."   I totally agree!  Zentz, you in?  
Also check out: "Quarry", "Got Shocked"

12. Briston Maroney - "Body"
Album: Ultrapure
The past couple of years I’ve felt compelled to include the song I hear on repeat on The Bridge that makes me think, “oh, what is this?” even though I’ve already heard it a bunch of times.  Last year it was “Growing/Dying” by The Backseat Lovers.  This year it’s Briston Maroney’s “Body.”  I mean you can’t blame me right?  This song is catchier than chicken pox. In fact, I just searched the YouTube video to link it and the top comment was "I just heard this song today for the first time May18, 2023.  It hits really hard when you’re 71 years old and you feel most of your life has just been used up. I can only hope and pray that I have some more time on earth… So that I can start living."  I mean damn, that's powerful. There's a lot more good stuff on Ultrapure too, though it doesn't look like the major publications/sites noticed.  The third search result I found when searching for Ultrapure reviews was a review in the Mizzou student newspaper, The Maneater (Briston Maroney’s ‘Ultrapure’ is a tranquil masterpiece).  Obviously it was an exceedingly well written piece and it was a real blast from the past for me to be reading The Maneater again. Apparently this dude was a semi-finalist on American Idol in when he was 15 years old. 
Also check out: "Sunburn Fades", "Chaos Party", "Breathe"

13. Palehound - "The Clutch"
Album: Eye On The Bat
This summer, Tim, The Mankin boys and I stumbled upon a killer music festival in rural Utah where we just happened to be camping and hiking (and very nearly dying but that's a story for another time).  One of the bands we saw was Houndmouth and those dudes were awesome.  Why am I brining this up? I don't really know aside from the fact that both Houndmouth and Palehound have the word hound in their names.  Plus that Utah trip was one of the highlights of my year so I had to find a way to get it in here.  Anyway, Eye On The Bat is so freakin' good you guys.  Palehound have been around since 2014 and I've seen the name before but this is the first album I've really listened to and I'm excited to dig into the back catalog. They're playing The Truman March 25!  I may set aside my disdain for that venue and go get my face blown off.  Let me know if you want to join!

14. feeble little horse - "Freak"
Album: Girl with Fish
You like fuzz?  You like guitars?  You will like feeble little horse!  You know how the last two or three years of the Bash have been dominated by UK post-rock/experimental/jazz guitar bands?  2023 is the year of the female fronted gnarly guitar rock band baby!  From the Pitchfork review: "Half a decade or so ago, the electric guitar received a wellness check. As sales plummeted and legacy manufacturers slogged through financial straits, concerned parties blamed the popularity of pop, hip-hop, and electronic music, genres more often built from synthesizers and drum machines. Even Paul McCartney chimed in, telling The Washington Post in 2017 that young people lacked “guitar heroes.”  Safe to say that the four members of Feeble Little Horse, most of whom were still in high school at that point, were not tuned into this conversation. The Pittsburgh noise-pop band’s second record, Girl With Fish, speaks to the idea that a younger generation of musicians would recognize the confluence of guitar music and digital sounds as a doorway rather than a death knell. It’s a familiar story, but Feeble Little Horse’s wall of influences—textured shoegaze guitars, exacting pop hooks, idiosyncratic production flourishes—has been wheat-pasted with such vim that it feels fresh and, just as importantly, emotionally resonant.
Also check out: "Tin Man", "Steamroller

15. Paris Texas - "BULLET MAN"
Album: MID AIR
Wanna feel old?  In their Lemonade Stand interview the guys are asked what music they listened to growing up and the first album mentioned was Outkast's Idlewild.  Not Southernplayalistic, not Stankonia, not AqueminiIdlewild. This gives me a great idea.  Instead of listing birthdays on drivers licenses, they should list the first Outkast album you listened to.  I would argue this information would be far more relevant than a random date with no context.  Don't you think?

16. The Rural Alberta Advantage - "CANDU"
Album: Conductors
You know, the idea of my "favorite ____" used to seem so important. Hopefully I'm not the only one but when when I was younger it seemed like your favorite whatever was a huge part of defining you as a person.  That need to constantly be ranking things has never really left me, although at this point I'm intellectually aware that as a 40 something year old no one will ever again ask me what my favorite anything is.  It doesn't matter anymore.  It probably never did.  That being said, if you were to ask me over the past ten years what my favorite bands have been, I'd say Wilco, Drive-By Truckers and The Rural Alberta Advantage.  What I'm trying to say is I think The RAA is about as good as it can get.  For years though I thought they were done. Their last album was 2017's Brother.  That year we featured "Dead/Alive" but have since heard crickets from our darling Canadians. This year though they released Conductors with little fanfare.  No matter.  We still found it and we love the hell out of it.  You will too!
Also check out: "Plague Dogs", "AB Bride

17. Yves Tumor - "Echolalia"
Album: Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
Did you know Yves Tumor is from Tennessee?  I was almost positive they were from outer space. I feel like I have no idea what is going on with this music, but I love it anyway.  I can't put it any better than the Pitchfork reviewer did.  "Yves Tumor began their career in the low-ceilinged world of experimental noise, but from the outset, their yearning—for bigger stages, sweeping statements, limitless horizons—was palpable. “I only want to make hits,” they said with a laugh in 2017. “What else would I want to make?” Since signing to Warp, Yves Tumor has scaled upward so quickly that it sometimes seemed their own music was racing to contain their ambitions. As 2018’s darkly sensuous Safe in the Hands of Love gave way to the sex-god theatrics of 2020’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind, the only true constant was Tumor’s near-religious devotion to the possibilities of recording—for the careful placement of perfect sounds within implied space. For Tumor, headphone space is holy space, a sanctuary in which all sorts of transfigurations become possible.  With Praise a Lord Who Chews but Does Not Consume (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds), Tumor reaches an inflection point in their arms race with their own talent and ambition." Headphone space is holy space.  I love that.  I also read that passage and know I could never be a music writer (though I try every year with this dumb blog).  In some rare agreement with this publication, "Echolalia" came in #45 on The Quietus' top 75 tracks of 2023 list.  

