The Fire Note Blazing Top 50 Albums Of 2023

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2023 was a great year in music! Solid release after solid release made this year’s list one of the hardest to put together in TFN’s 17-year history. The simple fact is that TFN receives hundreds of albums every year for review so it is never an easy task. In regards to our annual best-of list – The Blazing Top 50, TFN follows the rule that for an album to make the Top 50, we had to review it.

Thanks again to our writers and readers for another stellar year on the web, and we hope everyone stays safe and has a nice holiday season! Enjoy the Blazing Top 50 and be sure to Discover, Support & Share!

#50

Smug Brothers
In The Book Of Bad Ideas
Anyway Records [2023]

This album serves as a delightful homage to the enduring charm of power pop, showcasing Dayton Ohio’s Smug Brothers as they expertly navigate between paying respects to the genre’s past and establishing a distinct presence in today’s indie music scene. Through infectious hooks, glistening guitars, and the compelling vocals of Kyle Melton, the band has masterfully crafted an album that not only resonates with dedicated fans but also possesses the potential to enchant a broader audience. In The Book Of Bad Ideas is a jubilant, foot-tapping, and irresistibly melodic compilation of songs that stands as a testament to the timeless allure of this beloved musical style, making it quite possibly one of Smug Brothers’ most outstanding records to date.

Smug Brothers: In The Book Of Bad Ideas [Fire Note Review 09/08/23]

#49

Erik Nervous
Immaturity
FatCat/Feel It Records [2023]

Most of Immaturity was written and recorded in the basement of Erik Hart’s rural northeastern Indiana home, the very house where he has lived his entire life. The album’s title, Immaturity, aptly reflects Erik’s steadfast refusal to embrace adulthood, evident in the album’s DIY ethos, carefree delivery, and stylish mood swings. While listening to Immaturity, you can distinctly hear Erik’s influences, including Devo, The Fall, and Gang Of Four. The album features 12 songs that offer a blend of bouncy garage post-punk and feverish pop new wave.

Erik Nervous: Immaturity [Fire Note Review 11/03/23]

#48

superviolet
Infinite Spring
Lame-O Records [2023]

Under the moniker superviolet, Ohio-based songwriter and former The Sidekicks frontman Steven Ciolek unveiled his debut record, Infinite Spring. Diverging from the energetic guitar-driven melodies and punk rock influences of his previous band, this album embraces a more acoustic approach. Despite this shift, Ciolek retains his trademark emotionally raw lyrics and a talent for crafting textured guitar pop. What makes this album truly exceptional is its overall acoustic orientation, interspersed with explosive moments that swiftly connect with Ciolek’s captivating voice, carrying listeners seamlessly to the album’s conclusion.

superviolet: Infinite Spring [Fire Note Review 04/21/23]

#47

Vanity Mirror
Puff
We Are Busy Bodies [2023]

Vanity Mirror, comprised of Toronto-based Brent Randall (Gentle Brent) and Los Angeles-dwelling Johnny Toomey (The Turns), previously known for their contributions to the Los Angeles-based baroque-pop group The Electric Looking Glass, presents Puff. This debut album is a dreamy and nostalgic journey into the realm of ’60s pop, seamlessly blending the influences of British Invasion bands with a distinct American lo-fi flavor. Capturing the spirit of the 1960s and early 1970s, the record fuses the energy and attitude of rock and roll with pop’s melodic sensibilities. Vanity Mirror’s music possesses a timeless quality and nostalgic charm, paying homage to the golden era of rock while carving out a modern path of their own.

Vanity Mirror: Puff [Fire Note Review 05/30/23]

#46

Joanna Sternberg
I’ve Got Me
Fat Possum Records [2023]

Joanna Sternberg’s sophomore album, I’ve Got Me, is a poignant exploration of self-discovery, resilience, and recognition. The hauntingly beautiful title track sets the tone for a deeply personal journey, where Sternberg’s raw and honest songwriting takes center stage. Standout tracks like “People Are Toys To You” showcase their blunt lyricism over bouncy folk jangles, while “Stockholm Syndrome” delves into the complexities of past relationships with soulful introspection. Sternberg’s remarkable vocal range and instrumental prowess, performing every instrument on the album, create a dynamic and emotionally resonant listening experience. I’ve Got Me stands as a must-listen in the realm of introspective folk music, showcasing Sternberg’s undeniable talent.

Joanna Sternberg: I’ve Got Me [Fire Note Review 07/13/23]

#45

Jeff Rosenstock
HELLMODE
Polyvinyl Records [2023]

HELLMODE marks the fifth studio album Jeff Rosenstock has released in the last ten years under his own name, following the dissolution of his beloved cult projects Bomb the Music Industry! and The Arrogant Sons of Bitches. This record once again perfectly captured his frenetic, genre-bending tour de force that encapsulates the anxieties and complexities of modern life, especially now still climbing out of the pandemic. HELLMODE is a striking example of punk rock’s continuing evolution and relevance in today’s world. With its raw emotion, clever lyricism, and diverse sonic palette, HELLMODE solidifies Rosenstock’s position as a pivotal figure in contemporary punk music.

