Best of 2023 Rock: Madison Walters

Well, here we are yet again! It’s hard to believe 2023 is quickly nearing its end. Now, we all know what that means; it’s time to compile our favorite records from this year—and trust me, there were a lot of good ones. I’ve dwindled down my “short-list” to 34 albums and then made some exceedingly difficult cuts. From the return of Blink-182 to the final release from the Screaming Females, and everything in between, it’s been one heck of a year for music releases. 

Honorable Mention: Dilly Dally – “The Morning Light” and “The Colour of Joy”

Unfortunately, 2023 saw quite the list of casualties when it came to bands breaking up or going on hiatus. Toronto-based rockers Dilly Dally decided to part on a positive note, leaving fans one last gift: the release of two final songs—their swan song(s)— “The Morning Light” and “The Colour of Joy.”

The two singles make a point to highlight vocalist’s Enda Monks’ impressive voice—think Jennifer Tilly meets Betty Boop. Monks’ breathy yet raspy voice matches the band’s ragged energy which can be felt all the way down in one’s bones. With “The Colour of Joy,” the band chooses to end on an optimistic note with its lyrics, “Now, we’re watching sunsets.” The sun is setting on Dilly Dally and welcoming them into the night—into the unknown. Perhaps even more fitting is that the two singles cover an entire day, from the first light of the day to the sun’s final spectacular feat, the sun set. 

Listen to their final songs on bandcamp.

10) Måneskin – Rush! (Epic Records)

Måneskin—hailed by the New York Times as the “last rock band” — started out in 2016 by performing in the streets of Trastevere, Rome (their neighborhood which they lovingly name a song after on the deluxe edition of Rush!) and now, earlier this year, they sold out Madison Square Garden. 

Rush! Is an all-around impressive album that features one of the best bassists in the music industry today, Victoria de Angelis, with her sharp and infectious beat that helps drive each and every song forward. Rush! Is just one of those records that grows on you more and more with each listen.

You can follow Måneskin here

9) The Used – Toxic Positivity (Big Noise) 

The Used returned this year with their ninth studio album, Toxic Positivity—a record that is essentially two-in-one. The first half of the record was recorded during a difficult period for vocalist Bert McCraken. Ever the perfectionist, he wasn’t finished with the album just yet, which led the band to go back into the studio.

As a result, Toxic Positivity just might be one of the most authentic and cohesive records in the band’s discography as it unabashedly details McCraken’s mental health journey, covering the lows, “Worst I’ve Ever Been,” and recovery, “Giving Up.” The record begins with a defeated and resigned, “Yesterday, I woke up wanting to die,” and comes to a close with a resounding and anthemic “I’m not giving up on me,” proving that The Used are still at the top of their game. 

You can follow the Used here

8) Origami Angel – The Brightest Days (Counter Intuitive Records) 

“Welcome all the tourists, infiltrate the Capitol…They travel to be hateful,” sings Ryland Heagy on the single “My PG County Summer” from Origami Angel’s newest record The Brightest Days. Taking inspiration from Weezer’s White Album and The Beach Boys’ signature sound, The Brightest Days showcases the band’s influences while also demonstrating the midwest emo style that fans of Origami Angel have come to know and love. 

Above all, The Brightest Days laments the care-free days of youth, wishing that life were as easy as it was then. The record’s only shortcoming is just that … It’s too short, leaving listeners desperate for more. 

You can follow Origami Angel on Instagram.

7) Traindodge – The Alley Parade (Spartan Records)

One of the hidden gems of the Oklahoma rock and post-hardcore scene, Traindodge have remarkably flown under the radar for nearly 30 years now. That being said, they’re probably better known as “your favorite band’s favorite band” as discovering Traindodge was a staple for every 90’s heavy band coming of age. 

The Traindodge’s newest record Alley Parade—seven years in the making—is a bridge between old school and the new noise, which is exactly where this magazine’s interests lie. The standout of the record, however, would have to be “The Lonely Halt.” Vaguely reminiscent of Dream Widow, this entirely instrumental track says more than a lot of vocal tracks ever could. Equal parts haunting and bellicose, the track features distinct movements: a reserved beginning, featuring an impeccable bassline before a building crescendo that eventually leads to singular, bombastic snare beats that bring the song to a close. Do yourself a favor and check out this masterful record.

You can follow Traindodge here.

6) Fall Out Boy – So Much (for) Stardust (Fueled by Ramen)

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Fall Out Boy entered 2023 with a vengeance with their eighth studio album So Much (for) Stardust, an album which truly—this phrase has perhaps never been truer—has something for everyone. Do you have a soft spot for Pete Wentz’s scathing spoken word poetry (“Baby Annihilation”) featured on previous records? What about Patrick Stump’s impressive vocal range (“Heaven Iowa”), do you get chills when listening to his falsetto? Are you a fan of the incomparable actor of stage and screen, Ethan Hawke (“The Pink Seashell”)? 