18. Kate Davis - "Consequences"
Album: Fish Bowl
I have no idea how Kate Davis ended up on my Best of 2023 playlist but I freakin' love "Consequences."  The rest of Fish Bowl is great too.  
Also check out: "Call Home", "Fish Bowl"

19. KAMAUU - "advantages"
Album: LACUNA in The House Of Mirrors
KEXP's Don Yates had this to say about LACUNA; "This Maryland rapper’s official debut full-length is a potent blend of hip hop, funk and R&B, combining a variety of adventurous, often-densely produced beats with rhymes of struggle, escapism, spirituality and community." I added "don't play with my money" to the Best of 2023 playlist in June and have been intrigued by KAMAUU ever since.  This one I'd say was more of a grower but we're all in now.  Looking at the Spotify plays "advantages" seems to be the most popular track but there is a ton of good stuff on here.  Do yourself a favor and listen to LACUNA a couple of times...and call me in the morning! 
Also check out: "switch up", "flings", "antidote

20. Jolie Holland - "Feet on the Ground"
Album: Haunted Mountain
We've been Jolie Holland fans for almost 20 years now.  At some point I put the song "Old Fashioned Morphine" on an early mix CD for Leanna and we've been loving her ever since.  This year both she and Buck Meek (from Big Thief) released albums called Haunted Mountain.  In the great Haunted Mountain vs Haunted Mountain battle of 2023, we preferred the Jolie Holland offering, though probably the best song on it ("Highway 72") is actually duet with Buck Meek.  What a world!  The last edit to the 2023 Bash playlist was to swap "Highway 72" with "Feet on the Ground" which saved us  47 seconds and got us under the 80 minute compact disc ceiling.  Which probably brings up an obvious question.  Why am I STILL making this as a CD?  I wonder that myself every year.  It's just one of those things I do.  To just make a playlist seems way too simple.  Anybody can do that.  Lots of people make playlists.  They take no time at all and require about as much thought.  Hopefully when you get the Birthday Bash you understand it took a lot of time and effort to make. Which I guess is sort of the point.  This year I've been repeating to my kids, my staff, whoever, the phrase "if it were easy it wouldn't be any fun." I guess that's the point.  Nothing ventured nothing gained.  Not that I'm gaining much besides personal satisfaction, but that's enough.  Ok, that's enough about that!
Also check out:  "Orange Blossoms"

21. Maruja - "Thunder"
Album: Knocknarea (EP)
Wikipedia says "Maruja is a Spanish given name, a diminutive form of the baptismal name MarĂ­a."  I say Maruja is yet another killer rock band from the UK. The past few years of the Birthday Bash have been dominated by two things.  Bands from across the Atlantic and saxaphones.  Maruja checks both of those boxes.  From their bandcamp bio: "From obscurity to notability, Manchester four-piece Maruja’s continual rise has yet to meet its upward limit. The convergence of vocalist and guitarist Harry Wilkinson, drummer Jacob Hayes, bassist Matt Buonaccorsi and saxophonist Joe Carroll makes for a formidable end result."  Formidable indeed!  These guys have released an album's worth of material over the past two years but Knocknarea is the only collection of songs so you get the stand out from that offering.  I considered bringing you the single "One Hand Behind The Devil," also released in 2023, but you'd be happy with any of their tracks.  These guys absolutely rip. If they release an LP next year I predict you'll see it on the end of year lists.  Remember though, you heard them here first!

22. Buck 65 - "Mono No Aware"
Album: Super Dope
Looooong-time Birthday Bash listeners might remember we included Buck 65's "1957" on our 2007 list.  After that we lost track of him, but it seems he's been keeping busy.  Super Dope is actually just one of three albums Buck 65 released this year after recently returning to the game following a 7ish year hiatus from music.  In researching this blurb I found a pretty good long form interview podcast called Kreative Kontrol where Buck did his first interview in 10 years.  This dude is fascinating.  First of all, he was an Anticon rapper back in the day and was the first one to sign a major label deal.  He was also a damn good baseball player growing up and as an adult, which explains why he mentions baseball in almost every one of his songs.  He's taken up the impossible task of finding and cataloging every drum break ever recorded and has an anonymous Instagram account where he features seven breaks every week and has earned the attention of some heavy hitting music producers who have no idea who he is.   Dude is fascinating.  Check it out if you can, and for sure check out Super Dope
Also check out: "Turf Rider
Here are some other albums that were in contention and deserving of recognition this year.

Young Fathers - Heavy Heavy
Pile - All Fiction
Black Belt Eagle Scout - The Land, The Water, The Sky
Lucero - Should've Learned by Now
MIRRROS - Motion and Picture
100 gecs - 10,000 gecs
The Tallest Man On Earth - Looking For Love
Cusp - You Can Do It All
McKinley Dixon - Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?
Far Caspian - The Last Remaining Light
Noname - Sundial
Cherry Glazer - I Don't Want You Anymore
Slowdive - everything is alive
Lifeguard - Dressed in Trenches 
Hotline TNT - Cartwheel
Daneshevskaya - Long Is The Tunnel
Glen Hansard - All That Was East Is West Of Me Now

Once again, happy holidays from Team Sisson and have a great 2024!

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