Jeff Rosenstock: Hellmode [Fire Note Review 09/05/23]

#44

Yo La Tengo
This Stupid World
Matador Records [2023]

For almost four decades, the indie-rock trio from Hoboken, N.J., has steadfastly continued their musical journey, consistently releasing albums every few years that reflect their perspectives on the world. Unlike previous collaborations with external producers, this time they opted to keep things in-house. The result is a collection with a palpable immediacy, a quality achievable only when musicians perform together live in the studio. While maintaining the essence of Yo La Tengo, there are ample embellishments and nuanced musical additions. In essence, This Stupid World stands as another fantastic addition to their catalog, reaffirming the enduring sound that fans have known for years.

Yo La Tengo: This Stupid World [Fire Note Review 02/10/23]

#43

Dion Lunadon
Systems Edge
In The Red Records [2023]

Dion Lunadon’s Systems Edge marks a blistering third solo effort that thrusts listeners into the vibrant realm of garage rock brilliance. Originally from New Zealand and now based in Brooklyn, Lunadon unleashes infectious energy on this new album, paying homage to the raw, gritty roots of rock ‘n’ roll. Fueled by rebellion, partying, and an unapologetic celebration of rock’s excess, the record exudes a youthful exuberance that permeates its entirety. Systems Edge is a sonic adrenaline rush, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of those who relish the unbridled power of this unpolished and fantastic 35-minute musical journey!

Dion Lunadon: Systems Edge [Fire Note Review 11/29/23]

#42

Peter Gabriel
i/o
Real World Records [2023]

After a 21-year hiatus from releasing new original material, English pop singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel surprised fans with the complete album i/o. Despite individual songs being released throughout the year, the full album offers a sonic experience available in at least three different mixes, allowing listeners to discover the mix that best resonates with their ears. i/o stands as a robust musical statement from the veteran artist, encouraging active engagement and directing attention towards the enduring themes of longing, hope, peace, love, and joy. As a year-end gift, it fittingly captures the essence of these sentiments.

Peter Gabriel: i/o [Fire Note Review 12/01/23]

#41

Connections
Cool Change
Trouble In Mind Records [2023]

Having firmly established themselves in the indie music scene since 2013 with five full-length albums and several 7-inch releases in the span of six years, Connections returned after a five-year hiatus since their last offering. Making a triumphant comeback, the band presented Cool Change, their second LP for Chicago label Trouble In Mind Records and sixth overall. Each track on the album boasts high replay value, embedding itself in your mind after a few spins. In this phase of Connections’ career, Cool Change serves as the ideal celebration of their decade as a band. The group showcases a tighter musical cohesion, taking calculated risks throughout the album that not only keeps their sound fresh but also makes Cool Change a fantastic rocking 35-minute experience worth your time!

Connections: Cool Change [Fire Note Review 03/23/23]

#40

Ratboys
The Window
Topshelf Records [2023]

Ratboys’ fourth album, The Window, showcases the band’s evolution, moving from their early South Bend, IN, roots towards jangly mid-American pop/rock. The addition of a full-time rhythm section and collaboration from the album’s inception marks a departure, resulting in a more expansive sound. Produced by Chris Walla, the record explores personal themes, with standout tracks like the title song, inspired by conversations before the singer’s grandmother’s death. From power-pop gems like “Cross That Line” to country-rock influences in “Black Earth, WI,” Ratboys skillfully navigates various styles, cementing their identity and delivering a fun, dynamic album.

Ratboys: The Window [Fire Note Review 08/29/23]

#39

Golden Apples
Bananasugarfire
Lame-O Records [2023]

Philadelphia’s Golden Apples presented their latest album, Bananasugarfire, making a vibrant contribution to the realm of indie guitar music. The album not only highlights a cohesive band lineup but also captures the most genuine bond among its members on record. There’s a noticeable shift in Golden Apples’ lyrical approach, as they now acknowledge the delicate balance between life’s darkness and light. In comparison to the band’s previous two albums, Bananasugarfire exudes a more expansive and elated sound. If you appreciate guitar-driven tracks and layered melodies, this record proves to be a fantastic addition to your playlist.

Golden Apples: Bananasugarfire [Fire Note Review 12/05/23]

#38

RVG
Brain Worms
Fire Records [2023]

Melbourne’s post-punk quartet RVG boldly expands their sound with synths on their third album, Brain Worms, while staying true to their roots. Filled with catchy melodies, driving rhythms, and Romy Vager’s sharp, insightful lyrics, the album evokes the 80s college post-punk era rather than embracing contemporary genre edges. This new direction, characterized by lush orchestration, haunting melodies, and poetic lyrics, demonstrates the band’s growing maturity, solidifying their status as innovators. Brain Worms rewards repeated listens, unveiling depth and complexity over time, inviting introspection and reflection. It’s a sonic journey that transports the listener to a different post-punk era, showcasing RVG’s influence and innovation today.