Well … So Much (for) Stardust checks each of these boxes. Time will only tell if Fall Out Boy will complete the trifecta with a reference/appearance from Maya Hawke. 

You can follow Fall Out Boy here.

5) Hot Mulligan – Why Would I Watch (Wax Bodega)

Known throughout the scene for their unique knack for naming songs, Hot Mulligan are back with their fourth studio album Why Would I Watch. As all their releases do, the record tackles heavy topics like mental health (“And I Smoke”), deeply troubling family members whose behavior takes a serious toll (“Shhhh! Golf is On”), and even the loss of a beloved pet (“Betty”), the latter of which will no doubt become this generation’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” 

Why Would I Watch is loud, but only in the best way possible—unapologetically. It’s Hot Mulligan’s most ambitious release to date, and it pays off immensely. If you ever have the opportunity to catch the band live, do yourself a favor and do so because as great as their record is, their live performance is unmatched. 

Check out their Instagram here.

4) The Dirty Nil – Free Rein to Passions (Dine Alone Records)

‘Cause the way that you hold me while the world’s on fire, is a gift that commands me, and requires a celebration,” sings Luke Bentham on the sultry opening track of The Dirty Nil’s newest endeavor Free Rein to Passions—an album of strikingly different styles. 

The album features a summer anthem with “Nicer Guy,” a highly introspective ballad, “The Light, the Void, and Everything,” and whatever falls in between those two varying sounds. With Free Rein to Passions, The Dirty Nil boast a talent of bending the gift of songwriting to their own desire, which is indicative of a band that knows exactly what they’re doing and having fun while doing it.

You can follow the band here

3) Skating Polly – Chaos County Line (El Camino) 

Move over Hanson and the Beach Boys, because the newest sibling band is coming through to take the crown. Skating Polly might just be one of the most promising alternative rock bands in the genre today; their double record Chaos County Line is a testament to that fact. 

Sisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse share vocal duties for this three piece group. Mayo has one of those once in a generation voices; off putting and weird—in the very best way—she’ll have you on the edge of your seat, hanging onto each and every word. Just listen to “Baby on My Birthday” and you’ll understand. Bighorse provides a solid grounding to the organized chaos that is Mayo’s vocal performance with her beautiful, harmonious voice that at times is vaguely reminiscent of Lorde. All the while, drummer Kurtis Mayo provides a solid backbone to each song with his clean and consistent fills and incredible passion.

You can check out the band’s Instagram here

2) Foo Fighters – But Here We Are (RCA Records) 

If you only know one thing about Dave Grohl, then you know that he’s a family man through and through—a fact that is proved again and again in his memoir The Storyteller. Just look at the lengths he went to take his daughter to her father-daughter dance. Recently, his daughter Violet has been joining him on stage at various shows, and Grohl spends the whole time watching her perform, looking as if his heart is about to burst with pride. 

She even provides vocals on “Show Me How,” a beautiful track from the Foo Fighters’ 11th record But Here We Are. In this dreamy (almost shoegaze) song, Grohl and his daughter pay tribute to Virginia Grohl, who sadly passed away last year. 

“Had another dream of us in the warm Virginia sun. There I will meet you,” Grohl promises in the final track “Rest.” In an album that’s main focus is death, there’s a surprising amount of hope. Just look at the single—and album opener—”Rescued” for example as Grohl finds hope in the solidarity that “We’re all just waiting to be rescued”—that we’re not alone. As a result, the album is a beautiful tribute to both Virginia Grohl and Taylor Hawkins; both of their spirits remain present throughout the entirety of But Here We Are.

Check out the band’s social media.

1) Jeff Rosenstock – HELLMODE (Polyvinyl Record Co.)

Jeff Rosenstock’s HELLMODE is a tour de force of raucous energy, kicking off with “WILL U STILL U,” a fun and anthemic song that features punk elements, call and response, and an immediate outro into “HEAD,” which is off at ninety-to-nothing as Rosenstock spits out the lyrics in quick succession in this rollercoaster-like track. 

Sing-along after sing-along make up HELLMODE and the result is a palpable level of infectious joy. “LIKED U BETTER” is a song that will not fail to make you smile with its double tracked chorus and wonky verses. 

Even when the album takes a moment to get a bit solemn with the mostly acoustic “HEALMODE”—a clever play on the album’s title—the record doesn’t nosedive into a different direction; though the record is eclectic, there’s a controlled chaos that grounds it. “HEALMODE” is sappy and lovely as it shows Rosenstock’s change of heart when it comes to rain after moving to the other side of the country.

Like Asteroid City being the most Wes Anderson Wes Anderson film, HELLMODE is the most Jeff Rosenstock Jeff Rosenstock album, and because of that fact—among others listed above—it’s his best album to date. 

Give Jeff Rosenstock a follow on Instagram.

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