RVG: Brain Worms [Fire Note Review 06/14/23]

#37

Gee Tee
Goodnight Neanderthal
Urge/Goner Records [2023]

Kel Mason, hailing from Sydney, is the creative force behind Gee Tee, delivering spastic lo-fi punk sounds. Since 2016, he has consistently released music under this moniker, steadily growing an underground following. The latest full-length release, Goodnight Neanderthal, serves as a formalization of his past work, featuring 10 power tracks recorded with Ishka Edmeades (Tee Vee Repairmann) and Ryan Ellem. From start to finish, experiencing Gee Tee is akin to shotgunning a Red Bull – an unrelenting energy surge with solid punk grit. The album’s relentless speed and style work seamlessly in its favor, offering just enough variation in each track to keep listeners engaged and hungry. At times, the song topics even prompt reflection on the fate of the world.

Gee Tee: Goodnight Neanderthal [Fire Note Review 03/14/23]

#36

The Sextones
Love Can’t Be Borrowed
Record Kicks [2023]

Produced by Kelly Finnigan of The Monophonics, The Sextones’ sophomore album, Love Can’t Be Borrowed, charts a captivating soulful path for both old and new fans. Hailing from Reno, Nevada, the band, consisting of Mark Sexton, Alexander Korostinsky, Daniel Weiss, and Christopher Sexton, seamlessly blends vintage aesthetics with contemporary vibes, showcasing their growth and evolving sound. The standout track, “Getaway Driver,” encapsulates the album’s essence with a groovy bassline and the catchiest chorus. This soulful anthem explores themes of wholehearted love, leaving a lasting impression reminiscent of late ’60s and early ’70s soul. With Finnigan’s production, The Sextones solidify their formidable presence in the modern soul music landscape.

The Sextones: Love Can’t Be Borrowed [Fire Note Review 09/29/23]

#35

Population II
Électrons libres du québec
Bonsound [2023]

Montreal-based trio Population II shines in their latest LP, Électrons libres du québec, garnering attention in the heavy psych genre. Following their notable 2020 album on Castle Face Records, this release elevates their sound with Tristan Lacombe’s piercing guitar, Sébastien Provençal’s fat bass grooves, and Pierre-Luc Gratton’s impressive drumming navigating tricky time signatures and tempos. The album’s homage to early ’70s heavy sounds is masterfully executed, seamlessly transitioning between shimmering space rock and blistering psychedelia. Sung entirely in French, Gratton’s vocals add a unique touch that transcends language barriers. Électrons libres du québec positions Population II for broader recognition, proving that rock skeptics need to know where to look to find the genre alive and well.

Population II: Électrons libres du québec [Fire Note Review 10/13/23]

#34

Mitski
The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
Dead Oceans [2023]

Mitski’s seventh studio album, The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We, reaffirms her status as an indie sensation. Known for her poignant lyricism and genre-defying soundscapes, Mitski takes a bold step by recording live with her band for the first time, resulting in a concise yet emotionally charged 33-minute experience across 11 tracks. The album showcases Mitski’s command of her creative energy, with standout elements including the haunting pedal steel guitar and her siren-like vocals, reminiscent of a PJ Harvey record. While the album’s brevity leaves listeners yearning for more, it ensures a concentrated and focused journey, highlighting Mitski’s growth as an artist and her ability to delve into the depths of the human experience. With innovative sonic exploration, Mitski continues to assert herself as a true indie music innovator, inviting audiences to navigate emotional landscapes with her.

Mitski: The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We [Fire Note Review 09/21/23]

#33

Washer
Improved Means To Deteriorated Ends
Exploding In Sound Records [2023]

Washer’s return with Improved Means To Deteriorated Ends after a six-year hiatus proves worth the wait. Originally planning to record in 2020, the Brooklyn/Philadelphia-based indie rock duo, Mike Quigley and Kieran McShane, took the extra time to enhance the album. Featuring 15 songs, with only four from the initial batch, the record maintains Washer’s punchy and energetic indie rock, capturing their live energy with a raw and unpolished sound. The album showcases a balance of infectious melodies and gritty, distorted guitars, offering a range of tempos and moods. Improved Means To Deteriorated Ends marks Washer’s growth in songwriting, maintaining a natural and unrestrained sound with intentional focus, setting it apart from their earlier recordings and becoming more infectious with each spin.

Washer: Improved Means To Deteriorated Ends [Fire Note Review 04/27/23]

#32

Eyelids
A Colossal Waste Of Light
Jealous Butcher Records [2023]

As Portland’s Eyelids celebrates their first decade as a band, their 2023 release, A Colossal Waste Of Light, stands out as a testament to their enduring creativity and craftsmanship. Working with frequent collaborator Peter Buck (R.E.M.), the album maintains the band’s jangly indie rock roots while adding new dimensions to their sound. The strength lies in the balance between songs that fit with the established Eyelids sound and those offering a departure, with influences ranging from The Byrds to early U2 and hints of shoegaze. Familiar sounding tracks will satisfy jangle enthusiasts, while departures on the album showcase the band’s willingness to explore new sonic territories. A Colossal Waste Of Light cements Eyelids’ vitality as they embark on their second decade.

Eyelids: A Colossal Waste Of Light [Fire Note Review 03/10/23]

#31

GOAT
Medicine
Rocket Recordings [2023]

Swedish collective GOAT returns with their fifth full-length album, Medicine, offering a captivating blend of world music, psychedelia, and mysticism. Following the edgier Oh Death (2022), this release beckons listeners on a sonic journey into the mystical and tribal. The opening track, “Impermanence & Death,” set the tone with distant chanting and meditative flute before evolving into a mesmeric groove while “I Became The Unemployment Office” introduced a darker tone with distorted guitars and haunting vocals. Throughout Medicine, GOAT masterfully maintains a mid-pace and seamlessly transitions between diverse influences and delivering psychedelic rock jams that at times combines world music rhythms with sprawling metal riffs. Overall, Medicine is a captivating and immersive experience, showcasing GOAT’s ability to transcend cultural boundaries and explore primal and spiritual dimensions.

GOAT: Medicine [Fire Note Review 10/18/23]

#30

The Reds, Pinks & Purples
The Town That Cursed Your Name
Tough Love/Slumberland Records [2023]

Glenn Donaldson’s DIY kitchen pop project, The Reds, Pinks & Purples, has evolved into his primary musical outlet over the past five years. With the fifth full-length album, The Town That Cursed Your Name, Donaldson shifts stylistically, increasing the tempo and mood compared to the previous softer release. The album features fuzzed guitars and an indie college rock radio beat, showcasing Donaldson’s talent for crafting catchy jangles. Thematically, the record explores the harsh realities of the music business, resonating with working musicians. Donaldson’s smart wordplay shines throughout, delivering hard-hitting lyrics that linger. The album’s diverse elements, including harmonies, Dinosaur Jr.-like guitar leads, and reflective moments, contribute to its overall strength. The Town That Cursed Your Name stands as another fantastic addition to The Reds, Pinks & Purples’ growing catalog, showcasing Donaldson’s continuous musical prowess in the face of the challenges within the music industry.

The Reds, Pinks & Purples: The Town That Cursed Your Name [Fire Note Review 03/30/23]

#29

Motorbike
Motorbike
Feel It Records [2023]

Motorbike’s self-titled debut album emerges as a powerful and unexpected force in the rock scene, delivering a full-throttle, high-stakes rock ‘n’ roll assault. The Welsh-American five-piece band from Cincinnati, Ohio, formed just last year but displays a sonic synergy that suggests veteran status, thanks to members with solid band resumes. Clocking in at a short twenty-seven minutes, the album seamlessly blends classic punk rock reminiscent of The Gun Club and Wipers with a modern post-punk savvy akin to early Parquet Courts. Standout tracks like “True Method,” “Throttle,” and “Spring Grove” showcase Jamie Morrison’s compelling vocals and the tight instrumentation of Dakota Carlyle and Philip Valois on guitars, while the rhythm section of Jerome Westerkamp and Dylan McCartney provides a solid foundation. Motorbike’s debut transcends the three-chord punk rock stigma, proving their depth and delivering an assertive, gritty sound that proudly represents their Midwest roots.

Motorbike: Motorbike [Fire Note Review 06/27/23]

#28

Durand Jones
Wait Til I Get Over
Dead Oceans [2023]

Durand Jones, the lead vocalist of Durand Jones & The Indications, unveiled his anticipated solo debut, Wait Til I Get Over. While retaining his commitment to soul and R&B, the album allows Jones to explore various styles, recording live with a mix of jazz, gospel, blues, and hip-hop influences. The 12 tracks showcase his smooth and emotive vocals, reminiscent of Stevie Wonder. Notable songs like the powerful “Lord Have Mercy” address generational struggles, while the deeply personal “That Feeling” marked Jones’ first open discussion of his sexuality. Whether solo or with The Indications, Jones proves himself a talent in classic soul, promising a successful career.

Durand Jones: Wait Til I Get Over [Fire Note Review 05/09/23]

#27

Penza Penza
Electricolorized
Funk Night Records [2023]

Penza Penza’s third release, Electricolorized, led by Estonian composer Misha Panfilov, defies easy categorization, showcasing an instrumental odyssey of funky jazz psych. The album, a testament to Panfilov’s production skill and the band’s synergy, weaves layered sounds with a shuffle-hustle beat, drawing inspiration from electronic, indie, and experimental music. Meticulous attention to detail is evident, with intricate production, nuanced instrumentation, and subtle elements that reveal themselves upon repeated listens. Bold and ambitious, Electricolorized invites listeners on a genre-defying journey, showcasing the band’s commitment to innovation, instrumental virtuosity, and creative expression in a compelling and rewarding musical experience.

Penza Penza: Electricolorized [Fire Note Review 11/21/23]

#26

Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit
Weathervanes
Southeastern Records/Thirty Tigers [2023]

Jason Isbell’s eighth studio album, Weathervanes, showcases remarkable artistic growth, marrying character-driven storytelling with a warm musical tapestry. The album’s songs delve into universal truths, exploring themes of love, addiction, depression, racism, and gun violence. Isbell’s songwriting has evolved, capturing personal connections within broader societal issues. The 400 Unit, Isbell’s band, displays versatility, nodding to classic rock influences without sacrificing their identity. Weathervanes broadened Isbell’s scope, delivering anthems for a chaotic world while fostering hope, shared humanity, and genuine connection through honest uncertainty. The album sets listeners free to celebrate life’s joy and resilience.

Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit: Weathervanes [Fire Note Review 06/09/23]

#25

Kendra Morris
I Am What I’m Waiting For
Colemine/Karma Chief Records [2023]

Kendra Morris quickly follows up her acclaimed Nine Lives (2022) with I Am What I’m Waiting For, a diverse 11-track collection produced in collaboration with Torbitt Schwartz. While retaining the soulful and psychedelic elements of her previous work, the album explores new sonic textures and styles. From 60s girl group vibes to 80s R&B influences, Morris showcases her versatility. Although the album feels transitional, each track stands out, reflecting different facets of Morris’s personality. Her willingness to experiment and evolve as an artist is evident here, promising an exciting and creative trajectory for the future.

Kendra Morris: I Am What I’m Waiting For [Fire Note Review 08/25/23]

#24

Truth Club
Running From The Chase
Double Double Whammy [2023]

Truth Club’s sophomore album, Running From The Chase, presents a dynamic and impactful addition to the indie music scene. Hailing from Raleigh, North Carolina, the band skillfully combines soft, powerful vocals with bursts of distorted guitar-driven frenzy. Tracks like “Uh Oh,” “Exit Cycle,” and standout “Suffer Debt” showcase their ability to seamlessly transition between melodic restraint and sonic whirlwinds. The album’s closing track, “Is This Working?” exemplifies their knack for abrupt shifts, akin to post-punk luminaries Hum. With unexpected twists and a post-punk pulse, Truth Club’s return marks an exciting new chapter, affirming their potential for continued growth and success.

Truth Club: Running From The Chase [Fire Note Review 10/19/23]

#23

Beach Fossils
Bunny
Bayonet Records [2023]

Beach Fossils’ fourth studio album, Bunny, marks their return after five years with a dreamy and uplifting collection that elevates their signature indie rock style. Dustin Payseur’s distinctive vocals shine alongside lush guitars and flowing shoegaze in tracks like the atmospheric opener “Sleeping on My Own” and the catchy “Don’t Fade Away,” exploring themes of love and conflict. “Dare Me” captivates with shimmering melodies, while “Seconds” blends indie rock and jangly pop, creating an earworm with relatable life lessons. Bunny showcases the band’s growth, maintaining accessibility while pushing musical boundaries, securing its place as one of their best albums.

Beach Fossils: Bunny [Fire Note Review 06/07/23]

#22

Frankie And The Witch Fingers
Data Doom
The Reverberation Appreciation Society / Greenway Records [2023]

Frankie and the Witch Fingers’ latest album, Data Doom, is a high-octane psychedelic journey that solidifies their standing as one of the hardest-working bands. Welcoming new members Nikki Pickle and Nick Aguilar, the album unleashes electrifying intensity with tracks like the enthralling “Empire.” The band’s signature style blends captivating riffs, laser-focused guitar harmonies, and danceable grooves, as seen in barnburners like “Burn Me Down” and the powerful “Electricide.” Data Doom pays homage to influences like Ty Segall and King Gizzard, exploring themes of technology indoctrination. Frankie and the Witch Fingers deliver an exhilarating, genre-blurring experience that affirms their rising trajectory.

Frankie And The Witch Fingers: Data Doom [Fire Note Review 08/31/23]

#21

Ex Pilots
Ex Pilots
Smoking Room [2023]

Ex Pilots, the solo project of Pittsburgh’s Ethan Oliva, unveils a self-titled debut album recorded on a mix of analog equipment over a decade. Blending lo-fi indie rock with shoegaze, Oliva defies expectations with a rich and expansive sound that surpasses the typical short bursts associated with the genre. As a seasoned musician in various bands, Oliva showcases his multifaceted talent, handling every aspect of the album. The tracks shift dynamically, from distorted Hüsker Dü vibes to catchy and floating moments like “Exactly Like You.” The well-balanced mix, where vocals hover just above the music, enhances the immersive experience. Released back in January, Ex Pilots undoubtedly delivered a standout and genre-defying record with enduring appeal.

Ex Pilots: Ex Pilots [Fire Note Review 01/24/23]

#20

Sincere Engineer
Cheap Grills
Hopeless Records [2023]

Chicago-based indie punk artist Sincere Engineer, led by singer Deanna Belos, transitioned from solo acoustic punk to a full band for her sophomore album, Cheap Grills. Departing from the introspective tones of Bless My Psyche, this album embraces bigger melodies and sharp lyrics. Opening with the catchy “Anemia,” Belos’s raspy vocals lead a narrative of vulnerability and self-examination. Standout track “Inside My Head” explores isolation and the desire to move forward amid misunderstandings. Cheap Grills showcases Sincere Engineer’s growth, delivering relatable anthems and reaffirming the vitality of melodic punk rock in 2023.

Sincere Engineer: Cheap Grills [Fire Note Review 09/26/23]

#19

The Tubs
Dead Meat
Trouble In Mind Records [2023]

Formed in 2018 after the dissolution of Joanna Gruesome, London-based group The Tubs, comprising Owen ‘O’ Williams and George ‘GN’ Nicholls, diverges from post-punk with their debut, Dead Meat. Infusing classic British folk guitar sounds with a feverish and rocked-up delivery, the album showcases O Williams’s infectious, fire-in-the-belly vocals reminiscent of a young Bob Mould or Richard Thompson. Addressing mental health challenges without being didactic, the 9 tracks offer a tight and classic British record. Despite post-punk nods in tracks like “That’s Fine” and “Illusion Pt. 2,” Dead Meat excels in its tension, fiery guitar lines, and passionate vocals. This is an album that just kept growing on us!

The Tubs: Dead Meat [Fire Note Review 01/26/23]

#18

Sweeping Promises
Good Living Is Coming For You
Feel It/Sub Pop Records [2023]

Sweeping Promises, now based in Lawrence, Kansas, delivers a relentless and urgent sophomore album, Good Living Is Coming For You. Infused with post-punk, new wave, and garage rock influences, the duo of Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug creates a captivating musical experience. The opening track, “Eraser,” sets a high-energy tone with riot grrrl personality and melodic keyboards, showcasing Mondal’s distinctive vocals. The album’s strength lies in infectious hooks, reminiscent of Blondie, and dynamic songwriting. Clocking in at 31 minutes, it’s a concise yet impactful journey, blending retro flair with a modern new wave edge, avoiding the sophomore slump and leaving a lasting impression.

Sweeping Promises: Good Living Is Coming For You [Fire Note Review 06/30/23]

#17

Hotline TNT
Cartwheel
Third Man Records [2023]

Hotline TNT’s Cartwheel marks a significant evolution in shoegaze, diverging from dreamlike escapism to embrace gritty realities. Will Anderson’s indie rock and shoegaze blend offers a raw and unfiltered exploration of life’s complexities, love, and self-discovery. The album’s authenticity shines as Anderson’s vocals cut through layers of distortion, creating a distinct sonic signature. Tracks like “Son In Law” and “Out Of Town” boast power pop choruses beneath walls of sound, adding catchiness to the gritty narrative. Clocking in around two minutes each, the deliberate and purposeful songs showcase Hotline TNT’s growth and Anderson’s adept navigation of life’s complexities.

Hotline TNT: Cartwheel [Fire Note Review 11/28/23]

#16

Parannoul
After The Magic
Topshelf Records [2023]

Parannoul’s After The Magic stands as a mature and refined masterpiece, showcasing the South Korean shoegaze artist’s evolution. The album, more expansive and rocked out than previous works, retains a dreamy atmosphere with newfound focus and complexity. Opening with “Polaris,” it surprises with acoustic beginnings before delving into an expansive wall of instruments. Lyrics, sung in Korean, are introspective and beautifully written. Tracks like “We Shine At Night” reminisce on spectacular moments, featuring powerful vocal melodies and intense crescendos. The album’s lush soundscapes, powerful guitars, and atmospheric quality make After The Magic a must-listen shoegaze gem.

Parannoul: After The Magic [Fire Note Review 05/17/23]

#15

Uni Boys
Buy This Now!
Curation Records [2023]

California’s Uni Boys shine with their latest release, Buy This Now!—a 12-song gem that explores love and loneliness, echoing the timeless charm of classic power pop. Opening with the catchy “Let’s Watch A Movie,” the album blends infectious melodies with raw, energetic sound, solidifying Uni Boys’ prominence in the indie scene. “Two Years” stands out with anthemic guitar riffs, capturing the essence of power pop at its best. Dual lead vocals from Noah Nash and Reza Matin strike a perfect balance between vulnerability and swagger. Recorded by Michael and Brian D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs, Buy This Now! showcases Uni Boys’ songwriting skills, offering a modern take on rock and roll’s classic sound.

Uni Boys: Buy This Now! [Fire Note Review 11/15/23]

#14

Protomartyr
Formal Growth In The Desert
Domino [2023]

Protomartyr’s sixth studio album, Formal Growth In The Desert, is a powerful exploration of emotion, loss, and resilience. The Detroit-based post-punk band, led by Joe Casey’s evocative vocals, delivers gritty guitar-driven melodies and thought-provoking lyrics. From the dissonant opening of “Make Way” to the high-energy anthem “For Tomorrow,” the album strikes a balance between raw intensity and nuanced musicality. Tracks like “Elimination Dances” showcase Protomartyr’s ability to blend aggression with atmospheric textures. Casey’s lyrical precision, dissecting contemporary issues, adds depth. Produced by Greg Ahee and Jake Aron, the album stands as a poignant triumph and reinforces Protomartyr’s vital role in contemporary post-punk.

Protomartyr: Formal Growth In The Desert [Fire Note Review 06/06/23]

#13

Okonski
Magnolia
Colemine Records [2023]

Magnolia, the debut album from jazz trio Okonski, relies on a simple yet deceptive formula of piano, bass, and drums. Bandleader Steve Okonski’s meditative piano work, supported by Aaron Frazer (Durand Jones & The Indications) on drums and Michael Isvara “Ish” Montgomery on bass, explores a range of moods and styles. Recorded at Colemine Records’ Tupelo House studio, the album’s timelessness is evident, capturing special moments and transcending temporal boundaries. The restrained yet skillful playing allows Okonski to take center stage, creating an impressionistic and exploratory musical journey that remains timeless, regardless of the era it inhabits.

Okonski: Magnolia [Fire Note Review 02/24/23]

#12

Wurld Series
The Giant’s Lawn
Meritorio Records [2023]

Wurld Series, hailing from Christchurch, New Zealand, presents their third LP, The Giant’s Lawn, embracing the indie legacy of the region’s Flying Nun record label. Building on their previous work, the album takes an innovative approach to psychedelic pop, incorporating influences from Elephant Six, progressive rock fusion, and noise pop. Unpredictability defines the record, featuring longer runtimes, instrumentals, and small jams. Vocalist Luke Towart’s distinct delivery adds depth, ranging from raw to melodic. While experimental, the album maintains a pop sensibility with catchy lo-fi tracks, creating a cohesive and captivating narrative that unfolds gradually, offering a timeless and enjoyable experience.

Wurld Series: The Giant’s Lawn [Fire Note Review 12/06/23]

#11

Pardoner
Peace Loving People
Bar/None Records [2023]

San Francisco’s Pardoner impresses with their fourth album, Peace Loving People, building on the foundation of their previous work. The album showcases the band’s evolution, pushing boundaries and experimenting with new sonic landscapes. Opening with the explosive “Are You Free Tonight?” the album balances slacker rock with bursts of hardcore punk energy. Standout track “Rosemary’s Gone” exemplifies their infectious hooks and ’90s alternative guitar lines. The diversity of songs, from scorching Dinosaur Jr.-like tracks to raw, aggressive energy, highlights Pardoner’s growth and willingness to take risks, solidifying their position as a compelling force in indie rock.

Pardoner: Peace Loving People [Fire Note Review 06/23/23]

#10

Tee Vee Repairmann
What’s On TV?
Computer Human/Total Punk Records [2023]

Australia’s Ishka Edmeades, under the moniker Tee Vee Repairmann, delivers his debut LP, What’s On TV? – a vibrant record showcasing his talents in crafting sharp, two-minute fuzzy pop bangers. Recorded on a Tascam 488 in his living room, the album exudes a raw edge, blending power pop with garage rock distortion. With a tempo that keeps the energy high, Edmeades’ voice, reminiscent of an early Jonathan Richman, carries a modern garage rock spirit akin to Ty Segall’s early work. What’s On TV? stands out with its tight, electric punk energy, timeless influences, and irresistibly catchy choruses, making it a standout release this year.

Tee Vee Repairmann: What’s On TV? [Fire Note Review 02/21/23]

#9

The Bug Club
Rare Birds: Hour Of Song
Bingo/We Are Busy Bodies [2023]

The Bug Club’s sophomore record, Rare Birds: Hour Of Song, unfolds as a boundary-pushing, 47-song venture into indie music’s diverse realms. The Welsh trio integrates 23 poet-like spoken-word tracks, simply titled “Burds Wurds,” creating a loosely conceptual journey. Initially jarring, the spoken segments seamlessly blend into smartly crafted indie rock, folk, garage, and psychedelic tracks. The album showcases versatile songwriting, drawing parallels to The Clean, The Moldy Peaches, and The Soft Boys. With intelligent lyrics, humor, and a psychedelic/folk-rock vibe, The Bug Club transcends genre conventions, making Rare Birds a unique and rewarding listening experience.

The Bug Club: Rare Birds-Hour Of Song [Fire Note Review 11/08/23]

#8

R. Ring
War Poems, We Rested
Don Giovanni Records [2023]

War Poems, We Rested, R. Ring’s sophomore album, marks their return after a pandemic-induced hiatus, showcasing the duo of Kelley Deal (The Breeders) and Mike Montgomery (Ampline) alongside drummer Laura King. A six-year gap between records proves advantageous, resulting in a sonic masterpiece. The album navigates diverse tempos, from the theatrical opener “Still Life” to the driving Breeders-esque “Hug.” Montgomery’s lead on “Stole Eye” adds indie rock depth, while the haunting “Embers On A Sidewalk” contrasts with the chaotic post-punk of “Volunteer.” With a vulnerable “Lighter Than A Berry” and instrumental beauty in “War Poems,” the album promises a captivating listening experience, earning it a top 10 spot on this year-end Top 50.

R. Ring: War Poems, We Rested [Fire Note Review 02/01/23]

#7

Guided By Voices
Welshpool Frillies
GBV Inc. [2023]

Welshpool Frillies, Guided By Voices’ 38th album, strikes a balance between their prog elements and concise pop, leaning towards catchy, off-kilter melodies. It was the middle child of three GBV releases this year with La La Land launching in January and Nowhere To Go But Up releasing on Record Store Day in November. There will always be a battle among fans but Welshpool Frillies was our favorite of the three. Tracks like “Meet The Star,” “Romeo Surgeon” and “Awake Man” deliver muscular riffage, showcasing the band’s live potential. Producer Travis Harrison’s decision to record the band together adds punchiness to the current GBV sound. The album features nods to their past with acoustic gems like “Chain Dance” and “Mother Mirth,” making it a very good addition to their extensive discography.

Guided By Voices: Welshpool Frillies [Fire Note Review 07/20/23]

#6

Ron Gallo
FOREGROUND MUSIC
Kill Rock Stars [2023]

Ron Gallo’s fourth album, FOREGROUND MUSIC, establishes him as a force in indie rock. The spastic energy of the opening track, “Entitled Man,” showcases Gallo’s direct and impactful vocals, reminiscent of a young Jonathan Richman. Tracks like “Foreground Music” and “At Least I’m Dancing” maintain high energy, addressing today’s anxiety-laden environment with witty lyrics. The standout “Yucca Valley Marshalls” introduces a Kevin Morby/Mac DeMarco vibe. Gallo navigates diverse styles while exploring themes of male entitlement, anxiety, narcissism, and more. With infectious charm and catchy tunes, the album’s depth resonates, leaving a positive and impactful impression. It also only gets better every time you play it louder!

Ron Gallo: FOREGROUND MUSIC [Fire Note Review 03/03/23]

#5

boygenius
The Record
Interscope Records [2023]

boygenius, the supergroup featuring Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, follows up their acclaimed 2018 EP with an outstanding debut album, The Record. The album showcases an expanded sonic landscape, seamlessly blending acoustic tenderness with indie guitar rock intensity. The harmonizing vocals and catchy wordplay contribute to a layered depth, elevating the record beyond expectations. Recorded in a month-long, collaborative studio session, the trio’s synergy is palpable. Every song, whether softer or explosively driven, evokes genuine emotions, fostering a universal connection. The addition of talented contributors enhances the overall brilliance of this cohesive and memorable album. Given the typical natures of “supergroups,” The Record should not have been this good – but it was!

boygenius: The Record [Fire Note Review 04/04/23]

#4

jaimie branch
Fly Or Die Fly Or Die Fly Or Die ((World War))
International Anthem [2023]

Fly or Die, Fly or Die, Fly or Die ((world war)), the final album from the late trumpeter and composer jaimie branch, stands as a poignant tribute to her exceptional talent. Recorded with her ensemble Fly or Die shortly before her untimely death, the album seamlessly merges avant-garde innovation with jazz tradition, reflecting glimpses of her punk roots. With masterful trumpet artistry, branch’s raw vocals redefine jazz singing, adding shouts and howls. The transformative dynamics and vibrant interplay with her bandmates make this album an emotional and groundbreaking exploration of contemporary jazz, solidifying branch’s legacy as a pioneering force in the genre.

jaimie branch: Fly Or Die Fly Or Die Fly Or Die ((World War)) [Fire Note Review 09/13/23]

#3

feeble little horse
Girl With Fish
Saddle Creek Records [2023]

Pittsburgh’s feeble little horse delivers an invigorating and unpredictable sophomore album with Girl With Fish. Independently recorded and produced, the collection showcases brief yet captivating tracks, blending euphoric pop with jarring dissonance. From the opening track, “Freak,” the band demonstrates a memorable sonic landscape. Lydia Slocum’s vocals, akin to indie contemporaries, cut through feedback, notably on tracks like “Pocket” and “Station.” With glitch-infused rhythms and idiosyncratic indie rock, the album’s dynamic approach, spanning just 27 minutes, creates an immersive experience that resonates with raw charm, leaving a lasting impact.

feeble little horse: Girl With Fish [Fire Note Review 08/03/23]

#2

Sufjan Stevens
Javelin
Asthmatic Kitty Records [2023]

Sufjan Stevens, known for his diverse explorations in music, returns to full singer-songwriter mode with Javelin. Dedicated to his late partner, Evans Richardson, the album marks his first venture into this mode since Carrie & Lowell. Combining folk and smartly orchestrated pop, Stevens weaves tender grief and uplift into the fabric of songs. The chorus of female vocals and orchestrated pop on tracks like “So You Are Tired” exemplify his layered production. The album navigates loss and affirmation, blending acoustic and electronic elements, culminating in a rich musical tapestry that honors Stevens’ past and explores new expressions of grief and longing. Javelin is a gorgeous sounding listen all the way through as Sufjan Stevens once again ascends to one one the top spots in TFN Top 50!

Sufjan Stevens: Javelin [Fire Note Review 10/10/23]

#1 – Album Of The Year

Wednesday
Rat Saw God
Dead Oceans [2023]

In a Fire Note first, Rat Saw God landed on every Top 25 list in our writer’s edition. That speaks volumes, and for good reason. Wednesday, hailing from Asheville, North Carolina, followed up their successful sophomore album with the stellar Rat Saw God, reaffirming their reign in indie rock. Led by vocalist Karly Hartzman, the band unleashes a wall of noise with distorted guitars and muscular song structures, epitomizing ’90s alt-rock with a touch of shoegaze. The lyrics capture gritty life details, fostering relatability. MJ Lenderman’s excellent guitar work, Xandy Chelmis’s pedal steel, and Alex Farrar’s production contribute to the album’s modern flair. Rat Saw God stands as not only the best indie rock release this year but also as TFN’s album of the year, solidifying Wednesday’s top-tier status in the genre!

Wednesday: Rat Saw God [Fire Note Review 04/11/23]

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